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Sheila Clark

James T. Kirk, newly appointed Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, sat in his room at Starbase One trying to read. It was the last day of his embarcation leave; the last day that he could depend on being left alone, and he had decided to take advantage of it. But to his disappointment, he found that he couldn't relax. He fidgeted restlessly, too excited to remain still. To be appointed to a Starship already, after a bare year commanding a Scoutship, was virtually unheard-of; an honour he fully appreciated, even although in his more soul-searching moments he found himself wondering if he really was ready for such responsibility or if, one day, his youth and comparative lack of experience would catch up with him. To lose his command because of a stupid misjudgement... no. Starfleet Command considered him capable, therefore he must be capable. Firmly, he pushed the incipient doubt out of his conscious thought.

It was impossible to sit still, and yet... somehow he still did not feel like company. The thought of the Starbase's well-stocked recreational lounges did not appeal even although he knew he would meet acquaintances there. One or two were jealous because of his rapid promotion, he knew, and he didn't feel like being diplomatic. Not even the thought of a drinking session with Gary Mitchell attracted him; he didn't want to join his new ship nursing a hangover. If in fact Mitchell was feeling like a drinking session - often he preferred flirting with the prettiest girls available and while Kirk normally was not averse from joining him, on this day he didn't feel like that either.

Today he wanted solitude.

He knew, of course, that on the Enterprise he would inevitably be lonely, especially at first, until he learned which of his senior officers apart from Mitchell he could relax with in the knowledge that they would not take advantage. But that was not the same as the desire for alone-ness he was experiencing today. On the ship, solitude would be a rare and therefore extra-precious commodity; a ship's Captain could expect to be on call twenty-four hours a day, even in his off-duty hours, if he had any pretensions to conscientiousness.

A few moments' thought told Kirk what he really wanted to do. He had already paid a number of visits to the renowned wildlife park that formed part of the recreational facilities of Starbase One, and each time he had seen something new. It was primarily a nature reserve, initially built to conserve endangered species. The Federation had gathered a unique collection of rare and endangered species, both plant and animal, from a dozen worlds, carefully selected for compatibility; creatures from many worlds lived together in harmony, providing a pattern for the intelligent life of those worlds. Protected by a forcefield from the carnivorous species which each lived in an excellent reconstruction of its native world, this 'walk-about' area covered many acres where a man in search of peace could find it. Few bothered; most Starfleet personnel enjoying leave here preferred to spend their time in the base's bars and lounges, and so Kirk knew that it was unlikely that he would meet anyone. If he did, it would in all probability be someone whose mood was in harmony with his own.

Visitors to the park normally wore neutrally-coloured clothes rather than uniform, in order to blend better with the background for fear of disturbing any of the more nervous species living there. Kirk quickly donned an inconspicuous brown shirt and trousers, and headed for the park.

* * * * * * * *

No-one ever walked briskly here. The place demanded a gentle stroll, with frequent pauses to look at things. Kirk strolled and paused, and looked, and slowly started to relax even though his mind still kept returning, of its own volition, to his new ship and to the short official file he had been given listing his officers. It told him so little - their names and ranks, their service career - nothing else. He wished it had been possible to talk to Chris Pike about them, find out what they were like as people... but he had seen Pike for only a few minutes in the Admiral's office, and that only by courtesy of the Admiral. Their appointments with him had been consecutive, Kirk arriving as Pike was about to leave, and the Admiral had chosen to let them meet. It had been long enough for an exchange of congratulations and good wishes, no more, and Pike was already away from the Starbase before Kirk's interview with the Admiral was over.

Now Kirk considered their names, alphabetically as he had been given them. Mitchell of course he already knew, joining the ship as Chief Navigator with Kirk and at Kirk's special request. At least he would have one friend, but at the same time he knew - and knew that Mitchell knew - that he must still tread carefully where his old friend was concerned. It would be very easy to favour Mitchell over any of the others, and that, he must not do.

Piper, the Chief Medical Officer, due to retire shortly. That was a pity - the ship's surgeon was the one man with whom the Captain could always relax, since he was not in line of command. Any friendship formed with Piper would be of short duration and he would have to start over with the new CM0. Better not get too dependent on Piper's friendship.

Scott, Chief Engineer. A long and distinguished career in space, he had been on board the Enterprise since she was launched. Kirk had met engineers like that before - Scott was probably too wrapped up in his engines to take much interest in the people around him.

