For the Good of the Service


Pat Foley

Originally published in Masiform D #15 in 1986.

Seasons might be alien to the void of space, meaningless to the mechanized environment of a starship, or at best, crudely approximated within a limited range in certain shipboard rec areas. Nevertheless, the destiny of every Starfleet ship and officer was inextricably linked to the seasons of Earth, for spring in San Francisco brought with it the annual meeting of the promotions board at Starfleet Headquarters, and every officer up for promotion awaited, for good or ill, the results of their decisions. Starfleet Operations was swamped with posting promotions and cutting new orders. Communications caught the brunt of the crush, as every new set of orders brought a backlash of transfer and assignment requests. Everyone in Starfleet's small community sought the assignment, the ship, the crew with which they would be most satisfied.

This particular spring found the Enterprise, under Captain Christopher Pike, more than usually affected by the seasonal changes. With the ship plodding steadily to Earth for reassignment and refitting, and several senior officers up for promotion, attention was riveted on Starfleet communications, and sotto-voiced speculation spread through the ship when their captain sought the privacy of his quarters to receive a live, scrambled transmission from the Admiralty.

Chris Pike walked slowly toward his quarters and his conversation with Admiral Westmoreland. He might have been expected, even forgiven, for rushing there. Pike knew that he was up for posting to Fleet Captain, and that a live transmission, rather than a recording, virtually guaranteed that he had received it. But that also meant he was probably seeing his ship for that last time as her captain. Soon his responsibilities and concerns would lie elsewhere, and somewhere, someone would receive notice to take command of her. He wondered if his recommendation would have had any weight at the Admiralty, and if his exec, Number One, would succeed him to become the first female starship captain in the Fleet. He'd succeeded in the past in knocking down some of Starfleet's petty prejudices. Some in Fleet might have laughed at his "motley" crew, with a woman and a half-Vulcan as his first and second officers, but none could deny he got the job done. The Enterprise had a reputation for excellence and performance unrivaled in the fleet. What rankled with Pike was the inference that he'd earned it in spite of his senior officers.

Reaching his quarters, Pike flipped the send/unscramble toggle, signaling his readiness to HQ, and folded himself into his desk chair. With flattering speed Admiral Westmoreland's features filled the screen. Pike knew from past experience that mere subspace communications were no barrier to the snap of the Admiral's piercing blue eyes or his command presence, but now the Admiral's manner was congenial, and he was almost smiling.

"I won't keep you in suspense, Chris. Congratulations. How does it feel to be a Fleet Captain?"

Expected as the news was, Pike's square face was lit by his grin. "I'm honored, sir. Thank you!"

"I hope you hadn't planned on a long vacation?"

Pike steeled himself and banished his few hopeful plans for leave. "I've been in this Fleet long enough to know not to make elaborate leave plans, sir."

The formalities completed, the admiral abruptly got down to his real business. "Good. You can have a few days, perhaps a week, but then I want you to take command of the border patrol. Incidents have been increasing, and the patrol is sadly in need of good leadership and more firepower." Westmoreland's eyes met his squarely. "You'll have a starship, of course, the Republic, fresh from the yards, at least four light cruisers, maybe more, and as many scouts and other small stuff as we can scrape together. That should give you sufficient force to repeal anything short of invasion."

"Are you anticipating one?" Pike asked.

"Hoping to prevent one. We've been lax with funding and support for the patrol in the past. The Romulans may have underestimated the Fleet's defenses. This buildup should make them think twice about starting anything."

Chris nodded, his mind already grappling with the logistics of molding a fleet composed of such diverse ships, strung out across a sector of space, into a coordinated fighting unit.

Westmoreland studied him with satisfaction. "I see that I've given you much to consider, Captain. Your official orders will be arriving shortly. Let Operations know which of your staff you want posted to the Republic. Congratulations again, Captain."

Pike had looked up quickly at the mention of his staff. "Admiral?"

Westmoreland's hand paused on the cutoff switch.

"May I know who'll be taking command of the Enterprise, sir?"

"That's unofficial. The officer in question hasn't been notified yet."

Pike's eyes narrowed. "My first officer--"

"Will be offered command of the light cruiser Sparta."

"And the Enterprise?"

"The Board has decided on Commander James Kirk."

Pike frowned. "I've heard of him. But Number One has twice his deep space experience."

