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The joke in Starfleet is that the only thing that can travel faster than warp 10 is news.
Of the many jokes told in Starfleet, this one at least seems true. For a Federation of hundreds of planets, spread sparse as comet-tail dust over thousands of light-years, news is lifeblood: without it, every world is as alone as if there was no other life, no other thought but its own. Few planets, these days, are so reclusive or paranoid as to want to be all alone in the dark, and thus the passage of news has covert priority even over the waging of wars and the making of fortunes. By subspace transmission (faster than warpspeeds, but not fleet enough), by pumped-phaser tachyon packet and shunt squirt, by compressed-continuum "sidestep" technology and sine avoidance, and (within solar systems) by broadcast carrier of all the kinds from radio through holotrans, the news of the many planets of the Federation and of planets outside it slides its way through and around and under and past the billions of miles and thousands of light-years.
The terrible distances take their toll of the passed-on word. Signals are corrupted by subspace noise, data is dropped out, translations are dubious or ambivalent: distance makes some pieces of news seem less urgent than they should, proximity makes other happenings seem more dire than they are. But no news passes unchanged, either by the silent spaces, or the noisy minds that cannot seem to live without it: and no news affects any two of those minds the same way.
This piece of news was no exception.
The door vanished, and the man walked into his rooms and stood still for a moment, then said the word that brought the door back behind him and shut all other sounds outside. His terminal was chiming softly, a sound that most people on the planet where he now lived could not have heard: it was pitched too high.
The man paused long enough to slip his dark cloak off and hang it on the hook beside where the door had been. Beneath it his tabard and trousers were dark too, somewhere between brown and black, his family's sigil bound into the fabric in gold at the tabard's throat. It was diplomatic uniform, made more impressive by his stature, tall but not slender anymore -- late maturity had left its mark on his frame. His looks somewhat matched his dress; a man dark-haired, dark-eyed, deep-eyed, a hawk-faced man with no expression...at least none that most people here were competent to read. There was energy in the way he held himself, some of those people would have said...perhaps too much energy, bound in check by a frightening control. They never knew how tight a control; they never knew how it slipped, sometimes, and left their thoughts open to him. He would have been embarrassed, except that he considered himself neither a child, a brute beast, or an alien, to be so possessed by an emotion.
He turned and paused again, gazing out the window at the brass-and-gold afternoon lying over the browned lawns outside. It was approaching sunset of what the people who lived in this part of the world considered a ferociously hot day, much too hot for spring. Several times today, various of them had said apologetically to him, "At least it's dry heat." They need not have been apologetic. To him this was a fair day in early spring indeed, cool, bracing, with a hundred kinds of plants in exuberant leaf; it reminded him of hunting mornings in his youth.
Eidetic memory has its prices. For a moment, whether he wished it or not, he found himself out on the plain again under the burning sky, smelling the air, terrified and out of control of the emotion, knowing that at the day's end he would either be a man or be dead. Then the fragment of memory, like a still holograph refiled, fell back into its indexed place in his mind. He lifted an eyebrow at his self-indulgence, made a note to himself to spend a little extra time in the Disciplines that evening, and moved to the terminal.
Its chiming stopped as he touched it: another second and the terminal had read his EEG through his skin, recognizing the pattern. The screen filled with column on column of blue symbology, a list of calls to the flat since he left. Most of them were unimportant compared to the one name and commcode at the far right-hand side of the list, the most recent, the one message that had caused the "urgent" chime. He had rather been hoping that the embassy would not need him further today: but hope was illogical. Life was about dealing with what was. He touched the screen, and the computer dialed the code.
He waited a moment or so before speaking. The link was scrambled, and before communications began, the computer had to agree with the one on the other end as to the eighty-digit "satchel" crypton they would use to keep the link secure. He had the utmost confidence in the ciphering process. Ninety-six standard years before, he had invented it.
He paused two point three seconds to let the process finish.
"Sarek," he said.
