A steady winter drizzle soddened the redbrick courtyard of Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco, just as it had for most of the last three days. And thanks to a stalled high pressure system on the other side of the Rockies, there was no immediate hope for relief. Twenty-two stories above the courtyard, the view was no less wet, but much more spectacular as the spires of the Old City and the Golden Gate lay draped in a blanket of fog.
Lieutenant Kimberly Adams, senior aide to Starfleet's highest admiral, sipped her first cup of morning coffee and watched the raindrops make slalom patterns on her window. It would be at least an hour before the rest of the office arrived, time enough for Lieutenant Adams to organize her day. The admiral, of course, had come in long ago and was probably half-way through the morning paperwork she always left on his desk as her last duty of the day. Even now, with just a few more weeks to go until his retirement, people who didn't know him as well as she did accused him of never leaving the office. She glanced at the time, then made her way to the food dispenser slot in the wall.
Tea, Earl Grey ... hot, she said. As she waited, she turned through the files in her hand, mentally marking their importance for the admiral. Then, teacup in hand, she walked to the heavy old-fashioned wooden doors that separated the suite of the head of all Starfleet from the rest of the world.
Admiral, she called, her hands full, unable to knock. Good morning, Admiral ...
She balanced the tea on top of the folder, knocked lightly. Receiving no answer, she gently opened the door and peeked in.
The room was empty but it caused her no alarm. Lately the admiral spent as much time upstairs as he did here. She walked to the massive oak desk and carefully placed the folder and the teacup in their usual places. Then she touched her communicator which responded with a predictable chirp.
Better view from up there, Admiral?
Several miles above her head, from his private suite on SPACEDOCK ONE, Fleet Admiral Jean-Luc Picard stepped back from the window and smiled. He placed his teacup on the desk.
Good morning, Kimberly. You always manage to track me down.
After four years together, sir, I've become a pretty good bloodhound -- if I do say so myself.
Was it as long ago as that? Picard pictured the young Academy graduate who had just come to work for the highest officer in Starfleet. Shed been too nervous to even salute correctly. During the last four years, she had matured as an officer and her future looked promising, indeed.
Ill lay odds you have an armful of work for me to do...am I right?
Youd win that bet, Admiral. Would you have it any other way? she smiled.
Picard winced. Touche, Lieutenant. Will you bring it up or should Starfleets ranking admiral come to you?
I'm on my way, Sir ... and by the way, you wont want to miss your lunch appointment today. There was a conspiratorial tone to her voice.
Lunch appointment? Just how are we going to fit a lunch appointment into all the things happening today, Picard wondered? He started to ask but was interrupted by the familiar sound of a Starfleet scramsporter whining a few feet in front of his desk. Scramsporter technology was a recent improvement thus far installed in only a few locations. Not only did it reduce a person to his component atoms, it scrambled the carrier beam on one end and unscrambled it on the other. All this took a little longer, but provided transporter capability in areas where they were usually banned for security reasons. Personally, Picard loved it. It meant freedom from shuttlecraft and made his Spacedock suite a practical option for escaping the confines of a planet-bound desk assignment.
As a shadowy form began to materialize on the scrampad, Picards glance fell on the cup and saucer on the corner of his desk. His eyes shot wide; he flew into action. Darting around the desk, he seized the cup and downed its contents. Just as quickly, he stashed them in a drawer and assumed a look of utter innocence.
Then, he was no longer alone. Lieutenant Adams stepped off the platform, her arms full of folders. On top she delicately balanced a full cup and saucer.
Here you are, Admiral, she said, carefully placing them on the desk. I thought you might like a cup of tea.
Thank you, Kimberly, I would indeed, he said leafing through the stack of folders. What have we here?
Those are mostly old files up for routine declass review, Admiral. There are no real surprises except for one entitled Planet X thats EYES ONLY for you. I had to sign in about twelve places and pick up the file access card personally. File access cards, or FACs, allowed entry to classified information files stored in Starfleet vaults.
Whoever sealed that one wanted it buried for a while. Those files and your scheduled appointments should keep you from being too bored before lunch, sir. She went about the room collecting documents from their respective work piles.
Picard took his reading glasses from a drawer, picked up a folder and, leafing through it, walked to the edge of the glass -- clearsteel, actually -- his back to the rest of the room. High above him, etched in huge letters, was a message left by a previous tenant:
All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by...
Once at the window, Picards eyes were drawn to the reason he spent so much time in Spacedock. One of his pet projects was being finished right before his eyes, and in less than a week he would christen Starfleet's newest vessel, the USS Liberty. In many ways, the gleaming white Liberty was a first and a last of her kind. She was the last of the Galaxy-class cruisers to be built and now was being completely rebuilt with a fantastic leap in technology. Though she had yet to prove it on her shakedown cruise, the USS Liberty was designed to traverse the entire length (or breadth) of United Federation territory in just under five standard days. And the same power breakthroughs that brought such speed also were channelled into the shield and weapons systems. It was comforting to think that her weapons may never be used since her shields were almost totally impenetrable by known weaponry. Ironically, it was an extension of the technology developed to defeat the Borg which brought about these remarkable advances. Since assuming command of Starfleet, Picard had personally fought hard for research, development and the advancement of those minds within the Federation who could see tomorrow and bring it a step closer to today. The Liberty was the culmination of that fight. He was proud.
