“Opidsular, officers, cadets. We are here to resolve a troubling matter. Cadet SC937-0176CEC, known as James T. Kirk, step forward.”
The guards shoved Kirk into the arena that lay between the cadets and the officers. He stumbled, almost falling to his knees, but caught himself quickly and strode confidently forward. He had been shorn of his red jacket and pants, that badge of identity that marked out Starfleet cadets as putative members of the most elite service on Terra. He looked slim and pale in black gym pants and his undershirt.
McCoy noticed the faint bruises showing on the skin visible above the neck of the shirt. The kid had clearly been worked over since being arrested on the floor of the Kobayashi Maru simulation. Worked over and then healed up for the cognitive correction session. Had they done the healing properly, wondered McCoy or just ignored any damage under the surface? He hated the fact that he hadn't been able to do it himself.
He snarled inwardly at his own thoughts. All this damned well served Kirk right. What the hell had the kid been trying to prove? And eating that goddamned apple while lounging in the simulated captain's chair had been the final straw. Had it just been a co-incidence or had the kid specifically intended that little reference to one of humanity’s great origin myths? With Kirk you never knew, but underestimating him was always the wrong response.
He tried to sink even further down into his seat, hoping not to attract anyone's attention. He was known to associate with the bastard. The stain of Kirk’s disgrace would seep out to poison the careers of all those connected to him. Although career was a sick joke as far as McCoy was concerned.
That was why he’d taken up with Kirk to begin with, really. He’d stumbled out of the bathroom of that damned shuttle - having tried and failed to anesthetize the fear of what was about to happen to him through copious amounts of illegal moonshine - had looked at all the smug, pitiless little sociopaths in their prim red uniforms, all sucking up to the Vulcan overseers, and had grabbed a seat by the one other man who'd looked like he didn’t give a shit. When Kirk had sucked down his moonshine from the little hipflask, which was of course strictly against regulations, McCoy had thought he might have one ally. Of course that was all before he’d realized what a very dangerous beast he’d elected to take up with.
People thought he was crazy, but he had nothing on the lunacy that was Kirk, pissing away all the advantages of being the son of a hero of the Empire to put up two pointless fingers to what was - awful though it might be - nothing but the inevitable order of things. It wasn't as if there was any arguing against the manifest superiority of Vulcans. He looked down from the raised tiers where the cadets sat - arranged to be sure that they could not miss the lesson that was about to be taught to one of their kind - to where Kirk looked defiantly up at his commanders.
The Admirals sat in the center, a solid row of heavy grey uniforms. The Academy instructors were arranged on either side. And in the row above were their Vulcan overlords. The titles might rest with the Admirals but the power lay with the blank faces looking down upon them. And hovering in the air over all of them were the grotesquely enlarged disembodied holographic heads of the holy servant of her people Empress T'Pau and the infallible sage and font of all wisdom Philosopher Surak.
As a small child he'd had nightmares about the honor holograms that hung in every public space and any private residence of any distinction, convinced that their eyes followed him around the room, that the two figures knew every sinful thought and childish indiscretion. He had been right about that to some extent, although it was only much later that he realized that each image contained visual and audio bio-surveillance equipment.
He'd first come across the holos in the house of his grandparents and had been grateful that in his home they only had still portraits of the Empress and the Philosopher. By the time he was in middle school, he'd been ashamed of his family's backwardness in honoring their great leaders. As he was finishing up at high school he'd come to suspect that his father's excuse of poverty as a justification not to own the honor holograms hid other reasons.
Admiral Barnett broke through his reverie. “Cadet Kirk, you have violated Regulation 17-4.3 pursuant to the Starfleet Code of Ethical Conduct. However, due to the ineffable wisdom and infinite mercy of our hallowed leaders, you will be allowed to examine your tainted reasoning and lay before us the emotion-driven illogicality that led to your actions. What do you wish to say?”
The whole thing was a farce. Everyone knew it. Admitting to the errors of thought that had led to his actions might mitigate his punishment, but then again it might not. Nothing would change the ultimate outcome.
* * * *
Kirk deliberately broke the neutral expression every human was supposed to adopt and offered his accusers a broad smirk, bright blue eyes crinkling theatrically at the corners. "There were no errors in my thinking. I have no reason for self-criticism." There were faint whispers of disbelief among the cadets. Barnett, who had better control, continued to regard him with absolute impassivity.
"Cadet, the practice of cognitive correction is an honor, granted to humans that we may begin the first fumbling steps on the path that will one day, for the better disciplined generations that will follow us, lead to the holy state of arei'mnu - emotion's mastery - where we may become purely logical beings.
"As a human honored to serve in the most prestigious institution on Terra, that is Starfleet, where we may directly serve our Vulcan master-guides, you know that engaging in self-criticism activates the areas in the lateral prefrontal cortex and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex which are responsible for processing error detection and correction. Through the practice, in private and in public, we mature as a species."
Kirk shrugged casually, still with the undisciplined smirk on his face. "I'm feeling pretty mature, thanks. I have done nothing that I feel like criticizing. Your accusations are unfounded. And I believe I have the right to face my accuser directly.”
There was shocked silence in the hall. Barnett glanced up to the row of Vulcans seated behind him, looking for guidance. He then turned back to the hall. "Very well, cadet. This hearing notes that you have sacrificed all hope of mercy and of honor, your decision doubtless driven by pride, contemptuous in its illogicality. Your accuser is called forward."
A tall Vulcan, dressed in Academy greys, stepped into the ring. “This is Osu Zhe-lan Spock, one of our most distinguished graduates. He has programmed the Kobayashi Maru for the last four years.”
There were more astonished whispers. Vulcans almost never directly dirtied their hands with humans. They simply ordered other humans to do it for them. Vulcans’ manifest intellectual superiority put them far above the savage emotional chaos that was humanity.
* * * *
“This is your fault, you filthy little slut,” Uhura hissed. Her whisper was soft enough to go undetected by both the mechanical listening devices and the eager ears of spies in the cadet body, but just loud enough to be heard by her room-mate and current neighbor in the hall, Gaila. “If I’d reported you like I should’ve when I found the two of you rutting like disgusting animals, Kirk would never have taken the test. Osu Zhe-lan Spock wouldn’t be in this situation!”
Gaila stared down at her hands, clenched so tight that her nails were cutting into her palms. There was no doubt that this trouble would overwhelm her. Once the cognitive correction session was over, they’d want to know where Kirk got the coding information to break Zhe-lan Spock's simulation. She’d tried so hard to get into Starfleet. Many humans did all they could to avoid being conscripted but, for all the horrors of Imperial service, it was nothing compared to the world of suffering faced by refugee species. By getting herself into service, she’d improved the situation of her entire family.
Improved it and now destroyed it. Vulcans believed in family. And they believed in keeping the temperamental lesser species under control by punishing families. Exile to mining planets wasn't the worst of it. One might not live long in such places but at least your family knew where you were. Letters could be written once a year. It was the disappearances that were the worst, individuals who simply vanished, their registration erased from the citizenship databases as if they'd never existed.
She’d ruined everything for the sake of a little sex and a hope of friendship. The morality laws and procreation protocols were wearing on everyone who wasn’t Vulcan. As the Vulcans only had sex once every seven years, and solely for the purpose of conception, they had little patience with the hormone-driven urges of other species. Bringing animal instincts under conscious control was one of the many ways the developing species were supposed to be improving their moral worth.
No sex outside marriages, which in turn had to be approved by the Vulcan authorities as suitable for responsible reproduction. No homosexuality. No interspecies sex. If it was hard for humans, it was far worse for Orions. And there weren’t even any others of her own species for her to turn to. Cold showers, hard exercise and meditation only went so far, whatever the Vulcans might claim.
And there had been Kirk. Prepared to take a risk. Prepared to crack the blank mask every human wore to give her a smile. Prepared to touch her in the ways she ached for. She’d trusted him. She’d thought she’d found an ally, maybe even a friend. And he’d simply been using her to get the programming codes for the simulation. Soon he’d be dead and she’d be headed into an agony booth - if she was lucky. She opened her hands and watched the blood well up from the cuts of her nails.
She took a deep breath. She might be on the way down but she'd take what revenge she could as she fell. She whispered back to Uhura: "At least I only lusted after a Terran. What will our lords make of your dirty little fantasies, I wonder?" The shocked intake of breath by her side told her that she'd hit her mark.
* * * *
Down in the ring below them, Spock spoke out. “Cadet, you somehow managed to install and run a subroutine, thereby changing the conditions of the test.” Spock made use of all his conscious control to make sure his voice was steady, his breathing even, his posture and comportment perfectly suited to the occasion. But still the shame twisted in his stomach, a debilitating emotional ache that summarized all that was wrong with him.
He had been outwitted by a Terran. Outwitted in the field of technology and logic, precisely where Vulcans reigned with such inevitable authority. He knew he would walk away from this encounter where Kirk would not. But they were both being punished and in some ways he envied Kirk the definitive end that would come with death. He would have to go on, living proof of the way cross-species liaisons poisoned the Vulcan genome.
Kirk glared back, the insolent stare of a man either too stupid to know what he was about to lose or too crazy to care. It was well known that Kirk was not stupid. “Your point being?” No title, no honorific. No eyes modestly lowered in the presence of a Vulcan. The tension in the hall increased.
Admiral Barnett intervened, barking out: “In academic vernacular, you cheated!” An emotional outburst from an Admiral. The cadet body all leaned forward. This event was not playing to the normal script.
Kirk swung round to face Barnett. “The test is a cheat! It's programmed to be unwinnable.” A soft gasp spread round the hall. A direct challenge to an Admiral. What was the cadet thinking?
Spock spoke again, determined to assert the logic of his position, determined to do what he could to live up to the expectations of his Vulcan superiors. “Your argument denies the possibility of a no-win scenario.”
“I don’t believe in no-win scenarios.”
This time the hall filled with muted chatter. Who was this boy to put belief ahead of logic? To stand against everything the last 200 years of history had taught them? Everything that homo sapiens had learnt since the greatest moment in Terran history, the fifth of April of 2063, the moment of the Imperial Enlightenment. The Kirk name was revered precisely because this boy’s father had accepted the highest honor the Empire could offer a human - to die to save Vulcan lives.
“Silence,” barked Admiral Barnett.
* * * *
In the tier of instructors above the ring, Captain Pike silently ground his teeth. A thirty-year career, all focused towards one seemingly unattainable goal, now agonizingly almost within his reach, and it was all about to go up in flames because of one cocky cadet. He’d not escape from this. It would be remembered who had recruited Kirk.
It was his own fault for trying to be too clever, for adding a little personal initiative to his orders. He’d been charged with improving the quality of the recruits and he’d known he’d been handed a very difficult task. It was a close-to-final assignment on his slow painstaking rise to being the first human ever to be given full command of an Imperial flagship. Although humans now commanded logistics vessels, all military craft still had Vulcan overseers.
Pike was one of the first generation to be groomed for command and one of the very few to stay the course of the multi-decade training. Humans would never reach the physical and intellectual capacities of Vulcans. But through careful training the best of them could be brought up to acceptable levels. Pike was one of the very best. But he knew that his greatest failing - the one he still could not fully subdue - was his tendency to think outside the limits set for him by his overlords.
He’d known why the standard of recruits was so poor. It was nearly two centuries since First Contact had brought the Vulcan conquest, or the Imperial Enlightenment, as it was officially known; two centuries since self-obsessed humanity had finally abruptly discovered that there was other sentient life in the universe, life vastly superior in both intellect and culture. While a few humans saw the potential offered by Vulcan guidance, most of them - trapped by terror and stupidity - shrank back and had to be controlled with force. The Vulcans quickly realized that emotion-driven species were best controlled by that most powerful of emotions, fear. It was logical.
The fear was so ingrained by the time that Pike was recruiting that many humans deliberately maimed their offspring to prevent them being eligible for Imperial service. As advances in medicine made it easier to repair physical mutilations, drug addictions and brain trauma became more popular. Pike had used every trick he knew to get talented people into service. He’d charmed and bullied and tricked and blackmailed and the results had been spectacular. He’d even uncovered talents hidden among the desperate refugee populations that were so often overlooked. That Orion engineer had been a particularly fine find.
But he saw now that he’d also been too clever for his own good. He’d brought in certain recruits that he’d hoped to mould into officers for his own ship. He’d imagined a crew with more loyalty and less infighting than was the norm in Imperial service. He’d put talent ahead of character in his hunt. Bringing in the Kirk boy had been one of his greatest triumphs. The public image of the self-sacrificing hero George Kirk was rather undermined by the family he'd left behind. The mother, after over a decade honoring her role as the hero's widow, had abruptly gone mad, briefly made a spectacle of herself and then been locked up for her own good. The older son? He'd become one of those that had never existed. The remaining son had been running wild in backwoods Iowa as a petty criminal.
He’d been proud of bringing the Kirk boy in from the cold and his commanders had been impressed, if concerned whether the boy could be kept under control. Pike had been so sure he could do it. He’d been wrong. He'd let emotion overtake logic and it would be remembered. With every insolent word spilling out of the cadet’s mouth, control of the Enterprise and with it his place in history slipped further away from him.
* * * *
Spock was speaking again. “Not only did you violate the rules, you also failed to understand the principle lesson.”
Kirk sneered. “Please, enlighten me.”
Spock stood to attention, hands clasped behind his back, nails of one hand digging into the wrist of the other to help maintain his fraying control. “You of all people should know, Cadet Kirk. A captain cannot cheat death.”
“I of all people?” Kirk’s voice was filling with anger, anger he was making no attempt to control.
“Your father. George Kirk was assigned control of his vessel before being killed in action, was he not?”
Kirk had abruptly had enough. He'd planned to draw out this session, use it to make a public statement of contempt for their Vulcan masters. But he was tired of them all now. Fuck the Vulcans. Fuck the pathetic humans who licked their boots. Fuck his father. George Kirk had failed to be a model officer. He’d failed to be an effective rebel. He’d left a wife to be paraded across the galaxy as the hero's grieving widow. He'd left his sons to languish in Iowa at the mercy of the new husband assigned to Winona by the authorities to make sure her boys had an appropriate masculine role model in their lives.
Let them throw his father in his face. To the population at large George Kirk was a hero. But many people in Starfleet knew the truth. His father had been punished for questioning orders, punished by being deliberately left to die. Fuck the Imperial service and every single being in it. They’d not forget Jim Kirk in a hurry.
“I don’t think you like the fact that I beat your test,” snapped Kirk. He wanted to get on to the fight that he knew was coming. He knew all about the anatomical superiority of Vulcans. He knew he’d lose. He knew that his death was their required price for defeating their precious test. But he’d been planning this for months now. He’d do far more damage to their precious Vulcan than anyone was expecting.
Spock was still droning on, spouting out his bullshit about the purpose of the test. “--to learn control, to express control in the face of certain death, to maintain control of oneself and ones crew. This is a quality expected in every Starfleet captain.”
Kirk deliberately spat on the ground at Spock’s feet. The test had only one purpose. To have humans experience deadly fear in the face of Vulcans. To prove to humans that their masters were unbeatable. The test was a theoretical First Contact encounter between humans and another ‘superior’ species - painfully obviously a Vulcan stand-in - and nothing the humans could do would lead to any result other than annihilation. Kirk had publicly circumvented that lesson, had publicly disproved the assumption that was the foundation of the entire Vulcan Empire, the justification for the acceptance by all other species in the quadrant of the inalienable right of Vulcans to rule.
Vulcans were the master race in the Empire - and by assumption in the universe - because of their innate logical control and the advancements in civilization that it had brought to them. They were the civilized species who had taken on the frustrating but sacred duty of improving the moral fibre of the savage species as best as they could.
He'd beaten their test. Now he'd beat up their supercilious Vulcan programmer. Maybe a few of the brainwashed cadets and officers would start to think twice about their unquestioned acceptance of Vulcan superiority.
Spock ignored the cadet’s unforgivable insolence and looked up, not at the Admirals, but at the line of impassive faces above them. A Vulcan lent down to whisper to Barnett. The Admiral stood. "Cadet SC937-0176CEC, known as James T. Kirk, your failure of reasoning and your rejection of the privilege of cognitive correction may not go unpunished. However, in recognition of the service of your father to the Empire, you will be allowed the honor of the koon-ut-kal-if-fee.
"May the wisdom of logic come upon you in the moment of death. In the words of the Blessed Matron of Vulcan Philosophy" - as one the body of cadets, instructors and commanders rose to their feet, slammed their fists to their hearts and extended their arms in rigid symmetry, chanting with Barnett, "Logic is the cement of our civilization, with which we ascend from chaos, using reason as our guide."
The audience thumped back down into their seats. Spock turned to Kirk, bouncing lightly on the soles of his feet, swinging his arms out at his sides, assuming the combat position. “Cadet, it is time to face the reality of death.”
* * * *
In the cadet ranks Uhura bit down hard on her inner lip, trying to keep her face impassive. She knew it was wrong, to feel about him as she did. One species should not relate to another in that way. The purity of the genome was all-important. Each species must develop within the constraints of their genetic destiny. And to impose an emotion as base as lust on a Vulcan was an insult of the highest order. But it wasn’t a physical lust, she told herself every time. It was admiration for all that made Vulcans so superior. Their clarity of intellect, their command of emotion, their orderly thought.
He was such a fine instructor, such a talented programmer and yet they were treating him like this. No full blooded Vulcan would have been pitted directly against a human. It was simply too degrading. Spock was being punished for having had his code hacked by a mere Terran. He’d not die as Kirk would but his disgrace was being played out for all to see.
Anyway, he wasn’t entirely Vulcan she told herself in the dark hours of the early morning as she lay awake thinking about him, a warm ache filling her body in ways she dared not consider, let alone indulge. Given the morality laws, the existence of a half-human, half-Vulcan was a matter of much whispered speculation. Spock was as proper as the most proper of his superiors but just occasionally, when she stayed behind after class to ask some question about neurolinguistics that she had spent days carefully preparing, she could swear that his eyes softened as he looked at her.
And now she had to watch him fight to the death. He’d win but she’d seen Kirk fight. The first time she’d met the bastard was in an illegal speak-easy near the Riverside shipyards. She'd been there under duress, for fear that with her unblemished conduct record she'd be marked down as an informant for the administration if she didn't break the occasional rule with her fellow cadets. Farm-boy Kirk had come on to her in the most disgustingly direct manner and then when challenged, had taken down half a dozen cadets with his bare fists, laughing manically as he did it, an unbridled emotional hurricane of rage and contempt. Kirk fought with cunning, with fury, with a savage pleasure that paid no mind to rules of combat. Spock was not going to emerge from this unscathed.
The anticipatory silence was broken by a frantic rush of footsteps. A messenger came running down into the hall, managing a shaky salute before passing a note up to the ranks of the Vulcans. After a moment, they all rose as one. One spoke briefly to Admiral Barnett. The Admirals, instructors and cadets rose and saluted as the Vulcans departed. Barnett then turned to the assembled ranks of cadets.
“We’ve received a distress call from Vulcan. With our primary fleet engaged in the Laurentian system, I hereby order all cadets to report to Hangar One immediately. Dismissed!”
In the distance the red alert siren began to wail. A tinny voice spoke shrilly over the public address system. “All officers are to report to duty stations. All graduating cadets, report to Hangar One for immediate assignment. This is not a drill. I repeat. This is not a drill.”
* * *
McCoy hurried down the corridors towards Hangar One, wondering what in hell's name was going on. Everyone with even a whisper of political sense knew that the engagement of the fleet in the Laurentian system was a euphemism for brutally suppressing a full-scale and surprisingly tenacious rebellion, supposedly organized by the legendary rebel leader KK himself, although all official news sources claimed the man was just a myth. The lightly populated colony planets at the edges of the Empire had always been the most troublesome. Few Vulcans were prepared to accept postings in such uncivilized locales, so the colonies were mostly controlled remotely via the Office of Frontier Security. That, combined with large populations of off-grids was a recipe for trouble, especially in the last few years as more and more Vulcans had returned to their home planet.
He passed under the grandiose entrance to Hangar One, above which was engraved in foot-high letters the inevitable slogan: Logic is the cement of our civilization, with which we ascend from chaos, using reason as our guide. He'd chanted it every morning in school at the end of the Pledge of Imperial Allegiance, every morning at medical school, at the hospital, at the Academy. It was emblazoned on the cover of every textbook he'd ever owned. So what the hell could have gone wrong to endanger the center of the logical universe? All around him cadets were surging, the blankly controlled expressions they were always supposed to wear lost in whispers of fear, of excitement, of speculation.
So easily did human emotions rise up to wash away Vulcan-imposed control. Privately McCoy thought the Vulcans might as well be trying to stop the solar winds blowing as to stop humans living with their feelings. Not that he was about to share his thoughts with anyone.
He hurried past the vast mural that covered one entire wall of Hangar One. The first image showed the soon-to-be Emperor Syrran holding up the katric arc of Surak that he had discovered after 1800 years in which the true wisdom of the great philosopher had been lost. The second showed the new Emperor writing down the Kir'Shara, the sacred philosophy of Surak, lost for eons, believed to be preserved but never found, and now supplanted by Syrran dictating from the voice of Surak in his head. And hadn't that been convenient, thought McCoy cynically. Any human hearing voices would be put on drugs forthwith but of course Vulcan minds were too superior for any such madness to infect them.
McCoy carefully avoided looking at the next few scenes of the gigantic mural, the scenes showing the death of Emperor Syrran and of his assassin, the human traitor and last great rebel leader Jonathan Archer may his name be sown with salt for all eternity, and the rise of the current Empress T'Pau. Instead he stared down at the orders that had materialized on his PADD.
He was to serve as senior medical crew aboard the flagship, under the renowned Captain Pike, that poster boy for all that able and obedient Terrans could achieve under Vulcan tutelage. He should be feeling deeply honored. He didn’t give a shit. If Vulcan was in trouble, well, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer lot. And if Pike got the blame for that, serve the bastard right. With luck the man would die horribly in action. Meanwhile McCoy intended to keep his head down, do his job and try to remain invisible.
He was abruptly grabbed by the arm and pulled into the shadows behind a pile of pallets, into a corner likely to be out of the line of sight of the surveillance cameras. Kirk! Of course. It was never possible to remain invisible when the kid was in the vicinity. McCoy cursed the day he’d met the man, for all the advantages the relationship had brought him. He’d never understood why the kid liked hanging around with him. He’d never been in the ‘most likely to succeed’ category. More like the ‘mostly likely to die’.
Whatever Kirk’s reasons, it had certainly had its advantages. Kirk had quickly gained a reputation as both crazy and dangerous, and some of that aura had spread over to McCoy. It had also had its disadvantages. When Kirk wanted something, he wanted it now with no regard to McCoy’s schedule or commitments. And he’d needed plenty of patching up. Wounds closed after illicit fighting. STDs cured before his mandatory Academy medicals. Pain suppressants to enable him to endure yet another round in the agony booth and emerge with his customary swagger. McCoy had spent a lot of time stealing medical supplies to keep his lunatic class-mate happy.
“I’m fucking grounded,” hissed Kirk. “I’m not on the crew lists.”
“Well, hell yeah,” retorted McCoy. “You’re on academic suspension, otherwise known as death row, you idiot, or had you not noticed?”
“I’m not fucking staying behind,” protested Kirk.
McCoy pulled him further down behind the stack of pallets. “Are you insane? Everyone who matters is going space-side. It’s chaos here. You could go AWOL, be thousands of miles away before we get back from Vulcan. Save your sorry ass!”
"Oh yeah? And what about the identichip?"
"You know how to mask it," accused McCoy. "That's how you get away with all that bed-hopping."
"It's a short-term measure," retorted Kirk. "Can't be done indefinitely."
McCoy hesitated. At last he said, "You can cut it out. It's been known to happen."
"Cut it out? Risk losing my arm? Are you fucking mad? And how do you know about this anyway?"
McCoy knew that the arm was normally only lost to gangrene in situations with no medical treatment, although that was a rather common problem for those seeking to go off-grid. He had no intention of telling Kirk how he knew, of the things he had seen following his father into the Okefenokee Swamps that lay between Georgia and Florida to treat people that did not exist, without rights to medical treatment, education, work, food, even identity.
He'd been able to feel sorry for the ones that had been born that way, illegal extras born to those of the regular labor class who were only allowed one child, or to those declared undesirable who were not allowed to breed and were supposed to have undergone compulsory sterilization. It had been those adults who chose that life that scared him. Adults who hated the system so badly that they dug their identichips out of their own arms, often with little more than a penknife, and chose to live in the poverty and degradation that was life off-grid.
“Whatever, dude," continued Kirk, jerking McCoy out of his reverie. "I’m not missing out on the action. Vulcan in distress? This I’ve gotta see!”
“You're insane! Fuck off Kirk. I’ve got to go.”
McCoy suddenly found himself pushed up against the crates, a thin knife blade cutting through his uniform and pressing between his ribs. “Get me on that fucking ship, Bones! Or Vulcan won’t be the only thing in distress.”
* * *
Spock walked towards the Enterprise, rapidly enough to convey urgency but not so fast as to suggest panic, face carefully neutral, hands folded neatly behind his back. He let his mind run rapidly through lists: crew assignments, supplies, technological readiness. Anything to drown out the howl of incredulity. How could Vulcan be in distress? What did that even mean?
A voice called out to him, a human voice. “Osu! Osu Zhe-lan. Please!”
He hesitated. Humans should not address Vulcans until invited to but he recognized that voice and he knew this to be a human he found it difficult to consider with logical detachment. He turned to consider the form of Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, human of African origin, post-graduate specialist in communications, fluent in an impressive range of languages within the Empire and responsible for some of Spock’s most shameful thoughts.
Her words tumbled out over each other, driven in equal measure by fear and determination.
“Was I not one of your best students? Did I not on multiple occasions demonstrate an exceptional oral sensitivity...” He let the words blur past him. He was only too aware of her qualities as a linguist. He might have spent rather too long on more than one occasion browsing through her personnel file. He let his eyes slide across her pristine skin, the high arch of her eyebrows, the severe simplicity of her hairstyle. As always when in her presence, he wondered what it would be like to release that ordered ponytail, to let that silky hair flood wildly across her shoulders, across his hands...
