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Rob Morris



The false angel was gone, and the children were slowly dealing with what Captain Kirk knew was the harshest possible fact of a childhood. Sadly, he had gained experience in helping a child through this after the recent death of his older brother, Sam, and Sam’s wife, Aurelan. Kirk’s nephew, Peter, was back on Earth now. But a boy who seemed to eerily resemble him was now in trouble, and the captain moved to help him when asked by Doctor McCoy.

Entering the transporter room, he saw Winston Kyle gesture for him. "Sir, he just came in here and started staring at the pad. I’ve double-locked everything down, just to be sure."

"Good work, Chief."

Kirk approached the boy, and with the crisis past, he saw that the resemblance to his nephew was less than he first thought. Not that it mattered, right then. "Tommy? Why are you here?"

Tommy Starnes looked up from where he was sitting, and his tears were very visible. "I heard two of the security guards talking. They said two of their friends died when we moved the ship away from the planet because we’d made you and everyone else think it was still there. I know some stuff from my dad. That was explosive decompression, isn’t it, sir?"

Jim Kirk almost sighed. He hadn’t known what those words meant when he was Tommy’s age. "You and the others didn’t kill them, Tommy. Gorgan did. That proved how cruel he was. He did it by not caring about who he hurt with his dirty tricks."

Tommy nodded. "I know it wasn’t our fault. Mister Spock said that Gorgan was too good at telling us what we wanted to hear, and even at making us want to hear and see what he wanted."

Kirk smiled. Maybe reconciling with Sarek and the issue of his own childhood had made Spock better in dealing with children.

"Mister Spock can explain anything to anyone, except of course for Doctor McCoy."

Tommy laughed a little at the joke he didn’t really understand, and looked sadder still. "But, Captain? That’s a horrible way to die! Alone, and without air—blowing up. At least our folks had each other, and they were on a planet. I should be thinking about my mom and my dad, but I just can’t get those two poor guys out of my head."

Kirk didn’t need a degree to see a coping mechanism, and that it really wasn’t an adequate one. The best he could hope for was to talk him away from this pad, and back to the people onboard who did hold degrees. Meatball psychiatry, someone had once called it. "It’s good to remember them, Tommy. I remember everyone I’ve ever lost on this ship."

Tommy’s eyes were filled with wonder and surprise. "But how can you handle it? That’s gotta be a lot of people. Did any of them die like those men did?"

Kirk sat down with him on the pad’s steps. "It is a lot of people. One of them was like my own brother. One of them was my brother and his beautiful wife. One was a man about to get married. One was a young woman who they must have been thinking of when they made the phrase ‘cute as a button’. And yes, some of them died in ways that make what happened to those security officers seem peaceful and quick. So I don’t think about those ways, Tommy. I can’t. Because I’d make myself sick, and because it would dishonor their memories."

The boy was confused. "But doesn’t it dishonor them to forget those horrible things? My mom always said you have to take the bad with the good."

"And she was right. But the bad has already been taken. They’re dead. They won’t be coming back. So I take the good. You know what the good is, Tommy?"

The boy shook his head. "No."

The captain pointed up at the ceiling, as though it were transparent. "They died living the life they wanted to live. The life they had chosen to live. The life that they had trained, long, hard hours and days and years to live, so that they could explore space, and open it still further to those that would come after them. People can die in almost any way, and they do. It’s never good, but if they left us while doing the work they loved, then however it happened, they lived happy. From the first airplanes on Earth to the atomic-era’s shuttle program, from Zephram Cochrane’s first wave of Alpha Centauri-bound ships to this ship’s successors, people have and people will explore space, knowing that even the most routine of missions can turn in less than a heartbeat. No time to respond, or even to say goodbye."

Tommy looked at Kirk with pleading in his eyes. "But those two men just died so stupidly. It didn’t have to happen. And they were just going down to the planet, not saving the galaxy."

The captain nodded. "But if you had asked them to choose between the life they led in Starfleet and the possibility of something bizarre taking them, or a safe life without exploration, they would have said what they already said when they joined up. That whether falling to the ground, dying in open space, exploding in a ship, or what have you, that such deaths were part of what they signed up for, in order to open the cosmos further still to exploration. Your parents were scientists, seeking knowledge of our universe, just like my brother. Those brave men and women I’ve spoken of, with backgrounds diverse and wide-ranging, were sworn to explore space, and that is simply put the noblest aspiration I can think of: to explore."

Knowing that even a well-crafted speech would not a huge tragedy undo, Jim Kirk nodded at Chief Kyle, and guided Tommy Starnes away from a place where two brave men died horribly and needlessly. He hoped that Tommy would begin to move closer to a place where their lives, like the lives of all space explorers, had infinite meaning merely through the ground they broke.

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