People deal with grief in different ways. One of mine is to write. There's an idea I've had since shortly after the 2009 "Star Trek" reboot movie, and in honor of Leonard Nimoy as we last saw him playing Spock, I sat down yesterday to finally write it up, and finished it this morning.
If you don't care for "Star Trek" fan fiction, well, feel free to pass this on by. But if you'd like to spend a few moments with my remembrance -- and you recall the First Season Original Series episode "The Conscience of the King" -- you may care to look under the cut.
"God has given you one face, and you make yourself another."
- William Shakespeare
The little girl’s laughter was like the sound of a springtime brook, gurgling and chuckling over sun-dappled rocks. Her spun-gold hair twinkled in the floating lights as they thrummed back through the air into their charging cradles to shut down and be packed away for the next flight. Nine-year-old Lenore was already fascinated by the stage, by the respectful silence and raucous applause of audiences, the depth and wisdom of the ancient language of the Bard. After tonight’s show, as always, she was giddy, thrilled, and she gave him reason every day to face another.
But, as they stepped into the dressing room, Lenore and her laughter were stilled as if by a stasis field, and she stood, fixed and wide-eyed, looking up at the tall form in his gray robes, as sepulchral and foreboding as Hamlet’s father, waiting, silent, like a piece of set decoration, in the shadows of the corner.
Karidian – Karidian, you are Karidian! – was brought up short as well, for a moment, before regaining his composure. He was, though, an actor, and not just a good one but a great one – as he had to be! – so he was already calm and urbane after a heartbeat’s pause. “I thank you, sir, I truly do,” he said, allowing his weariness and pain to pour into his voice. “But my work exhausts me, and I’m unable to greet members of my audience. I simply do not have the–”
As he spoke, the figure straightened a bit and turned, pushing the gray hood back away from his face to fall around his shoulders, revealing silver hair and startlingly-sharp, dark eyes, as bright and incisive as a boys, and elegantly pointed ears. A Vulcan! One of so very few left, a catastrophe greater than even– He didn’t allow his mind to complete the thought. Still, this ancient Vulcan was extraordinary, and he was stilled by his presence.
“I am not here as an admirer,” the Vulcan said quietly, “although your Richard the Third is an extraordinary achievement. You play him with an almost familiar authority.” He glanced at Lenore. “Perhaps your daughter can seek a playmate while we converse?”
Karidian looked long into the abyss of those sharp, dark eyes, and what he saw there convinced him. “Lenore.” He didn’t even look at his daughter. “Go find Thelassa. She has questions. Andorians’ relationship with authority has never included royalty, and she is confused. Perhaps you can offer her some help.”
Lenore’s eyes were wide and her voice hushed. “Father...”
He turned to watch her go, her blonde hair flowing out behind her like she was swimming underwater, then returned his attention to his forbidding visitor.
“My name,” said the Vulcan, “is Spock. Perhaps you have heard of me.”
Spock! Now the name was in the air, the face came into focus. Spock, the Vulcan from the future, returned to this time by the mad Romulan who’d destroyed the planet, and nearly the Federation in the bargain! Of what doom, Karidian wondered, was he harbinger? Which catastrophe did he herald? What does he know?
“I have heard,” he told the ancient Vulcan.
“My time here is fleeting. I have many visits ahead of me, many... words to offer. I cannot control your actions, and I will not act precipitously myself. That is not my place. But we must speak of Tarsus IV, and of your life before you were Anton Karidian.”
Karidian – Karidian! Karidian! – scowled at him in puzzlement. “Tarsus IV? Is that a planet? I have never–”
“You waste time, which I have told you is precious. Remember from where – and when – I have come. I do not visit you randomly or capriciously, Mr. Karidian. I will do you the courtesy of that name, but we both know it is not yours. Do not waste time with meaningless denials.”
The strength drained out of Karidi– of Kodos. He didn’t so much sit as collapse into his chair. He’d worked so hard to create this new self, this new life, and fought so hard to bring Lenore out of the hell he’d created with her innocence intact, to give her a life of art and of the soul, to leave one good, pure thing behind him. He’d made so many plans and preparations to try to deflect the questions if the ever arose... But now, when he was finally confronted with the truth, there was no question to deflect, no inquiry to dodge. There was knowledge, cold and absolute, in those unimpeachable, inarguable eyes. And how did it come out, he wondered. How did my infamy bring me low?
