And Death Shall Have No Dominion
The heat was suffocating for a summer’s day in Iowa, the sun’s glare too harsh. Not the slightest breeze stirred the ragged remnants of tallgrass prairie clinging to the thin layer of gritty soil above the abandoned quarry. The cloudless sky pressed into upturned eyes with a painful, artificial blue.
The engine of the red ‘65 Corvette convertible roared. The tires spun in a tornado of gravel and dust. In a blur of blue and green the world rushed past him. The simple physics of a car thundering toward an abyss ignited a firestorm of adrenaline in Jim’s body. This time, he didn’t open the door at the last moment. This time, he didn’t throw himself out of the car, tumbling onto unforgiving ground with no thought about breaks or bruises, hanging on to the ledge for dear life. No. With a triumphant scream he closed his eyes, threw back his head – and stomped on the brakes. He hit the pedal so hard that a burst of pain exploded in his foot and flared right up to his hip. The four-wheel piston disk brakes engaged with a whining screech (the brakes and the optional big-block 396 had been the big hot stuff for the Corvette in 1965). Tires rattled and ground into rocks. The car skidded closer and closer to the chasm, pushing an avalanche of dirt and pebbles down the cliff. Then the ‘Vette tilted as the front wheels slid over the edge.
In the sudden silence the noise of the past seconds echoed as a painful tinnitus inside Jim’s skull. He let himself float in the frantic drumbeats of his heart. His entire body throbbed with the rhythm. He was alive. After a long moment he exhaled and let his hands drop from the wheel. His palms were hot and sweaty, his fingers stiff.
Jim took a deep breath and opened his eyes.
Bright green-brown with flecks of amber. He stared at himself in the rear view mirror.
“His eyes—” Spock’s first comment when Jim had woken for the second time in that private room at Starfleet Medical. What an illogical comment. Jim remembered feeling his lips twitch. His surprise at that detail, that he could still smile.
“... are just the way they are supposed to be,” Bones replied then, gruff. “Provided he lays off weird alien drugs this time around.”
Jim huffed, a hoarse, choked sound, startling both of his friends. “But Spice is one hell of a trip.”
“And you’re one hell of an idiot.”
Jim hadn’t been able to come up with a good argument against that. Instead he’d drifted in the haze of the really good drugs, the legal kind, too, and stared up at Spock and McCoy. Content. Peaceful.
More than a year had passed since his death and his ... his reboot. Jim much preferred that term. His name and the word “resurrection” combined in the same sentence gave him the creeps. Reboot with an upgrade, he thought firmly. That will do. Not that he was real comfortable with that phrase, either, but he wasn’t in a position to complain.
Right. He was here for a reason, he reminded himself.
Space. A Vulcan meditation stone had nothing on a Chevy Corvette convertible hanging over the edge of a cliff.
Jim had stuff to think about. Sort out. Get a grip on. Or at least try to. Before they set out for their five-year mission of deep space exploration on Federation Day. Just three days from now. Captain has to get his shit together.
Position. In the cramped space of the driver’s seat, it was impossible to pull up his legs even into a wonky semblance of the loshiraq position. Instead he simply leaned back, pressing his legs against door and console for support.
Uncomfortable, he squirmed against the hot, sticky vinyl of the backrest, itching with perspiration. His foot ached from slamming on the brakes so hard. Discomfort was good, though. It made him feel alive. Sex did that, too ... But no. Simply breathing the dusty heat was enough. More than enough. Just fine.
Hands. He folded still sweaty fingers to keep himself from fiddling.
His inability to sit still drove Spock crazy, and not just during meditation lessons. He knew that. But Spock’s patience with him was endless. He knew that, too. His heart beat heavier at the thought, and a tiny shiver caressed his skin in spite of the stifling temperature.
