Ensign Able Swanson risked a glance behind him as he sprinted towards the beam down point. The determined pack of dinosaur-like creatures was eating up the ground between them. Nigel, Monmoth and Quing were dead and there was no sign of Juana, Harper or Mendleson. If the they hadn’t reached the beam-down coordinates by now they were as good as dead too.
Not slowing down, he fumbled to get his communicator off his belt and into his hand. He tried to flip it open and swore as he dropped it. He lost precious heartbeats scrambling for it in the loose rock. Finally his fingers closed around the slick black casing. He sprinted forward again and used both hands to open the communicator. Its familiar beeping was almost lost in the skid of gravel and the distant baying of the dinosaurs.
“Swanson to Enterprise. I need emergency beam-out!” He reached the beam-out zone, the dead center of a rocky crater, and whirled to check the beasts’ progress. If they got him it would all be over and he really didn’t want to die on this pathetic planet.
A tinny reply came as the beasts came roaring over a ridge of rocks. “Stand by for transport in three...” His sweaty fingers slid over the tiny black button on the back of the communicator.
“...two...” A mechanical chirping whirr filled the air.
“...one.” Able had a moment to panic as the lizards, still fifty feet away, started bellowing their final charge. Their feet shook the ground, adding a rhythmic thundering counterpoint. Then the shimmering deafness of dematerialization took hold.
When they had set off a year ago Jim had known intellectually that a starship Captain was responsible for the lives and deaths of everyone under their command. Now he understood what that meant. Tonight it meant reviewing the scanty mission report they had put together on the disastrous away mission to Kumba 6-4. 'Dead men tell no tales,' he thought morosely before starting in.
Kumba 6-4 is a natural satellite of the sixth planet orbiting the yellow star, Kumba. It has breathable atmosphere, gravity of 1.1 Gs and a human habitable temperature variance.All mission times relative to stardate 2259.167 09:58:17 SGT.
0:00:00 Away team beams down to planet. Team includes - Lieutenant Zaile Quing as leader, Ensign Robert Nigel, Ensign Monmoth, Ensign Filipe Juana, Ensign Preston Harper, Lieutenant Annie Mendleson and Ensign Able Swanson.
0:00:00 – 0:05:43 Initial visual survey for threats completed. No threats on visual inspection. No harmful chemicals, radiation, flora or fauna detected on scanners. (Initial threat assessment: addendum 9)
0:05:44 – 0:13:88 Team set up and calibrates transport boosters. No problems registered by ship crew or away team. (Conditions requiring use of boosters: addendum 10).
0:13:89 – 0:15:03 Lieutenant Quing advises away team to split up. Team 1 (Lieutenant Mendleson, Ensign Juana and Ensign Harper) heads east-south-east (41.57.58,115.4) to collect soil samples. Team 2 (Lieutenant Quing, Ensigns Nigel, Monmoth and Swanson) heads north (41.57.58, 358) to collect plant samples and do a visual inspection of the terrain from higher ground. (audio log: addendum 5.1)
0:58:72 – 1:03:45 Team 2 (Lieutenant Quing) checks in with ship. Reports steady progress to higher ground. No threatening flora or fauna. (audio log: addendum 5.2)
1:03:55 – 1:10:12 Team 1 (Lieutenant Mendleson) reports on soil collection. Team investigates stream. (audio log: addendum 5.3)
1:58:99 – 2:04:05 Team 2 (Lieutenant Quing) team achieves high ground 3.2 kilometer from beam down location. Report flora and fauna becoming more plentiful farther away from the beam down site. (audio log: addendum 5.4)
2:04:15 – 2:12:58 Team 1 (Lieutenant Mendleson) reports team has followed stream towards its source. Team 1 also reports more flora and fauna away from the beam-down site. (audio log: addendum 5.5)
2:24:23 – 2:26:00 Team1 (Lieutenant Mendleson) reports siting of large lizard-like creature. Ensign Juana conjectures they are carnivorous based on jaw and body structure. Lieutenant Mendleson directs her team to return to beam-down site. Lieutenant Mendleson advises Team 2 to do the same. Captain orders radio check-in every 15 minutes. (audio log: addendum 5.6)
2:26:01 – 2:27:03 Team 2 (Lieutenant Quing) copies acknowledging orders to return to beam-down site and 15 minute check-ins. (audio log: addendum 5.7)
Jim remembered the agonizing silence on the bridge. Everyone speaking in hushed tones waiting for their people to check in again.