And rightly so, he said, snapping himself out of his reverie and returning to the file he held.
I beg your pardon, Admiral? Adams started.
Oh, Kimberly ... Im sorry, he broke in, I'm afraid I was deep in thought. Did you say something? Picard looked at her expectantly.
No, Sir, I ... uh ...Will there be anything else, Admiral? she asked.
He smiled warmly. No, I dont believe so. He looked up from the files. I've got quite enough work here to keep me busy all morning. That will be all, Lieutenant. Picard turned his back to her and, facing the glass, lowered his head as if reading. That should be an obvious enough dismissal, he thought as she stepped onto the scrampad. A second later she stepped down and sneaked over to his desk.
Peering into the clearsteel over the rims of his glasses, he smiled as she quietly pulled the top left drawer open, took out his secret cup and saucer and returned to the pad. As the scramsporter whine began, his smile broke into a grin. She too had been smiling as she disappeared. Theyd been playing these I-know-she-knows-I-know games with each other for almost four years now. He would miss her when he retired -- she kept him on his toes.
Then he stopped. He knew the reason for her smile. Shed managed to leave without filling him in on the details of his lunch appointment today. Mark one for Kimberly Adams, he thought and, pulling his jacket straight, sat down to begin work.
Ten minutes until the morning SITREP, Admiral, she said. He glanced at the chrono.
Thank you, Kimberly, I shall be down presently. The screen went black. Daily Situation Reports or SITREPs on the status of Starfleet operations throughout the Federation were one of the duties that went along with the job. It was a double edged sword for the former captain of the Enterprise. On the one hand, Picard stood with his hand on the throttle of everything that happened within Federation territory. But on the other hand, the really exciting part was performed by those commanders actually on the scene, who, when they did report in, usually told of situations already resolved or about to be. And the really interesting reports, the ones that came from the fringes of known space from vessels such as his former charge, took so long to arrive that any direction he might give would be hopelessly out of date by the time it reached its destination. Nonetheless, the morning SITREP was a highlight of his day and he looked forward to it.
Picard stood and picked up the only file left. It was the mysterious Planet X file. He had made it his first priority, but for all his effort, could not get past the security seal. Though his curiosity was piqued, he no longer had time to indulge it. He walked over to the wall safe.
Identify: Retina scan, Picard, Jean-Luc, Fleet Admiral, Starfleet Command, he said. A beam of red light radiated from the prism lens directly into Picards eye. He remained perfectly still for the several seconds it took to painlessly complete its function.
IDENTITY CONFIRMED, ACCESS GRANTED.
The heavy door opened and Picard waited the second-and-a-half for the energy shield to deactivate, then placed the folder inside.
Lieutenant Adams looked up from her desk at the little round admiral with the three stars trying to look busy as he waited for his commander to arrive. He had examined every picture in the room and was now pacing back and forth, gesturing as if speaking to someone or rehearsing a speech. He felt her watching him and their eyes met. She smiled and glanced at the chrono.
He should be here any second, Adm-- She was cut off by the whine of the scramsporter.
Picard stepped from the scrampad and began walking towards the door, collecting his colleague, who fell into step alongside as he went past. Good morning, Marc, he said. Not waiting long, I hope. Wearing holes in the carpet, no doubt.
Not long, Jean-Luc, but I do have several things to speak with you about before the briefing this morning. You see there are these constant supply difficulties on the outer rim ...
As they passed Lieutenant Adams desk, Picard winked surreptitiously at her and then adopted a concerned look and shook his head sympathetically at the fat little supply admirals torrent of worries.
Another day, another credit, she sighed, watching them walk down the hall. Nothing exciting ever happens around here.
It was past noon, San Francisco time, and Kimberly Adams was feeling quite satisfied with herself. She had managed to keep the Admirals lunch guest a total secret until he walked into the office. Then she and Captain Data, one of Starfleets finest officers, who just happened to be an android, had beamed directly up to the spacedock suite. Picard had been nose deep in last-minute requisition requests for the Liberty, and looked up in amazement to see his old friend step down from the scrampad.
Data! What a pleasant surprise! Picard had stood, removing his reading glasses. But the Lexington isnt due back for a week yet!
I felt it prudent to return for our lunch date, Admiral. Data said, extending his hand. Picard shook it vigorously then stood a pace back and looked the android up and down.
You havent aged a day -- not even a gray hair. Picard fought to keep from smiling, then gave up.
You have not acquired any gray hairs, either, Admiral. Data said in total seriousness. Then he had turned his head mock mechanically, winked one eye at Lieutenant Adams and broke into a grin that would have been the pride of a Cheshire cat.
The effect had reduced both humans to laughter. As Adams had turned to leave, she heard the admiral say, So, three years on patrol with Lady Lex. How does she compare to the Enterprise?
