Chapter 9 - Patriot Games

Mr. Scott stepped into the conference room, and practically jumped out of his skin. McCoy understood his shock. Jim sat at the head of the table, dressed in his shimmering, gold tunic (the short-sleeved one that Leonard was no longer used to seeing), with all of his medals in place. Spock sat to his right, wearing his silken, Science blue First Officer's uniform, and McCoy sat to Jim's left. The scene would have appeared completely normal if it hadn't been for the fact that Spock had taken over the ship months ago. As it was, the sight of Jim in his uniform, together with Spock being alive at all, was as incongruous and shocking as seeing a unicorn trotting up to check out the observation deck. Scotty stared at the three of them, eyes wide and mouth agape, much as if he had seen just that.

"Come in, Mr. Scott," Jim said.

Scotty suddenly snapped to attention and saluted Jim. "Aye, Ca... Captain?"

"That's right, Scotty," Jim replied. "Mr. Spock and I have... come to an agreement, shall we say. I wanted to extend you the courtesy of telling you first, since... well, Scotty, I'm afraid what I'm going to say next may be upsetting to you. But I hope you'll understand."

Scotty frowned slightly, suddenly more nervous than before. "Well, sir, I... I'm sure I will," he said.

Jim's expression was serious as he continued. "Commander Spock promoted you to First Officer while I was... on hiatus," he said. "It's my understanding that you did an excellent job as Spock's right hand, and you behaved bravely in defense of your captain. Which is why I'm sorry to have to do this to you, Scotty." The engineer looked decidedly sick, but he stood still and kept his eyes on the captain. "I'm demoting you back to Second Officer," Jim said. "It may seem strange to you in light of recent events, but Spock has been an invaluable asset to me as First Officer and I want him back in that position again. If you... Mr. Scott, what are you grinning about?"

Indeed, the engineer had a huge grin on his face, which had started growing as soon as Jim said he was being demoted. Now, however, Scotty's smile faltered, and he cocked his head slightly. "Is that all, sir?" he asked. "I mean, will I still be in charge of Engineering?"

"Of course," Jim exclaimed. "You're the best Engineer in the whole damn service, you know I couldn't trust anyone else with these engines."

"Ach, in that case, thank you, Captain!" he said. The shining smile was back at full wattage. "Thank you so much, sir, oh saints be praised! I havna been able to spend more'n a few hours a day in the engine room what with all the reports and the analyzin' and the..." He looked at Spock. "With all due respect, sir, and with a great deal o' gratitude for giving me the position, but... I just don't know how you stand it! Maybe you're disappointed not to be captain anymore, and if y'are, I'm sorry for it, but I couldna be happier than I am now."

Jim laughed. "Good to know, Scotty," he said. "I should have known I didn't need to worry about upsetting you."

"I, too, am gratified by your positive attitude, Mr. Scott," Spock said. "And although the events leading to my loss of the captaincy were... unplanned, I may say that I am not disappointed with the current arrangement."

Jim smiled. "Now, if only the rest of the crew takes things as well as you have, we'll be in the clear."

"What about the, er..." Scott looked at Spock for a moment, then back to Jim. "The new..."

"We won't be going back to the old way of doing things," Jim said. "Mr. Spock and I will be working together to turn his vision of a new and better Empire into a reality. We're going to hold this meeting as planned, and if we get the other starships on our side, then nothing can stop us."

Scotty smiled, and sighed with relief. "I don't think you'll have any trouble with the rest of the crew, Jim," Leonard said. "I seriously doubt anyone wants to go back to worrying about agonizers, or the damned agony booth again. And I have a feeling that everyone else will be thinking the same thing you are. With the two of you clearly working together, and no one waiting for the other shoe to drop, you could take on the entire Empire and win."

"I hope you're right, Bones," Jim said.

"Captain," Spock said. "Considering the fact that Doctor McCoy was the first to suggest that you and I work together again to further our goals, and the fact that thus far we have been productive in our collaboration, I believe it would be wise to accept the doctor's evaluation of our current prospects as well."

Jim smiled and Bones shook his head. "What he's trying to do," Leonard said, "is spare me the graceless task of saying I told you so. Fortunately, I don't mind being a little graceless every now and again. To wit - I told you so."

Jim laughed, then glared at him with mock seriousness. "Don't push it, Doctor," he said. He turned back to Spock and Scotty. "We have a lot of work to do, gentlemen, and not a lot of time to do it. Mr. Scott, I want you to get down there and make sure the engines are at peak efficiency."

"Aye, sir."

"Bones. Spock. I think it's time for a visit to the bridge." They stood up, and while Scotty went to Engineering, the other three made their way to the bridge.

The ride up to the bridge was silent. Spock's guards and Jim's former chaperones surrounded them. Spock had briefed them the night before and explained to them that he had abdicated the command of the Enterprise back to Jim Kirk. He told them that they were to serve Jim as they would have served Spock, and the men had agreed to obey him.

