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          'Shakedown cruise' . . . 
Light tasks[MEC1], mainly used to keep the crew working,
Keep them from reacting to everything that's happened . . . 
Until watch changes. They'll need those hours between
Themselves and the crises -- safe-time, for perspective.
                    . . . But what about me?
I have memories of more than V'Ger to contend with!

Forget it 'til the watch-change. Forget 'til after dinner.
Forget, in fact, 'til bedtime . . . 
                    'Til now, when I'm alone.

Lie here on my new bunk, wide-eyed[MEC2] and unsleeping,
Hoping the disturbing dreams won't trouble me tonight.
Stare up into darkness. Listen to the ship-sounds;
Perhaps they'll ease my sleep.
                    Perhaps the dreams will end now
I have what I desired. Restless dreams of wanting,
Hot firm flesh in darkness . . . Surely it meant this.
Oh, my Silver Lady, the things I've done to win you!
You, and Spock, and freedom . . .
                    I'm shivering again.

It's only been two years, but god, how much I've changed!
Remember Kirk-that-was: the innocent ship's-captain
Who never dreamed that politics could thrive in Starfleet, too.
What a fool I was.
                    But I learned. By god, I learned!

I recall Nogura radiating sympathy:
"Jim, it's been a rough five years. Now you need a rest.
Six months' paid vacation; get used to peace and quiet."
And Lori came along . . .
                    Vice-Admiral Lori Ciani,
'Attached to Nogura's Office'. I didn't wonder then,
Made the connection later. What work did she do there
To win Vice-Admiral's[MEC3] stripes? Administration? Sure . . . 

Persuasion Department Specialist. Nogura's staff whore.

Suspected it for months. Guessed when I made that call.
When I rang off I was sure.
                    That goddam conniving bitch!
All sympathy and sex -- Christ! She knew how to lead me!
I admit I'm a jackass when it comes to pretty women;
'When the cock stands, the head falls' . . . 
                    And flattery always got me.

Vanity and lust . . . Shit. I know my weaknesses now,
But she knew then, and used them. She even married me!

Hell, the lengths they went to! How nice to know you're wanted.
But what did they want me for? Political PR!
A bona-fide Space Hero to go around making speeches
Against those fool New People, and for more Starfleet funding.
Oh, I still approve the motives; the New People are assholes
And Starfleet needs the money for new Starship construction.
But, Christ, the way they used me!
                    They could've just released some
Records to the public, the *Enterprise's* log-tapes
Dealing with the Klingons, Romulans, Orions,
Dope-runners, slavers, pirate-ships and worse --
Kzin have no objections to using us for food!
If that's not enough, then show the mindless dangers:
The Giant Amoeba, Nomad, Vaal, the Vampire Cloud,
Landru, the Doomsday Machine, so goddam many others . . .
V'Ger was just the latest. Who doubts there are more?
Super-powered monsters, vicious mindless threats --
You can't charm those with reason, or by leaving them alone;
They'll fall on you regardless, chew up your world for fuel,
Dine on you for lunch while you contemplate your navel.
I doubt that even the arrogant fools of the New People
Would care to be considered fit only for food!
-- Or show them the nerve-parasites that hit Deneva.
How does Higher Consciousness save you from a plague?
Show that to the public!
                    That was all they needed.
You don't need a Space Hero for that; the tapes suffice.
But no. Starfleet Command's famed 'secrecy' paranoia[MEC4] --
"That might cause a panic!" Sure. Same old excuse,
As if all civilians were cows that might stampede
And trample someone's fences. {If so, whose ox gets gored?}

Instead they came for me. They took me out of Space-work,
Groomed me for their speeches, used my famed Charisma,
Used me like a puppet!
                    Oh, I preached space's wonders --
The joy of finding new worlds, races, civilizations --
But as if these things were toys to amuse the jaded,
As if most sentient beings were shallow, stupid children
Who needed to be lured from one bauble to another . . . 

I dislike the implications, did from the beginning,
But Lori smoothed it over: "You're needed. They'll believe *you*."
I didn't think to ask why, let her lure me deeper:
Promotion -- and a desk-job. "It's just for a few months."
But when more than a year passed, my eyes slowly opened.

The turning point must have come soon after she left me . . .
{Why shouldn't she leave me? Her main job was done.
No doubt she had other . . . assignments . . . from Nogura.
But no one else was quite so good at keeping me blind.}

I began to see how I'd been used, almost agreed . . .
Until I learned how they'd grounded me; I'd never go back to space.
{That was when those troubling dreams began to plague me . . . }
I started planning months ago, or I'd never have made it . . .

