Chapter 16 - Life Wouldn't Be the Same Without Trials

The seating area behind the rail was surprisingly quiet for how full it was. Commodore Ramos pinned Kirk with the same curious and anticipatory look the press wore. He opened the hearing with a bang of his gavel.

Kirk exuded confidence from his seat on the panel between Admiral Diamond and Yeoman Rand. Spock sat beside Areel Shaw at the table in the council area along with Wong, the ship's personnel officer. A truth tester was slid along the panel table and everyone identified themselves. Beyond Ramos sat the base records and protocol officers.

Ramos spread his hands as he spoke. "This is an informational hearing in preparation for a disciplinary hearing that is scheduled tomorrow. That hearing is closed," he added pointedly, glaring at the back of the room where press were kneeling in the aisles.

Diamond turned to Kirk, gaze studious. One way or the other, this would be over with today, and at the moment, that was enough to propel Kirk forward with confidence.

Diamond reached over and pressed and held the privacy button on Kirk's mic stand.

"Your bed, Kirk, time to lie in it."

Unlike Diamond, Kirk touched his nose with his knuckle to shield his lips as he replied. Sound cancellation wouldn't stop anyone reading lips. "I'm comfortable here. How are you, Admiral?"

Areel pushed to her feet and came around the table to stand before Diamond.

"Admiral, you were posted to the USS Enterprise, correct?"

"That's established fact, Lt. Shaw."

"I'm making sure we are all on the same page, Admiral. Why were you posted to the Enterprise?"

"It is the flagship of the fleet."

Areel looked to Kirk, who explained, "Even though we use that term still, it is merely an honorific. It no longer holds the same meaning it did in old earth navies. You could have been posted to any ship."

"Commodore Stone suggested the Enterprise."

Areel said, "What I am getting at is, there wasn't a particular problem Starfleet Command was addressing by posting you to the Enterprise, correct?"

"No. No particular problem. That we knew of."

Kirk watched her resist slapping him down for going beyond the question, but she couldn't in this venue.

"All ships have some problems, correct?" Areel said loftily.

"Yes. I expect they do," Diamond replied. "It would have to be run by machines rather than beings to avoid problems."

"Even then," Areel said. "Even then, there would be issues. Machines are not flawless. But back to the topic at hand. When you first arrived on the Enterprise, did you find any problems?"

"Not really."

Kirk turned. He'd heard nothing but criticism from the very first day Diamond was on board.

"There were minor details. Minor inefficiencies. All in all, a ship with good morale and relatively good discipline."

Areel said, "Do you wish to say something, Captain Kirk?"

"I didn't get the impression, Admiral, that you were pleased with anything on my ship."

There was a tittering from somewhere in the room.

"I wasn't there to be your friend, Kirk. I was there to review."

Kirk breathed in slowly. "There is such a thing as feedback, sir. Absent emotional implication."

They stared each other down. Diamond looked away first. A few members of the press were smiling faintly in amusement.

"Are you going to ask me about later in my visit to the Enterprise?" Diamond said to Areel.

Kirk drew in his lips, hoping the admiral continued to believe he needed to wait for a question to speak his mind.

Areel said reassuringly. "We'll get to that, Admiral. I have a few more facts to establish."

"I fail to understand why Kirk's council is asking the questions." Diamond directed this at Ramos.

"I can do so instead, if you prefer," the commodore said. "So far she is asking the same things I would."

"I would prefer you run the hearing, Commodore."

Areel took her seat beside Spock, who glowed in his shiny dress blues.

Ramos said, "Admiral, when you requested I organize a disciplinary hearing, you brought evidence to me obtained from the ship's computer, correct?"

Diamond's face took on a satisfied edge. "That's correct."

"Did you personally obtain this, or did your assistant?"

"My assistant did."

Ramos went on, "Of the two most damning sources, one was classified as research data, which is fine, but the other was recorded in a private area of the ship for which only command authorization would allow access. I'm curious, did you allow your assistant to utilize your authorization? How much oversight did you provide for this process?"

Diamond gave Kirk a sharp glare. Kirk shrugged. He didn't expect this from Ramos.

"See," Ramos said, "You should have let Captain Kirk's council continue with the questions."

Diamond said, "The gym isn't generally a private area on this class of vessel."

Kirk said, "It is on the Enterprise."

"How was I to know that?"