Now, with the addition of Spock's guards to his own personal arsenal, even though they were in a precarious position, James Tiberius Kirk was most likely the strongest captain in the fleet. There were no other Vulcan officers in Starfleet besides Spock. Spock had been a pioneer of sorts, convincing the Vulcan High Council that it was logical - even essential - to have at least some presence in Starfleet, to ensure that their world would be represented well in the Empire as Terran allies. There were plenty of Vulcans aboard Empire-funded scientific vessels, but Spock was the only Vulcan who had yet made the attempt to join the Empire's military force - except for the guards that he had personally recruited from his home planet. Now that Jim had the backing of Spock without reserve, it meant that he had as many loyal Vulcan guards as Spock did - making his personal security force the strongest of any captain the whole of Starfleet.

Even with that extra protection, Leonard was nervous about just bursting onto the bridge, and he vibrated with barely veiled anticipation. While regular officers didn't carry phasers, everyone on the bridge would still be armed with daggers, and he was concerned that there might be a panic or a melee when Jim appeared on the bridge.

Only a few short seconds later, the turbolift slowed, and the moment of truth arrived. The doors opened on the bridge, and Leonard could see Thornton in the command chair, Leslie at the helm, and he could see the viewscreen showing various views of the other ships that had come to participate in the meeting. The guards filed out onto the bridge and flanked the turbolift opening. They saluted, and Sokan announced, "Captain on the bridge!"

The rest of the crew glanced in the direction of the turbolift, and to a man, each and every one of them jumped to their feet at the sight of Captain Kirk striding onto the bridge. Jim took in the sight, eyes serious, glaring slightly at the assembled crew. His gaze rested on Sulu and Chekov the longest. The helmsman and navigator gaped in complete disbelief. After a few moments during which everyone simply breathed and stared at Kirk, the captain spoke.

"Lieutenant Uhura, intra-ship communication, please."

Uhura nodded and pressed a few buttons on her communications board. "You're connected, sir," she breathed.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Jim said. "This is your Captain speaking. I know this may come as a shock to you, but Spock has returned command of this vessel to me. Some things will no doubt change, but the important things will remain the same. We will still hold this meeting, and we will take a stand against the Empire. You will continue to treat Commander Spock with the respect that you've given him in the past. I have returned him to his former position as First Officer of this ship, and he will continue to be a driving force throughout this revolution. If anyone has a problem with the current restructure, or with my decision to reinstate Mr. Spock, then you're welcome to speak now. But I believe that if you were willing to follow Spock into his bright new future, you should be willing to follow me to the same place." He nodded at Uhura, and said, "Kirk out."

Uhura closed the connection, and the bridge crew stared at Kirk. There was complete silence from every person present. The only sounds were the chirps and twills of the consoles. After a few moments, Lieutenant Uhura gave Captain Kirk the customary salute. "Welcome back, Captain Kirk," she said.

Jim smiled at her, and the other members of the crew followed her lead - snapping to attention and saluting. Jim looked around at them and his chest seemed to swell with pride, and he returned the salute. "At ease," he said after a moment. "Mr. Spock. Take your station."

"Thank you, Captain," Spock said. He spoke normally, but his voice carried throughout the bridge. It felt as if everyone had been unconsciously listening for his response. Indeed, they might well have been. This was another unique and completely unprecedented situation. For Spock to have taken over the ship and let Jim live was astounding enough. But the fact that Jim had managed to regain control of the ship, and then allowed his former usurper to live seemed to go against the very laws of nature. And yet it had happened, and Spock's simple, respectful answer seemed to prove to the assembled crew that Spock had accepted the turn of events without bitterness. The crew seemed to relax ever so slightly.

"Now," Jim continued. "I'm sure you're sick of efficiency drills, but I think we can afford one more before the big meeting gets started. I want a report on the efficiency ratings from each department in my hand before the hour is up."

"Aye, sir," Uhura said. "I'll notify the crew."

Jim turned to the security chief. "Thornton."

"Aye, Captain?"

"I want you and your security team on high alert during this meeting. I have some ideas that I want to see implemented to keep me and Commander Spock safe while we're on the surface of Keterna II. We've got a lot at stake here, and I don't want anything to go wrong, understood?"

"Aye, sir," Thornton replied.

"Good. We'll talk after the efficiency drills have been reviewed." Jim moved toward the command chair, and Thornton stepped quickly out of the way. Jim placed his hand on the chair and just looked at it for a moment. Then, he stepped around and sat down slowly. He looked at the viewscreen, and took a deep breath. Leonard couldn't help but smile at the sight. That's where he belongs.

