The Last Time I Saw Richard

by David and Cheryl Petterson

(Standard Year 2251)

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Night. A dark street, deserted, lifeless. His eyes weren't adjusted to the dark. The first things he really noticed were the stars twinkling brightly overhead.

This was dreadfully wrong. There should be garish lights, flashing-bright signs. The streets should be filled with noise and with people, tourists and minstrels, hookers and pushers. Fleet officers on leave. The sky should be filled with spotlights and tourcars. He shouldn't be able to see the stars at all. True, the local time was 0300, or a little after, but Lorelei never closed.

He glanced at the others standing next to him: Lieutenant Uhura, Commander Spock, Lieutenant Sulu, They, too, were looking about, as nervous as he. Except for Spock, of course, who looked merely puzzled.

Jim pulled the communicator off his belt and flipped it open. "Looks like shore leave's cancelled," he said.

"Looks like Lorelei's cancelled," Sulu elaborated.

"Well, Commander," Uhura was saying to Spock, "you always pretend not to like shore leave anyway."

Jim scowled at his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise," he said. "Scotty, do you read?" The little box remained stubbornly silent. "Scotty?"

Spock flipped open his own communicator, adjusting it. "Some kind of interference, Captain. Communications are jammed."

"We were in contact with the Lorelei Port Authority just before we beamed down."

"Is it possible our transporter beam was somehow diverted to somewhere other than Lorelei?" Uhura suggested.

Sulu was shaking his head. "No, the sky's right - I mean the stellar positions. There isn't another Class M planet close enough for that. We're on Lorelei, alright."

"Then that means our other shore leave parties..." Jim began.

"There seems a high probability that the other parties have been captured or killed," Spock rejoined. "Our contact with the Port Authority was obviously a ruse."

Jim felt the color draining from his face, and his fingers went cold. What was to have been a relaxing and long overdue R&R had suddenly become grisly and frightening. "Phasers..." he said, and stopped. They were unarmed. Who needed phasers on leave?

"Let's get out of the middle of the street," he said, and pointed. "There." They sprinted toward a doorway.

Something started rumbling at the end of the street. Some large ground vehicle was approaching. They reached the door of a dark theater and Jim pulled at the handle. Locked.

"Captain!" Uhura called and pointed.

An armored vehicle of an unknown design turned the corner and started down the street toward them. There were a variety of devices dimly visible on top, most of which couldn't be identified in the dark. But one was unmistakable; a large, turret-mounted Klingon disrupter cannon.

For a moment, Jim was paralyzed in confusion as thoughts and emotions rushed over him. Lorelei invaded and captured by Klingons? How could they have infiltrated so far into Federation space?

And the others - nearly one hundred crewmembers had already beamed down. Were they dead? A quarter of his crew, the people he was responsible for...

Was he about to die? And Spock? And Sulu? And Uhura?

"Captain?" Spock prompted, waiting for orders, a decision, a plan of action...

"Uh..." He paused and shook his head. They couldn't get through the locked door, not without weapons. Shop fronts on Lorelei were secure. "That way," he said, and they started running away from the vehicle.

There was a burst of light behind them and an explosion against the theater door. Jim heard a sharp scream, quickly cut off, and an irregular shape went bouncing past. He glanced over his shoulder. In the light of the smoldering theater marquee he saw Uhura and Spock still running along behind him.

The three of them turned a corner just as another explosion ricocheted off the storefronts. They came to a small doorway, set back a meter or so from the facade of the building. Spock called, "Captain!" and motioned them in. The set-back offered a bit of protection and was quite dark, though not very large. Jim was standing tight against one corner, Uhura pressed against him, Spock just barely inside, leaning his head toward the street.

"Something, Spock?"

"The cannon did not fire until we started to move. They may have been uncertain of our location."

"They must have sensors, Mr. Spock," Uhura objected.

"Agreed. Sound amplifiers, heat, infra-red, subspace, radar..."

"What are you getting at, Spock?"

"They did not fire immediately, yet they should have been able to. Perhaps most of their sensors..."

"...aren't working," Jim finished.

"Except for some kind of gross motion detector. Had we not attempted to flee..."

"Sulu..." Uhura broke in, and stopped.

The rumbling was growing louder. Spock pressed himself back into the doorway. "Try not to breathe too hard," Jim suggested. He told himself he had more immediate problems than feeling guilty about causing Sulu's death, or that of the other hundred or so crewmembers.

