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The gold shirt and appropriate insignia fit well, Kirk decided as he entered the bridge. Evidently his crew thought so as well, if one were to go by the admiring looks that greeted him as he strode toward the captain's chair and settled himself into the command seat. As soon as he nodded toward the helm, Lieutenant Sulu responded crisply.

"Maneuvering thrusters and impulse engines at your command, sir."

"Weapons systems and shields on standby," Chekov reported confidently. The ship's chief tactical officer had aged remarkably fast-as had they all.

"Dilithium chamber at maximum efficiency, Captain," came a broguish report from engineering. came a broguish report from engineering.

Uhura swiveled slightly in her chair. "Dock control reports ready for departure. Yard command signaling all clear on chosen vector."



From where he was standing between the command chair and the lift, the ship's chief medical officer grinned wryly. "Same ship, different day."

Kirk smiled at that. His expression changed as he spared a fleeting glance for the empty science station. Along with everyone else on the bridge, he hoped the position would have been filled before departure. By a particular science officer. But it still sat vacant, and they could delay no longer. The galaxy is forever in motion, he knew resignedly, and time waits for no man.

Lately, he had been forced to think a lot about time.

"Mister Sulu," he announced as he swung back toward the helm, "prepare to engage forward thrus-"

The order was interrupted by a soft whoosh whoosh as the turbolift doors parted to admit a single figure onto the bridge. Displaying the insignia of a senior science officer on his blue uniform, Spock moved toward the command chair and halted halfway between Kirk and the empty-but no longer vacant-science station. as the turbolift doors parted to admit a single figure onto the bridge. Displaying the insignia of a senior science officer on his blue uniform, Spock moved toward the command chair and halted halfway between Kirk and the empty-but no longer vacant-science station.

"Permission to come aboard, Captain." Admiration gleamed in the eyes of every other officer present. Quite appropriately and as would have been expected, Spock ignored them all.

Well, perhaps not all.

Kirk struggled to suppress a broad smile. "Permission granted. Your purpose in presenting yourself here, Mister Spock?"

"As you have yet to select a first officer, I would respectfully like to submit my candidacy. If you decline, there is still time for me to disembark. I ask that you fully consider all candidates and qualifications before rendering a final decision in this important matter." He paused a moment, his expression never changing. "Should you desire, I can provide character references."

It was all Kirk could do to keep from bursting out laughing. As he met the Vulcan's gaze, one of the science officer's eyebrows rose prominently. Little more needed to be said.

"It would be my honor, Commander. The science station is yours." Turning, he addressed the helm briskly.

"Maneuvering thrusters, Mister Sulu. Take us out."

"Aye, Captain." Sulu's smile matched those of everyone else on the bridge.

The Enterprise Enterprise began to move. Slowly at first, but without hesitation and with the subtle intimation of purpose that would define her own future. As it slipped clear of the dock, Spock remained by Kirk's side. began to move. Slowly at first, but without hesitation and with the subtle intimation of purpose that would define her own future. As it slipped clear of the dock, Spock remained by Kirk's side.

"Before assuming my formal duties, I must know one thing. The Kobayashi Maru Kobayashi Maru-how did you break the encryption code?"

Looking up at his friend, Kirk was finally unable to repress a smile that harkened back to an earlier time. To a simpler, younger, far more innocent time. He lowered his voice conspiratorially.

"Orion women talk in their sleep."

Spock considered carefully before responding. "I suppose I may never understand cheating."

Kirk nodded slightly. "Give it...time."

No one was in the transporter room when it unexpectedly and fleetingly energized. The figure that emerged on the pad closest to the rest of the chamber did not hesitate, but made straight for the nearest open portal. The blip engendered by its appearance was too transitory and insufficient to alert security. It did not matter, because the unexpected arrival's appearance on board caused only consternation and not alarm.

For the life of them, as it sped outsystem and entered warp space, no one on the Enterprise Enterprise could figure out where the beagle with the very peculiar ears had come from. could figure out where the beagle with the very peculiar ears had come from.

Space-the Final Frontier

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