Jim looked around the bridge and his eyes fell on Lieutenant Moreau, who had vacated her place at the Science station to make room for Spock. She stiffened when she caught him watching her, and she lowered her eyes. "Lieutenant," he said. "Come here, please."

Moreau clenched her fists, but approached the Captain slowly. "Yes, sir?" she asked.

"It's my intention to put Spock in charge of the Science department again," he said.

She nodded. "I assumed as much, Captain," she replied, and though her voice was clipped and without emotion, her body language spoke of how disappointed she was. Her shoulders slumped, and there was a sadness in her eyes.

"According to Mr. Spock," Jim said, "you have been doing an excellent job in your new position. I want you to continue your assignment with Dr. McCoy's team for now. But once this is over, I'd like you to take over Thelorin's position - head up Science on the night shift." She gasped, and fixed him with the genuine, brilliant smile Leonard had only seen back when the two were first getting together, back when they'd still cared about each other. "Does that please you?"

"Yes, sir," she said. "But..." The smile faltered and she looked uncomfortable again. "What about... Will I be staying in your quarters, sir?"

Jim smiled, and glanced at Leonard. "I think I'll leave that up to you, Marlena. I have an... arrangement of my own at the moment. Besides that, you don't need protection anymore. You've earned your position and under the new rules, no one can take it away from you."

The smile was back again. "Thank you, Jim," she said, relieved.

He nodded. "Go on, you've got work to do." She saluted him and practically bounced off the bridge, glancing at McCoy and giving him that same bright smile before heading into the turbolift.

"Mr. Sulu."

Sulu turned sharply. "Aye, Captain?"

Jim beckoned to the helmsman. "Come here, please. You, too, Chekov."

They stood and approached the chair, looking just a little bit nervous. Leonard edged closer to his customary spot beside the chair, but kept a reasonable distance. "I wanted to let you know that this wasn't a premeditated takeover," Jim said softly.

"Sir, I... we didn't-"

"I know," he said. "But I didn't want the two of you think of me as a hypocrite. I meant every word I said to you in the rec room that day. I never intended to take over again, but an opportunity came and I couldn't pass it up. I still believe very much in what Spock was trying to accomplish, and I intend to continue in the same vein."

"I understand you, sir," Sulu said.

"Understood, Captain," Chekov said, nodding. "Also, sir... I... we did what you said."


"We've talked to a lot of people lately," Sulu said. "Together, and separately. And what we've heard... well, sir, I..." He glanced around briefly before settling his eyes on Kirk again. "You don't have to worry about me, sir," he said. "I won't go against you."

"Nor me," Chekov said. "You were right. I think things have gotten better now."

Sulu smiled slightly. "I didn't realize anything was wrong until I saw how it's been since he... I... I mean, I'm glad you're back in command, but..."

"I understand," Jim said. "Thank you, Mr. Sulu. Mr. Chekov. You may return to your posts."

They did so, and Jim looked over at the doctor. He smiled slightly. "Don't you have some drills to run yourself, Doctor?" he asked.

"I do, sir," Leonard replied with a slight smile. "Is there anything else I can do for you here before I go back to my station?"

Jim shook his head, smiling back. "No, I think everything is under control here."

"Good to have you back, Captain," he said. Jim might just have looked pleasantly embarrassed. Leonard saluted, then turned toward the turbolift, looking at Spock as he went. The Vulcan had taken his position at the science station again, and he, too, looked more at home than he ever had in the captain's chair. Smiling, Leonard stepped into the turbolift and headed back to Sickbay to run one last set of drills before the meeting began.

Leonard felt his excitement level heightening as the final few hours sped by. The thought of actually doing it - of banding together with the other starships and forcing Starfleet to change their ways - was breathtaking. He was excited, but somewhat terrified, to be at the beginning of something so fantastic.

Of course, the success of their venture depended heavily on what happened in the next few hours. No matter how enlightened or advanced or intelligent the minds on the Enterprise were, they could not hope to survive an attack from the rest of the entire fleet. It simply could not be done. If they weren't killed by outright attack, then they would face a slow death by means of embargo - no planet or colony in the Empire would go against the orders of Starfleet Command - it would be suicide. More accurately, it would be genocide, since any planet that harbored them could be destroyed on the order of Starfleet Command. Certainly, the Enterprise could threaten a planet with such a fate if they were not harbored, but the amount of risk involved in such a plan was simply too high - anyone in the planet's governing body could pretend to cooperate, and secretly communicate with Starfleet, and they would be finished.

No. They needed the help of the rest of the fleet, or they would have to take over a starbase and there would be one hell of a difficult road ahead of them if they went that route. Leonard shook his head, disliking the idea immediately. "Less thinking, more drilling," he told himself. Worrying about the situation wouldn't make the meeting start any faster, and it wouldn't make knowledge of future events suddenly appear in his mind. Jim Kirk was one of the best minds in the fleet, and he was one of the most persuasive men in the entire Empire. If he couldn't make this work, then no one could.

