DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Cheryl Rice and is copyright (c) 1981 by Cheryl Rice. Rated G. Originally published in Alpha Continuum #3, 1981.
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you
While you're busy
Making other plans
MCCOY: Whoever would have thought that the end would come like this? After almost five years of gettin' out of one scrape after another ... one near catastrophe almost every time we looked around. Now to end up in this little backwater place havin' our hands slapped by some diplomat and having to explain over and over/give excuses so we don't make these people any madder than they are. It isn't fair ... not that most things are. But all we were trying to do was save some lives. What was that saying? "No good deed goes unpunished." That's it. Now we have Starfleet on our backs along with their precious diplomatic corps. Not fair at all. So what if the Zerkees don't want anything now to do with the Federation 'cause of this; what loss would they be? I keep seeing Jim trying to explain all of this to the head Zerk or whatever his proper title is. He took full responsibility for the delay in our arrival. Maybe we should have gotten our stories a little straighter before we each testified. I said I'd take responsibility since I had thought the Vendril showed in their tests that they were as intellectually close to humans as their appearance indicated. Once that bit of news got out, anyone would expect a lot of resentment from the crew. Of course it still doesn't explain such severe trouble with the warp engines. And on impulse power alone we just couldn't get here any sooner than three days after the first conjugation of the three moons and the Zerkees didn't have any use for them any more.
I'm sure Seligsen believed the engine trouble was accidental about as much as he believed the story about how an unscheduled overhaul of the subspace radio systems put them out of commission at the same time. Not that I blame him... Uhura isn't the best liar in creation. But 'Fleet could have spared a little energy worrying about us ... for all they knew when we were out of touch that long, we could have been in some serious trouble. Maybe they are starting to believe like everyone else that Jim can get out of any scrape ... even this one.
Wish Spock would quit lookin' out of that window without darkening the glass any. That bright fog glare has to be hard on even Vulcan eyes. Wish he'd talk to me. This room is so damn stuffy. Damp and hot at the same time. Humid, sort of like Georgia in mid-summer. Gonna be good to see it again ... if we ever get out of here. Jim and Seligsen should have been along an hour ago. I can't imagine he'll try to put any kind of mark on Jim's service record. Not with all he's done for the Federation and being kicked up to the Admiralty any day now. Though I guess it won't go into effect until we get back to Earth and he turns over command of the Enterprise. I don't care what goes on my record. I'm gonna be so glad to get back to civilian life. Spock's always told me I don't understand the military way of looking at things. Maybe he's right if it turns out we were wrong to save ten people from becoming these creatures' festival dinners. If it's wrong, then I've been on the wrong team all these years. I'm probably being "ethnocentric" as charged but it's understandable to care about the fate of people, well "beings", who look like you. I keep remembering the little ones toddling along behind their mothers. No lambs to slaughter this time. I'm still not sure it matters that it turned out their basic intelligence is about the same as sheep or any other species we use as meat animals. If anything could turn me vegetarian this whole thing has been it. At least never any more veal.
Wonder why Seligsen ... and why did they have to send a youngster like him out on such a delicate mission? Being an intuitive isn't such a big deal. Anyway, wonder why he hasn't thought to ask the Zerkees why they hadn't made it clear to us that the Vendril were to be dinner, not guests, when they asked us to pick them up. Then we could have gotten this mess cleared up through proper channels instead of just sort of disappearing for sixteen days like we did. And why did he have to make that comment to Jim after he'd insisted that everything on "my ship" was under control . "The Enterprise isn't your personal property after all, Captain." Shows how much he knows. She is his. These five years have proven it. No matter what happens to any of us, she is his.
What can be taking so long? This stone bench is the most uncomfortable thing to sit on ever constructed. When I get settled on Earth the first thing I'm gonna do is get a house with a lot of comfortable furniture. And see all my friends. Wonder how much they've changed after all these years. Wonder how much I have. Wonder what Spock's thinking about. Five years and I'm as far from understanding him as ever. And I'm running out of chances.
SPOCK: Why does the good Doctor insist on sitting on that bench when it is clear he i s most uncomfortable on it? Now that I have adjusted the polarization on this window ... there is still nothing to see. Why must he wait down here for the Captain? One would think there were something of use he could be doing on the Enterprise.
This is quite a substandard place. The walls are put together with total disregard for the correct principles of stone masonry. The window frame is full of splinters. It will be a relief to return to the honest workmanship of Vulcan ways. To the calm logic and mental disciplines. Away from human and other alien disorder. That is what I told Jim. It was not any kind of excuse for my disapproval of the projected use of the Vendril as feast-meat. It simply was not logical. Whatever the exact amount of self-awareness they have, they do have right to live out full lives. It was not logical that they be butchered to satisfy same barbaric blood-lust of these ambulatory poached eggs ... as one of the crew put it. I clearly explained my reasons for thinking delivering them was wrong to the captain and I will never understand why the slogan "Even Spock says it isn't logical" became some sort of a rallying cry. As I'm told it did. I also will never understand how the warp drive could have been so effectively sabotaged, even though it will never be proven officially. I have my suspicions, though. And I think they became more than that when Mr. Scott so definitely turned down my offer of assistance in effecting repairs. And right then the captain did remind me of my preparations for the Kolinahr rituals so I did not have the opportunity to ask again.