The cannon came around the corner, less than fifty meters away from them. It paused, then began inching along the street, crawling slowly forward. The turret swung back and forth, sweeping an arc ahead. Like a great beast stalking its prey, the vehicle slowly advanced. As it drew closer, Jim could feel Uhura trembling against him. He hoped fervently that she couldn't feel his fear as clearly.

"Captain," Spock whispered, "the sensor pod on top of the turret." Jim narrowed his eyes, straining to see. Spock's night vision was far better than his, but yes, he could see it too; an ovoid shape the size of a pillow. It had been ripped open, the metal showing irregular and jagged edges. "Perhaps one of the other landing parties," Spock suggested. Jim nodded.

The vehicle had slowed to an agonizing crawl, the rumble dying to a mere hum. "They know we're here somewhere," Uhura said. Jim could almost smell her panic.

"Steady, mister," he said, half wondering if he was giving advice to her or to himself.

"Just as they pass us," Spock whispered rapidly, "a decoy, running in one direction might draw the turret away from this spot. That might give time for the other two to reach the vehicle and climb onto it. The turret cannot be directed onto itself."

"They must have other weapons, Spock."

"Possibly non-functional. The main cannon is the only one that seems to be operating."

"I can't take that chance."

"I find the odds acceptable, Captain."

"They've certainly got hand weapons with them."

"They would have to emerge from the turret one at a time. It is likely they could be overpowered in that situation."

"We could just let them pass," Uhura suggested.

"They know we are here," Spock answered. "They will undoubtedly stop in the middle of the block and wait us out."

"It's suicide, Spock," Jim said softly.

"I can think of no alternative. Being the quickest and most nimble, I suggest that I would have the best chance of survival as the decoy..."

"Forget it."

"Unwise, Captain. Our best chance will be when the vehicle is at its closest, which will be in twenty-one point five seconds."

How can I let him do it? Jim thought desperately. But what else is there to do? If Spock can think of no alternative, what other hope have we got?

He took a deep breath, again cutting off guilt. "Whenever you're ready, Mr. Spock."

The Vulcan nodded briefly. "You will have a few seconds after their first shot. It will take a short time to recharge the cannon and to re-aim the turret."

Uhura pressed even closer against him and was staring despairingly into his face. Think of something else, her eyes pleaded. Find another way.

Then Spock was gone, running, zigzagging into the street, madly dodging back and forth. Something on top of the turret fizzled and it began to swing around, trying to follow Spock's erratic movements.

There was a blinding flash and an explosion at the spot where Spock had been an instant before. Jim froze, going blank. He should be doing something, should be...

The turret was already beginning to swing back toward the shadows out of which Spock had appeared, back toward the doorway. They must have gotten him, or they'd still be tracking. Jim had waited, only a second, two, perhaps, just to see if they'd still be following Spock, to see if Spock had bought them any more time. But he shouldn't have waited. Now it was too late. The turret was swinging toward them, and they'd be running right into it. The chance was gone. He'd hesitated - and they were lost.

Jim crumbled to the ground, clutching at Uhura, seeking some final warmth and comfort. A quarter of his crew was dead. He'd just watched his best friend die. Death was about to come to him, to Uhura, all because of him. Error upon error, hesitation and fear. He was weeping, holding onto his last bit of warmth. The Klingons... the Klingons...

There was a bright flash...

| O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O |

Dr. Jade Han closed her eyes tightly, grinding the heels of her hands against them. She fell back into the cushioned chair of the psycho-cin control booth and tried to stop her heart from pounding. James Kirk sat in a similar chair less than two meters away on the other side of a glassteel wall. He was sedated, and still unconscious.

There was a blue light on Jim's side of the booth. When Jade opened her eyes, she could see that his face was beginning to relax, his fists to unclench, his legs to uncurl. Tears were drying on his cheeks. On her side of the wall, the heartbeat and respiration monitors were returning to normal. The visual display was no longer a bright, searing white, but had faded to a dark and restful azure.

Jade took a deep breath and swallowed. She'd let that one go on far too long. But, gods, it had seemed for all the galaxy that he'd been about to break free. Until the very end, she'd been sure he'd be able to act, even in the face of disaster. But she was pushing too hard. Too much, too fast. He'd been able to make decisions when he hadn't wanted to, when all options were poor ones. He'd had the sense to put mistakes and second thoughts on hold, to acknowledge them and tell them to wait for a more opportune time. That should have been enough for one session.

