ADVICE FROM AN OLD FRIEND
By Natasha Barry
Printed in BETWEEN FRIENDS (1989), edited 2022. Kirk remains on the Shore Leave planet and Gary Mitchell appears. Kirk/Spock, Kirk/Mitchell
James Kirk looked up from where he was sitting on the grass.
Gary Mitchell strolled around a boulder and nonchalantly perched on it.
Mitchell fingered the blades of delicate grass which peered over the splayed fingers of his hand.
“She went to get something.”
“What happened to you?”
Oh, right. He hadn’t changed clothes or cleaned up. “I met up with Finnegan.”
“Hope you beat the shit out of him.”
He couldn’t help it. He grinned. “I did. Haven’t felt so good in a long time.”
This wasn’t what he wanted at this time, Gary Mitchell, even though he’d been thinking about Gary after Ruth took off. She’d be back shortly, especially when he wanted her here, but she’d always resented Gary – his air of confidence, nonchalance, his brashness. . . his charismatic hold over Kirk.
“She’s an airhead. Uncomplicated, though, huh? You needed an airhead. You were too serious. I know what it’s like with spaced-out cadets. Had my fill of them. Pretty, but also inconsequential. You should forget her. I forget. You did forget her. You listened to me. I was right, wasn’t I? No regrets. But you should think of some new clothes to wear, or a bath or something. It’s unbecoming an officer.”
He was right, Gary was always right. That was the thing about Gary, the magic that Kirk held onto. It was why Kirk had no resistance where Gary was concerned.
“Gary, I’m sorry for what happened on Delta Vega. I try not to think about those days, ever. It’s so inadequate, I know. . . what happened. . .”
“Forget it, Kid.”
Gary was always the voice of experience. But Kirk had trouble meeting his eyes.
“I never understood why you called me Kid.”
“Not often, and not in front of others.” Gary adjusted his perch to leaning back on an elbow. “You outrank me. Spock was right, I told you. About killing me. You did the only thing you could. I would have killed you. I don’t understand that. How that could happen. And I sure as hell know your middle name doesn’t start with an R. Me and you. I wasn’t responsible either. Just one of those things. You knew I’d never harm you, not me, the real me. I’d die for you.”
“But you must have resented me. It’s the only explanation – motive – that fits what happened, how you turned. You wanted a command someday, but I already had it. Some of what happened, what influenced you, must have been fueled by resentment.”
“Sure, I wanted my own command. And I probably would have gotten it, once I calmed down a bit. I could be a bit boorish. Not truly command material. I had all the talent, and leadership qualities, except I could be a bit bitchy, and I should never be bitchy. But I liked being on the Enterprise with my best friend as my commander. I wasn’t in any hurry to leave. But until that time of that weird shock and transformation, I was more than happy looking out for Number One. . . you. It was never me, not ever.”
Kirk watched as Gary sighed and shrugged as if he had all the time in the world. But Gary had always been like that. Didn’t mean he wasn’t tense and coiled as a spring.
“All those years we served together. . . those four years the three of us were on the Enterprise, until we started that five-year all-inclusive mission. . . A lot of work, in addition to our patrol.”
“You weren’t there for that.” The correction came automatically. Maybe the computer system messed up, or he was messed up, but they’d barely gotten their orders for the five-year mission before Gary died, right on the cusp of it. “It was quite a repair job to the ship that visit to the edge, to get the ship in shape for the five-year run.”
“Spock’s looking out for you now, isn’t he? Taking my place.”
“He’s good at his job. He’s first officer, able to head Science and give me cold, hard advice.”
“What you needed after me, or because of me. I don’t know, Jim, even I couldn’t keep track of me. I was one thing, then another. I had no control and once it set in – that new me – it was instant, like nothing mattered except what I could create.”
He was there for all of it. His friend’s transformation had been frightening, exciting, and intimidating. But also put Kirk as the ship’s commander into a crisis he’d never faced before, that of sacrificing his closest friend or risk the ship and crew. He’d learned from the experience, he’d grown, and he’d faced the fact no one was indispensable.
