Chapter 50 - Spock's Story
Kirk put a hand behind Spock's arm and led him back toward his quarters. "Since we've toured the ship already this morning, I need some breakfast."
Kirk took Spock to his quarters and fetched meals. When he returned, Spock had removed the uniform and sat with the white robe loosely around him. His chest had a green flush, which made Kirk warm inside his uniform. He handed Spock a plate and sat beside him with his own. He ate hungrily.
Kirk set his empty plate aside, brushed off the crumbs. He watched Spock's fastidious eating for a few minutes.
Kirk said, "Is there someone you can talk to on Vulcan? I'm worried about things you aren't willing to tell me. I'm hoping you can tell someone, even if it isn't me."
Spock stopped eating. Kirk silently kicked himself for his poor timing and took Spock's plate and set it with his own.
Kirk sat closer so their legs were touching. He took a deep breath. "Spock, what happened on Gatling Outpost?"
"I do not wish to further burden you, given your duties."
Kirk held up his hands. "Do I seem burdened at the moment?"
Kirk softened his voice. "Spock, watching you suffer without having any way to help you is much more of a burden."
He clasped his hands in his lap and leaned into Spock with his shoulder. "I know you aren't used to having someone close to you. And I understand it's personal. But if it will help you in any way to tell me, please try to."
Kirk stared at the floor a long minute. Spock shifted away from his contact, sat up straight.
Kirk sighed, spoke into the silence. "Spock. What happened to you before you made it to the Militants?"
Spock closed his eyes for long moments. He breathed in and tensed up, bit his lips.
When he did speak, his voice was quiet. "On Gatling Outpost I was met by my brother."
Kirk considered that while waiting for more. "That, on the face of it, doesn't sound terrible."
Spock started to speak, shook his head, fell still. Kirk waited again.
"When's the last time you saw him?"
"I was eight in Vulcan years." Spock's voice had gone flat.
"Why the long gap?"
"He was exiled from Vulcan."
Kirk rubbed his chin, tried to keep his heart rate in check. "Why?"
Again the recitation mode. "He has an extremely powerful mind and unmatched telepathic skills, which happens in our family every so many generations. But unlike past ancestors of such skill level, who entered the temple life and mastered their disciplines there, he uses this capability for his own personal ends. He is unscrupulous and manipulative. He was deemed dangerous and was exiled."
"Why did he pick you up? He has some connection to the Militants?"
"Some connection, yes. He manipulates them to do as he wishes when it is useful to him. He doesn't not identify with them. He simply uses them."
Kirk snapped his fingers. "Zuram knew of your relationship. He worried what you might say to your brother about the mission failure." Kirk tilted his head back. "Have I got that right?"
"I can think of no other explanation."
"So, your brother picked you up from the station. And then what?"
Spock's head bowed. He swallowed hard. "He tested me using his powers of emotional manipulation to verify that I was honest in my intentions to join the Militants. I was prepared to deceive an ordinary Outlier Vulcan. To face my brother was my worst nightmare taking shape as reality."
"Did you deceive him?"
"Apparently. My shock and terror kept him amused while I managed to collect my own disciplines, which are not Vulcan ones, but those of my own making. I was lucky in that he wanted to believe me. And he was certain he knew me to the core. I think that is the only reason I survived."
Spock steepled his fingers, gave a sigh of defeat. "When I was six, I learned to fear him. He began to practice his burgeoning skills on me. Knew every emotional weakness I had, made certain they remained weaknesses that he could use. I could not speak ill of him to anyone, certainly not our father.
"He was sent away to various strict temples several times over the next two years. The break from his presence was always overshadowed by the horror of the prospect his return. Until the authorities exiled him, and he was never mentioned again, to my great relief as a child. I wished only to forget him."
Kirk held off on touching Spock with his hands, sensing he wanted to remain aloof. "How old is your brother?"
"He is twenty seven in Vulcan years."
"So, after it was clear what he was, I'm guessing your father still wanted progeny and chose a human mate the second time to dilute the next generation's preternatural abilities. But you still have some unusual abilities, even with your mixed blood."
"Yes. Something I did not understand until my brother mocked me with the information."
"My uniqueness as a half human was merely a necessary convenience. I was born crippled intentionally."
Kirk put a hand on Spock's arm. "I think you are overreaching. But I realize that you are distressed so I won't argue the point. But do keep in mind I said so, please."
"How would you interpret it?"
"I think your parents love each other. The other selection criteria ceases to matter at that point."
"I see. I believe the human term hopeless romantic applies here."
"Well, that probably would be me." Kirk smiled weakly. "But what happened to your brother's mother?"
"She died unexpectedly."
"That doesn't sound good. And you are correct, this explains your father much better. He needs to control you. He must be smarting pretty badly at failing in that."
Spock didn't reply. Simply bowed his head.