He realized with a start that she was staring at him, indignation barely suppressed on her expressive face. He let her last words play back in his mind. “...I’m assigned to the Farragut?” He’d put her there for his safety, not for hers. Her presence roused stirrings within him that all males were supposed to resist, and that Vulcan males - as best as he could understand something that everyone refused to talk about - weren’t supposed to feel at all. Overcoming base physical urges was one of the very first steps on the pathway to emotional control. It was the uncontrolled lewd lusts of Terrans that so often prevented them from attaining any level of logical mastery.
He hesitated. It was beyond inappropriate for a human to challenge the decisions of a Vulcan. It was an infraction requiring mandatory assignment to an agony booth. Yet he was torn. He knew she’d been in the audience at the cognitive correction session with Kirk. He knew she’d seen his shame. He had a sudden overwhelming desire to let her see what he could do in a crisis. To prove that he was worthy of her respect, of her.... other inappropriate emotion that he chose not to examine.
A lifetime of training told him that sudden decisions based on emotional criteria were exactly why humans were so deficient. He let that join a multitude of things he was choosing not to examine right now.
“A programing error,” he told her cooly. “As you anticipated, you are assigned to the Enterprise.”
The generous curve of her mouth and the sparkle in her eyes filled him with quite inappropriate pleasure. An unacceptable emotional display, he told himself, that he would have disciplined had there not been more urgent matters to attend to. His reaction to her was nothing more than satisfaction at seeing a human rise to meet her full potential, he told himself. Nothing more.
* * *
McCoy scrabbled through the pallets until he found one with medical supplies. He ran quickly down the inventory.
“No, no, hell no. Oh whatever, this’ll do.” He pulled out a package, ripped it open, grabbed Kirk by the shoulder and plunged the hypo into his neck.
Kirk slammed him back against the pallet. “What the fuck did you just hit me with?”
McCoy smirked. “More fool you to trust me to treat you.”
“Not a fool. I know you’re too much of a pussy to actually kill anyone. You’d have never lasted through the Academy training without me. What the fuck was that?”
“I just injected you with the vaccine designed to prevent the viral infection caused by the bite of the Melvarian mud flea. Ain’t a mud flea within a hundred light-years of here but who gives a fuck. It is the symptoms we’re after.”
Kirk staggered against the crates. “Like the fact my vision is going loopy?”
“Yeah, you’re gonna start to lose vision in your left eye. Then you’re gonna get a really bad headache and a flop sweat.”
“This is your idea of a decent plan?”
“If you’d asked me nicely instead of shoving a fucking knife in my ribs, I might've come up with a better one. But whatever, you owe me one.”
A warning klaxon signaled the imminent departure of the last shuttle up to the Enterprise. McCoy manhandled a wobbly Kirk towards the gangplank. The officer in charge quickly scanned their arms.
“He’s not cleared for duty,” he said, pointing at Kirk.
McCoy spoke without hesitation. “I am cleared for duty on the Enterprise, and Starfleet Medical Regulations state that the treatment and transport of a patient is to be determined at the discretion of his attending physician, which is me. Since I’m assigned to this ship, so’s he, even if temporarily. He’s suffering from an inflamed epididymis complicated by excessive swelling of the ego region of the cerebral cortex.”
The officer took a long step backward. “Is it… contagious?”
McCoy shook his head. “He should come through fine if the fever he’s suffering from now doesn’t boil his brain.”
Still the officer hesitated. McCoy charged onwards. “Would you like to explain to Captain Pike why the Enterprise warped into a crisis situation without one of its senior medical officers?” He glanced pointedly at the other man’s ID badge.
The officer stared down at his manifest. Departure was imminent and he was already running behind. No one messed with Captain Pike. There would be an evaluation at the end of the emergency period. Poor performance figures would be turned into agony booth time.
Lowering his head, he jerked the stylus he was holding toward the open shuttle portal. “As you were.”
“As you were,” snapped McCoy as he pulled Kirk up the ramp.
* * *
Trying to control the roiling nausea brought on by the vaccine, Kirk stared out of the shuttle window over McCoy’s shoulder. The space dock hung in the vast blackness, a ring of lilypads rimmed in glimmering blue each attached by a narrow umbilical bridge to an azure orb in the center. The shuttle swing round underneath one lilypad and what had been a tiny tadpole at the edge of the pad rapidly grew into a huge ship hanging over them. The pilot looped them over the top, banking steeply as they flew past the name proudly emblazoned across the shimmering silver shell of the very best the knowledge and know-how of the Vulcan Empire could produce.
“She’s beautiful,” whispered Kirk, too caught up by the vision to hide the emotion in his voice. She was power, control, freedom - all the things he lacked on Earth. If only he could get his hands on something like her, he’d disappear into the depths of the black, running at maximum warp through quadrant after quadrant until he reached the realms were no man had gone before, where he would never be found, not by humans, not by Vulcans.
He remembered the first time he'd run, revving his dad's old car at speeds so high he felt as if he'd take off at any moment. That was after he'd lost the second member of his small family. His dad had been lost to him even as he was being born. But that time had been about Sam. When they'd been younger, they'd formed an alliance against the douche-bag that was their so-called father figure, Fuckface Frank. But as he'd entered the teenage years, Sam had retreated from Jim, hiding in his room, locking his cases, his computer, his PADD. Of course Jim had finally managed to crack the codes and break the locks.
He'd been old enough to have some understanding of what he saw there, young enough not to get the full picture. He'd known he was looking at the kind of thing that his teachers always told them they must report for the good of their families and of their parents. Jim hadn't trusted his teachers any more than any other adult. When he'd threatened Sam with telling on him, he'd just wanted to get his brother's attention once again, force Sam to spend some time with him. He'd never have actually gone through with it.
Three days later Sam was gone. Gone as if he'd never existed. Gone so that no teacher at school asked him what had become of his brother, or even acknowledged that less than a week earlier he'd had a brother. The other children had only asked once before realizing by that mysterious group osmosis that this was one of those things that we do not talk about.
Jim had blamed himself then, thought he'd somehow jinxed Sam by talking of his secrets. When he was older he'd wondered if he'd caused Sam to panic, to make some mistake that revealed him to the authorities. Or maybe it was just coincidence. Maybe the authorities had found it as easy to break Sam's amateur codes as Jim had.
Back then Jim had grabbed the last thing left to him of his father and set out to fly, fly right out of this world. But at the very last minute he'd bailed out, as the car took off over the lip of the quarry wall, finding the pull of living too strong to resist. Of course if he'd known then that his actions would lose him his mother as well as his brother, he might have stayed in the car.
McCoy frowned at him. “Since when are you the sentimental type? She’s a fancy tin can suspended in the vacuum of space and we’ll be trapped inside, seconds from death at any time.”
“Sounds like any old day at the Academy, then,” commented Kirk idly.
Against his will, McCoy snorted with laughter. Kirk took his eyes off the ship for a moment to consider his seat-mate. McCoy was a puzzle. Kirk knew he himself had what it took to survive in the cesspit of Imperial service. He was pragmatic, cunning, ruthless, and quite prepared to kill as required. He had no family loyalties that could be used against him and no principles that could stand in his way. What was intriguing was how well McCoy survived.
The doctor refused to carry any weapons besides the standard issue ones. He did his medical duties to the best of his abilities, rather than using them to punish or reward patients and so build up the web of fear and favor that most cadets and officers used to survive. He shrunk away from their superiors but showed no fear in the face of threats from fellow cadets.
His best weapon was his voice. Kirk had been fascinated each time McCoy had stared down some cocky cadet, ignoring the knife or the fist aimed at him, delivering a rant about who gave a shit when they were all fucked anyway because space was disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence and if their blood didn’t boil, Andorian shingles would eat away at their asses. The cadet would back away because someone this insane had to be better armed than they appeared.
McCoy simply did not care. All Kirk knew was that McCoy had been press-ganged. He hated Imperial service and made no attempt to hide the fact. Kirk suspected that McCoy might be glad to be killed. The man radiated a death-wish. When Kirk has stalked onto that shuttle, proudly carrying the damage from the fight in the illegal speak-easy of the previous night, McCoy had been the only one not to flinch from him. Where others avoided him from fear of his reputation, or tried to brown-nose to curry favor with the son of the great hero, McCoy alternately ignored him, yelled at him and patched him up.
Kirk used McCoy to further his own aims, but he also protected him. McCoy wasn't his friend. Kirk didn’t have friends. He didn't let himself care. He knew what happened when you cared. The people who mattered to you just upped and left you. If you didn't care, you couldn't get hurt. He had tools he could use, fools he could manipulate and enemies he would eventually destroy. McCoy was a useful tool, he told himself. That was all. It was worth keeping one’s tools in good condition. Nothing less. Nothing more.
* * *
Captain Christopher Pike strode onto the bridge of the Enterprise, offering up the mandatory salute to the holos of the Empress and the Philosopher that hovered eerily behind the captain's chair. Then, taking a deep breath he turned to survey the ship that he had schemed to control ever since she had been little more than a set of schematics. She was beautiful - light, elegant, streamlined and filled with the very best the technology of the Empire had to offer. This was not how he had ever imagined taking command, but in the circumstances it was a god-send. With Kirk’s case as yet unresolved, the aftershocks had not yet begun to ripple out. With luck Kirk would vanish in the confusion and he’d never have to see the damned boy again.
Right now he was still the captain of the flagship. If he could just manage to do something extraordinary in defense of Vulcan, he might yet save his command. Save his career. But it had to be perfect. He dared not make even the slightest mistake. The ship was laden with surveillance equipment, from the beady eyes of the holograms overlooking his chair on the bridge to the lowliest cargo hold. And in case that was not enough, he could feel the cold eyes of Zhe-lan Spock boring into the back of his neck. Even now he still had to put up with Vulcan supervision. Still, the half-breed did not have the authority of his full-blood counterparts. And they were all safely tucked up on the planet’s surface, too cowardly to face the risks that might threaten their own planet.
No, he must not think like that. He struggled to reassert his control. Like every Terran on the command track, he had undergone intensive and repeated sessions of cognitive repurposing. He'd secretly hated them more than the punishment sessions. Pain he could endure with focus and purpose. Controlling his thoughts had always been his biggest problem.
He let the principles he had been taught time and again flow through the back of his mind, cleansing water washing away the confusion and pollution of human emotion. Emotions breed cognitive distortions - exaggerated and irrational thoughts. Such distortions are logical fallacies. Such fallacies lead to psychological disorders. The primary fallacy is emotional reasoning, the belief that because I feel it, it must be true.
He let his mind turn to the saying of Surak. Logic based on true premises will never allow a false inference. There is no other wisdom but logic and no other hope but that we grow wise. The mind controls the body; control the mind and the body will follow.
He took several deep breaths as he composed his face into a blank mask, just as he had been taught. His Vulcan master-guides were beyond criticism. Their physical strength, mental capacity, and emotional control were all proof of that. He must subdue all traitorous thoughts. He must live to serve. He must prove himself worthy. Their trust was his honor.
He turned to his bridge crew. “The maiden voyage of our newest flagship deserves more pomp and circumstance than we can afford today. Its christening will have to be our reward for the successful execution of our duty.” He let pride fill his voice. “There can be no higher honor than to set forth in defense of our motherland, the planet of Vulcan.”
He sat down in the command chair, holding on to that kernel of truth, ruthlessly suppressing all doubt.
“Set course for Vulcan.”
“Course laid in,” the lieutenant at the helm controls replied.
“Maximum warp,” Pike ordered. “Punch it.”
The lieutenant’s fingers slid deftly over the helm controls and… nothing happened. Pike’s tension increased, knotting up the line of his shoulders. “Something the matter, Lieutenant?”
“I’m not sure, Captain. I…”
“Where’s Helmsman McKenna?”
“Uh, he has lungworm, sir,” the lieutenant explained uneasily. “Unable to report for duty. I’m Sulu.”
Pike glared down at him, hand already reaching for his agonizer. “And you are a pilot, yes?”
Only the rigidity of his face betrayed Sulu’s tension.
“Well? Is the parking brake on?” demanded Pike, his tension leaking out in cutting sarcasm.
“No sir, I’ll figure it out, just…”
A monotone voice spoke up from the vicinity of the science station. “Have you checked to ensure that all subsidiary connections to starbase have been disengaged?”
Sulu cringed outwardly. Pike cringed inwardly. It was all being recorded through the glassy eyes of the holos that hung above him. Already he and his crew were found wanting by the Vulcan. Already they were leaving after the other ships. Already time in the agony booth was mounting for all concerned, with far worse to follow should their failures imperil Vulcan in some way. The possibilities ran uncontrolled through his mind: public sessions of self-criticism and torture, the indefinite sentence to a labor camp on one of the mining planets, the public execution. He was too well known to just vanish. At least, he hoped he was.
Sulu’s fingers flashed over the controls. “Ready for warp, sir.”
Not a trace of Pike’s rising panic showed in his voice. “Then punch it.”
Already late for the rendezvous, the Enterprise flashed into warp space.
* * * *
McCoy had managed to hypo Kirk with a sedative that had left the unauthorized intruder happily unconscious. He’d stashed the body in a corner and as he sorted supplies and listened to the mission update with half an ear, he was frantically trying to think of a way out of this.
Back in the hangar, he had taken the easy way out to get Kirk’s knife out of his ribs. And to be honest, whatever his mixed feelings for the kid, he didn’t fancy being in the shit in deep space without Kirk at his side. The kid might be crazy but he was crazy cunning too, and a ruthless fighter. Sunk in his own misery after his arrival at the Academy, it had taken McCoy some time to notice that much of the reason that he was left alone, even by older cadets, was that Kirk seemed to have drawn an invisible ring of ownership around him.
He knew it was simply because he was useful to the kid. Kirk, with his reckless behavior and provocative attitude, was more in need of discreet medical attention than most. But he was not in a position to turn down any small mercies that came his way. On the whole, Kirk had been worth the trouble. But this time he was not so sure. It was beginning to dawn on him what a mess of trouble he’d created for himself. This was no longer Academy shenanigans. This was the real deal, serving in the Imperial Forces at what was likely to be a battlefront. There would be no mercy for misbehavior. At all costs, he had to ensure that that fucking bastard Captain Pike didn’t find out about this.
The only way he managed to live with himself in Imperial service was by divorcing his medical work from everything else. As a doctor, he did all he could to heal his patients, whoever they might be. He refused to use his medical skills as a negotiating tool. Every time he stood before a patient, he let his father's voice read the Physician's Oath to him once more, as David McCoy had done when Leonard was a very small boy, whispering it to him softly as he was falling asleep. He took that moment to stop being an Imperial stooge and start being purely a doctor.
Even now the lines ran through his mind. I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity; I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity; the health of my patient will be my Number One consideration; I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient; I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, even under threat; I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity; I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honor. His honor felt like a rather tatty thing these days.
His father would be horrified to see him in the direct service of the Empress. But then what had his father ever done to help him? His father who had acted but never explained, leaving a bewildered Leonard to try to navigate alone through the confusions of life under Vulcan Imperial rule. His father had left him his medical ethics, but little else. Neither money nor protection nor guidance. His free time he had spent on assuaging his guilty conscience, leaving his son to his own devices.
Well, Leonard still had the Physician's Oath to guide him, even if he had little else left of his self-respect. But if he ever found Captain Fucking Pike on his operating table, well, that one time the health of his patient might not be his number one consideration and his respect for human life might just go briefly missing. Of all the officers in the fleet, Pike was the one he hated most.
As he pondered his problem, a voice with a weird Russian accent droned on from the comm panel: “At 22.00 telemetry detected an anomaly in the neutral zone. What appeared to be a lighting storm in space. Soon after Starfleet received a distress signal from the Vulcan High Command that their planet was experiencing seismic activity. Our mission is to assess the condition of Vulcan and assist in evacuation if necessary. We should be arriving within three minutes.”
His carefully stashed body suddenly jerked awake. Kirk sat up abruptly, banging his head on the bio-bed under which Leonard had deposited him . “Lightning storm? Lightning storm! No fucking way. Bones, we’ve gotta stop the ship!”
Kirk stumbled to his feet. "Uhura. She knows. Gotta find her. Where the fuck is Uhura? Can never find that woman when I need her.” He stumbled off down the corridor, weaving from the effects of all the drugs in his system. McCoy took off after him, hypo in hand, but Kirk was surprisingly quick, despite his wobbling. So much for keeping a low profile, thought McCoy despairingly as crew members gawked at their chaotic progress.
He finally caught up with Kirk trying to interrogate Uhura with a tongue so thick neither could tell what he was saying apart from it having something to do with Klingons. McCoy hesitated. He should just stun Kirk with a phaser, present him to Pike and claim he had been forced into the smuggling.
He looked over at Uhura. She too was hesitating. McCoy knew how much she hated Kirk, who had turned a three-year pursuit of her into a taunting game, forcing her time and again to acknowledge his presence despite the mere hint of sexuality being so frowned upon by their masters. So far he’d never persuaded her into his bed, settling for humiliating her with his public flirting instead. However, the trouble with Kirk was that in-between his acting out and his petty cruelties, he was sometimes astonishingly, bewilderingly right.
“Klingons?” McCoy mouthed at Uhura.
She nodded tightly. “Something did happen.”
McCoy punched Kirk with another hypo, one that would bring down the swelling of his hands and tongue. Kirk yelped. McCoy grinned to himself. He derived considerable pleasure from hypoing Kirk as roughly as possible. In Starfleet service you took your kicks where you could get them.
“Bridge,” Kirk declared. “Gotta get to the bridge.” He took off again at a dead run. McCoy chased after him yet again, Uhura on his heels. The surveillance cameras were doubtless recording every moment of this farce. The minute Kirk burst onto the bridge his career was over and quite possibly his life with it. With luck Pike would lose control and take him out where he stood. It had to be better than spending the rest of his life treating laborers being worked to death on a dilithium mining planet.
* * * *
“Captain, we have to stop the ship!”
Pike looked up to see the Kirk boy come skidding to a stop on the bridge, closely followed by the sulky doctor and another cadet. The boy was like the piece of shitty gum on the sole of your boot that you just couldn’t get rid of. Yet another clusterfuck on a mission already going to hell. “Kirk, how the hell did you get on board the Enterprise?” he demanded, aware that the Vulcan was already coming forward to inspect this latest failure in his command.
The doctor began to blather. “Captain, this man is under the influence of a severe reaction to a vaccine, completely delusional--”
Kirk turned on him. “Shut the fuck up. Captain, Vulcan is not experiencing a natural disaster, it's being attacked by Romulans.”
Romulans? Pike took a deep breath. Every minute he further regretted ever having picked this boy up off the floor of that filthy speak-easy. It had seemed such a brilliant impulse at the time, the cherry on top of an already very successful recruiting mission. Where every other Starfleet official had failed with the Kirk boy, Pike had succeeded. He’d been proud of that. More fool him.
He'd put effort into this boy, too. Spent time with him outside of his classes, meeting with him once a month, trying to share with him the opportunities that existed for humans if they would only fully embrace the possibilities offered to them by their Vulcan master-guides. He knew the boy had reason to be cynical, with the loss of his father, brother and mother. He knew that there were many things about the ways of Vulcans that humans failed to understand. He'd tried to get Kirk to see beyond his own tragic history to the possibilities that lay before him. And this was the thanks he got from the boy.
There’d be agony booths all round when this was over, and that was just for starters, but for now he did not have the time. “Cadet Kirk, I think you’ve had enough attention for one day. McCoy, take him back to medical.” He glared at the doctor. “We’ll have words later.”
The doctor slunk backwards, trying to pull Kirk with him. “Aye Captain.”
McCoy had to be behind Kirk's presence on the ship. He’d not thought that the doctor had the guts to do something like smuggling Kirk on board. He’d considered the doctor to be exceedingly talented at medicine but too soft in every other regard. Most of his prize recruits he’d managed to bully or blackmail or occasionally charm into volunteering. The doctor had resisted all such efforts. Starfleet was desperately short of trained surgeons. In part it was because doctors were so highly prized in the general community that people went to considerable lengths to hide their medics from the Imperial recruiters.
It had been lucky that McCoy’s father-in-law had had such a bad gambling problem. Pike had added to the mounting debts with a few enjoyable late-night games of poker and had then offered to clear them all in exchange for the doctor. The man hadn’t thought twice. His daughter had been forced to sign divorce papers at the point of an agonizer and McCoy had been on the next shuttle to Starfleet before he knew what had happened.
As McCoy tried to back away, Kirk was still trying to protest. Spock’s supercilious tones broke through the noise. “This cadet is not cleared to be aboard the Enterprise. This incompetence will be noted. He must be removed.”
State the fucking obvious, thought Pike furiously. He was well aware of the growing list highlighting his incompetence. This was what he hated about Vulcans - their supercilious superiority while sending humans out to do all the real work. If they were any good when it counted, they wouldn't need humans to captain their ships. He sucked in a ragged breath. He must not think like that. Spock and Kirk were still arguing. He had to take control.
“Try it!” snapped Jim. “This cadet is trying to save the mission.”
“By recommending a full-stop in mid-warp during a rescue?” scoffed Spock.
Kirk turned back to Pike. “It’s not a rescue mission, it’s an attack. The same anomaly - a lightning storm in space that we saw today - also occurred on the day of my birth. Before a Romulan ship attacked the ISS Kelvin. You know that sir. I read your dissertation.”
Pike’s eyes narrowed. That dissertation was classified. How the hell had Kirk gotten his hands on it? It had been a masterpiece of understatement. The Vulcans believed in data. To hold by their mantra that logic based on true premises will never allow a false inference they collected every iota of information that might feed into said premises. Pike had had an almost overwhelming quantity of material to work with in his Kelvin investigation.
In doing meticulous and in-depth research, trying to impress his Vulcan advisor with the depth of his intellect and his capacity to assimilate information, he had come to see things which he realized that - in the interests of his career, in the interests of his sanity - he needed to rapidly unsee. It had built on the existing small seed of doubt that had bedeviled him all his life and that he still battled to suppress. The Vulcans had been deeply satisfied with the result of his research and it had served as the launching pad of his fast-rising career. He had hated it. He wondered what Kirk had managed to discern when he read through it.
Kirk plowed on remorselessly. “That ship, which had formidable and advanced weaponry, was never seen from nor heard of again. The Kelvin attack took place on the edge of Klingon space. Last night there was an attack. Forty-seven Klingon warbirds destroyed by Romulans sir. It was reported that the Romulans were in one ship. One massive ship.”
“And you know of this Klingon attack how?” demanded Pike.
Kirk turned to the female cadet hovering anxiously behind him.
Looking sick with nerves, she spoke out. “Sir, I intercepted and translated the message myself. Kirk’s report is accurate.”
Kirk returned to the attack. “We’re walking into a trap sir. The Romulans are waiting for us. I promise you that.”
“The evidence for this is far too circumstantial,” said Spock. “It is not logical that a ship encountered at the edge of Klingon space twenty-five years ago would suddenly be there again last night. Where has it been in the interim?”
Pike hesitated. A criticism from a Vulcan was as good as an order. But Spock, with his odd status at the Academy, wasn’t officially Pike’s superior. Pike had his own ideas about why the Vulcans were moving towards having humans command their military vessels. Their obsessive drive towards logic, with the accompanying liking for order and for predictable patterns, might make them far less likely than humans to make careless errors. But it made them weak when faced with unexpected change. Lateral thinking, or doing the unexpected in a gamble to gain a tactical advantage, were not things Vulcans were good at.
Their superiority had allowed them to easily overrun weaker species like the Tellarites and Andorians. But now the Empire was beginning to press against the edges of Romulan and Klingon space. These were formidable races with vast empires of their own. Add to that the fact that Vulcans were increasingly retreating to their own planet, and the Empire was becoming ever more unstable. The fact that the colonists and off-grids of the Laurentian system had dared to launch a full-on, and surprisingly well equipped, rebellion was just the latest sign. The more open-minded among the Vulcans had been acknowledging for years that humans’ agility of mind was going to be increasingly essential in the defense of the Empire.
Pike turned to his comms officer. “Scan Vulcan space, check for any transmissions in Romulan.”
The officer gaped at him, clearly panicked. “Sir, I’m not sure I can distinguish the Romulan language from Vulcan.”
Who had picked such incompetents for his crew? He’d worry about that another time. He turned on the young woman hovering behind Kirk. “You! Can you speak Romulan?”
“Uhura, sir. Aye, sir. All three dialects, sir.”
“Relieve the lieutenant.”
She stared at him in shock for a nanosecond and then strode to the controls. He remembered her now. She’d been one of the recruits he had chased down with particular determination.
She was reading swiftly at the console, while listening to the transmissions channels. “Sir, all the other ships are out of warp at Vulcan but we’ve lost all contact. I pick up no Romulan transmissions, or transmission of any kind in the area.”
“It’s because they’re being attacked,” shouted Kirk. Pike pinned the boy with a laser glare, taking in his complete belief in his outlandish argument. There was no doubt that Kirk's insolence and ill-discipline hid brilliance at times.
Pike swung back into his command chair. He's been told time and again not to trust his feelings. Because he felt something, didn't mean it was true. But for now he'd had enough of second guessing. It was time to follow his very human instincts. “Shields up! Red alert! Helm, status?”
“Arrival at Vulcan in five seconds. Four, three, two...”
* * *
Spock stared in horror as the Enterprise dropped out of warp into a chaos of debris. Shattered remnants of ships floated past, from scraps of metal to hulks torn in two. He clung to his console as the inertial dampeners battled to absorb the shock of the impacts of detritus against the hull of the Enterprise. They dodged passed half a disc with the letters FARRAG still visible. Most of his mind was running in complete control, but a small corner was howling with dismay. Six ships destroyed within minutes of arrival. Most of the graduating class of 2258, the best of their instructors, dozens of officers - all gone.
Through the wreckage he could see the light grey clouds and hazy brown continents of the world below them. The impregnable fortress of his home planet lay ringed by the ruins of her defense system. Who in the universe had this kind of weaponry and the nerve to turn it on Vulcan?
