DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of M. L. "Steve" Barnes and is copyright (c) 1979 by M. L. "Steve" Barnes. This story is Rated PG-13.

Against the Fall of Darkness

M. L. "Steve" Barnes

The two old men sat side by side watching the approach of evening. For them it was always twilight now. There were no new dreams to send the blood surging in youthful veins, no new days that could be allowed to slip heedlessly by no matter what the cast. Each day was precious to them, each night had become a question; would tomorrow come for them?

They had served proudly, they wore the uniform still. Or they wore what the service issued its retirees as a uniform. Child's bib and tucker one of them had called it. But the emblem was on the chest and it lent some semblance of dignity to their lives.

Automated wheelchairs were the vehicles that now conveyed their once active bodies. Active minds were prone to decay, also, as was the case with a third man who was nearby. He sat, sunken and silent to their right. They had tried on numerous occasions to strike up a conversation with him; he would have none of it. He had been a Star Fleet captain. He looked on them as subalterns and he kept them in their places.

Now across the grass of this fantastically beautiful planet came a slow, lean figure. He was stooped with age, but upright in his manner.

The old man's blurred vision was sharp enough to make out the stranger's features. They knew him by now. He was a frequent visitor, but he did not come to see them.

"Here he comes," one of them murmured. "Punctual as always. The faithful watchdog come to see his Captain."

"Strange how he serves him still," the other mused. "It is said they were closer than most."

"He never seems to get any older. He's been coming here for the three years the other's been here and he looks exactly as he did then. Some whisper that he found a fountain of youth and drank of it. That's why he never ages; he's immortal."

"Nonsense! He's half Vulcan. Vulcans live longer than we do."

* * *

Time had changed each of the faces that now looked at one another. One had lost some of its remoteness, had softened into gentler lines. The other one, that of the Captain, had assumed harsher lines, the once friendly face dragged down at the edges, bitter somehow and resentful.

Bleared eyes looked up into clear ones and saw... Pity? Compassion? Or perhaps it was the shadow of what had once been.

"See you're still as spry as ever, Spock," the seated man grumbled. "You'll live forever, you blasted half-breed. Of all the disloyal things you could ever do to me, outliving me will be the worst." Old eyes glared out in fiery heat. "Sometimes I think I hate you for it."

"Captain," the tall man's voice was resigned, accepting. "Jim."

As always the name brought him back. Unsteady hands made a deprecating gesture, waved the mood away.

"Glad you're here, Spock. Know you care. You're the only one left who does..." A pause, a rasping breath exhaled in puffs of three. "What is there in the Star Fleet News you can read me today?"

The tall one, stiff but not ungraceful, stooped to sit on a low bench near at hand. He drew a tape from his tunic, a small hand viewer, and began to study the news.

"Chekov is an Admiral now, Captain," he reported at last. "Fat and full of years. He is assigned to Altair Base Three."

"Bet he keeps the yeomen afraid to turn their backsides!" A hearty knee slap, a laugh that turned abruptly into a cough. There was a pause as the old man caught his breath. "Go on."

"Uhura has accepted her third term as ambassador to Vitnor. She has pointed out that her health is not as robust as in previous years, but they still insisted she is the one for the job."

The old fellow nodded gravely. "They're right," he agreed. "She is. Superior mind, that woman." A sly smile stole over the wrinkled features. "Superior body, too, hey, Spock?"

There was no response from his companion. He appeared intent on scanning the tape. "Here's an article about the Enterprise III, Captain." His face had fallen into graver lines, a closed look crossed it.

"Yes, yes... Go on, Spock. She's my baby, you know. Selected her original crew, outfitted her myself. My last official act. As long as she's out there, I know a piece of me is still alive at least. Go on, go on, you damned jackrabbit! Read what it says!"

"It says..." the voice trembled as if from age. The Captain failed to notice and the other hurried on, "that the Enterprise III has been selected to carry the Federation officials to the annual conference on Rigel Four. Quite an honor."

"I knew she was a stout ship when I rigged her. Yes, sir, Spock, I know how to pick 'em, know the solid feel of a good ship when I find it." There was a reflective pause. "Too bad I wasn't as good a judge of men. I would be an Admiral now, instead of still a Captain." The trembling fist struck a blow on the wheelchair arm. "Damn Kevin Mathews for a fool! I knew that warp would hold long enough for them to get out! If only he'd listened to me four men would be alive today..." The voice trailed off. Then he resumed. "My fault, of course. He volunteered but I should have gone myself. Wanted to give him a chance to prove himself the man his father was. Damn fool. Never lived to see me proved right." The old man's head sunk down on his chest, silence fell between them.

"Captain? Jim?"

The unsteady head lifted, anger glanced from the rheumy eyes. "Go on, get out, Spock! You might as well go, along with the rest of them. Go on, leave me behind, get on with your life!"

There was only the sound of the evening wind as it fingered the leaves on the silver trees.

"In all our years together," the tall one said finally, "you never left me behind. I can recall a time on Vulcan... And again with the amoeba creature."

The wrinkled face turned abruptly away. "That was different."

"Was it?"

There was a sudden brightness in the old eyes, but the man in the wheelchair brought himself under control immediately; the telltale sheen vanished from the hazel eyes. His face began to sag, the eyelids droop. "I'm tired, old friend," he said softly. "I want to rest. Soon I *will* rest."

"Both of us, Captain."

The two pairs of eyes met and locked. The matter remained unstated but final between them. The man in the wheelchair nodded slowly at last as if resigned. Then he waved a hand. "Leave me now. I'll see you next week ... if I'm still alive."

The taller man rose, bent his head in agreement. "Good-bye, Captain."

"Good-bye, Spock. See that you're on time next week. I want to hear more about the Enterprise III."

* * *

The two old cronies sitting nearby had heard every word. As the Captain's nurse came to wheel him inside for the night, one turned to the other.

"What does all that gibbarish about the Enterprise mean? Every week it is the same -- the Vulcan reads the tape and the Captain pretends to listen. Are they crazy? Everyone knows the Enterprise III was lost over two years ago with all hands aboard. I can't understand why the Vulcan comes here and lies to Kirk each week."

His friend watched the tall, lonely figure walk slowly away from them. The Vulcan's head was bent but something in his carriage attested to his steadfast spirit.

"Can't you, Albie?" the companion replied. "I think I can."

They fell silent and watched the twin suns fall into the darkened horizon. Each was suddenly glad he had the other at his side and each wondered if tomorrow would see both of them there to greet it. But the words remained unspoken between them; it was enough for an old man to have tonight.