History Lesson

The fine blue lines glow in the darkness.

They each have a core of pure white that darkens gradually to azure first, and finally into deep cobalt at the outer edge. The two lines emanate from silver discs held aloft by thin, aluminum arms. The discs face each other like warring twins, each issuing a crackling rapier of opposing energy. The two discs and the two lines are part of the activation mechanism of large patchwork holoprojector that hangs in the nooks of a small, dark dorm like a mechanical cobweb.

With a sigh, Nicholas passes his index finger between the two lines. With a subtle audible crackle the two lines fuse into one. In a nanosecond his identity and program preferences are confirmed and the machine hums to life. Lights rise. The landscape morphs.

Reality changes.

Nicholas taps a series of keys with his right hand. With his left hand he swills from a tumbler of illegally replicated Romulan ale. He wipes his mouth and scowls at the ancient man standing before him.

“Howdy,” Nicholas grunts.

The man flickers, wavers, blinks.

The old man totters forward, taking tiny steps like a child. As the frail form moves into better light, Nicholas takes a long, slow look. The old man’s mottled skin is ghostly pale, covering the musculature beneath with little more opacity than a sheet of cellophane. A few wispy threads of blowing white hair struggle to maintain their tenuous grip on the old man’s skull. He is bent, nearly double, with a massive, misshapen hump rising nearly level with a wavering head.

The old man wears a tattered, discolored uniform.

Starfleet.

     When the old man speaks, the words come slowly. They creak their way out, as if spoken through wads of cotton, over a swollen tongue, with aching gums. The words sound painful.

“Hello, Nicholas,” he whispers.

Nicholas stands and the ice clinks softly on the sides of the tumbler. He takes a great, swishing gulp and circles behind the old man. Staring. The old man does not move.

“Professor Joforn was discussing it again today,” Nicholas spits the words. “He knows. He thinks it really bothers me when he brings it up. Ostensibly, he’s the instructor for emergency tactics, but it’s rather amazing how often history seems to leak into the discourse. He just does it to needle me, to antagonize me. He seems to think I am emotionally invested.”

Nicholas drowns the dregs of the ale and elbows the old man, too hard, in the side.

“What do you think of that?”

The old man stumbles, falls to one knee, and then rights himself, feebly. His eyes narrow and smolder with humiliation but he simply fixes a blazing glare on Nicholas in response.

“I think he’s right.”

Nicholas smirks and makes a petulant, whining noise in the back of his throat. He shuffles back to the blinking control panel inset in the blue acrylic of a small student desk. He pecks angrily at the keys, shakes his head, mutters a series of spoken commands and then turns. He grins at the old man.

The old man’s hump creaks and rises as a grimace of pain twist the thin, puckered lips. A thin line of drool forms at the corner of his mouth and begins to drip. Each time the old man wipes it away with the cuff of his uniform only to have it reform immediately. The wrinkles around the eyes multiply into hundreds of intersecting cracks. Even as the white of the eyes themselves turn rheumy and cobwebbed with veins, the old man’s irises never move, they never fail.

They remain locked on Nicholas.

They keep their heat.

“Feel better?” The old man speaks in a shaking, barely audible mumble. “He still resents you. A lot of them do. Always will. He still feels like he needs to tear you down, to have some sort of belated genetic vengeance. Some of them will always resent you.”

The old man coughs dryly, feebly. He steadies himself and locks eyes with Nicholas again.

“And some of them will always hate me.”

Nicholas stares at the flickering old man for a second longer and then turns, kicking his bunk and flinging his communicator into a sloppily stacked pile of padds. He pauses, fighting to control himself and turns back to the old man.

“End…” he begins, then pauses.

Nicholas closes his eyes, shutting out the intense stare of the hologram.

He still can’t look the old man in the eyes when he does it.

A thousand programming tweaks, a thousand petty torments, a thousand childish insults and yet still he cannot erase the dignity of the man, even in this imperfect representation.

Still, he cannot look the old man in the eyes when he says it.

Nicholas turns his back, the old man stars.

“End program,” he whispers.

 

With a tug, the dapper old officer straightens his tunic and strides into a wide, open plaza.

Looking up, he stares into the deep blue of the northern California skies. He knows, intellectually, that the sky is a projection to make the meals in the academy commissary a bit more pleasant. But, it is a pleasant illusion, and he appreciates the thinking and effort of it. A young man in an apron that very nearly matches the sky above stops and smiles.

“Can I bring you a beverage, sir?”

“Indeed,” the office replies. “Tea. Earl Gray. Hot.”

With a node, the waiter moves toward the kitchen leaving the man to enjoy the meticulously landscaped grounds. He wheels around toward the gardens when he hears his name called from across the plaza.

“Jean-Luc!” A stocky man in a Starfleet uniform waves. “Captain Picard!”

Captain Picard walks over briskly and takes the man’s hand in his own.