“Emergency evasive,” snapped Pike. Debris was sparking against their shields. The ship rocked as bigger pieces smashed against their hull. Alarms were blaring damage reports. “Helm, drop down underneath it.”
Spock watched the chaotic readings spill across the screen. Normally he found such comfort in the logical patterns of numbers. Here there was none. Where was their enemy in the midst of all this chaos? Who was their enemy?
Then behind the shattered silver remnants of the Imperial ships a gigantic black hulk came into view. A leaden porcupine with barbed quills sprouting out from a giant head. A deformed squid trailing unimaginably elongated whips of metal behind it. It completely dwarfed any ship in the Imperial fleet. It was like nothing he’d ever seen before. But it exactly matched the classified descriptions he had accessed illicitly while trying to understand the one great shame of recent Vulcan history. The one time they had lost an entire ship to an enemy that had never been found and punished. The nightmare that had taken down the Kelvin was back.
Suddenly warnings flashed across his screen. “Captain, they’re locking torpedoes!” He was ashamed of the tiny spike of panic in his voice, noticeable doubtless only to him, but a sign of weakness to be there at all. It was a reminder of the shameful human pollution that weakened his genome, despite his Vulcan appearance, despite all his painstaking training.
The ship rocked with the impact of the strikes. Spock grabbed hold of his chair. This was all considerably less disconcerting when he was programming it as a simulation back in his lab on Earth.
“Helm, report!” ordered Pike.
“Shields at 32 percent. The weapons are powerful, sir, we can’t take another hit like that.”
The damage reports were scrolling along the bottom of Spock's monitor. Deck six hit. The medical bay compromised. Seventeen of the life signs that populated the ship abruptly terminated, many more weakened.
“Get me Starfleet Command,” snapped Pike. Yes, thought Spock with relief. They needed to warn their superiors. They needed orders. They needed back-up.
Spock realized immediately that the message wasn't being transmitted. That tiny spike of panic was beginning to grow. “Captain, the Romulan ship has lowered some kind of high-energy pulse device into the Vulcan atmosphere, its transmissions seem to be blocking our communications and transporter abilities.”
As he spoke a giant face swum into view on the main screen, a face of such savagery that the entire bridge was shocked into silence. Spock stared, incredulous. It was exactly the same face from the Kelvin files, unchanged in 25 years, his eidetic memory told him that. How was that possible? The broad head was shaved bald. The upswept eyebrows and pointed ears spoke of a kinship with the Vulcans that Spock had certainly never heard acknowledged. But what drew the eye of every crew member were the tattoos. Black lines scored on the chin, up each arching cheekbone and most noticeably rising in tiered racks up his forehead like antlers turned inwards. He looked utterly barbarous. Only such a brute could dare to challenge Vulcan.
Pike rested back in his command chair, determinedly relaxed. “I am Captain Christopher Pike. To whom am I speaking?"
“Hi Christopher,” said the Romulan with a casual insolence. “I’m Nero.” Spock itched to intervene and discipline such abysmal behavior. But the agonizer that he had been so proud to be authorized to carry at the Academy meant nothing in the face of this giant ship.
“You’ve declared war against the Vulcan Empire. Withdraw. I’ll agree to arrange a conference with Romulan leadership at a neutral location.” Pike had no authority to do any such thing but he was presumably playing for time. Spock’s tension rose. It was this ability of humans to lie shamelessly while changing the plan as they as spoke that he found so confounding.
“I do not speak for the Romulan Empire,” replied Nero dismissively. “We stand apart. Captain Pike, your transporter had been disabled. As you can see by the rest of your armada, you have no choice. You will man a shuttle and come aboard the Narada for negotiations. That is all.”
The alien vanished from view. Everyone on the bridge turned to Pike who rose without a second thought.
“He’ll kill you! You know that.” Spock was surprised that Kirk sounded as if he actually cared.
“Your survival is unlikely,” said Spock. If Pike went he’d have to command. That had seemed all well and good when creating his simulations back at the Academy but now, faced with the destruction of their fleet and the alien savagery of their opponent, he desperately wished he was back in his lab. He knew he lacked the total control and pure logic of a true Vulcan. Stray emotions had plagued him all his life. Yet he also lacked the primitive pragmatism of humans, their ability to shamelessly scheme and lie while changing their minds in an instant.
“Captain, we gain nothing by diplomacy,” continued Kirk. “Going over to that ship is a mistake.”
“Rethink your strategy,” ordered Spock, trying to sound authoritative. “Send a subordinate.”
“That is one thing I will not do,” snapped Pike. Spock froze. The Kelvin. The secret shame of the Kelvin that he had discovered in his illicit searches. Pike knew. Spock stepped back. What the Vulcan officers on the Kelvin had done had been logical. Reading about it had been the first time that it had occurred to Spock that what was logical might not be the same as what was honorable or even effective.
“This is a mission of honor. It is also a suicide mission,” said Pike. “I need officers who have trained in advanced hand-to-hand combat.”
Sulu jumped to his feet. “I have training, sir.” He was trying to wipe out the stain of the handbrake incident, thought Spock. If he died bravely, Starfleet Command might at least leave his family alone.
“Come with me. Kirk, you too. You’re not supposed to be here anyway. I might as well do you a favor. Chekov, you have the conn. Spock, accompany us.”
Spock had been aware of Pike's nerves at the start of mission, had seen the man's emotional response to Sulu's mistake betrayed by his sarcasm. What puzzled him was that as the mission became ever more desperate, Pike became steadily calmer. Now he strode down the corridor, radiating complete control, Spock trotting at his heels with Kirk and Sulu behind him.
“Without transporters we can’t beam off the ship. We can’t assist Vulcan. We can’t do our job. Mr Kirk, Mr Sulu, you and Engineer Olsen will space jump from the shuttle. You will get on that machine they’ve lowered into the atmosphere that is scrambling our gear, you’ll get inside, you’ll disable it. Zhe-lan Spock, I’m leaving you in command of the Enterprise. Once you get communications and transport ability back up you’ll contact Starfleet and report what the hell’s going on here. If all else fails, fall back. Rendezvous with the fleet in the Laurentian system.”
Pike stepped into the turbolift with the two cadets. “Careful with the ship, Zhe-lanSpock. She’s brand new.”
Spock stared despairingly at the closed door. As ever the complexities of human humor escaped him. Careful with the ship when Vulcan was imperiled? And he was in command of the last ship left standing between Vulcan and this unknown horror? He wanted the safety of his simulation lab more than ever.
* * * *
Pike boarded the shuttle, followed by the three young men in their jumpsuits. He pulled Kirk to one side, into a dead spot where they were out of sight of the surveillance equipment. The advantage of having participated in the design of the Enterprise was that he knew exactly where to go to find privacy.
Furious though he still was with the cadet, neither of them was likely to live to see Earth again. For all he had tried so hard to progress under Vulcan rule and live up to their standards, he had always had a sneaking admiration for George Kirk and the stand he had taken before he'd died. For all he thought Jim Kirk an undisciplined, self-indulgent child acting out, he had some of the same admiration for the boy’s willful independence.
He'd had high hopes for Kirk once. He'd had high hopes for himself. Apparently it had all come to nothing. The best they could do now was die with dignity.
“Son, it is a suicide mission. Try and get that right.”
Kirk stared defiantly back. He hoped the boy realized he was being offered an honorable way out, a way to avoid the consequences of both cheating the test and smuggling himself onto the ship.
“What happens to you?” Kirk asked at last.
Pike shrugged. At this point in the game, the boy deserved an honest answer. “I distract them while you do your duty by trying to take as long as I can to die. A captain should lead from the front.” It was a truth that he believed in with all his soul. He had compromised on so many things in his pursuit of advancement that at times he barely recognized himself in a mirror. But this idea he had hung onto through everything.
However, it was also an olive branch to Kirk, although whether he understood that depended on his understanding of what went down on the Kelvin. Once again Pike wondered how Kirk had got hold on his dissertation and what he had made of it. Now he'd never know.
Kirk regarded him in silence. “I can respect that,” he said at last. To Pike's surprise, Kirk offered him a formal salute.
So the youth did understand. “At ease, soldier. Do whatever it takes to succeed in your mission." Pike paused, then gave Kirk a tired smile. "However, should you fail to follow orders, as per usual, I guess you can come and get me.”
* * *
With the three men having jumped for the drill, Pike piloted the shuttle into the maw of the giant alien ship. The further in he went, the smaller his craft felt. This one ship was the size of an entire Vulcan space dock. He was navigating through a vast metallic honeycomb, an intricate web of technology unlike anything he had ever seen. And he knew that the Enterprise was at the very cutting edge of all that Vulcan expertise had to offer. The size and complexity of this vessel was overwhelming. This didn’t come from the Romulan Empire. Where had these people come from? How did it connect with the attack on the Kelvin? What did they want?
In many ways it was a relief to be committed to a path he could no longer control. There was no doubt that any survivors from this attack on Vulcan would be put up as scapegoats for the destruction of the other ships. All hopes of command were gone now. Back on Earth execution was his best option, prolonged public torture followed by a life sentence in a labor camp on a dilithium mining planet probably the worst. He had nothing to go back for. He might as well sate his curiosity about who these people were who had the power - and the nerve - to attack the very heart of the Vulcan Empire, before facing up to his own death as best as he could.
A tractor beam brought the shuttle in to land. Taking a moment to straighten his uniform and to steel himself for what would follow, he exited the shuttle. Another Romulan waited for him at the foot of the gangplank. He was dressed in a long black coat and like Nero had a bald head, high cheekbones accentuated by flowing lines of tattoos stretching round his skull, and an elaborate pattern up the ridge of his nose, flowering out on his forehead and continuing over the dome of his head. He looked like an exotic savage. How had such people come by such technology?
“Christopher Pike, Captain, ISS Enterpr--”
A fist smashed brutally into his solar plexus. He doubled over, chest burning as his diaphragm seized, battling to suck in air even as the Romulan kicked out his legs. He landed with a thump on the floor where he was held down by one guard while another took his weapons off him. His assailant stood over him, glaring down.
“You aren’t fit to carry the name of Pike!” The Romulan leant over and spat in his face. Unlike Nero with his guttural accent in Standard, this man spoke as if used to associating with humans.
“I guess negotiations are out then?” gasped Pike, his lungs still aching for air, his anger making every breath come up short. The saliva trickled down his cheek as the guards secured his hands behind his back and dragged him up onto his feet.
“Take him to the table,” ordered the Romulan, ignoring him entirely.
As he was marched down an endless warren of corridors, Pike noticed that while most of the crew were Romulan, not all were, and they seemed to be using Standard to give orders. It was a Standard subtly different from what he was used to. The technology that he could glimpse was utterly foreign to him. Something was very strange about all this.
Shortly thereafter he found himself pinned to a table in an alcove near the bridge, secured by wide straps across his chest, waist and knees, with his wrists caught in leather cuffs attached to the waist strap. The table was tilted to about fifteen degrees, giving him some ability to view his surroundings. He suspected he’d have more time than he wanted to get to consider his prison. Right now he wanted information.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“Ayel,” snapped the Romulan, his voice tense with hostility.
“What have you got against my name?”
Ayel hesitated before finally answering slowly, “I know someone--” He stopped. “I knew someone who knew you, in my universe.”
“We come from a parallel universe, some--” Ayel paused. “The stardate is 2258.42, correct?”
“Yes,” said Pike slowly.
“We come from 129 years into your future.”
Pike gaped at him. "Bullshit! There is only one universe."
"How little you know," sneered Ayel. "There is a multitude. And sadly some of them are filled with sick fuckers like you. A temporal vortex generated through the controlled emission of chronometric particles lets us travel through time and multidimensional transport devices move us between universes."
It had to be bullshit, except that it made sickening sense of the level of technology. Pike was well briefed on both the subjects and the enemies of the Empire. Unless this was a completely unknown species masquerading as humanoid with access to hither-to unimagined technology, the Romulan's bizarre story was possibly true.
“If you come from another universe, how could you know anyone who knew me?” sneered Pike.
“It is a parallel universe, inhabited by the same people, living similar lives - in some ways, at least. You lived to be 152. I knew your great-great-grandson. In your last years you lived with his family and you died when he was thirteen. You did most of the baby-sitting and he grew up listening to your tales, worshipping the ground you walked on. You were a hero of the Federation and he joined Starfleet because of you.” Ayel’s attention was gone for a moment, lost back in his own past. “It got old, I can tell you, listening to him go on about you.”
He turned his attention back to Pike. “After the invasion, when it became clear what kind of universe your Vulcans came from, what they intended to do to our own, we talked about ourselves, about you. Wondered who we were in your universe. My friend was adamant that in every universe, no matter how evil, there would always be a few good men. A few that would stand up for what was right and decent, no matter the cost. He was convinced that you would have been one such, no matter what world you lived in.”
Ayel regarded him with flinty eyes. “I’m glad he didn’t live to find out just how wrong he was.”
“Ayel,” called another crewman. “The drill will penetrate shortly.”
“If you’ll excuse me,” said Ayel sarcastically. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be back.”
* * * *
Kirk waited in the pre-jump formation, Olsen trembling with eagerness at his one side, Sulu tense as a bow at the other. “So what’s your hand to hand combat speciality?” he asked Sulu out of the corner of his mouth.
“Fencing,” muttered Sulu.
Kirk dived, shaking with laughter. They were so fucked. This was going to be amazing. This is what it would have felt like if he'd had the guts to stay in his father's car and learn to fly. He dropped head first, arms tucked by his side, the only sound the harsh rasp of his own breathing echoing with the shell of the helmet. The white and brown orb below him was expanding into a continental land mass at breathtaking speed. Now this was what he called living.
This planet had dominated every day of every year of his existence but he'd never seen it in real life before. Non-Vulcans were not allowed to set foot on the sacred planet... the planet he was supposed to be saving.
He felt a twinge of guilt for what he was about to do to Pike’s mission. There were times when he'd felt thoroughly conflicted about the man. Pike was the worst kind of apologist for Vulcan domination, putting all his considerable ability into making Vulcan rule seem justified. He was adept and ruthless in the use of an agonizer, and followed his orders without demur. And yet.... He confused Kirk. He took no pleasure in the pain he inflicted, and unless directly ordered otherwise, only punished incompetence. He didn’t play favorites, didn’t abuse his power beyond the limits of the system.
When he’d tried to recruit Kirk from the beer-soaked floor of that filthy speak-easy, using fine words about duty and development of species and living up to George Kirk’s memory, Kirk had never hated him more. When he’d spoken about how much someone with Kirk’s talent could achieve within the bounds of Starfleet, Kirk had suddenly realized the man was right. Being a repeat offender college drop-out in Iowa was a very weak protest indeed against Vulcan rule. If they were fool enough to let him into the system.... well, then he could pull something much more noticeable.
He'd spent over a decade running wild once his mother had been lost to him, some nine months after Sam disappeared. For years he'd hoped that the resistance movement that Sam had apparently made contact with would come for him too. In retrospect he could see why his brand of provocative rebellion might not have made him of interest to the rebels.
He'd contented himself with driving Frank ever crazier, while breaking every taboo he could find, sex, alcohol, fighting. Yet the authorities never came for him. Maybe being the last Kirk left gave him a measure of protection. Or maybe his rebellions weren't as earth-shaking as he'd first supposed.
With Pike's pitch came a moment of revelation. If the rebels didn't want him and the authorities seemed determined to ignore him, he'd blaze his own trail. If they were going to let him into the most elite service on Terra to do it, more fool them. Whoever said it was better to have your enemies inside your tent, pissing out, had never had Jim Kirk as an enemy. He’d been at the shipyard the next morning knowing exactly what he intended to do, just not how. Once he’d found out about the Kobayashi Maru simulation and what its purpose was, he’d had his how as well. He'd show them that the Vulcan myth of invulnerability was just that - a myth. But in the last twelve hours things had escalated beyond all imagining and his new how had suddenly become significant on an Imperial level.
And yet Pike still puzzled him. The man had put him in the agony booth on numerous occasions for infractions, yet had always made sure Bones was on hand afterwards to patch him up. He’d hammered into his command cadets the fundamental justice of Vulcan rule, yet he’d sat with Kirk and talked about Earth’s history pre-Vulcan - a history now dismissed in schools as a time of savagery and barely discussed.
Kirk had hated every minute of his schooling, the repetitive rote learning, the endless testing, the stupid chants of Surak's philosophy, the Imperial pledges. He'd largely taught himself from old books he'd found moldering in the basement of his grandfather's house. He knew such things should be declared to the authorities for proper disposal, and he knew - even when still in grade school - that the authorities could go fuck themselves.
But even so, it was only once he began his monthly sessions with Pike that he'd come to realize how little he knew about Terra's past. Pike's sessions always started with the intention of showing Jim that humans had the capacity to learn, to reason and to progress but that they were hampered by their overwhelming and illogical emotive lusts. So submitting to Vulcan tutelage was in all their best interests.
And yet every time they'd ended up debating human history and thought, with Vulcan largely forgotten. Every time Kirk had walked away thinking that humans at their worst seemed little worse than Imperial Vulcan and at their best were more than capable of finding their own salvation. How could Pike have read all the same histories and philosophies - read illegally, mind you, though Kirk had respected the trust he was being shown and never challenged Pike on that - and not reached the same conclusions? Kirk did feel that he’d never quite understood the man. Still, it was far too late now, too late for both of them.
He was burning through the atmosphere, shuddering with the friction, an express train of sound roaring around him. Below him mountain ranges and vast valleys were beginning to take shape, the living landscape of the planet that was home to all he hated. Plunging in free-fall towards the surface, counting down the meters as they fell, Kirk stared at the slender barbed line leading down to the platform that was causing so much consternation. Below it a fiery pillar of heat was blasting into the crust. It appeared to be a giant drill, boring directly into the heart of the planet. And wasn’t that interesting.
At 2000 meters to target they pulled rapidly one after the other, brief bursts of color of red, yellow and blue like exotic butterflies, swinging in to land smoothly and quietly like the highly trained professionals that they were. Olsen landed first, with Kirk a few seconds behind. Sulu swung in to the other side of the platform.
Kirk watched with one eye as Olsen immediately dug out the explosives from of his bag and began to set them. With the other he saw Sulu fluff the landing, get his chute tangled in the structure of the platform and then pull himself back up by activating the retractor mechanism of the chute, slashing the risers with a wicked extendable sword just before he was sucked into the exhaust grate. Maybe sword skills were good for something after all.
“For the honor of the Empire,” Olsen declared dramatically as he went to trigger the fuses. Kirk sighed. Patriotism was such a bore. He pulled a long knife out of his boot, jerked Olsen’s head back by the hood of his jumpsuit, slit his throat, and kicked the bleeding corpse off the platform, throwing the explosives after him.
“What the fuck?” Sulu was staring at him in horror from across the platform. Kirk turned on him, knife in hand. “Any enemy of Vulcan is a friend of mine. I owe the fuckers nothing. You wanna argue? Come and get me.”
A trapdoor in the platform suddenly creaked open. Kirk swung round to face the intruder. Given that time seemed lacking to explain his views on enemies and friendship, he simply shot him. Two more split out behind the first, using the corpse for cover.
“Whose side did you say you were on?” yelled Sulu, as he found himself confronted with a Romulan carrying a blade to match his own.
“My own!” retorted Kirk with a feral grin, before turning on another Romulan, using his knife as a weapon as his phaser had been kicked out of his hand. He'd been on his own since he was twelve. His mother had come back after Sam vanished, come back and stayed for once, rather than shipping out on yet another public relations tour of the colonies as the honored widow of the great human hero.
There'd been a fire in her eyes that he'd never seen before as she'd interrogated him on what exactly had gone down with Sam, then hunted meticulously through all his possessions and finally disappeared into her bedroom to commune with her PADD. He'd been over the moon to have her back and ecstatic that someone was prepared to acknowledge that Sam had actually existed. But he'd felt he was losing her to her PADD almost as soon as he'd got her back. Then, after some months of frantic planning, she'd left again and the next time he'd seen her had been on a news vid.
She'd been standing in the square in front of the Palais de l'Elysée in Paris, home of the Vulcan governor of Terra, a white scarf on her head, a handful of other women by her side. In her hand was a placard with Sam's photograph on it and a slogan: we want our children back!. Although the protest was barely mentioned in the mainstream media, which operated under strict Imperial control, the story spread like wildfire though the informal networks of messages and newsletters that most humans used to stay informed.
Winona Kirk was too famous to simply vanish and for weeks the authorities seemed paralyzed by her protest, enacted with a formal dignity and lack of emotive outbursts that left the Vulcans bewildered as to how to react. Each Saturday morning more women joined Winona in the square of the Palais de l'Elysée, with more photographs and more placards. For a brief while those who had ceased to exist, existed once more.
Then the authorities declared that with deep regret that Widow Kirk had finally succumbed to the great grief of the loss of her hero husband. Such an emotional collapse was a sad sign of how far the human race still had to go to attain mental control, but the Empire would honor the courage of the Kirk family and the widow would be removed to a cognitive repurposing asylum where she would be guided back to the ways of rationality. Jim had neither seen nor heard of her since. The Mothers of the Palais de l'Elysée still met every Saturday morning, with those who disappeared simply being replaced by more and yet more with every week that passed.
Jim didn't care. He'd turned his considerable talents to fucking and to fighting. There, in the heat of the moment, he briefly felt fully present in the shell of his life. There was nothing that fired him up more than a good fight, blood racing, pulse pounding, high on adrenaline.
Unfortunately it turned out that the Romulans had something approaching the strength of Vulcans and Kirk, weighed down by Vulcan's greater gravity, found himself tossed over his enemy’s shoulder and rolling off the edge of the drill platform. Clinging to the edge by his hands, playing footsie with the Romulan who was trying to stamp on his fingers, he was delighted to see Sulu manage to back his opponent onto the exhaust grate where a convenient burst of flame neatly fried him, leaving Sulu free to run Kirk’s opponent through with his sword. Sulu kicked the body off the platform and then crouched down to consider Kirk.
“Get me out of here,” yelled Kirk.
Sulu seemed in no hurry to oblige. “You seriously think Vulcan can be defeated?’”
“Yeah. Open your eyes. It’s happening as we speak. Stop believing the fucking myth and see the reality.”
Sulu hesitated and then extended a hand, pulling Kirk back onto the platform. “Okay. Now what do we do?” he asked.
“Change sides.” Kirk headed for a hatch, with Sulu still hanging back. The machine suddenly fell silent. The whir of a falling body had both men spinning round and looking up to where a small craft plunged down past them into the hole drilled into the planet surface. They ran to the edge to watch it fall. “They’re gonna blow the planet,” exclaimed Kirk in awe. “Fuck yeah! These are my kind of people!”
The platform jerked abruptly upwards, beginning to be retracted into the sky. Kirk, hearing a cry, turned to see Sulu falling backward off the platform. A quick glance told him that the escape hatch had locked down when the withdrawal activated. There was no way he'd survive the ride back up into space. He dived off the edge of the platform after the helmsman. If he was going back up the Enterprise, then he was taking the one ally he'd made with him. The thrill of freefall raced through his system once more as he dived headfirst, arms tucked by his side, tracking after the failing helmsman. He could see the surface of the planet shuddering and bucking below him, subject to unimaginable stresses, beginning to tear itself apart.
Reaching down, he managed to grab the other man with one hand, wrapping his arm in Sulu's harness webbing, as he pulled his own chute with the other hand. The usual sickening jerk came... followed by another as their combined weight jerked the traces off the harness. "Fucking piece of shit," he yelled. "The fuckers, sending us on a suicide mission with such crap gear." Grabbing his comm he yelled: “Enterprise, two to beam. Now, now, now!.”
“Are you mad?" yelled Sulu. "They’ll kill us if we get back on board.”
Kirk laughed, filled with manic delight as the planet’s surface sped ever closer. “We won’t tell them. If Vulcan’s gonna blow, the whole game changes. I wanna live to see that! Enterprise, beam now!”
* * * *
Pike looked around as best he could strapped down on his back. It was not a military vessel but a working ship of some kind, one modified to be heavily armed as far as he could tell. Much of the technology was unlike anything he had ever seen. He’d have dismissed Ayel’s comments as clearly delusional if not for what he saw around him. Yet nothing he heard from Terran or Vulcan scientists indicated that time or universe travel was possible.
He heard Ayel’s voice in the distance. “The drill has reached the planet’s core.”
He heard Nero’s reply. “Prepare the red matter and launch.”
He strained his head upwards to catch glimpses of hurried activity, snatches of conversation he could not understand. Everyone was tense, but there was clearly a growing sense of anticipation.
“What’s going on?” he demanded of Ayel as the Romulan passed him.
Ayel stopped. Pike had the odd impression that Ayel wasn’t used to dealing with prisoners and kept being caught by a natural instinct to be polite.
“We are making use of yet another delightful contribution to the multiverse by your Vulcans. Red matter. A weapon of extraordinary power, manufactured from decalithium, the manufacturing process powered by dilithium which is part of the reason you psychopaths invaded us in the first place!”
Pike’s mind was swirling with so many questions he didn’t know where to start.
“You want to know what red matter can do? Let me share it with you. Let me show you what I first saw when it happened to ch'Rihan, which you call Romulus.”
With a wave of hand Ayel brought up a three-dimensional view of Vulcan suspended in space. Pike was astounded by the power of the technology that had produced the image, and even more so by the power of the weapon that was causing the planet’s surface to twist and buckle.
“You’re destroying an entire planet?” It just didn’t compute. Everything he had ever been told of the two hundred years since First Contact told him of the natural superiority of Vulcans, of their logical right to rule. A group of renegade Romulans should not be able to do this.
“It’s only the beginning of our revenge,” ground out Ayel. They watched in silence as the planet convulsed. Out of his swirl of confusion, Pike picked one question.
“The Kelvin. Who destroyed her? Are there other ships like yours?”
“Yes, one of our ships was destroyed by a vessel like yours twenty-five years ago.”
“Twenty-five years?” Ayel sounded bemused. “I suppose it is. It is only a few days ago for us. We time-jumped too early. Once we found out the stardate from your ship we were able to jump again with more accuracy.”
"You're delusional," accused Pike. "There is no technology that would let you do that."
