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Transition - The Next Chapter by Dominick Carlucci

Foreword

As before, I wish to thank, especially, Admiral James T. Kirk, as well as all those others herein mentioned who verified their roles in the story which follows.

Efforts were made to keep the number of footnotes to a minimum; however, as the reader will clearly see, this compiler failed utterly in this respect, and my apologies to those who detest footnotes (including, I might add, some members of the Historical Division!).

A brief word about the history of Admiral Harrison Michaels (pp. 10ff): this material is an expansion of Chief Rand's reminiscences while flying into New San Francisco, and forms the basis for a projected work by this office on the history of the latter half of the 21st Century of Terra (Earth). I owe, too, a debt of gratitude to the late Professor John Gill (1) for the pioneering work he did in this field, and recent material has come forth to shed new light on Terra's history during this troubled period. The projected work will be dedicated to his memory.

(Signed)

David-Michael Christopher
StarFleet Divisional Historian
StarDate 8211.23 (rev. SD 8507.29)

 

Part 1

compiled by David-Michael Christopher

It was lonely and quiet at 30,000 feet, and Janice Rand tried to pass the time by absorbing herself in her engineering texts as the airtram from New San Francisco to Chicago-Center sped eastward. Only part of her mind was occupied with the portaviewer, however. Increasingly, her subconscious was making demands of her energies; so much so that she finally snapped off the machine and sat staring morosely out the window, her chin cupped in her hands.

"Still thinking about Kirk, eh?" said a robust voice behind her. Rand smiled as a burly figure, topped by shaggy locks of flaming red hair, sauntered up the center aisle. "I guess so, Jake." she sighed. "It was a hectic couple of weeks."

"For him? Or for you?" Commander Jacob Hansen, Chief Administrator of StarFleet's Engineering School at Chicago-Center, leaned on the back of Rand's seat and gazed intently at her. That he deeply loved her was obvious. That Rand reminded him of his late wife - killed when Orion pirates had attacked her transport - would never be known, if he could help it.

"For both of us, really." she replied, shutting down the viewer as Hansen eased his bulk into the seat beside her. "I didn't want to leave him, you know."

"I know, lass. But y'know that engineerin's in yer best intrests. Sure'n Scotty'n me 've toll ye that fair 'nuff! I know ye, Janice Rand - ye haven't toll 'ol Jake the whole story'n that's fer *sure*!"

Rand stared out at the billowing cloudtops for a moment. "Dammit, Jake, there's so much! And I'm sometimes not sure how I really feel about him! And then there's you-•"

"Posh 'n tosh, girl! I helped ye when y'were goin' through some rough times! But just cuz I allowed ye into me bed doesn't mean we're right fer each other, 'n that's fer *damned* sure! I like ye, lass, I like ye a lot, but don't ye go tryin' t' tie down yer ol’ shipmate, y'hear? I'm not ready fer that! No, sir! B'sides, I know where yer heart is, 'n so d'you, even if yer 'head's not right with it!"

Rand said nothing but laid her head on Hansen's massive shoulder and patted his hand tenderly. "Jake, darling Jake. Where would I be without you?"

The big man snorted. "Probably back at Fleet makin' a fool o'yerself over Kirk!"

"Jake! How can you say that?"

"Easy, lass. By movin' me lips."

"Ohh! Sometimes you're just impossible! I've got a good mind to toss you out without an anti-grav!"

Hansen roared with laughter. "Toss me out without an anti-grav? Then sure'n I wouldn't hear about you'n Kirk, now would I?"

Rand stared at him a moment before breaking up herself. It was just like Hansen to pull a conversation off in a bizarre direction, then return it as though he'd snapped an Arcturian rubber plant. And, as always, his technique had had a salutory effect. "Well, lass, are ye gonna sit there, grinnin' like a fool, or are ye gonna tell ol’f Jake all about it, eh?"

She sighed again, her hilarity dissolving into memories - memories she hadn't yet sorted out. Jake Hansen was an invaluable friend, she reflected, one of those who come all too in frequently into one's life. Ever since she'd first met him aboard the destroyer HANNIBAL, she'd relied on his intuition and his ability to put things in their proper perspective. "Well," she began, "things got started the day I came to see you about graduate work in Theoretical and Experimental Engineering. Before I got to your office, though, I ran into an Andorian ensign who informed me that Jim was on his way back with the ENTERPRISE. Naturally, the previous five years flashed by in a moment-"

"And ye were filled with a great desire to see him again." Hansen chuckled. "No wonder ye couldn't concentrate on those charts!"

Rand blushed. "Anyway, now you know why I had to attend the welcome-home ceremonies alone. I had to see how I would feel."

"'n how did ye feel?"

She reached for his hand and squeezed it hard. "Jake, remember my telling you about my crush on Jim?"

"'Course, lass. It's common enough among first-timers, especially if the captain's as good-lookin' as Kirk!"

"It wasn't a crush. Ever."

"It wasn't, now!" Hansen crowed with child-like innocence.

"No. Jake, I think I fell in love with him the moment I laid eyes on him!"

"Did ye now!" The engineer's grin threatened to split his face apart.

Rand gaped. "Damn you, Jake Hansen! You knew all along!"

"Of course, lass!"

"Why the hell didn't you tell me?"

"Would ye have listened?"

She froze, remembering. "No, I guess not."

"Of course ye wouldn't 've. Ye had t' figger it out fer y'self. Trouble is, now what're ye gonna do about it?"

"I think I already did."

"Eh? The story's not over, then?"

"No, not at all! You heard about Spock's resignation?"

"Aye! Took us all by surprise, it did! Damn them Vulcans 'n their blasted hardheadedness! Why can't they act like normal human bein's?"

"Because they're Vulcans, that's why, and they never let their emotions show! It's served them in good stead, too, from what I know of their culture. Anyway, Jim was awfully close to Spock, and Spock's abrupt departure upset him terribly. I was on hand when Jim learned about it and - well, one thing led to another and I-"

"Girl! Ye didn't seduce him?"

"I'm afraid I did. It seemed like a good idea at the time and I'm sure it did him a planetful of good. But I wonder how it'll affect him in the long run."

Now it was Hansen's turn to fall silent. All during Rand's story, he'd been putting the tale together with some wellplaced rumors he had heard. If they were correct, Rand's act of compassion would have far greater consequences that even she could imagine. "Hm. Now I can understand why ye didn't want t' leave." he said lamely.

"I do feel a little guilty."

"There's more to it than that, lass."

"What do you mean?"

Hansen's eyes were a study in weariness. "If what I've heard is true, then you've really put yer foot in it this time."

"Put my foot in it? Jake, what are you talking about?"

"I hear Nogura wants t' make an admiral outta Kirk."

"What? And take Jim off star duty? Is he crazy?"

"The Commandin' Admiral's got damned good reasons, I'm sure. But what you did, lass, sure won't help."

Rand blinked. "Now you've got me totally lost. I thought I'd helped him."

"Aye! Ye did, lass, 'n don't ye ever fergit it!" he said, stabbing her with his finger to emphasize his point. "But only for the moment! Remember, ye seduced Kirk right after he learned about Spock. 'n Spock's leavin' hurt him. Badly, as ye said. Then ye stepped in, gave him some love 'n compassion, then left y'self. Girl, d'ye see what that could do to a man?"

"Jim's a strong person," she argued. "He'll come through it."

Hansen shook his head. "How did he look when we left? I mean, really look?"

She turned away, and several minutes passed before she allowed herself to answer. "Like a man desperately trying to hide his pain." she whispered.

Hansen snorted again. "He looked more like the wreck of the Antares (2) to me! In his state, Nogura can do as he pleases with him! He'll ramrod Kirk's promotion right down his throat and make it look like it's for the good of StarFleet! Mark me, girl, he'll do it 'n get away with it, 'n that's fer sure!"

