Kirk stared at the archived image of Kahless the Unforgettable. It was idealized and perhaps retroactively made to look more like current-age Klingons. It also looked almost nothing like the warrior he and Spock had recently encountered on Excalbia. "Where did you get this?"
Lieutenant Uhura sipped her herb tea, then pointed at the print-out. "Diplomatic cultural exchange. A gift from the archives on Kazh, from a Commander Kumara specifically. One of our more quick-thinking diplomats thought the Klingon delegation might be impressed by one of the old Christian passion plays."
Kirk had to smile a bit, despite the sordid history of those plays. If there was anything besides Shakespeare to transit the Neutral Zone safely, surely it would be a spectacle like that. His eyes went back to the picture. "I suppose that, lacking an image, the Excalbians scanned my mind and created a generic Klingonor something."
After all issues of clearance and security had been covered, Uhura had asked Captain Kirk for more details about the values test conducted by the supposedly amoral Excalbians, using historical figures, including one who made a notable visit aboard Enterprise.
"You know, sir? Meeting that Lincoln duplicate, I can now see why all the legends about him continue even to this day."
"Remember, Uhura. Our Excalbian Lincoln was an idealized version. Whatever your own take on his use of the phrase, charming negress,' it's unlikely the real Lincoln would have even realized how awkward that term was."
"I know that. I've traced the family trees, and only a very few extremely distant relatives of mine ever found themselves in North America. But when I met the Excalbian duplicate, I swear I could feel their agony, and then their joy, as this man stepped forward to end a great tyranny and injustice."
As she cleared her food away, Kirk nodded. "He ended a great injustice, and brought his country back together."
As Uhura left the galley, Kirk added something more in a whisper. "And I would have followed him straight into that lava."
On the other side of the room, Spock had related a similar further account to two more bridge officers.
"It must have been likeI don't know. As though D'Artagnan and Kawakami Gensai both bowed their swords to you," remarked Sulu.
"Da. Such a primal figure. Vwery nearly the Vwulcan messiah, if you vwill."
Sulu and Chekov were slowly beginning to realize that a good deal more of this conversation was being generated by them than by the ship's first officer.
"Mister Spock? I know you don't act on your emotions as we would. But I would like to ask something. Was it, well, memorable, when Surak greeted you with the Vulcan salute?"
Spock sat silently for over a half a minute.
Chekov broke the silence, something he might not have done as little as two years earlier. "Sir? Vwas the question too personal?"
The Vulcan realized how long he had let the conversation drift, and this added to his apparent discomfort. "Not at all, Ensign. It was well within decorum, and quite properly phrased. It is the answer that disquiets me. Gentlemen, I fear I must withdraw. Excuse me, please."
When he had departed, the two junior officers naturally speculated.
"So vwhat vwas the answer? Vwhat could put a Vwulcan that far off his game?"
Sulu shook his head. "I'll gather that it was memorable, though not in a good way. Maybe Vulcans have some sort of prohibition against depictions of Surak?"
"Not vwery logical, if you ask me."
There was no solution to the dilemma to be had without further questioning the now withdrawn Spock, so Sulu was not challenged as he changed the subject to another historical figure recreated by the Excalbians, and shown on the Enterprise displays.
"I would never have thought that Colonel Green could look so innocuous. The man who wanted to exterminate all Asians from the face of Earth was no more imposing than a maintenance technician. Pavel, how is that?"
"Monsters rarely look it, Hikaru. Until someone pointed him out to me, I would have thought, during his stay aboard our vwessel, that Khan Noonien Singh could have been any one of his male followers. Da, he had dignity and immense pride. But a favored aide can carry that look, in service to a leader. In another life, Hitler could have been called that gloomy Austrian artist,' and Stalin could have spent his days farming potatoes, and who vwould even have paid them any notice?"
For once, his younger friend clearly had the right idea. Sulu nodded. "I guess the whole point is that they only hold what we invest in them."
The reason he had followed President Lincoln' down to Excalbia's transitory surface was the reason he had given his officers, the reason he had stated in the record, and the reason he knew would bear almost any scrutiny. A unknown species of some intelligence and means had gone to a great deal of trouble to get their attention, and he wanted to know why, as was the sworn mission of his ship and all its crew.
