“Captain, incoming transmission from Starfleet Command, top priority. It’s Admiral Komack, sir.”

Captain James Kirk sighed and shifted in his chair, wincing as a sharp flash of pain ran up his spine and terminated in the back of his neck.

He’d incurred a number of minor injuries during their most recent mission to a backwater planet called Chorzon, where he’d run afoul of some Orion Pirates who hadn’t taken too kindly to Starfleet poking around in their private business affairs. By the time all was said and done, they’d tenderized him like a hunk of raw meat.

Having lost a man in the fray, Kirk had refused Doctor McCoy’s persistent attempts at administering painkillers to ease his discomfort—he wanted to feel the pain. It served as a constant reminder of his failure, and motivated him to be more cautious in the future.

“On screen, Lieutenant,” he called over his shoulder to Uhura.

The communications officer touched a finger to her ever-present earpiece and listened.

To his right rear, Kirk could sense Spock’s obligatorily raised eyebrow without looking. In front of him, Sulu and Chekov exchanged curious glances.

They were concerned, no doubt, that their leaves were teetering on the edge of cancellation, and he couldn’t blame them. They deserved a break.

He grunted as he rose from his chair and attempted to massage the base of his spine, succeeding only in further straining his arm.

“Patch it through to my quarters,” he said, striding towards the turbolift doors. “Mr. Spock, you have the bridge.”

Yeoman Barrows, a dangerously lovely young woman who’d worked as a professional masseuse before enlisting, noticed his discomfort and moved to intercept him.

Though it pained him to do so, he waved her away, shooting her a lopsided grin and a look that said “Not now, Yeoman.”

She froze in her tracks, nodded and returned to the spot where she’d previously been standing.

As with Janice Rand or any of the other warm, attractive young female Yeomans who’d served under him since he’d first taken command of the Enterprise, Kirk was forced to perpetually grapple with the flesh for control of his actions and resist giving in to temptation.

Space travel was inherently lonely, but for a Captain, even more so. The crew had the option of finding love amongst each other—he didn’t. Fleeting flings with women he knew he’d never see again were the closest things to relationships available to him.

He’d almost traded everything for one of them—his ship, his career…

But it wasn’t meant to be.

The cherry red turbolift doors hissed open, and he stepped inside. He turned around just in time to catch one more tantalizing glimpse of Barrows. Spock was already in the center seat, staring ahead at the stars streaking past on the main viewer.

No beach to walk on.


Kirk stiffened when Admiral Komack’s grim, stony visage materialized on his desktop monitor. It wasn’t that Kirk disliked him—he was a fine man with an outstanding service record—but receiving a top secret communiqué from an admiral was never a good thing.

What life-endangering mission are we the only ship close enough to undertake this time, sir?

“Good morning, Jim,” said Komack, his guarded expression poorly concealing the obvious sense of urgency that lay simmering beneath it.

Kirk nodded. Can we just dispense with the pleasantries and get to the part where you break the news that shore leave is cancelled—again?

“Likewise, Admiral.”

Komack sighed and leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers beneath his chin.

“You’re probably wondering what this is all about. Well, I’ll cut right to the chase.”

Thank God.

“What do you know about Fedwatch?”

Kirk furrowed his brow. “I’m… afraid I’m not familiar with it.”

“It’s an anti-Federation media outlet,” the Admiral explained. “It masquerades as a legitimate news source, but the sole purpose for its existence seems to be the demonization of the United Federation of Planets, particularly Starfleet.”

Kirk didn’t much care for the censorial implications of this conversation. Was the Admiral in favor of silencing speech critical of the Federation?

He sighed. He’d have to tread carefully.

“There are many such… news outlets in existence, Admiral,” he ventured. “Pardon my ignorance, but why all the concern over this particular one?”

“They know things, Jim. Things they shouldn’t. Fleet maneuvers, classified mission logs, intelligence operations… Getting more brazen about it, too. Three days ago they cracked and published our current communications code. And they’re illegally piggybacking on our subspace frequencies, using official Fleet channels in order to boost their signal.”

“Who’s behind it?” asked Kirk.

“We don’t know. Romulans, possibly. They’ve hidden their tracks well if so, but we’ve been able to determine that the transmissions originate from an uninhabited class-M world called Jeska IV, near the Romulan Neutral Zone. We suspect this might represent an attempt to erode the Federation from within through the use of virulent propaganda.”

“Repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as truth,” muttered Kirk, scratching his chin. “That… is a problem.”

“You don’t know the half of it, Jim. People are listening. There have been protests, outside the government facilities of member worlds. Three potential member worlds have withdrawn their applications as a direct result of Fedwatch’s influence.”

To Kirk, all of this sounded highly implausible.

“You haven’t heard about it because we’ve thus far been successful in filtering it from recreational subspace feeds on all of our ships. I’m sure you can appreciate our position, Captain. Maintaining morale is of paramount importance.”

“Undoubtedly,” agreed Kirk. “What I don’t understand is why the senior officers on board those ships have been kept in the dark.”

“People far above my pay grade made that decision, Captain,” said Komack. “I’m just the messenger.”

His lips stretched into a humorless smile as he raised his hands in mock surrender. “Don’t shoot.”

Kirk chuckled, also humorlessly. “Yes, of course,” he muttered.

“They’ve got a particularly big bone to pick with you, Captain,” added the admiral, with an absurd nonchalance that belied the magnitude of such a revelation.

Me? Why me?

“They call you a galactic Boy Scout,” Komack replied. “An egotistical blowhard with a penchant for disobeying orders whenever it suits you. You’re the very symbol of everything wrong with Starfleet. You’re depicted as an arrogant, womanizing scofflaw with no regard for the Prime Directive. You’re a hypocrite, they say. And we sanction that hypocrisy, making us hypocrites by extension. It’s not a good look, Jim.”

“I may be many things, Admiral,” said Kirk, “but I’ve never been a Boy Scout. However I’d… love to see their evidence for these allegations.”

Komack nodded. “You will, Captain. I’ll be attaching over forty hours of footage to your mission briefing.”

Kirk leaned forward. “My mission is to proceed to Jeska IV to investigate, then?”

“That is correct,” the Admiral confirmed. “And as you’ll see when perusing the footage, your detractors make quite a compelling case for their stance. Eminiar VII, Gamma Trianguli VI, the arming of primitives on the planet Neural… The list goes on and on.”

All explainable,” Kirk protested. “All justifiable. And Command agrees.”

“You and I both know that, Jim, but to the layman, a few out-of-context facts and half-truths fleshed out with hyperbole go a long way.”

“Admiral, with your permission, I’d like to brief Commander Spock and Doctor McCoy on this.”

“Mr. Spock I can understand, but… your CMO?”

“Bones does much more than take temperatures and mend skinned knees, Admiral,” said Kirk. “His input, in conjunction with Mr. Spock’s, informs nearly every command decision I make for this vessel and its crew.”

Komack was visibly perplexed for a moment, but shook it off.

“Alright, Captain. If you deem it necessary, I defer to your professional judgement.”

He doesn’t understand. He’s forgotten. He’s been behind that desk for too long to remember what it’s like out here.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Oh, and Kirk…”

“Yes, Admiral?”

The grizzled old flag offficer’s face softened, almost imperceptibly.

“When you view those transmissions, try not to take them personally.”

The screen went dark, and Kirk raised his fist above his head. Rather than slamming it back down on the monitor, as was his first inclination, he lowered it gently, sighing through gritted teeth and wishing he’d taken Yeoman Barrows up on that massage.




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