Mind. “Concentration is like a dilithium-crystal,” he muttered the often heard definition, “an intense focusing of the energy, intelligence and sensitivity.” Ri’a’gra. He sucked at this. Suddenly the silence bothered him, and his hand twitched with the desire to switch on the car radio. In a bout of nostalgia, he’d programmed it with an authentic remake of a 20th century FM broadcasting show. Instead he inhaled deeply, breathing down into his belly, sinking into the sensation, in feeling his diaphragm distend.
For once he’d been the one to die for those he loved.
Another deep breath. Let the thoughts come and go. Let the emotions come and go. The goal is not to judge or to suppress, but to discern, to accept, and to control.
Dying. Not a good experience, that. He couldn’t recommend it as a strategy. For one, it hurt like hell. There had been no light, no one to welcome him on the other side – not that he’d expected that – just random auditory hallucinations. His mother’s voice, Pike’s voice, and another man’s voice he hadn’t recognized. Perhaps his father. He hadn’t felt at peace. He’d been so scared. So scared. There’d been no comforting certainty of survival for those he’d tried to save, no knowledge that he’d made a difference. Only curses he couldn’t voice, words he never mustered the courage to speak, and a hand out of reach ...
He exhaled. Do not indulge in thoughts or emotions. Observe. Accept. Let go.
Dying seriously sucked. Coming back to life, however, did not. Most of all, because Spock was holding his hand when he woke.
His heart rate sped up again, with disconcerting thuds, and his stomach did that strange flip-flop thing again. When he tried to inhale, exhale, all with the appropriate technique, his breathing remained strained and shallow.
Watch your thoughts. Your feelings. Label them. Set them aside. Let go.
He swallowed hard. Therapy and counseling were well and good (for once he actually tried to cooperate). But he couldn’t help thinking it was kind of crazy of Starfleet to let him – let them – back out there. Not that he was complaining. After all, that put him back where he wanted to be, on the bridge of the Enterprise. The irony of that train of thought did not escape him.
Another breath. More like a huff, almost a chuckle. Not an appropriate breathing technique, that, either.
He may be something of a maverick. He even accepted that fact about himself, and no, he didn’t consider that a wholly admirable quality. But maybe that’s what Starfleet needed at this juncture. Still, he did take being Captain seriously. The responsibility for all those lives. That’s why everything had played out the way it did, after all. And why he sat here now and forced himself to acknowledge that there was no way a command team could ever be more emotionally compromised than they were, he and Spock.
Neither Spock (this Spock, that was; old Spock knew exactly why Jim had chosen to die) nor Starfleet were aware of how precarious his state of mind had been. But the bare facts were all out there. More than enough material to come to the correct conclusions. Various mission reports, debriefing protocols, extensive psych evaluations, as well as security camera footage of his death that he never wanted to see again in his life. All of that illustrated how he’d recklessly sacrificed his life when he might have had other, safer options at his disposal to get the situation under control. It put into harsh perspective how he’d been happy to die. Add to that how a Vulcan – supposedly in perfect control of the deep passions of his race – had given himself up to rage so completely that he’d commit murder for the utterly illogical purpose of avenging a Human.
Ample proof for how fucked up they were as a command team. The motivations Jim had managed to keep to himself were only nuances. Icing on the cake. How his actions hadn’t been about the good of the many. Yes, he hoped he would have done exactly the same anyway if Spock had never been born in either universe. But Jim couldn’t be sure. Because it had never been about the many. It was about the one. The Spock who knew. And the Spock who didn’t.
Yet in spite of it all, Starfleet were sending them back out there again. Together. Admittedly with a full mental health department adjunct to regular sickbay, and after months under close surveillance and turning him inside out with physicals and psych evals, but still. Just three days, and he’d be back on the bridge.
Exhilaration threatened to distract him, and he turned his attention back to the issue at hand. Recognize the truth. Accept the situation. Achieve control in any event. Could he do that? For the first time like, ever, he really didn’t want to fuck up. Not his job. And not ... everything else.