As was the case with so many things, though, it was the personal scrutiny of James T. Kirk upon himself that would not let him rest easy. He had been fully cognizant all along of who he was obviously not dealing with. It wasn't Lincoln. It wasn't going to be Lincoln. Lincoln was dead, and he was never coming back. But with all the wonders of space and time, wasn't it possible that, in some miraculous way, the great man whose work had been left unfinished was just waiting to be found?
Kirk knew better than to spend too much time in his quarters, but he needed answers, deeply felt answers as to why this obvious impostor had, while never controlling him, so quickly pushed his buttons. That he was missing something seemed obvious. What he was missing was becoming his most vexing puzzle since seeing his brother's still form and wondering whether earlier attempts at contact might have saved Sam Kirk and most of a world's population.
Like it or not, he needed to talk to an old country doctor. "Kirk to McCoy."
Absurd at its core that he would miss such things. Absurd that it took Sulu and Chekov's questioning to rouse him from his schoolboy adoration long enough to at last see the simple truth a Vulcan child would have identified immediately.
The message to Ambassador Sarek refrained from relating any of his embarrassment, a move as appropriate as the message's intent. While there was no law on Vulcan demanding this, it had long been a quiet custom that any off-world vision of Surak was reported back to the homeworld with alacrity. Whether an early post-Reformation colonial holovid series that attempted to depict the great leader, a series of Human novels that placed Surak with the Terran Jesus and other revered figures in a kind of galactic savior force,' or the hallucinations of Vulcans near to death on damaged ships and hostile worlds, any sort of sighting was considered invaluable. The reasons for this were obscure, even to Vulcans. But it was done. It would ever be done. It was perhaps even beyond the term kaiidth to describe in how this was nature to Vulcans.
Yet what he had to report was disheartening. The image of Surak as brought forward on Excalbia was a flawed thing, perhaps literally fatally so. The stereotypical blind offer of peace to lawless enemies that led to certain death showed this well. In truth, many of the historical Surak's seemingly most dangerous attempts at bringing forward his beliefs actually involved tribal leaders who had asked to meet him. While Surak's actual demise bore some similarities to that suffered by the transformed Excalbian pawn, it evidenced none of the overly optimistic foolishness of that one's laudable yet doomed goal. Surak knew that logically he would never live to see the future he proscribed for Vulcan, and yet did not approach his work with fatalism. It was the basis of kaiidth, in fact. What will be, will be.
Then there was what the two junior officers had caused him to see. In fact, it should have been truly memorable to see any solid image of Surak greet him with the salute of his people, the one the true Surak had initiated. But it was not. It was an embarrassment again, for the salute had been wrong! As wrong as any Human's attempt to do it for the first time at the Academy. The Surak he saw had struggled with the most basic of Surakian symbols, and Spock, so very much in awe of what he knew to be a falsehood, had not even taken conscious notice.
There were other details in the message, and one that Spock felt twinges of actual shame about. This flawed, trophy-model version of Surak had not been some mere Excalbian misinterpretation of scanned files. No, just as surely as the robust, engaging version of Abraham Lincoln had sprung from the mind of his captain, the lackluster version of Surak had come from Spock's. Kirk had called up a great leader of his world's history as, at the very least, a reminder of why that man had continued to intrigue and inspire. Spock had called up the father of all his world knew and cherished as hollow shell of greatness. The true Surak had been inspiring, insightful, engaging. The Excalbian version was none of these things.
All this he relayed to Sarek without comment or editorial exposition. At this time, he also realized there was a true need to relate all this to one who could respond immediately. Obtrusive he might be, and unabashedly emotional. But his friendship was proven by his willingness to keep silent when such was asked, and by a listening ear nearly as open as his mouth. The answers and advice would invariably range into the highly illogical, but this was now a price Spock was willing to pay.
"Spock to McCoy."
A great if highly irreverent military surgeon once observed something. Once in a while, he said, the people in the more physically active parts of the service somehow or other ended up reminding the medical folks that when it came down to it, the latter were merely the water boys, not the players.
Leonard McCoy knew that his friends were better than that. Much better. He also knew that Starfleet was not simply a military operation, despite the views of some. Yet just as with M5 and a handful of other situations, he had been reminded that his part in the ship's effective triumvirate was by the choice of the captain and first officer, and not at all a natural development by most standards. That none of the people developing those standards knew anything worth a tinker's damn about the U.S.S. Enterprise did come to mind, yet it didn't always help.
