NOVEMBER 30, 2290
At age 30, Prisoner Peter C. Kirk faced one of a series of reviews that could lead to his release from the imprisonment that he had richly earned.
The comparison was not absent from the young mans mind.
Three years ago, during a mission to Dianas, Lieutenant Peter Kirk had conspired with Ensign Tom Cooper to steal malium crystals recovered from Duncans Planetoid. Hed gone so far as to kidnap Science Specialist Laurel McCutcheon, sabotage the Enterprise, set fire to Captain Kirks quarters to cover their crime, and even conspired with the Klingon admiral Koloth, who was on Dianas on assignment as an ambassador. In the end, though, hed risked his life to save McCutcheons life.
Three years ago, he had stood trial before a tribunal of Starfleet officers, and had plead guilty to all charges. He had refused to allow anyone to testify on his behalf; not Jim Kirk, not Spock, not even Laurel McCutcheon. He simply told the tribunal he was guilty of the charges, and that he awaited their judgment with the knowledge he was indeed a guilty man. The judges met for less than two minutes in private before rendering their verdict and sentence: guilt of all charges, reduced in rank from lieutenant to ensign, three to five years at Tantalus Rehabilitation Colony.
The verdict was stunning in that young Peter Kirk hadnt lost his Starfleet commission altogether.
"Ensign Kirk, please sit down."
Ensignthe word jarred him back to where he was and was yet another reminder of in just how many ways he had destroyed his own life. Most of those sentenced in similar fashion resigned their commissions, but not Peter Kirk. And it was this, he suspected, that intrigued the staff at Tantalus the most.
"We can begin at any time, Ensign."
It was a so-called blind session. To prevent the cleverer inmates from manipulating the counselors they knew, an outside expert was brought in. Behind a partition and using a voice scrambler, they would ask their questions, with no tone or facial expressions to tell the inmate whether they had scored.
Peter decided to dispense with all that, considering the session as much a waste as he thought his own life to be. "Look. I can save you a lot of trouble. Im where I belong. The panel said three to five years at Tantalus Colony. Id like to just make it an even five, just so no one can say I got any kind of break. Of course, many of them will think that anyway."
The modulated voice responded. "You place a great deal on what other people think?"
At this point, Peter Kirk had a firm handle on his emotions. He would not be able to maintain that relative calm for very long. "Ive always cared what people think about me. Maybe too much."
"Simple solution, Ensign: care more about what you think and what those closest to you think, than what everyone else thinks."
Peter shook his head. "Not possible when youre a Kirk. When I first got to the Academy, it wasnt too long after the Serenidad Tragedy, Captain Kirks choice to defy orders and defend the planet, and the subsequent near-destruction of the Enterprise. People had some decidedly negative opinions of my uncle. They felt it was their right and their duty to make me loudly aware of those opinions as though I were something more than just his nephew. Am I Spock? Am I Doctor McCoy? Did they think that giving me grief about his command decisions was going to change the past?"
"But that period couldnt have lasted forevercould it?"
The prisoner admitted, "The worst of it faded after a few months, though some of my instructors never seemed to realize that berating me about Jim Kirk accomplished very little."
"Sounds like you came through it well enough."
He nodded. "Well, sure. I mean that was cake compared to what happened next."
"Youre referring to the Tanith Brok rampage."
Without even realizing it, the young man felt his neck. "Yes. Jim had exposed an Orion frame-up of a fellow starship commander. A few months later, the Barrier Alliance Director killed a reporter who had helped expose the scam. When he was killed in turn, his daughter declared vengeance also...."
"Ensign, all of this is rather common knowledge. It was on the newsnets for almost a year, you know. That reporter was decapitated while live on the air at a county fair in Iowa."
"I understand, sir. But certain things I need to say out loud, or I cant even think them. May I continue?"
