DISCLAIMER:  The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc.  The story contents are the creation and property of Joanne K. Seward.  This story is rated G.  Originally published in Antares 4, copyright 2000 by Orion press, Randy Landers, editor.

 

A BIRD IN THE HAND, A BIRD IN THE BUSH

Joanne K.  Seward

 

"Hadn't you better ask yourself what Starfleet has up its sleeve?" I demanded over the shivering tones of the transporter beam that filled the so-called "rustic" cabin.  I stepped hastily back as Jim Kirk, better known to admirers and detractors alike as Admiral James T. Kirk, commander of Starfleet's flagship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, crossed the short distance between the "kitchen" and "living" areas in three rapid steps.

"Bones--"  He paused, open-mouthed, as though to respond to my question, but all he said was, "Quit harassing me."  Irritation colored his movements, though his voice spoke of restraint as he added, "Please?"

I decided to keep dashing in where angels fear to tread.  "Fine.  But think about it, Jim.  Starfleet stuck you in an office twice before and--"

He opened the transport module that had materialized on the rough-hewn desk and unloaded a pile of computer disks, hardcopy printouts, a single sheet of paper covered with hand-written notes and a small padded container emblazoned with the Starfleet Medical logo.  This last he tossed to me, saying, "I know what Starfleet is up to and for once I'm willing to go along with it."

"Hmph," I muttered, snatching the cush-n-pak from the air.  "Seemed to me you went along pretty readily the last time, too.  Just like th' proverbial lamb to the slaughter.  The second time you were badly beaten and needed time to recover--"

Jim stared out the wide window behind the desk, his back rigid.  Avoiding my eyes.  He knows I was right the last time.  He has to at least consider the possibility I'll be right again.

Apparently he had considered the possibility because when he finally spoke his words came slowly, thoughtfully.  "Bones, this third tour on the Enterprise was a gift -- a gift I've deeply appreciated, but one I can't expect to receive again.  The day is coming when I'm going to be too old for warping around the cosmos.  I want to meet that day on my own terms.  This teaching assignment could be just what the doctor ordered."

I winced at that tone of cool assessment.  It was as though Jim was talking about someone else, some stranger.  As for what he said, well, sure, we're all gettin' older, but I'm certain the day he mentioned is still a good ways off.  Striving for a lighter note, I said, "Hah!  What the doctor ordered was shore leave.  Rest.  Relaxation.  Sunshine and mountain breezes.  Not a stuffy starbase lecture hall.  After all, how often do we get leave on Earth?"

My attempt fell flat.  There was another long pause, then Jim turned from his contemplation of the heavy, second-growth forest.  "Bill Smillie told me the command training center is severely understaffed.  Three instructors out on family leave, another injured in a training mission, two more down with Centaurean mumps--"

"Nasty bug, Centaurean mumps," I said, "and you've never been inoculated."

"It's only a seminar.  We can still come back here for a couple of days if the Enterprise isn't ready--" he continued as though oblivious to my interruption.

I glanced at the vial of clear liquid I'd taken from the cush-n-pak.  "Looks like Smillie was pretty sure you'd say yes, Jim; he sent the vaccine before I had time to request it."  Gathering up my medikit from the desk where I'd dropped it when we arrived two days ago, I inserted the vial into a spray injector.  "We'll have to start the injections right now if it's to take effect in time."

Jim seemed to take this as acceptance, for he turned to where Spock stood near the kitchen counter, a cup of herbal tea in his long, slender hands.  "Well, Spock?  You've been rather quiet about this.  What do you think?"

Spock gave a look that was pure Vulcan -- pure Spock, anyway.  With a nod in my direction, he said, "Unlike the doctor, I do not believe Starfleet Command would take the Enterprise out of service merely to procure your services as a teacher.  As you well know, I do believe in the wisdom of stretching one's abilities."

Jim sighed and lifted the mug of coffee he'd been sipping before Smillies's communication interrupted our vacation.  "You're right, of course..."

