Actions

Work Header

Midnight Judges

Work Text:

Starfleet regulations stated that in the event the Commander-in-Chief was rendered unfit for duty, Chief of Starfleet Operations acted as Starfleet Commander until the Federation Council could appoint a new one.

Well, this was just a clusterfuck, wasn’t it.

Let’s have a little history here, just to clarify. Since the destruction of the Kelvin by the Narada twenty-six years ago, every other Fleet Admiral position—Chief of Intelligence, Chief of Security, Chief of Research and Development, Chief of Reserves, Chief of Medical—increased its jurisdiction. Meanwhile, Chief of Operations saw a decline in power for two reasons.

One: these days, no one thought that tactical oversight of exploratory missions was Starfleet’s first priority. Instead, counter-intelligence, border patrol, and defense development were at the top of everyone’s minds. This was due to the fact that after the destruction of the Kelvin, a small but powerful faction, led by Federation Councilor Vaarn, gained traction within the upper reaches of the Federation. Vaarn supported incursion on the Neutral Zones, and was largely responsible for the expansion of authority seen among certain Fleet Admirals and key positions on the Federation Council. Vaarn’s most adamant detractors were the planet Vulcan and Fleet Admiral Gabri Rosales.

The other reason Chief of Operations hadn’t benefitted from the recent consolidation of executive power was that for the last sixteen years, Fleet Admiral Gabri Rosales had held that post.

One year ago, the Narada returned and was destroyed. Vaarn and his supporters, who had once seemed extreme, now seemed almost too moderate, both to the Council and to Starfleet Command. Meanwhile, all the Vulcans who had once opposed Vaarn left to help found New Vulcan, leaving Admiral Rosales as one of the only detractors remaining in the upper echelons. After Khan’s terrorist attack and the death of Admiral Marcus, the arming of the Neutral Zones seemed almost a certainty.

Admiral Rosales wasn’t about to let that happen.

Luckily, zie had just become de facto Commander-in-Chief.

For however long it lasted.

*

Having put out or addressed all the immediate fires, Admiral Rosales felt that zie had time to follow up on a point that had been niggling hir. Despite all the surprises that came along with the Enterprise’s most recent adventures, this was the one that was most inexplicable.

Standing in front of the terminal, Rosales greeted the man on the view screen. “Mr. Spock.”

“Admiral Rosales.” Spock—that was who he was; this was Spock, even if he was far, far too old to be Ambassador Sarek’s son—raised a brow. “I perceive you have read my counterpart’s mission report.”

“It wasn’t in your counterpart’s mission report,” Rosales said. “Your counterpart hasn’t turned in a report yet.”

“Captain Kirk,” Spock said, and stopped.

Captain Kirk was lying on a bed in medical, coming back from the dead. Rosales wasn’t about to tell Spock that. Zie wasn’t about to tell anyone that, not until they know more about the super-blood. Besides, the fact that the younger Spock seemed unable to leave Kirk’s side was no excuse for not making a report on an incident this critical. “Mind telling me why you lied to the Federation Council?” Rosales said.

Something flickered across Spock’s face. Rosales wished zie were adept at reading Vulcan expressions, but then again, most Vulcans didn’t have expressions—not like this one. “I apologize for the necessity,” Spock said.

“Necessity.”

The brow rose again. “If you are aware of my true identity, then someone on the bridge must have reported my conversation with my counterpart.”

“Lieutenant Sulu.”

“Interesting.”

Rosales gritted hir teeth. “He said you were from an alternate reality. Where this has already happened before.”

“That is correct.”

“Then tell me what—”

Spock continued smoothly. “Then he must have also informed you that I am reluctant to discuss my own reality, as it could unalterably change this one.” A slight tightening of lips—Rosales knew it meant something, but zie didn’t know what. “This is not my first experience with an alternate reality, nor my first opportunity to wreak havoc in a timeline.” Spock’s head tilted. “I can tell you, it is not advised.”

“I’m so grateful for your experience.”

“You’re welcome, Admiral.”

So, Spock was a smartass. Good to know. Rosales sat down, leaned back in hir chair. “So, Mr. Spock. Wanna tell me why you wrought havoc in this one?”

“You are referring to what I said to my younger counterpart regarding Khan.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m referring to. Are you aware your younger counterpart launched seventy-two experimental armed torpedoes at a Federation vessel, killing the majority of her crew?”

“I was aware that Spock had destroyed a non-regulation dreadnought.”

“And were you aware he tried to beat the sole surviving victim of this attack to death?”

“Khan, I presume.”

“No. The name of the man your young counterpart attacked is named John Harrison.”

“Interesting. An alias?”

“No. That’s his name. Tell me, Mr. Spock, did you ever find it odd that a Caucasian man preserved from the 1990 Earth Eugenics Wars was named Khan Noonien-Singh?”

“Khan is not Caucasian. I believed him to be of Indian descent.”

“Are you sure?”

“I have never been positive,” said Spock. “He was genetically engineered; it is possible that traits that aid in visually differentiating one human race from another were altered in the—”

“Let’s cut to the chase,” said Rosales, pressing a button on hir padd, then turning it toward the viewscreen. “Is this man Khan?”

“It is not.”

“This is the man young Spock believes to be Khan,” Rosales said, putting down the padd. “This is the man he almost murdered.”

As it turned out, Rosales could read Vulcan expressions—or at least, this Vulcan’s expression. This Vulcan was expressing regret. “I see there has been an error.”

“So, you think telling your counterpart that a man you’ve never met in this timeline is a ruthless killer, that a man you’ve never even seen in this timeline must be defeated at terrible cost—you think that was a mistake? Huh.”

Spock bowed his head fractionally, and for a long moment there was silence. It was long enough that Rosales began to regret hir harsh tone, hir accusatory words. Zie knew that everyone made mistakes, and hir own had always been righteous indignation. “You did not know,” zie said at last.

“It is not an excuse.” Spock lifted his eyes. “I was—I am . . . compromised. At our first encounter, Khan tried to incite mutiny aboard the Enterprise. When the coup was thwarted, my captain placed Khan and his people on a planet on which my captain believed they might start anew. If we had taken Khan into Federation custody, as regulation dictated . . . our lives would have been very different, and many sentient beings would not have been killed.”

“Your captain was irresponsible.”

There was another pause. “Yes,” Spock said finally. “My captain was also merciful.”

“You sound as though you admire him.”

“I did admire him.” Spock’s features didn’t convey emotion this time; nor did his voice. It was the simple fact of the past tense that led Rosales to believe that this was hard for Spock to speak about. “He did not show leniency to everyone,” Spock went on. “His single greatest quality was not mercy, but integrity. He broke regulations often, but never did so without upholding the Starfleet ideals to which he had sworn his career—and his life.

“He should have turned Khan over to Starfleet Command, but he did not because he believed in the value of intelligence, strength, and courage. He believed that his home planet had grown beyond the wars of its twentieth century. He believed that people deserve to be forgiven, and that the human race deserved another chance. Letting Khan go was perhaps the biggest mistake of his life, but his other ‘mistakes’ have made him invaluable to my timeline.”

“Your Starfleet sounds a little different than ours.”

“Naturally. In my universe, Nero never attacked.”

Of course. It had become clear after the Battle of Vulcan that Nero was from another time; it had been in all the reports. Rosales just hadn’t put two and two together. “Then in your universe,” zie said slowly, trying to think of what the differences must be, “there are still Vulcans within the Federation Council.”

“Indeed.”

Rosales gritted hir teeth again. Zie still didn’t trust him, and yet, the way he spoke of his captain, the way he spoke of mercy—even the way he spoke of Khan—zie felt it had been too long since zie heard someone speak that way. And so, feeling stiff and formal—zie had always been bad at asking for this—zie said, “We need your help.”

Spock’s brow quirked. “You do not believe I’ve helped enough?”

“You decided to act when you told your counterpart what you did about Khan,” Rosales said. “You can’t decide to sit on your ass now.”

Both brows went up at that. “What is it that you recommend that I do?”

“I need advice.”

The brows stayed up. “So far you seem to be convinced that you should be the one advising me.”

Rosales had been trying not to let hir annoyance show, but zie had never been very good at that. “T’Pau has refused a seat on the Council.”

Spock’s mouth tugged on the side. “I’m not sure there’s any timeline in which T’Pau accepts a seat on the Federation Council.”

“I know. She refused it before the Battle of Vulcan. She was the first ever to refuse a seat—but now, no matter how badly the Federation needs her, New Vulcan needs her more. We understand that.”

“That is logical.”

“What New Vulcan doesn’t need is you.” Spock raised his brow, but Rosales was prepared. “You don’t belong there. You don’t belong anywhere. You’re a redundancy.”

“You speak your mind.”

“I’ve never been accused of false flattery.”

“Have you met a young doctor by the name Leonard McCoy?”

The young doctor had just discovered the secret to immortality. Of course Rosales had met Leonard McCoy. “That’s not important,” zie said. “We need your help.”

Spock’s head tilted. “How may I be of service?”

Rosales put hir good hand down beside the console, leaning in toward the viewscreen. “Tell me how to get rid of Captain Kirk.”

*

Rosales’s next meeting immediately followed hir subspace conference with Mr. Spock. Standing up to greet hir guest, Rosales assessed the woman before hir. She was straight-backed, stern, taller than Rosales—but then again, Rosales had never been very tall. Zie made up for it with a powerful build, holding hirself with confidence. Hir closely cropped iron-gray hair never made hir seem any friendlier, but in some ways, hir appointment’s dark hair was just as austere. “Captain,” Rosales started to say.

“Number One,” said Number One. Her eyes were blue, containing a softness the rest of her did not. She wore regulation slacks.

Rosales lifted hir brows. “You haven’t been first officer since the Battle of Vulcan.”

“I wasn’t at the Battle of Vulcan.”

“No, you were in the Laurentian system with the rest of the fleet. I imagine that’s why you survived.”

Number One’s eyes slid toward Rosales’s desk. No doubt Number One was thinking of Captain Pike’s capture during that battle. “The crew of the Enterprise survived,” was all she said.

“Among others.” Rosales picked up a data padd on hir desk, sat down, gestured for Number One to sit as well. Number One hesitated, then sat. “I assume you know why you’re here.”

“You think I have information about Admiral Pike.”

“I know you have information about Admiral Pike.” Rosales put the data padd down. “You were close.”

Number One tilted her head, reminding Rosales of old Spock in that instant. “We were well acquainted.”

“Let’s not beat about the bush. You were lovers.”

Number One’s chin went up at that. “I hardly see how that’s any business of yours.”

“Touchy.”

“You’re trying to provoke me?”

Rosales studied her for a moment. Number One’s brows were slanting down in a frown. “Quite frankly, I’m just trying to get you to tell me the truth.”

Number One stiffened. “I’m a Starfleet officer. I gave an oath to tell the truth about all of my missions. I’ve always done so.”

“Sure.” Rosales tapped hir desk with a stylus, then tossed it aside. Restless, zie stood, pacing away from the desk. “You gave your oath. Does that still mean what it used to?”

There was a pause. “You’re referring to Admiral Marcus.”

