Lieutenant Kirk emerged from the beam-up, and immediately looked at Transporter Chief Washington. "Chief, the instant that the Captain or any of the officers who left with us want up, get them up, no matter what tricks you have to pull."
Washington seemed offended. "I know my job, sir."
Kirk raised a calming hand. "No ones disputing that, Charlie. But things down there are a lot more complicated than we thought. The bad kind of complicated. You know how you and your ex get on?"
"Actually, Pete, we hardly get on at all."
"Well, your ex is a pure dead dream compared to Captain Chekov's, and that may only be the tip of the asteroid."
Washington nodded smilingly. "My best tricks, Mister Kirk. So whos in the center seat with all the brass downstairs?"
Kirk shrugged as he left the transporter room. "No one special."
Kirks slightly cocky look told Washington what he needed to know. "Congratulations, Mister Nobody."
Mister Nobody inwardly felt giddy indeed. His memory had briefly played back to his Academy graduation, when a large group of opinionated cadets took care to sign his yearbook, right next to his stated ambition to one day succeed his uncle James in command of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The words all conveyed the same premise: Never gonna happen. He hoped that somehow, someway, some few of them would learn of this assignment. He hoped it would be the ones whose craws it would catch in most tightly. But he didnt hope this as hard as he would have thought, and certainly not as hard as he once would have. In fact, he was now a different enough man that the entire process of remembrance and dismissal of same took all of ten seconds. Peter Kirk nowadays had only four major wishes: To not ever screw things up with Saavik, to find a sparring partner who could truly take him in an all-out fight, to gain some real cosmic-level insight into why his life had once devolved into pure chaos, and to take command of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Be careful what you wish for, Petey. For you shall surely get it.
Kirks eyes snapped open inside the turbolift. "Dad?"
But it was not the voice of the late Sam Kirk that his son heard next. "Captain on the bridge!"
Natalie Buchanan and all the junior department heads were assembled on the bridge, awaiting their very temporary CO.
"Thanks. Now everyone, belay that. Our real captain is down below, and he will return to us soon. Im fortunate to hold this seat even for five seconds, and even more fortunate to work with people who all know their jobs and need no babysitting from the likes of me. Hopefully, being under my command will not be held against you in your career path."
The little speech was nearly the verbatim inverse of a speech Plebe Cadet Kirk had given in his first Academy class, a pompous, overlong speech that had been a large part of why he became a prime target for pranks and taunts. The mature Lieutenant Peter Kirk hoped that he would achieve a similar inversion of the results of this self-deprecating speech.
Natalie Buchanan found her way next to her department chief. "Are you going to do it?"
Kirk sat down in the center seat. "Do what, Bucky?"
Buchanan pointed. "Well, the seat. It was your uncles last command. I thought youd... I dunno, hold it in reverence or something?"
Kirk signed the first of several dozen documents that day as he responded. "I would, but it wasn't my uncle's command. And believe me, I wish I were sitting here under other circumstances. But I cant afford to be overwhelmed. This ship, whether in peaceful orbit or pitched battle, needs someone in this center seat. Today, that person is me, and I need to be calm. So this seat is to me, merely a seat. No offense, Bucky, but why arent you down in Sciences? Walt Andrews has Science One."
"He does indeed, sir. In your absence, as acting chief science officer, I assigned Lisa Gatchmeinz to the department office and Walt to Science One. I've relegated myself to Science Two since, with the acting captains pardon, he needs an acting first officer. And in all honesty, with all the senior officers on Starbase 211, that would be me."
Kirk smiled. "By all means, Number One. Your first assignment: see to it that were ready to be underway on an emergency basis."
Buchanan looked about her and waited for relative privacy before responding. "Things are that bad over there?"
"Bucky, I doubt it will come to that, but just make sure. Suffice it to say that we werent called here for a briefing on the Arog-Da'M monster. Theres some old garbage stirring up down there, and I like not even a little bit of it."
"Will do, sir. But how old and bad are old and bad?"
Kirk also looked about him. "Once upon a time, one of my roommates at the Academy got a visit from his little sister. She thought I was the coolest thing ever, to have ridden aboard the original Enterprise. She made me promise her a position aboard my first command. Then, when her brother was brutally murdered, this sweet child suddenly gained a vast vocabulary of words that would make a merchant marine blush. Said words were directed at yours truly, and have been ever since."