Keterna II was the second of thirteen asteroids discovered within the Keterna asteroid field that were not only large enough to qualify as dwarf planets, but that had orbits that were moderately predictable. On Keterna II, by far the largest of these thirteen "planets", there was even a tenuous atmosphere, though the air was dry arid where the atmosphere was most stable. Jim counted this a positive, however. If the air was thinner, and the temperature as hot as Vulcan at midday, then it was far less likely that they would come under physical attack. Spock was used to that kind of weather, but the humans would be hard pressed to exert the kind of energy needed to overpower someone, and the Enterprise would be taking precautions to ensure that no weapons were brought to the asteroid's surface.

The other crews all knew the dangers of transporting down to Keterna II. No one wanted to risk transporting their captain into solid rock, so they all agreed that shuttlecraft transport would be used. Jim ordered Uhura to provide each of the captains with coordinates to the six locations on the planet that could accommodate twelve shuttlecraft, and that were suitable for use as a meeting place. The captains were asked to communicate their preferred meeting place in code - encouraged to confer with one another if they wished.

By the early afternoon, the other Starship captains had come to a consensus, and the location of the meeting was relayed to Lieutenant Uhura. At their final briefing before the meeting, Jim called down to the security personnel that had been sent to the planet's surface on their first day at Keterna. He ordered them to reposition themselves - doubling the security officers at the appointed meeting place, and at the two possible destinations nearest the one the other captain's had chosen. "Make sure you keep someone posted at each location," Jim said. "The first shuttlecraft that docks, tell me immediately and I want everyone to hustle to that location. We'll use the transporters if necessary."

"Understood, Captain."

Jim turned to Scotty. "I want you at the transporter controls with a line open to the security team, understood? If anything sounds fishy, get us out of there, risk or no risk."

The Engineer nodded. "Aye, aye, sir."

"All right, people, you have your orders. Dismissed."

The gathering began at 1700 hours. Jim waited until all the other captains had gathered on the surface of the planetoid. The security chief on-site relayed the message that the men had, indeed, tried to use one of the other landing sites, but they were intercepted by Enterprise's security force and disarmed before being allowed to enter the meeting area.

When security reported that everything was clear, and after sensor readings confirmed that all the captains were accounted for, Jim and the others made their way to Keterna II. Spock piloted the shuttlecraft, transporting Jim, McCoy and three of their most trustworthy guards to the surface.

The moment the craft's bay opened, Leonard felt a wave of dry heat rush in. "Christ, it's hot!"

"Computer specifications did state that the temperature would be high," Spock said.

"Dammit, Spock, 'hot' is one thing. This is..."

"I find the weather quite pleasing," Spock said, with the barest hint of smug satisfaction in his voice.

"You would, you green-"

"Bones," Jim said, a warning in his tone. "Spock. Enough. You can tear each other apart to your heart's content once this meeting is over. For now, let's focus."

"Aye, sir," McCoy said, echoed by Spock's, "Yes, Captain."

The heat was getting to Jim - there was a slight sheen of sweat on his brow already, and he was clearly not in the best of moods. He glared balefully at the drab, brown surroundings. "Let's move, gentlemen."

They walked in silence toward the meeting area, preceded by Sokan, Harris (Jim's most loyal personal guard), and Sotek, whom Jim had re-assigned to serve as McCoy's personal man the very night he'd taken over. As part of the preparation for the meeting, a large table had been brought down, complete with personal viewscreens, and enough chairs for all of the attendees. A smaller table was set at the opening of the rock clearing, where one of the guards kept a watchful eye on the confiscated weapons.

As planned, Spock, Leonard and their two guards went in first. The captains were already seated at the table, drumming their fingers on the hard surface. Most of them were sweating already, and they looked about as pleased as McCoy felt to be on the hot, arid rock. Their personal guards stood at ease a few feet from the tables, but even though they weren't forced to stand at attention, McCoy didn't envy them having to stand at all in that heat.

The sound of their footsteps carried clearly through the thin air, and the men around the table turned and glared at them. "Greetings, gentlemen," Spock said.

"What's the meaning of this, Spock," Commodore Decker snapped.

"Yes, I'd like an answer to that, too," Captain Karasik said. "Why have you called us here? What's the meaning of bringing our ships to this god forsaken asteroid field?"

"That, at least, should be obvious to you, Captain," Spock replied calmly. "We have chosen this location in order to generate a tactical disadvantage to all ships involved, with the goal of making a mass attack less likely."

"Well," Captain Ramirez said with a laugh. "Are you saying you don't trust us, Captain?"

Spock raised an eyebrow. "In a word, sir - yes."

