LAST EDITED ON Feb-02-18 AT 02:00 AM (EST)
Monday, August 10, 2381
San Francisco, California, Earth
At first, as he returned to his office from his lunch break, Vice Admiral Heihachirō Nogura could not have said which of his two afternoon appointments he was looking forward to less. Upon a moment's reflection, however, he decided the winner of that dubious honor was the latter one, if only because it was less of a known quantity, and Nogura—perhaps unusually in a man who had made his career in a service whose motto was "Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before"—did not much care for the unknown.
Still, the former was no great prize either, and it was with a heavy heart that the admiral touched the intercom panel built into his desk and asked, "Breitling, is Commodore Kirk here?"
"He's just arrived, Admiral," Breitling replied.
Nogura suppressed a sigh. Of all the times for Kirk to be punctual. Instead, he gave his usual noncommittal grunt, then said, "Send him in."
A moment later, the door to the outer office sighed open and Commodore James T. Kirk entered the room. As ever in Nogura's experience, Kirk carried himself with an annoying relaxed confidence; he could have no idea what this meeting was about, of course, but that kind of thing never seemed to alter his bearing. Nogura wondered, not for the first time, if the man could possibly be genuinely so much at his ease all the time, or if he were simply so good an actor that he could conceal any other state of mind behind a look of calm self-assurance.
Nogura, who was not a good actor, could only accomplish a similar feat by erecting a grimly expressionless wall where his face belonged. He did so now, rising to return Kirk's salute with stone-faced dignity.
"Take a seat, Jim," he said, the informality of his words completely at odds with that face and the tone of his voice. As the two men sat down on opposite sides of the admiral's desk, Nogura went on, "I see you're still wearing the old gold and black."
"It's still regulation for another six months," Kirk replied; then, with a faintly mischievous scrap of a smile, he went on, "I'm holding out some hope that the Quartermaster's Office will regain its senses within that time."
Nogura grunted again. He didn't much like the newfangled uniform Starfleet had recently adopted either, although the white-fronted grey flag officer's version he was wearing did at least look a little sharper than the muted pastel colors other grades were stuck with; but he would never have admitted it in so many words, even if doing so might have added a bit of human warmth into his interaction with Kirk. On some level, human warmth was the last thing he wanted this interaction to have, anyway.
To that end, he dropped the subject, committed no other acts of small talk, and said instead, "I won't beat around the bush, Jim. Admiral Morrow and I have been considering the best use to make of your talents now that Enterprise's deployment is finished. Harry wants you to join his staff, and I concur. You'll be promoted to rear admiral and come work for me, as Chief of Starfleet Operations."
The great irony of the situation was that Nogura was too preoccupied to properly enjoy seeing Kirk's easygoing confidence slip. At that bombshell, the younger man looked first startled, then puzzled, as he took on board the implications of what Nogura had said.
He regained his composure quickly enough, though, and it was with his usual air of wry humor that he observed, "I've been a commodore for all of a month. Promoting me to full flag rank so soon is likely to ruffle a lot of feathers higher up the seniority list."
"They'll get over it," Nogura replied bluntly. "They'll have to."
"The same way they had to when you jumped straight to vice admiral?" Kirk asked with just a trace of playfulness.
"Exactly," Nogura said, not biting. Then, before Kirk could tease him further, the admiral steamrollered on, "You're ready to serve in a wider capacity. Harry and I believe your record in Enterprise bears that out. You succeeded where no other captain of a Constitution-class vessel did: you brought your ship and crew back intact from five years in deep space."
When Kirk responded to this, he was no longer playful. "The ninety-four members of that crew who didn't make it the full duration might dispute your interpretation of 'intact,' Admiral," he said gravely.
"Everyone else we sent out for that long lost a lot more than that," Nogura said implacably.
"Be that as it may," said Kirk, "the sum total of my experience commanding more than one starship is about three hours of battlefield expediency. I hardly think that qualifies me to be CSO."
"You won't be thrown straight into the lion's mouth," Nogura told him, sounding a trifle testy now. "Randy Haines isn't retiring until next year. She'll get you up to speed with everything you need to know before handing off." Folding his hands on the desktop in front of him, Nogura fixed Kirk with a steady gaze and said gravely, "This is where the Fleet needs you now, Jim. You've done your part on the front lines. Now it's time for you to see how much more you can be."
It was the wrong play, and that became immediately obvious. Nogura saw Kirk's face shut down, becoming as stony and grim as his own, and he knew he had bungled.