"Experience isn't the only factor in choosing command capabilities, Pike. You're aware of that."

"It will be a lateral move for her at best. No one with command of a light cruiser has a rank higher than commander. She'll be a captain only in courtesy."

"If Number One accepts the posting, she will be in command of the vessel and making command decisions."

"Perhaps you have forgotten, Admiral, that the executive officer of a starship is frequently in command of the vessel and is therefore making command decisions."

"Under the captain's direction."

"That's hard to establish, Admiral, since the captain may be on a landing party out of contact, or in sickbay being patched up."

Westmoreland frowned. "You've made your point, Chris. But the Board has decided."

"And just how do I explain to my officer that the command of my ship is not being given to the officer who successfully seconded it, but to some wet-behind-the-ears commander who's barely out of the Academy?"

"Kirk may be young, but he's exceptional. And, Chris, you and your exec might as well accept the fact that there are those on the Admiralty board who are not yet willing to see a woman in command of a starship. It wasn't easy to get them to agree to offer her the command of Sparta. Perhaps, if she distinguishes herself there, she'll eventually be offered a starship command. But not this year."

"You can't expect me to accept, to tacitly approve, a slight like that to Number One. She's served on the Enterprise nearly twelve years, and her record speaks for itself."

"You're a realist, Pike. So is Number One, possibly more so than you. She knew what she was up against when she opted for command." Westmoreland reached abruptly to the cutoff switch. "You'll not only accept it, you'll condone it. And you'll tell her so when you inform her of the assignment."

Pike's eyes flashed in anger. "How?" he demanded flatly.

"Find a way. That's an order … Captain," Westmoreland added coldly and cut the transmission.

Pike swore at the darkened screen, and then sat back thoughtfully, considering his options. There were favors at command level that he could call in, but with the Admiralty in its present state of mind, the likelihood that he could amass enough support to change Number One's status looked very remote. And since, traditionally, the promotion of an executive officer to captain was considered a compliment to that exec's captain, any protest that he made was sure to be construed as wounded pride on his part.

Pike sighed and decided to get the worst over with and tell Number One the unpleasant news. She at least deserved the right to have some input on whatever action they decided to take. He thumbed the intercom toggle and put in a call to his first officer. Instead, one of the bridge officers appeared on the screen.

"Number One is conducting a Class One inspection, Captain, and asked not to be interrupted unless necessary, sir. Mr. Spock is with her as well. Shall I have her paged, sir?"

Pike shook his head. A Class One inspection involved a detailed examination of ship's systems and meant the coordination of all department heads. His news was not good enough to justify undoing hours of his exec's preparation. "I'll wait, Lieutenant. Have her report to my quarters at her convenience."

Pike flipped off the intercom. He had several hours to kill, and more than enough work to do, in the processing of a transfer of command. He could at least spend the time productively. It might even keep him from conjuring up countless scenarios of his future conversation with Number One.

Pike was hard at work when the door buzzer finally disrupted his concentration. He looked up, half-hoping it would not be his first officer, and half-annoyed when he realized that it wasn't. Dr. Phil Boyce stood in the doorway, his manner unusually tentative.

"Doctor," Pike said curtly, by way of greeting.

Boyce's eyes ran over Pike in a professional manner, as if he were expecting to find something.

"Well, Doctor?" Pike said, exasperated. "Did you come here for a particular reason, or just for a chance of scenery?"

"No particular reason," Boyce said easily, his eyes still roving over Pike's face. "Just to see how you're doing."

"I'm busy," Pike said shortly. "As usual. Is there anything else?" he added pointedly.

Instead of leaving, Boyce came further into the room, resting a hand on the desk chair opposite Pike. "No. Just a social call."

Pike snorted in exasperation and sat back from his desk, pushing the terminal out of the way. "What's going on, Phil? Whatever you're trying to pull isn't going over."

"I just heard the news."

"The news," Pike said, nodding, as if this made sense.

"And I thought you might want to talk."

Pike eyes him silently.

"It may seem devastating right now, Chris, but you have to realize you have your whole career ahead of you."

"Of course," Pike said, mystified.

"And you're still young."

"That's so true," Pike agreed.

"So you shouldn't let this get to you."

"Not at all," Pike agreed. "Phil, are you trying to tell me something, or are you just here to practice up on your cliches?"