Rosales went to stand before the window. Zie had a lofty view of San Francisco, and historically, zie had loved it: the arch of the modern buildings, the gleam of metal. Lately, though, zie had come to worry about what having premium office space in Starfleet Command even meant. Sometimes zie thought that if zie had half a conscience, zie would have quit years ago. “You’ve always been a bit of a cold fish,” Rosales said at last, because if zie wouldn’t allow Number One to beat about the bush, it was only fair for zie to do the same. “Your name has come up a number of times when the board’s discussing promotions.”

“I was appointed captain.”

“I mean the admiralcy.”

“Are you suggesting—”

Rosales turned around.

Number One merely lifted her brows. “Are you suggesting I’ll be appointed an admiral if I implicate Admiral Pike in the Section 31 inquiry?”

“I don’t offer bribes, Captain.”

“I don’t take them.” Number One’s mouth was tight.

“Starfleet Command never could figure you out,” Rosales said at last. “They didn’t know where you stood regarding Councilor Vaarn.”

“The Tellarite on the Federation Council.”

“Very good.”

“He wants to arm the Neutral Zones.”

“Yes. I suspect that he and Admiral Marcus were in collusion.”

“You suspect?”

Rosales shrugged. “I have no proof.”

Number One gave hir a blank look. “Neither do I.”

“Don’t you?”

Number One sat angled in her chair, looking at up at Rosales with a sharp, probing gaze that in earlier days would have both intimidated hir and turned hir on. But Rosales had been married for forty-eight years, and zie was long past the point of being intimidated by anyone at all. Hir arm had been injured in the attack on Starfleet Command, and it was throbbing. All zie wanted was to go home to a hot bath and hir wife, and then to bed.

“You and Admiral Pike used to be friends,” Number One said at last.

“He was going to do his dissertation on my time aboard the Indefatigable.”

Number One blinked. “I didn’t know that.”

Rosales nodded, turned back toward the window. “Then the Kelvin blew up.”

“He admired George Kirk’s bravery.”

“So he did. I’ve always thought that since then, he put a little too much store by bravery.”

“Bravery is an admirable quality.”

“So are patience and compromise.”

“That’s interesting,” said Number One, “seeing as you’ve never been known for either.”

Rosales just snorted.

“I do think the destruction of the Kelvin changed him somewhat,” Number One said. “He became much more . . . gung ho.”

Rosales almost snorted again, but didn’t, because they might be getting somewhere. Finally. Zie turned back to face Number One.

“Christopher Pike was not aware of Section 31,” Number One said, rising to her feet.

“How do you know?”

“I know you are concerned about his loyalty to Admiral Marcus. I assume his attachment to the Enterprise—in particular, Captain Kirk and Commander Spock—cast further suspicion on him, in light of recent events. But I can tell you right now, Christopher Pike had nothing to do with Section 31, because Chris Pike was one of the most honorable men in Starfleet, and one of the most honest men I have ever known.”

“I appreciate that you—”

“I don’t think that,” said Number One. “I know it. I know what they say about me. That I’m a robot. That I’m a Vulcan. That I have no emotion. They are wrong, but I am not speaking from the heart. I am speaking with my eyes fully open, and with full use of all my mental faculties; I am not clouded by love, though I did love him. Christopher Pike didn’t know anything about Section 31.”

“You yourself said he was overly interested in the destruction of the Kelvin.”

“I did not.”

Rosales just raised hir brows.

Number One swallowed, lifted her chin. “I said that he perhaps became preoccupied by adventure. I also don’t think that the destruction of the Kelvin could alter his character to the point where he could become a completely different person."

“It altered Councilor Vaarn,” Rosales pointed out.

“That’s Councilor Vaarn,” said Number One. “Besides, perhaps Councilor Vaarn was always a warmonger, and he was just using the Kelvin as the excuse he needed to call for armament of the Neutral Zone.”

“You just called Councilor Vaarn a warmonger,” Rosales said, voice mild.

Number One opened her mouth, and closed it.

Rosales couldn’t resist a smirk, because it was a political revelation, if ever there was one. “Do you believe Councilor Vaarn to be a warmonger?”

Stubbornly, Number One kept her mouth shut. Her jaw looked pretty damn tight.

“That’s okay,” Rosales said. Zie smiled. “I do, too.”

“Admiral Pike never agreed with him. If Marcus and Vaarn were colluding, Chris didn’t know anything about it, and he certainly didn’t know anything about Khan, the Vengeance, or the rest of it.”

“I believe that you believe that.”

Number One’s jaw clenched tighter. “I have access to his personal files. I’ll share them, if it means clearing his name.”

“That might be useful.”

Number One stepped toward her. “Admiral—”

“Gabri, please.”

“You asked if I was sleeping with him—I was. No one knew him better than me. No one. What better witness—”

Rosales did snort, then. “You’d make a terrible witness, chica.” Zie waved a hand as Number One opened her mouth again. “I didn’t ask you whether you were sleeping with him; I said you were sleeping with him, because I knew you were. Everyone knew that.”

Number One closed her mouth again.

“I didn’t call you in here to talk about Chris Pike.”

“I—what?”

Rosales went back to hir desk, poked hir data padd. “I’m promoting you to Admiral.”

Number One turned slowly to follow Rosales with her eyes. “Excuse me?” she said, in a stilted sort of way.

“Fleet Admiral, to be specific. I want you to be Chief of Starfleet Intelligence.”

“Chief of . . .”

“Come on. You’re a smart girl.”

“But . . .”

“But that puts you next in line to be Commander-in-Chief? Yes.” Rosales touched hir data padd again. Hir next appointment was four light years away, and one that zie felt must be conducted in person. Zie didn’t want to be late. “I doubt the President will appoint you. Even if Vaarn is guilty of keeping state secrets, they’ll want someone more hellbent on war than you’ll ever be, and who knows if the new CIC will keep you. But I want you, and I want you to lead the investigation on Marcus and Section 31 for as long as your appointment holds.”

Number One’s brow furrowed. “You want me to lead the investigation?”

“You’re Chief of Intelligence now. Internal investigations are part of what you do.”

“You’re not concerned that I have a conflict of interests?”

Rosales’s mouth twisted. “I do know what they say about you. Your concern’s likely only to be getting to the truth of the matter.”

Number One just kept frowning. “You’re banking on the idea that my reputation will convince people that the investigation is clean?”

Rosales just snorted again. “I’m banking on the idea that you’re one of the only people I can rely on in this whole goddamn mess to run a transparent investigation. I’m banking on the idea that you would never let your feelings, or anything else, get in the way of making the truth known. I’m banking on the idea that he didn’t call you Number One just because you were a damn fine first officer, but because you were the best in all the ways that matter to a man of honesty and integrity—a man like Christopher Pike was.”

Number One looked down quickly, her hair curtaining either side of her face. After a moment, she spoke. “I sometimes forget that I’m not the only one who lost a friend.”

Rosales cleared hir padd. “Time to get to work, Number One.”

“Thank you, sir.” Number One turned to go.

“Don’t mention it,” said Rosales.

*

Rosales’s next meeting was in Alpha Centauri City.

“You didn’t have to come all the way out here,” Tieng Vu said, as Rosales walked through the door.

“It’s a meeting best conducted in person,” said Rosales.

“I’m not sure what can be done in person that can’t be done by viewscreen,” Vu said, as the door closed behind Rosales. “Well, now you’re here, you might as well come in. This way.”

Rosales followed his hover through a corridor to a living room, where there were sofas and a chair. “Make yourself at home,” Vu said, parking the hover. “Want something? Coffee? Tea? I have Saurian chocolate.”

“Coffee’s fine. Black.”

“You’re tough. I like it.” Vu slid out of the hover and headed over toward the synthesizer. “That’s right,” he said, in response to some question Rosales hadn’t asked. “What is it, four in the morning for you?”

“Two am.”

“And you’re heading back today? Coffee, hot, black, and a Saurian chocolate, spicy, extra cream. That’s quite a trip for a busy person like you, just to visit someone like me.” Vu grabbed the cups and made his way over to Rosales, handing hir the coffee.

“I need you to take a case.” Rosales took the drink.

“Uh-huh.” Vu put his chocolate on the table beside a stool, leaned against the stool, and began removing his mechanical arms. “You still could’ve used a comm wave. What you really mean is you didn’t want anyone listening in. Don’t you trust Starfleet?”

“I trust Starfleet. It doesn’t take more than one person to plant a bug, Mr. Vu.”

“We’re not in court. You can call me Tieng. It may take more than one person when you’re Commander-in-Chief of Starfleet, Gabri.”

“Something tells me I won’t hold the position long.”

Vu laughed. “Now, what gave you that impression?” he said. “Your charming personality, or all the friends you have at Starfleet?”

“Just because I don’t support the despotic tendencies of fanatic Councilors doesn’t mean I don’t have friends within Starfleet.”

“With the way Starfleet is going, maybe you don’t. Besides, you’re the one who thought they bugged your office.” Completely lacking in concern, Vu changed his angle against the stool to lean in toward the straw. Catching it with his lips, he took a long sip of chocolate.

Rosales sighed. “I don’t think they bugged my office. I just don’t want anyone hearing this conversation. It’s for your safety.”

Nodding, Vu pulled his mouth off the straw. “So, you’re willing to go off-world at two in the morning, you’re already talking about the potential threat of my safety . . . and for some reason you think I’ll be interested enough to come out of retirement to defend this client of yours. Let me guess. You want me to represent the guy who attacked the Daystrom Building and blew up the Kelvin Memorial Archive.”

“Yes.”

“Uh-huh. Right.” Vu sipped his chocolate again. “Khan Noonien-Singh, a relic from the Eugenics Wars. I suppose you assumed that was right up my alley.”

“I didn’t assume anything,” Rosales said. “He’s not Khan.”

“Well, maybe you better check my news screen.”

“He said his name was Khan,” Rosales said. “I can only assume Marcus somehow made a mistake. He meant to wake up Khan, believing him to be the leader of the Botany Bay prisoners. Instead he woke up a man named John Harrison. I don’t know yet whether it was an honest mistake, or whether Harrison somehow manipulated the prisoner files in order to be mistaken for Khan. I do know that Marcus believed the prisoner to be Khan, and Harrison did not correct him.”

Vu pulled away from the chocolate again. “This is an elaborate plot. It does explain why someone named Khan Noonien-Singh is whiter than the driven snow.”

“Name is not always indicative of race.”

“Neither is skin.” Vu’s mouth twisted. “But remember, we’re talking 1990s Earth.”

“I admit we were a touch barbaric then,” said Rosales, keeping hir uninjured hand wrapped around hir hot mug, “but not so lacking in advancement that there weren’t such things as interracial marriage, adoptions, and changed names.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Vu nudged his straw, sipped again. “Humans are always barbaric.”

“You’re human,” Rosales pointed out.

“So are you,” said Vu. “Just look at us.”

“I have no idea what you mean.”

“Intractable as ever. Look, attractive as this prospect is, this guy’s a mass murderer.”

“He still deserves a fair trial.”

“Uh-huh. So why choose me?”

“Because you’re the best.”

