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In the instant before the turbolift doors slid open, Jim Kirk drew a deep breath and steeled himself. A year before, in his final moments as captain on the bridge of his ship, he had sworn that he would never set foot on another starship again...for the simple, painful reason that he would never again be in the command chair. Yet despite his protestations to Scott and Chekov the day before, he had yielded to duty, responsibility -- and no small amount of curiosity -- and accompanied his friends to the christening of the Enterprise-B.
But from the moment he arrived on spacedock, he was unable to shake the feeling that it had been a mistake to come, that something indescribable was wrong. Perhaps it was just the weight of the past and his current pointless existence settling over him, or perhaps the simple disappointment that the friends who should have stood beside him now -- Spock and Bones -- could not be here. Spock was involved with a diplomatic mission on behalf of Vulcan and could not free himself, though he had sent a terse, elegant message honoring the former crew of the Enterprise-A and congratulating the new crew of the Enterprise-B. As for McCoy, he and his family were attending his granddaughter's graduation from the Vulcan Science Academy; he, too, had sent a polite message of congratulations to Starfleet -- and a private message to Jim, saying: Miss you, old friend. I'll be with you in spirit....
Jim's unease had begun with a restless night of troubling dreams; and in the fleeting second as he stared at the seam in the lift doors, he was haunted by dimly colored images from the night before, from dreams that had been strands of memory braided with imagination:
Yosemite. El Capitan. Climbing, gripping cool rock with his fingers, his hands, breathing in sweet Terran air, gazing out at hawks flying past. Spock appearing out of the literal blue, distracting him, and then:
The fall, just as it had happened those years ago, so swiftly that it shoved the air from his lungs, made him dizzy as he flailed, clawing vainly at smooth rock...
Abruptly, the superimposed dash of himself seated at the campfire beside Spock and Bones, explaining why he had not been afraid
...even as I was falling, I knew I wouldn't die, because the two of you were with me...
Captain, Spock said, as the setting shifted again, and they were on the Enterprise-A in Jim's quarters, on his last night as captain. I shall be returning to Vulcan.
And then he was falling again -- falling into infinity past El Capitan, over the Arabian Peninsula with the air roaring in his ears, waiting for Spock to catch him.
But Spock was gone -- on Vulcan -- and Bones was nowhere to be found, either. Jim was alone -- for the first time really alone, terrified and in free fall. Even so, he heard the doctor's voice whisper in his ear:
Miss you, old friend...
And then, the question Bones had asked Spock so long ago, on the Klingon Bird-of-Prey soon after the Vulcan had returned to the living: What did it feel like, being dead?
Ridiculous, to be so unsettled by dreams. Kirk gave his head a slight shake and detached himself from the memory. Self-pity was useless; it might seem wrong that Spock and McCoy were not here beside him -- but he was grateful for Scotty and Chekov, the two friends who flanked him now. He glanced at them and saw that Chekov's apprehension matched his own, while Scott's expression was one of wistfulness, mixed with an overwhelming curiosity about the turbolift's new design.
Yet despite his resolve to forget last night's dreams, he felt his unease grow. The only thing that felt comfortable about the whole affair was the chance to wear his uniform again.
The lift doors opened onto blinding light and applause. Dazzled, Kirk blinked until his vision cleared to reveal a holocam with spotlight, a bevy of journalists with padds, and the applauding bridge crew. He forced a gracious smile, and felt Scott and Chekov tense self consciously beside him.
"Captain Kirk," one of the reporters called, "how does it feel to be back on the Enterprise bridge?"
The question was the only one he could make out clearly amid the sudden barrage: Captain, could I have a min --
Captain Scott, do you have any comment on the --
Commander Chekov, after seeing the new Enterprise, do you regret --
Blessedly, a uniformed figure pushed forward through the crowd and stepped in front of the light. Kirk knew even without looking at the insignia who it would be; authority conferred a certain confident grace, a determined manner of walking that marked a captain on his own bridge.
And a tension that permeated the air around him. Like a coiled spring, Jim thought. Was I ever that intense?
"Excuse me," the man told the reporters as he strode past them. "Excuse me, there will be plenty of time for questions later."
The journalists at once fell silent, and receded like a tide -- all except the cameraman, who angled himself for a better picture, throwing the light directly into Kirk's eyes. Kirk tried not to squint, not to let his annoyance show in his frozen smile, directed now at the lean young officer who stood before him.
"I'm Captain John Harriman." The current commander of the Enterprise directed a polite nod at each of the retired officers. "I'd like to welcome you all aboard."
"It's our pleasure." Despite his discomfort, Kirk's smile warmed genuinely. Harriman seemed to him painfully young, painfully eager, painfully earnest about his first command -- no doubt exactly the way a certain James T. Kirk had been when he had first taken command of a ship called Enterprise. And while Harriman was doing a fair job of hiding his nervousness, he did not quite succeed in masking his awe of the men who stood before him.
"I just want you to know how excited we all are to have a group of living legends with us on our maiden voyage," Harriman said. "I remember reading about your missions when I was in grade school."