Boyce looked irritated. "You want it spelled out? Captain is up for promotion. Captain gets call from HQ promotion brass. Captain makes no announcement after said call, except to ask curtly to see his exec. Captain then stays holed up in his cabin for the rest of the day, except to snap at those people unfortunate enough to contact him. That doesn't sound to me like a captain that's been promoted."

Pike smiled slightly, looking down at the desktop. "I guess I have given everyone the wrong impression."

Boyce's eyes bulged. "You mean you got the promotion?"

"I got the promotion. Fleet captain. The border patrol." He nodded at the terminal. "I'm working on the crew assignments now."

"Congratu-- what do you mean, 'I got the promotion'? Who else were you expecting to hear about?"

Pike scowled and sat back in his chair. "Had you forgotten that the Enterprise is going to need a captain? And that I just happen to have a very competent exec in line?"

"Number One?" Boyce raised his forehead in surprise.

Pike scowled. "Why is it that I seem to be the only one to whom that isn't a revelation?"

"I really don't believe the Fleet is ready for that yet. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that you would expect it. They haven't exactly made their position secret. There hasn't been a woman starship commander yet."

"Maybe because no one had qualified for it. That's hardly true now." Pike looked at his chief surgeon searchingly. "Frankly, Phil, I'm surprised at you. I never suspected you were prejudiced."

"I'm not. Just realistic. And so is Number One. I doubt she had similar expectations."

Pike's eyes snapped to his. "That's it. Both the Admiralty and Number One obviously gathered the wrong impression from her performance reviews. I must not have indicated my recommendations strongly enough. But I can change that." He reached to pull the communications terminal to him. "A review board can be reconvened--"

Boyce abruptly pushed the terminal out of Pike's reach and sat down on the edge of the desk in its place, his eyes meeting Pike's astonished blue ones.

"Starship captains," the old surgeon snorted. "Even the best of them become afflicted with the disease. After too long being responsible for everything that happens on your own little shipboard worlds, you start to assume responsibility for everything that does or doesn't happen in the known and unknown galaxy." He pointed accusingly at Pike with a gnarled finger. "You push too hard, Chris, to be everything to everyone. You're not providence."

"So you've warned me before," Pike said darkly, turning away.

"It's not your fault if Starfleet hasn't solved all the petty prejudices of the human race."

"But I'm responsible for them when they affect my people," Pike countered.

"They're not your people. They're here because they want to be here. When they're ready, they'll move on, as we all have to."

"Jealous, Doctor?" Pike said coldly. "You're the one who's moving on. Or maybe you already regret resigning?"

Boyce refused to rise to the bait. "No, but it makes me a more impartial judge. I'm telling you what I think is best for you, for your officers, and for the Fleet. Go ahead and file your protest to the review board if you want to; it might do someone some good later on. But if you talk to Number One, I think you'll find she's made her own plans."

"You're out of line, Doctor. This isn't a medical matter; rank and promotion is none of your business."

"But it's your business to think seriously before you make decisions that affect your officers' careers and personal lives, and to decide whom that decision should benefit -- the Fleet, you or them."

Pike shook his head in disgust. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Just this," Boyce said. "I don't think it would have made a difference in Number One's case, but it's possible that if more than one commanding officer were recommending her, the outcome would have been different. You ought to consider that and evaluate whom you're really helping when you hang on to your officers instead of transferring them." He swivelled the terminal screen around and pointed to a name on Pike's transfer of command list.

Pike scowled uneasily. "Why should I break in a new executive officer when I have someone ready for the position who knows all my ways?"

"So that he'll have another voice raised at the review board when it's his turn for promotion. If he makes it."

"What do you mean 'if he makes it'? His efficiency ratings are--"

"Just paper. He won't have a much better chance than Number One did, since no one knows him or gives a damn about him. Except you. Which didn't do Number One much good, did it? Because, while no one denies you're a great captain, they're not likely to extend the same attributes to your crew. It's no secret that you've got the oddest, most variegated crew and officers in the Fleet. The standing joke is that you pull the missions off on your own talents and just have your officers around for the variety they give the bridge."

"That's enough!" Pike snapped. There was an awkward silence that stretched for too long before Pike sighed and rubbed his forehead wearily. "I knew there were comments. I didn't know you took them seriously -- that anyone took them seriously."

