Just beyond the century plants lay a sitting area, paved in pebbles and dotted with an orderly arrangement of small tables available for public use. An elderly man in white robes approached one of them, his feet crunching into the pebbles. He carried a case in his hands, and a jug of water, both of which he placed on the table before he sat down.
Not far from him at another table was a strikingly attractive young woman with eyes like big, brown dates. She had been working on an embroidery project, but it soon lay untouched as she watched the old man with curiosity.
He had set up a three-tiered tray and populated it with strange little statuettes, some dark-colored and some light. The young lady stared at his activities, trying to decipher their meaning.
The voice of a friend snatched her attention. "T'Mar!"
T'Mar turned to see a girl with an apple-shaped face approaching her. "Good morning, T'Puach."
"May I join you? I have just finished my final examination in history."
"I would be very pleased for the company." T'Mar gestured to the seat opposite her. "Do you think your performance was satisfactory?"
"I believe so. I have confidence." T'Puach flopped herself down on the bench, tossing her braid over one shoulder. "At what were you staring when I first saw you?"
"Do you see that elderly man?" T'Mar gestured with her eyes.
T'Puach looked. "Ambassador Spock!" she exclaimed in a hushed voice. "We must not disturb his privacy."
"I have no intention of disturbing him," T'Mar reassured her, "but I am very curious about his activities. I have hypothesized that he is participating in a form of mathematical recreation with those objects, and I am trying to work out the structure of the game."
"Everything is math with you, isn't it," T'Puach quipped.
T'Mar looked down at her embroidery--the digits of pi in a flowery font against a backdrop of cactus blossoms. "It is impossible to escape mathematics in the contemplation of the universe," she said loftily.
"The social sciences have equal merit," T'Puach asserted. "For example, my studies in xenoanthropology leave me better equipped than you to decode his devices."
"Oh? You have learned of this game?"
"It is a human invention. They call it 'chess'. It is an abstract representation of an ancient military conflict."
"Military conflict?" T'Mar wrinkled her nose. "Does that mean that when he knocks over a small piece and then removes it from the board, a soldier has died?"
"Yes, in theory, but it is all symbolic." T'Puach was silent for a long time as she studied Spock's moves. "One thing I do not understand--chess is not a solitary game."
"He is alone."
"Yes, but one cannot have a military conflict with oneself."
"That is logical." T'Mar resumed her embroidery. "What is your hypothesis?"
"Humans have been known to play games against themselves," T'Puach suggested.
"Would it not be wasteful to conceive a military strategy against oneself?"
T'Puach wasn't listening. Instead, she was squinting into the sunlight as she studied Spock's moves. "That move was illogical."
"Spock is half human."
"He identifies as Vulcan. That move is inconsistent with his philosophy and career history."
"He is an old man," T'Mar said in an almost inaudible voice, suggesting more than she had said.
"His intellect seems pristine," T'Puach countered. "His next move was flawlessly logical. Very Vulcan." There was a pause. "But then a bold, illogical one!"
"Why does he not play against a companion?"
"He had one, a human."
"Ah, yes, Kirk. You see, I do know some history." T'Mar's date-like eyes sparkled saucily.
"Perhaps he has been unable to find a sufficiently satisfying chess partner since Kirk's death. Kirk was a master strategist in his Starfleet career. In fact--" T'Puach caught her breath for a moment-- "I believe Spock is imagining he plays against him still."
"Every other move made by Ambassador Spock is perfectly logical, conservative, and Vulcan in every way. The moves in between are bold, illogical, unpredictable, and thoroughly human. They remind me of what I have read of Captain Kirk's career history."
"So he is staging a game against the friend he lost so long ago?"
"Perhaps he is replying a particularly memorable game in their past."
"You seem to be quite versed in this game."
"I learned to play chess during my stay on Deneva. My roommates were human. But now I miss the game."
"I would be pleased to learn," T'Mar invited. "While I shun the military overtones, there must be mathematics involved in the process somewhere."
"You are predictable, T'Mar--but predictable means dependable." Had they been human, they would have both smiled. Instead, it was internal, but they both felt it.
Spock's aged fingers curled around another piece and moved it across the board.
//I'm still going to win.//
//That may be, Jim, but I intend to give you a hearty battle.//
//Did you see those two attractive young Vulcan women staring at you?//
//I saw them, Jim, but I did not notice them or the fact that they were staring. You have not changed,// he thought back affectionately to the voice in his head.
//Next time, we should do this in front of a mirror.//
//Because I miss being able to look at you while you contemplate your moves,// Jim explained. //I miss seeing you.//
//Do you not realize I feel the same way?// A parade of images wandered through Spock's memory--Jim in his thirties, in the captain's chair. Jim in Sickbay, coaxing him back from V'ger's influence. Jim, older and stouter, in his cranberry-red uniform but off-duty, playing chess with him in the mess hall. All old, old memories.
//Oh.// The tone of the spirit was somber. //Good point. But at least this is the best thing we could possibly have done.//
//If Vulcan ever discovers what we did--//
//Why would they? You're retired, and even if you weren't, you're powerful enough to shield me from all but the most powerful telepaths.//
//True,// answered Spock. He let Jim's katra control his hands long enough to move a chess piece.
//You know, a lot of people told me when I was growing up that if I did good deeds, I'd get into heaven after I died,// Jim commented. //I didn't really listen to them, but maybe they were right. I just don't think they had any idea heaven was anything like this.// There was a pause in his thought while he watched through Spock's eyes as Spock made his next move. //Or that heaven would be hotter than hell.//
The girls at the far table had moved on to other topics, so nobody saw Spock smile--but Jim felt it, all the same.