Jim Kirk looked up from the datapadd he was scanning, glancing across the table to try to meet the intrigued eyes of the man across from him. "What is it, Spock?" he asked curiously. The Vulcan probably uttered that word fifty times a day, but it had been a while since the captain had heard such bare excitement in his tone. And he was studying planetary politics, no less, not even astrophysics or another of his hobbies.
Spock glanced up, as if he hadn't realized that he had spoken, and then turned his monitor around to Kirk. "The Hegemon of the Escondid Alliance," he said. "He seems a most remarkable character."
Kirk's curiosity was even more piqued. It was quite rare for Spock to be impressed by anyone, much less a planetary ruler: experience for both of them had demonstrated that, like ambassadors, they tended to be arrogant, domineering, unscrupulous, and spoiled. Their recent mission assignment, to escort this Hegemon to his coronation, which was hosted on a neutral planet, had been greeted by both of them with something less than anticipation.
*Well, by me*, Kirk amended silently, smiling to himself. *Spock would die before admitting that he also can't usually stand these milk runs*. A little teasing was in order, he decided abruptly. "Remarkable, Spock?" he asked, grinning. "Doesn't that have unfortunate emotional connotations?"
The Vulcan arched an eyebrow. "Captain," he said, scandalized. "The thought would never occur to me. I was merely commenting, quite logically of course, on the fact that the Hegemon seems rather out of the ordinary compared to our usual experience with planetary rulers and the like."
In perfect imitation of his friend, Jim raised his eyebrow and nodded. "I see," he intoned. "And of course it was your logical duty to remark upon this discrepancy so that I might be further prepared for our mission."
"Of course. What other motivation were you thinking of ascribing?"
Jim dropped the eyebrow, giving up. "None at all," he said, grinning more widely than before. "Lemme see what's got you so riled up."
Spock keyed his monitor without comment, letting Kirk see the data for himself. It was taken from the Infonets, he realized. Of course; Spock had already, in his duties as science officer, thoroughly read all the information * Fleet* had to offer about the Hegemon. Clearly something had provoked him to look further. The article in question was from one of the more reputable newspapers. It was an interview with the Hegemon -- an interview which, Kirk gathered from the blurb at the front -- was exceedingly rare. Clearly the man wasn't much for publicity. The captain skimmed over the article, realizing as he did so that it would take him at least 15 minutes to read the entire thing. It was a comprehensive interview.
"I don't want to read it all, Spock," he said finally. "What's so interesting about this guy?" He, too, had read everything Starfleet had sent about the man and the situation, and found little to warrant such interest. Admittedly, the Hegemon had seemed interesting, though the information on him was slight. His parents killed in a skirmish when he was 10, the boy had run away from the state-run orphanage he had been placed in. Apparently Escondid was a violent world. The boy had then dropped out of sight entirely -- no mean feat in a civilization where privacy was even rarer than in Starfleet. He was next seen five years later as an intern in a small government office, where he began solving crisis after crisis, in capacities official and unofficial, gaining in power with each one. The two races of the Escondid, usually highly polarized, were unanimous in their approval of the man as the new Hegemon: most people predicted that he would usher in an era of unparalleled peace and prosperity. He was only 22.
Interesting, indeed, but not so exceptional. In many ways, his career mirrored that of other impressive rulers, from Hitler to the Regent of Zhin. Kirk said as much, wishing to know the root of Spock's unique interest.
"Indeed, so I thought at first as well," Spock acknowledged. "However, these articles -- and much of the other information on the Infonets, which goes beyond a factual account of his history to what people think about him -- add much to the picture of his character."
Jim grinned again. "I thought you didn't pay attention to rumors," he said, baiting the Vulcan.
"It is illogical to ignore personal assessments of an individual's character when compiling information about that person," Spock said, cocking an eyebrow, challenging his captain. "A fact which you are surely aware of."
"Yes, and I call it listening to gossip," Jim needled.
"On the contrary -"
Kirk waved his hands. "Peace, peace," he said. "I'm sorry, Spock, we're getting off track. Tell me what about this Hegemon is so fascinating to you."
Letting himself be diverted, Spock took up the conversation. "The writers of these articles are uniformly approving, as is expected," he began. "Yet almost all of them do not know what to make of the man. He reputedly spends very little time on afffairs of state, only the minimum necessary. He does not hold banquets, celebrations, and the like unless absolutely required, and never attends formal social occasions hosted by others."
