Forty-five minutes later I was in the middle of writing up the surgical report on the procedure I’d just performed when I received a frantic call from Uhura – who was obviously in tears – telling me to get to the transporter room ASAP. To this day, I don’t remember anything about the conversation other than the words “the Captain is dead.” At the time I’d asked her to repeat herself, sure something had gotten lost in translation, but the syllables I heard the second time around conjured up the same image as before.
Snatching up a medikit I made for the door, ordering my staff to bring a gurney, running blindly for the transporter room, completely oblivious to my surroundings. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d managed to bowl over a few unsuspecting crewmembers while en route, but I don’t recall much about my headlong flight there, except for the thoughts that were racing through my head. Dead? How? They’d beamed down for Spock’s nuptials, a ceremony that was to take place on the planet of the most logical, unemotional and peace-loving beings in the galaxy. How on Earth could someone have died? A fall? An allergic reaction to something he’d eaten? Somehow the idea of a jealous lover shooting up the place just didn’t seem plausible. If this was Jim’s idea of a joke it wasn’t very damn funny. Having no idea what to expect, I burst through the doors just as the machine hummed to life.
Spock materialized on the platform, Kirk cradled in his arms, white as chalk. The smudges of dirt visible on the Captain’s face stood out in stark contrast to the ashen skin, and all thoughts that I was the victim of some twisted prank evaporated instantly, like tiny droplets of water sloshed onto hot, desert sand. Something was terribly wrong. Maybe there’s still a chance I tried to convince myself valiantly, despite the impossible scene unfolding before my very eyes. Spock wasn’t a doctor, after all; he couldn’t be sure.
“Spock! Why didn’t you call for a medical team to be standing by, or have yourselves beamed up the minute things went south?” I had rushed to Jim’s side; was feeling his throat for a pulse (good God, why was it purple?), even though the scanner whirring in my other hand had already confirmed my worst fears.
“It was already too late. The Captain is dead.” The words were spoken with an eerie sense of finality.
Totally dumbfounded, I noted the look of utter horror, of sheer disbelief, as Scotty raced from behind the console, leaving a stunned Transporter Chief Kyle alone behind the mechanism. Coming to a stop at my shoulder, the third-in-command – check that, he was the second-in-command now – searched my face, unmistakably expecting an answer. It must have been plainly written there, for I watched the small glimmer of hope die a quick death in the Scotsman’s eyes.
I turned my attention back to Spock, my eyes settling on the unbelievable burden he was bearing. “What in blazes happened down there?! I thought you invited Jim to some sort of Vulcan matrimonial ceremony! Were you attacked? How the hell did he get that cut on his chest?” I wrenched my gaze from that lifeless, limp body in the Vulcan’s arms up to his blank, unreadable face; and shifted into CMO mode. It was where I felt the most comfortable, and secure, and was probably the only thing that kept me sane during those surreal few minutes.
“Spock, are you injured?” I managed to ask in an almost normal voice, my eyes traveling over the lean frame, looking for wounds, signs of bleeding, waving my scanner at him now. If history was any indicator, Spock had gotten it just as bad, if not worse, trying to protect Jim’s ass. His face was streaked with dirt as well, as were his uniform and boots, but other than that there were no signs that he’d been hurt – at least not in the physical sense.
“Negative.” He turned to the Chief Engineer. My eyes followed his. All the blood had drained from Scotty’s face. I’d never seen the man so pale, even after a bender to end all benders. “Mr. Scott. Please have LCDR Giotto meet us here immediately along with a security detail. I am relinquishing command, and will now surrender myself for arrest.”
“But why? We need to find the person or persons who did this.” Scotty had never questioned a direct order from the Vulcan before, his gaze roaming between the wooden face of his XO and the even more still face of the human in Spock’s arms.
“Because I killed the Captain.”
It was as if a hole had opened up in the bulkhead, exposing the room to the vacuum of space, sucking all sound out into the black void beyond.
Every pair of eyes in the room snapped to the XO, mine included. What was wrong with everyone today? Had the entire universe suddenly gone haywire, become a place where the utterly impossible had now become stark reality? This shouldn’t be happening, couldn’t be happening. Okay, time to wake up now, Leonard I remember telling myself. I’d had my share of nightmares during my tenure on the ship – some real doozies, in fact – usually about just this type of thing, only I knew I wasn’t sleeping this time.
This nightmare was all too real.