The Excalbians had given James Kirk his Lincoln, and Surak to Spock. No other heroes appeared to oppose the relatively massive assemblage of evil down on the planet's surface. This was obviously because only those two officers were of any real interest to the curious yet still somehow thuggish aliens. No Robert Bruce for Scotty, Ahkenaten for Uhura, or like that. Certainly no Louis Pasteur for Leonard McCoy. No, he was to remain among those who watched the battle, not those who fought it. It was among those things he got used to by never getting used to it. There were more than enough times he was there, right by their side. But when those times came, again he was reminded that his right to be there was a granted one, not a given by any means.
Needless to say, the ship's chief medical officer knew better than to simply feel sorry for himself. That he would work past this always transitory feeling was a given, as sure as the fact that he would be assaulted by this feeling. He hoped that something would come up to displace it entirely. He remembered too late to be careful what he wished for.
"Kirk to McCoy. Bones, if you could spare a few moments, I really need to talk about..."
"Spock to McCoy. Doctor, if I could impose upon you for a brief time, I find that I require perspective on our recent..."
As the two calls came one right after the other, McCoy thought about how certain military folks tended to forget how badly they really needed water until they were ready to fall down from thirst. He saw a simple path to hydrating his distracted friends, or so he thought.
"Gentlemen, this is how we're gonna handle this. In approximately fifteen minutes, the two of you come to my office. McCoy out."
And when that water boy came around, he thought, the look of gratitude on the player's face could be worth every last unintended slight.
The two friends met just outside of Sickbay.
"I just hope he knows what he's doing. No offense, Spock. But I'd just as soon have talked with Bones alone."
"Were I capable of taking such offense, Captain, I would still not choose to do so in this instance. I, too, would prefer to take whatever wisdom the doctor might have to offer in private. Yet it is we who have chosen to confer with him, rather than the ship's psychologist."
"In other words, we knew what we were getting into by asking him."
"I believe that is what I just said."
It was a light moment, welcomed during a period that by rights should not have been so intense. As they entered McCoy's office, a physician more confident than he would soon be smiled and gestured for them to sit down.
"Gentlemen, I think this old sawbones has just the thing for what ails you. Its called common sense. Look, you were confronted by primal images of people you hold in the highest regard possible. Small wonder it's all been staying with you."
A full minute that seemed several passed before one of the two command officers spoke. Kirk's face showed both confusion and some disappointment. "That's it?"
"Yeah. Pretty much. Very boiled down, but if you're asking me if that's all I really have to say, I'll just tell you that it's all I really need to say, and all you really need to hear."
Spock showed that their captain was far from being alone in his negative assessment of McCoy's advice. "Doctor, you are surely aware that we two are more than capable of ascertaining the very facts you have stated all on our own?"
"Actually, Mister Spock, I'm aware of no such thing. You two are like great horsemen who sometimes have no horse sense. I think a restating of the obvious may be just the kick in the pants you and the captain need."
Kirk looked at McCoy in wonder. "Bones, what you just told us had been on my mind since Lincoln' first appeared to us. If all you can do for me is repeat for the umpteenth time that Abraham Lincoln is one of my heroes, then I even wonder why I bothered to come here! I... Never mind. I regret raising my voice, Doctor. I think I better get back to work. Good day, gentlemen."
Kirk left, not angrily but certainly hurriedly, and to say that McCoy was stunned by this was no exaggeration. "Can you believe him, just walking out on me like this?"
"Doctor, I fear that I can."
"Spock, you understand. Sometimes, the very most obvious aspect of a situation needs to be restated."
"I understand only all too well, Doctor. You attempted to use logic to break the emotional hold the Excalbian duplicates had and continue to have on us."
"Exactly. I used logic. Now, just what could be wrong with that, I ask you?"
Spock got up then. "What is wrong, Doctor, is that such logic is not your strong suit. It is, in any event, not the reason I would choose to seek you out."
Of course, the Vulcan had meant no harm by his words. Yet they still stung the doctor badly.
When his shift was done, McCoy retreated to his quarters. In fact, it was a literal retreat. A healer who had failed to effectively aid his two best friends, Leonard McCoy felt like a failure. In his dreams, he saw a ship filled with Excalbian historical celebrity impostors, each fitted to every last member of the crew of his acquaintanceeven Winston Kyle had his namesake Churchill calling good show' after hearing about transporter operation.
