“When you said you thought there was always a choice, I didn’t think this was what you had in mind.”
Jim smiled at Uhura, or rather this idea of her that lurked in the back of his mind.
“You just think I’m incapable of compromise.”
“Won’t back down from a fight, is how I would put it.”
He laughed and looked at the field of brown and white dwarfs that spread out around them. A pulsar spun nearby, lending its flickering light to the otherwise dim, quiet starscape. “I’m not so stubborn I’d rather die than learn how to work together with someone.”
“Even if it means giving up some of what’s you?”
“I didn’t actually have to give up anything, that’s the best part.” She looked dubious, and he shrugged, admitting, “Okay, sure, I got rid of some things, but it’s like when you move in with someone and have to toss some of your crap so there’s enough space--it’s probably stuff you didn’t really need or want anyways, and you’re getting something way better in the bargain.”
“Isn’t that still giving up part of yourself?”
“Sure, if every single piece of unnecessary bullshit in your life is ‘yourself’, but come on, who doesn’t want to get rid of unnecessary bullshit when they get the chance?”
She arched an eyebrow. “You’d be surprised.”
“Well, I’m not one of those people.”
“No? Then who are you?” Now she smiled at him. “What’s your name?”
He raised his chin and gave her a triumphant grin. “I’m James Tiberius Kirk. The Pilot.”
Jim woke up with a gasp and tried to sit up, and was met with a strong hand on his chest that shoved him back down onto a bed.
“Not so fast,” McCoy said. “Do that again and I’m gonna have Spock hit you with his Vulcan neck business.”
His eyes were having trouble focusing. He could make out two--no, three, blueish blobs, and one red blob, and one bright green blob. (He was reasonably sure the bright green blob was Engineer Qoryl.) A close, warm feeling enclosed him and even seemed to reach inside of him all along his spine, from his head to the small of his back. In contrast the air was bitterly cold on his exposed hands and feet and face.
That came from the middle of the three blue shapes, which were stubbornly refusing to coalesce into people. “Spock.”
“Please remain still. We are removing the suit. You will find it easier to adjust once it is off.”
As the warmth receded his senses crept back in. Within a matter of minutes he could see and smell and hear with perfect clarity, and it was overwhelming, though not nearly as overwhelming as the fact that he was also naked and freezing cold.
As soon as the suit was off they wrapped him up in a thermal blanket, which he gripped around himself like that would let him suck the heat out of it and into all the parts of him that felt like blocks of ice. McCoy gave him a shot (“You and your goddamned shots,” he managed to whisper between chattering teeth, and McCoy scoffed at him) and explained it might take a few hours for his body to readjust to the less than ideal environs outside the stasis pod. McCoy and Qoryl then stepped aside to have a conversation (Jim hoped it wasn’t the kind where McCoy caused a diplomatic incident), and left him to Spock, Kevin, and Uhura.
Spock had put a facade over how very frustrated he was with him, but it lurked in his eyes. Kevin and Uhura, at least, seemed happy to see him awake.
He wasted no time with pleasantries. “Were you able to, ah...” He tapped one temple with a shaking hand.
Kevin looked askance at Spock, then said, “Well, that part was kind of interesting.”
Nothing is ever easy. “Good interesting, or bad interesting?”
“Good. We think.”
“When we looked at the imaging--you should see the equipment they have on that ship, Jim, it’s nothing short of incredible--we couldn’t find any real separation between you and the other entity.”
Jim blinked, then looked at Spock for confirmation. Spock explained, “There did not appear to be any need to integrate your consciousness with that of the Pilot, as it had already occurred.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither did they,” McCoy drawled. Qoryl was gone, and the doctor had joined them. He pulled out a tri-corder and began scanning Jim’s head, which Jim kept still for out of habit.
Kevin said, “They think it might’ve happened when you were hooked up to the ship. The need to use a single mind when interfacing with it may have caused you to merge with the Pilot.”
Jim felt fear grip him, and McCoy’s tri-corder chirped. “Hey, calm down, or you’re getting sedated,” McCoy snapped. Jim made himself take several slow, deep breaths.
“What’s wrong?” Kevin asked, leaning over to look at McCoy’s tablet.
“You said I’m...merged with it. Does that mean I’m not me, anymore?”