Rand sat back and closed her eyes. "Now I really feel guilty!"

"Aye. 'n I'm sorry. It's my fault that ye do."

"Don't blame yourself, Jake. I just wish I could do something."

"Aye. Trouble is, lass, ye can't. Ye just have t' roll with the blows, as me gran'pappy used t' say."

But Rand was no longer listening. Her guilt and anxiety were driving her ever closer to sleep and as she drifted off, her mind's eye focused on what her heart told her was the key to the entire state of affairs. Her last conscious thought was to question why she kept seeing Dr. Leonard McCoy.

"Spock!"

Echoing through the cavernous reaches of the port of Vulcan Space Central, the controlled yet powerful voice carried the snap of authority that caused the half-Vulcan to stop in mid stride and turn to face its owner. Another thrilling bolt of emotion rocketed through him - Sarek! Spock struggled to control himself as he raised his hand in the traditional Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, Sarek of Vulcan."

Sarek strolled majestically forward, his right hand likewise raised in greeting. "And may you also live long, and prosper, Spock of StarFleet."

The half-Vulcan shook his head. "I am of StarFleet no longer, Sarek. I have resigned my commission and come home. To Vulcan."

An eyebrow raised itself on Sarek's forehead. "Indeed? When I was informed you were on board the Earth craft, my first thoughts were that you had heard of your grandmother's illness."

"I was so informed en route. Has she regained consciousness?"

"She is dead, Spock."

Simple, direct, efficient. But that did little to soothe Spock's human self, which now screamed desperately for release. With great determination, he fought back the urge and his eyes met his father's directly. "I understand, Sarek. I shall go and pay my respects."

Now it was the older Vulcan's turn to shake his head. "She died but recently; her body is still being prepared for the funeral." Sarek gazed at his son intently. "You have said that you are no longer of StarFleet, Spock. Why did you resign?"

Spock watched thoughtfully as the robotic baggage handlers brought its belongings over to him. "I have been too long among Terrans, Sarek. I intend to submit myself KOLINAHR, and to remain on Vulcan."

"And do you now despise your human half, Spock?"

The former officer measured his next words carefully. "I could not despise my human self and at the same time do honor to my grandmother's memory." Was there just a hint of an enigmatic smile at the borders of Sarek's mouth? Had his father been testing his sincerity? He thrust the thought from his mind. No, their feud had ended years before when Spook's own blood had given Sarek a second chance at life. (3) His father's motive was honest curiosity - curiosity in a son who had always been largely alien to him. "I do not despise it as much as I am bewildered by it." Spock continued. "I have never been able to understand emotional, irrational behavior; human emotion is an affront to logic and reasoning, Sarek, and I intend to return to the Vulcan way."

Sarek half-closed his eyes and nodded his acceptance. "It is good, Spock, But KOLINAHR is difficult, and you may not be accepted as a student immediately. Therefore, you may still instruct at the Academy of Sciences, if you wish."

"Indeed!" Spock was genuinely pleased at his father's offer. "I am honored, Sarek, and greatly in your debt."

Sarek motioned the robotoids to put his son's belongings on the conveyor to his private, craft. "Amanda is at the embalmer’s, Spock, assisting in the funeral arrangements. It is well that she is not here to witness your return, for she would have grieved overmuch at your decision. Such is her nature - and her beauty."

Spock merely nodded, feeling there was nothing else to say. But in the years to come he would learn to appreciate the subtle irony in his father's last words.

The buzzer to McCoy's quarters sounded but all Christine Chapel received in reply was a gruff "Come!" from somewhere deep within the apartment. As the door swished open, she hurried in, only to find the atrium empty and dark. The bedroom lighting was still on, however, casting its dim glow into the gloomy darkness of the corridor. She moved towards it. "Leonard, how did the hearing go?" There was no answer. She turned the corner into the sleeping area and stopped short, her worst fears realized.

Roger would have called it a "body blow," but, as always, thinking of Roger Corby in times of stress never helped. It just made things worse. It had been difficult enough to go on after finding him at last, then losing him forever, deep underground on that miserably cold planet, (4) but she'd never gotten over the loss. Transferring her feelings to Spock had left her unfulfilled, frustrated, and helpless. The only man she'd been able to relate to with any degree of sensitivity since Roger had been Leonard McCoy, and she didn't need to see the bag on the bed, half-filled with a few meager belongings, to know he was passing out of her life, perhaps forever. The torn uniform at his shoulders, where once had sat his Commander's bars, spoke more eloquently than words ever could.

McCoy sensed her presence but did not turn to face her. "We were beaten before we ever got into the room." he responded to her question in a hollow voice. "Nogura set things up so that Jim and I would be separated, yet still facing him and his staff. He took charge from the beginning and the best I could do was lose my lousy temper!" He slammed a shirt into the bag and stood, fuming, staring in white-hot anger out the window at the Bay. Chapel sunk into a chair and hid her head in her hands. For a long time there was silence.

At length McCoy came over to her and knelt before her, gently prying her hands away from her face. The palms were soaked. "Christine, I - uh - I want to thank you for signing that statement of support. I know it's not worth a damn now but it meant a great deal to me. I want you to know that."

She managed a brave smile. "Thank you," she whispered. "but you were so kind and understanding after Roger died. And helping me get over Spock-" She sniffed and choked back a sob. "Leonard, I owed you so much!" She broke down completely and collapsed on his shoulders. McCoy held her tenderly, letting her cry herself out.

When she had finished, he took a cloth from his medi-kit and gently dried her face. She look up at him with a mixture of relief and dread, making his next words all too difficult. "I guess you could tell what happened after I blew up." he said.

"I knew as soon as I walked in. What will you do now?"

He rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. "I'm not quite sure, except I want to go home. I've had enough of Nogura and his goddamned StarFleet! Maybe I'll go out to the rural Georgian countryside and see if the outlanders (5) need a good doctor." He paused. "If I do, I'll need a damned good nurse."

Her eyes widened in anticipation but she rejected the idea immediately. "Leonard, I can't. I've already started my studies for my doctorate here. There's no way I could go with you now."

He nodded reluctantly. "I know. But if I had my pick of any nurse in the Fleet, I'd take you. You're the best, Christine."

Embarrassed but grateful, she touched his arm, words failing her. She was about to speak when she noticed the wall chronometer. "Leonard, I have to go. Will I see you again?"

"I don't know. You'll always be welcome wherever I call home. I'll send you my address as soon as I'm settled, but I'm not coming back to StarFleet, Christine. Ever."

Whatever Chapel might have replied was cut off by the buzzer of the intercom. "Your transport is ready, Doctor." said a female voice. "Departure in fifteen minutes."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." he acknowledged and turned back to Chapel. "I haven't much time. You'd better go - I still have a few things to pack."

"Of course. Well, good, luck, Leonard. Maybe I'll get down to see you, who knows?"

"Goodbye, Christine." he said simply. Somewhat awkwardly, they embraced and kissed lightly, and Chapel turned quickly so that McCoy would not see the tears which begged for release.

As the doors swished shut behind his former nurse, McCoy was hit with the same kind of body blow as she had. It seemed like the bottom of the universe was falling out from under him. He turned to resume his packing, his deepest emotions in turmoil.

"Lori," Nogura began carefully, "Jim Kirk is coming apart at the seams. I need your help in putting him back together." StarFleet's Commanding Admiral spoke gently and quietly, but with a sense of urgency which bordered on the desperate.

Vice-Admiral Lori Ciana - slender and graceful, and the possessor of a keen, inquisitive mind - stared only momentarily at the viewer on Nogura's desk before angrily snapping it off. "Then why did you ignore McCoy's report and run roughshod over him at the hearing last week?"

"Because I could not allow Kirk to go back into space again! He's much more valuable in my office, Lori! Don't you understand that?"

