“State your name,” the admiral said.

“You know my name.”

“This is for the official record.”

“Jim Kirk.”

Silence.

”Full name, please.”

Jim looked away from the screen and collected himself. “James Tiberius Kirk.”

“Rank and ship.”

“Captain of the USS Enterprise.”

“In your own words, please give an official account of the incident that cost the lives of Lieutenants Graves, Mastrantonio and Richardson.”

Jim straightened behind his desk. Fidgeting a little. He’d already gone through this with two other admirals. This was supposed to be the final one. It hadn’t gotten any easier from the first two.

“We were exploring the planet, Cosar Three, after a distress signal. We’d received a distress signal from the scientists stationed there, but when we arrived there were no life signs and no…bodies of the scientists.”

He’d known one of the scientists.  They’d been friends once and then lovers. And then nothing.

When he paused for too long, the admiral prodded, “Go on.”

“I chose a landing party consisting of myself, chief medical officer, Leonard McCoy, Commander Spock, and Lieutenants Graves, Mastrantonio, and Richardson. Graves was a science officer reporting to Commander Spock. Mastrantonio, and Richardson were security officers. The three of them had exited the empty laboratory and were preparing to continue their exploration of the surrounding area where they were abruptly attached by a gaseous entity.”

“You personally witnessed this attack?”

Jim swallowed and nodded. “They had screamed as they were set upon and myself, Doctor McCoy, and Mr. Spock exited the lab, phasers drawn and at the ready. While we watched, the creature consumed the entire bodies of the three officers. After that, it moved off in another direction and away from the remaining members of the landing party. We returned at once to the Enterprise.”

“And you had no prior readings of this gaseous entity before it attacked your officers?”

“None. Mere seconds before their screams, Spock got a strange reading on his tricorder. That was the first indication we had that there was any other life form there. We can only assume that the scientists from Cosar Three were set upon by the same creature.”

“And what has happened to the entity since your first encounter with it?”

“Through research and trial and error, Lieutenant Commander Scott and Commander Spock were able to discover the way to eliminate it and its threat. The creature was destroyed.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“And there were no additional casualties save for Graves, Mastrantonio, and Richardson.”

“Correct.”

“All right. That’s the end of the office record.” The admiral sat back. “Jim. You did everything right. You bare no responsibility.”

“Tell that to the guilt that’s eating at me, Mom.”

She smiled gently at him. “Every admiral who has questioned you and the others have exonerated you and your crew from blame. In fact, you saved other planets and other humanoids from becoming victims of this same entity.”

Jim shook his head. “Maybe. I can’t help wonder if there are more of them out there.”

“If there are, you and your crew discovered how to take care of them. That’s something too.”

He nodded.

“I’ve taken care of informing their families of their loss. They’ll get full lifetime benefits provided by Starfleet.”

“I know.”

“It’s not easy, I know.” She sighed and leaned back. “Besides your dad, I lost many friends that day on the Kelvin and on many missions since. I’m grateful to still have you.”

“Thanks, Mom. I just…it doesn’t seem to get easier.”

“No, it never does. Where’s Spock?”

“On the bridge, I think. Should be back soon.”

“Let him take care of your for a while. He can ease your burden.”

“I will. And you’re right, he will.” He attempted a smile. “Thanks for everything, Mom. I’m glad this last one was you.”

“Me too. And that’s it. The reports have been filed and the case is closed. Talk soon, Jim. Kirk out.”

And his screen went back to the Starfleet screen.

At that moment he heard the door of the quarters being accessed. He got up from behind his desk and went to greet Spock at the door. As Jim went into Spock’s arms, he whispered, “You give the best hugs. I’ve missed you.”