A GOOD LOOK IN THE MIRROR
By Rabble Rouser
DATE: February 19, 2000
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I owe Jungle Kitty and Jat-Sapphire a great debt on this one. Without their encouragement, I would have given up on the story. Without their patient, thorough, and insightful betas, it wouldn't be good enough to post. They pushed and prodded and asked for more and yet in the end didn't impose their vision but helped me find the one buried in my first crude draft.
© Rabble Rouser 2000
v v v
I stepped off the transporter pad and looked down at my clothing. Short sleeveless glittering gold tunic. Broad gold sash. By the transporter panel stood a bearded Spock. I was back.
Marlena stood beside Spock at the transporter controls. McCoy, Scott, and Uhura couldn't get out of the room fast enough. Marlena stared at my face and for a moment her face lit and she stepped forward in welcome. Then she stopped, her lip curled and her gaze dropped to the floor.
I couldn't resist asking her. "So what is he like, my counterpart?"
She froze and began to tremble, then visibly collected herself and met my eyes.
"He's everything I could have wanted in a man, and in myself. Everything we could have been in a different, better world." I think those are the first honest words she ever said to me.
"And is there nothing you see of him in me?" I asked softly.
"You have the same features," she said bitterly. "—and for a moment I thought I saw...but I must be wrong." Then she turned and left the transporter room.
Spock looked at me appraisingly in a way that reminded me forcibly of another Spock.
"What did you think of the people and ship on the other side, Captain?"
Somehow I sensed there was more to the question than curiosity. My first reaction was to quip bitterly about not seeing much beyond their brig. But I held back, feeling somehow that Spock had never asked me a more important question. I could feel his stare at my back as I moved out the door, leaving silence for an answer.
v v v
After the debriefing, I went straight to my quarters and sat heavily at my desk. It's hard to believe that I wasn't immediately warned by what that different uniform implied. My counterpart seems not to have made that mistake. But then he doesn't have to live in a world where he dare not turn his back. He saw a world of brutality around him and immediately knew he was in another reality. I saw one of decency around me and could only assume treachery and deceit.
v v v
We were found out minutes after the four of us reached the bridge. I gave the order to destroy the Halkans and saw Sulu turn around in shock—a scarless Sulu with a look of clear-eyed innocence. When he didn't immediately move to obey, that triggered in me a dangerous rage. How dare he! I knew he wouldn't hesitate to kill millions and I was in no mood for one of his games. I asked for his agonizer and he looked utterly bewildered.
I lifted him from his chair and clouted him on the jaw. Chekov moved to tear me off him only to have Uhura kick him in the groin. Spock called security to the bridge and waded into the melee. The four of us weren't able to even lay a hand on him. Less than an hour after we arrived, we found ourselves in the brig. We waited for torture or to be prepared for an execution that never came. Their Mr. Spock interrogated me at the entrance to the brig. I felt stung by the enormity of his seeming betrayal. I made myself laugh and taunted him with bribes. He looked at me as if I was some particularly exotic specimen from his labs.
After he left, one of the security guards outside the door glared at me and asked what I had done to Captain Kirk. "You idiot," I roared, "who the hell do you think I am!"
His voice dripping with contempt, he answered, "Captain Kirk would let himself be drained of every last drop of blood before hurting one of his crew or disobeying his oath to the Federation. When we came across a vampire cloud, he ordered me to beam up and wanted to take the risk of destroying it upon himself. I don't know who you are--but you're not the captain." I was taken aback by the ringing conviction in his voice and by something else. Federation? Not the Empire? What could be behind such an elaborate ruse?
"Quiet Garrovick," the other guard admonished. "I don't think Mr. Spock wants to give these people more information than they already have." But even though he warned the other to be silent, the clenching and unclenching of his fists and the look he gave me spoke of his own deep anger. "The captain will be allright. He has to be," he whispered.
I drew back into the room stunned by the naked loyalty in that voice. I looked sidelong at my companions knowing I would have never risked my life for any of them or expected they would do anything like that for me. Loyalty, I thought bitterly, is not something I expected from, or felt, toward any of my crew. Except for one man—and I thought he had just shown me how wrong I was to count on him. But I didn't think the sound of that loyalty and concern could be feigned. You can't fake what you've never seen or felt. That's when I realized I wasn't in my reality.
Unlike most on the I.S.S. Enterprise, I have known what it is to live in a world without fear. I had the capacity to recognize what I was seeing on the faces and voices around me. That was my blessing and my curse. I am so extraordinarily successful at what I do because I was raised as more than just a beast of the Empire. But that left me with a very inconvenient conscience intact that I have worked very hard to bury. For so long I have closed those memories down--sealed them off as carefully as we prepare something to go into the void.
