James Kirk was no stranger to the rapid, and often inexplicable, changes that life could bring to a person. But he had to admit that his unprecedented rise from juvenile delinquent, to Starfleet cadet, to Captain of a constitution class starship, had even him scrambling to roll with the punches. The fact that it happened in the wake of one the most tragic losses ever to mark the history books only added to his general sense of bewilderment.
Not that he let on to anyone else about his disorientation, riding just beneath his more prominent feelings of triumph and excitement. Command of a starship! A Kirk once again in the service. His mother, bright-eyed and strong-willed and the only person he’d ever had any interest in listening to as a child, had com’d him just last night to tell him how very proud she was of him. Jim had been outright boisterous, energetic and high-strung, keeping her laughing and shouting and just generally not-crying as they celebrated the news in the best ways two people separated by light years of space could do.
He couldn’t tell her about the wild doubts he had in himself, the uneasiness that ate away at his confidence, that though the Enterprise was his to command he might fail her or her crew at any moment. Or that he might not live up to the image of his long-dead father, or be strong enough to make the decisions he’d made. That Lieutenant-Commander Spock’s Kobayashi Maru, damn his pointed ears, might prove to be his undoing after all.
For the most part, these nagging doubts and incessant worries bothered him only a little, and his normal exuberance did the rest. And yet there were times at night, wandering the empty corridors of his ship or lying sleepless in his bed, that he couldn’t help but wonder if he was truly ready for what was out there.
But Jim knew, probably better than most, that life didn’t slow down in the face of uncertainty; it kept on, unceasing, just as it always had. The first few days of his command passed relatively peacefully, with only the barest friction to mark the new crewmembers beginning to firmly settle in with the old ones. Efficiency ratings rose and fell predictably, and Jim tried not to fret over it. He could hardly expect the entire Enterprise crew to mesh like a well-oiled machine when they were barely three days out of space dock.
When he mentioned it to the good doctor, Bones’ only comment had been, “I may be a miracle worker, Jim, but some things take more than a shot from a hypo. Give it time.” Having had personal and unpleasant experience with these hypos, Jim more than agreed that they were oftentimes useless and the two of them had celebrated their understanding with a bottle of something with absolutely no redeeming nutritional value – on account of its staggering alcoholic content. The resulting evening of revelry had put Jim at an all-time high for at least twenty-four hours. Good old Bones.
He took to exploring the Enterprise at every opportunity, wandering the bridge during shift and taking in the different stations and accessibility of his ship with pleasure. And at night he walked the corridors of the long and winding halls throughout the interior, sometimes finding something productive to do and sometimes not, until he often returned to his quarters winded and dirty and grinning from ear to ear.
And when he slept, his mind traversed those same corridors, full of forgotten boyhood wonder and eagerness.
The first night of his command that Jim Kirk dreamed of something other than the Enterprise, there was no boyhood wonder to be found. It was a dream full, instead, with images that felt real enough to burn him, images of a planet blazing in red, pulling apart from the inside like an ancient hourglass, rock and ash draining to a tiny pinprick center. And amidst the ruin, a whirlwind of pain and death - and a terrible, agonizing sense of loneliness. He woke to a pounding heart and a face damp with sweat and what might have been tears, if he’d been in any frame of mind to admit it. He took deep breaths, as deep as his initial horror would permit, pressing his hands into his eyes until he saw stars, chest heaving at the effort of control.
He was not on Vulcan. Not on Vulcan, which was dead and buried and gone. He was on board the Enterprise, his ship. The floor was made of solid deck plating, not sand. The walls were white or gray, not red; there were no towers of rock here, no arid desert air. It was a dream, nothing more. A dream that had felt so real he could have reached out to touch it, of a planet that he couldn’t possibly know but somehow did, recognizing it with the same familiarity he carried of his own Iowa, his own Earth. It took him many minutes to stop shaking, many more to calm his erratic pulse, and there was no further sleep for him that night.
It was two days after that, five days since their departure from Earth, that the universe threw a small but hefty wrench into Jim’s plans for the start of a very successful command career.
Jim turned to regard Uhura, standing at relaxed attention at her communications station, and he had to consciously shut down the immediate urge to leer in her general direction. Wow, having a woman he’d regularly flirted with under his direct command was going to take some getting used to. Really, seriously, a lot of getting used to.
