DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. This poem is the creation and property of Mandi Schultz and is copyright (c) 1976 by Mandi Schultz. Originally printed in Alpha Continuum, 1976.
Obeying orders, they rose from sleeping mats on the floor and slowly lined the walls of the cell, their hands clasped behind their necks. Their eyes blinked, shying from the sudden light, as four uniformed soldiers entered the room. One of them, the apparent superior, walked slowly about the room, pausing before each of the men who stood against the walls before moving on to the next.
"This one," he said, pointing, and turned to his companions. Then, "You will collect your belongings and come with us now. I will await you outside."
The youth eyed the officer with not undue suspicion in silence.
"The rest of you," the soldier continued, "as you were." The boy went to his mat and picked up his shirt and boots, all he had managed to salvage before, as the others returned to their places to resume the fitful sleep they all had shared.
"Jim, what's happening? What do you think they want?" his brother asked.
"Don't worry, Sam. Maybe they'll listen to us now. There's been so much activity here, it's probably taken them this long to get through the red tape. I told you when Governor Kodos discovered we were here as prisoners, he'd let us go."
"Then why didn't they tell me to come with you?" The younger boy stared impatiently at his brother.
"Come on, Sam, you know how it is. I'm older so he probably wants to talk to me."
"I'm scared, Jim. What if you don't..."
He put his hand on the boy's shoulders. "I'll be back, don't worry. You'll see, he'll tell us it's all been a mistake and they'll let us go. That's all it is, Sam, and after all, it's about time. Now go back to sleep, and don't worry."
Sam nodded and went to his own place, apprehensive yet hopeful as he watched his brother go through the door that locked again behind him.
Outside, the solitary soldier remained. "You will follow me," he said curtly, and then began to lead him down the dimly lit hallway. They had been on Tarsus IV only four days when Governor Kodos had invoked martial law. Immediately, soldiers filled the streets and people were taken from their homes to be placed in detention camps until further notice.
Cadet James Kirk hadn't known at first what it was all about. With his brother George -- Sam for short -- they were returning to school. As honor students participating in the newly founded Galactic Educational Exchange Program, they had been sent for a trimester of studies at the highly respected Learning Center of Arcturia on the third planet of that system. Courses completed, they were anxious to return to their own prep school as well as to their classmates with whom they could enjoy spending what was left of the hiatus before the next season's classes began. They had booked passage on the Leilian, a second class passenger liner, hoping to impress their headmasters with their frugalness, and also because it would reach home three weeks ahead of all the other available ships since it had no prolonged stop-overs. Then came the call from Tarsus.
As intended, they had remained onboard the Leilian when she docked. Her stop-over there was described as direly necessary in order to pick up passengers in need of immediate transport. For some reason, unexplained delays occurred, and the passengers were invited from the ship and given accommodations on the surface. It was only when martial law went into effect that they had heard anything about the situation existing on the planet, so close was their comfortable confinement. They also learned that the Leilian had answered a false distress call. Since the ship's size was unknown, her food synthesizers were greatly desired on the planet's surface. Shortly thereafter, as the post atomic war Earth adage, went, all hell broke loose.
Tarsus IV was an Earth colony established many years before. Jim has known that much. What he didn't know, or at least hadn't remembered, was the problem of the mutant fungus, now gone out of control and fast destroying virtually all the food supplies. By the time it was arrested, it was nearly too late. What remained untainted would not be sufficient to feed 8000 people until the Federation ship enroute with supplies would arrive.
The day the passengers of the Leilian heard that rumor, it was actively confirmed by the soldiers who came to put them into detention areas along with the colonists. They were allowed to take what they wore or could carry, and in Jim's case it had been the former, all his meager scholastic's baggage being still aboard the ship. A dozen people or more were assigned to single-room cells, hastily prepared, with reed mats on the floor and a solitary lavatory facility fixture in one corner.
Indignant at first, he tried to tell the soldier that he, too, was a Federate, a prep school cadet, and surely, if he could just see the Governor... But he was ignored.
Now, he thought, still following the solitary soldier through a labyrinth of halls, he'd have a chance. Kodos was an old soldier, he might even have known the senior Kirk. Surely at least he'd let him and Sam out of that awful room and let them wait for the Federation ship. Absently, he noticed they had come to a more luxuriously decorated section of the complex than they had previously been in.
"The Governor is within," the soldier said as he stopped before a particular door. He gestured to the bundle the boy held. "Dress now."