There was a smattering of laughter around the table, and McCoy heard a couple of them mutter "Vulcans!" loud enough for him (and of course, Spock) to hear. "As to your question, Commodore," he said, looking at Decker, "We intend to make a business proposition to you." Spock approached the table, and Leonard followed him, keeping close, but not so close as to give the appearance that he was frightened of attack. Sotek and Sokan took up positions only a few feet behind their chairs, both men on high alert. "I believe," Spock continued, "that the details of that proposition would be better explained by the leader of this endeavor."

"What?" Several of the assembled captains sat up straighter, looking at one another in confusion. "If you aren't the leader, who is?" Captain Karasik asked.

"My captain," Spock said. As he spoke the words, Jim stepped into the clearing, followed closely by Harris. The reaction among the captains and their guards was even more violent than it had been when Jim first entered the meeting of the Enterprise's own officers. Everyone at the table jumped to their feet, and some actually cried out in shock. Leonard thought he could see fear on several faces, if only for a second - as if they actually believed they'd seen a ghost walk into the clearing. Decker, Takinawa and Wesley reached for their weapons, and seemed upset when they remembered that they had been disarmed.

Jim scanned the room, face stern. "What's the matter, gentlemen," he asked. He smiled and extended his arms as if to say, "what's the big deal?". "You look like you've seen a ghost."

"Jesus, Jim, what the hell?"

"How did-"



"Please, gentlemen, please, one at a time. If you'll have a seat, everything will be explained."

Gradually, the captains took their seats again. Leonard, Spock and Jim also took their seats at the head of the table. "All right, my friends," Jim said after a moment. "I'm sure I can guess at the two questions that must be foremost on your mind. What are you all doing here, and what am I doing here. Right?"

"Exactly," Ramirez said. "Command sources reported that Spock had taken over the Enterprise months ago!"

"If that was a trick to further one of your schemes, it was a damn dirty one, Jim," Decker said. "I actually mourned for you, you son of a bitch!"

"It was no trick," Jim snapped. "Spock took over, just like the sources said."

"Then how-"

"That's why I've called you here today," Jim said. "That's why we've called you here. Commander Spock took over this ship, and initiated changes that will revolutionize not only this fleet, but the entire Empire. One of those changes was to eradicate the death penalty aboard starships. He also began systematically destroying all the agonizers aboard." Slowly, each of them looked at Spock as if he were completely insane.

"You... but... how did you maintain control?" Wesley asked.

Spock glanced at Jim, and the captain nodded and gestured for him to go ahead. "It is a maxim of the Empire," Spock said, looking back at Wesley, "that in order for the Empire to grow and succeed, terror must be maintained. However, it has been my recent experience that methods of reward and punishment other than monetary advancement and pain, can be used to effectively maintain control of a starship. I believe that these principles can be extended to the operations of an entire governing body."

Captain Keyes stood up suddenly. "You're talking about a coup," he cried. "A... a revolution! Going against the Empire, that's insane!"

"Captain, please take a seat," Jim said. His voice was soft and calm, but his eyes were hard. Keyes sat slowly in his seat, clenching his fists. Jim stared him down for a few more seconds before turning back to Spock. "Go ahead, Commander."

"Thank you, sir." Spock pressed a button on his control panel and activated the viewscreens. "If you will turn your attention to the screens before you, gentlemen, you will see the plan I created regarding disciplinary measures, and the reward system that I put into place once I took command." Leonard looked at his screen, recognizing immediately the flow chart that Spock had provided him and all the other department heads soon after he'd announced his command. He remembered the day well, since it was at that very meeting that he'd been told he would have to do detailed performance evaluations to go along with the new structure.

"With diligence," Spock continued, "these regulations can be integrated into the daily routine of the crew, and the need for agonizers, the agony booth, or executions can be eradicated."

The men studied the chart, and Leonard was pleased to see that they seemed to be giving it actual thought. "I have a question, Commander," Captain Ude said. "How can you maintain this? What I mean is, by what method do you record these offenses, or positive actions? How do you assure that simple favoritism isn't used to advance crewmembers?"

"It is the responsibility of each department head to evaluate the performance of their subordinates," Spock replied. He switched the screen to the hated evaluation form. "This, and all other documents will be transmitted to you should you agree to this plan," he said. "Doctor McCoy, you have extensive experience with these forms. Would you care to elaborate on your methods for dealing with them?"

"Certainly, sir," he replied, trying to keep his avid hatred for paperwork out of his voice. "The form is divided into four major sections - productivity, quality, team skills, and initiative. The department heads came together with Spock to develop reasonable standards in each category, and I kept those in mind as I observed the work of my subordinates. I actually adjusted my shifts for one week rotations, so that I could personally observe everyone, but eventually I handed this off to the ranking officer in each shift, and then I reviewed their findings and signed off on them.