This time, he inhaled deeply, so deeply the tension extended down to his toes. Exhaled in a hyperventilating rush that clouded his vision with stars.
For the first time ever, he felt free. As if by dying in the warp core chamber he had repaid the debt of his birth and his mother’s final sacrifice on Tarsus IV.
His heartbeat pulsed in his tightly locked hands. His foot hurt, and his back itched.
Suddenly he remembered a fragment of a poem from the required Earth Lit 101 class at the academy that he’d come to enjoy in spite of himself:
“Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.”
Jim opened the door and got out of the car. “Computer, end simulation.”
He turned to exit the new holo-deck of the Enterprise. The sun and the sky still needed some work. The temperature had been much too high, even for Iowa. Or maybe he’d put in the wrong code? But all in all, the simulation wasn’t half bad. Even if he sucked at this Vulcan meditation thing.
Stardate 2260.126, 2000 hours, Starfleet Medical, San Francisco
The elderly Vulcan known as Ambassador Selek to most – it was only logical to use the name Spock had given before when it had been prudent to obscure his true identity among his own people – in another time, in another universe ... in another life – stood on the rebuilt roof garden of Starfleet Medical in San Francisco and stared up at the sky. Velvet shadows of blue and black were already reaching for the fiery sunset that spilled over the sea and the western horizon. For a moment Spock indulged himself. He let his gaze rest fondly on a tiny pinprick of light above. Another three days the Enterprise would remain in orbit, until the starship would take off for Starfleet’s first, historic five-year mission of deep space exploration on Federation Day.
Farewells had been spoken the previous day; warmly, every word, every gesture filled with friendship. Afterwards, Jim and his younger counterpart had beamed on board. Now few crew members remained on Earth, and they would leave soon.
“I am forced to acknowledge that time and space still contain infinite unknowns,” Spock admitted, astonished at his own arrogance, most unbecoming his race and age.
Next to him the curvy, dark-skinned woman gazed at him with gentle eyes. “It bothers you that the past seems as unwritten as the future in your perception of this universe.”
“Everything that can happen does happen – and has happened – in equal and parallel universes,” he affirmed. A child’s long ago lesson, but true nonetheless.
“Thus in this universe Khan never was a ruler, but a rebel and one of the leaders of the revolution that saved humankind.”
“But still ruthless,” the old man observed, not exactly contradicting Guinan, but also not precisely agreeing with her – a comment vague enough to cause him discomfiture.
“A most uncomfortable hero,” she commented, and added, with a shrewd look, “But useful, considering his successful secret collaboration with Admiral Pike and Captain Kirk to expose Marcus’ conspiracy. And the resources he has provided the Starfleet with.”
At the thought of just what those resources encompassed, Spock shivered. Yet he pressed on, although he did not understand why, “Unparalleled resources, arising from and leading to situations of unfathomable consequences. And J—”
He interrupted himself, allowing thought and emotion to swell and ebb. “And Captain Kirk ...”
“Call him Jim,” the woman at his side encouraged, only smiling at the recalcitrant eyebrow raised at her in the dusk of the bay.
“But he is not ...” An illogical refusal of a simple fact, unworthy of a Vulcan, and the underlying emotion inappropriate for his personal position.
“Oh, but he is,” Guinan countered, amused but tolerant. “This Jim may not be yours the way your Jim was. But he is still – yours.”
“And he should not have died!” Spock failed to keep his voice level. Not then; not there; not ever. With a deep, shuddering breath he accepted the turmoil the mere thought stirred within him. Emotions were recognized; labeled; accepted; set aside.
Guinan shook her head. “But he wanted to. Perhaps he needed to.”
For a long moment both of them stared across the dark waters and glittering lights of the bay. The breeze stirred the night-blooming jasmine in the garden at their backs, enveloping them in its sweet summer scent.
