He always called her mother.
It started sarcastically, when she would send messages, always from some far off planet or ship, hundreds and thousands of miles away berating him for whatever his latest stunt was. “Jim don’t cause trouble this time, please”, “Jim just do what he tells you” about whatever latest gomer was looking after him”, “Jim be good”, “Jim stop giving backchat to your teachers” .
It wasn’t backchat, it wasn’t his problem that the stupid teachers employed in his school didn’t seem to have more than a high school diploma, and got angry when he could and did point out inaccuracies in simple things they were doing. He wanted to learn, how could he do that when his teachers couldn’t seem to spell, multiply or get their historical references right.
Not that he would say that, Jim Kirk wasn’t an academic, Jim Kirk was the class-clown who drove his teachers crazy, didn’t have two brain cells to rub together.
“Yes mother” drawled out with the sarcasm that a ten year old boy shouldn’t know how to employ to such good effect.
He doesn’t know how to call her anything else, cant imagine employing the word he has seen others use, even Johnny, his partner in crime who gets in as much trouble as he does uses it.
There’s seven kids in Johnnys family, and their mother always seems to be shouting at one of them – doesn’t matter who, just that shes expressing some kind of outrage at whatever latest scheme they’ve gotten up to, Jim is usually included in her ire by default. But her anger is watered down by affection, gentled by her inevitable ruffling of hair or warm hug at the end of a screaming row that Jim can hear at his house. “Get on all of you, and don’t let me catch you doing it again, and go pick some apples, Im making pie for dinner”.
The summer Jim turns twelve theres a bad accident. They were climbing the apple trees they used to get pie from and Johnny keeps daring Jim to jump from them, so he does, he would have stopped if Johnny’s sister Jill hadn’t been there, forteen and coltish and brown from being in the sun all summer.
Shes always been beautiful to him and its her hair that always gets him, the same wavy blond as his mothers, he wants to make her happy, see her smile at him when he does something good. So he’s showing off, climbing up and jumping down higher and higher, he feels like he can fly, suspended in the air for those few short seconds.
On the last jump something happens, he sees Shawn, Jill and Johnnys youngest brother scrabbling at the bottom of the tree, his chubby little arms reaching up, but he’s already jumped and its too late to stop now, and oh god he’s going to land on the kid.
He just manages to divert his body mid air – landing on his left arm - later the others will swear they could hear the crack standing forty yards away. Johnny immediately starts running shouting “Mom, Mom” at the top of his lungs.
He lies there, unsure if he can move, he’s never felt anything like the searing pain shooting up and down his arm and reverberating through his body. Jill is there, kneeling beside him, “Oh Jim, what the hell did you do” and its too much like the disappointment he hears in his mothers voice every time she speaks to him, the hopelessness, like shes given up already.
The tears he’s been holding back because its just a broken bone and hes had plenty of those before, spill over, and then he sees her, squinting through his blurry eyes and the hazy sunshine, “Oh baby boy”. He feels warm, and safe, his arm doesn’t hurt so much and theres someone smoothing his hair and gently touching his face and he’s loved, “Mommy” he whispers and theres a sharp intake of breath and he’s gathered into a warm embrace.
“I’m here baby, I’m here” “I love you”, and everything will be fine, he’ll break every bone in his body if it means his mother will hold him like this.
He wakes up later in his bed, his arm in a cast and hears Johnnys mother on the communicator, her voice is strange, harsh with anger like he’s never heard it before. “You need to stay at home Winona, for fuck sake he thought I was you, take a tour off and come home he’s your child what kind of a mother are you” and then a door is closed and the sound tapers off.
Its like his arm is broken all over again, sharp pain stabbing him.
It wasn’t her she was never here and he curls up and waits for sleep. A few minutes later the door opens and he hears someone come in and sit gently on the bed beside him. A hand touches his shoulder and he shrugs it off keeping his face turned away.
When he wakes later his mother is on the communicator waiting to speak to him, she looks like shes been crying. “I’m coming home Jim, the next transport leaves tomorrow and Ill be home for the summer”.
He stares at her fuzzy face, grainy with long-distance communication and thinks about that warm feeling he had, a hand ruffling his hair and eyes creased with affectionate smile, then thinks about his mother, how he can’t remember the last time she hugged him, how she cant seem to look at him for too long, without looking away with pain in her eyes, the birthdays she’s been home for that end in drunken recriminations.
The empty silence in the room is choking him “It’s fine mother, I don’t need you to come home, its just a broken arm” and continues monosyllabically answering her questions about the house.
Later he wont think about the relief he saw in her eyes.
