Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1976 by Gerry Downes. Originally published in Stardate Unknown #2, Gerry Downes editor. Rated PG.

 

One Last Time

Gerry Downes

 

Time -- the thief of life --

has done it's job too well;

I am older now,

you are still young.

Still straight and tall and strong

as back when I first met you.

Many are the years we've seen together.

And as I approach

the end of mine

I find that I regret

this couldn't have lasted just a little while longer.

I should probably resent it --

You've so much farther

yet to go.

Somehow I only wish --

I could be with you.

 

One Last Time

 

* * *

 

Well, he'd done it again, but this was the last time, Jim promised himself. He'd lost his temper, third time this week, and heaped abuse on Spock, letting all the frustrations of the years pour out, onto the one man who didn't deserve any of it.

 

And Spock's face had settled uncomplainingly into the emotionless mask he'd worn more and more often this past year, the one Kirk knew he used to hide behind whenever he was really hurt. He knew the man well enough by now to read him, and what he'd seen lately had hurt him, too; he felt guilty, and angry because of it, and frustrated, and dammit, just plain OLD. And he'd been taking it out on Spock, and Spock had let him.

 

One good thing had come from this morning's fiasco -- he'd finally found the courage to make the final decision. And once he'd started, it had been so easy. His call to Spaceport Central had gone right through some people still knew the name James T. Kirk -- purchasing the Learstar had taken all of 30 seconds, and now he was almost finished packing just one case, he'd never traveled with a lot of possessions. A few changes of clothes, his medals -- what he had most valued in life, his real treasures, were only memories now -- the people, the men and women he'd lived and worked with and known, and loved.

 

Life had been so beautiful once, when had it started to slip away, leaving him empty like he was now? If he had to name one moment that was the beginning, he would have to say it was McCoy's accident. What a useless, stupid way to die, and not the way Bones would have chosen. No, he should have been saving lives or doing research, and caught some fatal disease he'd been working to cure. Transporter malfunction. Ironic! Poor Bones. Maybe he'd always known that machine would do him in someday.

 

He'd stayed on another year after that, but it wasn't the same. Too many familiar places that echoed empty now without the Doctor's presence. Spock probably felt it even more than he did.

 

There had been lots of offers, the diplomatic service, Federation Council Advisor -- it certainly wasn't quite like putting an old war horse out to pasture. He'd decided on the Academy, Starfleet was probably the only place he really belonged, and a full professorship was plenty to keep him busy. Spock had gone back to Vulcan, and taken up the brilliant research career he had never really left, and life went on, as it always does, and he got older.

 

It hadn't really bothered him at first, all those eager young minds, soaking up his wisdom. They seemed to catch on awfully fast these days, but he could still hold his audience. In class, they were his, and he and they both knew it.

 

There had been a young lieutenant, communications he thought it was, cross training for command. She'd spent a lot of time around him, auditing his lectures and dropping by after class. He'd felt a little foolish, but finally he asked her out. She'd turned him down of course, perhaps that had been her intention all along -- to make him ask so she could say no -- and he'd seen her later, with some man in full commander's stripes who didn't look old enough to be away from the home planet yet.

 

Maybe that was when he'd started to exist instead of live.

 

Spock had sent him tapes every week since they'd separated, long technical discourses on the progress of his research. Jim smiled to himself at the memory. It had taken him a month to understand the mathematics of the first one and put together an intelligent reply. After that he gave up and just scanned them, sending back a comment or two so Spock would know he was interested, and letting his own tapes be mainly personal in content. He knew Spock wouldn't mind, and maybe he even preferred it that way.

 

At any rate, it wasn't long after he'd started sliding down that he'd gotten a personal message from Spock. He was taking a sabbatical, would Jim like to join him at ShiKahr for a while? He caught a hop on the "Star of Moscow" the next day, and even now, he could honestly say he hadn't been sorry.

 

For Vulcan was peace. Most humans would have thought him crazy, but he knew these people well enough to feel right at home. And there was companionship, and visitors, mostly social fallout from Spock's career, but always some who stopped by to discuss things with him -- old decisions and moral dilemmas that in their minds had happened only yesterday and so were still important.