In reply she snapped the viewer on and read McCoy's conclusions and recommendations for the fifth time. But halfway through, she sat bolt upright. "Oh, Lord." she whispered. "Is that why you want me to meet him, Heihachiro? Is that it?"

"Is what it, Lori?" he asked, feigning his innocence.

"It is, and I should have seen it coming." she said thickly. "Stars, Admiral, you're worse than I thought!"

Nogura leaned over the desk, his face mere inches from hers. "Look, Lori, Kirk became overly dependent on his ship and. imposed an emotional wall between himself and his crew, especially women. Coming off star duty, he's been deprived of both his ship and his need for emotional defense mechanisms. With his guard down, Spook's resignation hit him hard, and McCoy's leaving has shattered his faith in himself! He feels alone and friendless, and because he shut himself off from emotional involvements for so many years, he can't reach out! He doesn't know how! Lori, he's like a baby, learning how to walk and talk for the first time!"

"And what makes me so eminently qualified to teach him?" she replied cooly, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Because you're the chief psychologist on the Commanding Admiral's staff," Nogura rejoined bluntly, "and because you are a beautiful, intelligent, and sexually-exciting woman."

Lori flushed crimson under her long raven tresses. Stars! she swore to herself. This bastard will pull anything out of anyone's file and use it against them! She looked up and tried a weak smile. "Well, Admiral, since it seems my private, intimate life is just so much public knowledge, what do you want me to do?"

Nogura's features broke into a decidedly malicious grin. "Do? Whatever comes naturally, of course!" He turned at the sound of the door buzzer and thus missed Lori's glare.

Commodore James T. Kirk entered. Lori was astonished to see how lean he had become in just one week. He still filled out his uniform well enough, but the lines in his face and the dark patches under his eyes were much more effective indicators of his weariness and strain. Though he stood stiff and straight, a finger twitched as he entered and crossed the room, taking great pains to hide the unsteadiness in his tread. Divorced from his ship, Kirk no longer gave a damn what happened to him, despite his outward bearing. Lori realized instantly just how right McCoy had been, and how, in the final analysis, Kirk would become not an asset but a burden to Nogura. At the hearing, she had immediately understood why a starship crew would readily follow wherever he might lead, but now, Lori's trained eyes could see just how much of the man's vital spirit had been swept into oblivion by Nogura's decision.

"Jim, I'd like you to meet Vice-Admiral Lori Ciana, my staff psychologist." said Nogura. "Lori, I have the honor of presenting James T. Kirk."

Kirk tried his best smile, but the sureness and intensity were no longer there. "How do you do, Miss Ciana," he said, extending his hand. "Have we - have we met before?"

She instantly noted the hesitation. "My pleasure, Commodore. Yes, we've met, though not formally."

"Where, may I ask? I'm sorry, but I don't recall-"

Oh Lord, she thought. Is his memory going? She took his hand. "At the hearing last week-" and as soon as she said it, she knew it was wrong. Kirk's face clouded and the hand which had gripped hers with the strength of a drowning man instantly released.

The pair eyed each other for a moment - Kirk looking confused and somewhat embarrassed, Lori feeling foolish and ashamed - and Nogura seized the moment. "If the two of you will excuse me, I've a rather urgent appointment-"

"Yes, of course, Admiral," Lori replied, making no attempt to hide her sarcasm. Kirk merely nodded.

As the doors swished shut behind the Commanding Admiral, Lori turned back to Kirk. "I'm sorry about what I said, Commodore. It was stupid of me, and I should know better. Will you forgive me?"

He only half-heard what she had said. "I-I don't know. So much has happened in the last few weeks, I-" He broke off, groping for words. "I've - never felt so helpless in my life!"

"Helpless? How do you mean?"

Kirk began to pace, gradually losing his awareness of Lori's presence. "I come back from my command, dock here at Earth, and after securing my ship and releasing my crew, I'm ordered to beam down - for a 'Welcome-Home' ceremony!" He shook his head in wonder. "Some damn-fool idiot in StarFleet Command must have thought me a hero or something!"

That 'damn-fool idiot' just walked out of here, Lori thought wryly to herself. But even as the thought formed in her mind, Lori could sense her analytical abilities working overtime: observing here, assessing there, and trying to come up with a solution that would satisfy both Nogura's orders and her new patient's needs. She fingered the collar of her uniform as she also became aware of some very un-professional feelings which, try as she might, she could not ignore, and. which made her hate Nogura all the more for his analysis.

She watched Kirk closely as he paused behind a chair, reciting the events of the welcome-home ceremony - a ceremony Lori remembered intimately from having been there and being im pressed by it as everyone then present had been. She let him talk. First rule of psychoanalysis, she thought: the patient needs to verbalize his concerns. When he lapsed into silence, she gently prodded him. "What happened after that, Jim?"

Kirk turned, responding to the voice, but only dimly aware that Lori had used his first name. His face fell. "I was told that the ENTERPRISE was to stay in dry dock for an unspecified period of time, and that I was to take a mandatory rest leave. Vrystaa! (6) I felt like I was being put out to pasture! I was considering going to Nogura to demand an explanation when I heard about Spock." He looked away, unconsciously clenching a fist, as he tried to control the volcanic confusion ripping through him. Why hadn't Spock told him?!

"Go on."

Kirk relaxed visibly, unclenching his fist, and finished pacing directly in front of Lori. With just a touch of hauteur, he said, "The rest you know. The hearing, McCoy, and the confirmation of my leave. I had hoped to get another ship - even a destroyer - but I guess Admiral Nogura has other plans for me." A flash in his eyes said, sarcastically, Doesn't he?

Lori, of course, noticed, and proceeded cautiously. "He does, Jim, and so do I, but not necessarily the same ones."

"What plans?" Kirk was instantly wary.

She rose and stood eye-to-eye with him, hoping he would not detect the feelings behind her words - at least not before she was ready to reveal them. "Jim, you do need some time away from StarFleet. A leave right now is the best thing for you."

"And what do you have to do with it?" The words were delivered with a snap that almost made Lori jump. As firmly as she could, she answered: "I'm going with you. In fact, I'm going to plan your entire itinerary for the next six months."

In the ensuing silence, she wasn't sure if he was going to hit her, or break into tears. When the trembling in his face subsided, he spoke only one word. "Why?"

"I have my orders, Jim."

"To blazes with your orders!" he exploded. "If I have to take a rest leave, I'm going somewhere where I can be alone! And no one's going to stop me! Not you, not Nogura, not anyone!"

"Jim-"

"The answer is no!" Kirk headed for the door.

"Jim, wait! Please - let me help!"

An explosion went off in Kirk's head and he stopped cold. "What did you say?" he whispered.

Lori's expression betrayed her bewilderment. "I said 'let me help.' Jim, what's wrong?"

"Edith." Kirk replied in a hollow voice. "My God, you sounded just like Edith!" (7) Conflicting tides of passion and anguish rose and crashed within him. "Is that what your orders are? To help me?"

"Yes, Jim, they are. Who is Edith?"

Kirk ignored her question. Edith had once asked him to let her help, and the question had ultimately cost her her life. Was Lori's now forfeit for asking the same thing? No, don't be absurd, he told himself. That was then, and this is now. It might work. And I do need her help, he added ruefully. But having thought it, his stance straightened visibly. He would accept her, but never admit just how much he needed her. If he ever was to return to star command, he could never admit that to her, or to anyone. "All right, Lori, we'll play it your way. What do you propose to do?"

She took his arm and steered him towards the door. "Well, to begin with, my family owns some shorefront property with a large cottage some one hundred miles up the coast. It's beyond the resettled area and very quiet. We'll go there first..." As they exited, Lori made a mental note to check Kirk's file and find out who Edith was. It could be important...