The voice that answered him did so, by the good offices of the computer, well above the frequencies that most people on this planet were capable of hearing. The slightest high-pitched hissing or squeaking on the air was all any listener would perceive. That tiny speech whispering into the air went on for a moment, and then Sarek said, "By what majority?"
The air spoke softly to itself again. "Very well," he said. "Whose was the request?"
Another tiny answer. "Tell her I will come," he said. "If all the transportation connections work correctly, we will be there in four point nine six days. Out."
He touched another code on the screen, not bothering to scramble the communication this time. "Sarek," he said again. "I am being recalled, informally. Make the arrangements with the usual carriers, and begin distributing my appointments between Svaid and T'Aimnu."
"Affirmative," said his attaché. "Being handled now. What reason shall we give the Federation Council and the immigration authorities?"
"Personal political business," he said. And, hearing T'Lie's unspoken curiosity, he added, "The Referendum has been called. I must speak for the proposal."
There was a pause. "There was nothing about that in the packet this morning. Perhaps there has been an oversight."
"No, no oversight. I was just notified. There will be a full précis in the next packet. Call a press conference and issue the statement as soon as you have a context-positive translation."
The Ambassador Extraordinary of Vulcan to the United Federation of Planets, and incidentally to Earth, turned away from the screen and sat down very slowly in a chair that faced the windows. The light and heat came streaming into the room, into the silence. Sarek leaned back and closed his eyes, and became still, tried to become the stillness, the warmth. But he failed: the stillness was an illusion. His mind was in disorderly turmoil. He would have been embarrassed at that, except that it would have made the turmoil worse.
If I fail in this, he thought, then my honor is in shreds and my family will bear the stigma of it forever. We will be ostracized. If I succeed...then my honor is intact and my conscience will remain whole. But my House will be broken...or if not, I will become an exile and outcast. And Earth...
He opened his eyes. Out the window of the towerblock, a redtailed hawk was balancing on the hot wind, as if on an unresolved thought, hovering. In the blue sky far behind it, past hills like cut-out cardboard, cream-white clouds piled along the horizon, basking and building in the heat, forging their thunders.
Earth will be dead to us, Sarek thought, and got up to make the call he had been avoiding.
Looking down from space, the miles-deep sea of atmosphere that breeds thunders and winds takes on another perspective. The endless star-pierced blackness presses down against a thin delicate wrapping of air, a bubble of glass swirled with white, glittering where the Sun touches it, the blue of oceans showing through the faintly misted shell. A fragile thing, brittle-looking, an objet d' art, round and perfect: but for how long? From far enough out in orbit, one has no doubt that one could drop the Earth on the floor of night and break it. An urge arises to step softly, to speak quietly, so as to keep whoever might be carrying the pretty toy from being startled and fumbling it.
That view, the wide curve of the planet, blue and brown and green streaked with white, was the one that Spock kept on the viewscreen by preference when he was alone on the bridge. He was alone now: indeed he had been alone now for nearly sixteen days, except for the briefest interruptions by maintenance crew and the occasional visiting bridge-crew member. It was curious how, even though they were on liberty, they could not seem to stay away.
But then Jim would surely say that it was curious that Spock couldn't stay away, either. And he would have laughed at Spock's grave attempts to rationalize away the analysis, for in logic there was no reason for him to be there: after a month's peaceful work on the bridge instrumentation, every piece of equipment was tuned and honed to even Spock's relentless standards. Jim would have teased him most assiduously. That was of course the captain's privilege, to refuse to take Spock seriously: as it was Spock's to raise (outwardly) his eyebrows over the amusing and irrational conduct of his human friend, and (inwardly) to rest satisfied that someone knew him well enough not to take him seriously, Vulcan or not.