"I think your ideas about technology may be a little limited," snapped Ayel. "That view I saw of the bridge of your ship looked pretty clunky."
Pike bristled. The Enterprise was his pride and joy. He'd spent years ensuring she had the very best of everything the Empire had to offer. He wasn't letting some crazy Romulan with a tattoo fetish insult his lady.
"How do you do it, then?"
"We got the technology for generating temporal vortexes off the Borg back in 2373. They sent a ship back in our universe, back to 2063 to prevent First Contact between Terrans and Vulcans. Our Vulcans being a pretty decent species, you understand. Captain Picard followed them back in time and foiled their plan." Ayel pondered for a moment. "I wonder if that happened here. Did you ever hear anything about a strange ship being found near the North Pole of Earth, in 2153?"
Pike nodded slowly. He'd heard rumors, even found a few references in the Imperial databases but everything had been sealed with the highest level of classification.
"Well, that was the remains of a Borg cube."
"I've never heard of them," sneered Pike.
"Count yourself lucky," snapped Ayel. "They went quiet for a century or so but they are back with a vengeance in my time. If we can't change our future for the better, I only hope that you and your Vulcans all get assimilated by the Borg. It will serve you fuckers right!"
Time jumping? Parallel universes? Another great alien enemy? How much of this did the Vulcans know about? How much else was hidden from the other species in the Empire? Pike felt the resentment that he had fought all his career to suppress welling up once again. “Why do you want to be here now specifically?”
“Fuck knows,” said Ayel with a shrug. “Clearly we had to come far enough back in time to give us an unassailable technological advantage. But Spock was adamant that we had to come to this time period.”
“Not your one. Our one.” Ayel’s attention was drawn back to the projection. “And there she goes. Farewell, motherfuckers. May the Powers and Elements forgive them, because we won’t.”
Pike watched as what seemed like a dust storm started up on the surface of the russet-brown orb. It expanded with sickening speed, a tornado, a whirlpool, a lightning storm with great plumes of debris, a chaos of shattered crust being pulled into an interior gone eerily blue. And finally nothing at all beyond the infinite darkness of deep space. An entire planet had been sucked into its own maw. All around him hysterical cheers were ringing out from the crew. Pike stared unhearing at the simulation which showed nothing but darkness.
Vulcan was gone. What would become of them all now?
* * * *
Spock turned to a flustered Chekov. “Check out gravitational sensors, I want to know what they are doing to the planet.”
“Osu Khart-lan, gravitational sensors are off the scale. If my calculations are correct, they’re creating a singularity that will consume the planet. A black hole at the center of Vulcan." Chekov cringed in his seat, clearly fearing the messenger was about to take the blame for the bad news. "The planet has minutes, osu.”
Minutes. Spock was up on his feet without a second thought, heading for the turbolift. “Uhura, signal a planet wide evacuation, all channels, all frequencies. Chekov, you have the conn.”
She ran after him. “Where are you going osu?”
He should discipline her for deserting her post but he felt too buoyed by her obvious concern. Ever since he had been rejected as not enough of a Vulcan for the honor of the Vulcan Science Academy and exiled to live among mere Terrans, he had been surrounded by beings that feared and hated him. He had yet to decide if that was better or worse than being surrounded by Vulcans who feared and despised him. Either way, it was disconcertingly pleasurable to have someone who cared.
“I go to evacuate the Vulcan high council. They will be in the katric arc. They cannot be beamed. My father will be among them,” he said. His mother would be among them.
He strode into the transporter room to find Kirk and Sulu staggering off the platform. Terrans, he thought furiously. You couldn’t even trust them to get a suicide mission right.
“Clear the pad. I am beaming to the surface.”
He swirled out of sight with Kirk’s voice echoing in his ears. “Beaming where? Are you nuts?” A small part of his mind made a note that said cadet never had learnt to address his superiors with appropriate respect and that would need to be seen to. Another part was telling him that it was already far, far too late for such details to matter.
He pounded down the tunnel to where the sacred relics of Vulcan’s cultural history were stored, to where the High Council stood, servants in attendance, deep in meditation, ignoring the seismic activity round them. Of course they had made no effort to evacuate themselves, Spock thought bitterly. In the entire history of their race, their home planet had never been attacked. With a pattern that strongly entrenched, they saw it as an immutable law of the universe. As ever throughout his torn life, he felt his human emotions warring against his Vulcan training, his human cynicism fighting his Vulcan pride.
The closest they had come to danger in centuries was in 2154 when Jonathan Archer, the last great traitor to be produced by the Terrans, had blown up the United Earth Diplomatic Station that had orbited the planet of Vulcan, Terrans not being allowed to actually land on the planet's surface. The maniac had killed over 40 people, by far the most important being the Emperor Syrran. The man was lucky to have been killed himself in the explosion as no punishment would have been good enough for such treachery.
Fortunately the blessed Syrran had completed his sacred work of transcribing the works of Surak and the holy servant of her people Empress T'Pau had been able to continue his great vision of expanding the Empire, bringing the civilization of logic to the barbarous species of the quadrant. Except that now barbarism was hitting back with unthinkable technological prowess.
“Opidsular, Osa-mekh, na'shayalar na'kanok-veh la.” He bowed low, observing the proper greetings. Such a waste of time, screamed a voice in the back of his mind. “We must evacuate. Ah'rak is under attack.” They turned to stare at him, superior, supercilious, judgmental. The very blankness of their faces told him how much they found him wanting.
It was just like being back at school, facing off against his full-blood peers. The sudden awkward silence when he joined the group. The subtle step backwards as if his very presence was a contamination of their blood purity. If he was lucky, finally a little patronizing conversation as if they suspected his half-breed intellect could not follow a Vulcan discourse without study notes. That was how it had played out every day of his schooling when in the presence of their teachers. Of course when they'd managed to corner him without adults present, well, that had been different.
He was trying to think of what to say to get them to believe him without wasting more precious time when a giant statue of Surak that doubled up as pillar shook loose and fell, crushing Ask'er-kahr-lan Sarpk. That got their full attention.
The senior Vulcans seized various artifacts and began to hurry away, still too slowly, burdened as they were by books and statuettes. Spock wanted to scream at them all in his frustration. No amount of data in the universe was worth them all dying for. But of course that was a heretical thought. The preservation of information was all important. Information was immortal. Any one life was expendable.
The long corridor was tumbling down around them. He pulled the books out of his father’s grasp, dashing the precious tomes to the floor as he pushed him forward, while grabbing for his mother’s hand and dragging her behind him. The bodyguards and servants stood in shocked silence in the chamber behind them. They had no expectation of evacuation.
Several Vulcans were crushed as statues of renowned generals who had expanded the Vulcan Empire across the quadrant shook loose from the tunnel walls and fell upon them. Now everyone was running for real. Still Spock held onto his mother. Let the bastards judge him for it. Once they’d thanked him for saving their lives. As they cleared the tunnel mouth Spock was screaming into his comm: “Enterprise, energize. Energize!”
He could hear the countdown coming through the comm, could see the beginnings of the swirl of beaming that would whisk them to safety. His leaders safe. His culture safe. His mother safe.
In the distance molten lava was belching from giant cracks torn through the rocky landscape. Mountain peaks were imploding into ever widening ravines. Plumes of dust were darkening the sky. The cliff edge was crumbling as they waited, shattering into the abyss, the splintering lip ever closer to where they stood. As the beam took, he saw his father lean over and gently, firmly, push his mother over the edge.
He reached out desperately through the swirling energy of the beam, watched her slip silently backwards into the abyss of rock and dust, her veil slipping loose like a last tempting rope that still he could not reach to save her. Her eyes were all for him, not a glance went to the alien man that had ruined her life and now finally ended it.
Spock landed on the pad with his arm still stretched out to her. He stared at the empty space at his side for a long moment before turning to his father, pleading silently for an explanation.
“t'Spock, sa-fu t'Sarek, it was a logical use of an opportunity,” said Sarek serenely. “A way to remove a stain from the family honor.”
Spock stood unmoving, unable to compute. He looked at the three other Vulcan leaders. There was no dissent, no condemnation. His mother was only half of the stain that had befouled the life of Sarek for the last thirty years. He wondered whether Sarek would have removed the second half if he’d had time for a second push.
In an ideal world a male Vulcan’s shame of which it is not spoken would always happen in the presence of his bond mate, a bond mate selected for him back in childhood. But at times things did not go as planned. The Vulcan was away on official duties. The seven-year cycle was inconsistent. The onset was unexpectedly quick. Such anomalies had become increasingly prevalent in the last century. In such circumstances a pragmatic approach was taken with a physically compatible female of another species privately provided to allow for the required relief. What did not ever happen was that these substitute females became pregnant. Until one did.
Amanda Grayson, a civilian linguist working at the governor's palace at the Palais de l'Elysée, had been assigned to Kevet-dutar Sarek when his time came upon him while on Terra. The woman had been incarcerated while the Vulcans considered what to do. Mixing of species was an anathema to them, and they firmly believed in the termination of undesirable pregnancies in the interest of the improvement of the gene pool of lesser species.
But to lose a Vulcan child was an anathema in the present circumstances. In the thousand years since their atomic holocaust, Vulcan numbers had increased slowly, then ever more rapidly. Their women fell pregnant with great reliability every seven years. As better health increased their lifespans, some of their women stayed fertile for over a century. Numbers increased exponentially and the establishment of colony planets seemed inevitable.
But in the last two hundred years, when the Empire had finally begun to expand with aggressive rapidity, something had gone wrong. Their women were not always conceiving. Miscarriages and stillbirths were ever more common. Babies were being born with unacceptable deformities. The current best guess of their scientists was that Vulcan sperm seemed to degrade in quality, the longer the male was away from their home planet.
Increasingly Imperial outposts, labor camps and colonies were being left in the hands of non-Vulcan administrators as Vulcans returned to their home world to breed. Despite the inter-species prohibitions, there was great reluctance to lose a child with even half a complement of Vulcan genes. Eventually it was decided that it would be logical to take advantage of this opportunity to discover whether Vulcan genes would overcome or be polluted by human ones.
The pregnancy went ahead. With the Vulcan emphasis on family, Amanda remained with Sarek as something more than a house servant, something less than a nanny, the only non-Vulcan allowed onto the planet's surface. Her own wishes in the matter were of course irrelevant. And Spock entered the world as a living experiment, less than Vulcan, more than human. A shame on the aristocratic house of his father. The ruin of the life of his talented linguist mother.
He understood that it had been logical for Sarek to use this opportunity to rid himself of a burden. He understood that what he was about to do was driven by pure selfish emotion. He understood that he was letting the stain of his humanity poison his Vulcan logic. But he’d loved her, for all he’d never told her.
He stepped down from the pad, walked across to the transporter console and reversed the controls. His father and the three other Vulcans dematerialized. “Dif-tor heh smusma,” he whispered softly.
Spock walked past a shocked Sulu and Kirk, past an astounded transporter technician, and headed for the bridge. He settled into the command chair in time to see Vulcan implode in on itself on the view screen. He thought nothing, felt nothing.
* * * *
Vulcan was gone. Pike’s mind circled endlessly, helplessly, hopelessly around this unimaginable fact. Vulcan was gone. What would humanity do now? Without the Vulcans to shape them, direct them, advance them, how could they ever be anything more than animals that would revert to their native savagery and tear each other apart?
His thoughts were interrupted by the approach of Nero. The Romulan leader was clearly satisfied with the course of events. “Christopher. You must have a lot of questions for me. I only have one for you. I need the sub-space frequencies of Starfleet’s border protection grids. Specifically those surrounding Earth.”
Panic surged through Pike. Earth. Of course they were going to go after Earth next. He’d been too consumed by the destruction of Vulcan to think it through.
“Christopher, answer my question.”
“No, you answer for the genocide you just committed against a peaceful planet.”
“Peaceful?” scoffed Nero. “No, Christopher. I prevented genocide. I administered justice. Where I come from this is a simple mining vessel. I chose a life of honest labor, to provide for myself and the wife who was expecting my child.” He waved into existence a floating simulation, a slender young woman with curly blonde hair looking at them with an indulgent expression on her face. “I was off-planet doing my job while your Empire invaded. They destroyed the first planet they encountered as a lesson to us all. My planet, ch'Rihan. Our Empire fell. The Federation capitulated. I have carried that pain ever since.”
“If the Vulcans did indeed invade, you’ve had your revenge. There’s no need to go after Earth.”
“Why not? Because you humans are just following orders? It's been centuries since it was established that the plea of superior orders is not valid in interplanetary law. There was a moral choice to be made and you humans failed to make it."
Nero lent over the bed, his snarling face only inches above Pike's.
"They brought you with them, the Vulcans. Their human pets, their attack dogs. To do all the dirty work of slave-holding and punishing, of torturing and killing. All the shit they considered themselves too intellectually superior to do themselves.
“Maybe they have brutalized you. But you in turn have brutalized other species. A killer animal that is too traumatized to be tamed must be euthanized. I’m putting down your entire world. For the good of your universe. For the safety of mine. I will annihilate your Empire, planet by planet, so that you will never be able to invade other worlds.”
Pike glared back at him. Now this he knew how to deal with. He had considerably more training than he would have liked in resisting torture. “Then we have nothing left to discuss. I will tell you nothing. I am Christopher Pike, Captain, DV882--"
Nero pulled back from the table, regarding Pike with sardonic amusement. “Oh Christopher. Do you really think we are so primitive that we will try to torture the information out of you? I have a planet to kill. You mean nothing to me. Ayel, the slug.”
Pike watched bewildered as Ayel handed Nero a small insect-like creature with a hard shell and long antennae. “Centaurian slugs. They latch onto your brain stem. And release a toxin that will compel you to answer.”
Ayel seized his head, forcing open his jaw as Nero dropped the creature into his mouth. He tried to avoid swallowing but the creature crawled into the back of his mouth of its own accord, its antennae tearing against the tender membranes of his throat. He could feel every inch of its agonizing progress.
“Ayel, inform me once it takes effect.” Nero left them and Ayel injected Pike in the neck.
“Waz'at for?” he rasped, throat raw from the passage of the bug.
“Local anesthetic. There will be some discomfort as the slug eats it way through your stomach lining and makes its way up your spinal cord. You will receive medical treatment to repair the damage. We are not torturers. We simply need information.”
“Not torturers, just mass-killers,” spat Pike.
Ayel looked away, clearly uncomfortable. It was becoming increasingly clear to Pike that these men were not soldiers. What had compelled them to do this?
“And I suppose you have some similar sob-story to Nero,” snapped Pike. “Some pathetic romantic tragedy that drove you to this.”
“Not quite the same,” said Ayel. He perched himself on the edge of Pike’s table. “Why not? While we wait, let me tell you why I want you, your people, your planet and your Empire wiped from the history of the multiverse. I did lose friends and family on ch'Rihan. But that isn’t what drove me to this. That was your morality laws.”
He fell silent for a long moment, before continuing in a flinty monotone. “I’m an energy engineer, specializing in the exploitation of dilithium. I was seconded from the Romulan navy to Starfleet to work on a joint energy project. I met a young human scientist there, Josh, and had fallen for him before our first briefing meeting ended. We were inseparable within weeks, married before the year was out.”
“Married?” spat Pike. “That’s a travesty.”
“Exactly. Homosexual. Interspecies. We had ten extraordinary years together, working on energy extraction projects, almost never apart, before your Vulcans invaded our universe to tell us what a travesty our marriage was. They imposed the morality laws and procreation protocols almost as their first act in power. Our marriage was annulled as were all such unions and Josh and I were sent to different mining planets, now turned into forced labor camps. Compelled to work seven days a week on ever accelerated ways of extracting dilithium. There was no warning. No time to say goodbye.”
“Cry me a river,” sneered Pike.
Ayel stood up by the table, staring coldly down at Pike. “I did see him once more. On a holo-vid. On my prison planet I just kept my head down, tried to survive, hoped to eventually find my way back to him. But he was made of sterner stuff. He started a resistance movement. Eventually led a rebellion and took over the mine. He held off the guards for nearly four days before the rebellion was subdued and he was captured.”
Ayel took a deep breath before continuing. “They tortured him to death over another four days. Let the suffering last as long as the rebellion had. They recorded all of it and then sent the edited highlights out to all the other mining planets. We got an entire day off work while we sat and watched it, the only day off we’d had in months. The other prisoners didn’t know that I knew him but my Vulcan overseers did. I had to sit there, unflinching, emotionless, and watch my husband be tortured to death.”
Even Pike found himself at a loss for words. The silence stretched out between them. Finally Ayel spoke again.
“His name was Josh Pike. He was your great-great-grandson.”
* * * *
“Lieutenant, have you confirmed that Nero is headed for Terra?”
Uhura swung round to face her new captain. “Their trajectory suggests no other destination osu” He gave her a brief glance, sat upright at her station, clearly eager to impress him with her ability. At least she was still committed to following his orders. Any minute now the rest of the humans on board would start to do some basic math. In Spock’s estimation there were no more than 10 000 Vulcans left in the entire Empire.
After the first flush of Imperial expansion Vulcans had soon proved to be uncomfortable living among the lesser species. When the fertility problems had begun to manifest many had chosen to return home. Increasingly labor camps in mining planets and other Imperial outposts were run by other species under remote biometric surveillance via the Information Awareness Office.
Humans had no fertility problems. There were billions of them in the Empire. They bred like cockroaches, despite the Vulcans’ best efforts at control. Humans worthy of replication, such as Starfleet officers, were permitted two children. They were expected to produce these children with alacrity while in their thirties for men and in their twenties for women - prime breeding age according to Vulcan science. The free laboring classes were permitted one child. The Vulcans would have preferred even fewer breeders but humans were surprisingly stubborn in their emotional attachment to the notion of offspring. Undesirables - the mentally deficient or physically handicapped, the overly promiscuous, homosexuals, rebel sympathizers, entire racial groups considered to be backward - were subject to mandatory chemical sterilization.
But even the most draconian restrictions had not stopped the breeding. Humans lied and cheated and bribed. Controls often lay in the hands of local breeding control officers, seldom Vulcan themselves and dismayingly liable to corruption. On the more remote colony planets entire feral societies had sprung up known as the off-grids. Lacking in education and health care, the worst of the human species bred like flies.
Those people were deeply primitive but many more than 10 000 Terrans were not. And the best and brightest of their entire race were aboard the Enterprise. Spock had done the crew assignments. He’d made sure of it.
“Earth may be his next stop but we have to assume that every Imperial planet is a target.” Kirk strode onto the bridge, battered, bruised and as cocky as ever.
Spock ignored him. Time was of the essence. Sooner or later the humans would realize their numerical superiority. Sooner rather than later Kirk would realize. He must make contact with his commanding officers and receive further orders. “Mr Sulu, plot a course for the Laurentian system. We must gather with the rest of Starfleet before the next engagement.”
“Spock, get your head out of the military manual. There won’t be a next engagement. By the time we’ve gathered it’ll be too late. Running back to the rest of the fleet for a... a confab is a massive waste of time and utterly predictable. We need to take them by surprise.”
Kirk leaned forward so that he was right up in Spock's face. "Besides, the fleet have some little problems of their own right now."
Spock stiffened. The rebellion that no one acknowledged officially but that apparently everyone knew about. The fleet would struggle to fight on two fronts at one. But he didn't know what else to do. He hated to be reminded of the rigidity of thinking that even he knew was the greatest weakness of the Vulcan race. “Those are orders issued by Captain Pike when--”
“He also ordered us to go back and get him. Spock, you are captain now. You have to fucking think for yourself.”
“Cadet! You are not cleared to be on this ship. Your input--”
“Who the fuck cares after all that’s happened? Every second we waste he’s getting closer to his next target.”
“Security! Escort Kirk out.” He knew his duty. Follow his orders. He didn’t need some wayward human confusing his thinking processes. He didn’t need some lunatic human trying to seize control.
“You fucking coward. Try having an original thought for once. We’ve got to hunt him down.” Kirk was being pulled backwards by two security personnel, struggling wildly. He lashed out, knocking one down, kicking out the knees of the other, rushing at Spock.
Spock caught him by throat. He was faster. He was stronger. It was a clear sign of his superiority. He knew this. He held on, squeezing steadily, until the cadet’s eyes were bulging. “Death at my hands is too good for you. You don’t deserve the honor. Security, put him in an ejector pod and fire him at nearest planet. Work your way out of that one, cadet.”
* * * *
Kirk tumbled down the snowy slope, head over heels, seeing through the jumble of his own limbs an avalanche of snow, giant red appendages and gaping fang-filled mouth rolling behind him. He thought he’d done damned well so far. Landed on a class M planet not far from a Starfleet outpost. Climbed out of the impact crater. Been saved from the beaver-on-steroids that had been chasing him by the vast red spider-cum-venus-flytrap thing behind him. The only downside was that spider-venus had then decided to take up the pursuit.
Spotting the mouth of an ice cave ahead of him, he ran for it, slipping over the slick ice, scrabbling through the entrance, pushing into the deep blue depths. A long whip-like tongue flicked out, snagged round his boot, bought him crashing down onto the ice. He scrabbled for purchase but was sliding inexorably backwards when a figure carrying a torch ran into view and began to drive off the monster.
He lay on his back, panting. A finger in the face of death, yet again. He was enjoying himself. It beat his average day at the Academy.
“James T. Kirk. How did you find me?”
He looked up in confusion as what appeared to be an elderly Vulcan but the gentle smile and kindly eyes made him quite unlike any Vulcan Kirk had ever known.
“How the fuck do you know my name?”
The Vulcan - shockingly - offered him a hand and helped him to his feet.
“I have been and always shall be your friend.”
Friend? He didn’t have friends. He had tools and enemies. Superiors and underlings. But not friends.
“Bullshit. I don’t know you.”
The Vulcan led him to a fire deeper in the cave.
“It is remarkably pleasing to see you again, old friend, especially after the events of today. I am Spock.”
Kirk began to back away slowly, despite his longing to huddle up by the fire. Man-eating predators were all in a day’s work. Lunatic Vulcans were another matter. “Sir, I appreciate what you did for me today but if you were Spock you’d know we’re not friends at all. You hate me. You marooned me here for mutiny.”
“Mutiny?” Spock didn’t sound terribly surprised by this.
“You are not the captain?” This seemed to puzzle him more.
“No, you’re the captain. Pike was taken hostage.”
“What do you know about him?” demanded Kirk. This day was getting stranger by the minute.
“He is a good man, but troubled. We have not managed to see eye to eye despite setting out on a shared mission.”
“A shared mission? Then how did you end up here?”
Spock sighed. “We banded together in desperation. One hundred and twenty nine years from now, your Vulcan Empire, having ruined your own universe, invaded ours. They brought with them a weapon so terrible it could destroy planets. The weapon you saw used on Vulcan just now.” Spock paused, bowed his head. “May they rest in peace,” he said softly.
Looking back at Kirk, he continued. “They destroyed Romulus, defeated the Federation in short order and imposed their Imperial rule over both areas. The fall of the Federation was in many ways the fault of my own people. They simply could not believe that their kin could act in ways so inimical to the teaching of Surak. It was only when the genocide of the native Vulcans began that we realized our error. I was away on a Romulan colony, attempting to effect a reconciliation between our two species, and so was overlooked by the invaders."
Kirk was surreptitiously trying to back away while the Vulcan spoke. Vulcan minds were supposed to be immune to madness but listening to this tale of utter fantasy, that clearly wasn't the case.
Spock continued. “I formed an alliance with the Romulan miner Nero and the men and women he recruited from the mining planet he worked on. Both our nations had been reduced to cowering shadows of their former selves. No one was fighting back. We came up with the most radical plan we could conceive. To cross universes, travel back in time and try to prevent the tragedy before it ever started.”
"But that isn't possible," protested Kirk. "Is it?"
"More is possible in the multiverse than you have ever dreamed of," said Spock gently. "Many of those possibilities will be discovered by you in the course of your long and stellar career."
Kirk frowned. Much as he'd like to talk about himself, there was a fundamental flaw in the mad Vulcan's story. “So how come you’re down here and Nero's up there?” he demanded. He had made his way back to the fire and was huddling close, while carefully keeping it between him and the pseudo-Spock.
“We stole the Vulcan’s weapon of terror, the red matter, and a ship they used to drill planets. We had acquired temporal vortex technology from the Borg, and we adapted a multidimensional transport device to move us and the ship between universes. My intention was always to negotiate, letting the red matter weapon put us in a position of strength. Perhaps I was foolish to believe I could bargain with such people but I had hoped to come back to a time when the evil was less of a way of life, when the Empire was weakening and it might still be stopped."
"Weakening? The Vulcan Empire has never been more glorious, or so they tell us," challenged Kirk.
"I accessed your Empire's history after the invasion. Your Vulcans have yet to realize that the worship of data may be a weakness as much as a strength. What you know, your enemies may come to know too. At this moment in time, most Vulcans have retreated back to the home planet, the fleet is attempting to put down a vicious and tenacious rebellion in the Laurentian system, the humans on Terra are getting ever more restless and your Empress T'Pau is beginning to feel her age but is refusing to set up a line of succession, letting her favorites fight it out among themselves."
The Vulcan's analysis was surprisingly accurate. "So what changes?" asked Kirk curiously.
"Three years from now my half-brother in this universe, Sybok, will lead a coup d’état, having T'Pau discreetly killed and proclaiming himself Emperor. He will placate the rebellious Terrans and colonists by announcing that emotion has a place along with logic in the search for self-knowledge. He will turn their energies away from the rebellions into the new religion he will create, a cult called the Galactic Army of Light which will promise them relief from their psychic pain and a pathway directly to a God who resides behind the Great Barrier. That panacea, along with the technological advances that will be made in the next fifty years and the solution to the Vulcan fertility problem will leave the Empire stronger than ever. We had to come back to a time before that."
Spock looked across the flickering flames, until he held and locked gazes with Kirk. "But most importantly, I came back to a time when I, and you, were young and idealistic and might be persuaded to work with me to change the course of history.”
“Idealistic? Me?” scoffed Kirk. “I couldn’t give a shit for any of them. You wanted me to have ideals? You’d have needed to arrive before I was born.”
