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a sequel to "The Paradise Syndrome"
Caroline R. Kummer


2268

Captain James T. Kirk lay quietly on one of the starship Enterprise’s Sickbay diagnostic beds while his ship’s chief medical officer, Doctor Leonard McCoy, ran a full physiological scan. Kirk kept his eyes closed, listening to the rhythmic thrump of the overhead monitors, and the occasional "humph" from McCoy. Images of Miramanee, with her long raven hair and sun-bronzed skin, Miramanee lovely and alive, drifted through his mind; he could smell the pine forests where they’d hiked, the spice-scented tent where they’d lived, and loved. He saw the life they had shared for two months, when he was "Kirok," the medicine god, and she was his princess, his bride. He was Kirok, devoid of a past but filled with the promise of a future with her. A time when memory was lost, but the present was paradise. And the final image, as Miramanee lay dying on the cold rock shelf at the base of the obelisk; a victim of ignorance and destiny, she’d been stoned to death as she took her place by his side, by Kirok’s side, even as he raged against his inability to stop the approaching asteroid.

Now her planet was safe; the asteroid had been diverted. He’d held her, trying to give her his strength, his knowledge that her people had been saved. Her people. His people. He was Kirok, and she was his wife. And when she died, Kirok died, too, and Captain James T. Kirk, his memory restored, had silently and privately wept for them both.

Once back aboard the Enterprise, he’d ordered Spock to take the ship out of orbit and best speed to the nearest starbase for repairs. He was somewhat dismayed to learn that "best speed" meant impulse power only; in spaceflight terms, a crawl. Assured that a complete report of his ship’s status would be ready soon, he’d finally submitted to McCoy’s physical exam, enduring it silently until now, as the doctor probed a particularly large bruise on his left calf.

"Ouch!" Kirk’s eyes snapped open, and he frowned at McCoy.

The doctor crushed back a grin, but his blue eyes were twinkling. He straightened, and stepped back from the biobed. "Sorry, Jim. I’m just about through. All in all, you’re in pretty good shape, considering the pounding you took at that obelisk. You’re gonna have a few sore spots for while, but your brain scan is normal... the amnesia appears to have been temporary. I guess whatever Vulcan mindthing Spock did to restore your memory worked."

Kirk sat up without waiting to hear the rest. "So you’re releasing me? Good! Spock’s report should be ready by now." Before McCoy could stop him, he was off the bed and across the room to the communications terminal. "Kirk to Bridge," he said, keying the unit. "Send that status report to my cabin, Mister Spock. I’ll be there in five minutes. Kirk out."

Before he could turn, an unexpected voice filtered back through the speaker. "Scott here, Cap’n. Mister Spock is nae on the bridge. He turned over command to me as soon as ye reported to Sickbay and hasnae been back up here since."

Confusion mixed with a flash of anger. Kirk damped both, and gritted, "Page him, Mister Scott. I want—"

"Belay that, Scotty!" McCoy said, loudly enough to carry across the room. He tossed his examination scanner on the abandoned biobed and went quickly to Kirk’s side. "Jim..." he began.

The captain whirled, anger clearly the winner now. "Bones?! What do you think you’re doing?"

McCoy took a half step back, seeming to flinch at the harsh tone. But there he held his ground. "Jim, I ordered Spock off-duty. I can explain..."

"You’d better, Doctor," Kirk said. He didn’t try to hide his displeasure; he stood attention-straight, his back to the intercom, looking as in command as the thin sickbay tunic allowed.

"Captain," Scott said through the comlink, still open, "your orders, sair?"

"Stand by, Mister Scott. I’ll be back with you shortly." Kirk cut the connection, and turned back to McCoy. "I’m waiting, Doctor," he said.

A small audience of nurses and orderlies had begun to gather near the door to the second ward, alerted by the raised voices.

McCoy motioned them back. "Not here, Jim." He grasped the captain’s arm, and began steering him towards his office.

Kirk shook off the hand, but McCoy kept walking; he had no choice but to follow. He grabbed his uniform and boots as they passed through the empty exam room. The sickbay fatigues suddenly felt far too thin.

