Warms my heart like a tropic sea
There the sun always shines
There you'll always be mine
All in a winter symphony”
Winter Symphony written by Brian Wilson (Beach Boys Christmas Album)
In respectful dedication to John Glenn (1921-2016), who touched the heavens and boldly went into the frontier.
“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”
President John F. Kennedy, inaugural address, January 1961
“Staring at me will not deter me.”
“Aw, come on, I’m just watching.”
“You will not deter me.”
Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell puffed out his cheeks. As they hollowed he exhaled and leant back away from the table. He wagged a finger. “You’re no fun, Spock.”
Lieutenant Commander Spock did not react, at least not to Mitchell. He moved a piece onto the upper tier of the three-dimensional chess board and steepled his fingers before him in a typical gesture.
“He’s stumped. You’ve got a chance, Jim.”
“My thanks to the peanut gallery,” Captain James T. Kirk murmured out of the corner of his mind as he leant towards the chessboard. This version of chess was something that Kirk had only played a few times until he took command of Enterprise. And those few times had been against Gary at the Academy. Kirk rubbed at his forehead, feeling a headache coming on. He noticed out of the corner of his eye, Mitchell with both of his hands to the sides of his head. “What are you doing, Gary?”
“Using my telekinetic abilities to put Spock off.”
“A) You don’t have telepathic powers and B), you’re being unsportsmanlike.”
Kirk ignored him. Reaching for a piece he moved it to the second tier. That should hold him…
Spock moved a piece over and remarked, “Checkmate.”
“Damn,” Kirk said folding his arms. “Good game, Mr Spock.”
“Attention, attention all hands.” The sonorous tones of Lieutenant Alden rang out throughout the mess room and elsewhere on the ship. “Personnel requiring their leave passes are reminded to collect them by 2200hrs. They will not be authorised after 2200hrs and our arrival at Starbase 13. That is all.”
“Starbase 13,” mused Kirk, glancing aside at Mitchell. “I look forward to stretching my legs. Being this far out in the galaxy makes me miss Earth.”
“You and me both, especially at this time of year.”
Spock executed the Vulcan equivalent of a sigh: A folding of his arms, a tilt of the chin and lifting of both eyebrows. Kirk was already getting to grips with the Vulcan’s mannerisms. “I still do not understand the attachment given to this ‘Christmas’ that humans insist on celebrating.”
“Spock, you surely know about Christmas by now,” Mitchell said a little irritably. “One day of the year where everyone gets together and becomes quite friendly to one another.”
“I always fail to see the logic in this holiday. If you need one day to be ‘friendly’ with each other, then perhaps you should adopt the Vulcan way of life.”
“Are you kidding!?” Mitchell laughed. “Boy, if I did that, I’d burst. Why I’d be on women…”
“Not now, Gary,” Kirk interjected. Smoothly he said, “Mr Spock, you must have experienced a Christmas before – on Earth at the Academy. Did you not do anything, even if you do not observe the holiday?”
“I served at an aid station in the Mission District,” Spock replied. “A most enlightening experience when one considers the human race still appears to have poverty and homelessness in the 23rd Century.”
“There, you did something,” Mitchell said. “You helped someone out.”
“The true meaning of Christmas though is the birth of the mythical figure, Jesus Christ, is it not?” Spock remarked. “All of this stems from that one point thousands of years ago.”
“Uh-oh, Jim, we’re getting Biblical now.”
“Indeed.” Kirk grinned at Spock. “There’s hope for you yet. Look, Gary is just driving at the fact that Christmas is a festive time of year that we humans still observe even now. Admittedly the true meaning of it has been lost but we still do it. Don’t Vulcan’s have a holiday, Tal Shanar, that marks Surak’s birth as a way to honour him and his place in history?”
Spock, if he had been human would have spluttered. As it was his arms unfolded and both eyebrows danced higher. “Tal Shanar is indeed that, though it has very rarely been observed by humans, Captain. I am impressed.”
“How did you come to that, Jim?” Mitchell asked, frowning.
Kirk’s grin returned, one which would be familiar in the years to come. “When I was a boy my father brought me to Starfleet Command for a tour. We happened upon an observing of the holiday in a room by Vulcans from the consulate and those in the science corps. Quite something, really.”