“Indeed,” said Spock sadly. “I believe your birth may have been a terrible tragedy of our inadvertent making.”
“What d’you mean?” demanded Kirk.
“We emerged in your universe unsure of the stardate. We took a hostage from the first ship we encountered, having first fired on them to make clear our might. We had no reason to trust anyone from your universe. When the captive told us we’d arrived nearly thirty years too early, Nero simply had the ship destroyed before I had the time to argue for another course. That ship was the ISS Kelvin.”
Spock looked at him with sad eyes. “Forgive me, old friend. Because of me, you have grown up in this universe without a father.”
For the first time in a tumultuous day Kirk found himself at a loss for words.
“We jumped forward in time to the present. Nero was clear that he intended to destroy Vulcan as Vulcan had destroyed Romulus. I wished to negotiate. To try and find you and myself. Nero would have none of it. He stranded me here so that he could continue with his plan unimpeded.”
Jim tried to make sense of this unbelievable swirl of information. One thing stuck out over all others.
“Wait, where you come from, did I know my father?”
“Yes, you often spoke of him as being your inspiration for joining Starfleet. He proudly lived to see you become captain of the Enterprise.”
“A ship we must return you to as soon as possible. Jim, in my world you were an inspirational leader. Loved, respected, widely admired. You aroused intense loyalty among your crew. Many spent most of their careers serving under your command. Several risked their careers at your call. You can do the same in this universe. Indeed, this reality is even more desperately in need of your abilities.”
Kirk hesitated, disbelieving and yet desperately curious. He could imagine being feared. He could imagine buying loyalty with bribery and blackmail. But this did not seem to be what Spock meant. He’d always thought of himself as an outsider. Abandoned by everyone who had mattered to him. The boy that brought pain rather than joy to both his mother and his brother. The son of a hero who showcased failure rather than courage. The cadet who took the oath of loyalty with a heart already set on betrayal.
Strangers might try to make friends with him, brown-nosing the heroic name, but once they knew him - knew his inner crazy - they backed away unless, like Pike, they were trying to use him, or, like Bones, they themselves were too crazy to know better. He couldn’t imagine anyone voluntarily following him, let alone liking him.
Seeing the doubt on Kirk’s face, Spock circled round the fire and reached out to him. “Please allow me, it will be easier. Our minds. One and together.” Kirk backed away but the Vulcan was surprisingly strong, despite his age. Bony fingers settled against his cheekbone and temple.
Jim's mind was pulled into a dizzying swirl of sounds and images. He battled to find his footing, fending off an acute attack of mental motion sickness to try and focus on the images shimmering in front of him. He saw a state funeral held at what looked like Starfleet Command, although there was no coffin. Just a portrait of himself looking decades older and - it had to be said - quite a lot fatter. A man, clearly of great authority, was reading from a podium.
“James T. Kirk’s historic role as an explorer was rivaled by his reputation for tactical genius. He had a strong moral center and devotion to the values he found embodied in the Federation, spending most of his life in its service and defense. In numerous incidents, he risked his life for causes he deemed just, including his final act on Veridian III. For that the Federation is forever in his debt.”
Murmurs of respectful agreement came from an audience that numbered thousands, while a sort of mental footnote from Spock told him that a dozen networks were broadcasting the event to millions more. With a rueful smile the speaker continued. “Of course, his confidence in his righteousness sometimes led him to creatively interpret, and outright disobey, his orders.” There was laughter throughout the room but laughter of affection rather than derision.
Sadly Spock’s whirled him away before he could see more. Watching his own eulogy was strangely mesmerizing. Frankly he'd always expected to die in a ditch after being stabbed in the back with no-one bothering to mourn his passing. Even stranger was to feel the overwhelming sadness contained within Spock at having lived to see this event. If Vulcans were the same across the multiverse, then clearly the emotionless thing was bullshit. Grief, respect, and something that felt strongly like love radiated from the Vulcan's mind.
Spock's voice spoke to him through the kaleidoscope of imagery filling his head. "In the light of your present predicament, perhaps we should visit my Kirk's first encounter with Romulans." Bewildering images flickered by. The bridge of the Enterprise - not as lovely as his own ship, Kirk noted with pride, although the view was definitely better for not having the Empress and the Philosopher glowering over everyone. And he had to think that he looked particularly good squarely seated in the captain's chair. He felt a gentle amusement emanating from Spock at this thought.
Other-Kirk and his crew were following a Romulan vessel that had apparently attacked the Federation outposts that marked the edge of the neutral zone. Orders were that they might defend themselves but were not to attack for any reason whatsoever. Kirk watched fascinated as an older version of himself calmly ordered a parallel course, matching the enemy ship for course and speed. Moving like an echo. He was impressed by his own grasp of tactics. Impressed too by his focus and patience. Age and confidence suited him.
Small details kept catching his attention. The skirts on the female crew members for one thing, if something that short could be called a skirt. In the Imperial service men and women wore identical trouser suits designed to hide rather than display their bodies. It took effort to tear his eyes away from Uhura's astonishing miles of shapely leg. She was a member of his bridge crew? And seemingly happy to be there?
He noticed too the willing respect the crew offered to him, following his orders with oiled precision but with none of the cringing resentment so common on Imperial ships. He was astonished by the absolute lack of visible weapons on any officer. They trusted each other that much?
The scene shimmered and focused again in the conference room. It looked like the Enterprise and yet unlike, an odd mimicry of the ship he knew. He quickly glanced around the faces. Spock, Bones, Sulu, all these he knew. Even Styles, a ruthless cadet who was quick to anger and read an insult into every comment. Only the Scotsman who was apparently his engineer was unknown to him.
He watched the debate that followed with fascination. The full and frank exchange of views that was allowed, with no man being pilloried for opposing another, even a superior officer. The captain openly inviting a range of opinions. Other-Styles openly insulting the first officer, yet other-Kirk quelling him with a simple three words: "sit down, mister." Yet when all was done, they rose to follow his orders without demur.
Other-Bones was a revelation, a confident man boldly expressing his opinions. He challenged other-Spock with no less but no more respect than any other officer. "You're discussing tactics. Do you realize what this really comes down to? Millions and millions of lives hanging on what you do next." Every sentence spoke of a fight for the right to life, for the importance of conscience, more important than memories of a war a century ago. Was this who Bones could be if freed from the kill-first, justify-later ethos of the Empire?
The memory seemed to slow down for a pointed piece of conversation.
"War is never imperative, Mister Spock," challenged other-Bones.
"It is for them, doctor," replied other-Spock. "Vulcan, like Earth, had its aggressive colonizing period. Savage, even by Earth standards. And if the Romulans retain this martial philosophy, then weakness is something we dare not show."
Spock's voice spoke gently in Kirk's head. "It is time to move beyond aggressive colonizing, Jim. Time to demand more of yourself, and of your friends."
Kirk watched as his other-self played a careful, patient game of tactics and bluff, attack and counter-attack, finally with both sides playing dead. Itching for resolution, for action and glory, Kirk was astonished by his own patience. He watched other-Spock too, still brilliant, still logical, yet working in perfect harmony with other-Kirk. The Vulcan had none of the aggressive insecurity of the man he had faced down on his own ship just hours earlier.
Finally, in his moment of victory, other-Kirk calmly offered the enemy captain safety for all survivors in transferring to the Enterprise. Such mercy was weakness, an illogical reaction for a victor. All Kirk's training told him this. Yet watching his other-self, it looked oddly like strength.
Spock let the images blur out of sight. "Time perhaps to see another side of yourself, Jim, and of your friends. Time to meet the Horta."
A rapid blur of information told Kirk he was on a mining planet, Janus VI, hunting a man-eating monster given to reducing the miners to a pile of crispy ashes. The stream of events slowed to show other-Kirk crouched together with other-Spock, with the disgusting lump of brown crust and orange nodules complete with tatty carpet fringes that was the injured monster cornered nearby. Kirk itched to kill it himself.
He did not understand why other-Kirk dithered, wasting time ordering his first officer to mind-meld with the thing. He found himself considerably less impressed by this vision of his other self. However, that thought was overwhelmed when Spock let Kirk follow his other self into his mind-meld with the monster, let him feel the pain and fear and despair that lay in the gentle heart of the creature.
Kirk found himself being pulled under into the grief, as if caught by an unexpected undertow when swimming. The pain of the creature was echoing through the mind of other-Spock, who was muttering disjointed phrases. "Sadness for the end of things. It is time to sleep. It is over. Failure. The murderers have won. Death is welcome. Let it end." The pain was amplified in the mind of Spock, and Kirk suddenly found himself with double vision, seeing the creature and other-Spock, but also seeing battalions of invading humans and Vulcans, emaciated prisoners deep in mines, Federation cities laid waste, Vulcans lining up other Vulcans for elimination. Threaded through all of it was Spock's sense of horror, of failure, of utter helplessness.
"I apologize." Spock pulled them both abruptly to the surface of his mind, so that Kirk could once again sense the ice cavern around them, the fire by their feet. "The mind-meld with the Horta triggered other memories I had not expected. I will proceed with more care."
Kirk simply focused on breathing deeply. Any thought that Vulcans truly did not feel emotion had been blown away. As he fought to push away the overwhelming despair of the memories, he thought he had a glimmering of why they perhaps fought so hard to control their emotions. It felt uncomfortably similar to the way he chose to deaden his own feelings.
He found himself back in the mine, this time watching his other self order other-McCoy to heal the creature.
"You can't be serious! The thing is virtually made of stone." He found some amusement in the realization that McCoy back-chatted him right across the multiverse. For a moment he found himself profoundly homesick for his Bones, over-enthusiastic hypos and all. If what he was seeing in front of him was what friendship looked like, maybe he and Bones were friends after all.
"Help it. Treat it," said other-Kirk.
"I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer," retorted other-McCoy.
"You're a healer. That's a patient. That's an order."
A healer. That was what Bones was meant to be. No wonder he was so unhappy in Imperial service.
Other-Bones was grinning up at other-him, hands covered with the thermal concrete he had been troweling into the creature's wound, face alight with happiness. "It won't die. By golly, Jim, I'm beginning to think I can cure a rainy day." Other-McCoy looked so delighted with himself. Kirk vowed to himself that if he ever got back to the Enterprise, he'd find a way to help Bones become this man.
He felt gentle approval from Spock as the scene shimmered and shifted, bringing them back to the bridge, where other-McCoy and other-Spock stood by his chair as he spoke to the chief engineer from the mine that contained the Horta and her newly hatched children. The chief was reporting on the vastly improved production that had come from the mutually-agreed alliance between the Horta and the humans.
For a moment Spock overlay that memory with an image of the mining planet he and Nero had escaped from, the misery of prisoners being worked slowly to death, ruled by violence and fear, living without hope, all in pursuit of impossible production targets. Without comment, he steered back to the bridge for a final glimpse of other-Kirk and other-McCoy teasing other-Spock about the Horta having a liking for his Vulcan ears.
"She really liked those ears?" said other-Kirk.
"Captain, the Horta is a remarkably sensitive and intelligent creature with impeccable taste."
Other-Kirk nodded slowly. "Because she approved of you?"
"Really, my modesty--"
"Does not bear close examination, Mr Spock. I suspect you're becoming more and more human all the time." Other-Spock raised an eyebrow as other-Kirk and other-McCoy grinned at each other.
The scene shimmered out of focus as Kirk tried to imagine such easy camaraderie existing between command crew in the Empire. He wondered what it would be like, not just to lead men who respected him, but to lead with the support of two such able and confident deputies, men dedicated not to his downfall but to their mutually-procured success. Could he ever be like that?
Spock now took him through a rapid swirl of scenes, coming from a variety of missions. He saw other-Kirk arguing with a race so committed to war with its neighboring planet that they did it by computer game, marching the 'casualties' to elimination chambers.
"We're a killer species," argued the leader of their high council. "It's instinctive. It's the same with you."
"It's instinctive?" demanded other-Kirk. "The instinct can be fought. We’re human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But we can stop. We can admit that we’re killers but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes, knowing that we’re not going to kill... today."
Then abruptly he was on the bridge again, watching through other-Spock's eyes as he in turn watched his captain via a viewscreen. His other-self was on a desert planet where he had apparently been sentenced to one-on-one combat with the captain of a Gorn enemy ship by some interfering god-like aliens called the Metrons. Kirk had to say that he seemed to have lived a full and eventful life and met a remarkable range of beings.
With the Gorn captain finally at his mercy, his other-self hesitated. "No, I won't kill you. Maybe you thought you were protecting yourself when you attacked our outpost." Other-Kirk lifted his face to shout up into the sky. "No, I won’t kill him, you’ll have to get your entertainment somewhere else."
The voice of the Metron came out of the heavens. "By sparing your enemy you demonstrated the advanced trait of mercy, something we hardly expected. We feel there may be hope for your kind. Therefore you will not be destroyed. It would not be civilized."
He caught a final glimpse of his other-self back on the bridge, grinning at other-Spock as he informed him, "We’re a most promising species, as predators go, did you know that?"
He tried to imagine ever having that kind of teasing camaraderie with the Vulcan who had been intent on killing him just that morning. Had it been just that morning that he'd been back at the Academy, giving the finger to the Kobayashi Maru the height of his ambitions?
Spock's voice broke through his reverie. "And now it is time to share with you our first encounter with a parallel universe. Sadly the anomaly that allowed for this, a boost to the transporter system because of a magnetic storm, was later harnessed in the multidimensional transporter device, which would eventually allow for your universe to invade and conquer ours."
The image had an odd faded quality this time, hazy at the edges. "I was not present," explained Spock from the depths of Kirk's mind. "What you see here I received from my Captain Kirk via mind-meld when I wished to understand who my Mirror Universe counterpart was."
Kirk found himself in yet another version of the Enterprise. The uniforms were showily exotic but the weapons they all carried were at least familiar to him. He thought his other-self looked good with arms bare in the glittering gold shirt, complete with tassels and sash. Other-Kirk was apparently being required to fire on the cites of the Halkan, a dilithium-rich planet whose people would not trade with the Terran Empire. Spock's voice spoke over the scene. "From the Vulcan Imperial records I accessed, in your universe the Halkans killed themselves and destroyed their entire planet rather than co-operate with the Vulcan Empire. They take their commitment to peace with great seriousness."
Kirk would like to have taken rather longer to appreciate Uhura in thigh-high boots with a bare midriff or to have watched his other-self romance Marlene, the captain's woman. That certainly wasn't something that would ever be allowed in the Vulcan Empire. Maybe a Terran Empire had something to be said for it.
"Better to have no empire at all," came Spock's voice. "Let us end with a message from you that changed the fate of another Empire." The scene shifted forward to other-Kirk in the transporter room, preparing to escape with other-McCoy, other-Uhura and that odd Scots engineer once again, but stopping to debate with Mirror-Spock.
"Terror must be maintained or the Empire is doomed. It is the logic of history."
Other-Kirk looked across the transporter desk at Mirror-Spock. “How long before the Halkan prediction of galactic revolt is realized?" he asked.
"Approximately 240 years."
"The inevitable outcome?"
"The empire shall be overthrown, of course," replied Mirror-Spock quite calmly.
"The illogic of waste, Mr Spock. The waste of lives, of potential, resources, time. I submit to you that your empire is illogical because it cannot endure. I submit that you are illogical to be a willing part of it," challenged other-Kirk. "If change is inevitable, predictable, beneficial, doesn't logic demand that you be part of it?"
"One man cannot summon the future." Exactly, thought Kirk. Other-Kirk might have a fine line in rhetoric but Kirk's sympathies were entirely with Mirror-Spock.
"But one man can change the present. Be the captain of this Enterprise, Mr Spock. Find a logical reason for sparing the Halkans and make it stick. Push the system until it gives. You can defend yourself better than any man in the fleet. How about it Spock?"
"A man must also have the power."
Like Mirror-Spock, Kirk felt as if he was holding his breath waiting for his other-self to reply. The argument was so enticing but a man was nothing without power.
"In my cabin is the Tantalus, a device that will make you invincible."
Well, that wasn't fair, thought Kirk furiously. No one was handing him a device to make him invincible.
Other-Kirk continued to speak as he mounted the transporter platform. "What will it be? Past or future? Tyranny or freedom? It's up to you. In every revolution there is one man with a vision."
Spock pulled them up out of the memory and slowly released Kirk's mind from the embrace of his own. Kirk staggered backwards, feeling dizzy and nauseous. He felt small and very alone with no voice but his own in his head.
"I think you had a bit of an agenda there, with the things you chose to show me," accused Kirk.
"Indeed I did, Jim. I wished to show you the honorable man that you are and that all your friends and colleagues know you to be. Now we must go. There is a Starfleet outpost not far from here. We must return you to the Enterprise. You need to embrace your destiny.”
As Kirk trudged across the snowy wastes behind Spock, the Vulcan turning out to be surprisingly spry for his age, his mind was awhirl with all that he had witnessed. He'd liked the man he'd seen. Handsome, brilliant, with a great line in rhetoric and an astonishing tactical talent. People had respected him. Loved him. Followed him because they believed in him. Both Spock and McCoy had treated him as the focal point of their lives. And both men had been impressive in their own right. Even Uhura had liked him!
It had all come wrapped up in a lot of namby-pamby pacifist bullshit, although other-Kirk's instinct for mercy had seemed to serve him well. And the man could fight when he needed to.
He wanted it. All of it. He was rather taken aback by how desperately he wanted it. So it involved having ideals and integrity and shit. How hard could that be?
* * * *
Pike lay on the damned table, muscles aching from lack of movement, staring despondently at the ceiling. Nero had been right about the slug. The sub-space frequencies for the border protection grids of Terra had spilled out of his mouth as easily as his own name, totally outside his conscious control. He’d not said a word since, terrified of what else might slip out.
He no longer even had pain to help him keep his focus. The ship's doctor had treated the injuries caused by the passage of the slug into the foot of his brainstem. The human woman had had torture scars across her face and one eye put out. She'd refused to exchange a single word with him.
Not that any of it mattered much, if his planet was about to be destroyed. Presumably he would follow it shortly after, his purpose fulfilled. Everything that had ever mattered to him would be lost. Unable to face thinking about what he’d done, he let his mind wander over what he'd been told of Nero and Ayel’s universe. What Ayel had told him of his own great-great-grandson.
Pike had made his required contribution to the Empire’s breeding program. Back on Terra was a wife who’d been assigned to him, whom he’d met with only the number of times required to get her pregnant the first time. The second time he’d just sent a sperm donation. Back on Terra were a boy and a girl who he’d never seen. If the planet was not destroyed, there might eventually be a great-great-grandson called Josh.
But better not when said descendent was a pervert. Sex between men. Marriage! Homosexuality was a physiologically unnatural deviation from the heterosexual norm, being systematically bred out of the gene pool by the procreation protocols. At best it was a mental disorder, at worst sickening perversion. He knew this. His whole society knew this. How could an entire universe, both the Romulan Star Empire and what they seemed to be calling a Vulcan-Earth Federation not know this?
He let himself imagine - just for a moment - a younger version of himself, held within Ayel’s strong arms. Held by a man as tall and as powerful as himself. Stronger than himself, if the power of Ayel's punch was anything to go by. Pushed back against a wall, warm skin rubbing against his, those full lips brushing across his cheek, reaching out for his own...
He jerked his mind away. Sexual abstinence enhanced vitality. He knew this. Or at least he knew what he'd been taught. Ejaculation leached the body of vital nutrients, of lecithin and phosphorus which were needed for full development of the brain. Control of sexual urges was a sign of maturity. One of the many ways in which Vulcans were manifestly superior to humans.
He bit down so hard on the inside of his cheek that he drew blood, trying to use the pain to clear his mind. Normally at moments like this he’d have headed for the treadmill or the punch bag, using hard exercise to exhaust his body and empty his mind. He's always found physical exertion worked far better than meditation in overwhelming his base lusts. But strapped down like this there was no way to escape his body’s rising reaction.
He'd found it reasonably easy not to be moved by women. He'd never even let himself think about men. But now he couldn't rid himself of the vision of Ayel pushing him up against a wall. Or running a hand under his shirt as he lay here tied to the table. A warm hand pushing through the hair on his chest, callused fingertips rubbing over a nipple...
He tried again to take control of his errant thoughts. Interspecies sex was wrong. Homosexuality was wrong. Their practices were disgusting. Naked men writhing against each other. A hard lean body pressing against his own. Strong fingers releasing his fly, pushing into his briefs. Another erection rubbing up against--
“Do you need more pain medication?” Ayel’s voice cut through his reverie. The Romulan reached out to test that the straps were not cutting off his circulation. Pike tried to flinch away from the warm fingers that brushed across his wrist, resting briefly against his thumping pulse point. He licked at the blood inside his mouth, trying to ignore that fact that Ayel had removed the black coat he normally wore and was in angular black waistcoat that left his firmly muscled arms bare. He looked as strong as Pike had imagined.
Still Ayel hesitated at his side. The fussing was bizarre. Keeping prisoners did not seem to be the Romulan's strong point. As he continued to hover, Pike wondered if Ayel was actually seeking out his company. Maybe he could use this to his advantage. It wasn’t as if he had much left to lose. He’d also really rather that the Romulan was looking at his face right now than at any other part of his traitorous body.
“Why do you have to take out Earth?” he asked. “Vulcan is gone. The Empire will fall apart without them. There’s no further risk to you. Why cause more deaths?”
“Did you not hear what Nero told you about the human attack dogs the Vulcan’s brought with them?” snapped Ayel. “You humans are never more than one step behind your Vulcan masters, begging to do their dirty work. You’re not innocent.”
"Humans are the chosen species," Pike said stiffly. "Of all the species encountered by the Vulcans, we are considered the most likely to be able to evolve significantly towards perfection."
Ayel laughed bitterly. "You're chosen all right. Chosen as the most gullible, the most likely to fall for the Vulcans' propaganda, the most open to being used unquestioningly as their tools. Trust me, being chosen is not a compliment."
Pike hesitated. His parents were both Starfleet to the bone. Respect for authority had been beaten into him since he'd been able to walk. But somewhere down on his planet was a wife who wasn’t Starfleet, two children who’d probably never seen a Vulcan in the flesh. Ongoing loyalty to the Vulcans and their instruments of power seemed pointless, given the circumstances. “So take out Starfleet. You’ve got the weapons. Most humans hate the Vulcans. Just take down the leadership.”
“When you take down a dictatorship the easiest thing for a new government to do is just fill up the same space," replied Ayel. "In my universe, there is a vast body of psychological research on this. Being freed from overbearing authority leaves a void of emptiness and anxiety. Some fill that void by taking action with their new freedom. But many simply look for another authoritarian system to tell them what to think and how to act. I’ve no doubt that humans like you will take over right where the Vulcans left off. In the current chaos, do you think you could take over the Empire?”
“Yes, I do.” The words slid out of Pike as smoothly as water, coming straight from the slug still leeching off his brainstem. He was intelligent, ruthless, highly trained and self-confident. He had a network of allies that he'd been discreetly building over the last thirty years. He also still had the one talent the Vulcans had tried to extract from him, the capacity for independent thought. He was sure he could do it.
“And you’ll run another Empire as evil as theirs,” retorted Ayel. “That’s why we can’t let any of you live.”
“What’s wrong with having the strongest rule? Isn't their ability to seize control the sign of their right to power? It's the natural order of things. The survival of the fittest. The triumph of the most worthy.”
“Your Vulcans were worthy?” scoffed Ayel. “Do you know that the next thing they did after destroying ch'Rihan was take over Vulcan, keep the planet and begin to exterminate all our Vulcans as being unworthy of their race because of their belief in IDIC.”
“Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, the basis of our Vulcan philosophy, celebrating the vast array of variables in the universe. We judge a species worthy by the respect they show to others. We judge a society worthy by what they do to protect the most vulnerable among them. At the heart of the philosophies that unite the species of the Federation, and that run through the history of my people is the Golden Rule. You must have heard of it?"
"Do not do unto others that which you would not wish done unto you," murmured Pike. "That one is certainly not taught in our schools but it remains as an old wives saying from the before times."
"Exactly. Being in touch with our moral essence is to be in touch with the needs of those with whom we share the universe. We are all social beings. Interaction with others as individuals in their own right is an essential, natural expression of our own morality. You tell me something. In my experience, humans are a confident, assertive species, capable of great compassion but also often aggressive. How the hell did you come to let the Vulcans walk all over you?”
“I’ve wondered that myself sometimes.” Damn his mouth for spilling out his thoughts without the filter he had spent a lifetime creating, a filter reinforced by every aspect of his life, from his father's belt to his teachers' cognitive repurposing to the beady eyes of the ever-present holos of the Empress and the Philosopher.
“Zefram Cochrane launched our first warp vessel in 2063. That must’ve attracted the attention of the Vulcans. First Contact or the Imperial Enlightenment as we are supposed to call it, followed shortly after. Their ships were faster, and far better armed. They’d been in space for millennia already. They overwhelmed our military forces within days. Our civilian leaders gave way soon after. Rebellion continued sporadically for another century until the last rebel leader, Jonathan Archer, died in the process of blowing up Emperor Syrran, his entourage and the humans collaborating with them in government. I guess he thought it would free us but it just let Empress T'Pau seize control and her ruthlessness made Syrran look like a pussycat."
Pike looked up at Ayel, moved by a profound wish to make the Romulan understand just how bad it had been. "You have to realize that the Vulcans arrived only ten years after the end of World War III, which had left over six hundred million dead. We'd just gone through a nuclear cataclysm and genocidal war that has lasted nearly thirty years. Many of our major cities and governments had been destroyed. We were still living with nuclear winters, still dying of radiation poisoning, scraping out a living in makeshift communities, surviving hand-to-mouth with no trust for strangers.
"And then god-like aliens descended from the sky and promised us an end to poverty, disease, war and hunger. An end to hopelessness and despair. They offered us a new order that would restore our pride, and bring us a new certainty. Can you blame us for believing in them?
“Our entire culture was supported by myths of superior beings coming to save us from ourselves. Every major religion pointed that way, each waiting for the prophet of their choice to descend from the heavens. World War III was widely hailed as being the Apocalypse and heralding the end of times. And on the other hand our atheist scientists were all searching for superior alien species.