2:41:01 – 2:41:25 Team 2 (Lieutenant Quing) reports increased motion in the vegetation. Team 2 moving back toward the beam down site in haste. (audio log: addendum 5.8)
2:41:40 – 2:42:01 Team 1 (Lieutenant Mendleson) also reports increase movement along with faint ground tremors. Team moving back towards the beam-down site in haste. (audio log: addendum 5.9)
2:48:54 – 3:03:34 Team (Lieutenant Mendleson) reports that the team is under attack. The report halts and there are several screams, the bellow of an unidentified animal and the phaser fire. Communicator remains active until 6:03:00 but no other intelligible sounds are recorded. (transcript: addendum 5.10)
3:03:59 – 3:04:24 Enterprise bridge Science Officer on duty (Commander Spock) reports that sensors indicate fewer human life signs on Kumba 6-4. Commander Spock infers that Lieutenant Mendleson, Ensign Juana and Ensign Harper are no longer alive. (Discussion of the accuracy of sensor life sign reading on Kumba 6-4: addendum 6.1– 6.4).
Jim remembered clenching his fingers white on the arms of the Captain's chair. He couldn't justify sending any more people down without more information. The tense silence on the bridge had let him know that everyone else was thinking the same thing.
In his quarters he rubbed his hand over his face and went back to reading.
3:05:51 – 3:06:32 Team 2 (Lieutenant Quing) is hailed. Ensign Nigel responds and reports that the indigenous lizard creatures have caught and killed Lieutenant Quing and Ensign Monmoth. (audio log: addendum 5.11)
3:18:59 – 3:19:13 Request from Ensign Swanson for emergency beam-out. Ensign Swanson's signal located within the transport boosters. (audio log: addendum 5.12)
3:19:18 Emergency beam-out initiated.
3:19:20 Error reported in transporter system Alpha 1's matrix. Destabilization of matrix results in partial wipe of transporter buffer leading to Ensign Swanson's fatal partially rematerialization. (Transporter error log: addendum 7)(Autopsy results: addendum 8).
Seven went down and the only one who came back up was a melted, half-formed mess of blood and viscera. Jim shuddered.
3:18:00, 3:33:00, 3:48:00, 4:03:00, 4:18:00, 4:33:00, 4:48:00, 5:03:00, 5:18:00, 5:33:00, 5:48:00, 6:03:00 All away team communicators are hailed at fifteen-minute intervals by the Communications Officer on duty, Lieutenant Uhura, relieved by Ensign Himshe at 5:02:37. (audio log: addendum 5.13 - 5.25)
Jim had communications stop after the sixth hour. Spock and Chekov were both sure that there were no humans still alive on the planet's surface. Jim activated his terminal and dictated his portion of the report.
“Commanding officer's note: Kumba 6-4 is still a potential planet for colonization. I recommend that further scouting missions are undertaken with guns, big fucking guns.” Jim sighed and scrubbed his hands through his hair. “Computer, delete that last remark. I recommend that further scouting missions utilizes a shuttle flyover and any ground personnel be equipped with large animal gear.”
He stared at the wall for an endless minute. “Lieutenant Mendleson, Lieutenant Quing, Ensign Harper, Ensign Juana, Ensign Monmoth, and Ensign Nigel are all missing presumed dead. No autopsies have been performed as no bodies were recovered. Ensign Swanson is dead, official cause is transporter malfunction. All personnel records have been updated to reflect that away team members died in the line of duty. I will be recommending posthumous commendations for each.” There wasn't much more he could say in his official report. “Report complete, apply Captain's seal, route for approval from department heads including Communications, Science, Security and Medical.”
