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) 1979 by Cheryl Rice. Rated G. Originally published in Odyssey #3, 1979.
Goodnight, You Moonlight Ladies
"Ten miles behind him and ten thousand more to go...
There's a song that they sing when they take to the highway,
A song that they sing when they take to the sea,
A song that they sing of their home in the sky.
Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep,
but singing works just fine for me..."
The bitch whined again and scratched at the back door. Still no one seemed to hear. A bit frantic now, for she was very well trained, she waited impatiently, prancing as much as her bulk would allow.
Whining louder, she again clawed at the thin mesh that was keeping her from the outdoors and this time he heard. She recognized his step and he came through the deserted kitchen to open the door for her.
She made her way down the steps carefully, then headed for a favorite spot under an elm. Waddling comically, she was still beautiful in her master's eyes.
The jumble of noise from the other parts of the rambling house held no appeal, so the boy decided to follow his pet outside. The escape would be short-lived, he knew, but the chance was too good to miss. The day had been endless and showed no sign of improving as time went on.
Eager to make his departure, he went down the steps two at a time, letting the door slam behind himself. The noise might draw unwanted attention but he didn't care. That stupid door was so old-fashioned ... all the other guys' houses had the usual ultrasonic monitors that kept out small insects, doing the job neatly in the modern way. But for this old house his mother had decreed that the old style in everything would be used. Living in what was practically a museum had certain drawbacks, but no matter how many times he told himself that he hated it and this town and everything, a part of him still loved it.
Free of the house, he walked through the long grass that grew thickly under the trees. The ground was sugared with fallen apple blossoms and the air was heavy and sweet within the smell. Though this portion of the backyard was familiar territory, he stumbled over an occasional root as he hurried on. The rain that had threatened all day was slowly beginning as a fine mist. Though the moon was near full, it was hidden behind the heavy clouds and the stars were nowhere to be seen. Thus there was no real sky, only thick, misty dark about.
After tripping over several objects the boy finally realized that there was not enough light for a walk in any kind of safety. He did not mind taking chances, but he wasn't about to break his neck in his own backyard.
Through the gloom he could make out a familiar tree ... an old maple he had climbed more than once. But this was no time for athletics. The storm was beginning in earnest now. The heavy drops pattering on the leaves over his head held the promise of a real soaking if he didn't find some shelter.
Not wishing to return to the house or its current inhabitants, he groped his way to the tree and sat down under it, snuggling up close to the trunk. Now if it didn't rain too hard and the wind didn't change direction, he would remain reasonably dry. And so what if he got wet? It was a balmy night following a scorching Iowa day. Why, at the cemetery several women had almost fainted from the heat.
He smiled with all the superiority of a 12-year-old male at the frailty of the female of the species. He had enjoyed the day, at least as long as he could forget why they were all out there in the broiling sun. And he had done a pretty good job of forgetting ... getting in trouble as usual. But honestly, how could anyone be expected to really watch a casket being lowered into the ground and dirt actually being sprinkled over it. His skin still crawled at the thought. It was so ... what was the word? Barbaric. He hadn't done any harm, wandering around looking at tombstones. But naturally some of the neighbors had made it sound like he had been running wild. By tomorrow they would have it that he'd been digging up bodies or something.
The boy sighed forlornly and tried to find a more comfortable position. His good clothes would be a mess, he hoped. Somehow it was silly that proper respect for the dead could only be shown by wearing black. She had loved light and bright colors. Once, he remembered, she had given him a golden-yellow shirt ... and saying it reminded her of him. 'Course that was before he had become such a disappointment to everyone. Now she was gone and what part that had remained was under six feet of black Iowa dirt. At the thought an icy finger traced a path down his spine and he drew his legs toward him and hugged his knees. He knew in his mind that this was just superstitious nonsense, the essence of her might be anywhere in the universe but it wasn't decaying in that grave, but a less than logical portion of him still held an atavistic fear of the dark and the ultimate aloneness and was reminding him of the fact.
The storm was at its height now, tree branches tossing all around but he liked it somehow. It fit his mood, echoing his turmoil. Two whole days of being polite and probably at least one more. How much more could he be expected to take? Never in his life would he suffer fools gladly and to him everyone more or less fit in that category.
