Chapter 1 - Small Victories in Small Skirmishes
Kirk's comm whistled to wake him for first shift on the Enterprise. He rose with less enthusiasm than usual. Starship captain was the greatest job in the galaxy but not today. Not this week.
Kirk took a deep breath and stepped into the eye of the doors and felt them swish open. He was going to win again today even if it killed him. Spock stood in the corridor, seemingly leaving his quarters at exactly the same time, again today. The Vulcan was usually up hours earlier and in the lab before reporting to the bridge.
They fell into step without a word. Kirk grabbed the turbolift handle with an intentionally light touch as an act of discipline. "Bridge."
Duty. That was all he could think about. That and the tiny bit of gratitude he experienced knowing that Spock saw fit to change his schedule to escort him at all times. Kirk was much stronger with him there. Strong enough to make it through the day.
The bridge held its breath in a collective silent stillness beyond the blip and musical whirling of equipment. Everyone sat at their stations half at attention.
"Admiral Diamond," Kirk said, greeting the gray haired man by the doors. That came out well, as if they were meeting at a country club somewhere, perhaps in a parallel universe, a universe where desk admirals didn't decide to ride along on starships for weeks at a time. A line admiral would be bad enough. This was a kind of bureaucratic hell where all meaningful action went to die.
Diamond wore his uniform like a business suit. And he stood with his hands behind his back, fingers forever fidgeting. Kirk had learned to ignore that rather than let it drive him to distraction. It had been his first major victory.
Kirk took the center chair and listened to status reports from each station. He could be in a simulator for all the emotion in the reports. It was more than Diamond's rank. It was like the crew instinctively didn't want to share the joy that was their job with the man, so they made it seem as joyless as possible. The next shore leave, should they survive that long, was going to be chaos.
Kirk hadn't meant to join in the joylessness, but to not do so would be to betray his crew. At least here on the bridge he wasn't subject to the review and second guessing he usually got in his quarters after shift. There shouldn't be much to review at all. They were on a milk run, taking equipment to Starbase 4. Fleet didn't want their precious admiral put in danger.
"Captain," Uhura said, "I'm receiving a distress call."
Kirk felt badly for how relieved this made him feel. He turned in his chair and waited for her to continue. Her gaze went far away as she listened to her earpiece.
"The U.S.S. Daedalus reports engine trouble. Expresses concern about sabotage. Requests assistance."
Spock stepped down into the command circle. "The Daedalus is currently assigned to take Federation delegates to the Orion Summit."
"Where is the Daedalus now?" Kirk asked.
Chekov looked into his scanning monitor and replied, "Just the solar axes side of the I89C system, Captain."
Uhura said, "The Lexington is closer, Captain, they are responding."
Kirk nodded, and prepared to sit back and return to blankly staring at the forward viewscreen. Spock stepped up to his station. Chekov swung his monitor away.
A voice halted everyone. "Bely that, Communications, I want to take that assignment."
"We're half a day farther away at current warp speed. Admiral." Kirk remembered to add the title, almost too late.
"The Enterprise is the flagship," Diamond said, "If Starfleet is going to escort delegates to such a powerfully symbolic event, it should have been in a Constitution class ship to begin with. By sending the Enterprise, we can remedy the initial mistake."
"By arriving half a day later, we look incompetent. Admiral," Kirk said.
"Both ships can respond, Kirk."
"Then we are not using Starfleet resources very wisely."
"The Enterprise should take the assignment," Diamond said. "Communications, put me through to Starfleet Command."
Kirk turned in his chair to face the screen in case his expression gave him away. He wasn't unhappy to be getting a change in assignment, but everything else about it grated his already raw nerves to a state of captive frenzy.
"I reserve my criticisms of your decisions for our private meetings, Kirk. If you hadn't noticed."
They were in Kirk's quarters. Diamond had brought his assistant along, a Lt. Farragut, a descendant of Admiral David Farragut who was the namesake of the U.S.S. Farragut. Kirk had dearly wanted to like her just on this count, but she was firmly the eyes and ears of Admiral Diamond, and possibly worse than him for rules and interfering.
"On my ship," Kirk paused for effect. "Input is welcome from everyone, no matter their rank. All decisions are subject to transparency. Why would people put their lives on the line for a commander if that weren't the case?"
"That's not how the command manual reads, Captain," Diamond said. His talking to a child tone made Kirk see an overlay on his vision the color of blood.
Somehow Kirk found the strength to not react. Spock would have been proud. Spock would have been here but he was helping the Daedalus diagnose their engine problems. He was being useful. Unlike Kirk, who had not been useful since the admiral had come aboard.
