DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2022 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG.
It Was Fun
He's falling, the catwalk around him, the wind rushing through his sweaty hair as he hurtles down. He loses his grip on the control pad and lets it fall. The pad has done its job; Kirk has done his. Decloaked the weapon so Picard can get to it.
If there's still time.
Kirk knows that he is out of time.
The catwalk hits on something, and he's jarred loose. He falls, under the metal, down and down and down.
It's terrifying, more so because everything has slowed, as if time is stretching, as if he lives in slow motion. He imagines the impact, how it will feel to hit the ground from this height, with this velocity. It's more terrifying than the fall.
Just like jumping the ravine. Over and over. Until now, it was one of the scariest things he knew how to do on land. It was why he did it so often when he was off the ship. Like climbing El Capitan, it was the only way to get that rush back, that thrill. He would always find a way to make life exciting. Even if he had to jump the ravine a hundred times, or a thousand. And it would be terrifying each and every time.
He jumped the ravine in the Nexus. Jumped, then jumped again. Not fifty times, only twice. There was no fear. No rush. There was never any rush in the Nexus. Just that strange, stupefying contentment. Not even risking his life with a jump over waiting death could make his adrenaline rise up.
He's not stupid. He knew it was different. Knew it was off. He's always been good at recognizing the unreal. If taking eighty years to come to your senses can be considered good? Was he chopping wood for eighty damn years?
It doesn't matter. He's falling, and the ground is rushing up just like the ravine rushed up as his horse leapt it back on Earth. Each time his horse took off, he looked down to see his future written in the spiny brush that lay below, waiting for him if he fell, if his lovely mount took a wrong step, didn't clear the thing. Scary.
This is scary too.
But it's all right. He knows it's his last time to jump.
He is going to die. There's no Spock to pull him free this time, to find his way to the engine core and get the ship going even as his skin erupted with radiation sores, as he went blind, his heart beating slower and slower. There's no Spock to die for him this time. Or to save him from some supposed god. Or to beam him off a Klingon hell world just as the disruptors should have taken him.
Where is Spock? Why wasn't he on the Enterprise B? Why wasn't he with him?
Spock was and always will be Kirk's friend. But where the hell is he? Will he even know that his friend is dying?
Kirk lands. Hard. Impossibly hard. Breath goes out of him in an explosive huff. He feels something tear in his back. He can't move as metal crashes around him—onto him. His arms are broken; he can't lift his hands. His legs are twisted underneath him and he thinks a bone is poking through, near his knee. Or is he imagining it? Are his legs even there?
As his head hits, he hears a cracking sound. It fills his ears, and his vision goes black for a moment, and then he hears nothing. Nothing at all. He's blacking out, but then the pain calls him back—agonizing, tearing pain that's ripping through his body.
Sound returns, sight too. He sees the catwalk coming toward him. There's the roar of impact as it buries him. A piece of railing lands over him, the rest lands on it, is deflected. Doesn't crush him.
He is alive.
For the moment.
An explosion rocks the area. The concussion of air whooshes over him, making the catwalk shiver above him.
Picard did it then? He stopped Soran? It's all Kirk wants to hear now. That they made a difference. It will make it all right to die. If they did it. If they stopped the madman. One last time.
Just like he and Spock stopped Khan. And he stopped Kruge. And they all stopped the conspiracy. He's had a lifetime of stopping madmen. It's worth dying for. Even dying alone for.
He's always known he'd die alone.
He cheated death so many times. But now it comes for him. On this empty world, in the heat of the full desert sun, it won't be denied. It peeks at him through sheared and tortured metal.
He squints, tries to make out the face of his reaper. He didn't expect death to be a person. Didn't expect death to be so difficult to see as it moves around the metal as if trying to find him.
Kirk is quiet, doesn't call out. Death may find him, but he won't hurry the process along.
Death moves, and its face is revealed.
Death is Picard?
Death is being the captain of the Enterprise.
No. Life was being the captain of the Enterprise. It was Kirk's first, best destiny. His one true love.
Even in the Nexus, he couldn't ask Antonia to marry him. Even then, he loved his ship more.
He loves Picard's ship more too. Any Enterprise will do for him. Even that half-fitted Enterprise he took his last ride on. During that pitiful excuse for a launch led by that pitiful excuse for a captain.
He wonders what happened to Harriman. Did the man ever live down that recorded fiasco, his moments of indecision captured for all to see. Would he ever get past the raw panic that had been on his face when he turned and said, "Captain Kirk, I would appreciate any suggestions you might have."
Captain Kirk. He will always be that. Eighty years later, is still that. His first, best destiny.
He told Picard to call him Jim. He doesn't do that very often. Over the years, he has let in so few. A captain walks alone.
But he had his circle, those he trusted. Bones. Spock. Where are they? Where are they now, eighty years later? Dead? Forgotten? His friends. His best friends.
