"Final Graduation" Part VIII

Author - bat400 | Genre - Alternate Universe | Genre - Angst | Genre - Deathfic | Main Story | Rating - PG-13
Trip * Malcolm Fanfic Home

Sequel to: Final Graduation (Part 7)
Author: bat400
E-mail: batfic400@yahoo.com
Part: 8/8
Rating: PG-13, for some violent images
Codes: R, Tu, violent images, deathfic, AU to canon Xindi Arc.
Betas: Quiz Mistress, M.S.
Archive: Any houseoftucker, Warp Five Complex, EntST*. All others request please.

Summary: The full measure of devotion. Alternate ending of the Xindi Arc. A shorter version of this story appeared under the title, "Graduation Day."

Disclaimer: Characters, places, and various incidents belong to Paramount. No monies were requested or received for this fiction. Header quotations from the works of Dickinson.


Because I could not stop for Death --
He kindly stopped for me --
The Carriage held but just Ourselves --
And Immortality.

We slowly drove -- He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility --

Part 8.

He'd been shocked when one of the graduate assistants of Tactical School had told him his errand and handed him the key to borrow one of the academy's vehicles. He was in his third year at Starfleet Academy, but only his first in the tactical and security courses. It was not his graduation from Tactical School. Although he would attend, helping to host the various guests.

"Don't be so shocked, Robert," Ensign El Sadr had said. "You do know him. I hope you can be trusted to pick up The Commandant for the ceremony."

As he'd piloted the car, he considered that he'd spoken with The Commandant twice. No, that was wrong. The Commandant had spoken to him twice, and he'd responded once.

The response had been, "I was looking at his hands, sir," and Robert had been trying hard to catch his breath after he'd been knocked down by a kick. He'd also been trying not to gape like a fool at the old man who had suddenly appeared on the edge of the exercise mat and given him a hand up. He had asked Robert, "Now what were you looking at when he kicked you?" Then the white-headed man in the out-of-date uniform had asked the instructor if she wouldn't mind reviewing a certain point with the students. They seemed to be missing it, and there wasn't any reason to let them mangle themselves trying to find it.

The first time had been on the firing range. He'd been shaking his hand to work out the numb spot from the laser rifle's vibration, along with several other cadets. And suddenly he'd heard, "A firm grip is best, cadets. You should have felt the buzz the old phase pistols would give you," and he'd twisted his head to see the slight, stooped figure next to them, examining the scores. "Keep at it," he'd said, suddenly looking to him, "that's a real improvement over last week. You were having trouble then."

Robert had been too astonished to say anything at all. Once the old man had turned to another student, a fellow cadet had whispered into his ear, "Hey, Bob. A fly'll get in there."

The cadet pulled the air car into the landing bay on the roof of the apartment building. It was an old building, but it had had some major renovation; it had an asymmetrical look about it. Robert looked into the side mirror of the car before he left it and smoothed down his dark blond hair, the bit that always stuck up a bit. He was earlier than he'd been told to arrive, but he hadn't wanted to be late, not today. He'd even walked across the campus the night before and checked the location of the building again.

The young man was now at the correct apartment. He checked his watch again. No, he'd cooled his heels enough, not early. He re-checked the screen at the door jamb, the glowing letters, "M.T. Reed." Straightening again, the cadet tapped the chime.

He was a bit surprised when Commander Reed answered the door wearing a dark, warm-looking dressing gown, his white hair bristled up from a shower. The retired officer immediately asked him, "Do you know how to cook eggs?" He'd turned without waiting for an answer and walked away from the door. The elderly man suddenly looked back and said, "Come now. The porridge wants stirring."

He rushed inside, closing the door behind him, and followed the Commandant through a briefly glimpsed living room and into a small kitchen, just big enough to have a small table and chair set in addition to the appliances. He quickly sidestepped to avoid a long tailed cat that darted out the door. The old man handed him a long-handled spoon and gestured to a slowly bubbling pot on the stove. Robert started stirring as Commander Reed pulled out plates, bowls, and utensils for two.

"You'll have breakfast," the Commander said, and before Robert could say that he'd already had coffee for breakfast, he went on, "I was the same at your age. Ate anything that came to hand, but never breakfast. Don't worry, there's plenty of time. The graduates always send you cadets over early enough to dress me if you had to. Quite silly, really. Do you drink tea?"

Robert gave a stunned, jerking nod and realized that an electric kettle had started to scream. The stooped old man at his side put loose, dried black leaves into a teapot and added the boiling water. Robert suddenly realized that it was actually tea. He'd never seen it made that way. How were they going to drink it?

