"The Photogenic Captain" by R. J. Anderson
"The Photogenic Captain"
by R. J. Anderson 1994


The young man stared at the face in his cabin mirror with inexpressible loathing. He knew for a fact that the self-hatred in those round blue eyes was inexpressible, because he had spent the last hour trying to put it into words. Trying, and failing. Was there anything he'd ever done that hadn't been a failure?

He glared at his pale, strained face a moment longer, then turned impatiently away. He would just have to record his personal log later. Right now he simply couldn't think straight: every nerve in his body hummed with tension, and the worst headache he'd ever known was knocking at his brain.

Well, he wouldn't fight it. He deserved pain--every kind of pain. Because James Tiberius Kirk, the hero, the legend, was dead.

And it was his fault.

"It's no' yuir fault, laddie," Captain Scott had protested, gazing out into space as though he could see, by the light of those stars, his friend's body tumbling into the infinite. His blunt face had fallen into grim lines, and his eyes glittered with unshed tears. "Ye did yuir best. As ye said, the ship was no' ready 'till Tuesday."

John Harriman found that cold comfort. It had been plain enough that Commander Chekov, at least, knew better, for he had offered no such encouraging words. Instead, after a moment of staring in stunned silence at the yawning hole in the Enterprise's hull, he had made an abrupt turn and left. Harriman had not seen him since, and he was coward enough to be glad of it.

The media had been the worst. In fact, in his wilder moments, he blamed the whole thing on the media. How was any captain supposed to keep a clear head in a crisis with a horde of scribbling journalists and a holo-camera practically up his nose? As if having Kirk on the ship hadn't been intimidating enough--

No. That was nonsense. He was making excuses again, and there was no excuse for a failure so monumental, so appalling, as his. The media would have him for breakfast. Every moment of his shame, every stammering idiocy, every lame attempt to justify his own incompetence as a captain, had been faithfully recorded. And when at last he'd dragged himself back up to the bridge to break the news of Captain Kirk's death, there could be no doubt in the minds of those reporters, or their millions of attentive viewers, who was to blame.

What did it mean now that he'd been Starfleet's brightest young star? What did it mean that they'd called him photogenic, charismatic, an ideal media foil to launch the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B? What good were those things, if that was all he really was? Because the sudden crisis that inspired Kirk's last great act of heroism had reduced John Harriman to quivering neurotic jelly. There could be no doubt in anyone's mind, least of all Harriman's own, who was the better captain-- indeed the better man.

Well, it was all over now. The Enterprise had made her way safely home to spacedock, and already the hull swarmed with repair units. The dazed and injured El Aurians from the ship they'd rescued were being cared for by the best medical personnel, and the media, still squawking like a flock of indignant geese, had been shooed back to Earth. All he had to worry about now was the inevitable court-martial.

Harriman took a deep breath, passed a hand over his sleek dark hair. Automatically he tugged at his collar to straighten it, smoothed down the wrinkles in his red Starfleet uniform. The respite, such as it was, was over. Now he had to face his crew.

They'd forgive him, he knew. They'd sympathize with his distress, rally around him in this time of need. But it wasn't their compassion he wanted. He wanted their respect. And that, he was quite sure, he'd already lost forever--assuming he'd ever had it to begin with.

"Don't talk rubbish," snapped a voice in his mind. "You did the best you could. Better men than you have gone to pieces in a crisis. Even James T. Kirk made his share of mistakes, I'll warrant, and you'll make a good many more before all's done, so live with it."

That was Gillian, all right. Exactly what she would have said, if she'd been here. A sudden, ferocious longing swept through him, leaving him light-headed and drained. If only she were here! Then he could tell her exactly what to do with her tart remarks. There was no one like Gill for curing him of melancholy--probably because she did it by making him furious at her instead.

Harriman glanced at his chronometer. If he waited a couple of hours to call her, the time differential would ensure his message came through at about 0200 hours London time. He'd be sure to catch her in the middle of REM sleep, and she'd give him the tongue-lashing of his life. The thought cheered him obscurely. Even if everyone in Starfleet decided to be noble and compassionate to the poor befuddled captain, at least one person would treat him with the contempt he deserved.

