Shea forgot to make up the bed again this morning. Since his promotion, I'm surprised he can even remember to put his head on as he goes out the door. But I suppose it's to be expected. And he did deserve it, so I'll just have to put up with a little extra scatterbrainedness for a while. My job calls for such precision that it carries over into my personal life, and I expect it to carry over into his, too.
Uhura stopped by earlier to ask if I could take over her shift for the next three periods. I was going to decline, because I knew that Shea had wanted us to spend some time together--we see each other too little these days. But then he burst in with news of a planning session and meetings with Chekov and the captain, so I knew it would be another week down the drain, and the extra work would keep me from sitting in our quarters watching the chronometer.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not jealous of the time Shea spends on his job. But it's getting harder and harder to mix marriage with starship duty. When we were both green ensigns and just newly wed it was much easier--we had our duty shift, with occasional extra time, and that was it. Then the Enterprise became a "hot" ship, and we were both kept busy at our respective duties more and more. And we're good. I won't deny that one bit. So we got promoted, got more people under us, more responsibility, and saw each other less. If I didn't love that hard-headed man I'm married to so much, I'd suggest leaving front line status for starbase duty. But he'd think I was nuts, and, after I'd calmed down, I would, too. I love this life, this ship. So I...we sacrifice. It's just I miss his warmth next to me when I wake up, miss his weight on the other side of the bed when I come in late from shift and he's already asleep. But we have promised each other to really get away on the next shore leave and have what they used to call a "second honeymoon." I know I'm looking forward to it!
Now Smith's buzzing me for the comm tapes of the last four nights. That's the one thing that bothers me about Starfleet--all the red tape. Why in the world do we have to keep a record of every communication ourselves when the computer records it automatically as it comes in? Oh, well, ours is not to reason why.... No, I won't finish that quotation. Anyway, as far as red tape goes, I guess I'm about as removed from the real stuff as anyone in my field can be.
Shea called. Said he had a late meeting with the captain for strategy planning. I wonder if we're heading for another hair-raising escapade. Well, I won't question him when he gets here. Being Junior Security Chief, third highest ranking red shirt aboard, carries a lot of wear and tear, and the least I can do is provide a place where he can get away from it. If I have to know anything, he'll tell me.
The bridge is calling. I'll be spending the better part of the next week there, I guess, what with taking over Uhura's time, and my own end of the bridge rotation, too. Maybe Shea and I can have a reunion when he finishes whatever it is. Umm, wouldn't that be fun!! Stop that train of thought right now, girl, or you'll be in no shape to concentrate this evening! 'Specially if the captain's on duty, too. If I hadn't met Shea when I did....
"Honey, you awake?"
"Hummmhuh?" (I just love it when he wakes me up in the middle of the night. No, Shea, I am not awake, and you will never wake me up until I have slept my full quota!) Hell, no time for games now. "Yes, I'm awake. Is anything wrong?"
"No way, babe! Everything's all set."
I'm sitting up now, fully conscious. Shea has turned on the bathroom light, so I can't see his face, only the outline of his body sitting on the bed. I can tell he's still dressed, and his voice sounds very excited. He's quivering, too, and the bed shakes with it. Such aliveness. "What's all set? Have you got time to tell me anything?"
"Only the bones of it. The rest will keep until later. You know all those late meetings I've been having with Cap, Chekov and Nored?"
How could I miss those? Those were the nights when...never mind! "Yes."
"Well, you know the Federation's been negotiating with the Lanaldan system for months now about their joining. They've finally reached an agreement for membership, and that's where we've been heading on this mission, under the pretense of starmapping. When we pull into orbit around Lanalda, we'll have a huge reception waiting to greet Captain Kirk and his officers. This will be the first time any Federation citizens have actually been on Lanalda, because even though the leaders have been wanting to join the Federation for a long time, there's been a lot of civil strife planetside. The ruling government is just now becoming secure enough to invite off-world diplomats to their capitol without being worried about being attacked by warring factions.
He shook his head impatiently and leaped from the bed, beginning to ruffle through the drawers for his dress uniform and medals. I marveled, for the thousandth time since we've been together, at his energy. He'd probably been up all night, as well as last, with little to eat, and yet, here he was, as eager to go as if he'd just had a week's shore leave. He was talking again, and I had to backtrack to get what he'd just said.