Reed carried the pot to the table, gestured to a pan, eggs, and a bowl on the counter and said, "You can fix a scramble? Yes, of course you can. All students can fix eggs. One of these days, probably not. They say resequencers will get so cheap we'll have them in our homes one day." He made a disgusted sound in his throat and then gingerly left the room, limping a bit.

Wow. Robert tried to get his thoughts in order. He'd found it overwhelming to consider driving Commander Reed to the ceremony, and now he was trying to fix the man breakfast. It was a bit mesmerizing to listen to that clipped, thin, old voice, to stand next to one of the crew of the first warp five starships, to consider all that the thin old man had done. Damn, the oatmeal. Robert stirred it briskly and set the heat at the lowest setting.

As he whisked the eggs, Robert looked around. It was a plainly decorated but nice room, the walls a warm tan and blue curtains in the window. He knew the Commander lived alone, but there was every sign of someone who cooked a bit. He hunted among the spices and herbs in little canisters on a shelf and found some thyme. Thyme was good in eggs -- he'd just use a bit. He didn't recognize a lot of the spices. He opened one marked "mace" and caught a subtle, tropical smell. He glanced behind him and put it back.

Robert was just getting the eggs on the plates when Reed returned. In a dress uniform, but of the same ancient vintage as the plain one the cadet had seen the man in before at the school.

"Sit," he was told, and the young man first set the plates at the table and brought the flatware along, too. Napkins, teacups, a small pitcher of milk and what-- a strainer? -- were already there. The old man set a bowl of the odd pulverized oatmeal in front of him, before sitting down himself, and then poured the tea through the strainer and into their cups. Oh, that was what it was for. The cat came back into the room, and idly began to wrap itself around Robert's leg.

"Rasha," the Commander warned in a threatening tone, and the cat let out a querulous yowl before scampering away.

"Now, Mister April," Commander Reed said, looking at the cadet carefully for what seemed the first time, "it's your older sister that was here before you? Or was it an aunt? Janet? Jane?"

"Judith. Judith April. Aunt Judy," Robert said with a start, "My dad's younger sister -- sir." He hadn't realized that The Commandant even remembered him. He wondered if Ensign El Sadr had told Commander Reed which cadet would drive him to the school.

"Is she still in service?" asked the Commandant. "She was first stationed on the Neutral Zone patrol, the Atlas." He might be ancient, Robert thought, but his memory was pretty damned impressive.

Robert noticed that the Commandant's right hand shook a bit as he carefully pushed egg onto the back of his fork with his knife. He had excellent table manners, though, Robert thought, suddenly remembering all the times his own father had told him to keep his elbows off the table or avoid a "chimp" grip on his fork. He skittishly repositioned his arms. Forearm, okay; elbow, bad.

"She's stationed on the Andor posting now, sir."

The Commander commented on the Andorians he'd worked with in weapons research. And, of course, Robert realized, he'd been one of the first Humans to meet Andorians. It was hard to believe, that this small, wrinkled-up man had done what he'd done and known who he had known.

Robert tried to mind his manners, but he couldn't help but look around a bit. There was a photoPADD mounted on the wall, slowly fading in and out on programmed photos. They mostly seemed to be rather old pictures of Commander Reed with various children and teenagers, and more recent pictures, too, again with young people. Mostly doing things with young people: in hiking clothes, sitting on some rocks; bending over a dissected console, electronic modules everywhere. One photo was almost comical, a very young-looking blond girl, hefting a laser rifle half as tall as she was, and The Commandant, still dark-haired, holding up a target film, the center burned neatly away and the rest untouched.

He realized that he must have made a noise, perhaps a stifled giggle, and nervously shifted his eyes to Commander Reed, who was watching him with a bit of amusement. His eyes were very sharp and bright in his deeply lined face.

"I'm sorry, sir. Nosy." And he coughed.

"No, not a bit of it. I wouldn't sit you down in here if I didn't mind you seeing my -- memories. She wanted to learn how to shoot," said the Commander, sipping his tea. "And her parents asked if I would give her some lessons. That's Elizabeth Tucker. Graduated from the Academy, oh, twelve years after that picture was taken. Class of '75, I believe."

Robert April's eyes widened. "Tucker? Commander Tucker's …" he faded off. No, it couldn't be a child of his, could it?

"His niece," Commander Reed supplied. "Commander Tucker's family … very good people. Very kind to me. Elizabeth retired two, no, three years ago. She isn't an engineer, though."

Did he look a little sad? Robert supposed he did. The photo changed again, and the old man seemed to brighten.