"You don't need to know that." Kirk put up a hand to forestall Spock standing up, which he looked ready to do. Kirk went on, "The computer knows it. That's why the question of the level of authorization was raised."

Diamond looked around the crowd as if seeking a particular face, then composed himself. "It can be a problem with assistants with which one works closely, trying to keep tabs on authentication and who is using what."

Kirk reached over for Diamond's privacy button, covered the side of his mouth and said, "Especially when your assistant has a sealed sociopathy profile. Let me guess, that name has so much influence that she keeps slipping through the cracks."

An inkling of doubt appeared at the corners of Diamond's eyes. Kirk sat back.

Diamond spoke so the entire room could hear, "That's not the only piece of evidence. And I do have eyes. Captain."

Casually, Kirk said, "No, it's not. But we did need to know the details. We're trying to figure out what happened."

A few reporters were whispering to each other. None of the photos had leaked. It made Kirk's stomach flip to imagine it.

"I'm not the one under investigation, Kirk," Diamond snapped.

"But you do have information," Kirk said.

Ramos said, "Lt. Shaw, would you like to continue?"

Admiral Diamond said, "I think the Captain should answer a few of my questions."

Kirk gestured, palm up, that he should go ahead.

Diamond hesitated, but when he spoke it was forceful. "You are a young captain, Kirk."

"True."

"You don't have the full years of experience your peers would have."

Kirk made a thoughtful face and nodded. "Youth generally coincides with less experience, yes. I have three years and two months experience as a captain, Admiral."

"You treat your senior officers, especially your executive officer, with surprising laxity. I believe that is a symptom of your inexperience."

"My senior officers are each captains of their own departments. If I interfere, rather than lead and support them, we end up with the situation you and I were faced with." Kirk leaned closer to his mic. "That's not a ship I'd want to serve on for five years."

Diamond struggled again to find words. Kirk imagined him working out how to say what he really wanted to, in a way that wouldn't embarrass Starfleet in full public view. Kirk carefully kept all gloating out of his expression.

Diamond said, "If you are too close to your officers you will be unable to command them impartially. It is a bigger risk than you apprehend."

"You are suggesting, Admiral, that if I am best friends with my XO, that I will not be able to send him into danger?" Kirk turned to the council table. "Ensign Wong, how many times in the last year have I ordered First Officer Spock into a situation with clear potentially fatal consequences?"

Wong stood up. "My review of the records indicates between eight and eleven times, Captain. Some fatal dangers were not apparent at the beginning of the mission that were apparent later, and I did not know how to properly account for that." She sat back down.

Diamond looked Kirk over, brows together. "How can you do that? How can you send a lo- your best friend to his death?"

"I have an entire ship I'm responsible for, Admiral. I frequently have other lives in the balance as well. I must use my most appropriate personnel if the mission or other lives are on the line."

Diamond sat straighter, adjusted himself in his seat. "Nevertheless, there are other forms of bias, favoritism for example, that can damage working relationships across the entire crew."

Kirk turned to his right. "Yeoman Rand, I know from experience that you are an impartial critic of my managerial style." As a few chuckles rounded the room, Kirk waved for the truth teller to be slid down the table. He pushed it to rest beside her hand. "With the computer determining the veracity of your statements, Yeoman, answer a few questions if you will."

Rand placed one elegant hand over the light.

Kirk said, "Have you ever observed me favoring one crewmember over another when making command decisions?"

"No sir."

"That's opinion," Diamond said. "Not facts. How about we ask a real question? In the course of your duties, Rand, have you ever observed Captain Kirk doing anything improper?"

Rand glanced at Kirk.

"Answer the question, Rand," Diamond said impatiently.

"Well, the captain does sometimes sneak a dessert even when it is not on his meal card."

There were chuckles from beyond the rail.

Rand added to Kirk, "I'm sure you think you are getting away with it, sir."

"This is ridiculous," Diamond said. "That can't be the only improper thing, Yeoman."

"Absent the bad aftereffects of a transporter accident, yes, it is."

The device chimed that this was true.

Kirk said, "You've questioned my yeoman at length already, Admiral."

"Not with that device available."

Kirk said, "Yeoman, the other day you asked me what you should say to the admiral when questioned, and what did I tell you?"

"You told me I should tell him what I know. That I have no reason to lie."

The device chimed.

Diamond sent a look of suspicion at Spock. Kirk sat forward in a vain effort to get into the admiral's field of view. Questions about Spock's use of his telepathy would sink them, utterly.