“He shouldn’t have had to experience such desires or necessities.” Spock bowed his head. The harsh, overly emotional inflection of his voice was unfortunate. He controlled his tone. “To be Vulcan is to embrace a philosophy, a way of life, which is logical and beneficial,” he whispered. “We cannot sacrifice a useful existence merely for – for personal redemption – for private grief – no matter how intense our passions are. That is neither logical nor beneficial. And yet ...”
“And yet you, too, have desired this. And acted upon this desire,” Guinan supplied, voice and manner calm. “Guilt is illogical and unprofitable, too. Lay it to rest. He is alive; it would be wise to accept his gift.”
Again they fell silent. Time passed. Thoughts and emotions ebbed and flowed, were recognized, accepted, categorized, and finally – let go. Equilibrium was regained. At last the old Vulcan straightened. With an elegantly raised eyebrow he scrutinized his companion. “Fascinating. I have not felt compelled to speak of personal matters to any being for ninety-six years, three months, seventeen days and ten hours.”
“I am El-Aurian. I listen.” Guinan smiled.
Stardate 2260.128, 1900 hours, Starfleet Temporary Quarters cafeteria, San Francisco
Joanna wasn’t talking to him.
The girl was barely eleven years old, and already she could pout for Earth. No, scratch that, for the Federation. Quite likely she was superior as a secret weapon against the Klingons to Khan himself that way. Leonard felt a sudden bout of relief and regret that he’d be spared her teenaged tantrums. In three days he’d leave with the Enterprise for five whole years. Joanna would leave Earth three days later to travel to Centaurus, where she would live with his sister and her husband, with the possibility of attending college on Cerberus in a few years. After her mother’s horrible death in the Vengeance catastrophe a year ago, that was the best possible choice for his daughter’s future. He knew that. But if he didn’t get himself killed on the upcoming trip, he’d get to see his kid again only when she was almost an adult. Life wasn’t fair.
Leonard stubbornly ignored a pang of guilt when an annoying voice in his head nagged that sending Jo to his sister was not the safest but “the most convenient option”. But resigning from Starfleet, leaving the Enterprise, was out of the question. No way in hell he’d let Jim go gallivanting across the galaxy all by his lonesome. His blood already ran cold at the thought of whatever mischief Jim might be up to right this moment, running riot on the Enterprise without proper supervision. Another thought popped up unbidden: Besides, someone had to be around to curb the suicidal tendencies of that bloody hobgoblin. Now that Nyota had ended her fling or thing or whatever it was that she’d had with Spock that job had been dumped in his lap, too. Leonard was even less suited for that task than for taking care of Jim. And if he couldn’t endure the thought of losing them, he sure as hell couldn’t deal with losing Jo. She was the best part of his life, and the only good thing that had come of his marriage.
“It’s the best option,” he repeated in an attempt to soothe the girl. “And you like Aunt Donna. And Uncle Fred. I know you do. The farm. The kerra'vein.” He tried to come up with a lure no little girl would be able to resist. “I hear you’ll have your very own pony.”
Joanna just glared at him, blue eyes blazing, with all the rage an eleven-year-old managed to muster. Suddenly he missed Jocelyn. For all her bitchiness, she’d always been able to talk Joanna off the ledge, make her see reason.
At a loss he stared at the cafeteria’s menu. This was supposed to be their extra special farewell dinner. He had known it would be difficult. He had not expected he’d be thinking of his secret liquor stash in sickbay before they’d even ordered.
“Cheeseburger with French fries?” he suggested hopefully. A peace-offering for the special occasion.
“There are families on board.” She didn’t even look at the menu, arms crossed, chin raised. Little rebel. She’d keep at him relentlessly until the last second. He just knew it. Dear lord, where did she get that stubborn streak from. Couldn’t be his side. Nope. No way.
“Yes.” He managed not to comment on that idiocy. Not enough that he’d be busy patching the crew back together after whatever stupid stunts they’d pull on a regular basis, now he was also looking forward to the joys of providing medical care to babies, toddlers, kids, and pregnant people. And aliens.