"...and Jamison, too. I'll be in charge of screening the visitors, because the planetary president has said that there is still danger of saboteurs. Anyway, we'll be leaving in about an hour, and I wanted to come back and tell you so you wouldn't worry." Such consideration, my husband has.
"I think I might have worried less if you hadn't told me. Does the rest of the ship know the potential danger of the situation?"
He stopped his frantic packing and came over to the bed once more. He took my hands in his. "The command crew has been informed that we are diverting to Lanalda for a diplomatic visit. You and the rest of the bridge crew for the duration of the visit have been alerted to the true nature of that visit." He punched up the lights a bit and looked at me for a long minute. I had to drop my head.
He pulled me to him gently. "Look, I know how you feel. But personally, I really don't think there's that much danger. We've been sent plans of the building where we'll be, and it looks fine. I'll be back in three days, and it'll be like I never left. In fact, I talked to Chekov for a while after we finished all the official stuff, and he practically guaranteed me four days off when I get home. You talk to Uhura, we'll program the autochef to serve us rare steaks and red wine, and I'll lock that door, and no one will be allowed in. What about it?"
"Won't I be allowed in, even?" I teased.
He shook me by the shoulders. "You, wench, won't be allowed to stir from this bed, much less see the door!" He gave me a kiss that dispelled any notions I might have had about sleep, then jumped from the bed again. "C'mon. I've got to finish packing, and you've got to get to the bridge. That was my other reason for coming here--you're communications today. Captain wants Uhura on the emergency bridge to closely monitor the planetary transmissions. Code check, you know. Let's go."
I helped him finish with his little bit of packing, and saw to getting him put just right into his dress uniform. Security uniforms are much different from regs because they're constructed to conceal an almost unlimited number of weapons and still be rather form-fitting. Once dressed, I instructed him to turn around. Good. If he walked fast, he could even get through Starbase Customs.
"You'll do," I announced proudly, and held out my arms to him. I didn't want him to go on this mission, but no more than usual. I pushed all doubts away and concentrated on the afterward. He came to me and lifted me off the floor in a bear hug.
"You're the best, Kemper. I love you, you know, even if you do have a crush on the captain." He hugged me again, and I began to fear for my ribs.
"Well," I managed to grunt out, "at least I don't have a fetish for cat-people like one Junior Security Chief I could mention."
He put me down and laughed. "You're right, you're right. Now give me a kiss, and get to the bridge. See you in three days, promise."
I did, and we both left our cabin on the run.
The bridge is a strange place to work. How can I elaborate on that? It's the only place I've ever been in my whole life where the people who work there regularly are both ulcer-nervous and warm-bath relaxed at the same time. Yeah, definitely strange. You see, we all know our jobs so well that we're not nervous about our performances. If we were concerned about screwing up there, we'd never be on the bridge in the first place. On the other hand, in a situation like this, where there are so many uncontrollable variables, there's always that flop sweat underneath the overlay of calm. Yes, we know what to do, but do they? Yes, we're basically safe, but are they? The ever-present "What if...?"
I'm monitoring the broadcast from the planetary capitol, not watching the mainviewer, but my ears are glued to the security frequency, though I'm still monitoring all others through the board. Spock's at the conn--the captain thought it best to leave him here this time; he said it was because he didn't want to leave the ship too drained of senior officers, since Scotty was invited and McCoy, too, but personally, from what Shea told me, I don't think Lanalda is ready for Vulcans just yet. Let them get into the Federation good first, then hit them with the real aliens. Oh, yeah, Humans are alien to them, too, technically, but we look the same.
The processional is starting. Shea's transmission is strong and untapped, as are all the others'. Spock is rock-steady in the swivel chair, but I still can't quite manage all that air of interested, yet nerveless, detachment. Everything's gone like clockwork so far. Shea's just sent me the immediate itinerary.
"Mister Spock, Security reports the party preparing to enter the capitol building for the final ceremonies." Here, under the eyes of the entire ruling body of Lanalda, Captain Kirk, acting as a living representative of the Federation, will sign the formal agreement that welcomes Lanalda as an official member of our group. Odd, how the mind works in moments of stress.