Vu’s mouth twisted. “You think because I can pull you apart on a witness stand, I’m the best? Trust me, you’re easy. You have so many weaknesses.”

“I know I have weaknesses,” Rosales said. “That’s not why I want you.” Zie wanted him because Vu had bothered to pick hir apart on the witness stand.

In hir fifty-nine year career in Starfleet, Zie had participated in eight Starfleet tribunals, three of which resulted in court martial. Two former Starfleet officers who were court martialed were also charged with crimes under Federation law, and so moved on to criminal justice. Since as far as Rosales knew, Starfleet had never found an innocent person guilty, both cases were almost undoubtedly a lost cause, but Vu took both of them anyway.

Like most lawyers, he loved high profile cases. Unlike most lawyers, he often took cases he knew he couldn’t win—cases no one else would touch. And unlike most lawyers, his objective was not always to free his client’s physical body, but to show that his client had a soul. That was always worth defending, he claimed, no matter what crime that client had committed.

Rosales had given the same character witness testimonies in the criminal trials as zie had given in the courts-martial. During the courts-martial, however, zie hadn’t felt like zie was being flayed alive. Rosales couldn’t think of a single person who had ever made hir feel as vulnerable, weak, and naked as Vu had during the cross-examinations in the criminal trials. Zie respected him immensely for it.

Zie wasn’t going to tell Vu that, though. He already had a big enough head.

“I’m waiting to hear all about why you want me,” Vu said.

“You like a good fight.”

Vu didn’t smile. “Why would Harrison pretend to be Khan?” he asked instead. “What does he gain by it?”

“Well, for one thing, if Marcus really meant to wake up Khan, pretending to be Khan means Harrison doesn’t get put back in the freezer.”

“Yes, but according to my very trusty news screen, before all these new reports about the Vengeance started coming out, the man of the hour was named John Harrison. This means he let his real name out into subspace somehow or other. If he really wanted to pretend he’s Khan, why would he do that?”

Rosales shook hir head. “You’ll have to ask him that. Could be that he created the Harrison ID as a way to get things done under Marcus’s radar. Or, could be Marcus himself helped create the Harrison ID, because he thought someone might recognize the name Khan. It might even be the case that Marcus knew who Harrison really was, and they wanted to pretend he was Khan for name recognition’s sake. Khan’s still an infamous war criminal, you know, even if he is from the 1990s. Everyone likes a villain they recognize.”

“Yeah, see, that’s another thing that bugs me. I don’t like villains I recognize. Out of all the evil in all the universe, can’t we have something new? Instead it’s always the same old shit.”

Rosales’s mouth twitched. “I’m sorry the evil of the universe hasn’t heard your pleas.”

“It’s a tragedy, really. Now that you mention it,” Vu went on, even though Rosales hadn’t mentioned anything, “I’m starting to like this character. Delusions of grandeur, complete lack of originality. Hatred of philosophy. And he is from the twentieth century, you know. How else could a white man be a truly scary motherfucker without taking on the identity of the non-white man? Otherwise, he doesn’t get to use all those racial stereotypes and the entire construct of the West’s fear of the Other to his advantage.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Vu moved his shoulder in what passed for a shrug. “History buff. You said it, not me.”

Rosales stared at him. “You knew who Khan was before this whole thing happened, didn’t you. You knew it wasn’t him.”

Vu shrugged again. “A whole lot of media frenzy could’ve been saved if someone chanced to read a history padd, but hey, news these days. Besides, I like it when the quadrant goes nuts. Where’s Harrison right now?”

“He was immediately refrozen.”

“What about the real Khan?”

“He’s on ice as well. And the other seventy-one prisoners from the Botany Bay.”

“Do I get to defend them too?”

“If you want.”

“Well, my friend, you drive a hard bargain, but you have a deal. Serial terrorists always were my favorite.”

“You’ll have to start soon.”

Vu’s mouth twisted. “Are they going somewhere? I thought they were all little Khansicles.”

“I’m not sure the next Commander-in-Chief will be all that interested in seeing Harrison tried.”

For the first time, Vu actually looked surprised. “Not interested in seeing him . . . but why would—oh. Oh, I see.”

“Yes.” Rosales sipped hir coffee. It was tepid, by now.

“You really think they would . . .” Vu stopped, then started again. “You really think they’re just going to seal them up in an icebox somewhere and . . . leave them?”

“If not destroy them.”

“No.” Vu waited, and when Rosales didn’t say anything, said again. “No. There’s no way. We’re not . . . we’re not that far gone, are we?”

Rosales pressed hir lips together. “We’re going to need to find a judge who agrees that the case should be tried. We’re going to need to find a way to push it through, as soon as possible, so that when I get replaced—”

Vu was already nodding. “Yeah. Yeah. Fuck. Okay. We need to start right now. I’ll call—damn. She’s on New Vulcan. There’s not very many left, are there.”

“There are still people I trust in Starfleet,” Rosales said. “Some of them still have connections to the Council, even though I’d say more than half the Council’s in Vaarn’s pocket.”

Vu rolled his eyes. “That guy. I am so tired of that guy. I wish someone would just assassinate him right in his balls.”

Rosales blinked. “Jokes like that used to be funny.”

“Oh God.” Vu stared at hir, just stared. “We’re not talking actually assassinations now, are we? In the Federation?”

“Let’s hope not.”

“Well, anyway, Vaarn’s a Tellarite. He’s got balls to spare.”

Rosales’s fist tightened around hir mug. “I can talk to some of the more sympathetic members of the Council. I’m just not sure they’ll listen to me. I’ve been persona non grata for . . . quite some time.”

“I really miss the Vulcans.”

“So do I.”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong. They were snarky and uppity and really . . . pointy, but I liked looking at their frowny faces in my news screen. I liked knowing they were on my Council. I liked knowing they were part of my Federation.”

Rosales couldn’t look at Vu’s old, cragged face right now, because zie might blink. Then the tears would fall, and Vu would see them. “They haven’t left,” zie croaked.

“It’s not the same.”

Rosales got control of hirself.

“Okay,” said Vu. “Alright. I’ll call some people. I still have some friends—unlike you, you crusty old bastard. No wonder they don’t like you. Always gotta make trouble, don’t you?”

Rosales tried to smile. “That’s what Liz says.”

“And how is Liz?”

“Tired,” said Rosales, because zie wasn’t interested in talking about Liz. “Let’s just get it started as soon as possible.” Putting down hir coffee, zie stood up.

“Hey.”

Rosales got the feeling that if he could move that way, Vu would put out a hand to stop hir.

“I’ve never really liked you,” Vu said. “You’re uppity and pointy, too. And I never really cared for Starfleet either. Space and exploration—who cares. But I’m a Federation citizen, and I love it just as much as the next person, and Starfleet—well.” He shrugged. “You gotta respect it, if nothing else, and the same goes for you, too. If I got to choose who commanded my Starfleet—it’d be you. It’d definitely be you.”

“I think there was a compliment in there? Somewhere.”

“What I’m saying is, I think rainbows shine out your ass, and when you go home, you ride a unicorn.”

“And somehow I still think you’re complimenting me.”

“You’re my hero,” said Vu. “Now go be stern at someone else; you’re killing my mood with your self-righteousness, and I’ve got a case to win.”

Rosales hesitated. “I’m not sure you should win it; I—”

“Then you shouldn’t have asked me. Now get out. And hand me those arms, would you?”

*

There was a delay getting back on the transport to Earth—not a long one, but long enough that Rosales had to push back hir next appointment. Zie made arrangements via a terminal at the port, then sent a communication to Liz.

“When’s the last time you slept?” Liz asked, when her face appeared on the viewscreen.

“I slept on the transport cruiser. And I’m on my way back; that’s another four hours.”

“I notice you didn’t actually say you’re going to use those four hours to sleep.”

“I will,” said Rosales. “Promise.”

“And when you get home?”

“I have a meeting.”

“What kind of meeting could you possibly need to go to at six am?”

“It was the only time I could fit in.”

“And what’s so important?” Liz’s nostrils flared and her face got red when she got worried. Rosales had been married to her for over forty years, and still thought it made her look angry. Tellarites almost always looked angry, but if you knew how to read them, you could tell the difference.

“All of it,” said Rosales. “All of it’s important.”

And Rosales could tell the difference now, because the ridges above Liz’s eyes slanted down, the pouches on her cheeks puffing outward. It looked like she was scowling, but this was her soft expression; Rosales didn’t have to work to interpret it anymore. It had been a long time since zie’d had to work to interpret it. “I know,” said Liz, in her soft, growly voice. “I know how important it is to you. I just don’t want you to—I don’t want you to kill yourself, trying to turn everything around, when . . .”

“When whoever they appoint’s just going to undo it all.”

Liz’s ridges furled in sympathy. “I didn’t mean to imply that it’s hopeless. I just don’t want you to . . . get your hopes up.”

Rosales leaned into the terminal. “Do you ever think about what might have happened if the Kelvin hadn’t been destroyed?”

“The Kelvin?”

“That’s when it started, isn’t it? That’s when Councilor Vaarn started saying we should arm the Neutral Zones.”

“I . . . guess?”

“And if it hadn’t been for the Narada, we’d still have Vulcan.”

Liz’s ridges furled farther. “We all miss Vulcan, Gabri.”

“It was—it was such a part of us. Of who we are. What the Federation is. Sometimes I think without it, we’re not . . . we’re just a name, you know? Some uniforms and insignia, a bunch of branded starships and technology, but—but—”

“Gabri—”

Rosales leaned hir brow against the terminal, almost too close too even see the viewscreen. “It’s like we’ve lost our soul.”

“The soul of the Starfleet isn’t Vulcan.”

Rosales choked on a laugh. “Don’t tell me it’s Earth.”

“No,” said Liz. “It’s us. It’s you and me. It’s people who believe in it. It’s not a thing; it’s not a name. It’s an idea. You’re the one who told me that.”

“I was young.”

“You know what else you told me? They can’t take it away. No matter what Starfleet becomes, you’ll always have what it was. You’ll always have the idea. There will always be the original, and no one can ever take that away.”

“Wow,” said Rosales. “I’m sort of . . . purple and pretentious, aren’t I.”

“And not very subtle.” Liz was smirking now, which looked vaguely threatening on Tellarites, and so deeply beloved on Liz. “I never did care much about finesse. Some things just need to be said.”

“I love you,” said Rosales.

“Like that,” said Liz. “You can say that as much as you want. How’s your arm?”

Rosales looked away. “Fine.”

“You’re still using the dermal regenerators, aren’t you?”

“I told you, I’m fine.”

“You know, usually when there’s an attack on Starfleet and people are injured, they get some bed rest.”

Rosales turned back to her. “There aren’t usually attacks on Starfleet.”

Liz looked pensive again, and Rosales wanted so much to reach out and touch the ridges across her nose that zie had to actively restrain hirself from stroking the viewscreen. “I know,” Liz said. “I know. That’s the only reason I allow it.”

“You allow it because you can’t stop me.”

“I could if I wanted to.” Liz grinned. “Now you go get ‘em. The sooner you get back your Starfleet, the sooner I get back mi corazón.”

“I’ll try,” said Rosales.