When did the boy I once was, who'd rather be killed than kill, die? When had I murdered him? On Tarsus? At the Academy? Was the last nail in the coffin driven in when killing Pike made me captain of the Enterprise? When did I grow weary of the struggle to keep any decency alive? It's been a long time since I've allowed myself that question.
v v v
I was six—old enough to be sent to the Empire's schools. My mother took me and with others desperate to escape, we headed into Romulan Space. The Romulans were once themselves refugees from Vulcan, followers of Surak who left to find a newer, better world. True to their heritage, they gave asylum to anyone who could escape the Empire by their own resources.
Refugees can rarely afford ships that are very spaceworthy; our ship became disabled and drifted for weeks. One of my earliest clear memories is of waking up on that ship to see a strange dark-skinned man with pointed ears hovering over me. I screamed and rolled out of the stasis chamber. When the man reached down toward me, I bit his hand deep enough to draw blood--green blood. I backed away into a corner and raised my hands to cover my face—sure I had just earned a beating. Nothing happened. Slowly I lowered my hands. The man sat quietly on his haunches. "Little one, no one will hurt you here. I will wait until you are ready." I think he would have sat there for hours.
His name was Terek and he was the first Romulan I had ever met. "Where's mommy?" I asked.
He looked at me steadily with calm dark eyes. "I regret...her unit malfunctioned before we arrived. I grieve with thee." I didn't cry then. I had at six learned the lessons of the Empire too well already. Don't show weakness. Don't show that you're hurt. It would take years for me to unlearn them enough to cry—and then I had to relearn those lessons all over again.
My mother's brother and his wife had escaped the Empire years before and it wasn't long before the Romulans located them. In less than a week, my Uncle arrived on a Romulan Alliance shuttle to take me home with him. Terek brought me to where he waited by my mother's damaged and now empty stasis chamber. He was crying unashamedly. When he saw me, he forced back the sobs with an effort. He crouched down and wrapped me in a fierce embrace. I fidgeted with discomfort at being held. "You're hurting me," I whimpered.
"I'm sorry, Jimmy." He released me and tipped my chin up with a hand to meet his eyes. They were hazel like my mother's. "I promise you no one's going to hurt you again. I'm your Uncle Kurt and I'm going to take good care of you." He smiled. "It'll be a wondrous thing to have a child in the house."
My uncle and aunt tried to formally adopt me. My father, who worked in the Empire's intelligence service, demanded my return. The lawyers for the exiled human community fought hard, dragging the process out for five years, while I lived in the human colony on Rigel III within the protection of Romulan law.
I was shaped by nags, and by chores on my Uncle's farm, by time spent fishing under lilac skies, by catching fairy-flies and running after Cassidy, my golden retriever. My teacher at school was a soft-spoken Romulan named Votak who had a quote from Surak for every occasion. I never lacked for companions my own age. Uncle Kurt's and Aunt Mara's home was a magnet for children. My best friend was Votak's son, Trann, who for all the surface solemnity imposed by Surak's path, managed to have more mischief in him than any ten human children.
I was read to by my Aunt Mara and could read all the banned books the Empire didn't want forming young minds—everything from Shakespeare to Peter Pan to Narnia to the Declaration of Independence. She always read tales to me as if she knew the goblins and monsters personally—but in the end the children always found their way home.
One night I snuck upstairs after having gone crathei-fishing. It was dangerous to go out into the bayou at night without company but I loved being alone under the stars. I was creeping barefoot past my uncle's and aunt's room when I heard tightly controlled voices. I paused when I heard my name.
"No, Kurt...we can't let them send him back. Not our Jimmy. It would be child abuse to send any child there, and now he's been raised free. He's not fit to go back."
"Where would we take him, Mara? We live here on the sufferance of the Romulan government and they're not strong enough to defy the Empire openly. Not yet and not over one child. Do you think I would allow it if I saw any way out? Sometimes I think it would be kinder to slit his throat."
"Don't speak like that." Then Aunt Mara started weeping and I quietly continued past the room, afraid that if I stayed much longer I'd start crying too.
I fled back to my room. Cassidy padded over, butted me with his nose and chuffed softly. I dug my hands into his golden fur and buried my face against his flank. My stomach felt fluttery and my mouth was dry. Uncle Kurt and Aunt Mara never spoke about the Empire. No one did. That made it all the more terrifying. I had only vague memories of my parents or brother or much of anything of my life there. Finally I buried myself under the covers and tried to smother my fears with sleep. I felt a gentle shake of my shoulder.
I stared up at my Uncle and spit out my words with all the bitterness I could muster. "I thought you said no one is ever sent back—ever—you promised!"
I saw him wince. "No adult is sent back. Under the law a child can't decide for himself, and it's believed that it's only right that you should be with your father."
"Do you believe that?"
"There's nothing I can do—if there was anywhere else we could go I'd grab you and run like Winona did, even if I had to start over."
"It would have been better if you sent me back in the beginning."