“It’s been so long, Mr. Spock,” he murmured. “So very long. And yet you still seem so soon and sudden.”
“You could go on,” Spock told him. “When I knew you, you were ten years older. Your career and art were famous and respected.” He paused. “I will not say that admiration was undeserved. The worlds you visited never knew that Anton Karidian was Kodos the Executioner. They did not know you were the famous planetary governor who ordered the killing of half his citizens.”
“I did not merely give orders. I did not send men to do what I would not, and leave my hands clean. I am not proud, but I will at least say that I did what I commanded of others. I know the blood that stains my hands.”
Spock merely regarded him impassively.
“There was a choice to be made, Mr. Spock, a terrible choice, and only I could make it! I had no way of knowing supply ships would be so quick to arrive! I had no way of knowing that dreadful choice forced upon me would be moot! What if they had not come? What if the projections the Federation sent me had been correct? Should I have let my people starve? Numbers do not care, Mr. Spock, about agony and morality. The numbers stand faceless and heartless, as cold as space. They know no pity and cannot be argued with. They are inexorable and implacable, and all I could see was that all of my people would die in abject misery before rescue was more than half-way there... Or half could live to see that rescue if the rest were no longer consuming precious resources.
“And, the decision made that only half of the citizens could be supported, what else could I do? Try to banish half from the colony? Create an insurrectionary force we were unequipped to fight, and set the colony against itself? Or, at best, two-hundred score citizens starving, weeping and suffering, outside the colony’s perimeter?
“No Mr. Spock. I cannot begin to describe the world of regret in which I live, but there was no other decision to be made. If any were to live, half had to die, and it was only logical to choose to save those most able to contribute, most able to safeguard the other lives. And it was as close to kindness as the cold equations offered that those who must die, die quickly, with a minimum of pain, rather than suffer a protracted and horrible death.”
Spock considered for a moment, then gestured about him. "And yet,” he said, “Here we are.
“What you say, taken in isolation, is flawlessly logical. As a Vulcan, I appreciate and respect logic, but I understand its limits. What you say cannot be viewed in isolation. It must be viewed in the context of the lived experience of the world.
“In that experience, I would pose to you this question: If you are convinced that what you did was right, that history would vindicate you, then why are we here? Why do we stand backstage in a dressing room assigned to Anton Karidian? Why did you prepare, in advance, a new identity to escape your past and your actions? If your actions can be defended, why do you not stand behind them?"
“Because the world is not always ready to appreciate logic. You will know from Earth's history that many, many thousands - to cite only an example - were killed for their sexual orientation, that women were stoned and slaughtered as whores. Hiding their sexual pursuits, though they were convinced those were not wrong, made sense in the context of the era. It may have been logical, but humans, as you know, aren't logical. Their emotions would have condemned me without trial.”
“You would make a decision, then, and claim it as moral, to sacrifice the lives of others, but safeguard your own from its consequences?”
“Those who died would have died in any case, whether a quick death under the beam of a phaser or a protracted one from starvation!” Kodos looked beseechingly at him. “What logical purpose would my death serve?”
“But they would not. The supply ships arrived even as you stood on the steps of the Capital with the phaser in your hand. You had no way of knowing that when you decided who would live and who would die, but you cannot say now that the murders you committed made no difference. Thousands died for nothing.”
“That was a matter of–”
“We are not speaking of your choices before, but your choices after. If you did not believe you did wrong, you would stand behind the choice you made. In my century in Star Fleet, I saw more than one Captain put his life on the line in defense of his decisions, and one do it more times than I care to count. You had the courage to make the decision. It was not fear, but shame, that made you flee once history came to judge.”
Kodos looked at his feet. “And what brings you to judge me now?”
“Kodos, I am not here to judge you. I am here, strange as it seems, to help you. I am here to save you heartache and death.”
“By throwing my sins at my feet.”