“I see the point you might be trying to make,” Spock said. “Tal Shanar is one of our more sacred days. Though Surak existed unlike…”
“Bridge to Captain Kirk, bridge to Captain Kirk. We are now within range of Starbase 13.”
“Saved by the bell,” Kirk murmured. Going over to the wall intercom he punched the switch. “Kirk here, very well Mr Anders. I’m on my way.”
Mitchell and Spock followed. The discussion to and in the turbolift was brief. Christmas was not mentioned nor anything else of real note. As they filed onto the bridge Lieutenant Anders relinquished the conn, heading to his communications post. On screen a sprawling starbase lay etched against a red-blue nebula. Starbase 13 had first been started during the Earth-Romulan War and had grown since then with spidery tendrils extending from the main body which housed the docking bays.
“Mr Mitchell, begin final approach. Mr Anders, hail the base.”
“Sir, you’re on the air,” Anders said with a smile. Kirk swung his chair towards the black communications officer and wagged a finger with a smile. Moving the chair back he cleared his throat. “Starbase 13, this is Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, requesting permission to dock.”
“Enterprise, this is Starbase 13, you’re clear to dock. Once within proximity range we will take over control of your helm.”
“Enterprise acknowledges,” Kirk said. “Gary, standby.”
“Jim, I can pilot it in.”
“No.” Kirk shook his head. His bridge crew were like children at the end of term.
The Enterprise coasted closer before a blue light bathed the bridge. Gary lifted his hands from the console. “I no longer have control.”
“Words to live by,” Kirk chuckled as Mitchell scowled over his shoulder at him.
The space doors parted to allow Enterprise in. Kirk pictured civilians and Starfleet personnel alike, standing at observation ports to watch his ship come in. His ship, pride of the fleet and state of the art. Spotlights fixed at points on the roof and deck of the large bay played over the hull of the ship. In fact, Kirk found himself yearning to get off the ship so he could see her through a port window. To drink in the beauty of his ship, something one rarely could do on a five-year mission. Enterprise came in past a Vulcan science ship and one of the newer Miranda-class starships to her dock.
“Docking moorings activated and engaged.” Mitchell’s fingers flew over his console. “We are securely locked in and docked.”
“Thank you, Mr Mitchell.” Kirk thumbed a switch on his armrest. “Attention all hands. Leave commences now via the rota arranged by Commander Spock and Lieutenant Anders. Enjoy yourselves but remember, leave or not, you are representing the Enterprise. Kirk out.”
“Geez, Dad, you’re no fun anymore,” Mitchell said wandering over, hands on hips.
“Get lost, will you?”
Kirk found observation lounge two, across the bay from his ship, perfect to look at the Enterprise. He drank coffee from a disposable cup as he did so, shaking his head every so often. When he took command not so long ago he had to keep pinching himself. A captain at thirty-four and of a Constitution-class ship at that. Not even that but the Enterprise! Archer, April and Pike before him as well as the lineage of that name from the American Revolutionary War. In Kirk’s cabin was a collage of ships named Enterprise left over from April’s time and sometimes, Kirk imagined being a sea captain.
“You captains are all the same. Every time you get leave you just stare at the damn ship.”
Kirk started, fought to recover his composure. “Doctor, you should have a bell so I know you’re there.”
Doctor Mark Piper laughed. “I need to enjoy my final few months on this ship, Jim. My replacement will be just the same.”
“A crusty old doctor of the Western film mould?” Kirk said with a smile.
Piper feigned hurt. “Jim, really! No, well, you’ll be surprised. Though having a Western film night on the ship has clearly done you wonders.”
“Gave me a perspective on history, I’ll say that.”
Piper joined Kirk in gazing at the Enterprise. “Getting in touch with your family soon?”
“I hope to. Mom and Dad will be shovelling snow right about now.” Kirk paused and sipped his coffee. “Sam and Aurelan are on some colony planet trying to cure something or other…”
“Sorry, Mark, just that I lose track.”
“How is your father doing though?” Piper asked gently.
Kirk gave him a look before shrugging and resuming his gazing. “Mom said in the last packet that he can’t sleep much and he’s in pain most of the day. I’ll find out when I message later.”
“Can’t be easy for them out in the sticks of Iowa.”