The storm raged. A few feet away he could hear the dog wandering around, apparently looking for her master and blinded by the rain. "Here Lady, here, girl." His voice rang clear -- and it was only just beginning to change into the silky baritone it would eventually become, but even the boyish tone held its attraction.
The dog answered with a gleeful bark and in a moment was trying to climb into his lap. Her condition made this impossible but soon he had her comfortable ... her body pressed tightly to his. Lady was shivering slightly, whether from chill or nerves her owner could not tell. So he did his best to keep her warm and talked comfortingly to the animal as he fondled her top pair of ears.
Once the rain let up they could go back inside. Through the trees he could see the lighted windows of his home. People were still moving about which meant they were still eating and drinking and talking about his disgraceful conduct. He was paranoid as only an unhappy 12-year-old can be -- securely positioned at the center of his own private universe. Some things seem to never change.
Indeed a visitor from the 20th century would have been surprised to at how familiar the whole scene appeared. Three hundred miles away the land might glow blue from residual radiation under the moon. The places where several large cities had stood in the visitor's own time might now be nothing but gigantic craters, lifeless as any the moon could boast. The sea might begin at places in what had been Nevada and resume again at the other side of the continent much sooner than it had, but summer rains were still the same.
A boy might be sitting under a tree with a mutant pet but she was still a dog and he loved her dearly. Men might be going to the stars, but elderly women still died and relatives still met to bury her and eat funeral meats.
The youngster sighed as he thought of the people cluttering up his home. They wouldn't leave until the food and drink ran out and that could take all night. His father had insisted on the very best for those who came to commiserate with him over the loss of his mother. It was strange for the man to insist on anything, at least around the house. Business took most of his time and energy -- his family didn't so much come second as they didn't come much at all. Normally he let his wife handle the family finances and running of the household but he had felt it behooved him to plan a first-class funeral for his only remaining parent. And the people had turned out, though he wasn't sure it if was because of affection for his mother, neighborly sympathy for the family, or morbid interest in what that younger Kirk would be up to next.
Said boy sighed again, dismally, and peered through the waving branches around him, trying to see the window to his room. It was dark, though those of the next chamber glowed dimly behind pulled curtains. Sam's room. So he had left the eager eaters and gossips, too. He was comfortably ensconced in private, probably studying. The watcher scowled ... wasn't that just like him, come home from school for a funeral and then go study -- and be cooped up in a stuffy room on a night like this. Or at least on a night like this one could have been if the rain hadn't arrived. And Sam was studying biology, younger brother would have bet on it. Probably immersed in the intricacies of the various types of arachnids that inhabited Class M planets, his latest interest. The boy shivered slightly at the thought ... spiders were one of the few things he was afraid of, though he would have scorned to admit the fact.
Now, if there were only some way to get inside the house and upstairs without talking to anyone. He had several entries for his journal and if they weren't written down soon, he knew they would be forgotten. He wanted some memory of this endless today to be at least mildly pleasant. Ever since that never-to-be-forgotten trip to the moon and three of the larger space stations, he had kept what could have been called a diary by some but to which he had given the other title. That trip, gift of a family friend named James Mallory, had been one of the boy's high points in his life.
Even though Sam had tagged along, it was he and Mr. Mallory who had seen it all. He would never forget his first sight of the Earth from space, or the lightness of his body in the bulky pressure suit on the moon's surface. It had been exotic, remote, slightly dangerous. Each settlement had been a private world and he had never been happier in his life ... somehow feeling oddly at home. On the other hand, Sam had complained constantly of loneliness and boredom ... apparently eager to return to his interrupted studies. Sam was not a lot of fun.
Mallory, an old friend of the boys' mother, had treated both his guests with friendly indifference, letting them wander freely around the various installations they had visited, but he had spent most of his free time with the younger boy, answering his questions about space exploration and the inventions that had made it possible. He had been in Star Fleet or related branches of the Federation government for most of his adult life and he seemed to know all there was to know about any subject the boy brought up. And what he was not sure about, he could tell him where the appropriate information might be located.