“I do not believe,” Spock said quietly, “that that is within my power. Is that not where they already lie?”
The sound Kodos heard escaping him had something to do with laughter and something to do with tears. “I think they hang around my neck like the albatross.”
Spock didn’t exactly nod, but still somehow acknowledged him. “In my timeline,” he said, “the Enterprise was summoned to Planet Q by Thomas Leighton, the research scientist. You remember the name?”
Kodos nodded. “One of the handful I fear so terribly, but for whose lives I am so grateful. One of the handful who were snatched away from the death I handed down.”
Spock nodded. “So, too, in my timeline. The Karidian Players had arrived on Planet Q. He’d seen you perform. He knew you at once. He called the Enterprise to show you to her captain. Captain Kirk, you see, had been another of the survivors.”
“No!” cried Karidian. “There was no Kirk! Not among the survivors, not among the dead! There were no Kirks on Tarsus IV!”
“In this timeline, no,” replied Spock calmly. “In this timeline, George Kirk died in Nero’s attack, six years before he would have served at the colony. His wife and son never saw Tarsus IV. But that was not the case in mine.”
“So here you are to avenge a wrong I never did to your precious captain.”
“I am here to avenge no wrong, Kodos. As I said, I am here to save lives, not the least, yours. Leighton was murdered at a party you were attending. Captain Kirk was not certain of your identity, but he was suspicious enough to arrange your passage on the Enterprise. One of our crew, a junior officer – not much older, in fact, than your daughter – who was also a survivor of Tarsus IV, was poisoned, and survived only through the nearly miraculous skills of our Chief Medical Officer.” Spock paused then, a slight motion of his lips almost suggesting a smile.
“I was sure of your identity, but the captain was not. So grave a charge, he would not make without utter certainty. But one thing I had learned. Of the nine survivors who witnessed your crimes on Tarsus IV, only those two, Kirk and Riley, remained. All the rest had been killed, through accident and misadventure that only became apparent when viewed as a pattern, as a series of systematic murders.”
Kodos’ head rose slowly, his eyes filled with dread and despair. “Did I sink so low, then? Did I become so craven as to murder, again and again, to protect the lie that was my life?”
Spock shook his head. “It is, I fear, worse than that. It is also something that I cannot merely tell you. You would be systemically, fundamentally unable to believe it.” He crouched in front of Kodos, eyes boring into his. “You must allow me to give you my thoughts, my memories. You must accept from me my knowledge.”
Kodos blanched in fear. In the Vulcan Mind Touch, there could be no secrets, no concealment! He would know, he would know! He already knows, Kodos. You know that.
He inclined his head. “I live my life in the worlds of Shakespeare, but it is Dickens who speaks to me now. Spirit, I fear you most of all. What terrors do Christmases yet to come offer?”
Spock’s head moved gently. “To such small extent as it may console you, it was not a Christmas that ended it. It was October, Earth calendar.”
Kodos’ jaw firmed. “Be done with it, then, Vulcan. Deliver me your verdict.”
The long, gnarled fingers reached and found places along the nerve clusters at the side of Kodos’ face: forehead, temple, under the ear, along the jaw. The fingers moved gently and prodded insistently as the sonorous voice murmured. “My mind.... To your mind... My thoughts... To your thoughts...”
A kind of ancient stillness poured through Kodos like a fog, and he saw, heard, tasted, smelled, felt flashes of experiences he couldn’t understand. A stone in pain. The minds of four-hundred Vulcans crying out in death. Nomad, Tan Ru. Kohlinar, Fal Tor Pan, a balding man with a French name and an English accent who somehow contained his father. The death-scream of a world, of a race, of all of Vulcan save the few thousand who were offworld when Nero’s device pierced its heart....
And then there was focus. Faces that were familiar but strangely different from those he’d seen on newscasts after Nero’s temporal attack. The Kirk he saw was a decade older, but also inches shorter, and with brown eyes instead of blue. Even as he noticed it, he felt Spock’s knowledge, that being born, weeks early, in space, aboard a shuttle with rudimentary artificial gravity, bombarded with the radiation of battle, had made subtle changes to Kirk’s appearance and development. The sense that the Kirk in his vision was somehow the “real” Kirk, and the one from the newscasts a substitute, laced with amusement at a personal prejudice that logic did not, could not support.
