Jim sat by the hearth in the servants' quarters, the soles of his bare feet facing the flames of the roaring fire as it slowly thawed him out. He reflected on his luck that he was still here, earning a wage, given he’d been hired as a page at the king’s summer palace just for the season. For some reason, the king had chosen not to move south for the winter and all temporary staff got to stay on as a result.
Since Jim boarded at the palace, he only occasionally ventured out, usually to visit his friend Bones, who lived in a small cottage four kilometers away. His friend wasn’t as lucky, and had mentioned during his visit that he was in serious financial straights. Jim wished he could help him, but knew Bones would be too proud to take a hand-out, or even borrow anything.
He thought back to the time when he'd first met Bones the previous winter in the King's Head – even then, he’d been pretty well destitute. The local hostelry was relatively empty and Bones was sitting at the bar, well on his way to being smashed. Jim took the stool next to him and listened to him as he ordered another bourbon.
"You're not from around here," Jim said to open a conversation.
Bones turned to him, his eyes slightly unfocused. "Well I reckon y'all must be psychic to have figured that out," he answered in an exaggerated southern drawl.
Jim grinned. "You're a long way from home."
Bones scowled and stared at the drink he was nursing in his hand. "Wanted to put as much distance between me and the ex-wife as I could," he said eventually. "Been working my way across country, but with winter closing in, looks like I’m gonna have to stay put awhile." With that, he threw the bourbon back in one go.
Jim winced inwardly, wondering how many times he'd done that before Jim had gotten there. "Bad divorce?" he asked, and then it had all come out: Bones’ recent release from a six month jail term for assisted suicide – an illegal act on Earth; being struck off the medical register for it; getting out of jail to find his wife had been having an affair and had divorced him; then in a separate ruling, the judge agreeing with the ex that Bones was an unfit parent and giving him no access rights to their four-year old daughter.
As misery loves company - Jim told Bones how he’d just been kicked out of the Empire Fleet Academy only a few months before graduating, for cheating - they bonded over too much alcohol, cementing their friendship.
While working at the palace, he made more friends from among the staff. They were all pleasant and sociable and they often spent evenings together in the servants quarters, talking, playing games or surfing the nets on one of several consoles there for their use. They were always semi on duty, so it was an easy place to congregate in case any of them were needed.
“I hear ye visited McCoy,” the palace’s head chef said, sitting down beside him. “How’s he doing?”
“Not great, Scotty. He’s still giving odd bits of health care advice to the local villagers who can’t afford to travel in to the city for proper treatment, but it’s not enough to make a living from.”
“Aye, I hear he’s turned to natural remedies ‘cos he cannae prescribe drugs, more’s the pity. He’s a fine doctor even when all he’s got is beads an’ rattles!”
“It’s true”, Scotty says, “he fixed my shoulder up good an’ proper! Hurt like blue blazes when he popped it back, but the relief after was sheer bloody bliss.”
“Getting blind drunk and falling over your own feet! You were lucky he was around!”
“Aye, otherwise I’d have had to wait for Nurse Chapel and she wouldna been so gentle. Or understanding.”
“I’ve heard people mention her but I’ve never seen her.”
“A demon wi’ an angel’s face. My advice to you is don’t hurt yeself, or if ye do, make sure it’s bad enough to warrant a doctor!"
“I’ll bear that in mind!” Jim grinned. “Listen, Bones is looking for any paid work he can get, no matter how menial. If you hear about anything going, drop him a line.”
“Ah, now you see ye’ve come to the right person. We’re gonna be hiring in help for the household staff Christmas party an’ it pays verra well. I’ll be sure to let him know.”
“Good man,” Jim said, slapping Scotty on the shoulder.
“Cold out there?” Uhura said, pulling up a chair as she eyed Jim’s bare feet. His wet boots had left a puddle of melted snow on the stone flooring.
“Yeah, a few of centimeters of snow fell while I was with Bones. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have walked. Getting it this early in December could mean we’re in for a bad winter.”
“Aye. I haven’t seen one in years as the king normally heads south for winter. Dunno why he hasn’t this year.”