“So there’s really no reason for me not to come with you.”
“Yes, there is a reason, plenty of reasons, even,” he objected and found that her pouting had been easier to bear than her barrage of arguments. “A starship is no place for a kid. And the other kids that are coming are all part of families. So there’ll be people to look after them. And school. You need to go to school.”
“So? We are a family, too! And Aunt Christine said she wouldn’t mind looking after me. Cheeseburger is fine.”
Christine Chapel, you traitor. Viciously Leonard punched their order into the touchscreen. “I need her on sickbay.”
“Janice said she’d help out, too. She always misses her little sister in space. She’d love to have me. And there’ll be a school. Spock said so.”
A conspiracy. Up until now he hadn’t been aware of the fact that Yeoman Rand even knew Joanna. Or the other way around. Whatever. He had never looked forward to getting on that damn starship like that before. “No. It’s much too dangerous. Your mother would kill me.”
“My mother is dead,” Jo snapped. “Because life on Earth is so safe.”
The slot in the wall opened and their meal appeared. Joanna proceeded to ignore the cheeseburger she’d been allowed for the special occasion. Leonard just stared at his salad. It wasn’t that he didn’t want Joanna with him. In fact, it was quite the opposite. He wanted her too much. And he was desperately scared of losing her. No. A pleasant, out-of-the-way planet and a life in the stable family unit of aunt, uncle, and cousins was a much better, much safer place for his baby than a starship. Or Earth. Because she was right about life on Earth was no guarantee of safety, either. Crazy Romulans could blow up planets, giant spaceships bury cities.
Joanna straightened her shoulders, sitting as tall as possible, obviously preparing to launch what she considered her ultimate argument. Leonard ground his teeth together and steeled himself for the inevitable.
“Jim said he’d protect me. He promised. He’s the Captain. And he said I could come.”
That was the worst argument she could have come up with.
“Jim just got himself killed,” Leonard snarled, fears and worries and rage of months seething inside. He could feel his pulse throb in his temples. “It’s a miracle he’s even alive. And it doesn’t matter that he’s the captain. He could be a green-blooded hobgoblin and that wouldn’t change a thing. I’m your father. And I’m saying no.”
“I hate you,” Jo shouted and burst into tears.
Stardate 2260.128, 2000 hours, Deck 20, Rec Area
In the gym Nyota claimed one of the running cubicles and set climate and landscape to “Kenya, savannah, at dawn”. Then she picked a selection of traditional percussion pieces to accompany her workout. The drum beats would steady her rhythm and help her relax. She would have preferred to spend another night or two on Earth, but communications was one of the departments that had to be on board first to prepare for take-off. In consequence she’d been on board for weeks already before they’d finally leave orbit tomorrow evening. Engineering, of course, never really went home. For all intents and purposes, Scotty was married to the Enterprise.
Anyway, she was now officially not just communications officer on the bridge, but in charge of overseeing the development, installation, operation and maintenance of all communications systems for the whole ship. Time off-ship so close to the beginning of their mission was simply impossible, no matter what she might have wanted (or whom). So she had to make do with running in the gym. Thanks to the state of the art accouterments that at least was no particular hardship.
Nyota set an easy pace. Yes, she wanted to keep fit. But most of all she needed a run to clear her mind.
As if on cue, one source of her annoyance entered the gym and disappeared in a flash of science blue, black hair and pointy ears in the last of the running rooms. The other reason for her irritation was probably still in the new holo-room. Boys and their toys. Though why Kirk had to test the newest entertainment feature on the Enterprise with a simulation of Iowa of all places and temperature settings of Vulcan-that-was escaped her.
“The hobgoblin and the hick,” she muttered and increased her tempo. “Idiots and jerks, both of them,” she added for good measure, though without real conviction. Men. Really.