The memories bubbled up, the names of the nine – Nine! How extraordinary! – witnesses, and the dawning realization as their fates were pronounced by the library computer. Even in this region of space, two plus two equals four. Young Riley – Kodos remembered the Riley family: the boy had been a mewling toddler! – skulking backstage with a phaser, ready to do vengeance – or justice – upon him. But Kirk was there, persuading him, calming him, saving Kodos from a fate he could not deny he deserved...
And then catastrophe! Spock could not see them speaking, but his Vulcan ears heard. The voice was older, deeper, but a father knows his daughter, and Spock, Spock knew the voice as well, and was no more able to deceive in the Mind Meld than he. It was Lenore who said, No, Father. The time will never come. Tonight, after my performance, the last two who can harm you will be gone.
“What are you saying?” The words were torn from his throat aloud as the memory of his future cried out in his mind.
There were nine, Lenore said. Now there are only two, and they will be gone as soon as I– Don't look at me like that!
“What have you done?” Again, he cried in reality along with the memory.
Lenore had grown into a beautiful young woman. Spock had been concerned about her relationship with the brash captain. But her voice was full of madness now. What had to be done. They had to be silenced.
All of them? All seven? More blood on my hands?
No Father, not anymore. I'm strong, Father. It's nothing. This was what he’d made in the world. This was what he’d left it. The golden sunshine of his little girl, dismissing murders as of no account. How could this be? How could he have allowed it? We'll be ready. Don't you see? All the ghosts are dead. I've buried them. There's no more blood on your hands.
“No!” The word that time was solely his own, as he wrenched himself bodily away from the elderly Vulcan’s fingers. He tumbled to floor, eyes wide, hands clenched into fists. “No, please, in the name of God, no!”
“I...” the Vulcan’s voice was even rougher. He was recovering from the depth of the meld, and the sudden savagery of its parting. “I have no power to act or speak in the name of any deity, Kodos. I can only tell you the truth. It was only at the end that Captain Kirk became involved. In this timeline, of course, there’s no reason he would be involved at all. I can see no way that the alteration of history affects this. If you continue on as Anton Karidian, she will learn the truth, unbeknownst to you. She will kill. Not once, but again and again. Riley. Leighton. Eames. Molson. Moore, and more. That is the price of your freedom. In my timeline, Lenore Karidian accidentally killed you moments after that revelation. It broke what was left of her already fragile sanity. She lived out her life in an institution, and died without ever leaving it.”
“No...” The word was barely even breath as it left him.
“It is not given to me to decide for you, Governor Kodos. I could report what I know to the Federation Bureau of Justice, of course, but that is not my place. You’ve seen the course you have set. You’ve seen the destination that awaits you if you continue on as you are.”
Spock’s head suddenly angled slightly, and Kodos looked behind him. Lenore was approaching. On seeing his face, she grew alarmed. “Father! What is it, Father! What has he done to you?”
The Vulcan’s right eyebrow rose, and he looked pointedly from the girl to her father. That instinct to see attack, and to defend him, even now, even at nine years old.
“Nothing, my child, my child, Mr. Spock has done nothing but bring me tidings I needed to hear. Residual payment, you may call it, for a role I played long ago, one of which I have never spoken, but now I must.” He looked up at the Vulcan. “If you will excuse us, Mr. Spock, there is much I must do. Our lives are about to change, and Lenore must be prepared.”
Spock’s head inclined. “Quite so, Mr. Karidian.” He stepped to the door of the dressing room. “And for what it is worth, sir, I am very sorry. I do... sympathise, even if I cannot condone.”
“What’s done is done, sir. We cannot recall actions past, committed or omitted. We can only do our best with the world we have before us. It stings like a blade, sir, but I am well aware that it’s a great kindness you have done me, and, as strange as it may seem, you have my gratitude. Go in peace, Spock. I know what I must do.”
The Vulcan regarded him for a moment more, then turned and disappeared into the shadows.