After another twenty-four hours, Captain James T. Kirk had completed one of his trademark shipwalks, re-acquainting himself with his welcoming crew. Pausing to chat here, lending a hand with repairs there, and generally making himself at home in his adult body with the brave men and women who had taken such good care of him both as a child and as a young adult, going so far as to conceal his presence from their captors in this latest skirmish with the Klingons and Orions.
Montgomery Scott was delighted to see him when he finally made it down to Engineering, and he was nearly bowled over by the engineer as the man hopped down off a catwalk just in time to pounce on him in a hearty one-armed hug.
"Aye, it's good t'see you back in your own skin, sir!" Scott exclaimed, looking his amused captain up and down. "And the ship all in one piece, too, sir!"
"Thanks in a good part to your expertise, if the reports I'm hearing are accurate, Mr. Scott," he replied, smiling and waving at the squad of Engineers who were peeking over the side of catwalks and doing their best to pretend they weren't. "Remotely accessing our transporter through alien tech, and triangulating landing pad coordinates from memory?"
"Aye, wouldn't recommend it for your average crewman, sir, not through heavy shielding like that - but it worked," the man replied with a cheerful grin. "And no thanks to the Klingons, but nary a death casualty aboard, which is nothing short of a smallish miracle, sir."
"You've done a fantastic job, Mr. Scott. I can already feel her returning to normal," Kirk declared, patting a sleek durasteel wall gently to feel the purr of engines below. "Spare no expense to get her up and running; Starfleet owes me four months' back-pay for inconvenience in the line of duty."
"Aye, sir." The engineer clapped him on the back, obviously pleased to have his old captain back. "You've been missed, sir, that you have. Though Mr. Spock's done a fine job in your absence, Cap'n."
"I'm quite certain of that, Scotty."
"Mr. Giotto," Kirk responded, shaking his Security Chief's hand warmly. "I believe I owe your men an apology for running them ragged trying to keep track of a wayward toddler?"
"Our pleasure, sir," the elderly man answered with a grin. "It's good to see you yourself again, Captain."
"Did ye need me for anythin' else, sir? I must get back to m'engines," Scott said, glancing worriedly at the damaged consoles nearby.
"Just one quick question, Scotty…" The captain paused, fidgeting slightly with the hem of his tunic. "Um. Well. You know that thing you invented for McCoy to use with me when I was a baby…the starfield-projector?"
The engineer nodded knowingly, bouncing a little on his heels with a small smile. "I take it ye'd like to convert the ceiling of your cabin, sir?"
Kirk managed to blush only slightly. "If it's even possible, Scotty. And certainly not until the ship's in tiptop condition, of course."
"Of course, sir."
Scott grinned. "I'll see to it m'self, sir, as soon as the Lady's back to normal."
"I knew I could count on you, Mr. Scott. And, ah. Don't mention it to Bones, will you? I've a feeling I'm going to hear enough about my second childhood to last me the rest of my life."
"We surmised you would have questions, Commander Spock." The gentle voice of the Insonti high priest was by now familiar to both Spock and McCoy, though it was only the former who had come before the Insonti council now as McCoy was trying to catch up on paperwork. "Is Captain Kirk unharmed?"
"He is," Spock answered, "and that is the reason for my contacting you at this time. There was…an accident, aboard. One which, by all laws of science, should have cost the captain his life and destroyed a portion of the ship. However, upon our entering the room, not only the captain was unharmed, but the room as well - and he, returned to his rightful age."
The high priest nodded solemnly, while the council behind him looked thoughtful.
"There is a failsafe written into the genetic coding of the Regenratron, Commander Spock," the priest explained. "Should one of the temporary children, we call them - should they come into mortal peril, by some circumstance unforeseen, the Regenratron coding immediately breaks down, forcing a rapid re-aging upon the child's body; the resulting expenditure of pure genetic energy at a cellular level then acts a shield against outside forces, both repelling the danger and returning the child to his proper age for his own safety."
Spock nodded. "I had come to that conclusion as well. To not have a recourse in the event of a test subject's susceptibility to childhood disease, for example, would not be prudent."
"Precisely, Commander. What must have happened with your captain, is as we describe. The resulting rapid aging produced a powerful life-energy, which acted as a shield to absorb the impact of the explosion described in the report you forwarded to us. We apologize for any inconvenience, emotionally or physically, which this process may have cost you and your captain." The priest looked more than a little concerned. "The Regenratron's process is meant as a gift, not a curse."
"As indeed I believe it was," Spock replied graciously. "The captain will no doubt wish to thank you personally, but you have my assurance that he most certainly…enjoyed, this second chance at childhood."
The priest's eyes fairly lit up with pleasure. "Our culture is honored by his acceptance, Commander."
"I have one further question, Honorable Council."
"Ask what you will, Commander; we have nothing to hide from either your scientific or personal curiosity," the priest replied, eyes warm with gentle amusement.
"During one of our communiqués, you mentioned that the entire purpose of the Regenratron is to teach the subject a series of lessons, which then each accelerate the aging process."
"That is correct."
"You also stated, during one of our conferences, that the Captain himself was not the only being who was required to learn these lessons in order for the re-transformation to take place," Spock said slowly.
"That is also correct. We created the Regenratron for a dual purpose, Commander. To teach the primary subject, yes - but also, possibly more so, depending upon your point of view, also to teach those surrounding him."
Spock nodded, silently thoughtful for a moment. "May I ask, then, why you chose the captain for this ritual, rather than another member of our negotiating party?"
