The discussions had gone on for weeks, and there was an air of relief in the council chamber when the president called the vote. When the delegates had voted, the council representatives were asked to cast theirs.
‘How do the Bolians vote?’
The votes went on, the chamber keeping deathly silent. At last the president pronounced:
‘The council and the delegates have voted. Decree 72-Alpha has been duly passed.’
Without warning, one of the Vulcan delegates rose and, without asking permission or paying his respects to either council or president, went down the aisle. Another Vulcan followed closely after him, nodding quickly to the Vulcan councilor but not sparing the others as much as a glance.
The second Vulcan did not catch up with the first until they reached the bay, where he had stopped to watch the sunset. Like this, hooded and silent, they seemed peers, and could easily be taken for mere acquaintances, because when the second Vulcan joined the first, he stayed at a distance.
They were silent for a long time, until the first spoke.
‘I cannot fathom that I could ever prefer a world which could propose such a motion.’
‘It is... most unfortunate,’ the second old man said.
‘It is the height of illogic,’ the first said, his voice betraying his own agitation. ‘You hide your emotions, father, but I know you were as opposed as I was.’
‘There was no other possible position to take,’ the father said.
‘Yet the Federation Council has just passed legislation which is incompatible with the customs of not only our culture but many others in the Federation.’
‘Your emotional agitation does not change the fact that the law is changed, Spock - kaiidth.'
‘My emotional agitation is based on the legislation itself, not only that it was passed,’ Spock admitted. They were silent for some time, before he spoke again. ‘Will you approach Councilor T’Sai?’
‘I assume every delegate from the Vulcans will approach her, but it will do little good,’ Sarek answered. ‘It is doubtful that sufficient numbers of councilors would veto the motion for it to be stopped.’
‘So the bonding of t’hy’la on our planet will cease to be legally binding? Those ancient customs which were honoured by every philosopher of Vulcan, even those who rejected all other emotion, will be a worthless institution which at best will be forced underground, at worst completely eradicated? This is the Federation interfering in our affairs, as they said they would never do. What do the Terrans have to gain from this appalling piece of legislation?’
‘Satisfaction of their own fear. They are a suspicious species - they need a scapegoat,’ Sarek said levelly.
‘Their choice is not logical. Even in the past, prosecuting anyone for an act of love was strange, but now... This is beyond understanding. Earth has had this legislation for hundreds of years. To change it back to its previous narrow state...’
‘Prejudice is never logical.’
‘Neither is love, but by this they illogically assume it is,’ Spock said, not veiling his anger well. ‘With this legislation in place, I have never been married.’ He fell silent, looking along the shore-line towards something in the shadows. The last light from the sunset caught the bronze, but the flash died away soon. The Vulcan looked away and blinked once, as if to clear his eye of something. ‘They can put up a statue of him, but they cannot bear to continue to acknowledge that I loved him.’ His tone was stoic, but the words held emotion. His father’s face was set in stone, ignoring the impropriety of voicing any feelings. They stayed that way a little longer, but at last Spock pulled his cloak closed around him.
‘I am done here,’ he announced and started walking away.
‘What is your meaning?’ Sarek asked, turning to look after him. His son turned, and seemed almost completely swallowed in shadow. Only his voice pinpointed him.
‘There is nothing for me in the Federation - Vulcan is not my home, and neither is Earth. There are still places where I can do good.’
‘Outside the Federation?’ Sarek asked, but the only answer there came was:
‘Live long and prosper, Father.’
They would not meet again.
There was no standard protocol for when people who had been thought to be dead for some eighty years turned up unharmed and unaged. When the captains had come aboard the Enterprise again, Picard had decided that the best idea was to treat Captain Kirk as an honoured guest, so in the evening, a formal dinner had been arranged. Kirk was the last to arrive, as they had planned, and he was introduced to the officers he had not met.
‘It’s good to see that Command still assigns the best officers to the Enterprise,’ he observed.
‘Can you make that evaluation without reviewing the files of all Starfleet personnel, Captain?’ Data asked.
‘I know the best when I see them,’ Kirk answered with a casual gesture. ‘Now, considering I’ve been eating illusions for the past eighty years...’
‘Please, sit down,’ Picard said and gestured to the serving-staff to begin.
‘You must tell me everything,’ Kirk said as the waiters moved around the tables. ‘What new planets have been admitted to the Federation? What wars have been fought? How many flagships are there now? Is the Headquarters still in San Francisco - is the city like it’s always been?’
‘They put up a statue of you there, sir,’ Riker said, making the old captain snort and look away, obviously to show how flattered he really was. Now when they had all been served wine, Picard raised his glass.
‘Captain Kirk - your health.’
‘And yours, Captain,’ Kirk answered, nodding at him and then at the others before drinking. When they had drunk, he placed down his glass and leaned against the table to address Picard, who was sitting to his left at the end of the table. ‘There is something I need to ask, though. I guess it’s rather something for the technicians, but... I used the computer in my quarters, and found that part of my file must have been lost.’ Picard frowned, looking at Riker.