That last call to Lori, what ship would meet the threat,
The old crew reassembled -- except for Spock and me --
{And where the hell was Spock?} oh, that was the last straw!
I put into action plans I'd made for months.

Blackmail . . . or extortion . . .
                    Hell, I squeezed the Admiral.

I went to Nogura and gave him all the reasons --
Good and sound and logical -- for giving me the ship back.
He can use them for excuses now. They aren't what swayed him.

I saw I hadn't moved him. He asked: "Anything further?"
I leaned on his desk, smiled, and dropped the bomb.
                    "One thing;
Sir, do you know where your wife and children are now?"

He blinked twice and paled, turned wordless to the desk-com,
Punched buttons, waited, got no answer, tried again.
Nothing. The expression on his face when he turned back . . . 
Hard to keep from laughing. Oh, I had the bastard good!

"Where are they?" He sounded tired.
                    "Safe on Earth", I said.
"On big old crowded Earth. You could spend a lifetime searching."

He give me a glare. I saw defeat in it, and smiled.

"Jim," he tried, "I can't believe that you'd stoop to such tactics."

"Sir," I said, "I can't believe I once was such a fool
As to think such tactics never would be needed.
Of course, that was when I was a simple ship's captain,
Doing an honest job, with never a thought of politics.
I've learned rather quickly, don't you think?"
                    . . . I didn't add
That his family had no cause to think that they'd been kidnapped.
They were on vacation at a little woodland cabin
A kind 'neighbor' had provided {with its radio quite broken},
And an air car {likewise altered so its fuel-gauge read 'full'
When in fact the tank held just enough to get them there, not back}.
The hardest part had been getting the wife to leave word
Of where she'd be on tapes -- which I erased. It's possible
She didn't yet know she was stranded up there in the Rockies.

"When I'm back on my ship," I said, "When we pass Station Delta,
I'll send you a report including the coordinates
Of where you'll find them, unharmed." I leaned close. "Understand:
I want my ship, my crew, and all my old life back again.
Just that, for all my life -- and if possible, after."

"'Flying Dutchman'," he murmured, watching me. "That's all?"

I could see him thinking: 'No more? One taste of power,
And he won't want more? Unlikely.'
                    I saw him put his back up,
Knew I had to persuade him. "I'm sick of politics!"
I said, watching his face.
                    He still wasn't convinced.

Right there I saw the depths an officer can fall to.
The man was so dedicated to power that he couldn't
Believe another person could refuse it after one taste.
{We judge others by ourselves; junkies think non-junkies
Are only potential junkies who've never tried the junk.}
What the hell could convince him I'd be no further threat?

I knew he loved his family, or else I couldn't have trapped him.
He'd think the same of me, but what family did I have?
. . . Only the *Enterprise*.

                    "My ship and crew," I repeated.
"The old senior officers and the rest -- all you can get.
I want to go home."
                    He blinked, considering that.
I hoped it was enough.
                    He cautiously tested further.

"I take it, Jim, that married life didn't agree with you."

"No way!" I snapped, remembering Lori's tricks, and my failings.

Right there his eyes lit up as if he'd sighted treasure.
I tried to guess its shape.
                    "*All* your crew?" he asked.
"Including Spock?"
          I saw it.
                    For an instant I couldn't think.
My reactions did it for me, saved my ass one more time.
I blushed up to my hair.
                    Nogura leaned back, smiling.
Sure he knew it all. Now he could believe
I had other . . . lusts . . . than power. Now he could be safe.

I recalled -- as he did -- that question from reporters
That shook me up so badly. I recalled my answer --
A masterpiece of evasion. Lori asked me later
About it. Again, evasion. She was too smart to push;
Just took it to Nogura.
                    I divorced her three months later.

Nogura considered that, too.
                    I saw I had the answer,
My last price-tag on freedom, if I was willing to pay it . . .

I was.
     Hell, let Nogura think anything, believe
He had some handle on me. He didn't. Should I care
If he sniggered to cronies? He couldn't do much more,
Or he'd ruin the two years' good PR campaign.
Federation civil-rights laws would restrain him
From legal harassment.
                    So, what could I lose?

"Especially Spock. I want him . . . for my Science Officer."
I said it just like that, and managed not to blush.

"You have Sonak," Nogura jabbed. "I can't transfer him
This late in the game."
                    "I don't care," I retorted.
"Just get Spock back with me. Find a way, and do it."

He gave me a long look. "I didn't know," he needled,
"Your marriage was . . . unhappy."
                    I flinched, but played along.
"Let's just say it soured me on women for a while[MEC5]."