But there was no one there for McCoy. No one was trying to lure him to a grand game of good and evil. He was the water boy, summoned by the frat boys impatiently banging their signet rings.
"Now, if you're through feeling sorry for yourself, I will reveal the greatest secret of them all."
McCoy turned at the sound of the voice. "What secret is that? Why I failed my friends? Why I'm bothered by the whims of imponderable aliens?"
The man, whose voice was heard from behind a curtain, just mildly chuckled. "None of that, I'm afraid."
"Then what?" asked the doctor, as he pulled away the curtain, to see a very familiar smiling face.
"Why, my boy, the secret, long-passed down, to making great baked beans!"
"Well, it sure as hell ain't pecan pie!"
The doctor awoke, ashamed that he had forgotten so great a secret, delighted at who had reminded him of it, and now knowing what to do for his captain and first officer.
Problem is, I know these two. They were reluctant to turn to me in the first place. My flubbing it up plus their plain ol' obstinacy is going to make this even rougher.
But in his mode, so to speak, McCoy had a plan to beat the men who came up with the plans. "Jim? If you want to stop by, I have something for you to make up for last night."
"Spock? You were right, and I was wrong. Logic is not my strong suit. I may want to change that around a bit. Stop by if you're interested in helping a loopy old country doctor."
Vague and ambiguous enough for anyone they trusted, the message would be sure to bring the pair back, and the confirmed times of entry were just off enough to ensure they would not catch on immediately. Ship's business thankfully hewed closer to the routine than it might have otherwise, so the day went by without existence, sentient-kind, the galaxy or merely the Federation being threatened with annihilation. A shuttle full of security men even came and went without so much as a nick from shaving.
For all McCoy's efforts, the two senior officers' reactions were quite predictable as they arrived in Sickbay.
"Bones, didn't we do all this already?"
"Indeed, Doctor. Your effort was welcome, but your insight was, as you yourself admitted, sorely lacking."
McCoy didn't even attempt to dissuade them, instead leaping directly for their figurative combined jugular. "Gentlemen, just who were Lincoln and Surak to you?"
"Jim, bear with me. And by that, I mean don't humor me. I mean go with me. Because now I know. As surely as Spock reasons out an anomaly, or you out-maneuver another starship commander. I know, damn it, so let me speak!"
McCoy spoke with such certaintythat both men nodded in acquiescence. "Good. Good. Okay. Now, once more, besides being your heroes, who were those great men to you? What did they represent?"
Spock was the first to speak, as though his need was greater, privacy concerns aside. "Mister Lincoln was a heartening reminder that my Human heritage, even at its most barbaric moments, found in itself the capacity to strive to be better. The conflict he oversaw could be seen as akin to the conflict of my own dualand duelingnatures. Brother against brother. His victory is not one I would ever dismiss or belittle."
Kirk continued from the other side. "Surak had the absolute conviction that there must be a better way. No more killing. No more hating. Enough, he said, and his world was ready to listen. But that only made his challenge all the harder, and the stakes even higher. Could he keep to his own ideals? Could he leave his best followers with enough wisdom to do so, when he was gone? Surak knew the only way to rip the heart out of the will to make war was to walk up to that heart, hotter than any warp core, gravity twice that of any white dwarf star fragment, and speak to that heart, and ask the one question no computer has ever broken: Why?"
Spock began to move closer to his home soil, as McCoy had guessedno, as the doctor had known he would. "Surak knew that his life was forfeit the moment he began to seek to spread the cultural revolution whereby logic replaced the passions of the war lords. Given that, he could be gravely foolhardy in his actions. Some have said that he was compelled to recklessness by his followers in order to appear to be almost a nascent deity, while others assert that he had deduced that in order to succeed, his revolution needed a martyr, namely Surak himself. "
"There's a Human expression, Spock," McCoy added, "that whenever you have two polarized beliefs that the truth must lay somewhere in between."
A look of understanding swept across the Vulcan's face, but what it might have meant was kept back while Kirk again took his turn. "Lincoln never caught on to the fact that in order to transform a world, you must be a living man for as long as possible, not an iconic martyr. Lincoln all but forgot how important he was, and how much he was needed. I know he was ill, but had he lived a few more years, the organized underground hate-mongering of Reconstruction that devoured the United States for so long would have been stamped out in its infancy. Impeachment of that country's president would have remained unthinkable, rather than a political football. And so much else. And so much else."