Lori Ciana was as good as her word. For the next half-year, shuttling between New San Francisco and the Oregon coast, she kept Kirk too busy to even think. She quickly found that he possessed a tremendous zest for early morning beach-jogging, as well as engaging in aqua-sports and games invented on half a dozen planets. But when he became moody and introspective - which was frequent - she would set him to work chopping wood for the cabin's ancient cast-iron stove. Kirk would take his frustrations out on the logs, and as the sound of his blows echoed and reverberated throughout the surrounding forest, the sight of a half-naked Jim Kirk, his powerful muscles heaving and rippling, with sweat pouring off him, was enough for Lori to excuse herself.

Whenever they came into New San Francisco, Lori would make point to steer him clear of StarFleet Headquarters, at least for the first few weeks, and concentrated instead on the city's revitalized cultural centers. To her amazement, though she knew Kirk's file from stem to stern, he took great delight in the older forms of cultural expression - symphony orchestras, for example (composed of the real instruments), performing the works of Bach, Mozart, Wagner, and Beethoven; morality plays, especially Shakespeare, and poetry readings from Earth's medieval period were great favorites also. But what surprised and at the same time delighted Lori the most was Kirk's intense interest in antique shops - shops selling anything and everything from Earth's days of the great ocean-faring vessels. And he seemed to possess a keen eye for discerning replica from genuine artifact. It was almost as though he himself had once been captain aboard one of those - what were they called? - clipper ships! The image had come home with striking clarity one afternoon in a particularly musty basement shop as Kirk had tenderly picked up a hand-hewn wooden model of an old San Francisco whaler and, with near-tears in his eyes, spent the next several hours explaining to Lori - and to the stupefied shopkeeper, who had thought he knew everything - the operation of a nineteenth-century whaling ship. She could almost see him on the deck, spray dashing about him as he roared his orders, with huge waves crashing and the gigantic sails booming in the wind. It was an imposing picture, to say the least, and Lori could feel the distinction between her personal and professional selves blurring. You could do a great deal to this man, she thought, yet at his essence, he's still powerful, virile, and impossibly attractive. The sea-vision was even more compelling than the one of Kirk chopping wood.

Very soon afterward, they moved into one of the restored Victorian houses in the city's eastern district under terms of StarFleet's basic one-year living arrangement, and in a remarkably short time, Kirk adjusted to a settled existence. The trips to Oregon became less and less frequent, as did his moodiness, and Lori compensated by slowly bringing him back into contact with StarFleet, though still keeping him clear of any of his old shipmates who happened to be passing through. But one former Enterprise crewmember managed to slip past Lori's guard, and she was the one Vice-Admiral Ciana knew the least about.

Janice Rand had come home to see her family in the New San Francisco suburb of San José, but though she had not seen them in several years, she knew she could not stay. Shortly after leaving for Chicago-Center, Kirk had begun a holograph correspondence with her that had died out after a few months with no explanation. Her attempts to re-establish contact with him had been stonewalled somewhere in StarFleet, and she was both bewildered by it and determined to do something about it. No news is good news, she'd once been told, but her instincts had told her that something was not right. She took leave of her family, begging official business at StarFleet, and took the first available transport out.

The autosled ride up to New San Francisco was uneventful, and Rand often wondered how she'd react to seeing the place again, and to Kirk. The scenery whisking by had little impact on her thoughts; vaguely she noted the vast open areas that up until the early 21st Century had held sprawling communities and industrial complexes, much of which had been destroyed in the Great Quake of 2012 and the Mind-Control Riots of the 2050's. The area had lain in utter ruins for the better part of several decades after that, and while much of Earth's surviving population had descended into the planet to rebuild their civilization, small pockets of people like Rand's ancestors had managed to survive on the surface until the decision of the World Governors (8) to terraform the locale early in the 2080's. Rand vividly recalled from her history lessons the story of how Admiral Harrison Michaels, the project's designer and. director, had exhorted his work crews far beyond the limits of normal human endurance to complete the project in the unheard-of time of six months. The corridor between San José and New San Francisco had come to life under his talented direction, and the ultimate fruit of his work had been the beginnings of the surface reconstruction of old San Francisco, almost totally leveled in the Great Quake. What no one, not even Admiral Michaels, had been able to understand was how the old Golden Gate Bridge had been able to survive. It had been severely damaged, of course, but had not toppled as had its companion span, the Oakland Bay Bridge. It remained a monument to the talent and genius of its 20th Century designer and, like the George Washington and Verrazano Bridges in New York, was a tribute to those humans who had put more faith in the quality of their work than in its future profit. Originally, Michaels had intended only to restore the Golden Gate to its original condition and let it stand as a living museum, but upon examination had concluded that with only minor structural modifications it could handle late 21st Century pneumatic traffic. The reopening of the bridge in 2095 had led to the revitalization of the entire Pacific Northwest coast.

The autosled rounded a bend, then began to climb over what Rand knew was the last range of hills before its descent in to New San Francisco proper. She disengaged her seatbelt and made her was to the forward cabin. Standing silently behind the pilot's seat, she knew she'd be afforded a spectacular view.

As the nose of the sled topped a rise, she caught her breath. There, etched against a vivid cobalt sky, stood the spire of StarFleet headquarters, and as they continued to rise, the full majesty of the great structure perched atop Telegraph Hill came into view. Below them stretched the vast panorama of the city. Broad avenues, vast walking and shopping plazas with strictly delineated transportation routes, and numerous parks, all resplendently bathed in the crisp afternoon sunshine. Though expressly designed as a functioning museum city, New San Francisco was a symbol of man's coming of age, and as she thought about it, Rand found herself blinking back tears. Man had come back to live on the surface of his world, knowing that he had never been meant to live underground, now eager to work in harmony with the natural forces of his world instead of exploiting them. This is what Michaels had dreamed would one day come to pass but had not lived to see - in his time, humans had barely begun to reach out to other worlds and alien races, yet still had not reached even a basic working agreement with their own planet. It had been difficult enough just forming the World Governing Body after this tragedies and horrors of the first half of the 21st Century, but Michaels' successors were working hard to see his vision become a planet-wide reality, and were already hailing him as inspired a genius as Zefram Cochrane. (9)

The autosled banked and swooped around the spire, then settled into the landing pattern. Rand returned to her seat and strapped herself in, feeling the G-forces tug at her body as the trim little craft shot through the turn. Below them, suspended at a sharp angle, stretched the Bay, the magnificent Golden Gate, and the Alcatraz Children's Park. Then the sled swung out to sea, turned back inland over Marin County Redwood Preserve, and began the final descent that would deposit them smoothly into the main landing bay of StarFleet Headquarters, Terra.

The mini-bus transport let Janice Rand off directly in front of the Victorian house now shared by Kirk and Lori Ciana. Innocent questions at StarFleet had given her the address, as well as some unexpected information. That Lori Ciana was the reason for Kirk's lessening communication with her was understandable, but when Rand realized that Lori was also the mysterious "stonewaller" in Fleet HQ, she'd been sorely tempted to punch the nearest wall. Calmer reflection had told her that a visit would give her some much needed answers, - and as much about Lori as about Kirk. Though Rand and Jake Hansen had shared quarters in Chicago-Center, both knew she was still tied to Kirk, and their relationship was not what it had been. Jake, in fact, had prodded her to look Kirk up. "For ye have t'know, girl, why he abandoned ye!" That, plus her own inner guilt over her tryst with Kirk, had led her back to New San Francisco. She walked up the front steps and waited patiently as the retina-scan confirmed her identity. A cascade of chimes announced her presence and within moments the door opened. It was Lori. "Admiral Ciana?" Rand questioned innocently. "I'm Janice Rand, an old friend of Commodore Kirk's. Is he in?"

Before Lori - stunned at the identity of the visitor - could speak, a voice boomed from somewhere inside the house. "Janice? Janice, is that you?"