*

Rosales didn’t sleep on the transport cruiser. Zie spent the whole time rereading records from the Enterprise. Something was niggling hir, something zie had forgotten to take care of.

There was Section 31, Marcus, whoever might have been in collusion with Marcus; there was Harrison, there was Khan and the Botany Bay prisoners, there’s—fuck it. Zie might as well just admit it. There was Kirk. There was James fucking T fucking Kirk, and if you asked Rosales, that was what was wrong. That was what had been wrong right from the beginning.

And goddamn it, Rosales knew Kirk was a hero. Zie knew that without Kirk in the Battle of Vulcan, the Enterprise would have been destroyed with those other ships; Spock would not have been able to save the Vulcan Elders. Pike would have died, and Earth would have been destroyed. Rosales knew this, and yet when Starfleet Command promoted Kirk to captain of the Enterprise, zie fought it with everything in hir. It was the first time in history zie had found hirself on Admiral Komack’s side.

Rosales remembered the fight zie’d had with Pike about it. They’d drifted apart over the years—ever since he’d changed the subject of his dissertation, in fact. It’d been a long time since Starfleet had had a hero like George Kirk, and it had made everyone starry-eyed for a while. By the time Pike took James Kirk under his wing, he and Rosales already disagreed on a number of things, but that was the proverbial straw.

Kirk had been badly behaved at the Academy. He might have been quick-thinking and brave during the Battle of Vulcan, but it took more than that to captain a Starfleet vessel, and he needed time to learn those things. He needed to move through the ranks, Rosales had argued. Pike had argued that Kirk was just what Starfleet needed. “You’re the one who’s been going on for years about how Starfleet needs to change,” Pike had said. “You keep saying it needs to live up to its ideals. Put your money where your mouth is.”

“We haven’t used currency for almost two centuries,” Rosales had said blandly.

“All that talk about progress,” said Pike. “Was that just rhetoric?”

“All that talk about progress,” Rosales said, trying not to grit hir teeth, “was about peace, cultural acceptance, and scientific inquiry. Sure, Kirk’s not the kind of hidebound bureaucrat who gets in the way—but by progress, I didn’t just mean change. It takes more than youth and balls of brass, Chris.”

Pike’s brows went up. “You ever think maybe all those years of fighting and not winning might’ve made you into exactly what you’re fighting?”

“I’ve thought that. I don’t believe it.” Rosales realized how tense zie was, and forcibly relaxed hir shoulders. “If you’ve got to promote someone, why not Spock? He’s at least already a lieutenant.”

“Commander.”

“Fine. You want to promote him to first officer, why not make him Captain? If you can’t stand to make Kirk a lieutenant first, why not make him first officer?”

Pike was already shaking his head. “You don’t see what I see in him, Gabri.”

“You’re right. I don’t.”

“Kirk is going to change Starfleet. You’ll see.”

Rosales had never met Kirk. Zie had seen him at public functions, had even shaken his hand once or twice—he was famous after all, and zie was a high-ranking Starfleet officer. Zie had never really spoken to him though. Pike had directly supervised most of the Enterprise’s missions, and when Rosales had felt the need to intercede due to the reports zie was seeing, Admiral Marcus had stepped in. Kirk was their star boy, after all, and Rosales was just in charge of all Starfleet missions, every single one of them; who was zie to have an opinion.

Zie did know that Kirk had cheated on the Kobayashi Maru. Zie knew that he had managed to save the Enterprise without much more than bravado and a lot of good luck. Kirk was charming and handsome, his father famous; he didn’t know what it was to work hard, to think before he fought, to act with empathy instead of violence. He was exactly the sort of instrument a man like Marcus could use to do his dirty deeds, without Kirk even knowing he was being used.

After hours of scouring reports and Enterprise records, Rosales still hadn’t figured out exactly what zie was looking for. When they were almost to the Earth station, zie pushed the data padds back on the desk. Leaning back, zie closed hir eyes. Maybe zie could sleep just for a minute or two.

Instead, zie thought about Kirk, and what Spock from another universe had told hir.

“You can’t get rid of Kirk,” Spock had said. “He’s going to change Starfleet.”

And what about the rest of us? Rosales wanted to ask.

*

By the time Rosales got back to hir office, zie was beyond exhausted. Hir eyes felt as though they’d been scraped more raw by every passing hour, leaving a dry crust around the edges that itched like the dickens. Zie had had thirteen hours of sleep in the past one hundred hours since the attack on Starfleet Command, and zie was thinking zie should at least splash some water on hir face to try to wake up, when hir next appointment walked in.

“Good morning, Admiral Rosales!” a voice said.

Rosales looked up. Hir appointment looked bright and far too chipper for six in the morning, and Rosales remembered what Vu said: I think you ride a unicorn, and rainbows shine out your ass. This girl practically was a rainbow—between her hair, her uniform, her skin, and eyes, all she was missing was violet. “Commander Gaila,” Rosales said.

“You wanted to see me, sir,” Gaila said, as though Rosales didn’t know. Gaila was at attention, her hands behind her back, but somehow she managed to make it look bubbly. “Is it about the terrorist attacks?” Gaila went on. “I’d really like to help.”

Rosales had actually met Gaila once before. It was after the Battle of Vulcan, around the time Rosales had been arguing with Christopher Pike about James Kirk. Seven shuttles had made it out of the battle; two shuttles had suffered damage from the wreckage and lost life support. A third shuttle (Copernicus II) had towed flotsam that still contained some partially intact power coils back to the two shuttles. The shuttles were able to route power from the coils to life support, keeping the survivors alive.

After that, Copernicus II had led the search among the rubble for more survivors that might be trapped in the broken pieces of the star ships. Gaila had been aboard the Copernicus II. She hadn’t been the ranking officer, but she had been the one to take command.

The reason Rosales had met with her was that Gaila had been promoted to first officer aboard the new Farragut, skipping several ranks in the process. The only other cadet to make rank and then jump at least three of them was James Kirk, and Rosales had had questions about Gaila’s ability to fill the job—as well as questions about Kirk. Rosales had had hir eye on Gaila since then.

“Admiral Rosales?” Gaila said.

“Yes,” Rosales said. “We need your help. The USS Republic no longer has a captain.”

Gaila looked horrified. “Did something happen to Number One? I thought she was—”

“Number One is fine.”

“—on border patrol when the attack happened, and—what?”

“She’s been promoted,” Rosales said.

“Oh!” Brimming with relief, Gaila smiled. “How wonderful for her! She’s such a great captain. I really look up to her.” Her smile faltered. “Is she an admiral now?”

“Yes, Commander Gaila, she’s an admiral.”

“She’ll look so pretty in whites.” Rosales raised hir brows. “Sorry.” Gaila bounced on her heels anxiously in a way that makes Rosales feel physically ill.

“The Republic needs a captain,” Rosales said. “I want it to be you.”

Gaila stopped bouncing. “Me?”

Is there anyone else standing in front of me? Rosales wanted to snap. Gaila really was so very young—too young to be a starship captain. In the past year spent monitoring her progress, however, Rosales had learned that Gaila’s perky attitude had very little to do with immaturity and everything to do with who she was. She was a little unprofessional, but Rosales trusted her. Zie didn’t trust many people.

It was a gamble, just as Pike’s belief in Kirk had been a gamble. But Gaila was a little different than Kirk, in that she didn’t have a history of breaking regulations, lying on reports, getting wasted in bars, and whatever else. Gaila had a history of being a damn fine officer, and Rosales was totally willing to put hir money where hir mouth was, if only zie could get enough cash.

“I’ve only been on the Farragut a year,” Gaila said.

“You don’t think you’re ready?”

Gaila’s brow furrowed, her mouth pursing into a cute little bow while she thought about it. “I’ve learned a lot aboard the Farragut. I’ve learned so much from watching Captain Okeke. I just don’t want it to be—given to me, you know, just because—”

“We don’t give people starships, Commander Gaila,” and what Rosales meant was, they didn’t used to.

“I didn’t mean to imply—”

Rosales stood up, waved hir hand. “Relax. Sit down. You want anything to drink?”

“Um.” An agony of indecision wracked Gaila’s face. “Do you have Cardassian fish juice in your menu program? I really love it; I know it smells funny—um. Okay.” She sat down.

Rosales walked over to the synthesizer. “Coffee, hot, black. Cardassian fish juice, hot.”

“With sugar!” said Gaila.

“With sugar.” The synthesizer produced two mugs, and Rosales took them. It was hir fifth coffee in the last twenty-four hours. Zie couldn’t really remember the last time zie ate. “In case you haven’t noticed,” Rosales said, handing Gaila her mug, “we’re currently suffering from a dearth of Starfleet captains.”

“Yes. Of course. I just mean I still have a lot to learn.”

Rosales went to sit behind hir desk, pulling up files on the data padds littered across the surface. “What do you know about General Order One, Commander Gaila?”

“Oh! We don’t interfere with pre-warp cultures, or in the internal affairs of non-Federation civilizations.”

“And how do you feel about that?” Rosales asked.

“I think it’s a really good rule, because civilizations should have a chance to develop on their own.” Gaila hadn’t touched her fish juice. It was on her lap, clutched between her hands. It really did smell bad. “I mean, warp drive is such a large power in the galaxy, you know? If we just went around interfering everywhere just because we could, we could lose some of the beautiful diversity the Federation has. And diversity is really important to me.”

“I’m sure it is.” Rosales stood up again, walked over to the window. “I need you to take the Republic to Nibiru. Do you know why?”

There was a little silence. “This is about Jim, isn’t it?”

Rosales’s good hand tightened by hir side. “This isn’t about Kirk. This is about the people of Nibiru, and what they saw.”

Another pause. “I heard they saw the Enterprise.”

“Yes.”

“Jim saved them from a volcano.”

“Yes.”

The silence this time was long. “You think that he shouldn’t have done that.”

Rosales kept staring at the window. All zie could see was hir own reflection. “What do you think, Commander Gaila?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you?” Rosales turned around.

Gaila was biting her lip again. “I wasn’t there.”

“And if you had been there?”

“I don’t know. Admiral.” Gaila stood up, put her mug on the desk. “I wasn’t there; I don’t have all of the information. I’m not going to condemn what Jim did, even if it makes me a captain.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Gaila locked her hands behind her back. “I don’t mean any disrespect, sir, but I’m not—I don’t take sides. I know you didn’t like Admiral Marcus, and I guess you had a point since he turned out to be a bad man. But I also know you were one of the ones pushing to demote Jim, and Admiral Pike was fighting you on it, and that there are a bunch of different factions in Starfleet right now, and with Admiral Marcus gone they’re all trying to come out on top. But I don’t know what happened with Jim on Nibiru, and I’m not going to decide about it until I have all the facts, and I’m not going to be your lackey just because you make me a captain. Sir.”

“You think I want you to be lackey?”

Gaila swallowed. “I don’t really know, sir.”

“But that’s the word on the street.”

Gaila swallowed again. “I—I shouldn’t have said that. That was out of line, sir.”

Rosales barked a laugh. “Are you kidding? I can’t remember the last time someone talked like that to my face.”