"As to your question of favoritism, Captain Ude," he continued, "The idea is to try to remain as objective as possible. Still, nobody's perfect, and personal problems are to be expected. Commander Spock developed a system where anyone who feels they're being treated unfairly can file a complaint. It'll be reviewed by the department head, or, in the case of a report against me for instance, it would be reviewed by my commanding officer. In theory, in the long term, if there's a complaint against the captain, that would be taken to someone at Starfleet command. But for now, the captain is something of a last line." He smiled. "That part of the system isn't too much different from the current structure," he said. "But again, the idea is to try to be as fair as possible, to gain the trust and respect of the crew."

A few of the assembled captains snorted. "Right," Decker said. "I've already got the respect of my crew, and their obedience. They trust me with their lives."

"Or so they say," Jim replied. "They trust you with their lives because you have the power of life and death over them. They have to trust you, but you've only earned it by showing that you're the strongest man around. Maybe you're the smartest, too. Or maybe you're just lucky, or you have the right friends. But the second someone takes over, how many of them would mourn your death? They'll trust the next man with their lives, then whoever comes after that. Meanwhile, they're plotting how to get their direct commanding officers killed so they can get a better title, and a few more credits in their pockets." He leaned forward, engaging them all, looking at each one of them. "I say that each one of you could probably count on one hand the number of men you could trust - really trust with your lives."

"And I say that you can't make changes like this and expect people to accept them," Decker insisted. "It's just too drastic! It can't be done."

"It has been done, Decker. The proof is sitting right here in front of you. One of the two men I would have said I could trust absolutely with my life took control, and still didn't kill me, because he believed this could work! And it has!"

The commodore rolled his eyes. "Sure, Jim," he snapped. "And I'm sure your crew just jumped at the chance to have their ability to advance decided by tick boxes and comments in some... performance review."

"Well," Jim said with a shrug. "Not exactly. I've been told there was an... adjustment period. But honestly, why should you be concerned with whether they would rather advance by killing one another? With you dead, everyone would advance. Yes, pleasing a captain may mean advancement eventually, but think about it, gentlemen. The way Starfleet works now, every person aboard your ship, with the possible exception of the men who are known to be closest to you, would benefit from your death." He paused for a moment to let his words sink in. "Does the kind of system that inherently pits crew against captain really make sense? I followed the system, too, and for the same reason we all did - because that's the way the system is. But I have seen a better way, and I know it works."

The men around the table were silent, seeming to really think about what Jim had said. After a few moments, Captain Tanner looked up at them. "I'd like to talk about that 'adjustment period' you mentioned," he said. "What happened? How long did it take for your crew to accept this?"

Jim turned to Spock, who took a deep, but measured breath. "Prior to the acceptance of these concepts, there were two attempts on my life, both resulting in injury to myself."

"That's exactly what-"

"Bill, please," Jim said.

Tanner gritted his teeth and nodded at Spock. "In the first attack, I was stabbed by my chief of security while my guards were occupied by his accomplices. The second attack occurred after Starfleet Command made my crew aware that I was no longer operating in accordance with their regulations. Several men were killed, and I was grievously injured, but I have since made a full recovery." He paused, and looked around at the dubious faces of the men at the table. "I would like to point out that, although a member of my crew made an attempt upon my life, several others came to my defense, and I was alerted to my danger by a crew member who had been quite loyal to the old ways of operating the ship only weeks before."

"So," Captain Keyes said. "You expect me to believe that you followed this... punishment system for your attackers, too?"

"I did," Spock replied.

"Bullshit!" Decker exploded. "You must have killed them! It wouldn't make any sense not to!"

"On the contrary, sir," Spock said calmly. "In order for me to expect my crew to adhere to the new regulations, I was required to do the same." He pressed a key on his control board, and the helm station showed on the small screens in the center of the conference table. "Mr. Sulu."

"Aye, sir?"

"Will you raise your wrists so that the council can see them?" He did so immediately, showing that his right arm was banded. "Thank you, Lieutenant. Please explain the punishment you received after your assassination attempt."

"Yes, sir," he said, keeping his features stoic. "I was removed from the position of Security Chief, and sentenced to twelve weeks in Second Level. I was released early under special conditions."

"Thank you, Mr. Sulu," Spock said. He closed the connection, and looked back at the shocked group of men. "Mr. Sulu's sentence was mild, partly because no one was killed during his attack. Ms. Thelorin received a harsher sentence."

"You mean she was executed," Captain Wesley snapped, almost triumphantly.

"She was not." Spock called to the bridge again, this time to Lieutenant Uhura. "Lieutenant. Patch the security feed for cell seventeen in level Three through to this viewscreen."

"Level Three, sir?" she asked, surprised.

"That is correct."

"Right away, Commander." It took a few moments for her to enter the proper clearance codes, but after a while, she said, "It's coming through now, sir."

