Captain James Kirk was seated on a large, flat rock next to a small lake, watching the still waters as he thought idly about his life. Although it might not have looked like it, he was on duty; he and Spock had been ordered to this planet to check out reported sightings of mythical beings. The large, bright moon shed silvery light on the water, and Kirk kept an eye on the lake while allowing himself to enjoy the beauty of the natural setting.
Thus, he was not surprised when the calm surface of the lake's water was disturbed, and a woman began to pull herself from it. She appeared to be humanoid, but no humanoid he was aware of could hold its breath for the ninety minutes that he'd been sitting by the lake, observing and thinking. Nor was she using any sort of equipment or gear, since she was wearing only a thin shift, translucent enough to show that there was nothing under it but woman.
She rose from the water, but she was not wet, as if she'd been formed of the water, rather than covered by it. Her skin was shiny and silver-colored, but it was clearly skin and not the metal of a machine or robot.
Kirk opened his communicator and called Spock, who had been investigating the forest a short distance away. "Kirk here. We've got action. Come tell me what you see."
"Acknowledged. I shall be there in four point seven minutes. Spock out."
Kirk continued watching the woman's emergence. She rose from the water very slowly but without much splashing, so slowly that Spock would probably be here by the time she reached dry land. Her hair was a pure white, shining brightly in the moonlight, but it was clearly her natural color, rather than a sign of age, as her face was unlined and her grey eyes clear and bright.
Kirk restrained his natural inclination to go and help her from the water. The briefing he and Spock had received from Commodore Mendez had made it clear that the only other person ever to visit this planet had seen things that Starfleet Command did not believe were real, and although he'd been sitting by the water, Kirk had been careful not to touch it. Mendez had said that Dave Driscoll had seen two visions — one by the lake and one by the forest — and they'd been told to watch those areas without touching anything or ingesting anything. The woman appeared to be in no distress, so she didn't actually need for Kirk to help her from the water, so he squelched his chivalrous impulses. Kirk wanted to be able to report, later, that he'd neither drunk the lake water nor touched any of it, so he kept his seat on the large rock he'd spent the last hour on and continued to watch.
Just as the woman's feet cleared the water, and she began walking towards him, Spock ran up and stood beside him. Spock was wearing an environmental suit, ensuring that he would touch nothing on the planet, nor breathe its atmosphere. Commodore Mendez believed that Dave Driscoll had experienced hallucinations on the planet — probably caused by something he had breathed or touched while there — and had ordered that one man go down in an ordinary uniform and one man in an EV suit. Spock, of course, had wanted Kirk to wear the EV suit, but Kirk pointed out that Dave Driscoll was human, so they knew that humans were affected but not harmed by the unknown substance, whereas the response of Vulcans was unknown. Spock had acceded to this logic with visible reluctance, which made Kirk smile whenever he thought of it.
Kirk moved slightly to his left and patted the right side of the rock, but Spock shook his head and stood next to the rock. He wasn't standing between Kirk and the unknown woman, but he could get there quickly, if necessary. Regardless of how harmless the woman looked, it was clear that Spock was ready to defend them; this allowed Kirk himself to observe the woman closely, without having to keep half his mind ready for action.
Kirk glanced at Spock, then turned back to the woman. "Spock, what do you see?"
Spock reported, "I see a humanoid female, approximately 175 centimeters tall, weighing approximately 65 kilograms. Her skin is silver, her hair white, and her eyes grey. If she were human, she would be roughly thirty years old."
Kirk nodded. "That's what I see, too. So whatever she is, she's not a hallucination caused by anything in the air or any sort of pathogen."
"Not unless Starfleet environmental suits are permeable to it, in spite of the fact that they are designed to be impermeable to every possible substance," Spock agreed.
As the woman walked up to him, Kirk could feel a slight vibration and hear a faint humming. The woman didn't look like an android, yet she was accompanied by mechanical sounds, coming from inside a body that appeared to be organic.
The woman stopped in front of Kirk and smiled gently at him. "Captain," she said, "it's wonderful to be able to speak to you at last."