"You've got a knack for nurturing talent and for evaluating people on that basis alone. I suppose it's inevitable that you'd end up with an unusually diverse crew. But once they've proved themselves to you, you've got to let them prove themselves elsewhere, or it doesn't mean anything."

"The Enterprise has the best record of any starship in the Fleet," Pike said defensively. "It's an honor to serve on her."

"For a mission, or a few years more. But stay on one ship, or under one command, too long, and the higher-ups think a man's inflexible, unable to adapt. Maybe I'm settling my own conscience," Boyce continued wearily. "I let it pass because it was easier for you not to have to break in new officers all the time, and easier for me not to have to nag you to let the old ones go. It didn't seem to hurt their careers. At least, not up to a point. And it was safer for all of us with a seasoned command crew."

Pike flipped off the accusing screen. "I've already promised Spock a place in my command crew."

"Fine. Ruin his career, too, just like you did Number One's."

Pike set his jaw. "You just said that Fleet wasn't ready for a female starship captain."

"You can't be sure, though. And five or so years from now, will you fall back on the excuse that the Fleet isn't ready for a half-Vulcan starship captain?"

"I'm not holding Spock back," Pike said uneasily. "I've pushed him into promotions, against his protests, and Starfleet's."

"It must be convenient having two misfits as your second and third in command -- less competition from below, and no pressure from above."

Pike glared at Boyce. "If that's what you think of me, we can end this discussion right now. You know the way out, Doctor."

But instead of leaving, Boyce watched his captain stride to the sleeping alcove and followed to lean against the ornamental divider screen. Pike pulled off his shirt, pointedly ignoring the doctor. "Just answer this," Boyce insisted. "If not to me, then to yourself. Why didn't you transfer Number One after five years, the way you did her predecessors? And why are you trying to hang onto Spock, when the policy has always held that the Fleet and the officer benefit more from rotating crew assignments?"

Pike flung his shirt on the floor. "All right! I'll admit I had my own reasons for keeping them on." He sank down onto the bed, his eyes lost in thought. "But it didn't seem selfish then." He shook his head wearily. "It gets harder every time, letting people go. You put your soul and yourself, even some sweat and blood, into bringing them along, and then you hand them over for someone else to use or abuse." He looked up at Boyce accusingly. "You've seen how the Fleet grinds people up. It can be a cold, empty machine that rips people apart. At least I can look out for the people I care about."

"It helps that they care about you, too, doesn't it?" Boyce said quietly.

Pike leaned back against the headboard wearily. "I've already pleaded guilty to the sin of selfishness." He was silent for a moment. "Duty isn't always enough, Phil. Sometimes you need people to keep you going -- even starship captains."

"As long as you're aware of what you're doing, and where it's going to lead, Captain," Boyce said. "You do what you think best -- for everyone."

"And the Fleet," Pike said. Boyce was silent. "I have gotten some flak from HQ about holding on to people. I suppose I have gotten lax." He looked at Boyce. "You're sure Number One intends to resign?"

"She wants her health records transferred to her homeworld."

Pike sighed. "I'll have a talk with her. But if that's what she wants…" He shook his head. "It's Spock who'll be the real problem. I've already as much as promised him a place on my staff. It's going to be hard to go back on that promise."

"You have to decide what's best," Boyce said.

"Thanks for the pep talk," Pike said flatly. He flung an arm over his face. "If you don't mind, I'd like to think some things over."

Boyce frowned a little at the curt dismissal, but left his captain to his uncertain peace.

Pike soon discovered that Number One had indeed decided to pursue options outside of Starfleet. She listened courteously to his rallying pep talk and his plans to have her position reconsidered by the Board, but she remained of the same mind. When his arguments failed to sway him, Pike gave way to frustration. "You're giving up," he accused. "A defeatist attitude isn't like you, Number One."

"Correction, Captain. It is you whose nature refuses to accede, even when no alternative appears to exist. That has contributed to your success as a starship captain. However, it is not a character trait I happen to possess." She smiled wryly. "Therefore, perhaps Starfleet is correct in its decision."

"You've seen my defeats," Pike said shortly, turning away slightly.

"I have observed partial successes, but none that could truly be called defeats." She considered him. "If they seem defeats to you, perhaps you merely have higher standards than most."

Pike turned back to her abruptly. "Then my opinion of your abilities should have that much more validity to you."