The next several pieces of paperwork in his queue were form letters from the ship's legal staff. They contained anything he as the Captain needed to know about the recently deceased crew members’ last will and testaments. Ensign Harper and Lieutenant Quing had wanted their ashes dispersed into space. The rest had wanted their ashes returned to a family member, friend or religious official. An empty urn would be sent to each. All had requested a shipboard funeral to be performed by the Captain. Jim didn't think he had ever seen a personnel file for someone who hadn't requested one. It was the first and easiest question on Starfleet's sobering in-the-event-of-your-death paperwork. Jim remembered filing his own together with Bones. There had been alcohol involved. It was after the Narada attack, after they knew he wasn't going to be chucked out of Starfleet for his impressive list of crimes committed to save humanity, but before they knew he was going to be Captain. Of course there had been alcohol. They both checked the box for an on-ship memorial service. Jim had chosen to have his ashes scattered in whatever part of space he kicked the bucket. Bones had wanted his ashes sent to his daughter and another drink.
Jim looked at the first name on the list. Ensign Swanson had requested the generic remembrance ceremony. He pulled up Able Swanson's personnel file. He listed his next of kin was a brother on Earth colony Nicus 2. He had bounced around specializations at the Academy before settling on security. He had been on a training mission on Agles Fro during the Narada attack. He had requested assignment to the Enterprise after graduation. Lieutenant Commander Vick's reviews suggested that he was an adequate but not outstanding officer. A short list of away missions ended with the one to Kumba 6-4.
Jim sighed and moved on to Lieutenant Annie Mendleson's file. She had requested a Pan Solar end ceremony. He would have to ask Lieutenant Uhura to pull the right audio files for that. Lieutenant Mendleson had a husband assigned to the USS Albert Lee who had been planning to transfer to the Enterprise as a junior science officer specializing in botany. The picture in her profile was a face he remembered passing in the hall, with rosy cheeks and a wicked smile.
Grimly Jim set to working making notes for the next of kin letter. It had taken him two hours to compose his first one. Now it took him fifteen minutes. It wasn't any easier but he had gotten better at distilling his grief for another lost member of his crew.
He was on the fifth letter when his door chimed. “Come.” The door opened to reveal his First Officer, good friend and resident tight ass, Spock. “Come on in.”
“Captain, I see you have already begun your paperwork.” Spock took two steps in and stood, posture perfect.
Jim shrugged. “They deserve it.” Spock nodded his understanding. Jim continued. “I want Scotty looking at the transporters and Chekov working on the scanners.”
“Lieutenant Alvez's report suggests that the transporter malfunction was due to a quantum pulse shorting the matrix.” Spock sounded as reasonable as always.
“Good.” Jim picked up then dropped a stylus on his desk. “That will give Scotty a place to start.”
“Several authorities on the technology believe quantum pulses are impossible to detect or to compensate for.” A year ago Jim would have taken the comment as censure. Somewhere along the line he had learned that Spock was just managing expectations.
Jim had never gotten anywhere by aiming low. “Which is why Scotty is my Chief Engineer, not an ‘authority’. That man has made the impossible into reality more times than I can count.”
“Twelve,” Spock stated dryly. Jim gave him a filthy look. “I can cite twelve occasions in the past year when his accomplishments have been precluded by accepted theories of reality.”
“I want him working on the transporters. If it they worked better today I wouldn't be writing seven fucking letters.” He still would have been writing six but even one less would have made a difference.
“Understood.” Spock glanced down then back at him. “May I help you with the letters?” Jim understood why Spock was hesitant to ask. That first death Spock had asked if Jim would be completing the required paperwork, or if he would prefer Spock did it. Jim had still been shocked at Yeoman Smith’s messy death. He had screamed at Spock on the bridge that the Yeoman was his responsibility, not Spock’s. Another in an embarrassing number of wildly inappropriate arguments on the bridge. There were less of those now. Jim was learning not to hoard his failures so jealously.