 

Even the high gravity and the heat weren't too bothersome. Well, his knee still acted up after tromping around the desert all day and the twinges in his shoulder had worsened, but his mind had been refreshed and young again until the day Spock handed him the message about Montgomery Scott.

 

He'd been expecting it; after all, Scotty had better than a dozen years on him. But it was still a loss, and a reminder of his own stage in life.

 

Spock had produced a liter of Aldebaran Scolii from somewhere. He dusted it off, and they sat up most of the night, Spock matching him glass for glass. He didn't remember passing out, but Spock must have helped him to bed, because he woke up later in his own room. And Spock was sleeping in the chair in the corner.

 

There was a kind of unspoken agreement between them after that. Spock saw to it that he was never left completely alone for very long. It took another two months to get the field density research to the point where he could turn it over to Sarek's team, and then close down the family home. They packed and came here to Earth.

 

Jim's mother had left him a small place outside of Montreal in Canamerica -- it had been winter when they arrived, ice and wind and snow allover. Quite a shock after Vulcan's heat, but Spock never said a word of complaint, just pitched right in and helped him get the place livable. The cabin was really old-fashioned, and hard to heat, but somehow after all the slick metal surfaces and plasticene he'd known, it seemed more natural to live like this.

 

Oh, it wasn't completely primitive -- they even had a sub-space recorder tie-in -- Spock was on it at least 4 hours a day, and there were always several tapes in the mail -- mostly research journals -- and the food preparation was all automatic. But there was a fireplace, and wood to cut, and water to carry from the spring out back after he chopped the ice loose. It was the right blend of modern and primitive, but still -- it hadn't been enough.

 

Ah, James. He looked in the mirror; he could have seen it long ago, if he had only wanted to see it. He was still fit, maybe a little softer but command training had kept him strong for his age and still handsome in a way what was the expression? -- oh, yes, his face had character. That's what those lines and all that gray hair gave him, character.

 

There was gray on Spock, too, just a little at the temples. But he was still as straight and lean as he had been 50 years ago -- my god, half a century. It had gone by so fast, he'd hardly noticed. Life had been good, he'd had his choices for the most part, and there were no real regrets. Just that he had almost spoiled it all by trying to hold on too long.

 

Well, he'd finally taken care of that. He closed the case with a snap and turned. Spock was standing in the doorway.

 

"Jim .... I would like to apologize for this morning..."

 

"It was my fault, Spock." He smiled a little, trying to find the right words, if there were any right words. "It's just not working out back here like I thought it would. You're cut off from everything you should be doing, and I'm... well, I' m…"

 

He tried again. "I got a message from Peter while you were out. His youngest boy just joined Starfleet and I guess Carolyn's kind of lonely with an empty house. Anyway, they wanted me to come for a visit, and I've accepted." His voice was velvet when he lied.

 

"The next shuttle to Centauri is at least 5 solar days from now." Spock glanced significantly at Kirk's suitcase.

 

Jim shrugged. "I took the rest of my pension in a lump sum and bought private transport. What's that old saying? --you can't take it with you?"

 

"Evidently you intend to try." There was no hint of reproof in Spock's even tone, but his eyes betrayed his concern.

 

The years he'd spent with Vulcans stood by Jim Kirk now. He put on the feelings he wanted to show and spoke casually, as if he was just going out for a walk. "I thought it would be nice to be in space again. I've still got a pilot's license; at warp 5 Centauri's an easy trip. Besides," he made his voice persuasive, "you've things to do on Vulcan ... How old are you?"

 

"102.3 standard years."

 

"And you're just getting started, Spock. Look at me -- no, really look. I'm old, Spock, OLD. My life is over. I'm all used up."

 

"Jim, the average human life expectancy is 9.7 years beyond your present age."

 

"I can't live 9 more years like this. Do you know what it's like for me, to see you throwing away your life, just to keep me company?" He laid his hand on Spock's arm. They'd touched so seldom this past year, he'd almost forgotten what it felt like.

 

"Face it, Spock, be logical." The word brought another faint smile to his mouth; he didn't feel like smiling. "We're not getting along down here. Take up your work again. I'll be all right."

 

"I understand the way you feel, Jim, but interstellar travel is safer with two..."

