Peter Kirk had entered a part of Tantalus Penal Colony that, for most prisoners, may as well have not existed: departure lounge. His sentence was over, and he was going home. Or at the very least, he was leaving Tantalus. He hoped that he was leaving it forever, and that was odd. Because until he was told of his parole, he had been certain and content that he was serving the full five-year term of his sentence.
But when he was informed that he was leaving, the comfortable place that had helped him to begin his tortured life anew became a prison. Suddenly, the terrifying prospect of resuming his Starfleet career became a lifeline. The once dread thought of seeing his uncle again became a goal. He didnt know if he was ready to succeed on the outside, but he felt at last he was ready to try.
Peter waited outside Doctor Helen Noels office, in all ways but one a free man. He was sweating. Being around Doctor Noel made him feel a little foolish. Besides the fact that the older woman was not unattractive especially her eyesshe was a symbol of his past bouts with self-absorption. Hating his uncle as much as he once did, Peter just hadnt bothered to read many of Jim Kirks adventures in detail. Doctor Noel, Doctor Van Gelder, and Tantalus itself were also a part of the captains incredible history. The lens of the dread Neural Neutralizer was still on display in the room where Peters uncle had nearly lost his sanity. Once, it would have infuriated Peter, to think that no spot could go untouched by the legend he so wrongly and strongly despised. Now, he, too, hoped that he was emerging from Tantalus Penal Colony a stronger man.
Walking briefly into the nearby cafeteria, he stopped and pulled back. A guard of his acquaintance saw this, and smiled. "Ensign Kirk, you currently have access to this entire areafood processors included. And may I addthe food is no better on this side of the fence. It's just nobody watches us stare dumbly at it. By the waythank you."
Pulling out cream of chicken soup, Peter puzzled at this statement. "Thank me, sir? For what?"
"Its not often we have someone turn their lives around, even with as great a staff as this colony has. But you came here, always understanding what you had done wrong, and that there was a consequence for your crime. In that regard, you were different than most of those who come through the doors. I almost hate to see you go. But since that is our goal here, I can live with it."
As Peter sopped up his soup with a biscuit, the guard pointed at him.
"Dont end up back here. Youll cost me twenty credits and disappoint a lot of good people who took pains to trim down that lousy attitude you sported three years ago. Deal, pal?"
Peter shook his hand. "A deal, sir."
The man smiled and slapped Peter lightly on the shoulder and strolled off on his rounds.
By the time Peter had finished soup, bread, and drink, Doctor Noel was just emerging from her office. After grabbing herself a cup of mocha coffee, she walked over to his table, and sat down beside him. "Cream of chicken? Peter, I wanted you to have good memories of Tantalus."
Peter made an effort to respond in kind. "Then you should have had me released on meatloaf day, Doc."
"Ill be blunt, Peter. This freedom were granting you is probationary. The first serious mistake you make, and not only will you be back in here, but minus every privilege youve earned during your sentence. Plus, well have you back on twice daily therapy sessions. Am I clear, Ensign?"
Peter once would have grated at this. But right then and there, he was happy to have it stated plainly and flatly. "Yes, Doctor. Perfectly."
"Good. Now, the ship youll be boarding has a captain and a first officer who are fully aware of who you are, and what you did to get here. The entire senior staff, and probably most of the crew, know as well. Remember what weve discussed. Be as tough mentally as you are physically. Some people will forgive, but not forget, and some will do neither. They owe you nothing. It is you who must earn your way back. The road ahead is long."
She then briefly lost a bit of professional detachment. "But I dont think youll be back here, Peter. You took what this place had to offer you, and you ran with it. Im very pleased with and proud of your progress. And there is one more thing, Ensign."
"When you meet that ships captain, be sure to smile. It makes a good first impression."
"All right. Thank you, Doctor Noel. Thank everyone for mein case I left someone out, that is."
Silently, they made their way to the turbolift to the surface, and stepped inside. "Surface, authorization Noel Charlie Charlie One Seven Zero One Alpha."
He turned with a start, raising an almost Vulcan eyebrow.
"Just a joke, Ensign," she explained.
"Sure it is," he answered.
The lift stopped, and the doors opened. Peter stepped out onto the transporter pad. Noel studied his face; it reminded her of a long-ago Christmas party. Doctor Helen Noel watched as Ensign Peter Kirk was beamed away from Tantalus Penal Colony.
Sighing, she turned to head back down to the ward level. "I wonder what Harry Mudd is up to today..."
Peter Kirk materialized aboard the starship, and looked around. It clearly seemed familiar, but, of course, all Federation starships were built on the same design. As he stepped off the transporter pads, he heard a voice that he clearly recognized.
"Ensign, it is customary to announce yourself upon boarding a starship. Youll have to learn such rules, if you want to spend a month aboard the Enterprise."
Peters jaw dropped, and his eyes went wide as he looked into the shielded transporter booth. Two figures stood thereone Vulcan and one Human. "Uncle Jim?"
James T. Kirk had been waiting for so very many hard years to see this moment, to see this expression: Peter Kirk was smiling a genuine, unrehearsed, very broad smile. Whatever else happened now, the captain felt that good had finally prevailed.
But he had to see if the smile was sincere. So he said something to the grown man on the pad he hadnt said in over two decades: "Cmere, you."
Perhaps Peter really had been reborn at Tantalus, for he rushed forward as he would have when he was four years old, and a hug was briefly exchanged.
"Ive missed you, Peter. And Im glad to have you back."
Peter looked in awe as any stranger might, standing in the presence of Captain James T. Kirk. "Itsgood to be back, Captain."
Jim shook his head. "Try again, Ensign. I have another title, you know."
Peter rejoiced inside. The person he had hurt so very badly had truly forgiven him. "Ive missed you...and I love you, Uncle Jim."
This time, the hug was a bit longer in duration. Jim breathed an enormous sigh of relief. At least at this initial stage, Tantalus had put paid to, though it could hardly erase, the events of Dianas.
"Jim, are you sure you want me aboard the Enterprise?"
Captain Kirk was blunt but not harsh. "This is where you committed your crimes, Peter. Despite some crew rotations, the people youll encounter are the ones who had to put up with your lousy attitude last time out. They are the ones that saw you arrested, and taken away. This wont be a cakewalk, Ensign. Consider this ship to be a harsh microcosm of what your life will be like, as the consequences of your actions follow you. Consider it like working out in five g. If you can survive the intensity of the feelings youll encounter here, and keep yourself togetherwithout incidentthen the rest of Starfleet should be a breeze."
Peter decided to go for broke. "Captainpresuming this goes well, and you dont end up feeling I should be bound back to Tantalus, may I make a request?"
Jim kept his composure. But inwardly, such an early request made him uneasy. "Go ahead."
With the eyes of the lost seven-year-old from 2267, Ensign Kirk made his request. "Jim, Id like to be assigned to the Enterprisepermanently."
The very same request Peter had made after Deneva. It had been impossible then; Starfleet didnt allow children aboard its ships of the line. Jims response was likewise the same, but for different reasons. "The answer is no. Not today. Not one month from now. I pulled a lot of strings to get permission to retrieve you from Tantalus, but those strings only can be pulled so far. Peter, we are Starfleets flagship. We also have a waiting list that would frankly astound you. You want this posting, Mister? Then earn it. By diligence and hard work well above and beyond the call of duty. To get on board my ship, not only do you have to negate your past troublesa task in itselfbut you must prove that you are among the best of the best. And even then"
He gently smiled, and pointed to his first officer, who had manned the transporter. "you have to get past him. Vulcans are plenty tough, but this one is a bit tougher than most."
Wordlessly, Spock raised an eyebrow at his captains opinion.
Taking no chances, Jim followed through. "I think you have it in you. But give it time, Peter. You may be years walking away from the events of Dianas, if ever, in any real way. But in timewho knows? You may be the one to replace your old uncle as Captain of this starship."
Peter chuckled. "Permission to say not very likely, sir."
Spock chose that moment to interrupt, "Ensign Kirk, you have the next eight hours to acclimate yourself to this ship and its crew. I strongly suggest you take part of that time to familiarize yourself with the work-station you will be assigned to for the next month. It is well within your considerable capabilities, so I will hold you to a high standard. Am I clear?"
Peter nodded briskly. "Aye, Captain Spock, sir. Clear as transparent aluminum."
With another light smile between uncle and nephew, Peter went to stow his gear, escorted by a yeoman who was waiting on the other side of the door to the transporter room. As with any uncertain undertaking, Kirk turned for advice to a man as much his own brother as Peters late father Sam.
Spock raised an eyebrow. "Analysis, Captain? The ensign is not a one-celled galactic parasite, nor is he an enemy possessing a cloaking device."
Kirk nodded. "Youre right. Hes far more important to me than either of those things. Now, since you knew full well what I meant, how about that analysis?"
Spock shook his head. "No analysis is necessary. Even a cursory look at his tone of voice, choice of words, and body language denotes a major change from the misanthropic, self-hating, furtive creature that boarded three years ago. His willingness to ask you for a permanent posting, despite likely knowing the answer, indicates a willingness to trust you. He was nervous around you, but also repentant. Perhaps he was even too repentant."
"Jim, he wishes to prove himself to you. But while his head may have been cleared of hate and blind anger, I must wonder if his self-destructive habits have all been unlearned. He may cause unintended harm to himself or others, trying to show that his change is a true one. Speaking as one who knows what a lack of self-esteem and self-acceptance can cause, I know that the abandoning of the hate is but the first step. Also, I, too, lost a brother at a very early age, as Peter has lost two. These survival habits learned in a time of self-disgust, like the traumas they saw us through, linger past their time."
Jim raised a finger. "You loved Sybok. Peter hated his older brotherand with good reason. That thing we arrested on Dianas resembled my nephew Georgie in more ways than one, but he was still family."
Spock concurred. "The rejection makes one eager to please, and upset when it's found that the eagerness itself is not enough. Then follows, almost inevitably, massive overcompensation. Peter is at long last on the right path. What we must truly hope for is his readiness to adapt to that path, and the different approach it demands."
Kirk always found each new angle on his dearest friend frankly amazing, and this time it was no different. "If you had to put this up against an event in your own life, Spock, what would you pick?"
Spock had an answer. "Since my decision to attend Starfleet Academy was not my fathers will, I must place the events of the Babel Conference as the nearest corollary. And Jimafter all was done, and Sarek and I had reconciledmy path back had only just begun. If you will recall, my actions at that time were not always logical."
"Still, you certainly committed no crime."
"Didnt I? Defying Sareks wishes was nearly as grave a concern under Vulcan Law as TPrings schemes, half a year before Babel. Crime itself is not the issue, Captain. Both he and I came to disappoint and resent that one we held most dear. The desire to repent can be an even more dangerous one than the desire for revenge."
At a nod from Kirk, Spock left to craft a new schedule for the Science Specialists. The captain of the Enterprise prayed hard that he had not made a mistake.
Eight hours later, Peter reported to his workstation in Sciences.
Spock pointed to someone. "Ensign, I believe that you are familiar with your supervisor?"
Another genuine smile arose, and Peter said a name. "Laurel..."
Lieutenant McCutcheon lightly smiled back at her kidnapper-turned-rescuer.
"And how are you, Firebug?"
Peter allowed this joke. After his uncle, no one had greater cause to be angry with him than Science Specialist McCutcheon. In a like manner, no ones forgiveness was more important.
"Well, hopefully I wont do anything to reinforce that nickname, this time around."
Spock cut in, a trace of un-Vulcan bitterness lodged somewhere in his otherwise perfectly even voice. "Hopefully, Ensign, you are able to negate a great many of the nicknames you acquired, during your previous time aboard the Enterprise. Lieutenant McCutcheon will describe your duties to you."
McCutcheon watched the Vulcan walk out. "Pete, you really must have offended him, over Dianas."
Ensign Kirk nodded. "I did. By hurting Jim. Everything else is settled with him. But thathe wont forget that."
She looked at him. "Yeah? Well how about how you hurt me? Am I supposed to just blow that off?"
"No. Just please accept my apology, for using you and putting your life at risk. Its not much, but its all I have."
McCutcheon folded her arms. "You jerk! Peter, you apologized for that in the brig, after they released you from Sickbay. Thats done. But you still owe me an explanation, Mister."
"Laurel, explaining why I did what I did, over Dianasit was born of hate, anger, and stupidity. No offense, but what else do you want?"
Ensign Kirk was fighting hard to keep his tone even. But if McCutcheon didnt give him a clue, soon, he was afraid that he would blow the friendship they had built through correspondence from Tantalus.
"You need it spelled out? All right, then. At the trial, why didnt you let me, or anyone else, for that matter, say something in your behalf? Im your friend, Kirkthe only one you had, last time. You did your damnedest to make sure of that. You risked your life to help me, crimes aside. Why wouldnt you let your only friend help you? Not to mention your uncle?"
Peter was a bit thrown by how upset she was. Of all the sorry events leading up to that court-martial and sentencing, he considered his simple plea of guilty on all charges to be the one bright spot. But the counselors at Tantalus had shown him what he had long been missinggathering information about the feelings of others, through the context of their words.
"Because I needed to pay for what I had done, Laurel. I needed to go away. Too much had happened. I was guilty. Guilty as sin. You would have spoken and said what I did for you, after I woke up from my anger-binge. Spock would have cited all I had been through, chapter and verse, including our being among the relatively few long-term survivors of the Denevan plague. Then he would have talked about his stint as Dean of Cadet Conduct at the Academy and how he saw the campaign the pranksters conducted to harass me. Then, Jim would have wowed them with what a good person I used to be, and how I could be brought back."
