by Hypatia Kosh
"You're in serious trouble, Kirk."
That's what the man had said. Ernest Clyde was his name, or was it Clyde Ernest? Well, whatever his name was he was seated behind his desk in a large chair, glaring disapprovingly at Kirk, who was seated awkwardly in the seemingly too-small visitor's chair. The bureaucrat was dressed in a drab tan jumpsuit with buttons down the front; his thinning hair was combed and gelled and parted on the side. Kirk idly wondered if the man's wife or mother did his grooming. Anything to distract him from his own predicament. For the way things were looking right now -- no, don't say it -- his life was about to be over. Over.
"I don't think you have any conception of how serious this is," Ernest, or rather Clyde, continued, after a sustained pause. He tapped his stylus against his dull, standard-issue desk.
Kirk put in one more plea. "Mr. Clyde, I understand your concerns. But that file you have simply isn't accurate. Please believe me when I say I've been very careful, Secretary, always very careful."
Clyde didn't blink. "We've already heard your case, Kirk, and the decision has been made. You're to report to the committee session at 1310 tomorrow afternoon, room 14-B." He tapped his stylus thoughtfully. "It may interest you to know that our boys have come up with a . . . solution that cuts" -- he dropped the stylus on the desk with clank -- "right to the heart of the problem."
Only four hours ago, the Starship U.S.S. Enterprise had entered the airspace of Space Station K-2. Both the starship and the space station were gleaming examples of the best the Federation had to offer. Modern, automated, and well-maintained, complete with vast computer banks and the best amenities for life in space. Their engineering was an amalgam of technologies from all the races of the Federation. The Enterprise, which thanks to her space warp engines was able to travel at speeds far in excess of the speed of light, was the jewel of the Federation fleet, and Kirk was her captain.
Kirk was young for a starship captain; brash, driven; charming or ruthless as the situation demanded, and rather used to having his way. He played as hard as he worked, making both his missions under the auspices of the Star Fleet as well as his shore leave exploits legendary around the galaxy. He was rather looking forward to a bit of shore leave as they approached K-2, coming as he was off a long-range diplomatic mission to the Gorn Empire. The mission had taken them all the way to the Gorn homeworld; while politically the mission had been a success, Gorn food and Gorn manners, never mind Gorn women, had left quite a bit to be desired in Kirk's mind. Yes, Kirk had been looking forward to this shore leave quite a bit.
However, when the Enterprise contacted K-2 for orbital procedures, Lt. Uhura received a private message packet for the captain, coded urgent.
Kirk was already apprehensive when he slipped the tape case into the slot and set the switch to unreel the spool. 'Standing orders' were never a good omen, in his decided opinion. But when he saw the logo of the Federation Population Bureau on his terminal screen, a sinking feeling hit his gut.
The presentation was professional, with a false cheerfulness and anonymous generality that served to heighten Kirk's feeling of disbelief.
Opening music played. A female announcer came on and, as she spoke, images played on the viewer, much in the manner of a newsvid.
"Greetings, citizen. You've been contacted by the Federation Population Bureau. Right now, you may be wondering what that means for you, for your future, and your children.
"The first rule is, don't panic. The Federation Population Bureau, or FedPop, is here to help. Our mission is to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all children in the Federation. We work with parents and families -- not against them.
"The Federation Population Bureau, or FedPop, was formed in 2214 in response to increasing population pressure in the Federation. As you may know, historically high fertility rates were encouraged on Federation worlds as Federation citizens, especially humans, set out in large numbers to colonize new worlds.
"In the last few decades, however, that situation has changed. With the Klingons, and other races, blocking outward expansion, it has been necessary to pursue policies and procedures that will stabilize population growth. Since 2260, a series of government programs, initiated by the Federation Council, have been put into place which encouraged lowered fertility rates -- and promote healthier, happier families.
"FedPop and You:
"You may be wondering, 'Well, what about me? What's my part in all this?' Glad you asked. As a Federation citizen, it is your duty to uphold the laws, ideals and policies of the United Federation of Planets."