“What is it Uhura?”
“New orders from Starfleet Command coming in. Priority channel one. Sir.” That tacked on ‘sir’ at that end gave him some comfort. At least he wasn’t the only one having trouble adjusting.
“Patch it through here, Lieutenant.” He gestured to the small visual panel next to his command chair. Video feed came through moments later, solidifying into the face of Admiral Komack, looking about as disagreeable as always. Jim had hoped that in the grand scheme of things he and Komack would have very little to do with one another, but considering the man had been at both his academic hearing and at his promotion ceremony, he doubted that was going to be the case. Rumor had it that Komack was one of the few critics in the upper echelons of Starfleet that had wanted to ground Jim rather than award him a commendation for his circumvention of the Kobayashi Maru (and thank goodness Starfleet had seen the light on that one, although he wasn't sure they'd had much choice after the debacle with Vulcan). Jim supposed, suppressing his wicked grin, that it hadn’t at all improved the man's mood to hear about his miraculous rise from cadet to Captain.
He sobered. He might not have gotten that promotion if not for the recommendations of his crew (Bones had been the loudest, and half the time he hadn’t been sure if the man was defending him or condemning him) and the distinct lack of competent commanding officers remaining after the destruction of half the fleet at Vulcan. While he wasn’t above feeling some pride at his well-earned acclaim, he had to remind himself of the immense loss of life that had preceded it.
“Admiral Komack,” he said presently, putting his quiet contemplations aside for another day. “What can we do for you today. Sir.”
Komack’s lips tightened visibly at what he rightly identified as a deliberate lack of respect, and Jim guiltily acknowledged that maybe it was time to bury the hatchet of old grievances. He had to work with these people, after all, and he was a Captain now. He couldn’t afford to destroy all he’d worked for just because of a misplaced word or two up the chain of command.
“Kirk, you’ve been ordered to rendezvous immediately with the Starship Potemkin in the Antares system, currently en route to the new Vulcan colony. You will transport over their complement of passengers, two hundred in all, and proceed with them and their cargo to the colony in the Potemkin’s place. Another ship will be assigned your patrol for the duration of your new orders.”
Jim stared at the tiny image of the admiral, wondering if it was the lackluster video quality that made him appear irritatingly superior, or if that was just the man’s regular state of being. “Sir, the Enterprise hasn’t even had a chance to complete her first mission yet, surely there are other vessels in the area –“
“A biological contaminant has destroyed over fifty percent of the food and water supply on Tau Ceti II, and it is Starfleet’s judgment that only the Potemkin, in the immediate area, has the necessary scientific equipment to render assistance. You are the closest starship to their location with enough additional space to take on the burden of their passengers without loss of time or efficiency.”
“Admiral,” he pressed, not at all certain what he was going to say but needing to say it anyway, “the Enterprise is hardly equipped with suitable quarters for over two hundred passengers –“
“You’ll do, Captain Kirk. Have a care and remember that Starfleet command is here to assign missions based on the best allotment of resources, not to pander to your whims. This subject is closed. Your have your orders. Komack, Starfleet command, out.”
The image blurred and disappeared, while Jim scrambled to close his mouth and regain some of the dignity Komack has just yanked out from under him. Pander to my whims? And to think, not moments ago he’d been worried that lack of respect was going to get him in trouble. God, he really didn’t like that man.
Recovered from his unexpected – and surely undeserved, he thought in irritation – dressing-down, he slumped back into the command chair, momentarily giving in to his annoyance. Then he shook it off, aware that he was setting a poor example for the officers on the bridge (sometimes being the big, bad, constantly-under-surveillance-by-the-rest-of-the-crew Captain just – sucked). He slapped his hands on his knees and stood with his hands tucked on his hips.
“Well. I suppose that, as they say, is that. Mr. Sulu, plot an intercept course with the Potemkin. Lieutenant Uhura, I assume Starfleet transmitted her exact coordinates along with our new orders?”
“Feed them over to Mr. Sulu’s station, if you please.” He turned, regarding his bridge and the competent officers aboard it, finally settling on his Vulcan First, who turned in his chair at the science station to regard his Captain. Jim smiled at him, somewhat grimly, and strolled over, full of fitful energy. He noted with amusement that the closer he drew, the higher the arch of the Vulcan's left eyebrow.
