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Shall we give the Enterprise a proper shakedown, Mr. Scott -- James T. Kirk Jim Kirk was lost in the Enterprise. Not the way he'd been two weeks ago, when his unfamiliarity with the redesigned starship had forced him to ask a yeoman the way to the turboshaft, embarrassing himself in front of Will Decker. No, as soon as the V'Ger mission had ended, Kirk had launched into an intensive study of the upgraded vessel's every feature. It was something he'd always meant to do, since it made sense for a Chief of Starfleet Operations to know these things, but somehow the business of managing the deployments, personnel, and maintenance of an entire fleet had always managed to keep him from concentrating on the particulars of a single redesign. Or, perhaps, he had subconsciously shied away from it, since it would have hurt too much to watch from afar, knowing that the Enterprise was no longer his. Kirk had thought his crash course in the new Enterprise's technical particulars had cured him of the romanticized reaction he'd had upon first seeing her in drydock, when Scotty had taken the long way around in the travel pod to show off his baby. But now, as he gazed out the large picture windows of Starbase 22's officers' lounge, which overlooked the base's dock facility and the gleaming starship moored therein, he was lost in her beauty once again. The old Enterprise had always reminded Kirk of Pegasus in flight, her skin gleaming white, her dorsal connector evoking the neck of a horse with head held high, her nacelle struts angled like wings poised for a forceful downstroke. Yet to an observer of a less poetical bent, it had been a utilitarian design, all functional straight lines and circles. Now, with her more forward-thrusting neck, her backswept pylons, her Art Deco nacelles, her subtly sleeker hull contours, and her constellation of self-illuminating lights, she was a sculpture evoking speed and energy. It was as though she'd emerged from her cocoon looking the way she'd always been meant to look. Arguably there was little left of the original ship beyond the bare skeletal framework of the saucer and forward secondary hull. It certainly wasn't the first ship in naval history to be so thoroughly rebuilt, and as much as possible of the original material had been recycled into the new structural members and bulkheads. Still, every propulsion and power system, every computer, every piece of equipment, every meter of piping and optical cable, every last console and chair and lighting panel had been replaced with a new, improved model. Yet none of that mattered to Kirk. After all, most of the cells in his body at the time he'd first taken command of the starship had been replaced by now (though regrettably not with improved versions), but the gestalt remained the same; the body held the same soul. And Kirk had known as soon as he'd seen her that the same was true of Enterprise. The only difference was that her soul was more visible now. "Don't you ever get bored" came a cheerful voice. Kirk noted Commodore Fein's florid reflection in the window as the base commander entered the lounge. "Just staring at your ship I mean, it's just...sitting there. It's not doing anything." Kirk smiled. "Neither is the Mona Lisa. But people seem to like looking at her." "Not my type," the big, dark-bearded commodore said with a shrug. "And I don't see what the big mystery is about the smile. I mean, aren't you supposed to smile when you get your picture taken" Kirk opened his mouth, but couldn't find a response to that. So he just went back to looking at the Enterprise. Fein joined him for a moment, but then yawned conspicuously, earning a glare from Kirk. "Sorry. Don't get me wrong, she is a pretty ship, no question. Even more so now that my guys are done with her." "No argument there. Please extend my thanks to Commander Mattesino and his teams." Since the Enterprise had been launched prematurely, there hadn't been much time to install creature comforts. Kirk's impulsive decision to head "out there, thataway" on a shakedown cruise, rather than returning to Spacedock for debriefing, re-crewing, and final outfitting, had led to grumbling among the crew. So Kirk had arranged to have their personal effects delivered to Starbase 22, which had happened to be in the general direction of "thataway." Fein and his staff had done a superb job of fixing up the ship, making it less austere and more comfortable. More importantly, they'd helped Spock and the engineering staff purge the last of the Trojan-horse code with which Romulan spies had infected the computers during the refit, and which Decker had discovered literally the night before Kirk had booted him from command. It was only after the V'Ger mission, when Scott and Dr. Chapel had had time to brief him about the incident, that Kirk had learned just how much they all owed the late Will Decker. No, not late, just...missing Departed Ascended What, exactly Fein spoke up again, interrupting his reverie. "Are you sure you don't want us to paint the hull, though You just