Kirk groaned dramatically, but the recorded voice went on unheedingly.
"Every citizen is allowed two children, that is, genetic offspring -- one of your rights as a Federation citizen.
"You may be eligible for three children; however, even if you are eligible, you must apply for a permit before the child is conceived.
"Surrogate mothers and sperm donors may be subject to other rules and regulations. It is your duty to know, and obey, the law."
The segment ended, and another pre-recorded segment began, entitled "On Men and Fatherhood."
Kirk let loose a few choice curses he had learned around the galaxy. What was it this time? Had Dr. Carol Marcus changed her mind and decided to sue for child support? Damn it, he knew he had their legal agreement somewhere, the one that stipulated his complete non-involvement in his son David's life, and conversely, releasing him from all child support responsibilities. Having an unacknowledged child back on Federation Research Colony II was not something Kirk was particularly proud of, but his was not an unusual story for a spacer. A man, called to the stars, but also drawn to a woman: the siren song of the stars proving more powerful in the end.
Kirk located the tape marked "Carol" after a few minutes, just in time for the segment to end and the personal part of the tape to start running. A seated figure coalesced on the screen, in admiral's stripes. The captain blanched.
"Did they say," Kirk asked a bit sharply, "just what this 'solution' would consist of?"
"You'll see," Clyde answered, looking just a tad smug. Infuriating man!
It was Admiral Dhaliwal, a rather attractive man with a well-formed face colored a rich brown, and soft brown eyes. His rather ample hair flowed down in waves from his scalp. Kirk was able to spare the man a moment of jealousy before the recording spoke.
"Captain Kirk," he began in a kind, yet faintly patronizing tone, "it has come to our attention that you are in somewhat, shall we say, flagrant violation of the Federation's population policies. Now, as a prominent officer among our ranks, this situation, I'm afraid, reflects badly on Starfleet. As soon as you reach orbit around K-2, I'd like you to schedule a meeting at the FedPop branch office there. I'm attaching the name of the receptionist. Just give her a call." The Admiral smiled gently. "I hope we can resolve this quietly and without any fuss. Think of Starfleet, Captain Kirk. That is all." The screen faded to black. A comm number came up on Kirk's screen and froze there, stubbornly.
This couldn't be about Carol, could it, Kirk thought. He hit a key. Sure enough, his violation notice from FedPop was appended. He scanned through it, looking for the specific--
"Reproduction quota exceeded." WHAT? Kirk broke out into a sweat. Now, how in the sea of stars could that have happened?
Sure, he'd had quite a few women. He was, after all, a healthy 34 year old man, with healthy instincts and drives. But he only had one child, and, well, really, he was little more than a sperm donor for that one. Who had he gotten pregnant? Every encounter of the last several years started flashing through his mind. What if he had gotten that Patuxan pregnant? They were a species that reproduced by releasing thousands of tiny hatchlings into their planet's seas. If he had gotten Vxesla pregnant he was really in for it. But, he wondered, could a human and a Patuxan even reproduce to begin with? And was Vxesla even a female?
Sweat was crawling down his neck now. He rubbed it away impatiently. He had to get to the bottom of this. Surely there was some mistake, or at least some explanation to be made. With a shaking hand, he brought the receptionist's number back up on the screen and made the call.
The meeting with the secretary concluded; there was nothing more to say. Kirk rose to leave.
"Oh, and Captain Kirk," Clyde called after him. Kirk turned for the final blow.
"My last name is Ernest."
Just his luck; the secretary had cleared his schedule to speak to Kirk right away. Ten minutes after the first party from the Enterprise had beamed onto the station, Kirk was pounding a path down a dura-carpetted hallway to the FedPop branch office.
The first meeting had been brief. Kirk had sat and sweated in the reception room for several minutes, and then the secretary had come in and they had shaken hands. Once in the secretary's office, Kirk had been handed his dossier, a thin, but colorful printout. A final decision would be made at the end of the day. Kirk flipped through the dossier, laughed heroically at its contents, and with fateful confidence, or rather arrogance, declared that the charges were a house of cards which would topple before the day was out.