“Well, Spock, first week out and we’re already being asked to pose as a transport ferry for a bunch of civilians. Wonder how fast Scotty’ll be willing to push his engines so we can drop them off and get back to our regular patrol.” Spock said nothing. Seeing the man blinking at him solemnly, Jim was abruptly reminded that the people he’d been so blithely resigning himself to transporting were potentially the last of the Vulcan species. The last of his Vulcan first officer’s species.
Oops, he thought. Jim wasn’t big on politically correct behavior, but even he could see how his last comment might be viewed as just a little boorish.
“Sorry, Spock,” he murmured, though it galled him to withdraw anything he said, especially publicly. Bones would probably tell him it was just a sign that he was growing up or something. “That was insensitive.”
“Not at all, Captain. Your comment was neither inaccurate nor entirely unexpected. I will, however, recommend that you assign another officer to see to our passengers' needs and requirements for the duration of their stay. For diplomacy’s sake.”
Ouch. Right, that would teach him to make nice with the stiff-necked Vulcan.
“I’ll leave it in your capable hands, Mr. Spock.”
The Vulcan inclined his head in assent and Jim found himself itching to respond in kind, deliver a not-so-congenial response to that irritatingly impassive visage. He wondered if it would always be like this between them, both of them striving to offset the other, seeing challenges where none had been meant.
“Don’t forget to stock the stores with Vulcan Plomeek soup, Spock, and no throwing it at the wall this time either,” he muttered.
“Captain?” He frowned at the other man, noting the two eyebrows raised sharply in surprise. Hadn’t Spock thrown soup at the wall once before? But no, that didn’t seem possible, given the circumstances of the only time he’d ever seen the other out of control. He must have been thinking of someone else. He turned away from that inquiring gaze, suddenly unsettled.
“Duty calls, gentlemen. Mr. Sulu, plot an intercept course for the Potemkin and take her out at warp two.”
The hours that followed their change in orders were tedious, chafing like a badly worn pair of shoes. Most of the ship was busy frantically attempting to convert all available living space into quarters for the Vulcan contingent soon to befall their ship. There wasn’t a lot a captain could do to assist in the matter, though Jim noticed the rest of the bridge crew found themselves busy enough coordinating with their various departments as supplies and instructions changed hands faster than a cadet late to his morning class. Jim tried not to sulk too obviously. Not that patrolling the borders of Federation space was anything to cheer about, but it had been the Enterprise’s first command, and Jim had been looking forward to completing it with admirable, if bored, efficiency. Now, even that small pleasure had been snatched away, and he was, in a word, quite grouchy about the whole thing.
“Buck up Jim, things could be worse you know.”
He turned to regard his old friend. His new chief of medicine had taken to frequently haunting the bridge during his duty shifts if there was nothing in sickbay that required his attention, and Jim hadn’t yet decided if it was a curse or a blessing. McCoy made for an excellent and entertaining conversationalist, but there were two things the man was renowned for being: a doctor of medicine, and a world-class nag. And he did them both with a similar level of skill and reliability.
“Bones, if you don’t stop pestering me, I’m going to drop you at the nearest Starbase and replace you with one of your nurses.”
“And force someone else to deal with the consequences of your next set of imbecilic stunts? I don’t think even Starfleet nurses are trained to put up with that, Jim.”
“Why don’t you go stab someone with one of your hypo’s and stop bothering me, for a change?”
“It’s a funny thing; the only person I have the urge to stab these days is you.”
Jim sighed. Loudly. A friend McCoy might be, but there were some days where you’d never have known it.
“Captain, coming up on the Antares system. Estimated arrival time to the Potemkin is six minutes, sir.”
“Thank you, Mr. Sulu. Uhura, contact their quartermaster for additional supplies and send my regards to her captain. Mr. Chekov, taking into account our new passenger contingent, estimated travel time to the new Vulcan colony?”
A few quiet acknowledgements beeped as his youngest bridge officer competently worked at his station. “Approximately ten days, fourteen hours sir, assuming a relative travel speed of warp three or better.” He took a moment to decode the ensign’s heavily accented English. That could prove interesting if he ever needed to rely on the man (boy?) in a crisis.