Kevin looked to be at a loss. Spock said, “Quite the opposite,” and Jim relaxed a fraction. His expression must have conveyed the level of his anxiety, because Spock continued, “If their equipment and readings are to be trusted--and the professor, Dr. McCoy, and I could find no fault with them--then in every meaningful sense, you remain Jim Kirk, and are now also the Pilot. These entities are the same person, and that person is you.”
Jim struggled to follow what Spock was saying. Finally he decided there was only one thing he was really concerned about. “No more nightmares and no more two of me and no more zoning out?”
“We’re going to monitor you for a few days,” Kevin said, “but the Praxidians seemed to think that would stop.”
He took a shuddering breath and let it out. “Okay.”
Qoryl returned and asked for a moment of Kevin’s time. Uhura glanced at Spock, then excused herself.
Here we go, Jim thought, and resettled the blanket around himself. Now that he was acclimating he adjusted it with an eye towards modesty.
“Why did you agree to pilot their ship?” Spock asked.
Jim tried not to squirm. “We were running out of time and pretty short on options.”
“We might have found a way through the halo even after the path’s collapse, particularly one which would not involve you subjecting yourself to the very circumstances which have recently caused you so much mental injury.”
McCoy added, “What he said,” and gave Jim an annoyed look, probably for having to agree with Spock.
Jim marveled at how Spock could make clear his frustration without raising his voice or expressing it in his posture in the least. (Or maybe Jim just knew him that well.) He rolled a section of the blanket between his fingers. “We might have found a way. But we also had a way, and there was the chance that if we passed it up, we might not make it out at all. They’d been trying for hundreds of years and never found one.” He looked at Spock, then McCoy. “You’re my responsibility. I have to put the crew first. That’s just how it is.”
McCoy sucked in a breath to say something, and Spock held up his hand. McCoy looked at him, then subsided, settling for looking fierce.
“While I am glad you take your responsibility to the crew so seriously, it would be more appropriate for you to do so without endangering your life.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” McCoy muttered. He crossed his arms over his chest.
Jim ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “I’m still working out how to do that.”
“Not deciding to do crazy, suicidal things would be a fantastic start.”
“The doctor is correct that this would be a way to prevent such issues from arising.” Spock paused, then said, “You should consider seeing the ship’s counselor.”
McCoy arched an eyebrow. Jim looked down at the bed, then nodded. He really did feel like squirming now. “Okay. I will.”
“You’ll do it, or you’ll think about it?”
“I’ll do it.”
McCoy blinked, and murmured to Spock, “That was easier than I thought it would be.” Spock kept watching Jim. Jim met his gaze, and Spock looked away first.
“I believe someone else wishes to speak with you.”
He turned and saw Xorila standing in the entrance to the room. One of her hands was curled around something, though he couldn’t make out what.
Spock and McCoy stepped a polite distance away as she approached. “Engineer Qoryl tells me that integration was not necessary.”
“That’s ah, what they told me too. Something about flying the ship making it happen.”
“It was not a possibility I had considered, but then I am not a neuroengineer. We will be some time in going over the results of the tests. We will send you any information we obtain from them, of course.”
“I don’t want you using it to do this to other non-Praxidians. Actually I want you to stop doing that, period. I’m lucky. Someone else may not be.”
“We will not use these data for such a thing. That I can assure you. If anything, they may help us to perform integration instead of excision.” That possibility buoyed his mood. “And the General’s involvement in a push to prevent future conversions of non-Praxidians should make it more likely to succeed.”
“How do I know you can deliver on those things?”
She considered his question, then said, “The same way I knew you would be able to bring us out of the halo.”
He let out a breath and nodded at her. She held out her closed hand and opened it; resting in her palm were two rings, one coppery red and the other blue-black.
He knew what they were, but she explained anyways. “Among our people you would wear the proof of your service as an augmentation, but as that is not something your kind do, we spoke with your neuroengineer, and he suggested this instead.”
He told himself he wasn’t fully acclimated, and that’s why his hand shook when he took them. There was script engraved into the outside of each band; he ran his fingers along the words, reading them by touch, then gripped them tight.
She nodded and said, “Farewell, Pilot. Though it is unlikely we will meet again, should that come to pass I hope it will be under better circumstances.”
“That makes two of us.”
She gave him a formal gesture and bow, then left. He laid back on the bed, suddenly exhausted, and for once he didn’t protest when McCoy gave him an injection that promised to knock him out. He fell asleep still holding the rings in his hand.