Following the meeting, Kirk sought out a lawyer. They were in great abundance on space stations, for a fee. Some part of Kirk's mind felt this was all rather too convenient, part of a vast bureaucratic conspiracy he had not yet been able to puzzle out. A lawyer secured, he spent the better part of two rather expensive hours explaining why all of the allegations in his dossier were bogus.
"I don't even know who half of these people are!" Kirk declared to the nodding, avuncular face of his lawyer, a Mr. Nguyen. "And look at this--Rayna Kopec? There is no Rayna Kopec. She was an android."
"Good, good," said the lawyer. "What about some of these others?"
"Well, some of these are just ridiculous. Leila Kalomi? I was never even alone with her. My first officer can vouch for that, believe me."
"And this Elaan of Troyius? No way. We didn't . . . I mean I'm pretty sure we didn't . . . I'm sure I would have remembered it if we did. And even if we did, she drugged me. Honest, I swear." He made a bit of an explicatory hand gesture. "Tears. Elaasian tears. I can't be held responsible for that, can I?"
"Well, that's interesting Captain . . . er, Captain Kirk, but I think in that case the best we can argue is that they've provided no paternity test to bolster their assertion that you're the father of Elaan's first-born."
Nguyen nodded genially. "They're appended to the end of your file, here. That's quite an impressive pile of positive paternity tests." The lawyer smiled gently. "It seems you really get around, Captain Kirk."
"But it's impossible!"
"I think the best we can hope for here is voluntary vasectomy. Fedpop may request complete testicular removal, but as long as you put in a good face and sincerely promise to abide by the law from now on, I believe we can avoid such a, hrm, psychologically traumatic procedure."
It was then that Kirk knew he was doomed.
Nguyen submitted the brief that day, and Kirk, buoyed by a passing attack of optimism or possibly obstinance, requested a fresh meeting with Secretary Ernest. If he couldn't rely on his fantastic powers of persuasion, then his name was not James T. Kirk. Unfortunately, he couldn't be slotted in until the next morning, which left him at loose ends.
That night Kirk prowled the bars and seedier corners of K-2 with a frantic urgency. This might be the last time he--he didn't even want to think about it. The desperation he was feeling must have shown because every woman avoided him like he was an axe-murderer, and he ended up with a 10-credit robotic whore. He hated metallic love, but if it was the best he could do . . . He returned to the ship and got no sleep, pacing from one end of his quarters. He felt like he was burning a hole in the carpet, which was of course impossible, considering that the floor was covered in dura-carpet.
At 0900 the next morning he stumbled out his quarters, slightly shaking from coffee and nerves, wearing the same rumpled uniform he had had on the day before. He took a jaunt up to the bridge for the latest reports, but unfortunately no emergency came up, not even a minor one, so he was forced to beam to the station and meet, once again, with Secretary Ernest.
It was 1200, ship's time. Kirk had returned from fruitless second interview with the secretary, and now he had nothing to do but prepare for his afternoon meeting with the committee. Where they would hand down his sentence. Oh, excuse me, "decision." He took a shower, deciding that he might as well look his best to face his executioners. Condemned, on false evidence, taken in the prime of life, a man wrongly accused, cut off before his time . . .
Kirk took a good look at himself in the mirror, including the parts he might soon be parted from. "This might be the end, boys," he said.
He dressed and headed to the officer's mess. It was an interesting mix of people, as many of the regular officers on alpha and beta shift were on leave planetside and thus missing from their usual spots, while officers from other shifts had come in to replace them. Kirk's friend, the crusty doctor, McCoy, was nowhere to be seen. By Jove, what was Kirk going to tell him? Maybe McCoy would be called upon . . . for the . . . for the procedure. Kirk felt his appetite, already somewhat diminished, completely vanish. He decided to fortify himself with another cup of coffee, and, fetching it, saw the redoubtable Mr. Spock seated alone at a corner table. Of course the Vulcan never took leave (barring one particular incident only incompletely recorded in the Captain's logs) and was serving his customary shift. Kirk elected to join him. The Science Officer barely looked up from his perusal of an exobiology journal to acknowledge Kirk's presence. Kirk heaved a sigh at this indifference, sat back, and took a sip of his drink.