At least Kirk was more relaxed than he’d been when Gary appeared, when he was expecting Ruth at any moment. His old girlfriend could stay away, now, and probably would since he wasn’t calling for her.
“Spock has to take care of you for both of us now.”
“I guess so.” He was curious as to what Gary was driving at.
Mitchell appeared ready to dress down his former captain. “You’ve been appreciating him, haven’t you? It’s his wish, you know, and yours too. I could see that. I was the stumbling block for him being your closest advisor. Of course, Vulcans don’t wish, do they? But this one’s not a full Vulcan.”
It was a likelihood Kirk had never considered. Yet Gary was only expressing Kirk’s own demands. This Gary was his creation. A simulation isn’t capable of independent thought.
“I used to watch him, watch you. Chess isn’t all that fascinating, not after you’ve learned your opponent’s moves.”
“What should I do?” Though he already knew, of course. This was old news, a comfortable situation, he and Gary exchanging words of wisdom.
“You’re a big shot. Go back to the ship and prove it. You’ve always been good on the field. When you come back, wake me and tell me about it. Spock owes me that. I want some shut-eye. Great little lake you came up with here, by the way. Reminds me of that one we used to go to.”
Gary was right. It was the same one. Was that why he hadn’t taken a dip?
His assignation with Ruth was promptly forgotten, as James Kirk signaled the Transporter Room to beam him up to the Enterprise.
Sometimes even a soldier must be prompted to act, even if only by a simulacrum.
“Hi, Spock,” Kirk hailed as he stepped toward the turbo lift on Deck Five. He waited for the Vulcan to catch up. “I just cleaned up. Want to have lunch?”
“I thought you were returning to the planet.”
“I came back to invite you to lunch. The crew lounge should be vacant, with most of the crew scattered on the planet. Are you busy?”
“Negative, Captain. I am pleased to keep you company.”
It wasn’t the most enthusiastic acceptance Kirk had ever heard. Regardless, they both turned in the direction of the turbo lift.
Kirk reminded him, “Weren’t you on your way to your quarters?”
“There is nothing of importance than can be accomplished with two-thirds of the crew off duty. I am concerned that you have returned from your leave unexpectedly. I trust that nothing upsetting has happened?”
First, Kirk gave the destination instruction to the turbo lift, then he responded. “Leave was great. You should come back down. You saw what a gorgeous place it is. And there’s enough there to satisfy even your scientific mind.”
“The Keeper has refused my request to investigate the machinations below the planet surface.”
“Wanting to keep all their secrets. We still don’t know who the species is that created this amusement park. We’re lucky the Keeper hasn’t taken exception to our visit. I’d like a name other than Shore Leave planet, but he won’t give us that.”
The turbo lift arrived at their destination, and they stepped out.
“I believe this planet to be more suitable for those who care to live out their fantasies and stretch the limits of their imaginations. Obviously, those parameters do not apply to me.”
“But there must be something for you down there.”
“Indeed.” Unseen by his companion, Spock raised an eyebrow as they proceeded down the vacant hallway toward the lounge. “But the Keeper will not allow me access to their machinery.”
“You have a one-track mind, Mr. Spock. Maybe if you let one of their machines kill you.”
Spock frowned, but he was considering the suggestion. “What have you found to occupy your time?”
“Oh, this and that. You saw one of them. You saw another one beat the shit out of me, or almost. It’s been more of the same.”
Kirk considered the chicken sandwich the servo deposited before him. McCoy had recently complained he was in a rut, eating the same meal every day. His only argument, “What’s wrong with eating what you like?”
Meanwhile, Spock was pondering his captain’s last statement. “I am aware that everything on the planet is make-believe, but not all injuries are immediately cured.” He subjected his companion’s form to a quick evaluation as, with tray in hand, Kirk led the way to their accustomed table.
“Don’t worry, Spock. They haven’t all been like Finnegan.” Kirk took a reflexive glance over his shoulder. “I guess I haven’t adjusted yet. I keep expecting anyone I think of to come marching up behind me.”