‘The computer main-frame works fine - there should be no problems,’ the first officer said, admittedly sounding puzzled.
‘There’s obviously something wrong with the computer,’ Kirk pressed. ‘There were gaps in my file - and not only in mine.’
‘Are you certain you are not mistaken, Captain?’ Picard said, trying not to make it sound insulting. ‘It has been a trying day...’
‘I appreciate your concern, but there’s no mistake,’ the other captain said, coldly but not as aggressively as he had expected. ‘According to your file, my marital status is unmarried. When I went missing, it most certainly wasn’t.’
‘That sounds very strange,’ Riker said.
‘There’s more,’ Kirk continued after a sip of wine. ‘It’s the same case with Ambassador Spock’s file.’ The captain seemed to consider this.
‘Could some computer malfunction have happened when old tapes were moved onto new computer circuits?’ he suggested. ‘If this is not the case only in your file, but in many of your contemporaries’...’
‘I didn’t check any other files,’ Kirk explained. ‘What puzzles me that there is no record of mine and Spock’s marriage.’
Complete silence fell, and the guest looked around perplexed.
‘What’s the matter?’ he asked as he watched the officers exchanging cautious gazes. At last Doctor Crusher cleared her throat.
‘Did you say your and Ambassador’s marriage?’ she asked. The captain’s jaw tightened.
‘Yes, Doctor - does that bother you?’
‘It surprises me, considering it’s not legal,’ Crusher said with a frown.
‘What do you mean, it isn’t legal?’ he asked, looking around.
‘Doctor Crusher is partly misinformed,’ Data offered. ‘Until 2359, same-sex marriage was legal in the Federation.’
‘What happened in 2359?’ Kirk’s voice was lost any amiability it had had.
‘The Federation Council passed a motion which changed the law on marriage to only cover heterosexual unions,’ the android explained, not noticing how the captain’s face grew sterner, even when the artificial yellow eyes turned at him. ‘Quite probably, same-sex marriages formed former to the passing of the motion were dissolved.’
Kirk looked around, but everyone averted their eyes from embarrassment or guilt.
‘How did that pass? How did they get it past the Vulcans?’
‘There was a lot of debate at the time about it,’ Counsellor Troi attempted. ‘There were many who argued against it, as well as many in favour of it.’
‘What of on Earth?’ he asked, now looking at the Betazoid.
‘What do you mean?’
‘You’re a counsellor - I’m guessing that means that you know how people think. What do people on Earth think? Did they have arguments against it?’ After a pause she said:
‘Most of the opposition came from the Vulcans and the Deltans.’ Kirk’s face grew ever tighter.
‘Tell me, Captain, have the criteria for Federation membership changed since the end of last century?’ he asked, not even turning to Picard.
‘How can the Federation keep those rules unchanged when they don’t fulfill them themselves?’ he asked pointedly, looking at them all. ‘Federation planets all have advanced technology and a stable government, but if what you’re telling me is correct, it’s not fulfilling the criterion that no discrimination is allowed.’
‘The original wording from 2161 is that no “caste discrimination” is allowed. That leaves it open to interpretation,’ Data answered. Kirk did not heed the detail, but surveyed the faces around the table. Only Picard met his eyes.
‘So much for high hopes of the future,’ the old captain said coldly. ‘I never thought that this was where it would all lead.’ With those words he got to his feet, but even if his words were polite, his voice was sarcastic. ‘If you’d excuse me, I’ve had a taxing day. After all, I’ve just come back from the dead.’ He took a step away from the table and then stopped. ‘You asked me whether there was somewhere I wanted to go,’ he said. ‘Vulcan, 36.8 degrees outside Shi’Kahr.’ Without another word, he left the room.
No one thought that Kirk really had gone back to his cabin to rest, but it surprised Deanna Troi that the door opened for her when she pressed the announce-button a few hours after he had left the dinner-table. When she entered, Captain Kirk sat at the desk by the computer, reading through something. A few moments after she had entered, he looked up.
‘I assume you’ve come to try to placate me,’ he said, but very little vehemence was left in his voice.
‘No. I merely wanted to ask if you wanted some company.’ He turned to face her properly, then sighed and left his chair. Slowly, he circumnavigated the desk and then settled down in one of the armchairs. When he made no attempt to stop her, Troi settled herself opposite him. At length, she said: ‘It wasn’t the officers of this ship who passed that piece of legislation.’
‘Of course it wasn’t,’ he said with a snort. ‘It was their government. But they can still frown and act awkward when I mention that I was married to another man.’
‘Values change with time,’ she said slowly, leaning forward with her elbows planted on her knees, while watching him intently. ‘A lot can happen in 80 years.’ He dipped his head, and now he looked truly troubled.
‘I had faith in the Federation,’ he admitted. ‘I thought we were going towards a brighter future. I really thought... I never imagined I was going to find that instead, we had done the opposite. How did it come about?’