So, just shy of a week and a half with two hundred passengers aboard, each of them clamoring for room and facilities. Oh, joy. He now had no doubts that Komack himself had been behind this lovely little mission assignment, and that allotment of resources had had nothing at all to do with it.
“Thank you, Mr. Chekov,” he grumbled. “Mr. Spock, you have the conn. I think it’s time to see to our guests.”
The Vulcan had been in the process of standing and paused hesitantly, halfway out of his station chair. “Captain –“
“Diplomacy can start tomorrow Mr. Spock. The bridge is yours.”
Jim took a certain guiltily vindictive satisfaction in seeing the stifled look of chagrin Spock always seemed to get whenever something was particularly irritating him. Jim took a perverse pride in being the person to put that look on his face at least once a day.
A small part of him noted and filed away that this would also, conveniently, free his first officer from having to man the station where, the last time a group of Vulcans had been seen gracing it, he’d had to process the death of his mother.
But that was only a very small part, he assured himself. And surely not at all obvious to anyone but him, thank God. He had a definite reputation to maintain.
So that was how Jim found himself manning the transporter pad, beaming up Vulcan refugees in groups of fives and sixes. It was absolute bedlam, ensigns and midshipmen rushing to and fro with baggage, supplies and room assignments, cargo containers, food, clothing, and various other necessities. The Vulcan passengers turned out to be the least chaotic part of the entire thing, projecting nothing so much as an air of resignation as they each waited, quite rigidly calm, for instructions on their individual quarters for the next two weeks. Seeing face after face of complete blankness moving smoothly in the midst of such chaos gave Jim chills he couldn’t quite explain. He regretted ever handing over command to Spock. Maybe he could tell him he hadn’t meant it and would very much appreciate it if he could give it back, please and thank you.
It was as he was in the process of beaming up the last three sets of passengers (and inwardly cheering – huzzah, it was almost over) that something completely unexpected happened.
Beneath the sparkle of the transporter beam, busy recombining molecules in its particular fashion, and watching the latest group of four materialize, Jim saw a familiar face. A very familiar face. After the parade of Vulcans that had come and gone through this room, most of their faces had begun to look alike, but this one was different. This was the face of a friend he’d never have. And might never have again if he didn’t find some way of communicating with Spock that didn’t involve sniping at each other over every minor inconvenience.
Granted, the man looked somewhat different without his thick, confining winter jacket bundled around him, but the figure was unmistakable, nonetheless. Though he knew, watching the materialization fade, that he should be formulating a greeting, preparing passenger assignments, delegating the luggage grunt work to the ensign practically hopping at his side, for a moment all of that faded into the background, buried beneath a veritable mountain of surprise.
Jim wasn’t sure why he hadn’t considered the odds of this happening, but he had to admit, if only to himself, that the possibility hadn’t occurred to him that he would ever see Ambassador Spock again. Especially not with First Officer Spock (the younger, more arrogant version) not half a ship away from here, currently at the helm of this newly appointed transport ship.
In a complete one-eighty, he was once again immensely grateful that he’d saddled Spock with the conn for the duration of the passenger exchange.
“Ambassador Sp –“ He caught himself just in time, seeing the look of interest that had been gracing those features jumping to the Vulcan equivalent of alarm at his near slip. “Ambassador,” he settled on, merely nodding.
“Captain,” the other greeted, stepping down from the transporter pad, followed closely by two others, an elder and a young male, as well as a very young female child Jim could see lurking just beside the older Spock’s leg. Jim was no judge of Vulcan biology, but he’d place her age at no greater than seven or eight Earth years.
He bemusedly wondered at the fickle nature of a universe that would lead to the improbable coincidence of this second meeting between old friends. If the first one had been unlikely, this one must surely be astronomical.
He stepped away from the transporter controls. “Ensign.”
The eager looking young man who’d been vibrating at his side snapped to attention with a speed that made Jim wince in sympathy. Thank God he’d never been that dedicated to formality. “Sir!”
“Hunt down one of the transporter techs and ask them to beam up the remaining two groups of passengers. I’ll see to the needs of this group.”
The crewman stared at him, seeming at a loss for words, and Jim gave him a look that clearly said, that was an order, ensign, what are you waiting for? – which quickly resulted in another hastily cried “sir!” and the resulting flurry of activity needed to find the transporter tech in question.