McCutcheon nodded. "Because thats what friends and family do. When you let them. When you dont push them away, in a royal snit."
Peters face grew deadly serious. "Was I mentally competent to stand trial?"
"Did I do all the things I pleaded guilty to?"
She gave up objecting. "Yes."
He moved in for the kill. "Would my last-minute change of heart, my sad little life history, or Uncle Jims oratorical expertise have changed any of those facts?"
Her eyes now looked a little sad. "No."
He nodded. "Then I deserved what I got. Anything less, and I wouldnt be here, right now, about to ask you to marry me."
"But Pete, you still could have... Marry you?"
He chuckled. "But of course. Its like an old novel. Girl reforms kidnapper. He gets sprung from jail. They get married and live happily ever after."
She mock-glared at him. "Youare still nuts, Firebug."
He shrugged. "Hey, I said it was an old novel. I never said it was a good novel. Besides your letter about how you were seeing someone, youre too good for me, Lieutenant. Far too good."
"And what kind of woman would you prefer, Ensign?"
He actually stopped and thought about it. "Shed have to be almost as big a screw-up as myself. So wed have common ground to work from."
"Why almost as big? Why not bigger, so you can feel better than her?"
He chuckled again. "Laurel, I have a fragile enough self-image as it stands. I couldnt deal with it if my wife were more successful than me."
Groaning from his badly self-deprecating remark, Lieutenant McCutcheon detailed Ensign Kirks work. "Basically, Peter, youre going to be coordinating deep space probe mission data into a workable map for exploration. As you know, our probes work on detecting carbon-cycle life forms. We need to know as much as you can tell from the probe data so we can weight starship exploration assignments accordingly. Were looking for new civilizations, Ensign, and it will be your job to find them."
"I would think that probe data wouldnt be of much use."
"Then youre mistaken, Mister. Starfleet has four Excelsior-class heavy cruisers on patrol in the Beta Quadrant." She depressed a series of commands into the key pads. "Excelsior is presently plotting gaseous anomalies--nebulas, stellar nurseries and such. Repulse is charting magnetic and gravitic field densities. Endeavor and Hood are avoiding contact with sentient lifeforms in that region, but are doing detailed spectrographic planetary analysis and star charting, respectively. Its the data from these four deep space probe missions that youre going to be working on here. Itll be five years before we mount a general exploration five-year mission to the Beta Quadrant, but were laying the groundwork for it here."
She turned to him and pointed at his chest. "Your job in particular, Peter, will be to serve as a quality assurance reviewer for these reports. Youre going to cross check them for errors. It may not sound important, but there are still things a computer misses or misreads. If someone mislabeled an anomaly, classified a class-L planet as a class-M or class-N, or transposed the digits in a stars stellar rating, we want to fix it now, not during a five-year mission."
He nodded. "Im on it."
"Sure you wont be bored? Its not terribly challenging."
Peter shook his head. "Lieutenant, can I stop and go to the refresher without permission?"
"Can I order a juice from the food processor?"
"And when my shift is done, and Ive checked in with you, can I go back to my quarters unescorted?"
"Your point, Ensign?"
He gestured about the room. "Then this place has Tantalus beat. And Ive always found this sort of proof-work therapeutic, anyway."
Pleased by the pace with which Kirk had gotten into his work, McCutcheon backed off to an unseen corner, wanting to observe his actions while unsupervised and alone. But in this corner, she found another person doing the exact same thing.
An older man, covering his lips with a raised finger. "Laurie, lass. Dinnae give me away."
McCutcheon briefly forgot her charge and stared dumbly at Ensign Kirks other, more secretive observer. "Captain Scott?"
At first, the sight of a covert Montgomery Scott had McCutcheon speechless. Then, she made the connection. "Youre watching Peter Kirk, arent you?"
"Hush, lass! Listen, Laurelas far Im concerned, we have an intruder on board. How and why he got here doesnae matter. There is a fiend and a scoundrel loose aboard my ship, and I mean this time to catch him in the act."
McCutcheon blinked. "Of doing what, sir? Proofing the scans? Making corny jokes that he himself knows are groaners?"
Scott drew himself up from his relative crouch. "Of doing whatever criminal mischief the rotter has planned, this time around. As soon as he moves to disable a system or steal a part, Ill be waiting, and by God, this time Ill break his bloody arm. Ill break both of em!"
Lieutenant McCutcheon liked Captain Scott, and he her. So she treaded very, very carefully as she next spoke. "Sir, Peter has changed. He regretted his actions almost immediately, and now Starfleet says that hes paid for them. Case closed."
Scott was not so careful, despite his affection for the young woman. He had never told her how much she reminded him of his niece. "Laurie-lass, the last time ye trusted that animal, he nearly killed ye!"
McCutcheon began to sense the pointlessness of this conversation, but hoped she was wrong. "No, sir. Tom Cooper nearly killed me. Peter let himself be caught and injured, rather than let me die. His motives may have been fuzzy, like his mind was. But when the time came, he at last did the right thing. If Cooper had found someone as rotten as he was, then I or whoever got in their way would be dead now. Crazy with inner pain as he was, he came back for me. Then I knew that I hadnt been wrong. There was something worth redeeming in him, even then."
Scotts tone was dismissive, to say the least. "Och, yere blinded by his facade of spit and polish. He hasnae changed a lick. His kind doesnae ken how. Accept the word of one who knows. Theyre bundles of misplaced, misdirected anger. Miserable souls, that are bound and determined not to want for company. Laurie, ye are not a dumb girl. So why have ye never caught on as to what an utter waste that punk is?"
Besides propriety, McCutcheon would simply never let herself be cross with one she liked as well as Scott. But now, she began to feel testedand testy, as well. "Sirlet me tell you a story. When I entered the Academy, I got hit by the prankster circuit, same as every other plebe. Well, they must have seen something they liked, because I kept getting it, well after anybodys idea of initiation was over. I got good at ignoring it. So they escalated. Until one day, I found a replicated Klingon dagger in my quarters, with cherry syrup spelling Qapla. That was how my family found my cousins body after a Klingon attack. Up until then, it had all been buckets of water, manure in the hallwaytripping."
Scott was listening, and partly wondered why she had never mentioned this before. "Aye. Surely that crossed the line."
"Yes. So I gave in, and reported it, which youre really not supposed to do. The theorys always been, that if you cant handle a few pranks, how will you handle an enemys taunts? But I was angry. Then, I was surprised. Turns out, there is exactly one Academy regulation on the books concerning pranks. The Peter Kirk Amendment. It draws the line on pranks that use non-Starfleet family history as their basis. Because of what Peter went through, every plebe has breathing room. Because of him, I got five of those SOBs where it countstheir syrup cost them a whole semester. The rest just stayed clear, finally."
Again, Scott was hardly impressed. "All right, Ill concede that his group of pranksters put him through something akin to war games. But I will not let ye use that ancient history as an excuse for sabotage, treason, arsonand Ill say it againattempted murder."
Had McCutcheon been Scotts friend a longer time, his tone might have surprised her less. As it stood, she wondered where the avuncular engineer she knew had gone. "I never said it was an excuse. But my point is, when he came on board last time, I could see that none of it had left him. Not Deneva. Not his lost brothers. Not the pranks, nor Tanith Brok. Up until that point, I had wanted to meet Peter Kirk, and find out what kind of strength kept him going in the Academy, with all that garbage he faced. But when I met him, I felt sick. That strength was gone. He was a drained, dangerous individual, and I blamed it on those selfsame pranksters. Brok was the enemy. Deneva and his family? Fate. But the cadets who were supposed to be his brothers and sisters instead turned on him like rabid dogs."
Scott nodded, but gave no ground. "That boy made his own bed. Ye shouldnae have disallowed his flaws, Laurel."
McCutcheon did give ground. "Youre right, sir. My hunting and pecking for any good in Peter nearly cost me my life. I failed to see what he had become. I allowed my own prior grief to rose-color what I saw as the truth."
"Then why trust him now?"
"Because he has let it all go, or at least has come very close. He seems rested, not drained. When I confronted him, he responded with honest answers. This time, the barbed comments are dumb jokes whose only harm is corniness. Even his skinny frame is starting to fill out. Hes actually smiling. Hes starting to look like the captain."
Scott sneered. "Ill contact Rome and Pope Gregory the New. Well schedule an early canonization for the newest Saint Peter."
Again, McCutcheons feelings for the older officer stilled her tongue somewhat. This kept her from remarking that Scott now was sounding like the eternally-sarcastic Peter Kirk of three years ago. "Sir, no one knows better than me what he did. If I choose to forgive him, I do not choose to forget what happened. Nor am I blind to his remaining flaws. But for here and for now, I trust him and wish that he do well, while on our ship. Cant you just do the same, even in a perfunctory way, deferring to the captains judgement?"
"Ill trust that loser when I have his arm bent behind his back again, and nae at any other time. Jim Kirk and Spock can throw him gimmies. Ye can throw him kisses and candy. But when he makes his move, I willnae be caught napping, and I willnae be fooled again!"
McCutcheon looked down. When she looked up again, she had a look of raw anger on her face. "Captain Scott, I have to ask you to leave here. You have repeatedly threatened an officer under my charge. Go now, and I wont report this to Commander Chekov."
"So thats how it is, lass? That ones a hero, and Im a villain? Lass, are ye even using yer brain?"
McCutcheon stepped away, her hand inches from the comm switch, and all it implied. "Good day, Captain Scott, sir."
Incredulous, Scott left without another word.
Upset, McCutcheon sat down. "Peterplease dont blow this."
At least as the end of his shift approached, Ensign Kirk showed no signs of throwing away his second chance. But then he saw an opportunity to create his own chance. While his intentions were good, he still had a lot to learn about approach.
Jaion Merz, McCutcheons boyfriend, came on shift as her supervisory stint ended. They briefly kissed, and Merz looked at his lover with a disguised but visible longing. Peter saw this, and was jealous but not resentful. Dianas aside, he really did consider McCutcheon out of his league.
"Jaionyou couldnt trade shifts with anyone?" she asked.
"Nope. Well both just have to settle for sweet dreams tonight, honey."
Peter asked a question. "Lieutenant Merz, sir? Arent you taking over DNA cataloging from Ensign Senben?"
Merz had not expected McCutcheons friend to be so businesslike. The Peter Kirk he had heard of almost sounded rodent-like. "Thats correctcan I call you Peter?"
"ErrrPeter? Call me Jaion. Court-martial or no, you made lieutenant before me, and sir weirds me out on that basis."
The smile Ensign Kirk gave off was neither phony nor forced, but it was still mainly a courteous one. "Thanks, Jaion. Im trained in DNA cataloging. Why dont I take on your shift? Have a night with Laurel."
McCutcheon felt grateful, but shook her head. "Peter, you dont have to do this. You really dont."
He waved his hand in the air. "I owe you a thousand times over, and then some. Cmon, Lieutenant; its not like I wont be supervised."
Merz was perhaps suspicious, but he was more concerned. "Peter, are you certain of this? Second shifts can be straight murder."
He dismissed their concerns. "After three years of mostly staying in a small room, my quarters are less appealing than you might think. Also, my uncle said that if I someday want to come back here, I better sharpen my skills. This is one way of doing that, and helping you guys out."
With a brief word about watching Peter to the new shifts supervisor, a grateful McCutcheon spent the first night with Merz shed had in over a week.
The buzz at the door was unwelcome, but the lowest-ranking Kirk on board could hardly turn away the highest-ranking one. "Oh, Jim." He yawned. "I was just catching forty winks."
The captain was smiling. "You mustve been sleeping since you got off shift. You, Ensign, owe me several hard rounds of racquetball. No excuses, Peter. Youre going. Get ready."
"Aye, sir," he responded groggily. Since, both on a personal and a practical level, Peter had no desire to alienate his Uncle, he did as he was asked; he just didnt do it very well.
"Thats the third ball thats hit you. I know they had a facility at Tantalus. So why are you so far off your game?"
Peter looked up from the bench, fighting to stay awake. "Im sorry, sir."
Nodding, Jim sat down beside him. "First, relax. As long as it isnt bad, youre in no danger of violating your parole. Now, why are you this close to collapse?"
Peter explained, "Ive been pulling a lot of second shifts lately."
"Why? That assignment isnt all that critical. Itll be years before Starfleet even begins an exploration of the Beta Quadrant."
"Im just trying to help out around the lab."
The senior Kirk studied his nephew. "Trying to curry favor with the lab crew, huh?"
"Look, Jim, my work hasnt suffered, and everyone seems to be glad Ive done them these favors. Wheres the harm in that?"
"The harm, Peter, is to yourself. Youre burning yourself out by pushing yourself too hard. What are you trying to pull here?"
"I really wasnt trying to pull anything, Jim. I just wanted them to accept me more quickly, and this seemed a harmless way to do it."
"Its not harmless if you end up killing yourself doing it." Captain Kirk sighed. "Peter, whats your battlestation assignment?"
The ensign blinked. "F Deck, Corridor Twelve, Fire Brigade."
"And if we were attacked right now, would you be able to perform that duty as tired as you are? Could you think clearly enough to remember what to do and how to do it? And do you think you have enough physical strength right now to help put out a fire on F Deck?"
Again, Peter blinked in surprise, and then shook his head slowly. "No, sir."