"When the Vulcans arrived with their superior strength, their god-like technology, their refined intellect, it was easy to believe that they had come to lead us to a better, brighter future. It seemed logical."
"Didn't you come to think better of it when you realized how they were treating you?" asked Ayel.
Pike shrugged helplessly. “Guilt and punishment is deeply embedded in our culture, too. When they began to discipline us for our failings, that did not seem unreasonable either. After centuries of what seemed like an inevitable, unstoppable march towards ever-greater levels of civilization and technology, our attempts at self-improvement through eugenics had left us on the edge of a new dark age. All our belief in progress, in our inevitable rise towards a better future had been lost. Their way had to be an improvement.”
Pike turned his head to Ayel, straining against the straps. "But the Vulcans are right, aren't they? Maybe you Romulans do better but isn't human nature essentially evil, driven by turbulent emotions? We've done terrible things in the past. Aren't we better in subservience to societal norms that curb the unfettered expression of our base lusts, with enlightened rulers giving us guidance and direction?"
"Your Vulcans? Enlightened? You can't believe that," replied Ayel. "If evil is part of your make-up, then so is your vast capacity for compassion. And all of it is founded in emotion. In my opinion it is the very process of forcing beings into absolute subservience to a communal authoritarian norm that reinforces the negative aspects of human nature. Where is there any room for compassion, for friendship, for love and forgiveness in the world you live in? I don't care what Vulcans say. An utterly logical being is the essence of evil, with no empathy to allow it to sympathize with others and no compassion to temper its judgments.
"Humans - as for all of us - are better for being able to exercise their free will, not worse. As for enlightened absolutism, the assumption of infallible judgment combined with absolute power gives you tyranny pretty damn quickly. Your own human history tells you that."
Pike fell silent, looking back over all he had been taught in his career. Over all he had learnt and then tried to forget when his relentless need to prove himself intellectually had led him to uncover and devour forbidden texts. It had been done in good faith. The Vulcans were intellectually so advanced. He'd easily assimilated their respect for data, for the power of information. He'd believed them when they said that logic would never allow a false inference from true premises. True premises lay in having all the facts.
Pike had believed that the more he knew, the closer he could come to emulating his masters. He’d read everything he could find about Earth’s history. Making the mistake that would dog his whole career, he’d used his own initiative instead of following orders to the letter. He’d sought out forbidden texts, assuming they were only forbidden because most of the disappointingly primitive humans did not have the capacity to fully understand them. Secure in his belief in the righteousness of the Vulcan way, he’d been sure he could analyze them without danger.
What it had left him with were disturbing ideas about mankind’s ability to forge their own progress, about other ways to rule the body politic, about different notions of justice and fairness and the responsibility of power. His teachers had found out - though they'd never realized the full extent of his illicit studies. He'd been sent for three debilitating months of cognitive repurposing before being declared once more fit for purpose. He’d stopped reading, had plunged himself into his Kelvin research instead, but the poison of the ideas had never quite left him. And they’d poisoned his understanding of what had happened on the ISS Kelvin.
The ship had been a science vessel, searching out new sources of dilithium, carrying Vulcan commanders and scientists, crewed by humans. The ship he now knew to be the Narada had materialized out of nowhere, had fired on the Kelvin with no warning and unimaginable power. And then the barbarous face of Nero had come into view, demanding that their captain come across to his ship. He was a savage possessed of inexplicable technology, unlike anything humans or Vulcans had dreamt of in the last two centuries.
The Vulcans had not even stopped to think of an alternative strategy. The Vulcan captain had never considered going to the Narada himself. They’d ordered the most senior human to go over to the enemy to buy them time while they started an evacuation. There had been enough shuttles on board to allow for a full evacuation, but only if they were fully occupied. The Vulcans had refused to share quarters with humans and by the time they were loaded, nearly half the human crew remained on board.
The next ranking human had been ordered fly the ship into the mouth of the Narada in order to create a diversion that would allow the shuttles to escape. Where Commander Robau had followed his orders without question, Lieutenant-Commander Kirk had not. Furious, desperate, he’d demanded to be allowed to fight on, to at least try to save the nearly 300 humans left onboard.
“You sound rather less like a card-carrying apologist for the Vulcan Empire than you did when you arrived,” commented Ayel.
Ayel's voice snapped Pike out of his reverie. “I don't know what to believe. I don’t know who I am any longer,” he said, the words still spilling out on their own.
“The Vulcans are gone. You can be whoever you want to be.”
“Ayel,” called a crewman. “Nero needs you. We're approaching Earth.”
Pike was left alone, back to staring at the ceiling. Who could he have been in another universe? Who could humanity be, freed of Vulcan control?
* * * *
Kirk stood on a beaming pad, waiting for a lunatic Scotsman that Spock had uncovered - who apparently couldn’t even get a dog to arrive at its destination - to beam them onto a ship in warp using a formula that hadn’t been invented yet. Still, all in a day’s work. It wasn’t as if things could get any stranger at this point.
The fact that the lunatic was clearly the chief engineer who he had seen in the mind-meld suggested that Spock's assertions of destiny might not be just the ravings of a madman, unhinging by grief at losing both his universe and his planet. Maybe he could get back onto the Enterprise and achieve things greater than he had ever imagined.
He turned to Spock. “You are coming with us, right?”
“No Jim, that is not my destiny.”
“Destiny? You want me to take over as captain of the Enterprise but you not coming with to explain this. The other Spock is so not going to believe me.”
“Under no circumstances can he be made aware of my existence. You must promise me this.”
“You’re telling me that I can’t tell you that I’m following your own orders? Why not? What happens?”
“Jim, this is one law you must not break. To stop Nero you alone must take command of your ship.”
“How? Over your dead body?” It would be messy but that was a plan that Kirk could get behind. He still had a few things to say to Spock about that cognitive correction session back on Terra. Although it would ruin the magical threesome he'd seen in command in that other universe. Damn, this was getting complicated.
“Preferably not, however there is Starfleet regulation 619 which states that any command officer who is emotionally compromised by the mission at hand must resign said command. Jim, I just lost my planet. I can tell you, I am emotionally compromised. What you must do is get me to show it.”
“Right.” Jim kept his silence as he waited to beam.
He couldn’t help feeling that Spock was overlooking some fundamental differences between their universes. He'd been told more times than he cared to remember that the highest objective of a traditional Vulcan life is to eliminate all emotion, thus rendering a purely logical being. He was pretty sure that his Spock would much rather be defeated physically than forced to show emotion in front of the crew. He fingered the phaser he’d taken off the mad Scotsman. He was looking forward to it.
* * *
Kirk was doing his best to live up to the elderly Vulcan’s vision for him. Sadly it had proved difficult to explain to the security forces that had chased him and Scotty through the engineering deck that they needed to rethink their position and respect and admire him. So he’d taken them out, but with the phaser set to stun rather than to kill. It would have to do. This level of change was probably best managed in small stages.
Now, with a dripping engineer on his heels, both of them armed to the teeth with weapons they’d taken off the security guards, he burst onto the bridge.
Spock was on his feet. “We are traveling at warp speed. How did you manage to beam aboard this ship?”
“You’re the genius,” smirked Kirk. “You figure it out.”
“As captain of this vessel I order you to answer the question.”
Kirk had no idea how he was supposed to steer the confrontation towards friendship. Right now he couldn't imagine why he'd ever want to be friends with such a stuck-up prick. He decided to simply settle for taking control.
“Yeah, about that, I think we’re done with fucking Vulcans telling us what to do. Your planet’s gone. Your leaders have gone. Thanks to you, at least in part. Good move that, by the way. Now get out of the captain’s chair. Your time is over.”
Spock seemed about to protest once more. Kirk raised his phaser, past Spock's chest, past his face, over his head. He fired, twice. The holos of the Empress and the Philosopher exploded in a shower of sparks, leaving singed remnants of wires and cameras dangling forlornly from the ceiling.
A collective gasp from the bridge crew was followed by a ragged cheer. Spock glanced around the bridge. Other than Uhura, every human was looking to Kirk who in turn was smirking at Spock. “It’s only logical.”
Spock carefully laid his phaser and agonizer beside the command chair, and then silently walked off the bridge. Kirk bit down on the urge to shoot the bastard in the back. He was pretty sure that was not something the other Kirk would have done. And it was likely to ruin any chance of future friendship. Pity, that. He jumped into the command chair instead.
“Ship-wide announcement. This is Captain James T. Kirk.” He grinned to himself. Damn but that sounded good. He could get used to this. “I’m ordering a pursuit course of the enemy ship to Earth. I want all departments at battle stations within ten minutes. Either we’re going down or they are. Kirk out.”
The mad engineer stood dripping by his chair. “I like this ship,” he offered. “It’s exciting!” Kirk had to agree. This was turning into the best day of his life by quite some way.
* * * *
Spock stood on the observation deck, looking out at the blur that was a ship in warp. They’d dropped out of warp briefly, presumably to plot the new course towards Terra, and were now following Kirk’s vision.
Being deposed was hardly a shock. The minute he realized Kirk was back on board, he’d known it was all over. It has been a relief, in some ways. He was a scientist, a computer technician, a logistics expert. He was even a fairly decent combat specialist. What he clearly was not was a leader of men.
He’d expected Kirk to shoot him. Even when he’d been walking off the bridge, he’d expected a shot in the back. To be simply ignored, dismissed as utterly irrelevant, was worse than almost anything else Kirk could have done to him.
He’d never been good enough. In school he had striven in every hour of every day to be perfect, in his grades, his comportment, his emotional control. But still he had been relentlessly bullied by his full-blood peers, the name of plak-kre'nath following him everywhere, told at every turn that he was inferior, damaged, an abomination of the blood.
He’d obtained perfect scores in the entrance exams for the Vulcan Science Academy - the goal he had worked towards since he'd first understood what the VSA was. In the calm serenity of science he'd found a peace that the greater world would never offer him. He’d been informed by the High Council, under the flinty gaze of his father - not a flicker of emotion reflecting the level of humiliation that this represented for the noble house of Shi'Kahr - that he was not eligible for the VSA and was being assigned to Starfleet instead. His great-grandfather Solkar had been the first Vulcan governor of Terra. His grandfather Skon had translated the Teaching of Surak into Standard, a lifetime dedicated to the enlightenment of the savage species. His father had been an Ambassador. He was good for nothing more than supervising humans.
Only his mother had seemed pleased. He’d been avoiding her for years, ever since he’d learnt what a stigma her existence was. But that had never stopped him from missing her. He had made it through many long lonely nights reliving memories of being a very small child, when she would find precious bits of time to spend alone with him, sitting him on her lap, stroking his hair, tickling the tips of his ears, holding him tight against her and telling him that he was her gorgeous boy and she loved him and that no matter how difficult her life had become, she could never, ever regret his existence.
She had found him again when he had returned from the meeting of the High Council, humiliated and devastated. She had taken his face between her hands and told him that no matter what he did in his life he would always have a proud mother. She had told him, too, that he would always be a child of two worlds, and that - no matter how uneven the power balance between the two seemed right now - there was good in both and it would do him good to find that out. He’d turned his back on her, incandescent with anger and shame, and humiliated by the very emotions that burnt through him.
Emotions led to errors of judgment. A being of 'moral and intellectual perfection' would not suffer from blemishes. Yet all his life emotions had blazed through him. All his life he had been blemished.
Now his very reason for existence had evaporated. Who now cared how Vulcan genes interacted with human ones? One of his worlds was gone and the other was imperiled. Spock turned away from the star view, squared his shoulders and headed for the door. If his fellow officers wouldn’t let him fight for Earth, maybe they’d let him die for it.
He walked back onto the bridge to see the humans huddled together round Ensign Chekov. “If we can drop out of warp behind Titan,” said the navigator, “the magnetic distortion from Saturn’s rings will make us invisible to Nero’s sensors. From there as long as the drill is not activated, we can beam aboard the enemy ship.”
“Mr Chekov is correct.” Every head whipped round to stare at Spock. He advanced towards them slowly, hands visible and away from his sides, making it clear he carried no weapons. “If Mr Sulu can maneuver us into position, I can beam aboard Nero’s ship, steal the black hole device and use it to destroy their vessel.”
“And we should trust you to do this for us why?” challenged Kirk.
“My mother was human, which makes Earth the only home I have left.” He took a deep breath. Vulcans did not beg favors of humans. But that was in the past. “Captain. Please. Let me do this.”
“The suicide mission as the honorable way out. It’s getting old,” said Kirk. “Someone’s got to get Pike out first. I’m coming with you.”
Spock looked uncertainly at Kirk, bewildered at why the young captain would want his commanding officer back, unsure if this was a gesture of trust or mistrust. “I would cite regulation but I know you would simply ignore it.”
Kirk grinned and slapped him on the shoulder. “See, we are getting to know each other.” The captain turned to the others. “Set course for Titan.”
Spock remained awkwardly on the bridge as everyone headed to their stations. After a few nervous glances at their new captain, they ignored Spock, just as Kirk was doing. At a loss for what to do, he finally took up the empty first officer’s position. He got a few resentful looks but no protests. Maybe it was trust after all.
* * *
Pike strained futilely against the straps holding him down. He could hear from the voices on the bridge that they were maneuvering the Narada into position above Earth. They had apparently chosen to drill down directly in front of Starfleet Command. Nero did have a certain ruthless style.
Ayel was pacing restlessly back and forth. It had not escaped Pike’s attention that Nero’s second in command was increasingly avoiding his captain.
“Ayel,” he hissed. “Come here.”
When the Romulan joined him, he continued: “Don’t do this! Let me loose. Let me stop Nero.”
Ayel avoided his eye, clearly torn. “No. I don’t like this either but I’ll not betray my people for yours. Not after what you did.”
Desperate to keep Ayel by his side while he tried to think of a way to persuade him, Pike asked, “Why do we do it? You’ve never explained why we invade.”
“For one very simple fucking reason. You destroyed billions of lives because you’d run out of dilithium in your own universe. You ran through your own supplies with wasteful reckless mining on prison planets, with conditions so brutal that when you found a possible new source on the planet of Halkan, the citizens - a race devoted to peace - destroyed their own planet rather than let you conquer them.
“In our universe Spock in his youth, along with Captain Kirk and his crew, developed a method of recrystallizing dilithium through exposure to gamma radiation during a time travel mission to 1986. It was an extraordinary find. And it laid the seed of our destruction.”
A small corner of Pike’s mind was boggling over the fact that somebody had made Jim Fucking Kirk captain of anything or that he and Spock had apparently managed to work together. It had been looking unlikely last time he saw either of them. He switched his attention back to Ayel.
“Your lot never worked out how to recrystalize. Instead you began mining the hell out of lattice deposits. You know what I mean? In certain circumstances, dilithium deposits form in perfectly aligned lattices, forming generator strata. However excess heat, whether from the radiant heat of a planet or from aggressive mining technologies, causes a piezoelectric effect, which can increase the tectonic stresses in the crust to the point where the planet literally tears itself apart. This phenomenon was responsible for the destruction of a number of planets you mined, first in the Selcundi Drema sector and then elsewhere.
“By then you’d invented red matter, which requires vast amounts of energy to make. You blamed the workmen for the planet instabilities, pushed the technology and managed to empty out all the old sources while destroying the new ones. In some unfortunate crossover of ships with our universe you’d come to hear that we had both recrystalizing technology and plenty of raw supplies. With no energy sources left to power your precious weapons and ships, you abandoned all the planets you’d ruined and jumped across to our universe.
“Stop me if I’m boring you,” said Ayel bitterly. “All this is my field of expertise.”
Pike had already heard whispered talk among Starfleet’s human scientists that the official projections for the Empire’s energy needs, the available resources and the risk assessments of the technology required to extract the dilithium were all hopelessly inaccurate. Yet, faced with the constant threat of labor camps for those who failed to meet their targets, the scientists produced the figures that the Vulcans wanted and consoled themselves that they’d be dead by the time the energy supply chain finally collapsed.
It occurred to Pike that he’d spent an entire lifetime suppressing doubts. His thoughts kept circling back to the one human that he knew who had openly defied orders in Starfleet. He’d always told himself that George Kirk has been criminally negligent to question his superiors and the price he’d paid had been fair. But what if he was wrong?
The Vulcans worshipped information. Maybe they had never expected that a human would have the dedication to shift through the thousands of hours of data taken from the Kelvin. Maybe they themselves hadn't know what was in there or maybe they'd simply not cared. In researching his dissertation, he’d finally found a recording of the final minutes on the bridge before the last Vulcan evacuated.
He’d sat in an isolated lab, door carefully locked and had watched George Kirk argue with the Vulcan Zhe-lan (the Khart-lan had already evacuated). At first he’d used clipped, coded phrases masquerading as obedience and respect, at last he’d shouted obscenity-laden invective at the top of his voice. He had pleaded with the Vulcan to do something, anything other than simply flee. He’d begged to be allowed to fight on to try to save the humans still on board. Finally he’d called them all cowards and killers.
The Vulcan had watched him with mask-like impassivity and then reminded him that his wife was back on Earth, one young son at her side, George Kirk's allocated second child about to be born. If he wanted them to live, he’d follow his orders. Kirk had deflated like a pricked balloon and agreed that he would do his duty.
The Zhe-lan had walked past him to the weapons controls and entered a complicated code, the kind of override that only Vulcans could authorize. He’d told Kirk that he’d put the ship on an automated flight path into the heart of the Narada and that the weapons were locked, unable to be used before the impact, saved to increase the power of the final explosion. It was logical.
It was also deliberately vindictive. The Kelvin was left as a sitting target for the Narada, unable to defend herself or her remaining crew of three hundred humans. The recording had ended abruptly with a betrayed George Kirk sitting in the captain’s chair with his head in his hands.
Pike had never been able to get that image out of his head. He'd known George, had trained with him when they were both first selected for the independent command track, teased with the tantalizing possibility of one day commanding their own ships. He'd known Winona too, a talented engineer. Their marriage had been approved by the authorities but it had also been a love match, for all both of them carefully kept their feelings hidden from outsiders.
George had been betrayed by the Empire, as had Winona, Sam, Jim... As had he. It was a hell of a time to realize that his entire life had been a betrayal - of him by his Vulcan overlords and by him of his fellow humans. The time he had left could probably be measured in hours. Nevertheless he decided it was time to trust his human instincts and try something new.
Ayel was standing close to Pike’s table, and had been drumming his fingers against his thigh as he spoke. Pike’s wrists were secured by leather straps but he had some movement in his hands. Impulsively he reached out for Ayel's hand and managed to tangle his fingertips with the Romulan's. The skin was dry and warm against his own and he could feel the throb of Ayel's pulse.
“Don’t do this,” he repeated. “Help me take over the Empire. Work with me to build a new world, a better one. A world that will not want or need to prey on yours.”
Ayel pulled his hand away as if burnt. “You fucker. You complete bastard. By the Powers and Elements, after all I’ve told you, how dare you try and play me?”
Words spilt out beyond Pike’s control. He had been trying to play Ayel but it wasn’t that simple. “I’ve still got your damned bug in my head. I don’t think I can say anything to you without meaning it at some level.”
For a long moment Ayel’s deep brown eyes locked with his. The man had ridiculously long eyelashes, thought Pike inconsequentially. He felt he was agonizingly close to winning the Romulan over.
Nero’s voice broke through the spell. “Prepare the drill! Ayel, get on the bridge.”
Ayel walked away.
* * * *
Kirk stopped to speak to Sulu as Spock took his place on the beam pad. Images from the meld with the older Spock still swirling through his mind, he tried to think of something heroic and inspirational to say, tried to find some of that golden rhetoric that seems to slide so easily off the other Kirk's tongue. It still seemed easier just to threaten people with his agonizer. In the end he settled for being practical.
“Whatever happens Mr Sulu, if you think you have the tactical advantage, you fire on that ship, even if we’re still on board. That’s an order.”
Hearing that in response to his orders was not going to get old any time soon. He mounted the pad to find that his communications officer had the Vulcan’s head firmly captured between her shapely hands and was kissing the hell out of him. It had to be said that Spock looked as startled as Kirk was by this.
Well, that certainly hadn't been in the older Spock's memories. So he got to be captain and the woman he’d been hassling for three years threw herself at the disgraced officer he’d just deposed. He was sure it wasn’t supposed to go like this. The other Kirk had seemed to do rather well with women, judging by the brief glimpses he’d caught of various love-struck junior officers.
Uhura ran off, telling Spock she’d be monitoring his frequency. Spock stared stubbornly down at his boots. His cheeks and the tips of his ears were flushed a delicate shade of green.
Kirk now knew that the bastards felt emotion. Apparently he could add sexual attraction to the mix. He wondered if that was the human bit or the Vulcan bit. If it was the Vulcan bit, it made them the biggest hypocrites in the universe with their morality protocols. Rebelling against those protocols had been one of the best bits of his time at the Academy. It had been amazing how many young humanoids had been desperate for someone's touch and prepared to take considerable risks to get it. Some aspects of human nature were never going to be stamped out. Surreptitiously watching the green-flushed ears, Kirk felt an unexpected sympathy for the Vulcan. Maybe keeping Spock around would work out after all.
“If there is any common sense at all in the planning of the enemy ship, I’ll be putting you in the cargo bay,” said the mad Scotsman as he initiated the beaming. They landed just behind the bridge, were engaged in a firefight before the last flicker of the beaming had dissipated, and were shortly afterwards pounding down an unknown corridor, trying to evade their pursuers. Yup, it continued to be that kind of day, thought Kirk.
Spock managed to stun an unsuspecting guard and knelt down quickly to do the mind voodoo thing. It was certainly a useful weapon to have at one's disposal. “I have a location for the black hole device and for Captain Pike.”
A vibration started up throughout the ship. “The drill,” said Kirk. “They’ve started it up.”
“Communications and transport are now inactive,” confirmed Spock.
“Just you and me then Spock. We’re on our own.” He grinned at the Vulcan, enjoying the other man's discomfort at the sight of open emotion on his face. This was certainly not what he'd expected when he'd first met Spock that morning.
* * * *
Spock moved quickly but carefully through a maze of winding corridors, Kirk on his heels. He was surprised to acknowledge that the human was fit, fast and remarkably creative in his tactical thinking. He was oddly glad to have the wayward human at his back.
For the moment they seemed to have shaken their pursuers. The ship containing the device he was hunting was where he had anticipated but it looked like nothing he had ever seen before. It was as if it had come from another time, or another universe. He turned slowly around, looking for anything he might recognize, anything that might stop him failing at the last task he would ever undertake. His life had been an exercise in uselessness. He could not bear to die in the same vein. At last, heart heavy with defeat, he spoke. “The design of this ship is far more advanced than I had anticipated.”
“Voiceprint and facial recognition enabled. Welcome back Ambassador Spock.” The ship responded to him in a tinny voice.
Spock stared suspiciously at the computer interface, his suspicions suddenly blooming in his mind. “Computer, what is your manufacturing origin?”
“Stardate 2387, commissioned by the Vulcan Science Academy.”
He turned on Kirk, who looked considerably less surprised that he had any right to be. “It appears that you have been keeping important information from me.”
Kirk grinned. “Ambassador? Fancy stuff. You can fly this thing, right?”
“Something tells me I already have.”
Spock grimaced. Vulcans did not rely on luck. They relied on logic, on order, on planning. “Captain, the statistical likelihood that our plan will succeed is less than four point three percent.”
“Spock, it’ll work.” And there you had humans. Illogical, emotional, utterly unrealistic in their expectations. And yet still fighting on. Kirk ran back onto the Narada. Spock fired up the ship.
It was simple. Cut the drill. Estimate how long Kirk and Pike would need to escape. And then fly the little ship straight back into the maw of the Narada and destroy their enemy. And with them, himself. It would be a relief.
* * * *
Kirk moved as rapidly as he dared back through the ship, trying to follow the directions Spock had given him. His covert supervision of Spock had proved the Vulcan to be trustworthy. Now he had to decide what the hell to do about Pike. He had no desire to give up the captaincy and in most ways rescuing his old captain made his life more difficult.
Yet for all the information Spock had given to him, no one had actually handed him any weapons. There was no Tantalus device hidden in his cabin that would make him invincible. At some point - if he managed to defeat the Narada and save Earth - he'd have to face the rest of the fleet. Pike had knowledge, experience, and - crucially - allies in the other ships.
And for all Pike was apparently the poster-child for Vulcan rule, there'd been just enough independent, unauthorized thinking in those monthly philosophy session in Pike's office to make Kirk suspect that the man might have hidden depths. Then there was that dissertation on the Kelvin. Once he'd broken into the classified files to read it, he'd been astonished that the Vulcans had approved it. Maybe they lacked the emotional nuance to recognize subtle sarcasm. Put that together with Pike's hints on the bridge about captains leading from the front, and Kirk thought Pike was worth the gamble as a potential ally.
Lost in his musings, he was taken by surprise when he swung around a corner to find himself face to face with Nero. He grabbed for his phaser.
“Order your men to disable the drill or I’ll--”
Nero lashed out and the phaser went skittering across the beam and fell into the depths of the ship. Fuckers, thought Kirk as he went spinning along the girder after having his feet kicked out from under him by Nero. What was it with Romulans and no safety rails?
The Romulan captain sneered down at him: “I know your face, from Earth’s history.”
Cool, so he really was famous over there. He’d really rather that Nero wouldn’t beat that face up quite so much though. The kicking in the ribs thing was better. He’d like to get into the history books while he looked young and pretty - and still slim.
Nero was knelt over him now, hands pressing around his neck, squeezing in with his superior strength. “James T. Kirk was considered to be a great man. You went on to captain the USS Enterprise, but that was another life. A life I will deprive you of just like I did your father!”
Fuck you, thought Kirk. Captain of the Enterprise. Been there, done that already. And somewhere in the multiverse his father lived on and was proud of him. As he struggled, he noticed that another Romulan was standing in the shadows, watching. He wasn’t helping Kirk - obviously - but he wasn’t helping Nero either. Interesting.
A voice called out from the bridge. “Captain Nero, the Vulcan ship has been taken and the drill has been destroyed.” Yes! Spock had kept his promise. Kirk had been right to trust him. He felt a wash of relief.