"Sounds like a man after your own heart," Kirk interjected, but waved Spock to continue, not waiting for a response. He, too, was intrigued.
Spock obliged. "He is reputed to be enormously literate and intelligent, speaking the 3 of the main languages of his planet, as well as Standard, fluently, and able to converse with anyone on nearly any subject with an unusual facility. I doubted the veracity of such claims, until I noticed the following facts. He has no science advisor, yet has already suggested environmental and technological policy for Escondid that is literally decades ahead of its time. Additionally, he has authored two papers for Federation science journals, a feat that is quite unheard of in light of the fact that he is not currently, nor never has, engaged in research at the professional level." He paused. "The papers are theoretical rather than experimental physics, that is true, but that does little to diminish the magnitude of the accomplishment."
"Good lord, he sounds like a scientist, not a ruler!" Jim said, astonished. He knew that many reputable scientists from major research centers often waited years to produce results that were worth publishing. A thought struck him. "Have you read his articles?"
"Only one, Jim," Spock recalled. "I was struck by its... distinctiveness. His ideas were unstructured, clearly lacking in depth in some ways -- not surprising, considering he is largely self-taught -- yet highly original, creative, and thought-provoking. Were he to attend an institution like the Vulcan Science Academy, for example, I would not be surprised in the least to see him making some major discoveries in a few years."
"So what is he doing running a planet?" Jim asked.
Spock cocked an eyebrow at him. "That was precisely my question," he said. "Yet he seems to have garnered an enormous following, albeit not deliberately, one that is unmatched by any other statesman. In some ways, he is one of the only hopes for planetary peace, and he undoubtedly knows that. And he has a documented ability to persuade even the most reluctant to follow him." He paused. "I believe you know how difficult that can be."
Without waiting for Jim to answer, he continued. "Most interestingly, in my opinion, he has had no formal higher education, no close friends of any sort, and if anyone knows more about him than is apparent in these articles, that person is well hidden. In spite of this, he is enormously popular. He is protrayed as unfailingly polite and personable, yet utterly opaque. One of the interviewers asked him what he did in his spare time, hoping I am sure to get some personal comment out of him, and he said -- and I quote -- 'I read. At least for now. I don't know what I'm going to do in a couple of years when I finish everything in the library that's worth reading.'"
Spock paused for a beat. "There are over 150,000 volumes in Escondid's main library, Jim, though I do not know how many of those he would consider 'worth reading.' But I do not believe he was making a claim out of mere bravado. Literacy is not highly valued on Escondid, so he would gain nothing by inflating the degree of his own."
Kirk was silent for a moment. Then he reached for the monitor again. "I think I changed my mind," he said. "I *will* read this whole article."
Spock nodded. "I.. am very much looking forward to meeting the Hegemon," he suggested. "If only to separate fact from fiction."
Jim nodded, then met Spock's eyes. "Same with me," he said. *If
only to watch you with him*, he added silently. Spock might deny it, but he
*did* sound like a man after both of their hearts.
*He's just a boy*, he thought, then immediately felt old. He reminded himself hastily that the Hegemon *was*, after all, 22 years old, a fact he had been aware of even before he saw the young leader in front of him. Kirk didn't know why he was so surprised, but he guessed that after hearing of his accomplishments, he had subconsciously attributed that to the deeds of an older man. An older, slightly introverted, slightly bookish man.
The Hegemon was clearly neither of those. His face could have been handsome, if not for the jagged scar slicing down one side. The Escondids were an incredibly powerful, thick-skinned, squat people, and their Hegemon was no exception. Though smaller than Jim by at least a head, he looked strong, and Jim would have been close to placing bets on him in a fight. *Of course,* he realized, *in a culture that values power as much as Escondid's, he'd have to be enormously strong to win their respect.* The Hegemon stood squarely, facing Kirk without blinking or smiling, openly taking everything in and somehow communicating both a delight in his surroundings and a steadfastness of purpose for his mission.
With few exceptions, he was one of the most *there* people Kirk had ever met.
The captain stepped forward, carefully meeting the Hegemon's eyes. They measured each other up, not unfriendly, before Kirk said, "On behalf of myself and my senior staff, Hegemon, we'd like to welcome yourself and your people to the *Enterprise*."
The Hegemon nodded formally, then smiled, a faint, wintery amused look. His eyes met Kirk's. "Thank you for your hospitality, Captain."