"Jimmy, I loved my big sister. I hope someday you'll understand that I was trying to honor her choice for you. She was worried that living in the Empire would warp you the way it had your father and brother. You may not appreciate it now, but if I could go back in time, I wouldn't do anything differently. I can only be glad we were able to shelter you from the Empire for so long. I just hope it was long enough..."
I tried to run out of the room but my uncle grabbed me. He wrapped me in a hug and wouldn't let me wriggle out of it. I struggled for a while and then finally, for the last time in my life, gave in to tears.
I felt a trembling hand stroke my hair. "No matter what happens, remember this. Your mother loved you so much she died to give you a chance for freedom. Mara and I loved you enough to fight for you. You are worth it. I'm so sorry I've failed you Jimmy,...so sorry."
"Will you take care of Cassidy for me?"
"He's your dog...You might be able to take him with you."
"I don't want him there." I didn't want anyone I loved there. I looked up at my Uncle and saw such pain—worse because for the first time he looked old, and that scared me.
"I'll be fine—really," I lied.
My father now headed a department in the Imperial Fleet's Special Operations. He had no time to raise me himself, and my brother Sam was busy getting an education. In any case, my brother never forgave me that our mother ran without taking him with her—and died in the attempt. My father had never really wanted me anyway. I was an embarrassment and a reminder of the wife who had betrayed him. He had insisted I be returned on the orders of his superiors. The Empire, wishing no one to escape its grip, had seen an opportunity to score propaganda points. I hadn't even arrived on Earth before he was making the arrangements to get rid of me.
My father sent me away to a boarding school on Tarsus IV.
v v v
My first day at school, I was introduced by the teacher as someone who had "grown up among Romulan fiends and traitors" and my classmates were warned not to trust my "lies" about what it was like outside the Empire. Then we all went on a field trip to witness an execution. Tania Enright's crime was to have bought some oranges on the black market for her sick grandmother who longed for a taste of Earth. The informer, her eleven-year-old cousin, was shown off as a hero of the Empire at the execution. Before the first week of school was over, I had my first experience with the agonizer for the crime of quoting Surak. At that, they were lenient because of who my father was. The penalty for an adult would have been death.
It was on Tarsus IV that I was "recruited" for the Academy. Nogura, then a captain, arrived with the ships sent to re-supply the colony and put down the rebellion touched off by the famine and the mass executions. I first saw Nogura peering at me through the bars of my prison. He was standing beside Governor Kodos, who had received a commendation for his creative solutions to the situation.
"Is this the one?"
"He is scheduled for execution tomorrow."
"He looks barely twelve."
"He'll soon turn fourteen. And he's dangerous. He killed one of my men and evaded us for months while keeping a gang of brats alive."
Nogura swept his gaze over me and then met my eyes appraisingly.
"Such potential. It would be a waste to kill him. I have a better plan. I will send him to the Imperial Academy to ingrain in him the proper discipline and channel those abilities for the Empire."
I knew about the Academy. A recruit would earn his sponsor a cut of his prize money for his entire career—if he lived. Only a third of the entering class survived the first year. But that's not what scared me. My father was a graduate of the Academy. Two years of Tarsus IV had taught me it was impossible to be a servant of the Empire and keep a core of decency. I had left Rigel III far behind. But with all I had done to survive and protect those within my care, I still knew that what the Academy would make of me would be much worse.
"No. I won't go. I'd rather die."
"You will not die or do anything else without my leave." He then laughed, clapped Kodos on the shoulder and they moved on.
I looked at my cell and knew only one way of escape. I took off the thin prison smock and used the ragged edge of the metal cot to tear it into strips. I knotted the strips into a rope and tied a noose at both ends. I then lassoed one end around a ceiling fixture and pulled it taut. I slowly hauled the cot to the center of the cell. They didn't waste food on the condemned, and every few inches I had to pause to catch my breath. Somehow I found the strength to turn the cot on its side. I climbed on top and I then tightened the noose around my own neck. I jumped.
I knew the height provided by the cot would not be enough to break my neck. I prayed for oblivion as I slowly strangled.
I awoke knowing I had failed.
Nogura came to see me soon after I regained consciousness. "You are awake. Today is the day of execution."
I was seized with a wave of relief.
They took me shackled into the courtyard. My eyes burned at the sudden light. My charges stood waiting for me. Automatically I began counting heads. Tommy Leighton, Martha, the Rileys, and all the others stood cordoned off in one corner. Still safe. My interrogators had wondered that I could keep over a dozen children alive when so many adults died. It was because we were children. Unlike the wise adults, we didn't know any better. We didn't realize that with the Empire there was no escape and no rescue. In the end I couldn't keep them hidden from a starship. No one could have, but then I could only feel shame that I couldn't protect them.