Jim Kirk nodded in approval. "Then theres to be no more shift changes without Spocks approvalperiod. And Im going to check your work myself, though if Spock hasnt found anything, I doubt its there to be found. And one last thing: report back to your quarters and get some sleep. Dont be late for your regular shift."
The young man yawned as he got up, and Jim grabbed him by the shoulder. "Stop trying so hard. No matter what happens, I love you. Parole or Tantalus, or what have you. Nothing can change that. Not fire or water."
Half-smiling, the young man staggered out.
In the forward observation deck, Spock considered his captains report. "Ensign Kirk spoke correctly. His work has not suffered. I have spoken to the Science department staff, advising them against abusing generosity, especially when it is misguided. By and large, they have a very favorable initial opinion of your nephew, Captain. Also, the extra time off has somewhat improved morale. I find it all fascinating to observe."
Kirk shrugged. "How so?" The captain took a sip of his coffee and looked out the forward observation ports.
"Ensign Kirk chose to break a rule that we had not yet codified in practice, namely an excessive custom of covering the duty shifts of others. However, he managed to keep up with the pace, although ultimately pushing himself to the brink of exhaustion. As a result, he is held in higher regard by those he works with, almost all of whom enjoyed the benefits of his efforts. In the end, not only does the violation not affect his parole, but is easily corrected via a verbal warning."
"I suggest that as Chief of Sciences, that should be your duty."
"Agreed. I have scheduled a meeting with the ensign later this afternoon. I would say, though, that he accomplished his goal."
"He has befriended the Science staff."
Kirk smiled and took another sip of his coffee. "Unfortunately, I think the Sciences department was never his greatest challenge."
"Indeed?" Spock raised an eyebrow, expecting an explanation.
None was forthcoming. "Indeed."
The next day, following his verbal reprimand from Captain Spock, and following the completion of his one and only shift, Peter Kirk left for the crews galley. He wanted a light meal before joining his uncle for bowling in the Engineering hull. He strolled into the mess room, waving at a few folks whom he recognized.
Then, he saw his shadow again entering the mess hall behind him.
He wondered if Captain Scott honestly thought he was moving about unseen. A man of his girth... But he knew that he would eventually have to grab this virtual bull by the horns. So he turned to speak with a man whose anger rivaled his own. He knew would regret this, but he felt he had to do it.
"This ends now," he said, girding himself.
With purpose in his stride, Peter turned and walked straight towards Scott.
The engineer was clearly surprised. Moving swiftly toward an empty communications panel, he badly feigned that he was about ships business. "Aye, Ill have that done for ye, quicker than ye know."
Releasing the panel, Captain Scott saw that he was not mistaken. Ensign Kirk was indeed standing right before him. "Captain, I would like to speak with you, sir."
Again, Scott was slightly incredulous. The young officer had to know to whom he was speaking. Before he was taken away to Tantalus, each member of Kirks senior staff had spoken brief words of encouragement to Peter, urging him to use his time away to become a better and stronger person. But not Scott. The rest were merely giving a courtesy based on the fact that the self-confessed felon was the captains nephew. But Peter Kirk had set fire to his ship. He had sabotaged his systems. He had kidnapped an officer Scott liked, and lied to them all as though they were idiots. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... To Montgomery Scott, those were words to live by.
"Be brief, and then begone. As ye might well imagine, I have far better things to do than to chit-chat with the likes of you."
Scott perhaps expected to repel the young ex-convict by force of sheer anger. If so, then he was to be sorely disappointed. His cold fury instead seemed to have the effect on Peter of a bracing wind in the Highland morning.
"I suppose that I deserve that."
Again, Scott kept his surprise to himself. His words had been meant to elicit a negative reaction, preferably a fight between the two that would result in a return to Tantalusor worse. But if Peter somehow kept the appearance of calm, Scott found that he could not. To him, Ensign Kirks very presence was an insult on several levels.
"Nay, lad. Tis the back of my hand of which yere deserving. Now speak yer peace, get gone from me sight, and then seek to darken my door no further."
Again, Scott was reminded of his metaphor of the chill wind; for while Ensign Kirk seemed to shiver a bit, he stood his ground. "I will be brief, sir. I wish to apologize for my actions aboard the Enterprise three years ago. From my rotten attitude to the fire and sabotage, from what I did to Laurel to the lying afterward. From thievery to skirting treason with Koloth. Everything. And if theres anything Ive forgotten, I apologize for that as well. I offer no explanations. Just my apology."
The great likelihood was that Peter Kirk would offer many explanations for his actions, if asked to. But like the apology itself, Scott was simply not interested in hearing them.
"Under a guise of fleet and family, ye came aboard my ship. Ye blithely used the memory of the sad little boy ye were to deflect the scrutiny of those that were stupid enough to wish ye well. Ye disrespected yer uncle, his command, and his crew. Ye betrayed yer oath, and turned on the captain. Left to yer own, ye would have committed every crime from arson to murder, and left everyone unawares til ye escaped, laughing at us all. Now, having served a scant three-fifths of a sentence that was already far too lenient, ye have nerve enough to return to the scene of the crime, offering up weak-kneed apologies. Och. And I suppose ye think that makes everything all right again, eh? Next, youll surely regale me with a tall tale of how Tom Cooper cast a spell on ye."
"There was no spell, sir. I knew what he was. I just didnt have brains enough to avoid him or turn him in. Cooper was irrelevant. I was angry, and stupid. Idve found some other way to a penal colony."
Scott gave a mocking half-smile. "On that and that alone do we agree, Ensign. Youdve found some other way then, as I am certain ye will do soon enough again. But while ye are on my ship, understand this: There is one ye cannot bamboozle. For as ye claim to have known Cooper, so do I know you in turn. And I have but little doubt that a similar end awaits you. I will smile, then, knowing for certain that you can no longer act to break Jim Kirks overly generous heart."
Peter gulped, but refused to surrender just yet. "Captain Scott, I am attempting to apologize for my criminal and personal behavior, leading up to the Dianas mission. I cant erase what I did. But my apology is not a courtesy, or a routine. My apology is quite sincere. I am sorry."
Scott was having not a word of it. "Aye, sorrys a fit word to describe ye. And, whether its sincere or insincere" The Scotsman got right in the ensigns face. "Apology not accepted. Go away."
If Peter was angry, as seemed likely, he kept it away one last time. He actually pleaded. "Sirplease! I know what I did. But I"
"I do not believe ye ken what ye did, lad. If so, ye would not be fool enough to talk with me. And do your quite pronounced deficiencies now include poor hearing or a lack of comprehension skills? I told ye to go away!"
With that, Peter seemed to know that he had lost. To his credit, he did what his pre-Dianas self might have been very hard pressed to do. He turned, and walked away. But all was not done.
Something vile, grim and ugly had shaken loose in Scott. This rage resembled less the jovial Scotsman and more the deadly Redjack, one-time invader of his soul. This darkness was all his own, though. "My Peter died in the line of duty, standing at his post as trainees and cadets ran, and was worth a hundred thousand of ye! Yer uncle is easily worth a million. So it is that ye are a disgrace to both your surname and to your given name."
Peter Kirk stopped, but did not turn or scream. He seemed determined not to go back to Tantalus. "Aye, Captain Scott."
Perhaps counting on Scotts stunned silence, Ensign Kirk moved forward at a brisk pace, well away from his accuser, practically dashing into a restroom.
The chief engineer stepped toward the lift hesitantly. But if Scotts angry state had him making plans to follow Ensign Kirk, they were stopped by a familiar voice.
"Scotty, we have to talk."
Montgomery Scott was always glad to see Commander Penda Uhura. She did not look likewise happy to see him. Theyd moved from the crew galley and the corridor into her nearby quarters.
"Penda, can it wait? Im nae in good spirits right here and now."
Her tone was not her usual one, born of friendship and light. But she had a duty to perform, distasteful as it was. "Oh? Tell me, would you be in better spirits if I called Ensign Kirk back to take a swipe at you? Because to my eyes, that seemed like what you were trying to provoke."
"And did ye expect me to smother the lad with kisses, and throw him up on my shoulders? He brought his vile criminal mischief aboard my ship! That is not ever to be forgotten nor forgiven."
She looked down, a bit upset that Peter Kirks presence had elicited all this, but at the same time thankful that the young man had finally gained enough good sense to simply walk away. "Scotty, best word around the ship is that Peter has moved to patch things up with everyone, not just his uncle. Spock mentioned to me that his attitude all around has improved. I think the ensign recognizes his sins, and is trying to make things right, as best he can. I said hello, and while he seemed a bit nervous, he was polite. Maybe even friendly. That is a far cry from three years ago."
"Och, Penda. Idve thought ye a better judge of character. This whole thing is a mulligan. Of course, he wont act up here. This is his probation and his uncles command. Hell wear his Sunday best here, I have no doubt. But he is still the same fiend he was. Time will validate my judgment, and ye can mark me on that."
Having a pointless conversation is never any fun, and it is only less so when those arguing are friends. "Scotty, were not forgetting Dianas. Has Peter Kirk truly reformed? I dont know. The captain doesnt know. I dont think the ensign himself knows for sure. But so far, so good. And until evidence comes to light indicating otherwise, I say give him the benefit of the doubt. His actions were hurtful, but theyre in the past. Let them go. We should try and help him to keep them there."
"Dinnae defend what he has done. Not to me."
"Defend? His criminal actions? His almost-criminal attitude, back when? His behavior toward this crew and the captain? Scotty, those things have no defense. Hence, his three years in Tantalus. And dont try and tell me that he fooled Doctors Van Gelder and Noel. Peters always been a bright boy, but hes just not that good."
His stare now spoke to her of contempt. "I think he must be that good. He has fooled you."
"Because of who you are, and because of everything weve shared, Im going to let that one go. Just as Im asking you to let go of your very visible vigil. Pavel and his men are keeping an eye on Ensign Kirk, at the captains request. He knows what Peter was, and is hardly walking into this thing blindfolded."
Scott conceded not one point. "I cannot blame the captain for this. Its nae wrong to want to repair your familys good name. But his pain about what that scoundrel did on this ship blinds him to the truth in this matter. Mine opens my eyes. Och, Penda, feel fortunate that your little one was never given the chance to turn on you, as well. I..."
Uhura stabbed his chest with her fingers making her points loud and clear. "One: cease your vigil. Dont make me tell the captain. Two: dont speak to me again until you have a civil tongue in your head, Captain, or youll find yourself without a friend!"
The chief engineer was stunned. He held out a hand, suddenly gentled. "Penda, I am sorry, lass."
She cared for him, and would certainly forgive him in time. But for now, a line had been crossed. "Apology not accepted. Go away."
With that, he walked back to the door. Not turning to face her disappointment, he stared at the floor and said, "Im vurra sorry, lass. Vurra sorry indeed."
Uhura strolled down the corridor. Walking F Deck, Corridor Six was her favorite exercise, and she completed its half-mile length six times a day before going on duty. She heard heavy breathing and a heavy pounding of feet as someone came up from behind her. She listened to the sounds for a second, and then asked, "Hi, Pavel. How are things in Security?"
"Vwould you please slow down? My legs are much shorter than yours."
She smirked at his request, but complied without teasing him. "Certainly, Commander."
"Thank you," he panted as she slowed her pace. "I understand there was a scene in the crew galley this afternoon."
"Penda, please. I am vwell aware that Captain Scott tried to provoke Ensign Kirk today. Im also vwery well aware that you were spotted by one of my security team in the corridor afterwards, and that you two took your conversation to your quarters."
"Nothing wrong with that, is there, Commander?" she asked, annoyed that shed been spied upon.
"Uhura, I care deeply for Kyptin Scott. But Peter Kirk has my admiration, this once. I think I might have slugged him, if Scotty had spoken to me that way. Even if I had deserved it."
Uhura nodded. "I had to keep unclenching my fist. Pavel, I think now would be a very good time to speak to our troubled ensign. If he wasnt planning to pull something before, I think he might be now."
Chekov nodded. "I think the worry is no longer him backsliding, Penda. It's whether or not we can help him to build on what he has done thus far. Damn Scotty. Peter probably deserved every word, da. But Im not at all certain that speech was helpful at this stage of his probation."
"Honestly, Pavel? Maybe it was exactly what Peter needed to remind him to keep on his toes."
"As the old Russian proverb goes, Only time vwill tell."
The next day, in Astrospectrography, Jaion Merz asked Peter Kirk about the now ship-wide news about Scott. "So, he really went after you like that? Whatever happened to the concept of time served? You paid for what you did. I guess maybe the old man is losing it."
But Merzs words had a surprising opponent in Peter Kirk himself. "Youre wrong, Jaion. Captain Scott is a great man. He knew what he was saying."
"Pete, he hates your guts. And to speak to you in that way, well, it strikes me as provocative."
Ensign Kirk chuckled mirthlessly. "Dont use the word strike right now." He shook his head. "He has good reason to hate me. Ive given him little else. Plus, at least hes honest about his hatred. I value that."
And without another word, Peter returned to his work. Using the spectrographic probe data, Starfleet was capable of detecting even pond scum from a brief orbital flyby of a planet. Humans could see three bands of light. Starfleets probes could see over two hundred. As a result, they could distinguish between lake water and algae blooms from a quarter million kilometers away. Peters work was checking the analysis of those probes and determining which planets probably had intelligent life.
Hed been working ten minutes before he noticed
"Commander Chekov? Commander Uhura? Something I can help you with?"