He pursed his lips, recalling who'd set that affair up.

I gave him no more time. "I want my ship," I growled,
"My crew and Spock. If I don't get them all by Delta,
You don't get your coordinates."
                    "Very well," he shrugged.
"Will you wait while I transmit the orders?"
                    I just smiled.

With the hour I was here, and a whole new game began.
Decker . . .  Yes, I felt some guilt, but I'd grown ruthless.
We fought like two bulls for one cow . . . 
                    Or Vulcans in pon farr . . . 
And where the hell could Spock be? Time was running out fast.
If he didn't come soon, I'd be stuck with Sonak.
Was this a trick? Would Nogura withhold him for concessions?
I couldn't wait to find out. The 'Intruder' was coming.

Besides, there was a chance that Nogura's wife and children
Might be found accidentally. I had to get out of reach.

That was when it happened. "Transporter malfunction!"
Alarms. Scotty running. The signal wavering off-phase.
Just my luck that I was standing there, and saw it all.
A single brief glimpse of the victims . . . 
                    Sweet Jesus!
Is that why he did it! Sent Spock belting after me --

It wasn't just Sonak on the platform, but Lori!
I didn't have time to wonder why she was there . . .
Of course she was bringing some word from Nogura,
But what I never learned. The transporter . . . 
                    . . . God. Damn.
It . . . mangled them.
                    I've got to stop shaking like this!

"Signal fading!" That was when I grabbed the controls,
Switched channels, boosted power, every trick I knew of.
But nothing worked. Hopeless. I sent a full report . . .

. . . Including the fact that I'd taken the controls.

What would Nogura have made of that?
                    . . . Oh, christ.

Long before we reached Station Delta, Spock arrived
Via Vulcan courier -- the fastest ship made --
In his Novice robes, distant-eyed and barely civil,
Obviously snatched hot from his Vulcan monk's cell.

I dutifully sent Nogura the coordinates.
He just said: "Acknowledged." that was the end of that.

I wondered about Spock every second I could spare:
His coldness, his distance, why he didn't re-adjust.
I thought it was leftover from the Kohlinahr ordeal.
Later in Sickbay, he told me . . . No, he hinted --
Let me assume -- it was an Identity Crisis,
One final attempt to be a Super-Vulcan,
Until V-Ger's cold, hollow mind taught him better.

But now I wonder. Just what was he told, coming here?

Nogura might believe I . . . engineered the accident,
Or at least took advantage of the opportunity
To get rid of Sonak -- and Lori! -- for revenge,
To make room for Spock, and to prove I wasn't bluffing.
He's the sort who would believe it!
                    . . . I could use a drink.
A good stiff brandy . . . But I don't want to get up.
The way I'm shaking now, I might break something.

All right. So Nogura thought that, and closed the deal.
He sent Spock to me by the fastest ship around.
God knows what he told him . . . No, probably said nothing,
But Spock is good at soaking up little crumbs of data,
At picking up hints . . . and knows enough of Starfleet . . . 

God, how many people think I killed my ex-wife
-- And Sonak -- in order to get back my . . . 

Nogura suspects it.
          Does Spock?
                    . . . I don't know.

I ought to get up and find Scotty, and a bottle,
And maybe McCoy, and have a small private party.
Celebrate reunion, and victory, and maybe
Unburden our souls. I think mine needs help.

No, I won't; not until I think all this through.
Besides -- admit it! -- I'm scared shitless.
What the bloody hell have I done to myself?!

All right. Calm down and add up the casualties.
I fell into a trap through my vanity and hot pants,
Finally wised up and fought my way back out again
Through brains and bluff and a ghastly piece of luck.
Who got hurt?

               . . . Ilia? The losses of war . . .
Besides, she wasn't so much lost as . . . transfigured.
Decker? Much the same. Besides, he bluntly told me
That was what he wanted: joining, love, transcendence.
Nogura? I bullied him and gave him a scare, yes.
I doubt if that surpasses all the shit he gave me.
His family? At most, inconvenienced; that cabin
Was warm and well-stocked, and the kids would've had fun . . .

He must have gone straight there on getting the coordinates.
Maybe he's off kicking his own ass right now
For letting himself be so thoroughly bluffed out
When he knew about my great record for bluffing.
Or maybe he's counting his blessings, still believing
That the damned transporter accident . . . wasn't.
Hell with him. Let him think that. Let him stay scared.
Who knows? It might even make him clean up his act.