Mary Riley held six-year-old Kevin by one hand while she held their baby sister Katie in the crook of her other arm. Nogura strode to Mary. The children shied away and pressed themselves together. He smiled reassuringly at Mary and tickled Katie under the chin. The baby looked up at him with solemn blue eyes and clutched at his tunic. He pried Katie from Mary's arms and walked toward me, swinging her to and fro. Katie started crying. He threw her up and down in the air, higher and higher. Her wails rose in intensity and pitch. When he drew close to me, he caught her by her feet and dashed her head against the pavement at my feet. Katie's streaming blood filled my eyes and Mary's screams my ears.
Nogura locked his eyes on mine. "Your life and the lives of all the others here are mine to dispose of. Your life does not belong to you but to the Empire. You will go to the Academy. If you fail even one task, if I even suspect you are doing less than your best, another one of their lives will be forfeit. Every time you fail, one of these lives will be snuffed out. If you kill yourself, I will kill every one of them and have your brother killed as well.
Do you understand?"
I graduated first in my class.
v v v
I have very few hostages left to fortune. Over the years, I personally and quietly arranged for almost all of them to disappear through the underground. Kevin Riley I managed to have posted with me. My brother and most of his family died on Deneva. I used the opportunity to send my nephew Peter to Kurt and Mara on Rigel III after logging him as dead. I knew they'd take care of him—although I refused to contact them more directly and learn what they thought of me. My father died in a palace coup before I even graduated from the academy—although Nogura knew better than to think threats to him would deter me.
There is one point of vulnerability that, thank God, Nogura doesn't know about. I can never acknowledge David as my son. It was the only way to keep him safe. It was the hardest act of my life to walk away from Carol, knowing that it could only confirm to her what a bastard I am. Well, I was able to live more easily knowing she hates me than knowing anything I do could rebound on them. I couldn't pretend that Nogura didn't notice the disappearance of those guarantees of my good behavior. I supposed he'd decided I was safely chained to the Enterprise by the weight of my own crimes.
And there is one more hostage—one more "attachment" they wouldn't suspect. When I met Spock, I felt a flash of recognition. I had just been posted to the Enterprise as her tactical officer. Here was someone who held himself with the same dignity and calm I remembered from Rigel III. From the first, he evoked in me a dangerous impulse to reveal myself. I had to stop myself from trying to make an eyebrow quirk up by expressing a phrase or thought that no subject of the Empire should dare admit knowing or feeling. Dangerous—and yet I found it harder and harder to keep my distance.
Soon after I came aboard, Captain Christopher Pike was severely injured in the same accident that killed Number One, our first officer. Spock asked me to kill his captain. Pike was locked in his own mind, with no control over any motor function, including speech. Ordinarily he would be killed, as are any in the Empire who have a physical or mental disability, but Dr. Daystrom wanted to use him in his engram experiments.
"Why not kill him yourself?"
"That would make me captain of the Enterprise, and I do not wish command."
"Why not?—a captain gets half of the prize money from captures and conquests."
"I prefer to be a less tempting target for assassination. The command crew gets a large cut as well. I find it wiser to be less greedy in return for being more safe."
He seemed surprised at my reluctance. We were of equal rank then, and either of us could have plausibly been chosen as Pike's successor. Most other officers in our situation would already have been at each other's throats.
"Your patron Nogura is pushing you for command of the ship in any case, and I prefer to go in the direction of least resistance. Also, I have reviewed your record, and I believe I would prosper under your command."
"Logical. What do I get out of it?"
"The command of the Enterprise. The most powerful ship in the Empire's arsenal. A chance for glory, prize money, and survival far away from the eyes of the Imperial Command. Or perhaps, Commander Kirk, you would prefer to be at Admiral Nogura's beck and call as his aide? I understand that is the other posting they are considering for you."
He went with me to Pike. At the time, I thought he was just acting as the witness that would be needed to properly log in my succession. But now I think it was to make sure I gave Pike a quick and painless death rather than prolong it, as many would, to gain enjoyment at the expense of a defenseless man. In our universe, a death like the one I gave Pike is a gift—one I had daily wished I could give myself. I imagined I saw gratitude in Pike's blue eyes, and in Spock's dark ones I thought I saw more than logic and greed. I saw loyalty. I hungered to see such respect and loyalty in his eyes again—this time directed at me.
v v v
As I rose in the ranks, it had become harder and harder to maneuver. When I was a junior officer, I took terrible risks. Mitigating Imperial orders. Finding discreet ways to leak information to the Romulans and to the growing Human resistance movement. But well before I took command of the ship, there had been times when I couldn't find any way to avoid slaughter, and it became increasingly difficult to distance myself from my actions. At times I came dangerously close to being discovered at my double-dealing. But it was those times that I couldn't avoid any part in the Empire's atrocities, that jarred me into realizing I had to coldly shut down any remorse to function. And as a starship captain? Commanding the Enterprise is like riding a bull. It's hard to dismount without getting gored.