"The daughters name was Tanith Brok, and she took a blade and began decapitating people right and left, who had even a passing association with her fathers death. I was among the few targets that she failed to kill. I was on a historical field trip to Cestus Three. My roommates were on Earth. They died horribly. It was as though I had again cheated death only so I could be told by their parents how it was all my fault."
"They were in mourning. Losing a child puts one into a ugly state of mind."
Peter closed his eyes. "I called them back two years later. Their opinions had not changed or softened."
"Was it after the rampage that when you began to get into fights at The Academy?"
The first hint of real anger entered his voice. "I was defending myself. Somehow, someone found out that, after visiting Uncle Jim in the hospital, I had had a ...well, I wouldnt call it a breakdown. I just had a rough go of it. To me, Jims like this giant, this archetype, and even though he had little to do with me, and even though I hated him like hell for that, well, lets just say it really upset me. That anyone could touch himlet alone nearly kill him, was not something I could handle. You see, Ive always been a little weak. When the really bad things happen, I fall apart. Im not like Jim."
"Thats disingenuous. Youd been through quite a bit, even before all that. Perhaps youve never prepared yourself for the bad times. Or perhaps youre expecting to shake off events that simply wont be shaken off."
Peter was firm in his opinion. "Youre wrong. It has to be possible. Look at Uncle Jim. Hes stared down enemies mere seconds after theyve killed his crew members. If it had been me, facing the Kelvans, Idve shi...soiled my pants when they crushed that young woman into powder. But he waited them out, and got his ship back."
"Im almost certain that you would have soiled yourself. At the time, you would have been eight years old."
"Does that matter? Dont you get it? A Starfleet officer has to have the kind of inner armor to be ready for any and all such situations. I never did. I never will."
The voice spoke after its longest pause yet. "Thats a cheap excuse. No one expects you to be Captain Kirk. His life is as much a product of his time and placement as anything else. Several times, it could have been his ship that was lost, and its wreckage found by another. What to you seems all light and brilliance had a lot more luck in it than most people are willing to admit. Now, what about the fights?"
Peters own pauses were becoming more pronounced. "After what Brok did, I had a hard time getting anyone else to be my roommate. Or for that matter, my girlfriend. I must have been a lonely mope, wandering from class to class. It's the stiffs and the mopes who get targeted by the prankster circuit."
"Yes. These records indicate that many of their jokes ranged into the tasteless. The pointless. Rather than practical jokes meant to dress down the haughty or initiate the plebethey were quite impractical acts of needless cruelty."
The prisoners eyes glazed over. "A few weeks after the rampage, it started. Pictures of me, sent with the heads cut off. Plastiform heads, piled three deep in my wardrobe closet. A mock-guillotine, left outside my door."
"Didnt Academy authorities find and stop the pranksters?"
Without even realizing it, Peter Kirk slammed his fist down. He then stared at his hand, as though he thought he hadnt actually done it. His face was beginning to twitch. "They did nothing. First off, given the history of pranks at The Academy, they really prefer not to intervene. My uncle was a rather renowned target of an upperclassman named Finnegan. They never intervened there. Secondlywell, I dont know who said that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but they were dead wrong. You squeak too much at Starfleet Academy, and after a while, you fade into the background noise. Thats what happened to me. Telling the authorities also let these jerks know that it was working. That they were getting to me. So then things would escalate."
"Ok. My grandmother died soon after a fire at the Kirk family home in Riverside, Iowa. I loved Granma Marjorie. She was the only one who took care of me after...after...after Deneva. After that fire, she put herself to bed, and she never got out of it. It was only a few weeks afterwards that she was gone. And again, I didnt handle it all that well."
"I rather doubt that anyone could handle an event like that very well, Ensign. It was easily the second worst blow youve ever suffered."
He looked down at the table in front of him. "No. I allowed what happened to eat at me. Distract me. Otherwise, I would have seen what they were going to do next."
"You really want to hear me whine? All right. Smoke bombs, and screams of fire. And when I learned to ignore those, they came up with their ultimate plan."