He drew in another deep breath, released it in a sigh. Then with the crisp, authoritative movements of some other, far more confident man, he left his cabin and strode toward the transporter room.

***

"Court-martial?" asked Admiral Tomoyo Ishiguro, blinking her surprise at the stone-faced young man standing before her. "Who says you're up for a court-martial?"

John Harriman stared resolutely at the framed scroll hanging above her head. There, among the delicate Japanese script, his eye caught a little pen-and-ink sketch of a tabby cat, eyes closed and paws tucked in, the epitome of feline contentment. Harriman wanted to grab it and ask what right it had to be happy, but he settled for glaring at it instead.

"Do you like it?" Ishiguro asked, misinterpreting his interest. She swivelled in her chair to regard the scroll with evident pride. "It's from the Edo period. Eighteenth century. The artist was one of my ancestors." She turned back, dark brows arching in peaceable inquiry. "Now. What's troubling you, Captain? I've not called for a court-martial, nor has anyone else. Nor will they, I strongly suspect. There's no basis for any such accusation against you."

"I--" began Harriman, but she waved him silent and went on:

"With an inexperienced crew, a bridge full of reporters, and a ship unprepared for any more than the briefest pleasure cruise, you managed to rescue forty-seven people who, without your intervention, would surely have died."

"Captain Kirk rescued them," insisted Harriman with something like desperation. "I had nothing to do with it."

"It was your ship, and you were wise enough to take advice from an experienced officer. I see no evidence that you did anything contrary to Starfleet regulations. Heavy casualties notwithstanding, the mission was a success. Unless you want to tell me that energy ribbon was some eighth-grade Science Fair project of yours gone mad, or that you had access to equipment that could have saved both ships intact, I find no cause to blame you for any of those three hundred and seventy deaths." She leaned her elbows on the desk, steepled her fingers and regarded him with solemn, almond-shaped eyes. "Feel better now?"

"But Kirk--"

"Kirk of all people would know the risk he was taking when he went down there, and he certainly would never reprimand you for staying where you belonged--on the bridge." Ishiguro pushed her chair back with a little sigh. "His death is surely a loss to Starfleet, but he'd retired anyway. I'd have liked to see him teaching at the Academy, but--" She spread her hands in a gesture of resignation. "Think of it this way. He died a hero. Don't you think he'd have preferred that to withering away in a rest home?"

Harriman was silent.

"Learn from Kirk's example, John," said the Admiral gently. "Treasure his memory. But don't let him haunt you for the rest of your life. You're too fine a captain to go off your head with guilt, which is precisely what's going to happen if you let this thing eat at you any more. And that really will be your fault."

"Am I?" demanded Harriman, tearing his eyes from the scroll with an effort to meet Ishiguro's dark, compassionate gaze. "Am I that fine of a captain? Or am I just--" his mouth twisted-- "photogenic?"

Ishiguro surprised him with an indelicate snort. "You flatter yourself. Or someone other fool does. If Starfleet wanted a pretty figurehead to take the media for a ride, there are a hundred more impressive candidates. No, captain. I'm afraid you've earned your rank, and if you can't remember how, I suggest you review your own service record." She stood up, extended a hand to him dismissively. "Good night, Captain Harriman. Get some sleep."

John gripped her hand without enthusiasm, then turned and left. As the double glass doors of Ishiguro's office hissed shut behind him, he gazed first one way, then the other down the red-carpeted corridor, unsure of where to go next. He'd find a grim lot in the officers' mess, he knew, but they were probably expecting him to show up. On the other hand, his quarters weren't far away, and Ishiguro had told him to get some rest.

He was too tired, too uncertain of his own judgment, to choose for himself. Instead he pulled a token out of his pocket, turned it over in his hand. It had been coined as a commemorative of the day's launch: the original Enterprise ("Not bloody A," intoned Captain Scott's voice scornfully in his mind) marked one side, the Enterprise-B the other.