Kirk let go of Spock's arm. "So, you spent about a month with your brother?"
Spock spoke slowly. "Yes. Constantly vigilant of any lapse in my story or my emotions. Fortunately, he was less interested in me than in impressing me. He was extremely pleased to have an audience to appall. I was a kind of stand-in for my father."
Kirk said, "I see why finally joining a Militant ship was a relief to you. And you had cachet with them, through your brother."
"I was almost entirely unquestioned. But I was quite mentally fatigued by the time I was assigned to the flagship. Fortunately, I could use that to support my story of having less than average technical knowledge."
"You succeeded in the end. But where is your brother now?"
"I do not know."
"What kind of ship does he have?"
"He travels in a converted cargo area of a Tellarite rapid courier vessel. It is heavily shielded and his hosts will sacrifice anything for him. They are emotional slaves to him."
Kirk stood up. Spock sat with his fingers uncharacteristically loose and contorted in his lap. Kirk paced from the door to the cabin to the door to the head and back. He rubbed his chin.
"I'm sorry to continue with this when I'm sure you're ready to drop it."
Kirk stopped and put his hands on Spock's shoulders. The Vulcan's smooth hair glowed blue in the overhead lights. His shoulders appeared bony and vulnerable.
"You said your brother was using the Militants. What did he use them for?"
Spock sat up a little, Kirk slid his hands down to the sides of his arms and held on as Spock went on haltingly. "He needs chaos to operate freely. If Starfleet is busy with other troubles he can more easily do as he pleases. He was encouraging the Militants to attack targets of more symbolic importance than they might otherwise have, to leave evidence of cold hearted violence, which Commander Zuram failed to understand was not in his best interest."
"Did Zuram really believe he could chase the Federation away from Vulcan?"
"If the monetary cost became too high, then logically, the Federation should disassociate itself from Vulcan. Yes."
"Boy, he doesn't understand humans." Kirk let go of Spock. "Your brother understood things would escalate."
Spock breathed in deeply. Nodded. "Despite insisting repeatedly that he does not care about Vulcan, he showed signs of desiring revenge."
"He can manipulate Vulcans and Tellarites. I assume humans too?"
"Vulcans are more difficult for him, but he enjoys the challenge of them. Humans are especially easy for him, to the point of eliciting boredom. He identifies the pain that drives them, makes it orders of magnitude worse, relieves it, then threatens to unleash it again. That is sufficient for nearly anyone to bend to his will."
Kirk stared at him. His chest had gone icy. "The hell, Spock."
Spock looked up.
"Your brother would probably like for the Federation to go to all out war with Vulcan."
Spock nodded crookedly. "Yes, I expect he would."
Kirk backed up, leaned on the pulled out desk, stared up at the overhead. He grew acutely aware of the lack of engine hum, the persistent noise of the air circulation blowers.
Kirk said, "He wants to accomplish something grand, something heinous, so he just converts a few lieutenants to the cause, followers who will execute his will. Who might even secretly want what he wants, but were kept in check by social propriety up until then. And they draw in a few more, all while appearing otherwise normal. Until suddenly madness is happening and everyone seems to be part of it, on the wrong side."
"If I may," Spock said, "I believe it is you who are overreaching now."
Kirk exhaled. Brought himself back to the present. "Does your brother ever visit earth?"
"He did not do so while I was with him. But in theory he is capable. His host ship is above suspicion the way it is licensed."
"All this time I've been suspecting the colonists of infiltrating command. Now I wonder." Kirk rubbed the back of his neck. "What kind of side effects would be observable in any given individual he's controlling?"
"Almost none besides any selective actions they would be required to take to remain in his good stead. The person in question may appear happier most of the time, having been relieved of an emotional burden. But it would depend upon how much pressure the individual was under to behave in an uncharacteristic manner."
Kirk snapped his fingers. "Commodore Stone said everything seemed fine at command at a personal level. 'Too fine,' was his quote."
"It would be most difficult for my brother to get the proper access. He is not one who blends in well with human society. Or any society."
Kirk rubbed his knuckles over his lips. "He doesn't have to get at a lot of people. Not if the Federation is already on the cusp of doing what he wants." Kirk huffed. "Here I didn't want to go to earth. Now I can't bear the wait to get there. I need to see for myself what is going on."
- 8888 -
They walked in a pack with Spock in the center. He wore his usual engineering-red uniform shirt with no insignia on it, but recognizing that took extra attention. He blended in well with the group. The base was busy and few singled them out, or when they did, it was shouted after they passed. Thanks and expressions of job well done.
In the pub, they selected a large round table next to the wall farthest from the door. Kirk put Spock on the inside seat where he didn't have to watch his back. He had no sense of what the risks might be to him here on base and preferred not to think about it and enjoy himself.