Kirk stepped back. "Let me introduce you to my senior officers," he suggested. "This is Mr. Spock, ship's First Officer and Science Officer, and Dr. McCoy, our physician, and Mr. Scott, our chief engineer."
The Hegemon's piercing gaze touched each of them as mentioned, returning to Spock when Kirk finished. "You published an article in the last issue of * Principia Physica*, didn't you?" he asked curiously.
Cocking his head, Spock nodded. "That is correct," he stated. "As did yourself."
The Hegemon grinned suddenly, transforming his face from powerful yet stark to surprisingly beautiful. Kirk suddenly understood how this mere boy could generate such a following. "You've found me out," he was saying. "I had some questions for you, though, on the method you employed to determine the quantum mechanical correlations for -"
Behind him, one of the Escondid staff stirred, clearing his throat. The Hegemon stopped abruptly. "Oh, pardon me," he excused himself hastily. "I didn't mean to take up your valuable time with my little hobbies. My staff is a bit fatigued from our travel thus far, and they would perhaps be interested in finding their quarters."
Kirk noticed that with his words his staff, almost to a man, changed expressions from polite boredom to almost worshipful agreement. For what? Securing them quarters? But the captain cleared his throat, saying, "Of course. We have accomodations prepared, if you will follow Mr. Scott?"
The entourage turned to go, following their leader as he stepped down from the transporter pad. Waving them on, he stopped momentarily in front of the captain. He started to speak, then hesitated. "I have a bit of a favor to ask, Captain," he said.
Curious and curiouser. "We will be glad to fulfill any of your needs we can until we arrive at the site of your coronation," Kirk said reasurringly.
"Well, then..." He paused again, and Kirk reminded himself that for all his expertise, this man was still little more than a boy. "I've never been on a Federation starship before," he said finally. "Do you think it might be possible for me to visit the bridge sometime?"
The captain could feel Spock behind him raising an eyebrow. Kirk had an ironclad rule that no one whose presence was not absolutely essential -- well, beyond Dr. McCoy -- was to be on the bridge. He ran a ship, after all, not an entertainment cruiser. Yet he found himself saying, "I don't think that would be a problem at all."
The Hegemon thanked him, then turned to go.
"On one condition." Spock's eyebrow went up even more. Making deals with planetary rulers, no matter how friendly they seemed, was another thing the captain did not routinely do. But he was continuing. "My First Officer would very much like to discuss your recent articles with you," he stated. "You may visit the bridge on the condition that you agree to do so."
The Hegemon stared at him for a long time, then said softly. "Of course. I would have wanted to in any case." Then, just as softly, he left the room.
Jim began to grin. This was going to be a *fascinating* mission.
"Evening, Mr. Spock," he said, smiling tiredly. "Long time no see."
The Vulcan cocked his head. "On the contrary, captain, both of us have maintained quite functional visual processing systems until now," he suggested, maneuvering his lithe form into the seat across from Jim. He paused. "Unless, of course, you are suffering from some complaint. Should I call Dr. McCoy?"
At Kirk's horrified expression, he let up, taking pity. "Though it *has* been 2.5 days since we have had the chance to interact outside the line of duty."
Jim nodded. "The Hegemon's been keeping you busy, eh?"
"I believe he has been keeping all of us busy, as you say," Spock pointed out. "You yourself are so exhausted you can hardly eat your salad."
Jim grinned despite himself, lightening up his tired, burnished features. "No kidding. In the space of few days I've demonstrated 15 different physical defense techniques, given him three bridge tours -- one for each shift -- and played two games of chess with him. Not to mention the normal captain-to- planetary-leader coaching stuff."
"Fascinating," Spock observed. "I wonder how often he sleeps."
"He's got to sometime, I don't see how he could keep up such a pace otherwise."
"True," the Vulcan conceded. "However, I myself have played a game of chess with him, had two quite intense scientific discussions with him and introduced him around the science labs. And I know for a fact that he was seen in engineering questioning Mr. Scott, as well as sickbay paying a visit to the doctor."
The captain laughed. "I bet Bones liked that," he said. "Probably one of the few times someone's come to sickbay voluntarily, when they're not injured."
"Indeed. Yet that is an extraordinary amount of activity for one man."
Jim nodded, his eyes resting on Spock's for a moment. "What do you think of him, Spock?"