"Thank you." The screen lit up again, to a small, bright room with a single occupant. Leonard frowned at her, furious even now, by the memory of her attack on Spock. Thelorin sat on the cot, head in her hands, gripping her hair. A few moments later, she stood up and paced the floor for a few seconds, her black shirt and slacks making a dark streak back and forth across the floor. After a moment, she approached the forcefield, stared at it.

"I need something to read," she snapped.

"You are denied stimulus until your sixth month of imprisonment is completed," a disembodied voice replied. "There are approximately four months, three weeks and eight days remaining before your request can be considered."

Thelorin sighed and clenched her fists. "I want to talk to Spock!"

"Your request will be made at the end of today's duty shift," the same calm voice said.

Leonard found himself smiling at the woman's frustrated sigh. "Now, I want to talk to him now!"

The guard answered again, just as dispassionately as before. "He is indisposed at this time. No further communication will be made with you today."

"What?" Thelorin shook her head and moved toward the forcefield, clearly agitated. "No, let me... that can't have been a full five minutes!"

"Including your query this morning it was five minutes, ten seconds. I am now in violation of the Captain's orders. There will be no further communication with you today."

Thelorin let out a frustrated scream and slammed her fist against the forcefield. The charge slammed her back, and she fell to the floor, dazed. Seconds later, her face changed, and she began to weep silently. McCoy might almost have felt sorry for her, except for the memory of the loss of Selek, and the near-fatal wounding of Spock - not to mention Leonard's own dire wounds. Just the fact that she'd dared to use the customary Vulcan phrase for grieving family members made the sight of her distress particularly satisfying.

Spock certainly knew what he'd been doing when he denied reading materials to a fellow scientist - Leonard could only imagine being forced to go six months with nothing to read at all - no mental stimulation beyond what he could come up with to think about in his own mind. And anyone would begin to go a little crazy without any kind of real social contact for months on end. Six months being driven to the brink of insanity from near total solitary confinement had to be worse than an hour in the agony booth.

Spock shut off the viewscreen and looked around the room at the stunned captains. "As you can see, imprisonment can be an effective method of punishment, especially when combined with a denial of access to certain forms of stimulus such as reading material or social contact. Or in Thelorin's case, both. After she has served six months, she will be allowed limited access to reading materials, as promised." He glanced at Jim briefly before continuing. "Gentlemen. The most crucial element of my plan is adherence to one's word. I eradicated the death penalty, and in order to maintain the trust and respect of the crew, I could not instill it again at will. I instructed Doctor McCoy to survey the crew for their opinions of the new system, and I gave the doctor my word that no one would be punished for their statements. I kept that word, and when I was attacked by Thelorin and her people, the greater part of the security team and bridge crew came to my defense. I cannot say that these changes will not be difficult to initiate, or to sustain. But in order for the new system to work properly, integrity, rather than terror, must be maintained."

The captains looked at one another, but no one spoke. "There's one other thing I wanted to point out, gentlemen," Jim said after a moment. "And that's me. My presence here, as Captain of this vessel, should be proof enough to convince you to at least try the plan. Spock's methods were... radical, I will admit. But he has changed the way this ship is run for the better, and once the changes were in place, he returned command to me without reserve. I was deposed, and now I sit here before you as Captain of the Enterprise. With the trust of this crew, and the removal of corporal punishment, I can be assured that I will be her captain for as long as I'm able to command her. And I won't have to keep one eye open at night, or develop eyes in the back of my head to do it, because no one on this ship will oppose me. And it won't just stop at intra-ship politics. The possibilities are endless! Cooperation between Imperial planets, exploring without destruction, being given resources, rather than destroying civilizations to get what we want. Think about it," he said. "Really think about it, and tell me. Isn't a life like that worth going through a few rough patches?"

Most around the table looked thoughtful, but a few were skeptical, even still. "Captain Kirk," Keyes said. "I agree that this sounds like an excellent system. But how do you expect to get Starfleet Command to agree to this? Do you really expect to convince them to try and fundamentally change the entire structure of the Empire?"

"That's where you come in," Jim replied. "With the strength of our combined forces, we can take control of key strongholds in the Empire and roll out a new social plan once the internal threats are contained."

There was a burst of talking from the floor, with words like "impossible", "insane" and "ridiculous" coming through most clearly.

"Jim, are you out of your mind?"

"He is! He must be! We could be killed for even entertaining this-"

"It's madness, I-"

"Enough," Jim said, but the men talked over him. "ENOUGH!" They stopped at his bellow, and those who had half-risen from their seats sat down again. McCoy tried not to let his pride show through. There was a reason James T. Kirk was the most respected and feared captain in Starfleet, and each man present knew that.

"You disgust me," Jim snapped. Leonard's eyes widened, and he saw Spock's eyebrows rise. "Every last one of you!"