“You forget we have that brand new base being built out there so components for starships can be constructed on Earth,” Kirk said, sounding like an advertisement. “What about you, Mark, my troubles aside you must have family.”
Piper laughed shortly. “I do, I do. My son is out in the wilds on the Eagle and my daughter is studying at Starfleet Medical. I won’t be able to speak to my son until the twenty-sixth.”
Kirk nodded. The Eagle was a ‘Connie’ as well, last he heard at an officer’s briefing she was on deep space assignment near what was now formally being called the Beta Quadrant. From here the messaging would take a while.
“Merry Christmas, Mark.”
“Merry Christmas, Jim.”
“Hey beautiful,” drawled Mitchell as he leant against the bar. “Know any good shops round here?”
The beautiful Andorian woman behind the bar gave him a look, her antenna drooping. “Depends what you’re in the market for.”
“Christmas stuff, you know, tinsel and mistletoe.”
“Yeah, you stand under it and kiss people.” Mitchell grinned at her. He had had a couple of Saurian brandies and life felt loose. The bartender leant over the bar, making Gary’s grin broaden. “Why don’t you kiss off and leave me alone, spaceman.”
“Aw, come on! I was just wanting to know…” A shadow fell over Mitchell making him turn round on his stool. Before him was what could only be described as an eclipse of the light. Mitchell’s eyes travelled up the broad, broad chest to the thick neck and finally the hulking impassive Orion face. “Holy…”
“Is there a problem?” the Orion rumbled, the voice coming from deep within his belly.
“I…ah, I was just leaving.” Mitchell reached for his drink, downed it in one gulp and squeezed past the Orion. Hands in pockets he wandered the promenade level. Memories came unbidden of his troubled childhood in Eldman, upstate New York. Snow dirtied by daily life in the city, his father working double shifts only to beat Gary afterwards and his mother struggling with cancer until…
Mitchell paused by stairs that led down to a secondary level. Placing a hand on the portal he gazed down upon the nebula that dominated the view. Christmas…he hated it sometimes. No family, sure he had friends but as at the Academy, everyone went off to do their own thing. He spent two of his three Christmases at the Academy surfing in Hawaii and getting royally drunk.
He did not turn to look; he could see the reflection of Yeoman Rebecca Smith in the portal. The diminutive blonde was Jim’s yeoman, meaning she was stood at his elbow like a maid. Well, maid was too unkind. There had been yeomans on ships as long as there had been ships.
“What is it, Becky?”
“I was looking for you. I thought you’d be in the bar.”
He laughed dryly. “Is that what people think I am, some kind of barfly?” He turned to her, noting her expression of confusion. “A barfly is…oh, never mind. Shouldn’t you be with your girlfriends? You know how Christine Chapel likes company for shopping.”
“I also know how much she likes to follow Mr Spock around.”
Mitchell grinned then went sombre. “I just wanted to be alone.”
“No!” he all but shouted, startling even himself. He put a hand out to stop her. “I do but I don’t. We might be light years away from Earth but it’s still Christmas. Wasn’t until I got to San Francisco that I had what you might call a proper one.”
“We always did something,” she said. “My family has a tradition dating back to before World War III. A sort of pilgrimage out to an old family home in Wyoming. Snow, hail, rain, even war, the Smiths have always made it. This year’s the first time I’ve not made it home.”
“Come on, let’s get out of here and have ourselves some festive cheer.” He took her by the arm and led the charge down to the promenade levels. There were some shops ran by Earthers or descendants of Earth colonists. They had some things hanging out or the odd tree. An Andorian merchant had a pale blue Christmas tree hanging upside down from his roof. Mitchell found that hilarious and had to be dragged from the shop by Rebecca before the merchant hit him. Eventually they ended up on a level parallel with the Enterprise’s saucer and nacelles. The starship dominated the field of vision with many gawkers standing about. Nearby were some people – a mixture of humans, Tellarites and Rigellians- out on the promenade deck before the shops, singing.
“What are they doing?” Smith whispered to Gary as they joined others in watching.
“I do believe they are singing carols.”
“Wow, I’ve not heard any since I was a child.” She held onto his arm, pressing against him. It did seem odd to Gary that aliens would be singing carols until he saw a human walking around the spectators carrying a pot whilst holding a sign reading ‘The Coalition Singers’. He laughed and turned so that they would not see. “They’re the Coalition Singers.”