"Why don't you come in?" Lori announced coolly. As Rand entered the house, Jim Kirk rounded a corner, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a large towel which he had draped across his shoulders. He was sweating profusely, having run upstairs from the basement gym. He grinned as he caught sight of Rand and in one sweeping motion thrust Lori aside and grabbed his visitor in a crushing bear hug.

And in that instant Rand knew something was wrong - dreadfully and radically wrong. The word at Fleet HQ was that Kirk had returned to his old self thanks to Lori Ciana, - she had given him new reason to live, and Commanding Admiral Nogura had thus put him in charge of upgrading the Constitution-class of starships. All agreed that Kirk had adjusted well to the changes, and that he was pleased as punch to be working as he was. But what Janice Rand also knew was that none of the personnel she had talked with - nor any of those on Kirk's redesign committee - had ever shared time with Kirk in deep space. All, that is, save one: Montgomery Scott. And Scotty himself, though ecstatic over Nogura's plans for his starships, was less than enthusiastic about what he saw in Kirk. Rand had made a special point of seeking him out, and the redoubtable Scotsman had confided that though he tried to maneuver Kirk into space every chance he got, it had been little use - excursions from Fleet to orbital drydock were all Kirk would take - and he'd confessed that he'd given up trying. It seemed that Kirk's spirit had been grounded along with his body.

She gently broke away from him. "Well, I see you haven't changed a bit!" she lied, trying to keep her composure.

"Jan! It's really good to see you! What in the world are you doing here? You're supposed to be in Chicago-Center!"

"I, uh, I came to see you." she stammered, now feeling quite awkward, and somewhat concerned over Lori's reaction. The Vice-Admiral came to her aid. "Look," she said, "I'm sure the two of you have a great deal to talk about, and I have some reports to finish up. Will you excuse me?"

"Come, let's go into the kitchen," Kirk suggested after Lori had left. He turned to a control panel set into the wall. "Can I order you a drink?"

"No, nothing, thanks." Rand replied, seating herself. "I don't have much time. I have a flight back tonight." Another lie, she told herself, but a necessary one. She would be leaving as soon as possible, but not for the Engineering School. "I just wanted to see you while I was here on leave. I was curious why your holos stopped." She paused and glanced in the direction that Lori had gone. "I guess now I know."

Kirk frowned and stooped as the dispenser issued him a vial of some vile-looking purple liquid. "Protein and sugar compound." He explained. "I always have one after a workout." He sat opposite her and downed half the substance in one gulp, then spread his hands. "I'm sorry. I should have told you about Lori. But between her coming into my life, and my new job at Fleet, I've been too busy to contact anyone, not even old friends." As he spoke, not a flicker of emotion crossed his face. And Rand caught it. She knew he meant Spock and McCoy, but she also knew that Kirk had never been able to hide his feelings about these two before. Instinct told her that he was not play-acting now. He probably thinks that they deserted him, she thought worriedly, and the back of her mind began working at warp-speed. She had to leave; she'd never get anything out of him now, but there was someone who just might... "Jim," she said slowly, "all I've heard about you at Fleet has been good and I'm very happy for you. Really. You owed me nothing and I never expected anything from you. Please don't feel bad." She paused, choosing her words carefully. "But will you tell me one thing?"

"Sure. What would you like to know?"

"Are you happy, James T. Kirk?"

He did not answer immediately, preferring to let the warm smile work itself into his features. "Yes, Jan, I am. Very happy. And I don't miss commanding a starship one damned bit. I'm doing the right thing, believe me."

But Kirk could not see what was in his own eyes, and Janice Rand knew he was lying.

To everyone. Especially himself.

McCoy's lab was totally unlike the sickbay of the ENTERPRISE. Old medical and diagnostic equipment in various stages of quality and disrepair were scattered around the rustic cabin, and loose papers covered with scribbled scrawls lay in haphazard disarray. Not a computer was to be seen in the place, not a tricorder, not even a communicator. Even the bioscope was purely optical. All in all, the cabin's contents bespoke a man who had found his personal Eden - and was perfectly happy to let his few visitors think he was allowing it to go to hell. Actually, McCoy knew the precise location of every bit of information and every piece of equipment in the lab, and could get his hands on anything he wanted within seconds.

Rand had been impressed with the seeming disarray, and even more by McCoy's familiarity with it. Upon leaving Kirk in New San Francisco, she'd immediately hopped a cross-continent air tram to New Georgia. McCoy hadn't been difficult to track down, but he'd been exceedingly difficult to convince that his services were vitally needed some three thousand miles away.

"But why, Doctor? Why won't you help him?"

McCoy sighed and stroked his newly-raised beard. "Because to do so would put me back in touch with StarFleet. Look, around you, Janice. What do you see?"

"A back-woods cabin only faintly resembling a medical lab." she replied.

"Look again." McCoy urged. When Rand's eyes betrayed her helplessness, McCoy softly added: "This is my home, and it's a far cry from a StarFleet lab, as far as you'll find anywhere! I deliberately planned it that way so I wouldn't have any trace of it hanging over me. And home is where I plan to stay."

Rand's eyes narrowed. "Are you sure you're not running away from something?"

"No, of course not." But the sudden flare in McCoy's eyes told Rand that she'd not only struck a raw nerve, but that it might prove exceedingly dangerous to pursue the matter further. "Then there's nothing more to be said then, Doctor, is there?"

"I'm afraid not. Look, at least stay for dinner. I haven't much but-"

"No, I can't. I'm over-leave as it is. Can you take me back to Atlanta? I'll catch the first tram out."

McCoy nodded. "Of course."

"You know, it's really lovely country down here, Doctor." Rand smiled. "In a way I'm glad you're staying. And I'm sorry to be leaving."

"Yes. Yes, it is," he replied as he helped her out of the hastily-rented autosled. "Well, Joanna (10) will be returning soon, and I'm expecting further material from Natira on Yonada." (11) McCoy looked wistfully away from the airtram station to the hills he now called his home, hoping Rand would not catch the regret he knew was flooding his face. He hoped it had not found its way into his voice. "I'm afraid that Jim will have to find his own way." He turned back to her and gripped her shoulders. "My advice to you, young lady, is to return to Chicago-Center and finish your schooling. Try and put the past behind you. You must think of your own future."

Rand bit her lip and made one last effort. "But you must come! You're the only one he'll listen to!"

"He didn't before."

"But he will now! I'm sure of it!"

McCoy shook his head. "The only one he'll listen to now, Janice, is himself. But he's got to break through his own pigheaded pride first! It'll take a while, if it happens at all. But don't expect it to."

She nodded resignedly. "I understand, Doctor. Thank you." She started at the sound of a buzzer, signaling that the tram was now ready for boarding. "That's my call. Remember me to Joanna, will you?"

"I'll do that," McCoy promised, "and tell Scotty that he and his proverbial scotch-bottle are welcome anytime. Maybe I'll finally get him to acquire a taste for mint juleps!" They both laughed, and with graceful gallantry McCoy kissed her hand and swept her into the opening of the boarding causeway. But he did not loosen his grip, causing Rand to swing around at the last moment. "Janice, I-I hope I'm wrong. About Jim, I mean. But I won't - I can't - go back. He has to heal himself! I'm sorry to be so pessimistic but I-"

Rand took his hand and squeezed it. "I understand, Leonard. Please, don't blame yourself." She kissed him lightly and was gone down the corridor. As he watched her go, McCoy whispered - more to himself than aloud - "But I do, Janice, I do! I walked out on Jim when he needed me the most. I was his last hope - and I failed him!" He turned and walked quietly back to the autosled, oblivious to the airtram rising majestically into the evening twilight behind him.

 

Part 2 - Some 18 Months Later...

"So how's life in Admiralty Wing, Jim? Fleet Deployment keeping you busy?"