Playing devil's advocate now, he continued, "But Bones may have something.  Asking me to teach a course on the prime directive, its history and basic precepts..."  Eyes wide and lips tight, he gave a look that was as much "Kirk" as the lifted eyebrow was Spock.  "Given Starfleet's view of my record, that is."

Hypospray in hand, I grasped his arm.  "This'll only hurt for a minute, Jim."  I didn't bother to strain the sarcasm from my voice.

* * *

 

"So..."  Returning the hypo to my kit after completing the final injection in the series, I perched on the edge of the desk where Jim had spent most of the last three days reviewing the materials forwarded by Bill Smillie along with several logs downloaded from the library computer aboard the Enterprise.  "Are you ready?  Do you have your lectures all planned?"

Jim picked up the datapadd on which he'd recorded his notes, scanned the contents, then returned it to the desk with a look that smacked of disgust.  "Bones, I'll be damned if I remember the prime directive being this boring when I studied it in command school.  Here it is, one of the most important tenets -- no, the most important tenet of the Articles of Federation, the very foundation of Starfleet's exploratory and first contact policies.  How can it they make it sound so--"  He gave a little shrug, "for lack of a better word, dull?"

Folding my arms across my chest and settling my rump more comfortably, I said, "Seems to me, the directive itself is kinda dull, Jim-boy.  It's all the little permutations of cultures and situations where it's applied that make it interesting."

"Hmm, you could be right," he responded.  Accepting a mug of coffee from Spock, he said, "The tapes and books make it sound cut and dried when it's anything but."

I felt a grin stretching my facial musculature as I watched him take an appreciative slurp of the steaming tar-like substance in the crockery mug.  When Spock serves coffee it's hot enough to melt the spoon and strong enough to require a warning from the surgeon general.  Jim considers it only one step below the nectar of the gods.

"And then there are the birds," he added after swallowing cautiously.

"The birds?" I demanded.  The analytical part of me, the part I do my damnedest to hide from Spock, noted the rising pitch of my voice.

"Yeah," Jim answered, jabbing a thumb in the direction of the window.  "You know, the ones nesting in the bushes outside."

"The dwarf cardinals," Spock supplied.

"Dwarf cardinals, hmm?"

Spock lost no time telling me more than I wanted to know.  "Indeed, Doctor.  They are a product of natural selection and careful breeding.  Doctor Marti Deloris did the initial work some one hundred twenty years ago--"

After all our years together, I know the signs of a Spockian lecture about to happen.  I nipped it in the bud, saying, "I knew the birds -- the dwarf cardinals, that is -- were out there, Spock, but I'll be damned if I can see why they should bother Jim."

"It's not that they bother me, precisely," Jim answered.  "It's that I should be trying to figure out a hook -- a way to capture the students' interest -- and instead I'm watching baby birds learn to fly."  His eyes opened wide and he aimed that little teasing, sideward look of his at Spock as he added, "They are quite fascinating."

The Vulcan's eyes glinted in appreciation but his brow rose as he followed Jim's gaze to the bushes outside the window.  "The cardinals are not yet fledged, Jim.  They are too young to learn to fly."

Jim stared up at Spock, but before he could make the rebuttal that was clearly on the tip of his tongue, we heard the sound of landing thrusters in the meadow in front of the cabin.

"Looks like our taxi is here," I said.

"Right." Grabbing the datapadd, Jim stood.  He lifted his fleet issue travel bag from where it waited by the door onto his shoulder.  "You know," he said thoughtfully, "there's no reason for you two to come with me.  You could stay here, finish out your leave.  When the Enterprise is ready Scotty could beam you up direct."

I shook my head.  "Nah, that's okay.  Spock isn't the most amusing companion I can think of.  If I have to hang around with him, I'd rather it were somewhere a little more stimulating.  Starbase One sounds just about right."

Dark eyes gleaming, Spock said, "Indeed, Doctor.  That is precisely what I told Jim when he made the same suggestion to me earlier."

Jim chuckled as he locked the cabin door.

I contented myself with a grunted "Hmph."  The truth is, neither Spock nor I trust Starfleet's judgment on the subject of one, James T. Kirk.