"Their ultimate plan? That sounds rather paranoid, Ensign, dont you think?" The voice paused again. "And you keep saying they. Dont they have names? According to your psych profile, you have an excellent memory."
Each time, the anger in Peters voice was a little less disguised, and a little less contained. "Why should I honor people who made my life a living hell by bothering to remember their names? My pain meant nothing to them. So who they were means nothing to me."
"Tell me about their ultimate plan."
That was a slip, modulated voice or no. By refusing to debate him on that point, the speaker, to Peters mind, showed that the prisoners reasoning disturbed him.
"The ultimate plan was to animate, via remote control, a group of puppets made up like the neural parasites that killed my parents and infested me on Deneva. I saw right through them, this time."
"Hmm. It seems part of the reason you chose xenobiology as your specialty was to hopefully one day learn the origin of the Blastoneurons, as some call them. So you knew what the creatures should look like?"
Peter nodded. "Intimately. But thats not to say the joke didnt infuriate me. The next day, on the Academy parade grounds, I found the whole lot of them, and sprayed them with grape juice. There were twenty of them, in all."
He paused. "I got the crap beaten out of me, but I broke a few noses in the process. The investigation into the incident resulted in the ringleaders expulsion from the Academy. I got a years worth of demerits, but I was never harassed again. It almost made it all worth it."
What the voice said next stunned the prisoner. "That must have been very satisfying."
A small bit of his anger fell away. "Errarent you supposed to berate me for wanting to do things like that?"
"No. Maybe if youd let more of those feelings out, preferably a little at a time, then, we wouldnt be here today. Hearing you express honest anger at someone who did you wrong is the best evidence Ive heard so far that maybe this session can have a positive outcome."
Peter Kirk got up, and started to walk away. "Look. This session is a waste. Didnt you hear any of what I just said? I couldnt handle it. Some bad breaks and some Academy pranks shouldnt be enough to push someone over the edge! Im where I belong. Were done."
But the door did not open, and the voice modulator could not hide the evaluators own anger, as they spoke again. "Ensign, sit the hell down! We have yet to discuss many things, including the reasons you are in prison! Namely criminal conspiracy, arson, grand theft, kidnapping and assault! Youre not walking away from this now."
When the door did not open, the prisoner sat back down. He folded his arms. "Whoever you are, Ill give you this: Youre tenacious."
"Who I am is irrelevant, Ensign. I will do what I must to accomplish my task here. Now, tell me your version of the events on and above Dianas."
Peter looked down. He knew that this was important. What the prisoner said about their own crimes said a lot about their progress, or their lack of progress.
Peter decided to try and end the session once again. "Go to Hell."
"Been there, done that. Brought back a friend or two, when I did. NowDianas?"
Again, the prisoner gave his interrogator points for persistence, if nothing else. "Theres nothing really to tell. I conspired with a thug named Tom Cooper to steal some malium crystals, kidnapped a cute girl, burned up my uncles quarters to hide the theft, conspired with a Klingon or two, and generally made a mess of my life forever. Having successfully disgraced myself and my family once again, I ended up hereand here is where Id like to stay."
"Didnt Cooper lead you astray?"
Peter firmly shook his head. "On some level, I knew what he was from the start. Had I been thinking, had I been a little less angry, I would have turned him in and made myself look good."
"But you werent thinking. And you were angry."
"I was incoherent. Able to plan. But little else. Just about everyone else Ive ever met has given me grief all my life. But Jim never has. So if youre asking me why I did it all, why I was angry with him, then youre asking the wrong person."
"Why? Wasnt it you who did it all? Maybe it was your evil twin brother? Is that what youre trying to tell me?"
The prisoner wondered where this sarcasm was coming from, since he had not meant his comment ironically. "Back off, huh? It was me; Im just saying I cant figure why I did it. Im not saying that the buck stops anywhere but here. And for the record, I have an evil older brother and a spoiled snot younger brother, but no twin. Thank God."