Nervously, Jim pulled his cadet's grey shirt over his head and tugged on his boots.
"You would do well to listen well to what he will tell you," the soldier said as he opened the door.
Within he saw there were six other boys, apparently within close range of his own age, each with a uniformed soldier standing behind him. Before them lay the expanse of a vast office, at the opposite end of which three men, soldiers again, could be seen standing around a desk. He couldn't see the man sitting behind the desk but he assumed it was Kodos. Thank God, he told himself, it will all be over soon, as soon as he could talk to him. Nervously, he ran his fingers through his hair, realizing he wasn't exactly the image of an honors cadet. But surely the Governor would understand that...
The soldiers near it saluted the figure behind the desk who rose as they turned to leave and followed some few steps behind them. The look on their faces as they passed bothered Kirk: he couldn't fathom it. Several steps away, the Governor stopped and seemed to scrutinize the group.
"Lt. Schoenn, yours will remain," were the only words the Governor spoke before he returned to his desk.
Trying to ignore the sudden weakness he felt in his knees, Jim took a deep breath and crossed the room as the others left.
Kodos was a man small of stature. His hair was steel grey and he sported a full moustache. It was several minutes before he looked up from the papers on his desk.
"Cadet Kirk, reporting as ordered, sir."
"Ah...yes." Kodos returned his gaze to the papers before him and selected one of them. "You are listed on the passenger manifest from the liner Leilian."
"Cadet James T. Kirk," he read, "and a Cadet George S. Kirk."
"My brother," he volunteered before he realized he hadn't been asked.
"A cadet," he mused. "You are a long way from the Space Academy prep school!"
"Yes, sir," he nodded. "We've been participating in a student exchange program with the Arcturians and are returning home."
"Home." Kodos seemed lost in some private thoughts, far from whatever the immediate topic was. "I've not seen Earth in twenty of its years. How old are you, Cadet?"
"I too was a cadet at that age, but times were different then." He left the desk, walked to what was apparently a bar, and filled a glass.
Kirk tried not to shift from one foot to the other displaying his nervousness -- but tried in vain.
"At ease, Cadet."
He sighed mentally as he assumed the more comfortable stance. The man, drink in hand, walked around him and for some reason seemed to be surveying him.
"Sir, permission to speak," he began, breaking the silence.
"Apologies for my appearance, sir. We've been in transit for several days and then when..."
"It's not important," the man said. "Tell me, Cadet, what do your studies include? For what career are you planning?"
Why was he making small talk, Jim wondered. Why couldn't he get to the point so he and Sam could get out of that place? His mind brought forth a picture of Sam -- poor little brother, he thought, don't worry, I'm going to take care of this somehow, you'll see. But Kodos was an old soldier so he didn't dare deviate from the accepted formalities. "I want to have my own ship," he said immediately upon realizing he hadn't answered yet, and then immediately sorry for the juvenile manner in which he did. He stared about feeling somewhat helpless.
"Such a goal takes much work and sacrifice. What are your interests, boy?"
"Sir, I'm presently involved in an extracurricular course in the fundamentals of duotronics." He thought perhaps he should relax since the older man had ceased calling him 'Cadet' and referred to him informally. "And exploring," he added. "There is so much in space we haven't seen yet."
"Have you no personal interests, no hobbies?"
"Yes...sir. I've taken specialized training courses in physical education. I...I like to work out, sir, in a gym. And I've already completed the cadets' advanced martial arts requirements."
"Have you scars, boy?" he asked abruptly.
"Why...no, sir," he replied, desperately trying to cover his astonishment. He couldn't stand on formalities any longer. Perhaps the Governor was further on in years than he looked and his mind wandered. "Sir, I..."
"What about women?"
Women...girls. The question caught him even further off guard than the previous inquiries. What on earth did the old fellow want to hear? Even Jim was personally less delighted over the state than his inquirer would be if he was hoping for a good story since none existed nor any hope that there would ever really be one. "Well, sir, there's not much free time...I mean what with classes and training and..."
"Remove your shirt, boy."
Kodos was before him now, and Jim noticed the man was as tall as he. Fierce deepset eyes stared at him. Trying not to display the discomfort he felt, he removed the tunic and he told himself the room was really much warmer than it suddenly felt. What did he want, this made absolutely no sense at all. He really must be somewhere off the deep end, and that would explain what he was doing in charge of this godforsaken colony off the beaten path of every ship. Kodos suddenly came closer to him as he finished his drink. The gaze from his ominous eyes lingered on Kirk, who hoped he wasn't visibly shuddering, for as irrational a sensation as it was, he felt it on his skin.