“Do you think you could do Ensign Monmoth’s? I don’t know squat about Lurrisian sub-sects. I don’t want to imply anything about cross-dressing or the sun eel collapsing its bicycle.”
Spock’s lips twitched a little. He was probably remembering that particular failure of the universal translator.
“I have enough knowledge to draft a suitable letter.”
Jim gestured to the second chair by the desk. Spock gracefully folded into it and activated the second terminal. They set to work in a comfortable silence.
Jim looked at the stack of PADDs his yeoman had dropped off and rubbed his hands together. He was looking forward to this, and since this was paperwork that was saying something. The paperwork in question was the final arrangements for the social events for the next two months. Kumba 6-4 was in the ass-end of nowhere. Even Mars X thought Kumba 6-4 was in the sticks, so to get anywhere interesting was a long haul. Two months and a few days travel would get them to Federation Ground Base 4 on the planet Plix.
Plix was a populous planet and Ground Base 4 was a large installation. The native Plixi were humanoid with a complex set of frills and fins on their heads and backs. They had taken natural order and beauty and made them the foundations of their society. Their society was structured around these precepts. Even the planetary emblem was a stylized Mandelbrot set. Because of its hierarchical nature and scientific exploration, joining Starfleet was considered a respectable career for those Plixi who wanted to see the galaxy. So many young Plixi wanted to see the galaxy that Ground Base 4 included a Starfleet academy. Like all the off-world academies it had seen a surge of recruits in the past year and a half. One of the main reasons the Enterprise was en route there was to add some of those recruits to the crew and let some crew transfer. Of the fifteen transfers, ten were to other ships, six of those for promotions, four for other reasons. The other five had requested ground postings. So between transfers and a depleted crew they would be picking up forty-eight new crew members. Jim had already reviewed the potential personnel files and made his recommendations.
After Plix they were slated for a month-and-a-half patrol of the neutral zone. Tensions with the Romulans had always been high but now they were stratospheric. Since there was nothing even remotely interesting between here and Ground Base 4 (well, there was one Starfleet outpost, but it was tiny and too far out of the way to be bothered with), Doctor Evans, the one man psychology department of the ship, had recommended some structured activities to keep the crew anchored and stimulated. Jim had snorted at the phrasing. On Earth, when you were cooped up with people through the winter, you would get cabin fever. In space you got space-crazy. Different names for being so bored gnawing off your own leg seemed like a good idea. Frankly, Jim knew his crew was crazy enough already. He had proof that they were all just one alien spore short of bat shit insane. So, ‘structured activities,’ full speed ahead.
Jim started down the list. Biweekly movie night would become weekly. Five teams had signed up for the football tournament. Jim made a mental note to pester Sulu, his team captain, about their team name, ‘All your balls are belong to us’. They had arranged a round robin tournament with two games a week for five weeks. Lieutenant Kresch was putting together a scavenger hunt. The art gallery was opening next week. Jim took a moment to wallow in a smug glow at the talent of his crew. Fourteen different crew members had works on display. There were also going to be several concerts. Beyond that several smaller events had been planned, such as lectures. Jim signed the form with an enthusiastic flick before affixing his electronic seal.
As he sat back he reflected that the crew could do with some cheering up anyway. The last of the funerals from the Kumba 6-4 away mission had been held yesterday. In a crew of under four hundred people, losing seven was a big thing. Everyone had lost a friend, a co-worker, a rival or a familiar face. Lieutenant Mendleson’s funeral had been the day after her death as custom dictated. The other six had been yesterday, ending with half of the crew in the mess hall for Juana’s ‘proper Irish wake’. Jim would bet Bones had treated more than a few hangovers this morning.
Both Jim and Dr. Evans were hoping this mess of cultural and social activities would brighten the bleak atmosphere on the ship.