“It’s good to see you again, Admiral Miyamoto,” Picard says, returning Miyamoto’s firm grip with one of his own.

“Please, Jean-Luc,” Miyamoto replies, “I do grow tired of the formality necessitated by the training of cadets here at the academy. Please call me Tetsuo, at least when the students are at a safe distance.”

Picard grins broadly.

“Very good, Tetsuo. I shall be careful. It’s most pleasant to see you again. How long has it been since we roamed these very paths with mischief and revelry our primary concerns?”

Miyamoto grimaces with mock pain.

“So many years it’s early shocking to contemplate. I’ve heard that the story among the cadets is that I predate wrap drive by at least a decade.”

Picard returns with the comment with a chuckle. “My goodness, Tetsuo! That reckoning would place my birth sometime just after the discovery of fire then, I suppose!”

The two men share a long, full laugh as the waiter returns with Picard’s tea.

“Jean-Luc, it will mean a great deal to the cadets to speak with you. I have taken the liberty of planning several guest speaking appearances for you with each class of students. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No,” Picard says after a sip of tea. “Not in the least. I’m not nearly as busy as I once was, Tetsuo. I’m only too happy to speak with our future officers. However I’m quite sure, if my own memories are any indication, that these cadets are more interested in the Kobayashi simulation than they are in the doings of crusty old Starfleet dogs.”

“Probably,” Tetsuo huffs, shaking his head, “but since I contend with them five days a week, I think you can deal with them for a bit.”

“I’ll manage, Tetsuo. No worse than the Borg, I’m sure.”

“Hmmm,” grunts the Admiral as he polishes off a piece of Sunflower toast, “maybe marginally less violent, but at least as moody. And with a similar tendency toward bizarre attire.”

The two men finish a light breakfast while enjoying the bustle and noise as the cadets rush in for their first meals. Some of them cast sideways glances at the distinguished old man sitting with Admiral Miyamoto. Picard scowls at a few of them, sending a wordless message about gawking at superior officers.

After a final cup of tea, Picard stands to leave.

“Well, Admiral Miyamoto, if you will send the syllabus you’ve prepared to my quarters…”

“Captain Picard,” a frown passes over Miyamoto’s face. “If we could walk for a while… there is just one other issue I would like to discuss.”

“Captain Picard,” a frown passes over Miyamoto’s face. “If we could walk for a while… There is just one other issue I would like to discuss.”

Picard notes the concern at the downturn corners of Miyamoto’s mouth and wonders about the possible cause.

“Certainly Admiral,” Picard says. “Lead on.”

The two men leave the commissary, the bustle, and the holographic sky to the cadets, and walk toward the main transport to operations.

After the two men travel by magnetic platform across much of the campus of Starfleet Academy, they stop at an arched entrance with massive, semi transparent windows fanning from a central point like the petals of a great, mechanical flower. Through the gauzy opacity of the windows, Picard sees visual clues of a fast, airy open space.

Through the center window, a massive shadow looms.

Inexplicably, the hairs on Picard’s neck stand.

“Is this new?” Picard questions Miyamoto. “It has been a while since I last toured the Academy but I don’t…”

“Indeed,” Admiral Miyamoto replies. “This is the Academy’s newest training simulator room. It is…” Miyamoto grins widely as he gropes for the right word.

Unique,” he finishes.

Picard sips through the doors into a massive open courtyard crisscrossed by lattice of computer kiosks, holostations, and the needle shaped silver spires of deep space communication hubs.

Jean-Luc Picard stops. He gates. His face turned skyward and his eyes widen. 70-year-old lines vanish, wrinkles seem to fade. The child he was, the one who wandered aimlessly in vineyards and laughed with joy when he saw his first starship, wells up from Picard’s very genes and imprints itself on the old captain’s face.

Picard stands and blinks as he leaves the world, if only for an instant.

Miyamoto is slow to notice and speaks to a man who was now lost in some distant star field.

“… Our newest, and finest, classroom. The computer kiosks represent the latest in Starfleet training technology. It is the highest degree of realism in flight simulation. The deep space hubs allow for direct communication, as Mission parameters allow, with crew from real vessels on real flights. The students truly…”

Miyamoto finally pauses and notices Picard, eyes transfixed, on the mammoth shape floating above them.

He grins, taking up a position adjacent to his friend, and joins him in a blatant display of boyish glee.

“Yes,” Miyamoto says, “that is the reaction she typically gets.”

Above them, the sky is open to the San Francisco summer. Twin force field emitters encase the classroom and protect it from the elements. Otherwise, the room is completely borderless. Suspended in the air above them, with her plated belly barely 50 meters from the ground Picard reckons, is a constitution class starship.

Sort of.

     Large tracts of the hull are missing, and the modules and walkways, Jeffries tubes and wiring harnesses, the crew quarters and the turbo lift shafts, are held in place by a mostly-transparent shimmering blue force field. The warp engines are nearly complete. Students can be seen on various levels; talking, taking notes, and generally exploring. Just beyond the main sensor, the hull plating is mostly intact. Her registry is clearly visible, lit by ground-based spotlight.