On my first mission as captain, the Enterprise and the Defiant were dispatched to the Gorlan system to put down a rebellion. The Gorlans had seceded from the Empire and fired on the I.S.S. Potemkin, inflicting heavy casualties. She was slowly limping back to Starbase 8 on impulse power. If it wasn't stopped immediately, the Empire feared the rebellion would spread beyond the three allied systems. Spock was able to do an analysis of the pattern of attacks on Imperial vessels and outposts and came up with a possible location for the planet where the rebels were based.
There was no question of what was required when we confirmed that the attacks were launched from Laran II. There would have been no question even if there had been billions on the planet rather than 4,000 odd rebels and their families. I couldn't even afford to hesitate and look vulnerable in the eyes of the crew. I gave the order to fire all phasers, and we reduced all inhabited parts of the planet to ash. After that we used "dirty nukes" that ensured no one could live on the planet for millennia. Part of Nogura's policy of "plowing the earth with salt."
I knew that if I had given orders contrary to the Empire's Prime Directive to meet opposition with annihilation I would not have been obeyed. I would have been assassinated by my own officers, Nogura would order those held hostage to my good behavior killed, and then someone would replace me and the slaughter would go on. Such are the limits of power. That night I got drunk for the first time. I anesthetized myself until I could suppress the guilt and convince myself again that I was but a link in a chain.
If I had still harbored any hopes of ever returning to Rigel, they ended right there. At first I had justified my survival by the need to protect my charges from harm. But of course the list of my victims is had just become far longer than those I'd saved. There certainly would be no welcome on Rigel for the "Butcher of Gorlan."
Our second mission was to Vega IX. It was being reported that agents of the Empire were disappearing into thin air. Spock, helped by Sulu, again did his magic and pinpointed a small radius within which the device could be centered. It wasn't too hard then to find out exactly where. The rebels practically sent us an engraved invitation by heavily guarding one installation. They would have been wiser to depend on subterfuge. The device seemed to work by line of sight because survivors reported being able to elude it by shielding themselves behind objects before it could lock on. We took down their shielding with phasers and had no choice but to take the fortress in a costly room by room action. The Empire wanted a look at that device.
Lieutenant. Sulu and Security Chief Kelowitz were supposed to have secured the room the device was in but hadn't called in as ordered. I had myself beamed down alone directly to the room, only to find the scientist who had created and controlled the device strapped naked to a chair. He had knife slashes all over his torso and Kelowitz was using his agonizer on him in creative ways. Sulu was nowhere in sight. The sound of Sorlav's screams covered the whine of the transporter.
"Sorlav," Kelowitz rasped, "show me how to locate Kirk on the device."
His answers came between moans and gasps for air. "Device limited...by visual field...Can't locate specific person without idea of general area to scan...Then once person is locked in, can follow. Even a visual subspace transmission will do. Can kill from any distance then—even from light years away. But can't make disappear...what you can't see." Sorlav was babbling, maybe hoping that piling answer upon answer would buy him a respite.
I didn't bother giving Kelowitz any warning. I set the phaser on kill and fired. Then I went to Sorlav's side only to find he had fainted from the loss of blood.
On the console was the Tantalus device. What couldn't the Empire do now with that power? I shuddered. Making its existence commonly known would be enough to destroy any opposition. People would know they could be watched at any time and even from light-years away be destroyed with the push of a button. And officers of the Empire would not be exempt. I couldn't let that happen. I could claim the device had been destroyed accidentally by an exchange of phaser fire.
I fingered the device and thought how easily and painlessly it brought death. I thought, that at the very least, it would be enormously useful to keep track of my enemies. I unbolted the device and set it aside underneath a pile of holobooks. One blast from my phaser at the console provided the necessary explanation for its disappearance. I then went through the lab and systematically destroyed every piece of data that could allow the Empire to retrace Sorlav's research. Only then did I order a medical and security team down to secure the area.
I found Sulu raping Sorlav's wife at knifepoint in the next room. I ordered him off her but he was too far gone to obey me. So I dragged Sulu off her and he turned to attack me. Before the fight was over, Sulu had a nasty cut that laid open his cheek from brow to jaw. He'll wear the scar for the rest of his life. I ordered McCoy not to remove it.
I would have had Sulu killed, but he was under Nogura's special protection as his eyes and ears on my ship. Besides, I could handle Sulu. His own brand of viciousness made him wonderfully predictable and often less than effective. If he had not been busy venting his lusts, he would now be in possession of the Tantalus device. So instead I made him the new security chief. I thought he would not soon forget what had happened to the last one.
Smuggling the device aboard in the resulting chaos and pillage was pathetically easy. I was never so grateful for the lack of teamwork and self-restraint found even in the "best" of Empire crews. Five hundred colonists were killed in the assault, and I executed five hundred others for crimes that made Sulu's seem petty. Sorlav was one of them. Nogura wasn't too pleased by that, but I couldn't allow the Empire to replicate the device. Vegans had found that their "liberators" acted no better that the agents of Empire. Somehow in my record that became transmuted to my having 5,000 colonists executed. The Empire wanted to maintain a record of total terror as a warning to others and lies are a reflex with them.