want to leave it like that" Kirk's eyes swept across Enterprise's skin once more. He knew that what he saw was twenty thousand crystal-tritanium plates phase-transition bonded into a single, nearly seamless whole, each plate with its grain aligned differently so no crack in the hull could propagate too far. But to his eyes it was a mosaic of pearlescent, luminous grays, making the ship shimmer like a many-faceted jewel. "I prefer her this way," he said, but stopped himself from adding "naked," realizing how that would sound -- especially if it got back to McCoy, who was still watching him for signs of obsession with the Enterprise. But if I'm not obsessed, Kirk thought, then why am I standing here gawking out the window at every chance, instead of mingling with my crew, getting to know them Particularly the new ones just coming on board here at the starbase. Enterprise had left port with a minimum standard crew of 431, many of them temporary personnel who had other assignments waiting now that the emergency was past. They had disembarked and just over a hundred new people had boarded here at the starbase, bringing the crew to its full five-hundred-person capacity. Kirk had formally welcomed them all aboard and gone through the proper motions, but he hadn't yet made any serious effort to get to know them, to connect with his crew and begin forging them into a team, a family, like the old crew had been. Why was that Kirk mentally shook himself from his reverie. "You're right, David," he said. "Enough rubbernecking. It's time I got back aboard." With Fein following, he left the officers' lounge with a deliberate stride. The corridor leading to the docking gangway had its own windows, and Kirk was not surprised to see that he was far from the only person looking at the Enterprise. Certainly he could understand the base personnel's curiosity -- for most, this was their first look at the cutting edge of Starfleet technology. But soon he realized that many of them were staring at him, with expressions ranging from curiosity to awe. He fidgeted. "What's wrong" Fein asked. Kirk hid behind a wry smirk. "Contrary to popular belief...I'm not that comfortable in the limelight." "You can't blame them, Jim. That was a pretty spectacular mission you were on. A giant cloud cutting a warp-nine swath through Klingon and Federation space, spitting out a ship the size of Maui that almost wipes out the Earth, but somehow ends up putting on the mother of all fireworks displays instead, apparently in the course of evolving to a higher plane of existence. On top of which it turns out to be the long-lost Voyager 6, all grown up and looking for its mommy. Not only epic stuff, but with great visuals to boot." "Visuals" "Of course. V'Ger's...eruption...has been all over the news feeds for a week and a half now, shot from every conceivable angle. Not to mention the sensor records from your flyby of the thing, which the feeds have been replaying ad nauseam. Pundits are coming out of the woodwork to explain what V'Ger was, what it became, and how it proves their pet theories about cosmology, cybernetics, evolution, God, whatever. I hear some people are making pilgrimages to Earth, declaring it a holy site." Fein frowned. "Haven't you heard any of this" "I've been busy! Besides, you know me, I'm more of a reader." "Anyway, the point is, it's only natural that people would be interested in the ship that was in the middle of it all, and its captain." "But Starfleet people We encounter...strange cosmic phenomena all the time." "But this is a special case. Face it, Jim, you literally saved the Earth. That's going to get a guy a fair amount of publicity, especially if that guy happens to be James T. Kirk." Kirk sighed. "I'm not James T. Kirk," he said, echoing Fein's dramatic delivery. "I'm just Jim Kirk. I'm no more special than any other captain. It's just...publicity." "Yeah, I know. The Pelos thing. Hard enough trying to live that down, and now this gets dumped on you. Face it, Jim, from now on you're a cosmic hero, larger than life, like it or not." Fein chuckled. "If it were me, I'd capitalize a little. A promotion, a book deal...But then, that's not the way of the cosmic hero, is it" "Keep it up, David, and I'll stop coming here for repairs," Kirk said with more good humor than he felt. "And miss out on the food That'll be the day." The commodore slapped Kirk on the back and made his farewells, leaving the captain alone with his thoughts as he strode along the gangway. Cosmic hero. Where did they get that But then, maybe Kirk had started to believe it himself. He'd been so sure that only his years of experience could let him save the world. But how much had he really contributed to the V'Ger mission It had been Spock whose mind-meld with V'Ger had provided the key insights into its nature. And it had been Will Decker who had made the final sacrifice that had really saved the world, giving up his corporeal existence to fulfill V'Ger's need to merge with its Creator and evolve to a new level of consciousness. True, Decker might have been more cautious than