What would Kirk have done? Gone to the officers' mess, Harriman suspected, and rallied his crew. Problem was, Harriman also suspected that if he tried to follow Kirk's example, his crew would wind up rallying him. And that, right now, was more than he could take. He flipped the coin in the air, caught it, slapped it down on his forearm. With some trepidation he lifted his hand and gazed at the glittering token beneath. It was the Enterprise-B. HisEnterprise.

With a relief he did not trouble to conceal, Harriman turned toward his quarters.

***

Lights dimmed, uniform abandoned, a freshly poured brandy in hand, John Harriman leaned back on the sofa and listened to the computer's bland, dispassionate voice reciting his accomplishments. "2284: Graduated with honours from Starfleet Academy. Promoted to Ensign. Assigned to the U.S.S. Gallant. 2286: Received special commendation from Captain Thadio Jalor for distinguished service during the Eridani-V incident. Promoted to Lieutenant."

The Eridani-V incident. He hadn't thought about that one in a long time. The Gallant had been ferrying a couple of Vulcan scientists, a Dr. Sevok and his mate T'Pryn, to the mining colony on that planet. The mission had seemed so routine that Harriman remembered complaining about it. When they arrived, however, they found the place swarming with Orion pirates, and suddenly the situation was a bit too exciting for even a young ensign's taste.

Xelgild, the powdery by-product of the xelanium mining process, was a rare and valuable narcotic, and the Orions were ready to kill the miners in order to get it. While Captain Jalor distracted the Orions' leader with negotiations for the hostages' release, an away team of five, Harriman included, secretly beamed down to the caverns below the colony.

Sneaking through the tunnels, they'd found the miners' holding cell, surprised and overpowered the guards, and released all the prisoners. As they were leading the hostages away to the beam-out site, however, a wild-eyed Orion, flying high on Xelgild and armed with a formidable disruptor, leaped out into their path.

In that tension-charged moment it was Harriman who stepped, unarmed, into the pirate's line of fire and began talking him into a surrender. Meanwhile the other four members of the away team, taking advantage of the distraction, redirected the hostages into a side tunnel. Just as the Orion tired of Harriman's soothing prattle and was about to blow him into his component molecules, Lieutenant Dzinga, who had won every marksmanship award Starfleet Academy could offer, took out the pirate with a crack shot over Harriman's shoulder. Harriman came away with a singed ear, but he also got a promotion, and a reputation for bravery and quick thinking.

Looking back on what he'd done, Harriman wasn't sure that either courage or cleverness had been involved, so much as a mad desire to impress a very pretty lieutenant who happened to be on the same away team. But as it turned out, Elise had been more impressed by Dzinga's shooting. Last he'd heard, they had two children and were expecting a third.

"2288: Transferred to U.S.S. Lincoln. Promoted to Lieutenant Commander, upon review, by Captain Consuela Ramirez."

Harriman rolled his eyes. He remembered Ramirez, all right. That promotion had come with a price tag--her expectations. When she realized his gratitude didn't extend as far as her hopes, she'd been chilly, but fortunately not unfair. And by the end of the year he'd earned the promotion anyway.

While Captain Ramirez was attending a diplomatic conference on Arcon III, a navigation systems malfunction had sent the Lincoln blundering into Klingon space. The First Officer was off-duty at the time, leaving Harriman in charge. He'd been forced into delicate negotiations with the suspicious and somewhat trigger-happy captain of a Bird of Prey, but managed to escape with only minor damage to the ship and no casualties. Later, the helmsman had told him privately that he didn't think the First Officer could have done as well.

"2291: Promoted to First Officer of U.S.S. Lincoln upon death of Commander Jessica Newton."

Poor Jess. The helmsman had been right about her lack of diplomatic skills. On an exploratory mission to the planet Hakkun, the Commander, Harriman, and two others had been captured by a barbarian chief. Not only did the curious natives take their communicators and most of their uniforms, but soon an electro-magnetically charged storm front rolled in, scrambling the Lincoln's transporter fix on the away team. Three long days passed, while Commander Newton, ever impatient, argued hotly for their release. Eventually the natives tired of her tongue. Before Harriman could even protest, let alone move, a spear came whistling through the air and pinned the First Officer to the ground, killing her instantly.