I turn to glance at the screen. Certainly is a colorful picture--all the natives in their bright, flowing, formal clothes. Starfleet uniforms stand out like wilted flowers in a fresh bouquet. The Federation group is being surrounded by the press of people trying to enter the hall. I go back to the board, checking Shea's and Chekov's life-supporting readings as relayed via perscan devices. Time for a report.
"Mister Spock, signals on the security detail show increased metabolic activity. No increase in distance from the rest of the landing party, though."
He swings around to me. In spite of my growing worry, I cannot help noticing all over again the aura of calm that covers that being like a mantle. Almost imperceptibly, I begin to relax, and realize the captain's wisdom in leaving him aboard.
"Make vocal contact, Lieutenant. Find out what's going on."
"Yes, sir." Don't think I've ever pushed that series of buttons quite so fast before.
"Enterprise to Security. Come in. Report status."
It's Shea's voice, strained but clear. "Alert status. We're keeping our eyes on a group of dissenters from the major opposition group. The president mentioned earlier they might be here. All other phases normal. Security out."
I relax a bit more. A planned-for eventuality. Shea'll handle it. I turn to look at the screen once more. And freeze. The captain, Scotty, Chekov, McCoy, Shea and his three security guards move up the steps to the hall and disappear under a seething mass of bodies. I'm back at the board, punching every frequency to get some information. Spock turns, and doesn't even voice the order. What's happening? my guts are screaming, while my brain is forcing my fingers to pretend this is just a proficiency drill, and I'm going for a grade, so I just better be cool. Boy, am I cool.
I get a connection.
"Putting security on audio, sir." The button sinks smoothly into the console under the pressure of my finger.
"Red alert, Enterprise, repeat, red alert! The Lanaldan dissent faction has managed to infiltrate the crowd. They are attempting to take us as hostages. I'm--" There is a sickening crackle, an instant of hiss, then Shea's voice fading, fading, draining away from me and all of us, gasps, "Quick, transporter, engage...engage sequence...the captain...we've been...quick...no time--energize!"
Spock's out the door, leaving Sulu at the conn before I can even try to raise them again. Half of me--my hands--is working at speeds I never thought possible, and the other half is somewhere between my stomach and my brain, debating on whether or not to throw up or faint. I concentrate on the hands.
Seconds pass. "Transporter room, report." My voice is as calm as Spock's. Everyone on the bridge turns and looks at me. I see it but don't notice. I'll remember it later.
Spock's voice filters through the tiny speaker. "All members of the landing party recovered. Injuries to Captain Kirk, Lieutenant Chekov, and Ensign Jamison. Doctor McCoy, commander Scott uninjured. Ensigns Walker and Tomar, and Junior Security Chief Thomas..." Was there a pause? God, no! Not a pause, not from Spock, not even if... "deceased."
Again the bridge crew turns to me, as if on cue, but I don't really see it, just sense it. Some measure of time passes, but I'm not sure how much. Then I look up and see Uhura standing next to the chair, ready to relieve me, and Spock is back on the bridge. When did he get here?"
"Lieutenant Dantzen, Commander Uhura will relieve you." That calm voice. Relieve me?
"Sir, respectfully request that I be allowed to keep my post until the end of shift." Doesn't he understand that I can't go now, that pushing these damned buttons and taking in these hideous transmissions from the surface is the only way I can keep myself from finding an airlock somewhere and jumping in without a pressure suit? Oddly enough, he seems to.
"Very well. Request acknowledged. Commander Uhura, you may return to auxiliary control. Continue code monitoring."
She throws me a look, reaches to put a hand on my shoulder. My whole body shrinks away from it. I can't bear contact, not now. I can tell by the look on her face as I turn to stare at her that I must look like a zombie, but she only nods and leaves. She's a good one for a crisis.
Finally, it's over. The coup has been stopped, the president of Lanalda is properly appalled at what's happened to our crew, Spock is completely and dispassionately diplomatic through it all in the absence of the captain, we're orbiting in the farthest possible ellipse, and the shift is over. Uhura is back, and I can no longer stall for time. I must go.
Yet, how can I?
I'm automatically pushing buttons again and again, the same ones, and I don't even notice. Spock's voice brings me out of it.