"Now those are my nephews, and my sister. We were camping in New Zealand. Some of these pictures are positively ancient. The ones programmed on this PADD are mostly family pictures." As they ate, he explained more of them. Most of the photos were of various relatives of Commander Charles Tucker. Yes, I guess the stories were true, the cadet thought. They must have been real pals. Had they grown up together? Robert couldn't quite remember.

They finished eating, and Robert quickly bused the table before The Commandant could begin to do it, putting the dishes into the small cleaning unit under the sink. Commander Reed took a canister out of a cabinet and mixed some sort of vile-looking drink at the counter. Again, he carefully moved out of the room, saying, "I'll be right with you."

April was quickly finished and quietly stood in the living room, waiting for Commander Reed to come from out of the back. He checked his watch; they still had plenty of time.

The living room was small -- the whole place was small -- but nice-looking. Two dark upholstered arm chairs, contrasting with light brown walls and stained woodlook trim. There were some antique guns on the walls. At least they looked like antiques. Built-in shelves, with some real books; several different-sized PADDs and a large data storage case. It all kind of seemed right, like an old ship captain's house.

He must sit here and think deep thoughts, April mused. Big ideas about history and technology, how Starfleet ought to do things. He was a very important man. It's neat that I've met him.

There was a selection of photos on one of the shelves. One maybe twenty years back, the Commandant looking much less weary and lined, with two officers, a man and a woman, in more modern Starfleet dress uniforms. The Commandant must have been officially retired by then. Oh, that was Captain, oh, his aunt had told him, Captain --Mayweather. He was retired now, long back. April didn’t know who the woman was. She was ethnic-asian, still handsome, wore a Commander's rank, and a diplomatic corps badge. They all looked very happy together. There was a fairly recent photo of Commander Reed and a somewhat younger woman, a candid photo; they didn't look like they had seen the photographer. They were on a patio somewhere out in -- the desert? The plants looked like desert plants. Hmm. Oh, she was Vulcan! They were sitting close together, the Vulcan was leaning up against the Commander -- it looked like they were talking. Wasn't there a female Vulcan on the first NX-01 voyage? There was also a small photo of a woman in a commander's uniform standing in front of a warp core; one of the Warp Sevens, he thought, introduced about twenty years ago. He stepped closer to look at it. On a lighter portion of the print, a woman's hand had written, "thank you."

The last photo was very old. It was one of two early Starfleet officers, both in engineering. From the engine room structures it must be from the NX-01. One was Commander Charles Tucker, but -- well, it wasn't like the service photo April had seen before. He looked like he had been laughing. He eyes were happily squinted up and he had a big, friendly grin on his face. But Tucker hadn't been looking at the photographer, he'd been looking at the shorter, whip-cord man at his side. The Commandant had been a Lieutenant then. They were standing close together facing forward, Reed looking very seriously at the photographer, and Tucker looking fondly at Reed.

April heard a muffled sound, like something falling on the floor and then a clatter. He turned and swiftly crossed the room. "Sir?" he said in a worried tone.

Commander Reed was leaning against the sink near the doorway of the open bathroom. The plastic tumbler was still rolling across the floor, out into the small hallway. Orange liquid was splattered at the Commander's feet.

"Are you all right, sir?" said April, thinking of all the possible things that might be wrong, anyone of them capable of striking the old man down right in front of him.

The Commander looked up, a bit startled, as if he hadn't expected to see anyone there. No. As if he didn't know who April was. But then he levered himself upright.

"I'm sorry … Mister April. Dropped the cup. Sorry…" and he started to stoop down.

"No. No, sir, let me help," Robert said. He tentatively put a hand under Commander Reed's arm, and the old man leaned against him and carefully let himself be guided out and into the living room.

"It's all right," Reed said, "Just a bit unsteady this morning." And he sat down in one of the armchairs. The cat immediately leaped into his lap, and the old man's shaking hands wrapped around it.

Robert wasn't sure exactly what to do. "Sir? Do you need a doctor, Commander?" he finally asked.

The thin, dry voice was a bit more clipped and just a bit on edge. "Good Lord, no. I'm ninety years old. One day you'll know what it's like when all the gears don't mesh quite so well, cadet." And then in a softer, hesitant tone, "No, I'm fine. Would, would you get me another glass of the vitamins." As Robert rushed into the kitchen, Commander Reed said after him, "Two scoops of the bilge -- in water."

April nervously mixed up the drink from the canister, glancing as Reed watched him, rather intently, through the kitchen doorway. When the cadet brought the tumbler to the officer, Reed was leaning back and looking up at the photographs on the shelf, one hand petting the sleek cat perched on his right leg. He said nothing when he took the drink, April fumbling a bit, putting it into his hand. But when April went into the bathroom and was heard cleaning up the spill, Reed called out, "Thank you."

