James T Kirk, former Captain of the Starship Enterprise NCC1701-A, now retired, pulled down the box from the top shelf of his closet and dumped it onto his bed. Instead of opening the box, he strode to the window, which overlooked the whole of San Francisco Bay. It was a beautiful clear and sunny day and the view was nothing short of spectacular. Kirk saw none of it. He stared blindly out over the sparkling waters of the bay to the gleaming white building on its shore - Starfleet Headquarters. Damn but he should have moved back to Iowa months ago.
This was not exactly his first taste of retirement. He'd given it his best shot, but no matter how contented he had been, eventually he had found himself unable to resist the siren song any longer and signed up again. Could that really have been nearly 9 years ago? This time, it had been much harder to adjust to civilian life; there had been no-one waiting for him at home. This time, that gleaming white building had mocked him every morning with its closeness and its inaccessibility. He had taken to leaving his bedroom curtains closed.
It had worked too. He hadn't thought about his old life for nearly four months. Which was why the call from Commanding Admiral Smiley a few minutes ago had come as such a shock. Kirk turned back to the bed and glowered at the box again. He was thinking about the last conversation he had had with Robert Smiley on the day he had resigned from Starfleet.
The Admiral's office was on the top floor of Starfleet HQ, affording it a fantastic view right out over the bay. Kirk knocked politely before pushing open the ancient oak door. Smiley was scrutinising a document, and absently indicated that Kirk should sit. Then he pushed the piece of paper towards Jim. It was his letter of resignation. Kirk glanced up and met the Admiral's eyes enquiringly.
"As Commanding Admiral of Starfleet I am required only to accept or decline this Jim, but as your friend, I'm required to ask why?"
Kirk leaned forward and picked up the paper, studying his own words carefully. Eventually he sighed and leant back in the chair, "30 years ago, when they gave me the Enterprise for the first time, I was young, full of romantic idealism and a real taste for adventure. Back then there really was a frontier to explore, a new challenge every day, and what I did out there really mattered."
Kirk's words were full of passion and fire, but then his tone changed to one of resignation. "Then they offered me the Admiralty and I guess I got caught up in all the glitter. 'Youngest Starfleet Captain ever becomes youngest Starfleet Admiral ever.' It went straight to my head and it was also the biggest mistake I ever made. Spock and Bones - they tried to warn me but I wouldn't listen. I spent the next two and a half years sitting behind a desk at Starfleet HQ wishing I was back out there."
Smiley stood and went over to an antique drinks cabinet. He selected a decanter of Saurian Brandy and two glasses
"Nogura gave you back the ship didn't he? I was only a Vice-Admiral at the time but the shock waves were immense. No other Admiral in the history of Starfleet had ever been given a five-year mission before. It made some of us think we could do it too."
Kirk accepted the glass and took a deep drink. "He had no choice. We had just saved the Earth from V'Ger and I guess he felt obliged to give me anything I wanted, but once that five year mission was over, I was right back behind a desk again. When it looked like they would loose me, they offered me a teaching commission at the Academy."
"You did a fine job there, Jim"
"I enjoyed it. Every time I opened that classroom door and saw all those fresh faced, eager cadets, it was like seeing the Universe through their eyes. Sometimes I could see aspects of me in one or two of them. The job was worthwhile but eventually I realized that it wasn't enough.
And things had changed in other ways too. I was 48 years old and had been an Admiral longer than a Captain. That was the day I decided to retire."
Smiley poured another two shots from the decanter and Kirk raised an eyebrow. No one ever got more than one slug of Smiley's Brandy. He swirled the amber liquid around in the huge glass then took a small sip "I went home, to Iowa. That was when I met Antonia. We bought a cabin in the mountains and settled down. Life was stress free and uncomplicated and I was happy."
"Yet less than three years later, you signed up again"
Kirk regarded his Commander over the rim of his glass. "I missed it Bob. Even an Admiral stuck behind a desk has at least the chance of making a difference every now and then. McCoy understood - he kept telling me I should get my command back before I really did grow old.
I wish the circumstances had been better, but I got my ship back - I even got myself demoted to Captain again. I can't explain how that felt Bob. Half my colleagues at the Admiralty felt sorry for me - they couldn't understand that for the first time in nearly 20 years - I was back where I belonged."
"What changed, Jim?"
"I did. I may have got my ship back, but at what price? David's death did something to me. After the business with Khitomer was over, I realized how jaded I'd become.
One of the more important characteristics a Starfleet Captain needs, is to have an open mind. My mind had closed so tight it prevented me seeing that I had become the very thing I had always hated - a commander out of touch with reality."
Kirk swallowed the last of his brandy and placed the glass carefully on Smiley's desk along with the letter of resignation. "There is no more frontier Bob. Captains nowadays are more diplomats than pioneers, more scientists than soldiers. I don't fit in anymore and I can't keep doing this to myself. McCoy has always told me I don't know when to quit - but he's wrong."
"I hate to loose you Jim. People like you are a rare commodity these days. The new Enterprise-B is under construction and we had hoped....."
"Bob - I really am too old to be careening through the galaxy. I appreciate the offer, but my mind is made up."
"Then the Enterprise will go to Captain Harriman. I believe he was one of your cadets?"
Kirk frowned in puzzlement as he tried to recall a cadet called Harriman, then shook his head sadly, "Now that really does make me feel old. Has he beaten my record?"
"Not quite - he's 31."
"31... I was never that young"
"Bob - I've busted my ass for Starfleet for nearly 40 years and what do I have to show for it? An empty apartment. Times have changed and as the years go by, I find it harder and harder to change with them. No - its time to call it quits."
Kirk pushed the paper towards Bob Smiley "Will you sign it?"
Smiley picked up his antique fountain pen and dipped it in the inkwell. Kirk was gone before the ink was dry.
That had been 8 months ago. Now he walked slowly to the bed and laid a hand gently on the box. The USS Enterprise 1701-B was ready to be launched but Smiley hadn't called Jim just to tell him that. Kirk had detected a note of sheepishness in the Admirals voice despite his light tone.
"I was wondering Jim, are you busy next week? We'd like you to come on board for her maiden voyage."
"What's the matter Bob - don't you trust the new man?"
"Of course we do. After all - you trained him. But this will be the first time in 30 years a ship called Enterprise has flown without James T Kirk at the con. Seems like tempting fate."
"Oh cut the crap - this isn't about fate, it's about publicity. Sorry Bob - I just can't face that."
"Jim, you got me. Look - Harriman is a fine young captain, but he's not a popular public choice. He's only 31 years old. There are more than a few people waiting to see him fall flat on his ass."
"I was only 30 when they gave me the Enterprise".
"I know. And I know you met the same kind of prejudice. Remember?"
Kirk had nodded slowly. Yes he still remembered as if it were only yesterday, the jealous, sometimes angry looks from other officers with more experience and better service records than he.
"You know that Harriman is a good officer Jim, help us take the heat off him?"
And somehow Kirk found himself agreeing to do it. On one condition - he wasn't going to do it alone. Smiley had hung up with the promise that he would try to locate some other members of the old Enterprise crew to accompany him. No reason why he should suffer alone.
Now Kirk glanced down at the box beneath his hand. Slowly he lifted the lid and removed the thin protective layer of tissue. Not a particularly good form of protection in this age of layered plasticote shielding, but one that Kirk had always found comforting. Reverently, he lifted the maroon jacket out and held it up allowing the carefully folded sleeves to drop into place. "God I hope this still fits."
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