Spock sat quiet in the helm, watching the Earth and idly going through lists in his head. When the heavier and more involved of their repairs were finished -- warp-drive adjustments, the replacement of the inside of one warp nacelle's antimatter containment system, installation of a new set of dilithium crystals -- Fleet had moved Enterprise out of the major repair and spacedock facility at San Francisco High to a parking "spot" over the North Atlantic, where Starfleet Gander could handle the ship's reprovisioning. These were more mundane and simple businesses, like the complete replacement of the Enterprise's forty million cubic feet of air: even with a starship's extraordinarily advanced air-conditioning and processing systems, a ship's air could become rather stale-smelling after a couple of years. Not even Spock had stayed aboard for that -- he found breathing vacuum for any length of time to be aesthetically unpleasant. He had spent the day near Reykjavik, examining the volcanoes.
Then there was the matter of other reprovisioning to be supervised...stored food, hydroponics, dry stores, textiles, machine parts, data tapes and solids, cleaning and maintenance supplies, the hundred thousand things that a crew in space for long periods needs. Spock did not have to occupy himself with this -- he was, after all, on liberty as much as the rest of the crew -- but it suited his whim (and his commitment to his agreements as executive officer) to make certain for himself that the ship was perfectly ready for space in all respects, not just to take someone else's word for it.
It became sort of a game, after a time, to anticipate the quartermasters' department in things that they should have thought of first: it engendered in them what Spock considered a very healthy attitude of friendly competition. Who would be first to remember and requisition the right grade of granite (and some slab marble, as a treat) for the ship's single Horta crewmember, who sometimes complained in a good-natured way that man was not meant to live on nickel-iron alone? Who would know where to find "pinhead" oatmeal for the chief engineers who occasionally -- and loudly -- demanded porridge? Where could one obtain the best price for hundred-ton lots of Arabica coffee? (Spock's simple but admittedly elegant storage method for coffee -- beaming it aboard in small lots, each time purposely aborting the upload in mid-transport, but holding the coffee's completely analyzed pattern in the transporter's data solids until wanted -- had become standard Fleet practice for "extraneous" cargo in starships on tour, and had changed coffee from a rarely enjoyed and much-longed-for luxury into something that the whole crew could have when they pleased. But after all, McCoy and Kirk were both very fond of coffee...and this kept it fresh.)
And there were even more pleasant forms of maintenance to handle: most specifically, the refreshing of the ship's data libraries. Spock had himself spent nearly a hundred hours scanning the refresh lists sent him by the British Museum on behalf of the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the Ryeshva Moskva, der Schweizerisches Landesmuseum, la BibliothÈque Nationale, reh Xiao-Mih. Then had come the uploading, the checking, the indexing, and just as important, the exchange of information -- for after debriefing, Enterprise declassified all but the most sensitive material on returning to her registry port. At the end of it all, some seventy-two hours without a stop, he had slept, as McCoy would probably have observed, like a log. Though how a log slept was beyond him, and certainly past McCoy.
Now, approaching the end of the reprovisioning process, Spock let the lists go momentarily and gazed at the North Atlantic for a while, watching the tiny, precise patterns of weather flow by in curls and curves of white and gray, while in the background the stars seemed to turn around a fixed globe. The view was familiar. Spock had taken to predicting the Earth's weather lately, as a pastime and an exercise of his logic. There was a fascinatingly large number of variables -- seasonal tendencies, solar storms, the fluctuations of the Earth's ionosphere and ionopause, the occasionally successful attempts to control weather on a local scale, and in the midst of it all, the endless fluxions, perturbations, and movements of jet stream and a hundred lesser winds. He had spent a week mastering North America's weather; and after writing the master algorithm with all the necessary seasonal variations and sending it off to the Western Hemisphere Weather Service, he turned away to something more challenging. Greater Britain and Ireland seemed sure to keep him busy for a long while: the algorithms promised to be exceptionally complex. Perhaps ten days this time. He wondered idly if the people livingthere would be happy to have their weather solved at last.