Jim was just waiting for Starfleet to redesign the uniforms again. They seemed to do it every couple of years and he was convinced a redesign could only make things better. The current predilection for Command gold and high collars put him solidly on the worst-dressed list of starship captains. The dress uniform he was wearing now was even more of a fashion disaster then the standard uniform. The collar was higher and gold trim on the gold shirt just looked silly. He ran a finger around his neck, tugging at the collar. He felt strangled but Ensign Singh had wanted the gallery opening to be an occasion and had asked everyone to come in formal wear.
Ensign Singh had outdone himself. The first room of the gallery had two holo sculptures and five holo works arranged on the three open walls. Most of the art for the exhibit was 2D or 3D holos but a few of the artists had the supplies to create physical works. Instead of a single large room the rest of the pieces were displayed in a series of switchback hallways. All the walls had been painted black to allow for greater contrast with the artwork. Thin lines of red, blue and gold had been added to break up the black. For the opening a few high tables had been added to hold champagne flutes and hors d’oeuvres. All in all it looked classy.
Jim abandoned his tugging to grab a drink. It was sparkling grape juice. Oh, well. He wandered over to where Scotty was standing examining an impressionistic seascape. “Hi, Scotty.”
“Cap’n,” Scotty acknowledged but didn’t look toward him. “It’s a nice picture isn’t it? Yeoman Sun has been boastin' for the past week that his painting was out here in front.” Jim hummed. “He’s pretty proud of this one.”
“It follows the forms of impressionism well.” Spock had snuck up behind them.
Jim turned to greet him. “Hi, Spock.”
“Commander.” Scotty was still focused on the holo.
“I think the display matrix might be faulty in the upper-left quadrant,” Spock said.
Scotty nodded. “I was just looking at that.” The three of them stared at the painting for a few seconds. Jim caught the shift of colors that Spock and Scotty must have noticed.
There was the click of heels and a subtle scent of jasmine. Uhura leaned over Scotty’s shoulder and wrinkled her forehead. “What’s so fascinating?”
“Holo matrix glitch.”
She cocked her head. “I don’t see it.”
Scotty’s hand skimmed over the holo. “There’s a color change here.”
She scrunched her nose. “Nope.” She shook her head. “I’ve always been better with things I can hear than things I can see.”
“I just need to pull this panel and check the coil alignment.” Scotty worked as he talked, oblivious to Jim's eye roll and Uhura’s fond smile.
Spock stepped away to speak with one of the anthropology ensigns. Scotty, face in the panel, continued, “That reminds me. Dr. Evans told me to do my talk about transporters first; said it would reassure people.”
Jim shrugged. “I guess I’ll have more time to think up questions for ‘The Wonderful World of Warp drives'. How about you Uhura, got all your stuff together?”
“Of course. Although there hasn’t been much interest in the seminar on scent-based communication. We may switch it out for another session of basic Andorian.”
The seascape flickered for a second, long enough to draw the attention of everyone in the room to Scotty’s fiddling. Scotty didn’t seem to notice as he snapped the panel shut. “Fixed.” He turned and slipped his arm around Uhura’s waist.
Ensign Singh tapped his glass to get everyone’s attention. He gave a short speech about the pieces and the artists before encouraging them to enjoy the art and reminding them that the pieces would be on display for the next three months.
Spock was still talking to the Ensign, so Jim had lost his chance to monopolize Spock’s attention for the evening. Uhura and Scotty were examining an abstract piece across the room. With no one to talk to Jim started to work his way towards the back of the gallery. The circular collage of photos from Stabler’s Folly was neat. It captured the saturated tones of the green sky and amber cities. The small sculpture in the first corner had some indefinable air of motion as the human figure pulled itself out of the metal scraps. Jim lingered in front of a large holo. It was two-dimensional, relying on shade and curve to imply features. Jim felt as if there were a hundred faces looking back at him out of it. Then he blinked and the holo was nothing more than scattered dark patches on a lighter background. He had just found the name Elizabeth Daws on a small plaque next to the holo when a Lieutenant came up to him. It was another of the anthropology team. “Hello, Captain.”