Harriman was left to keep himself and his companions alive. With a tale of hungry demons held at bay by magic and the threat of dire consequences, he managed to recover the stolen communicators; a few rounds of well-played dice with the chieftain won them back their uniforms as well. When a gap in the clouds appeared, he was able to contact the Lincoln, and the ship beamed them out that night while the natives were asleep.

As de facto leader of the away team, Harriman was praised for scrupulous observance of the Prime Directive, ensuring that nothing from the Lincoln remained behind to disturb the natural development of the Hakkunians. Harriman prudently decided not to mention that his stakes in the dice game had included the doe-eyed Ensign Sheela.

"2294: Full review at Starfleet Headquarters. Promoted to Captain of U.S.S. Enterprise-B."

Those bland words, "full review," made it sound easy. In fact it had been one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of John Harriman's life. It was like going through the Kobayashi Maru all over again. Harriman hadn't even known why he was being grilled so thoroughly: for a while he'd almost convinced himself he'd done something wrong. But when it was over, they'd given him the Enterprise.

They wanted a young captain, they said, to carry on in the tradition of Kirk. But they also wanted a cooler head than Kirk, more of a diplomat, and Harriman's proven skill as a negotiator had decided them. Or so they said. But Captain Ramirez had her own opinions on the subject.

"Admiral Jolson said you were photogenic," she said, making no effort to conceal the curl of her lip as she pronounced the last word. "He wants to make a media figure out of you. Dashing young Captain John Harriman, boldly going where no man has gone before. By the time they figured out what a prize they had in Kirk, he was too old to be glamorous. They won't make the same mistake twice. What a great recruiting tactic for Starfleet!"

Sour grapes? Perhaps. Ramirez had been in competition for the new Enterprise herself. But Consuela was no liar, and if she said Admiral Jolson made those statements, then he assuredly had done so. And ever since, Harriman had wrestled with doubt about his new command.

Given those doubts, today's fiasco had been inevitable. He'd held on to his confidence as long as all went well, but the moment the distress call came through from the El Aurians, the illusion of cool self-command shattered. Because there were some crises you couldn't talk your way out of, and this, to his chagrin, had been one of them. How did one negotiate with a mindless energy wave? It was like trying to argue with--

Gillian.

He set his brandy down with alacrity, straightened up in his chair. "Computer, send a subspace message to Gillian Ransome, Brentwood 402, Essex Suburb, London, England."

"It is presently 0248 hours in London, England," came the placid reply. "Do you still wish to contact Gillian Ransome?"

"Yes," said John with relish.

There was a lengthy pause. Then a light, faintly mocking voice echoed through the room: "So. You've found me. Well, I can't talk to you right now, so you'll have to call some other time. Leave a message if that makes you any happier. Goodbye."

Harriman's face fell. Gill never turned on the answering service when she was in the house. So where was she?

"Computer," he said, "cancel request."

Click.

He sat for a while in the dim silence, meditatively sipping his brandy, thinking about her. He could imagine no more irritating person on the face of the earth (and several other populated planets), and yet, to call and find her not at home had left him bruised with disappointment. She was, after all, his oldest friend. Or enemy. Even in the beginning, he hadn't been sure...

***

"Think you're special, eh?" Beneath the shadowy brim of his school cap, the bully's round face was fixed in a sneer. Instinctively John retreated, only to bump into another, disconcertingly large boy behind him. He whirled, scanning the new face for some sign of sympathy, but found none. Both boys advanced at once, trapping him between them.

"You don't belong 'ere," hissed the bully, flicking John's cheek with a stubby finger. "You'll never belong 'ere. Best you go back where you came from, before you get 'urt."

"I would if I could," said John defiantly.

"'I would if I could,'" mimicked the other boy in a nasal whine that did Harriman's accent no justice. He grabbed a handful of John's blazer, jerked him around and gave him a shove that sent him sprawling on the cobbles. "I'll bet you would, you snotty little Yank."