The other paused, his own features becoming more pensive, more thoughtful. "He is... young, and therefore prone to the mistakes of inexperience. But he is very impressive," he stated finally. "I must conclude that, if anything, the articles we read about him understated his accomplishments rather than the reverse."
The captain nodded. "Yeah," he said. "He seems made for command."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "I was thinking more of the technical accomplishments," he said. "I fail to see how he could have achieved the depth of knowledge he has in theoretical physics while gaining power of a world, and without upper-level formal schooling."
"But with all that, he's very closed off," Kirk added. "I can't really get to know him."
There was a pause, then Spock dropped his eyes. "That is perhaps not so surprising," he suggested softly, thinking of himself.
The Vulcan looked up again.
"I know," Kirk continued more softly. "It's not really that surprising, especially given what we read about him. It's just... I don't know... I wish I *could* get to know him. He reminds me of ... I dunno, of ... someone. I can't think of who."
Spock almost raised his eyebrow at this. It was exceedingly rare for the captain to be so affected by any visitor, given such short contact. *Any non- female visitor, that is*, he amended to himself.
Yet he found himself agreeing. "I share your sentiment, Jim," he said finally. "He is a compelling individual." Kirk finally broke the pause with a thump of his hands on the table in front of him. "Oh well, what can we do?" he shrugged. "What say to a game of chess with someone *other* than the Hegemon?" he finally suggested wickedly. "I think I've had enough practice in the past few days to beat your pants off."
"My pants, sir? That would violate a number of Starfleet regulations." At Jim's look, he added hastily, "I would, however, welcome a game. If only to demonstrate that no such thing will occur."
"Great, then. 2200, normal place?"
Spock stood. "I shall be there." He turned to leave, then turned back. "And sir? In the meantime, I would advise rest. The Hegemon might not require it, but you do."
Jim's voice followed him out of the rec room. "Of course. What do you take me for, some guy who doesn't know his own limits? Give me a break..."
And Spock almost smiled himself.
And though it was illogical, Spock had to agree.
As he was doing right now. "I of course plan to win," the Vulcan stated unequivocally. "Though, as I stated before, I fail to see what pants -- or any other article of clothing -- has to do with it. It is merely dependent upon a logical, strategic progression of the pieces in such a way as to maximize the probability of isolating the opponent's king."
Kirk snorted. "That's not what you were saying when I beat you last time."
"That was exceedingly -" Spock began, then cut himself off as he realized what he had just heard. They had just entered the observation deck, and their conversation and the hiss of the door had combined, at first, to obscure the sound which now penetrated his consciousness. The sound of silent weeping.
Jim heard it, too, as soon as the Vulcan's words were cut off. Grabbing Spock's arm, he quietly pointed to the far corner. There, sillhouetted against the starfield, was the Hegemon. Turning in response to their intrusion, now.
The man casually wiped his eyes, not able to hide his desolate, downcast state, not bothering to explain it either. "Captain, Mr. Spock," he greeted. "Pardon me."
"We'll go," Kirk suggested, sensing his need for privacy, trying to urge the Vulcan out of the room by his elbow. But Spock hesitated. "Are you all right, Hegemon?" the Vulcan asked, finally.
Kirk dropped his arm. The Hegemon's brilliant eyes, now shinier with the coat of tears, slid off them both and to the stars of the observation deck. "I'm ok," he said softly to them, to the stars. It was a dismissal, yet Kirk had the momentary feeling that he didn't want them to go.
Daring to trust his intuition, he stepped forward. He could sense Spock at his back. "Uh, Hegemon?" he suggested. "There's no shame in talking about it, you know. That's what people are here for, sometimes."
The ruler said nothing. Jim could sense him struggling with himself, yet he gave no outward sign of conflict. At last he sighed and briefly flickered back to take in the two of them standing there. "Are you aware of how lucky you are?" he asked softly.
"Explain." Spock stepped forward, evening up with Jim.
The alien ruler waved his hand, encompassing the room, the stars, the surroundings. "This. You have all this. Challenge, discovery, adventure. Company."
"I was under the impression that you have that as well, if in a different form," Spock suggested softly. "The reunification of your planet is an incredible challenge and adventure. You have already made some incredible scientific discoveries, and I do not doubt that you will continue to do so. And as for company..." he trailed off.
At last the Hegemon turned to face them, putting the stars at his back. "I love my people," he said softly, "But I hate that life."