"Admiral, with all due respect," Kirk said stiffly (and Nogura steeled himself, because Kirk was the kind of man who only said that when he was about to unleash hell), "I have... no interest in being 'more' than the captain of a starship." Looking Nogura in the eye, he went flatly on, "I've never believed a man can be 'more' than the captain of a starship."
"That's a hell of a thing to say to a flag officer," Nogura pointed out archly, his own façade cracking.
Ignoring the rebuke, Kirk continued as if Nogura hadn't spoken, "I therefore must decline your... generous offer. I'm happy to assist Admiral Haines with her transition in my capacity as commodore while Mr. Scott handles Enterprise's refit," he added diplomatically, "but once that's finished, I mean to take her back out."
"Enterprise is off the table," Nogura said. "What's next for her has not yet been decided; odds are, as the only Block I Connie to come back from a five-year, she'll become a museum ship."
"In that case," Kirk replied, though even this much of a concession was like tearing off a strip of hide, "I trust I'll be able to take most of my officer corps with me to another starship."
Nogura stared hard at him for a few moments, then composed himself with a visible effort and said, "Fine. Since you seem to be impervious to hints, Jim, I'll lay it right out for you. You are too valuable to Starfleet, and to the Federation, for us to keep gambling with your life. You're the only starship captain to come back in one piece from a five-year deployment, and we've made a lot of public capital out of that. If, after all that, we sent you back out and you happened to be killed—and the percentages are very much in favor of that outcome!" he barked before Kirk could voice an objection, "it could damage the Fleet's standing with the Federation public irreparably."
Kirk's face was expressionless now, and Nogura at last had his answer to the question of whether the man could put up a front. "So," he said in rather too calm a voice, "you're saying I have no choice."
"Not at all," Nogura replied. "We can work with you. If the office of CSO is not to your liking, perhaps Admiral Morrow can appoint you to command of Starbase One? Or it's possible you could be the next Commandant of Starfleet Academy. That would permit you to pass on the benefit of your experience to the next generation of officers. You have plenty of options, Jim. You're an excellent officer with a lot to offer. But under no circumstances," he went relentlessly on, "will you receive another deep-space command. That phase of your career is over."
"Commodores routinely hold starship commands," Kirk pointed out.
"Not Commodore James Tiberius Kirk," said Nogura. "Period. This is not negotiable."
Kirk regarded Nogura silently for a moment, then said, "I... can't give you an answer now. Now that you've laid out my options for me so clearly," he added dryly, "I'll need some time to consider them."
"Of course," Nogura agreed. "Think it over. I've just named three possibilities. If you think of something else, Harry and I will do whatever we can to make it happen."
Kirk rose. His brief flash of cold anger seemed to have passed; indeed, it was with an ironic sort of sympathy that he remarked, "Thank you for making the situation as clear as possible."
"You forced my hand," Nogura replied shortly, eager to have the interview over with. "Dismissed."
Kirk gave him an unreadable look for a moment longer, then saluted, turned, and left the room.
In the outer office, Yeoman Breitling heard Commodore Kirk mutter, "And you've forced mine," as he stalked past the reception desk and out into the corridor, but he hadn't the faintest idea what he might have been talking about.
Nogura took a moment to collect himself after Kirk left his office, reminding himself ruefully that what he'd just done was only the thing he was second least looking forward to today.
All too soon, the allotted time arrived for the first least looked-forward-to thing, and with a heavy sigh, the admiral rose and went through a side door into an adjoining conference room. There, he found two of his fellow flag officers, Chief of Operations Haines and Commander-in-Chief Morrow. The three had just enough time to exchange greetings and get situated before the person they were all gathered to meet entered the room.
Nogura steeled himself inwardly at the sight of the man: Benjamin Hutchins, better known as Gryphon, formerly of the Wedge Defense Force. Formerly and, it seemed, again, since he was wearing not the alternate-universe Starfleet uniform Nogura had last seen him in, but rather a blue-and-white, brass-buttoned affair with the WDF's old red-and-white trefoil insignia on one shoulder and the flag of the Republic of Zeta Cygni on the other.
The new WDF's new uniform, I presume, thought Nogura sourly. Ostentatious and overdone. I might have expected as much.
"Admirals," said Gryphon as he stepped behind the lectern at the head of the room. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with me today. We're all busy people, so let me get straight to the point. You all know that I returned to this dimension last year in command of an advanced Constitution-class starship, one representing a technology base some 20 to 30 years ahead of your own current state of the art."
