2267U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701
Finishing his brief entry, Kirk called the bridge and asked to speak to the only member of the Gamma Hydra IV landing party unaffected by the age-inducing radiation. He was probably also the only member of the crew except Spock who did not somehow worship youth as an ideal. Yet.
"Chekov here, Kyptin. The comets overall course will keep it vwell clear of any inhabited or known vworlds for over seventy years. After I close out two centuries of course projections, I vwill of course submit my results to Meester Spock."
"Good work, Ensign. Kirk out." Letting the young navigator handle this tedious but necessary task seemed to have its desired result, that the captain could see. The tinge of survivors guilt had all but vanished from the Russians voice. Now, Captain Kirk felt, it was time to excise some of his own demons. He exited his quarters and headed for Sickbay, there to pay some proper last respects. There, waiting for him were Doctor McCoy, nearly destroyed by the same radiation, and Janet Wallace, a woman who knew it didnt take age to rob them of a loved one.
McCoy looked halfway between pleased and resigned, and it was not a comfortable thing for Kirk to see. "Jim, Im glad you came. I wanted you to see this."
Janet Wallace was silent, Kirk noted, the saner of the two Jans in his past never being quite as talkative as the nerve-ridden Janice Lester. Then, he noted further, very few were quite that talkative. McCoy guided him to the row of stasis chambers, essentially the starships morgue in many cases. The former residents of Gamma Hydra IV were there, looking as they had been when premature aging took their lives. But one body notably did not look the way Kirk would always sadly remember it.
"Bones? Isnt that Lieutenant Galway?"
She had been ten years younger than Kirk, but a faster metabolism outed in the worst way. She had almost literally died as a hag, her shredded dignity robbed again by early senile dementia, such as could only be confirmed by the autopsy. But Kirk wasnt looking at the corpse of a hag. She wasnt the same Arlene Galway that he had met when shed come aboard the Enterprise only a few months ago, but she was definitely more recognizable than the haggard old woman the radiation had turned her into.
McCoy nodded. "Of course, the adrenalin couldnt undo death. No miracle drug for that, not just yet, anyways. But it occurred to me that there might yet be enough active cells inside her for it to at least give her family a recognizable body to bury. Its more than Ive been able to do for a lot of our people. The same high metabolism that made her so vulnerable to the radiation also made this small restoration possible."
Kirk was happy for her family, at least on that level. But his memory of her would always be infected by the shrieking thing, almost literally falling apart at the seams as premature age took her.
Doctor Wallace seemed to pick up on this. "Jim? Just because this occurred on your watch, doesnt make it your fault."
Kirk looked at Wallace, after taking his eyes off of Galways corpse, a silent goodbye he would never truly get used to. "I dont set comets on their flight, Janet. I somehow doubt whoever did intended this exact fate for her. But it still stings, and it still stinks. Imagine Galways searing painseeing the woman she would have become in many decades instead staring back at her now. No gradual turning, with all of lifes rewards and pains to mark the journey. Just youth to death. The face you knew to the face you would have known, given time."
McCoy motioned for Kirk to come by his monitor station, next to his desk. "Jim, you better take a look at this. It might clear some things up."
Kirk did so, and saw a picture of a well-kept older woman with familiar features. "Lieutenant Galway? Bones, when did she look like that?"
McCoy shook his head. "She never did. Thats her grandmother, aged eighty-three. And yes, we did see Galway at approximately that age. But she never looked like that."
Kirk was intrigued, but also certainly confused. "Why such a vast difference?"
The doctor was obviously still thrown by the events of the past few days. It showed most in the hint of annoyance that crept into his voice, likely aimed at a fate that seemed to eat young folk aboard Enterprise like Galway for breakfast. "Because, Jim. Her mother, grandmother and sisters all age normally. They take dietary supplements. They have annual checkups. They get calcium injections, if need be. Get checked for signs of the activation of the chromosome that can cause senility in their family, and have it corrected. Galway never had that chance. And neither did we, aging at a year or better per hour."
Janet Wallace nodded in agreement. "Imagine taking in next to no calories or vitamins for a period of months. Thats what all your bodies were going through, under the influence of that radiation, if you let such things go for as little as a half an hour. That was ravaging you as badly as the aging itself. Then again, Ive never known any terminal disease that didnt have side-effects as a full partner in crime."
Kirk felt an odd sense of relief, despite the tragedy. "I was wondering why my late grandfather had looked so good in his old age, compared to what I saw in the mirror the last few days."
Perhaps able to bear the sight only a little at a time, Doctor McCoy sealed some cryo-stasis tubes and made others go opaque.
Janet Wallace had the final say on the grim subject for then. "Too quickly or too slowly, expected or sudden, golden years or fragile ones, even though well all end up there, right now I have to say that all this just stinks to high heaven."
In Chief Engineer Scotts quarters, Commodore Charles Stocker acceded to an odd request, and signed the compuclipboard before him. "Errisnt your niece a bit young to be applying to the Academy, Mister Scott?"