Once inside the office, McCoy voice-locked the door after it slid closed.

"All right, what’s this all about?" Kirk demanded. He paced the length of the small room, stopping to face McCoy directly. "What gives you the right to relieve my first officer of duty when this ship is crippled and barely making headway!?"

"You did, Jim. When you appointed me Chief Medical Officer of this ship," McCoy said.

"Explain." Kirk began to dress, pulling his gold command shirt over his head and poking his arms through the sleeves in quick, sharp succession.

"I will," McCoy said. "But first, sit down." The doctor didn’t wait, but took his own seat behind the desk. Kirk, half-dressed, gave up, and despite his aching back and legs sat in the hard chair next to the desk.

"Look, Jim," McCoy began, "I know these past two months have been hard on you. They’ve been rough for all of us. But like I said, you’re in pretty good physical shape. That’s more than I can say about Spock."

Kirk felt his anger slowly dissipating. Once more, confusion settled in, this time tempered with concern. "What’s wrong with Spock? Is he sick?" he asked.

McCoy shook his head. "No, not yet. And there isn’t anything wrong that a week’s worth of sleep won’t cure. He’s exhausted to the point of collapse, and I ordered him off-duty to save us the trouble of carting him down here on a stretcher when he finally does fold."

Kirk listened as McCoy proceeded to relate the shipboard events of the last fifty-nine days while Kirk had been lost on the planet’s surface. The unsuccessful attempt to divert the asteroid using ship’s phasers; the slow journey back to the planet, mere hours ahead of the killer rock, during which time the first officer had barely eaten or slept, concentrating on deciphering the strange marks he’d recorded from the exterior of the obelisk. And the stress, not just for Spock, but for all the crew, not knowing if they’d get back to the planet in time, not knowing if their captain was alive or dead. And finally, guilt. This last wasn’t Spock’s alone, but it might as well have been. He’d faced the kind of guilt that comes from sitting in the command chair without answers to give your crew, who really have only one question: "Will this work?"

"I should have ordered him down here," McCoy finished, "hooked him up to a vitamin drip and knocked him out for a few days. But he’ll rest more naturally in his cabin, so long as he’s left alone. In the meantime..."

The muted whistle of the intercom interrupted them. Kirk opened the channel before McCoy could stop him. "Kirk here."

"Captain, Mister Spock just checked in from Auxiliary Control. He’s found a way to bypass some of the fused circuits ‘till we get in for repairs. Shall I tell him—?"

"Damn!" McCoy looked furious, and about to say more. Kirk cut him off with a sharp shake of his head, and reached for his boots.

"Negative, Mister Scott. Remain on the bridge." Kirk said. "I’ll meet Mister Spock in Auxiliary Control. Kirk out."

*****

The first thing Kirk and McCoy saw as they entered the control room was a pair of black-booted legs sticking out from under one of the long bulkhead panels. Across the room, an engineering technician was monitoring the viewscreens on a rack of monitors. As another screen blinked to life, the technician turned towards the bulkhead and saw the captain and chief medical officer glaring from the doorway. He snapped to attention with a quick "Sirs!"

A muffled query came from the general direction of the bulkhead and booted legs. "Status report on the A-three circuitry, Mister Hollins?"

The pale Hollins cleared his throat. "Uh... sir..."

Slowly, the concealed figure began sliding from beneath the panel, far enough to finally sit upright.

"I think when McCoy told you to lie down, Spock, he meant in your cabin." Kirk smiled, but as he watched the Vulcan emerge he was shocked by what he saw. Dark hollows beneath Spock’s eyes. Lines of fatigue etched into a too-thin face. Mentally, Kirk kicked himself for not having noticed earlier, either on the planet or after beam-up.

Spock stood up slowly, and without acknowledging the two new arrivals said, "Dismissed, Mister Hollins."

"Aye, sir!" The grateful tech hurried past the officers and out of the room.

"I ordered you off duty, Mister Spock," McCoy began, starting forward with his small medical scanner. "You’re barely on your feet..."