John scrambled to his feet, ignoring the sting of skinned knees. In a wavering treble he shouted, "I'm not a Yank!" and flung himself, head down and elbows pumping, at his tormentor.

It was a stupid move, of course: he was outnumbered, and they were twice his size. With a laugh that was half growl, the bully drove his fist up under John's ribs. He dropped, gasping for breath, half-blinded by tears. Then through the roaring in his ears he heard the clear, cold voice of a girl:

"I suspect my father might be interested, Freddy, in how you choose to spend your free time. I also suspect he might decide you have rather too much of it, if this is what you're getting up to."

"It's Ransome's brat!" whispered the boy John had bumped into. "Now we're for it!"

Mr. Ransome was the Headmaster of the school, and until now, John hadn't known he had a daughter. He lifted his head with another gulping breath and saw, dressed in school uniform, a girl about his own age. Her hair, the colour of ripe apricots, was pulled back in a severe braid; her pale oval of a face wore a disdainful expression that seemed to belong more rightfully to someone much older. She glanced down at John, betraying no particular interest, then back at the bully.

"You know I've never told on you yet, Freddy Chalmers," she said. "I'd like to keep it that way, wouldn't you?"

"Stupid Yanks should be taught a lesson," grumbled Freddy.

"Perhaps they should. But if I remember correctly, the new boy was to be coming from Vancouver. If you're determined to beat on him, at least brush up on your geography first." The girl dropped to a crouch beside John, looked into his watery blue eyes with her own green-brown ones. With a faint, enigmatic smile she added, "I'll tell you what, Freddy: if I decide he wants beating up, I'll do it myself."

The bully let out a barking laugh. "Pummelled by a girl! Serve the little weed right. Come on, Peake." He motioned to the other boy, and the two of them slouched off whistling.

"One day they'll be corporate lawyers," said the girl, watching them cross the yard. "You mark my words."

***

She'd been right, too.

Harriman twisted the now-empty glass between his fingers, watching his own distorted reflection sliding across its surface. More than twenty years had gone by since that first awful day at the Brentwood School. He'd soon learned to hold his own with Chalmers and others like him, but the Headmaster's daughter never lost her maddening fascination. By the time his father's work exchange came to an end, John and Gillian had formed a bizarre but indomitable partnership. The bond between them survived the Harriman family's return to Vancouver; it persisted unabated through John's high school years; it saw him through all the peaks and valleys of Starfleet Academy. And now, when he needed her most, Gillian wasn't there.

She had her own life, of course; he'd no right to hold her back even if he could. But he still felt cheated, abandoned by her absence. He wanted to shout at her, and not being able to do it left him sour.

Harriman slammed the glass down on the table, half-wishing it would break. It didn't, of course. He heaved himself to his feet, rubbing the bridge of his nose where that plaguey headache still lingered. "Computer," he said wearily. "Dim lights. Give me a wake-up call for 0730 hours."

"Acknowledged," the computer told him, in its most pleasant, soothing, go-to-bed-there's-a-good-little-captain tones. Harriman suppressed the urge to smash it, and plodded off toward the bedroom.

The door chimed.

He froze mid-step, scarcely believing his ears. A visitor, at this time of the night? He decided to wait, in case it had been a mistake.

Seconds crawled by. Then the chime rang out again, and a muffled voice said, "Harriman, if you don't open this door, I'm going to lose my temper."

Gillian?

There was no way. This was crazy. Stubbornly he called, "Who is it?"

"Open the door, you idiot. Who do you think it is? Your sainted aunt?"

Relief weakened his knees; it took him a moment to muster his composure. At last he said, "Come in."

The door slid aside, flooding the room with light from the hallway. A slim figure in green leggings and an oversized Oxford University sweatshirt strode in, planted her hands on her hips, and glared at Harriman. Her hair was a loose, feathery cap, the colour of ripe apricots. Harriman wasn't quite sure that she was beautiful to anyone else, but she had never seemed more beautiful to him.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Admiral Ishiguro gave me clearance." She paused, gazing around the dimly lit room, expression fading from her face. "She seemed rather too pleased when I told her I wanted to see you. So I explained to her with my usual tact and discretion that I was not your whore, and she said, 'Of course not.' Why must Admirals be so smug?"