McCoy didn't want to break the rhythm he'd established, yet he felt obliged to speak. "You don't know that. Sometimes those iconic martyrs of democracyLincoln, Gandhi, King, Bellbest served their messages by leaving the stage before their effectiveness could be diminished, their legacies tainted by real world decisions."
Kirk wasn't having this as he, too, approached his moment. "It's not as though they actually had a choice in the matter, now is it? All of them were felled by an assassin. A dream and its adherents need that leader. Without them, things can and will go wrong. A man's life touches so many others, and when he's gone, he leaves an awfully big hole. Especially when his work is unfinished. Especially when he could have done so much more."
McCoy knew again, that this time he had done it. "Men like Abraham Lincoln, Jim?"
Kirk said words that surprised him for how natural they felt. "Men like George Kirk. Both of them, but most especially my father. My God, how could I not see it?"
McCoy nodded, hiding the sense of triumph he felt rather well, all things considered. "A man who died too soon, his work left undone, his followers understanding his sense of duty but still wishing he was there. Not a dead legend to be venerated, but a son, and a husband, and a father."
Kirk still stood in awe of where McCoy had guided him to. "And a grandfather. I know Mom is doing her best. But I worry about Sam's boy, Peter. I just can't shake this sense that Dad would know exactly how to help him cope, and that by force of will alone, he could call Peter's brothers home to Iowa. And when my time came aboard the Farragut, he could have said a few words that would have just made sense of it all..."
Kirk smiled to hear how misty he was getting. "To say nothing of the bear he killed when he was only three. Or that time he lifted up a shuttle full of Orion thugs, and sent it hurtling at a wall."
Despite logic and knowledge of the captain, Spock was about to query him on these statements, when a raised hand and a shaking head from McCoy warned him off. The doctor then gestured at the Vulcan. "Spock, I now know that the great historical figures you both encountered were based on aspects of your fathers. But while I caught Jim's fairly easily, I must admit that you posed a dilemma."
"How so, Doctor?"
"I'm frankly at a loss as to how the affable version of Surak you encountered equates to the very logical, reasoned, learned and yet vastly more reserved Ambassador Sarek. I mean no disrespect. But based solely on the man I met during the Coridan Conference, I can't see Sarek ever acting in quite the same way."
Kirk briefly looked at McCoy as though to say tone it down,' but this is not what he said at all. "I'm afraid I have to agree, Spock. Your father is a great man. But Surakthe image of the very founder of all you hold dearseemed so much more approachable. The Christ comparisons may not always work, but for any figure of such messianic overtones to be so modern in sensibility threw me off, idealized version or no."
Spock, perhaps relieved to be free of the burden of the hero-images hidden meanings, was himself even more approachable at this time. "Gentlemen, you are correct, and you are wrong, all at once. The image of Surak carried something pronounced in him of my father. Yet it is not the Sarek you or I have known."
Spock steepled his hands, and then continued. "You see, Doctor, it is not so complicated as you and the captain believe. In the eyes of Surak as he was seen on Excalbia, I was merely another Vulcan. I needed to prove nothing, nor did he ask such of me."
Spock took on a look of wonder. "It is only recently that I have even allowed myself the possibility that this state could even potentially exist between myself and my father. You, Captain, were caught up in an idealized past. I myself was caught up in the notion of an idealized future."
McCoy felt the accuracy of this answer, felt it in his gut. "The George Kirk that was, the Sarek that could be. Nobody tell me those Excalbians didn't know what they were doing. You two all done here?"
"Men or supermen, past or presentmay I suggest we take some time out and talk about our fathers over an evening meal?"
"Flawed or untouchableI find that a most logical suggestion, Jim. I shall speak of my father, and youof your dad. I think that I would find knowledge of having a Dad' to be most fascinating. Doctor, will you join us?"
McCoy shook his head. His mission was accomplished, and he was tired. "Gentlemen, you go and have your talk. Me, I'm going to honor the late David McCoy in my own way, thank you very much."
When they had gone, McCoy ordered a standard plate of beans from the food station, to which he joyfully added, prior to reheating, some of his very best Tennessee whiskey. Someday, he would have to share this epicurean delight with his friends, but for that night, it was all his. As he ate the gassy mix, the doctor smiled, then spoke aloud very briefly. "Thanks, Dad."
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