"The captain ordered best speed to Starbase Twelve for repairs, Doctor," Spock said. "I have determined that by rerouting certain Auxiliary Control circuits, there was a seventy-nine percent probability that the warp drive engines could be restarted for brief intervals of travel, thus increasing our speed. I was following the captain’s orders," he finished, a spark of defiance in his dark, tired eyes.

Kirk thought back to what McCoy had told him in Sickbay. Guilt. Spock thought it was his fault the ship had been damaged; he was taking on all repairs himself. Suddenly, Kirk knew no amount of talking in the universe would repair the Vulcan’s conscience. He glanced at the active monitors, then down at the open circuit panel.

"Well?" he asked. "Is it working?"Dj-v. Unbidden, inevitable. It was the same question he’d posed a few hours (a lifetime?) ago, in the chamber below the obelisk.

After a beat's pause, Spock replied. "Unknown, Captain."

Dj-v disappeared. So did confidence. Kirk drew a deep a breath.

"Well, shall we head to engineering for a test? No time like the present. After you, gentlemen." Kirk waved Spock ahead of him and out the door.

McCoy held back, and whispered urgently into Kirk’s ear. "Jim, that man needs sleep! What the devil do you think you’re doing?"

Kirk met the angry blue eyes directly. "The right thing, Bones. I hope," he said.

*****

They started with Warp Engineering, Deck Fourteen. Kirk allowed Spock to precede him into the control room, then motioned a "go-ahead" for any reports. Work-clad engineering crew occupied every station, hunched over their consoles in solitary preoccupation. The distinct smells of overloaded circuits and burnt-out relays hung in the air like an abandoned barbecue; the ventilation system had also been compromised by the race with the asteroid.

Spock circled the room, checking compuclipboards, stopping at workstations, conversing briefly with the duty personnel. Finally, he approached the warp-drive chamber, eerily silent behind its protective walls. He glanced back at Kirk, but the captain remained positioned near the door, also silent. This was Spock’s inspection.

"Prepare to bring the warp engines online," Spock said, turning to the nearest tech.

Ensign Chuli Kai began to hustle a crew into place. The whole area suddenly grew active and alive. Spock watched the teams assemble, then went to the intercom and paged the bridge.

"Mister Scott, we are preparing to test the warp drive. Acknowledge when ready."

Scott’s voice filtered back, with just a wee bit of Scottish humor that Spock couldn’t appreciate, but Kirk knew it meant his ship was returning to normal. "Ye won’t be askin’ for Warp Nine again, will ye, Mister Spock?" Scott asked, teasing gently.

His eyebrow took a little longer than usual to ascend, but Spock finally replied. "Negative, Mister Scott. Warp Two will be sufficient."

"Aye, sair. I’ll be back to ye as soon as we’re stationed here. Scott out."

Only then did Kirk approach his first officer. "Very well, Mister Spock. Since Mister Scott needs a little time, what do you say we check on the rest of the ship’s operations?" And without waiting for an answer, he headed for the turbolift.

*****

This time, the lift stopped on Deck Eight: Life Support, Food Preparation, and Recreation. Kirk led Spock and McCoy to the rec section, specifically, the gardens. As the doors opened, his senses were assaulted with the smell of pine woods and the damp coolness of fresh-spring growth. It was a virtual creation designed to access planet-bound memories in a starship crew, and once again Miramanee’s planet was so close he could almost touch it. Kirk hurried them past this portal to the first garden, the herb garden, and let the pocket doors close behind them, struggling to order his thoughts, and reality. When he saw the Enterprise helmsman Lieutenant Sulu carefully clipping the leaves of a small green plant, he headed for that reality.

"Captain!" Sulu said with undisguised joy. Then he hastened to clasp the pruning shears in a fist. "I was just..."

"Belay that, Mister Sulu," Kirk said, smiling. "We’re just ‘making rounds’ as I’m sure Doctor McCoy would say." He nudged the doctor with a quick jab to the arm.