 

"I'd rather be alone. Please."

 

"The decision is yours, of course." Spock turned away and walked down the hall. His back was ramrod straight.

 

The flyer would be here in 5 minutes. Jim took a quick glance around the room in case he'd forgotten anything, then closed the door very softly and stepped outside to wait.

 

The air was cold out here; it would be winter again soon. A good time to be leaving. A blue and white roba-flyer dropped out of the sky and hovered a few feet in front of him. Right on time.

 

He put his hand on the door plate for identification and the wall irised obligingly. He tossed in his suitcase.

 

"Jim."

 

He had hoped there wouldn't be a goodbye scene. "Something, Spock?" He turned reluctantly to find dark eyes looking steadily, calmly, into his.

 

"On this planet, I believe a gift is customary when a friend is going on a long journey. Would you accept this, as a sign of the years we have seen together?"

 

Spock's phrasing had been formally correct and Jim Kirk replied in kind.

 

"You do me honor, and I accept." He bent his head a little and Spock slipped the chain around his neck. The IDIC's crystal caught the fading autumn sun and flashed a small rainbow between them.

 

He climbed quickly into the flyer, while he still standing, perfectly still, but holding out his hand. Jim took it, for just a second, then he let it drop ; that was all he could bear the contact.  In that moment he came very close to staying.

 

Then the door shut. He punched in the Spaceport code and leaned back in the chair, blinking back tears, shaking as the little craft bore him automatically away.

 

Spock stood and watched for a very long time, long after the flyer was lost to even his eyes. He was an alien again, alone on a cold wet planet where the flora was the color of blood. He was a man without emotions, he was crying, and he was not ashamed.

 

* * *

 

Jim leaned back in the padded pilot's chair and watched the bright dots on the viewscreen swim toward him. This was how the stars should look, steady, solid lights, not twinkling on and off with atmospheric distortion. Like this they were recognizable, substantial suns, giving life to countless planets, and sometimes giving death. He should have done this sooner.

 

Matt Decker had the right idea. Meet it head on, face it down. Anything was better than being old and useless. And what a pretty ship this was. Old, like her pilot, but still eager to sail the stars. Trim, compact, and every comfort and gadget imaginable.

 

Too bad he had to carry a full complement of supplies; it was a shame to waste all that food and medicine -- others could have used it, he wasn't going to need it. But he didn't dare leave any behind. He'd even filed his flight plan for Alpha Centauri, just in case someone started checking. He knew Spock wouldn't need to check.

 

Ah, well. Home to the stars. He had waited until he was well out of range of any patrols, then done a 157° turn and started heading out, away from the Federation and the Empire and everything else that made up this galaxy. He had set course for the barrier, and then busied himself over the next few days with sensor trackings and astrogation problems. How far to Earth? Centauri? Vulcan? The Neutral Zone? Of course the answers kept changing, and he kept recalculating, throwing in the course headings for other planets he'd known, just to keep it interesting. Gamma Hydra 4. He should have paid more attention to what happened there, then he might not have let things go this long. Well, live and learn.

 

How far away was Vulcan now? The figures slipped from his mind and he started over again. That happened to him a lot lately. Good thing he hadn't waited any longer. Funny how he had only to think of Spock to almost feel his presence. Should he have asked him to come along? No, Spock would never have permitted what he was going to do. Vulcan ethics. But it would have been nice to have a friend along.

 

And it wasn't suicide, exactly; he wasn't going to dive into a sun or anything like that. Just some basic research, to satisfy his curiosity. Question: Can an ancient re-conditioned Learstar transport and an over-the-hill pilot penetrate the galactic rim and survive? The probability of success… well, Spock could have told him exactly, but he was sure the odds were vanishingly small -- and survival was not his concern.

 

From habit, he kept his log current. He knew it was a little game he was playing, this pretending at normality. But the tapes might survive him, and the answer might keep some other fool from trying it. Unless he was an old fool.

 

The dials started spinning crazily and he glanced up at the screen again. The barrier was as beautiful as he remembered – all pink and shimmery, roiling in upon itself and so hypnotically inviting. Come dance with me awhile -- a siren's call, and the promise of all that emptiness beyond, just out of reach on the other side. How could something so continuous even have another side? For it was space and time curved over, keeping this island universe together. To leave it -- was man ever meant to leave it? Sure, why not?