Kirk, might not have taken the necessary steps in time; but then again, as first officer it had been his duty to advise caution. Had he been in the center seat, he might have made the same choices Kirk had. So what had Kirk really contributed to the mission What had he done to deserve anyone's accolades -- or to earn the trust of his crew Kirk pushed those thoughts aside as he neared the main gangway hatch to the Enterprise. For better or worse, he was her captain again, and it was time to start acting like it. "Permission to come aboard, ma'am," he said to Bosun's Mate zh'Ral as he crossed the threshold. "Permission granted, sir," the Andorian replied. "Welcome back, Captain." "Thank you, Crewman," Kirk said, appreciating the informal addendum. Indeed, he did feel welcomed. Something about the air, the gravity, the ambience of the ship, as standardized as it all was, just felt more right than the starbase had, more like home. Now all Kirk had to do was prove himself worthy of that welcome. He needed a mission. This was supposed to be a working shakedown, after all. The fleet was stretched dangerously thin these days, still recovering from the losses sustained in the past several years -- Constellation, Intrepid, Excalibur, Defiant, Zheng He, the entire crews of Exeter and Sphinx and Ashoka, too many others. This had led to the preposterous situation of Earth being left defenseless save for one unready heavy cruiser and a smattering of light cruisers too weak to make a difference. (Well, that and a state-of-the-art planetary defense grid, which V'Ger had switched off like a light panel after extracting its highly encrypted specs from Enterprise's computer in a matter of seconds.) Now, in the wake of their close call, the Federation Council was finally heeding Admiral Nogura's calls for more resources. Enterprise was certain to be put to real use before long, testing her untried systems in action, in what would no doubt be a long and interesting (in the Chinese sense) process of discovery. Klingons attacking from without, systems blowing up from within...that was just what he needed, Kirk thought wryly, to take his mind off his self-pity. As he neared the turbolift, he saw his first officer emerge. "Mr. Spock!" Spock nodded. "Captain." "Were you coming to find me" An eyebrow lifted, and Kirk reflected on how much he'd missed the sight. "No, sir. I was...going for a walk." Kirk stared at him. "Not another spacewalk, I trust" Spock reacted with a slight but genuine smile -- a sight Kirk was still trying to get used to. "No, I have had my fill of those for now." He paused. "I...have had difficulty meditating since my meld with V'Ger. I recalled that my mother frequently enjoys taking walks around the city -- generally at night, when the temperatures are more amenable to a human -- in order to, as she puts it, spend some time with her thoughts. To me, the concept of walking with no specific destination or exercise goal in mind always seemed illogical. But Amanda believes it helps her to focus her mind. She told me once that she tends to associate a given thought with a given place, so that any single place can grow 'cluttered' with thoughts, making it difficult to sort among them. Walking apparently allows her to...distribute them more effectively. Or so she has always claimed." Kirk smiled. "It doesn't sound very logical, does it" Spock tilted his head thoughtfully. "In fact, humanoid brain function is largely an associative process, so there is merit to the idea. However, I will grant that I have become more open to...unorthodox ideas of late." Kirk harrumphed. "Sir" "Oh...nothing." "Very well." "It's just that...Bones and I spent five years trying to get you to explore your human spent decades of your life immersed in human culture...yet despite all that, what finally got you to open up was a two-minute mind-meld with the galaxy's biggest computer!" Spock looked at him with bemusement -- or was it amusement "I just feel a bit...slighted. On behalf of the human species, that is." "I see," Spock said dubiously. "Well...if it's any consolation, Jim, the original Voyager 6 probe was built by humans." Kirk threw him a long-suffering look, but it soon turned into a smile. There in Spock's eyes was that puckish humor Kirk had always believed he'd seen there in the past, but now it was no longer as veiled, as regulated, as once it had been. All joking aside, that meld had changed him, and so far Kirk liked the results. "Go on with your walk, Mr. Spock. But try not to leave too many stray thoughts lying around in the corridors. They aren't as wide as they used to be," he added, rapping on the angled, metallic bulkhead. Spock definitely smiled this time. "Yes, sir," he said, and turned away. As the Vulcan strolled -- yes, strolled -- around the bend, Kirk was certain he heard a chuckle. He shook his head. This will take some getting used to, he thought as he called the lift. Although he was intrigued to see where Spock's journey would take him, he found he somewhat missed the old, deadpan Spock who always pretended not to get the joke. Spock paused