“Possibly a wise behavior pattern. At least until such time as the Enterprise leaves orbit. We do not know, in fact, if the Keeper’s reach is as far as this ship.”
“That would take a reading of our minds up here. No, I’ll learn to relax. The ship is home, after all.”
“For me, as well.”
Kirk was pondering his cup of coffee; another thing McCoy was lambasting him about. “I was thinking how wonderful it would be to have a lake to swim in. Needless to say, a swimming hole appeared. I thought about things I hadn’t thought about in years. It was like I had the space. I saw my parents. Both of them still alive, like they were when I was a kid. They were vibrant, young. School friends. . . Sam. It was great, but sad. Of course, so much has happened since, I was completely aware of the future while they were in the past. It became unpleasant.” Then Ruth reappeared.
“If it saddened you, I am gratified that we instructed the Keeper to monitor thoughts more carefully.”
“As soon as I got depressed, they went away.” He didn’t mention Ruth. Spock had already seen him go off with her.
“I hope your memories grew more pleasant as the day continued.” Spock was probing carefully, wanting to ask many questions, but knowing that reticence elicited responses from this individual who shut down when directly challenged.
“Even sad memories can be pleasant.” Kirk perked up. “I had a wonderful time, moving along from my childhood to my Academy days. I made a few very close friends then.” Conscious that his voice had gone low and quiet, Kirk endeavored to grin reassuringly. “But my best friends are here on the Enterprise. I’m really a lucky man.”
“An individual who can call you his friend is indeed fortunate.”
“Why, thank you, Mr. Spock. That’s a very kind thing to say.” Kirk looked at the remains of his meal. “I have many kinds of friends. I don’t consider you and McCoy the same way. Nor could I compare either of you with some others.”
“We are separate entities. To consider us the same would be highly irrational, and quite subjective.”
“Uh huh. I have some friends who are strictly romantic or fun to be with. I’ve had friends who represent many people to me, who gratify more than one need for companionship. You’re like that. Gary was like that.” He knew Spock would know which Gary he was talking about, though it was a name that was rarely mentioned in his presence due to his sensitivity to it. If someone could be infamous in Kirk’s life, it was Gary Mitchell and Spock served with the man for years.
Spock considered carefully. “Mitchell had many roles in your life.” That individual and the captain had a long and complicated – and intense – history.
“Have you ever had a friendship that operated on more than one level? Not necessarily like mine with Gary. Say, like me and McCoy. He’s a friend and sometimes father figure to me, but he’s also a pain in the ass. Do you have anyone like that in your life, who inhabits more than one role in your life?”
“I do have – of course – yourself. That is obvious to you. You are both my commanding officer and fill the role of friend and occasional confidant.”
“Yes, occasional. You Vulcans don’t give much away.”
“We are a species that values our privacy.”
“You more than most.”
“Again, you are most intuitive. But I fail to understand what point you are making. Conversations without purpose are unlike you.” The issue of Gary Mitchell bothered him. Kirk had introduced the subject of Mitchell but dropped it. “Did you meet Mitchell on the planet?”
“Yes, I conjured him. I didn’t want to. Wasn’t even looking for that, but you know how that place works. One minute he was there, and it was hard to get rid of him. And he was so Gary.”
“You are puzzled.”
“It’s the place. Gary was of my programming. He was telling me what I wanted to hear.”
“The self-deception can be both – what McCoy would call – a blessing and a curse.”
“That’s what I felt. Why I had to come back to the ship. Also, for a change of clothes, not some costume conjured up for me. If I didn’t watch myself, I’d end up attired like Henry VIII.” Kirk grimaced. But Spock was a telepath and not empathetic. “What levels do I operate on with you?”
“I have the feelings for you that Mitchell had. Is that what you wished to hear?”
Mission accomplished and Kirk blushed. This was far too easy an admission from Spock. No avoidance or hesitation at all. “Yes. Spock? How come you’re so calm?”
“Jim, it was I who programmed the Mitchell simulacrum.”