Ensconced in his center seat, Captain James T. Kirk readjusted the cast on his left hand and regarded his bridge's forward viewscreen, where the planet of his birth was depicted in all its deep blue, cloudswaddled glory. At any other time in his life, the captain would have looked on the sight with gladness and anticipation.
Gladness, because there was something in every man that responded warmly to the sight of the familiar and the traditional. Anticipation, because there were people who loved him on Earth, people whose embrace Kirk would have sought out at his earliest opportunity.
But this time, there was no gladness in his heart, no warmth, no anticipation. There would be no fond reunions with relatives and old cronies lasting long into the night.
After all, the captain was still reflecting on the death of a friend. And not just any friend.
He and Gary Mitchell had been buddies almost since their first encounter at Starfleet Academy fifteen years earlier. They had served on three different ships together, rescuing each other from deadly peril more times than either of them had cared to count.
Then that string of rescues had ended. A peril had come along that was so staggering, so unimaginable, that Kirk hadn't been able to save his pal's life. On the contrary...
He was the one who had taken it.
Sometime later, in the irony to end all ironies, Gary's parents had informed the captain that they wanted him to speak at their son's funeral service. In fact, they wanted him to deliver the eulogy, since he was both Gary's commanding officer and his closest friend.
Under other circumstances, it would have been an honor for Kirk, albeit a sad one. It would have been an opportunity to pay tribute to his friend's memory. But under these circumstances, it was a nightmare.
How could he stand up at Gary's funeral and speak of his death as if it were someone else's doing? How could he say such a thing or even imply it, when he knew it was he who had pressed the phaser trigger and sent his friend to an early grave?
The captain sighed. "Establish synchronous orbit," he told Lieutenant Sulu, until recently his astrophysics chief and now his primary helmsman.
"Synchronous orbit," the lieutenant repeated, making the necessary adjustments on his instrument panel.
"Captain Kirk," said Dezago, the communications officer. "They're ready for you in the transporter room.?"
Kirk swung around in his chair. "Thank you, Lieutenant," he told Dezago. "Tell them I'll be down there in a minute."
The communications officer nodded. "Aye, sir."
The captain turned to Spock, his Vulcan first officer. "You have the conn," he said.
Spock, who was seated at the science station as usual inclined his head ever so slightly. "Acknowledged," he said.
It was comforting to know he could count on someone with the Vulcan's intelligence and efficiency. In fact, Kirk would have felt comfortable leaving Spock in command even in the middle of an enemy attack.
As it was, they were in orbit around the planet where Federation headquarters was located, arguably the most secure location in the galaxy. The captain didn't anticipate trouble of any kind.
At least, not up there.
With that thought in mind, Kirk got up and headed for the turbolift. As the doors opened with a whisper of air, he entered the compartment and used his good hand to press the control stud indicating the transporter deck. The doors slid shut and he was on his way.
Less than a minute later, the lift deposited the captain at his destination. The transporter room was only a few meters away, down the corridor to the right. Still, when Kirk reached its double doors, he couldn't help hesitating for a moment.
Beyond these doors, he told himself, was change -- and quite possibly a great deal of it. When he came back the next day, his sojourn on Earth complete, things would be different.
There would be personnel alterations at the very least. New faces coming, familiar ones going. But it was the face of the man sitting in the captain's chair that he was most concerned about at the moment.
What kind of person would he be when he returned to the Enterprise? One who had come through his ordeal with his self-respect intact -- or one who had compromised himself for the sake of his duty to the point where he could no longer look at himself in the mirror?
Only time would tell.
Taking a deep breath, Kirk moved forward and saw the red orange doors part at his approach. There were four people waiting for him inside the room -- Lieutenant Kyle, who was standing behind the control console, and the three crewmen gathered on the round, slightly elevated transporter pad.
One of them was Mark Piper, who had served as chief medical officer on the Enterprise since the captain assumed command of the vessel a year earlier. The doctor was retiring from the fleet after a long and prestigious career to spend more time with his children and grandchildren.
On Piper's right was Daniel Alden, the Enterprise's primary communications officer. Alden's fiancée had gotten a job as administrator of a Federation colony and he was leaving the ship to be with her.
Yeoman Barbara Smith stood on Piper's left. An attractive woman with an efficient, thorough manner, she had somehow never clicked with Kirk. However, he knew that was his fault as much as hers, considering he had only recently managed to recall her name with any consistency.
"Captain," said Piper, as Kirk approached the platform.
"Doctor," the captain replied. Then he glanced at the others. "Alden," he said. "Smith."
"I guess this is it," said the communications officer.
The captain smiled -- first at Alden, and then at the others as well. "I guess it is," he replied. "But before you go, I want to thank you for all the good work you've done on this ship. Those you leave behind will always be in your debt."
The yeoman smiled back at him. "It's nice of you to say so, sir."
"I'd be remiss if I said anything else," Kirk told her.
"Captain," said Kyle, "they're ready to receive our friends here down at Starfleet Headquarters."
The captain nodded to show he had heard. "Thank you once again," he told the trio on the transporter pad. Then he glanced at the transporter technician and said, "Energize, Mr. Kyle."
