Star Trek 1 | Chapter 11 of 13

Author: James Blish | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1855 Views | Add a Review

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The Conscience of the King

“A curious experience,” Kirk said. “I’ve seen Macbeth in everything from bearskins to uniforms, but never be-fore in Arcturian dress. I suppose an actor has to adapt to all kinds of audiences.”

“This one has,” Dr. Leighton said. He exchanged a glance with Martha Leighton; there was an undertone in his voice which Kirk could not fathom. There seemed to be no reason for it. The Leightons’ garden, under the bright sun of the Arcturian system, was warm and pleasant; their hospitality, including last night’s play, had been unexceptionable. But time was passing, and old friends or no, Kirk had to be back on duty shortly.

“Karidian has an enormous reputation,” he said, “and obviously he’s earned it. But now, Tom, we’d better get down to business. I’ve been told this new synthetic of yours is something we badly need.”

“There is no synthetic,” Leighton said heavily. “I want you to think about Karidian. About his voice in particular. You should remember it; you were there.”

“I was where?” Kirk said, annoyed. “At the play?”

“No,” Leighton said, his crippled, hunched body stiring restlessly in its lounger. “On Tarsus IV, during the Rebellion. Of course it was twenty years ago, but you couldn’t have forgotten. My family murdered-and your friends. And you saw Kodos-and heard him, too.”

“Do you mean to tell me,” Kirk said slowly, “that you called me three light-years off my course just to accuse an actor of being Kodos the Executioner? What am I supposed to put in my log? That you lied? That you di-verted a starship with false information?”

“It’s not false. Karidian is Kodos.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about your invented story about the synthetic food process. Anyhow, Kodos is dead.”

“Is he?” Leighton said. “A body burned beyond recognition-what kind of evidence is that? And there are so few witnesses left, Jim: you, and I, and perhaps six or seven others, people who actually saw Kodos and heard his voice. You may have forgotten, but I never will.”

Kirk turned to Martha, but she said gently: “I can’t tell him anything, Jim. Once he heard Karidian’s voice, it all came back. I can hardly blame him. From all accounts, that was a bloody business… and Tom wasn’t just a witness. He was a victim.”

“No, I know that,” Kirk said. “But vengeance won’t help, either-and I can’t allow the whole Enterprise to be sidetracked on a personal vendetta, no matter how I feel about it.”

“And what about justice?” Leighton said. “If Kodos is still alive, oughtn’t he to pay? Or at least be taken out of circulation-before he contrives another massacre? Four thousand people, Jim!”

“You have a point,” Kirk admitted reluctantly. “All right, I’ll go this far: Let me check the ship’s library computer and see what we have on both men. If your notion’s just a wild hare, that’s probably the quickest way to find out. If it isn’t-well, I’ll listen further.”

“Fair enough,” Leighton said.

Kirk pulled out his communicator and called the Enterprise. “Library computer… Give me everything you have on a man named or known as Kodos the Executioner. After that, a check on an actor named Anton Karidian.”

“Working,” the computer’s voice said. Then: “Kodos the Executioner. Deputy Commander, forces of Rebellion, Tarsus IV, twenty terrestrial years ago. Population of eight thousand Earth colonists struck by famine after fungus blight largely destroyed food supply. Kodos used situation to implement private theories of eugenics, slaughtered fifty per cent of colony population. Sought by Earth forces when rebellion overcome. Burned body found and case closed. Biographical data-“

“Skip that,” Kirk said. “Go on.”

“Karidian, Anton. Director and leading man of traveling company of actors, sponsored by Interstellar Cultural Exchange project. Touring official installations for past nine years. Daughter, Lenore, nineteen years old, now leading lady of troupe. Karidian a recluse, has given notice current tour is to be his last. Credits—”

“Skip that too. Data on his pre-acting years?”

“None available. That is total information.” Kirk put the communicator away slowly. “Well, well,” he said. “I still think it’s probably a wild hare, Tom… but I think I’d better go to tonight’s performance, too.”

After the performance, Kirk went backstage, which was dingy and traditional, and knocked on the door with the star on it. In a moment, Lenore Karidian opened it, still beautiful, though not as bizarre as she had looked as an Arcturian Lady Macbeth. She raised her eyebrows.

“I saw your performance tonight,” Kirk said. “And last night, too. I just want to… extend my appreciation to you and to Karidian.”

“Thank you,” she said, politely. “My father will be delighted, Mr….?”

“Capt. James Kirk, the starship Enterprise.”

That told, he could tell; that and the fact that he had seen the show two nights running. She said: “We’re honored. I’ll carry your message to father.”

“Can’t I see him personally?”

“I’m sorry, Captain Kirk. He sees no one personally.”

“An actor turning away his admirers? That’s very unusual.”

“Karidian is an unusual man.”

“Then I’ll talk with Lady Macbeth,” Kirk said. “If you’ve no objections. May I come in?”