Another table was pulled up next to the first. Someone put a recorder in front of Kirk when he turned around.
"Curious what your thoughts are, Commander," said a tall man in a showy suit.
The barkeep came rushing over, waving a white towel. "No press in here. Out! Out! I call base security you come back."
They settled into seats and drinks arrived without them ordering. Kirk pushed the most colorful one to Spock.
Kirk waited for everyone to get a glass if not a seat. Raised his glass. "Everyone. Job well done."
A chorus of cheers went up. Kirk swallowed half his drink. It went down cold and bittersweet.
"Drink up," Kirk said to Spock when he didn't touch his. "Last chance, I'm afraid."
The officers and crew fell to easy conversation, retelling of the last battle, gossip about what was happening elsewhere.
Riley leaned toward Kirk. "So, we taking him home? Spock, that is."
Riley leaned across Kirk to say to Spock, "How much trouble are you going to be in?"
"I am still in trouble for my previous transgression."
"Oooooh," Riley said.
To keep his own misery at bay, Kirk said to Spock. "I did tell your father I didn't approve of the way he treated you."
"You what?" Riley said with relish.
"Did you?" Spock said.
"I did. I'd already lost the argument. Thought I'd make the best of it."
"And?" Riley said, giggling.
"Oh, he hit back. Asked if I'd been demoted yet." Kirk took a sip of his drink. "He's not one to be tussled with. And now Commodore Mendez thinks I'm a loose cannon."
The press would come in the door, record the room and be shooed out again as soon as they tried to ask questions of the crew seated at the tables closest to the door.
Riley followed Kirk's gaze to where the most recent set of reporters were arguing against their eviction, recording all the while. Riley looked between them and Spock.
"You're doing this intentionally. Making him look like crew."
"I have to keep an eye on you, Riley. You're smarter than you let on."
"Uh oh," Riley said, "I think they're interviewing Glissen outside."
Kirk finished his drink. "She can handle herself. They freed the crew of the Sanchez and she can brag about that for as long as they'll listen. Let me know if she looks like she wants rescue."
"How will I know?"
"She'll glance over here looking like she hopes someone will interrupt."
"Right. Need another?" Riley asked.
"One at a time, sir. You'll get there."
Riley turned to signal the barkeep and Kirk squeezed Spock's arm. He was feeling increasingly desolate. He let go before Riley turned back.
"You aren't drinking, Spock," Kirk said.
Spock took a sip, appeared to have trouble swallowing.
Kirk gave him a pained smile. Speaking too low for human ears, Kirk said, "I'm going to miss you."
"Really miss me?" Spock quoted Kirk from the first time they parted. His gaze had taken on a coy glitter.
Kirk bent over his nearly empty drink. He felt hot and tingly and distressingly amused. "Don't do that to me."
Spock raised a brow, and bent to sip his drink again. Riley slipped Kirk a fresh drink. Kirk sucked down half of it through the straw.
Riley said, "I think Glissen needs rescue. Sorry sir. Want me to go?"
"No, I will."
Kirk climbed up on his chair to get out of the crowd. He stepped across two other chairs to get to the edge of the group and landed lightly on the floor.
Glissen was glancing back as Kirk exited the bar into the wide main corridor of the starbase.
The press converged, asking questions. Kirk listened to them, gauging how much was leaked by what was asked. Less than he feared. He heard nothing about the virus and only vague questions about the confusion at Starfleet Command.
He picked out a question that was close to what he wanted to say.
"You asked if I think the war is really over. I think it's more important to ask where we're going next because that determines the answer to your question." Beside him, Glissen stepped back, assumed a parade rest pose just behind his left shoulder. Kirk went on, "The Federation is a big place, with lots of different peoples in it. We have to make sure people with grievances can't get the support of their fellow citizens to use violence to get their point across. We need to marginalize that option.
"And the Federation needs to pay more attention to its periphery. We have a lot of far-flung worlds in our family now. Their needs have grown faster than our systems have for addressing those needs. We need to make sure everyone feels included, even at the cost of our own pride. The core of the Federation assumed that Starfleet can always protect it, and that we don't have to go out of our way to address what's happening at the edges, but like all societies, how we treat those on the periphery, how we bring them into the family, defines who we are."
Kirk glanced back into the bar. His crew were hunched over drinks, leaning into conversations, kicked back and laughing. Spock felt his attention and raised his head. His eyes was intensely affectionate, even though it didn't show on his expression.
Kirk turned back to the press who had started asking questions again. Someone asked what he thought Starfleet could do better.
"Everyone needs to navel gaze," Kirk said. "There are no exceptions to that. We can get beyond this war and come out stronger than we were, tested and proven that we are truly a Federation. We can do that by finding our common humanity and moving forward."
END OF PART 1 - CONTINUED IN PART 2: Kirk's War