One of the man's favorite topics was the various traditions of space, many of them carried over from the days when the ships humankind had sailed had traversed seas of water rather than the empty seas between the stars. He told of how the crew was tied together as a unit, almost as a kind of family on the best-run ships, by a commanding officer who demanded the best of them and even more of himself. And how the Captain would keep a record of the day's activities that had occurred on his ship. One record would be official and one private for personal impressions, thoughts, things that seemed of interest for one reason or another.
The idea had appealed to the boy. He had often wished for some means of keeping track of things he had heard or read (for though he wouldn't have wanted anyone to know, he enjoyed books -- it seemed a deep character flaw to him at the moment) and this was obviously a manly thing to do. Regular logs were kept, he knew, on voice tape. But in the family home with its lack of privacy and thin walls that appeared the perfect way to assure that everyone would soon find out about the project. And this was not be be shared with anyone.
So he wrote bits and pieces he wanted to remember in an old notebook left over from one of the many classes he had been expelled from. Nothing of permanent importance, but for the last ten months he had filled up a page or two a week, whenever he could safely retrieve the notebook from its hiding place under the attic stairs.
The first two entries had been things he had run across in a book on sailing, an old book he had found one day while cleaning out some of his Grandmother's shelves. They held a deeper meaning for him that their actual words conveyed:
"There is nothing more enticing, disenchanting and enslaving than life at sea." Conrad, Lord Jim.
And especially the second, from a book by a prewar poet, Sandburg:
"The things an old sailor does for his ship or from loyalty or in friendship, or just because it is in him to do it, have nothing to do with pay, promotion or publicity."
Later entries dealt with such matters as the weather, Lady's puppies. ... ones that had lived and the ones that had been too malformed to survive, various scrapes he had been in and somehow managed to get out of. Occasionally some of his unhappiness slipped in among the daily trivia: "Today Sam won another prize with his science project. Mother told Dad all about it when he called tonight from Australia. They are very proud of him. Why can't I ever do anything right?" And on a later occasion: "Grandmother Esther says I shouldn't mind what everyone is saying. It wasn't all my fault ... I was in with the wrong crowd. I think she was just trying to make me feel better. I bet she's disappointed with me, too. I wish she would get better, she looks all funny and gray. She's been sick a long time now and I really don't have anyone to talk to."
The boy under the tree mentally winced at the memory. He never could decide what hurt worse, his feeling of letting her down or her being so kind when she was sick.
The rain had almost stopped now, though occasional drops still were falling from sodden leaves and the soft night smelled of green things and flowers. Just as he was about to stand up, he could hear the back door opening and closing so he remained where he was. Not wishing to talk to anyone, he stayed still as a startled fawn as a figure slowly walked across the lawn toward him then angled away on the path that led to the pond at the end of their property.
The boy couldn't be sure who it was that passed by, it was too dark to see a shape clearly. But it had to be someone familiar with the landscape since the walker was moving with assurance.
He was tempted to sneak back to the house since the way was now clear but the curiosity that was always getting him into such trouble urged him to follow the figure and see who it was.
Being able to resist anything but temptation, the boy scrambled to his feet, disturbing a very comfortable dog in the process, and set out through the trees as quietly as possible.
The clouds were breaking up and the moon peeking out, but it was still almost pitch black under the trees. The boy tripped over more than one root before finding himself almost at the water's edge. And there ... not ten feet away a slight figure stood, apparently just looking at the pond. He had made his entrance upon the scene rather noisily so he tried to edge back into the shelter of the trees. To no avail. The figure by the water had obviously heard him and turned in his direction.
"James, quit skulking around and come over here this instant."
The boy recognized the familiar voice and obeyed automatically. His mother, when she used that tone, was not to be trifled with. He sauntered the few feet to her side slowly, shuffling his feet ... showing none of the flowing, masculine grace he would as an adult.
"Hurry up, I don't have all night. What do you think you're doing out here in the rain?"
"Nothing special. I was with Lady. She's too near her time to be left out alone." He muttered the explanation, a sullen expression on his face while kicking at non-existent stones on the lawn.
Reva Kirk frowned in exasperation. Wasn't that just like him? Going off like this. While she had a house full of company, Sam off studying, George talking business with some crony of his. Everyone abandoned her to all those boors who had come for the funeral. Even the pets in this household got more attention that she did. It wasn't fair. "Where is that animal?" Even his dog couldn't be anything usual. She had offered to buy him a pedigreed purebred, but no, he had his heart set on this mutated freak the moment he had set eyes on her. The woman was not sure if it was because of his already apparent taste for the exotic, had really found the dog appealing, or had merely wanted to drive his mother craay. All in all, she thought, the last reason was more likely.