I was the first one who found my voice, which shook with barely-concealed rage.
“You what?! Why? He was your best friend!” I fought to get control of myself, tried desperately to put a rational spin on a totally irrational situation. “Surely you can’t mean that, Spock.”
There had to be a logical explanation. Spock was emotionally compromised, right? Still suffering from that chemical imbalance that had made him act erratically over the course of the last week? He must not be remembering things correctly, must’ve misspoken no doubt. The Vulcan could no more kill Jim than carbon-based life could survive on a planet whose sun had gone dark, but all the while the incontrovertible evidence to the contrary was resting against the blue velour of Spock’s tunic. I knew even then I was grasping at straws, but I didn’t care. In the background I could hear Kyle calling security.
Spock was either unwilling, or unable, to answer me.
Despite my best efforts, I found my temper getting the best of me. I railed at the closest available thing. Unfortunately for Spock, it was he. “Well? You want to tell me just why Jim is dead; why you killed him?” White-hot anger gripped me, and I took a menacing step toward the Vulcan, my vision suddenly clouded with red, my fist raised to lash out at something, anything.
Unbelievably, Spock flinched in the wake of my fury, refusing to meet my gaze. It was then that I realized the last vestiges of his control was in tatters, that he was about to break down any second now.
At that moment the doors swished open, admitting the medical team with the gurney. Spock carried his burden off the platform, seemed to clutch the body tightly to his chest for an instant, before gently laying his Captain, his friend, on the thin mattress, the orderlies scattering before him. Having eyes for no one but Jim, he gingerly brushed the stray lock of hair off the high forehead, a very public display of his feelings for this man that he absolutely would not have permitted himself under normal circumstances. The tender gesture was oddly incongruous with his whispered confession of a few moments ago.
We must’ve stayed like that for at least a minute, Spock watching Jim, as if willing him to open his eyes, to take a breath, jump up off the gurney and put an end to this inconceivable turn of events, and the rest of us frozen in place, watching Spock until the arrival of Giotto and his security team disturbed the unnatural stillness that had settled over the room.
To his credit, in spite of the sight that met his eyes on the stretcher before him, the Chief of Security remained remarkably calm, turning to Spock and asking quietly, “Sir? What are your orders?” his strained tone the only indicator of his immediate distress.
The sound of Giotto’s voice startled Spock out of his silent suffering. He studiously ignored the man, looking to Scotty instead.
His eyes never leaving the Vulcan’s face, the Chief Engineer began speaking in a low voice. “Mr. Spock is hereby relieved of command. Mr. Kyle, please note the stardate an’ time for the official log. Mr. Giotto, Mr. Spock is under arrest. Please escort him to his quarters an’ see that he stays there.” The hard edge to his voice softened, as did his features, as he addressed Spock directly. “Will that suffice, sir?”
Clearly Spock had expected something else altogether. Gratitude shone briefly in the dark eyes. “That will be more than sufficient, Commander. I shall offer no resistance.”
It took a stern look from Giotto to his men to spur the two of them, who had been rooted to the deck since their arrival, into motion, flanking the former XO as they led him from the room.
“An’ gentlemen, no word of what ye’ve seen or heard here is to be passed on to the crew,” the acting-Captain added. “I’ll make an official announcement within the hour.” The doors closed on the two security guards amid a chorus of ‘aye, sirs.’
Once the team and prisoner had left, Giotto wasn’t able to contain himself any longer, purposefully fingering the phaser resting against his hip. “Sirs,” he ground out through clenched teeth, “will somebody please tell me what the hell is going on around here?”
My thoughts exactly as I took this opportunity to verbally pounce on Scotty. “You mind explaining to me what that was all about? Why his ass isn’t in the brig right now? He freely admitted to killing Jim.” The truth behind those words was starting to hit me, the realization that Kirk was actually dead replacing the initial surge of anger, the numbness that had permeated my body, with a blinding pain.
There was a sharp intake of breath from Giotto. His eyes had told him the instant he entered the room that his Captain was dead. This was the first time it had been betrayed to his ears just who was responsible. His glower matched mine as we both looked to the Scotsman.
“Did ye not see him, Doctor? In all the years we’ve served together I’ve never seen Mr. Spock look that lost, that broken, that alone. If what he says is true, an’ the Captain died by his hand, I for one know there was no way it was intentional – he had to have been out of his mind or somethin’.” He paused, the breath whistling out of him. “Knowin’ how he feels about the Captain, I figured havin’ to live with what he’s done is punishment enough. I dinna see the need to add to his inner torment.”