Buchanan looked like shed caught a chill. "She was over there?" The lieutenant glanced at the massive Safe Haven-class starbase on the mainviewer.
"She's the chief of security. She attacked me down there. Add to that, Captain Jaeger asked me some interesting questions that lead me to believe this thing will not have a positive ending."
Buchanan quickly learned that the ship was indeed at or near the readiness Kirk demanded, and so was told to catch two hours rest so that a weary Kirk could do the same in the captains ready room before he fell down flat. The startling conversation he and Chekov had with Jaeger had drained him, not to mention the confrontation with Fred Howards sister. He would not abandon his post, but Chekov had also warned him of knowing his limits.
To his delight, he aptly handled what James Kirk had called the paper-less parade and gained a rhythm in passing between decisions and signature-seekers. No decision was at the Solomon-level, and no signature would decide the fate of worlds. But that was just fine with the young man living a thirty-year dream. He was handling his end, and as he had self-prophesied, the people under him knew their jobs and did them well.
His enemy, as the minutes before his brief respite wore down, was not drudgery, the burden of command, doubts or exhaustion. It wasnt even the past, which he was able to leave behind more and more each day, it seemed. No, Peter Kirks enemy was fear. A fear that his dearest friends were never going to come back from Starbase 211. That people would die, and once again he would be left behind to grieve and mourn.
Especially her. How could I live without you, Saavik-kam?
You must promise me that you would live. As I would for you.
He had not been that distracted. Yet while he had on occasion heard his dead fathers voice, Kirk was completely unaccustomed to hearing the mental voice of his very-much-living lover. A voice he knew could have been quite real. Repeated mind-melds had been known to have that effect.
For you all, I will live. See you when you get back.
Neither being consumed by that feeling nor quite putting it aside, Kirk shook off his funk just in time to be alerted by communications.
"Incoming message from Excelsior, Lieutenant. But the chief of security for Starbase 211 told us to maintain silence."
Kirk was not impressed. "Was that an order from Captain Jaeger? Did it have any authorization beyond the chief?"
Buchanan entered the bridge then.
"Take over, Bucky. Comm, pipe that message to the Captains Ready Room."
Once inside the captain's ready room, Peter Kirk used his access code plus one Chekov had given him and saw a familiar face appear onscreen.
Captain Sulu gained a look of surprise. "Peter? What the hells going on over there? I just wanted to acknowledge an orders packet I received. Wheres...wheres Fleet Captain Chekov?"
"Acknowledgment received, sir. Fleet Captain Chekov told me to expect it about now. As to the rest, Im in charge. Everyone else is on Starbase 211, answering questions from Captain Jaeger of Starfleet Intelligence. Some of the questions are rather pointed, in my personal opinion."
"Ill just bet. Look, Peter. While I wouldnt presume to give the Fleet Captain advice, I will say this: for many months before... before the start of this month... Id heard talk that Captain Jaeger was hell-bent on something to do with the Alliance. So much so that she rapidly lost all allies and friends. I dont even know how it is shes the one conducting this investigation. Please tell Fleet Captain Chekov that I told you this out of respect and concern. If this concern is untoward, tell him also I apologize."
Peter Kirk nodded at one of his childhood idols. "I will relate that, sir, should it become necessary to do so. But I trust a lot of that has become apparent to him, by now. Good luck with your mission, Captain Sulu."
Sulu seemed to take in the image on his screen before he smiled. "Thank you, Lieutenant Kirk. Sulu out."
Glad that Sulu had avoided any unpleasantries, Kirk sat on Chekovs couch and closed his eyes, hoping to get at least an hours rest in order to recharge.
He rubbed the back of his neck, and tilted his head suddenly left and right, ignoring the crackling sound in his vertebrae.
"Peter, you and me have got to talk. Some of it you really wont want to hear, but you need to."
Kirk opened his eyes with a start. Standing before him was Kevin Riley of Starfleet Intelligence, and he had repeated the exact words a young pre-teen Kirk had heard the young Lieutenant Riley use thirty years ago, when two orphans talked of one the greatest tragedies a child can suffer: the loss of one's parents.
He could only respond as he had back then. "Lets talk then, Kevin."
Kirk had seen two of his wishes fulfilled with qualifications. A third one now seemed likely to join them, and be the most off-putting of all.
Acting Captain Peter Kirk stood ready for this challenge.
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