April felt nervous and embarrassed. He was acting like a jumpy idiot. The Commandant had looked at him so, he didn't know, like maybe he was trying to decide something. Probably trying to decide to tell his instructors that he was a jerk. He put the soiled towel into a hamper and washed his hands, smoothing down his hair with his wet hands, trying to part it correctly using the mirror. Here was a chance to speak to someone who had practically seen it all, the whole history of the Academy and a huge chunk of everything important since the founding of the Federation, and all April could do was worry that the Commander might get mad at him, or criticize his table manners, or suddenly take it into his head to die, maybe. Get a grip, he told himself, looking into the mirror.

April nervously stood in the living room, but Reed motioned him to the other chair. The elderly man slowly sipped the drink and again looked at the photos. When he glanced back to April, the cadet, who'd been trying to think of something useful to say, blurted out, "This is a nice apartment, sir. My grandparents have some chairs like these."

He immediately grimaced. Not the thing to say. Fool. Fool.

But Reed smiled at him, finally looking a bit more lively. "Mister April," he said, "I'm the last one to be giving you any advice about this, but please try to relax. The officers around you, by and large, aren't just waiting for an opportunity to find a fault in you."

"Yes, sir." April said.

"You look a bit like you'd like to ask me something. Do you?"

"No, sir. I mean, ye-- no. No, sir."

They sat quietly, Commander Reed looking at him intently, waiting.

"Commander Reed? What's the toughest part of Command?"

Reed's head nodded up. "Good Lord! When you get to a point, you really get to a point, don't you, Mister April!

"Now, don't go all shame-faced on me. I'm not trying to make a joke of you."

He drank off most of the glass and shuddered slightly.

"That's a good question. But, I've never had a command. Do you think I know the answer?" Robert panicked for a moment and said, "But, sir, you've been under command. Can't you tell from that?" Reed answered, "I'm not sure I can. I've seen enough mistakes to make me think that I know, but that is probably an illusion."

The old man looked up at the photos again, and smiled sadly before he looked to April once more. "Surely, I think it must be having to use a crew. Use them like a thing. You've heard what I say at graduations. Perhaps that's the toughest. But it's not the saddest thing."

"The saddest?" Robert said.

"Yes," Reed said, "a good commander understands that he'll have to do just that, and that is very, very hard. But the sadder thing is if a commander does that and later realizes he didn't have to. "

"So that's the saddest thing?"

"No. The saddest thing is if he didn't have to and never realizes it. Command decisions go spiraling out, triggering other things. A good commander may never know how his decisions will affect the future. A bad one may never realize how his decisions have affected his own present, let alone his future.

"Do you see that photo of the female Commander in Engineering. By the engine?"

"Yes sir."

"That is Margaret Hartley, Rear Admiral Jonathan Archer's daughter."

Robert's head pivoted to study it again. Hartley had died a hero. She had saved the Prometheus, during the Klingon conflict ten years ago. She'd evacuated her people out of engineering and shut down multiple plasma leaks herself. She'd survived the event, but died soon after. It hadn't been widely known who she was related to until after her death.

"She was rejected Academy entry twice," Commander Reed continued. "On her third try she used her mother's family name, so she made it all the way to an interview before some vindictive idiot recognized her. Thank goodness, by that time enough people had seen her. Some of us were aware of the situation and applied some fairness and sense. I'd never seen such a stubborn roomful of hypocrites in my life. When Archer was still alive, most people treated him gingerly, like a classified experiment -- try to hide it, try to protect it, don't talk about it. But politics and sentiment changed when he died; Margaret caught some of that flak. So stupid, she wasn't even his biological child."

April gaped. He'd never heard that before. He could hardly believe what he was hearing. People didn't talk much about Jonathan Archer, although his father was still revered.

"Archer's command decisions. All his commands. Look where they have traveled through the years. All the people they affected."

April stammered, "How can a commander get it right?"

Reed looked at him carefully. "There's no one answer to that," he said. "But you, April, and your classmates, have something Jonathan Archer didn't have. Something none of us had on the Enterprise."

Robert April sat considering.

Reed suddenly leaned forward and smiled at him. "We have to go now, Mister April. It's time to graduate another class."


Epilog II.

Reed was tired after the ceremony, much more so than usual, but he had not made any specific arrangements to leave immediately. He got a lot of satisfaction out of seeing the students graduate. When he had been younger he would have never guessed how much satisfaction it would give him. He had never considered himself to be an educator at any level.