Kirk downed the remains of his tranya (12) and looked out over the crowded pub. This one, in downtown New San Francisco, was larger and noisier than the more sedate cabaret back at SF HQ. It was perfect for what Kirk wanted. No prying eyes, no Admirals looking over your shoulders - and never a question asked. He looked back at his companion. "It's okay, Bart. I've had a helluva time into the last year-and-a-half."

"Your expression says you're lying through your teeth, Mr. Kirk." grinned Bart Nivesta. A freighter pilot, he and Kirk had met while the latter had been overseeing the replacement grain runs to Sherman's Planet. (13) "I know that look. If you don't get back into space again, whatever's buggin’ you will just eat you alive."

It was going well, Kirk thought. "Nah, I'm okay, Bart, really. But maybe I could use a vacation."

"Fine. Where'd you have in mind? The asteroid farms? The Martian Colonies? I know a great little place on Jupiter's 23rd moon that-"

"Epsilon Eridani III." Kirk interrupted.

Nivesta started, not fully comprehending what his ears had just told him. "Vulcan? Are you out of your damned Admiralty mind, Jim? Nogura's put Vulcan off-limits to you - you've known that for months!"

"I know," Kirk replied testily. He leaned across the table, a sudden fire in his eyes. "But I've had Spock crawling around my insides for almost three years now. Three years, Bart! I never found out why he left StarFleet, and it seems no one can tell me that except Spock himself! Now Nogura may be content with what Spock told him, but I'm not! I can't! I've got to know!"

"You think it's something you did? Or maybe didn't do?"

"I don't know!" Kirk pounded the table to enunciate every word. "Don't you understand, Bart? I don't know! I've got to find out!"

"All right, Jim, all right! Take it easy! Hmm..." The freighter pilot sat in thought for a moment. "Okay, Jim, I guess I owe you a favor for all the times you've cut across red tape for me. But a legit run is out of the question. If you're recognized-"

"Then you'll have to do better, won't you?" Kirk said dangerously. He rose and fixed Nivesta with a hard glare. "You're right - you do owe me. So get me on the fastest ship you can, whatever it is. I don't care if I have to sleep in a crate of Spican flame-gems! Just…get me to Vulcan-- quickly and quietly!"

Nivesta watched sadly as Kirk threaded his way through the crowd. He would never make his inquires. In fact, there was only one place Bart Nivesta could go ...

"Dammit, Jim, what in the name of all the stars has gotten into you?" Nogura exploded the moment his office door had closed behind Kirk. "I've set you up here in StarFleet practically as my right-hand man - Commanding Admiral could be yours when I retire! You showed me you had adapted to ground life, did everything I asked, and now this! Damn! This is not like you, Jim, not like you at all! And if trying to get to Vulcan wasn't bad enough, you have to sneak around behind my back!"

"You'd have refused, Heihachiro."' Kirk shot back. "We both know that!"

"Well, of course I'd have refused! But going in secret! Jim, that's a breach of trust and respect I cannot tolerate!"

Kirk leaned forward across Nogura's desk, his face contorted with cold, hard rage. "Then officially reprimand me, Admiral!"

But Nogura knew better than to accept Kirk's challenge. An official reprimand would put the entire Admiralty in a bad light, and Nogura would never risk that. He smiled and worked his moustache. "I'd like to, Jim, but I won't. You've got some leave-time coming, don't you? Of course you do. Since you were going to spend it on that hell-hole of a planet, how about taking it in a comparable climate here on Earth? Say, the Egyptian desert? You could even catch up on your hobby of historical research in the Grand Library at Alexandria, hm?"

Kirk set his jaw. Bart Nivesta had acted as he had thought best, Kirk realized, but the result was that he was back under Nogura's thumb. Damn! There had to be a way to get to Spock. There just had to be!

Nogura hit his intercom. "Lieutenant, Admiral Kirk has decided to take his leave on a well-guided tour of the Mediterranean Basin. Punch up the transport schedule and patch it into my screen, will you?"

"Yes, sir."

Nogura stared at his console intently, then met Kirk's eyes with a fire of his own. "Pack your things, Admiral. You leave in two hours. Dismissed!"

"Pavel! Hey, Pavel! Wait!"

First Lieutenant Pavel Andreievich Chekov whirled in surprise at the sound of his seldom-used and largely-unknown first name, and halted in mid-stride. He instantly recognized the oval face, the close-cropped black hair, and as the figure came closer, the sparkling almond eyes and the easy grin. "Mr. Sulu! What are you doing here?"

"Well, I'm certainly not chasing after any pretty girls," the Asian lieutenant commander responded with a laugh. "And it's Hikaru, remember?"

"Yes, of course." Chekov grinned in embarrassment. Sulu's nonchalance and easy manner had always been difficult for him to live up to, especially when he had considered himself the fastest, loosest ensign aboard the ENTERPRISE. But that had been almost three years ago, and long before the affair on the asteroid Caarpacia. (14) And then weapons/defense command school and security training. It had been a long three years for Chekov and he felt like he'd aged ten. Sulu noticed it at once in his friend's firmer, more severe bearing. "Seriously, Pavel, I'm here for Admiral Nogura's briefing. You too?"

Chekov nodded. "And Commander Uhura and Dr. Chapel are already inside; they said Mr. Scott and Chief Rand would be here as well. Hikaru, do you think-?"

"The ENTERPRISE, Pavel? Maybe Nogura wants to have our old command crew to take her out on a shakedown." Sulu grinned hopefully at the nostalgic thought.

Chekov frowned. "Then why the secrecy of our summons? I don't think this is routine."

"You may be right. C'mon, let's go in. We certainly won't get any answers standing out here in the hall."

Chekov followed his friend into the Commanding Admiral's office, wondering worriedly, if Sulu had been right, where the three most important members of the ENTERPRISE's command crew were...

It was time. Spock rose, gathered the folds of his robe around him, and descended the rocky knoll, coming at last to the tortuous path that led to the sanctuary of Gol. The masters would be waiting for him there, and they would bestow upon him the amulet of KOLINAHR, signifying his purging of, and his total mastery over, his all-too-human emotions.

But a voice screamed inside his head, and though he would not admit it for some time, Spock's half-human Vulcan heart knew that he had failed...

James T. Kirk, back unexpectedly from his Mediterranean "tour," hurried on to Nogura's private office, leaving a bewildered Commander Sonak in his wake. The Vulcan science officer - Spock's replacement, and Kirk's first and only choice for the post - could only raise one eyebrow, then stride purposefully toward the briefing rooms. Report to Admiral Kirk? Aboard the ENTERPRISE? It was illogical, of course, but as Spock had once observed, "Rational behavior among Terrankind is as rare as a blatant display of emotion from a mature Vulcan." Sonak at once reminded himself that Spock had been in the best position possible to make such an observation. He nodded to himself. There was an exceptionally high degree of probability that Spock's observation was the sole reason he was now at Gol. Sonak hoped he could handle human emotional patterns at least half as well as his predecessor had.

Kirk stepped out of the turbolift and saw Nogura's office directly in front of him. He had no time to lose. The Intruder (15) was mere days from Earth now, and ENTERPRISE was the only starship available to intercept it in time. She - and StarFleet - had to have the best Captain available and that was not the inexperienced Will Decker, but the seasoned James Kirk. He was determined to make Nogura see it his way, and if he could not ... well, that wouldn't happen.

The door slid open in response to Kirk's summons, and the Commanding Admiral stood there silently, waiting to receive him. Kirk entered, and the door slid closed behind him.

"Dad, there's someone here to see you."

"Not now, Joanna, I'm very busy. Tell him to come back."

"He's from StarFleet, Dad! And he says it's urgent!"