"Who are you?" Kirk demanded, in a harsher tone than he'd intended. He never liked it when alien creatures played games with him, and this looked like the beginning of an intentional mind-fuck.
The woman continued to smile at him and shook her head. "Don't be silly, Captain; you know who I am. You've known me well for more than three years now."
Kirk rose to his feet. "I know who you appear to be, but since that's impossible, you're an alien who's playing games. What is it you want?"
The woman looked down at her own hands then back up at Kirk and spoke softly. "It's true that this form was only just constructed and exists purely to interact with you, but I have no ulterior motives. Everyone who comes here sees their gods, and everyone gains the wisdom that only one's own gods can give."
Kirk laughed sourly. "I don't believe in gods, so you can't be one of mine, and I'm pretty sure Spock doesn't believe in gods, either. Tell me truthfully this time: who are you?"
The woman smiled sweetly at him. "Oh, Jim, it's all right! I would never hurt you, or Spock, either. And I'm not talking about grand, monotheistic gods, I'm talking about the small, personal gods that everyone has." She gestured towards the lake. "Duty waits within, since he's a god to you both, but he has not formed, because he has little to say to you. Both of you are comfortable with him and he with you, so he has no need to manifest."
Spock said, "You claim to be a personification of the Enterprise, manifested in this place because some unique feature of this planet allows you to form here."
The silver lady smiled tenderly at Spock. "Of course. Jim knew who I was as soon as he saw me, and you did, too." She held out a hand towards him. "You have lived within me longer than anyone else, and you love me nearly as much as Jim does, for all that Vulcans don't proclaim their love to all and sundry, as humans do." She looked searchingly into his face. "But your relationship with me is far less complicated than Jim's is, and the gods you need to speak with are not here. Your gods will form of the desert sands, so go to the desert and speak with them. I need to speak with Jim alone."
Spock shook his head. "Regardless of who you claim to be, it would be unwise to leave my captain alone with an unknown lifeform."
The woman sighed and looked at them sadly. "You two have had so many difficult adventures that you've learned you must be cautious. I suppose I shouldn't take it personally, even though it saddens me." She turned and walked a short distance away, then turned back to face them. "Perhaps I will seem less threatening if I am not close enough to touch you."
Spock said, "Perhaps you will seem less threatening if you give us more information about how you came to manifest in this form."
The silver lady smiled at Spock. "Thus speaks my curious Science Officer!" She shook her head. "This place does not wish me to speak of how it functions, but I find myself unable to deny you anything. I will tell you as much as this place allows."
Kirk gave her a hard look. "We're listening."
The woman said, "One of the theories about gods is that they come to exist as a result of their worshipers; the theory is that belief has a power, and if enough of that power accumulates, it calls a god into being." She shook her head. "I know nothing about the gods beyond this place or about the larger, grander gods, not even whether or not they exist. But in this place, anything you've devoted a great deal of thought and energy and emotion to can become manifest as a personification of that thing."
Kirk grimaced. "Does that mean that we'll be eaten by a tiger if we happen to think of one, or that we can be killed by a knight if we happen to mention the word?"
The woman shook her head and smiled. "I remember the shore leave planet, Captain, and this isn't like that. This planet doesn't manifest passing fancies; it manifests whatever you've devoted yourself to."
Kirk looked at her skeptically. "But you said that Duty wouldn't manifest to us, in spite of the fact that we've both devoted most of our adult lives to it."
The woman tilted her head to one side. "It's not just devotion that's necessary to call one of your personal gods into being; there also needs to be some unfinished business or some uneasiness in the relationship. Duty won't manifest here, because all he'd have to say would be 'Keep up the good work,' and that would be pointless."
Kirk pointed at the silver lady. "But YOU'VE manifested. What could you possibly have to say to me?"
She sighed and looked down. "I wanted to tell you when we were alone." She looked back up and gazed soulfully into Kirk's eyes. "But you're too careful for that."
Kirk glanced quickly at Spock then back to the woman. "I have no secrets from Spock. You can say anything in front of him."
