Star Date: 7704.30..
This visit to Henrichi's office was far different from his earlier visits. Although the same, patiently suffering secretary-receptionist was exerting the same care in being “disinterested” in her charge, and although Kirk himself was restlessly pacing the waiting room as he had every time before.
He wore the black tunic, trousers and boots that current customs dictated with the scarlet band of mourning on his sleeve. He was not one to go along with conventions just because they existed. But when you live among 25,000 fellow transients on a space station whose garden area exceeds 50 thousand square meters, it is comforting to have some uniformity among the human part of the population. Some unspoken human need demanded such practices.
Such was the source of the customs and mores of this station that were imposed on “resident” and visitor alike. And they were being imposed on Kirk. Custom demanded the black mourning attire, and custom demanded a sharp restriction in his activities. He had found the restraints on his activities unbearable. Especially now.
Now was when he needed to be active, to keep busy, to stop seeing the crash, to stop remembering the explosions, to stop hearing the screams. The two tragedies were merging in his nightmares. And now there was no longer anyone to soothe him when he woke up. The babies were settled with his nephew and his wife, which, while it was the best possible choice for the motherless twins, only added to the upheaval in his own routine. He missed them.
The academy session he was actively teaching would break in three days. Custom again would require that he finish the session, but that he would then be unscheduled for the next term in deference to his loss. To Jim Kirk, this final restriction would give him the kind of inactivity he had never sought, and now wished fervently to avoid.
The comsignal blared its noisy intrusion into the quiet of the office.
“Send in James Kirk... and no interruptions... Please,” Henrichi sounded tired.
Miss Odeia sniffed in annoyance at the subtle reprimand and did not bother to reply. Her neck hood swelled in a slight sign of indignation.
Kirk had moved for the door the moment that the buzzer had sounded. He nodded at Miss Odeia to acknowledge that he had heard and entered the inner office. Quickly. An agitated Odeia was the last creature he felt up to dealing with at the moment.
“Sit down, Jim,” Henrichi motioned at a chair as he stepped over to the ornate buffet he had built into one corner. He poured himself a brandy-like liquid and offered one to Kirk.
“Yes, thank you,” Kirk waved him off before the glass was filled. Both of them were restrained, the accident had been a shock to everyone.
“I wish to express my deepest sympathy for your loss. As much as I've tried to get you to leave... I mean... I never wished...” Henrichi for once was fumbling for the right words. He glanced furtively at Kirk, trying to read him.
“I understand,” Kirk wished to avoid the subject, anxious to proceed with the business of the visit. He took a large swallow. It was brandy. It was very good.
“Well, I, ah, asked to see you because... Oh Hell! I wish to re-offer you the Captaincy of the Enterprise.” Inwardly, Henrichi had decided that the best approach was the direct one. Now, he almost stopped breathing, waiting for Kirk's answer.
“I had assumed as much,” Kirk stood up, slowly, and faced the waiting Admiral. He tugged his tunic into place and smoothed the sleeves. He had shifted, smoothly, almost imperceptibly, into full attention. “I accept.”
Henrichi was almost caught off guard but recovered quickly and sprang into action. “Well! Very good. Excellent. At, er.., at ease. Ah! When could you be ready to report for conditioning?”
“Conditioning? I thought you said...” Kirk bit off the report. If he was being recommissioned, he would have to learn to swallow his flip retorts
“Well, of course you're in great shape. But as you yourself have said...”
“You’re stalling,” Kirk commented, while inwardly he tried to compute just what training he would need.
Henrichi looked sheepish.
“It's all right,” Kirk almost laughed at the transparency of this man who was trying so hard not to be overly delighted, nor too pushy, nor too whatever it was he could detect that Kirk didn't like. “I am ready now. I've already made all the necessary arrangements, my affairs are settled.”
“Aha!” Henrichi had been fumbling around in his desk, now came up with a disk that he immediately inserted for readout.
“The next physical training class leaves from station KPE407, north sector, disembarking at 1300 hours. Can you make it?”
“I'll leave at once,” he turned to go.
“You'll find your uniform in locker 23407 - here's the combination.” He passed an unlocking device to Kirk. Jauntily, he saluted him. “Good bye and good luck, Captain”
Kirk studied him a moment. Could the accident have been arranged? No! No one could be that.. No! ! But it had worked out to everyone’s advantage. To everyone’s except Sharalyn’s. To everyone’s except himself.
As if reading his thoughts, Henrichi added. “I've had it ready for a few weeks -- just in case you ever said yes. I didn't want you to be able to reconsider.” His explanation was given softly.
Kirk glanced up, grateful for the reasons, chagrined that he had been read so easily. “Thank you, Admiral.” He returned the salute, “Good bye.”
He walked thoughtfully out the door, clutching the device, already reviewing procedures and lists, already making decisions he would implement as soon as he was back onboard.
# # # # #
“You know that we would love to have them,” Nancy said, watching Kirk fidget with the communicator.
“Yes, I know,” he replied.
“And, you know where you really want to be. Have wanted to be for some time,” she added.
“Has it been that obvious?”
“No, you have managed well. But I am family, I knew. And, so did Sharalyn.”
“But, I should...”
“Remain with them? Be a resentful, bitter step-parent? Think about it. Children know when their guardians resent them. How will you hide it? How long will you be able to hide your real feelings?”
“I do love them...”
“I know that... And, so do they. so will they, when they are old enough to know the story.”
“What will they think?”
“That it is far better to have a loved one missing than to feel unloved by those present.”
“They are too young for that level of logic.”
“They are too young to be damaged by your absence. Not when they have a whole family unit as replacement for that which is lost, or absent. …. It is not as if we were strangers.”
“You have forgotten why I was ... removed … in the first place.”
“The accident? I read all the reports. We never held you to blame. No one from the crew did.”
“No one who survived!”
“You brought them back. And saved the ship. She even came into port under her own power.”
“We were barely making warp speed. And had only half the crew left alive!”
“But you did get back! No other star ship captain could have done as much. The testimony said so.”
“Do it Jim! How many men or women, broken in rank from some absurd circumstances even get a second chance! Do it!”
“I might not come back this time.”
“You might not survive crossing the corridor.”
“Or riding in a shuttle,” he added wryly.
“Then, it is settled.”
“Yes... Yes, it is.”