 

Man, the adventurer. Man in all his human and not-human guises. The ever-striving intellect -- the insignificant blot upon the universal canvas. One final challenge, then I give up. But it's no disgrace to be beaten by energy like this. Ah, Spock, if you could only feel the glory of it with me.

 

He patted the control panel. But you and me, darling, we can see it. Not a tall ship, but fine, just fine, and all the stars that we could ever want, held fast inside this ring of light. Time to go. Swing on into it -- now. That's it, old girl, easy. Easy.

 

There was a sound like all creation ripping apart -- the ship hit the barrier. Sparks danced everywhere and the galaxy spun away. He kept working the controls. Switching to manual. Override. Cut in the impulse engine. Where's that coolant coming from? Choking -- atmospheric controls. Jammed. Damn it. He pounded on the relay and it clicked over.

 

He was still blacking out. You're too old for stuff like this, Jim boy. The trouble with going off to die ... the trouble was someone forgot to convince his reflexes. In spite of himself, he just might make it. His final fading thought as blackness claimed him -- I can't even do this right, Spock.

 

* * *

 

A long time later, he pushed himself to his hands and knees. The cabin interior was dim, still smoky, but clearing. His chest hurt abominably. Come to think of it, so did everything else. He must be alive. And the ship was still together.

 

So -- first things first. He shook his head to clear it. No, don't do that again. Let's see. Crawl up to the pilot's chair. That's it. Find out where you are, Jimmy boy. James T. Kirk. Starship Captain. What craziness are you up to now? Shut up, dammit, let me think.

 

Ship status. Always, ship status first. Save the ship. The Captain always saves the ship. Unless the ship saves the Captain. Or maybe it was fate. He didn't seem to be too badly damaged. Blood was dripping in his eyes; he wiped it away. Concussion, probably. There were too many instruments on the panel ... two astrogators? Well, they both looked useless. Good thing Bones couldn't see him now -- he'd never hear the end of it.

 

So what was left? Deflectors, down one-third . Life support -- on emergency -- about 56 hours for one person. Power--impulse, one-half space normal. Good ting he wasn't in any hurry, he'd never get there.

 

Speaking of there, where was here? Forget the astrogator, try the screen. Connectors are shorted, he'd have to re-weld it first. Time for that later. Try the sensors -- what a tangle of readings -- let's see now, subtract out the magnetic constant -- he must still be near the barrier for the variant to be this high -- wait a minute, what's that light?

 

Blinking -- Flashing. Red. Red. Flashing RED. Red is pain. Pain is a thing of the mind. The mind can be controlled. There is no pain. Just a light. The warp drive! The baffle plates must have ruptured from the impact. Matter and antimatter -- when they intermix -- come together, over me. A blaze of glorry. NO -- Jettison! Now! He pressed the button -- nothing happened.

 

All right. He still had 10 seconds. Plenty of safety margins built into these private ships. Not quite so critical on the timing. Engage manual. Linkage -- now! There was a satisfying jolt and the nacelle dropped away -- then the kick of a billion angry horses as the warp pod exploded.

 

Now they were really moving. But he still had no idea where. Praise the engineer who designed the deflector shields for this baby. They had almost collapsed from the strain, but almost doesn't count. Home free. Well, not quite. For instance, where was home?

 

If he could trust the sensors, they might not be scrambled too badly, all right, let's trust the sensors. The ship was moving at lightspeed through a desert region of space. Not many stars out here, for sure. Looks like one over there, just a couple of days away -- 10 years to the next one, anything else is out of range. There's only so much air, REMEMBER?

 

So -- Helmsman, set a course for ... whatever it is. Aye, sir, computed and laid in. She's sluggish, sir. Stay with her. Turning, sir. On course, Captain. We did it, sweetheart, you and me. Now, where's that welding iron?

