“Damn it,” had been McCoy's typically-elegant statement on the matter. “Damn them, the fools. Don't worry, Jim,” he added, fighting to hold on to the last vestiges of his composure, “we'll take this all the way to the Federation supreme court if we have to! You saved the whole planet, for god's sake!”
“We saved the planet, Bones,” Kirk said, correcting his old friend smoothly. “As for fighting it …” It was still difficult to process; it didn't seem real, the outcome of the Court Martial.
“We are with you, Captain,” said Chekov. “To the bitter end, if need be.”
There were murmurs of assent from his assembled former bridge crew; all of them as eager as they had been more than twenty years ago, when a fresh-faced captain had first stepped foot on to the Enterprise to take command. Kirk dearly wished that the words existed, in any tongue, to tell them, to let them know, just how proud he was to have served alongside them for so long.
Most of the council members had already left; one or two lingered, but none of them seemed intent on approaching Kirk. Even Harry Morrow – a man he had once called friend – seemed to be wavering before following a coterie of Xindi delegates out the door.
“There's gratitude for you,” Bones said acidly of the departing Commander of Starfleet. “Didn't you save that ingrate's life once, when you were on the Farragut together? Spock, don't you have anything to say?”
“The penalties for our crimes are quite severe, Doctor,” Spock said quietly. “Under the circumstances, we got off quite lightly, as I believe you would put it.”
McCoy was apoplectic. Before he could say anything that would potentially destroy his relationship with the Vulcan, Kirk cut in quickly, “It's okay. Spock's right. I knew what would happen as soon as I came up with the idea to take the Enterprise. All of you get to keep your commissions, and I'm pleased about that.”
“So. That's it, then? You're just gonna roll over and die?” asked McCoy, not even bothering to disguise his contempt.
“No,” Kirk replied, eyebrows narrowed. “I'm going to scour the job market.” With a brief nod to his friends, he departed.
“So. Now what?” asked Uhura.
“I believe we wait and see what turns up,” replied Spock, not quite able to meet her inquisitive gaze.
Though he'd known roughly what to expect thanks to the plans that he'd been provided with, Kirk still found his breath taken away when he stepped out of the whisper-quiet environs of the turbolift and onto the bridge of the new ship.
His new ship. He still couldn't get used to that fact.
Or the Vulcan uniform, for that matter. He'd found some of the older Starfleet garb to be clingy in all the wrong places, but the ever-pragmatic Vulcan Science Academy had clearly designed their beige, form-fitting uniforms to be practical not comfortable.
A few of the assembled technicians offered him the briefest of curt nods before returning to their work; tuning this, tweaking that, and generally getting the VSS Terkadau – latest flagship of the Vulcan High Command – ready for launch.
A flagship that he would be commanding on a five-year mission of exploration into the deepest reaches of the still-largely unexplored Beta Quadrant!
For an unworthy moment as he glided around the bridge, examining the control interfaces and finding them much the same as on the Enterprise, Kirk allowed himself to think of his trial and his dishonourable discharge from Starfleet service. He'd known what would happen, of course. Violating the orders of a superior, stealing the Enterprise – destroying her into the bargain – and killing the crew of a Klingon vessel. He was fortunate not to be in chains, or worse, on his way to Rura Penthe.
In typical Klingon fashion, they had found it punishment enough that he be made to live with his dishonour.
Even with the detour through time to rescue a pair of humpback whales, even with the massive intelligence scoop in bringing back a Klingon bird-of-prey for study, the Federation council – to avert an interstellar war – had thrown the book at him.
“Captain,” a pretty young Vulcan engineer said to him, cutting into his thoughts.
Kirk could not help but notice that her own sandy uniform hugged her lithe body in all the right places. If only he had been ten years younger. It took him a moment to realise that she was handing a PADD to him. “Subcommander T'Liza, isn't it? Your grandmother was-”
“-T'Pol, first officer of Captain Archer's Enterprise, yes.” She sounded annoyed – at least in as much as a Vulcan could sound annoyed – by the recognition. “Not being a military craft, this ship is armed with lighter phasers than you would find on a Starfleet vessel. We've been attempting to channel impulse power through the phaser couplings, but-”
“-But you've blown the relays every single time you've tested them,” Kirk said dryly, remembering his opposition when such a scheme had been suggested with his Enterprise during her refit prior to the encounter with V'Ger. He brought up a blueprint of the phaser relays on the PADD and pointed to a set of conduits near the impulse reactors. “If you install additional converters here, the power load will be much more finely balanced.”
T'Liza retrieved the PADD and offered Kirk a curt nod. “Thank you, Captain,” she said before disappearing in the direction of the turbolift, and Kirk could not stop himself from staring after her. Something of T'Liza seemed to linger in the atmosphere around him. Vulcans did not normally adorn themselves with make-up or perfume, but a scent tickled his nostrils all the same. It was her, all her. She was suffused with the odours of her world: the sands of the desert, the storms of the Forge, the eagerness of youth and the volatility of a mixed-heritage.