to gather himself before the chuckles got out of control. Succumbing to humor was a pleasant sensation, but right now he needed to find his focus. (And it hadn't been that funny anyway.) That was the paradox: his recent epiphany about the necessity of emotion had given him much to think about, but his emotions made it difficult for him to think. And that tended to bring annoyance, which made matters worse and threatened to set off an escalating cycle. That was the real reason he had "gone for a walk" -- sitting in his quarters, fruitlessly attempting to meditate, had been an exercise in frustration, and he had simply felt an overwhelming urge to exert himself physically, presumably a manifestation of the instinctive fight-or-flight reaction. Since there was nothing in his utilitarian quarters to fight against, and since he hadn't wished to explain a roomful of smashed furniture to the quartermaster, he had chosen flight, or at least movement. Only once he was out in the corridors, his legs carrying him aimlessly forward, had he remembered his mother's long meandering walks, and the benefits they seemed to bring her. Spock's continued difficulty with impulse control was a matter of concern to him. At first, he had been able to attribute it to the neurological trauma he had sustained when the contents of V'Ger's cosmos-spanning memory banks had flooded his brain. Indeed, many times over the past ten days, he had been tempted to conclude that his new emotionalism was solely the result of impairment to his mesiofrontal cortex, and that once he was fully healed he could return to his old, strictly logical ways. But he knew that would be an act of self-deception. He had seen the barrenness of a life ruled solely by logic. V'Ger had journeyed across gigaparsecs of space and millennia of time (for the singularity which had hurled it across space had also sent it well into the past), amassing unprecedented amounts of knowledge about the workings of this universe while searching through thousands of galaxies for its point of origin. Yet even with all that knowledge, it remained completely empty and unfulfilled. With no emotion at all, there was no motivation, no sense of purpose or meaning to existence. In retrospect, this should not have come as such a surprise. Vulcan neurologists had learned millennia ago that even the most logical, abstract decisions engaged the emotional centers of the humanoid brain, with the more sensible or correct option being selected because it felt more right. Yet Vulcan philosophers shied away from confronting the ramifications of this fact. Spock saw now that to do so was itself illogical. And it would be just as illogical for him to deny the knowledge he had gained simply because it failed to conform to his prejudices. Besides, by now his brain function should have returned to normal, so he could no longer use it as an excuse. That recognition alone, however, did not solve his control problem, nor did it explain his inability to meditate. At least the change of scenery had helped to ease the clutter in Spock's mind. But it couldn't take the place of meditation. There was too much sensory input, as passing crew members greeted him, as conversational echoes from side corridors reached his sensitive ears, as the scents of over a dozen different species asserted themselves to his olfactory receptors. All it did was to take his mind off the questions he sought to meditate on; it brought him no closer to finding answers. And even without the sensory interference, it was growing harder and harder to sense the Voyager, as he had come to think of the entity which had emerged from the fusion of V'Ger, Decker, and the Deltan navigator Ilia. From the moment of its emergence, Spock had no longer felt the same telepathic rapport he'd somehow achieved with V'Ger -- an awareness that many other telepaths across known space had reported experiencing as well, though only Spock had been in a position to use it constructively. According to the news feeds, those telepaths had felt an overwhelming surge at the moment of the transformation, and then nothing more, as though the entity had either moved beyond their sensory range or transformed beyond their ability to detect. But Spock had retained some lingering awareness, an aftereffect of his direct contact with V'Ger's mind. He knew that the Voyager had gained the sense of purpose V'Ger sought, that it felt a newfound freedom and was suffused with passionate curiosity. More: the Voyager was no longer alone. Even greater than the freedom to intuit new levels of existence, it had learned, was the joy of having someone to share its knowledge with, to share itself with. Although the Voyager was a unified being, Spock could still recognize the facets that made it up. V'Ger was still the core, the power and purpose of the whole, still driven by an overriding urge to learn all that was learnable, yet now finally able to understand the human curiosity that had inspired that programming, and able to gain fulfillment from its fruits. Decker was there, suffusing the Voyager with awe and