“No complaints from me,” Jim said with a smile. “I’m not on the permanent staff like you lot, so I’d have been out of a job this winter if you’d all upped and gone.”
“Don’t look at me like that!” Uhura said to the chef.
“What?” Scotty said, trying to sound innocent.
“You’re hoping I can give you the reason the king didn’t leave in October like he usually does.”
“Well ye’re his Spin Doctor…”
“Head of Communications,” Uhura corrected looking mock annoyed.
“Whatever. Ye usually have yer finger on the pulse.”
“I do,” Uhura agreed, “but not on this particular occasion. If the king had a reason for staying, he didn’t share it with me.”
"I'll bet that decision went down well with the queen - T'Pring complains about the cold in the height of summer! Mind you," the Scotsman added, "she bloody complains about everything."
Whatever Uhura thought about that, she kept to herself, Jim noticed. “Has he ever stayed in this palace over winter?” he wondered aloud.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Uhura answered. “Why?”
“Because this place is a bitch to heat – it’s not the best insulated and there are windows that rattle when the wind’s strong.”
Jim had noticed that even with the best of twenty third century technology, the huge rooms and lofty ceilings were sluggish to heat and difficult to keep warm. Since the cold weather had settled in, the king and queen had tended to keep to their own apartments where the rooms were more modest in size and much warmer. Keeping fires going around the palace had become one of his main duties.
A comm. whistle chimed and they all looked over to the console on the wall to see which room it came from. Speak of the devil – it was the king in his dressing room.
“His majesty’s called for you, Jim,” Pike, said, walking over to him with his pronounced limp. It was common knowledge he’d been invalided out the Empire Fleet where he was serving as First Officer aboard Spock’s ship Enterprise, when a battle with a Cardassian cruiser left him seriously injured. “Get a move-on,” Pike added impatiently, “you know he doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
Jim was trying to pull on his boots, still wet from the snow, as quickly as he could, but his feet were slightly swollen and they were a tight fit. “I’m on it,” he replied, stamping until his right foot slid all the way in, and briskly strode out of the kitchen.
The king hadn’t seemed to notice him at first, never acknowledging his presence if they shared a room – no doubt they got casual labor in every year. And Jim had been taught that he was never to initiate a conversation with the king, but could respond if spoken to first. Which is exactly what happened a few months earlier when the king entered his library and found Jim reading one of his books. He was supposed to be dusting them down and with the required nod of his head towards the king, he guiltily snapped the book shut. Just as he reached to put it back, the king stopped him.
“You may borrow it if you wish,” the Vulcan said mildly.
“Sire?” Given Pike had included the fact that the library was for the sole use of the king and queen in his Big List of Facts Staff Need To Know To Survive At The Palace (as Jim privately called the Protocol and Etiquette Manual that all new staff had to memorize), he realized the Vulcan lending him the book was unprecedented.
“If it interests you so, and I assume that it does since I was in the room for ten point seven seconds before you noticed my presence, then take it to read at your leisure.”
Ten point…oh god. He’d looked up to see the king by the open doorway and hadn’t realized he’d been standing there so long. If it had been the queen he would have been in big trouble.
“Thank you, Sire,” Jim said gratefully as he walked towards the door – no cleaning took place with members of the royal family in the room – but he didn’t quite make it all the way before the king spoke again.
“I am curious – what is the name of the book?”
Jim flushed; it wasn’t the typical reading material of a page. “An Analysis of Third World War Battle Tactics by General Janusz Makowski, Sire.”
Even though Vulcans suppress their emotions, the look of surprise was evident on the king’s face, an eyebrow winging up to his hairline.
And that was it. Jim felt something uncoil in the pit of his belly, though he ruthlessly ignored it, thinking that standing in front of the king with your tongue hanging out was bound to be somewhere in Pike’s Big List under Things Not To Do In Front Of Royalty.
“Indeed?” the king murmured. “What is your name?”
That question was unexpected. “James Kirk, Sire.”
“An interesting choice, James. I confess I am curious, why of all the books in this library, did you choose that one?”
Jim wished the blood in his brain hadn’t just headed south so that he had enough of his faculties operating to make up a plausible answer. Instead, he would reluctantly have to admit to the truth.