Spock considered the three small, patchy lows presently sitting over the British Isles, while the lists in his head slipped back for attention. Almost everything was complete now: the last few deliveries would be cargo and mail for parts of the Federation that no normal carrier serviced...or at least, no carrier quite so well armed. There were twelve tons of container cargo, mostly heavy machinery or electronics, and the equivalent of fifty tons of mail, some as data storage, more in the same kind of "abeyance" as the coffee. It cost too much to ship most paper over interstellar distances, but executable documents, currency, and personal mail still needed to be paper (or plastic or metal) at both ends of the process, for varying reasons. And the coffee solution was a good one for paper, since energy was cheaper to ship than matter, even with the "overhead" energy that the transporter spent keeping the solid goods in flux. Nor was security a problem: Spock had himself devised the ciphers that would make sure no mail was tampered with while in transit. They were satchel codes of extreme complexity, their basic structure derived from a most reliable source --
The comm console went off.
Spock punched a button on the arm of the helm.
"Enterprise; Spock here."
"Sarek," said the voice, and Spock's eyebrow went up.
"Father," he said. "Are you and Mother well?"
The dry voice, far away, got an ironic tone to it. "I had not thought you gone so far into human behavior, my son, as to begin indulging in 'small talk' with me."
Spock held himself quite still for a moment, then said, "Father, I rarely hear from you by voice transmission unless either you or Mother is not well. Therefore my logic is intact for the moment."
There was a moment of stillness on the other end as well. "That line of reasoning is justifiable," Sarek said. "However, your mother and I are both in good health."
"Then I would assume that your call has something to do with the vote that took place on Vulcan this morning."
"You have had the news?"
"No. But it seems a reasonable assumption. What was the result?"
"In favor of considering secession, four thousand three hundred fifty-one to fifteen hundred twelve."
Spock sat for a moment and let one level of his attention flicker back to the British Isles, contemplating a low pressure area moving slowly toward the Midlands. There was another small low hovering over the Borders that made it difficult to tell whether the first would head north or south. At any rate, it was surely raining in the Cotswolds --
"Then they have certainly called for you to return home and speak for the secessionists," Spock said.
Another pause. "They have. More: T'Pau did."
"And will you?"
A much longer pause. "My son, you know my reasons."
Spock was silent too, for a moment, regarding a band of cloud over Ayrshire. "Too well, my father," he said. "But you must do your conscience's work."
"So must you. The Council has called for your testimony as well."
Spock considered what this was going to mean to the Enterprise's liberty schedule and experienced a moment of regret, which he swiftly put aside. "I should have expected that," he said. "Noted. I will make the necessary notifications here and advise Starfleet...though I think I know what they will do."
"Agreed. I will see you at home, my son. I estimate that you will be there before me."
"As do I," said Spock. He paused, then said, "Tell Mother that I think of her."
The silent sound of an eyebrow going up somewhere in Los Angeles. "It would be illogical of you not to," said Sarek, with an edge of humor on the dryness. "Out."
Spock touched the button on the arm of the helm and eyed the south of Britain, toward Wales. That little cloud, reaching back eastward from Gwynedd and across the Irish Sea: that was perhaps the symptom of the solution. That persistent backwash, leading into the major northeastern flow -- Spock examined its path, calculated probabilities, and then reluctantly put the half-born algorithm aside. A wonderfully complex problem: but life had handed him a thornier one. The weather would have to wait.
He got up, leaving the empty helm behind him, went to his Science station, and began making calls.
It was blowing up a gale outside the pub. Wind whipped rain against windows gone glassy black with night, and rattled the damper in the fireplace. Once he heard a skitter and crash as a roof slate blew loose and smashed against the chimney, then clattered down into the rain-gutter in an arpeggio of chunks and splinters. But on the whole, James T. Kirk was beyond caring. He was sitting in a chimney-corner seat with his feet out in front of a coal fire, and an Irish whiskey in one hand: he was warm and snug, and he didn't have to go anywhere, and there was nothing to do but relax and listen to the wind mutter and moan in the flue.
"There's the Jim, then," said a familiar voice behind him.
"Ronan," Jim said, looking up. "They keeping you busy?"