"Wellgo into that another time. How about telling me about Dianas? I want more than just the highlights. You said you saw through Cooper."
He nodded. "Hard not to. The Academys training helps you recognize con artists and code-talkers like him. I went along with him because I was angry, and I just didnt care anymore. Sell the malium crystals, get caught, get killed. It was all the same to me."
"Is it still all the same now?"
Peter looked contemplative, and seemed ready to speak. Instead, though, he got up again, and headed for the door. "Ensign, that door isnt opening until I say it is. Im rather tired of your melodramatic attempts, but were not done until were done. And heres a hint for you: we arent done."
"I have to go pee."
"Ill get you a cup."
"Im not feeling well."
"Ill get you an analgesic."
"Look, you already know what I did!"
"But I want to hear your side."
Those few words seemed to slap Peter Kirk hard across the face. He felt stunned. He then sat back down. He also realized that this person knew how to counter all his tricks. "On Dianas, whatever I had planned, Cooper was willing to kill. I almost was, but I couldnt. I was willing to have everyone remember me with contempt. But not as a murderer. So I burned my uncles cabin. So I stole a the malium crystals from Duncans Planetoid. So I conversed freely with an enemy agent. But murder? No. I had to have a line."
"You were fortunate that you didnt cross that line, and that the charges against you for talking with Koloth were dropped. But your reasons for the theft?"
Knowing now that bolting would get him nowhere, Peter answered the unseen speaker. "I was miserable. I was miserable from the time I came aboard the Enterprise, and I wanted a way out. I was such a jackass that the crew of the Enterprise would not befriend me, and I wanted to punish them all for that. If I hadnt found Tom Cooper, I wouldve found someone else. When I was caught, Captain Scott threatened to break my arm. So I gave up. If he had offered to break my neck, I mightve kept struggling, to see if he was for real."
"And yet you lied about your actions, when first confronted with them."
A little boys sneer briefly took over his face. "I told you! I wanted out! Even if that meant dying! There were angry Starfleet officers with phasers there! By lying when they had me red-handed, I thought maybe one of them would just choose to be minus one embarrassment."
"Do you honestly believe that any member of Kirks crew would kill his nephew, if there were another choice?"
"You dont believe me, do you?"
"Lets just say that I find your latter-day remembrance a bit self-serving, thats all."
The silence was broken by Peter after ten full minutes. "It isnt a remembrance. Its a realization. A revelation. An epiphany. A look back to try and figure out who that animal was, from what part of me he came. Prison I can deal with. I can deal with the confinement."
"Ensign, surely theres some aspect about prison life that isnt to your liking."
"Well, I guess there is. You have no life here, so I have nothing to do most of the time except look back at the life Ive led. Try and figure it all out. That was where I realized that I must have had a death wish, doing things the way I did. Thats not an excuse. Just the best explanation I have."
The speaker went next for the jugular. "Why did you burn your uncles cabin?"
Peter seemed to be staring off into the distance as he spoke. "To conceal the crime." He paused. "But thats not entirely true, Ive got to admit." Another pause. "A man like Jim Kirk doesnt care much for things. So any personal possessions he does keep, he must hold very, very dear. By burning them, I was telling him very clearly how much I hated him for not taking care of me after Deneva."
Again, Peter looked down. "He left me with Granma, and that was okay, but he never took time to let me into his life. But I cant blame him, not really."
"Why is that?"
"Because Im a jinx."
"Sure. Just ask Sam and Aurelan Kirk. Ask Granma Marjorie. Ask my dead roommates. Ask Laurel McCutcheon, the only person on that mission to Dianas who didnt dismiss me out of hand. What was her reward? I had to decide not to kill her. I mean, I had to choose whether or not to end someone elses life. Over some crystals! Thats what happens to those who are my friends and family. They dieor they come very, very close. No wonder Jim doesnt want me in his life."