A moment later, the air around Piper, Alden, and Smith began to shimmer with an iridescent light. Then they and the light faded to nothingness as their molecules were absorbed into the transporter's pattern buffer and sent streaming down to Earth along an annular confinement beam.
Kirk sighed and wondered if he would ever see any of them again. At the rate the Federation was growing, it seemed unlikely. But then, one never knew.
"How long before we greet our new arrivals?" he asked Kyle.
The technician consulted his instrument panel. "Not long," he told the captain. "In fact, sir, any moment now."
Right on cue, three separate forms began to take shape on the Enterprise's transporter platform. One of them was male, the other two female. Very female, Kirk couldn't help but notice, even before the newcomers completed the materialization process.
Under happier circumstances, he might have studied the women a little more closely. As it was, all he could think about was the friend he had left behind on Delta Vega.
"Welcome to the Enterprise," he told the newcomers, knowing how flat his voice must sound to them.
The male figure, a rawboned, boyish-looking specimen, descended from the platform and held out his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Captain. Lieutenant David Bailey reporting for duty."
Despite the cast he was wearing, Kirk took the man's hand. Bailey's grip was strong and enthusiastic -- and if he hadn't held back because of the captain's injury, it might have been even more so.
Somehow, Kirk thought, frowning, David Bailey hadn't looked quite so baby faced in his Starfleet file photo. If he had, the captain might have thought twice about making the man his primary navigator.
Then again, he reminded himself, Bailey had impressed the staff of the Carolina with his charting abilities and his command potential. I probably shouldn't be judging a book by its cover, he mused.
"At ease," Kirk told the lieutenant.
Bailey smiled. "Thank you, sir."
By then, the two women had stepped down from the transporter platform as well. They flowed around Bailey as a river might flow around an especially obtrusive hunk of rock.
"Lieutenant Uhura," said one of them, a darkskinned beauty with long lashes and prominent cheekbones. "Communications," she added.
Alden's replacement, the captain remarked inwardly. He shook her hand as well -- not very warmly, he was afraid. "Uhura."
The other woman, who had flaxen hair and sparkling blue eyes, introduced herself as Janice Rand. "Yeoman," she explained, as if her uniform weren't explicit enough on that point.
"Yeoman," said Kirk.
He scrutinized the newcomers for a moment, finding intelligence and an abiding curiosity in their faces. They all seemed capable, responsible, eager. No doubt they were among the finest the fleet had to offer.
But the captain couldn't give them any guarantee they wouldn't wind up as Gary had. As Kelso had. He couldn't assure them their lives wouldn't be cut short before their curiosities were satisfied.
"Again," he said, "welcome aboard. Mr. Kyle here will be happy to direct you to your quarters, where you'll find your duty schedules posted." He frowned. "At some point, I would like to speak with each of you individually. But right now, other matters require my attention."
"Of course, sir," Bailey replied.
"Acknowledged," Uhura responded.
Kirk looked at them a moment longer, trying to see people standing there in front of him and not prospective casualties. It wasn't easy, he thought, sighing again.
Finally, he said, "Dismissed."
The newcomers moved aside for him and the captain ascended to the transporter platform. Then he turned to his transporter chief and said a single word: "Energize."
Uhura watched the transporter effect surround Kirk with its undulating brilliance. A moment later, he was gone.
She made her way across the room to the transporter control console. The transporter technician, a tall man with blond hair and a narrow face, was still gazing at the empty platform.
"Is he always like that?" she asked.
The blond man turned to her. "Beg your pardon?" he asked with a distinct English accent.
"The captain," she said. "Is he always so solemn?"
The transporter operator smiled a little sadly at her. "No," he told her. "Not always, Lieutenant."
Uhura glanced at the empty platform, as if something of Kirk remained there that might give her a clue about his demeanor. "He looked as if he had lost his best friend."
The blond man frowned at the remark.
"What did I say?" the communications officer asked, realizing she had hit some kind of nerve.
"As a matter of fact," the transporter operator explained solemnly, "the captain did lose his best friend."
By then, the yeoman and Lieutenant Bailey had joined Uhura at the control console. "Under what circumstances?" asked Bailey.
The blond man looked uncomfortable. "To tell you the truth, sir, I'm not really sure about that. No one is -- it's classified information. And the captain hasn't made any effort to fill us in. All he's said is that Lieutenant Mitchell died in the line of duty."
"In the line of duty," Rand echoed appraisingly. "I guess that's the way I'd want to go." She glanced at Uhura, then Bailey, and reddened a little. "I mean, if I had to go at all."
"One never knows when one's time is up," Bailey remarked soberly.
"That's true," the yeoman responded in the same theatrical tone of voice. "One never does."
But as she said it, she turned to Uhura and rolled her eyes. The communications officer had to suppress a laugh.
Well, she thought, more than a little relieved, at least one person on this ship has a sense of humor.
One moment, Kirk was standing on the Enterprise's transporter platform, gazing at Kyle and the three newcomers he had just greeted -- if it rightfully could have been called a greeting given the lack of warmth and enthusiasm he had demonstrated.