"Lieutenant, if you wish, I will escort you to Sickbay." So kind, that Vulcan. So damned thoughtful. He can afford to be--his captain's still alive. No, don't get mad, not yet, and not at him.
I'm starting to collapse in on myself like a burned-out star. Will I sink inward and vanish completely, I wonder?
"Thank you, Mister Spock. I would be grateful. I think I've forgotten where it is."
He leads the way to the turbolift, and I follow, grateful for the beacon of his back. The doors swish closed as I leave the best half of my life at the communications board.
He stood outside the cabin, his hand resting lightly on the touchplate that, if pressed, would announce his presence there. Despite the bandage that covered his head and part of his face, his emotions were clearly visible not only in the one, expressive, uncovered eye, but also in the whole stance of the body, slumped, weighted, heavy with unaccustomed grief. He thought back to the conversation with Doctor McCoy earlier in Sickbay.
"You'd better go to her soon, Jim. She hasn't seen anyone since--you were brought back aboard. You might be the only one who can help her."
He whirled in anger that stemmed from pain and frustration.
"Damn it, Bones, the woman's lost her husband, and I'm the one responsible!! Do you actually think she'll acknowledge my right to enter her cabin, much less offer comfort?"
"Captain, I don't know, but she is one of your bridge crew regulars, and as her commanding officer, it is your duty to offer condolences." McCoy was being stiff, but as his captain's face only became more creased, he let up. "Jim, I know you're grieving, too. He was a good, decent man. It's only right you feel the way you do."
"Feeling the way I do won't bring him or the others back, not even if I felt this way forever. God, Bones, he was so bright, so young. He might have been my..." He stopped, no use in going on.
McCoy finished for him. "Your brother?"
Kirk nodded lifelessly and whispered. "Or my son. Yes, I have to see Kemper. She can't be left alone, and Uhura says she hasn't even left her cabin since you released her." He took a deep breath. "I'll try, Bones."
But how? he wailed in his mind. The touchplate glimmered under his gentle hand. All I can do is try to accept the consequences, he thought at last, mashing the plate. To his surprise, the door slid open. He stepped hesitantly inside. The opaque door separating the sleeping from the living quarters was closed. He stood quietly, wondering if she were asleep, when the door slid back.
The captain's going to be here soon, I imagine, but I don't really care. It's been days, two, three, four, a week--I don't remember--since I was last at the communications console, and I'd say he's sufficiently recovered to get around now. So, he'll be here soon.
McCoy took over once Spock had me in Sickbay. I'll say one thing for my first officer; he never tried to give me any platitudes while we were on our way to Sickbay, but somehow, I knew that if I lost control or couldn't make it all the way there on my own, he would lend me the strength to do it from himself. I can never thank him enough for that alone.
Doc was comforting, but he didn't really help. I don't think anything will really help. He did offer to make all the arrangements, though, once I made it clear to him that I didn't want to see what was left of Shea. Not that it was that bad, or so they tell me, but Shea's body without Shea in it, no matter how undamaged, would have hit me too hard. Now I can spend time fooling myself that he's just away on a mission, or lost, or something equally inane, and spend my waking hours waiting for him to come back.
Oh, come off it, Lieutenant! That's no way to act, and you know it. Well, so what, I think I've got a right to act any way I damn well please now. Yeah, you can lie here on this bed with the lights out and feel sorry for yourself for the rest of your life, or you can fade out of sanity playing that elaborate game of "waiting for my long, lost (really dead) husband to come home to his ever-waiting wife" or you can get up off your butt, shake yourself, and get back to the business of living. Or you can get up now and answer the buzzer.
What'd I tell you? Right on time.
First, I notice that he really looks bad. Of course, no one looks good with a bandage around his head, a patch over one eye, and the other still so swollen he can hardly see out of it. But it's more than that. He looks...defeated. Something I've never seen in that man before. I don't like it. I'd never want Shea to look like...but then, that's why he looks like that, isn't it? Shea, and a few others like him.
"Captain, please, sit down. Are you feeling better?" At least he has the grace to look guilty. No, no, it was not his fault. Keep telling yourself that, maybe you'll even believe it one day. "I knew it was you just now, so I figured I'd better let you in."
"You knew? But..."