"At ease, Ensign." Chekov surveyed the virtually empty lab. Only Merz was there, and he was occupied on a terminal across the lab. "And in your case, I mean that quite literally."
Peter stood, stiff as a board, at attention. "Have I done something wrong, sirs?"
Chekov glanced at Uhura and shook his head. "Ensign, are you quite unfamiliar with the phrase, at ease? Relax, Meester Kirk."
The younger Kirk only un-tensed a little. "No disrespect meant, Commanders. But dont I of all people have the right to be nervous when addressed by two of the ships senior officers?"
Chekov answered,"Nyet, Ensign. As an ensign aboard this starship, you have no such rights. But I will grant you that if I were in your position, I might feel nervous as well."
Chekov indicated a chair, and Peter sat down in it. Chekov leaned against a lab table across from him, while Uhura sat on a worktable next to Peter.
"A funny thing you should mention rights," Chekov began. "These rights you refer to are funny things. Sometimes the best exercise of those rights is when we choose not to exercise them. Just as you chose not to respond to Captain Scottschoice of wordsto you. Very commendable, Ensign."
"Well, sir, I just realized that there was nothing I could say to him. I knew that I had deeply offended all of you three years ago, but I didnt realize Captain Scott felt it so deeply. At that point, anything I said could be construed as sarcasm, and that wouldnt have gone well. As you know, demonstrating disrespect for a senior officer is grounds for a rank review or at the very least a general reprimand."
Uhura joined in the conversation. "Ensign, what are you going to do the next time you run into Scotty?"
"I plan to avoid Captain Scott whenever I can. Im not certain I could conduct myself properly, were he to start....were he to speak as he did before."
Chekov raised a finger in warning. "Youd better be able to, Ensign. If you get drawn into an incident, Scotty might end up with a reprimand, but youll end up back at Tantalus Five."
"Ill do my best, Commander. Besides, I dont think it could get any tougher than that."
Few know how to exploit an opening better than a communications officer, and Uhura saw a big one, here. "Oh, so you think youve seen the worst of it? No, Mister Kirk. Not even remotely close. There will be people who will treat you with far more hostility than Scotty did, and they wont have his moral standing to speak about Dianas. Twenty years from now, someone will hound you about every last detail about that mission. They could be far worse than you ever were, but theyll have rank or some other way of keeping you from speaking up on your behalf. Youll no longer have probation to keep yourself in line. You might even be two decades into a very good career. You might be very happy. Then, this person will dredge up the past, maybe just for kicks and giggles, maybe just because they want to take you down a peg or two. What will you do then?"
The look on the ensigns face indicated that perhaps Uhuras words hit home. "Ill just have to be ready to ride it out."
"Might be a rough ride, but I think youre up to it," she said with a warm smile. "And one more thing: I realize that Captain Spock has already addressed the matter with you, but I think he may have missed a point."
Peter was still confused. "What point would that be?"
"The point is, Ensign, that you are not James T. Kirk. I realize you meant no harm when you pulled those second shifts in Sciences, but were you, maybe, trying to also show everyone that the nephew is as good as the uncle?"
He nodded. "Basically, I wanted to make friends with the people Im working with. If I end up doing something stupid, as in the past, I wanted to be able to say I tried. But, yes, I have to admit it. Being like my uncle did come to mind. Everyone knows how he pushes himself. And is it so wrong to finally use him as a role model, instead ofother members of my family?"
She shook her head. "As a role model, no. But to try and emulate some of his pushes? Well, thats another story altogether." She sighed. "Peter, are you aware that after we encountered the one-celled organism that destroyed the Intrepid, Captain Kirk had to be treated for weakened blood vessels? He nearly had a stroke, from all the stimulants he took to keep going. Of late, hes had some small problem with memory loss. Nothing major, but an annoyance to him. That is likely the result of many missions where he chose to keep going, hang the cost. Hes still a great man, and still the most effective starship commander in Starfleet. But there is a cost for pushing yourself to extremes. Dont substitute forms of subtle self-destruction. By all means, look up to him, and try to be like him. But dont try to be him. Youre not up to it. Some days, even hes not up to it."
Chekov followed through. "And that is not meant humorously, or derisively, toward either of you. It is merely a fact. There is but one Captain James Kirk. We can and do learn from him. But his ways are his ways. The methods he has used worked for him. But they offer no guarantees. The captain himself once told me that, all those times we found a drifting, derelict starship, it could easily have been us."
Peter Kirks eyes went wide. "He said that? I mean, he said those words?"
The ensigns sudden enthusiasm took the senior officers by surprise. "Da. He likes to remind us all that much of our fame comes from a series of historical accidents."
"I heard him say that every time we lost a ship like Constellation, Defiant, Exeter...why do you ask?"
As though he felt an inner warmth, Ensign Peter Kirk smiled brightly. "Commanders, thank you. Youre right. We cant be him. But hes always there for ussometimes right around the corner. He never gives up on someone he lovesno matter what. Why didnt I see it earlier?"
Uhura became concerned. "Ensign, are you feeling all right?"
He seemed to be standing up straighter. And in that smile, she saw her captain as a young man. It wasnt a transformation, but it was close enough. "Commander, Ive never felt better in my life."
Chekov wondered what had been said to cause this. He wanted to bottle it. Hell, he wanted to trademark it and distribute it to the entire crew. But it was time to check on other Security matters. Before he left, he issued one last warning, "Mister Kirk, for both your sakes, avoid Scotty. You did the right thing before. Keep it up."
Uhura smiled. "Now get back to work, Ensign. Cant have you lollygagging about, now can we?"
"Another game, sir?"
James T. Kirk panted lightly, but he was pleased with the racquetball game just played. Hed won, but barely. And where three years ago a loss would have resulted in his nephew throwing the racquet in disgust, the rehabilitated Peter simply asked for another game. His nephews play was excellent, and the game had continued as long and as fiercely as any Jim had seen in a good long while. "Ill have to...contact Helen about having...the Tantalus Colonys recreational...facilities massively downgraded," he panted out.
"Doesnt matter to me, Captain," Peter responded, panting as well. "I have no plans to ever use them again."
Jim felt in his gut that this was a statement of hope, such as he had not heard from Peter since before the Academy. Maybe since before Deneva. But oddly, this hope shook something loose in Jim. Other people have families, not us... "Peter, Ive got to ask...why the hell couldnt it have always been this way? Why did it have to take all this bullshit simply to get us to a point that most families just have as their birthright?"
Ensign Kirk was a bit taken aback. But his guard was quickly up again. "I guess were not like most families."
Captain Kirk felt a little of what Scott must have been feeling, he thought. "Thats a cheap excuse. And it doesnt give me a damned clue as to why you pushed me away, all those years."
"If youll read the reports by the doctors at Tantalus"
"Thats clinical. I want to hear it from you in your own words."
The ensigns eyes narrowed. "No, Captain. You do not want to hear it all, and I dont want to be sent back for insubordination."
If Jim was not yet in a fighting mood, he had shifted into a fighting stance. "If you believe in what you want to say, then you have a duty to yourself if not me to say them. No matter the cost. And I wont send you back just for that, Peter. Im sorry you think Im that petty."
Now Peter joined his uncle in a fighting stance. "And how in the hell would I know how petty you are? Aside from your efforts over Dianas, when have you had anything to do with me?"
The animal wasnt back. But his own anger was. "Dont hand me that crap, Peter. I have been aboard this starship, doing work you told me you admire. Or was that just another lie?"
"Im not talking about your time on Enterprise, Jim! I accepted that long ago and far away. This is where you belong, and its where Id like to be with you! I wanted to join you here when I was seven, but it was against the regs. I know that now. But you spent a lot of time on Earth, too, and during that time, I never saw you that much. You spent almost every second between your first five-year mission and Vger with that love-bunny the admiralty provided you"
"Admiral Lori Ciani was not a love-bunny"
"She was a piece of ass the admiralty gave you to keep you happy about not being in command of the Enterprise. Its hard to think about sitting in the center seat when you're riding someone elses seat."
"You dont understand"
"I understand all too well, Jim. I was a teenager at the time, but you spent more time with your love-bunny than you did with your family. Thats the sort of thing that eats at you when youre that age. I wanted you at my football games and baseball games. You werent there. And Grandma wasnt able to go camping with me, or talk about the things guys want to talk about with their dads."
Jim Kirk winced. It was true. He wasnt there for Peter, not at all. "Go on."
"All right, I will. Serenidad came, and you were back on Earth again. You were at the Academy, and so was I. But you would never have known it from the amount of time you spent with me."
"First of all, I had a lot of off-planet assignments that"
"That lasted all of a few weeks here and there"
"Dont interrupt me, Peter. As I was saying, secondly, I didntno, I refused to show you any favoritism. I wanted you to make it on your own."
"A valid point, Jim. Ill concede that one to you. But I couldve used your help in dealing with those shit-heads who were tormenting me."
"You fought your own battles with them, Peter, and dealt with them appropriately. And your actions brought about a major change in hazing rules at the Academy."
"I also lost credits at the Academy, Jim, in case thats slipped your mind."
"There are consequences to our actions, Ensign. I would think that three years at Tantalus wouldve been proof of that."
"Thats proof, all right. But its something you dont seem to realize yourself. You go to Xantharus and with that reporter manage to get the Federation off the hook, and the Director kidnaps her. So what happens? She gets killed, and you kill him. But there are consequences, remember? So his psycho-bitch daughter comes to Earth, and in an attempt to kill me, kills my roommates and damn near skins you alive. You were in every kind of agony a man could be in. I visited you every day for months, and you were finally released into the care of Doctor McCoy. Did you call me during your convalescence? No, you didnt."
Jim tried to block this one. It was too painful. "Peter, I wasnt fit company. For anyone. I was tortured in ways that you couldnt"
"Im family, Jim, and you didnt call me, and you wouldnt take my vidcalls."
The captain had nothing to say.
"So I graduated from the Academy, and I requested assignment on the Enterprise. It was denied, and I was assigned to the Prothos Colony to serve as the colonys biologist. Even during the Kelvan War, I was on Prothos, far from anything. I never heard from you, Jim. Not one word from the time I graduated until the Enterprise picked me up on Prothos."
"Im sorry, Peter. I just have never been there for you. I wasnt there in time for David. I wasnt there for Carol." The captains shoulders slumped. "Then why havent you given up on me?"
For Peter, the answer was just as obvious. "I almost did, you know. At least, I just about convinced myself I had. Until Dianas. I was angry with you, and I set about to hurt you, and I ended up hurting just myself." His nephews eyes were now brimming with tears. "But I know now that no ones going to force me out. No one was going to force me out of the Academy simply because they hated you. No one was going to force me out because they felt like pulling every conceivable prank on me." He looked at his uncle, eyes brimming. "And I wasnt going to let you force me out either."
Jim felt a mixture of annoyance and pride.
"So there you have your answer, Captain. It couldnt be like this until now. You didnt want me in your life before Dianas, and during Dianas, I didnt want you in mine. Neither of us have ever wanted the same thing at the same time before. And now its clear to me that you do. Because otherwise, you wouldnt have come back for me at Tantalus. Not just two weeks ago, but three and a half months ago when you visited me."
"You knew that was me?"
"Not until just a few hours ago. I figured it out when someone recounted something youd said to them."
"So many times after Dianas, I thought you were lost to me."
"I think I wasuntil maybe just now."
The two men stared at each other for a full five minutes. "Lets hit the showers, kiddo," the captain suggested.
Without much talking, they moved to the showers where they quickly stripped off their sweaty shorts and shirts.
Peter turned to his uncle. "Tell me, did you and Sam ever have as pointed an argument as we just did?"
Despite the pull of his heart, Jim kept an ancient promise to his deceased older brother. "Once or twice. On one occasion, I had done something stupid in a moment of weakness. He regarded it as a betrayalwhich it was. No offense, Peter. But its not something I want to discuss right now. Someday, I promise."
While the young mans curiosity was obviously piqued, he knew enough to let it go. And Jim Kirk was glad for that, too.
"Soall of his work was satisfactory? Even the second shift work?" Kirk asked as he happily signed off on a performance review handed to him by Spock. Of course, a mark of satisfactory from a Vulcan was something different than from a Human, so the captain was delighted.
"Were it not satisfactory, I think you know me well enough to know I would say so. Again, I only took issue with the disruption in the regular schedule, and his lack of emergency shift preparedness. Were there other concerns, I would of course make you aware of them."
Kirk nodded, and smiled. "Thank you, Captain. What about his personality?"
Spock tilted his head. "He has one." And wordlessly the executive officer exited the captains office leaving a bemused James T. Kirk wondering what the Vulcan might have meant by that.
Captain of Engineering Montgomery Scott was neither a hateful nor a vengeful man. He had a strong heart, and a good, loving soul. None of which he chose to show to his captains nephew. Although it could reasonably be argued that Peter Kirk did not deserve any form of kindness, this behavior was somewhat out of character for the jovial Scotsman.
Yes, the young man had sullied his ships reputation, almost six times over. However, he knew Tantalus was no berry farm, and its administrators were no Panglosses. Moreover, the Enterprise was stronger by far than any idiot nephew.
But as he sat in his quarters, half a bottle of Dewars in his hand (with the other half in his gut), Scott still felt nothing but raw hatred toward Ensign Kirk. Though many times more mature, Scotts state was not completely unlike Peters own, a mere three years ago. But wholly unlike the younger man, his rage was not based on imagined slights from his family. His rage was based on an assault on his very own ship and on the personal integrity of its commanding officer.