“Sir?” Gaila’s eyes were round.

“Do you honestly think I care what they say about me, Commander Gaila? I can assure you, I don’t give a Vulcan’s shit whose side people think I’m on. You need to work on your diplomacy, but everything else is pretty spot on.”

“You’re not . . .” Gaila wavered. “You’re not going to demote me?”

Rosales laughed again. “If James Kirk had the balls to be as honest as you just were, I’d shake his hand.”

Gaila flinched. “Jim is honest. I mean, most of the time.”

“Commander Gaila.” Rosales stopped, had to start again. “I cannot tell you what a profound relief to know someone who actually gives a fuck.”

“I give a lot of fucks.” Gaila went mint green. “I mean—”

Rosales swallowed another laugh. “I know what you meant. Let me ask you a question. What if you go to Nibiru and discover that Nibiran culture has been inextricably altered by what Kirk did? Will you interfere further to fix the mistake, or will you keep your distance?”

Gaila lifted her chin. “I don’t know, sir.”

“Why not?”

“Because there’s an exception to Order One that states that if the order has already been violated, either by Starfleet or another party, Starfleet may intercede to minimize the effects.”

“And how would you know if you could actually minimize the effects?”

Gaila swallowed again. “I wouldn’t know that, sir.”

“So how would you decide?”

“I would ask Starfleet Command.”

“And what if Starfleet Command asked you to do something you thought was wrong?”

Gaila’s mouth was working into a tight little frown. “I would talk to my first officer, or call a conference with bridge command.”

“And if they disagreed with Starfleet?”

Gaila’s mouth worked tighter. “I don’t know.”

“Why not?”

“Because it depends entirely on the situation!”

“Commander, I would like you to be captain of the Republic. Will you accept this commission?”

“You—”

“Just a yes or no will do, Commander.”

Gaila’s jaw hardened. “Yes, sir.”

“And will you accept your mission to Nibiru?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Excellent, Captain.” Rosales went over to hir desk and began arranging for hir next appointment. “You have two days to oversee the Republic, and get your crew in order.”

“Admiral Rosales—”

“One more question, Captain Gaila. Do you remember the matter we discussed last time you were in my office?”

Gaila’s brow furrowed.

“Regarding Cadet Kirk,” Rosales reminded her.

For a moment, Gaila just stared. Then, in a motion that was quickly becoming familiar, she squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. “I remember.”

“Do you have any additional statements to make regarding that matter?”

“No. I mean, no sir.”

“Very well. Dismissed, Captain.”

“Admiral Rosales—” Rosales’s brows went up, but Gaila’s shoulders stayed squared. “What if I don’t do what you want me to?”

“I guess we’ll find out,” Rosales said. “Now go on. Scoot.”

*

When Rosales’s next appointment walked in seven minutes after Gaila left, Rosales had just synthesized phở tacos. They were a guilty pleasure. “Come in, Captain Jalili,” Rosales said, not getting out from behind hir desk. “Sit down. Sorry about the smell.”

Sitting down, Jalili wrinkled her nose. “Is that . . . Cardassian fish juice?”

“It was. I know; I’m sorry, it’s disgusting.”

Jalili’s left antenna ducked slightly. “On the contrary, I enjoy fish juice. So few others do.”

Rosales was in the middle of a bite of taco. “Oh God, you don’t want some, do you? I thought I was rid of it.”

The antenna bowed again. “Not if it is unpalatable to you.”

“I’ve got some phở taco if you’re interested.”

“No thank you.” Jalili paused while Rosales chewed. “I’ve never been called into a private conference with a Fleet Admiral before. It’s considerably less formal than I’ve been led to believe.”

“Yeah? Who was leading you?”

“Hm,” Jalili said. “You wish to discuss politics.”

“No. Yes.” Rosales pumped a sonic spray to wipe hir hands, then pulled a data padd in front of hir. “I just spent the last twenty minutes with a twenty-seven year old Orion captain who did pretty much everything but call me a reactionary old fogey.”

“Ah. This explains your desire to spend further time with another old fogey.”

Jalili was small and stocky, her face lined. A hijab covered her hair with two holes for her antennae, the stems of which were carefully wrapped with ribbons of the same fabric so her hair didn’t show. Rosales had been following Jalili’s career for two decades, and Jalili had been captain of the USS Kongo, a border patrol along the Neutral Zone, for close to twice that amount of time. Despite the fact that they’d never met in person, Rosales was impressed by what zie had seen. Zie had personally appointed Jalili a promotion eight different times. Each time, Admiral Marcus had personally rejected the appointment.

“I don’t want to spend further time with you,” Rosales said. The silence had stretched out almost too long, but Jalili merely sat there, an ironic smile playing on the corner of her mouth. “I want you to go to the Federation-Klingon border.”

“Interesting,” Jalili said. “I just came from there.”

“You were recalled after the terrorist attack,” Rosales said.

“That’s correct, Admiral.”

“And did you hear about anything strange happening in Klingon space after you left?”

“Strange? Well.” Jalili’s antennae waved gently. “I did hear a very interesting story about a small band of human traders who managed to land on Qo’noS, kill a bunch of Klingons, and get out. But that wouldn’t have anything to do with Starfleet, would it?” It wasn’t really a question. Jalili smiled benignly. “After all, the Federation has a non-aggression policy with the Klingons. Isn’t that so? You know, I think I’ll have some of that fish juice after all.”

Rosales raised hir brows, but pushed back from hir desk.

“Don’t trouble yourself,” said Jalili. “I’ll get it.” Walking over to the synthesizer, she said, “Can I get you anything?” Rosales shook hir head, and Jalili said, “Let me guess. This little altercation with the human traders has something to do with a huge dreadnought and an attack on the Enterprise, not to mention two terrorist attacks on Starfleet. Cardassian fish juice, hot, side of pepper.”

“That’s a good guess,” said Rosales.

“And you want information on the Klingon borders.”

“I have information about the Klingon borders.”

“Yes, well.” Jalili grabbed her mug and her pepper packet, then came back to her chair. “Either you’re a friend of Councilor Vaarn, and want to arm the Neutral Zone, in which case you want some intelligence work along the border, or you’re an enemy of Councilor Vaarn, and want to keep the Neutral Zone neutral, in which case you want some intelligence work along the border.” She opened her pepper packet and sprinkled it in her drink. “What I don’t get is why you’re asking me. No one ever asks me to do espionage.”

“Why not?”

“I’m old,” said Jalili.

Rosales’s lips quirked. “No older than me.”

“I’m at least twenty years older than you. And even when I wasn’t, I acted like I was. I’m a careful person; I don’t take risks. I’m neither exciting nor flashy. Are you sure you don’t want to try this? It’s very good.”

“I’m sure,” Rosales said.

“So, which is it?”

“Which is what?”

“Are you a friend of Vaarn’s or aren’t you? It’s all anyone’s talking about these days. Not that it matters much.” Jalili sipped her fish juice, and her antennae were still—a sign of complete unconcern.

“You haven’t been paying attention, if you need to ask that question.”

Jalili shrugged. “Starfleet Command and Council can in-fight all they want. Us grunts just do the work.”

Rosales said, “I don’t need you to spy.”

“Interesting.”

“I need you to open negotiations with the Klingons.”

Jalili spluttered, almost spitting out her juice. “What?”

“I think I’ll try some of that after all,” Rosales said, because it just smelled so disgusting, zie had to try it. Walking over to the synthesizer, zie said, “Are you sure you’re as boring as you say you are? You don’t seem it. Cardassian fish juice, hot, side of pepper.”

“I didn’t say I was boring. I said I was careful.”

“And what does that mean?”

“It means I follow orders, not suggestions. It means I don’t take vague hints.”

“Or bribes,” Rosales said, taking the mug and packet of pepper from the synthesizer.

“I’ve been told I’m unwilling to change,” said Jalili. “I lack finesse.”

“You’re unwilling to play politics,” said Rosales. “You won’t spy.”

“Are you sure you want me to open negotiations with the Klingons?”

Rosales sipped the juice. “This really is disgusting. Yes, you,” zie said, walking back over to hir desk. “You’ve been working the border for four decades. You’ve built a relationship with them—I’ve been reading your reports for years.”

Jalili laughed. “When someone is a captain for four decades, something’s probably wrong with them.”

“You think there’s something wrong with you?”

“I assume there’s a reason I never got promoted.”

“Did you want to be promoted?”

“Not particularly.”

Rosales opened the pepper, poured it into the juice. “Your name comes up every time we talk about the admiralcy. Command never found you . . . dynamic enough.”

“I’m too good at peace,” said Jalili, “and they want war.”

“I see you’ve been paying attention after all.”

Jalili shook her head. “I’m not sure what you want me to do. You want me to leap at the chance to show our mettle, now that Starfleet’s gone and royally screwed up everything we’ve been trying to accomplish? What do you want me to tell them—‘It wasn’t us’?”

“No,” said Rosales. “I want you to say exactly who it was.”

“And then what do you want me to say? ‘Oops’?”

“I want you to tell them the truth. It’s a very complex situation.” Off Jalili’s critical look, Rosales added, “I know that the Klingons are capable of sophistication, Captain, no matter how barbaric certain members of the Council would like us to believe they are. Klingons understand Byzantine politics as well as the next civilization, and rather more than some. They can understand our situation, and they respect honesty. And they respect you. I think, considering that we were in the wrong, it’s our job to own up to it.”

“They also admire bluster,” Jalili pointed out. “They’re expecting us to bluff. That’s why they haven’t demanded an explanation yet; they’re waiting to see if we’ll just pretend it didn’t happen.”

“Then I’m sure they’ll respect a move they didn’t predict.”

Jalili shook her head. “They’ll see us as weak. We can’t keep our own Command in check.”

“Tell them we have a new command.”

“Do we?”

“Are you questioning me, Captain?”

“Yes.” Jalili leaned back, crossing her legs under her ankle-length skirt. “For how long have you been trying to get me promoted, Admiral?”

Rosales’s eyes flickered down to hir desk. “Sixteen years.”

“Indeed. And how long have you been Chief of Operations?”

Rosales lifted hir eyes. “Sixteen years.”

“I see. And how long before you think they’ll replace you?”

Rosales held Jalili’s gaze. “Not more than two weeks.”

“And how, given these parameters, do you expect me to tell the Klingons that Starfleet Command isn’t a piece of baktag?”

“Easy,” said Rosales. “Bluff.”

*

Two and a half hours later, Rosales was still working with Jalili, and zie had drunk approximately a liter of fish juice. It was disgusting, but it was hearty. It settled warm in hir belly, and made hir feel a little less nauseous. Even hir arm felt like it was throbbing less, though the fish juice did nothing for the scratchiness of hir eyes, which made hir feel like hir irises were covered with sand that was slowly hardening into glass.

Zie and Jalili spoke of bringing other border patrollers into the negotiations, but were purposely leaving Starfleet Command out of the loop for now. As Jalili had said, Klingons didn’t have a lot of reason to respect Starfleet Command, and had even less respect for bureaucrats. As Rosales had suspected, they preferred to deal with someone they knew, and they knew Jalili. For a few stinky hours, Rosales actually thought this was going to work.