It doesn't matter. A captain walks alone—dies alone.
Kirk wonders how many people Picard allows to call him Jean-Luc. His first officer perhaps? Maybe his chief medical officer? His love—does Picard have a love? Other than the Enterprise.
What did Kirk have? An illustrious career, a collection of memories. And an empty, empty house that was never a home to him.
The only home he's ever known is the Enterprise.
He'll die alone because he chose his ship, and as much as she loves him, she can't be with him now. She can never be with him again. All of his Enterprises are more than eighty years dead, his first ship gone long before the launch of the Enterprise he gave his life to save.
Gone. Long gone.
Just as Kirk should be.
"Beautiful day," he said to Picard in the Nexus, when he looked up from chopping wood and saw the man staring down at him. Why didn't it seem strange to see him?
Why were there eggs burning? He didn't cook them. He cooked them with Picard.
Why couldn't he go into his own bedroom? The Nexus turned him away. Why?
Picard said that part of him would always be there, part of him would never leave the Nexus. His echo.
Was it his echo who burned the eggs? Was his echo married now? Happy?
It's a nice thought. There are many nice thoughts his echo might want to explore. Antonia might find herself displaced by some other happy moment. The coolness of the sierras might give way to an Indian village near the lake, or the little house he shared with Carol when she was pregnant. Or perhaps to Earth in the 1930's, when he finds a way to save Edith instead of having to let her die.
There are many other things that might please his echo. Not just chopping wood, or watching dill float down over scrambled eggs, or riding his horse on the hot plains of Idaho. But that was nice—his life with Antonia. His false life with her. The house, the dog, the woman. Much nicer than being here, on this dusty world, choking on his own blood. Blood he can't even bring his hands up to wipe from his face.
The blood itches. And he can't scratch.
Butler couldn't scratch, not at the end when the dog was too weak to bring his leg up to reach the ear that always seemed to bother him. Kirk left Butler with Antonia. She had the dog for two years before he died. She told Kirk that every day the dog went outside and sat by the chopping log, waiting for him to come back, to come home.
His home was never that cabin in the mountains. It was the ship. Dogs weren't allowed on the ship. So he left Butler with Antonia. Butler died alone. By that chopping block. Waiting. Faithfully. Right into death.
Kirk hears a groan and is irritated that someone is making the noise. Then he realizes it's him—he's groaned. Pain rushes over him, coming in waves now, like a temporal shockwave.
This is a temporal shockwave. This isn't his time. He shouldn't be alive.
Soon...he won't be.
Antonia is no doubt dead by now. He wonders if she gave up on him and moved on. Found someone else.
Like all the others.
He loved her.
Like he loved Carol. And Miramanee. And Edith. So many others over the years who touched his life—why did he choose Antonia? Why not choose Carol and completely change his life? Why not give up his ship and get his son back? He told Picard he wanted to do things right from day one. Wouldn't David have been day one?
David. Kirk imagines him lying on his back, staring up at the dying Genesis sky, his life's blood draining out of him. The same way as Kirk's does now. He feels a kinship with his son, one that he never knew when David was alive. Did David think that Kirk would save him? Did David have this much time to wonder at the mess he'd made of his life?
Kirk's tired of introspection. And the pain's making it hard to think about anything but the present—the future. Time, so inexact. He should be somewhere else. This is not his time.
His time's gone. He's lucky, really. He found one last way to make a difference.
It's more than most people get.
Kirk smiles, almost laughs, and the movement brings a new round of pain.
He isn't most people. He's James T. Kirk. He's a living legend.
He's a dying legend.
There's the sound of metal screeching across metal. Then the pressure on his legs eases. He still has legs. That's reassuring, even though he knows it shouldn't matter anymore. But it does. He's still whole. He'll die the complete man.
He blinks at the sudden light as part of the catwalk is pulled away, as death looms over him. Death as Picard.
No, it's just Picard. Death will come later—stands right behind him. A shadowy haze of something that waits for Kirk even now. Death seems to shimmer, a portal to jump through, like the Guardian of Forever.
Only not that. Death is the guardian of oblivion.
Kirk has always feared death. He taunted it, tested it, shook his fist at it, and cursed it. He laughed at it more times than he can count.
But he never stopped fearing it.
What happens to a living legend when he dies?
What lies beyond nothing?
Gorkon said that the future was the undiscovered country, but Kirk thinks death is. He would like to think it's one more galaxy to explore. But what if it isn't? What if death is just nothing?
At least his echo will live on. With her.
He laughs again because that won't work, not even for his echo. Kirk knows that if he stepped through to the Nexus right now, he'd find his echo on the bridge of the ship he loved more than any woman. With his friends. With his life still so full, when there was still so much time left. When his future was still bright.
Back then, Kirk would have agreed that his future was the undiscovered country.