"I thought you had returned to the station several hours ago for leave," Spock said, in what for him was a rather significant conversational overture.
Kirk considered unburdening himself on the impassive alien. Vulcans were a relentlessly logical, and, in Kirk's opinion, unimaginative race, who concealed their emotions as a matter of good taste. Despite this, Kirk had rather gotten to like Spock in the nearly three years they had served together; he was actually quite fond of him. Spock was something of an anomaly among Vulcans, being the child of a human mother, and both Kirk and McCoy had taken it as their personal mission to bring out Spock's human qualities.
"Captain?" Spock asked distractedly when Kirk didn't answer.
"Oh? Right. I'm going back down soon. Just thought I'd come up here and . . . um . . . You've never fallen afoul of the Federation Population Bureau, have you?" Kirk tried to maintain a conversational tone.
It worked. Spock didn't even look up when he replied. "Certainly not. I am sterile."
Kirk sucked in a large dollop of coffee. "Is that so?" he said. "Were you exposed to radiation?"
"No. I thought you knew." He looked up, and addressed the captain. "As I am a hybrid, it took something of a technological 'miracle', if you will, to create me at all. A working reproductive system was not a high priority. Indeed, the fact should be unsurprising to you as you will recall that classic hybrid animals created by cross-breeding are invariably sterile."
"Not a high priority, huh?" Kirk said, feeling the ice already forming in his stomach. No chance of finding sympathy here. "Too bad you don't know what you're missing."
"What I'm missing?" Spock asked with a furrowed brow. "Could you explain?"
"Never mind, Mr. Spock," Kirk muttered, and drained the last of his brew. Replicated coffee was horrible stuff, but it did the job. He got up to leave.
"You might consider eating something before you leave, Captain," Spock piped up helpfully.
Kirk turned around, smiled at the Vulcan. He straightened his uniform and put his hands behind his back. "I'll be fine," he said, and left.
Kirk wasn't sure who he expected "the committee" to be, but he was a little surprised to see two Starfleet uniforms among the five men and women seated around the conference table in the committee room. Their mood seemed light, almost jocular, and while he put on a brave and professional face, he secretly hated them all.
The leader of the group, and clearly the eldest, introduced himself as Alvarez. He gave a little speech on the necessity of each citizen doing their part for population control. The words slipped by easily; a speech made many times before. He then straightened the printouts before him and looked straight at Kirk.
"You know why you're here, Captain," he said, "and the decisions have been made, so there's no sense in arguing the facts of your case again."
"I understand that," Kirk said, forcing the words past his clamped jaw.
"Good." He smiled the smile of a bureaucrat who has gotten his way. "I think you'll find we have a rather interesting solution for you," and at this he nodded at the ranking Starfleet officer seated with them, a commander Kirk didn't know. "I'm sure you're wondering what it is."
"Of course," Kirk said, revealing nothing.
"Sandra," Alvarez said, nodding at his civilian colleague, "this is your baby. Why don't you explain?"
"Well," she said, with a slight chuckle and nod at the Starfleet officers, "I can't take all the credit for this one." She assumed a slightly brisker air and turned to Kirk. "We got involved with your case frankly because Starfleet is concerned about projecting an upstanding image to the people of the Federation. As a starship captain, you're something of a public figure, so we worked with Starfleet's public affairs office to work out a solution that would be beneficial to all parties and play well in the press."
"Which would be . . ?" Kirk prompted.
"We're proposing a marriage."
"A marriage?" Kirk blinked. Not Carol. Please. Or anyone else bound to one place. "A marriage to whom?"
"Well, since you've exceeded your reproduction quota, we've arranged a marriage for you with a male." She did manage to look slightly embarrassed when she said it. When Kirk said nothing--in fact, did not react at all--she added, almost nervously, "We did some checking and we found out that you are bisexual."