Starfleet? They've got what they wanted all the time:
"Earth's Certain Destruction Averted By Starship!"
Push it on the newscasts. Terrific PR coup.
Use it the hilt, turds! Use that, instead of me!
Oh yeah, you can say Starfleet's Pet Hero Was There -
Since it ties together, go ahead and play it.
Wind up your big PR campaign with a flourish.
Let me bow out gracefully, and go back to space.

. . . What the hell, after this they'll have to leave me up here
Commanding the *Enterprise*! Nogura must have guessed that
When he called 'requesting' I beam down for a debriefing.
'Request' only? Tough shit! Denied. I'm staying here.
Maybe he was testing to see if I'd guessed that
Letting go one handle for him, I'd picked up another.
I must've passed; I notice that he didn't call back.
Oh yes Sir! PR can be a two-edged sword!

. . . And Earth is safe, and even V'Ger came out ahead.

So who did I hurt?
          . . . Maybe myself.
                    And Spock.
How ruthless did I get, playing that dirty con-game?
Can I shed it now that I've won my freedom back?

Spock . . . How much did he hear of what Nogura thinks now?
Does he believe it?
          He can't! What he said
In Sickbay was . . .
          Acceptance . . . and love . . . for me.
A pardon is not the same thing as an acquittal.

If he does believe it . . . What did he think he was accepting?
A man who used extortion on a Starfleet Admiral,
Kidnapped his wife and children, displaced the lawful captain --
Maybe nudged Decker into merging with V'Ger --
Hideously murdered two innocent people --
Even Lori didn't earn a death like that one!
-- For the basest motives: greed to get my ship back
And . . . lust . . . for him?
          No! Spock wouldn't do that!
Besides, he wouldn't take that just from Nogura's word.
Hell, Spock would know *me* much better than that!

. . . Well, yes, I admit I terrorized the Admiral,
But Spock knows well what a bluffer I am.
The transporter accident -- Surely he examined
The transporter circuits and computer records;
Certainly he knows that it couldn't have been helped.
Of course he knows now much I love the ship -- and him -- but
Surely he would never think --
                    Wait. Wait a minute . . .

When V'Ger made that first long-distance mental probe
I felt it.
     So did Spock.
               I felt him in the contact.
And I've felt that before . . . Mind-meld. So many times. . . 
But all the way from Earth to Vulcan? After two years?
How could that be possib--
               Oh my god . . . 
                    We're mind-linked!
That explains it!
               . . . Across space and time gulfs,
And despite our best attempts to pull apart --
Him with Kohlinahr[MEC6], me with the job and Lori --
One touch, and it snaps to!
                    . . . And that strong . . .

Omigod, does that mean what I think it means?
He as much as told me, the day he left the ship --
"I've become too tangled with Human emotion.
I must take myself to more restrained surroundings."

And for all I questioned, ranted, begged for answers,
There was only one more hint I got out of him.

"Jim, please. There is danger of permanent . . . change."

I believed he meant he'd come to like emotions,
Such as . . . caring . . . for me. I didn't guess how far . . .

The danger he meant was . . . we were becoming . . . bond-mates.

A Vulcan would have understood. Did he think that I did?
When I married Lori, he must have thought --
                         The rumors!
My evasive answers -- I know he heard the rumors;
His last letter mentioned them. And then that newscast . . .
He must have heard about it. Then the V'Ger contact.
Then . . . I brought him here. "Shanghai'ed" to quote McCoy.
Any hints Nogura dropped would just confirm--

Stop it! Stop that shaking.
               Can't. Too scared!
                         --Don't panic.

Calm down. Think. Think hard.
               Assuming he believes that . . .
If he thinks I brought him here because I . . . want him,
I just have to go and tell him it's not true. Simple.
He'll be quite relieved. His coldness all the way here . . .
Trying to refuse me.
               . . . But that scene in Sickbay . . . 

No, no. He accepted just "This simple feeling."
Affection. Nothing more. Harmless enough.
                         . . . And after,
From that comment on, he's kept a polite distance.
Clear enough:  "No thank you." I need only tell him
That the feeling's mutual. That will clear it all up.
No problem.
          So why won't the damned trembling stop?

Because . . .
          I remember all those searing dark dreams . . . 
Jesus, I could go ball until I was exhausted --
Couldn't get it up for green Orion slave-girls
Or Miss Universe in a smile and nothing else --
And fall asleep and dream again of . . . someone wanted,
Wake up to a wet spot and a bitter sense of loss . . . 

Something there I don't want to look at too closely.

What if it were . . .
               That explains too damn much!

When the newsmen questioned, why did I evade it?
Why not just a flat "No"?
               --No, don't panic. Think. Think!
Test it. Try to face it. Clench those rattling teeth still.

