Lieutenant Peter Kirk did not know what to make of the man who had appeared without warning in Fleet Captain Chekovs ready room. The Enterprise was in orbit around Starbase 211 where the command crew was presently being questioned by Captain Gretchen Jaeger. Kirk had been the first officer questioned, and upon his release, Chekov had ordered him to take the conn until further notice.
Although two of his childhood heroes were feuding, both Pavel Chekov and Hikaru Sulu were still united in the opinion that this man they once knew and called friend had turned as cold as liquid hydrogen and as unfeeling as a lump of neutronium. This man was now part of Starfleet Intelligence, trained under the late (and somewhat infamous) Admiral Yves Gervais who was suspected of a variety of nefarious activities.
But Captain Kevin Thomas Riley had also been trained by fellow Tarsus Massacre survivor James T. Kirk. During Kirks command of the original Enterprise, Riley was a jovial sort, happy go-lucky in any duty he was assigned. Following the Serenidad Tragedy, Riley had been transferred to Starfleet Intelligence where he remained for some time as the executive officer and later the commanding officer of the Daredevil, a Starfleet interceptor used for various information gathering missions by Starfleet Intelligence. When the Kelvan War broke out, Task Force Commander James T. Kirk had recalled Riley from Intelligence and put him in command of his flagship, the U.S.S. Enterprise. But mysteriously, immediately after the war ended, Riley was gone, without a word to anyone, and was again enrolled in Starfleet Intelligence. His unbidden appearance these days was unwelcome, usually because of Rileys brooding attitude toward his friends, but also because of the dark nature of his missions.
It was this man who Peter Kirk now feared, and whose presence in Fleet Captain Chekovs ready room did not bode well for the command crew being detained on the starbase. Kirk stared at him in dismay. Riley stood before him in full uniform with the black tunic favored by Starfleet Intelligence.
"Dont look so morose, Peter. Im here to help." He flashed a boyish smile that belied his recent reputation. "Its been a long time since you were that kid in Sickbay."
Twenty-eight years earlier, Lieutenant Kevin Riley had been one of three people on board the original Enterprise who had taken pains to befriend and comfort a little boy whose world had been shattered by a tragedy of immense proportions. Peter had lost his parents, his brothers were missing, and his uncle was determined to leave him with his grandmother for safe keeping. Ironically, this had been Rileys fate as well, a coincidence that no doubt amused Fate immensely.
Erring on the side of caution, Kirk decided he could not afford to show his delight at seeing his fellow orphan once again; his duty to his commanding officer was to keep the Enterprise in safe hands until Chekov returned.
"Yeah, it has, Kevin. You were the one who taught me that the dead dont come back. That lesson helped save my sanity during the worst of it. But isnt it you thats now dead? Isnt the Kevin Riley in front of me just a hateful shell of memories with the name of a man who once befriended me?"
"A hateful shell of memories...like you grew up to be?" Riley asked. He then looked down and sighed deeply. "Sorry, kiddo, all my time with Intelligence has made me one huge asshole." His eyes met Kirks. "We only hurt the ones we love."
Despite the admonitions given by Chekov and Sulu, Kirk felt like he could approach this man. He just wasnt sure he should, or even if he wanted to, or even how. "Yes, thats true, Kevin. But that was a long time ago. Things can change. Ive changed."
The Intelligence officer nodded. "Yes, you have. Youve finally grown into the young man we all thought you would become all those years ago.
The exasperated look on Kirks face was too hard to hide. "Kevin, why are you here?"
Riley slid onto a couch, and bid Peter Kirk to sit down on the one opposite it. "To correct a problem that came up with the interviews. Commodore Alden isnt an doddering old fool. He notified me that he suspected Captain Jaeger had every intention to go beyond the scope of the inquiry we authorized, and that she had replaced his chief security officer with her own security officer. He insisted the matter be addressed immediately, and that's why I'm here."
Kirk breathed in. "Why in hell was someone who so obviously despises Fleet Captain Chekov placed in charge of this debriefing, with a personal security officer who wants to see my head on a pike?"