"Not tonight." Ronan Boyne sat down next to Jim in the twin to the chair he was sitting in, an old overstuffed horsehair business, heaven only knew how old. Ronan ran the place, which everyone called the Willow Grove even though "Deveraux's" was painted over the front door. He put down his ever-present oranges-and-lemons drink and ran his hands through his hair: black hair, for Ronan was about as black Irish as they came, with a big bland face and big strong hands. "It's only the fools and the desperate cases out tonight," he said. "Even the ferries from Wales have all been canceled."
"Doesn't surprise me. I wouldn't want to be out on that water. Eight-foot swells, at least."
"If you wouldn't, then the rest of us had better stay home! Chess later?"
"You're on, then." And Ronan got up and went off to see to one of the desperate cases, who was bringing a brace of empty pint glasses back to the bar.
Jim sighed and put his head back against the padded wall behind him. That was the way it had been for a couple of weeks now. A friendly inquiry or two, then he was left alone if he wanted to be...but there was always the promise of companionship if he wanted it. He couldn't have found a better place for a vacation.
He had certainly needed one. That business with the Romulans, and right after it the interminable famine runs for gamma Muscae V, and after that, the intervention at 1210 Circini, with the Enterprise caught in the middle and everybody on the four planets in the neighborhood shooting at her: it was enough to turn your hair gray. When it was their turn in the Fleet heavy-cruisers' rotation to come back to Earth, Jim had been cranky enough to pull a little rank on his crew's and his own behalf. Within an hour of their arrival in Earth orbit, he had informed Fleet (as was his right) that he was taking his last two years' accumulated leave all at once. Then he had mentally braced himself for a fight. But Fleet had responded blandly that the Enterprise was badly overdue for retrofit, which would involve at least a month's worth of equipment testing and resupply. So for now, they told him, he and his crew were on indefinite paid liberty unless they specifically requested reassignment to other ships. Jim smiled, knowing about how likely that was. He packed a couple of bags, said goodbye-for-now to his crew, and set about getting himself lost.
Technology had made Earth smaller than it had ever been, but you could still get pretty lost if you worked at it. It had been a matter of only three hours' travel, and Jim did it the tourist's way, on purpose -- after all, there was no point in simply beaming down to where you were going on Earth, as if it was any other world you had business with on your tour of duty. He caught a shuttlecraft from the Enterprise to the Fleet orbital facility, then took the transporter to San Francisco Interplanetary, and the BA hyperbolic shuttle from SFO to London; after that, the Spas Lingus ionjumper from Luton Spaceport to Dublin, and finally a rental dual-mode flit for the run south down the coast road. In fact, the travel was really only two hours' worth: most of that last hour of the three had been spent sitting caught between annoyance and bemusement on an abeyance apron at Luton, waiting for launch clearance. Jim had been a little careless about his timing, and got caught in the commuter rush hour, all the businessmen heading home to Europe and Asia from the City.
But it had been more than worth it for the view on the drive down, as ahead and to the right the Wicklow mountains rose up before him, all slate- and emerald-shadowed in a long fierce sunset that piled up in purple and gold behind them; and on the left hand, the sea, a blue gray like quiet eyes, breaking silent with distance at the stony feet of Bray Head. There were not too many houses to mar the bleak loveliness of hill and water and sky; the towns themselves seemed to crouch down to one or two stories, and make themselves small. And Dublin's fair city, where the girls were so pretty, had grown in many directions, but not this one. Only its spires could be seen away across the tidal flats of Dublin Bay -- civilization kept properly at a distance, where it would not frighten the horses. The Irish had their priorities.
Using the road for the delight of getting down between the hedgerows, Jim had driven past the Willow Grove, only half noticing the bed-and-breakfast sign, and half a mile down the road had stopped and turned and come back. It had looked promising, in a quiet way: an ancient Georgian house, big for this part of the world, with two huge bay windows at the front, full of cheerful drinkers. He had walked in, inquired about prices and credit systems, and half an hour later he was sitting where he was sitting now, eating clear lamb stew and drinking Guinness, and being checked out by the locals.