The next moment, the captain found himself on a considerably more spacious platform in the transporter room at Starfleet Headquarters. And it wasn't Kyle or Uhura or Rand or Bailey he was looking at. It was Leonard McCoy, hotshot research biologist at Starfleet Medical and, more importantly, one of Kirk's best friends.
"Jim," said McCoy, obviously torn between his happiness at seeing the captain and his sadness at the reason for it.
"Bones," Kirk replied, stepping down off the platform.
McCoy put a hand on the captain's shoulder and squeezed it affectionately. Then he glanced at Kirk's cast. "What happened to you?"
The captain shrugged. "I'll explain later."
His friend accepted the answer. "Come on," he said. "Let's get out of here, shall we?"
Kirk couldn't have been more surprised. "Get out...? But aren't you on duty?" he asked.
"To hell with duty," the doctor responded. Then he took his friend's arm and led him in the direction of the exit.
"To hell with duty?" Kirk echoed. He took a closer look at his friend's face, but the biologist didn't seem particularly upset by anything. "That doesn't sound like the Bones McCoy I knew on the Constitution. That Bones McCoy couldn't have been dragged out of his lab by a team of musclebound security officers."
The biologist harrumphed. "Well," he said, "may be I've learned a few things since I was that Bones McCoy."
"Such as?" the captain asked as they emerged from the transporter room and made their way down the corridor, passing headquarters personnel going in the other direction.
His friend shrugged. "Such as...you take from life what you can get, whenever you can get it. Because when it's over, it's over, and there are no second chances."
Kirk made another attempt to read the man's profile -- to no avail. "And...you came to that conclusion when your father died?" he guessed.
McCoy shook his head from side to side. "I came to it when you sent me the message about Gary. My father was an old man, at least, god rest his soul. He'd had a chance to live. By comparison, Gary was only a baby."
A baby who had seen the stars, the captain thought. But that didn't mean he didn't see the sense in what his friend was saying.
"So where are we going?" he asked, as they made a left turn down another corridor.
A smile tugged at the corners of McCoy's mouth. "A little hole in the wall I found after I moved back here. You're going to love it. It's called Velluto's and they make the best -- "
"Veal saltimboca?" Kirk ventured.
The biologist shot him a searching look. "I was going to mention their seafood fra diavolo...but, yes, they make a great veal saltimboca, too." His eyes narrowed. "I guess you know the place."
The captain grunted. "Are you kidding? My senior year, I ate there every Sunday night. I guess I never mentioned it."
McCoy grunted, too. "Or maybe you did. I probably had my nose in a medscanner at the time. Anyway, Sal's expecting us."
Kirk nodded, allowing the years to fall away as he remembered. "Sal...my god, Bones. I wonder if he ever married that woman who used to sit at the corner table."
"By the big, ol' mural of Positano?"
The captain smiled. "That's right. You've seen her?"
The doctor chuckled as they stopped at a turbolift. "Damned right I have. And let me tell you, the woman still sits there a lot. But that's only because she wants to keep an eye on her husband."
Kirk was delighted that Sal had gotten his heart's desire. "Good for him," he replied. "Gary always said she'd -- "
He tried to finish his sentence, but he couldn't. His mouth had suddenly gone dry. The smile must have vanished from his face because McCoy's vanished as well.
"You all right?" the biologist asked.
The captain nodded. "Fine," he said, readjusting his cast.
But he was anything but fine. The tragedy of his friend's death was weighing him down again, crushing him the way he had tried to crush Gary with that rock on Delta Vega.
For a moment, Kirk had forgotten what had happened to his friend. For a moment, he had begun to smile again. But it was only for a moment.
"Listen, Jim," said McCoy, his expression a sympathetic one, "if you'd rather we didn't -- "
The captain held up his good hand. "No. I want to go." He took a deep breath and watched a couple of officers walk by. "I want to see Sal again. After all, I have to congratulate him."
His friend seemed to sift through the statement, analyzing it for its truth content. The researcher in McCoy must have been satisfied with the results, because he said, "Yes, you do. And I imagine Sal will be glad to see you too, after all these years."
Kirk had an idea. "Just one request," he told McCoy.
"What's that?" the biologist asked.
"Let's walk there," the captain suggested.
McCoy smiled a little uncomfortably. After all, the restaurant was a mile away up a pretty steep hill, and Kirk knew his friend had never been one for pursuing an exercise regimen.
But McCoy didn't argue with him. All he said was, "Suit yourself."
Copyright © 1999 by Paramount Pictures
Captain Kirk has returned to Earth to attend the funeral of Gary Mitchell -- the man he was forced to kill. As he wonders what he can possibly say in eulogy, he thinks back to the first time he had to do without his friend, several months earlier....
Kirk has just taken command of the U.S.S. Enterprise and brought along Gary as navigator. Kirk has learned to depend on his friend's good sense and advice, but when Kirk confronts the Klingons for the first time in his career, Gary is taken captive and cut off from Kirk. Now the young captain has no choice but to rely on a man he barely knows, a Vulcan named Spock.
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