"Which was destroyed," Nogura couldn't quite stop himself from remarking.
"That is true, albeit not strictly relevant," replied Gryphon mildly. "What is relevant is this." He touched a control on the lectern before him, causing a schematic diagram of the same ship to appear on the viewer that made up most of the wall behind him.
"In its native reality," he began, "this was the second, and by far the more extensive, remodel of the Constitution class. The commanding admiral of Starfleet at the time was Japanese, so the internal nickname for the remodel was 'Constitution kai ni'."
(The commanding admiral of Starfleet at the time had, in fact, been the local counterpart to Heihachirō Nogura. Furthermore, the use of the Japanese nickname for the project, which he had opposed, was not particularly affectionate on the part of the design team; but this was not something Gryphon felt the need to explain just now.)
"I was a member of the design team for Constitution kai ni," he went on. "The project was originally conceived as a refit of an in-service starship; then we worked it up into a full specification for new construction, and ultimately the Bureau of Starships developed from that a technology package that could be applied fleet-wide. Within a decade or so, the entire fleet that had existed prior to the refit had either been upgraded or retired and replaced with new ships based on these specs. It was that effective, if I do say so myself."
Gryphon paused for a moment to let that sink in, then continued, "The old Wedge Defense Force had a long history of amicable alliance with the United Earth and United Galactica naval forces that were your fleet's predecessors. It's my hope that the new WDF will enjoy a similarly friendly relationship with Starfleet." Placing his hands on the lectern, he leaned forward slightly and announced, "In honor of that history and that hope, I propose to give you the complete Constitution kai ni package. Materials guides, construction diagrams, software specifications... the works. Everything your yards would need to revolutionize your Starfleet along the same lines..." He paused, making a significant moment's eye contact with Haines, then went on, "... and I think we all know how useful that kind of force multiplication is likely to become in the near future."
"What you're talking about is extremely valuable," Morrow agreed, nodding; then, his expression still as mild and affable as ever, he went on, "Valuable enough that I can't believe you'd ever give it away for free, goodwill or no. What are you asking in return?"
Gryphon chuckled. "Honestly, just having a better-equipped Starfleet in the galaxy as I see it shaping up over the next few years would be reward enough. There is, however, something you could do for me that would make both our lives easier. You all know I'm in the process of staffing, equipping, and making operational a new incarnation of the Utopia Planitia Yards at Zeta Cygni. I've had to pretty much start from scratch. Not only was the old yard much too small for the building program I have in mind, someone seems to have, er... looted it about 90 years ago." With an arch little smile, he added, "Nothing any of you gentlepersons would know about, I'm sure. Long before your time.
"Anyway," he said, making a let-it-pass gesture. "Here's something that would be very helpful to both of us. I'm getting these new yards up to speed, and you'll need some of your people trained up on the new tech. We could accomplish both of those goals most efficiently with a pilot project—you select a transition team and send them to Zeta Cygni, where they work with my new technical core on an actual implementation of this technology. The most efficient way to do that would be to do it just like we did on the original Connie kai ni project: start with an existing Mark II spacecraft and perform the refit on her." He spread his hands. "My people get their feet under them; your people learn what they need to know to bring this material home to your own yards; and the new WDF gets its first capital ship."
"You want us to give you an operational Constitution-class starship?" asked Morrow, his tone and raised eyebrows betraying only mild surprise.
"I've just explained how it could benefit both parties," Gryphon replied equably. "Besides. With this information, and some adaptation and training support, you could jump the fleet's technological basis ahead a good three decades. I think one starship is a more-than-fair starting investment."
"I'm inclined to agree," Haines said, then added bluntly, "if this information is as valuable as you say it is."
"Agreed," said Morrow. "We'll need to have at least some of this data in advance—enough for our own engineering people to evaluate."
With a nod, Gryphon said, "Of course. One of your best engineers is looking at some of it as we speak, in fact—and if you decide not to take me up on the exchange, you can keep what I've given him. It's not anywhere near the full package, but it should be enough for Starfleet-caliber people to get some very useful ideas from," he went on. "Think of it as my way of saying there are no hard feelings."
"Heihachirō, you've been very quiet," Haines said. "What do you think?"
Nogura regarded Gryphon in silence for a few moments, his face as stony as it had been when he was stopping himself from reacting to Kirk. Then he said,
"I think the point is, unfortunately, moot. We don't have any Constitution-class starships available to trade." Folding his arms, he was unable to keep a faint note of spiteful triumph out of his voice as he went on, "All of them are fully engaged on long-term deep-space assignments."