"Your muscles are very well-developed for your age," he said as he reached out and touched him, first his arms, then his shoulders, then across the chest. "Your brother--he resembles you?"
"Somewhat, sir, but he's younger than I. Some say I favor my father more than he does."
Kodos touched him again, and the boy's mind whirled. Suddenly, what the Governor wanted became crystal clear and terrifying. His face betrayed his feelings.
"So?" the Governor nodded and walked back to his chair. "Put your shirt on, boy."
He sighed and obeyed, hoping there was a chance he was wrong.
"Lt. Schoenn will call for you tomorrow," Kodos told him, "and we will talk again. Think very carefully." He saluted the cadet who turned and left.
Kirk was surprised to find the same guard waiting outside the door and puzzled by the look he received from him. In silence he was returned to the cell and he gasped aloud in relief as he heard the door lock behind him.
He had just reached his sleeping pallet, his eyes yet unadjusted to the total darkness, when a presence beside him touched his arm. He flinched, memories surrounding him.
"Jim, what happened?" Sam's whisper seemed to cut the silence like a bugle blast but no one seemed to stir from their sleep. "Are we leaving, Jim?"
Oh, Lord, what can I tell him? "Not yet," he said, more tersely than he planned.
"Did you see the Governor?"
"No, but I have...I have an appointment with him tomorrow."
"Is that all they wanted, Jim?"
"Sure, Sam. Go back to sleep."
The presence disappeared and he lay down, fighting the nausea rising in his throat. He folded his arms tightly about him but he couldn't stop shaking.
* * *
In the morning, after an extremely sparse ration of food, everyone listened to the broadcast from the public address system. Everyone also followed it with total disbelief. The eloquent words hadn't camouflaged the truth. In order to insure the survival of anyone at all, by the power vested in him as military governor of Tarsus IV, Kodos was ordering the execution of what totaled half the population. The people in their room were all passengers from the Leilian and immediately began consoling themselves with the possibility that surely they would be spared. Jim Kirk, however, despaired that such a miracle was not fated to happen.
"He can't mean us, too, can he, Jim?" Sam asked, again. "When you talk to him today, he'll tell you, won't he?"
Jim nodded, feeling utterly helpless. "Probably, Sam, sure."
"Probably, Jim? You don't think he'll kill us, too?"
"Sam, don't worry, something will happen. The ship with the supplies is due any time now. You'll see." He didn't believe it but he hoped his brother would.
He sat in silence the rest of the day, with the exception of repeating similar exchanges with Sam. Afternoon came, but without the usual ration of food, and dusk was approaching. Jim felt sure the absence of food would recur. He had remained, knees drawn up, trying to keep his mind totally blank. All night long he could find no answers and the hopelessness of the situation overwhelmed him as much as Kodos's intimations repulsed him. But night was coming and he knew he had to do something.
Saving the rest of the passengers was impossible, so he decided his duty lay in saving Sam, if he could, and then perhaps himself since he and his brother were all each other had. Inevitably, invariably, the only solution was apparent. He must accept Kodos' offer. Something inside his chest tightened at the mere fleeting thought and he shivered. No, he thought, something will happen, the ship ...the supply ship...
...will arrive when we're all dead, he told himself, that is the reality of the situation. We have no redeeming abilities, there is no reason to spare... This time tomorrow we will be dead ... face it, you've got to face it, he told himself, there is only one way to possibly change that.
Oh, God ... I can't. The cry was so loud within him he was sure everyone else heard it. I can't, I can't...You have to, something told him, reason it out, look at it from all sides. But how many sides were there?
The man's private practices were his own business and answerable only to his own conscience, everyone has that right. He knew that the revulsion he felt came largely from the programming of his own culture, for he had studied cultures in which such participation held no stigma whatsoever. But to be forced... to force anyone to... to force him to... I can't, oh, God, I can't... But I don't want to die, I don't want to die. I don't want Sam to die, but I can't, I...
...have to. Survival ... I don't want to die here on this planet for nothing, and that is what it is, nothing, nothing except my own emotional reaction to this. I'll die, and so will Sam, unless I...