It took Harriman a few seconds to digest this information before he was able to reply. "That's not exactly what I meant," he said. "I mean, why did you come here in the first place?"

"To congratulate you, of course," said Gillian, folding herself into an armchair and looking up at him archly.

"Congratulate me?"

"Of course. I saw you on the news. You've succeeded where an innumerable host of Klingons, Romulans, and jilted lovers failed. James T. Kirk is dead. Are you proud of yourself?"

Harriman felt the blood drain out of his face. Had she produced a crowbar and belted him in the head with it she could not have shocked him more.

"What... do you mean?" he asked, his voice husky with pain and mounting rage.

"Well, it was all there, wasn't it? You couldn't handle your own ship, so Kirk saved the day for you. Except this time it cost him his life. What I want to know is, what are you going to do next time you get into trouble, and Kirk's not there?"

Harriman crossed the floor in two paces, seized her wrists, and half-yanked her to her feet. "I didn't kill him!"

"He died because of you," said Gillian. Her voice was quiet, but there was no gentleness in it. "What's the difference?" She tried to pull her hands away, but Harriman only tightened his grip.

"I would have gone," he insisted. "I was going to go. He wouldn't let me. He made his own choice."

Gillian's cold gaze met his, unblinking. "There had to be something you could do."

"There was nothing I could do!"

"Kirk would have thought of something."

"I AM NOT KIRK!" Harriman shouted.

Gillian made no attempt to reply, but the hardness went out of her eyes. And all at once Harriman realized what he had said. He released her and sank back on his heels, stunned.

"It's a pretty simple revelation, isn't it?" Gillian said after a moment. "Odd that it would take you this long to figure it out."

"Gill," said Harriman, his voice muffled behind his hands, "I am not going to be mediocre."

"You had better not be!"

The fierceness in her voice made him look up sharply, his eyes searching hers. Suddenly Gillian seemed interested in the design of the coffee table, and crouched down to examine it.

"You don't believe I killed him," said Harriman flatly.

Her fingers traced a curlicue on the table's surface. "Of course not. Don't be absurd."

"You came here all the way from London to make me angry?"

"How else were you going to think straight?" She rose to her feet, folded her arms, and regarded him levelly. "You're not Kirk, as you said. You're John Harriman. You're the Captain of the Enterprise-B. Not Kirk's Enterprise. The ship might be called the U.S.S. Rheumatic Gerbil for all the difference it makes, because it's your ship. Not his. Especially not now that he's dead."

"Gillian..." He sat down heavily in the armchair she had just vacated. "I don't know that I've got what it takes."

"Oh, for heaven's sake. When am I going to cure you of this self-pitying rubbish?" Gillian stalked back toward him, braced her hands on the arms of the chair and leaned over him, green eyes glittering in the half-light. "If you insist on insulting the intelligence and good judgment of the Starfleet Admiralty, that's your business. But I won't have you insult me as well. I know you better than you know yourself. And there has never been a doubt in my mind that you are going to be one of the best captains Starfleet's ever had." She straightened up. "Maybe you won't become a legend like Kirk. Most people don't. But I'll bet my eye teeth that a hundred years from now, when people talk about Captain John Harriman, they'll do so with respect."

Harriman looked up at her, a questioning line between his brows. There was a brittle edge to her voice he'd never heard before, a tension that owed nothing to the angry impatience she affected.

"So," Gillian concluded, "stop being such a baby." The words were in character, but they lacked spirit, as though provoking him had somehow drained her. She turned and walked away to examine a painting on the wall. Harriman, after a moment's thought, pushed himself up to his feet and followed.

"You could have made me just as angry via subspace," he said in her ear. She jumped, and he could have sworn he saw her colour rise. But when she replied her voice was steady:

"Probably, but what would you have shaken to vent your feelings? The floor lamp?" She lifted a hand, pushing back a loose strand of hair, and for the first time he saw the raw mark on her wrist where he had seized her.