 

* * *

 

Incredibly, it was a star. An old red giant. Well that was all right, he was pretty old himself. Lucky old sun. Two of a kind, nothing wrong with that. Hi, there, sun. And two planets. You mean you didn't swallow all of them? Jim Kirk, the great bird smiles on you at last. The inner one's even class M. Now if you can keep from burning up in the atmosphere ... funny how things work out. You didn't come out here to find a place to live, fool. Ah, enjoy it while it lasts. Probably can't brake down enough anyway. I'll show you who's the pilot around here.

 

There might be just enough fuel to do it, if he could use the air blanket itself to slow down his speed, set the shields to repel gravity -- those shields were fine all right -- they could stand up to full phasers for a year, undoubtedly the best he'd ever seen. To protect crazy civilian pilots from their own mistakes, no doubt. Well, the reason didn't matter, they worked, that was enough. Whatever works.

 

He skip-stoned the atmosphere twice to slow down, then decided what the hell and took the plunge. There wasn't quite enough fuel. May all your landings be soft ones. What's a soft landing?

 

* * *

 

Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.  If you have to be carried away, it's merely adequate. But adequate is all you get sometimes. Old men are seldom choosers.

 

* * *

 

When Jim Kirk regained consciousness, or thought perhaps that he was regaining consciousness, he wasn't lying among twisted wreckage like he expected. Actually he expected to be dead, but he was breathing, his cracked ribs shouted very definitely that he was breathing, and he knew better than to argue anymore. Too many arguments lately. He'd hurt Spock enough -- at least they had parted friends, that was good. I miss him. He'll be all right.

 

Then Jim Kirk opened his eyes and changed his mind. He was dead. There was the loveliest blond angel bending over him. Angels shouldn't look so worried. He tried to smile reassurance and grimaced instead. He closed his eyes then opened them again. His eyelids must be the only part of his body that didn't hurt. The vision drew back and spoke.

 

"I think he's awake, Tamar."

 

"All right then, leave him to me."

 

Jim felt something hard poke his screaming ribs. The room started turning black.

 

"Don't Tamar! He's hurt! Please." The angel's voice was pleading.

 

She's right, Tamar. That really hurts.

 

"He's an Elan spy, Rhea. They're probably following him with troops right now."

 

"Must we be as bad as they are, Tamar? Why not just ask him? Can it hurt to try?"

 

It couldn't hurt any worse. Jim pushed up on one elbow, started to cough, and fell back. It did hurt worse.

 

Tamar leaned over close. He was human-looking, and young, young as only an intense idealistic man can be young. The dedicated revolutionary. We pledge our lives, our fortunes, our sacred ... Honor. What profit it a man to have everything if he loses his friends?

 

"Who are you? And what is your mission?" Tamar spoke. "The truth now, elan, or it will go badly for you." His eyes said it was no empty threat.

 

"I am ..." It was a struggle to form the words. "James T. Kirk..." As he said his name, his voice became firmer, "a shipwrecked wreck, at your service." He started to cough again.

 

Tamar's eyes hardened. "And what are you doing here?"

 

This was almost funny. "Wishing one of you good people would of tape for my chest." He found the strength to grin. "My ribs are broken, in case you hadn't noticed."

 

Speaking exhausted him. He was dimly aware of Tamar raising a rifle of some kind and Rhea, angel Rhea, stopping him. Then someone removed his shirt and wrapped up his chest and he drifted off for a while.

 

The smell of something cooking woke him up. Gingerly he tried to move into a sitting position. Not too bad. Not easy, but not too bad. He looked around.

 

His cot was off to one side of a large dingy room. There were a few candles scattered about for light -- what windows there were had been painted or boarded over. About twenty people were in the room, at tables over near a stove. Whatever it was sure smelled good.

 

He got up, swayed a little and steadied himself on the wall a moment, then walked over to the group. The one called Tamar saw him and stood up. "You are feeling better, Tuen Kirk?" The man seemed to have lost his earlier hostility.

 

"Somewhat better, thank you."

 

"Sit and join us, then. Are you hungry?" Tamar gestured to an empty chair at his table and Jim sank into it gratefully. Someone set a bowl of soup in front of him. It was good.

 

"Slowly, James T. Kirk." That was Rhea, standing behind him. "You have been several days without food."

 

He turned to her and smiled. "Even so, my compliments. This would be excellent even if I wasn't starving." He was rewarded by an answering smile and she took the chair next to him.