That was more than ninety minutes ago. She was about to call and remind the admiral of his afternoon appointments when she looked up to see a man standing at her desk. He was middle aged, but rather well-preserved and his eyes sparkled as he smiled down at her. He looked familiar somehow, but it was his uniform that caught her attention. Outside of the Academy Museum she hadnt seen one like it. Had he been decked out in North American Civil War Cavalry garb he couldnt have looked more out of place.
May I help you ... Captain? she ventured, eyeing the foreign-looking braid on the cuff of his sleeve.
Yes, you certainly may, uh ... Lieutenant. He guessed, squinting at the collar rank she wore. I'm here to see the director of Starfleet, Admiral ... uh, Admiral ... uh, ... I dont suppose youd care to help out with Admiral-whom, would you?
She stared at him suspiciously. Do you have an appointment? she asked, knowing damned well he didnt.
Uh ... well, he is expecting me, he began.
Who is expecting you? she prodded, baiting the hook. He bit.
Admiral, uh. ... Admiral -- do we really have to go through this again? His eyes pleaded for a little sympathy.
It didnt work. She shook her head warily and began to reach under the desk for the intruder-alert button reserved for situations just like this one. The tone of his voice stopped her.
Please dont do that. Im unarmed ... see? He raised his hands and turned around once in place. I mean no harm to anyone. But I do need to speak with the Director of Starfleet. I promise you -- its very important.
She saw those eyes, the disarming smile and the casual way he carried authority as though he were used to it and knew how to use it. She smiled back; a get-tough smile.
It may be important, Captain. She narrowed her eyes. But no one gets past this desk without an identity and weapons scan unless I know them personally. Agreed? Because if not, you can just turn around and--
Okay, okay! he said, raising his hands. Scan away. Then, under his breath, But youd better be ready for what you get.
What was that?
She eyed him warily, then started, Computer.
Weapons and identity scan, this office, all unknown subjects.
WEAPONS STATUS: NEGATIVE.
Then, IDENTITY SCAN: SUBJECT IS NOT IDENTIFIED IN FEDERATION PERSONNEL DATABASE.
She folded her arms and looked straight at him. It seems you dont exist...Captain, she challenged.
Picard dropped a napkin on his plate and pushed back from the table. Data, did I understand you earlier to say you returned home early for our lunch date?
Admiral, Data began, Since this will evolve into much more than merely a luncheon appointment, and since I was and am a primary player in the past and upcoming situation, it was imperative that the Lexingtons scheduled return date be altered that I might attend.
Picard looked at him in confusion. Im afraid I dont quite follow you, Mr Data, he said.
Now Data looked confused. Then his face brightened, Ahh, ... follow. As in comprehend, understand, make out, take in ... Picard waited patiently. ... catch, conceive, grasp or fathom. He took a breath. Please allow me to explain, Sir.
I would be most grateful. And, Mr Data ...
... the abbreviated version, if you would.
As you wish, Admiral. To begin, I believe you are in possession of an EYES ONLY FAC on the subject of Planet X. Data cocked his head and eyed his former captain expectantly.
Yes, for all the good it does me. I am unable to gain access to it. Picards eyebrows dipped as he remembered his frustration of several hours ago. The FAC would not grant access to the file without a dual retina scan. A highly unusual circumstance, but one that was normally workable -- except that the required second retina in this case belonged to a man who had been dead for more than a hundred years: James T. Kirk.
But how in blazes could you know that?
I believe that will become evident, Sir. The android paused and looked over at the chrono. It read 12:42. Data readied his hand over his communicator pin. May I?
Picard nodded, his curiosity piqued.
Lieutenant Adams, If Captain Kirk is prepared, Fleet Admiral Picard will see him now, Data said as Picards mouth dropped open, then closed abruptly.
Kirk. folded his arms right back and stared at Adams. Youre using the wrong database, Lieutenant. May I? he asked.
She dipped her head and waved her hand invitingly. Be my guest.
He smiled that smile again, looking into her eyes.
Computer, include all known Starfleet personnel -- living ... and dead.
There was about a five-second delay as the computer considered its new instructions. Then ...
IDENTITY SCAN CONFIRMED: KIRK, JAMES T., SERIAL NUMBER: SIERRA CHARLIE NINE THREE SEVEN, ZERO ONE SEVEN SIX CHARLIE ECHO CHARLIE. SIGNIFICANT CAREER DATA: ASSIGNED CAPTAIN, N-C-C ONE SEVEN ZERO ONE: U-S-S ENTERPRISE, FROM STARDATES 2/0704 UNTIL 2/1204. INCLUSIVE. PROMOTED TO ADMIRAL STARDATE 2/1207 ASSIGNED: DIRECTOR STARFLEET ACADEMY ...
An astonished Lieutenant Adams held up her hand. I think that's sufficient, computer; I know his history.
Kirk looked disappointed. I was just getting into it, he said.
Datas voice came over the comm. Lieutenantt Adams, If Captain Kirk is prepared, Fleet Admiral Picard will see him now.
Kirk raised both eyebrows and walked past the beleaguered Adams to the scrampad.
Picard ...? he said. ... small universe.
©1989 Stephanie Holcombe and Steve Zachar