wonder, giving it the imagination it needed to find new realms, yet tempering it with a sense of caution and discipline, keeping the newborn entity from becoming too reckless on its ventures into the unknown. And Ilia was there too, a quieter voice, less of a driving force, yet in some ways serving the most crucial role of all. Her experience with Deltan mating practices gave her insight into the sharing of minds and made her the linchpin of this far more intimate joining. While Decker gave it the impulse to quest outward and seek out new realms of existence, Ilia gave it the instinct to know itself, and to love the selves that made it up. Spock sensed that the Voyager was exploring realms that made four-dimensional spacetime seem flat and claustrophobic, sensing and seeking contact with other minds that resided within those realms, but the experiences were too far outside Spock's referential frame for him to comprehend. And he sensed that the Voyager was growing, searching through its memory for the countless sentient beings which V'Ger had absorbed -- all of their minds digitally preserved as perfectly as Ilia's had been, but not recognized as consciousnesses until now -- and methodically incorporating them all into the composite mind, allowing them to live again, perhaps forever, as parts of its growing gestalt. Many might consider this a reasonable approximation of an afterlife. Spock didn't know, however, never having given much thought to the question. Spock's own rapport with the Voyager was swiftly fading as it evolved further and further away from the mind he'd melded with. He regretted this; on some elementary levels, the Voyager's journey of discovery paralleled Spock's own -- they were both logical beings who had recognized that logic was not enough and had achieved a new unity with an emotional half. Spock had hoped that an ongoing rapport with the Voyager would bring him guidance on his own journey. But it seemed he would soon be entirely on his own. Spock registered that his meanderings had somehow brought him down to Deck 7, right outside sickbay. He lifted a brow, wondering if his walk had been as directionless as he'd thought. Fascinating, to be guided by motives he hadn't consciously reasoned out. No, correction: he had always had those motives; he just hadn't admitted it to himself before. Vulcan thought, he was coming to understand, was not wholly rational so much as wholly rationalized. But Spock judged his subconscious impulse, if such it had been, to have merit. Perhaps a medical consultation would be beneficial. Perhaps there was some physical factor he was overlooking. On entering the medical lab, he found it empty, but he could see Doctors McCoy and Chapel through the window of the CMO's office, and their voices carried plainly through the open door. "Are you sure the damn thing is calibrated now" "I supervised the installation myself, Leonard. I think I know what I'm talking about!" "Well, then according to this thing, the whole crew is currently dying of hypothermia!" "Let me see that....Oh, Leonard, you're reading it wrong! Are you still thinking in Fabrini units" "Damn...I knew I spent too much time on that blasted backwater. Okay, how do I select between channels again" "Just read the menus, all right I have rounds to do." "Don't leave me here alone with this monstrosity, Christine! I didn't sign up for this kind of torture." "You're the one who always says a little suffering's good for the soul." "I never say that." "Well, one of us does, so you're getting no sympathy from me. Honestly, you're as bad a pupil as you are a patient." "Damn straight." Spock considered leaving before Chapel registered his presence, but it was already too late. "Mr. Spock!" the doctor said as she stood in the doorway. "Doctor." After an awkward pause, she steeled herself and spoke. "I haven't seen much of you lately. I think you've been avoiding me." At his uncomfortable silence, she smiled. "Not that I blame you. The way I used to carry on over you, it's no wonder you'd think I'd see this as my big moment, now that you've...well, you know." "Yes...I am aware of the circumstances." "Well, you don't have to worry, Mr. Spock. I've long since gotten over that silly little crush. I finally realized I wasn't doing myself any good, constantly falling for distant, undemonstrative men." Spock looked at her warily. "But I am no longer...entirely undemonstrative." Chapel pursed her lips. "No, I suppose that's true. But I still have a lot of questions to answer before you're even ready to consider romance. If you don't mind my saying so." "No." In fact, he was quite relieved to hear it. There was another uneasy pause. "Well! Anyway, I have my rounds to get to. I'll see you around, Mr. Spock." He inclined his head. "Doctor." Chapel departed, perhaps a bit more hastily than was consistent with her breezy manner, and Spock approached the office. But he winced as McCoy cried out again. "Chris! The damn thing says this crewman is breathing fluorine!" "That must be one of the Zaranites!" came Chapel's voice from around the corner. "You