Nero dumped him on the floor and took off, leaping down from one level to the next with his black coat billowing dramatically behind him. Good coat, thought Kirk as he grabbed the disruptor Nero had dropped. He should get himself one of those. It beat the hell out of the bilious yellow that was a captain’s command shirt in Starfleet. Maybe they could have new uniforms designed for the new order.
As he dodged through the ship, trying to make sense of Spock’s instructions, he wondered what that new order was going to be and how he was supposed to create it. If Pike remained a lackey of the Vulcan order, Kirk might yet need to kill him himself. He bet the other Kirk had never had to deal with such complicated dilemmas.
* * * *
“Nero! The Vulcan ship has been taken. The drill has been destroyed.”
Pike heard Nero running for the bridge, shouting: “Fire! Fire now!”
A panicked voice. “Sir, if you ignite the red matter...”
“I want him dead! Now!”
“He’s gone to warp.”
“Go after him!”
Pike struggled furiously, futilely, against the restraints. His men were fighting on. He was desperate to be part of that. Suddenly Ayel was at the table, fumbling at the straps, not to secure them but to release them. “One of your men is still on board. Get the fuck out of here.”
Kirk came running in, a disruptor in his hand.
“Don’t shoot,” yelled Pike. Kirk hesitated.
Ayel pulled the straps loose and pushed a small phial into Pike’s hand. “An antidote to the slug. It will kill the creature and neutralize the toxins. You just need a surgeon to get corpse out.” He kept his hand over Pike’s, squeezing hard. “Don’t fail me. I joined up with Nero to do something to live up to Josh’s memory. Josh died in the fight for freedom. I dare you to do better.” He regarded Pike for a moment longer, as if trying to memorize his features, before turning to Kirk. “Get him out of here.”
“What are you doing here?” Pike demanded of Kirk.
“Fluffed the suicide mission.” Kirk grinned. “Sorry about that. So thought I’d come and get you instead.” He shouted into his comm, “Enterprise. Two to beam. Now!”
“Huh. Okay, how do you feel about taking over the Empire?”
Kirk swing round to stare at him. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. Are you in?”
Kirk began to laugh, a wild care-free sound that filled the beaming pad as they materialized on the Enterprise.
“Oh hell yeah!”
* * * *
“Where’s Puri?” demanded Pike as he stumbled into the medical bay.
“Dead. I’m CMO.”
“Are you now?” Pike regarded the stroppy young doctor. “Well then, get on with it.” He quickly explained what Ayel had told him about the antidote. He needed the truth drug out of his system and then he needed to get back onto the bridge. In the short term he didn’t trust Nero not to make another attack on Earth. In the long term he needed to come up with a strategy that would let him start building the new world that he had promised to Ayel. There was so much to be done.
“Un-fucking-believable,” muttered McCoy as he ran a quick analysis of the antidote. “Never seen anything like it. They really are from the future.” He gave Pike the antidote, administered a local anesthetic and then set to work on opening up the back of his neck to extract the corpse of the slug. Pike lay on the table, using the time to come up with a concrete plan of action, something that would make the best use of his limited resources amidst the current chaos.
There had been no transmissions to Starfleet Command since they’d left for Vulcan space. The Admirals and the Vulcans on Earth would have registered the destruction of Vulcan. They’d have seen the drill come down over San Francisco and then break. But they didn’t know what was going on on the Enterprise. They didn’t know where their other ships had gone. He needed to take advantage of that element of surprise. Ideally he needed to protect Earth, capture the Narada or persuade them to ally with him, contact his allies in the fleet and get them to change sides, untangle them from the war with the rebels, get back to Earth and take control... The list was endless.
“Are we done yet?” he snapped at McCoy.
“Nearly. I’ve got the bug out. I just need to finish one or two little details.” McCoy reached out to a control panel. Suddenly patient restraints snapped closed over Pike's wrists and ankles. He twisted on the table to glare up at the doctor. “What the fuck?”
“This, Captain, is where I finally get my own back." McCoy glowered down at him, arms crossed defiantly over his chest. "You ruined my life. You and your fucking green-blooded pointy-eared computer-brain masters. Well, they’re gone and good riddance. And I’m getting the fuck outta here. I'm gonna dig that blasted identichip out of my arm and go AWOL on some back-water planet where Starfleet will never find me. But before I do, I’m gonna ruin your life in return.
"No one knows what kind of damage to expect from this damn slug. No one knows what’s in the antidote. I can do anything I like to you and blame the results on the toxins. So I’m thinking of just a few little tweaks right here at the top of the spinal cord. Something that leaves your mind intact but your body useless. I bet you’ve seen it in the holo vids. Someone confined to a wheelchair, on advanced life support, only able to communicate with a little flashing light? Just like that. And then I’ll leave you here for your enemies to squabble over who gets to turn you into their pet, or their torture toy!”
“Dammit, McCoy," protested Pike. "This is not the time to finally grow a fucking backbone. I’ve got things to do!”
“Like I give a shit. I had things to do too. I had a life, a pretty good one given the fucked up world we live in. I had a job that mattered. A wife I loved. And I got torn away from that and dumped in the cesspool that is Starfleet to fulfill your fucking recruiting quota. She was pregnant. Did you know that? I heard she lost the baby. Her bastard of a father had her married off to someone else within six months.
“Well, now it’s your turn. Your turn to lose everything that matters to you.” McCoy turned away and reached for a scalpel.
* * * *
McCoy's hand was trembling as he picked up the laser scalpel. This was something he had never done before - used his medical skill for deliberate harm. In the shabby farce that was his life, this was the one thing he'd been proud of, that he'd stayed true to the Physician's Oath.
His father's voice sounded in his head, once again reciting the oath to the sleepy boy late at night: The health of my patient will be my Number One consideration; I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient.
As far as he remembered, he'd never been told that he must not speak of the unexplained absences of his father from their house late at night, and of the strange gifts that appeared mysteriously on their porch in the pre-dawn hours. Alligator jerky, buckets of crawfish, beautifully turned bowls made of bald cypress, and strange bottles of a cloudy liquid that his mother quickly removed. Later he would come to know that it was that banned intoxicant, alcohol. Much later that it was moonshine brewed deep in the Okefenokee Swamp. He'd just known instinctively that these were things not to be spoken of.
It had helped that the family had lived in an isolated house on the edge of the town, and that they had almost no friends. He'd not known why, given that they seemed to be in favor with those in authority. He'd only found out when he got to middle school and discovered what his father's official job was. That knowledge came at the same time as the children were first introduced to the morality laws and procreation protocols.
His parents only had one child. So they were classified as laboring class, allowed some privileges but nothing like those directly in Imperial service. Yet he was allowed to attend school with the children of the administrators, and this was when he found out why. His father's official job, besides providing medical services to the local administrators and their families, was to administer the sterilization chemicals to all people in the district classified as undesirable and therefore not allowed to breed.
His father had also been in charge of euthanizing any individual deemed to be so deficient as to be unable to contribute usefully to society or convicted of any serious criminal act. The Vulcans did not believe in wasting resources on housing anyone considered out of control of their basest lusts. McCoy later realized that political prisoners also ended up in his father's hands when it was not considered worth the resources to ship them to labor camps on mining planets.
Long before he'd understood where David McCoy went on his late night visits, McCoy had known that they somehow served as a penance for what he did by day. As a young child he'd loved those times when his father came back in the early hours of the morning, carrying on him a rich strong earthy smell, like decomposing grass clippings. Sometimes his father would tell him strange stories of swamp creatures. Sometimes he would quietly recite the Physician's Oath over and over again. Sometimes he would sit in exhausted silence, a hand stroking gently through his son's hair.
But when McCoy had reached middle school he'd realized that the things his father did late at night, whatever they were, were undoubtedly the same things that their teachers encouraged them to report. Emotional and illogical thinking had to be stamped out. Such things required constant vigilance. Children did their parents a favor by allowing the authorities to send them for cognitive repurposing.
A confused Leonard had never reported his parents. But he'd stopped speaking to his father for years, feigning sleep when his father came into his room late at night. It had never occurred to him to become anything other than a doctor, though. McCoys had been doctors for generations. He'd kept his head down and studied hard. The children of the citizens and their parents had avoided him. The children of the administrators had looked down on him. His only friend had been Jocelyn, the sweet daughter of a minor administrator, but even to her he'd dared not confess his secrets. He'd been ashamed of his shabby home where they only had still photographs of the Empress and the Philosopher rather than proper holos. He'd been ashamed of the shabby gifts that materialized on the porch, and as time passed he'd been frightened by them.
That was once he'd known that the earthy smell on his father was the smell of the swamp. And that in the swamp lived the off-grids, those feral humans who bred without control, slaves to their own base lusts, hiding from the Empire. Humans who lived without the identity chips that gave one access to jobs, education, medical care and any of the facilities of the civilized world.
Then at sixteen he'd been made to choose. His father had shaken him awake. "There's been a massacre in the swamp," he'd said. "I need help." McCoy, who'd barely spoken two words to his father in the last three years, had silently got out of bed. In the end his family meant more to him than any number of allegiance pledges to the Empire.
What he'd seen in the swamps had horrified him. The off-grids lived in conditions worse than the filthiest of animals. He'd known about the children born illegally. He'd not know that adults actually chose to dig their identichips out of their arms and flee to join the feral communities. The familiarity with which his father was greeted confirmed what he had come to fear over the years. His father was providing medical services to the off-grids, despite the acute danger his actions posed for himself and his family.
This massacre had not been a police action by the authorities. It had been a gang battle between different tribes living in the swamp, fighting over the limited resources available to them. A horrified McCoy had helped his father through the night and the next day, disgusted by the off-grids and their savagery, but disgusted too by the authorities that could allow all this to happen.
On his return home he had gone straight to Jocelyn's father and begged for his help in getting into the prestigious medical school associated with Emory, where the children of administrators went. He'd left his home within months, without a backward look. To his delight, the authorities had approved his marriage to Jocelyn and he'd settled into a safe, sane existence, with the love of his wife at home, the approval of his professors at school and the protection of his father-in-law in the world at large. He'd managed to forget for weeks at a time that the off-grids even existed.
In this terrible world where he had no control, he focused on just two things: loving his wife and honoring the oath of the physician. Thanks to the man secured to the table, his wife was lost to him. There didn't seem to be much point in sticking to his oath either. He tried to will his shaking hand to stillness so that he could use the scalpel.
"McCoy, don't do this. I will get you your wife back, if that's what you want."
McCoy spun round to confront Pike. "Who the hell are you to make such promises? Even if you can control the Enterprise and defeat those monsters from the future, you'll never face down the rest of the fleet, or the authorities back on Earth. I know what happens to people who try to buck authority!"
Pike considered him carefully. The man's calm was impressive. "What happens, McCoy? Tell me."
McCoy stood twisting the scalpel in his hands. "Hell, why not? Let me tell you why I know I can kill if I have to. My father was a physician in a small town in Georgia, called Waycross. By day he did the sterilization and euthanasia required by the Empire. By night he treated off-grids living in the Okefenokee Swamp. I left home the minute I could and was working at Emory as a doctor when my mother called me home, absolutely frantic. I got back--" McCoy paused and stared into space for a long time, letting the images that he had so ruthlessly suppressed well up once more.
"There'd been a police raid on an off-grid settlement while he'd been there. He'd managed to escape, although with terrible injuries and some off-gridders had brought him back to our house. There my mother had received an anonymous tip that the authorities knew he'd been there and were going to arrest him. With his injuries he'd have died in captivity. He'd begged my mother to kill him but she couldn't do it. So he begged me instead."
"And you did it."
"Of course. He was family. I did it, dumped the body in the swamp, told the authorities when they came that he'd gone missing, and then went back to my life at Emory. There my father-in-law asked that I do him a little favor, nothing serious, just to make sure that a certain enemy of his lost his ability to walk, a minor slip of a scalpel. I refused, so determined to stick to my medical ethics if nothing else. A few days later I was newly divorced and dumped on a shuttle to Starfleet. And you wonder why I hate you and your Vulcan masters and all you both represent."
"Actually I think it was your father-in-law's gambling debts that did for you, not the refusal to operate," said Pike.
"Well now there's a consolation," muttered McCoy, still twisting the scalpel in his hands.
"McCoy, there's no need to break your medical ethics now."
"Why not?" challenged McCoy. "I'm as capable of thirsting for revenge as any emotion-polluted human. I've nothing left to lose now. Let me share with you how that feels."
Sick of his own hesitation, McCoy finally took a firm hold on the scalpel and advanced on his victim.
* * *
“Captain,” protested Spock. “You pulled me off the ship too early. If you’d let me finish the mission I could have detonated the ship in the heart of the Narada. Let her be sucked into her own singularity.”
“Fire! Give her all we’ve got!” yelled Kirk. He swung round to Spock. “And we’d have lost you too. Not on. You and me, we’ve got destiny. You just don’t know it yet. This is the start of a beautiful friendship!" He slapped a startled Spock on the back. "We’ll take the Narada down with our torpedoes. Besides, she’s already slipping backwards into the hole of the Jellyfish.”
With Spock plucked from the helm of the Jellyfish, the ship had spun off course, exploding in space, creating a black hole that was pulling on both ships, if harder on the Narada, which was closer.
“Captain, the enemy ship is losing power, their shields are down. We can take them.”
“Wait! We need them. Hail them now.” Everyone turned to the hoarse voice from the door of the turbolift. Pike limped in.
Pike had quickly realized that the patient restrains on the operating table had been damaged when the Enterprise had been hit. Throughout McCoy's story he'd been patiently working them loose. As the doctor had finally advanced on him, he’d twisted free. A startled McCoy had grabbed for a phaser and Pike had punched him full in the face, leaving him semi-conscious on the floor. He then slapped a piece of plasti-skin over the open wound on his neck, injected himself with a hypo of stimulant to override the local anesthetic and made for the bridge. He wasn’t feeling at his finest but it was no worse than stumbling out of an agony booth. It would have to do.
Kirk leapt up from the chair. Pike smirked. "You're looking remarkably comfortable there, son."
Kirk's eyes narrowed in challenge. "I just need to borrow the chair for a minute," said Pike. "I've my eye on a bigger prize than captain." Kirk nodded and helped Pike to sit down.
Nero’s face flickered up on the screen. “This is Captain Christopher Pike of the ISS Enterprise.” He couldn’t resist grinning at the look of impotent fury on Nero’s face. “Your ship is compromised. You are too close to the singularity to survive without assistance, which we are willing to provide.”
“Captain, what are you doing?” hissed Spock.
“We need them. We need their ship, their crew and their knowledge.” He quirked an eyebrow at the Vulcan. “It’s logical, Spock.”
“I would rather suffer the end of ch'Rihan a thousand times, I would rather die in agony, than accept assistance from you,” exclaimed Nero.
“Ayel, take command!” ordered Pike.
“Nero, don’t do this,” pleaded Ayel. “Vulcan is gone. It’s enough to change the timeline. We could stay here. Help them build a different wor--”
“Are you fucking insane?” Nero spun round on Ayel. “You believe their pretty little tales? They are liars and killers. They’ll take over where the Vulcans left off and we’ll be faced with a human-led invasion rather than a Vulcan one. I will go to my death killing every last one I can get my hands on. Prepare to fire.”
“All power to front shields! But hold fire,” ordered Pike. The Enterprise crew watched as the Romulan helm hesitated, looking pleadingly at Ayel.
“Fire, damn you. Fire!” Nero lunged across his bridge, reaching out for the weapons’ control.
Ayel pulled his disruptor.
Nero fell, dead before he hit the floor.
Ayel looked down at the body, then looked across at Pike. “I’ve never killed a man before. Not in cold blood. And he’s one of my own.” He sounded small and bewildered. He looked back to Nero. Back to Pike. “We’ll take a truce. Get us out of here.”
“Tractor beams,” ordered Pike. “Pull them out.”
* * * *
Pike stood in the conference room of the Enterprise, regarding the senior crews of the Enterprise and the Narada. The humans looked bewildered, the Romulans suspicious. Doctor McCoy, who had finished his treatment of Pike’s injuries under armed guard, was attempting to hide in a corner. He was sporting a black eye from where Pike had hit him and was clearly trying to keep himself away from his captain’s attention.
Pike needed to quickly and effectively take command of these two ships, while persuading their crews to follow him towards a vision of a new future that he himself did not yet fully understand. He needed some simple gestures that would make it clear that this was a new world.
“All agonizers on the table,” he ordered, laying down his own. The Starfleet crew slowly obeyed, clearly reluctant to give them up. It was a symbol of prestige to be allowed to have one and the cadets-turned-soldiers had not had long to get used to carrying them. Pike noticed with sour amusement that McCoy did not have one. It had apparently not occurred to him to take Dr Puri’s off the corpse.
“Here, you take these and dispose of them.” He shoved them all over towards Ayel, who stared at them with distaste. The Romulans all moved back. Their time under Vulcan domination had clearly taught them what an agonizer was.
“You realize that I’m just going to dump this lot straight out of the nearest airlock?” said Ayel.
“Fine. We do not lead by terror any longer. Mr Scott, as soon as the engines are running at full power, you are to dismantle the agony booth. I am promoting myself to Admiral as of now. Mr Kirk, you are to take command of the Enterprise. Mr Spock, I want you as first officer. Any objections?”
All eyes moved to Spock. No Vulcan had taken direct orders from a human in the nearly 200 years since First Contact. “Aye sir!” said Spock. He turned to Kirk. “I am honored to serve with you, Captain.”
“Likewise, Mr Spock,” replied Kirk, doing his best to look captainly while trying to hide his shock. Pike could feel everyone’s conception of the universe shift a tiny bit.
He turned to the Narada crew. “Ayel, I would like you with me as an adviser, and I need you to rework our energy policy as a matter of urgency. Besides, I doubt that you are that well suited to command in the battles that will follow. Who can you promote among your crew to captain the Narada?”
“Subcommader Emni, Admiral. She was a first officer in the Romulan fleet before the invasion.”
Pike nodded to her. “Captain Emni. Now, no one who does not wish to serve is obliged to stay once you have completed your duties in getting us back to Earth. Doctor McCoy--” The doctor looked up. He’d never been as good at hiding his emotions as the more ruthless cadets and his face was white with fear and strain. “You get an honorable discharge as soon we land. I’ll find credits for you from somewhere to let you start again.”
“What? No! I want him as my CMO,” protested Kirk.
“He was press-ganged, Kirk and for that--” Pike looked steadily at McCoy, “--for that I apologize.” Turning to Kirk he continued, “If you want him, persuade him to stay. And Kirk, ordering him to be persuaded doesn’t count!”
Pike moved on, leaving McCoy bewildered and Kirk scheming. He had one more big change to implement. “I hereby abolish the morality laws and the procreation protocols. Have at it with whomever you wish. Homosexual, interspecies, all the kids you can manage. Whatever floats your boat.”
“As long as it’s with adults of species capable of giving informed consent,” interrupted Ayel.
“Fine,” said Pike. “Be picky about it then. I think our people may need to have guidelines on what counts as consent. You can draw that up in-between redoing the energy policy.” He glared at Kirk, who had moved closer to Captain Emni and was trying to whisper to her. “Kirk! Ordering someone to consent doesn’t count.”
Kirk pouted dramatically. “I’m not sure that your new world sounds like much fun after all.” All the Starfleet officers froze. You dared not speak to a commanding officer like that. Agonizers might be gone but there were plenty of other instruments to chose from.
Pike deliberately kept his hands open and away from his weapons. “Tough luck, Kirk. You’ll have to get by on your charm.”
Kirk grinned back. “Aye sir, charm. Right. I’ll give it a try.” He raised an enquiring eyebrow at Emni. Her reluctant smile suggested that Kirk might just be onto a winner.
“Look at Spock,” Ayel said softly. Pike turned to where the communications officer was suddenly sitting much closer to the first officer. Now that was interesting, and might be very useful in making Spock acceptable to the humans still suspicious of all Vulcans.
“I’ll be happy to talk to you about consent, Chris, when we have a little time to ourselves,” continued Ayel in a low voice. Pike frowned at him. Ayel smiled.
For a moment Pike’s vision narrowed into a tunnel focused on Ayel, the rest of the room fading away. Deep brown eyes looked steadily back. “I’ve decided I like Pikes, whatever universe they may be in.”
Pike shivered. He didn’t have the time for this. He had no idea what Ayel might expect of him, and whether he was capable of giving it. But still... if he was going to create a brave new world, maybe he could take some risks of his own. He’d think about it. Later.
"Admiral," said Uhura, "you've an incoming message from the Yorktown, scrambled signal sir, on your private channel." The coded comms request he'd pinged across to Number One had been received then. He hesitated. He'd meant to speak with her privately, to try to sound out her loyalties and find out the mood of the fleet and the progress of the rebellion. His first reaction was still to protect his contacts from prying eyes. But instinct told him that transparency was the fastest route to trust with his new crews.
"Open the line, put her up on the screen, give her a tight visual on me only." He gestured to the others to step back and keep quiet. They silently obeyed.
"Chris! What the hell is going on? There are no orders coming through from Command and our spectrometers are showing the weirdest readings around Vulcan."
"Believe your instruments. There is no Vulcan. It has been destroyed."
"It appears that in the future our lot of Vulcans invade a parallel universe and royally piss them off. So some mad Romulans have come back in time and imploded the planet."
"Chris! This is no time for joking."
"I'm not. Ayel, come here." Ayel moved across to lean over Pike's shoulder, bringing himself into the tight viewscreen. "This is one of them." Pike considered briefly and decided to abandon his plans to sound out One discreetly. He'd neither the time nor the patience and she'd always appreciated the blunt approach. "I've formed an alliance with them and we're going to dismantle the Empire. I was hoping you'd join us."
One gaped at Ayel. Then looked back at her screens where she'd been pulling up further information on Vulcan space. "You're serious."
"Deadly serious. Uhura, put One on wide view." One's eyes widened as she took in the rest of the room. "One, the Romulan ship is a hundred times bigger than ours, and they've technology from 130 years into our future. With their ship and the Enterprise, we can take down Starfleet Command. But if we're to hold onto power long enough to do what we want to do, we need the fleet on our side."
He watched her skeptical face carefully. "There are no more than 10 000 Vulcans left in the Empire. We can win this. We'll make an alliance with the rebel groups. I hope you haven't killed off all their leaders?"
One looked uncomfortable. "We've actually just captured one of their key generals, the infamous KK. We were supposed to kill him immediately, he's considered so dangerous, but I couldn't bear it. He's Terran, Chris. Why are we killing our own people?"
"We're going to stop it, One, I promise you. Where is your political officer right now?"
The rest of the fleet still carried on a token Vulcan on each vessel as overseer, so although One led the Yorktown in all the ways that mattered, she was by rank only the first officer.
"He's locked himself in his cabin. I guess he did it when he felt Vulcan go."
"Can you secure him there?"
"No, I don't have the override codes for that sort of thing."
Spock spoke up. "I can get into the fleet codes via the Enterprise system, Admiral, with your permission."
"What? You've kept a Vulcan? And what's with Admiral?"
While Spock obtained the codes, Pike and Ayel took turns to explain to One what had happened. Once the Yorktown's political officer was safely locked away, One brought her two key allies, her engineer and second officer Cait Barry and her CMO Phil Boyce into the conference. Boyce brought with him their prisoner, a tall man with long hair and a wild blond beard, the notorious rebel general KK.
"Sam?" Kirk barged forward, pressing his face to the screen. "Sam! Where the fuck have you been? And why didn't you tell me?"
One smiled at Pike's surprise. "Guess where George's eldest washed up? Meet the rebel general, Sam Kirk. You see why I wasn't too keen on killing him?"
Sam Kirk's attention was entirely focused on his younger brother. "You joined 'Fleet? As a commander? You fucking traitor, you miserable collaborating bastard--"
"Shut up, you." One stuck an agonizer in his ribs.
"I've banned agonizers," said Pike mildly.
"Oh." One considered briefly, tossed it to one side and stuck a phaser in Sam Kirk's ribs instead.
Pike spoke over the squabble that was in progress between the Kirk boys. "Kirk. Vulcan's been destroyed. Most of the species is annihilated. We're going to take over the Empire and dismantle it. I'd like offer you and your followers a truce."
"Pull the other one. You think I'd fall for such crap?"
"Such tricks are not really in the Vulcan style," said Pike.
"No, but we all know you're the first human to get solo command, you piece of shit. And such things are very much in the human style," retorted Sam.
Pike pointed to the Romulans. "Look at them." Rapidly he told the story of the last twenty-four hours yet again.
"It's a trap," accused Sam, "and a harebrained one at that. I don't believe a word of it."
One showed him the spectrometer readings showing the absence of Vulcan. Sam shook his head. Ayel tried to talk to him. "Lies, all of it," accused Sam.
Jim jumped in. "For fuck's sake, Sam, just trust me. I'd never have turned you in. I waited for you to come and get me for years afterwards. I've looked through the databases. Mom's still alive, locked up in some asylum. Come home and get her with me."
Sam wouldn't even look at his brother. He just stood, shaking his head.
Pike was losing patience, ready to order the fleet to leave the rebels to their own devices in the Laurentian system, dump Sam on the nearest planet and head home, when Ayel intervened.
"Sam, what's the great taboo under Vulcan rule?"
"Insulting the Empress, I suppose."
"Look at the head of the table." Ayel gestured to where the holos of the Empress and the Philosopher had normally hovered but where now there were only scorched wires. "Jim here went through the whole deck, shooting out the holos."
Sam looked genuinely shocked. "Okay, it's a pretty extreme pretense you got here, but I still don't believe you."
"Okay, forget Vulcans. What's your next greatest taboo?"
Sam shrugged. "The morality laws, I guess."
Ayel looked meaningfully at Pike. Pike stared back.
"You don't mean..."
Ayel grinned. "Why not? It is a simple, obvious way to get the message across."
Pike hesitated. To do this publicly, in front of his allies and friends, his crew and subordinates... It went against everything he'd ever been taught, everything he'd thought he believed in. But for that very reason it should have impact.
He took a deep breath, grabbed Ayel's face in his hands, and kissed him.