That oh-so-insightful observation finally made me understand I wasn’t the only one who was hurting. As hard as this was for me, it had to be unbearable for Spock. I had lost a good friend, the ship a beloved captain, but Spock had lost his whole world today, for if he’d actually done what he said, in addition to Kirk being taken so brutally from his life, his Starfleet career was surely over. If he really had killed Jim Kirk, I doubted he’d be able to survive it.
But Giotto took it upon himself to argue. “Sir, with all due respect, if Mr. Spock is in fact responsible for the Captain’s death, regulations don’t permit simple confinement to quarters. It is clearly mandated that in the case of a capital offense, the accused must be placed in the brig for the protection of the crew.”
“Aye; I understand that laddie, but my decision stands, an’ I’ll take full responsibility for it.” His look became thoughtful, introspective. “Besides, do ye really imagine that Mr. Spock will break out of his quarters and go on a murderin’ rampage?”
“No. But then again, I wouldn’t have believed him capable of murdering Captain Kirk, either.” The curt answer was stated matter-of-factly, without the slightest hesitation.
It was a good point, a valid one even, but once Scotty had his dander up, had made a decision, getting him to change his mind was akin to trying to dent a solid block of neutronium with nothing but your teeth. In the meantime another thought had occurred to me.
“He’s more likely to do harm to himself, given the current situation.” Both men looked to me for clarification, but I found myself unwilling to betray Spock’s confidence, despite the fact that he hadn’t actually confided in me.
Ignoring those pointed stares I forged on. “Can we post a guard inside his quarters as well? To make sure he doesn’t hurt himself? At least until I’ve had a chance to talk to him, find out what happened?” My initial anger had bled away, to be replaced with genuine concern for the friend I had left, who was most certainly struggling emotionally with the gravity of the situation. I looked askance at Giotto.
The Chief of Security pursed his lips, closing his eyes briefly and passing a hand over his face. “Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t think of invading Mr. Spock’s privacy that way, but things are anything but normal. As a man accused of a capital murder, and that of a superior officer to boot, he has no say whatsoever in the matter and I’m sure he knows it.” He headed for the console, activating the comm unit there.
“Ensign Woo Ling, please acknowledge.”
“Woo Ling here, sir,” came the tinny response.
“Have you arrived at Mr. Spock’s quarters, yet?”
“No sir, we’re almost there.”
“Well, when you get there Mr. Spock is not to be left alone. One of you is to accompany him into his cabin and keep watch over him there until I arrive.”
“Giotto out.” He depressed the switch, and the comm unit went dead. He turned uneasy eyes to me. “I’m only agreeing to this because you both know Mr. Spock much better than I do, but if I even have the slightest inkling that something isn’t right, I’ll slap him in the brig so fast it’ll make warp ten seem like a snail’s pace.” Looking at each of us in turn, he did an about-face and made for the door, pausing and sparing a small glance at the motionless figure of his CO before marching decisively out of the room.
Once he’d left I focused on the orderlies who were watching me, plainly waiting to be told what to do next.
I headed for the gurney, feeling as if I were suddenly wearing gravity boots. It was a challenge to get my feet moving at all, those few steps the most difficult ones of my life, seeming to take an eternity.
I stopped and gazed down at the body before me, my hand finding a cooling shoulder as my vision blurred without warning. Damn fool! I cursed silently, feeling the irrational need to pummel something once again. Always charging in where angels fear to tread. Acting first and thinking about the consequences later. And this time the consequences finally caught up with you. Damn it! I should have been there! Then maybe you wouldn’t be dead now.
Pulling up the sheet to cover the dirt-streaked face of my friend, I instructed the medical team to take the Captain’s body to Sickbay; that I’d be there shortly. Barely acknowledging my orders, the two of them disappeared as the doors swished closed behind them, their grim burden in tow.
As I once again became aware of my surroundings, I could hear Scotty speaking in muted tones to Kyle, a gentle hand on the man’s shoulder.
“Go on, lad, go to yer quarters. Ye’re excused from duty for the rest of yer shift.” Kyle didn’t have to be told twice. He beat a hasty retreat on shaky legs barely able to support his weight.