Lt. Schoenn's appearance at the doorway shattered his reverie. He left Sam with the most hopeful and encouraging words he could muster, took a deep breath, and followed the soldier. They took a different maze of hallways this time, and he tried to force from his mind the reason why. Again the journey ended in a better section of the building. The soldier, in total silence this time, opened the door for him.
He entered what appeared to be a parlor or sitting room of some sort. Modestly decorated, it seemed opulent when compared to what he had just left.
Kodos entered the room from a door on its opposite side. Not in uniform, he wore a dressing gown of some sort and smoked a syntobac. The boy assumed attention immediately as the man approached him.
"You've considered," Kodos stated, instead of asking, casually. Before Kirk could answer, he continued. "You heard the proclamation this morning."
"Cadet, due to the grave circumstances existent on Tarsus, you are classified as non-essential personnel. The disposition of such will begin in the morning."
"I'm not afraid to die."
"Death has such attractiveness to youth. Someone once said that youth is wasted on the young, and I quite agree. Your brother, the other Cadet Kirk, is also classified non-essential. You realize that."
He remained silent.
"You could save him," Kodos said simply, "and yourself."
Nausea flushed him again, and he choked it back. "How?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
"By doing as I tell you," he paused, "or as I ask you."
"What guarantee do you offer?" he asked, with more bravado than he felt.
"No, sir," he snapped to attention, and then paused. He inhaled and forced his head to clear. There was a chance, after all, and he could save Sam, if the man kept his word. "I merely suggest that we arrange this compromise -- as gentlemen."
The older man sighed, audibly bored yet he still seemed remarkably tense. "Go on."
"What is your offer?"
"You will be reclassified. You will live here, in my apartments, and you will not leave them. I see no reason to detail your other duties."
"And my brother?"
"I gave you my word."
"No...that's not enough." He paused to consider. He didn't want Sam brought directly into this but he had to make certain he would be kept alive. If he consented, and found out after that Sam had been ... 'disposed' with the already negligible half of the population ... the idea was unthinkable. "There are a lot of rooms in this complex. You'll confine him, alone. He'll be rationed enough food. He'll be allowed to visit me daily."
The older man walked to the partially opened draperies and pointed to the window. He shook his head. "4000 people out there will die tomorrow, boy. I don't have to give you anything at all." A malevolent twinkle came to his eye. "How do you know I won't have you killed tomorrow?"
"I don't. But on the other hand you don't know that I won't kill you tonight."
"Very good. I like that." He approached him again. "But listen well. There will be no opportunity for vengence on your part when this is done, when the Federation ship does get here. Whatever you say to denounce me will reflect on you, and on whatever career you're aspiring to in Star Fleet."
His ace in the hole vanished. In the back of his mind he had nurtured the fervent hope that when the ordeal passed he would see Kodos pay. Angrily, "It doesn't seem to have hurt yours any."
Kodos flushed angrily and raised his hand, but stopped the gesture in mid-air. "You'll pay for that, James Kirk. I think you know I can make you pay."
"Is it a bargain then? Sam's safety, as well as mine, for what you ask?" Dear, God, he thought, let's get this settled.
"It is agreed. In fact, to assure you, he will be put in quarters that can be observed on the telemonitor system. Now..."
"No," he snapped, "first Sam gets out of that hole."
"As you like. I have waited this long."
He pushed a button on his desk that evidentally activated an intercom and spoke orders into it. Lt. Schoenn appeared moments later.
"This cadet will be my orderly now," he told the officer. He then handed him a sheet of paper on which he had been writing. "You will see that this is taken care of immediately. Dismissed, Lieutenant."
Kodos left the desk again and went to the wallscreen monitor. He activated it and carefully focused the picture. In silence, Kirk watched his protesting brother being taken from the cell and led down hallways as he had been. He thought he recognized the area as he noted the change in decor. Sam was placed in a single small room, furnished with a simple cot and lavatory facilities, but at least it was clean.
"Is that the best you can do?" he asked Kodos.
"That depends on many things. On these co-ordinates you can observe him from here at any time. That is, if your gamble pays off." Kodos switched off the screen and walked toward the door from which he had entered the room. "I retire at this hour. You will ... attend me." He opened the door and stood next to it.
Oh, god, oh, god, oh, god, oh, god, what am I going to... Slowly, he walked into the bedroom and heard the door close behind him.