“Why… of course.” She moved out of the way. In-side, the dressing room was a clutter of theatrical trunks, all packed and ready to be moved. “I’m sorry I have nothing to offer you.”

Kirk stared directly at her, smiling. “You’re being unnecessarily modest.”

She smiled back. “As you see, everything is packed. Next we play two performances on Benecia, if the Astral Queen can get us there; we leave tonight.”

“She’s a good ship,” Kirk said. “Do you enjoy your work?”

“Mostly. But, to play the classics, in these times, when most people prefer absurd three-V serials… it isn’t always as rewarding as it could be.”

“But you continue,” Kirk said.

“Oh yes,” she said, with what seemed to be a trace of bitterness. “My father feels that we owe it to the public. Not that the public cares.”

“They cared tonight. You were very convincing as Lady Macbeth.”

“Thank you. And as Lenore Karidian?”

“I’m impressed.” He paused an instant. “I think I’d like to see you again.”

“Professionally?”

“Not necessarily.”

“I… think I’d like that. Unfortunately, we must keep to our schedule.”

“Schedules aren’t always as rigid as they seem,” Kirk said. “Shall we see what happens?”

“Very well. And hope for the best.”

The response was promising, if ambiguous, but Kirk had no chance to explore it further. Suddenly his communicator was beeping insistently.

“Excuse me,” he said. “That’s my ship calling… Kirk here.”

“Spock calling, Captain. Something I felt you should know immediately. Dr. Leighton is dead.”

“Dead? Are you sure?”

“Absolutely,” Spock’s voice said. “We just had word from Q Central. He was murdered-stabbed to death.”

Slowly, Kirk put the device back in his hip pocket. Lenore was watching him. Her face showed nothing but grave sympathy.

“I’ll have to go,” he said. “Perhaps you’ll hear from me later.”

“I quite understand. I hope so.”

Kirk went directly to the Leightons’ apartment. The body was still there, unattended except by Martha, but it told him nothing; he was not an expert in such matters. He took Martha’s hand gently.

“He really died the first day those players arrived,” she said, very quietly. “Memory killed him. Jim… do you suppose survivors ever really recover from a trag-edy?”

“I’m deeply sorry, Martha.”

“He was convinced the moment we saw that man arrive,” she said. “Twenty years since the terror, but he was sure Karidian was the man. Is that possible, Jim? Is he Kodos, after all?”

“I don’t know. But I’m trying to find out.”

“Twenty years and he still had nightmares. I’d wake him and he’d tell me he still heard the screams of the innocent-the silence of the. executed. They never told him what happened to the rest of his family.”

“I’m afraid there’s not much doubt about that,” Kirk said.

“It’s the not knowing, Jim-whether the people you love are dead or alive. When you know, you mourn, but the wound heals and you go on. When you don’t—every dawn is a funeral. That’s what killed my husband, Jim, not the knife… But with him, I know.”

She managed a small smile and Kirk squeezed her hand convulsively. “It’s all right,” she said, as if she were the one who had to do the comforting. “At least he has peace now. He never really had it before. I suppose we’ll never know who killed him.”

“I,” Kirk said, “am damn well going to find out.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’ve had enough of all this passion for vengeance. It’s time to let it all rest. More than time.” Suddenly the tears welled up. “But I shan’t forget him. Never.”

Kirk stomped aboard ship in so obvious a white fury that nobody dared even to speak to him. Going directly to his quarters, he barked into the intercom: “Uhura!”

“Yes, Captain,” the Communications Officer responded, her normally firm voice softened almost to a squeak.

“Put me through to Captain Daly, the Astral Queen, on orbit station. And put it on scramble.”

“Yes, sir… He’s on, sir.”

“John, this is Jim Kirk. Can you do me a little favor?”

“I owe you a dozen,” Daly’s voice said. “And two dozen drinks, too. Name your poison.”

“Thanks. I want you to pass up your pickup here.”

“You mean strand all them actors?”

“Just that,” Kirk said. “I’ll take them on. And if there’s any trouble, the responsibility is mine.”

“Will do.”

“I appreciate it. I’ll explain later-I hope. Over and out… Lieutenant Uhura, now I want the library computer.”

“Library.”

“Reference the Kodos file. I’m told there were eight or nine survivors of the massacre who were actual eyewit-nesses. I want their names and status.”

“Working… In order of age: Leighton, T., deceased. Molson, E., deceased-“

“Wait a minute, I want survivors.”

“These were survivors of the massacre,” the computer said primly. “The deceased are all recent murder victims, all cases open. Instructions.”

Kirk swallowed. “Continue.”

“Kirk, J., Captain, S.S. Enterprise. Wiegand, R., deceased. Eames, S., deceased. Daiken, R. Communications, S.S. Enterprise-“

“What!”