Now that we were finally alone, Scotty fixed his attention on me. “We need to get to the bottom of this, Doctor, an’ I’m countin’ on ye to find out what happened, an’ why.”
I stuck out my lower lip, a fist pressed to my chin. My eyes flicking to his, I answered in a hushed whisper. “I’ll do my best, Scotty, but it’s doubtful he’ll confide in me. Jim’s the one who was his friend, who could get Spock to tell him anything.”
“Aye, an’ so are ye, much as the two of ye try to hide it. The Captain’s gone, an’ he’ll need ye more than ever now, Leonard. Right now, right here, ye’re all he has left. The only crewmember he’s likely to talk to.” The Scotsman’s shoulders slumped, and he suddenly looked much older than his years, the events of the last ten minutes aging him much more than the last year had, given the trials and tribulations we’d faced during those first twelve months in space. “I’ll need all the information I can get before I report this to Starfleet Command.”
That really hit me. Much like our former First Officer, the ship’s Chief Engineer was a man who valued his privacy; who didn’t go out of his way to cultivate frivolous friendships or engage in trivial social outings, but it was obvious that this had struck a nerve. He may not show it like other members of the crew did, but he was just as fond of, just as loyal to our Command Team as they were. Jim Kirk was beyond the Scotsman’s ability to help now, but by God I knew he’d do whatever possible to keep Spock from suffering any more than was necessary.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
I watched as his eyes filled with empathy, knowing what lay ahead for me. “Thank ye, Doctor.”
And with that I set off for Sickbay, mentally preparing myself for the grim task that awaited me there.
Out of respect, I buzzed his quarters, waiting for permission to enter. Once the door slid aside and I was granted access, I wasn’t surprised to find Giotto himself in the room, hovering just inside the entrance, barely past the sensor that would trip the door. In spite of the misgivings he had voiced in the transporter room, it seemed he was trying to afford Spock what little privacy he could.
Looking past the Security Chief I saw that Spock was seated at his desk, the computer screen on the edge of it crushed almost beyond recognition. Glancing back at the man standing guard, I saw that Giotto had picked up on my thoughts immediately; a shrug of his shoulders and a slight shake of the head told me Spock hadn’t done that while Giotto was here.
I turned to Spock once again. He was perfectly still, his face blank, eyes unfocused, his thoughts a million light-years from here. Drowning in the sheer enormity of what he had done. If I didn’t get to him soon, draw him back from the edge, he’d step off the precipice into oblivion, beyond my reach or ability to assist him.
My gaze shifted to the man standing next to me again. “Can I have a few moments alone with him, Commander?” I asked softly.
I watched his eyes move to Spock, then back to me. He must have concluded that in his present condition, the man behind the desk represented a threat to no one. He nodded curtly at me and turned on his heel, walking out the door without a word.
I approached the desk slowly, sinking into the chair in front of it. Spock didn’t even seem to notice that I was there. This was gonna be tricky. If I didn’t handle this just right, Spock would never open up to me.
I licked my lips, my gaze moving to Spock’s face, but the eyes staring out of it were vacant, empty, bereft. “All right, Spock,” I began softly, “my autopsy showed Jim died from asphyxiation, and there was that cut to his chest, as well as second degree burns to his back and shoulders. I think you owe me an explanation.”
No response. The Vulcan compressed his lips, bowing his head, his eyes closed, a muffled sigh the only sound in the room.
I tried again. “Spock, Jim’s dead, and by your hand. You do understand that Starfleet’s gonna prosecute you for his murder, right? If I’m going to be able to help you at all, I need to know exactly what happened, and why.”
The dark head snapped up at that. “There is no excuse for the crime of which I am guilty; I intend to offer no defense.”
The horror of the situation gripped me again, my words colored by the fact that I’d been powerless to prevent the unthinkable. “That’s all well and good, but it’s sure not what Jim would have wanted. If you want to honor his memory at all then you should at least try to give his death some meaning. He went down there as your friend, to stand with you, support you, and wound up giving his life instead.” I took a deep breath, tried to get a grip on my frustration. “I’m not blaming you for that – I know that if you were in your right mind you’d never do anything to hurt Jim. I also happen to know you haven’t been in your right mind for days.”
Once again my request was met with stubborn resistance, the silence hanging thickly in the air.
“Spock. Please. Tell me what happened. For Jim’s sake. Don’t let this destroy you as well – the Captain certainly wouldn’t want that for you.” I couldn’t keep the note of desperation out of my voice.