Picard knows the sequence by heart. The predecessor to his own beloved starship.

Minus the D.

     “The Enterprise,” Picard whispers in church-tones. Finally willing to turn his eyes from her, he faces Miyamoto.

“Tetsuo,” he says, “she’s beautiful.”

Picard takes Miyamoto by the arm, grinning like a small boy.

“How?” Picard asks.

“Well,” Miyamoto starts, “we really had no choice.”

The two men begin to walk again, taking in the scale of the new ship, rejoicing all over again at her mere presence with each new vantage point.

“It was partially my idea,” Miyamoto says. Picard chuckles inwardly as his friend fights back an all-too-obvious swell of pride. “And of course the project was lobbied for earnestly by Captain Spock among others.”

“It’s a brilliant use, Tetsuo,” Picard says, “I can imagine the inspiration her presence engenders, as well as the practical educational applications, must be staggering…but the original Enterprise was destroyed in 2285. Every academy freshman knows that.”

“Indeed it was,” Miyamoto agrees, “But what many have forgotten, or simply never considered, is that the Enterprise James Kirk sacrificed in 2285 was hardly the same ship he commanded on his first five year mission.” Picard’s mouth drops.

“Of course,” he declares, grabbing Miyamoto’s arm, “Will Decker supervised a massive refit in 2270! There was some controversy at the time…”

“Right,” Miyamoto replies, finishing his explanation. “The so-called refit was vey nearly a rebirth. No one wanted to bear the political brunt of decommissioning such a legendary craft, so she was massively overhauled. Nearly all of the main systems were upgraded, many were replaced completely, and the entire original bridge module was removed. The hull itself was replaced in many places weakened by various battle wounds. The refit ended up being nearly as costly, in terms of resources, as building a new starship would have been. As a result, the starship that left orbit in 2271 was, in almost every regard, an entirely new Enterprise.”

“The old components were set to be recycled quietly,” Miyamoto continues, “but word leaked and, again, the outcry from both preservationists, and many within Starfleet as well, kept the old components warehoused and out of harm’s way. Which is where they sat, silent and forgotten, until a conversation I had with Captain Spock about improving our simulation facilities ultimately yielded the concept you see now.”

The two old men stand in the bright sun, smiling at the grand old ship. Picard is sure the Enterprise is smiling back.

“Well done, Tetsuo,” Jean-Luc whispers, patting Miyamoto on the shoulder. “Well done.”

Admiral Miyamoto shakes himself from the reverie and a frown shades his broad face.

“I’d offer to you a tour, Jean-Luc, but I’m afraid I’m due at an inspection about ten minutes from now,” he says.

Picard shivers, secretly thrilled at the prospect of trolling the ancient corridors of the original Enterprise alone.

“Not at all, Tetsuo,” Picard replies. “I’ll miss your company of course, but I’m perfectly content to entertain myself aboard the Enterprise for a few hours.”

“I’ll endeavor not frighten any cadets,” he adds with a good-natured snarl.

“Actually, Jean-Luc,” the concern again washes over Miyamoto’s face. “This was really just a pleasant diversion I thought you’d enjoy since I wanted to come to this wing anyway. In truth, I brought you here for another reason entirely. There is a class across the hallway about to begin that I hoped you might consider sitting in on.”

“Well, Tetsuo,” Picard says, “I’m not sure the instructor would feel comfortable having an old space relic like myself critiquing…”

“Yes, well,” Miyamoto interrupts, waving his hands. “Be that as it may, there is a student here at the academy who is having problems. He is a gifted young man, Jean-Luc. Amazing intelligence scores, a natural leader…at least he was at one time. He even apprenticed with Dr. Lewis Zimmerman in his freshman year. Dr. Zimmerman has said that this young man was the only student who truly grasped the advanced logarithms that have facilitated recent advances in holographic entities.”

“Well, I am genuinely sorry for this young man, Tetsuo,” Picard says, “but surely a counselor would be better equipped to deal with this.”

Miyamoto squints and locks eyes with Picard.

“No, Jean-Luc, this case is different. Very different. This young man resists any attempt to analyze him. His potential expulsion from Starfleet would be problematic, and I think you may be uniquely qualified to speak with him.”

Picard stares at his old friend, forehead wrinkling in bafflement.

“I don’t mean to be cryptic, Jean-Luc,” Miyamoto continues. “The young man has a class in the wing just across from here and I believe I have threatened him sufficiently to ensure that he will attend. If you would please just sit in, perhaps have a few words with him…”

“Very well,“ Picard relents. “If you think it’s that important, Tetsuo, I’ll do it. Against my better judgment.”

“Thank you Jean-Luc,” Miyamoto says, relief washing over his feature. “I will contact you later to see how things went.”

As Miyamoto pecks his way though the thronged corridor, suddenly full of chattering cadets making their way to classes, Picard follows and frowns.