Remorse made him impulsive. Before she could lower her arm again he caught her fingers lightly in his own, turned her hand over, and kissed the bruise. He felt her shudder, but she did not pull her hand away. And in another moment he realized that she was crying.

"I was watching the launching live on holo," she said in an emotionless voice, brushing away her tears with two brusque movements of her free hand. "And when you were pulled into that energy ribbon, we lost the signal. And I thought you might be dead."

"But when you found out I wasn't--"

"By then you looked like you wanted to be." Meditatively, Harriman kissed her wrist again, and heard her breath catch, just a little, before she went on: "So I thought somebody had better disabuse you of this idiot notion. And I didn't know anybody else I could count on to do it properly. So I came."

"I'm glad you came." Gently he pulled her around to face him. "I've been thinking about you all day."

Realization dawned on her face, firmed into stern resolve. "Harriman," she said, "don't do this to me."

"Revenge," whispered Harriman, advancing as she stepped back. "Sweet, sweet revenge..."

She kicked him in the shin. He staggered, and she slipped away. But in a moment he was up again, and smiling.

"If you're trying to reach the door," he said, "you're going in the wrong direction."

Gillian looked past him at the closed door, as though realizing for the first time where it was. The performance was almost convincing. "I can't help it," she said tartly, "if I'm not used to hanging about in the dark like a bat. Now if you'll excuse me--"

She strode forward with impressive determination. Harriman graciously stepped aside and let her pass, watched her falter as she realized he wasn't going to stand in her way. The hesitation lasted only a fraction of a second, but it was long enough to convince Harriman that for the first time in over twenty years, he had the advantage of Gillian Ransome.

She moved quickly, but he was faster. Just before she reached the door, he caught her arm, spun her around, and pulled her against him. She stiffened, but this time did not resist.

"How long have you been in love with me?" he asked her in a low voice.

"Harriman--"

"Just answer the question. How long?"

"You flatter yourself," she snapped.

"Or some other fool does," replied Harriman, remembering Ishiguro's words. "So, Gillian... how long have you been a fool?" He flashed her a grin, leaned closer. "Answer me, or... je touche."

Mutinously, Gillian clamped her mouth shut. "Have it your way," said Harriman, and kissed her until she gasped for breath.

"What is this, the Spanish Inquisition?"

"Our two main weapons are fear and surprise," agreed Harriman, who was feeling more than a little light-headed. "Surprise and fear--and nice red outfits. Three. Our three main weapons are--"

"Harriman," said Gillian in exasperation, "shut up," and quite mercilessly bit his lower lip.

Harriman shut up.

Bliss, however, was short-lived, for in another breathless moment Gillian pulled away. "You forget yourself, my sweet," she told him, with a smile that was half reprimand, half apology. "I meant what I told Admiral Ishiguro, and I won't be made a liar."

Harriman blinked and gave himself a mental shake, trying to clear the red haze in his mind. "You have no idea how fortunate you really are," he said at last, "that I am not Kirk."

"If you were," said Gillian with a quirk of one eyebrow, "I would never have given you the time of day." She leaned over and kissed the tip of his nose. "Count your blessings, John Harriman. Good night."

And just like that, she was gone.

***

"Captain," said a voice from behind him, "The medical staff have arrived. They're waiting in Sickbay for your review."

Harriman turned slowly from the viewport to see Commander Krewson standing in the doorway. "Come in," he said.

Krewson advanced and stood at attention, his bearded face impassive. "At ease, Commander," Harriman told him. "Are the tests I ordered complete?"

"Yes, sir," said his second-in-command, relaxing slightly. "Both the tractor beam and the photon torpedoes appear to be in perfect working order."

"I'm sure they are. Nevertheless, I'd still like to review the testing data before we leave spacedock. Can you have Engineering send me their full report? Then you and I can go over it together."

"Aye, Captain," agreed Krewson, with a hint of surprise, and Harriman smiled.

"One can't always be prepared, Bill, but I'm certainly going to try. How does the medical staff look to you?"

Krewson spread his hands in a gesture Harriman would soon learn to recognize as typical. "Shall we say..." he began, then stopped, obviously searching for the right word.

"Green?" suggested Harriman.