"Oh, what's next!" Kirk exclaimed, and pushed himself back from the conference table with an expression of disgust. He caught himself a moment later and sat up straight in his chair.
"I have two questions: who is this person, and how does this solve anything? Pardon my saying so, but a man can be married and still be having illicit children left and right."
"Well, Captain," said the Starfleet commander, speaking for the first time, "this isn't any ordinary person we're talking about. I'd say it solves the situation rather neatly. Captain, you are going to be married to another officer, on the ship. Looks good for PR, and takes care of FedPop's concerns, because no-one messes with a Vulcan's bondmate. They've even agreed to waive the surgical sterilization, provided you make a pledge not to reproduce."
Kirk's eyes had gone wide. His words came out in a soft staccatto: "My first officer?"
"Yes, Commander Spock," Alvarez confirmed. "We've been in contact with his family and they've given their approval."
"His--his--his family?" Kirk stuttered. This wouldn't happen to be the same family that had agreed to have him bonded him to T'Pring? Kirk thought.
"Of course," Alvarez said.
Kirk felt as if he were at the long end of the tunnel, with light only a faint pinprick away, real but unreachable. He licked his lips. "Maybe you don't understand, don't, but you have to." He shook his head; his mind and emotions were racing and his words were getting away from him. He gripped the desk with his hands to give himself from control. "Let me explain something to you. Spock is asexual."
"He is not," said the woman called Sandra.
"Yes, he is," Kirk insisted. "I've worked with that m--Vulcan for three years. I know him better than anyone on the ship. I know his habits. I know his drives.
"Look, I'm not saying I deserve sex anymore than anyone else does, but this simply isn't fair. He simply isn't interested in sex at all, and he's . . . uptight on top of that. It's not that I don't like him, we're friends, but I wouldn't wish this arrangement on anyone. Look, my sexuality is part of who I am; I can't just cut that off and continue to function. You can sit there in your comfortable chairs and pass these judgments on other people's lives, but what if you were suddenly asked to live in a virtual prison?"
"Captain Kirk," Alvarez said placatingly, "the situation is not as you fear. Contrary to what you might think, the people in this department are highly trained professionals and we have done our research. Spock, despite being a hybrid, is a healthy Vulcan male and I doubt you'll find yourself stinted in the sex department."
What, every seven years? Kirk thought caustically. "Does Spock know about this plan?"
Before Alvarez could answer, a woman, no, scratch that, a Vulcan woman, a gleaming-haired and rather attractive Vulcan woman walked into the room. Kirk could tell that the others had been expecting her. She wore the smart, tailored uniform of a Vulcan governmental official.
"You came in just in time," Alvarez told her. "Captain Kirk was just inquiring if Commander Spock is aware of our proposal."
"He has been informed," she said to Alvarez, before taking her seat.
"There's your answer," Alvarez said. Kirk rubbed his forehead to stave off the impending headache.
"Captain Kirk was just asking about Vulcan sexuality before you came in, T'Tell, so why don't you get started?"
"I was not asking about Vulcan sexuality," Kirk countered. The Vulcan blinked at him, and then looked back questioningly at Alvarez.
"He's a bit resistent," Alvarez noted.
"I see," she said. After a slight pause, she added, "That might pose a problem."
"No, no," the more junior of the Starfleet officers said. "He'll get over it once he gets used to the idea. It's normal in these cases."
"If you say so," she said.
"Who are you, and why are you here?" Kirk demanded, exasperated.
"I am T'Tell, from the Vulcan Population Council. My agency works closely with the Federation Population Bureau in cases such as this. The more pertinent issue is why you are here. It's not uncommon to marry a person who has exceeded the reproduction quota to a sterile spouse, and by fortuitous circumstance, there is a sterile, unmarried person in your second in command. All the proper arrangements have been made; it seems the Vulcan Council is rather pleased by the prospect of this marriage." She raised an eyebrow.