The boy looked around in mild alarm. "Here, Lady, here girl." The animal qppeared from the nearby underbrush, wagged her tail cheerfully and sniffed the wet grass ... apparently hot on the trail of some errant rabbit.
"See, she's OK. She listens to me." As the words left his mouth, he knew they were to be regretted. He was right.
"That's a refreshing change around here. Why can't you follow her example? Running around today..."
With the ease of long practice, the boy simply ignored the continuing diatribe and instead surveyed his surroundings. The pond, still now after the storm, glowed like a milky opal in the moonlight. The drenched grass sparkled prettily. It was a lovely night to be alive on Earth. He noticed the few brave stars winking in the clearing sky and wondered idly if there were any planets out there half as interesting as his. Part of him longed to find out, another told him to be satisfied with what he had.
His mother's voice, increasingly shrill, finally reached him. "... and you running around like that; what were you doing over in the infant's section?"
He mumbled something under his breath.
"Speak up, or are you too ashamed?"
"I said ... I went to see Leyla's grave. I'd never seen it before." He spoke now as an adult does when goaded to reveal something better left hidden. "She was my sister, you know. I don't see why you've always been ashamed of her. It wasn't anyone's fault she was ... sick. Lots of people are in one way or another. They taught us in school..."
"That's enough, young man. You don't know what you are talking about." The woman's dark blue eyes met her son's hazel ones fiercely, but hers were the first to drop.
Now it was her turn to look, unblinking, at the water. Her imperfect daughter had been the one unkind trick Fate had played on her and it had come close to destroying all else in her life.
And all else had gone so smoothly. For Reva was one of those unique people who places such a high premium on themselves that everyone else goes along with it without taking time to wonder if the estimation of value were true or not.
Although not especially good-looking, she carried herself as a great beauty and men always had the greatest difficulty in not falling in love with her. Only one old beau, James Mallory, had finally recognized the truth about her ... that on a world with a population of 750 million, she had managed to fall in love only with herself. But even knowing the truth, he had remained her friend.
George Kirk had been one of her most thorough conquests. Beguiled by her self-assurance and her indifference, he had chased her so hard she had suddenly capitulated and they were married.
From that day on he scarcely drew a happy breath. It wasn't that she was unkind or unfaithful ... she simply ignored him. Yet she expected every whim to be instantly granted. She would not be unfaithful because she would never give another being that much power over her, not because she loved her husband. George Kirk gave her all and she took ... endlessly.
Within a year of the marriage Sam was born. A golden baby, sweet, placid, docile. He bored her to tears, he was too dull to even make a satisfactory worshipper at her shrine.
Then, no more children, for years. In a rebuilding world that practically demanded large families, she felt useless. No medical reason could be found for her problem, but she simply could not conceive.
Finally, she found she was to bear another child. This was her James, named after her old flame Mallory. From the beginning he was an interesting personality. He was independent, strong and possessed of an almost palpable charm. But just as she was discovering the delights of loving someone other than herself, she again became pregnant. And this time it was very difficult. Sick for most of the nine months, she sent her boys next door to be taken care of by their grandmother. Sam did not care, but her younger child felt the abandonment. Almost obsessed with his mother, he did everything he could think of to regain her attention. But nothing really worked.
Finally the Kirks' daughter was born. Although perfect externally, she was seriously malformed internally. Whether by some quirk of Fate or some radiation damaged gene, no one could tell.
Her destiny was certain from the frail infant's first breath but she lingered for three months. Just long enough for the entire family to fall irrecovably in love with her. Reva terrified herself with the depths of her feelings for the doomed child ... as always, humans love the best the thing they are about to lose.
After Leyla's death, her name was never mentioned in the house again. But something in the marriage died ... George realizing finally what he had always been missing. From that time forward he had spent most of his time on matters of business, Sam burrowed deeper into his studies and into himself while his brother developed an aversion to death that was almost pathological. For some reason he had felt responsible.