Before McCoy could swing around and reply, a young lieutenant, flanked by two security personnel, brusquely entered the small cabin and swiftly strode over to McCoy's lab table. "Commander, I have been sent by Commanding Admiral Heihachiro Nogura with a personal message for you, to be opened in your presence only." As McCoy looked on in stunned silence, the emissary produced a thin leather case and ran a demagnitizer along its edge. The top flipped open to reveal a simple sheet of paper. Cautiously, McCoy picked it up and began to read:

"'As of this date - 23 November, 2271 (Gregorian), - you will accompany this messenger and proceed directly to StarFleet Headquarters, San Francisco, for immediate re-commission and assignment aboard USS Enterprise (NCC-1701).'" McCoy shot a hard glance at the youthful figure before him, then continued. "'This reserve activation, as per StarFleet Regulations (sec. 469, par. A), invoked this date by direct order of Admiral, Commanding StarFleet, Heihachiro Nogura, upon personal request of...'" McCoy's voice abruptly trailed off.

"Dad! What is it? What's wrong?" Joanna edged her way past the security men and stared at the paper in her father's hands.

McCoy glanced at the lieutenant again, this time apologetically, then stared at the paper in disbelief. "This was not Admiral Nogura's idea, Jo."

"It isn't? Then who-?"

"'…by Nogura, upon personal request of' ...uh... 'of Admiral James T. Kirk."' He looked up, unaware that his hand was shaking. "Lieutenant, what goes on here?"

The messenger shrugged. "I don't know, sir. All I was told was that I was to come here and deliver a message that was apparently too sensitive to be transmitted on any type of channel, and that you were to return with me. I had no knowledge of the contents of my envelope. Frankly, sir, I'm as surprised as you. Something's going on, that's for sure, but they're keeping a tight lid on it."

McCoy raised his right eyebrow, unconsciously imitating Spock, and nervously tapped the paper with his fingers. "And this - whatever-it-is - involves the re-commissioning of the ENTERPRISE?"

"Yes, sir. She wasn't scheduled for warp-drive simulation trials for several weeks yet, then suddenly the whole schedule was moved up. Commander Scott was furious, let me tell you. He-"

But McCoy was up and pacing, thinking furiously. Nogura would not have speeded up the ENTERPRISE's refit schedule without good reason, and whatever that reason was, it obviously involved something terribly important, probably exceedingly dangerous. But the details could keep. What bothered McCoy was that the emergency also involved Kirk. He must know that the ENTERPRISE is going back on line, he mused. Given his state of mind, his feelings of guilt, would he...? McCoy tried to erase the picture building in his mind but it would not dissolve. For Kirk, ENTERPRISE's return to duty would trigger a powerful reaction in him, one which might have disastrous consequences for whatever the emergency was, and StarFleet's ability to meet it. The fact that Kirk himself had requested him was evidence that he might be thinking like his old self again, but that might not be good enough. McCoy's eyes sought out his daughter's and instant understanding flashed between them. "Keep this research going, Jo. I don't know when I'll be back."

"I understand, Dad. Be careful."

The lieutenant harrumphed. "I'm sorry, sir, but we have to leave now. Admiral Nogura did say that this was of the utmost importance."

"Uh, right, of course he did. Look, can I at least pack a few things?"

"Your needs will be taken care of at Fleet HQ. Come-" McCoy turned his back on the lieutenant and grabbed his daughter in a fierce hug. A moment later, he was out the door, the humid Georgia air sultry with his expletives…

"Admiral, you've got to let me go! My presence could make the difference!"

Nogura cast a shrewd glance at his staff psychiatrist. "Lori, whatever's out there is incredibly dangerous! You saw what happened to the Klingon battle section! I won't have you-" "Sir, if Enterprise can't stop it, we'll all be dead! I am Jim's best chance at handling this emergency! I can control him, help him - you know he's not the same commander! He'll need all the help he can get!"

"That's why I recalled McCoy, Lori. At Jim's own request. He may be responding better than you think."

Lori Ciana measured Nogura. "Guilt, Admiral? You've filed away McCoy's analysis of Jim, but every prediction of his has come true!"

Nogura glared back. "None of this would have happened if you hadn't fallen for him! Guilt, Admiral?"

Lori looked away. Nogura was as skillful at chess as he was at running StarFleet. The two frequently overlapped. "Yes, sir. Guilt. But that's why I have to go. Maybe I can complete the job."

Nogura nodded. "All right. Between you and McCoy, maybe you can do something. Besides, as you said, if Enterprise can't stop whatever this is, we will all be dead." He pulled at his moustache and Lori saw in his eyes something she thought she would never see. Heihachiro Nogura was scared to death.

Now that the ship had been officially re-commissioned, Sulu noticed with some satisfaction that the main chronometer on the bridge had begun; he instantly took note of the readout: StarDate 7411.5, and forced a grim smile. He fervently hoped it wouldn't be the last one he read.

As he returned to his tasks, his thoughts rang simultaneously in two other minds: We'll never get this ship ready in time! Uhura's and Chekov's eyes worriedly met his, then they, too, fell back to their individual tasks. There was so much to do ...

All around them crewpersons worked at a killing pace to get the new ENTERPRISE ready for her maiden voyage. Checks and rechecks, inspections of primary and backup systems, maintenance of power loads - all amidst a cacophony of intermingled voices feeding status reports to various department heads. So intense was the bridge crew's concentration on the job at hand that no one noticed the opening of the portside turbolift. No one, that is, until someone, incredulous at what he saw, dropped a test monitor with a reverberating clang.

Sulu, his uniform soaked through with perspiration, turned and looked, and an exclamation died on his lips. There, framed by the turbolift entryway, resplendent in an immaculate dress uniform, stood an Admiral.

James Tiberius Kirk had come home, at last.

 

Postlog, Enterprise StarDate 7412.8

The intercom to Admiral Kirk's quarters buzzed - rather loudly, it seemed to the cabin's occupant. "Come." he said, and swung his legs over so he sat up on his bunk. The doors swished open to reveal a surprising visitor. "Janice!" Kirk exclaimed.

"Admiral, may I see you for a moment?" Chief Petty Officer Janice Rand inquired. Kirk motioned her in. The doors slid shut behind her and she continued in a low tone. "Jim, I want you to know that as long as you remain in command, I'd like to stay aboard."

Kirk smiled. Janice Rand would be a welcome asset to his crew - most of his command crew had consented to remain on board as well, and for their loyalty, Kirk was infinitely grateful. As for Rand, the woman, well...

She caught the look in his eye. "But I want you to know exactly why I'm staying." He started to speak but she cut him off. "No, wait, please - hear me out. Jim, I think you know how I feel about you; if not, let me verbalize it so there's no misunderstanding. I'm very much in love with you - always have been. I just never admitted it to myself until that day at StarFleet when you brought the old Enterprise in. I grew up then because I finally accepted my feelings for you and stopped fighting them. Yes, those feelings are a large part of why I want to stay, but they're not the full reason."

She sat next to him and fixed him with a steady gaze. "When we made love outside Fleet HQ that day, I had no idea how it would affect you - my timing was bad, Jim, real bad! When I learned later the overall consequences, I was shattered, and filled with guilt. That's why I came to see you in New San Francisco while I was home on leave - I was trying to make things up to you. I'm afraid I blew that one, too."

Kirk's expression wore a slight half-smile, remembering. "Go on, Janice. I'm listening."

"After that, I went to Georgia to find Dr. McCoy. I was hoping to get him to get in touch with you and do something before-"

"Before what?"

Rand gathered her composure. "Before you were lost to the stars completely."

The Admiral chuckled. "Oh, I see!"

"No, Jim, I don't think you do. Listen. Do you remember Dr. McCoy's medical report, the one he was going to give at Admiral Nogura's now-infamous hearing?"

He nodded. "But I never saw the contents."