I watched the condemned dig graves for the colonists who had been killed in the assault. Among them were children, including one girl that with her reddish-blond curls reminded me very much of Katie.
Pike—Pike's killing was a mercy. And let us be honest. I also knew that, as a captain of the Enterprise, Pike was no innocent. Still, before taking command, I had managed to limit my killing to self-defense or direct orders or in the heat of battle. Mostly I had killed my own kind.
Even as late as the killing on Laran II, I would have gazed down at an innocent victim of the choices that had brought me to that moment and felt nausea. Then I had been glad the deaths there had been mercifully distant.
But I had long made the choice that regret and compassion was something I couldn't afford. It would make no difference to her that I took no joy in slaughter and pain. I could only feel satisfaction at my numbness. It dawned on me that a killer is what I am by nature, or it wouldn't have been this easy to be so successful at it.
After that it became easier, even second nature. I felt nothing when I ordered the destruction of Organia, rather than let her fall to the Klingons. The only thing that kept me from being a slaughterer once again on a planetary scale, was that my chosen victims revealed themselves as god-like beings beyond death who were annoyed that we and the Klingons were disturbing their peace. When with a simple act of will they stopped our war, all I could feel was rage.
v v v
When the PSI 2000 virus infected Spock and me, our hidden selves finally peeked out at each other. We had barely fifteen minutes before the ship would enter the atmosphere of the planet below us and burn up. Our only chance was an untried technique. I needed him. No one could locate Spock and he didn't respond to Uhura's shipwide hail. I used the Tantalus device to find him. I was stunned by what I saw. He was weeping. I tore my eyes away, disengaged the screen, and ran to the briefing room.
Spock looked up as I burst into the room. The pirate pose was finally stripped from him. The beard couldn't hide the naked vulnerability on his face.
"My mother and father—they could never accept what I am now."
"We have ten—maybe fifteen minutes."
"They were secret followers of Surak—part of the 'wormhole shuttle' that helps refugees flee the Empire..."
I grabbed him out of his seat and began to shake him. "We've got to risk a full power start. The engines were shut off—there's no time to regenerate."
"...They were caught. So I 'volunteered' to enter the academy in return for the commutation of their death sentence and exile to Romulus. Vulcans were resisting the draft and I am from a prominent family. Commodore April thought my entry could help break that resistance."
He didn't seem to have heard a word I said. I slapped him hard across his face. He didn't even flinch.
"Jim, when my father and I parted, he told me that I was no longer his son and he was no longer my father. That he was ashamed of me."
"You've got to hear me." Even in the midst of the crisis some part of me was astonished. When had he started thinking of me as 'Jim?' I struck him again and again with my full strength. He hardly seemed to feel it. He stopped my hand and his grip was like being clamped in a force field. I tried again to get through to him. "We need to risk implosion. It's our only chance."
"Understand, Jim. After twenty years among barbarians I can't respect, becoming a barbarian myself. And then I wonder if you could be a friend and brother to me and I feel ashamed to still feel that need. Decades burying any warmth, any conscience."
He released my hand and I struck him again. This time he retaliated and the force of his blow sent me across the room. My lip was split, I could feel blood in my mouth, and my jaw was on fire. I ignored the pain and flung myself back at him.
"We've got to risk implosion."
"It's never been done."
"Don't tell me that!" I shouted. "If it's at all possible we have to take that one in ten thousand chance!" I felt a sudden rush through my veins and felt dizzy and flushed. The effects of the virus had finally hit me. I leaned against the bulkhead breathing hard. I felt myself being drenched in sweat. Words tumbled out of me without any will. "Family and conscience are a luxury neither of us can afford. This captain's insignia. This vessel. It's a trap. I don't control this ship. It controls me."
"Jim." I had never seen this Spock before. There was such pain on his face—for me this time.
"I have family too. But now I can never go home. It's been so long since I've felt clean. So long. I just want some time without this savage costume. Just me and a wife and my boy and a chance at an unimportant and decent life. A beach to walk on." I laughed. "It would take an entire ocean to wash me clean."
For whatever reason, that broke him out of his intoxicated state. He began to talk of an untested intermix formula based on a theoretical relationship between time and antimatter. The self-control in his calm voice steadied my resolve and somehow we held ourselves together long enough to save the ship. Afterwards we didn't say a word to each other about what we revealed under the virus' influence. Each of us looked warily at the other—testing—wondering if here was someone who could be trusted and never quite daring to try.
v v v
My final unraveling began with a transporter accident. I was split into two people. I now could observe my two halves—Rigel and Tarsus. I was split off from the animal half that lived constantly in the present. That cared only for self-preservation and did not hesitate to do what was necessary. That half had no doubts.