With a short, wishful vision of his gifted colleague Deanna Troi projecting alongside a soundtrack of a skeptical inner monologue, Picard enters the lecture hall where students have already begun to fill the ascending seats. He turns to Miyamoto just as he turns to leave.

“Tetsuo,” he calls. “How will I know him?”

Miyamoto smiles wanly.

“Listen to the instructor. To the other students. Just listen. Someone will be talking about him. They always do. Listen for the name Kirk, Jean-Luc.”

Picard stares after the departing Admiral Miyamoto. A baffled frown clouds his features.

 

Nicholas slumps in the cushioned seat and pulls a wrinkled collar up around his face. The collar does not hide the scowl that stretches across a handsome, masculine face. The collar doesn’t mitigate the glaring, anxious blues eyes, and it certainly fails to disguise the contempt the young man issues in glowering waves.

The target of his contempt, a wiry Vulcan, stands on the dais below. His name is lit in golden letters in a holographic projection beside him.

Professor Hirom Joforn.

The hologram shifts to a representation of a battle between two Starfleet vessels.

Joforn’s lecture continues; Nicholas’ scowl deepens.

“…and now, students, I feel it only appropriate to turn to security breach that rendered Starfleet vessels helpless on a number of occasions during the period of 2284 to 2290. The breach was not fully corrected until 2291. In the interim the breach, brought about by an arrogant misuse of a last-option Starfleet security feature, resulted in tactical vulnerability in several Starfleet conflicts.”

Joforn scans the seats, his eyes stopping at the seat occupied by the scowling, skulking Nicholas.

The professor smiles, just slightly, his features tightening into a narrow, pinched smirk.

“You see, cadets,” Joforn continues, “Starfleet was not always driven by the benevolent, scientific-minded officers that compromise the ranks today. Indeed, many officers in the latter parts of the twenty-third century seemed to regard Starfleet as a convenient vehicle with which to satisfy personal tendencies toward violence and seemingly unquenchable libidos.”

The hologram above Joforn roils again and the display shifts to a representation of a large, fierce-looking man. Light brown skin, intense eyes, long hair that looks as though it might have been cropped with a blunt rock. The letters of his name appear seconds later.

Khan Noonien Singh.

Beside Singh, another image appears and a wave of muttering ripples through the cadets. Some shift in their seats uncomfortably, some turn slightly, casting sidelong glances searching for the cadet they know is among them. Some even turn and stare at Nicholas directly.

The new name appears beside the new image.

James Tiberius Kirk.

“Congratulations,” Nicholas mutters to himself, “you managed to work in a dig against him, and a snide remark for me, into tactics class in record time.”

From the dials, Joforn gestures for quiet, and continues.

“In 2285 the genetically engineered terrorist Khan Noonien Sing and a band of followers was discovered alive in the Ceti system. After hijacking the USS Reliant, Singh discovered information relating to the top secret Project Genesis led by Dr. Carol Marcus, and was eventually able to take possession of the Genesis device. Itself. The federation vessel USS Enterprise was dispatched to attempt to retake the stolen Genesis device under the leadership of James Kirk.”

Nicholas shudders at the sound of his own surname, spoken with barely suppressed contempt by Joforn. Several cadets crane around, adding their own smirks and cut stares to Joforn’s. Nicholas glares back at them, eyes burning.

“After several baldly incompetent strategic maneuvers and procedural violations,” Joforn continues, walking slowly across the dais.

“Kirk, having been badly overmatched by Singh, proceeded to shatter Starfleet regulations, and future tactical integrity, by revealing the command code line. The command codes for Starfleet vessels were a last-line defense mechanism programmed into the operational string in case of hijacking by hostile powers. After this breach, brought about the reckless use by then Admiral Kirk…”

Nearly all of the cadets not their affirmation at Joforn’s analysis, but from a seat three rows above and to the left of Nicholas, an intentionally loud cough interrupts Joforn’s diatribe. The cadets wheel around to see the source.

A female Klingon cadet with large, dark eyes is glowering at Joforn in a way that only a Klingon can. Narrowing his eyes, Joforn taps a series of keys at his console to reveal the cadet’s name. He scowls up at the Klingon, matching her stare with one clearly honed from talking down students presumptuous enough to disagree with him.

“Would you care to make a comment cadet TahKisch?” Joforn’s tone slices the air like a phaser, silencing the chattering students. Even their breathing quiets. Joforn and TahKisch stretch their stalemate to an uncomfortable length before the young woman finally relents.

“No,” she growls. “No, sir.”

Joforn casts a final, reproachful sneer at TahKisch and returns to his lecture.

“As a result of Kirk’s disregard for proper procedure, Starfleet security was compromised and the command code secret fell into the hands of both the Klingon and Romulan empires who utilized this breach to…”

Again Joforn’s lecture is interrupted, this time by a full-fledged bark from the back of the hall. Not a cough, not a sneeze. Nicholas watches as a distinguished older gentleman stands and calls Joforn’s name once more.