Reva returned to the present. Her son was continuing, rebelliously. "I saw her grave. It's so lonely that I took a flower from Grandmother's to put on it. You know there are a lot of babies buried there. It must be awful to die when you're young like that." He was speaking from the advanced age he had so painfully attained. "We ought to put a stone up for her. There was one next to hers that had a poem on it that was nice for a baby like her. It went..."
"Yes, I know. Let's drop the subject." The woman's voice was ragged. She knew the verse. Someone with a scholarly bent had discovered Herrick's UPON A CHILD:
"Here a pretty baby lies
Sung asleep with lullabies.
Pray be silent and not stir
The easy earth that covers her."
She simply did not have the courage to think about it.
"James, the reason I wanted to talk to you was..."
"You've already picked on me about the funeral. Can't I go?"
"No, that wasn't the reason. This is important."
The boy looked up in surprise. Usually his problems were the main topic of discussion around the house.
"It's your grandmother's will. She left you and Sam some money."
He stood in blank amazement. Who would have thought such a thing?
"It' s not all that much and it will be in trust until you're older, but it will be there when you're grown up."
"But how much?" He didn't really care, was just saying the first thing to come to mind.
"Enough." His mother's tone was dry. Trust her mother-in-law to give her personal belongings to charity and her money to the boys. Nothing for the daughter-in-law who had been forced to put up with her all these years. It was typical of the woman that she didn't spare a thought for her husband's feelings in the matter. "Also she said there are books of hers that you can look over and any of them you want you can keep."
The boy's smile was a sunrise. "You mean it? For me? She must have really liked me, at least a little."
"Well, of course she did. You were always her favorite." Reva reached out and ruffled her son's damp hair that was curling around his ears. As usual it was too long. "You must have known that."
His expression was of true amazement. "No, she never let on. I always thought she liked Sam better."
"Nonsense. Don't you remember that summer you fell and broke your collarbone and it wouldn't heal correctly? She spent hours with you. Then when Sam had his accident she left him to me to take care of." And a truly boring time that had been too, she reflected.
"I guess maybe you're right," the boy admitted grudgingly. "I can't remember back that far."
"Well, you were only three. She'd hold you by the hour and sing to you when you couldn't sleep because of the pain. Remember that one old song she said was only for you?"
"Yes." He was suddenly flooded with memories. "And now she's dead forever. It isn't fair. She was only 86 and people don't die of cancer anymore ."
"They do if they don't take care of themselves. And she had other problems she hadn't told us about." Uncharacteristically, Reva put her arms about the boy's shoulders. "It's funny. I haven't thought of it for years, but I can still hear that lullabye of hers." She began to hum under her breath. "How did it go? Something like...
"Goodnight, you moonlight ladies
Rockabye, sweet baby James.
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won't you let me go home in my dreams?
And rockabye sweet baby James."
Something like that. Well, anyway she's out of her pain. She died peacefully."
"She shouldn't have, she should have fought it." The youngster moved away from the circle of his mother's embrace, speaking with unusual vehemence. "Now she's dead forever and ever."
"Don't take it so personally. After all, no one's blaming you."
"That's nice. They do for everything else that goes wrong around here ."
Reva Kirk raised her eyes to the heavens and once more wondered why this most difficult child had been vouchsafed her. "Don't use that tone of voice with me. It won't work. You know how much trouble you've caused in the last couple of years. And if that isn't bad enough, you're not just running with a bad crowd, you're leading it!"
James shrugged casually. "That's not my fault. The guys really want me to. Besides, I hate anyone telling me what to do."
"That's all very well and good, but until you develop some self-control and discipline, you'll have to receive some from the outside." This seemed a good time to bring up the matter she had really wanted to speak to her son about. "You know, James Mallory called this evening to offer his condolences."
"Did he really?" The boy tried to hide his interest.
"Yes, and he asked about you ... and Sam too, of course." Actually, she wasn't too sure about that. His news had driven all other thoughts out of her head. "He has a wonderful idea about you."
"Another trip?" The boy was ecstatic ... a chance to get away from home, into space again.
"Not exactly." Reva was not sure of the best way to give her news, so she just dove in. "You know Mr. Mallory has connections in the government and in Star Fleet, too?" James nodded impatiently. This was old news to him.