It had been a judgment call, a matter of seconds. She could have - should have - stopped the simulation just before the final decision-point, just before he would have had to execute an assault, unarmed, on a Klingon anti-personnel vehicle. There'd been no excuse other than impatience for pushing him so far.

She'd read in the trade journals of cases in which patients had been utterly destroyed by watching themselves fail in life-or-death situations. That was why psycho-cin therapy was so dangerous. But desperate times, she told herself, require desperate measures. She doubted there'd be any permanent damage. Jim had been through worse than this, frightening though that thought was. It didn't excuse her poor judgment, but it was hopeful for him. We'll see, she thought, after he's rested.

Dealing with instants when there's no time to consider things fully. Not letting regrets and second thoughts get in the way. Handling fear and grief, your own and others' - or rather, not handling it, making it wait, keeping your mind clear when you're confused and under a sensory overload. She had to give Jim back these skills. They were required of a starship captain.

And of a therapist. She almost smiled as she started shutting down the equipment. Who was really in therapy here?

| O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O |

Jim Kirk had been on Jude for just over ten months. The hospital planet was named Jude in honor of an ancient Terran religious figure, the Roman Catholic Saint Jude, the patron of lost causes. While Elba colony was for the criminally insane, Jude's patients were merely hopeless.

Jade firmly refused to give that label to Jim, had refused since the day he'd been brought back. He'd spent a year in Earth's past via the Guardian of Forever, after being abducted and mind-sifted by Klingons. His broken mind had, even there, even in the primitive, barbaric conditions found in mid-20th century ‘asylums’, begun to heal itself. Yet with nothing familiar to cling to, Jim had constructed a docile, vacillating, insecure persona. Not his real self, and not what was required for him to be released from Jude.

In the past ten months, Jade had worked steadily with him. Improvement there was - one only had to compare him now with the sobbing, clutching, helpless creature that had been admitted. Yet the daily, weekly evaluations were slow and slower and crawling. Which was why she'd pushed the psycho-cin therapy.

She glanced across the booth again. Jim's face was serene, untroubled in unconsciousness. She reflected wistfully that she'd never seen him look that way - even before the mind-sifter. Maybe, after all, that was the problem; not her pushing, and not the danger in psycho-cin therapy. A captain's responsibility never really ended, did it?

Or a therapists'.

| O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O |

Going out with Richard Novacek was always an unforgettable experience. They made a handsome couple: Jade, only five feet, two inches tall, thin, with her short, dark hair, porcelain skin and Asian features, and Richard, over six feet, slender but not frail-looking. His blue eyes were almost frightening in their intensity. His skin was pale, his features haughty and aristocratic, framed by shoulder-length, jet black hair with a fascinating streak of pure silver just over his left ear. Jade was twenty-three years old, Richard twenty-five.

He was interning at Freud Memorial Hospital in Vienna; Jade was doing research for Alterra University on using written fiction as a therapeutic technique. They'd been dating for several months. They got together at least once a week, whenever their schedules allowed. Richard would invariably have tickets to something; a play or art show, a concert or ballet. On this particular evening, Richard refused to talk about what he'd planned until they reached the theater. There, Jade halted, squinting suspiciously at the marquee.

"A psycho-cin? I've read about these things," she said.

Richard grinned. "Sounds like fun, no?"

She took a step back, contemplatively. "I'm not so sure. There are anecdotal reports of all sorts of bad reactions. One psychologist compared it to shoving your mind into a blender - along with some bricks and chicken wings and old holo tapes."

He laughed. "Graphic. This guy should write scripts for them."

"It's all over the trade journals."

"You should form your own opinions," he said, grabbing her arm. "Come on. Where’s your sense of adventure?"

She glanced around, feigning confusion. "I'm not sure. Maybe I left it in my other suit."

"With luck we'll find it in your bedroom. I'll loan you mine for now. Look, I’ve got tickets and it's too late for me to find another date. We've got nearly twenty minutes before the next show. Let's at least go in and sit down. You've still got time to back out."

The psycho-cinema was like a theater-in-the-round. A central cylindrical screen was surrounded by a hundred or so seats, each with its own probe/headset link. Patrons could, if they chose, affect the action on the screen merely by directing their thoughts via the headset. The cinema's computer selected which link to activate, judging by standardized plot lines, alternative scenarios and the relative intensity of the thoughts being directed into it.