 

He might as well ask now as later. "Am I still considered to be a spy, Tamar?"

 

The young man laughed, but not unpleasantly. "Rhea has convinced us that men of your age are not sent on dangerous missions, Tuen. My apologies for my suspicions earlier, but these are troubled times."

 

"Yes, I can see that. Exactly what is the problem around here?"

 

"You do not know? The whole world is at war and you do not know?" Tamar could hardly believe it.

 

"I've, uh, been away for a while and I'm, afraid my memory isn't what it used to be." Perhaps being old was of some use.

 

"The Fuhrliner, our glorious leader, has decided that the elan are destined to rule the world," Tamar explained bitterly. "He has decided also to help destiny along by exterminating inferior races, first in our country, then in all countries."

 

Jim looked around the room at the determined young faces. "And you are of the underground? You fight against his army?" What a hopeless undertaking. But they were young.

 

"Not everyone believes Elan propaganda," Rhea said softly. "We are few now, but our numbers are increasing."

 

"You are all elan, then?" Jim asked.

 

"The name Elan stands for greatness, not butchery," Tamar answered firmly. "There is no need for genocide."

 

There was a faint tapping sound at the door. Quickly the candles were blown out. Chairs scraped back and Jim could hear hurried footsteps and the click of rifle bolts. Someone, Rhea, pulled him down to the floor. Someone else, Tamar probably, walked carefully across the room and opened the door.

 

"It's only Malik," Tamar whispered, pulling the other man inside quickly. The candles were re-lit and everyone stood up. Malik was brushing a few white flakes from his coat. It was cool in here, but little puddles were starting to form around his boots. He accepted a steaming cup gratefully and came over with Tamar to the table. When his teeth stopped chattering, he told his news.

 

"Marshall Romel wants a meeting, Tamar. His aide says he believes the Fuhrliner has gone insane. He says that others in the army feel the same."

 

"Oh, Tamar," Rhea's eyes were shining. "This is what we've been hoping for."

 

"Or it is a trap," Tamar said quietly. "Romel's no fool. He knows we can't pass this up. And it's a perfect way to find out who we are."

 

"I offered to be the contact, Tamar," Malik explained, "but the Marshall wants someone higher up who can speak for all of us."

 

"Clever," Tamar mused. "He is clever. You have done well, Malik. It would be best if you disappeared for a while."

 

"I would not tell them anything, Tamar, I swear."

 

"I know." Tamar put his arm around Malik's shoulders. "But we will need your strength another day."

 

Malik gave in. "All right."

 

"When does the Marshall want this meeting?" Tamar returned to business.

 

"Tomorrow night. In the offices next to the chancellery hall."

 

"Right in the heart of the city -- does he take us for fools?"

 

"If that is not acceptable, he named the inn at Berkoven as an alternate."

 

"Hmmmm. The middle of nowhere. And no doubt, crawling with troops. Still, we can hardly expect him to come here."

 

"Tamar," Rhea's voice was shaking, "you can't go."

 

"I must. Surely you can see that. We can't let this opportunity go by -- they'll never offer again."

 

"You'll be tortured, and killed," she whispered. The others nodded. "Perhaps. But it's a chance I have to take."

 

"No."

 

His voice still had a command ring, and all eyes turned to James Kirk.

 

"Tuen Kirk, I know what I'm doing..." Tamar began.

 

"And it's the right thing to do," Jim agreed, "but not for you. If it is a trap," he continued persuasively, "you know this entire organization. They could smash the underground all at once."

 

"I will not tell them anything," Tamar said stiffly.

 

"I don't doubt your courage, Tamar," Jim said more gently, "But where would these people be without you? On the other hand, I can reveal nothing -- if I talk, what could I say? I don't even know where this room is. You have everything to gain if I negotiate for you, and my death costs you nothing."

 

Tamar was wavering. "It is too dangerous, forgive me, but you are old."

 

"I'm experienced, Tamar. Believe me, I've handled worse than this Marshall Romel in my time. If I fail, you can still send someone else. The chance to end tyranny is worth the risk."

 

Kirk was charming, and logically persuasive, and finally Tamar relented. "Romel wants to meet an equal. We will have to make you a general, I think."