Number One swallowed a smile. "Perhaps living the legend means that you truly are blind to it. A starship captain has to be a 'Midas' of good fortune. Everything he touches must come out his way," she cocked her head in deference to his frown, "or nearly his way. Whether it stems from persistence, or strategy, or even a positive attitude, the results are the same. Not everyone has the talent to bend a situation to his will, Captain -- no matter how competent they may be," she added ruefully. "I tend to agree with Starfleet, and it has nothing to do with gender, though they may think otherwise."

"You're talking nonsense, Number One."

"Perhaps it seems so to you. But I've watched you land mission after successful mission, when the odds have often been very much against it, and I don't agree. Call it luck or providence, somehow this good fortune favors you and your crew while they serve with you. But I don't think it is likely to transfer with the change of command," again the wry smile, "so the next captain will have to bring his own luck with him. And it will not be me. I have other work to do."

"What kind of work?"

"Forgive me for saying so, Captain, but it is really none of your concern."

Pike flushed, aware he had just trespassed. In spite of years of service together, and an excellent working relationship, his dealings with Number One had never included much of a personal nature. Pike, a loner with few personal needs and no desire to complicate a satisfactory situation, had never pushed for that. And in Starfleet, a person's non-fleet past was considered his own business, unless he or she indicated otherwise. Pike was aware he was being warned clear, and knew that by Starfleet tradition, and in the absence of any claims of friendship, he had no right to push for detail.

Number One studied him, her face as composed as always. However, her eyes held an understanding of his dilemma and a touch of compassion for it. "You needn't have any concerns for me, Captain. I am quite satisfied with regard to my future."

Pike resigned himself to a graceful capitulation. "If I'm so lucky, why haven't I had any luck in convincing you?"

Number One smiled again. "Let us hope your luck has not changed so soon. I do thank you for your offer of support, Captain, but even if Starfleet's policy could be changed, I would not be interested. And with a fleet waiting for you, I would recommend that, this time, you avoid a confrontation you cannot win, and one no one will thank you for engaging in."

"I thought you were so rational," Pike grumbled. "Now I find out after all these years my faithful exec believes in luck and providence and mysticism." He eyed her speculatively. "I never suspected you of gypsy traits, Number One."

His first officer smiled enigmatically and let the remark pass.

Although reconciled to his first officer's decision, Pike felt oddly reluctant to deal with the problem of his science officer. Pike had often noted the odd contrast between his two senior officers. His Vulcan science officer denied the existence of emotion within himself or any of his kind, and yet, so often emotions slipped through his tenuous controls to betray him. His first officer, with a full human heritage and no interest in denying her emotions, rarely seemed to have any to express, and the little emotion that escaped her hardly ruffled her cool poise. The contrast made Spock's lapses seem all the more mawkish and adolescent, and yet his two command officers worked well with each other.

Although unhappy with the slight to his first officer, he knew that he had no choice but to accept her decision. He even accepted that past errors in judgment had contributed to the problem, and knew the steps he had to take to resolve them in the future. Yet he felt oddly reluctant to take the issue up with Spock and found himself making excuses to avoid his science officer. There were officers with whom he felt closer, or with whom he spent more leisure time, but for no one else did he feel the affection, and almost parental pride, that he felt for Spock.

Since he first joined the Enterprise as a raw cadet, Spock had given Pike an unswerving, unquestioning devotion and loyalty he often felt hard put to live up to. And Spock had never asked for anything through the years except the opportunity to serve with him. In that respect one of his most notable human traits, stubbornness, came out in full measure. In the past, when Spock had required time under another command to gain promotion approval, he'd only reluctantly accepted even such limited transfers. Pike anticipated arguments again and delayed his meeting, marshaling his arguments, for as long as he could.

The watch changed with the usual bustle, the off-watch officers congregating in a congenial group in the turbolift, but Lieutenant Commander Spock had ceased to find it a noisome irritation. Although he still found it difficult to socialize in the human manner with his fellow officers, his hesitant attempts were always accepted and returned in kind, and Spock, although still very reserved by human standards, was beginning to appreciate the phenomenon of friendship.