“Professor,” he repeats, “if time permits, I would very much like to have the opportunity to make the comment that cadet TahKisch passed up.”

His anger at being interrupted yet again brings a rose to Joforn’s  face despite his Vulcan nature. He pecks his command console again.

“I really don’t think that now…” Joforn starts.

“My name will not be on your rolls, Professor,” the old man thunders. “But I will be glad to share it with you. My name is Jean-Luc Picard. Formerly of Starfleet. I am visiting the academy on a guest speaking errand for my friend Admiral Miyamoto.”

The room falls utterly silent. Breathing stops. Students turn in their seats.

“Cuh-Captain,”Joforn begins. “My apologies. Had I known you were here I would have made a more formal…”

“No apology necessary,” Picard replies, voice quieter now but still full of bass and authority. He casts a quick glance at Nicholas Kirk. “Not to me, anyway.”

“Professor,” Picard continues, “I must say your knowledge of Starfleet history is impressive if somewhat out of place in a lecture on tactics.”

Joforn swallows and his eyes shift nervously to the gawking cadets.

“Well, Captain, I wished to provide some historical context for…” Joforn rattles.

“Oddly enough, Professor,” Picard rumbles, “context is exactly what your lecture seems to be lacking. The galaxy was a morass of potentially catastrophic political tensions in 2295. A three-way cold war, Professor, between the Klingons, Starfleet and the Romulans, threatening to explode at any moment.”

The silence amplifies the force of Picard’s voice.

He continues.

“James Kirk, like most Starfleet officers of the time, was charged with the herculean task of defending the border of the federation while continuing to pursue the twin goals of scientific exploration and peaceful expansion.”

Joforn shifts weight anxiously and finally finds a voice, even tinnier now, and hesitant when compared to Picard’s.

“I’m not sure I see what point you are trying to make, Captain,” he wheezes.

“No,” Picard replies, “I believe you don’t. Jim Kirk, and many others like him, tread a razor’s line between catastrophe and nervous stability in a time that we can scarcely conceive of now. The very fact that officers were physically able to serve under such conditions is a testament to their competence, diligence, and sense of duty.”

Every cade in the room is silent, eyes locked on Picard.

“The command code incident you mention is factual, Professor Joforn, but your interpretation is wildly inaccurate. The command code concept was horribly flawed from the onset. Indeed, officer complaints about the foolishness of the design were logged as early as 2252 when the sequence for the USS Gallipoli was inadvertently accessed by an alien probe. Most credible evidence suggest that the code’s existence was familiar to both the Klingons and the Romulans far before 2285.”

The cadets in the room turn to Joforn, expectantly. He backs up awkwardly, tripping slightly.

“I suppose that is true,” he croaks.

“Oh, Professor, it is most certainly true,” Picard says. “James Kirk took a major starship design flaw and turned in to an advantage against a formidable adversary. I utterly reject your interpretation of these events as in any way indicative of failure or dereliction of duty on the part of Kirk.”

Joforn’s features freeze as he stares around at the cadets, at Picard, and particularly at the suddenly scowl-free face of Nicholas Kirk.

“Well Captain, we all certainly appreciate your contribution to our discussion. While you version of the Singh incident may provide food for thought, it is beyond question that James Kirk had a long, problematic record of procedural and temporal violations during his career in Starfleet…”

“Captain Kirk also had a long, distinguished record of defending the borders of the federation and of loyalty to his crew,” a voice interrupts. This time it isn’t Picard’s voice that rings out.

TahKisch stand and nods curtly.

“No one had reason to harbor greater enmity for Kirk than the Empire at that time. However, even before his gallantry at Khitomer, he was recorded in the history of the Empire as a noble warrior, peerless in battle, and the equal of any Klingon officer.”

The young Klingon finishes and punctuates her comment with a proud smile at the other cadets.

The students fidget uncomfortably and whisper to one another. Picard shoots TahKisch a nod of approval. On the dais below, Joforn wrings his hands and looks back and forth between Picard and TahKisch. As Picard turns to leave, Joforn calls to the class.

“Students,” he says, pasting on a formal smile. “Let us give Captain Picard a round of applause for his comments and his valuable insight.”

Picard wheels at the classroom entrance and, with a warning scowl, silences the smattering of applause.

“Thank you,” Picard growls. “I assure you that is unnecessary.”

Picard takes another step before turning to Joforn a final time.

“And, Professor Joforn, I will be sure to put you in contact with an associate of mine who, I’m sure, will be quite pleased to assist you with future lectures. That is, of course, if you think that would be of any assistance.”

Joforn’s eyes narrow to slits.

“Yes,” He hisses through clenched teeth. “That would be greatly appreciated.”

Gathering his padd with one hand, Nicholas turns to follow Picard out. As he strides up the hall steps, he catches the eyes of two people following his ascent: Joforn and TahKisch.