"No, no one told me you were coming, but I expected it eventually, and even though I'm no telepath, some emotions are easy to catch, even through the wall." Oh, why did my voice have to catch just then? He starts to step my way, but I can't have anyone else close to me, not anymore. Oh, good. He's back in the chair.
"Yes, Lieutenant. I'm feeling a little better, thank you."
Thank you, Captain, for playing it formal, the way it should be played.
"Lieutenant, I came to try to help, if I can. Believe me, I do want to." He looks so earnest sitting there, with only half his face showing; I have to believe him even while I'm raging at him for getting away from formality.
"Thank you, Captain. I have to be honest; it's not easy for me right now."
"I know." When he says it like that, I believe him again, in spite of myself. There's a pause, and I know he wants to ask, but can't bring himself to for fear I'll break down completely, so I'll answer first.
"I let Doc McCoy take care of everything. I didn't want a service, or to...see...anything. somehow, I thought that if I never saw it, it would just be like Shea was on a secret mission, or that we had been separated by mandatory transfer. But..." Well, I can't go on, now, but at least I got that much out.
The silence drags on terribly. I know he wants to say something even if it's wrong, but somehow I can't make it any easier for him. Finally, he gets up and comes toward me. I'm shaking all over, I know he can see it, but I can't push him away again, I can't keep pushing the rest of the world away for the rest of my life. He takes my shoulders in his hands.
"Kemper." It's the first time he's ever used my given name. I'm so surprised that I look straight at him. Again, I'm struck by the look of sadness on his face.
"For what it's worth, and it's not worth much, I know, but you must believe me, I am so sorry. If I could have done anything..." Now it seems as though he can't go on. Or does he do this show for all the bereaved ones? Stop that thought, you schizo! Maybe he's never had to confront the ones who're left behind face to face before. And maybe, just maybe--you ever think of that?--that he really is torn up about it, that he really did care for Shea, not only as an officer, but as a man, and maybe even as a friend?
I have to pull away to the farthest corner of the room. And that's not nearly far enough.
"You're allowed a month's leave at home, you know."
I nod and turn, and realize his back is still to me. Get the words out, kid. "Yes, sir. I know, but if it's all the same to you, I'd rather take another week off duty here, and then go back to my regular shift. Shea and I--Shea and I were from different planets. This cabin, this ship were 'home' to us. I'll even see Doctor McCoy before I go back on duty so he can certify me fit." He turns at that, with something like a smile on his face.
"Then it's settled. If you'd submit yourself willingly to Bones, I know you're doing what you need to do." In spite of everything, I have to smile as well; he is only too right!
My smile seems to unnerve him, and, seeing that, I'm fidgeting again. Strange, how a woman may admire a man, want him even, from afar, and when she sees him up close, he just makes her nervous. That's what I'd loved most about Shea, I thought. From the very first time I met him, I never felt anything but completely at home around him.
My face is beginning to crumple. How can I stand here, and feel it happen, and watch the captain react to it, and at the same time be so utterly miserable that I can't see myself living into the next eight hours? I can't help it; I reach out for him. I have to reach out for someone, and he happens to be there.
He's got me. I'm safe. I begin to sag against him, to let it all out, but then I realize just exactly where I am, and who with. This is your captain, dummy. Pull it together. I take one long deep breath there in his arms, and deliberately push away from him. His arms remain extended, just briefly, then fall heavily to his sides. When I can finally bring myself to look at his face, I notice with a shock that it's wet. Crying for Shea? Or himself? Or me? Or all of us, I wonder.
"Did he mean so much to you?" I can't stop the words; they're between us before I realize.
"He was so young." The famous voice is a whisper. "So young and alive."
I want to comfort him somehow, but I can't, not being comforted myself.
"Captain, maybe you'd better go." No use in dragging this out further. "Thank you for coming by, and thank you even more for showing me you care. But we both have to reconcile ourselves to this in different ways. I'll be back on duty in less than two weeks, sir."
Time for formality, once again. I snap to a salute that any fourth-year academy cadet would be proud of. Captain Kirk, who has never been much of one for saluting, returns it in kind. I feel strangely honored. His stride is firm as he leaves the cabin, his back as straight as ever, but I think I saw another line on his face before the door closed.
And I think my own collection is about to begin.
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