“Lieutenant Umba,” he replied with an automatic polite smile.
She glanced at the holo. “Intellectually I know that the human mind in hardwired to find faces, but ever since I saw this piece I can’t help but feel it's watching me.”
Jim took another look. Again the faces appeared and disappeared. “It’s rather haunting.”
“Mark my words, Captain, it will follow you into your dreams.”
Jim manfully resisted the reflexive, 'Maybe you can come by and make sure I have sweet dreams.' He didn’t flirt with his crew, well, except Spock. Lieutenant Umba's calculating expression made Jim think she wouldn't be impressed by it anyway. Instead he asked, “So do you know the artist?”
“Elizabeth.” She shook her head lazily. “Only in passing. I helped set up so I saw everything early.”
There was a pregnant pause. Jim finally broke it by asking, “So what’s your favorite piece?”
She looked one more time at the holo and frowned. “The moving mural Lieutenant Commander Muntz did. It's at the end of the last hall, if you like, I’ll show you.”
They had a stilted conversation about the different pieces until Jim begged off, claiming paperwork. Really he just wanted to get out of his dress uniform.
Whether it was because the painting was that creepy or it was the Lieutenant’s suggestion, he did dream of the faces in the painting that night. His subconscious filled in the details. First the faces of Mendleson, Harper and Quing emerged from the paint then bled away to show Monmoth, Smith, Olson, and Paine. The faces continued to swell and ebb, Juana, Uuuos, Grez, Harrington, Ice Heart, Nigel, Bloom, Ricky. He did not rest well.
Malea paused a moment to rub her forehead before opening the door to her quarters. She felt dead tired. There hadn’t been many injuries to come through Sickbay in the past two weeks. But she hadn’t been sleeping well. Zaile’s death had come as a shock. It really shouldn’t have. They had lost people before on the mission. But losing Zaile was different. It was personal. It left Malea feeling raw, a piece of her soul exposed to the grit of everyday existence.
Zaile had been a kindred spirit when Malea needed one badly. The Narada disaster had been a blur of eighteen hours of frantic work and painful waiting. She wasn’t sure what had possessed her to apply for a ship posting, on the Enterprise no less, after that but she had and their first day out Zaile had sat down next to her and started talking, and talking, and talking. At first Malea hadn’t known what to make of the chatty Lieutenant. She smiled sadly, remembering a time or two in that first week when she had avoided Zaile in the hallways. But then Zaile had started in on how the Tiress Cougars were going to beat the Liaxe this year for sure. Malea had had to set her straight on that because the Tiress Cougars couldn’t muster a defense to save their asses. That had led to them camping out in a rec room on their next day off to watch the highlights on the last season. Of course Zaile hadn’t conceded that the Cougars were crap but Malea had started to wear her down. Out of those arguments had come the best friendship of her life.
Malea kicked off her shoes beside the door and surveyed her tiny quarters. There was just room for the bed, a closet and a small desk along the wall. Her eyes started to prickle. She and Zaile had put in a request to room together. They had had a good chance of getting one of the open suites on E deck. Now, there was no one Malea really wanted to live with.
She rolled her neck then made a grab for her uniform zipper. She stripped out of the outer dress, hanging it up before pulling off her under dress and underwear. Those she dropped into the laundry hamper. She pulled out a pair of soft blue pajamas, a gift from her mother. Malea had never been able to convince her mother that just because she was in Starfleet Medical she didn’t have to wear blue all the time. Her mother had sent her blue jeans, a blue sweater, even blue pantyhose. The pajamas were warm and comfortable. Everything the world wasn’t at the moment. After she put them on she stared at the door for a full minute before deciding to skip brushing her teeth tonight and go right to bed. From the shelf that served as her night stand she grabbed the pill she had set out before her shift. She popped it out and swallowed it dry. Settling into bed she commanded the computer, “Lights off.”