"The Vulcan Council?" Kirk choked out. Why would they care? "Surely Spock isn't that important."
T'Tell raised both eyebrows and looked down, in a positively Spockian expression. "He is the child of Sarek. The fact that he is unbonded has been a matter of some concern." She looked up at Kirk. "It seems you have been deemed an acceptable mate."
"I almost want to ask 'why me?' but I suppose I already know the answer to that." Kirk said ruefully. He glared at the FedPop trio, and then turned his attention back to the Vulcan. "I've been told, and it's been my observation, that Vulcans are not very interested in sensuality or sex. They seem to think otherwise. I'll admit I don't know anything about the average Vulcan male, but I do know Spock--and I'm not convinced. Why would FedPop know better than, say, my CMO?"
"Commander Spock was examined by a Vulcan healer at Starbase 17 six months ago. His sexual functioning is that of a normal Vulcan male."
"Which is what, exactly?"
"As you may know, Vulcans form intensive, and often life-long pair bonds. This involves a telepathic union in addition to the emotional, physical and legal aspects. Barring certain extraordinary cases, the bond does not allow for the involvement of third parties."
"Physically, emotionally, or legally?" Kirk asked, with the eyes of a shark.
"I am referring to sexual contacts with third parties." She betrayed no sign of amusement.
"And what about sex? I can't believe I'm considering this, but it's better than castration."
"We do not require castrations," Alvarez said in a placating tone. "A simple vasectomy will suffice. However," he said, glancing at the Starfleet commander, "we would all prefer you took the other option we're offering you."
"That's right," the commander said. "It's a win-win situation for everyone. You win because you'll have a partner on the ship; no more running around on shore leave hoping for the best. Your first officer wins too. Starfleet wins because we get to show everyone back home how committed we are to population growth stabilization, and FedPop also wins by getting the message out with all the free publicity this is going to generate." The man's eagerness was apparent.
Well, you're not the one being asked to marry a Vulcan, Kirk thought.
"Is a Vulcan male's sexuality anything like a human's? A human male's? Because I have to know that now."
The Vulcan answered. "Vulcan and human sexuality differ considerably, but not irreconcilably, if the number of successful Vulcan/human unions is any indication."
"Yes, yes," he said impatiently.
"If you are asking about the degree of sexual drive, I must answer truthfully that while at first glance a Vulcan male's desire for sex may seem considerably lower than that of a human's, in practice bondmates adapt to each other's needs."
Well, that was refreshingly uninformative. And then he remembered the issue of . . .
"What about, you know?" he said, looking at her hopefully.
"No, I don't know. What do you mean?"
He looked about at the five other humans sitting there, getting in the way of the oath he had sworn to Spock. "What about pon farr?" He practically mouthed the words rather than saying them.
If he had expected shock, he didn't get any. "I am certain you have nothing to worry about."
Nothing to worry--! Kirk controlled himself very visibly, and cast about for a safe way of explaining that he knew first hand that he did have something to worry about. Finally he said, "I was at Spock's wedding."
Her face became a stunned blank. "Oh."
"So don't tell me I have nothing to worry about," he continued.
She recovered quickly. "Mr. Kirk, there are certain things that are spoken of only between bondmates. That is one of them," she said smoothly. "Once again, I assure you, as his bondmate you will have nothing to worry about." She ignored the inquisitive looks she was getting from the others in the room.
"Spock had a wedding?" the junior officer whispered a little too loudly.
"Great. Look." He pursed his lips. "Do I have to pick my poison right now? I'd like a chance to do a little research, and speak with my first officer."
"The Enterprise is due to leave this space station in 67 hours," said Alvarez. "Whether you choose sterilization, or bonding, it must be done and verified before your ship leaves. It would be best if we heard from you within 24 hours -- the sooner, the better."
"Am I free to go, then?"
T'Tell handed him two tape cases. "These contain information on Vulcan bonding and marriage practices." Kirk mumbled a thanks. Within 60 seconds he was out of the room and in the transporter room of the USS Enterprise.