“Daiken, R., Communications, Enterprise, five years old at time of Kodos incident.”

“All right, cut,” Kirk said. “Uhura, get me Mr. Spock… Mr. Spock, arrange for a pickup for the Karidian troupe, to be recorded in the log as stranded, for transfer to their destination; company to present special performance for officers and crew. Next destination to be Eta Benecia; give me arrival time as soon as it’s processed.”

“Aye, aye, sir. What about the synthetic food samples we were supposed to pick up from Dr. Leighton?”

“There aren’t any, Mr. Spock,” Kirk said shortly.

“That fact will have to be noted, too. Diverting a starship-“

“Is a serious business. Well, a black mark against Dr. Leighton isn’t going to hurt him now. One more thing, Mr. Spock. I want the privacy of the Karidian company totally respected. They can have the freedom of the ship within the limits of regulations, but their quarters are off limits. Pass it on to all hands.”

“Yes, sir.” There was no emotion in Spock’s voice; but then, there never was.

“Finally, Mr. Spock, reference Lt. Robert Daiken, in Communications. Please have him transferred to Engineering.”

“Sir,” Spock said, “he came up from Engineering.”

“I’m aware of that. I’m sending him back. He needs more experience.”

“Sir, may I suggest a further explanation? He’s bound to consider this transfer a disciplinary action.”

“I can’t help that,” Kirk said curtly. “Execute. And notify me when the Karidians come aboard.”

He paused and looked up at the ceiling, at last unable to resist a rather grim smile. “I think,” he said, “I shall be taking the young lady on a guided tour of the ship.”

There was quite a long silence. Then Spock said neutrally:

“As you wish, sir.”

At this hour, the engine room was empty, and silent except for the low throbbing of the great thrust units; the Enterprise was driving. Lenore looked around, and then smiled at Kirk.

“Did you order the soft lights especially for the occasion?” she said.

“I’d like to be able to say yes,” Kirk said. “However, we try to duplicate conditions of night and day as much as possible. Human beings have a built-in diurnal rhythm; we try to adjust to it.” He gestured at the hulking driv-ers. “You find this interesting?”

“Oh yes… All that power, and all under such complete control. Are you like that, Captain?”

“I hope I’m more of a man than a machine,” he said.

“An intriguing combination of both. The power’s at your command; but the decisions-“

“-come from a very human source.”

“Are you sure?” she said. “Exceptional, yes; but human?”

Kirk said softly, “You can count on it.”

There was a sound of footsteps behind them. Kirk turned reluctantly. It was Yeoman Rand, looking in this light peculiarly soft and blonde despite her uniform-and despite a rather severe expression. She held out an envelope.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said. “Mr. Spock thought you ought to have this at once.”

“Quite so. Thank you.” Kirk pocketed the envelope. “That will be all.”

“Very good, sir.” The girl left without batting an eye-lash. Lenore watched her go, seemingly somewhat amused.

“A lovely girl,” she said.

“And very efficient.”

“Now there’s a subject, Captain. Tell me about the women in your world. Has the machine changed them? Made them, well, just people, instead of women?”

“Not at all,” Kirk said. “On this ship they have the same duties and functions as the men. They compete equally, and get no special privileges. But they’re still women.”

“I can see that. Especially the one who just left. So pretty. I’m afraid she didn’t like me.”

“Nonsense,” Kirk said, rather more bluffly than he had intended. “You’re imagining things. Yeoman Rand is all business.”

Lenore looked down. “You are human, after all. Captain of a starship, and yet you know so little about women. Still I can hardly blame her.”

“Human nature hasn’t changed,” Kirk said. “Grown, perhaps, expanded… but not changed.”

“That’s a comfort. To know that people can still feel, build a private dream, fall in love… all that, and power too! Like Caesar - and Cleopatra.”

She was moving steadily closer, by very small degrees. Kirk waited a moment, and then took her in his arms.

The kiss was warm and lingering. She was the first to draw out of it, looking up into his eyes, her expression half sultry, half mocking.

“I had to know,” she whispered against the power hum. “I never kissed a Caesar before.”

“A rehearsal, Miss Karidian?”

“A performance, Captain.”

They kissed again, hard. Something crackled against Kirk’s breast. After what seemed to be all too short a while, he took her by the shoulders and pushed her gently away - not very far.

“Don’t stop.”

“I’m not stopping, Lenore. But I’d better see what it was that Spock thought was so important. He had orders not to know where I was.”

“I see,” she said, her voice taking on a slight edge. “Starship captains tell before they kiss. Well, go ahead and look at your note.”

Kirk pulled out the envelope and ripped it open. The message was brief, pointed, very Spock-like. It said:

SHIP’S OFFICER DAIKEN POISONED, CONDITION SERIOUS. DR. McCOY ANALYZING FOR CAUSE AND ANTIDOTE, REQUESTS YOUR PRESENCE.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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