The turbolift deposited the group on Deck Five, officer's country, and seeing another knot of people clustering around the posting and promotions' board, Spock went forward curiously to join it. Generally, the Enterprise was sufficiently out-of-contact with Starfleet Command to make such news either terribly out-of-date or nonexistent, but with the Enterprise on its way to Earth and the yearly promotions process well underway, that had changed, and news concerning the ultimate destination of Starfleet personnel, including those of the Enterprise, had been appearing daily. Spock moved forward toward the group, curious to see the assignments of his shipmates. About himself he had no concern. His captain had often been absent from the bridge of late and when there, tended to be distant and preoccupied. No doubt the transfer of command process was exceptionally tedious. However, weeks ago, Pike had informed him that he had personally requested Spock's transfer, along with several other of favored officers. Spock, having complete confidence in his commanding officer, had thought no more of the matter.

Coming up to the group, he could see the reason for the crowd and the commotion. The final list for posting for the Enterprise was displayed, along with the final list for his captain's new command. Spock started at the top of the latter list and casually scanned it, searching for his own name … and scanned it … and scanned it … finally reaching the end without success. Numbly, he started at the top and read through it again … and again. It was inconceivable that his name had been omitted, but that must be the case. He recalled again his captain's words, telling him of the request to Starfleet Command, and his positive attitude toward the outcome.

Surely Starfleet could not have refused his captain's request. Hesitantly, he raised his eyes to the list of Enterprise personnel and there, near the top, was his name -- Lieutenant Commander Spock, Science Officer, Second Officer, Acting Commander. Spock stared at the contradiction, the foundation of his comfortable universe crumbling beneath him. Then he became aware that his reaction was attracting the attention of his shipmates, who doubtless were aware that he had expected to be retained with Pike's other command staff. Avoiding the concerned glances of his colleagues, Spock turned blindly from the board, and headed for Pike's cabin.

Pike was trying to finish a mountain of paperwork that seemed to be increasing geometrically the closer that the Enterprise came to her home port, and he didn't look up when he heard the door signal; he simply pressed the release and called, "Come in." After a moment of silence he looked up. "Spock?" He stared puzzled at his young officer standing motionless in the doorway and said, "Well, come in, Spock."

Spock took a couple of steps inside the cabin, enough to allow the door to close behind him, and then halted.

"What is it?" Pike frowned at his normally steady officer's strange behavior and then a thought struck him. "Did Pinsky post that confirmed list before I gave the order? Damn!" Pike strode past Spock to the doorway, verified his assumption merely by glancing at the size of the crowd, and came back in.

Spock finally found his voice. "Perhaps there has been some mistake, Captain?" he asked.

"No. I wish there had been. Spock…"

"Has my performance been less than satisfactory, Captain?" Spock asked tentatively.

"You know better than that, Spock." Pike sighed and headed for his desk. "Come here and sit down. I intended to discuss this with you. I certainly didn't intend you to find out this way, but I've been so swamped with work--" He gestured mutely at the stacked desk, even as he condemned himself mentally, "--and, well, I guess there's no good way to break it to you." Seeing that Spock still stood unmoving, as if frozen by Pike's words, he took the young officer by the arm and pushed him into a chair. Spock looked at him numbly.

"I don't understand, Captain."

"Listen to me." Pike hesitated and then began awkwardly. "You know I put in a recommendation for your transfer to my new command and for promotion to full Commander." He glanced at Spock, waiting for a confirmation. Seeing Spock nod, he went on.

"Well, I did request it, but they rejected it. They're being as bull-headed about it as they were the last time. They want my recommendation confirmed, which means you have to serve with another officer of flag rank for at least a year, one who would also agree that the promotion is warranted." Pike sat down on the edge of the desk. "You know that those are the regulations. I've managed to get around them before. When you made lieutenant commander, Ian Mallory took you for six months on that scientific survey and Starfleet reluctantly accepted his recommendation. But now they are adamant and they won't be budged.

"I tried to pull a few strings when Starfleet's first answer came back, but now, well--" Pike hedged. "You know the regulation is there to guard against favoritism, don't you? I was accused of favoritism." Pike smiled ruefully. "Since it's so obviously true, I don't have much defense. And things since then have made me decide that Starfleet's policy has some validity."

"Captain, I appreciate your efforts on my behalf, but I have no desire for promotion. I would much rather continue under your command."