"Well, he has heard of the problems you've been having, but he seems fond of you and thinks you have promise. So he's willing to take the chance. You would have to promise to behave yourself and study very hard, but it's the opportunity of a lifetime. You're a little young, but you've been in space and liked it. I have to let him know soon."
"Know what?" The boy was honestly bewildered. She had to be leaving something out. And it wasn't like his mother to be this disorganized.
"Yes, well. The Star Fleet has lowered the age for Academy Cadets to 13. Part of some new experimental program. You'd be the right age by the time the new term starts and even with your record Mr. Mallory thinks he can get you in. Now I expect you to appreciate..."
"No, I won't go. You can't make me. I won't!" It would be hard to tell which Kirk was more surprised by the boy's outburst. His voice was shrill as he backed away.
"James, don't be ridiculous. All you've talked about since you came back was that trip and how much you liked getting away. You can't pass up a chance like this. What would you do here? Your father and I..."
"He won't make me go. He won't." George Kirk had always disapproved of the boys being almost abandoned by their mother when little and had always come out in favor of a closer family life. Even though he was rarely there to share in it.
"That is quite enough. Sam goes away to school, has for years."
"That's different. He's older and he wanted to go."
Reva was at a loss for comment. She had not been expecting this attitude. Mallory's offer had seemed like a dream come true ... a chance for someone else to take responsibility for this boy whom she loved as much as she was able but who was completely out of control. "And you will be going to this school, too. I won't let you miss a chance like this."
Her son glared at her mutinously. No one had yet learned that his was a personality that could be led but not driven.
Seeing that she was going to receive no answer, the woman went on. "Well, it's getting very late. We can discuss this further in the morning. Come along."
He shook his head and obstinately walked down by the water.
"All right then, I'm going in. Don't stay out here too long. It's damp." And with that bit of motherly concern, she turned to walk up the path ... already preparing strategems for convincing her husband that their younger son's future rested upon his leaving home. And for once she was in the right.
Left to his own devices, the boy sat down on a fairly dry rock and tried to think things out. Part of him wanted to start packing and be ready to leave in the morning. Another part wanted to remain in his backyard forever.
Lady wandered up to him again and he looked at her with a certain amount of calculating affection. She was so special to him. And such a beautiful animal. Other than the extra ears she looked very like a small Doberman ... not that any of that breed had ever had a coat of the old rose that she had been born with. He scratched her ears again. He couldn't possibly leave her ... she was his responsibility. But a thought... Roy, down the street, had admired her several times. He'd take her and it would be a good home, too. The prospective Cadet scratched the dog's ears and thought a bit.
Wasn't really all that much to stay for. Grandmother Esther was gone. And only Mother here ... always wanting so much, but never giving.
But to let himself be sent off like this ... like an orphan or something. The boy picked up several stones and began desultorily throwing them into the pond. It was as if they thought he was a criminal or something, he fumed. He wasn't going, but if he did he would show them. He'd be the best student, he'd be at the top of his class. 'Course all those people telling him what to do there wouldn't matter because he wasn't really going.
Finally noticing the time and the chill, he decided to go on in. Finding several flat stones in his hand he idly began skipping them across the slightly rippling water. "If it skips once, I'll stay here and if it skips twice I'll go." The stone bounced off the water's surface once before disappearing. So he tried again. This time the stone skipped twice. Suddenly becoming aware of where his thoughts were leading him, he smiled at his own superstition. Of course nothing could be settled in so childish a fashion.
He looked up at the now-clear sky. The deep indigo was slashed briefly by a falling star. Someone had once told him that was a sign that someone's soul was going to heaven. He was still child enough to want to believe it. "Goodbye, Grandma." He felt as if he were saying farewell to more than a woman ... it was the end of his childhood.
Then he became a boy again. Picking up Lady with a certain amount of difficulty, he started off through the wet vegetation. "Yes, you'll be fine. I think you would like Roy ... he's got a real big yard."
Under the calm skies the stars were reflected waveringly in the still-moving water of the pond and even though he did not realize it for many years, the person James T. Kirk would be had been decided that night.
For there was one more entry for the boy's log, one that he himself never found:
"West of these out to seas colder than the Hebrides
I must go.
Where the fleet of stars is anchored
and the young