Scott and Chekov stiffened; Harriman's expression grew embarrassed as he realized his gaffe. His panic was so sincere that Kirk's lips quirked in amusement.
"Well," he said easily, "may we have a look around?"
"Please." Harriman gestured at the gleaming bridge, plainly relieved at the rescue. "Please..."
"Demora!" Chekov's face brightened with sudden pleasure as he caught a familiar face among the sea of uniforms in the background. He headed off as the other three ceremoniously made their way toward the conn.
"This is the new command chair," Harriman explained unnecessarily to his two politely attentive guests. He laid a proud hand on the armrest. "If you take a look at the comm panel, you'll see a number of small but significant improvements over the Enterprise-A...."
He droned on for a moment; Scott seemed raptly attentive but Kirk did not hear. Harriman and Scott quickly moved on to the helm, but Kirk lingered a moment to rest his hand enviously upon the back of the new captain's chair.
It seemed wrong that another man should sit here; wrong that Bones and Spock should not be here, standing in their customary places beside him. He felt an abrupt, odd sense of discomfort, and Hashed again on the memory of his last night as captain of the Enterprise, and the sudden chill he had felt when Spock and McCoy confessed they were going their separate ways.
...even as I was falling, I knew I wouldn't die...because the two of you were with me...
Stop, he told himself firmly. He was being maudlin, self-pitying again -- yet he could not quite shake the eerie sense of premonition prompted by dreams.
"So, Captain..." someone said.
He jerked his head up to see a reporter with a padd.
In the same breezy tone, she continued, "This is the first Starship Enterprise in thirty years without James T. Kirk in command. How do you feel about that?"
How the hell do you expect me to feel? he wanted to say, angered by her casualness. This ship was my life -- was everything. And now...
Instead, he drew a breath and summoned back the frozen smile. "Just fine. I'm glad to be here to send her on her way."
He tried to step past her, to join Harriman and Scott, but she angled into his path, blocking escape.
"And what have you been doing since you retired?" "I've been...keeping busy." Trapped, he paused and tried to catch Harriman's eye, but the young captain and Scott were enthusiastically discussing the redesigned helm.
"Excuse me, Captain," Chekov called, with sufficient command authority that the journalist backed off.
Kirk shot him a look of gratitude.
Chekov gave a knowing smile, then gestured with obvious pride at the officer beside him -- a young Terran woman whose oddly familiar golden face and dark eyes were framed by a shoulder-length sweep of ebony hair. "I'd like you to meet the helmsman of the Enterprise-B."
Don't I know you? Kirk was on the verge of asking, but Chekov continued:
"Ensign Demora Sulu -- Captain James Kirk."
Kirk's lips parted in astonishment; for a moment, he just stared as the ensign offered her hand and said, with unmistakably Sulu-ish confidence and good humor, "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir. My father's told me some..." Her eyes took on a faint glimmer of merriment. "...interesting stories about you."
Jim found his voice at last. "Your father . . . Hikaru Sulu is your father?" He had known that Sulu had a child -- a little girl, certainly not a daughter old enough to enter the Academy, much less handle the helm of a starship. Chekov had served as honorary uncle and godparent, which would certainly explain his doting demeanor now, but...
Demora straightened proudly. "Yes, sir."
Chekov leaned forward and prompted, sotto voce, "You met her once before, but she was..." Hand held palm down and waist high, he indicated her former height.
Kirk shook his head in disbelief. It made sense, of course: the round cheeks beneath shining dark eyes, the gracious good nature. He could never have mistaken her for anyone else s daughter. "Yes, yes, I remember. Even then you were talking about being a helmsman, like your father. But that wasn't so long ago. It couldn't have been more than -- "
"Twelve years, sir," Chekov said.
"Yes...well..." Kirk hesitated. To her credit, Demora showed not a hint of amusement or annoyance, but waited, respectful and poised, while the captain did some quick mental calculations, then sighed in acquiescence. "Congratulations, Ensign," he said at last, and smiled genuinely. "It wouldn't be the Enterprise without a Sulu at the helm."
"Thank you, sir," Demora replied, with voice and gaze that revealed she had inherited her father's forthright sincerity and warmth. "If you'll excuse me..." She turned to Chekov. "Let me show you the new inertial system..."
Kirk imagined he could hear the words she barely managed not to say: Uncle Pavel....
The two wandered off. Kirk watched them go, and a sudden overwhelming sadness overtook him as he thought of his own child, David, of Carol, of lost chances. Rather than easing with time, his sense of loss over David's death had deepened, as if his own approaching end made him see more clearly the opportunities missed in life. If he had known from the beginning that he had a son, his life might now be very different.
Perhaps -- just perhaps -- he could have done things differently, and David would still be alive....
Perhaps he would be with the two of them now instead of trying to outrun his loneliness while Carol buried her grief with work. He had seen her only twice in the past year, and each time she had been consumed by the details of rebuilding the station on Themis. He was beginning to think that her sorrow, too, had increased; that maybe the sight of him reminded Carol too much of her late son -- much the way that the sight of Demora at the helm reminded him strongly of Sulu now.
Copyright©1994 by Paramount Pictures