He had sometimes thought that spending time with young people had kept him feeling younger, longer. But it could only do so much. Now they always tried to get him to sit still. "May I get you something to drink, Commander?" "Is there anything I can get you Commander?" "If there's someone you wanted to see, I can ask them to come here, Commander." He was sure that when he did show any slight desire to leave, a cadet was likely to suddenly appear at his elbow and offer to take him back home. They were polite young people, more so than he thought he and his peers had been at that age.

He didn't know how to tell them that he couldn't possibly sit in a folding chair for any length of time without pain; it was better to move around. If he had said that, he thought he knew what would happen. "Get a better chair for the Commander. You there, get the instructor's lounge open. Bring out one of those chairs."

So, now he meandered through the reception, still on his own feet. Reed was vaguely aware that he was constantly being tailed by several cadets. Over the years they had started arrange transport for him around San Francisco, but recently, without any discussion with him, they actively trailed him in public. It was almost a game they played. The students had gotten closer and closer, with more elaborate signals to hand him off from one surveillance team to another. As he moved about and spoke to instructors, guests, and graduates, he knew the cadets didn't want to speak to him, not at all. They were trying to prevent his sudden death by tripping over his own feet, choking on a biscuit, falling in the Gents, or some other equally embarrassing way for a ninety-year-old man to die.

It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad way to die, he mused, to be walking and chatting with some vivacious young cadets, the sunlight on their shiny hair and clean limbs, and to suddenly fall and strike your head on a step.

An unbidden thought edged into Reed’s mind: much better than having some enemy to do it for you, to be forced down with your hands tied behind you, and that crushing blow come from out of nowhere and cave in the back of your skull.

He took a deep breath and shook it off. He really must be tired, getting old and tired to have such grim thoughts come out “topsides.” It wasn’t how he had died, it was how he had lived. And Reed thought of good things from all those years ago, pleasant talks, and sharing a meal, and a laugh, and an argument.

Reed knew plenty of healthy and active people in their tenth decade, including his own sister, including his friend Travis. However, Reed was not one of them. In his forties, when the pain got to be too debilitating when he exercised, he'd gone through with the time-consuming repairs to remove the scar tissue from his chest cavity, inside and out. He had an artificial kidney now, too; his own remaining one had failed. But it was electro-mechanical, not vat-grown from his own cell structure. Reed still thought it fairly ironic that so many of the fixes human medicine had developed would not work on his own compromised DNA.

The Loquek virus. It lurked within him, still after all these years. Phlox had done as much for the three of them as anyone ever had been able to since they were inflected. It was a permanent link between Archer, and Sato, and himself. And the Insectoid Xindi, of course. Even infected the species will to reproduce was strong. Reports from the Xindi liaison indicated that some Loquek-Insectoids were still alive, even after all these years.

A lingering stain on humanity, applied by Captain Archer all those years ago. Although Reed’s Loquek-tainted hands had assisted. It was Archer’s big decision, the decision they had been backed into. But it had worked, and the other Xindi had paused, out of fear, and listened to Archer.

Archer had had that talent; he had made others listen to him. Reed could only curse Archer for his inability to listen back.

He was jarred out of his own thoughts again. Reed felt a bit dazed today. He had just had the valedictorian present her parents to him, when he was aware of a portly, mature Vulcan male approaching him.

"Commander Reed?" He said. And when Reed turned his attention, he spoke again.

"I'm not sure if you will remember me. I met you over fifty years ago when you were a Lieutenant on the Enterprise."

And then, Reed did remember him. Any number of cautionary thoughts sprang into his mind. This Vulcan had been part of a crew Reed would have rather, at this hindsight, have seen marooned, dead decades before in cold, faint reaches of space without any rescue from the Enterprise.

"I am --"

"Kov," Reed finished with him. "You were the engineer on Captain Tavin's ship." The being did not offer in hand in greeting and Reed gladly kept his own behind his back.

Kov said, "Yes, I worked with Commander Tucker when he very kindly helped us with repairs."

Reed found himself saying coldly, "It was his job to follow Captain Archer's orders. What brings you to Earth, Mister Kov?"

"I returned to Vulcan only three years ago, Commander Reed, and I was surprised to hear that your crewmate T'Pol had returned to Vulcan at the end of your mission into the Expanse only to leave again. That she has been living on Earth for many years. I was concerned to hear about her condition, when I learned of it. From what I heard I believe I know the source of her illness. I found myself thinking about the visit I, we, made to your ship. Personal business kept me on Vulcan, but now I've been able to travel. I will be on your planet through your New Year and into the early part of the coming year."