Kirk said, "Admiral, may I ask why you are trying so hard to find something you can sanction? Every ship, whether it's referred to as a flagship or not, is going to have issues. Dig hard enough and you will find all kinds of things. What matters is how that ship performs. Every intelligent species in this galaxy is flawed. When we work in a group we can accomplish great things, but those flaws are still there. Yes, processes and rules protect us from many of those flaws. But whether a ship follows them to the letter isn't how you measure success."

Kirk pointed at his own palm. "It's whether the spirit of doing the right thing pervades the culture of that ship."

Diamond had crossed his arms through this speech. "You've lost perspective, Kirk. Three years in deep space will do that to you. What are you holding up to measure this 'culture' with? Adherence to rules we can measure is what counts, so we know how that ship is doing, not relative to some warped ideal it has about itself, but relative to absolute metrics, which are much more resilient."

Kirk leaned forward to look down the table at Ramos with an expression of 'I told you so.'

Kirk sat back and tried again, "I'm not suggesting we throw the rule book out."

"Are you sure you aren't? Or only for you when it suits you?"

Kirk became sharp. "You said yourself that discipline and morale were good when you arrived on board. I repeat my question. Why are you trying so hard to find something?"

"I wasn't 'trying so hard,' Captain."

Kirk pulled the truth teller out from under Rand's hand and pushed it to the Admiral.

Diamond kept his arms crossed. "I'm not the one under investigation, Kirk. And the whys don't matter."

Kirk said, "Given that you will always find problems if you look long enough, I submit that the whys matter a great deal."

Diamond leaned forward and poked at the table. "What matters is what I observed."

You raise; I call and raise. "What did you observe?" Kirk asked.

The area beyond the rail quieted.

Diamond put his hand down on the light of the truth teller. "I observed you in an improper relationship with one of your officers."

The device chimed.

Kirk paused, staring him down. "Are you one hundred percent certain?"

Diamond glanced down at his hand. He didn't answer. But he didn't remove his hand.

Kirk stood, went around the table, and stepped down off the dais, approaching Spock, but stopping before he reached the council table.

He turned to the admiral and said, "You know what I believe, Admiral. I believe that your issue isn't with me. It's with my officer."

"That's ridiculous."

The device didn't render a decision on that. Kirk approached the front side of the table, glanced pointedly at the device, then up at the admiral.

Kirk said, "Mr. Spock, approach."

Spock rose and came forward, standing with hands behind his back, brow raised.

Kirk said, "Do you know how that device works, Admiral? The one you have your hand on."

Diamond's hand twitched but stayed put.

Kirk looked over to Ramos. "Can we get a computer readout, Commodore?"

Ramos appeared puzzled but he gestured at the records' officer.

The computer voice stated, "Pulse rate elevated, skin conductivity elevated, stress enzyme productivity elevated."

Diamond removed his hand.

Kirk propped his arm on the high table and muted Diamond's mic. "Classic fear response, Admiral." He let that sink in. "I'm going to roast you alive on this. I don't know what you have against my officer, but it-"

"Captain," Spock said. He stepped to Kirk's other side, facing away from the gallery. "This is unduly divisive."

Kirk started. Spock was derailing his playing his ace. He tilted his head, considered what to say to Spock, or what other tactic he might use.

There was movement by the doors to the hearing room.

Spock said directly in Kirk's ear, "Do not react to what is about to happen."

The crowd shuffled around to make space where there wasn't any and three figures, one with a tall crook, made their way forward.

Kirk released the mic button. He resisted glancing at faces to gauge what was happening and waited beside Spock.

T'Pau and two young male figures in headgear and elaborate robes stepped to the railing. Commodore Ramos stood up. The protocol officer hurried down to swing the railing aside.

"Your presence is an honor," Ramos said.

T'Pau's assistants remained at the rail, standing at attention. T'Pau stopped before Ramos and gave him a nod. She shuffled down the table. Spock raised his hand and greeted her. Kirk mirrored him, using the only Vulcan words he knew. She returned the greeting and took up her crook with both hands to approach closer.

She split the two of them apart as she stepped up to the table before Diamond. Passing each of them, she said in Standard, "Grandson Spock, Son James."

Kirk didn't react, except his arm muscles jumped beneath his uniform.

T'Pau faced the table, elderly gaze dark and piercing.

"Admiral Davut Aslan Diamond, I wish to speak to you."