"Jimmy boy, how are you tonight?"
"Fine," he said, automatically, because no matter who was asking, it was definitely true. Looking up, he caught the tail end of a wave from Riona and Erevan Fitzharris, passing by on their way to the bar for their nightly pint: a tall blond man, a tall redheaded lady, computer consultants who commuted home to Wicklow from Hamburg every day. They had been the first ones to realize who Jim was.
Ronan hadn't even thought about it, he claimed, till he was told. "It's not my fault," he said later: "Kirks are common as cowpats around here, for pity's sake. Also I don't watch that damn box," that being how he referred to the holovision, except of course when it was showing soccer. But Jim had his suspicions -- Ronan had taken an image of his direct-credit plate, after all. It was not until Riona and Erevan accused him in public, one night, of being in Starfleet, of being, in fact, the James T. Kirk, that he admitted it to anyone. And to his astonishment, after the laughing, hollering group in the pub that night had been told the secret, and howled with merriment to see Jim blush (it had to have been the whiskey they kept feeding him), they all pretended it hadn't happened. Only once in a while, if out of habit he had activated his universal-translator implant that morning, he would hear one of the Irish-speaking regulars murmur to someone new about ar captaen an t-arthaigh an rhealtai Eachtra: our starship captain, the one with the Enterprise. And he would turn away, so as not to let them see him smiling.
Jim sipped at the whiskey, and stretched a bit in the chair. The people here were mostly interested in who he was, and only occasionally in what he did -- that was what made the place so marvelous. They had been piqued by not being told what he did, but once that was settled and he had been properly ragged for being a galactic hero, there were other more important things to talk about: weather, fanning, sport, and especially local gossip, which most everyone took covert or overt delight in sharing with him. The regulars seemed to think it a point of honor that he should know their neighbors, and themselves, as well as they did. Jim, not to put too fine a point on it, ate it up. There was, after all, a resemblance to part of his job as a starship captain. It was his business to be very familiar indeed with the gossip of what amounted to a small spacefaring village -- to know where to share it, and when to spread it, and how to keep quiet and smile.
And if of an evening someone did tempt him to talk shop, it was in the gentlest sort of way. One night someone happened to mention Grainne, the pirate queen who raged up and down the Irish Sea in the first Elizabeth's day, and it had seemed natural enough to talk a little about Orion pirates and their depredations, and the deplorable trade in green slave girls. Or another time someone else might admit how his five-times' great-grandfather had been one of "the Gentlemen" -- for smuggling had been more or less the national sport, some generations back -- and if Jim could put on an innocent face and tell them a little about how one might get Romulan ale across the Neutral Zone without attracting the attention of Customs and Excise, well, it was the least he could do....
"He pulls the slowest pint in the county, and that's a fact," Riona said from just behind Jim, as she picked her way around the chair and flopped in the other chimney-corner seat.
"It's a virtue," Erevan said, coming around the other side and sitting in the chair next to Jim. He was carrying a perfectly full pint glass of Guinness, which he put down with exaggerated care on the table between them. "Agree with me, Jimmy boy."
"I agree with you," Jim said immediately. "What am I agreeing with?"
"You cannot pull a pint of this stuff fast," Erevan said. "All those little air bubbles, phah, they get into it and ruin the flavor."
"When you're dying of thirst, the flavor doesn't enter into it if it's half an hour before you can drink it," Riona said, and drank, and got herself a beige moustache from the luxuriant head. She wiped it off surreptitiously. "Ronan ought to do what they do in town, and pull pints ahead of time, and leave them on the shelf to settle down."
"Slops," Erevan said. "That is slops. Jimmy, ignore this woman."
"You'd hit me if I didn't," Jim said. Then added, "Come to think of it, you'd hit me if I did."