It was … intoxicating.
With a shake of his head, Kirk returned himself to the present. Or to be more precise, the slightly more recent past.
Shortly after being kicked out of Starfleet, he had washed up in the 602 Club – naturally, the officers were giving him a wide berth – and was in the process of drowning his sorrows when no less a figure than Ambassador Sarek himself had taken the seat next to him.
“In human terms,” Sarek had opened with, not even bothering with a preamble, “I believe the phrase is, I owe you one.” The drunken revelry in the background was in sharp contrast to the aloofness that seemed to surround Sarek like a personal deflector shield. It was as if all impropriety was simply diverted around him. Eyebrow raised, he added, “That is the expression, isn't it?”
“Ambassador, you owe me nothing. Bringing Spock back to Vulcan-” he smiled a tight-lipped smile “-was only logical.”
“Sarek will suffice.”
“As I am not on official embassy duty at this moment in time, there is no need to refer to me by my rank,” Sarek replied.
Kirk lolled the name around his tongue; it just didn't sit right without the title, and there were few beings in the universe that demanded such automatic respect as Sarek of Vulcan. “Would you join me for a drink, Sarek?”
“Thank you,” replied Sarek with a polite nod. Turning to the bartender, he said, “Kentucky Bourbon on the rocks, please.”
“I thought Vulcans didn't-”
“-As a rule, we don't.” Sarek eyed the warm amber liquid with a curious expression. “But during my time on your planet, I have developed a taste for many … quaint Earth traditions. Besides, who are you to begrudge a man for bending the rules?” This last comment was directed at Kirk with an almost-imperceptible smile.
“Most logical,” Kirk replied, clinking his glass against Sarek's. “What better way to understand a culture than by throwing yourself into its little customs and peculiarities.”
Sarek contemplated his drink for a moment longer before asking, “What will you do now that you can no longer return to Starfleet?”
“Honestly? I don't know,” Kirk replied. “I knew that I'd never captain a starship again, but to be summarily drummed-out of the service in that manner … especially after everything we went through with the Cetacean Probe, I was hoping for some kind of leniency.” Bitterness laced his voice, but deep down he knew that he couldn't blame the Federation Council, the Commander of Starfleet, or any other of a hundred people who had turned their backs on him for the sake of preserving the peace. What was the life of one man in the grand scheme of things, after all?
That said, some part of him still resented them all the same. “I'd hoped,” he said, his voice low and miserable, “to get back into space somehow, even if it was just milk runs for the Earth Cargo Authority or even working for a civilian agency like UESPA.”
“Your tone of voice leads me to believe that these are no longer valid alternatives,” Sarek said, eyebrow raised.
“I've been placed on what they used to call in the old days the no-fly list. None of Earth's space services – whether they be in the hands of civilians or Starfleet – can hire me without facing serious sanctions from the Federation.”
“Other avenues do exist, Jim.”
It was this unexpected use of his name that finally cut through Kirk's alcohol-induced fog and he started listening to Sarek properly for the first time that night. For a moment, he could almost see the face of his former first officer reflected in that of his father. Spock was now captain of the Enterprise-A, and that new ship was out there somewhere in the vastness of space. His old crew had stuck together for the most part, going on without him. He wasn't sure if that thought pleased him or not. “True. There's the Nyberrite Alliance, or even the Orion Syndicate. Both of those organisations are always eager to hire experienced commanders.”
“Before you consider such far-flung ventures, there is one a little bit closer to home that I would like you to consider,” Sarek said, and just for a moment there seemed to be a note of wry amusement in his tone.
“Oh? How much closer to home?”
“Four light years.” Standing up, Sarek added, “There is a transport leaving for Vulcan tomorrow morning at 0600. I will be on it, and I hope that you shall be, too. My colleagues and I will be happy to discuss the particulars with you then. Peace and long life, James T. Kirk.” Sarek's fingers parted in the traditional Vulcan salute.
Hastily, drunkenly, Kirk managed to replicate the gesture. “Live long and prosper, Sarek of Vulcan.”
“I trust everything is to your satisfaction?” Sarek asked as final pre-launch preparations wound down. The bridge was a hive of noise and activity; the ship shuddered with power as the warp core was brought online, and even the most stoic of the crew was gripped with a feeling very much like anticipation.
“Just one thing I've always meant to ask,” Kirk said, casting a scrutinising eye over the men and women he would be commanding, preparing to take the captain's seat for the first time. So many questions still needed answering: how would they respond to him? How would they feel being subordinate to a human? How would the ship and crew cope with the stresses of a long-duration mission? He was eager to find out. “What does Terkadau actually mean?”
Again, that little quirk of the lip that might've been a smile. “Loosely translated into Federation standard, it is the quality of a group of people coming together in united purpose.”
For the first time in months, Kirk laughed a genuine laugh. “How utterly fitting,” he finally said once he'd recovered his composure.