Jim reflected that one of the best parts of being on a long haul through space was the regular schedule with regular lunch breaks. On this particular day Spock had come with him to the mess.
“So what entertainment are you looking forward to? Scotty’s going to give a lecture on advanced hyperspace mechanics.” Spock quirked an eyebrow. “I did veto the hands-on discussion. You should come. We can heckle him from the back row.”
“That would be unnecessarily disrespectful to the other students.”
“Not to Scotty?” Jim wondered if anyone had ever had the balls to heckle Spock when he was teaching.
“Interactions between you and Mr. Scott transcend respectful behavior.” Jim had just taken a bit and so couldn't rebut.“I am planning to attend the concert series as well as Lieutenant Uhura’s lecture on the language of primus zlo.”
“Great. You sure you don’t want to play in the football tournament with me? I hear they’ve got a science team too. You could represent.” Jim thought the intimidation factor alone could win the game. It didn’t hurt that half the players had taken classes from Spock at one point or another.
Spock picked up his fork. “The benefits of playing do not outweigh the drawbacks.”
“That’s too bad.” Maybe Jim could convince Spock to come to the games anyway.
Spock looked unsure. “I have been enlisted to referee for the matches.”
Jim perked up. “Really, how’d they con you into doing that?
“Lieutenant Commander Baal put forth a logical argument that I was the most qualified person on the ship.”
Jim put his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “Go on.”
“He stated that there would be no question of favoritism or intimidation.”
Jim bit his lip. “Even with me playing?”
“Apparently not. Lieutenant Commander Baal did not seem to think you were a favorite of mine.”
“Hey, I'm...” He trailed off when he saw Lieutenant Commander Vick enter the room. She hovered by the door until she caught his eye. She nodded her head towards the corridor. So much for a normal lunch. Another thing Jim had learned to appreciate sandwiches. They were easy to eat on the run. He grabbed his half-finished chicken salad and made for the door.
Spock put down his fork. “I will join you.”
The three of them ducked into a meeting room and engaged the privacy lock.
Lieutenant Commander Vick was the head of Enterprise security and had been since they left Earth. She was also one of the few crew members with more than ten years' space experience under their belt Jim had a bit of a crew crush on her, but to be fair he had one on Uhura, and Spock, and Bones, and really most of his senior staff. They were all so competent and efficient and bad ass.
Vick stood at parade rest. “Captain, Commander. There has been an incident that you need to be informed of.” Jim had a moment to wonder if some of the yeomen had gotten into a fist fight. “One of the crew is dead.”
His jaw dropped. “What? Who?”
“Ensign Bestine was found in her quarters by Lieutenant Moreau half an hour ago, dead. She was late for her shift. Moreau was going to check up on her.”
Jim blinked. “How did it happen?”
“We don’t know yet. My guys just finished cataloging and are taking the body down for autopsy as we speak.” Vick grimaced.
“Lieutenant Commander, what do you know?” Spock interjected.
“Nothing had been disturbed. It looks like she went to sleep and didn’t wake up.” Vick frowned. “It could be a suicide.”
Jim winced at that. “What’s your gut tell you?”
“It looks like a suicide.” The way she stressed the word 'look' conveyed all her doubts.
“Keep me posted. I want a report before the end of alpha shift.” Vick nodded acknowledgment. Then shifted from foot to foot. Jim waved her off.
Jim sighed and looked at Spock. “A death in the black, especially a suicide, is a bad omen.”
Spock looked away from the door. “Ensign Bestine’s death is certainly regrettable but it does not portend anything.”
Jim wanted to agree with Spock, but, to use a literary phrase, his thumbs were pricking.