Jim smiled the smile of the wicked at the man who regarded him with such solemnly disguised pleasure. “Well,” he said, propping his hip against the control console. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“Indeed. It is a singularly pleasing coincidence seeing you again, old friend.” Who was he calling old? Jim thought. “May I introduce you to the rest of my party? The respected elder T’Pela, former matron of the Temple of Amonak.” The elder, who was so steeped in age Jim had been having trouble identifying her gender, bowed politely to him, not a trace of expression on her face. “Stolvik, a mechanical engineer with a background in environmental control systems.” The young male, the first Vulcan Jim could ever remember seeing with such a richly dark pigment to their skin, also bowed formally. “And lastly, T’Sai, a refugee from one of the Southern provinces.” The youngest member of the party, the frail looking female child, did not bow, nor even look in his direction. Her gaze remained fixed firmly on the ground, but from the absolute stillness in her posture Jim doubted very much that she was actually seeing the floor. He thought her gaze might be on something far more meaningful and far less tangible than the carpeted starship decking beneath her.
Uncomfortably reminded of the depth of the loss these people had suffered, Jim looked askance at the older Spock, wondering how to ask him without it looking suspicious –
“And of course, Captain Kirk is already aware that he may address me as Solkar,” Spock was talking to the other two Vulcan adults, thankfully drawing their attention away from the look of relief on Jim’s face. “He and I met on a previous endeavor of his, and discovered that we make a formidable team of, as Humans would say, ‘miracle workers’.”
“Fascinating,” T’Pela commented, looking interested. Jim hurriedly stepped up onto the short staircase, lifting two cases of luggage down from the pad.
“You can leave these here. Bring only those things you think are essential. The rest of it will have to be stored in the cargo bays while we travel to your new colony. We simply don’t have the kind of room to provide space in all of your individual rooms.”
“That will be acceptable, of course, Captain,” the male, Stolvik, said quietly, assisting in the sorting of baggage and supply crates. Several midshipmen, who’d been silently lurking until now, hurried forward to remove the indicated parcels from the transporter room.
“I’ll show you to your quarters. Since you came up together I presume you have no objection to sharing space? We are somewhat – limited.”
The Vulcans indicated their agreement. Jim glanced down at the child, T’Sai, uncertainly. Being as she was so young, any of these three could be related to her in some way (it made his brain ache to think of the Ambassador being related to anyone this far into his past). Undecided, he looked to Spock for information, immediately turning his eyes away when the older man gave him a quick glance and subtle, silent shake of the head, placing his own hand on her tiny shoulder. Ah. It was like that then. Trying not to feel sad for her, he picked up one of the smaller bags of necessary supplies and stepped toward the doorway.
“This way please, gentlemen. Ladies.”
It was pandemonium in the corridors, of course. Only the sight of their Captain walking casually through the hallways was enough to stop most of the crew in their tracks, snapping off hasty salutes and acknowledgements that he returned, somewhat exasperated with the whole thing. Someday soon he was going to have to teach this crew about the merits of informality.
When they arrived at the quarters allotted to their group, he set down the bags he’d been carrying. Gesturing towards T’Pela and Stolvik, he waved them toward the starboard facing room. “Here we are, home sweet home. It looks like two people to each, so that one’s yours.” They nodded to him and quickly disappeared inside, taking their luggage with them. He turned to face Spock, disappointed that T’Sai’s presence prevented them from speaking more candidly, though he didn’t mind the extra leeway to reign in his astonishment at this unexpected meeting.
“Well, this will be your room for the duration Sp- Solkar. T’Sai is quartered with you. You’ll let me know if you need anything?”
“I shall,” the Vulcan agreed, eyes positively dancing in his direction. “I look forward to more opportunities to speak to you during the course of this mission, Captain.”
“So do I,” Jim said softly, and was surprised to note that, even though it seemed the most convoluted situation ever, he really did mean that. It would be a neat trick concealing the depth of his knowledge about this man around, say, people like McCoy and his first officer, but he’d pull it off somehow. He wasn’t going to miss this opportunity for the world.
The door slid shut behind his old friend from another life. Jim went back to work doing what he did best and told himself to get over it and calm down before one of his crewmembers noticed their Captain walking through the ship with an enormous shit-eating grin plastered all over his face.
Something told him this was going to be very, very interesting.