Gryphon smiled, and as he did so, Nogura realized too late that he had just played the wrong card for the second time that day.
"All but one."
Monday, February 15, 2382
Rear Admiral James T. Kirk regarded himself in the mirror for a long moment, adjusting his cuffs. He still wasn't entirely sold on the new uniform, but he supposed it would grow on him if he gave it a chance. It didn't have the spartan timelessness of the old black and gold, but he had to admit it had a certain classical elegance about it.
"All right," he said aloud to his reflection. "Let's go see what they have for me."
Turning, he made to leave the room, then paused to regard the hat sitting on the table for a moment. Then, shaking his head, he left it there and made his way out. Classical elegance or no, he decided, James T. Kirk did not wear hats.
He wondered, in the back of his head, if the little smile of the man awaiting him in the outer office was at least in part because he knew Kirk would come to that very conclusion. If it was, Gryphon didn't say it out loud; he merely remarked,
"Now you look the part. C'mon. I think you're going to like this."
Without further comment, the senior Wedge Defender led the younger man out of the office, down a curving hallway, and then through a heavy armored door that led into a radial corridor. This was in the form of a tube, its upper curvature made of transparisteel, and beyond it lay a panoramic view of part of the vast new Utopia Planitia complex.
Kirk had to make a conscious effort not to gawk at the scale of it, even though this wasn't the first time he'd seen it: rank after rank of drydock frames, each separated by a working space of about half again their own size, stretching off in a three-dimensional lattice that could accommodate dozens, maybe hundreds of ships the size of heavy cruisers, or even larger. Most of them were still empty, true, and the few that were occupied contained only the beginnings of alloy skeletons, not yet even recognizable as ships. When this facility was fully up to speed, though, it would be capable of turning out whole fleets at once.
"So... where are we going?" Kirk inquired, his tone light, as they passed from the transparent section and into another enclosed stretch of hallway. "Is this the new-hire tour?"
"No, that comes later," Gryphon replied. "I thought I should start by introducing you to the people you'll be working with, and show you your new ship. She's still in a bit of a state, I'm afraid," he added apologetically, "but she's coming along nicely, and I think'll get the general idea of where we're heading with her."
Kirk made a noncommittal noise, but did not otherwise reply. Six months' trekking in Alaska, his self-prescribed therapy regimen after his abrupt retirement from Starfleet, had blunted the sting of losing the Enterprise, but he still wasn't in a place where he felt like bantering jovially about his next command. To be sure, he was grateful for the opportunity to have a next command, something Starfleet hadn't been willing to grant him—it was why he'd even considered Gryphon's job offer, much less accepted it—but...
He hadn't even had time to complete the thought when Gryphon suddenly stopped, turned left, and keyed open the door, then gestured Kirk through ahead of him.
"Well, I say introducing," he correct himself. "Truth is, you've all already met."
Giving him a quizzical look, Kirk stepped past him into the room beyond the door—and then stopped, his face going blank with surprise, at the sight of the six people who awaited him there. At the sound of the door, they had all turned to look, and now, at the sight of Kirk, they broke into beaming smiles... well, all but McCoy, who just gave his knowing little smirk, and Spock, who arched an eyebrow in silent agreement with it.
Kirk thought he'd been surprised to see these six, the department heads and command staff of the Enterprise, standing in a room at Utopia Planitia, and all wearing WDF uniforms like the one he'd just put on for the first time... but it was nothing compared to the surprise he got when they broke their little formation to approach him, with outstretched hands and declarations of welcome, and he saw what lay beyond the picture window behind them.
It was a starship, currently in the midst of being refitted: warp engines dismounted; whole sections of pearlescent-grey tritanium hull plating removed; surrounded by an organized chaos of floodlights, cables, moored work platforms, vacsuited engineers, welding sparks. A starship that, even in this state, Kirk recognized instantly—would have done even if the patchwork of her dorsal hull didn't retain just enough of her old markings to be legible.
And so it was that for one of the few times in his life, James Tiberius Kirk could find no words at all. Turning to see Gryphon observing the reunion from the doorway, he asked the obvious question with his face rather than his voice.
The Wedge Defender folded his arms and leaned against the doorjamb with a little smile. "Well," he said, "I figured if Starfleet no longer wanted the most effective starship command team in the Federation, I might as well find a use for it."
Gryphon shrugged. "I made them an offer they couldn't refuse."