He'd meant to make it just a peck on the lips but Ayel wasn't having any of that. Powerful arms wrapped around his shoulders, pulling him flush against a broad chest. Soft dry lips moved skillfully over his own, and then a moist tongue pushed gently into his mouth. Too surprised to stop it, he parted his lips. It had been years since he'd kissed anyone and he felt briefly dizzy, as his earlier fantasies about Ayel mixed in with the adrenaline and exhaustion of the day.
He let the room fade away around him, relishing the chance to rest for a moment against Ayel's strength. This alien man had turned his life upside down in the last twelve hours, led him down a path he might never have had the courage to follow on his own, and he tried to convey through the touch of his fingers and of his mouth how grateful he was for that.
"Okay, okay, enough already. I believe you," said Sam Kirk.
Pike pulled away reluctantly to see looks of profound shock on every face, even those of the Romulans. He guessed it would quite some time before the breaking of these taboos came naturally to the humans.
Willing away his blush, he turned to Sam Kirk. "So you'll ally with us?"
"Hell yeah, I'm in and I'll bring my people with me. But I'm not staying here. I want a ride back to Earth. I want to see how this plays out. And someone's got to stop Jimbo there getting into a mess of trouble, yet again."
Pike looked around at the three crews, from the Enterprise, the Narada and, via the video-link, the Yorktown.
“We need to act quickly. We must take control of Earth, and of the administrative functions of the Empire, before they work out a counter strategy. This is a highly dangerous undertaking that is for volunteers only. Who is with me?”
Pike was unsurprised when the bridge crews of both the Enterprise and the Yorktown leapt to attention, led by Jim Kirk. Fists thudded over their hearts and then extended outward. This was the life they had been trained for. And in truth they had few other options. More surprising was Spock offering a salute as crisp as any he had ever given to his Vulcan commanders. But Pike was most surprised to see what had to be the smartest salute of his reluctant Starfleet career from McCoy. He gave the doctor a small nod. Maybe he’d get to keep the man yet.
Ayel, Emni and the rest of the Narada bridge crew extended an arm, open palm facing downward. Sam Kirk amused Pike with an old-fashioned human salute, fingertips to his right eyebrow. But from every individual the meaning was clear.
His own great-great-grandson had believed in that any universe there were a few good men. Pike looked around at his motley collection. They were almost certainly too few for what needed to be done. Apart from the Narada crew, they had very little understanding of what it meant to be good. Still, they would have to do.
“Soldiers! To your ships. To your stations. We’ve an empire to conquer and a universe to change.”
- EPILOGUE -
“I can’t fucking do this!” Pike stormed into Ayel’s quarters, flung his jacket across the sofa and began to rifle through Ayel’s liquor cabinet.
Ayel looked up from where he had been working through a first draft of a possible new constitution for Earth.
“Can’t do what?”
“All this fucking consulting with people. It’s an utter waste of time. They should damned well do as they’re ordered.”
Ayel didn't reply. They’d been through all this before. The coup d’état had been oddly anticlimactic. The paralyzing shock of the destruction of Vulcan had been so great that when the Narada had materialized in the atmosphere above Starfleet Command and Pike had stalked into the command center - his crew on his heels, all armed to the teeth - and announced that the rule of Vulcans was over and he was taking control, there had been a considerable sense of relief. The Vulcans who had seemed so untouchable when they lorded it over the humans at Kirk’s cognitive correction session just two days previously now seemed small and pathetic. Most humans were only too glad to have someone to tell them what to do next.
The fleet, with unquestioning obedience to authority drilled into them for all of their careers, had capitulated with little resistance to the steely command of Captain One, and had returned to Earth in good order, leaving behind a newly promoted Admiral Boyce to complete negotiations with the Laurentian system rebels.
The challenge was what to do next. It was so tempting to just slip into the lives of the Vulcan overlords. Especially when they had finally entered the Vulcan-only quarters of the city and discovered just how luxuriously their lords had been living. Pike was not tempted by the wealth but he was tempted by the order that came with complete control. If everyone would just do as he said, he could have sweeping changes made very quickly.
Ayel had to keep reminding Pike that despite being head of the Imperial Transitional Council, now the de facto government of the Empire, it was not his place to simply decide for other people - let alone other species and other planets - what they wanted or needed. Hence the process of consultation, a process made more frustrating when most species were so cowed by Vulcan control that they simply didn’t know what they wanted, and they certainly didn’t trust humans to help them get it.
Ayel watched Pike throw back one glass of bourbon and then pour himself another. He knew that despite the other man’s frustration and exhaustion, there would only be two glasses. Although he was quietly horrified by how mistrustful and aggressive the Starfleet officers in this universe could be, he was also impressed by how disciplined and hardworking they were.
He sighed to himself. He wasn’t about to challenge Pike when he was in this mood, but he had frustrations of his own. Just living 130 years in the past was hard. He was constantly taken by surprise by how primitive much of their technology was. Add to that a culture so alien to him and very few of his own people to talk with, and he felt frighteningly isolated.
Suspicion still underlay every interaction. Despite the misery of life under Vulcan Imperial control, many had reason to fear change. The leaders of the many rebel factions feared losing their authority. The administrative classes feared losing their privileges. The laboring classes feared the impact of absorbing the off-grids back into the formal economy and the off-grids feared the whole thing was an elaborate trap to get them to declare themselves and then be eliminated.
Even his own people were being caught up in the atmosphere of suspicion, many of them horrified that Ayel had apparently literally stepped into the bed of the enemy with such alacrity. The humans were wary of him too. Although all were glad to be rid of the procreation protocols, many still supported the morality laws and were none too happy to be led by a man apparently fucking another male and an alien at that.
And despite what everyone thought, Ayel wasn't even getting any and he wasn't sure how to remedy that fact. Pike kept Ayel close to him as an advisor and confidante but shied away from anything more personal. They'd not touched since the kiss on the Enterprise.
His work was draining too. The environmental devastation of the Empire’s energy policies horrified him. The conditions in the labor camps on the mining planets were appalling and the corruption and kick-backs built into the system were making him realize that Pike had a point. Certain things would have to be changed at the point of a phaser. There were years of work ahead of him, even if he hadn't kept on getting sidetracked by other projects such as consulting on the setting up of interim governments for each of the Imperial planets, and putting processes in place towards multiparty elections and the writing of new constitutions.
And yet in many ways this was the most exhilarating thing he had ever done. He had never been so close to the heart of power before. Never been able to make such important changes to so many lives so quickly. He was constantly awed by Pike’s ability to rise above his cultural conditioning and inspire his men and women to follow him in finding a new way forward, however difficult it might be.
He was making friends too. Leonard McCoy had been the first to sidle up to him, clearly unable to believe that Pike really meant the sweeping changes he was implementing. At Ayel’s urging he had gone to Pike with the stuttering request that the Physicians' Oath be reintroduced for doctors. He’d emerged from the meeting as the interim head of the World Health Organization, told to get on with it.
Although the Enterprise would eventually return to deep space, for now Pike needed them to maintain order at home. Jim Kirk and Spock were reorganizing the Academy and Starfleet Command, using templates provided to them by the elder Spock.
When the elder Spock was not with them suggesting ways forward, he was on the new colony planet where all surviving Vulcans were now under a form of home arrest, stuck with listening to him explain to them in painstaking, extended and utterly logical detail how they had fundamentally misunderstood the tenents of Surak.
Ayel found McCoy to be the most ‘human’ of the cabal around Pike, but everyone was fascinated by his life experience. Both the Kirk brothers had taken to interrogating him whenever he had time. Some of the time Jim simply wanted to hear tales of how important his other self had been. Ayel was happy to tell him, all the while emphasizing heavily compassion and trust and respect. The rest of the time both men were relentlessly curious about anything to do with Ayel’s universe and the different ways in which armies could be led and political systems could be organized.
It amused him to watch the humans try to find new ways of interacting, to watch Jim Kirk and McCoy try to work out how to acknowledge that they were - and in fact always had been - friends, to watch the Kirk boys try to reestablish their familial bond, to watch Spock and Uhura wonder what to do with Jim Kirk's determined, if clumsy, offers of friendship.
And every so often moments came that made all the difficulties worthwhile for Ayel. Like the day a small woman with slate grey hair had entered their command center. She'd looked old enough to be Pike's mother but instead she had grabbed an ear of each Kirk boy, both of them over six foot tall and towering over her, and began a detailed lecture about what exactly did they think they were doing running off to join Starfleet and the rebel army respectively and hadn't she brought them up to have more sense than a flea?
Over a decade in a Vulcan-mandated psychiatric institution had not broken Winona Kirk's spirit. The youngest captain in Starfleet and the legendary rebel general had done their best to look contrite for all of two minutes before looking at each other over her head and picking her up between them in a bone-crushing hug.
Another moment he had loved had been at the end of a weekly strategy meeting - meetings designed to try and keep the inner circle focused and effective in working out which of a thousand different priorities needed to be done next. Pike had lent back in his chair and announced that the entire schools' curricula on Earth needed to be reworked now that Vulcan history and philosophy was no longer the basis of all education. "I've found an educational psychologist from Georgia who turns out to have been supplying teaching materials to the off-grids in those swamps nearby. I'm bringing her in as the head of our new educational task force."
Ayel had watched him curiously. Pike didn't normally deal with that level of detail himself. "And did I mention that all arranged marriages under the procreation protocols are annulled if one or both partners wish it?" That had been met with a puzzled silence as to why it related to teaching. "Anyway," Pike had continued, nodding towards the door, "meet our new head of education, Jocelyn Darnell." A slender woman with dark curls cascading down her back had stood awkwardly in the door, with eyes for only one person at their table. McCoy had gaped at her, dumbfounded.
The pair had remarried within the week, with Pike officiating and the wedding had been followed by an appallingly raucous party as the humans had rediscovered the joys of unlimited supplies of alcohol at a celebration. Spock had sat rigid in one corner, in the company of an increasingly tipsy Uhura, looking stoically horrified by the unbridled emotionalism on display. Eventually the older Spock had taken pity on him and whispered a few things in Uhura's ear about why chocolate had been banned in the Empire along with alcohol. Once she had supplied him with chocolate cream liqueur Spock had livened up considerably and won over many of the more suspicious humans in the process.
Still, Ayel's favorite moment to date had come completely unexpectedly when he had been crossing a courtyard in the command center at Pike's side soon after Pike had made his first major public policy address to the people of Earth. Sam Kirk had approached them, two strangers at his side. Sam was now the general liaison with all rebel groups - not an easy job, given that not all of them were glad to see the Empire go, and many of them trusted neither Pike's leadership nor each other. Sam's world view had taken something of a shaking when he'd learnt that the father whom he'd hated passionately had not been just a poodle of the Empire. He'd mostly forgiven Jim for joining Starfleet once he knew the full story and he'd become a good friend to Ayel but he still despised the Starfleet personnel in general and enjoyed needling Pike whenever he could.
"Look what I found trying to make their way into the command center," he'd said, gesturing to two teenagers at his side who were holding hands with quiet desperation, dressed in the uniforms of an elite military boarding academy. "And?" Pike had asked impatiently.
"We... you... umm..." The boy, the older of the pair, had stumbled over the words.
"You're our father," the girl had said in a rapid rush.
Pike had faced down Starfleet Admirals, Vulcan overlords, rebel generals and aliens from the future with a steady calm. Now, confronted by the two children he'd never met, he'd looked terrified.
"I hate you," she'd continued defiantly. "All my life, I've hated you, and your job and the Empire. I've been writing a speech for years now, to tell you when I finally met you how much I hate you." She'd hesitated, looking lost. "But now everything's changed and I don't know what to think." She'd paused again. "It was a good speech, though."
"It's okay," Pike had said at last. "You can still give it to me if you want. I probably deserve it. You're Andrea, right? And you're John." He'd looked at the boy. "What do you think?"
The boy had stared back at him, as if paralyzed by shock.
"I hate him too," Andrea had said, still holding tightly onto his hand. "He's spent his entire life trying to be the perfect little Imperial clone so you'd be impressed when you finally met him. And now you've destroyed the Empire."
"Shut up," John had muttered, staring down at his feet. "Just fucking shut up."
Pike had turned to Ayel. "What do I do with them?" he'd whispered, sounding utterly panicked.
Ayel had shrugged. "What do you wish your father had done for you?" he'd said softly.
Pike had regarded the teenagers as if they were some dangerous alien explosive that might go off at any minute. Finally he'd taken a deep breath and stepped forward, placing a hand on the shoulder of each child. "I don't know you," he'd said. "I don't know who you are, what you like, what matters to you both. You don't have to agree with my politics, in the past or now. I'm not going to tell you what to believe. But I'd like to get to know you."
"Go on, hug them," Ayel had whispered. "Remember the Kirks?"
Cautiously Pike had pulled the children towards him. They had gone eagerly, burying their faces against his jacket. Next to Ayel, Sam Kirk had sighed in annoyance. "I hate it when he does something that makes me like him."
Ayel smiled to himself at the memory. The trouble was the more time he spent with Pike, the more he liked him. Half the time Ayel thought he was totally mad to consider Pike as a possible lover. It was like thinking that a paranoid tiger could be turned into a house cat. The rest of the time he thought that Pike - with his command, his discipline, his capacity for change and his dry humor - was the sexiest thing he’d ever seen. And that included Josh. He might not entirely trust Pike but he was certainly attracted to him.
He had mixed feelings about that attraction. If he was honest with himself, he had to acknowledge that if none of this had happened, and Jim Kirk hadn't derailed Pike's career, Pike would probably still be acting as a good little tool of Imperial oppression, ruthlessly suppressing what doubts he may have had. But then again Ayel and his compatriots had been responsible for the annihilation of seven Imperial vessels, and the death of nearly three thousand humans who had been friends, colleagues or students of Pike. In the end all of them were in bed with the enemy one way or another, making huge compromises for the sake of a vision of a better future.
But he wasn't sure how to find that better future for Pike and himself, how to break through the tritanium-hard protective shell the man had wrapped around him. When there was so much to be done that affected so many people, it seemed selfish to push his own agenda. Although he was trying to persuade them to spread power more widely, for now everything and everyone revolved around the figure that was pacing restlessly across his room. Ayel watched warily. Rather than relaxing in Ayel's company as he normally did, Pike seemed increasingly agitated. There was a growing tension that suggested something was brewing.
“What do you want from me?” The blunt demand took Ayel by surprise and he was uncertain how to answer. It seemed too difficult to explain to Pike that this was normally done in a delicate dance of increasingly overt signs of mutual interest, followed by tumbling happily into bed.
“Because I can’t give it to you, whatever it is. This is what I know.” Ayel didn’t react fast enough to stop Pike hauling him out of his chair, pushing him against the nearest wall and pressing a flick-knife to his throat. Agonizers might be gone but the officers remained heavily armed. The news that assassinations had gone out of fashion had not reached everyone in the Empire.
“I know how to hurt people. I know how to force people. My whole life has been training in violence. If I’m going to fuck you, I could take you here and now, tear you apart for my own pleasure.” The knife edge pressed inexorably against his neck. He felt the skin split, felt the white-hot line of pain, felt the blood trickle down to pool against his collar.
Ayel looked steadily back, making no move to push the knife away. There were times when he found Pike thoroughly frightening but he knew better than to let that show. “Actually I'm a lot stronger than you are. But yes, using weapons or drugs, you could probably rape me. But you’d despise yourself afterwards. And you’d lose me.”
“So what the fuck do you want?” ground out Pike.
Ayel hesitated. He could take the easy way out. Let Pike take him. Let him release all that bound-up tension deep in Ayel’s body. Show him how to make it good, how to be gentle. Let Pike retain the control he craved. But if he did that, he’d become Pike’s sub. Treated well, no doubt, respected, but with no hope of every establishing the kind of equality he believed to be vital to a healthy relationship.
“I want you to let me fuck you.”
“You want me to submit to you?” demanded Pike.
Ayel sighed. It seemed so hard to get Pike to see this as anything other than control or capitulation.
“I want you to let me take charge in this instance, to give us what we both want,” he replied. He carefully pushed the knife away from his throat. “I won’t be your exotic pet, Chris.”
Pike stared at him stubbornly, face grim, fists clenched. Ayel looked back, not threatening but not backing down either.
Suddenly, shockingly, Pike threw the knife across the room, sunk down to his knees and rested his bowed head against Ayel’s hip. Ayel stared down at the thick grey hair.
“Dammit, Chris, that’s not what I meant!”
Pike lifted his head, eyes blazing in defiance. “Then what the fuck do you want? I don’t understand you.”
Ayel ran a hand gently through Chris’s hair, down the side of the lean, lined face. He hesitated. Admiral Pike on his knees was a surprisingly inspiring sight. For a moment he felt an intense rush of power. He suspected such rushes were part of what kept this Empire running. Learning the pleasures of equality, the mutual acknowledgement of respect and dignity, was a more complex reality.
“You do want this,” challenged Pike, turning to rub his face against the side of Ayel’s swelling erection, forcing himself into what Ayel suspected he saw as a deliberate act of humiliation.
“Yeah, you on your knees? It’s fucking sexy. Maybe at some future date when we’re both more confident with this, we can play this way. But this is not what I’m trying to show you right now.”
Ayel sunk down onto his knees in front of Pike, so that they were both lined up torso to torso. He cupped Pike’s face in his hands. “This is not defeat, Chris. It’s not self-abasement. It’s you letting me take charge of both of us, just for a while. It’s you trusting me to take care of us.”
Leaning forward he caught Pike’s mouth with his own, trying to make the kiss heated without being aggressive, assertive without being dominating. Pike still hesitated, as if unable to find any ground between control and passivity. “Did you ever play follow-the-leader as a kid?” asked Ayel.
“Yeah, but I was always the leader,” replied Pike.
Ayel laughed. “I bet you were. Well, for now, just follow my lead. Do what I do.”
That seemed to be an order Pike could understand. Being the competitive bastard that he was, each action of Ayel’s Pike tried to do better. He matched move for move, each hot slide of tongue, each lick and kiss and nip and nibble, each slide of hands over smooth skin and tickle of fingers in sensitive spots.
He was willing enough to be pushed towards the bed and divested of his clothes. But Ayel had no intention of getting down and dirty any time soon. Pike needed to understand that this was about a lot more than just cocks and holes.
“This isn’t sex,” protested Pike as Ayel lay draped half over him, sucking sloppy kisses along the base of his hairline. “When the fuck do we get to the fucking?”
“Of course this is sex,” Ayel retorted. “The back of my neck is totally an erogenous zone for me. I want to see if the same is true of you.”
Pike grabbed a spare hand and drew it down to his groin. “Let me introduce you to a real erogenous zone.” He groaned as Ayel squeezed on the hot length, the hard core contained within velvet-soft skin.
“Be like that then.” Ayel reached over Pike to rummage through drawer of his bedside table, pulling out a tube of lube. Pike froze. Ayel locked gazes with him. “Trust me.” Pike made a clearly deliberate effort to relax. “I’ll make it good. I promise.” With Pike still watching him warily, Ayel pushed him back onto the bed, settling down between the other man’s knees. He stroked gently up Pike’s cock before bending forward and sucking the swollen tip into his mouth.
Pike swore a blue streak. Ayel grinned. In the face of Pike’s ruthless authority and natural confidence, it was easy to forget that a lifetime spent trying to obey the Vulcans’ morality laws had left him with relatively little sexual experience. Ayel settled in to deliver a leisurely blow-job of the very highest quality. As Pike fell apart under his expert ministrations, he let one generously lubed finger wander down below the heavy, furred balls, across the softly crinkled perineum, to the small pucker concealed between the firm buttocks.
Pike shifted uneasily but Ayel distracted him with dexterous flicks of his tongue at that sensitive spot just below the glans. He pushed a finger gently into the wet, velvet-soft depths of Pike’s anus, letting the gentle slide get lost as he sucked Pike’s cock deep into his mouth. A second finger found its way in as he tongued the small slit, teeth pressing dangerously close around the rolled-back foreskin.
When the pads of his searching fingers found the small nub set in the anal wall, Pike’s iron control finally dissolved and the man began to whimper, hands clutching at the sheets, head tossing from side to side.
“Get on with it,” he demanded, trying to trust up into Ayel’s mouth. Ayel pulled back.
“I think not. I’m not sure how long you’ll need to get it back up again. Some other time you can shoot down my throat. But this time you are coming on my cock.”
Pike lifted himself up onto his elbows, staring hard at Ayel, his expression suddenly unreadable. Then slowly, deliberately, he pulled up his knees and let his long legs drop open. “Get on with it,” he repeated.
Ayel swallowed. Watching this man leap deliberately into the unknown, an unknown he been taught to fear and to despise, was breathtaking. The trust he was showing in Ayel, whether or not he fully understood it, was humbling.
Ayel sat back on his heels, thighs spread, sitting between Pike’s legs. Holding the other man’s deep blue eyes locked with his own, he found the lube by feel and slowly spread a generous helping across his throbbing cock. He teased himself gently, trying to ramp down his arousal so that he wouldn’t ruin the scene by coming all over Pike the first time he pushed up against that tight pucker.
He hadn’t had this kind of uninhibited sex since the Vulcans first invaded his world nearly three years ago by his timeline. For a moment his heart ached for Josh, for all that he would never have again. But life went on.
He moved in close, pushing the strong thighs even further open. “This might be more comfortable for you from behind but I’d rather be able to see your face.”
“I don’t know you well enough to trust you with my back,” retorted Pike.
Ayel snorted. “You’re about to know me very well indeed. Now lie back and relax.”
“Says the man who’s not about to have giant alien cock shoved up his ass.”
“I’ll make it good, baby, I promise,” cooed Ayel, letting the teasing distract Pike from his knees pushing up under Pike’s ass, his cock nudging against the tight hole.
“In no universe do you get to call me baby!”
“So sorry, Admiral, Supreme Leader and Emperor in all but name. Now, push out.”
Ayel thrust in with slow short strokes, teasing Pike’s cock with his hand as he did, trying to let the arousal overwhelm the discomfort and - he suspected - the shame of this in Pike’s mind.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” whispered Pike under his breath. “Are all you Romulans quite so damned over-endowed?”
“Stop whining and take it like a man,” retorted Ayel. “Hells breath, you’re tight. Fucking fist of death.”
Having finally bottomed out, both men took a moment to get their breath back. Ayel began to rock gently. Pike lay beneath him, tense and passive, teeth gritted.
“Chris, you don’t have to just lie there and suffer. We’re doing this together. Move with me. Help me make it good.”
Pike narrowed his eyes and then experimentally clenched his ass muscles. Ayel yelped. Pike laughed and began to wriggle curiously under him, meeting his thrusts, changing the angle slightly. As he slowly stretched and relaxed, Ayel was able to slide with more confidence, and with more force.
Pike’s breath suddenly hitched. Ayel, holding the angle, thrust again. Pike whimpered. “Found the pot of gold,” said Ayel, raking across Pike’s prostate with short, targeted thrusts.
Pike’s powerful hands wrapped tightly around his biceps. “Fuck me!” he demanded. “Fuck me like you mean it.”
Ayel let his head hang down between his shoulders as he gave himself up to doing Pike with all his considerable skill. He hadn’t even realized that his eyes had drifted closed until Pike’s voice cut through his sexual reverie.
“What are you imagining when you close your eyes?” challenged Pike. “Are you trying to pretend that you’re with Josh instead?”
Ayel looked down at him. “Dammit, Chris, this is one hell of time to want to talk about this. I loved Josh. I love him still. That won’t change. But that doesn’t mean I’m not capable of loving again.”
“That makes no sense,” retorted Pike. “If you cared that much, he’d be irreplaceable.”
Ayel stilled, staying deeply buried in Pike, rocking in a gentle tease. “That’s not how it works. Psychologists in my universe tell us that those who are happily married and then widowed are more likely to marry again than most. We know that life is better with a partner. We know that you don’t replace love, you expand it.”
Pike suddenly sat up, grabbed Ayel by the waist and rolled them over so that he now had the Romulan pinned under him. Sitting astride Ayel’s thighs he deliberately and tightly squeezed his anal muscles. “I’ll make you forget him,” he declared.
“No you won’t,” replied Ayel, relaxing and then thrusting upwards hard, ruining Pike’s rhythm. “But if it makes you feel better, I suspect he’d have been damn jealous of this.”
“Of you with me?”
“No, of me having you. He always had a thing for older men, and he worshipped the ground you walked on. He’d have been dead jealous of me for getting to fuck you in your prime!”
Ayel’s grin was infectious and Pike found his envy fading away into laughter. He bent down over Ayel, licking along the line of the cut on his neck, trailing apologetic kisses across his face. “I don’t find this easy,” he admitted softly.
“I know,” said Ayel with affection. “But I think you’re getting the idea, being the fast-learner over-achiever that you are. It’s not about either one of us dominating. It’s about sharing something.” He pushed up again. Pike squeezed around him, grinding down. The conversation was lost in a race to see who could get the other to lose all control first.
* * *
They lay in a sticky heap, Ayel with his head on Pike’s chest, playing idly with the human’s chest hair, Pike running curious fingers along the outline of Ayel’s facial tattoos. “I don’t think there is any way we can get you home,” Pike said at last, reluctance clear in his voice, “but we can try if you want.”
Ayel lifted himself up on one elbow to look down at Pike. He was touched by the offer but - frustrating though it was at times to live in this world - he knew what he wanted. “Now that we’ve changed the timeline, I’ve no idea what version of my universe exists. I don’t think there is any way to go back. I’d rather stay here and move forward. Help to build a world here that ensures the safety of whatever version of myself and my people still exists over there.”
Pike wrapped a hand possessively around Ayel’s neck. “Good. I want you here. If I'm going to win an Empire and then give it away, I deserve a little something to keep for myself.”
“You like this?” Ayel asked, running a hand down Pike’s chest and along the treasure trail on his stomach.
“Yes,” said Pike without hesitation. “I find it confusing but I’m sure more practice will help.”
Ayel laughed and lay down once more, tucking his head into the crook of Pike’s neck. This was not a future he’d ever envisaged. Whatever Chris might think, he’d never lose his feelings for Josh. But he hoped that somewhere, somehow, Josh was proud of what he’d chosen to do.
- THE END -