What was Kov after? "If you want to see T'Pol, I'm afraid she doesn't see many visitors. Her condition is very fragile now."

"Commander Reed, I was surprised that she was still alive. It's extremely unusual for someone afflicted with Pa'nar to live this long."

Reed interrupted, "Perhaps she's gotten better care here on Earth than she might have on Vulcan. Humans have found that personal care, with a bit of emotional interest, can often give a patient the will to live."

Kov winced, and the very emotional reaction made Reed reconsider his words. Kov had seemed like a decent sort at the time. Trip had liked him.

Trip had trusted Kov. Poor Trip had trusted too many people, including his friend, Jonathan Archer. Put himself in Archer’s hands like a trusting younger brother. Let Archer put him into harm’s way – with the Xyrillians, on the desert planet, with the Enolians, the cargo ship with the woman in the status pod – and finally with dubious aliens who promised to tell us about the Xindi weapon.

Reed shook it off. Why was he so distracted today? The Vulcan's next words made Reed disassemble a few of the barriers he'd put up so automatically.

"I didn't want to subject T'Pol to any unwanted visit. I had two reasons to come and see you, Commander. I learned once I arrived that you are one of her few visitors from the crew of the Enterprise. I didn't feel as if anyone else might relate to her what I have to tell you. Tolaris, the Vulcan who – assaulted her – is dead. He's been dead for many, many years."

"Should that make a difference to T'Pol?"

"No. But once we understood his – nature – his violent tendencies – Captain Tavin and the rest of us did the only thing we thought proper. We were unwilling to return to Vulcan space and hand him over to the authorities – for a variety of reasons. So, we tried and sentenced him to an exile. We marooned him on an uninhabited moon. When we returned many years later we found that he had died in the mean time. Apparently of suicide – possibly from fear of the progression of his – disease.

"I didn't want T'Pol to think that we had allowed him to continue his crimes."

Reed was taken aback. "But, you were. You left the Enterprise with him, as if there was nothing wrong."

Kov looked at him closely, and finally said, "We didn't know what he had done. Even when we exiled Tolaris, we had no idea that he had attacked the sub-Commander. We certainly did not know that he was afflicted with Pa’nar at that time. Our Captain was ordered to leave your ship without much explanation –"

"Wait," Reed interrupted, "you didn't know? Captain Archer didn't tell you what he did to her?"

"No," said Kov, earnestly shaking his head. "It was only when I returned to Vulcan that I heard about T'Pol, when she had been afflicted, and I concluded who must have been responsible. I was surprised that your Captain let Tolaris go."

Me, too, Reed thought. He still had the capacity to be angered by Archer, even after all these years, even with the man dead.

Reed suddenly realized, looking over Kov's shoulder, that two of the graduating cadets had come very close, no doubt attracted as his conversation with the Vulcan had become more intense. They suddenly veered off, embarrassed, at a glance from Commander Reed.

Reed motioned for Kov to walk with him, and they moved away from the crowd. He realized that that he had suspected evil complicity or criminal indifference where there was none. They walked silently, Kov waiting for Reed to speak.

Reed finally stopped and stood as straight as he could. He said solemnly to the Vulcan, "Mister Kov, I will tell T'Pol what you’ve told me, on the first opportunity that I find her alert, and capable. She has never expressed a desire to return to her own people. But, if she does, may I ask if you would be willing to help her, if I’m unfit to do so?"

"Yes," Kov nodded, "Gladly." And Reed was surprised to hear the amount of warmth in his voice.

Reed relaxed. "You said you had two reasons for coming to see me. What was the other?"

Kov glanced, appreciatively, Reed thought with some pride, around at the class room building, the firing range and the grounds.

"I had heard," Kov said, "about the Academy that your Star Fleet had developed. I also heard about this school. I wanted to visit it, and to see humans that he had served with. I don't know if you realize what a great service Commander Tucker did for me. I didn't realize it myself when I was young, and considerably more arrogant."

Reed smiled. "I didn't found anything on my own – there were many with the same goal." He wished that he had been more welcoming to Kov. Reed said, “I was working in weapons research. But when the plans for Star Fleet Academy were being developed, I felt there was a need for a course of study to better prepare the officer corps for the danger they would meet – that we had met – in space. The Enterprise lost too many people, for no good reason. I thought we could do a better job of preparing our people. I wasn’t the only one to think that way.”

“A laudable goal,” said Kov. “And one you seem to have achieved.”

“I like to think so, but we can always do better.

"Would you like to visit the memorial?" Reed asked. He very much wanted Kov to see it, now.