"Why would th bastard be helpin down in Sciences? Sure, he was assigned there, but why? Whats he doin doon there anyways?" He turned to his BellComm unit. "Computer, what is th nature of th assignment givn te Ensign Petr Kirk?"
"Ensign Kirk has been assigned to proof reports based on sensor readings from Beta Quadrant starship and probe missions."
"Why th bloody bastard! Hes going to sabotage those missions!"
With a drunken stagger, he stood. Not even bothering to put his boots on, he swaggered out the door to his quarters with murder on his mind.
Peter Kirk was leaning over his computer workstation in Sciences when the doors to the Science lab admitted Captain Scott. Out of the corner of his eye, Scott saw McCutcheon and Merz react in startlement. The engineer shook his head in disbelief when he saw her dashing for a comlink. Choosing to ignore her, he walked up to Ensign Kirk.
"Thought ye were a clever lad, eh? Thought youd do us all again. But its as I told you. There is one you can never fool again. Ive seen straight through your little scheme."
To Scotts pained mind, Peter Kirk then seemed to feign confusion.
"Captainwhat are you talking about?"
Scott slammed his fist on the nearby counter. "Do not lie to me, punk! Now, fess up; yere in league with the Klingons again, are you not?"
Ensign Kirk looked up, afraid to move at all.
"Oh, it's games were playing? Ensign, unless you want a real broken arm, this time, dont play dumb with me."
Slowly, Peter got up, then started to move over by McCutcheon and Merz. This was a mistake. Scott pushed him to the floor, and was now barely coherent. "I didnae dismiss ye, Ensign. Ye are a liar! Ye are here to dig up evidence for the Klingons and to sabotage our mission to the Beta Quadrant by programming lies into the database! You willnae fool me again. I know what youre capable of."
Peter had not been injured in the fall, but stayed seated on it. "Captain, if you will recall, I didnt fool anyone last time. They knew I was an angry loser. So I dont think Im fooling anyone this time when I say Ive left all that behind."
As before, Scott was unimpressed. "Get up. Ye know yere itching to take a swipe at me."
"Captainplease. Youre better than this. This isnt you."
"I said for ye to get up."
Peter lay down on his side, curling up in a ball.
For a bare moment, this stopped Scott. His rage seemed spent, and Peter no longer seemed any kind of threat. But then, the drunken realization of Ensign Kirks supposed allies kicked in again.
"Get yer Klingon-lovin ass up, or I swear that Ill put my boot so far up"
"Kyptin Scott!! Stand down!!!"
"Pavel, lad, hes an agent for Klingons. The Klingons, do ye hear? But Ive exposed"
"Scotty...dont. Walk away. Go to your quarters. Remain there. Dont force my hand. Please."
The chief engineer blinked for a few moments, earnestly trying to fathom the situation. Having slipped so far, Scott found that gaining back his footing was hard. "Chekov, ye pup. I helped train ye. Theres nae way ye will move again me."
Chekov actually dared to raise his phaser, and the security squad with them followed suit. "Scotty...please, for the final time, stand down and walk away. I dont want to do any of this, especially on behalf of someone who made a mistake three years ago. But that young man is conducting himself properly, perhaps for the first time ever. So just walk away. This will be addressed later."
"Ye....will not do anything at all to me. And he is a liar, who will own up to his latest mischief, or I will rip him apart."
Chekov fought back tears, but kept his tone of voice and his face clear. "Security Officer Watson, place Captain Scott under arrest for harassment, and assaulting a fellow officer, as well as refusing to comply with a lawful order to disperse. And if I could, Id add forcing me to do this, as well."
The chief engineer was stunned, and looked around the science lab to find no sympathy at all. He half-expected to see Peter Kirk grinning at the sight. But the captains nephew was still curled up on the floor. Without another word, Montgomery Scott was led away.
"How do you feel, Ensign?"
Chekov offered a shaking Peter Kirk another cup of cocoa. He stared at the young man who had been curled up on the floor ten minutes ago and wondered if even his crimes of three years agocrimes for which he had already been duly punishedhad deserved what Scott had just given him.
"Ensign, take the rest of the shift off. I suggest you go to the gym, and hit the heavy bag." He made a mental reminder to notify the physical training staff that they could expect to replace the heavy bag soon.
"Aye, sir. Commander, may I make a request?"
"Go ahead, Ensign."
With not a hint of affectation or art in his voice, Peter Kirk said the most stunning words he had uttered since he had pleaded guilty on all charges, after Dianas. "I dont want to press charges against Captain Scott. Im asking that you drop the matter. He was just upset over what happened at Dianas."
If hes play-acting, Chekov thought, its a damned good act.
"No. Peter, once a serious violation has occurred, only one person can choose to drop the charges. I believe you may know of him. You have the same last name."
"Now, get to the gym. Tell you what. Ill walk you there and join you."
"Sir, thats not really necessary..."
"No, it isnt, Ensign. But thats what Im going to do." He offered Peter a hand. "Lets go, Mister Kirk."
Peter accepted his hand, and seemed to search Chekovs eyes intently. "Thank you, Commander."
"Och, Captain, I"
"Not another word, Mister Scott," Kirk bid him to be quiet. "Your actions this evening have been inexcusable. Completely, totally, and warrant a major disciplinary action on my part as Commanding Officer of the Enterprise."
The chief engineer was standing at attention before the table at which Captain Kirk, Captain Spock, Doctor McCoy and Commander Chekov were seated. Kirk had ordered the engineer brought to this briefing room and ordered it sealed. The usual security guards were outside, and the yeomen who normally took notes and provided coffee werent allowed in either.
"Recommendations?" Kirk asked his senior officers.
McCoy drawled, "Id recommend we get him to Sickbay and get him de-toxed after were finished here, Jim."
"I was asking for suggestions for disciplinary actions, Doctor."
"Then confiscate his liquor cabinet for the next three months. I dont want him drunk as a skunk anytime soon," McCoy suggested, "especially with your nephew aboard. Ive known Scotty for years, but Ive never seen him be so angry while drunk."
"I concur, Kyptin," said Chekov. "He was a wild man, concocting all sorts of schemes and accusing the ensign of being a Klingon agent."
"Extremely unlikely," added Spock.
"Comments, Mister Scott?"
"Capn, I dinna ken what happened. I just lost it with the lad. I just...I just..."
"You just cant forgive him, Scotty." Kirk sighed. "Consider yourself officially reprimanded. Your personal cache of alcoholic beverages will be confiscated by Security and stored under my voice lock for three months. You are to issue an apology to the ensign, and you are forbidden from imbibing alcohol for the next three months. An official reprimand is hereby entered into your service record. You know better. Make no mistake, Mister Scott. If this happens again, I will bounce you off this ship."
Scotts mouth dropped agape.
"Anything to add, Captain?" Kirk looked at him, silently daring him to say anything.
"No, sir. Nary a word, sir," the chief engineer said, sadness tinging his voice.
"Good. Theres a survey coming up. Possible dilithium deposits on a world were approaching. I have decided a landing party consisting of you, myself, Commander Chekov and Science Specialist Kirk will conduct the initial survey."
"Sir?" Scott seemed puzzled.
"You will behave yourself there. Dismissed."
"Sir!" the chief engineer snapped to attention, spun sharply and strode from the briefing room.
After the doors closed, Spock asked, "Is this a wise course of action, Captain?"
"I dont know, Spock. Im just trying to get him to realize that Peter has changed for the better."
McCoy turned and offered his opinion. "I only hope and pray that it wont take as long for us to get Scotty back as it did for you to get Peter."
Peter Kirk was exactly as strong as he looked. As he struck the heavy bag again and again, he reminded himself of that. But when one considered that for two years after Deneva, he had to walk with crutches, "exactly as strong as he looked" felt pretty damned good to Peter Kirk.
There had been no teasing, then. But there had been stares, most of them sympathetic. And there had been whispers of one word: "Deneva."
The world where the centuries-long wave of madness had been brought to an end was rapidly becoming a ghost planet. Many Denevans had not survived the initial infestation of the neural parasites, called Blastoneurons by some. Others had died resisting their string-pulling masters. That was just Human nature, to fight back. It was why the physically stronger and/or enhanced species, like Klingons and Romulans, had never merely overwhelmed them.
To the shock of Doctor Leonard McCoy and Science Officer Spock, many, many more could not survive the sudden destruction of the Blastoneurons. When the string-pullers were erased, their puppets died with them en masse. Obviously there were survivors, but a great many of them required years of rehabilitation of an almost antiquated type. Parallel bars, hot tubs, and manual manipulation of reluctant limbs were used when nerve grafts, cloned limbs and other 23rd century medical miracles failed to simply reverse the damage, as most had expected. To some in that era, living with such pain was unthinkable, and so their systems gave out.
Chekov had worked out with him for a good hour before retiring to a shower, leaving Peter to pound at the heavy bag for another hour unrestrained. As Peter slammed the heavy bag even harder, he realized that his prior self-absorption must have run fairly deep. Besides Spock and himself, he knew personally of no other Blastoneuron survivors. Not that there were all that many to know. Statistically, the long-term figures were staggering. Peter recalled once being detained by health authorities in Iowa to be checked for residual tentacles, as many survivors were, when no explanation for the death rate could be easily found. Eventually, it was simply and redundantly realized that having creatures playing with your brain stem and your spinal column was not conducive to ones long-term health.
Or ones sanity, Peter added mentally. No, he was not going to use Deneva and its aftermath as an excuse anymore. But it would have been equally stupid of him to deny it all played a major role. Deneva to Dianas. Hardly a straight line, but a line that was now a great deal more visible than before. One of the American leaders named Roosevelt had once said that such insight was always perfect, for all the good it did in the past, which was none.
Flowing like a relentless tide, Peter struck the heavy bag more and more, and also heard more whispers as he did. Unlike times past, these whispers were admiring and friendly in tone. Like times past, though, he still found what they were really saying disturbing.
"So thats him. The king of restraint."
"Id have socked that old drunk in his oversized gut."
"Senior Officers live to ride you for every last public burp."
"I heard Scotty considers the Enterprise his ship. I guess he resents the captain."
Peter wanted to stop, and say some things to these officers, some of whom outranked him, but most of whom were much younger, but he wisely said nothing.
For he now knew that he had not merely been an interloper with mischief and chaos on his mind. Nor had he been a poor guest, robbing the silverware drawer and wrecking the dining room while drunk. He had betrayed and wounded not a group of nameless, faceless stick-characters, but his very family: for that is what these peopleSpock, McCoy, Chekov, Sulu and Uhurawere. And he had all but shit on them. He sat down, and felt ready to swoon, as his actions hit home harder than ever.
He had been aware of his actions, their consequences, and the hurt they caused long before this. But exactly who he had wronged had never come through like this before. Small wonder Scott couldnt stand the sight of him.
He wanted to go get dressed, but first he had to calm himself. So he recited a personal mantra that he had been a year in the making at Tantalus. His center was hard to find, and he had to recite the mantra several times. But when his center was found, he got up, made for the refresher, and got back into uniform. In his mind was a rock-solid determination to do right by his extended family, no matter how much it hurt. He didnt realize the rush he was in.
But someone passing by did. "Slow down, Ensign. Short of a Red Alert, no one should be going through these halls that quickly."
Peter gulped, and then nodded at Commander Uhura. "Apologies, sir. But its urgent that I see either Captain Kirk or Captain Spock." He saw that this worried Uhura, and reasoned that she was worried he might insist charges be filed against Captain Scott.
"Theyre in conference right now, Ensign," she answered, guardedly, in his opinion. "I can relay your message, if its that urgent."
"Thank you, Commander," he nodded. "Tell the captain that I wish to be put off this ship, at the next reasonable opportunity."
Now, Uhura almost appeared to gulp. "Peter, is this a result of what happened between you and Captain Scott?"
"Yes, sir. It is. I am obviously a disruptive presence aboard this ship. My being here is driving a valued senior officer to distraction. Everyone has told me what a good and friendly person Captain Scott usually is. It therefore falls to me to remove myself from his sight. Ive caused more than enough trouble, and I want to make it right."
"So, rather than confront this situation, youre choosing to run away, is that it? I thought you had changed, Ensign. Im sorry to see that I was wrong."
His neck distended, briefly, and his voice went up a few octaves. "I am trying to do the right thing! Why cant you see that?!"
"Because you are not trying to do the right thing, and lower your voice at me, or you will leave this ship for all the wrong reasons, and not of your choice, Mister. Understand?"
Never having been truly all that agitated, he regained his voice quickly. "Yes, sir. Im sorry sir. But if its a choice between myself and Captain Scott, I dont really see a choice."
She shook her head. "Wrong again. There are lots of choices, here. You can stay the month and deal with someone who might show you what you were like, some time three years back, and learn a valuable lesson all over again. Youve paid the principle on your debt. Let Scotts anger make you pay some of the interest."
She favored him with a reassuring smile. "Another choice belongs to Scott himself. That choice is to realize that even someone whos earned the benefit of many doubts has a limit, and lines that they should not cross. Your uncle has put people off the ship before. If Scott can no longer handle his duties, then even if it tears his heart out, Jim Kirk will kick him off this ship. That will be the result of the choice Scott made. Just as Tantalus was the result of poor choices on your part."
Peter looked down, then back up. "Commander, suppose it was my poor choices that caused Captain Scotts choices? That makes me responsible."