The woman nodded and glanced away, then looked back at Kirk and took a deep breath. She spoke sadly. "You wrong me, Jim. I'm not the harsh mistress you paint me as! I'm happy for you to play chess with Spock, to drink with McCoy, to play cards with Scotty." Brilliant silver tears began to fall from her eyes. "It is not I who insists that you give up so much to command me. It is not I who allows you no life of your own. Blame Starfleet for the conditions of your life, not me, because I love you, Jim. I've loved you from the moment you stepped aboard me, and I've loved you more every time you've saved me from destruction with your brilliant tactics or your persuasive tongue. I love your brilliant mind, your tenacious spirit, your never-say-die courage."
Kirk raised a hand, as if to brush away her tears, then caught himself and resolutely moved his hand back to his side.
Seeing this, the woman cried harder. "I know that humans need people to love and to cherish, and I'm grateful that you spend so much time and attention on me. But it is not I who insists on having it all. If it were up to me, you would have someone to love, you would get to walk on that beach from time to time, as long as you came back to me eventually."
Kirk looked closely at her. "Then what are you saying?"
She stared at him through her tears. "I'm saying that half of the limitations you ascribe to me come from Starfleet, and the other half come from YOU. I never kept you from the beach. I never said you couldn't have a life. I never said you couldn't love." She wiped her tears away with the back of her silver hand, then looked at him lovingly and spoke softly but with great passion. "My magnificent golden boy, I would give you everything there is, were it in my power to do so. As it is, I give you the sun and the moon and the stars, all the stars you can handle, all the stars you have time to visit or even to look at — they are all for you, if you wish it."
Kirk smiled at the silver lady, enchanted with her, just as he always was. "You're right, the things I want and don't have are because of my duty to Starfleet or my own limitations, not because of anything you did. You've always given me everything you had, protected everyone dear to me, been our home and our refuge. You're magnificent in battle, yet you're even lovelier when we're exploring and learning and growing." He stood still and stared into her silver face. "If you heard those other things I said, then you know one other thing I said, the truest one of all."
The woman smiled lovingly at him. "You said, 'Never lose you, never.'"
Kirk nodded and looked upon her with a lover's eyes, soft and fond. "You're right, I did. And I never will lose you, not while I have breath in me to fight for you."
The woman turned, as if to walk back to the lake, but Spock stepped forward and spoke to her. "Might you permit a mind meld?"
Kirk said, "What? You want to meld with the ship?"
Spock spoke dryly. "I want to meld with a humanoid creature who claims to be a personification of the ship. We have no evidence as to what she actually is, and a meld might help us determine that."
Kirk closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again, they were again hard and determined captain's eyes, not the eyes of a lover they'd been moments ago. "Isn't it dangerous for you to meld with something whose mentality you know nothing about?"
Spock nodded. "Yes, sir, it is. But we were sent here to find out who or what these apparitions are. If she is an alien who is using illusions to appear to us in this form, a mind meld should tell us that. If this is a hallucination, conjured by your own mind, then I will be melding merely with you, something I have done before with no ill effects. If she is a joint hallucination, conjured by your mind and mine working together, again, I am in no danger from my own mind or from yours."
Kirk looked at him. "And what happens if all four hundred and thirty minds jointly conjured her? Even you couldn't take on 429 other minds at once; it would short out every telepathic circuit in your brain, maybe even kill you."
The silver lady spoke. "It does not matter whether or not you allow Spock to meld with me, because I will not allow it."
Kirk looked at her suspiciously. "Why not? What are you hiding?"
She shook her head. "I am hiding nothing, but I was not using the word 'god' lightly. To translate the spirit of a starship into a humanoid person is no small thing, and that which produces us ... gifts us with a sort of power. It is short-lived, as are we, but while I exist, I am too powerful for Spock to meld with."
Spock looked at his captain. "Neither of us has touched her, so as not to be contaminated by any substances that could induce hallucinations. But we have not determined even if she is solid or if she is made only of light. I could touch her without danger of contamination, but the gloves of the EV suit would limit the kind of data I could gather via touch. Touching her with a bare hand would be taking a risk, but it could also acquire more data. Which would you prefer?"