Pike looked grim. "I figured you would say that. Spock, you are due for promotion. You are capable, qualified, and the most decorated lieutenant commander in the Fleet. You will do this, whether you like it or not!" He caught his temper and went on more gently. "This is my fault. I should have arranged for your transfer two years ago; you were eligible for it then." He ignored the look of stricken astonishment in Spock's eyes. "But we were in the middle of a mission, we were too far out to ship you off to anyone anyway, and fool that I am, I hated to let you go."

"I have no wish to go, then or now," Spock said stubbornly. "I wish to remain under your command."

"Spock, like it or not, you're in Fleet, not in Chris Pike's traveling circus. I shouldn't blame you for thinking I'm autonomous; I've half-believed it myself -- that I could keep my officers with me and still con Starfleet into giving them the same consideration and approval as if I'd played the game their way. I was wrong, and I've wronged you. You've lost two years of seniority as a commander because of that mistake, and I'm not going to see you penalized further for serving with me. It's time you transferred."

"And do my wishes have no bearing in this matter?"

"No." Pike ground the syllable out. "That's what you agreed to when you joined the Fleet. You seemed to understand it then. It's my duty to promote qualified officers. To hold someone back who deserves promotion upsets the scale of command, because eventually you would have more experience and knowledge than, say, a full commander serving above you, and that would only cause problems. Surely you understand that."

"Yes, sir," Spock said. His head dropped and misery was apparent in his every line.

Pike frowned. Spock was obviously making little effort to accept this. He remembered that by Vulcan standards, Spock was barely an adult, although the Vulcan was sufficiently professional in the performance of his duties that his comparative age had never been a factor. But now it was coming out with a vengeance, if only in the anguished look Pike had seen barely concealed in his science officer's eyes, before they were lowered from his view.

Something twisted deep inside Pike as he realized just how heavy the blow was. Never again, he thought savagely, would he allow this to happen to himself, or to anyone else because of him. That look of utter abandonment in Spock's eyes was entirely his fault, and if he'd handled his officers properly, would never have been there. When had he stumbled into believing he could be all things to all people?

Finally, realizing that Spock was beyond speech, he offered what comfort he could. "Spock." Pike waited until he had the Vulcan's attention, and then continued tersely, "I'm leaving a strong letter of recommendation for Jim Kirk regarding you. If you do even half the job for Kirk that you've done for me, your promotion to commander will be confirmed within the year."

A flicker of interest kindled in the dark eyes. "Then will I be permitted to transfer to your command, sir?"

"No. At first I thought Fleet might permit it, but it's impossible. Kirk's a fine officer, but the Enterprise will be his first starship command. He'll need the continuity that you'll be able to provide, and it would be unfair to him to have his command crew change after only a year."

"I am not concerned with what is fair to Captain Kirk," Spock said shortly.

"That's enough," Pike snapped. "Whether you like it or not, it's what's best for you, too. You can't expect to rise quickly through the ranks without broad experience under a variety of commanders."

"I have no wish to rise quickly through the ranks. I prefer my scientific duties and I prefer remaining under your command."

"I know that. That's my fault. You're too dependent on me, Spock. You should be jumping at the chance for promotion, like every other young officer." He thought of Boyce's criticisms in that vein and shook his head miserably. The doctor had been right all along, and he'd been a fool not to see it. But there was still time for correction. Spock was young and flexible, and out from the comfortable niche Pike had created for him, he would grow.

"Truthfully, Spock, in addition to Starfleet's objections, it wouldn't be good for the Republic or for my command to have you suddenly join the crew after Jim promotes you. I'd have to transfer my current science officer to make a place for you, and that would be blatant favoritism. It would cause dissension in my command and both you and I would suffer for it. So, in that sense, I believe that Starfleet is right in insisting that you stay with the Enterprise for a full mission. If you think about it carefully, Spock, you'll agree," Pike said firmly.

"Yes, sir," Spock said.

Pike sighed. Spock was obviously unconvinced. "I expect you to do me proud, Spock. I expect you to command a starship someday."

Spock swallowed. Meeting his captain's determined eyes, he apparently realized that further argument was useless. "It seems I must acquiesce to your wishes. Very well, sir."

Pike sighed with relief. He'd been dreading the thought that Spock might resign and leave him with another ruined career on his conscience to add to Number One's. But Spock's voice sounded steady and Pike offered a comforting thought he'd held at the back of his mind. "In five years the Enterprise's mission will be over and you should be eligible to make captain. You can count on me to take you into my fleet then and confirm it, Spock."