The first officer gave a short laugh. "I wouldn't know if they were. I'm colour-blind. But yes, they do seem a little nervous."

"Well, after what happened last week, I can't exactly blame them." Harriman flashed the Commander a grin, and watched Krewson's eyebrows shoot up in response.

"I have to say, Captain," he said cautiously, "I wasn't expecting you to be handling the situation so well. We didn't see much of you for a while, and there was a rumour--"

"Nothing less than the truth, I'm sure," said Harriman. "The Starfleet rumour mill is the most reputable in the galaxy. However, life does go on, doesn't it? Even without James T. Kirk to spice it up." He clapped Krewson on the shoulder. "Come on, then. We'll go give these new medics a checkup."

***

Three hours later the Enterprise-B slipped out of the steely embrace of spacedock, and turned with the ponderous elegance of a dowager queen to face the vast unknown. Admiral Ishiguro had given them their first orders: they were to patrol the Delvari System, an area still under dispute in the current Federation-Klingon negotiations. Starfleet Intelligence suspected the Klingons had begun constructing a covert stronghold on Cholnidar, the sector's only M-class planet, and wanted the Enterprise to keep an eye on it--tactfully and diplomatically, of course.

"Captain on the bridge!" announced Ensign Farash, a little too loudly. Harriman gave him a brief dampening glance before moving to the command chair and sitting down.

"Navigator," he said, "What is our current heading?"

"Course heading two-five-six, mark three-oh-nine, sir," came the reply from Lt. Vibeke Magnussen. A cool-eyed Norwegian beauty, she had joined the crew at the last minute, after the unfortunate death of their previous navigator. Despite the late start, however, she showed every sign of fitting in. Harriman made a mental note to commend Commander Krewson for choosing her.

"Set course for the Delvari System," he said.

"Aye, sir. New heading six-nine-one mark two-five-three."

"Engage," Harriman said, with a nod to Ensign Demora Sulu, who smiled her compliance as her fingers flitted across the helm controls.

"At our current speed of Warp Four we will reach the Delvari System in approximately ten hours, Captain," she said, glancing back at him for approval. Harriman nodded.

"I'll be in the Conference Room with Commander Krewson," he said, rising from his seat. "Lieutenant Commander DeJager, you have the bridge."

"Aye, sir," came the reply as a dark, serious-looking young man hastened to obey.

Harriman was halfway into the turbolift when he heard Lieutenant Shapiro cry out: "Captain! I'm receiving a distress signal from Outpost Twelve. They say they're under attack!"

Instantly Harriman was alert. "Helm, what's the nearest ship to the Outpost?"

Ensign Sulu frowned at the readings a moment. "There are two other ships in the vicinity," she said. "The Salk and the Copernicus."

"A medical supply ship and a science vessel. No good," Harriman told her. "So I suppose that leaves us?"

"Not quite," admitted Demora. "The Invincible is docked at Starbase Fifteen."

"I'll contact them," said Shapiro hastily.

Harriman walked down the ramp to the command chair, displaced DeJager with a wave of his hand, and sat down, fingers drumming on the arm console. "Well?" he asked after a moment.

"No good, sir," Shapiro said, grimacing. "The Invincible is under repair."

"Get back on that signal," Harriman told him. "I want to know who's attacking that outpost."

A pause. "They don't know, sir. Their sensor tower was knocked out by the first blast. They say it just seemed to come from nowhere."

Silence descended on the Enterprise's bridge as all eyes turned toward Harriman. He could read the same question in every gaze, sense their fear, their uncertainty. He knew exactly how they felt, and why, and he didn't blame them one bit.

But things were different now. There were no journalists to record this moment for posterity; no James T. Kirk to invite odious comparisons. And Tuesday had come and gone.

Harriman leaned back in his chair, eyes narrowing as he contemplated the stars streaking past the main viewer. An unexpected crisis, an unknown enemy. Kirk would have loved it. John Harriman, such as he was, simply acknowledged it.

And accepted it.

"Tell them to hold on, Mr. Shapiro," he said. "Tell them... we'll be right there."

THE END