“Don’t you know your history?” he teased. “During the Romulan War the Singers founded from crews of ships at the front, to buck up morale.”
“Nope.” Rebecca smiled. “I must’ve missed that lesson.”
“When I was little, I loved reading anything to do with the war,” he mused mostly to himself. He would read under his sheets with a flashlight. Stories about Archer’s Enterprise, Hernandez’s Columbia and others fighting the faceless enemy. His smile faded once again as he recalled his mother reading to him when he was five. Standing at her gravesite the first Christmas without her. Tears frozen upon his face in the sub-zero Eldman air.
“Gary, are you all right?” Rebecca asked.
Gary reached to touch his face, feeling hot tears on his cheek. “Sorry, just…just thinking.”
“My mother, my sister…,” he trailed off. “What would I have been without them? Or not joined Starfleet.”
“I guess you would have found your vocation. Perhaps you could have been a doctor?”
“Ha! No fear, I hate the sight of blood, especially my own.” Mitchell glanced away to the singers. “My mum said do what I liked, what I enjoy. So, I like water and surfing.”
“I see,” Rebecca said with more than a hint of sarcasm. Mitchell was known throughout the ship for his bravado and sense of imagination. She saw how he was on the bridge with the captain. Everyone knew that they had been friends since the Academy. “So, you would have been, what, a surfer?”
“No, I guess a lifeguard,” he murmured with a faraway look in his eyes. He pictured what they used to call beanies and baggy shorts. What if he had made that his life? What if somehow his life in Starfleet came to a halt? His reverie was itself halted by Yeoman Smith.
“You? A lifeguard?” She laughed in spite of herself. “I heard you and water lead a charmed life whenever you go surfing.”
“Who told you that?” he said, surprised.
“Jim, you little…” He caught himself short and looked up. “Hold still.”
Frowning Rebecca froze, thinking an insect was descending towards her. Instead Mitchell leant in to kiss her. The captain’s yeoman returned the kiss before they parted. “Mr Mitchell!”
“Sorry but tradition…” He pointed up, directing her gaze to the mistletoe hanging by a wire extending out over the singers from a shopfront. “Merry Christmas, Rebecca.”
“Merry Christmas, Gary.”
They kissed again as the carolling continued.
A few days later the mighty starship departed from Starbase 13, her elegant frame reversing out of the dock and swinging around past the pylons in a graceful turn. The Five-Year Mission was resuming. All of the 430 crew had had their share of leave, some more than others as Dr Piper could testify to (fortunately in the mid-23rd Century hangovers could be cured with a simple injection by hypospray) and so were well rested and in good spirit. On the bridge the viewer showed Starbase 13 diminishing rapidly, becoming a black speck against the nebula.
“Mr Mitchell, plot a course for Terra Beta if you will,” Kirk said, taking a cup of coffee from Yeoman Smith.
“Aye, sir. Course plotted and laid in.”
“Enjoy yourself, Yeoman?” Kirk asked.
“I did, sir.” Smith looked downwards at her feet. “It was quite enjoyable.”
“Right.” Kirk looked ahead. “Gary?”
Mitchell pretended he didn’t hear until Kirk repeated, he half-looked backwards. “Sure, sure. I did my bit for Christmas.”
“Hmm.” Kirk glanced over at Spock. The Vulcan gave a slight shrug remarking, “I am sure Christmas appreciated it, Mr Mitchell.”
Mitchell caught Rebecca Smith’s eye and turned forward. “Sure she did, Mr Spock.”
Kirk leant back in his chair, puffing his cheeks out. “Well, ahead warp factor four, Mr Mitchell.”
“Aye, aye sir.”
In a blur of multi-coloured light the Enterprise made the leap into warp and into the frontier.
For the past couple of years, I’ve done Christmas through Gary Mitchell’s lifeguard-shaded eyes. This time I took us back to ‘our’ Gary. This obviously is set prior to Where No Man Has Gone Before and thus we have Yeoman Smith present (I invented her forename for the story). Starbase 13 in my mind is right out in the sticks and sort of resembles that Yorktown monstrosity from the latest reboot film.