* * *
The next day Jim arranged to take the midday meal with Sam in the younger boy's quarters. He knew Lt. Schoenn would be watching on the telemonitor. "Jim, I'm so glad to see you!" Sam beamed as his brother walked into the room. "What's happening, did you talk to the Governor? I didn't know what to do when they brought me here last night, I thought you'd be here soon but I must've fallen asleep waiting. What's happening?"
"One thing at a time," Jim said with a forced smile. He folded his arms and sat on the edge of the bunk.
"Well, did you talk to the Governor?"
"Well, come on, what's..." His face was suddenly crestfallen as he stared at him. Slowly he shook his head. "Oh, no, Jim, he didn't..."
"It's all right, Sam," he said suddenly. "Don't worry. We've been ... er ... reclassified."
The younger boy's body sagged in relief. Jim thought he saw tears welling in his eyes.
"I told you," he continued, "as soon as he learned about our situation, he took care of things. After all, we're prep cadets, we're going to the Academy in another few years, there wasn't anything to worry about."
Sam clasped his hands together nervously. "It's terrible out there, Jim. All those people dying, for almost no reason at all. Life's not fair, Jim, and that's such a pitiful statement even if it is true." He seemed to force a grin. "Are they going to move us again? There's only one bed in here, Jim."
"I...I have my own quarters, Sam, but I'll see you, don't worry."
"I...the Governor had a job for me and I have to live somewhere else. He...he said he'd try to find something for you, too."
A knock at the door announced the arrival of food. Still a meager fare, Jim noticed, but was somehow consoled by the fact that the best hadn't been kept for the chosen few. Fortunately Sam failed to notice his brother had no appetite. Jim stood looking out the small window into the courtyard below, noting the periodic movement of groups of armed soldiers, then turned back to Sam. One day at a time, he told himself, that's the only way. The supply ship has to arrive soon... it has to... Sam was talking to him but he wasn't listening. This would end, and even though he knew he could never make Kodos pay, he consoled himself with two thoughts. Sam was safe, and when it was over he was going to bury it so far into his memory... he would force himself to forget it, he'd drive it from his mind any time it tried to creep back, he'd forget...
But that was for the future, if and when it came. Now he had to prepare to face tonight and all the following nights, until it did. Tonight, he shuddered, tonight...oh, my God...
* * *
Chantal awoke suddenly and looked around only briefly before realizing what had disturbed her sleep. Bathed in sweat, Jim's body convulsed and twitched next to her. He was talking, or trying to, though she couldn't discern any distinct words. She had known him to have restless nights before but nothing so violent as this that she was actually afraid to be beside him.
Carefully, she put a hand to his shoulder, and her touch seemed to enrage him.
"Jim...Jim..." She shook him gently, then more firmly since his fitfulness increased. "Jim, wake up ... please... you're dreaming...Jim..." She pushed him flat against the bed with all her might and he began to wrestle her back, still encased in sleep. "Jim, you've got to wake up, Jim..." At a complete loss, she slapped him across the face and the sound echoed off the walls. She thought it was terribly melodramatic but it seemed to work. He ceased to fight but the incoherent groaning continued, and then he seemed to sigh and began to wake. She eased her body off his and managed to get her arm about his shoulders. He rubbed his eyes, looked around and then at her.
"I'm sorry ... you were dreaming, having a nightmare," she said. "I couldn't wake you."
Oh, God. He sighed audibly.
"It's all right," she said softly, "it was just a dream. We're together now." The cool touch of her hands eased him into her embrace and he yearned to relax. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"No." He was infinitely sorry for being so abrupt with her. But, oh God, they've come back. The nightmares had stopped since the first night Chantal had shared his bed. He had thanked all the gods he could think of, as well as her presence, and her love, for that. But he realized.now that he always knew there would be no freedom or escape from them.
"As you wish," she said, still cradling him to her, her hands still stroking his face. "It's all right now," she purred softly as though to a child, "it was only a dream."
Oh, God, Chantal, how can I ever tell you what I ... oh, God, oh God...
Again he told himself, as he had done so many times before that he'd lost count, that what he did was not his fault. He didn't want to do it, he didn't enjoy it ... no, not ever. It was all in the past, it was over. It was something he had to do. That was unpleasant at the time but that was often a soldier's lot and it was over years ago. Years ago ... like it or not, he did it, and that would stay with him always.
After a time her own breathing regulated itself, assuring him that she was asleep. He couldn't hold back any longer, and the warmth and comfort in her voice, her love, and her embrace did nothing for any stern resignation he had left. In her sleeping arms, he sobbed, for the second time in more than as many decades.