He’s always been good at sport, on every atletic team going in their rural school. Soccer, running, football, that weird sport that seems like an amalgamation of hockey and basketball but neither at the same time.
But he loves baseball, loves the feel of the ball, moulding his hand around yet until it feels like an extension of himself. The ringing of the bat as he hits and watches the ball soar up, up, up towards the sky. Loves being part of a team; he’s got a good eye for dynamics, helps the coach decide on basemen and batmen for their games, stays late at practice to brush up on championship plays and what kind of drills to incorporate to improve their hit rates and running times.
Their in the state championships for the first time in years, and they’ve all been bussed to the stadium. Theres supporters there too, everyone seems involved, packed lunches made for all, a new team strip, waterboys, orange segments for breaks to keep their energy up in the searing heat.
The first three innings go well, and then the pressure is on, to keep up this level of play til the last, Jim’s everywhere, whispering in the pitchers ear, chivvying the guys on the bases, who needs support who needs to be reminded to concentrate, whos looking worried and needs to laugh, he’s with every one of them and they’re all part of him.
And then its over and they’ve won.
Exhileration flows through him as he is lifted on their shoulders and carried back to the changing room, smiling like his face will break with it.
They walk out to the bus afterwards, singing old rock ‘n’ roll songs, mixing up the lyrics but they don’t care. Their supporters descend on them and everyone has a slap on the back for him.
But as he looks around he sees fathers everywhere, hugging their sons, farmers and lawyers alike, and he feels it like an ache inside of him, he will never have this, never have someone who looks on him like he is the best thing they ever did, pride shining out of their faces, words tripping over themselves, “college” and “proud” and “well-done son” mixing together to form a symphony of words that will never be played for him.
He goes home and goes to the roof and pulls up the loose tile that hides his secret box. Worn on top with age, it held cookies at some point. He takes off the lid and looks inside.
There are some photographs, newspaper clippings, a death notice, a flag and under this a display book. He likes hardcopy, likes the feeling of turning pages and seeing words spread out before him.
The book contains every reference to his father he could ever find. His algorithim runs once a month, it used to be more but as time has passed hits have become less frequent, and rather than be disappointed every week he gets a message once a month telling him his search has found new results.
Its usually just one, sometimes two and since he has added his hack of the Starfleet lower level databases this has improved. He then prints them out and pours over whatever has been written, sometimes its just an update to an already existing page in some obscure reference book that his father was listed in, sometimes its someone breaking a record he held in the Academy.
The middle pages contain the most complete work he has found thus far, a thesis written by a young Starfleet Lieutnant Christopher Pike.
Years later when a man in a bar tells him what he wrote he will not say, “I know”, “I can recite it, I know how many people he saved and what he did and how he did it”.
He will not tell him that he stayed up at night memorising the words with his fingers, like a blind person until it felt like the story was written all over his hands, and he wore gloves for six months so he couldn’t see his fathers death written all over his hands.
And years after that when Admiral Pike looks up at him from a chair with pride shining like a beacon from his face he will not wish that it was someone else.
He walks through the halls of the Academy, corridors that rang with voices and laughter and running feet, and sometimes the smell of banned substances, depending on the day and the time of year.
They were once so full of life, and now they are almost empty, empty rooms, empty hallways.
The only people here are crying parents and families, packing up their childrens possessions as they gather up term papers and books and four years of detritus gathered by the best and brightest of a generation, photographs of gradudations and parties, the stars of their fields, chosen from millions who applied to go where none had gone before and explore.
People he would never see again. The remaining few have gathered in the hall where just a few days ago he was looked at in disgust and then pity, being judged by his yearmates for daring to think outside the lines, to move outside of the box they tried to fit him into.
He doesn’t want to go, doesn’t want to be with people, hear them talk, see the spaces that should be filled, the faces with smiles plastered on but he goes, to take his medals and his accolades, and when the hall rises to applaud him he doesn’t ascribe it to his crew or his people, he does what people want him to do, acts like the hero they want him to be and smiles benelovently, Achilles home from the war.
He takes all of the praise as if it were for him alone, he has a box inside his head and he puts it all in there – packs it all away tight where no-one can get at it, stands in the middle of the floor with his uniform on a smile stuck to his face, like a rictus that is frozen there, turning from section to section, adding more and more names to the list in his head which is in the hundreds by now filling in the gaps in the lists that he had learned when he had arrived at the Academy so he would know who to beat in each subject.
There are two lists, the “gone” list and the “alive” list. He stays for the after-party, goes to a bar and drinks coloured water, pretending it is whiskey, being the James T. Kirk they are all used to – predictability in a world gone mad after all.