"Yes, sir," Spock said dutifully.

Pike could understand. Too much could happen in five years and today he'd just taught his science officer the reliability of promises in the Fleet's uncertain world. But what else could he do?

"If I may be excused now, sir?"

Pike frowned in despair at Spock's formal tone. He had seen Spock retreat into a Vulcan shell too many times when something distressed him, and it always took a long time to coax him out again. There was so little time before the end of this mission, it was possible he wouldn't have the chance to try, and would end up saying good-bye to a virtual stranger instead of to the young Vulcan he had grown to care for over the last eleven years. "Spock--"

His science officer turned back, his face carefully neutral, and Pike's resolution faltered, Boyce's warnings about his influence on Spock returning. If this is Spock's way of handling things, he thought, then let it be. You've done all that you could and, by Boyce's account, more than you should have. To Spock's waiting face he said only, lamely, "I'll see you at dinner."

"Yes, Captain." But Spock must have seen the wavering in Pike's eyes, and he said, "Captain … you are quite certain that I cannot remain under your command?"

Pike took a deep breath and held his voice steady, a command voice, one Spock would well recognize. "Yes, Spock. This time, I think Starfleet is right." He hesitated at the pain in Spock's eyes and added lightly, "Try me again in five years, Spock, and you'll get a different answer."

He could see that Spock was merely waiting for dismissal. "You can go, Spock. If you want to discuss this further--"

"Thank you, sir," Spock said and left quickly, leaving Pike's offer hanging empty in the air, the door's soft swish a silent rebuke.

Pike sat down at his desk, staring unseeing at the piles of paperwork. There might have been a better way to have handled it, but he knew he'd made the right decision. If he felt rather shaken, he couldn't be feeling worse than Spock, who'd just had twelve years of preconceptions shattered. And if he felt rather empty, it was no more than he deserved. Starship captains hadn't any business letting personal considerations interfere with Fleet decisions. He'd been lucky to get away with it as long as he'd done, without doing more damage than he'd done.

Pike smiled bitterly when he remembered what Number One had said about his luck. It hadn't done her much good in the past, and he would take care not to need it in the future. After long absence, Chris Pike and his caravansary of a crew were rejoining the fleet … sans one.

Two months later, Spock stood at the transporter controls, prepared to beam the new captain aboard the Enterprise. To all outward appearances he had fully acceded to his former captain's wishes. He had accepted the unconfirmed promotion to command, had supervised the refit of the Enterprise, had brought the ship and crew into the best shape that he could to receive its new master.

But in one matter he was resolute. He had no intention of giving to this unknown stranger the devotion and loyalty that he had reserved for Pike. Respect he would allow, if the man earned it. But nothing more.

He still did not fully understand Pike's decision, but he had accepted it without losing the respect and affection he had developed for Pike. For some reason, his captain believed that his personal association with his science officer had caused Spock professional harm. Spock did not understand how he had been harmed, although he knew in general Starfleet discouraged personal relationships. Still, there was such an enormous difference between the human and the Vulcan concepts of relationships that Spock was forever confused by the problem. He had never desired more than the opportunity to serve with his captain, but somehow he must have blundered, and it had brought conflict to his captain and himself.

Perhaps it was the relaxation of his Vulcan training that had caused the problem. He had deserted it, to a great degree, under Pike's command. Pike had never been completely comfortable when he behaved in an impeccably Vulcan manner, and it had made others uncomfortable as well. Spock had relaxed his standards of behavior because of that, had even begun to believe -- foolishly, he could see now -- that such stringent barriers were unnecessary. The reasons for such control had now been made newly apparent. The old ways even provided some comfort against the desolation that still overwhelmed him when he realized he'd been banished from his captain's side. He resolved never to leave himself open to that kind of pain again. He had even, tentatively, considered the possibility of resigning from Starfleet and returning to Vulcan.

But he had failed at attempting to be a Vulcan among Vulcans. It also seemed that he had failed in being partially human among humans. His trust, however, still lay with his captain. He might have failed Pike in some unclear human way, but his captain still believed in his abilities. It was a slender thread to hold onto, but it was all that he had. He set his face into the sternest Vulcan lines that he could and activated the instruments that brought the new captain on board.