"You, Mister," she punched a finger into his chest, "are not responsible for his getting that intoxicated. You, Mister, are not responsible for what was an unprovoked attack. And you, Mister, have got to stop accepting responsibility for any actions other than your own."
"Yes, sir. Its just..."
"Just what, Ensign?"
"Its just if Captain Scott does get booted from the Enterprise, there are going to be a lot of people who will remember that, long after Dianas is hopefully just a footnote in my record."
"Worried about what other people think, Ensign?"
"Not as much as I used to, sir. But I also cant ignore it like I used to. And if my crimes drive a good man away from where he belongs, then I truly am a jinx, no matter what my uncle says."
Uhura allowed her face to soften. "Speak to Commander Chekov about that jinx theory, Ensign. You just might be surprised to learn hes got one of his own. But at the risk of repeating myself, you are no more responsible for Captain Scotts behavior now than he was responsible for what you did during the Dianas mission. And if youre going to worry about who thinks what about whom, then you might as well head back to that farm in Iowa."
Peter started. "But hasnt Captain Scott also earned a lot more leeway than me? I mean, the day may come when Ive built up my moral and social capital again. Id hate to think that a bad time like Captain Scotts having could simply erase that in a heartbeat. In the gym, there were people whispering all kinds of vicious things about him. Things that even my wonderful self from three years ago might have had trouble saying."
Uhura nodded in apparent understanding; clearly experience had given her some ready answers. "One: people will talk, even when they know better. Imprint that on your braincase, Ensign. Two: people will talk about the same qualities in different ways depending on the circumstance."
She chuckled. "The creative wizard, James T. Kirk, who traveled back, fetched two whales and saved the Earth, is also the maniacal war-monger who disobeyed orders over Serenidad and killed half his crew as a result. Now, none of us feels that The WhaleSong Crisis was all that miraculous. Time aside, it was fairly straightforward. As for Serenidad, anyone who thinks the Klingons would not have pursued the fleeing Enterprise hasnt met a Klingon."
She now pointed at him again. "Peter Kirk, master of the barbed, unneeded comment is now known as Peter Kirk, master of the quick quip. Captain Scott, gnarled old man, will soon again be, God willing, Scotty, Grand Old Man."
"I see your point," he said, looking at her index finger as it rested against his uniform.
She laughed. "Exactly my point. But back to Scotty...he needs you to stay, Peter. Otherwise, people will say that he drove a good man who had paid his debt to Starfleet off the ship. And then they will never stop talking."
He now smiled. "Thank you, Commander. Thank you for reminding me of things that I should by rights already know."
"Youre welcome, Ensign. Now is there anything you wish me to relay to the captain?"
"No, sir. Ill tell him myself. Its no longer urgent. And its something Ive already told him a few times this month."
She started to walk off, but paused for a second and turned. "Im just guessing, here, but he probably wouldnt mind hearing you say it as often as you feel like. Good day, Ensign."
"And you, Commander."
Peter strolled down the corridor until he came to his cabin door, where he found Jaion Merz leaning against a bulkhead.
"Hi, Jaion. Looking for something?"
"Just have something to say. A kind of confession to make, if you will."
Peters eyes narrowed. "Go ahead."
"Okay." Merz took a deep breath. "Before you came on board, I kind of tried to tell Laurel to stay away from you. I was afraid you might try something again. We had an argument. To make up, I agreed to be friendly, in exchange for keeping an eye on you. Crummy, huh?"
Peter looked about, then back at Merz. "You know what that makes you, Lieutenant?"
Merz stiffened a bit at that, even though he outranked Kirk. "No. What does it make me?"
Peter smiled. "Someone who cares about Laurel enough to watch out for her. Tell me, is it still an act?"
"Not since you took that shift over, and nothing bad happened. Then, when you took Captain Scotts words without exploding....I mean, are you for real? No offense, Pete, but he tore you a few new orifices, and I just confessed to spying on you. Youre gonna tell me youre not upset by all that?"
Ensign Kirk shrugged. "Would I prefer that you had trusted me from the outset? Would I prefer that Captain Scott not feel the way he does? Yes, of course. Am I upset? Sure. But not that much. You see, Jaion, I committed some truly loathsome acts and went to prison for them. I betrayed the crew that is like my uncles extended family, and one of them cannot forgive that. I hurt Laurel, so I had to earn your trustand I hope, your friendship."
Merz smiled and extended his hand. "You have, Pete. You have."
There were days that Captain James T. Kirk of the United Star Ship Enterprise thought that starship command was just one big headache. This was one of those days. He sat at his desk in his ready room on C Deck, listening to an impassioned argument from his third officer who was seated opposite him.
"Kyptin, this landing party roster is nearly suicidal. First off, I dont trust your nephew vwell enough yet to trust he wont respond if Scotty goes off on him again. Peter is trying his damnedest, Ill give him that. But the added burden is one he may not yet be ready to bear."
The captain remained calm. "Who is it you dont trust, Commander? Peter or Scotty? Are you afraid that the slightest twinge from Scotty will set Ensign Kirk off?"
Chekov made a difficult concession. "Under current circumstances, I would more fear the reverse would be more likely, sir. You know how I feel about Kyptin Scott."
"How we all feel, Chekov," Kirk interjected.
"Da, but this crisis of anger Scotty is going through is rendering him less reliable, perhaps by the hour. I suggest another Science Specialist beam down, instead. Ensign Kirks specialty is Xenobiology. Replace him with someone who specializes in Astrogeology."
"In other words, you dont think they can work together."
"Kyptin, I think you may be jeopardizing a long and distinguished career and another career which just may have come back from the brink of self-destruction."
Kirk steepled his fingers. "Pavel, tell me, is Peters presence cause to Scottys rage?"
"Yes, sir. If you will recall, I myself objected to bringing Ensign Kirk back aboard, sir. I feared that some might resent his presence. I just never thought it would be Kyptin Scott."
"Scottys getting old, Pavel. We all are, but hes approaching retirement, you know. Three more years, and hes out of here, having reached the mandatory retirement age. Maybe hes feeling his age. Maybe any troubled young person would have brought this out in him."
"Nyet. Peters actions of three years ago deserve his anger. Your nephew jeopardized this ship, its mission and its crew, especially a young Scottish woman whom Scott had taken under his wing at the time. I think its perfectly understandable for Scotty to be angry at the ensign. Hell, I myself vwas angry at him. But he is a changed man, Kyptin. I swear it."
"And what of Scotty?"
"Until he believes Peter has indeed changed, then I suggest we keep them separated."
"Thats not how Starfleet works, Pavel. You know that. Youve got to be able to work with people whether you like them or not." Kirk took a sip of his now cold coffee. "Besides, Im not sure he has changed all that much."
Chekov did a double-take. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"Always, Pavel," said Kirk. "You know that."
"Has your nephew done something to upset you? Something that smacks of his old self, so to speak?"
Kirk appeared hesitant. "Well, we had an argument. A retread, if you will, of some things he once said about how I wasnt there for him. He was more careful, more measured. But it was still that charge hed sworn he was past."
Chekov was curious. "You said he had accepted your career decision and even admired you for it, now."
"He specifically objected to my not having been involved with him when I was stationed on Earth."
Chekov hoped he still had permission to speak freely. "Actually, Kyptin, you probably did ignore him whenever you were on Earth. After the five year mission, you had taken up with Admiral Ciani; even your old crew felt a little jealous."
The security chief thought for a brief moment that he had crossed the line.
But Kirks face shifted quickly from possibly angry to certainly intrigued. "You...felt that way about me?"
Chekov went for broke. "To a certain extent, we all did. Oh, we had lives of our own, surely. But there were times wed all see you, and you were always with Admiral Ciani, and really didnt have time for us. You...seemed to have but little use for us. And, Kyptin? We felt that way, despite knowing that you owed us no lunches, nor trips, nor barbecues. A teenager who idolized you, though? That had to hit hard."
"My God..." Kirk whispered. "I had no idea. You were all still active on starship duty, and I was so...envious. You were at Starfleet Training Command, becoming certified as a security chief. Sulu was at Intelligence, actually working for the Federation. Uhura and Scotty were involved with the refit. You were all making a difference, and I was behind a desk, pushing papers." He closed his eyes. "Spock had gone back to Vulcan. McCoy had returned to Yonada. Damn it. I..."
"So why didnt you spend time with Peter?"
Kirk shook his head. "I dont know. I guess it was because he had his whole life before him, and my career was winding down."
"At thirty-eight, your career was winding down?" Chekov snorted softly.
"It was how I felt, Pavel," the captain met his security chiefs eyes. "I guess I didnt want anything to do with him then. Lori saw to that, too."
"I dont doubt it," Chekov admitted, thinking back on how beautiful and sexy Admiral Ciani had been. "But after Serenidad? He was there for you at the hospital. And later at the Academy?"
"I couldnt allow myself to become a part of his life while he was at the Academy. He was being tormented by those bullies, and I couldnt put a stop to it without being accused of showing favoritism."
Kirk nodded. "The entire faculty did, Pavel. It was incredible what they put him through, and the faculty turned a blind eye to it probably because he was my nephew."
Chekov continued, "Peter was at your side after the attack by the Directors daughter."
"And I sent him away."
The Russian security chief nodded. "So Ive heard. Is it any wonder that he grew to hate you, the galactic hero?"
"Youre crossing the line, Pavel," Kirk warned, "but youre also right. A lot of what he was three years ago was my fault."
"And his," Chekov added. "I speak from personal experience, Kyptin. My father and I have not spoken civilly in over twenty-five years. He will have nothing to do with me, and I have grown to hate him. But I am responsible for my own actions. During my last leave there, I did not set fire to his room. I did not treat him with anything less than respect. I did not steal from him. I did not become an accomplice to a would-be murderer. I am the product of my environment just as Peter is of his. But the choices he made were his own. Just as the ones youve made were your own."
"And your point, Pavel?"
"I feel that bringing Ensign Kirk aboard was a mistake. But if Peter is at long last being bluntly honest with you, I may have to change my mind on that subject. Its high time that you both owned up to the mistakes youve both made and get on with your lives."
Kirk said nothing at first, looking a bit stunned. Finally, the captain spoke with a warmth in his voice. "You are dismissed, Commander. And Pavel? Thanks."
But as Chekov left, he wished again that the captain would thank him by separating either Scott or Peter from the landing party.
A sober, rested, but still upset Scott sat in his lounger looking half-heartedly at an engineering trade publication. Dressed in his gold landing party jumpsuit, he was waiting for orders to report to the transporter room. When the door chime sounded, he thought about ignoring it. He was surprised when the doors opened and in stepped Penda Uhura.
"Sugar, you look like you could use a friend," she regarded him with a warm smile.
Scott smiled at this simple act of forgiveness. He inwardly swore that he would try to emulate it. "Aye, that I could. For it is nearly certain that I have lost at least one man among those I counted friend through me actions of yesterday."
She looked up at him. "Then its up to you to correct the matter and soon. I dont want to lose you over this silliness. Got me?"
"Aye," he answered glumly.
The bosuns pipe whistled for attention. "Commander Scott, report to Transporter Room Three," came Captain Kirks voice.
Scott tapped the comlink on his desk. "Aye, sir."
Gathering up his landing party gear, she helped him put his backpack and utility belt on. "And be careful." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek.
He smiled. "Ill be back soon, lass."
"Yed bettr," she mimicked his Highland brogue.
Yet as he made his way down the corridor to the transporter room, Scott still felt that the landing partys junior member could not be completely trusted.
One of the Enterprises major assignments for this third five-year mission under the command of Captain James T. Kirk was the charting of gaseous anomalies, but its on-going mission of general exploration was still in effect. So the unmistakable dilithium spectrographic signatures detected from the small, otherwise unremarkable M-Class planet were of undeniable interest. This was especially true of a captain and a chief engineer who once had to go begging for replacement crystals under the added burden of Harry Mudds interference.
Science Specialist Kirk was there to gain a few hours field experience, after his short prison term in Tantalus. Even though a xenobiologist, it was expected of all science officers to maintain a level of proficiency in general science, and a simple landing party assignment of this nature would be good for him, everyone agreed. Except for Chief Engineer Scott.
The captain of engineering was there to prove something he probably shouldnt have had to: in essence, that he could keep his verbal and physical hands off of Ensign Kirk. Captain Kirk was there because that was what Captain Kirk did, much to the chagrin of the security chief. Commander Chekov was there to keep an eye on both the captain who always had to be a part of the landing party, his nephew who had theoretically been reformed, and the chief engineer who lately had been unable to control his anger at a young man who had sabotaged his ship some three years past.
Chekov sighed. "Bozhe moi."
He surveyed the landing party. Ensign Kirk was seemingly in his glory, having forgotten what a thrill these landing parties were. Peter was obviously a scientist, like his father before him, and the possibility of a great discovery was clearly never far from his mind.
A somewhat chastised Captain Scott was quietly keeping to himself, and was trying, rather unsuccessfully, to keep a surreptitious but constant watch on the ex-convict. Chekov shook his head and glanced around the landing site, always on guard against...against whatever threat they might encounter.
Chekov met Captain Kirks eyes and saw in them that he was pleased with the mission. He was plainly glad that his nephew was happily working away despite the presence of Montgomery Scott. Ensign Kirk kept scanning for the dilithium deposit their sensors clearly detected.
Commander Chekov absolutely hated playing makeshift advocate for someone like Peter Kirk, whose past actions had upset more than Montgomery Scott. But so far, two and a half weeks had passed, and the only thing Ensign Kirk had done was behave like someone on probation should, erring on the side of caution when a problem arose.