Officially, her relationship with Spock had ended six months (three days and whatever hours, minutes, and seconds ago ... She still missed his way of teasing her with his predilection for exact values of anything from time to food on her plate to words per sentence). Unofficially, it had been over long before that. In fact, she should have called it quits even before the Nibiru debacle. The signs had all been there, for far too long: no intimacy beyond moments of crisis, no indication that their relationship was growing, that their connection was deepening. No sex. They had friendship and trust, yes, certainly, and a solid measure of personal and professional understanding. But not more. That hurt – still did, as a matter of fact – and stung her pride, too. And then whatever hopes she might still have harbored had died with Jim.
Her stomach clenched at the memory, and she slowed down so she wouldn’t stumble over her own stupid feet. To have someone look at her like that ... to look at someone like that ... to lose all of that – all that could have been, all that should have been – within one and the same heartbeat ...
She focused on the horizon of the virtual savannah surrounding her and kept running.
“Then an honest to goodness miracle happens.” Each syllable one step, each pause one breath. “And they aren’t doing anything about it. Jim Kirk, finally grown up. Congratulations. But you’re doing it all wrong, buddy. That’s not how it works, not with Spock. Also, your timing sucks.”
In the interest of being honest with herself, she had to admit that Kirk so often rubbed her the wrong way because they were too similar. Both of them the determined, go-out-and-get-it type. She hoped she had more common sense than he did, but her own relationship with Spock didn’t support that idea. Or how the delayed happy ending between her ex and Jim bothered her. She should be thrilled that the boys were attempting to be all mature and professional about it. Only, she wasn’t. If they kept that up, the next five years would be very, very long years.
The comm blinked and beeped. She put it on screen. Her annoyance faded, replaced by a surge of happiness and a hint of apprehension.
“John.” She smiled. Now that he was done working for Admiral Pike as a double agent, Khan Noonien Singh was officially and legally John Harrison, and she knew he preferred his new name. In the aftermath of the Marcus conspiracy, they’d kept running into each other at Starfleet Command. They’d become friendly during endless hours of waiting for yet another debriefing, yet another hearing. At least every other day they’d also met up at Starfleet Medical, visiting Kirk. A classical hallway romance. “So good to see you.” Then she frowned, taking in the faint shadows of new bruises on the verge of being absorbed by his super-regenerative skin. “How’s whatever Starfleet’s doing with you these days working out?”
“That’s classified, of course. But what would you do with men like us if you had a fleet to rebuild?” He smirked wryly. Then he gestured for her to keep running, appreciatively taking in her appearance – snug running clothes, sweat and all.
She picked up her pace and pondered his reply, only to slow down again. But she did keep going. Well, she always did. Right. Fleet. Oh. Near indestructible test pilots would come in handy for getting the kinks out of prototypes. She inhaled deeply. At least he was alive, unfrozen, and while not precisely free, also not locked up somewhere safe with the key thrown away. In the backlash of the Eugenics Wars it hadn’t mattered that without Khan and his men the other Augments and their creators would have prevailed and ended up enslaving humankind. Dead martyrs had been easier to deal with than living superheroes then.
And, Nyota reflected uncharitably, if Starfleet didn’t need every man and woman they could get their hands on after Nero had decimated the fleet two years ago, maybe that would still be the case even today. Never mind that Khan had once again proven his loyalty to humankind, working with Admiral Pike as a double agent to expose and contain the Marcus conspiracy, even though the lives of his crew had been on the line the whole time.
“Right,” she said at last, because he was still waiting for an answer. John rubbed at his eyes. He had to be absolutely exhausted to allow himself such an ordinary, human-frail gesture. Her stomach tightened. “Don’t get yourself killed.”
That got his attention. Blazing eyes focused on her, his gaze almost tangible in its intensity, even on the screen. “You really do care if I live or die.”
Nyota stopped running and switched off the treadmill. Her heart wasn’t racing just because of her workout now. Her mouth went dry. She inhaled a shuddering breath.
“Of course I do.”
And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
– Dylan Thomas