"Uh... yeah... rounds." McCoy glared at Kirk. "So, what’s the surgery of the day?" McCoy leaned closer, and pulled a small dark leaf from the pile already excised below Sulu’s plant. A short rub between his fingers, a quick lift to his nose, and suddenly the doctor was all smiles, genuine and uninhibited. "Mint!!! By golly, you have real mint growing here!" He took another deep whiff, savoring the scent, then held the crushed pulp out to Kirk and Spock. "Smell this!" he encouraged, waving his fingers beneath their noses.

While Kirk nodded and smiled, Spock stood ramrod straight and did not react at all to the pungent aroma.

"You seem to have quite a potpourri here, Mister Sulu," Kirk said, eyeing the array of planters. He began a slow walk down the row of small pots, each overflowing with various colored leaves and new buds.

"They’re all approved for shipboard botany, Captain," Sulu assured him. "I started the seeds a few weeks ago, off-shift, of course."

Of course. Time to spare. Not much for a helmsman to do, on-shift or off, when the ship was assigned a straight-line impulse-power ride. Kirk wondered how many other hobbies had flourished on the slow retreat back to the planet. How many of his crew had simply accepted the forced inactivity? How many were suffering as a result? At least Sulu had directed his energy into a tangible result.

"I’m sure it’s all approved, Mister Sulu," he said, adding, "Mister Spock would have noticed anything on the manifest that didn’t meet regulations."

If possible, Spock seemed to stiffen even more. "I have not yet reviewed the most recent botanical manifest, Captain," he said. "I shall do so now."

He walked down the row of plants, pausing at a few of the pots to inspect their blossoms, finally stopping beside Kirk. He picked up the last planter, a wide terra cotta vessel holding a specimen with broad purple leaves. "Your ch’aal is nearly ready for harvest, Mister Sulu. I was unaware it could be cultivated under artificial conditions. My congratulations."

Ch’aal was considered a Vulcan delicacy; the spicy tea brewed from its leaves was hard to come by, since the plant was rarely found anywhere but in the unique Vulcan climate. Desert-hot days; dry, cold nights. Difficult, indeed, except under the most careful scrutiny.

Sulu blushed at the rare compliment, and immediately scooped up the pot and offered it to the first officer. "It’s yours, Mister Spock," he said. "As you noticed, it’s about ready for harvest..."

Spock shook his head slowly. "Maintain your present regimen concerning its care, Mister Sulu. It is obvious you know what you are doing."

As Sulu set the pot back into place, Kirk led the way out of the garden.

McCoy paused as they passed the mint, and pocketed a handful of the fresh leaves. "Some of us appreciate your efforts, Sulu," he said.

*****

"Bridge," Kirk ordered, once they were inside the lift. He ignored McCoy’s ever-accusing stare, and instead watched as Spock leaned uncharacteristically against the rear wall. A slight slump in the shoulders, a brief frown from beneath the arched black brows, spoke volumes of a weariness to which the first officer would never admit. Still, Kirk offered no release. This wasn’t over. Not yet. When the lift doors opened, he went straight to Lieutenant Uhura at the communications station.

"Captain!" Uhura smiled, her brown eyes shining with affection. The rest of the bridge crew turned to look at him, as if they needed to see him alive, and well, among them. "Welcome back, sir," Uhura said, that simple greeting voicing the sentiments of the entire crew.

Kirk found himself smiling as he said "Thank you, Lieutenant. Have you heard from Starbase Twelve yet?"

"Yes, sir. Spacedock will have a repair team assembled and ready when we arrive." She handed him a compuclipboard with the confirmation details; he signed it and gave it back.

"We might have to update that ETA... Mister Scott will let you know. By the way, have you received a complete translation of the glyphs from the obelisk? That should be entered in your data banks, for the record."

He watched Uhura glance quickly at Spock, then back to him. "I...didn’t have an opportunity to examine the tricorder readings, sir," she answered finally.

Bingo. Kirk turned to Spock; what he was about to do next could very well add to the Vulcan’s self-doubt, but he had to continue. "Mister Spock, would you please give Lieutenant Uhura a copy of your tricorder scan?"

Spock settled into his seat at the science station, called up the images, and transferred them to Uhura’s screen.

She scrolled through the file slowly, studying the odd marks carved so carefully into the towering stone. Suddenly, her frown of concentration gave way to a look of delight.