Riley looked at him. "Everyone gets a second chance, Peter, just like you did. Gretchen Jaeger promised us that she would conduct her interviews in such a guided way that it would make Captain Chekov review his actions against the Arog-DaM monster as having a greater consequence than he imagined possible. And Susan Howard had promised to remain objective in her dealings with you."
"That thing was a planet-killer, Kevin. If youd been out there with us, youdve seen it our way. Putting Jaeger in charge of investigating the fleet captain made no sense whatsoever, but shes going to get away with it, isnt she?"
"Hardly. There will be consequences for her inability to complete a simple assignment."
Riley leaned forward. "She will never bother you again, Peter. Ever. You have my personal guarantee on that."
Kirk felt a cold hand grip his heart. He knew what Riley had done.
"But sad to say that shes least of your worries, kiddo," the Intelligence officer continued. "You pissed off a lot of people with Dianas. You broke your oath and were in cahoots with a thief and with the Klingons. That should haunt you everyday for the rest of your life."
"It does, Kevin, more than you can imagine."
"Then theres Prothos Colony. A place where you had no friends at all, because you didnt deserve any, mark me on that. You alienated a good number of prominent scientists there, and that means your work as a science officer will always be scrutinized and questioned."
"My work stands on its own merits," Kirk argued. "My research is flawless, and my conclusions are completely justified. My study of the Arog-DaM creature is some of my finest work ever."
"And how is it being received?"
"With some skepticism," Kirk admitted.
"And lets not forget the Marseilles, either."
Kirk looked as though Riley had slapped him. "I was the good guy in that one! The crew of the Marseilles were smugglers and thieves, the kind of thing you say Ill be paying down for the rest of my career. The JAG office needed me to help bring them down, and thats just what I did."
"But a lot more people than them had their hands in that mud-pie, Peter. I mean a lot more. With some very high and mighty hands. Wereworking on it. Besides," Riley smiled, "so you really expect people to be consistent? Good God, Man! You do that, and youll go crazy."
Kirk laughed a bit, but then shook his head. "Kevin, I was a jackass at the Academy, and then I was an outcast. I was an asshole on Prothos, and a criminal at Dianas. My rule is, anyone wants to give me grief over that, Ill give them a free go once. Twice if it somehow affected them personally. Except for my coming aboard this ship and Pavels orders, I never try and hide what I did or play it down."
Riley briefly put a hand on Kirks shoulder. "Im not talking about remorse, Peter. Just consequences. Consider what I just said the grown-up version of that talk we had about death, decades back. Except this is life. We all have those skeletons. You just happen to have more, and you have the name besides. Whenever your adult career starts to remind you of the Academy, just remember that whether you have it coming or not, it will come your way. There are people to whom you cant repay enough perceived debt, and there are people who will never hear your confessions or apologies. So screw them, and where youre able deal only with those willing to have their minds be changed. Just always be cognizant that the good and the bad travel with you."
Kirk nodded. Rileys lesson was a good one. He knew he had been foolish to discount the threat posed by Susan Howard, and that people perhaps more stable but no less angry at him lay as much in his future as his past. "So how does my being a fool at times tie into Captain Jaeger asking us about everything except the space monster this debriefing was supposed to be about?"
"How indeed? I guess it was her turn. We warned her, Peter. We warned her about making this personal, and warned her about trusting a lost cause like Susan Howard with a phaser around the object of her psychotic hatred. Much like you must have been warned about the toxic attitude you took aboard the Enterprise-A."
Kirk made the connection. "If this is her Dianas, so to speak, does she get another chance, like I did?"