"Yes, I would – like that."

They slowly traced the path around the main building and off of the exercise ground. Trees had been planted here, and some of them were mature. They came onto a stone path, with moss and leafy ground covers growing in the shade. When they stepped into the flagstone-paved circle, there were several students there having rather solemn photographs taken. The voices were low and reverent. They came to startled attention and Reed had to give them a nodded recognition. He and Kov moved to one side and the cadets hurriedly finished their visit and left, one of the women leaving a fresh spray of flowers below the statuary in the center, and removing a faded one.

When they were alone Reed took Kov over to the center of the paved area.
The carved stone display was of a work bench, life-sized. Its drawers were forever closed. On the work surface were representations of PADDs of a design from fifty years earlier. There was a stylus, and tools, an inspection light, and measuring and scanning instruments. All in carved stone; all strikingly realistic.

Kov examined the display very intently. He finally turned to Reed and said, "The engineer has left his work. But only for a while. He meant to return."

"Yes,” Reed said, "that's right."

Below the bench, to one side, was a stone with an inclined surface. A metal plaque was set there. The inscription read, "This school is dedicated to the memory of Commander Charles Tucker. His was a life of great promise cut short. Lest we forget. 2118 - 2153"

Kov read it and raised his head. Reed followed his glance. Through the leaves of the trees, one could just make out the name over the entrance of the main building, "Tucker-Reed School for Tactical and Security Studies."

"I never thought the name was entirely appropriate," Reed said. "Tactics and Security are the tools that allow the real work to be performed, by people like Tri– Commander Tucker. It's for what he stood for: the drive to take Humanity out into exploration."

"But you worked so hard for this place,” Kov said. "Your own engineering work speaks of enormous design and development achievement, and yet, during the same time period, you were advocating that this school be opened as part of your Star Fleet Academy. That you devoted the time and effort to this – practical memorial – speaks to your determination. It seems to me that having your name associated with the school is extremely deserved."

Kov added, “And as I’ve tried to integrate emotion into my life against the wishes of my people, I also admire the way in which you’ve mastered negative emotions to produce such a fine program for those who will follow you in your planet’s exploration of space.”

Reed shot the Vulcan a hard glance. “You may be willing to face your own emotions, Mister Kov, but don’t imagine that Human’s familiarity with emotions gives us an advantage. Or that we find emotions commonplace.

“You heard my speech to the class. I’ve said that every year for almost fifty years. It’s as raw and necessary for me to say it now as when Trip’s dead body was retrieved. I can never forgive the actions of his killers or the decisions that put him on their ship without appropriate security.

“Giving up ‘negative’ emotions, forgiveness, has had nothing to do with my work here. Friendship has had everything to do with it. The people I serve, and serve with, are my friends. I flatter myself to count these students among my friends too. My friends, more of them than I dreamed I had, helped put me on a path where I could help start this program, this school. And Trip was my friend, too; he still is. Friendship has kept me sane, and helped me find some contentment.”

Reed shook his head, looking up at the words over the building entrance, "This place, this focus, was necessary. But my name detracts from it. It certainly wasn't my damned idea to put it up there." He did not add how it had been done without his approval. It had been well meant, but it was not a gift he would have willingly accepted from the giver.

"But Rear Admiral Archer must have wanted to honor your hard work," said Kov, and as he saw Reed look away toward the ground, he haltingly continued, "That is what I read."

The first class commencement had been the last time Reed had spoken to Archer, and the first time he had spoken to him since the official name of the school had been announced. Archer had never come to another commencement. And despite the effort he had put into the formation of the Tactical School, supporting Reed, bulling his way through in that overpowering, hectoring manner he had had, people now had almost succeeded in forgetting that the Tucker-Reed Tactical and Security School would possibly have never gotten its start without Jonathan Archer’s support and arm-twisting and emotional blackmail.

Archer. Star Fleet’s corpse at the wedding. Back then you couldn’t have avoided him if you tried, and yet no one had wanted to be the first to point out that he was right there standing by the punchbowl. They had all been a bit ashamed of Archer, and guilty. They, all of Earth, all of Starfleet, had used Archer, sent him out with not much more than his own trembling moral compass, and begged him to save them all. The hysteria after the Xindi attack had allowed no reflection, and Earth’s inability to protect itself from a concerted space borne attack had made that hysteria realistic.

But Archer had done exactly what Earth had wanted.

I used him, too, Reed thought. On that first commencement nearly fifty years before, Reed had been incapable of continuing to hide that repudiation of his former Captain's methods. It had been cruel to Archer, but it had also been the truth.