Scott nodded. "That she is, sir. But you see, Commodore, I promised my Jess that I would see to her sponsorship when the time comes, and she is a firebrand when such a promise is broken. This generosity of yours completes the requirement of the approval of an officer above Captain. Our recent and very nearly final peril reminded me that I must move to take care of all such things I had merely assumed I had time for."
Stocker had not been among those suddenly and savagely aged. But he now looked like a man with a burden of like nature. "Commander, I have a question, and I request that you speak freely and with all candor on this subject. Understood?"
"To be certain, Commodore. Known and understood, sir."
Stocker seemed taken with Scottys well-displayed family crest, but turned from it to ask a question. "Does this crew resent my taking command during the recent crisis?"
The chief engineer shook his head, answering as quickly and as certainly as though it were a basic question of warp-field physics. "I can say that they dont, sir, or at the very least I can vouch safe that there are no overt discussions of such a topic, and this is not a reticent crew when it wishes to speak up and be heard."
Stocker did not seem to be satisfied with that answer. "Yet I summarily relieved from duty a man who is obviously a popular commanding officer, bypassed his professional command staff, and almost got us all killed while violating the law and common sense."
Scott would likely never wish to be seen dismissing a superior officers concerns, so he chose his next words carefully, Stockers request for candor aside. "Sir, from the captain through to myself, the senior command staff were one and all brought low by a disease that can surely be called for the stuff of nightmares. You were in no sense of the word opportunistic. Ye saw a glaring void in our structure, and moved to fill it for the sake of our ship and its crew. That is more apt to earn ye a crews gratitude than its wrath, and I feel safe in speaking for most all aboard Enterprise when I say that."
Stocker seemed a bit more steady, but still showed signs of being unsure about his actions. "What about the Romulans and the Neutral Zone? Looking back, I think the helm and navigation officers obeyed my order to cross through the zone as much out of astonishment as out of duty. I now cant believe I gave such orders."
"Commodore, at that time, ye merely held the same assumption as many Ive encountered, who have nae seen the Klingon and Romulan border patrols. They all think that surely a quick slip wont provoke anything nastier than an automatic message buoy. But if our borders are checkpoints, theirs are as stone walls, every meter held as sacred, every life involved mattering not at all to their wretched leaders. They may steal across, to plunder and taunt. They may claim that a certain area of our map is disputed. But their activities as barbarians only bind us doubly as civilized men and women. Yet until ye see this for yourself, as you did, Commodore, the border paranoia of our sworn foes must seem badly exaggerated."
Stocker sat down again. He looked not upset, but perhaps unsettled. "Commander, Im mainly bothering you because, frankly, the rest of the crew all seem like kids to me."
Scotty smiled one of his best. "Tis hardly a bother, sir. As for the age of my crewmatesoch, thats a bulkhead I walk into at least twice a week, and soon it will be three and four times. Your rank aside, tis an honest pleasure to chat with a person who say, remembers not merely Tarsus Four when it was a new event, but also the firestorm that followed, as the colonial governors tried ta keep from having their authority slashed."
Stocker actually chuckled a bit at that. "I remember Governor ODonoghue of Vega Nine actually blaming the Tarsus survivors for that mess, since they came forward in violation of the initial six-month gag order. The press called him a bulldog for the Governors Alliance. I always said he was full of bull. It was wanting to avoid becoming a self-serving, in-denial-mode bureaucrat like that made my decision to join Starfleet a firm one."
"Surely ye have nae cause to regret that choice, Commodore?"
"None. In fact, Mister Scott, up until I sat in Jim Kirks chair a few days ago, I can honestly say that I have never had cause for any noteworthy regrets."
"All respect, Commodorelets make it Scotty. And what regrets came from taking the conn, if I may be so bold?"
Stocker sighed. "Up until I sat there, with a crew looking to me and three enemy vessels looking at us like a can of cosmic sardines, I would have told you with a straight face that a starship, even to a ship of the line like Enterprise, was just a starbase fitted with nacelles and somewhat fewer armaments. I could never see what the big deal was about these legends that everyone spoke of. To me, all those great men from Cochrane on-down were just ferry pilots who knew some folks in the fourth estate. They did their job, and people like myself did ours, just with less fanfare. I wasnt so much jealous as accepting that this was a fact of life. Then, I felt regulations demanded I take that chair, and all of a sudden....Scotty, all of a sudden, I couldnt conceive of why anyone would want to do anything else, or be anywhere else but in that seat."
If Stocker perhaps expected Scott to take another turn offering lengthy discourse on the given subject, he was to be disappointed by the engineers one telling word. "Aye."
Stocker took another gulp of his drink. "Now I feel like a man whos lost his soul. I am a commodore, and I am about to hold the ranking position in an important and strategic starbase that I know my superiors have assigned enormous value to. I know that their giving me this assignment speaks to the confidence and value they have assigned to me. Yet the only thing I want is to reach back about a quarter-century and shake Cadet Charles Stocker into taking the Starship Command Training Track. And I know that while this feeling will fade, it will never truly vanish. Its not even truly a regret. Just a taste of what could have been. And I dont know whether that makes it better or worse."
Scott offered up the only thing he had. "Worse still, Charles, would be to never have had that taste at all. Because whether a man pursues all his options or only takes the one, it is nae all of us who get to realize that there ever were other paths."