"Apparently." Diamond interlocked his fingers and placed them before himself on the table.

T'Pau said, "I hear grand words from your Federation, Admiral. Often. Grand words about how there are not really separate peoples in the galaxy, there are just planets and places. Grand words involving communication and understanding. I'm sure you yourself have used these words?"

She tilted her head and glared at him from under her significant eyebrows.

"Yes, I suppose that I have."

"It is a mantra with humans, I have found. One you hope to make true by repeating it. Not by working for it."

"We work for it," Diamond said. "They are explicitly part of Starfleet's mission." He waved to indicate the room and the base beyond. "Contact. Research. Understanding."

"Perhaps you can explain to me how this mission has been lost even between our two nearby worlds of earth and Vulcan? The heart of the Federation."

"I didn't think it had been—"

"We have very little true understanding, Admiral. We have nothing solid to build upon. We have superficialities. And why? Because more than words are required to truly understand."

She turned to look at the room. The press was fully attentive, hovercams hovering.

"Vulcans think humans are weak and cannot truly achieve greatness despite copious evidence of it. Humans believe Vulcans to be soulless and poor allies in a dangerous galaxy. Why do these beliefs persist? Because you are fighting superficial ideas with mere words. They must be overcome with exposure. Direct, close, exposure."

Diamond lost some of the aggressive posture in his shoulders.

T'Pau turned back to Diamond and went on. "Like most humans, you have no understanding of the duel nature of Vulcan life. We are not soulless. We eschew emotion when it will interfere with maintaining a peaceful society. This control exacts a toll upon every individual Vulcan. What humans perceive is only the outward face of that control. They do not see how close Vulcans are within their clans. Vulcans are fiercely protective. Trusting. Caring. And more intimate than you can conceive of with those in their families."

Her voice began to fail. She gathered herself and added, "In truth, these things: trust and care define us. But this is something, of course, you cannot know, because you are not family to a Vulcan."

T'Pau tilted her head and waited for a response.

Diamond said, "I'm not certain why this is relevant."

T'Pau leaned more heavily on her crook. "If that is the case, perhaps this is hopeless." She considered him at length. "You are not looking beyond the superficialities, Admiral Diamond."

She shuffled back to bring Kirk and Spock into a broader circle. "Here before you, you have a rare two who fully conceive of the true depth of both human and Vulcan experience. Even more optimally, they are highly placed within your organization. Instead of utilizing this, you seek to punish it."

"We have rules," Diamond said.

"And wisely so. But you are applying a mistaken understanding to the evidence of your human senses. You cannot grasp that there can be great intimacy without a violation of those rules, because you do not understand the nature of a Vulcan family. You are bringing to bear uninformed assumptions. But if you instead bring to bear your grand words, perhaps you will see things differently."

Diamond took that in while he studied the three of them.

"Captain." Diamond's voice jarred Kirk out of his reverie.

The admiral sounded vulnerable. Kirk thought Farragut might be right: he hadn't willingly watched a hero die.

Diamond cleared his throat. "Is this an accurate assessment of the situation?"

Kirk drew himself up and replied with his best crisp gentleness. "Yes, sir. It is."

Diamond spent a moment looking at each of them. "I'm glad to hear that. Commodore Ramos, we can cancel tomorrow's disciplinary hearing in that case."

"Thank the Great Bird. This informational hearing is also concluded." Ramos banged his gavel and stood up.

Diamond stood with an air of one hoping to flee to somewhere peaceful, but he ran into a wall of questions and hovercams as he arrived at the rail. Ramos came up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder and answered the first question for him.

With the help of the protocol officer, Sarek came beyond the railing and greeted T'Pau.

In Standard, he said, "I apologize for the inconvenience, Mother."

"It was a good opportunity to speak, even though words alone only accomplish so much."

"Thank you," Kirk said. "Your assistance was just in time."

She turned to him. "You must visit soon, Son James."

Kirk was proud of how tightly he controlled his reaction. "At the first opportunity."

Sarek said to T'Pau, "You have managed the fallout within the clan?"

"They too needed to be shaken out of their sanguinity. It isn't just the humans who are the problem." Her eyes were still fiery but her back bent more than before. "But I have need to return to my ship."

Her young escorts came forward. Formal farewells were exchanged and T'Pau and her retinue waded through the press scrum without pausing. Sarek got caught up near the door.