Spock, serving both as First Officer and as Science Officer. An unusual combination. He must be an unusual man. Spock too had been on the Enterprise for an unusually long time - eleven years. Most senior officers applied for a transfer after several years if they weren't promoted. Perhaps his being Science Officer accounted for it. Just as few Chief Engineers ever moved up to Captain, few Science Officers did either. Both groups seemed to prefer their specialties. Most Captains had moved up through the ranks without specialising, getting experience in all branches of service. Kirk himself had served as helmsman, navigator, communications officer and had also done a short stint in engineering.

Sulu, Chief Helmsman. Three years' service on the Enterprise. He might think of moving on soon, especially if the men who were second and third in command of the Enterprise showed no sign of wanting to move up. On the other hand, if he had decided to specialise, Sulu was already as high as he could go, short of applying for third in command elsewhere.

Uhura, Chief Communications Officer. Joined the Enterprise straight from the Academy with last year's batch of trainees. Young, but must be very capable to be assigned to a Starship and rise to CCO within a year.

His mind not really on his surroundings, Kirk wandered on, barely conscious of, but yet appreciating, the myriad sounds and scents of the park. A Terran red squirrel scampered across his path and disappeared behind a tree from Altair 6. He barely saw it as he wondered which, if any, of his new officers he would be able to call 'friend' .

His attention was abruptly recalled by the angry snarl from in front of him. He stopped dead, freezing into immobility at sight of the long white teeth of the tiger-cat crouched there, tail-tip twitching spasmodically. How had that got here? It should be safely held by a forcefield in the Barussan section... Slowly, cautiously, he began to back away, knowing that to turn would be fatal. As long as he kept facing it...

But the Barussan tiger-cat was hungry. It had escaped through a faulty forcefield many hours before, and had missed a meal, its keeper thinking that it was in its den when he failed to see it; none of the denizens of the park walking area was large enough to provide it with a worthwhile meal. This two-legged creature, so like the ones who normally fed it, would feed it now. It began to pad forward.

Attack is the best form of defence, Kirk thought. He glanced round, saw a short branch lying there and picked it up with a quick movement. Then he yelled and sprang towards the tiger-cat, stick raised.

Hunger lent the beast courage. It leaped. At the last moment, Kirk ducked, and the tiger-cat overshot him. He whirled, to keep facing it, guessing that the same trick wouldn't work twice. But perhaps it wouldn't need to; someone was coming up behind the tiger-cat at a run, a figure wearing dark grey. But unless the newcomer had a weapon of some kind...

The cat crouched to leap again, its attention fully fixed on Kirk. The man approaching reached the cat before it had time to move and jumped on to its back. Kirk immediately moved forward to help, but his assistance wasn't needed; long fingers found a spot on the creature's neck, and it rolled over, limp.

Kirk drew a long breath as he looked at his rescuer. A Vulcan, to judge from the pointed ears and sloping eyebrows.

"Thank you," he said quietly. "That's some trick you've got."

"A simple nerve pinch," the Vulcan replied. "The animal will be unconscious for only a few minutes. I suggest that we use those minutes to leave its vicinity."

"We must report it," Kirk commented.

"Of course," the Vulcan agreed. As they started off back towards the base buildings, he continued, "I am surprised that anyone else should be in the park... "

"Especially a Human, eh?" Kirk laughed. "I've been to it several times during my leave - it's a very restful place... usually."

"Restful indeed. I have also found it most instructive. There are a number of species there that I have not had the opportunity to study in their own environment."

"I think there are some that are extinct now on their own planets," Kirk said with regret.

"Four species, to my knowledge," the Vulcan agreed.

They finished the walk in silence, neither feeling any need to break it. After they had reported the presence of the tiger-cat in the walking area, Kirk glanced at the Vulcan. He still did not feel like company, and yet the alien's presence was restful...

"Would you care to join me for a meal?" he asked diffidently, wondering how a Vulcan would react to such an invitation. Vulcans were normally very reserved, he knew.

"I would be honoured."

They went to a quiet part of the base, away from the hubbub of the main lounges. The Vulcan selected a vegetable dish, and Kirk, recalling then that Vulcans were vegetarians, rapidly revised his own selection and without much regret for the steak he had originally planned to order, chose cheese. The Vulcan glanced at Kirk.