The problem was that while Peter Kirk was coming into his own, Montgomery Scott seemed in an accelerating downward spiral.
"Commander Chekov," called Ensign Kirk. "Captain Kirk, Captain Scott!"
The members of the landing party converged on Peters location. "Sirs, these dilithium crystals were placed here. They show evidence of having been refined. Someone has planted them."
With one hand Chekov drew his phaser and set it on heavy stun, and with the other, he brought forth his tricorder. Despite having served as Weapons and Security Officer for nearly two decades, Chekov originally had been trained in Sciences by no less than Spock himself. "Ensign, vwe scanned these deposits from orbit. The readings vwere consistent vwith a sizable dilithium deposit. How do you explain such a discrepancy?"
Three years ago, Peter Kirk would have read any such question as a challenge to his competence. As had been noted, many things had changed while he was away. "Commander, I believe these crystals were used in warp engines, and allowed to go to degradation through lack of maintenance. From orbit, they might appear as raw, unrefined crystals, but a closer analysis has clearly shown otherwise. This sort of trick has been done a few times before to lure in unsuspecting victims. Only someone of Captain Scotts caliber would be able to re-energize these crystals for use in a warp engine."
Scott brushed off the compliment. "And how is it, Ensign, that you know of such a bunko? Just what supposed great scam-artist told you this amazing fact?"
Peter gulped, then shrugged. "Harry Mudd. He told me to say hi."
Scott actually burst out with a chuckle and calmed down considerably. "One thing is beyond dispute, and that is that Harcourt Fenton Mudd knows his scams," the chief engineer offered.
"Kyptin," Chekov began, but Kirk raised his hand.
Turning to his nephew, Kirk asked, "Your recommendations, Ensign?"
Peter continued, "Anyway, I suggest that theres nothing to see here. But I also suggest that we remain in orbit for a day or two. As I said, someone could be trying to make us think that there is dilithium here by using this junk as a lure. We should also log it with Starfleet so that no one else wastes their time on a mission to the planets surface."
"Id also recommend, Kyptin, that we return to the Enterprise immediately. We are vulnerable here on the surface."
Suddenly, Scott stepped forward, "Capn, just how do we know these findings are valid when all we have is the ensigns word on it? After all, if there is a dilithium deposit here, he might have a confederate waiting to claim it all, someone like Harry Mudd himself. And might I add, it would be a mite easier to sell dilithium than malium, and make a quick profit for themselves."
Cautiously, as if suspecting an attack, Chekov reset his tricorder and scanned the deposit.
Scott now looked at Ensign Kirk. "Aye, I can see it in your worried face. Ive tumbled to your scam, well enough. Then as now, eh, laddie? Och, ye almost fooled us all, but it is as I told ye. Yer going back to where such as you belong. Well? Say something!"
Chekov looked to his commanding officer who stood almost stunned by Scotts bizarre accusations.
"Mister Chekov?" the captain asked.
"Scanning now, sir. Ill know in a minute."
While the sensor was verifying its initial scan, Chekov glanced at Peter.
The ensign was clearly straining not to explode. But firmly, in a controlled voice, Peter answered, "No, Captain Scott. No, you are wrong about me. No, I will not answer your ridiculous charge. No, I will not be going back to Tantalus. No, I am no longer the man you knew. No, your fellow crew members are not fools and dupes. No, I am not a thief. No, I am not allied with Harry Mudd. No, I will not betray nor have I again betrayed my uniform and my family. No, I will not put up with people like you for the rest of my life. I dont care if its Smillie himself, I will find the right and appropriate words that tell them what I tell you again now. And I...tell...you...no!!"
"Peter," warned Captain Kirk softly.
While making a final calibration on his tricorder, the security chief turned to Ensign Kirk. His next words seemed to tug at Peters heart: "Ensign, stand at attention."
Scott smiled triumphantly. "Youll learn, lad. You cannae speak to me"
"Scotty, stand down," ordered Captain Kirk.
Scott complied with the order, but was clearly bristling at it.
Chekov walked up to Peter. "Ensign, we do not shout in the face of a superior officer. Am I understood?"
"Y-you are, sir."
"That said," began Captain Kirk, "because that superior officer is behaving like a raw Cadet, your lack of military decorum in this matter may be forgiven."
"Kyptin, I can now vouch for the ensigns analysis, unless of course, someone here wishes to question my loyalty," he looked pointedly at the chief engineer.
Scott looked at Captain Kirk with angry tears in his voice. "Sir, I only sought to raise a concern. There is no call to humiliate me!"
Jim Kirk finally broke. "How in the hell can we humiliate you? Right now, we dont even know you!" Kirk pulled out his communicator.
And in a flash, those words put an end to the storm within Montgomery Scott. For now, though, he spoke no more words. He looked drained of all strength, and to Chekov, he looked very, very old.
"Kirk to Enterprise," the captain said in his communicator.
Chekov walked up to the chief engineer. "Captain Scott, its going to be all right. Do you hear me, Scotty? Its going to be all right."
The senior Kirk walked over to Scott as the engineer sat down on a small boulder. As a glassy-eyed Scott seated himself upon a rock, Kirk put his hand on his shoulder. "Hes right, Scotty. Everythings going to be all right."
"Nay, not all right. Not ever again. Tis done, and I am so vurra, vurra tired."
"Kirk to Enterprise," the captain repeated, exchanging a worried glance with his security chief.
The static that came back through Spocks voice told them all quite a bit.
"Captainwe are undertack. There are tenall ships, but they are quite powerand fast. We have detecttwenty transporter signatures in your genvicinity. Yorders?"
"Spock, what have my orders always been? Protect my ship. Get her out of there."
"s, Captain. Entrise, out."
"Gentlemanwere on our own." Kirk pulled his sidearm, and bid the others pull theirs. "Damn, I hate walking into a trap."
Captain Spock and Acting Executive Officer Uhura came to a few conclusions about the attacking ships. "Sir, while in theory, they are powerful enough to damage us, they dont seem as interested in that as keeping us away from the planet. I suggest that their target is among the landing party. I also suggest that the target among them is fairly obvious: Captain Kirk."
Spock saw the small ships swerving around, laying down fire that would only hit Enterprise if it moved back to rescue its people. "Illogical, Commander. I have just now recalled the make up and time and place of all ten landing parties for the last month and a half. The captain was among seven of them. And in five cases, we were in a less defensible position. Moreover, this is not an impromptu attack or a mistaken border crossing. This was planned, and planned well, might I add. We are effectively neutralized without being cornered and possibly desperate as a result."
Uhura tried to discern the attack patterns on screen, while responding to Spock. "Then the captain is not the target?"
"In fact, I believe that he is, but we have no evidence to substantiate that belief. Logic suggests that if he is a target, he might not be the sole target. During those ten assignments, both Captain Scott and Commander Chekov were with the captain on two missions. By process of elimination, the second target is Ensign Kirk."
Uhuras face sank. "Why target both Kirks? I cant think of anyone that Peter offended with a small military backing them up."
Spock again took a different view. "I can think of one possibility."
Lieutenant Jaeger yelled, "Captain! I got one of them as they passed! Hes barely moving, now. I knew I could tag him!"
Spock got up, and stared at the screen, and the apparently disabled ship. "Mister Reichard, full reverse. Get us out of here."
"Yes, sir!" the helmsman complied immediately.
The screen lit up, as the distant damaged ship exploded. Shields shook, but they held as well. But for Spocks orders, they would not have.
Uhura was more shaken than the ship. "They used their self-destruction as a tactic. Wonderful."
Spock reseated himself, and nodded grimly. "Once, this was not an uncommon tactic, Commander...among Orions."
Back on the planets surface, Chekov and the senior Kirk had moved them to some minimally acceptable defensive ground just before the shooting began.
"Scotty, theyre coming for us. We need you. I need you. Snap out of it."
The weary man looked up at his old friend and best commanding officer. "Och, Jim. I all but skinned and gutted your closest kin. The lad came back to make it right, and an old goat tried his best to make him fall. I didnae believe that such as he could come back as a straight arrow. I didnae believe that such people change."
Jim Kirk shook his head. "You better not be asking me to forgive you, Mister. Because up against all youve done for mefor my shipfor my crew, this all passes without further comment, provided it ends here. For whatever its worth, well make our stand here. Together."
Scott nodded. "Your forgiveness I expect, Capn. At least, its what I hoped ye would give me. And Pavel was mainly upset that I ignored his words to the wise. But can young Peter fight by my side and not chafe at the thought?"
"He can, and he will because its his duty and because I ask him. He really has turned the corner, Scotty."
Chekov called from his position behind a nearby boulder. "Blast it! Kyptin, I must have hit their position twenty times. No effect. None!"
Consulting his tricorder, Scott gave Kirk an explanation. "Portable shield generator. Fairly high end, probably very bulky. The question is how do we crack it?"
The bolts continued to whiz over them.
"Whoever they are, they seem content to keep us pinned down," remarked Chekov.
All Peter could do was stare at the dilithium crystals in between exchanges of phaser fire. "The crystals..." he began. They were glowing as they refracted the energy of the battle. "With a large enough charge..."
Scott turned his attention to them as well. "Aye," the engineer said. "That would do the trick!"
Grabbing a bundle of the used crystals, Peter hurled them at the enemy position, just down the hill.
"Peter, what the hell?" asked Captain Kirk.
"Get down everyone!" Scott bellowed.
An explosion ripped apart one of the positions held by their attackers. The blast brought a brief cessation to the firefight as both sides waited for the dust to settle.
"Im sure if Bones were here, hed make a comment about sticks and stones," remarked the Enterprise captain.
Chekov looked down at his tricorder, and confirmed the results. "Excellent work, Ensign! You may have just earned your pay for the week!"
"Hey, thats my line," Jim Kirk said as he held up another crystal. "Dilithium grenades?"
Scott answered, "Aye. Tis the vurra nature of degraded crystals. They tend to fall apart, as yell recall. All it takes is the right push, such as a few megajoules of energy from a phaser battle and a few more megajoules from the portable deflector shield, and theyll explode. Good thinkin, lad."
Peter then found that fighting back positive feelings was harder than dealing with Captain Scotts anger. "Thank you, sir."
"I read ten more attackers closing in on us. I suggest we move to higher ground," the security chief pointed at the rise behind them.
Kirk nodded. "Lets take a few grenades with us."
"It willnae work, Capn, but we can try," Scott said. He got up, unsure but ready to fight and to die, now beside three men he could trust.
His phaser recharged by draining the tricorders, Peter stood with Commander Chekov, praying hard he wouldnt screw this up.
"SirI may or may not be a jinx. Just thought you should know," the ensign offered.
Chekov stared at him for a second, then nodded. "Da. Understood, Ensign. And dont worry. Im a jinx, too. Well cancel each other out."
Jim Kirk leaned forward, eyes glued to his tricorder. "I read eight of them, at the bottom of the hill. Phaser rifles, disruptor carbines, and what looks to be an old laser canon. A motley bunch. Mercenaries?"
"Kyptin, I dont see anyone," Chekov strained his eyes.
"Theyre there, lad," Scott chimed in. "Orions, from what I can tell, on the second slope of the hill!" From his vantage point, the chief engineer could see what the others could not.
The attackers had moved to within a hundred meters of them, far up the hill, bypassing the landing partys withering phaser fire.
Chekov fumed, "Bozhe moi! My mostly ineffective defenses are now completely ineffective."
"Then might I suggest we go on the offensive?" asked Peter, looking up from his tricorder.
Captain Kirk turned to his nephew. "What did you have in mind, Ensign?"
"Ive been reading about some of your early exploits lately, sir. Do you remember Capella Four?"
Kirk looked at Peter and then the hillside their attackers were climbing. "Indeed I do, Ensign." The captain chuckled.
Aboard the Enterprise, Spock got the information he asked for. The results were as he expected. "Captain, that second suicide ship nearly had us. Shields have held up, but another such swipe will start to seriously degrade them. At that point, the others will be able to have us for lunch."
"Thank you, Mister Merz. But may I suggest you leave culinary references in the main galley, from this point on?"
"Aye, sir. Im just worried about the landing party. Worry makes me hungry."
Spock was merely staring straight ahead, taking in the seven remaining ships. His logical mind was at a loss. "My logic has always failed me when engaging in battle with ships making suicide runs. It is not logical to surrender ones life in such a fashion."
Uhura was still reviewing damage reports from the last suicide run, but gave forth with a possibly telling observation. "Ive never understood it either, particularly when the Orions are just so mercenary. Why trade your life so cheaply?"
"Vulcans are willing to die in order to preserve their personal integrity or peace," Spock replied. "And Romulans commit suicide in matters of honor."
Uhura shook her head. "Orions just dont have much integrity or honor, Captain. And theyre such capitalists. The money to ship out on a mission like this must be nice, but dont they have to survive encounters like this to spend it?"
Spock nodded, seeing a gleam of light in the confusion that had reigned. "Yes. One does have to live to spend credits. Mister Reichard, what areas of the destroyed Orion ships had we struck, prior to their explosions?"
The helmsman knew without checking. "Standard targets, sir. Weapons and engines."
"And, helmsman, how long does a ship remain intact after weve hit them hard with weapons?"
Clearly puzzled, Reichard checked his readings. "Almost ninety seconds after theyre hit, Captain. The survivors barely have enough time to abandon ship, but were not targeting their means of escape. Thats a violation of Starfleet rules of engagement."