Go ahead, imagine:  walk into Spock's cabin . . . 
The calm, deep eyes look up . . . I say: "It's true. I want you."
               . . . Probably raise both eyebrows,
Regret my aberration, suggest a stroll to Sickbay,
And hope I soon recover.
               . . . Somehow I can't hold that.
The image fades and changes. Another scene intrudes . . . 

Just one eyebrow rises. He quietly thumbs the button
That locks the cabin door . . . wordless, turns the lights down . . .
Rises to his feet . . . eyes level, dark and burning . . .
Comes around the desk . . . the long arms reaching for me . . .

God, the shaking's worse! My heart's going to slam loose --
I remember this! Familiar --
               Lord, the dreams!
--Arms like steel around me, burning . . . I can't move, I--
He pulls me off the floor, then down, down on the bed, and
The long hands tear away my shirt like so much paper
Then slide down my bare flesh -- I'm burning, swelling, wanting -

Omigod, it's true!
          --Hot fingers clamp my skull and
The mind-link roars wide open, blazing eyes demanding:

"Did you kill Sonak and your hated wife -- for me?"

No, don't scream!
          --At least bite the pillow!
                         Think --
                              No, don't try.
Lie still. . .
     --Damn you, One-eye, get down! Oh please, go down . . .
Tears, on top of all this? I'm falling to pieces!
. . . Hell, give up and cry. There's no-one here to see it.

. . . No-one except, maybe, the one who matters most.
If the mind-link really . . . 
                    Spock, if you can hear me,
Yes, it's true -- I want you.

                    But as to that question,
I . . . really don't think so. I did not arrange it;
The accident just happened. Yes, I recognized them.
Yes, I took the console. No, I'm not an expert.
Yes, it looks suspicious. I'm trying to remember . . .

I recall my feelings: frantic desperation
And pity -- not resentment, no wish for revenge, no --
Not that I remember. Subconsciously? I don't know . . .
But as I think about it, I remember two things:
First, I can't stand back and do nothing in a crisis;
I had to jump in and personally try . . .
You've seen me do that a hundred times before, Spock:
Always beaming down with high-risk landing parties,
Share the danger with them, can't stay off the front lines,
Can't let my crew suffer while I'm safe behind them . . .

That's the second reason. I saw the signal fading,
Knew that they were doomed -- and saw Rand see it, too.
I know that look too well: exploding guilt and horror . . .
I . . . couldn't let her take that alone . . . grabbed the controls
That way, it was me -- not her -- there when they died.
That way, I could tell her after -- which I did --
"It wasn't your fault. Don't blame yourself. There's nothing
That you could have done."
               That way, the guilt was shared,
At least . . . if I couldn't take the lion's share . . .
If I couldn't take the blame off her completely,
And on myself . . . I just didn't want her to suffer . . .

That's all I remember, to the best of my-- 

Something's changed. I feel it.
                    . . . For one thing, I've quit shaking.
I feel a calm, and . . . something . . . a kind of . . . reassurance .  . 
A quiet sense of presence . . . 

               This is one of two things:
Either I've just cleared my badly-troubled conscience
Of an awful lot of months'-long piled up garbage,
Or . . .
     Spock's really listening.
               No comment: just listening.

Or is there any difference?
               Spock, if you -- your image,
Your memory, your presence, have *become* my conscience --
The other part of me, that I have to live up to -- 
If you're that to me . . . 
               That's why I was evasive
To those damned reporters, let Nogura think that,
Had those dreams -- about you -- while my life went sour
Doing work I couldn't live by, or believe in.

I need you to live. You're the other half of me.

So I'll leave this to you; I hold my mind wide open.
If you hear me, judge me. If I'm found not guilty,
And if you can accept all I've said and done -- and feel --
The come to me right now and tell me, face to face.

If not . . . Unheard or guilty, I'll go quietly to sleep,
Get up tomorrow and go back to business as usual,
As we were last mission. No change. We'll keep it that way
For as long as you want. I'll leave you the next move,
And I'll never mention one thought I've had tonight.

     Still, the calmness . . . 
                    I think I could sleep now.
But I won't for a while yet, at least until I'm sure . . . 
I doubt he really heard. All this is overworked nerves
And a guilty conscience, some things that needed facing . . .

The door --
     It's sliding open! Silhouette in the doorway--

My heart's pounding again, but not in fear this time. No fear!

The well-known voice says only: "Jim, I am here."

A passing hand puts out the lights and quietly locks the door.
He peels away his uniform. The bed creaks with his weight.

* * * *
- end-