He winks at them both.

Joforn scowls. TahKisch grins. Nicholas laughs.

Outside in the hallway, Picard sits on a small, silver bench and folds his hands neatly across his lap. He picks at his tunic, composing himself, as Nicholas Kirk walks nervously over to him. Kirk’s uniform is in shabby condition. His own tunic is badly wrinkled. He rakes oily, disheveled hair back over his head as he arrives at Picard’s side.

“Captain Picard, I…” Nicholas begins.

Picard stands and rises to his full height. His eyes seem to burn as he glowers at the cadet.

“Silence, cadet!” Picard emphasizes the t in cadet with an angry click.

Kirk shivers visibly and jerks himself into a position of attention, letting the padd clatter to the ground. Picard circles him, never letting his eyes stray from the young man. It is a motion, Kirk notes, not unlike what might be expected from a shark.

“You are a Starfleet officer-in-training, Cadet Kirk,” Picard begins. “I have no earthly notion why you strayed from your quarters in this state of dress, with your hair in this motley fashion, but it is an embarrassment to both the uniform and to the institution it represents. You will one day stroll across the hillocks of foreign lands, stride the halls of the highest offices of sentient government, and you will be the very face of the federation to species who have never seen a human and may never again.”

Picard stops speaking as he stands nose to nose with young Kirk.

“Should you ever appear in public again, as a Starfleet representative, in such a state as you are now,” Picard growls, “I will consider it both a slight against the federation and a personal insult to me. Do you understand, cadet?”

It takes Kirk a second or two to find the air to speak with.

“Understood, sir,” he whispers.

The two stand in the empty corridor for a few moments more with one of them growing more and more uneasy.

Finally, Picard relents.

“Now Cadet Kirk,” he says. “I would like to chat with you as you walk back to your quarters, if you don’t mind.”

“Certainly, sir,” Nicholas replies. Kirk throws his shoulders back as far as they will go and strides in the direction of the magnetic transport hub. The two chat in hushed tones as they walk.

“Cadet,” Picard says, “how long have you dealt with the boorish ravings of Joforn?”

Nicholas shrugs.

“Not that long,” he says. “Just this semester really. But he isn’t the only one. Most of them, the professors, seem to know who I am and who he was.”

Picard glances down at the young man, suddenly welling with empathy for the burden of the name he bears. He cannot escape the name, cannot escape the obligation It is a feeling Picard knows well. His own family name had been a weight that he only leaned to bear gracefully after the untimely death of his nephew and brother. But then, Picard had the gifted counseling of Deanna Troi at his disposal.

This young man, Picard knows, will have to make do with the words of an old solitary officer.

“Cadet Kirk,” Picard says, raising his voice over the slight hum of the magnetic platform. “Your name is a burden, yes, but is also an honor. I can only tell you that I know of your quandary for I have experienced similar problems myself. Sixty years ago, your name would have opened undeserved doors for you, as every officer in Starfleet would have given anything to touch the legend of Kirk.”

Nicholas casts a skeptical eye at Picard.

“Yes, he continues, “I realize that it may not seem that way to you now. Political climates change. Paradigms shift. Academic and political leaders gauge the social temperament and laud, or excoriate, the past in the same way that might cast a favorable light upon themselves. The same professors and fellow cades who sneer at you now would have thrown rose petals at your feet had history shifted a millimeter in another direction.”

Kirk nods and clutches the padd to his tunic.

Picard frowns. He senses that the boy listens to his words, maybe believes them, but cannot accept them.

“History is littered with the biographies of men and women who were once heroes but later vilified, and then, in many cases, deemed virtuous again. Daikel Raider. Ka-Resh of Qu’onos. Christopher Columbus. Figures in the mosaic of history that once were praised as paragons of virtue. The social perception shifts and they become monsters; villains of epic proportions. The figures themselves don’t change of course; only the social mores by which they are judged does.”

Nicholas Kirk stops short as they step off the platform in front of his suite. His face is red and his eyes are swollen. He struggles to even his voice as he speaks.

“So how do we know?” he asks in a whisper. “How do I know? If I am related to a hero or of…a…of…”

The young man stops short, biting back tears.

Picard takes the cadet’s arm and turns him.

“Yes,” he says softly. “That is the problem isn’t it? We have the tales of their deeds, their words sometimes, with which to judge the great characters of history. All of it recalled though imperfect means, fallible memories, and then analyzed through a lens of bias and judgment. Even with the technology we now possess, social context can render any act, even those which once seemed so clear, cloudy and nearly incomprehensible in retrospect.”

A distant clicking of shoes against tile is the only sound that occupies the hallway. Both men, young and old, stand in silent contemplation.

“Nicholas,” Picard says, turning and staring through a large skylight above them. “You are unique. You are not merely the sum of the logarithms of your genetics. Yours is a destiny unfettered by what has happened before. Embrace it. Let no one tell you what you must be because of what your family has been.