mean to tell me there's actually a species that breathes fluorine!" "In fact," Spock interposed, "the Zaranites' main respiratory gas is oxygen. But there are abundant microbes on Zaranai that metabolize fluorides and release fluorine gas as a waste product. Since fluorine is highly reactive, it does not remain in the atmosphere for long, but the trace amounts that are available play an important supplementary role in the Zaranite metabolism, much as trace minerals do in yours or mine. Each of our Zaranite crew members' breathing tanks contains a colony of these fluorogenic microbes and -- " "Spock!" McCoy interrupted. "For someone who's supposedly learned to understand emotion, you still seem to have an inordinately hard time telling when you're irritating someone!" Spock threw him an innocent look. "Since irritation is your normative state, Dr. McCoy, it can be difficult to distinguish the individual causes." "Well, whenever you're around, Spock, there's no need to look very far." He harrumphed. "Though right now this blasted perscan unit's just as annoying. Whose brilliant idea was it to put medical monitors in everyone's belt buckles Just gives people one more excuse not to go see their doctor. 'Oh, they're monitoring me anyway, they'll just tell me if anything's wrong.' Just one more layer of technology getting in the way. Medicine isn't about scans and readings, it's about talking to a patient, looking him in the eye, listening to his voice. It's about being kind and reassuring, goddammit!" McCoy snarled. Spock unleashed an eyebrow at the irony, but the doctor either missed or ignored it. "Not to mention how much I hate the idea of everyone's confidential medical information getting broadcast all over the ship." "In fact, Doctor, the perscan units are passive, requiring the unit here in sickbay to scan them remotely, out of just such privacy con -- " He broke off at McCoy's glare. "I still don't like it. It's Orwellian medicine. It's convenience and efficiency overriding human needs, and I'm gonna raise the biggest stink I can to get them left out of the next uniform design." He pulled at his collar. "Blasted quartermasters can't make up their minds anyway -- we'll probably have new uniforms in another six months. Well, maybe for once they'll design something that doesn't look like a pair of pajamas." "Indeed," Spock said. "If you have such difficulty telling the difference, it would explain why your uniform so often appears to have been slept in." "Did you just come here to insult me, or did you have a reason" Spock took a breath. "I am still having difficulty meditating." McCoy sighed. "Now, Spock, you know we've ruled out a physiological reason for that." "A neurological reason, yes. But perhaps there is some other factor involved. A hormonal imbalance, perhaps." "Hm." McCoy leaned back in his seat and fixed a piercing gaze on Spock. "Have you considered that there may be a psychological reason Something you can't get off your mind" "That is generally what meditation is for -- to clear one's mind, or to deal with an individual problem in a focused way, without the distraction of other thoughts. If simply having something on my mind interfered with meditation, there would be no point to meditation." McCoy harrumphed again. "Then maybe there's something you're not thinking about that you should. Something that's bothering you in the back of your mind, but that you're avoiding facing directly. So no matter how clear your conscious mind may be, your subconscious is still riled." "I do not see how that could be," Spock said, furrowing his brow. "Lately I have made a point of confronting ideas and issues I have avoided in the past. I have been in the process of reevaluating all of my beliefs." "All while I've been doing my level best not to gloat too much," McCoy interposed. Spock's look showed what he thought of that. "You may wish to reserve your gloating, Doctor. I have not yet reached my conclusions. There is still much of merit in the body of Vulcan thought. And even if I have chosen to accept my emotions, they are still Vulcan emotions, not human. I cannot assume that the human path is valid for me." McCoy quirked one of his own brows. "Then maybe you should be talking to Dr. Onami. She's the new xenopsychologist. If anyone understands anything about Vulcan emotions," and he shook his head at the phrase, "it's more likely to be her than me." Spock frowned. "I am...uneasy with that suggestion. As you know, I am a private man. Even though Dr. Onami is no doubt quite skilled, I would prefer not to share these matters with a stranger." Spock could see in McCoy's eyes what it meant to him to be counted among those Spock trusted enough to confide in. Still, evidently he couldn't resist teasing. "Turning down the help of the most qualified person That's not very logical, is it" " is not." McCoy grimaced. "Ahh, you're no fun anymore." He leaned back, thinking. "Well, there's always family. Sometimes they'll listen when nobody else will." Spock just stared. "Oh. Yeah, right. If Sarek practically disowned you for choosing your own