Which was when Admiral Kulvinder Agarwal, Chief of Security, burst into the room.

“You don’t have an appointment,” Rosales told him, rising slowly.

“I shouldn’t need an appointment!” A storm was already brewing on Agarwal’s face. “I’m senior staff.”

“Two Fleet Admirals in one day,” Jalili said. “I feel famous.”

“Here you are discussing intergalactic war policy with a—a—”

“Andorian?” Jalili suggested. “Muslim? Female? Asexual? Old person? Overweight person? Person person?”

“Starship captain,” Rosales said, and stepped in front of Jalili, putting hir body between Jalili’s and Agarwal’s. “And it’s not war policy.”

“If you think we can have peace with the Klingons after what’s happened—”

“And what’s happened?” Rosales asked. “We haven’t declared war. A rotten admiral conducted a rogue mission—”

“Do you have any idea how sanctimonious you sound?”

“Maybe because you’ve forgotten that some things can actually be sacred! Will war be profitable to you, Admiral Agarwal?” Rosales moved closer. “Are there resources in Klingon space you and Admiral Marcus wanted to get your grubby—”

“Resources!” Agarwal physically recoiled. “In case you haven’t noticed, Admiral, ever since the Narada destroyed those warbirds, the only resources the Klingons have been amassing are more warbirds, birds of prey, and battle cruisers, not to mention you can bet they’ve got torpedoes just as advanced as—”

“How do you know?” Rosales interrupted. “Last I heard, Admiral Marcus was conspiring with a known terrorist. You really wanna take his word for it?”

“How can you be so self-righteous, when we’ve just been attacked? When our very way of life is threatened—”

“Do you want to know what Starfleet doesn’t do when our way of life if threatened, Kulvinder?” Rosales said, taking a step closer. “It doesn’t go to war. It seeks peace. When we’re attacked by terrorists, we don’t lash out at the first territory we’re not on good terms with, and declare war. We don’t lie about weapons those territories might have. We don’t sentence men to death; we don’t conduct covert, unauthorized man-hunts to bring them down; we don’t hold them without trial, because you know what Starfleet doesn’t have?”

Zie stepped up until zie was almost toe-to-toe with Agarwal, looking up at his infuriated face. “Starfleet doesn’t have a leader who consolidates executive power until there’s not a check or balance in the galaxy who can stop hir, a leader who uses fear as currency for power, a leader who invents its enemies and lies to its people. If it did, it doesn’t anymore, because I’m here now, for just as long as I can hold on.”

Agarwal rocked back on his heels. “Ah,” he said quietly. “So then you wouldn’t lie to me.”

Rosales snorted. “I’m sure that’s what you’re afraid of.”

“Actually, yes. Are you or are you not conducting a secret meeting about negotiating with the Klingons?”

Rosales resisted snorting again. “It’s hardly a secret. You’re here, aren’t you?”

“And as you pointed out, I don’t have an appointment.”

Rosales waved hir good hand. “Make an appointment if you want. I don’t care.”

“Don’t you? Isn’t that what you care about most? Or have you not been running around for the past eighty hours like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to use your new position of power to do all the things you think should happen, that you think is right, without consulting the rest of Starfleet Command? That lack of checks and balances sure is coming in handy now, isn’t it?”

Agrawal was thin and tall. Despite his age, he had a full head of thick hair, shot through with silver, almost completely gray in his moustache and beard. Rosales had always detested him, his reactionary views, his zealous ambition, which was probably why zie had never really noticed before this moment that he was quite devastatingly handsome. His eyes were liquid brown, and looked almost as tired as Rosales’s felt.

“He has a point, you know,” said Jalili, in her calm, prosaic way.

But he’s wrong, was all Rosales could think to say. “I’m not abusing my power,” zie heard hirself say instead, hir voice stiff.

“Aren’t you? I hear that you’ve appointed a new Chief of Intelligence without consulting the other Fleet Admirals.”

“The Commander-in-Chief has that jurisdiction.”

“Oh, yes. ‘In a state of emergency, Starfleet Commander may appoint senior command staff without approval of the chiefs’.” Agrawal briefly bared his teeth, a mockery of a smile. “It’s so convenient that Marcus got that law in place, wasn’t it? Then he couldn’t have promoted his best friend Admiral Pike, and you couldn’t have promoted yours.”

Rosales could hear a crashing around hir ears. It sounded just like the attack on Starfleet. It hadn’t even been a week ago, zie realized. “Number One is not my friend,” zie said, hir own voice sounding strange.

“That’s right; she’s not. You don’t have many friends in Starfleet, do you, Admiral Rosales?”

“Maybe because I’m not interested in back-stabbing, bribes, and kissing Councilor Vaarn’s ass.”

“And you say you don’t invent enemies.” Agrawal moved around Rosales, moving deeper into the office toward hir desk. “What is that appalling smell?”

“Cardassian fish juice,” said Jalili. “Admiral Rosales is a recent convert. Would you like some?”

“Dear God, no.”

“Well, if you don’t mind, I’m going to synth myself some pancakes,” Jalili went on. “Scheming and arguing and talk of treason make me exceedingly hungry when they occur before ten.” She stood up and went over to the synthesizer.

“Admiral,” Agrawal said, turning back toward Rosales. “We may be at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but it doesn’t mean that I accept bribes from Vaarn. And just because I agreed with a lot of Marcus’s viewpoints, doesn’t mean I’m a traitor to the state like he was.”

“I . . .” Rosales felt like rubbing hir eyes. God, zie was just so tired. “I never accused you of treason.”

“No, you did one worse. You took all that power Marcus ‘consolidated’ and proceeded to use it just like he would have.”

“I didn’t—”

“What really galls me,” Agrawal said, sitting down on the edge of Rosales’s desk, “is that you not only cut me out; you cut out Admiral Salangsang. Admiral Hadžić. Admiral Kanguq. Honestly, Gabri, do you really think you’re the only person in Starfleet who gives a fuck?”

Rosales looked down at hir mangled hand. Liz was going to kill hir; zie hadn’t been using hir regenerators. “Commander Gaila told me she gives lots of fucks,” Rosales finally said.

“I’m sure I have a fuck or two somewhere.” Jalili was cutting her pancakes. “Just lying around.” She took a bite.

“I give a fuck,” Agrawal said, standing up. He came closer, right into Rosales’s space. “I give a great deal of fucks. Don’t think you’re the only one who joined Starfleet because you’re passionately in love with peace and discovery, Gabri.”

Rosales stared at him. “But you don’t want peace,” zie said at last.

“Yes, I do,” said Agrawal. “The only reason I’m so hellbent on defending this government of ours is I believe in it.”

“You can’t defend pacifism with war.”

“And you can’t defend transparency with obfuscation.”

Rosales stood there for another long moment, then went over to the wall. Zie pressed the button for the comm.

“Yes?” said the receptionist.

“I’d like to call a meeting with the Fleet Admirals.”

“Which ones?” Connie asked.

Rosales glanced at Agrawal. “All of them,” zie said.

*
Eight hours later, Admiral Rosales, acting Commander-in-Chief; Number One, Chief of Intelligence; Admiral Agrawal, Chief of Security; Admiral Hadžić, Chief of Research and Development; and Admiral Salangsang, Chief of Reserves, had a tentative plan for the negotiations with the Klingons. Chief of Starfleet Medical, Admiral Kanguq, had a different problem on his hands.

By now, most of Starfleet had heard Doctor McCoy’s story about the tribble. Much of the story was third-hand, but most had also heard that McCoy had tried his experiment on Captain James T. Kirk. Between cleaning up Harrison’s, Marcus’s, and Kirk’s messes, Rosales had done what zie could to monitor the miracle-blood situation. If it didn’t work—well, it was a damn shame. Zie might not respect Kirk, but that didn’t mean zie wanted a Starfleet officer to die. If McCoy’s serum did work, though, Rosales had no idea what would happen. The media uproar alone was enough to keep hir up at nights, not to mention the stampede to obtain the serum that would defy death.

Throughout it all, Rosales just kept looking down at hir injured hand. Maybe it didn’t even matter. Maybe nothing mattered any more. Without mortality, sacrifice was just a word. Maybe things like honesty and integrity, acceptance and understanding—maybe those were just words as well, the things a society had thought it had to learn so that it wouldn’t destroy itself. Humanity had done all that evolving, all of that development and growing, little knowing there was a deus ex machina waiting at the end to save them.

While the other admirals met to discuss peace with the Klingons, Admiral Kanguq was overseeing testing on the serum in secure Starfleet labs. Rosales hadn’t wanted any more doctors playing god with tribbles or people or anything else until they knew what they were dealing with. Captain Kirk—and by extension, Doctor McCoy—were under close surveillance.

Because he couldn’t send himself, Admiral Kanguq sent one of his assistants in the testing to report to the assembled Fleet Admirals. His name was Doctor M’Benga. Rosales hadn’t met him before, but he seemed to be well apprised of the ongoing research. He and a team of scientists had been studying the serum Doctor McCoy had created, which he reported to the admirals. Jalili had been dismissed to begin briefing her crew.

“We still don’t know what effect it will have,” Doctor M’Benga said.

“But Kirk is stable,” said Hadžić. “So, it’s working so far.”

“So far,” said Agrawal. “He could become Khan, for all we know.”

“Harrison,” said Number One.

“Harrison,” said Agrawal. “Whoever.”

“Now that you mention it,” said Salangsang, “what about the other seventy-two? Are they magical, too?”

“That’s one of the reasons I set up Harrison’s lawyer,” Rosales pointed out. “It’s not just about trying him for his crimes, or even what to do with the other Botany Bay prisoners. If their blood does cure death, they still have to choose to give it.”

“Doctor M’Benga,” said Hadžić. “If you have a life-saving vaccine, do you get to choose who gets it?”

“That’s not a fair question,” said Rosales. “We’re talking about a vaccine that is part of Harrison’s body.”

“Also, the doctor took an oath,” Agrawal said. “Harrison didn’t.” When Rosales looked over at him, he shrugged, the motion fluid. “Just pointing it out. I don’t like fair questions myself. They never really get to the heart of the matter.”

“We don’t know if the serum works,” M’Benga said, sounding a little annoyed. Probably all this bickering was aggravating when he had work to do. “For all we know, maybe it’s just the cure to radiation poisoning. It’s what the tribble died of.”

“Then it couldn’t bring back someone who died of another injury,” said Number One.

“Say, lacerations to the chest.” Agrawal’s tone was sly, but Number One’s face remained blank.

“I ask merely as a point of scientific inquiry.”

“It’s too early to tell,” M’Benga said, “but our research suggests that the serum only targets particles associated with the high kinetic energy of radiation. Right now, we’re working on the theory that these particles retain a quantum record of recently ionized atoms. The serum stabilizes the atoms and dispels the kinetic energy of the radiation particles.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Hadžić said. Rosales supposed Hadžić would know. As the Chief of Starfleet Research and Development, Admiral Hadžić was more of an expert on the engineers and physics side of things, but she probably had a passing understanding of what M’Benga was talking about. Rosales had no idea. “And if it can do that,” Hadžić went on, “we could just take atoms apart any time we wanted and slap them back together however we wanted, willy-nilly.”

