Countdown: 8 Days, 7 Hours
Captain James T. Kirk dropped into the soft sand and leaned back against a large log of driftwood. In front of him the dune slanted down to the beach and the green-tinted ocean beyond. He tried to think back to the last time he had simply sat alone on a beach and relaxed. He couldn't remember ever doing that. But he also couldn't imagine this was the first time, either. He must have relaxed on a beach before, although he had no doubt Dr. McCoy would swear it had never happened. McCoy always said that James Kirk never relaxed.
Kirk supposed that was true. Maybe it wasn't too late to learn. Or more likely, it was time to learn.
He took a deep breath and looked around. There was a slight bite to the ocean breeze coming in over the waves, just enough to take the edge off the heat of the midday sun. The salt and brine smell drifted over the beach, strong enough to be enjoyed by a new arrival, but not overpowering enough to be noticed after the first few moments. The beach sand was almost a pure white, and stretched in a ribbon as far as he could see in both directions.
This planet Belle Terre was everything Governor Evan Pardonnet had said it would be. If this stretch of shoreline near the main colony compound was any indication of the rest of the planet, it was no wonder so many people were so willing to travel so far to get here. Even putting aside the governor's high-minded ideas of freedom of thinking, freedom from government, and freedom from the Federation, this place just might turn out to be the utopia Pardonnet had hoped for.
Below Kirk, ten children, chaperoned by Lilian Coates, played a game a few hundred paces down the beach to his right. The sound of children cut between the gentle slapping of the waves rolling up the sand, then retreating. The laughter and childish shouts of joy were wonderful reminders of the perfect afternoon he was having. As a starship captain, he hadn't had many like this.
He almost stood to go and see how the children were doing, then stopped himself. He had come here to relax.
And relax he was going to do if it killed him.
He laughed to himself, the sound carried away on the slight breeze. McCoy would be proud of him. Shocked, but proud.
Kirk took another deep breath and stared ahead. The tinted green of the ocean spread out as far as he could see. The waves were no more than gentle rolling swells. The few clouds in the sky were white, puffy, and nonthreatening.
He took a third deep breath of the clean, fresh air and could almost feel the muscles in his back starting to loosen. It wasn't often that he took a few minutes to himself. And after getting the sixty-two thousand colonists and all their varied ships to this paradise, he deserved the time. If he had his way, he was going to take more time, as often as his Starfleet duties of protecting the colonists allowed.
At the moment a large number of his crew were scattered in twenty different groups over the planet, helping the colonists explore, carve out settlements, and load supplies and equipment to the surface. Every one of his senior officers except Spock had charge of a major operation. And from what he'd been told before he beamed down, everything was going smoothly. At this point, only two weeks after arriving, just about every one of the colonists was living on the surface of the planet, an unprecendented accomplishment.
The Enterprise was in orbit, standing ready to defend the colony ships from any more threats from the Kauld or their new Orion allies. A fleet of Kauld and Orions tried to keep the colonists from reaching this planet, but Kirk doubted they'd have much trouble from them again immediately. The Enterprise and the colonists defeated them handily, but Kirk had no doubt that the Kauld and their enemies the Blood would be back. The Blood leader Shucorion claimed to be a friend to the colonists, but Kirk wasn't so sure of that. The Blood/Kauld conflict would cause the colony trouble at some time in the future.
Just not now.
At the moment everything was going fine. There was time enough to get the colony started and get crops growing. And time for him to relish this beautiful new world just a little.
He reached for his communicator to check in with the ship, then stopped himself once more. There was also time for him to take a few moments to himself. They could find him if they needed him.
He ran his hand through the soft sand, then gazed off down the seemingly limitless beach. Belle Terre was just about as close to Earth as a colony could find. The climate here on the major continent was moderate and the growing seasons uniformly long, thanks to this planet's orbit around its sun. Pulling guard duty on Belle Terre for the near future wasn't going to be so bad after all. There weren't many better places he could think to guard.
But he couldn't imagine spending his life here, either, no matter how beautiful the place was. Space was too big, with too many mysteries to explore. He didn't mind guarding this colony for a while, as long as they needed him and the Enterprise. It was a challenge unlike any he had had before. But when this was done he wanted to get back into deep space.
Down on the beach a child laughed, drawing Kirk's attention that way. He smiled as the children all piled on each other, kicked up sand, laughed some more, then scattered, playing some game Kirk wasn't familiar with. Lilian Coates, her blond hair loose in the ocean breeze, her shoulders straight, her hands in the pockets of her light jacket, stood between the children and the ocean, watching, laughing along with them.
Kirk was amazed that she could even laugh at this point in her life. Her husband had been one of the many colonist casualties on the way here from Earth. With his death, her husband had left her far from home, alone on a colony world. Suddenly without a family, she had to take care of herself and their nine-year-old son, Reynold, in a very harsh and unfamiliar environment. That would be tough on anyone, and would destroy many. But Lilian Coates had just seemed to keep right on going.
He had met her a few times right after her husband had died. She was a strong woman, of that there was no doubt. She was doing just fine, or so it seemed at the moment. Maybe in a few months he'd make it a point to make sure that hadn't changed. Strong people like her were exactly what this colony needed for long-term survival.
He watched her guard the children for a moment, then settled back against the log, closed his eyes, and let the sun warm his face while the ocean breeze cooled him. If lucky, he just might be able to spend the entire next hour right here, undisturbed by the responsibilities of protecting an entire new world full of colonists.
"Captain?" Spock said from behind him.
It didn't seem as if the luck was with him.
Kirk sat up and opened his eyes. Below him Lilian glanced up his way, noting for the first time his presence, then went back to sharing a laugh with the children.
He turned to stare up at the Vulcan as he approached through the sand. "What is it, Mr. Spock?"
"The results of my tests, Captain," Spock said, handing him the scientific tricorder he carried.
"Couldn't it have waited?" Kirk asked without looking at the report. "I was enjoying a little time away from reports just like this."
Spock had been concerned about slight communication problems they'd been having when not in Gamma Night. Before Kirk had beamed down, Spock had been focusing his attention on one of the moons of Belle Terre everyone called the Quake Moon, because it seemed always to be shaking with small quakes, more than likely caused by volcanic activity. Spock had a theory that the communication problems came partly from the moon and had been so intent in his project