"Thats the funny thing, Peter. If she chooses to take it, it's hers. In some respects, she deserves it far more than you ever did. On the other hand, she came to this place after one great loss, whereas it took you many successive losses before you broke inside. A young man had to learn to ask for help before that happened. A slightly older woman has to learn not to use legitimate inquiries to prosecute personal grudges. You freely admit to having done wrong, while Im not sure that she ever will. But she will apologize, to Pavel and to all of you. She massively exceeded her mandate, and reinterpreted orders in ways that would have made your uncles eyes pop. If and when she emerges from this, all will not be forgiven. No matter the outcome, I should think that Chekov, not to mention Saavik, Vasquez, Chterr and yourself will continue to hold her in deep doubt, if not contempt. Those are the consequences and the sequence of events that she faces."
Kirk focused on one turn of phrase Riley had used. "So shell be resented the rest of her life?" He snorted. "And here I was I thinking I had all these people who wanted my head on their wall."
"Oh, you do, trust me. But just because they want your head, doesnt mean you should give it to them or let them take it. Not to mention never letting them take your dreams. I see you there, Peter. You still screw up, but you learn as fast as a warp core breaching. Keep that up, and youll win over at least some of those haters."
Riley gave Kirk a yellow data chit. "Dont view this. Pass it on to Pavel. Itll explain what Jaeger was supposed to."
"Or face the consequences?"
"Everybody does, Peter. Even Pavel may still have to learn that."
Kirk saw Riley get up to leave. "Scoot. I cant do this with witnesses."
Kirk smiled. "I guess youre the wind, right? But Kevin? I do have two last questions before you go."
Kirk actually bit down, looking afraid to voice his query. "How did my grandfather die? Its been fifty years. My grandmother, my father and my uncle all died not knowing. Please tell me what you can."
Riley made slicing motions in opposite directions with both arms. "Forget it, kiddo. Im not telling, and youre not ready. That said, I can offer this: If you knew, you would have good cause to be very angry and also very, very proud. Whats the other one, and make it quick, because dear Gretchen and I have things to settle up on."
Peter Kirk now looked even more dour and serious. Riley briefly feared that somehow the younger Kirk had learned of dark deeds involving the launch of the Enterprise-B, one year ago. But this was not to prove the case as Kirk spoke.
"Why did you go back to Intelligence after the Kelvan War?"
Riley put his head in his hands. "You know, I had sat in the center seat of the Enterprise-A for much of the Kelvan War, captain of Task Commander Kirks flagship. When the war ended, and things finally had wound down, I forgot that the Enterprise was his, not mine, until he reminded me of that fact. He offered me another interceptor." Riley looked at the floor. "I...I was so let down. Id actually commanded the Daredevil, and to suddenly be told that I could have one of her sister ships after Id busted my ass proving to that I was ready for one of the big boys, one of the Connies... Well, I left without hardly saying goodbye, a bitter wretched fool.
"I had no idea that hed actually gone to Admiral Cartwright and demanded a starship--one of the surviving Connies, in fact--for me. Cartwright had turned him down, and told him to offer me one of the interceptors. He knew it would have forced me back into Starfleet Intelligence, back in Yves Gervais back pocket. Little did I know at the time that Cartwright was in Gervais front pocket, and in many ways. Id been manipulated into returning to Intelligence, and I was a fool not to realize until years later."
Peter Kirk stared at him in shock. "They set you up."
Riley nodded. "But thats between you and me, kiddo. Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, Kelsey, none of them are to ever be told that unless I do the telling. Right now, Im not ready to tell them. Ive got a lot of work to do, and after I get this mess on 211 straightened out, Ive got to get ahold of Sulu about a few simple things."
"I appreciate your candor, Kevin."
Riley clicked a control switch on his arm. "Youll see me around, Lieutenant. I think I better keep an eye on you. But if youll excuse me? I need to exit, stage right."
Peter Kirk left the ready room, leaving Riley to depart in whatever manner he arrived.
On the bridge, Buchanan yielded the captains chair to him. "That wasnt quite two hours."
"Yeah, but I have it on good authority that well be leaving here soon. The captain should be hailing us soon, and Im glad the ship stands at full readiness to warp out. Because leaving is what he and all the others are gonna want to do very badly."
Buchanan asked a question. "Who is this good authority?"
Peter Kirk silently prayed hard that what he said next was correct. "A very old friend."
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