Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1977 by Ingrid Cross. Originally published in Fantasia #2, Jean Kluge, editor. Rated PG.

By The Waters of Babylon

Ingrid Cross

By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept,

Remembering thee."

- Swinburne

* * *

He was alone at last. He had escaped from McCoy's mothering, Spock's concerned, unnerving presence and the sympathy of the crew's eyes. Among the tall pines with their airy gossip and the small animals, Jim Kirk stood ... blessedly alone.

From some far off point, grief tugged at the borders of his mind. He had been aware of McCoy's tight-lipped, professional scrutiny aboard the Enterprise, and he had felt Spock's empathy. And for once he had ignored his friends. He didn't care for whatever help they offered.

He didn't want Bones' brandy-therapy sessions; neither did he want Spock's kind of healing. Alcohol or Vulcan couldn't heal the wound. I was human, it was real.

It was his.

Kirk scuffed the mound of dirt by his toes. It seemed that the very earth shouted to him, jeered him, bragged of its precious possession! Miramanee.

He didn't exactly like this pain, the tight knot deep within his chest. But somehow it seemed fitting; he had had a few months of worry-free joy, with little or no responsibilities. He had been a man without a title; with no executive label on his forehead. And he had loved.

All of this he could accept intellectually, reason responsibility of pain into the visceral aspect of his personality. And he could comprehend now the absence of medical data in someone he loved; the notion that so many pounds of valuable human flesh lay cold and rotting scant meters below his boots. But it was difficult to connect pictures and memories with recent images edged in black.

Jim willed his mind to think ... tentatively marshaled stray ideas into orderly patterns. But for the time, he simply could not bring himself to care about his duties, his responsibilities, his life. Whatever powers of logical reasoning he possessed was drained from his soul.

He wanted to blame himself for her death. It would be comparatively easy to fix the flame on that younger man who had stood beside a lake and admired the serenity of a simpler existence. But the older man, the one who had lived through a bitter loss, that man felt he was being punished for some long-forgotten careless deed. And he began to accept the guilt; perhaps this was judgment meted out in vengeance for the lives lost in the game of "Command Decision". Maybe some bitter force kept score for him and he had rolled the dice wrong, gambled far too expensively ... and lost everything that could ever matter in one sweeping motion. Perhaps he had finally jeopardized his omnipresent winning streak.

The pain swelled, grabbed his throat and twisted savagely. Not now, he begged. I cannot afford to lose control. If I do, I'll ...

I'll what?

The question froze his stomach. How many times had he told himself that; forced his emotions aside until a more "convenient" time? He knew why he did it; long years of shuttling back and forth to different Federation colonies with his family, being the oldest child with the most responsibilities for younger siblings, the instilled sense that one must be strong - that he was of the rare breed which could command and survive in the toughest climates.

And then, after several years of taking orders from others, when he had his first captaincy ... he had continued to push his feelings aside. And they had piled higher and higher, and now they confronted him. Did he do it because deaths occurred most often during red alerts ... amid distracting, flashing lights and echoing siren wails? Was it that death had become commonplace, far too ordinary? Had he lost all pretense of sensitivity to non-existence?

Had he come to the point where he stood on another strange planet, beside a fresh grave, and didn't care about the body inside it? Could he say that about the child-woman whose body had promised a reward for his virility?

No!

Look at the way it is, he chided himself fiercely. I can't let go now or ever for this woman who never really belonged in my world in the first place. My life is up there somewhere ... in a ship embodying the exultation of man's mechanical conquest in the last virgin frontier. No matter how scrambled my thoughts may have been before, I know now that I don't belong here. I am a nomad - not a tree with permanent roots.

The moment ripe for tears had passed ... the crisis was avoided once more. He threw his head back and let the alien sun bathe his face. Somehow he felt better now, almost as though he had indulged in crying. The memories, though. The knew they could not be exorcized completely. Maybe that was fitting; perhaps they were to be the price for something rare and beautiful he had enjoyed for a while.

The newly-turned dirt no longer evoked distorted inner accusations. That was behind him. Still, he allowed himself the final lust for what might have been, if only...

If only he had never been here, if circumstances had been different ... but they weren't, and he could hardly regret that forever. Before the mask was carefully replaced, a wisp of memory brushed his inner ear: laughter-echoes in the woods, gentle smiles, butterfly-kisses.

And James T. Kirk straightened, pulled the green shirt back into place and tugged the communicator from its belt.

"Kirk to Enterprise."

"Captain?"

"Lieutenant Uhura, tell the transporter room I'm prepared to beam up."

"Aye, Captain."

And as he waited for familiar surroundings to claim him, he murmured, "The sailor's wife the sailor's star shall be..."

THE END