"Permit me to select a drink for us," he murmured.

Vulcans don't drink alcohol, Kirk remembered. "Yes, of course," he said. The drink, when it came, was a delicate green colour which a Human would not normally have considered looked drinkable at all. Kirk sipped it a little cautiously, then more enthusiastically.

"You like it?" the Vulcan asked.

"Indeed, yes," Kirk replied.

"It is not well-known throughout the Federation," the Vulcan explained, "although most Starbases carry a small supply for visiting Vulcans. We regard it much as Humans regard champagne."

"It's better than any champagne I've ever tasted," Kirk replied cheerfully.

"And I can guarantee that no matter how much you drink, it will not give you a 'hangover', I believe is the expression."

Kirk smiled. "Good."

They spoke quietly over their meal, exchanging thoughts on several subjects and finding themselves remarkably in accord. Finally, over coffee, the Vulcan seemed to sigh.

"I have enjoyed our meal," he said. "Unfortunately, I am due back on duty shortly, and must go now."

"It's been nice meeting you," Kirk replied. "And thanks again. We'll maybe meet again."

"Indeed, I hope so." The Vulcan inclined his head gracefully, and walked away.

Kirk returned to his room, realising as he went that somehow he and the Vulcan had never got round to exchanging names. Pity. However, the man had a face it would be easy to recognise. They would surely meet again.

He slept badly that night, tensing up again at the thought of joining his ship. His ship. The thought sang in his mind. It seemed both too long and too short a time before he headed for the base's transporter room, wearing dress uniform. His gear would be beamed up for him; that was one thing he no longer needed to worry about.

It seemed that he had no sooner straightened his shoulders than he was materialising on board the Enterprise. He looked towards his senior officers, gathered to meet him, wondering if they were as nervous as he.

Recognition was immediate and mutual. As Kirk stared at the tall slim Vulcan in dress blue, he felt an idiotic grin dawning; and although the calm face regarding him remained unaltered, he was sure he saw an answering gleam of something that was a combination of welcome and pleasure.

At the same time, Kirk had the instinctive feeling that to mention last night just yet would embarrass the Vulcan - and he was unwilling to risk the friendship that had, he was sure, begun by causing embarrassment. He stepped down towards his officers.

The Vulcan spoke. "Spock, First Officer, sir. Lt.-Commander Scott, Lt.-Commander Piper, Lt. Sulu, Lt. Uhura. Lt. Mitchell I believe you already know."

Kirk saw from Mitchell's face that he believed he was the main recipient of the Captain's broad grin. "Yes, Mr. Spock. Gentlemen - Miss Uhura."

"She's a great ship, Captain," Mitchell laughed. "You're going to like her."

Kirk chuckled, glad that Gary had used the more formal address. Time enough for informality later. "Speaks the expert. How long have you been aboard, Mr. Mitchell?"

"Nearly an hour," Mitchell boasted.

Kirk could have sworn he saw an answering, appreciative gleam in Spock's eye as he answered solemnly, "Since Mr. Spock and Mr. Scott have both served aboard the Enterprise for a considerable time, I think you must be right. Give me your opinion again when you've served eleven years on her."

"Would you care to see your quarters, sir?" Spock asked.

"Please, Mr. Spock. Gentlemen, Miss Uhura, I'll see you again later."

* * * * * * * *

As he walked down the corridor at Spock's side, Kirk remembered something that had been said last night. Here, without anyone to hear, he could mention it. "We'll be able to test each other's chess skill after all, Mr. Spock."

"Wouldn't you prefer Mr. Mitchell's company in your off-duty time, Captain?" The voice was quiet, even, yet it held a note of... wistfulness?

"Gary doesn't play chess. Besides, I enjoyed our conversation last night. I'd like to talk with you again."

"I would be honoured, Captain."

"The name's Jim," Kirk said, hopefully.

The Vulcan hesitated for a moment. "You honour me... Jim. For myself... Spock is my given name. My family name... since no non-Vulcan can pronounce it properly, I find it easier not to use it off world."

Kirk sensed that he had been given a confidence not frequently offered. "I see." They turned into the cabin assigned to the Captain. "Thank you, Spock - for everything."

They looked at each other, feeling again the affinity that had touched them the evening before. Then Kirk said quietly, "It's going to be a good five years."


Copyright Sheila Clark