Nicholas swallows hard and takes Picard’s hand.

“Thank you, sir,” he says.

As the young man turns to leave, Picard calls to him.

“Nicholas,” he says, his voice lowering and eyes his growing intense. “You must also know this. Even if only to correct the ravings of those like Joforn.”

“James Tiberius Kirk was good. He was the sort of man who would risk his very career to save a member of his crew that was lost. He was the sort of man that would deny himself the love of his only child simply because a strong woman wished to spare her son the sort of trials you now face. James Kirk was the sort of man who would sacrifice a place in paradise itself, who would give his very life, alone and unheralded on a lifeless rock of a planet…”

Picard stops, eyes blazing.

“All on the words of a man he did not even know.”

He faces the cadet and shakes his hand.

“Goodbye, cadet,” he says, “and please realize that I’m not joking in this.”

Picard steps back on the magnetic platform and scowls at Kirk.

“Fix that damned hair.”

Nicholas Kirk stands and stares down the corridor, long after Picard has gone.

 

The two old men laugh over the sound of the clinking ice and the subdued chatter of conservation in the officer’s lounge. Admiral Miyamoto and Captain Picard sit and chat as the chilly bar air flows into the room through the oval observation window above. They lean their heads back, speak of old times, and howl about the miscreants they once were.

“Oh Jean-Luc,” Miyamoto cries, his face red from laughter, “you mean you had no idea that the Pandelebrians were omnisexual?”

“No,” Picard croaks, his eyes tearing from the mirth. “And when they began the excretion ritual right before dessert, Beverly Crusher stood up, wrapped her dinner napkin around Wesley’s entire head and ran from the room!”

Miyamoto laughs so hard he nearly jostles himself from his chair. He slaps the table with such verve that several Bajoran observers stare at them and grin nervously.

As the peals of laughter ratchet down finally, the two men chortle and wheeze themselves back to relative calm like two old engines powering down. Miyamoto waves the waiter over and orders himself another drink.

“One more for you, Jean-Luc? My treat?” he asks.

“No, thank you, Tetsuo,” Picard replies. “I really must get to my quarters and rest before I chat with the freshmen in the morning class you scheduled. I also want to contact an old friend before I turn in.”

“As you wish,” Miyamoto says, settling way back in the reclining chair and using his ample belly as a makeshift beverage tray. “I can’t thank you enough for agreeing to come. Not only for the students, Jean-Luc, but for me. It’s a real pleasure seeing you again.”

“And for me, Tetsuo,” Picard says. “There are far too few times like this nowadays.”

As the men grin contentedly, two cadets walk sheepishly into the lounge to deliver a message for an officer at the table adjacent to them. One of them, a skinny and awkward Terran, bangs his shin into the table and spills the officer’s drink down his tunic. The other cadet, a round-faced Andorian, grabs his friend by the arm and hustles out amid a chorus of sniggers.

Miyamoto shakes his head and exhales loudly in frustration.

“I wonder sometimes,” he says, “about this crop of cadets, Jean-Luc. It’s often enough to make you concerned for the very future of Starfleet. They bumble. They stumble. They dress poorly.”

“Indeed they do,” Picard agrees. “But surely there were two old men, sitting just about where we are now, saying precisely the same things about us several decades ago.”

Miyamoto just nods, grinning widely.

“No doubt,” he says.

Nicholas Kirk’s deep blue eyes flash in Picard’s subconscious. The intensity, the confusion. From somewhere deep in the unused corridor’s of Picard’s mind, a man’s voice rumbles. Words that Picard has never heard before rattle and echo about his neural pathways. They sound wise.

They sound true.

“Besides, Tetsuo,” Picard says, sharing his epiphany with his friend, “I don’t think we’ve run out of history just yet.”

 

Hirom Joforn mutters angrily to himself as he prepares his lecture hologram for the next day’s classes.

He putters around in his smallish office, fastidiously stacking padds, arranging the furniture, ordering his combadges. As he flits about, he grunts and hisses.

“Picard,” he spits, talking to himself. “Never was much of an officer himself. Full-blooded Terrans can never quite rid themselves of their human-centric bias. Probably knows that James Kirk was an undisciplined playboy just as well as I do.”

Joforn ambles over to the replicator and orders a cup of hot green tea. He takes the cup carefully with both hands and places it on his desk.

He continues his nasal soliloquy.

“And that whelp, Kirk’s namesake, will never distinguish himself in the halls of this academy until he accepts what his family name really means, what his culture truly stood for, and learns to reject both utterly.”

As Joforn sits and brings the hot tea to his mouth, his communication display hums to life and the Starfleet logo appears.

“Yes, go ahead,” he says, sipping the tea.

“Professor Joforn,” says the computer in an even, feminine voice, “you have an incoming communication from the planet Romulus.”

Hirom Joforn’s brow wrinkles in confusion. He rubs his jaw for a moment, thinking of who on Romulus could possibly want to speak with him.