The high priest smiled. "Spock of Vulcan. You and the two humans which make up your unique tri-une aboard the starship Enterprise have a strangely intertwined Destiny. Such we of the Insonti Spiritual Council are able to see, such we were able to channel into the technology which makes up the Regenratron."
Spock's eyebrow twitched in suppressed skepticism as the priest continued, supplemented by a nodding high council.
"In order to someday realize that united Destiny which binds the three of you together, both you and the healer McCoy were required to learn as many lessons as the captain - different lessons, but lessons nonetheless. You will understand, someday, just why events transpired as they did, to draw the trinity closer; for yours is a Destiny so intertwined with these two very different humans as to be one of the few forces which stand out to us among the vast differentials of time."
Spock's brow creased slightly. "Vulcans do not believe in the concepts of Destiny, Honorable Council."
The high priest merely smiled, bowing his head in acquiescence to the statement. "But you will, Spock of Vulcan. In time, you will."
"As you wish, Honored Council members," he replied respectfully. "Am I to assume, then, that we too have completed the lessons we were required to learn from this experience?"
"The results should speak for themselves, Commander Spock," the priest replied quietly. "For he who learns to care for the innocent, learns the greatest of all lessons; so he who receives the trusting love of a little child, has received the greatest of all gifts. See that you and your human healer do not abuse that gift."
"We could never do so," he replied softly.
"Then you have answered your own question, Spock of Vulcan. Heed that lesson - and remember."
"Can I inform all decks that Sickbay is no longer a hazard zone, then?" Hikaru Sulu asked mischievously, as two familiar figures seated themselves across from him and a greatly-amused Captain Kirk at the table in Officers' Mess.
"Or did Chapel just kick you out for some peace and quiet?" Kirk asked, glancing pointedly between them.
"Yeah, about that, Jim…" McCoy took a long drink from his tea glass, eyeing his captain over the rim.
"I believe the Doctor is attempting to apologize for his rampant emotionality, Captain."
"Stop interruptin' me! It's bad enough you still echoing inside my head, I don't need you in surround-sound!"
"If you retained the ability to complete a coherent thought, Doctor, I would not be forced into the unwilling role of interpreter for your particular, peculiar brand of Terran Standard."
"There's nothin' wrong with my Standard," the doctor declared, scowling. "You're the one with the last name that nobody can pronounce."
Spock's eyebrows inclined ever-so-slightly. "I can, Doctor."
Sulu smirked, watching with the relief that comes of a restored universe as his newly-returned captain grinned into his bowl while the bickering continued across the table. Finally, there was a momentary lull, during which he glanced up to see both his XOs appraising their captain in (slightly creepy) silence.
Still busily engaged in his dinner, Kirk finally registered the scrutiny and raised his eyes with comical slowness, whereupon he offered a cautious head-tilt of inquiry.
"You feelin' any residual effects of the re-transformation, Jim?" McCoy asked with an odd look.
"We were able to confer together with the Insonti people shortly before leaving Sickbay, sir," Spock explained, "and they did mention you could experience certain…effects, lingering from your recent second childhood."
The captain shrugged easily, smiling. "Nope, I feel fine, Spock."
"You're really sure."
"Doctor, if you're suggesting I am incapable of command because of lingering childish behaviors, which might I add is ironic, given the fiasco which occurred last night in Sickbay, I would suggest you specify," the captain said shortly, eyebrows halfway to his hairline.
"Besides the fact that you're eating mac-and-cheese and chocolate milk for dinner, sir?" Sulu asked innocently.
Kirk turned the color of a passing Security crewman's uniform tunic.
"Yes, well. Perhaps there are some…small…lingering effects," he mumbled gracelessly into his bowl.
Their respectable Chief Medical Officer promptly cackled his head off, drawing the attention of every curious crewman within a three table radius.
"It's all right, sir," Sulu said reassuringly, careful to hide a grin in his water glass. "Chekov still eats Super Sugar Puffs for breakfast every morning."
"I won't start to worry, Jim, unless you start getting the urge to crawl into bed with the hobgoblin again," McCoy continued wickedly, waving an empty spork at his captain's horrified face.
Sulu privately thought Spock looked five seconds from locating the nearest solid object to bang his head against…or possibly bang McCoy's head against.
"I don't remember doing that!"
"Doctor, must you -"
"Yes, I must, Mr. Spock," the doctor declared, sitting back and grinning with the air of a man who is completely self-satisfied with his role. "And you two'll let me have my fun, unless you'd like a certain video of Captain Sunshine and his Wonder Vulcan taking a nap on the Observation Deck couch to find its way into the ship's public library banks, now hmm?"
A rather childish whimper escaped their fearless leader as his head dropped onto the table with a dull thonk. "Spock, can he really do that?"
Spock looked a bit like he'd swallowed a tribble and it stuck halfway down. "Unfortunately, sir, I believe he can."
"You bet your pointed ears I can. That's probably not good, 'scuse me for a second," McCoy said suddenly, all business as Nurse Chapel entered, obviously looking for him.
"I'd better be going, too, Captain," Sulu said hastily to cover his laughter. He tossed his used flatware back on the tray and stood. "I'm on beta shift for the next two days, to give Mr. Scott a break from the Bridge."
He wasn't two meters from the table, headed for the recycling chutes, before he could hear the conversation continuing behind him.
"Sir, that is by far one of the least embarrassing episodes he unfortunately has stored in what he is terming a 'blackmail bank'."
"But Spock, did I really…"
"And you let me?"
"And Bones has video footage of it?!"
"In other words…we're screwed, for the rest of the five-year mission."