"Now hold-"

"Shut up," Jim snapped. "I've invited you to this meeting, and you're damn well going to listen to what I have to say! And what I have to say is that you make me sick to my stomach! I call a meeting of Starship captains and I end up with a gathering of rubber-spined, simpering cowards without enough guts to make one decent first year CADET between you!"

"Jim, you'd better be careful," Decker snapped, getting to his feet.

"You'd better sit down right now," Jim snapped, jumping to his feet. "Sit down and shut the fuck up! I'm not finished with you yet. What the hell kind of officers are you," he continued, not even waiting for Decker to sit down again. "You sit here wearing those gold uniforms and crying to me about danger and risk. God dammit, that's what this means!" he shouted, gripping the lapel of his own tunic. "Risk and challenge and danger and courage! That's what the captaincy is all about! This uniform says that you clawed your way up from the lower ranks, tooth and nail, against heavy odds, with all the wits and strength you could muster to get where you are. But the eleven of you must have coasted to the top with your eyes closed, because you've got the all courage of rats in a room full of hungry owls! We present you with an opportunity to join a movement that could- no, will revolutionize the entire galaxy, not to mention keep you in the Captain's chair until you're damn well ready to leave it, and you answer me with hesitation and fear. You don't deserve to wear that gold!" Jim scowled at them, and each of them looked somewhat embarrassed, and more than a little angry - but no one spoke.

"The Empire is doomed," Jim said. "If we stay on our present course, the Halkan strategists predict we will fall in..."

"Two hundred thirty-seven years, sir," Spock supplied.

"A minuscule amount of time, in the grand scheme of things. Your grandchildren may grow up to be enslaved or killed by the oppressed planets that the Empire thinks they've got under control. I don't know if you've met me, gentlemen, but I don't like to lose. I have no intention of fighting for a cause that I know is going to fail, even if I'm dead by the time it does. With or without your help, I will fight to make sure that the Terran Empire stands, even if that means tearing it down piece by piece and putting it back together again in a way that makes sense. It won't be easy. It'll mean fighting tooth and nail, probably for the rest of my life. But I don't think anyone joins Starfleet because they want an easy life. I sure as hell didn't. I joined because I wanted adventure. I wanted action, and profit, and excitement. I wanted to be the face of the strongest empire in the known universe. Well, that's what I still want, and that's what I'm damn well going to have!"

He glared at them, and beckoned to Spock and McCoy. "This meeting is over," he said. "You've got six hours. I guarantee you safe passage back to your ships. At zero hundred hours, send me a simple message - yes or no - and we'll go from there." Without waiting for an answer, Jim strode to the "doorway" of the clearing. Just before he left the area, Jim turned to the stunned captains. "If you want to join me, do it," he said. "If not, stay the hell out of my way."

Leonard followed Jim and Spock out of the clearing, feeling breathless and weak in the knees. He was inclined to ask Jim if he'd lost every ounce of sanity he had left, but the tight coil to Jim's shoulders, and the speed at which he stormed back toward the shuttlecraft told Leonard that this wasn't the right time for such a question.

Jim beckoned to the security chief. "Make sure to let the dissidents go back first. Decker, Keyes-"

"Wesley, aye, sir."

"Good man. And be careful. Do not let them contact their ships until we're safely aboard. The cat's out of the bag now, and I can't afford to be picked off in a shuttlecraft."

"Yes, Captain."

He stormed to their shuttle, Leonard and Spock walking quickly behind him. Once they were strapped in, and Spock lifted off, Bones felt safer bringing up the meeting. "What do you think our chances are?" Bones asked quietly.

"I doubt Decker will come around, but he may yet," Jim replied. "They're afraid."

"I can't believe you talked to them that way. Do... do you think that was wise?"

"I think it was necessary," Jim said. "I think they needed a wake-up call."

"But, Jim, it's... eleven ships, each with as much firepower as we have."

"But they do not have our crew, Doctor." Spock said. "The Enterprise has been engaged in more successful missions and battle encounters than all of our potential opponents. Our Chief Engineer makes a hobby of increasing engine performance, our helmsman has used one of the most volatile asteroid fields in the known galaxy as a playground, and our crew includes two of the most brilliant tactical minds in the Empire - Captain Kirk and myself. I do not believe that you need concern yourself with our chances of survival."

Jim smiled and nodded his head. "Well, thank you, Mr. Spock." He turned to Leonard, jerking a thumb in Spock's direction. "What he said, Bones."

Leonard lifted his eyes heavenward. "Your modesty knows no bounds," he said.

Jim laughed. "Relax, Bones. If getting called a coward doesn't work on the pride of most of those men, I don't know what will. They'll see our side of things. I'm sure of it."

"And if they don't?" Leonard asked.

"If they don't, we'll resort to Plan C."

"Plan C, sir?" Spock asked.

"Of course, Spock. Plan C. Run like hell."

Chapter 8
Chapter 10

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