"You be still, then; I'm discoursin'. Slops. Say you have a barman on the bad, and closing time comes, and he hasn't sold those pints: what then? What's to keep him from pouring them back into the tank for the next day, eh? Slops." Erevan said the word with great satisfaction. "Each drinker to his own pint, and if you have to wait, that's the price of quality, and besides, it's worth waiting for."
Jim smiled and said nothing, just sipped his whiskey. Much to his annoyance, the thick, brown black brew called stout had been one Irish taste he had been unable to acquire: to him, it tasted like roofing tar. He had heard this particular argument before; and the worse arguments about brands of stout sometimes progressed almost to physical violence before Ronan made it plain that such was not permitted, and besides, it would spill the drinks.
"And what's that you're drinking?" Erevan said.
"Whiskey," said Jim.
"Oh, now, what are you drinking that down here for?"
Jim was opening his mouth to laugh when in the pocket of his jacket, slung over the back of his chair, his communicator went off. It had been so long since he'd heard it that the sound startled him almost as much as it did Riona and Erevan. "Phone," he said, as casually as he could, and dug around behind him in the pocket among the car's code plate and the loose change, till he came up with the communicator and flipped it open.
"Kirk here," he said.
"Spock here, Captain," and out of the comer of his eye Jim noted with mild amusement that Riona and Erevan were eyeing one another, for here was another name they knew from the newscasts. "Are you busy?"
"Chatting with friends. Do you want to call me back?"
"No need: this news will be quite public shortly, if indeed it is not public now. I would suggest to you, Captain, that all liberties are about to be canceled. I thought you might appreciate an advance warning."
"Noted. What's going on?"
"A vote was taken this morning, and Vulcan has decided to call the Referendum. My presence will be required there, and I would strongly suspect that the Enterprise will be sent there as well, to...reinforce the planet's memory of favors done it in the past by the Federation."
Jim was still for a moment. This particular problem had been a long time brewing...and he had thought something might happen to make it come to a head fairly soon. At times like this, he thought, I really hate being right. "We have no orders yet?"
"No, sir. But I judge the probability of the imminent arrival of such orders to be ninety-third percentile or higher."
He means he's sure, but he's leaving me the option of one more day's holiday, Jim thought, entertaining the idea...then reluctantly rejecting it. Better get it over with. He put down his whiskey. "All right," he said. "Give me half an hour to check out of here, and I'll be ready to beam up."
"Acknowledged. Enterprise out."
He snapped the communicator shut, looked at Erevan and Riona regretfully, and shrugged. "There goes the vacation."
"It's a wicked waste, that's what it is," Riona said.
He agreed with her, but there was nothing to be done about it except get up from the pleasant fireside and take care of business. He spent ten minutes in the comm booth, getting someone from the rental company to come out and fetch the flitter; another five minutes settling his bill with Ronan; the rest of the time getting things out of the flit and packing them. And then there was nothing to do but wait for the communicator to go off again, and say his good-byes.
He was shaking hands with Ronan at the door when his pocket whistled. "That's me," he said sadly. "The chess game will have to wait. You take care of yourself."
"I'll do that." Various people in the bar were shouting good-byes, waving: even Renny, Ronan's daughter and assistant behind the bar, was calling something to him. He missed it, but was curious: she was very shy and had rarely said more than a word or so to him before. "Pardon?" he called back.
"Go maire tú i bhfad agus rath!"
He hadn't turned the translator on that morning. Jim looked at Ronan, bemused. Ronan raised eyebrows at him and said, "Old Irish wayfarer's blessing. It translates as 'Live long and prosper.'"
Very slowly, Jim smiled. "I'll be back," he said, and since only a galactic hero would have made a spectacle of himself by beaming up from the middle of the pub, he stepped out into the black, blowing night and shut the door behind him, holding on to it carefully so that it shouldn't slam in the wind.
Several seconds later, the rain was blowing through the place where he had been.
Star Trek® Spock's World copyright © 1988 by Paramount Pictures.