Jean-Luc Picard savored the taste of an excellent wine as he sat on the terrace with his brother Robert. Early evening shadows lengthened across the vineyard. The crisp autumn air made for a welcome change after almost two years aboard ship. He had to admit Bev Crusher, always nagging him to take more shore leave, probably had a valid point.
“Very few people ever get a chance to meet a legendary figure out of the history books.” Robert, it was clear, was also enjoying the conversation. “So, tell me, what was it like to actually see James T. Kirk in real life?”
“As you might expect, the official story doesn’t tell the whole truth.” That was putting it mildly, Jean-Luc thought. In fact, the story of Kirk’s disappearance in the Nexus was a complete lie from beginning to end, fabricated by Starfleet to spare a hero’s memory the embarrassment of having his true fate known.
“It rarely does.” Robert waited patiently, as usual, to hear the real story. This particular scandal wasn’t likely to disappoint.
Jean-Luc refilled his glass once more and began the tale. “You may not have realized it, but we both met Kirk quite by accident, long ago, when we were boys.”
“That’s not possible. Kirk was lost in the Nexus before we were born.” Robert frowned in perplexity. “And I’d certainly have remembered if we met him.”
“By then, the unfortunate man wasn’t very recognizable, I’m afraid. Do you remember when we visited Uncle Etienne?”
“In the psychiatric hospital? I’d rather not even think about it. The old goat deserved his undignified death from the brain-wasting effects of Nausicaan syphilis, after he abandoned poor Aunt Hildegarde and ran off with that alien prostitute. I never understood why you decided to volunteer as an office clerk at that dreadful place, Jean-Luc.”
A very French shrug was the response. “You probably didn’t notice the quiet man who sat staring out the window at the end of the ward every night, watching the stars come out. Although his face looked familiar, he vehemently denied that his name was Kirk. The official records had him down as Monsieur New — James T. New. So, naturally, I had to hack into the confidential files to get the true story.”
“The tale of Kirk vanishing into the Nexus, it turned out, was entirely concocted by Starfleet officials to avoid scandal over Kirk’s unfortunate loss of his mental faculties, which was occasioned by his having been the victim of a brutal sexual assault by numerous female Horta construction laborers at Utopia Planitia.”
Robert shook his head in silent sympathy. “What a tragic fate for a great man. Do you know what became of the Hortas?”
“They claimed temporary insanity as the result of accidental exposure to peach bubble bath fumes. Because Starfleet was eager to hush the matter up, the Hortas were allowed to plea-bargain to reduced charges and were sentenced to three months of sensitivity training on a remote planet. Their instructor was Christine Chapel, who became a renowned expert on the psychology of sexual harassment after leaving her position on Kirk’s Enterprise. Most of the Hortas went on to lead law-abiding lives, although some of them were so distraught about the circumstances of their detention that they committed suicide by hurling themselves from cliffs. The rehabilitation compound later became a vacation resort, and to this day, visitors still remark on its beautiful gravel beaches.”
As he emptied his glass and reached for the carafe again, Robert definitely had the appearance of a man who wouldn’t have minded a drop or two of something stronger.
“At first, Monsieur New seemed fairly rational,” Jean-Luc continued, “and I couldn’t quite fathom why he needed institutional care until, several weeks later, a Horta nurse was hired on the night shift. The mere sight of her left the poor man in cringing terror. Instead of sleeping, he spent the nights hiding under his bed, armed with sharpened spoons and other improvised weapons. The hospital administration tried to alleviate the problem by restricting the Horta nurse to other areas of the building, but she found that solution offensive and filed a racial discrimination complaint, which was resolved in her favor. The day crew dealt with the situation, as best they could, by allowing Monsieur New to sleep in the mornings, when they would check under his bed for dangerous items.”
“Yes. And it worked fairly well until someone got the bright idea of having pet therapy sessions on the ward in the afternoons. As you may know, tribbles are often used for pet therapy because they’re cuddly, easy to breed, and make soothing sounds. Many psychiatric patients respond very well to the calming effect of tribble-hugging. Unfortunately, it appeared that Monsieur New had some unpleasant memories of tribbles, as well. He became extremely agitated when they were nearby. Slashed one to shreds with a splintered broomstick. Bits of fluff were found on the furniture for days afterward.”
“What caused his tribble aversion?”
Jean-Luc just shrugged again. “Who knows? But the last straw for the unfortunate man was the hiring of a Gorn nurse on first shift. Perhaps you’re familiar with the incident in which Kirk was forced into single combat with the captain of a Gorn ship and eventually prevailed by constructing a crude hand cannon. Starfleet’s records don’t contain the entire encounter, but from some of Monsieur New’s barely coherent mutterings, I was able to glean that the Gorn, having superior strength, got the better of him initially. Because the Gorn captain was in rut, and there were no reptilian species available on the planet for mating purposes, the Gorn captain decided to keep Kirk as a love slave instead of killing him.”
Robert could only shudder.
“After the Gorn nurse was hired, Monsieur New scarcely slept at all, haunted by the fear of being assaulted in his sleep. He became completely paranoid and refused to bathe or change clothes while the Horta nurse, the Gorn nurse, or the pet tribbles were in the building, because he didn’t feel safe removing his clothing while they were nearby. According to the official hospital records, his personal hygiene declined. Unofficially, he stank like the Augean stables. I have to admit that I missed a few of my scheduled volunteer sessions.”
“I can’t say I blame you.”
“Eventually, the Gorn nurse, who was cursed with an extremely acute sense of smell, decided to bathe Monsieur New by force. The Horta nurse, who was just going off duty, offered to stay for a few minutes and assist the Gorn. They managed to drag the screaming, struggling man into the shower room and undress him without any harm. However, they made a fatal error when they mistook a tribble for a bath sponge. Tribbles hate water, and while it was being used to wash Monsieur New’s buttocks, the poor beast tried to escape into the nearest orifice. While the Gorn and the Horta were attempting to retrieve it, Monsieur New expired from sudden heart failure. Died of sheer fright, you might say.”
Robert sat in silence for a moment as he contemplated the full extent of the tragedy. The vineyard was nearly dark, and only the last gleams of sunset could be seen along the western horizon.
“But who was the Kirk that your ship encountered in the Nexus, Jean-Luc?”
“A Ferengi castaway who made use of certain properties of the Nexus to change his appearance, hoping that I’d rescue him if I believed him to be Kirk. The Nexus is Ferengi hell, you know; there’s no profit to be made where everyone can just wish for whatever they want. After the impostor was killed, his appearance reverted to normal. I buried him before any of my crew had time to notice. No reason to let Kirk’s legend be destroyed after all these years.”
And the Picard brothers, in unison, raised a last glass of wine to the memory of one of Starfleet’s finest.