"That's how my command manual reads," Kirk said, so level he sounded like a recording of himself.
"That's one reason we'd like to replace commanders with computers. We have a project regarding that."
"I'm sure you do," Kirk said.
"Is that supposed to be funny, Kirk? I'm not laughing."
Kirk was starting to think that he was going to lose whether or not he maintained his composure. "No humor intended, Admiral. I am merely expressing my lack of surprise that you have such a project."
"Doctor Daystrum has promised us a prototype this budget year. Maybe we can bring it to the Enterprise for a test."
Kirk dearly wanted to say, if that's a threat, sir . . . but he simply nodded. "I look forward to it." But it came out bored. Kirk was done for the day.
"I know you don't take these attempts to improve command performance very seriously. Perhaps we'll try another time." The admiral nodded at his assistant that they should depart. "Farragut." She followed like a trained German Shepard. The realization of that resemblance made Kirk smile faintly.
They encountered Spock in the doorway.
"You'll excuse us, Commander." Diamond said in a tight voice as they passed.
When they were around the bend in the corridor, Spock turned his head slightly to one side and back. An faint head shake of disappointment, Kirk imagined.
"I tried," Kirk said. "I truly did." He switched his monitor off and sat back. "I'd give anything for a good battle with a handful of Klingon warships. Maybe I could send a tight beam transmission to Koloth and suggest he meet us along our route."
Sounding helpful, Spock said, "I do not think that is workable, Captain. We are quite a fair distance inside Federation space."
Kirk looked up to gauge Spock's seriousness, then laughed. "Thank you, Spock. Sit down. If you have some time."
Kirk could read in his expression that he did not have time, but he sat down anyway.
Kirk said, "I'd have a drink, but I need every ounce of my control right now."
Kirk laced his fingers and rested them in his lap. "You've been trying hard to keep me out of trouble. I've never spent so much time with you in one week on this entire mission."
"If you are tired of me, Captain . . ."
"I wouldn't have stolen you away from your duties and asked you to sit down if I was. But if you need to go, I can call Bones."
"I have noticed that his patience is considerably shorter than yours. And his acerbic commentary only inflames your own passions, Captain."
Kirk narrowed his eyes. "Is that why I haven't been seeing him around?"
"Did you order him to stay away from the admiral?"
Kirk frowned and leaned forward. "Spock, don't leave me in the dark about these things. I'm having enough trouble as it is." Kirk shook his head and thought back to McCoy's absence. "But it apparently took me six days to notice, right?"
"I didn't deserve to know in that case." He considered his first officer, wishing he could steal away his calm and wear it like a cloak, or a really heavy thick helmet. "Anything else you haven't told me that I might need to know?"
"The Daedalus is carrying a number of the Federation's official delegation, which includes my father."
"I'm glad to hear that, actually. He's good at diplomacy and I could use someone to help with the admiral. Is your mother with him?"
"She is visiting relatives on earth."
"I would have l liked to have seen her."
Kirk sighed and tried not to dwell on the annoyances clamoring to make him annoyed and angry again. "Fill me in. What is decided at the Orion Summit?"
"Nothing is scheduled to be decided. It is a forum for communication only."
"For colony worlds, mostly, correct? Who would sabotage the ship? Motive?"
"None that I know of. And I am not convinced that it was sabotaged. I have seen some of the sensor scans from the chief engineer."
"Get out of here, Spock. You are better put to use elsewhere."
Spock didn't move. "Are you certain, Jim?"
Kirk stared at him. Then chuckled. "What do you think I'm going to do? Pull a Macbeth on the Admiral if you aren't babysitting me?" He relented immediately. "I do appreciate your presence. You are an enormous help to my self control. But I can't in good conscious keep you tied up. Go on."
"Shall I return this evening?"
"Late game of chess? How about a round or two in the gym of that Vulcan martial arts we tried a few times? That would do me a world of good." Kirk glared at him. "If you have time, that is."
"I will make the time, Jim." At Kirk's expression of dismay, Spock said, "You are a high priority, Captain. Whether you wish to be or not."
"I suppose I am," Kirk said, equal parts grateful and annoyed.
Spock stood. "Not supposed in the least, sir. You are carrying the weight of the entire crew's expectations with regard to Admiral Diamond. That is significant. Not just in keeping him contented, but in keeping your crew together and out of trouble."
Kirk crooked his mouth into a smile. "You're learning, Spock. You might have to stop pretending you don't understand humans."
"Difficulties with authority and teamwork are universal, Captain."