Jade found her sense of adventure and, with only a little trepidation, put on the headset. Richard gave her a triumphant smile, his eyes gleaming avidly. His eyes always got that look in them when he expected some telling revelation. Jade wondered briefly what he hoped to learn.

The plot was a standard one, the action basic and uncomplicated. There were a limited number of variables, but within those variables the psyches of the patrons had free reign. Jade found herself enjoying the story, and enjoying more trying to guess what details came from which viewer. At one point she found herself thinking that a roguish smuggler should show up - and was surprised but pleased when one appeared in one of the subplots. Not to mention a touch embarrassed. By the time the story wound to its conclusion, Jade had decided that in their present form, psycho-cins were harmless entertainment.

Of course, with some refinements, the technology could be useful - or as dangerous as the doom-sayers of her chosen profession predicted. She was voicing her opinion as she and Richard left the theater.

Richard, however, was strangely silent. He was a temperamental man, given to sudden, unpredictable mood swings, but Jade hadn't yet seen him so subdued and withdrawn. He refused to discuss the show until halfway through dinner. Jade, trying to get him to talk in utterances more sophisticated than monosyllabic grunts, asked, "What would you like to do next weekend?"

Richard shrugged. "We’ll see," he said. "I make things up as I go along."

Encouraged, Jade ventured, "Make anything up this evening?"

He looked at her sharply, nearly spilling his wine. "Nice try, shrink. You're about as subtle as a bull Klingon in heat."

"No need to get nasty. Just trying to draw you out a little."

"Well, don't. Did I notice your touch in that pirate with the eyepatch?"

Jade flushed. "Studies have shown that nearly everyone has a bit of a romantic streak..."

"Thought he looked a little like me."

"I was sorry to see him go. They had to get rid of him, I suppose, to keep the plot moving..."

"Can't hold things up just for girlish fantasies."

"I guess not. But suicide?" She shuddered. "I really didn't think that fit."

"Some things are unavoidably pre-programmed and might not go with the audience's additions. Can't be helped."

Jade chewed silently for a while, then asked, "But come on. Did you add anything or didn't you?"

He stared at her for a beat. Then he nodded. "Monsters," he said.

Jade frowned. "There weren't any monsters."

"Yes there were. You weren't watching."

| O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O |

Looking back on it, of course, there had been monsters. Subtle monsters, predictive monsters. If only she'd seen...

Jade quickly pushed that thought aside. She couldn't afford to dwell on her past mistakes. Not now, not when this effort was so important. She couldn't fail. She wouldn't.

She asked for orderlies to help Jim back to his room, and went to her quarters to prepare the latest slow, slower, crawling progress report.

| O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O |

The Admiral's office was done up in lots of leather and mahogany, conspicuously opulent. Over the last few months, Jade had grown to despise the elaborately casual woodwork, the massive, imposing desk, and the uncomfortable straight-backed visitor's chair that she was always asked to sit in. It was all quite obviously designed to evoke the same feeling as when one is in grammar school and is called into the principal's office on some grave infraction of The Rules. Jade detested that kind of manipulative game. What was most galling was that, in spite of seeing through the game, in spite of being a trained professional who should be immune, it worked.

Jade sat absolutely still, determined not to squirm uncomfortably in the detention chair, refusing to let her fingers fidget nervously. Her breathing was controlled, her voice calm, her facial muscles relaxed. The techniques she'd picked up on Vulcan still served a useful role.

Admiral Baker was seated behind his desk muttering to himself as he paged through Jade's latest report. This was another part of the game, of course. There could be no doubt that he'd already gone over the report in detail before calling Jade into his office. Baker liked underlings to be kept nervously waiting. It tended to put them off their game.

Finally Baker looked up. "Not a promising synopsis," he declared.

Jade knew better than to argue with him. instead, she put on her best psychoanalyst's voice and said, "What does that mean to you?"

"I'm very tired of waiting for progress, Dr. Han"

"Do you often find yourself becoming impatient?"

He scowled and shifted his huge, muscular frame. The cushioned leather recliner groaned under the movement. "I expect results, Doctor. That's why we're here."

"Of course it is," she said, letting her voice fill with compassion and understanding. "But you mustn't be so hard on yourself."


"To be frank," she went on helpfully, "it does seem that your attitude could be interfering with your progress. Don't you think so?"

He blinked. "We're talking about Kirk!"

"Oh," Jade said, looking surprised. "That patient."

Baker shook his head, exasperated. "It often seems that you are purposely uncooperative, Doctor."