Stocker smiled, and held up his empty glass for a refill. "Right now, Scotty? I want a path to the floor. A slow path, guided well by lots of tonic."
Scott nodded, and poured the remainder of this particular bottle. "Twill be as the commodore wishes..."
For once, Spock was unyieldingly grateful for McCoys intrusiveness. The doctor had, after administering the anti-radiation regimen to him, flatly asked Spock if any unspoken Vulcan concerns of old age should also be checked for. Despite his growing control over his emotions, Spock was nearly certain he could not have raised this subject himself. So it was that with Spocks information and some medical library checks, Doctors McCoy and MBenga looked for signs of Spocks concern. Spock had become concerned that he had, while in his state of rapidly advancing years, contracted a form of senile dementia unique to Vulcans. On the one hand, it was quite rare. But on the other hand, it was hardly unheard of in Sareks family line. Quickly, though not quickly enough for the secretly anxious Vulcan, both doctors concurred that Spock showed no general signs of incipient senile dementia nor any specific signs of what was referred to medically as Bendii Syndrome.
"I am a Vulcan. Distress is from without. Calm is found within. I am whole and at peace."
Spock swore that he felt true joy upon learning that he was in the clear, joy such as he had not had to control since learning his captain and friend was alive, after the myriad deceptions involved in Spocks pon farr. He was prepared this time. He did not smile, or show too much overt reaction of any kind. Yet his sense of relief and reprieve was real, and quite palpable. As real as the searing memories of when Spock first learned of this disease, and its role in his familys life and times...
Sarek chose to sit beside his son in Selmets courtyard. "Your restraint was admirable. This is a gravely unpleasant situation. I will go so far as to concede that Cousin Selmets sudden loss of coherence as we spoke would test nearly anyones composure. I think that even the Lady TPau found that her visit was made less comfortable." Sarek was frightened, and Spock found that he hated that. "Father. It was as though he was there, and then he was not. Yet he never left his bed. In the one breath, he was reminding me of what he called the near-deification of Surak in Teljuqs third biography and its impact on the earliest disciples. He was quoting passages at length and from memory, and reciting whole paragraphs taken from major studies of that work. Yet by the next breath, he was offering me a confection stick, bidding me not tell my parents of it...and Father? He called me by your name. I fear that if I had not asked to leave, you would not now be complimenting me for any sort of restraint." Spock wanted his father to tell him to suppress his Human half. He wanted to be lectured on the worthlessness and danger of allowing rampant fear. He wanted Sarek to say that Cousin Selmet was a relative of high standing, learned to the point of possibly being revered, and that Spock should know shame for daring to ask to leave his presence. Yet even if those behaviors were normally part of Sareks approach to rearing Spock, they were nowhere in evidence that evening. The diplomat seemed very nearly haunted. "I knew him before I could think. Before I knew myself. Mother described his eccentricity of speaking to her pregnant belly, and I cannot be sure that I did not hear him, even then. Spock, I will ask you to remain here in the courtyard and meditate." "No, Father. I am myself again. I will maintain my composure, and return with you. Selmet deserves no less than this." Sarek rose. "You will stay. Spock, I must grant our cousin his dignity back, if only for a short time, that he may actualize his final affairs. To do this, I must mind-meld with him. During this deep meld, I will be as he is right now. It is my profound desire that no one, not my wife or my sons should ever view me in such a state. I find it abhorrent, and would nearly wish to cease to be myself rather than allow this family concern to take away all that I am. My son, will you obey me in this?" "Of course, Father. It will be as you say. Father?" "Yes, Spock?" "Live long and prosper." "So may we all, my son. So may we all, and may we keep knowing ourselves as we do so." Amanda came out next, unashamedly teary-eyed. Selmet had been one of a handful of relatives to offer nearly instant approval to the mixed couple. Spock sat and kept her company, and realized that Sarek for once was unconcerned that his hybrid son would embarrass him. Rather, Sarek seemed to solely fear embarrassing himself in front of his family. This thing that had struck so able and vital a man could, in old age, hit any member of their family.
His meditation in the present done with, Spock thought of the slow losses, like the seeping of air in a room with a damaged bulkhead, that his friends suffered as they aged so rapidly. He remembered the passing talk of how his own slower aging kept him viable for a slightly longer time. Spock almost felt as though his friends envied this difference, to be nearly as he was, straight to the end. Yet he could never truly indicate to them his reversed envy. For to the best of his knowledge, Humans had found ways to mitigate all forms of senile dementia. But Bendii Syndrome had always been and was likely to remain nearly untreatable. More, though he had cleared this instance, it still remained a possibility that lay in the future, for Sarek, and for himself.
Commander Spock of Vulcan reminded himself that neither fragility nor feebleness were among his present concerns, and so once again found himself ready to face life aboard the starship Enterprise, lived as it was one day at a time. He spoke certain words out loud, though he was alone. "For as Surak himself had said, though life is replete with challenges, difficulties and an eventual move towards its end, by and large, logic directs that it is highly preferable to the alternative." And in a future both familiar and unknowable, in one way or another, they would one and all look back upon these times as a kind of golden age.
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