They were silent as his words fell harshly in the enclosed space. After a moment he turned back, saying, "Never mind, you wouldn't understand."
Kirk walked the rest of the way to him, gripping his shoulder. "I think I * do* understand," he said. "It is hard to be a leader of any type, much less one in your shoes. You must be all things, to everybody; you can't dare let your guard down to be yourself, for people don't want to be led by someone who has shown any form of weakness. And in spite of the adulation you receive, you're lonely, because there's no one you can turn to when *you* are looking for support."
Spock stepped up. "Additionally, you have a mind like very few I have encountered." At the Hegemon's involuntary blush, he added, "I was not trying to flatter you, only stating a fact. But the result is that, even notwithstanding your position as a leader, there are very few who can speak to you as an equal without being intimidated or threatened. And even fewer still who even think of you as someone to get to know as an individual rather than a ... hero."
The Hegemon used two shaky fingers to brush tears from his eyes, not looking at either of them. "Yeah," he said finally, shakily, turning to seek refuge in the stars. "That about covers it. And after a while, it's just so hard to fight."
"I was going to steal one of your shuttlecraft and escape today," he added, ignoring Kirk's carefully concealed look of surprise. "I would so much like to go somewhere that I'm not such an exception, that I can talk to people who * understand* me, that I can pursue my own dreams and not my people's."
He drew a ragged breath. "But then I realized I would be condemning my people to more hostility, maybe more war. And dragging the Federation in besides." He grinned without humor. "So you see, I am quite effectively trapped in my position. No one else can do it. And I care too much about my people to just leave."
Jim spoke into the silence. "You know, it *is* possible for you to eventually find someone who *can* understand you, share that burden a little. There's a lot of people in the Escondid Alliance, after all," he suggested, letting a trace of humor creep into his tone. "Surely at least *one* of them could see who *you* are."
The Hegemon inhaled sharply, painfully. "I wouldn't be so sure about that," he said. "Until just now, I was pretty certain there was *nobody* who could understand, even as much as you do."
"You think you are so impermeable?" Spock asked harshly all of a sudden. Jim winced at the tone, then mentally forcibly relaxed. *Spock knows what he's doing*, he told himself. The Hegemon blinked, then calmed as Spock continued more softly, though still with an edge. "I am very familiar with thoughts such as yours," he said simply. "I grew up thinking them, and followed a path that took me away from my people because of them."
The Hegemon blinked again. "You're saying you were wrong?"
Spock paused. "No, not precisely," he stated. "And I do not think I made the wrong choice. However, I believe that, for a time, these thoughts prevented me from noticing the potentialities that *were* out there. And are."
"What do you mean?"
"It is very easy to be so convinced of your separateness that you fail to notice when you are not, in fact, so different. Or to accept what is yours."
The ruler laughed bitterly. "No offense, Mr. Spock," he said, "but that's easy for you to say. You *have* someone who understands you. As do you, Captain Kirk." He looked at them both challengingly. "Right?"
They looked at each other. "Do you think we were just born with this?" Kirk finally asked.
Their auditor sighed again, looking out at the stars. "No," he said quietly. "But I think it's easy to make light of the situation. I love what I do, and I love my job, but I keep thinking that *that* -- and who I am -- condemns me to be lonely."
"Well, maybe," Kirk acknowledged. "But it's not as bad as you think. And it's a price you pay, for being who you are."
Spock spoke up. "I would say it is worth it."
They stood in silence for a while, and finally the Hegemon heaved a gusty sigh. "You're right," he said finally. "But I don't mind telling you that I wish I could take you two with me."
Kirk grinned. "That, I understand also."
The alien ruler turned to go, his shoulders hunching under the weight of a burden, lighter now but still very much felt. "Hegemon?" Jim called impulsively.
The other man turned back. "Call me Danien, Captain," he said. "My given name."
Jim nodded. "Good luck, Danien. I have no doubt you'll find whatever you look for."
The Hegemon nodded, slipping out. The two Starfleet officers turned toward the stars, chess momentarily forgotten.
"He was right," Spock said after a while. "We were making light of his situation. It will not be easy for him."
Jim shrugged. "We were, to an extent. But not entirely, I think." They fell silent once more. Then the captain spoke again. "I finally remembered who he reminded me of," he said.
"Who?" Spock turned to look at him.
Jim grinned. "You."
The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. "Interesting," he murmured. "I was thinking he reminded me of you."
Their eyes met, and held, for a long time.