I looked down at my animal self restrained on the sickbay bed and thought how ironic. One would think that half would fit perfectly into the Empire's world. But it was my "gentler" half that had the intellect, the intuition, the self-discipline, even the courage. Before Spock and I had forced him off the bridge, the animal had almost killed two crewmen in a drunken rage. That other existed in a constant fear that only alcohol could blunt. I should be grateful for that. This universe was savage enough to keep him terrified. That limited the damage he could do. Even a rabid dog is not so brave among wolves. Even unconscious, his face was taut with pain and he moved restlessly. He could not command.
Neither half of my soul could bring me peace.
It's a wonder I survived at all. It would have been so easy for Spock to have relieved me of command or have had me killed. Instead, he covered for my hesitation and lack of ruthlessness until he found a way to reunite my two halves. And helped reconcile me to attaching myself back to that animal.
"You cannot survive without him," Spock said, breaking into my thoughts.
This side of myself was totally open to him. I was stripped down to an almost childlike, trusting state. I wasn't capable of lying to anyone and had to be saved from myself. That brought out an answering openness in Spock. I thought not surviving this wouldn't be such a bad thing.
I had just learned that there was no part of me that was innocent. Neither of us could function in command without the other. There was no part of me that I couldn't hold responsible for what I had become. In a way, that animal half was more innocent. It lived for the moment and took what it wanted. It was my milder, meeker half that lent it the control that turned a mere killer into a premeditated mass murderer.
Spock plunged on relentlessly. "A man cannot change what is. His half has the strength you need. In nature, the strong prey on the weak. It is better to be predator than prey. Killers are what we must be in a brutal universe. As it is with sentient beings, so it is with civilizations. No meek civilization, no democracy has survived for long. The Age of Surak on my planet, America on yours."
"Surak's legacy survives on Romulus and America's and that of the other Earth republics survive on Rigel. And Earth's democracies did not die of themselves. They were murdered by Khan and his compatriots and by the cost of overthrowing them. And the predator states don't survive long either. Nazi Germany. Soviet Russia. Khan's hegemony. The Empire will die too."
"No doubt the Empire will die, but who is to say that anything better would take its place? The Romulan Alliance has little chance of standing against us. In the end, we cannot deny our natures. What it is in us that allows our survival. Come, it is pointless to deny what is necessary. What is, is. It is best to make peace with that." His lips twitched upward. "Jim, the very fact that you speak openly of the Empire and the Romulan Alliance in this manner should warn you that you have lost all sense of self-preservation. You must let that other half back in."
"And yet it's that weak half that still stands before you while that ravening dog had to be put under restraints."
Spock nodded his head. "You need both. Your ruthless side, tempered by judgment, is what allows you not just to command but survive in the Empire. But without that animal side, you find yourself increasingly relinquishing control to me. You cannot make decisions. He can."
I nodded my assent, yet I still rebelled. What I heard was that the better angel of my nature had to be put to the service of that animal. Why shouldn't it be the animal within kept caged by my will? We released that other and made our way to the transporter, carrying him between us. I saw the tight grimness in Spock's face as he stood at the transporter controls that would re-fuse me into one being. We didn't know if the result would be a re-fusion into one life or a common death. When I stepped off the transporter, and saw the profound relief on his face, I knew I had found something I had thought left behind forever on Rigel and never thought to find on the Enterprise—someone I could trust—if only I could allow it.
v v v
The fabric of myself had been torn in half and had not been seamlessly rewoven. It's strange, but I have few memories from that animal half, maybe because he existed during the entire time in either stark terror or a drunken stupor. Both halves had been placed back into one body, but still refused to share one soul. My better self, freed for a space after nearly twenty years of being in hiding, had seen the enemy and no longer kept a truce.
I told myself that Spock was right, that killers were what we had to be in a brutal universe. As I found it harder and harder to put my conscience back in its cage, I relied even more on that ruthless part of myself to grimly hang on. My temper was flayed raw at the slightest provocation. I found myself drinking more and more to drown that inner voice. That's dangerous in my universe.
When Spock went into Pon farr, I didn't allow myself to hesitate or count the cost. I defied Admiral Komack's orders and brought him to Vulcan to save his life. I knew what Komack would have done to us from what happened to the Exeter when its captain disobeyed him. He would have stripped me of command and decimated the crew—randomly killing one of every ten. So when he refused me, I faked orders and killed Komack with the Tantalus device, using it for the first time—that's how Marlena discovered I had it. She attributes my success to it.
She is a fool. One does not get an independent command unless one can directly and personally take the credit for taking a commander out, or through an incredible record of success, or through a powerful patron. I was given command of the Enterprise because of all those reasons. I continue to command because the success of our missions keeps the crew alive and happy with prize money—and that eliminates assassination attempts from all but greedy green ensigns who haven't yet learned any better. People fight to be posted to this ship.