 

James Kirk smiled. "Captain will be sufficient, Tamar."

 

"Then Captain Kirk it is."

 

* * *

 

And so it was that Captain James T. Kirk, unretired, came to be sitting across a table from one Marshall Romel, in a tiny upstairs room of the Berkoven Inn, drinking kela and carefully measuring the army commander as the man spoke.

 

"So you see, Captain, this cannot go on. The Fuhrliner will destroy the world so even supermen cannot build it up again."

 

Romel's smile would have been worthy of a Klingon. They were all gone now, Koloth ... and Kor. Kor. What a leader he had been. What an enemy. Will we meet again in clover on the dark side of the moon? And will you take my hand, and call me friend? Jim, pay attention.

 

Kirk fingered his glass absently. "So what do you want from us?"

 

"Your support. Fight with us, not against us."

 

"Do you expect us to guard your prison camps? Or would you rather we took to the front lines?" He looked up and met Romel's eyes steadily.

 

"Kirk, you are a fool. I could have you shot, right where you sit."

 

The Captain shrugged. "So what?"

 

"All right. You want proof? You shall have it." Romel tossed a document file onto the table. "Here is the plan, our plan, for the assassination of our glorious leader! Now do you believe me?!"

 

Jim carefully unfolded the papers and studied them, deliberately taking a long time to do it. Romel poured himself another drink while he slowly turned pages. At last he closed the file and set it down.

 

"This calls for the underground to play a major role. In fact, we are to be the key players."

 

"Of course. And with the Fuhrliner out of the way, the army will rally to our side and we can end this stupid war and start living again."

 

Kirk's eyes narrowed. "Don't you like war, Marshall?" His voice was silk. "Those ribbons would indicate you have been very good at it."

 

"Every man is good at his trade, Captain. That does not mean I want to see the world destroyed."

 

"If the war ended, Marshall Romel, you would be -- unemployed. I can't quite see you turning that pistol into a plowshare." Jim tapped the file. "Or would you lead the new republic, perhaps?"

 

"If the people wanted me to lead, I would not refuse."

 

Jim smiled and leaned back, satisfied. "And the people would rally to the hero of the fatherland, who smashed the underground murderers of the Fuhrliner, now wouldn't they?"

 

The muscles in Romel's jaw twitched as he fought to control his anger. "You are an old man, Kirk, do not push me."

 

Jim's face was innocence itself. "Is my reasoning in error?" He showed not the slightest sign of fear.

 

"You knew this all along, didn't you, Captain?"

 

Was that grudging respect on Romel's face? "It was logical to consider all the possibilities. And there was a chance your offer was genuine."

 

Marshall Romel stood up; the interview was at an end. "You are an enemy of the fatherland, Kirk. At dawn, you will be tortured for the names of your comrades, then shot."

 

"Terrible way to begin the day."

 

"You will not think it funny in the morning."

 

As Romel left the room, Jim could see guards standing out in the hall.

 

He stood up and walked over to the window, casually brushing aside the curtains. The window was barred, and there were more guards below. He went back and sat down, pouring himself another drink.

 

There had been only the slimmest of chances, of course, but he had taken it.

 

Freedom, even for people he didn't know, was worth taking a chance for. And he had used peaceful means. Spock would have been proud of that. He had tried to follow Surak's way more and more as he'd gotten older.

 

So many lives were wasted in war. It was worth his life to perhaps end this one. He'd spent all his life as a soldier, but he was still more proud of the Anixter Peace Mission than the Grankite Order of Tactics. So ends the career of James T. Kirk. He died for Peace, may he rest in it. He tossed down the contents of his glass and poured another.

 

The doorknob was turning, making that faint scraping sound of all doorknobs everywhere; He didn't bother to turn around. Now or in the morning, what was the difference?

 

"Does the condemned man get a last meal?"

 

"There's no time for jokes, Captain." Tamar stepped quickly into the room.

 

Jim turned in surprise, just In time to catch the automatic weapon being thrown at him. A moment ago, it had belonged to a guard.

 

"Well, did you think we would leave you here? Come on!"