"Music! The repetition, the pattern...these must be musical notes! The translation will take a while, Captain, but now we have the key!"

The key. Kirk watched Spock raise one admiring brow. Weeks of study, logical study, and Uhura had found in minutes what had taken him months.

"Good work, Lieutenant," Kirk said. "Work on that translation, and when you have a complete transcript, enter it into the official record."

"Aye, sir!" she said brightly, and turned to the task.

Kirk circled back around the upper bridge, and stepped down to the command seat where he spoke quietly with Lieutenant Commander Scott. "I’d like you to maintain the conn a little longer, Scotty. I have a few more things to take care of."

"Aye, Cap’n," the engineer said, nodding his understanding. He settled his large frame more comfortably in the chair he’d be occupying a bit longer.

Then, in a louder voice, Kirk said, "Mister Spock, Doctor, come with me please."

*****

This time, Kirk ordered the lift to Deck Twelve, Observation Deck. As they descended, McCoy pulled his small medical scanner out of his pocket and pointed it at Spock. It whirred softly while the first officer studiously ignored the procedure.

McCoy frowned at the readings. "I hope this little guided tour of yours isn’t going to take too much longer, Jim," he said. "I’d recommend you end it soon."

"Oh, not too much longer, Bones." Kirk kept his tone light, but waited for McCoy to look up at him before mouthing a silent "Trust me."

When the lift stopped this time, they exited onto a deserted Observation Deck. The rounded window-wall displayed a starscape at sublight speed, one of the most spectacular visuals a starship could offer. Rarely did a starship cruise sublight; even more rarely were senior officers on this deck when she did.

Kirk led the way to the row of plush chairs that ringed the window rail. He sat down, and McCoy plopped into the chair at his left. Spock, however, remained standing.

"Have a seat, Mister Spock," Kirk invited.

The Vulcan didn’t move. If anything, he seemed to straighten even more, clasping his hands firmly behind his back. "Captain..." he began.

"That’s an order, Commander," Kirk said firmly.

Spock was surprised enough to raise an eyebrow before taking the seat to Kirk’s right. Still, he remained tensely composed, sitting as far forward as the comfortable cushioning allowed.

Kirk allowed the strained silence to linger; it was nearly physical, like an overgrown field waiting for a path to be cut. Part of that image was real; the Observation Deck was filled with strategically placed vents that exhaled familiar aromas. Now, he was smelling the scents of childhood, fresh cut pastures in Iowa. The dim lights reminded him of dusk on the farm. Who knew a starship could smell like alfalfa? He stared at the stars through the window wall and could almost see the bright-flecked canopy he’d watch appear on a summer night, lying on his back in a half-mown field of hay. Memories lost, and found...

"Ship’s status, Mister Spock?" he asked, rousing himself to the task at hand.

"Captain, I have not yet compiled those reports," Spock began, official in tone, official in response. And tired. So tired, his voice trailed off without finishing.

"Oh, really?" Kirk asked. "Did we just make a pass through the operational areas, Mister Spock?"

"Yes."

"And did we instruct them to send all reports to the official log?"

"Yes."

"Then I submit, Mister Spock, that the ship’s status is updated and part of our permanent record. Ready for me, or you, or Mister Scott to review." Kirk turned to face his first officer for the first time since they’d come onto the deck. "Spock, did you see them? Did you see their faces, as we left each area? In engineering, when you told them to restart the warp drive? On the bridge, as Lieutenant Uhura began to translate the obelisk notes? Even Scotty... he hates it when I leave him the conn, but he took it, willingly—happily! They all accepted their jobs, assigned and acknowledged!" Kirk paused, waiting for Spock to understand.

"Captain, their assigned tasks..." Spock began.

"...are necessary!" Kirk said firmly. "Spock, this ship carries a crew of how many?"

"Four hundred thirty-three," Spock answered immediately.

"Right. And every one has a job to do. It’s why they’re here... why they serve aboard the Enterprise. In the past two months, what have you, as her commanding officer, assigned to your crew?"