M’Benga appeared unfazed. “Actually, it’s theoretically possible. Doctor Marcus had a theory—”

“Doctor Marcus?” said Agrawal. “You don’t mean—”

“I mean Doctor Carol Marcus,” said M’Benga, unperturbed by the alarm in Agrawal’s tone.

“Isn’t she a weapons specialist?” said Agrawal. “I read—”

“Doctor Marcus does specialize in weaponry,” said M’Benga. “Her father encouraged it, but biology was always her first love. I taught some of her early classes before she switched her focus. Her ideas about terraforming were . . .” M’Benga shrugged. “Fantastic.”

“Terraforming,” said Number One. “You mean—her ‘theory’ was that you could break a planet into subatomic particles, then reprogram it . . . however you want.”

“That sounds like a weapon to me,” said Agrawal.

“It sounds like playing God,” said Rosales.

“Doctor Marcus never got Project Genesis off the ground,” said M’Benga. “Harrison’s blood just reminded me of it; she may have something to add to our research.”

“Ask her,” said Rosales.

*

The Fleet Admirals continued to discuss how to deal with the serum. Rosales and Agrawal were adamant that knowledge of the serum should be shared with the general public, but they didn’t want to go forward without full knowledge of how the serum worked. Furthermore, if the serum was successful, they still had no idea what changes it would effect in Starfleet, in the Federation, and throughout the galaxy.

When M’Benga finished his report, Agrawal said, “Thank you, Doctor M’Benga. You are dismissed.”

“I’m sorry,” said M’Benga. “I’m not finished.”

“Excuse me?” said Agrawal.

“I still have a patient to attend to.” M’Benga nodded at Rosales.

Rosales looked around the room. “What?”

“You require medical attention,” said M’Benga. “As a doctor, I can’t allow you to continue working.”

“I’m sitting in a room! Talking! And I don’t require medical attention,” Rosales added, belatedly.

“You should be lying in a bed at the medical center,” said M’Benga. “Sleeping.”

“I’ll see to it later,” said Rosales. “You’re dismissed.”

“Oh, for God’s sake.” Standing up, Agrawal grabbed Rosales’s arm—the injured one. Zie lurched up, an undignified sound escaping hir. “Now go with him,” said Agrawal. “Before you faint.”

“I’m not going to—” Rosales stumbled on hir feet, and zie wasn’t even going anywhere. “Okay,” zie said. “Maybe I could use some more dermal—”

“You could use a bed.” Agrawal wasn’t touching Rosales’s arm anymore, but he was close by, his voice gentle at hir ear. “You know, people who get injured in terrorist attacks aren’t supposed to run around trying to save the world directly after.”

“Captain Kirk does.” Rosales felt pretty damn morose at the thought.

“He does by trying to start a war with the Klingons at Admiral Marcus’s behest.” Agrawal was not fond of being fair, Rosales remembered. Agrawal leaned closer toward Rosales’s ear. “I’m not sure I want to live in the world Kirk was trying to save,” he said.

“Come with me,” said Doctor M’Benga.

*

The skin was breaking open on Rosales’s arm, and three of hir ribs were cracked. Immediately after the attack on the Daystrom Building, Liz had beamed in to check on hir. She’d wrestled up the dermal regenerators from somewhere, and demanded that Rosales take them. Zie had agreed, which was the only reason Liz wasn’t still hovering around hir. But Rosales had work to do, which was why zie wasn’t using the regenerators. They always made hir feel woozy, and zie had needed to focus.

Rosales hated medical centers even more than zie had hated sickbay aboard the Indefatigable, but M’Benga was unmoved. Furthermore, since he claimed that zie had proven incapable of getting bed rest and administering the dermal regenerators hirself, he wouldn’t release hir until hir arm was healed up. It would be at least another three hours for the skin to regrow and the ribs to set. Zie had argued until M’Benga had threatened to give hir a sedative, which had at last cowed Rosales into at least nominally following the doctor’s orders.

As zie lay back, unable to rest, zie began trying to decide which meetings zie could conduct from the bed. They’d have to be done by viewscreen; zie couldn’t very well have someone meet hir in the medical center—or maybe zie could.

Something had been niggling hir about the reports from the last several months of Enterprise missions. Of course the Enterprise had a lot of turn-over, different staff for different missions, promotions, demotions, requests for different assignments. But there was one staffing change aboard the Enterprise that Rosales wasn’t sure zie understood, and zie had been Chief of Operations for a long time. Zie knew what normal turn-over looked like.

Zie had almost forgotten about the issue, but zie had remembered it again when zie had had Commander Gaila in hir office. The first time Rosales had met Gaila was after the Battle of Vulcan, after Gaila was promoted to first officer aboard the new Farragut. Most of Rosales’s questions had been about the battle, Gaila’s training, and her Academy record. Zie had had several questions, however, about exactly how Kirk had cheated on the Kobayashi Maru.

Thinking about it now, Rosales asked the computer for a personnel file. As it turned out, the ensign in question had requested a transfer to a border colony—interesting. There was no reason stated in the file. When Rosales searched further, zie found that the ensign had recently returned to Earth. Of course. After the recent disaster, quite a few medical personnel had volunteered to come back to Earth to help. The ensign was in the very medical center at which Rosales was now recuperating.

“Computer,” said Rosales. “May I request a nurse?” Without waiting for a reply, zie went on, “Send me Christine Chapel.”

*

“Admiral Rosales,” Chapel said, when she came in the room. She had a bit of a deer-in-the-headlights look.

“Come in,” said Rosales. “Sit down.”

Chapel edged around the door. “The computer said you requested me specifically.”

“I did,” said Rosales. “Sit down.”

Chapel came in, and the doors shhhed closed. “Are you alright?” she asked, coming closer.

Rosales was sitting up in the mechanized bed. Zie felt fine, but if M’Benga was going to keep hir there, so be it. At least zie could get this matter cleared up.

Chapel was tall, with blonde hair swept up in the fashionable Starfleet style. Though she looked a little like Number One—tall, blue eyes, strong jaw—her presence was not at all the same. There was something hesitant about her, a little bit intimidated.

Rosales understood. Zie hirself had never been a very comforting presence, and zie had been told zie frowned a lot. Zie tried not to frown right now, but then the question just came out. Liz was right: Rosales was no good at subtlety.

“When you were aboard the Enterprise, did Captain Kirk sexually harass you?” Rosales asked.

As Chapel’s eyes went huge, she sank into the chair by the bed. “What?”

“I’m sorry to put it so bluntly,” Rosales said. “I need to know.”

“Why would you—Commander . . .”

Rosales waited.

“No. I mean he’s—he can be very . . .”

“Very what, Nurse Chapel?”

“Charming.”

“I see.” Rosales tried to hold Chapel’s eyes, but Chapel dropped the gaze, looking down instead. Trying to make hir voice gentler, Rosales asked, “Has he ever been charming when you don’t want him to be?”

“Oh yes. I mean . . .” Chapel twisted her hands. “He’s charming all the time, but it’s not—that’s just the way he is. He just has that smile, you know, and those eyes, and that gentle, kind way of talking—but nothing happened between us. I swear.”

Rosales tried to reconcile a “gentle, kind way of talking” with hir mental image of Kirk. It was true that Kirk did have those eyes, and that smile—Rosales had simply assumed there wasn’t much more to him.

Sighing, Rosales looked back at Chapel. Rosales had felt certain at the time that Kirk had slept with Gaila in order to gain access to the Kobayashi Maru code, but when Rosales had questioned her, Gaila had claimed that who she slept with shouldn’t concern Starfleet. She was right, of course. Even if Kirk had used her, Rosales’s hands were tied unless Kirk had pressured Gaila for sex or treated her abusively. If Kirk had just been an asshole to her, that was between him and Gaila. Still, Rosales didn’t like the idea of assholes in Starfleet, and zie didn’t like the smell of Chapel’s sudden, inexplicable request for a transfer either. “Are you sure nothing happened?” Rosales asked.

“It was Spock!” Chapel looked extremely startled, then burst into tears.

Rosales struggled to sit up. Damn meds. “Spock sexually harassed you?” zie asked. Shit. Zie was just so useless around tears.

“No.” Chapel wiped her eyes. “I requested a transfer because of—of Spock, and he is just so Vulcan, and I just couldn’t—”

Rosales managed to get over to the synthesizer with a minimum of stumbling. “Tissue,” zie told it, and brought the tissue over to Chapel.

“Thank you. I told Carol—” Chapel blew her nose. “I told Carol that I should be in love with Jim. I mean, who wouldn’t? And it was obvious that he would have—would have—with me—if I wasn’t—” She blew her nose again. “I mean, Jim, he’s very open, and he’s—you know, with a lot of people—I don’t mean to make it sound like . . .”

Rosales waited. Zie felt so awkward standing there; it had been so long since anything like this had happened. When zie was captain of the Indefatigable, zie had become rather used to counseling; all captains had to do it at some point or other. It had just been so long, and while for the first ten years or so after taking the desk, hir old friends from the Indefatigable had come to talk about their problems, they didn’t really come any more.

Vu and Agrawal had had a point: Rosales didn’t really have that many friends in Starfleet. For so long, zie had thought it was just because zie was pushing for so many ideals Starfleet had gradually become unwilling to comprehend—but maybe Chris had had a point, too. Maybe zie had been fighting so hard that zie had become unwilling to bend as well. “Sound like what?” zie finally said, when Chapel didn’t go on.

“I don’t want it to sound like Jim’s a slag!” Chapel said, and sobbed again. “I mean, he is, but in a very generous way! He would never pressure anyone who didn’t want it; he’s just so very open about it. I told Carol, why couldn’t I fall in love with him? And instead, I have to go fall in love with Spock, who can’t love anybody!”

Rosales went back to the synthesizer. “Tissue,” zie told it. “Might as well give me a whole box.” Taking the box, zie came back to Chapel and held it out.

She took one. “Thank you.”

“Vulcans can love,” Rosales said.

“Well, of course,” Chapel said. “But he’s in love with Nyota, and he guards his affection so ferociously, especially since—you know—Vulcan—” She blew her nose. “He’s not going to give it away again, unless it’s to Jim.”

“Kirk?” Rosales asked, surprised.

“Yes.” Chapel sniffed. “He’s just so—so golden, and so Jim. If Spock is ever going to open his heart a little more, it would be to him. Not to me. I just wanted to be his friend.”

Rosales held the box out again.

“Thank you,” Chapel said.

“I’m sorry,” Rosales said. “I didn’t mean to bring up something that so obviously upsets you.”

“No, it’s alright.” Chapel sniffed again. “I didn’t think it still hurt this much.”

“I understand,” said Rosales. “Still, I would never have required such personal information from you.”

“It’s okay.” Chapel looked up at Rosales, concerned. “They don’t really have reason to suspect Captain Kirk of—of that, do they?”

“No,” said Rosales. “I suppose not.”

“Good,” said Chapel. “He’s an excellent man.”

Rosales swallowed another sigh, moving away from Chapel to stand at the other side of the room. “So I’ve heard.”