“Commence,” he says, bringing the cup of tea to his mouth.

A face etched with lines of age an wisdom fills the screen. Deeply set, intelligent eyes stare at Joforn from across the vastness of space. The dark eyes and the corners of the mouth seem tense; hold the subtlest measure of anger. Joforn, like nearly every federation citizen, knows the face well. It has a Vulcan aspect like his.

It has a Terran aspect like his.

“Greetings, Professor,” the Vulcan says, his irises piercing Joforn from across the gulf. “A colleague of mine, a friend, has recently informed me that I might be of some assistance to you.”

Joforn’s mouth opens and closes. No sounds emerge.

“I was told,” the Vulcan continues, “that, on the subject of James Kirk, you are in desperately in need of history lesson.”

Joforn drops the teacup, spilling the hot drink down the front of his nightshirt.

On Romulus, the Vulcan raises a single eyebrow.

 

The thin blue lines glow in the small room.

The discord remains: stacks of padds askew, the smell of replicated food improperly disposed of. It is, in short, a cadet’s room. But now, amid the chaos, a strain order has erupted.

Uniforms, pressed and cleaned, are neatly arranged in a closet once reserved for crates of anything illegal. A holoprojector, once jury-rigged and scattered, is now fully assembled and pristine.

And working.

He stands there, still an old man because that is the way he appeared in most of the images and holograms that Nicholas Kirk ever saw of his infamous relative. The stooped back is straight now. The eyes are cloaked with wrinkles, but clear and true. The uniform, like Nicholas’ own, is pristine. No longer shaking, no longer feeble, the hologram stands in front of Nicholas Kirk, smiling, almost smirking.

Almost swaggering.

“You know,” the Kirk hologram says, staring into a small vanity mirror, “you’re a fine engineer. I…look…great!”

     Nicholas chuckles.

“Yeah, you do,” he says. “I must admit it. You do.”

The hologram circles Nicholas, sizing him up.

“You look different somehow,” he says, rubbing his chin.

“Yep,” Nicholas replies, raking his fingers through his coif. “New haircut.”

There is a moment of silence as the two Kirks stare at one another.

“I think,” Nicholas pauses, “I think I owe you an apology. The things I’ve said to you, the programs I’ve run…”

“Think nothing of it,” the hologram says, cutting Nicholas off. “It wasn’t even much fun being Kirk’s hologram when I was still in the training database. The professors and cadets alike mainly called me up to point out a three dimensional example whenever they wanted to illustrate incompetence or arrogance in Starfleet history.”

He puts his hand on Nicholas’s shoulder.

“And I could always be turned off,” he finishes softly.

Nicholas sits on the small dorm bed and the hologram joins him.

“How did you deal with it?” Nicholas asks.

The hologram raises his eyebrows before answering.

“Dr. Zimmerman programmed me when he was quite young. He did exhaustive research into Kirk’s personality, attitude, and beliefs. In short, no one in the world, except maybe Spock, knows Jim Kirk better than I do. After all,” he grins. “How could they? I know who Kirk was; I know who I am.”

Nicholas squints, not quite satisfied. He shakes his head.

“When I studied with Professor Zimmerman he was working on a subroutine. Very advanced. A program that would allow a hologram to self-activate using only ambient light and a sophisticated power conservation mode. I…um…” Nicholas clears his throat, “borrowed the program when I left.”

Nicholas peers craftily at the hologram.

After a second, realization dawns on the hologram and his eyes widen with anticipation.

“I couldn’t guarantee your continued existence once you leave the database here; the program was very experimental. You would have to be careful not to stray very far from a light source, and you could only very rarely use enough power to generate yourself with full opacity…”

Nicholas stops, waiting for a reply from Kirk.

The hologram stares around the room, as if assessing the space. He walks along wall, sliding his hands across it. At last he turns back to the cadet.

“Sounds like fun,” he says.

Nicholas nods.

“Computer,” he says. “Release hologram.”

With a flicker and a wave, James Kirk disappears.

Nicholas sighs heavily and smiles at the empty air.

 

Aboard the bridge module of the USS Enterprise, two cadets, one Bajoran and one Klingon, take detailed notes on constitution class engineering. A distinguished old officer walks up behind them. Startled, the two cadets jerk to attention.

“As you were,” the officer says. “Well, gentlemen, they don’t make starships like this anymore.”

The two cadets exchange amused glances.

“No sir,” the Klingon says, “I suppose not.”

“Please,” the officer tells them. “Carry on.”

The officer turns and lowers himself in the captain’s chair. He sinks his fingers into the armrests, squeezing them. He leans back and stares through the forward view screen, eyes locked on the faux starscape in front of him.

“Sulu,” he whispers, “take us out…”

The confused cadets wheel around to question the officer.

“Sir,” the Bajoran says, “did you say…”

He stops.

The old officer is gone, but the imprint in the captain’s chair remains.

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