Kirk waited for Spock to respond. Had he pressed too hard? No. No. He needed Spock to answer. Spock had to find the answer for himself.

Spock responded slowly, deliberately. "I followed a logical course of action, Captain, predicated upon my failure to divert the asteroid. I calculated that the Enterprise would arrive back at the planet four-point-two hours ahead of the asteroid, maintaining impulse power only. We set course, Mister Scott was in charge of the bridge crew, and I began an analysis of the obelisk markings."

Kirk listened to the monotone recitation of events, and heard the bleak acceptance underlying it all. My failure...

Suddenly, on his other side, McCoy cleared his throat. "Uh, Jim... y’know, we were all a little anxious there at the start. We wanted to stop that asteroid, blast it into a million pieces, then high-tail it back to find you. When that didn’t work, I guess we all needed someone to blame. I know I did, and Spock..." The doctor turned towards the first officer. "Spock, I’m sorry. I know I said it before, but I want you to know I mean it. It wasn’t your fault. We took it out on you, and I am sorry."

"I understand, Doctor," Spock said.

Does he? Kirk wondered. And knew he had to find out. "Spock, I once told you that were the best first officer in Starfleet. I meant it then, I mean it now. And one reason for that is you happen to be First Officer of the finest crew in the fleet. I can’t pretend to know everything that happened in the last two months, but I do know this: There is not another being in the galaxy I would rather have in charge of my ship."

Kirk rose stiffly from the big chair, every bruise, every sore muscle reminding him of the events on the planet. He went to the window wall, where he leaned his elbows against the rail and stared out at the starscape. Miramanee’s planet was out there, somewhere, but now seemed as distant as a dream. Reality was here, in a room that smelled like alfalfa and looked like an Iowa evening. Reality was his friends, his ship, and he was determined to heal the wounds to all of them.

He turned to face his friends. "I read somewhere about the loneliness of command, Spock. I never really understood it, until I got my first command. Suddenly, I was alone. The decisions were mine to make, the mistakes were mine to make. I’ve done my share of both." He smiled quickly, then continued, "But I discovered I wasn’t really alone. I found friendship, and balance, and used it all to become a better commanding officer. Spock," he said, placing a hand on the Vulcan’s shoulder, "balance is necessary..." Then he grasped McCoy’s hand, and holding it tightly said, "...and friendship. Maybe it’s not voiced, maybe it’s not acknowledged, but when they’re missing, it’s like a wound that won’t heal."

And as he stood there, he thought again about Miramanee, and Paradise, and realized it would never have been complete without these two most cherished friends. Would either of them ever realize that?

He turned back to the window, and wasn’t surprised when McCoy’s reflection suddenly appeared beside his own. He felt the doctor’s presence before he saw him. Then Spock was beside them, beside him, and Kirk thought he looked a little less drawn, a bit more relaxed. Or maybe it was just the reflection...

*****

U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701
Captain’s Personal Log, Stardate 4872.2

We are en route to Starbase Twelve for repairs. Mister Spock is off-duty per medical orders, and at last report was resting comfortably in his cabin. Doctor McCoy assures a complete recovery, his only prescription being uninterrupted sleep and the occasional cup of ch’aal tea, although I understand the recipe now includes a sprig of mint.

I have come to accept my own Paradise lost, difficult as it is. I know I had forgotten who I was, what I was, when I was Kirok and she was at my side. Now that I am myself again, I realize that memories exist like a dream that can only be grounded in reality. In this, my reality, I have one more task to complete before closing the log on this dream.

"Pause."

Kirk straightened a little more in front of his computer screen. They’d come close, this time. There might not be a next time, and he wanted to be sure his message was clear.

"Addendum, personal log, record and file ‘last orders.’ To be reviewed by Commander Spock and Doctor McCoy in the event of my death while on active duty as Captain of the Enterprise."

The computer hummed and churned, directing the message to the proper audio-visual file, mechanically oblivious to the drama it was about to record. Kirk waited for the file to open, took a deep breath, then began.

"Bones, Spock, since you are playing this tape, we will assume that I am dead, that the tactical situation is critical, and that the two of you are locked in mortal combat..."


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