He started speaking, but it wasn’t really to me, wasn’t really an answer to my question. More like he was trying to work things out in his own mind. “I should have seen it coming. I have always understood her capacity for treachery. I have known for quite some time that she did not want me. In light of that I expected her to do her best to free herself, but never imagined she would bring an innocent bystander into it, knowing the risk, the obvious danger I posed to the Captain in my altered mental state.”
At least he was talking. I decided to go with that, see if I could get him to clarify things a little.
“Why was she treacherous, Spock? How did she manage to make you hurt Jim?” It just wasn’t in me to say ‘kill.’ Spock knew what he’d done; didn’t need me reminding him of that fact.
“She chose the challenge, and Jim as her champion, all the while knowing he would be unable to defeat me given the difference in strength between us and the atmospheric conditions which made physical exertion of any kind so difficult for humans. She knew I would release her after that. She inflicted the maximum amount of pain imaginable on me, all the while keeping Stonn safe, out of harm’s way.”
“What do you mean by ‘challenge?’ And why would the difference in strength, or Jim’s inability to function to the best of his ability in the thin atmosphere, have mattered?” I still didn’t have a clue as to what had occurred on the planet’s surface.
“She forced me to fight for her, with Jim as my opponent, and in the throes of the Plak Tow, I was unable to resist the call of my biology. I asked T’Pau to forbid it, begged her in fact, believing she would require T’Pring to select another champion, but when my request was denied, events were set into motion that could no longer be stopped.”
“What events, Spock? I’m still not following you.”
“Once challenge was given and lawfully accepted, only the death of one of the participants could bring about an end to the combat. It ended with Jim’s death by strangulation at my hands.” He disappeared again, sinking into the unimaginable horror evoked by an image only he could see.
Had I heard him right? Vulcans valued peace and the preservation of life above all else. At this time they actually killed to win their mates? And someone had had the audacity to stand by and let this happen without intervening? The universe had gone haywire. “Now wait a minute. Let me get this straight. There was someone officiating at this ceremony who could have stopped things before they got out of hand?” My voice was starting to rise.
“Then why the hell didn’t she? As a Vulcan, she had to have known what you were capable of, given your current physical state, and that Jim didn’t stand a chance.” I shook my head, confounded by the utter illogic of it all, my indignation flaring again. “So much for Vulcan chivalry; for their strict adherence to pacifism and their refusal to harm others, or to allow others to be harmed.” All of a sudden I was really pissed, not so much at Spock but at the situation in general. Jim was dead, and the sheer senselessness of his loss was finally becoming clear to me.
“I see what you are attempting to do, Doctor, but it is pointless. I alone am responsible for my actions. Jim trusted me, and I betrayed that trust.” Spock stopped speaking abruptly, and I hope I never see that much pain in someone’s eyes ever again.
I tried my damnedest to ease that pain. “You can’t possibly believe that, Spock. Even if you knew that this T’Pring of yours had the potential to be a total bitch, you certainly couldn’t have been expected to anticipate how things turned out.” The more he explained the circumstances surrounding Jim’s death, the more I really began to understand just how hopeless things had been for Spock. To be placed in an extreme situation like that with no one to turn to, no one to help him was unconscionable.
“By asking Jim to accompany me, I became responsible for his safety. And I failed to protect him; failed him.” He paused, clearly digging deep, striving for control. After a few moments he continued more evenly, “I have already resigned my commission effective as of today’s stardate, and shall leave the ship immediately and surrender myself to the authorities as soon as we make port at the nearest Starbase. I imagine Mr. Scott has already informed Starfleet of what has transpired?”
“He’s waiting for the results of my autopsy before he contacts them,” I confessed hesitantly.
“That should have no bearing on the outcome. The Captain is dead by my hand. That should be all the information they require.” The prickly sense of resignation had returned to his voice, which in turn only succeeded in setting me off once again.
“Don’t you get it, Spock? We’re trying to help you. If we let them prosecute you, give you a life sentence then it means Jim died in vain. He’s gone and there’s nothing we can do about that, but if I stand by and do nothing to help you I know he’d never forgive me. It’s bad enough this horrific act has cost one life. I’m not about to let it ruin yours, too.”
Unbelievably, what sounded like a derisive laugh escaped from the Vulcan. “It is already too late for that, Doctor.”