Spock turned to the Science station. "Mister Merz, scan those ships for the locations of their shuttle bays and escape pods. Once you have them, feed their locations to the tactical stations."
Reichard turned around. "Sir, are we going to shoot the survivors?"
Uhura stiffened at that, but held her composure. "Helm, you have your orders. Captain Spocks known what he was doing since before any of us ever boarded this ship."
"I appreciate the show of support, Commander. And to answer Mister Reichards valid query, we shall not fire on survivors. Instead, we shall disable means of escape for any potential survivors. It is a hunch, I concede. But empirical evidence steps in where pure logic reaches its limits. Target the various escape portsand open fire."
The other ships flight patterns almost tauntingly left their weapons and engine sections wide open. But Enterprise fired on targets that were, surprisingly, more hardened. Still, the power advantage was in Enterprises favor, and the escape bays were mostly disabled on five of the eight remaining ships. Also, as each of the undamaged ships came in for a potential suicide run, their own areas of escape became heavily damaged.
Merz spoke from Science. "Each ships means of escape has been disabled by seventy-five percent or better, sir. Theyre going to be trapped there Wait! Theyre moving off! All of them."
Uhura still didnt understand. "We hit their vital parts, and they blow up to spite us. But we hit their escape methodsand they pull out?"
Spock nodded. "You said it yourself. One must be alive to spend credits. Therefore, those suicidal attacks were unto the destruction of the ships alone. The crews had made ample preparations for getting back home. By striking not at where they were, but in the places they were going to be, we neutralized their most potent advantage. Really, their only advantage. Surprisingly, by moving past logic on our end, I helped force our attackers to use logic themselves. Quite fascinating."
"Sir, weve still got one ship thats managing to evade us."
"Pursuit course, Lieutenant Reichard."
"Theyre dodging in and out of the planets atmosphere, bouncing off of it from time to time," remarked Merz.
Scott and Chekov, now without their communicators, kept firing their phasers at any perceived movement on the opposite hillside. The two Kirks had each taken their communicators and moved to opposite ends of the hillside. It was Scott and Chekovs job to keep the Orions pinned down while the captain and the ensign struggled to create a sonic cataclysm.
"So, Kyptin Scott, has your opinion of the ensign changed?"
"Aye, hes a Kirk, all right. I may have been a little less forgivin than I shouldve been, I grant ye that, lad."
Peter Kirk adjusted Captain Scotts communicator, and it began to warble in contrast to the communicator from the other side of the hill. The discordant sound sent chills up his spine. He glanced over to his uncles position. Jim Kirk was already withdrawing, but Peter pulled his out tricorder and ran a quick analysis. It wasnt going to be enough. Not even thinking about the decision he was making, he ran around to the backside of the hillside and set up his own communicator. It began emitting a shrill shriek of its own, and he grated his teeth as he ran a quick analysis. "Perfect," he decided, and began to make his way back to where the landing party had entrenched itself.
Thats when the disruptor bolt struck the boulder next to him. Shards flew into his face and chest. Peter uttered a quick moan of agony, but forced himself to continue as he rounded the hill, moving toward the landing party. They were laying down phaser fire over his head, aiming no doubt for the pursuers he knew he didnt have to turn and see to know were after him. The warbling was building, and Peters teeth were on the edge of cracking.
When the explosion came, Peter felt a burst of unexpected heat and then the concussion wave, and then nothing.
Nothing at all.
"Sir, were taking on heavy damage," reported Lieutenant Indri from Engineering.
"Maintain firing rate," ordered Spock.
"Sir, theres been a massive explosion on the planets surface near the landing partys last reported location!" reported Merz.
"Acknowledged," the captain responded. "Maintain firing rate."
"All tubes have been brought to bear," reported Jaeger. "Maintaining photon torpedo and phaser fire."
The ship exploded without further warning.
"Got him!" Reichard called.
"Commander Uhura, raise the landing party."
"Aye, sir. Enterprise to Captain Kirk," she put her earjack into her ear and swung around to her station. "Captain Spock, theyre responding. Theyve got a casualty!"
"Emergency beam out," ordered Spock, rather unnecessarily, he noted. Uhura had already signaled the transporter room. His eyebrow arched.
Uhura noticed it. "A good executive officer anticipates her captains orders."
"Very well. I leave the bridge in your capable hands." Spock stood and quickly left for the transporter room.
"Kyptin, he did you proud. If he keeps this up, then he definitely has a place in Starfleet. Maybe even one day, the center seat. But dont tell him I said that."
Peters still form was being moved from Transporter Room One to Sickbay on the antigrav gurney. Chekov and Kirk were bringing up the rear while McCoy and Scott were leading the way. They paused at a corridor junction where a damage control party was rerouting a conduit.
"Clear the way, lads," Scott ordered softly. He glanced down at the ensign, and very briefly brushed some dirt out of Peters hair.
Jim Kirk looked oddly at him. "Something to say, Scotty?"
Scott smiled and nodded. "Aye, that I do...nae to you, sir. But to the lad himself."
The rest of their trip to Sickbay was made in silence.
Peter Kirk awoke to the sounds of agony.
"Argh! Damn it, Bones! You did that on purpose!"
"You're damned right I did. I told you to stay off that leg until its fully healed. You go down there, get yourself attacked by mercenaries from the Orion Syndicate, get your nephew blown up, and what do you do when you get back? Oh, take an inspection tour of the battle damage."
"Owww! Damn it, Bones! Please!
"Do I even once get a break from protoplasering you back together?"
His vocal cords seemed to hurt. "immmmm?"
"Doctor, I think Spock is right when he says your approach to medicine is akin to that of the Spanish Inquisition. My leg..."
"Did that Vulcan say that? After he gets this ship nearly blown to pieces? Hes got a lot of gall! If I catch him needing medical attention anytime in the near future, you can bet credits to navy beans hes going to regret it!"
It seemed as if they werent functioning properly. In fact, it was mainly the dryness of his throat. Wetting it a bit by gulping, he tried again, with more success. "Jim?!" Peter opened his eyes to see his uncle being forced back onto the biobed next to his own.
Captain Kirk turned, and smiled. "Youre awake. Peter, how are you?"
Ensign Kirk breathed in, feeling a bit out of air. "I kind of feel like Im trying on someone elses body, sir. Its a weird, detached sensation."
Doctor McCoy seemed on edge, but had an answer for that. "Well, Ensign, I see that reckless behavior runs in your family. Youre lucky youll be able to regain ninety-nine percent of your feeling. The boulder that landed on you broke your neck and back. If I hadnt had extensive readings of your nervous system from after Deneva, you might even have been grounded."
"Doctor, thank you for saving my life. I think thats three I owe you."
Peters worry increased when McCoy merely turned around and walked away, grumbling, "Three? Is that all? Your uncle here owes me about two hundred! And dont get me started on Spock!" The doctor was still talking to himself as he went into his office. "And Scotty..."
Waving a hand, a bemused Jim caught his nephews attention. "You saved our lives, Peter."
Peter nodded, looking more than a bit haggard. "I had to. Youre all such heroes to me, each of youScotty, Chekov, you. I wasnt about to let those bastards get us, get you. I swear I could feel their hatred of us!"
Jim shrugged. "Thats why theyre called villains. And usuallythats also why they end up dead." The captain leaned back on the bed and closed his eyes.
Peter nodded. "Yes, sir. Captain, I have a question, if youre up to it."
"Shoot," he answered, eyes still closed.
The younger Kirk built up his courage. "Who were they? Why did they attack us?"
"Oh, thats right. Youve been unconscious for two days. You missed all the debriefings and briefings"
"Dont forget Spocks rather lengthy analysis!" called McCoy from his office.
The captain chuckled. "A three hour report," he said. "McCoy dozed off twice."
"So did you, Captain, sir!"
"Anyway, Ensign, they were mercenaries in the employ of the Orion Syndicate."
"Never heard of them," Peter responded.
"Neither had we. Turns out that the now-defunct Barrier Alliance Consortium has new management. Someone by the name of Chelas Brok."
A chill went down Peters stiff spine, and McCoy rushed out. "Ensign, you okay? The mediscanner says you had a back spasm." He rushed over, scanning Peters form with a feinberger.
"Just a chill, Doc."
McCoys eyes narrowed. He raised a finger in warning against James T. Kirk. "Dont you be scarin this boy like that, Jim. Spocks report is inconclusive about the Brok business being behind all this."
"I thought you were asleep during"
"Just resting my eyes, like I recall telling you at the time." He waved his feinberger at Kirks ears. "Gonna have to have those ears checked if you keep this up."
Peter was amused by the by-play between the two friends, but he wanted answers. "So the Broks were behind it."
McCoy stood stiffly. "Only a seventy percent probability that"
"Seventy-two point three five, Doctor," came a deep voice from the end of the ward.
"Well, well, if it isnt the man who got your ship shot up, Jim," the doctor commented. "No doubt here to find out why you failed to report to duty five minutes ago."
Kirk sat up. "Is it oh-eight hundred already? Damn, Ive got to"
"Lay back down right now, or there will be hell to pay, Captain," McCoy growled.
Kirk raised a finger in objection, but Spock shook his head. "Im afraid that I concur with the doctor, Captain. You need bed rest."
"Well, far be it from me to dispute the best first officer in the fleet," Kirk grumbled and lay back.
"Doctor, a word with you, please?" Spock called and stepped into McCoys office, the chief medical officer following him.
Peter looked up at Jim. "So the Broks are involved?"
"Probably. Sometimes, no matter how many times you try, you just cant kill the monster."
"Monsters like anger and revenge?"
"Or monsters like blind ambition. Im sorry, Peter. At the time you needed me most, when I could have been there the most, I chose this ship."
The young man smiled. "At least I lost out to someone stronger and more reliable than myself. Shes a great ship, Jim. Someplace I can see wanting to get back to. Redeemed or reborn, shes one hell of a lady."
Jim read the meaning of his words. "Lets just say that youve taken a significant jump forward on that waiting list, Ensign, and leave it at that."
Having learned better, Peter did not push his uncles patience. "Thanks. That helps. But what stinks is that I know you cant consider me while Im under probation."
Jim shook his head. "You still dont know, do you? Peter, your probation is over. I filed my report with Starfleet and with Starfleet Medical. They concurred with my request. You are a free man. You can call anyone, go anywhere, even choose to leave Starfleet."
The captain smiled. "Although Ill kill you if you do. You showed Starfleet what it wanted to see. You showed me what I needed to see. And more than thatI am so damned proud of you. Scotty is still stunned about just what you put yourself through down there. Chekov seems to think that with tempering and a little less running off like your crazy uncle, youll make a damned fine officer. Remember that if Starfleet Command ever wises up and starts promoting these people up to where they belong."
Peter pursed his lips, then spoke once more. "I used to say it as a kid, all the time. For a long while I stopped saying it at all. Then, right before Tantalus, and right after, and several times now since I got on board. But I want it said, with no apologies involved and no gratitude either way."
The senior Kirk looked back to McCoys office. He slipped out of his bed and made his way to Peters side.
The young mans tears were real. "I love you, Uncle, and I want you to know that you are still a giant in my eyesand that you are, and always have been, my hero. Even when I went and I betrayed and hated you...."
Jim took Peters hand and squeezed it. "I love you, too, Peter." He leaned over and put his forehead to Peters. "Now rest, Nephew. Rest."
Peter dozed off at that point, and James T. Kirk slipped back into bed.
Softly, the captain prayed, "Lord, let him learn to deal with emotional pain as well as hes always dealt with the physical. Hes on his way, but he needs so much more. And he needs no more Broks, in whatever form they take. He can handle more blowsjust please no more torpedoes. If not, then just grant him time to build his armor. Thats only fair."
"Amen," said the doctor who had quietly walked up on the two beds. "Now, stay in bed, Jim. Doctors orders."
"Im all right, Bones. Im just a little tired..." he spoke softly.
A moment later, he was already asleep.
"As far as the Orion general assembly is concerned, the actions of those ship captains were, and I quote, highly illegal and totally unwarranted. They also promise to do everything in their power to track down and prosecute anyone involved with this unfortunate incident," reported Chekov.
Kirk had assembled his senior officers and Ensign Kirk, as a member of the landing party, in the VIP Lounge on B Deck. It was a rather informal place for a briefing, but it was meant to be a rather informal briefing. Peters recovery from the injuries was probably going to take the balance of the time he had remaining on the Enterprise, and Jim had decided to honor him with this one special gathering in honor of his Federation Award for Valor, 2nd Class, received for his actions in thwarting the Orions on the planets surface.
"Uhura, anything to add?"
"The crew performed admirably during the onslaught, Captain. You should be proud of them."
Kirk nodded. "I am, and will note your commendation in the ships log as well, Commander." He turned to his captain of engineering. "Scotty, how stands the ship?"
"Those mercenaries gave her a pounding, sir. But Ive seen worse. Lieutenant Indri did a fine job of holding her together."
"Aside from Spock nearly getting the ship destroyed, we came through with only two major injuries: yours and your nephews."
"And your report, Ensign?" asked the captain.
"Sir?" The ensign was still wearing Sickbay pajamas, and was seated comfortably in a plush chair. Over McCoys objections, Jim had insisted his nephew be allowed to attend this briefing.
Uhura moved next to the ensign, taking his hand in hers. "Are you all right, Peter?"
He said a few words before dozing off again. "I...have a ways to go yet."
A redeemed man then slept peacefully inside his uncles home amidst the stars.
It was a happy moment.
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