Now he's there, in his future. Everything lies behind him. There's nowhere else to go. It was just how he told Picard it would be. The odds are against him and the situation's grim.
It sounded like fun, before he fell, before his body crashed against hard stone and dusty rubble. Before dirt filled his mouth and blood followed it. Before he had far too much time to think.
How can he think at a time like this?
He thought death would come quickly. But he's dying by inches. By millimeters of liquid in his lungs, of blood in his mouth. Of oxygen that isn't reaching his heart despite his best efforts to breathe.
Death is slow. And death is painful.
What else did he expect? A blaze of glory? He had that...on the Enterprise B. The ribbon touched him and he was gone. No pain, no blood.
And, as it turns out, no death. Won't history be surprised?
Picard leans over him, blocking the light. And death is there too. There is no room to squeeze past Picard, and yet somehow death manages to do it, shimmering slightly in that cramped place underneath the catwalk. It reaches for Kirk and touches him gently on the forehead.
The touch is cool. Ghostly hands that Kirk thinks he's probably imagining stroke his cheek.
He doesn't think Picard can see death. Although he's relatively sure the new captain of the Enterprise must have stared it down more than a few times. It's the nature of the job, the cost of loving a duranium hull instead of flesh and blood.
Death is no stranger when it comes. Death has a laundry list of complaints against men such as Kirk, men who spit in its face. Kirk wonders if death is vindictive. If that's why it's taking him so long to die. Why it hurts so much. Because he held it off for so long.
He can't hold it off anymore. Death strokes his skin and it has a surprisingly soothing touch.
Death feels like a lover.
Kirk forces his attention back to Picard. "Did we do it?" It is hard to get the words out, to get them past the blood and pain. He tries to clear his throat; the sound that comes out is pitifully small. "Did we make a difference?"
"Oh, yes," his new friend Picard says. "We made a difference. Thank you."
"The least I could do. For the captain of the Enterprise."
Kirk is suddenly glad he's met this man. This man who'll watch him die.
He won't die alone because of this man.
On the other hand, he's dying because of this man. He let him talk him out of the Nexus. Out of paradise.
But when has Kirk ever wanted paradise?
Besides, one last adventure sounded like fun.
He smiles, hopes his lips turn up, that they haven't gone slack. He knows it's all right when Picard smiles back.
He doesn't say anything, this Picard. No useless inanities, no pats on the shoulder, no whispered lies that help is on the way. They both know he's dying. They both wait for that moment.
Kirk looks up at death. Sees through it to the sky. He thinks he sees his Enterprise in dangerously low orbit behind death. But that's impossible.
His Enterprise—each one of them—is long gone. He knows this. And yet, his ship is still there, waiting for him.
He just has to give the word.
"It was fun," he says to the ship, to Picard, and to death.
It was all fun. Alone or not, empty house or not. It was the most fun any man could ever have. Could ever want.
He made a difference; he lived his life and didn't let it live him. He roared through the years.
He's a living legend, soon to be a dead legend.
James T. Kirk. Captain of the Enterprise.
He made a difference.
He looks back at Picard and grins. The man watches him, a look of infinite compassion upon his face. Then death leans down, and Picard's image becomes hazy.
Suddenly Picard is gone.
Suddenly Kirk is no longer pinned under twisted metal.
Spock—a young Spock and then the older one, the one who died for him so that Khan would not win—is there. He is shifting, old, then young, then older again. Finally, he's the Spock Kirk first knew. He reaches down, his hand extended to pull him up. "Jim?"
Bones is standing behind him. Smiling. Young again too. "Enough lollygagging, Jim."
Somehow, standing behind both of them, Kirk sees older men. Bones rigged up in some kind of exoskeleton and lecturing to a hall full of young medical cadets. Spock standing in a dank cave, speaking to a group of Romulans. Neither man looks up. And the younger versions do not look back.
"The ship is waiting, Jim," Spock says.
Kirk feels Spock's hand touch his, feels as if he's being pulled from his body. The pain fades.
"Oh my," he says, as his vision suddenly goes black, as all sound fades. As he's pulled to his feet.
He looks down. His ruined uniform is gone. Now his shirt is gold. Velvety gold. With gilded braid. He touches it. Captain's stripes. The ones he earned, not the ones he was demoted back to.
His stripes. His life. His ship. He looks at Spock and nods. The ship is waiting. The ship has always been waiting.
And he's ready.
Spock calls for beam up. Veridian Three disappears. Kirk's last sight of the planet is of Picard building a cairn of stones for him. A memorial.
He's touched that Picard would think to do that for him, but he needs no memorial. Because his ship waits. This isn't the Nexus. His echo can have that. He will take this; he will explore this.
Death. His undiscovered country.
He'll have it all again. His friends. His ship. The adventure.
And it will always be fun.