‘I don’t know everything, but it was part of what you might call a trend in thought,’ the counsellor answered, assuming he referred to the legislation, not the future. ‘There were some incidents early in the century, mostly in the Fed administration - love affairs gone wrong, things like that - and the media made scandals out of them. It stirred something like moral panic. A lot of new planets were being admitted at the time, and some felt that it was important to hold onto native values. I think that may have led up to it.’ Kirk sighed.
‘From the reactions back there, I assume homosexuality isn’t something people talk about.’
‘No, usually not. But there’s nothing illegal in homosexuality itself.’
‘You’re saying it as if that means it’s fine,’ the captain said, sounding bitter. ‘There isn’t any legal acknowledgement of such relationships - isn’t that enough to make people feel that one is better than the other? It must make people worry - don’t you have people come to talk to you about that they think they might be gay?’
‘A large part of the crew is young. Relationships are often on their minds,’ she said diplomatically. Kirk seemed to interpret it as a yes.
‘What do you tell them? That it’s fine? That they should be whoever they turn out to be? Or that it’s probably just a phase, and it’s perfectly normal, sort of like having acne?’ It took Troi a little too long to answer.
‘It is a question of what they want to hear,’ she said at last. He sighed and left his chair, as if he could not contain his emotions when sitting still. After pacing the cabin a few times, he came to rest against the wall, by the window. Even if his thoughts were hidden to her, his emotions made it easy to guess them. She felt his fear for this new world, his disappointment and resentment at the things which had changed, the growing sense of foreignness to all which had seemed so familiar at first, and the deepening fear and uncertainty for the welcome awaiting him on Vulcan.
‘We’ve changed course, haven’t we?’ he asked after a long silence.
‘Yes - the captain gave the order shortly after you left.’ Kirk half-turned his head, and she noticed his weary smile.
‘I felt it - I still know my starships.’ Then looking out at the stars flitting by, his face darkening, he admitted: ‘I just wished that could mean something.’
It took them a little less than two days to reach Vulcan. Kirk kept mostly to himself, even if he called on the captain a few times, and they seemed to have, if not sorted their differences out, at least reached some form of understanding. When they entered orbit, Picard, Riker and Troi were already waiting in the transporter room when he arrived.
‘Captain,’ Kirk said and shook Picard’s hand. ‘Thank you.’
‘It was my pleasure,’ he said simply, slight regret in his voice. A pall had been thrown over the meeting between the two men, whose captaincies, according to many with any knowledge of history, were the greatest Starfleet had ever had, but Kirk now seemed less offended and Picard seemed less disapproving.
‘Ready to beam down, sir,’ the transporter officer said.
‘At the specified coordinates?’
‘Well,’ Picard said and turned to Kirk, whose anticipation was obvious. ‘After you, Captain.’ Kirk nodded and stepped onto the transporter pad. The three officers followed, and after the familiar light and sound of the transporter-beam, they found themselves on the surface of Vulcan. It was morning, so it was not as hot as it could have been, but it still made the Starfleet officers squirm in their high-necked uniforms.
‘You sent the communication, didn’t you?’ Kirk asked, uncharacteristically anxious yet again.
‘Yes - the Ambassador has been informed we’re coming - we didn’t make mention of you, as you requested.’ The old captain pressed his lips together and nodded.
‘Thank you,’ he intoned, and not waiting for an answer, he turned and started walking down the path they had been beamed onto, up the slope towards the house at the summit. Riker moved to follow, but Picard made a gesture to them both not to.
‘We stay here,’ was all he said, and in silence they watched the captain’s ascent. For a long time, it seemed like a snippet of old film repeating itself, with no new images being added to the sequence, but when he had come about half-way, a shape appeared at the end of the path. It was white with age and its robes were caught in the light wind where it stood. Then it started walking, slowly and almost hesitantly. Kirk’s step quickened, and suddenly, it seemed like the Vulcan who had appeared identified the man moving towards him, because without warning, his legs gave way and he fell to his knees, still staring at the man on the path. He in turn started running and as soon as he reached him, he fell to his knees before him and embraced him. It took a few moments before the Vulcan moved, but then they could see him wrapping his arms around him, his withered hands clasping desperately at his back. The company could not hear what they said, but what sound they could catch of their voices was hurried and broken. The two men pulled apart and Kirk’s hands cradled his face, leaning in to kiss him. Disbelief and relief and pure happiness passed between them as Spock touched the human’s face and then enveloped him in an embrace again, so hard he seemed unwilling ever to let go. Nothing seemed able to impact them, not the movement of the stars or the prejudice of men or the long years of separation. Those things did not matter as the shadow is nothing to him who has the sun.
Picard opened the comm-link to the ship.
‘Three to beam up, whenever you’re ready,’ he said. The last thing any of them discerned before the world was hidden in that shimmering light was those two men, still clinging to one another on the path.