The voice seemed unwilling to let it stop there. "Youre a scientist. How can you believe in jinxes?"
"A scientist also looks at the empirical evidence, when no rational answer can be found. Based on thatIm a jinx."
The speaker took a different tack. "All life carries risk. Life on a starship carries a lot more."
Peter answered, "Were my parents on a ship? The people of Deneva? Granma? My roommates? No. Im the one common denominator in a jinx. In my casetheres me. Only me."
"Really? Poor methodology, Mister Kirk. Also a fairly incredible explanation. Kind of hard to swallow."
The prisoners response was quick in coming. "How so?"
"Because youre forgetting theres another common denominator in all these tragedies: Captain James T. Kirk."
"Believe what you want. You will anyway."
"Do you love your uncle?"
"I hated him for a long time, Ill admit that. But deep down, I love him."
"So why did you call him an idiot while you were in your cell, awaiting trial?"
Peter shrugged. "Because he was talking like an idiot!"
Peter stared ahead, as though he thought the speaker should understand this without explanation. "Hehe came into my cell, and told me that maybe he should have resigned his commission, and raised me himself instead. I mean, how stupid can you get?"
"That sounds a lot less like stupidity than caring about you, and what you had become, Ensign. Besides, isnt that what you wanted? For him to come home to Iowa and take care of you?"
But Peter was quite unmoved. "As an eight year old, yes, it was. As a teenager, yes, it was. But as I adult, I realize that hes Starfleets greatest hero. Possibly the greatest hero of them all. Im already responsible for enough grief in his life. Thinking that he should have sacrificed the most brilliant career any sentient has ever had so that I would have a few less nightmares is a sin! My weakness is not an excuse to hand the galaxy over to our enemies!"
The speaker again paused. When it resumed, Peter could tell that the modulation distortion had been increased. "You are giving Captain Kirk far too much credit. Hes a man, little different than any other. I can almost guarantee that if he had faced what you did at your age, he wouldnt be spoken of so highly in some quarters. Peterthese things take their toll. You seem to be living under the mistaken impression that your uncle is some kind of superman, who just shrugs tragedy off. Up against that, you can not hope to recover yourself. You cant even hope to try."
The prisoner shook his head. "He faced Kodos the Executioner of Tarsus Four, when he was only thirteen. He lost Granpa George, not too long thereafter. He faced Seamus Finnegan at Starfleet Academy. But where I was a quaking mass of nerves and fury, he had the strength to overcome the adversity and become a true leader of men, to make a difference in everything he does. What am I by comparison?"
The speaker was just as unrelenting as the prisoner. "You faced the Blastoneurons on Deneva when you were seven, losing not one parent but both. When you were seventeen, you faced the loss of your second home and the subsequent death of your grandmother. And I daresay, your tormentors at Starfleet Academy crossed lines that this Finnegan might have never contemplated crossinghe was never expelled from the Academy, while the ringleader of your tormentors were. And despite your best efforts at self-pity, you have made a difference to some people."
"All right, I will. Laurel McCutcheon"
Peter again looked down.
"She would be dead had you not acted to save her."
"I put her in harms way in the first place."
"But you chose to rescue her from what was certain death."
"I thought it would help me in the long run. Besides, Captain Scott was rather insistent."
The inquisitor changed tacks. "Ensign, is there a conspiracy against you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Were your tormentors at the Academy put up to their tasteless pranks by someone else?"
"No! Of course not. They were just jerks. A lot of them, it turned out, blew their grades by all the time they spent on me and ended up flunking out of the Academy. But they werent part of any higher conspiracy."
"Im glad to hear you think that. Now, apply that thought to yourself."
"But Im not paranoid," argued Peter. "Thats probably the one thing Im not. Theres no conspiracy, no group of people out to get me. Im just a jinx, and thats not being paranoid."