The room gradually thinned out. From the safety of the empty hearing room floor, Kirk watched the the admiral and commodore answering questions.

"I take it there isn't a back door?"

"Not that I am aware of."

Kirk turned his back on the crowd and faced Spock. "Explain to me what just happened."

"In order to rectify our relationship according to our clan traditions, T'Pau adopted you."

"That. Is the craziest thing I have ever heard." He stared at Spock and received only a calmly informational expression in return. "How symbolic or real is this?"

"As little or as much as your response indicates."

"I haven't responded." Kirk froze. "Have I responded?"

"You have not."

Kirk rocked back on his heels. "You are going to have to help me with this."

"I shall be pleased to do so."

"I was getting all kinds of strange signals from your father, from Sunap. At least that all makes sense now."

"Indeed."

Kirk glanced over his shoulder to check that the crowd was still at bay. He dropped his voice. "And how are you doing?"

"I am well enough . . ."

"Jim," Kirk finished for him.

Spock nodded. "Jim."

"Brother."

"Cousin."

Kirk made a face. "Uncle. I think."

"That is a considerably less intimate term. Cousin is more appropriate."

Kirk let some of the fondness he was feeling out through his voice. "I'm honored either way."

Spock nodded solemnly.

Kirk stood beside him again and watched the press adjusting hovercams, talking into communicators, or just leaning on the railing.

"They are going to wait us out, aren't they?"

"It appears so."

"Can you hear what's being said?"

"Indeed. There is a great deal of talk about T'Pau's speech. There are a few requests to release the evidence."

"Without a hearing there is no reason to." Kirk tried not to shudder. "Although my reputation would probably go up."

They stood in silence.

Kirk said, "Oh, by the way, Mr. Spock, I hope you noticed we don't have a disciplinary hearing. As promised."

Spock's voice was dry as he replied, "I did note that."

"We still have a few things to work out," Kirk said. He breathed in, held it, breathed out. "My trust in you shouldn't be so fragile."

"It is I who was out of line, Captain. I regret that deeply."

"We both were. I overreacted."

"Your reaction was logical."

Kirk laughed. "My reaction was purely emotional."

This time Spock turned his back to the crowd and leaned close. "May I inquire, Jim, if your trust in me has returned?"

Kirk considered this at length. Based on T'Pau's words, Spock was asking something more.

"You deserve honesty." Kirk lowered his voice, hesitated. "I understand you did what you needed to do at the time. I understand now, that you were . . . acting on a different kind of logic. And I'm touched that you have that instinct for me. But I don't want to be protected from myself quite that much. Especially without my knowledge."

Spock dropped his gaze and nodded, face stern. "I understand."

Kirk felt like he'd swallowed lead. "Spock. I need more time to let it go completely. It's the shock of it. I rely on you, dammit."

Kirk wanted to reach out a hand, but held back. He shook his head. "If I was, right now, going to place my life in anyone's hands, I'd want them to be yours. I'd do so without hesitation, no matter what was happening. So, I do trust you, one-hundred percent. I know, to the very depths of my soul, that you won't make that mistake again." He sighed. "It depends on what side I approach the question from. My pride is pretty argumentative. And you hit me on several fronts with that revelation, including my pride in knowing what you were capable of."

Expressionless, Spock nodded again and began to turn away.

Kirk balled his hand up and raised it to halt him without grasping him.

"You are my family, Spock"

Spock turned back to him. Eyes questioning. The vulnerability in the depths of them scared Kirk.

Kirk gave in and hooked his arm around Spock's neck for a quick one-armed hug. Spock bent easily with the force of it rather than remain stiff.

Kirk said. "Please don't doubt it. I know that's only words. But it's true."

Beyond the rail they were getting far more attention. Kirk released him, held Spock's upper arms and considered him with affection.

Kirk put on his best patented smirk. "Now that we've given them that, shall we run the gauntlet?"

"If you lead the way, Captain. I will have your back."

"That. Isn't. Of any help in this situation, First Officer."

The hovercams had floated into a row and anticipation filled the faces turned their way.

Kirk set his face and filled his chest. "Beyond that lies my ship. My ship. All mine."

Kirk turned to Spock with a soft smile. "Ours."


FINI

A/N: The memory modification incident mentioned is from the episode Requiem for Methuselah.


Working on a sequel. I have this old, ancient even, story idea from high school that I think will fit into the sequel. This makes me inordinately happy. Just have to make it humorous.