"Is it important to you to feel in charge all the time?"

"Every week your so-called progress reports say substantially the same thing. All you do is change the dates."

"Do you find it difficult to accept another's evaluation of a given situation?"

Baker stared at her with a gaze intended to be intimidating. "Dr. Han, we've been on this project for many months now..."

That did it. There were some things Jade simply wouldn’t put up with. She rose from her chair, matching his stare. "This isn’t a ‘project’, Admiral. This is a man's life, a man's mind you’re talking about. It's a very delicate and complex thing..."

Baker leaned back, apparently satisfied at having provoked her. "And I don't see it improving. In your last psycho-cin test..."

"James did very well. Less than..."


Damn. "Less than one person in a million could--"

"That's still not good enough for a starship captain. His reaction was totally inappropriate."

"Wrong." Jade pounded her fist on the desk for emphasis. "Wrong, wrong, wrong! He gave an inappropriate response in five - only five - psychological scores out of a field of nearly forty--"

Baker picked up the statboard and started paging through the report again, as if looking for that particular bit of information. His mumbling started up once more.


The mumbling grew louder, as if to drown out Jade's voice. She tapped the statboard.

"Admiral! Every element of that test was carefully designed to look for particular levels of..."

"I'm familiar with sim-test theory, Doctor."

"Three months ago, even the thought of a Klingon vehicle would have evoked a panic response. Five months ago, he was unable to look at a Starfleet uniform. Here, he was able to deal with the responsibilities of command, the unavoidability of error and tragedy, the sudden and unexpected change from a relaxed situation to a state of emergency..."

"I can read..."

"...the distraction of personal and physical contact, the restrictions of limited information..."

"I understand your point, Doctor."

Jade grabbed the board, slamming it to the desk. "And you have the gall to question our progress?"

Baker regarded her impassively. "This is taking a long time..."

"Only because you're so dense! I've explained this many times before!"

"Calm yourself, Doctor. I wasn't referring to this meeting."

"I know damn well what you were referring to."

"I expect this project--"

"He’s not a goddamned project!"

Baker stood. "Doctor Han," he thundered, "I've put up with an awful lot of abuse and insubordination from you. We are both still Fleet officers, and I am your superior. I expect you to remember that in the future."

Jade stood very still, getting her turbulent emotions under control. When she spoke, her voice was a controlled monotone. "Very well, sir. I’ll play it your way. Captain Kirk is also a Fleet officer, and a very valuable one. I do not think we can afford to lose him--"

"You are not in charge of Fleet personnel deployment," Baker interrupted, re-seating himself.

"...and even if we could, it would be a tragedy to waste - to destroy such a capable mind."

"Destroy? We aren't responsible for the actions of his Klingon captors."

"But we are responsible for our own. Sins of omission are as real as those of commission. It's no different from what happened to Turing..."


"Alan Turing." Baker's face was blank. Jade sighed and sat down. "An old case history. A Terran hero from three centuries ago who was destroyed by the bungling psychiatry of his day. The point is that whatever we do or don't do, we are responsible for Jam-- Captain Kirk's health. We are responsible for his life, and for his mind. You've hinted several times that you would like to 'terminate' this 'project' for lack of progress. That would be a very ugly thing to do, Admiral. I would respectfully request that you desist in these - threats. Sir."

Baker glowered at her for several seconds. Finally he said, "You aren't the only one under pressure, Doctor." He paused, then leaned back again. "That will be all."

Jade stood and silently left the office. It hadn't gone at all well. But then, she hadn't expected it to.

| O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O |

Back in her quarters, Jade's comscreen told her there was a message waiting from Robyn Thomas. Robyn was a technician in charge of maintaining the equipment Jade was using in James' therapy. Much of the circuitry was experimental, as was most everything on Jude, and there were constant changes and enhancements. Robyn took a great deal of pride in describing - in loving detail - all the latest wizzgigs and whirlybangs. Jade wasn't in the mood, and she filed the message for later retrieval.

There was no reason to let Baker get to her like this. James really was doing spectacularly well. Why did Baker refuse to see that? Why did he insist on trying to push, push all the time? It made no sense. He'd been stationed on Jude long enough to know that such things could't be rushed. Why was he being such a bastard about it?

The answer, of course, was obvious. James was doing spectacularly well -- for an ordinary man. For the starship captain that he had been, his progress was depressingly slow. Jade did not want to think about that.

She filled her pipe from her pouch of Rigellian.

| O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O | O |

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