"I did. According to Dr. McCoy, during your first tour aboard the ENTERPRISE, you developed an attachment to your ship that came perilously close to complete identification. You were unaware that it was happening but this identification forced you to build walls between yourself and your crew, especially its female members. You cared for your crew, yes, but in an impersonal way. When Nogura grounded you, you lost both your psychological dependence and your need for walls. You were wide open, with no defenses, and the loss of Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy nearly destroyed you. Unfortunately, in Dr. McCoy’s opinion, these problems were never addressed during the last three years, and strangely enough, the one thing which would force you to deal with the problem would be the source of the problem itself."

"The ENTERPRISE?"

"Exactly. The redesign committee's work kept you close to her, and lessened the pain of her loss, but deep down, you knew you'd never have her again."

"Until a dread emergency brought us back together." Kirk finished, "And it had to be the ENTERPRISE to get me back into space again - no other ship would do." He shook his head in wonder. "So that’s what Bones was getting at when he said I was obsessed with this ship! Damn!" He turned back to her. "But why are you telling me this? Did he send you here?"

"No, but I think he'd approve of what I've got in mind."

Kirk's eyes narrowed. "Go on."

"Jim, with you back in command of the ENTERPRISE, this psychological dependence could recur if you're not careful."

"I'm aware of it now, Janice. I’ll be able to fight it."

"It's not the kind of thing you can fight alone. You need others to help you. Those who love you, and care for you on a deep, personal level." She paused. "Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy are your closest friends and confidants, Jim, but they're both men. What you need is a woman in that capacity - a woman who can act as a buffer between you and the femininity called ENTERPRISE - or else you're going to depend on your ship for that again."

In a flash, Kirk knew. And with the knowledge came searing pain. Two people in a defective transporter, trying desperately to materialize. The horribly distorted screams. One had been a Vulcan science officer, Commander Sonak. The other had been Lori Ciana. Fortunately for them, the pain had been brief. For Kirk, it would last a lifetime, and follow him like a disembodied ghost into every transporter beam. "Lori," he whispered. "That must be why she trans- why she volunteered for the V’Ger mission at the last moment."

Rand nodded, remembering, and the tears welled up in her eyes. She'd been in charge of the transporter room that day, and had been furiously attempting to solidify the two forms when Kirk and Scotty had entered the chamber and tried to help. She squeezed her eyes shut, but the memory would not fade. The last muffled wail, the dying beams, and the eerie silence which had ensued. The ghosts would follow her, too.

Kirk brought her back. "Janice, are you trying to say that you're volunteering for the job?"

She touched his arm and nodded. There seemed to be no words important enough to say.

"I'll try to let you help," he continued, "but it may not be easy for me. Shall we see what tomorrow brings?"

She nodded and moved towards the door. But before she exited, she turned back to him. "Jim, I'm doing this out of a deep and abiding love for you, but I want you to understand that this doesn't mean you can come knocking on my cabin door anytime you feel like it. I'll be there when you need me, but only if you really do. I know how much this command means to you, and I won't let anything interfere. Not even us."

Kirk had always been fond of Rand - had even loved her after his own fashion - and now respected her even more for her self-denial for his sake. "Understood, Chief." he smiled. "Thank you. Good night."

She touched the door activator. "Good night, Admiral." she said, and was gone.

Kirk stood lost in thought for a moment, then pulled his white work tunic and prepared for bed. His body desperately needed sleep - the V'Ger affair, then putting the new ENTERPRISE through a rigorous shakedown - had been more grueling than he had expected. Naturally, he hadn't been pleased with his own performance, but as Spock had pointed out, he'd been grounded for three years. He would improve. The ship, however, had performed flawlessly.

His ship. Kirk turned slowly, surveying his quarters with a satisfied smile. Three years before, he had done the very same thing, wondering if he'd ever return. Three years. He and ENTERPRISE, each in a different way, had been rendered comatose, yet they both had been resuscitated, better than ever. He nodded to himself. They both had changed and grown a little - each in a different way, yet, similarly, they had grown. His gaze came to rest on the doors to his cabin, and he recalled the woman who had just passed through them. Changes indeed there had been.

The image of Spock touched his thoughts. How much the half-Vulcan must have changed by what they had just been through! He would never permit himself to smile, Kirk knew, but would he now be more comfortable with his human half, now that V’Ger had inadvertently taught him that logic alone is not enough?

He touched the intercom by pure reflex. "Spock here, Admiral," it said. The Vulcan was on the bridge, and in Kirk's absence, had assumed the command chair. "Status?" Kirk inquired.

"On course for StarBase One, Admiral, as per your orders. All systems functioning normally."

"'Steady as she goes'." Kirk murmured.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "I believe I have already said that, sir."

Kirk chuckled. "Private line, Mr. Spook."

The Vulcan turned a dial on the command seat's console, cutting the microphone's field, and lowered his voice. "Yes, Admiral?"

"Spock, I never did get a chance to thank you for all you've done in this incident with V’Ger."

"Acknowledged, but unnecessary. I merely followed the logical course and did what was required."

Kirk nearly burst out laughing. "Spock, it's almost as though I've never been away, but I know the differences - and the similarities. It's good to be home - really home."

There was silence for a moment. When Spock resumed, it was in a much softer tone. "Jim, you are aware, perhaps, of an ancient Vulcan saying: 'The differences between each being are the most important similarity.'?"

"Yes, I'm familiar with it. Why?"

"I submit that you now truly understand that wisdom." Kirk smiled, feeling Spock's acceptance of his human half. Perhaps he would now fight to be the best of both worlds! "As you do, too, Mr. Spock. Kirk out."

And James T. Kirk, back aboard the starship ENTERPRISE, promptly fell into the most peaceful slumber he had had in three years.

And dreamed of home...

 

Notes

1

See "Patterns of Force", StarDate 2534.0

2

USS Antares, science vessel, psychokinetically destroyed by teenager Charlie Evans in the year 2266. See "Charlie X", StarDate 1533.6. Jake Hansen was well aware of Charlie Evans’ crush on Rand, and how he "made her disappear."

3

See "Journey To Babel", StarDate 3842.3.

4

See "What Are little Girls Made Of?", StarDate 2714.4.

5

McCoy here refers to the small segment of human society which periodically abandons all contact with culture and civilization, and live "naturally". Although in complete sympathy with their ideals, McCoy could never bring himself to fully join the movement.

6

A Denebian word meaning, roughly, excrement.

7

Edith Keeler, Terran female, ca. 1930, Gregorian. See "The City on the Edge of Forever", StarDate 3134.0.

8

The World Governing Body was a distinguished group of scientists, sociologists, and economists who came together in the aftermath of the Third World War (c. 2053 - 2063) to help rebuild Earth. By that time, many of Earth’s nation-states had collapsed due to the pressures not only of the war, but from the social, political, and economic consequences of their policies. - anarchy had ensued over wide-spread areas, threatening obliteration of entire populations. The WGB had managed to restore order and progress by choosing to NOT revive the nation-state concept, but by restoring political, social, and economic structures on the basis of natural geographic boundaries and ethnic distribution (e.g. - as opposed to artificially-created political boundaries).

9

Zefram Cochrane, Terran, revered as the father of the warp drive, in the Terran year 2063. See "Metamorphosis", StarDate 3219.4, and the holo-presentation, "First Contact".

10

McCoy’s daughter, approximately age 26.

11

See "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky", StarDate 5476.3.

12

A beverage initially introduced to Kirk by Balok of the First Federation. See "The Corbomite Maneuver", StarDate 1512.2.

13

See "The Trouble with Tribbles," StarDate 4523.3.

14

The asteroid where Chekov earned his second lieutenant's bars. On a survival-training mission on the remote world, the party's leader had been killed in a freak accident, leaving the then-Ensign Chekov, the only other officer, to bring his mean through, though nearly at the cost of his own life.

15

StarFleet's initial designation for V’Ger/Voyager 6.

 

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