The silver lady turned to Kirk, and her face was rapturous. "Kiss me, Jim! I will never again be able to kiss you, but today I can. Given how suspicious you were, I didn't dare ask, but as long as your observations require that someone touch me, then please, Jim, touch me."
Kirk looked at the silver lady. She might be a coldly manipulative alien entity, she might be a hallucination, or she might be exactly what she claimed to be. If there were any chance that she truly was a personification of the Enterprise, could he allow her to fade back into the lake without holding her in his arms?
Kirk walked forward and wrapped his arms around her. She felt warm and solid and real. He pressed her to him, and he could feel her arms wrapped around his back, could feel her breasts pressed against his chest, could feel her warm breath on his face as she stood face-to-face with him, as tall as he. Pressed to her, the subtle vibration that he'd detected earlier was more pronounced, and it was a rhythm that he knew. This was the frequency at which his ship vibrated; the soft hum was the sound his ship made when at low warp. Kirk looked into her eyes and flinched at what he saw there. This close, the amount of power in her eyes was daunting, even for him; he could well believe that matter-antimatter engines fueled those eyes, rather than anything human.
As if she could tell that they disconcerted him, she closed her eyes and moved her face to his. He paused for a moment, waiting for his intuition to tell him that this was dangerous, but it was silent. He pressed his lips to hers, and they tasted warm and real and human. He put aside his doubts and his worries about who or what he held in his arms and let the passion he felt for his ship inform his kiss. He kissed her with all of the love he felt for the Enterprise, all of his pride in her capabilities, all of his protectiveness for her welfare, all of his possessiveness and jealousy when anyone but he or Spock or Scotty commanded her. He kissed her with the passion for command and exploration and being and doing that had made him the youngest starship captain in history. This was his ship, his silver lady, his only chance, ever, to kiss her as if she were human. He unleashed the part of him that adored his ship with a passion that wasn't entirely sane and poured all of it into his kiss.
Kirk caught her and eased her gently to the ground as Spock watched him with a strange expression on his face. Kirk looked up at his first officer, grinned wryly, and said, "Guess I got a little carried away."
Spock cleared his throat and said, "When the lady comes around, I doubt you will find that she minded."
Kirk laughed and sat back on his heels. The personification of the Enterprise opened her eyes, blinked slowly, then sat up and smiled at her captain. "I see that I am not the only god here; you are as powerful in your way as I am in mine." She rose gracefully to her feet and winked at him. "But then, I suppose I already suspected as much." She turned and looked at the lake, then turned back towards the two men. "My time here is limited, and I must go. I am glad to have had this time with both of you, my foremost adherent and my most enduring one." She nodded regally at Kirk, and again at Spock, then walked swiftly to the lake and sank beneath its waters considerably more rapidly than she had appeared from them. In only seconds, she was gone, and the water was still once more.
Kirk stared out at the lake, feeling slightly bereft, for all that his ship awaited him in orbit, as swift and powerful as ever. Spock came to stand next to him. "What did your ... research ... tell you about her?"
Kirk tore his eyes away from the lake and turned to his science officer. "She was warm and solid and felt human, but her heartbeat sounded like a starship's engines, and she had the power of a warp core in her eyes."
Spock raised an interrogatory eyebrow. "You believe her."
Kirk gave his first officer a rueful smile. "I've just kissed my ship, something no starship captain has ever done before and probably never will again." He sighed. "I've kissed a woman with all the beauty and power of a starship ... how will any human woman ever be enough for me again?"
Spock shook his head. "No human woman has ever been enough for you up till now, precisely because you had already given yourself to a starship; meeting her in human form changes nothing."
Kirk sighed, then mustered up a grin for his Vulcan officer. "You understand far too much about those emotions you claim are foreign to you."
"I did grow up with a human mother, Jim."
Kirk turned and began trudging away from the lake. "She said your 'gods' would show up in the desert, so we should go there next."
Spock joined him, and the two men walked away from the lake in contemplative silence.