If I commanded this ship only by using the agonizer and the booth, the crew wouldn't be able to function as well as it does. If I used the Tantalus device as often as Marlena thought, as often as she suggested, I would have been discovered long before this and it would have fallen into Nogura's hands. I dared not even kill Nogura with it. He told me he had left instructions to kill all I held dear if he died before me.
In any case, especially after Laran II, I had nowhere to go, and ironically in a way Nogura was now my patron and protector in the Imperial Fleet. I could afford to bide my time. To wait to make it count.
The Empire chains us not just by fear but through the things we love. That is part of why I let Marlena seduce me at the Enterprise's first Solstice party. I can't afford any real attachments, and I was sure I couldn't love her. I saw the calculation glitter too openly in her eyes. She didn't want the captain—just to be the captain's woman. That made us a good match I thought. I hoped she would distract attention from those for whom I cared and provide me some relief—some human contact, if nothing else. After all, rank hath its privileges.
It wasn't enough. I couldn't trust her enough to reveal enough of myself to gain her trust in return. Sometimes at night I would feel her curl her body next to mine, and before I could stop the thought, I'd find myself wishing we could be more to each other. Whenever I touched her, I had to fight not to show too much of myself. After sharing my body with her, I felt more alone than ever. Sometimes I thought I saw in her something of that same longing. Although I haven't glimpsed that since I came to her as that animal. I was too drunk to remember what I did to her, but the bruises lasted for days.
Once she discovered the Tantalus device, the wise act would have been to kill her. But I found I could not snap a neck I had covered in kisses; could not make cold a body that had kept me warm.
The alternative would have been to destroy the device. But I thought of what had almost happened to Spock and thought that someday I might need to use it again. So I kept her in my bed. And as the distance between us grew after the transporter accident, I found I could no longer look at Marlena without wondering how long it would be before she thought to use it on me. No—love, compassion, loyalty was not something I could afford to expect or seek out from anyone.
v v v
Now, back from that other universe, I sat at my desk and thought of the tantalizing glimpse I had of a life I could have had. I found myself thinking of MacBeth and wondering if redemption was possible for me. It was one of my Aunt's favorite works and she read it aloud to me many times. I think she was trying to warn me how hard it would be to regain your soul once lost. "I am in blood stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er."
I thought of that as I stared at the spot where the Tantalus device lay hidden. I moved from behind my desk and took out my phaser. Then I aimed it at the Tantalus device and fired, melting it into slag.
Its power was too dangerous to let loose into the universe—and into myself. It is too easy to use such a clean, distant form of dealing death. It is a good thing war and death has its horrors. Else we would grow too fond of them. Afterwards I felt lighter than I have since boyhood. And whole.
v v v
For too long I have told myself that I have no choice. Now I am reminded again that is not true. I looked very closely at the mirror held to me by that other reality in the short time I was there. In the faces around me I recognized the signs of a better world. I saw straight postures, purposeful strides, and the direct, unhidden gazes that hold no guilt and no servility. I saw uniforms that spoke of cool professionalism rather than swagger. I saw a crew I could be proud of, that obeyed out of loyalty and idealism rather than fear or love of loot. A civilization based on peaceful cooperation and trade rather than rapine. A ship built for exploration, not conquest. And I thought of my counterpart. What kind of man commanded that ship, those people, in that kind of Universe? Could he be the kind of man I would have been proud to become?
Every revolution within and without starts with a vision. On that ship I saw a vision of a future worth fighting for. We are not killers because we live in a brutal universe. We have created a brutal universe by acting as killers. I can no longer lie to myself that what I am is simply my nature. It is my choice. A choice made and that can be remade every day.
The Empire is rotten to the core. Conquest is easy. Control is not. A looters' state that sustains itself by capturing world after world can only eventually turn upon itself. Either it will find itself with nothing left to loot, or it will find it has created too many enemies to keep them from finding each other and returning the favor. I've always known that. What I can no longer do is keep the blinders on that have allowed me to look neither left or right as I threw the gift of my life into feeding that black hole.
I am tired of living just to survive. If change is inevitable, predictable, beneficial...doesn't that demand I become a part of it? It would take so little to cave in the Empire's brittle shell. And I can't be convinced that the resulting chaos would be worse then the kind of order we live under now.
I've called Spock to my quarters. I'm going to take a chance and tell him how I feel. I know now that even in the face of orders to kill me, he did all he could to ensure our safe return. I feel shame now when I remember how I treated his counterpart. I should have known better. Spock has never betrayed my trust. He is a man of integrity and loyalty in both universes. I want to be worthy of that loyalty. I want to see if together we can't find a way to spare the Halkans. For a start.
Maybe one man alone cannot summon the future. But I believe I can change the present. At the very least I can change myself. And if I have Spock at my side...The End
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