career, I can just imagine how he reacted to your coming out of the closet." "'Closet,' Doctor" "Never mind." "In any case, I have not yet told Sarek or Amanda of my...recent insights." Leaning forward again, McCoy said, "Well, maybe that's it right there. Maybe you're shying away from taking that step, and that's what's keepin' your subconscious all hot and bothered." "On the contrary, Doctor -- I have been consciously examining the question every day since my epiphany occurred. If I have not yet taken the step of notifying my family, it is because I have not yet determined what it is I am to notify them of -- since I have not yet determined where my new path is leading." "Then I don't know what to tell you, Mr. Spock." The doctor sighed and shook his head, poking at the perscan display on his desk again. "Hell, right now I don't know what to tell anyone. I'm just an old hermit who got himself yanked back into civilization against his will. I'm still struggling to get caught up with all the changes around here. Chapel's an M.D., you're a born-again...whatever, Chekov's gone from eager young space cadet to gung-ho security chief, the crew's half-made up of species I can hardly even pronounce, let alone know how to treat, I can't even find the bathrooms on this new ship yet -- and don't try to tell me, I see that look, you should know a figure of speech by now." Spock studied him. "Is there something on your mind, Dr. McCoy" "Ahh, don't mind me, I'm just tired. Maybe we both are. Tell you what, instead of worryin' about meditation, you just try gettin' a good night's sleep. Can't overstate the importance of simply bein' rested." He sighed. "Back home in my cabin, that was restful. Middle of the Appalachians, nothin' but nature for miles around, a secluded little fishin' hole...Be there now if Jim hadn't drafted me. I still can't figure out how Nogura's boys even found me...." Spock saw that McCoy would be of no more help to him today. "Very well, Doctor," he said, rising. "I shall take your advice...and recommend that you do the same." "Most sensible thing you've said -- well, ever. Pleasant dreams, Spock." Spock's lips twisted in irony. "We shall see." Security Minister Tasari was frowning as he entered Natira's hospital room. That in itself told her little, since it was his preferred expression. But usually it was less pronounced, just a general look of watchfulness or concern; with his rounded, unimpressive features, he sometimes looked to her like a small boy straining to follow a mathematics lesson. Now, though it never varied by any great amount, his frown seemed deeper than usual. "Governess," he said in his flat, unpolished voice, "I regret to inform you that there has been another attack. A dissident attempted to smuggle an explosive device into the Federation consulate. Our guards became suspicious and attempted to search his robes. He detonated the device, taking two of my troops with him." Natira was aghast. "He killed himself" Tasari simply nodded. "Incredible. They are truly mad." She shook herself. "The violence grows worse by the day. Tell me, Tasari, have you made any progress at all in your investigations" "Very little, Governess. The explosives are apparently fertilizer-based, an easily made compound, often used by farmers to clear rocks and stumps. It would have been easy for anyone to obtain access." "I see. Tell me, what of the boy you detained Did he have any knowledge of the planned attack on my person" "None that we were able to extract before..." Her gaze sharpened. "Before what" "My lady, the boy...attempted escape. There was an...incident with a stairwell....He is dead." Natira closed her eyes. However much the upstart youth had humiliated her, she hadn't believed him truly criminal, simply misguided. Perhaps his flight indicated guilt, but that didn't feel right somehow. "So much death...all in the name of an ancient fraud." Tasari took a step closer. "My lady...perhaps we should not be so squeamish about death. The Oracle dealt it out when it needed to, and order was well maintained." "That was the way of the Oracle," she snapped. "The way of the past, of our enslavement. We are building a modern world here, and we will not sink to the Oracle's barbarism. Ours is the way of enlightenment, the way of the Federation." "Yes, Governess," Tasari said, not seeming convinced. But Tasari was not a thinker. He did what he was told. He had served her when she had served the Oracle's madness, and now he served her as she strove to undo it. As long as she remained committed to the true way, he would follow obediently. Perhaps that is the problem, she realized. A man like Tasari could provide the stalwart strength and discipline to preserve the peace, but not the inspiration needed to find new solutions. She needed inspiration. And with that, Natira thought back to the one man in her life who had truly inspired her -- and his friends who had saved her world once before. Perhaps they could help her save it again. Copyright 2005 by Paramount Pictures. 153554b96e


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