* * *

 

Requests to audit the prime directive seminar came from far and wide when word of who was presenting it got around.  Deciding that a standard command school lecture hall was insufficient for the numbers who wished to attend, Starfleet opted for a change of venue.

Still grinning at Jim's reaction to the change--something about hating to be the center ring act in a one ring circus -- I slid into the base's packed main auditorium and inched my way to where Spock stood against the side wall.

"How's he doin'?" I whispered.

Spock's eyebrow rose and he pressed a finger to his lips.  I took the admonition in good part, turning my attention to what was happening on the stage.

Standing erect behind the lectern placed slightly to one side of the stage (a concession to that center ring comment, I wondered?), Jim Kirk was an impressive sight.  His skin had acquired a slight tan from the time he'd managed to spend in Sol's light that made his eyes seem green rather than their usual tawny shade.  His medals and ribbons gleamed against the warm red of his uniform.  A smile came readily to his lips.  Outwardly, at least, he appeared as comfortable as he ever had in the command chair of the Enterprise.

I was surprised when he directed a look in our direction.  I guess the soft glow of the exit sign over our heads was sufficient for him to know who was standing there.  Either that or the nebulous link he has with Spock was working double-time.  At any rate, I recognized the look he gave us.  It's the one I've always called his "rabbit in the hat look."  It's the one that always comes over his face right before he pulls the Enterprise from certain death or rescues the known universe from a fate worse than death.

He gave us the slightest of nods, then facing the audience directly, said, "During my recent leave I watched a baby bird in the branches of a pine thicket.  The bird wasn't yet ready to fly, its wings were still covered with down, but it was determined to try.  It rose up like a dancer, spread those half-naked wings and flapped wildly but each little hop only took it farther from its nest and safety.  As I watched I wanted to do something, to help it somehow, but I knew my interference would have a negative effect.  I might frighten it into a fall and if I touched it, the mother bird would no longer provide nourishment.  I had to sit back, watch, and allow what would happen to happen."

A hand went up and Jim pointed.  "Yes?"

"You are comparing the prime directive to a fledgling bird, sir?" a doubtful young voice asked.

"I am," he replied.  "It's rather like quantum physics, Lieutenant.  By your presence, by the very act of staging an experiment, you alter the outcome.  Sometimes the prime directive is like that."

His questioner nodded and sank back into his seat.

Another hand shot into the air.  "Sir, that theory of quantum physics has been discounted.  According to Ventor of Cygni III--"

"Check the most recent work of Doctor Carol Marcus.  I think you'll find it's back in vogue," Jim answered, not allowing the questioner to continue.

A young woman stood up.  "But what about your own experience on Neural, sir?  You interfered--"

"Only because there was no alternative," someone called from the far side of the auditorium.  "The prime directive had already been contravened--"

"What about Gamma Trianguli Six or Vendikar and Eminiar Seven?" another voice asked.

Jim Kirk raised his hands.  "All excellent points.  Let's take each of these occurrences in turn and you can tell me why the actions taken by myself and my crew were correct or incorrect."  Pointing to one of the students, he said, "You brought up the matter of Neural.  Would you like to discuss it?"

Deciding Jim wasn't likely to need any help from me, I turned to leave.  "How does he do it?" I whispered to Spock.  I'm not certain whether I was referring to the rapt expressions on the command students' smooth faces or the abilities of the man on the stage -- a man who only twenty minutes earlier had been pacing a backstage corridor, hands tightly clenched at his sides.

"I look out the window," I explained, "I see a bunch of little red birds.  You look out the window, you see -- what?  A study in aerodynamics, maybe, or selective breeding.  He looks out the window and he sees the prime directive in action."  I shook my head.  "I'm damned if I can figure it, Spock."

"Indeed," Spock said.  Nodding toward a group of headquarters' brass standing directly opposite us at the other side of the auditorium, he added, "One can only hope Starfleet is aware of the value of this particular 'bird in their hand.'"

Resisting the urge to tease the Vulcan on his use of the word "hope" or his twist of the Terran maxim, I merely sighed and whispered, "Amen to that."

THE END