“But if Vulcans really lose the power of rational thought at this time, then Command’s bound to go easy on you. They can’t hold you responsible for something that was beyond your ability to control,” I argued.
“I do not wish for leniency. I have killed my Captain, and my friend. I deserve whatever punishment Starfleet sees fit to mete out.” And with that he was gone again, most assuredly reliving the horror of that life-shattering moment.
My heart ached for him. This should never have happened; should never have been allowed to happen. I stood, moving to his side of the desk. He remained seated, head bowed, eyes focused on the hands clenched tightly in his lap. I couldn’t stop myself from resting a hand on his shoulder, even though I knew he didn’t like to be touched. “Seems to me you’ve been punished enough already,” I remarked softly, knowing that he’d be able to pick up on the feelings I couldn’t put into words through that subtle contact.
The dark head lifted; troubled eyes met mine. “As have you. There are no words that can adequately express my sincere condolences to you. I wish to offer you my deepest apology for what I have done; what I have taken from you.”
“Please Spock, don’t. It wasn’t your fault. As much as it hurts me, I know you’re hurting, too and I don’t blame you, at least not anymore.” The look he gave me told me we’d reached an understanding that day. Brought together by this unimaginable tragedy, by our shared grief, we connected in a way, on a level that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
“I have to go let Scotty know about my findings, but we’ll talk again soon, I promise.” Not trusting myself to say anything further I gave the thin shoulder beneath my hand a reassuring squeeze and headed for the door.
As I was on my way to Scotty’s quarters, a page came over the intercom, telling me to report to Briefing Room Three on the double. Scotty was waiting for me there, told me Starfleet Command had contacted him in the interim. As soon as news of what transpired had reached them, the Vulcan High Council had immediately alerted the powers that be as to the nature of the incident. Based on the testimony they’d received it had already been decided Spock wouldn’t be held accountable for Jim’s murder. Starfleet, it seemed, was willing to do just about anything to avoid turning this into an intergalactic incident, but I suspected the Vulcans wanted it hushed up as well. News like this could certainly damage their reputation as the galaxy’s most logical, peaceful race.
Even though Spock had already resigned his commission, they pinned a dishonorable discharge on him on top of that. Not surprising in the least. What was surprising is that while all of this was in the works, the higher-ups had seen fit to come up with some elaborate excuse to the delegates at Altair VI regarding why the ship would be arriving late for the inauguration and as to why her Captain and First Officer wouldn’t be attending the festivities as planned. But the Enterprise and her remaining senior officers were still on the hook, expected to do our part regardless. Starfleet was doing its absolute best to make this whole thing just go away, to make everything seem like business as usual, and dragging us along for the ride.
As for Command’s treatment of Spock, it was actually more than I’d expected, or dared to hope for. Even though the Vulcan wouldn’t be spending the rest of his days on some remote, godforsaken penal colony, it didn’t change the fact that his life, as he had come to know it, was now over.
Somehow we’d managed to keep the gory details from the majority of the crew. Those persons who had been on the bridge that day, heard the conversation between Spock and his ‘wife’ must have had some idea what had happened, but to their credit, none of them ever broached the subject with me, or with Scotty to the best of my knowledge.
Since Spock was confined to his quarters and not being held in the brig, most of the ship’s personnel assumed it was due to a need to deal with his grief in private in the wake of Kirk’s death. His subsequent resignation was not an unexpected development in the eyes of the crew. And that was just fine with Scotty and me. They didn’t need to be made aware of the hows or whys surrounding their Captain’s murder. All that really mattered was that Jim was gone.
As we’d agreed, Spock and I talked quite a bit over the next few days, and I was starting to feel like he’d come to terms with things, had turned the corner on his grief. But looking back on it now, I realize it was certainly more healing for me. Perhaps that’s what Spock intended, a parting gift, of sorts, for when we finally got to Altair he made good on his promise; left the ship without so much as a goodbye as soon as we arrived and disappeared. I never heard from him again, or even about him, after that. Never knew if he returned to Vulcan in disgrace, did his self-imposed penance on some far-flung colony world on the fringes of Federation space, or if he went somewhere and quietly blew his brains out.