“Was that—was that all you needed?”

“Yes, that’s all. Thank you, Nurse Chapel.”

“It’s Christine.”

Rosales turned back to her. “Christine.”

“Then if that’s all you wanted, I have to say, sir, as a nurse—you should be in bed.”

*

Chapel had only been gone about five minutes when the doors swished open again. Expecting Doctor M’Benga to grouse at hir for having been up and moving around, Rosales looked toward the doors, mouth already open. An exceedingly old Vulcan stepped in.

Rosales shut hir mouth.

“You said you needed my help,” said Spock. “You are the Commander of Starfleet. If ever there was anything my captain loved more than me, and among the few things I cared for as much as I cared for him—it was this exploratory and peace-keeping body. And so here I am.”

*

Thirteen days later

*

The doors to Admiral Rosales’s office swished open, and a man stepped inside.

“Captain Kirk,” Rosales said, as the doors closed.

“Admiral Rosales.” Kirk stood at perfect attention, his hands behind his back.

Over the last two weeks, Rosales had met with the elder Spock three different times. They had spoken about a variety of subjects, including Captain Kirk. Rosales had been doing what zie could to oversee McCoy’s serum, negotiations with the Klingons, Gaila’s mission to Nibiru, Harrison’s trial, and Number One’s investigation of Section 31. The President was expected to announce Rosales’s replacement any day now, if not any hour.

Kirk was still just standing there. Rosales wondered how long he would wait. “At ease,” zie said.

Kirk slid his feet apart.

Rosales didn’t even know what to do with him. Or say. Zie had thought zie knew what zie needed to, but then zie had talked to Spock. Now Kirk was here, and he filled the room somehow. “I see you’re fully recovered,” Rosales said.

“Yes, sir.”

“Congratulations.”

“It’s not my fault, sir.” Kirk flashed hir a brilliant smile. “But thanks.”

“You were released from medical this morning?”

“Yes, sir. Clean bill of health.”

“Thank you for coming to see me so soon.”

Kirk looked surprised. “You requested a meeting.”

Rosales didn’t respond, instead asking, “Do you like Cardassian fish juice?”

“Sir?” Kirk asked, confused.

“Cardassian fish juice.” Rosales walked over to the synthesizer.

“I’ve never tried it.”

“Okay. One Cardassian fish juice, hot, side of pepper,” Rosales told the synthesizer. Zie turned back to Kirk. “Would you like anything?”

A pause. “Is it any good?”

“What?”

“The fish juice.”

“It’s awful,” said Rosales.

“I’ll try it.”

Startled, Rosales turned to look at Kirk.

He was smiling. “I like trying new things. It’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?”

“Make that two,” Rosales told the synthesizer. A second mug appeared, and Rosales took both of them out of the synthesizer, giving one to Kirk. Zie watched as he took his first sip.

“Uck.” He made a face. “That’s foul. Is it any better with the pepper?”

“Not really.” Rosales sipped hir juice. “You can put it down the disposal if you like.”

Kirk chuckled. “I’m sure it’ll improve with time,” he said, taking another sip.

“An interesting philosophy.”

“It’s a good one. There are things you like right away—warm beaches to walk on, a pretty smile, time to kill, but other things grow on you. Miracle blood, time travel, fish juice. Sometimes those things are more precious, because of the effort you have to make at first to like them.” Kirk took another sip.

“First officers,” Rosales suggested.

“Oh, yeah, Spock had to work really hard to like me.” Kirk grinned. “Now I’m extremely precious. Don’t tell him I said that; you’ll hurt his feelings.”

He didn’t try to put on the charm. It dawned upon Rosales as zie looked at him; he was charm. It made hir like him both more and less. “Speaking of Spock,” Rosales said, “I’ve been talking to a different Spock. An older one.”

Kirk almost dropped his juice. It was the first ungraceful movement he had made since entering the room. “Spock? He’s—he’s here?” Some inscrutable emotion was working across his face.

“He went back to New Vulcan yesterday.”

The emotion grew larger, though Rosales still couldn’t have described what it was. “He didn’t come see me,” was all Kirk said.

Rosales took pity on him. “I think he didn’t want to interfere any more than he already had.”

“He could have at least—did he . . .” Kirk stopped, then suddenly, contained himself. He attempted another smile, though this one came out a little twisted. “I suppose you know, then. Where he comes from.”

“I know.”

Rosales waited, but Kirk didn’t do anything else that was telling. Instead, he shook his head. He chuckled a little, then finished the fish juice. “Hell of a thing,” he said, putting the mug down on the table.

“Do you ever think about it?” Rosales asked, leaning to sit on the edge of hir desk. “Where Ambassador Spock comes from?”

“Sometimes. Not very often.” Kirk shrugged. “What would be the point?”

Rosales said, putting hir foot in the chair in front of hir, resting hir elbow on hir knee. “If Nero hadn’t come through that portal, your father would have lived.”

To Rosales’s surprise, Kirk seemed amused by the suggestion. “Sure,” he said, “but that’s just one difference among many. What if the death of Ensign Joe has had a deeper impact on any of us than all the rest of the people on the Kelvin put together? We have no way of knowing.”

“But we do. We have Spock.” Rosales’s foot slid out of the chair. “And he knows what you were, with your father, with a different past. He knows what you could have been.”

“That’s not me.”

“He says it is.”

“It’s not. A person is more than a set of genes, Admiral. A person is,” Kirk hesitated, “experience. Memories. People you’ve loved, people you’ve lost. There’s no other way to learn, and learning—teaching, sharing, wanting and understanding—that makes us who we are. I’m not that other Kirk.”

It was an explanation Rosales would never have expected out of someone like Kirk, had zie not spent so long talking to Spock. Rosales didn’t reveal that fact that zie was impressed, however. Instead, zie said, “So, basically, you’re saying we’re screwed.”

“Pardon?”

“I’m not sure you get this yet, Kirk. We’re the fucked up version of events. It was their future that came into our past. They weren’t altered by it; we were. We’re the future that is not supposed to happen, the one you try to avoid. This is not our best possible world.”

Rosales was sure that Kirk had been listening; he’d had an intent look on his face, giving hir words attention. But now he simply smiled. It would have seemed patronizing, and yet there was something very kind about it, something generous and nonjudgmental. “That seems like a very dim view,” he said gently.

Rosales raised hir brows. “So you don’t think Nero made a difference?”

“Oh, it made all the difference. He made this timeline and we’re stuck with it. That doesn’t mean we don’t have free will.”

“That’s very optimistic of you.”

Kirk looked delighted. “Spock says optimism is illogical.”

Rosales narrowed hir eyes, thinking of all the thing Ambassador Spock had told hir about his Kirk. “Humor me for a moment,” zie said.

“As long as you like,” said Kirk, and Rosales knew why Chapel had been concerned about sounding as though she was accusing him of philandering. Kirk wasn’t flirting; at any rate, it seemed obvious he wasn’t trying to flirt. He just had a way about him—what was it Chapel had said? Open. Open and golden, and—Rosales was galled to admit it—but he was pleasant. Captain Kirk was pleasant.

“Suppose there wasn’t a Nero,” Rosales said. “Suppose there was no Vaarn, and Admiral Marcus never got into a position of power, such that he could manipulate so many players of the game. Suppose we still had a significant Vulcan presence on the Council and in Starfleet. What would Starfleet be doing then?”

Kirk thought about it for a moment. “Exploratory ventures, I guess. That’s our mission, our purpose. Exploring different worlds, discovering intelligent life, learning about other civilizations. Going out into the black, not knowing what we’ll find.”

“That’s what I think too. Ambassador Spock told me that in that other timeline, that’s what they were doing.”

“That sounds great.”

“Ambassador Spock said it was. He said that he got to know Kirk—the other Kirk—because they were assigned a five year exploratory mission.”

“Five years?” Kirk’s brows went up. “Just exploring?”

“Specifically, finding new life and civilizations.” Rosales tried to read Kirk’s face. “Sound boring to you?”

“Boring?” Kirk laughed. He laughed a lot, Rosales realized; it was a surprisingly earnest sound. “I was just thinking that sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“It is,” said Rosales. “I want to make it happen.”

“But what about what’s going on here?” said Kirk. “I’ve heard what you’ve been trying to do.” He must have read something in Rosales’s expression, because he said, “Spock filled me in. With Section 31, Harrison’s trial, what happened with the Klingons—sorry about that, by the way.” He smiled, chagrined. “Don’t we have our hands full?”

“I didn’t say it was going to be easy,” said Rosales. “Here’s the problem.” Zie stepped closer. “I don’t want to live in the fucked up timeline. I don’t want to be the alternative. I want to live in the best possible world.”

“I can empathize with the sentiment,” said Kirk, sounding a little incredulous, “but the fact is, we don’t. We can’t.”

“What if we could?” Kirk looked surprised. “You said it yourself,” Rosales explained. “Free will.”

“We can choose what we do,” said Kirk. “We don’t get to choose the reality we live in.”

“Why not?” Rosales took another step closer. “You’ll never get to be that man in that other universe, Kirk. And I’ll never get to be the person I could have been either. But no matter what kind of shit this universe gives us, we can still live our best possible lives.”

Kirk’s expression turned pensive, almost sad. Strangely, his mouth still held the slight curve of a smile. “There’s something you don’t know, Admiral. I’ve seen that other Kirk. Don’t ask me how, but I know him; I know him precisely as well as Older Spock knew him, and—I can’t be him. That Kirk has something I don’t have. That I’ll never have.”

“As it turns out, Spock knew me in the other timeline too,” Rosales said. “He said that over there, I was—useful and progressive. That I gave people a chance. That I wasn’t just some worn-out, bitter shell.”

“I’d hardly call you worn-out or bitter. You seem really noble and . . . energetic to me.” Kirk gave hir one of his devastating smiles.

He meant it quite honestly, Rosales realized, after a long moment of bewilderment.

The whistle for the comm sounded just as Rosales was opening hir mouth to respond. Zie went over and pressed the button.

“Admiral Rosales,” Connie said. “Sorry to interrupt.”

“That’s okay,” said Rosales. “What is it?”

“It’s the President,” said Connie. “He just called a general assembly. He’s announced the Council’s ready to appoint a new Commander-in-Chief of Starfleet.”

“When?” said Rosales.

“The statement will be released at fifteen hundred,” said Connie. “The general assembly is in an hour.”

“Thanks, Connie,” Rosales said, and switched off the comm.

“I think it should be you,” Kirk said.

Rosales wasn’t sure what to say. “Whoever it is, they’ve got a shit ton of work ahead of them.” Zie thought over hir words. “I mean, thank you.”

“I just—at first, I didn’t know what I thought about you,” said Kirk. “But I talked to Spock a lot about it—my Spock, I mean—and he’s right. We need people like you in Starfleet.”

Rosales walked back over to Kirk. “You were wrong,” zie said, “when you said that that Kirk has something you don’t. You have different lives, different experiences—you’ll always be different people. But Starfleet needs people like you, too, James Kirk, and you have all the tools you need to become your best possible self. You are a transformative work. We all are.”

Kirk smiled. “It’s worth a try.”