He talks louder and laughs longer and acts like he hasn’t a care in the world, encouraging everyone to talk and sing and generally act merrily, because if they do they wont remember the “gone” list, because he can do that alone, that is his task.
When he has sent the last person safely home his head is full of names, the lists are divided in hundreds of different ways, by sex, by name, by race, by colour on and on and on to infinity. He goes to his room. Only one bed is full now. He feels like he is going to be sick, and its not like he can blame alcohol this time.
He goes to the place that has been chosen as the site of the monument to all those who died and takes out some paper and a pen – and he starts to write down all the names, and then he opens the box in his head and takes out all the glory heaped upon him earlier.
He divides it up equally between all of the names and the fraction of it that they get is too small, too small for what they should have become, the sights they should have seen the discoveries they should have made.
So he takes from his own life, the first home run that he hit and the smell of grass when harvesting was done, the first time he spotted a planet through his telescope, his first view of the Enterprise, the taste of lipgloss on Jills lips when he got his first kiss, the smell of sweat from Johnnys body the first time he had sex, every joyful occasion he can remember and he adds it to the box.
He calculates again, based on arbitrary values he assigns to each experience and the fractions are better know, still not enough but better. He scoffs, it sounds like his life – he wasn’t enough to save them but he brought back his own crew, minus an engineer, and a Chief Medical officer and all the others who perished.
He hears voices coming so he quickly recalculates again, finds it satisfactory and who knew Vulcan phraseology could creep in that quickly and buries it in the dirt at the foot of the space where the monument will be.
Time to be James T. Kirk again.
He’s here now, hes captain of a federation starship and hes got all these people, people much more brilliant than him that he could never be, because underneath it all hes just little Jimmy K, who’s father iss dead and who’s mother didn’t want him, and now hes supposed to be some kind of leader, an example for them to follow, and sure he can jump in bravely, like he always does, fight his way through with fists and bluster, use the confidence that he has spent years building up like a shield around him.
But how to deal with clever, innocent Chekhov, who is so young it hurts to look at him and Sulu who for all his aptitude with steering cannot hold a conversation with a girl and thinks Kirk will mentor him.
How to comfort Bones, when he gets a letter from his daughter talking about her new Daddy and goes on a bender that he wont be talked down from, he doesn’t have the gentleness that he sees others exhibit as naturally as breathing, even Spock for all his illogicality and constrained existence has it, he has seen him with Uhura, when they think they are not being observed; his head dipping gently to hers, his eyelashes dipping to brush softly on her cheek.
Even Scotty, for all his brusqueness, is gentle with the ship, caressing and fondling her like a baby, crooning softly to her in a forgotten celtic tongue, humming laments when they come out of battle and fighting chants when Kirk asks him for just a little more.
How can he ask, how can he tell these people who look to him with their actions their faces turned towards him like their constant magnetic north, and he thinks don’t follow me I don’t know where I’m going.
He feels like Atlas and his shoulders start to hunch so much that Bones asks him if he needs some relax discs.
He cannot ask Admiral Pike, who is going through his own baptism of fire as the most senior officer at Starfleet, while dealing with a rehabilitation regime so punishing he seems to have aged more every time Jim sees him.
He cannot ask anyone else, cannot let them see him doubt himself and his decisions, his lack of certainty, whether what he is doing in any given situation is the right or the wrong thing.
So he rises each morning three hours before he needs to and he reads and rereads the classical texts on leadership, some he has read before, trying to find the key, the lever around which he can move the ship and crew into being the well oiled mechanism it needs to be.
He begins playing chess with Spock and debates classical Eastern philosophy versus American Football game theory with him, and he sits in on Chekhovs Mensa group once a week and watches him describe numbers as he sees them holding the universe together.
He teaches street fighting techniques to the security team and fences with Sulu while expounding on his theories regarding male/female interpersonal relations.
With Uhura he flirts, he knows his advances will never be accepted and that somehow makes it even better, she can banter better than any girl he’s ever met and her quick ripostes to his more blatant comments keep him on his toes.
He discovers Scottys still on a random tour of engineering and anonymously drops off a text on the trials and tribulations of brewing with replicated foodstuffs, he gets his pick of the first drinkable brew that year.
With Bones he simply turns up on the nights he knows he has had a call and quotes pop-culture references incorrectly at him until he is annoyed enough to kick him out.
He then goes to the Medbay, advises that Dr. McCoy is off for the night and stays to entertain the med staff, because everyone knows you shouldn’t piss them off and as he watches the nurses comfort and treat the patients who are there.
He hopes he is enough.