Hennigen quickly got a new appreciation for Mr. Spock's leadership abilities: the task of nursing an ignoramus through fourteen different labs did not prevent the Vulcan from simultaneously directing his staff in the last stages of research and packing. A rush of unexpected nostalgia – he had dreamt about becoming a planetologist once, when he was very young and idealistic – prompted the Secretary to view the two of them as a meandering dipole. At one domain, hushed, intense fusion of opinions and brainpowers, and shop talk that spiraled out into math more often than not, and when it did, he could blurrily distinguish parentheses brimming with unvoiced assumptions, as common to these people as his signature was to him. At the other, bland frowns, hasty retreats, long pauses he had to fill with meaningless small talk.

His resolution concerning the equipment expired somewhere between the Sub-Department of Botany, where a cute assistant, stumbling over her rehearsed monologue, attempted to impress on him why it should rightly be called "The Sub-Department of Autotrophic Lifeforms" (some of her examples made his hair stand on end, but the poor girl never noticed), and that of Astrophysics, the head of which had barely spoken a word in his direction before whisking Mr. Spock towards some hideous apparatus. Once there, they began to argue about deconstruction, depressurizing, and whether a Mr. Chekhov should be banned for life from using the long-range sensors (he could swear the distraught physicist insisted on a life-long imprisonment). The Secretary forgot all about machinery.

He watched people.

They were so ordinary, these men and women. So attuned to each other. So surprised "the brass" deigned to look into their business – and what in Zefram Cochran's name were they supposed to do with him? He was lost in a swarm, which upon determining his harmlessness was rapidly swirling back into upbeat chaos.

Warnings were being shouted, cables were rolling and being chased, the Quartermaster was signing 'padds and scolding some hapless Ensign for the loss of fifty-four styluses –

'For God's sake, Grinby, do you eat them? Do you sow them on away missions?'

'Well it's not like it's a communicator!' the Ensign was at the end of his tether, as was his adversary, to what the Secretary attributed his heated exclamation of 'Well it's not like you're a Doctor!'

His elbow was nudged, and he recoiled from the gentle touch. Mr. Spock was gazing at him, bemused by his covering in a corner.

'Lively,' he managed.

The Vulcan seemed mollified, and was already half a thought away when Hennigen desperately appealed to be led somewhere quieter. He acquiesced graciously enough, and soon they were leaving the teeming deck.

'Bridge,' said Mr. Spock, and the doors slid closed.

'Excuse me,' blurted Hennigen, who was preparing to swallow a disappointment but couldn't help asking. 'May I have a look at the Captain's quarters?'

Mr. Spock's nostrils flared just a fraction of an angle, but Kirk must have foreseen his wish; they went there instead, and found the cabin unlocked.

'Please wait.' Mr. Spock entered first, ascertained the absence of enemies – the absence of anybody, for that matter – and then invited the Secretary in. He himself did not stray from the door.

Spock's shoulderblades touched a little plaque, on which four words were engraved.

The Secretary could not read them, he didn't even think to look; it was a fairly recent addition, although one that had already been firmly installed in the ship's folklore. Even the cool XO had once mellowed enough to share his opinion on the matter, with an eager audience of one bedridden commanding officer.

He'd said, logical as ever, that the 'war cry', as Lt. Uhura termed it; the 'voodoo therapy', as Dr. McCoy mocked it; the "worst case of IDIC this side of 40 Eridani", as per Mr. Chekhov's compulsory leetle joke; the Message on the Wall, as it was commonly referred to, was, in fact, a piece of poetry.

How can it be poetry when it is the artless prose of my everyday existence? Asked Jim, pink with pleasure.

It is simple, he answered; it serves its purpose; it is perfectly balanced, every constituent is necessary and sufficient, and so is the whole; and finally, it has to be questioned and it has to be true.

It sure never gets old, Jim ruefully agreed.

However, Spock was aware that an outsider could view 'I am captain Kirk' as vain stupidity, and was therefore standing sentry before the infamous plaque, while the civilian poked through the quarters of the 'Fleet's least conventional leader.

What Spock failed to consider was, he would never be able to tuck the Enterprise behind his back.

Hennigen, catching on the solemnity of the event, did not advance further into the room. Instead, he studied his surroundings as if sight was water, and he a wanderer dying of thirst. He knew better than to ruin the one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

An occasional knick-knack relieved the Spartan Starfleet setting. The furniture was sturdy; out there, everything had to have an increased margin of safety. By the way, how does one go about buying a chair, between mapping stars and nipping wars in the bud? He had a wild concept, all-too-similar to his celebrated insights, that all spacers were aliens, a breed of superbeings bound by duty to their wingless kinsfolk. Huh. The cabin could hardly spring a bigger shock on him after that, but he gave it a perfunctory examination out of sheer habit.

There were no breakables; the mirror itself was metal; Hennigen doubted there would be much damage if the Enterprise were turned upside down and rattled, well, maybe except two blurred stains on the ceiling.

He turned to his escort, with the intent to compliment, but it felt flat, tactless. So he said nothing. They went outside, and the Vulcan palmed the door closed. Hennigen was thoroughly ill at ease with his own taciturnity; it did not become a statesman of his caliber.

What he failed to consider was, the First Officer, having served under the Captain for years and being a member of a notoriously candid race, could and would easily back up or disprove his deductions about the man, seeing as they did not touch upon anything classified.

Hennigen smirked, earning himself a sidelong glance and a quirked eyebrow. Classified, now there's a word. Was there really a level of clearance to describe what these people, from the lowliest ensign to the ubiquitous invisible Kirk, encountered in their travels, let alone allow them to encounter it? What unimaginable trust must Federation invest in her subjects to set them loose at the Galaxy, and what unspeakable loyalty must they pay her back with?

They moved along in sync, never guessing that for a minute, they had been in complete agreement with each other.