Kov, of course, did not realize how good Humans could be at denial and rationalization. Burying emotion to achieve an end was not a uniquely Vulcan skill.

Reed suddenly realized that they had left the memorial. Kov was ushering him away. He had lost his concentration again, for a moment. He heard the voice of a cadet ahead of them on the path, "Commander Reed is showing a guest the memorial."

They came into the light and Reed saw that a few cadets had blocked the path so that he and Kov were allowed those moments without intrusion. There were several cadets and their families, all waiting to pay their respects at the memorial. Reed saw bright young faces, open, and serious, purposeful.

Kov was concerned for the elderly man at his side. He had stupidly forgotten on his journey to Earth how there would be so few left who had known Commander Tucker in life. Humans aged so quickly. It didn't seem logical that some of them had to cram so much into such a short span of time. No that was, wrong. It didn't seem "fair." That was the right word.

Reed said something, and Kov strained to hear it. "Look at them all," Reed said, looking with dim eyes at the graduates. "I'm very proud of them. I wish Trip could have seen them. I think we did a good job. They won’t see the mistakes we saw." The sun was low and very bright, shining right into their faces. Reed squinted his eyes against it and his grimace was more like a smile.

And suddenly Reed’s legs buckled under him. He folded as neatly as a collapse at a demolition site. Several in the families shouted out. A cadet darted forward, getting strong arms under the Commander before his head and shoulders hit the ground. Kov and the cadet laid Reed out flat. Someone handed a jacket that was folded and put under his head. COMs were out, multiple calls to emergency services. One of the Academy instructors, in science blue uniform, knelt and examined the fallen man.

“He’s had a stroke,” said the doctor, and pulled out a hypo. She hesitated for a moment, looking into Reed’s confused expression, before injecting him. She then loosened the collar and tie of the uniform. The cadet kneeling by Reed’s side across from Kov was a young man of average height, and sandy-colored hair, and Kov saw Reed fix his eyes on him. The cadet said, “The Commander’s saying something.” They bent closer. The humans could make out nothing.

The doctor saw a medical tag under Reed's shirt and pulled it out, giving it a cursory glance. In the distance there was a siren, but the doctor suddenly stiffened to attention. She ran the scan again, put one hand against the Commander’s neck, and then said, “That’s all.” She reached out to close the dead man’s eyes.

The cadet gasped and made to start resuscitation. The ambulance was nearly there. But the doctor put out a restraining hand. “No,” she said, “there’s a ‘No Resuscitation’ request on the tag.”

They all stood back for the medical technicians and the doctor identified herself and explained the situation. Kov watched the play of emotion of the faces of the Humans while the Commander’s body was put onto a stretcher. The doctor was stoic, calm, but she twisted one hand against the other. The cadets did not hide their emotions, although they might have thought they were. Shocked, pale faces; ones that were trembling with anger; a few red with excitement, of heightened feeling; more than one who sobbed out loud.

The blond cadet who stood near Kov suddenly spoke out as the medical technicians lifted the stretcher. The young man snapped upright, and with a voice cracking into a high pitch, he sang out, “Attention!” All the cadets stood very straight.

When the ambulance had gone, Kov solemnly turned and started to walk back in the direction of his lodgings. How sad, he thought, how these Humans had such a short life, and how stoic, to determine not to allow every effort to cling to every possible moment, no matter how reduced.

Kov heard steps in the grass behind him. He turned, and a young man, the cadet who had helped Commander Reed when he had collapsed, was running toward him.

“Wait,” the youth cried. “Please, sir.” He hesitated, and asked, “What did he say? What did Commander Reed say?”

Kov watched the straining, taut figure. On Vulcan he would have been not more than a child. As a human, he had already used up a sixth of his lifespan.

“Did you know the Commander, Cadet..?” Kov asked.

“Why, sir! We all knew Commander Reed!” he said. His face showed a pained confusion after his outburst. "And, it's April, sir."

Kov said softly, “Cadet April, Commander Reed was remembering someone.”

The April blinked several times. He said, “I hope the Commander wasn’t – in pain, or out of his head.”

It took Kov a moment to realize the meaning of the youth’s words.

“Don’t think that. I do not believe it is true.”

Kov had seen it, and heard the words too low for living Human ears.

The Commander had looked up into worried blue eyes. And Reed had murmured, “It’s all right, Trip. I really am fine.”



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Three people have made comments

Tears were running down my face by the time I finished reading this. It was a very intense story.

I loved this whole story.
And what an emotional ending!

Have I told you lately how brilliant this is? So glad to see it all up. Congrats on an intense, amazing work.



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