One thing was for sure – things on board the Enterprise were never the same. We were assigned a new Captain after about four months with Scotty in command, but things never went back to the way they had been. The Enterprise was no longer a happy ship, no longer considered the finest vessel in the fleet, and everything went to hell in a handbasket after that. Crewmen started transferring off left and right, with Chekov being the first to go. I always suspected it was because Jim had been a role model for him, and Spock a mentor in his weird, unfeeling Vulcan sort of way. The young ensign had only been transferred up to the bridge from Auxiliary Control a few months before the incident, and in many ways it just proved too much for him.
Uhura went next, followed closely by Chapel – she had only signed on board temporarily anyway; had only stayed with the ship after learning the fate of her fiancé, Roger Korby, on account of some twisted, totally unrealistic hope that she could form some kind of a relationship with Spock. When he left so abruptly, and under such appalling circumstances, it nearly killed her. Last I heard, she had returned to civilian life and was pursuing her career in biomedical research. We lost touch over the years – I think I was just too painful a reminder for her of all that had happened.
There were numerous other nameless crewmen who left over the next year – maybe 50 or so – myself included. I only had a year to go on my last four-year commitment, and retired after the end of our second year in space. Sulu stayed on, as did Scotty. Like her former captain and exec, they were both tied to the ship in ways I couldn’t even begin to understand. For Jim, the Enterprise had been his only true love, for Spock a home – finally somewhere he managed to fit in. For Scotty, she was his heart and soul. Theirs was a symbiotic relationship. You couldn’t envision one, or believe either of them capable of functioning properly, without the other.
I never did figure out why Sulu stayed. He was the most talented helmsman in the fleet – could have served anywhere – but he chose to remain with her. Dunno, perhaps it was out of respect for Jim – felt that if he left her, somehow he’d be betraying the Captain’s memory.
In light of that, naturally I was quite upset when I learned that halfway through her fifth year in space the ship was lost with all hands. Starfleet was pretty tight-lipped about the whole affair, never offering a full explanation to the general public or even to those of us who had once called her home, other than to say the crew had died valiantly; had given their lives upholding the ideals and principles of the Federation. A load of bull if you asked me. A way for them to justify the deaths of over four hundred people, without taking responsibility for the lives lost. Made me physically ill just thinking about it, all those innocent souls gone just like that, the loss of Scotty and Sulu particularly hard to stomach.
Uhura called me several days after the news broke, and it took me a week to work up the courage to contact Christine. She didn’t take it well at all, and it was pretty much after that that we fell out of touch with one another.
Uhura and I weren’t strangers over the years, exchanging cards and salutations on holidays, birthdays, etc., and she even invited me to her wedding a couple of years after the ship went down. I didn’t go, though. Whenever she and I talked, we studiously avoided discussing what had happened on Vulcan that day, or the fate that befell the Enterprise a few years later, but it was always like the pink elephant in the room, tiptoed around but never openly prodded or explored, and afterward never failed to leave me feeling bitter and depressed. I suspect it affected her much the same way, and that was why we eventually lost touch with one another.
She’d left the service, too and married a civilian – a musician – someone as far removed from the constraints of a military lifestyle as one could get. When I saw her at her husband’s funeral today, surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I realized it had been good for her; she had made the right decision. She looked grounded, centered, at peace with the world, and in spite of the event that had drawn us all here, as happy and fulfilled as I’d ever seen her.
But this day had dredged up some god-awful memories as well.
Sitting alone in the dark of my hotel room, I raise my glass to my lips, draining the contents. It hasn’t helped. Neither did the three glasses that preceded it.
My head slips to my hands, pillowed on the desk in front of me. My eyes close involuntarily, but even that can’t stop the never-ending parade of thoughts marching through my head, or the image of that last smile that disturbs the welcome blackness…
I can’t help but wonder if Spock ever thinks of me, of what he lost, what we all lost; the great potential that was the three of us together. In many ways it feels as if the universe itself has been adrift since that terrible day. I don’t think any of us will ever fully comprehend the magnitude of that singular event, or the ripples that were sent out as a result of it, forever changing everyone they touched.
As I look back on that momentous day on Vulcan now – and as I did frequently in those first few years after it happened – I realize the pain has not diminished over time, and I continue to blame myself. Had I been there on the planet’s surface, at the ceremony with them as Spock had wanted, would the outcome have changed? Could I have done something to prevent the tragedy that wound up costing so many lives beyond Jim Kirk’s? I don’t know, and unfortunately never will, but even after all this time I can’t shake the feeling that, had I been there as I was supposed to be, I could have made a difference...