“My father served with the Empire Fleet, Sire, and died in a battle with a Romulan ship that I’m convinced he could have won – I don’t believe in no-win scenarios. So, when I was a kid, I started reading about battle tactics and strategy. I’m always on the look-out for books on those subjects that I haven’t read.”
“Kirk? Your father was George Kirk?”
Jim flushed and looked down. “Yes sir.”
He waited for the usual comment about what a hero he was, but instead the king said, “I understand Christopher served alongside him for a number of years.”
“He did, Sire, until he got promoted and transferred off the Kelvin.” Only weeks before his father’s death. Talk about lucking out, Jim thought. Well, until those Cardassians came along, he amended. It was the same battle that caused T’Pau to order Spock to stand down from the Fleet. Their working partnership had apparently been legendary, so it wasn’t surprising that the king asked Pike to become head of his household.
“Am I to understand then that your employment here is not coincidental?”
Jim’s flush darkened. “No Sire.” The king didn’t need to know it had been Pike who’d bailed him out after he’d been arrested for drunken brawling; and instead of reading him the riot act or telling him how disappointed he was with George Kirk’s son, he’d simply offered him the seasonal job. And Jim, with no money, no employment and nowhere to live, had gratefully taken it.
“If you wish to borrow other books, you need not ask my permission. I will inform Christopher at our next meeting that I have accorded you this right.”
“Thank you, Sire,” he said and quickly left, before he was asked any more questions.
The job had just gotten better on two fronts – free access to an incredible library of books, many of which weren’t available on the nets, and getting to work for a gorgeous Vulcan who would provide him with some interesting fantasy material.
The book though, after all that, wasn’t that good, but he later found a few gems.
Over the next two weeks, Jim occasionally saw the king in passing, but wasn’t directly addressed again until he was building a fire in the hearth of the formal State Room in preparation for an important political meeting. The king entered and as per the Big List, he carried on with his task, the king apparently preferring staff to simply continue their duties. The queen, on the other hand, would have required him to stand to attention. He was glad he rarely saw her.
Initially ignoring him, the king put down several padds on the sill and stared out the window across the expanse of ornamental gardens set to the rear of the palace. Jim took a moment to appreciate the view. Instead of wearing his Vulcan robes, the king was dressed in a dark green tunic and form-fitting black pants that showed off a nice curved ass, his hair in the traditional braids of married Vulcans, reaching halfway down his back. Before the king turned and caught him staring, he turned back to tending the fire.
“You failed to mention you were a cadet at the Fleet Academy, James,” the king said suddenly after several minutes of silence. Jim flushed. Now the king would think him a cheat. He guessed Pike must have told him when the king let him know he would be allowed to borrow books. There was ample opportunity to mention this in the intervening weeks, and Jim wondered why now.
“I understand you were not just top of your class but had, up to the point of your expulsion, exceeded all other humans in your scores. I regret the decision came from those whose thinking is so rigid.”
“Sire?” he said, surprised, standing.
“To fix the parameters of the simulation in order to prevent the possibility of a win is unfair to the cadets. That you were still able to find a way around it demonstrates original and creative thinking.”
“Yeah, well none of the admirals on the panel saw it that way. Our enemies rarely behave predictably. It’s our job to be prepared, out-maneuver them and come out the winners.”
“Indeed, I understand you specialized in tactics at the Academy and, from our previous discussion, that you are well-read on the subject. I am curious as to what you would do in my position.”
Ah, that was why he’d brought it up. “Yes, Sire?”
“I have the presidents of two nations who are ready to declare war on each other over disputed territory. During seismic activity twenty two years ago, an island was created in the sea exactly halfway between the two countries. It has since become a breeding ground for wild chaathra – a rare bird that you may know is not native to Earth. It has recently been found to have the perfect mineral deposits in the stone and the ideal climate for growing ske’elth, which I am sure you know can be spun into a very rare and valuable yarn. However, if it were to be grown, it would destroy this new wildlife habitat. Both sides are claiming the other side wants the land to grow ske’elth while claiming they wish to preserve it as a wildlife reserve.”