 

Tamar half pushed him out into the hall. Rhea was there, looking very businesslike in dark camouflage coveralls. She held a rifle like she knew how to use it. There was a long knife in her belt. Perfect for cutting guards' throats. Angel of death. Have mercy.

 

They ran down one flight ·of stairs and into a room on the second floor.

 

These windows were not barred and they climbed out, slid down the snow covered roof and jumped.

 

He landed a little wrong on his knee but he ignored it and limped after Rhea into the shadows. Firing started from somewhere behind and above them, a siren was wailing somewhere else, and he heard shots being returned from somewhere up ahead. He had absolutely no idea where he was going, and no reason at all to get there.

 

He tripped, and found himself in a frozen ditch with Rhea and Tamar. Ahead were woods, thick and sheltering. He looked back. Small explosions were going off all around the inn. Excellent diversionary maneuver, Tamar. Congratulations. There must be a hundred troopers milling around, and several of them were heading this way.

 

Tamar pulled at his arm. "The trees, Captain, hurry."

 

He tried to stand. His knee collapsed. No more running, not tonight.

 

"I'll only slow you down, Tamar. Run. I'll cover you."

 

"No! -- no, we can't leave you--" That was Rhea. "Tamar, make him come."

 

"There's no time to argue." He pushed their hands away. "Take her and get out of here! That's an order!" Incredibly, they obeyed him.

 

He pulled himself to his feet, using the rifle for a cane. Facing back to the inn, he raised the weapon and started firing.

 

Bullets sang through the air around him. He had their attention. Then someone fired an automatic and stitched a dotted line across his stomach. He clutched at himself and dropped the rifle. His arms were immediately covered with blood. The impact pushed him backwards. Even as he fell, command-trained reflexes started his body to roll. But he had no strength left to complete it.

 

He lay on his back, his lifeblood pouring out onto the snow-covered dirt of --------? He realized then he didn't even know this planet's name.

 

The sky above him was black, and filled with stars. Bright, shining stars. His stars. But they were starting to wink out. It was becoming very dark.

 

He felt hands pushing at him, feeling for a pulse. Spock? It was an Elan soldier. No matter. "Spock..."

 

Marshall Romel stood on the rim on the ditch, looking down. "Well, did he say anything?"

 

The sergeant took his hand away. "I do not understand--" He paused, confused.

 

"Speak up, Sergeant! What did he say?!"

 

The soldier stood still a moment longer, then looked back down at the dead man and slowly shook his head.

 

"Sir, all he said was, 'I love you.'"

 

* * *

 

Spock had returned to Vulcan as soon as he closed up the north woods cabin. It had been Jim's request, but he could not honor it and take up his work again. Sarel was capable, if young -- his research was in good hands.

 

Instead, Spock went again to the house in ShiKahr, home of his father and his father before him. He had not slept since he had parted from Jim Kirk, indeed he had spent nearly all his time in the garden, in meditation, in preparation for what he knew would come.

 

Years ago, when they were oh so young, he had touched the Captain's mind several times. It had been necessary, but dangerous, and quite without his being aware of it, they had become bonded. He had kept the touch of his mind light through the years, letting Jim experience only the knowledge that he was loved, but not the full intrusion of another consciousness.

 

The bond had even prevented his marrying, but that had been a small enough sacrifice for friendship. His human blood had been of some use after all; he had only undergone pon farr the one time. It had never troubled him again. But the bond was real, and for him deep and permanent. There was no way to prepare adequately for severance, one could only wait.

 

Shadowed-gray fingers of evening were spreading over Vulcan's Forge when it came at last, and many days later than he had expected. It was as though a door had been closed suddenly in his mind, shutting off a secret warm place that he had once loved to visit. He was alone.

 

His heart was racing painfully; he made a conscious effort to slow it down. He deepened, then slowed his breathing as well, and began to collect himself, to redirect his energies inward.

 

And then the outside world was gone, and he was walking, confidently, surely, to where he knew the place must be. It was an old-style sliding door, the kind that used to be on starships; he pressed the buzzer. There was of course no answering call from the other side, but he had not expected any. The door slid open, a soundless swoosh of memory. It was dark over there, and starless.

 

He did not bother to take a final look around; he had no regrets. With smooth and easy grace, he crossed over and the silent door closed one last time.

 

THE END