The captain and the others have been discussing the situation for two-point-three standard hours now. Seligsen is no fool for his age ... hard to believe he is only ten months older than Jim. Diplomats are very concerned with the Prime Directive. If all this can be shown to have interfered with the Zerkees' religion we may all be in a certain amount of trouble. Since it will be impossible for anyone to ever prove any active participation in causing the Enterprise's late arrival by the crew, the relevant computer tapes having been so fortuitously erased by chance ... that is the only problem I am able to foresee. But in right the Prime Directive should work both ways. We should not be required to act in ways which are in conflict with our beliefs and morals. "Our". Human beliefs, I should say. To worry about this delay is not a logical act. So doing cannot change the outcome. I have been more affected by my long contact with these emotional beings even though I still do not understand their ways of thought. It is far past time I returned to my home.
There... I can hear footsteps in the corridor outside. Now we can see how we will be officially ending the final assignment of our five-year mission.
KIRK: So Bones and Spock waited for me down here. Should have expected it, I guess. Have to keep up a united front against all comers. Especially the Zerkees. They really are an unattractive group. I don't know if it's their little wings where there shouldn't be any, or their total disregard for anyone else's point of view. If they weren't here right on the new freight lanes, I'd say let the Klingons have them. Well, at least we saved ten innocents ... for what I don't know. Someone will have to decide what to do with them. Funny how they can look so human and not be.
Maybe I'm being too hard on the Zerkees. Seligsen thinks so. He's going to go far in his career. Wonder it being an intuitive helps. Most of them aren't exactly telepathic, but they are good at understanding why people behave like they do. I'm still not sure how he managed to soothe them so well. His promising to look into the possible delivery of more Vendril for the next conjugation feast was a stroke of genius considering it won't happen for over three hundred years. I'm going to miss things like this sitting at a desk, but maybe it's time for someone else to take the responsibility.
Don't lie to yourself, Jim-boy ... anyone else, but not yourself. The weight of the command is being put on someone else only because there's no way 'Fleet will let you keep it right now. Be a good soldier for a while, show you can take orders as well as give them, and maybe someone, someday will give you your Lady back. Not very likely, but stranger things have happened. Life will go on without her. Have to be the best admiral they ever saw. Life will go on without Spock and Bones and the rest of the crew. It won't be the same. It won't be enough ... but enough. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Make your cool and polite farewells to the little creatures. Contact the ship and tell them we're ready to beam up... Oh, Seligsen says he'll be along in a few minutes.
Bones and Spock still look a little worried. I'll have to tell them later that we won. Wish I still knew what game we were playing. Wonder if I'm changing like they are. They're both planning for their new lives. One's turning into the classic 'country doctor' and the other into the perfect Vulcan. Hope they both are going to be more satisfied in their new roles than I think I will be.
Can't be negative. Remember, have to set a good example even when no one will know ... especially when no one will know. Bet I can shake up the Admiralty a little. Might be fun.
Transporter is on ... I can feel it, see us in the window shimmering away. Today is going to be okay. Let the future take care of itself. Wonder what the others are thinking.
SELIGSEN: Only Starfleet could be stupid enough to break up a team like that. Well, now to say my official farewells to our friends here. So proud, violent, emotional, basically intelligent. Much more human like than the Vendril. Still, it doesn't hurt our reputation any to be seen to stand up for our relatives ... no matter how far back the basic stock was tampered with. A little genetic engineering and you have humanoids without the brains God gave the grapefruit. And they are reputed to be extremely tasty. Especially the little ones. What they look like shouldn't matter. Maybe a person would be better off not thinking about it too deeply.
Not thinking about things is the Zerkees' finest attribute as far as I'm concerned. So soothing to be surrounded by the mind-blind. This damn "fog" they live in increases telepathic powers. At least mine. Spock didn't seem affected, though of course it is difficult to tell with Vulcans. I still couldn't get their thoughts in words, but the emotions came through clearly.
What is this creature chattering on about? Oh, the next conjugation ceremony. I thought they were accepting that trick awfully easily until we got our translating figured out correctly so that it turns out that they live not ten times ten years, but rather ten times ten times ten times ten years. Well, it will still be someone else's problem. Maybe they will have turned vegetarian by then. Sure, and Kirk will be happy in a desk job.
Now we make bows of infinite politeness. The leader flutters his little wings and informs me that this breach of protocol will be forgiven this time. He/she/it doesn't have much choice. They need the Federation more than we need them, but we're all playing a game here and they seem to know the rules by instinct.
But still one more pro forma complaint about the Vendril. Time to put on the mask of polite attention and ignore him. Wonder how long Dr. McCoy will be content to stay peacefully on Earth. Any place is a prison if you can't leave it. Spock ... I don't think anyone understands how he thinks. He doesn't, that's for sure. On Vulcan he'll definitely grow older ... he may even grow up. And Kirk will certainly liven things up a bit in Starfleet.
Their relationship can be felt in the air. I'm sure they would lie for each other, lots of people will do that. But I think they would even tell the truth. Now that's rare in my experience.
It's little things ... like the way they positioned themselves for beam-up. The two moving aside so Kirk could stand between them. In the window I could see their reflections for a few seconds. For a moment they were touching each other before the transporter took them.
The Zerkee leader is finishing up now... So why the unbridled interference in our affairs over the question of these animals' lives? All things are impermanent; even we die.
But the leader is wrong. I have seen and felt. Some things are meant to live forever.