Jim stood immobilized, wondering what to say. What if he made a suggestion, the king liked it and followed it and it turned out to be a disaster? A thought struck him.
“Are you familiar with the Judgment of King Solomon, Sire?”
“I am not.” He picked up one of his padds and began to work on it as Jim waited. After several minutes, he looked up and it was as if his eyes were gleaming. “Fascinating.” With that, he left, leaving Jim to finish his task in plenty of time for the meeting.
Jim didn’t hear what the outcome of the meeting was, but the following day, Pike approached him and told him that he had apparently made a good impression on the king.
After that, when the king wasn’t busy with planetary affairs, Jim found himself frequently being requested to attend to the fire and other tasks, usually in the king’s drawing room. The first few times, the king ignored him after telling him to come in at his knock. But after several visits, the Vulcan struck up a conversation with him, showing an interest in him and asking him personal details about his life.
Jim knew that Pike aside as a special case, the king had a more personal relationship with his senior staff, such as Scotty and Uhura, and wondered if this was a precursor to being promoted, though he was unaware of any senior positions becoming vacant.
One morning after being summoned, he sensed a tension about the king as he walked into the room, even though the Vulcan had his back to him.
The fire was already burning, though the flames were low, so Jim began to build it up again using smaller chunks of wood. It would be several minutes before he could put on anything as big as a log without risk of smothering the fire.
“You Terrans may soon be rid of me, James,” the king suddenly declared into the silence.
Jim quickly stood up, still clutching a log. “Sire?” he asked, alarmed.
“The probability of war with the Klingons now stands at eighty nine point three percent, and even if we are victors, our depleted Fleet will be vulnerable to attack from any number of other enemies that clamor at our borders.”
A few months ago, it was unthinkable that the king would have had this conversation with him - he enjoyed the discussions they frequently shared. Jim had heard from Pike that incursions by Klingons into Vulcan empire space had increased dramatically over recent months, as though they were testing the empire’s defenses.
“Is it really that serious, Sire?” Pike hadn’t seemed too optimistic. It was a big worry for Terrans. While they were part of the Vulcan empire, they were governed fairly with a high degree of autonomy, and importantly, they were provided protection from the likes of the Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians and half a dozen other factions who were all jostling to gain power over this sector of space.
“With their new cloaking devices, they are impossible to catch.”
Seeing the flames were building nicely, Jim dropped the log onto the fire. “Does the empire have access to such technology, Sire?”
“We do, but we are further behind. While we can render our craft invisible, we are unable to cover the ion trail that results from warp flight. Meanwhile we have attempted every logical means at our disposal to ward off their attacks and dissuade them from entering our space.”
“What about illogical means, Sire?”
“I do not understand.”
“Their tacticians will base their strategy on the fact that as Vulcans, you’ll use logic as the basis for your defense. So what if you approached it in an illogical way – you know, lateral thinking? Like with a Trojan horse, or something.”
“I am unfamiliar with the reference,” the king said and began to work on his padd. After several minutes, the king commed Pike and then continued to tap at his device until the Head of Household arrived.
Pike entered, nodded to the king and then took in Jim standing by the fire.
“It would appear the empire may have overlooked an important strategic source. Come James, join us for a discussion.”
The plan they came up with was simple. Gather a fleet of outdated ships and equip them with cloaking devices. Using remote devices, send them, empty, to a point close to the neutral zone. When the Klingon armada arrives – thinking the Vulcans are about to attack – they would need to decloak to attack the ships. At that point, the real Vulcan fleet, also fitted with cloaking devices, lying in wait and therefore leaving no tell-tail ion trail, would surround the Klingons and decimate their fleet. It would take months of planning.
Jim found himself called even more frequently to the king’s apartments often to carry out mundane tasks, but which often led to long conversations and discussions. He had fallen in lust with him that day in the library – he was a red-blooded young man after all; and in fairness, he thought, anyone with eyes would agree with him. In fact he knew half the household had the hots for their royal employer – but with the more regular exposure to him, he found he was coming to know and like him as a person. Too bad he was off-limits he thought to himself, not just because he was married, but because he was, you know, king of Earth and several other less important planets. This unrequited thing sucked.