The speaker did not agree. "You are deluding yourself with equally safe, equally loathsome, untrue conclusions: That you are a person who chooses to not handle his problems well. That you are a jinx, controlling the destiny of those around you by your mere presence. That you must gain some visible control over your life by pushing everyone who loves you and cares about you away, perhaps out of fear borne by the fact that youve lost three of those who loved you the most. That you mistrust random fate so much that you have to commit criminal acts, just so you can witness cause and effect. Yours is a megalomaniacal delusion, Ensign. Because you need to see direct cause and effect to believe that they even exist."
The young man seemed stunned. "But I always thought that accepting that things just happen was a surrender. At least, it always was that way with Jim."
"No, Ensign. The trick in life is finding out which things are which, and to what degree. Some things can be changed. Others cant. The attitude and actions that you exhibited over Dianas can be left behind here, but their consequences will follow you for the rest of your life. ButDeneva, Tanith Brok, Starfleet Academy, Riverside while you can learn to deal with them better, you must finally accept that there was nothing you could have done. And please stop assuming that you, your uncle, or anyone else can just walk away from those kinds of things without any emotional baggage. It just doesnt happen. The badlike the goodlingers."
Peter Claudius Kirk fell silent again. But he no longer looked lost. Finally, he spoke. "Youve given me a lot to think about. Thank you. I still dont know if Im ready to leave herebut I think for the first time I might be soon. That I might want to leave. That maybe even I can learn how to move on."
"Then this session may just have been worth it."
"Sirmay I ask you a favor? Will you see my uncle anytime soon?"
"Peter, I amscheduled to talk with him, fairly soon. Is there something you want to say to him?"
The prisoner closed his eyes."Tell him what you told me. About how you cant control events? He didnt make me what I became. And he couldnt have prevented it from happening. Moreover, tell him I love himand that I am so damned sorry. Id like him to forgive me, if he can."
"I will...relay the message, Peter."
"Sir, I dont know whats gonna happen to me. I might end up blowing your good advice. Its happened before. But I want to thank you, with all my heart. Even though I whined like a spoiled brat, and tried my damnedest to push you away, you never once gave up on me. Thank you."
There was no response, and Peter Kirk was escorted back to his cell. Only then did the unseen speaker emerge from the other side of the partition. It had been touch and go for a time. On several occasions, he had to fight the urge to violate Van Gelders agreement, and run out to hug the young man. But he had not, and it could be fairly said that he had tossed Ensign Kirk no softball questions. At the cost of some stress, he had kept to his bargain.
Peters words rang out in his mind: "You never once gave up on me."
Captain James T. Kirk smiled, and looked in the file folder on his nephew at a holopic from a happier time. A boy who rarely smiled had a grin a mile wide, and so did his grandmother and his uncle. "Peter, I never once gave up on youand I never will."
Doctor Helen Noel met him. "Captain Kirk, how did it go?"
"Better than I had hoped for."
"Hes very nearly ready to leave here, you know."
"I think so, too. Thank you and Doctor Van Gelder for allowing me this opportunity."
"Youre most welcome, Captain. Ive found that this technique often serves as a catharsis for the questioner and the inmate," remarked Noel. "And we monitor the conversations closely to prevent any sort of detrimental exchange from occurring. The questions you raised today may help to end the extended childhood of your nephew."
"I just want to help him begin that slow upward climb towards his destiny."
Noel remarked, "There was so little of you in him when he arrived, Captain. But, bit by bit, we saw it emerge. So very few actually drink in the help we offer. But what if his destiny lies elsewhere?"
"Hes his own man. Hell have to find his own way. As long as that destiny is any place but here, Ill be happy for him."
Noel smiled. Her striking blue eyes met Kirks hazel ones, searching his soul almost. "Im sure you will be. Come back in three months, Captain Kirk." He extended his hand to her as they came to the turbolift leading to the surface.
And three months later, a family was reborn at last.
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