The bridge was quiet for the second half of alpha shift. Chekov was in one of the labs working on sensor enhancements. Ensign Djarc was manning the navigation console with Sulu. Jim had always had the feeling Djarc disapproved of him on a personal level, even at the Academy. So while Djarc was professional, he was not inclined to chat when on the bridge with Jim. Sulu was engrossed in the newest star charts they had received from Headquarters. Scotty was who-knew-where not blowing things up, and Bones was in sickbay. With one of his nurses dead Jim couldn’t imagine anywhere else he would be. Jim felt eyes on the back of his head every so often. Uhura, at the communications console, must have noticed the number of messages going back and forth between security and the other departments. Jim himself was passing the time going through fleet communiqués.
It was only a half hour before the end of alpha shift when Vick sent her preliminary report. Ensign Bestine had been poisoned with cyanide. The autopsy showed no signs of other physical trauma. Security logs didn’t show any unauthorized access to Ensign Bestine’s room in the previous 48 hours.
Jim slumped for a second then straightened and hit the PA button on the panel on his chair.
“Attention, crew. It is my sad duty to inform you that Ensign Malea Bestine passed away this morning. The nature of her death is still under investigation. Details will be released as they become available. A funeral service is being planned. She was a fine officer and a valued member of this crew. She will be missed.”
Jim took two dinner trays down to sickbay after his shift. He knew Bones would still be there. Nurse Chapel gave him a knowing look from red-rimmed eyes as he made his way into Bones’ office. “Hey, Bones, how’s it going?”
Bones looked up from his paperwork. He shrugged. “As well as can be expected, I guess. Everyone’s upset. More than a few are angry. But we’ll pull through.” Jim set the trays down and they both started picking at their food. “Damn it,” Bones burst out.
“This is why you shouldn’t get the chicken.”
Bones rolled his eyes. “It feels wrong to be mad at Malea but I am.”
“For dying?” Jim asked softly.
“For making that much harder for the rest of us. For letting it win.” Bones jabbed at his food with his fork.
Jim nodded. “For losing to the death and despair that is space.”
“Yeah,” Bones sighed.
“For not giving you the chance to save her?” He added sympathetically.
Bones lifted his eyes to meet Jim's.“For a pretty boy Captain you’re good at this psychology stuff. Every time someone dies we tell them we’re here. We’re here if you need to talk. If you’re having trouble. Every time we tell the crew to come to us. Malea knew that. She did the announcements and the counseling. But not a damn person knew she was having trouble. She didn’t tell a soul.” He threw down his fork.
“Sometimes its easier to destroy yourself then to ask for help.” That was a lesson Jim had learned a long time ago. “Do you think many of the crew will come for counseling?”
“A couple will probably come in in the next few days.” Bones popped an olive into his mouth and chewed forcefully.
Jim started cutting up his own meal. “Let me know if there’s anyone or anything I should be concerned about.”
“Right,” Bones agreed, staring at his plate.
Jim nudged his tray. “Eat up. We’ve got the first football game tonight. If we get through that without an injury I’ll be amazed.”
“I’ve enough trouble keeping you whole when you aren’t acting like idiots,” Bones scowled, but he got his fork and started on the chicken.
Jim made his way down to Sickbay shortly after the beginning of alpha shift. Bones and Lieutenant Commander Vick had apparently been discussing the autopsy results and wanted him to see something. He had asked Spock along to keep him in the loop. They arrived at Bones' office to find the doctor at his desk and Vick leaning against the wall. Vick straightened as they came in. Kirk dropped into one of the chairs opposite Bones. “Hey, what ya got for me?”
Bones and Vick exchanged glances. Vick sighed. “A discrepancy.”
Jim prompted them, “Enough of one to get me down here?”
Bones shuffled through the PADDs on his desk. “The final autopsy results are consistent with the preliminary results. The cause of death was cyanide poisoning. However there was something odd. Malea was prescribed a course of boosters for Terquix flu, since we ran into it on Seririx and she had had it as a child. From the autopsy we can tell she didn’t take her last dose.”
Spock, who had not taken the available seat, said, “Surely not unusual under the circumstances. When she chose to end her life she no longer saw the utility in taking the pills.”
Bones glared. “This stuff has a very specific half-life in the human body. She took every dose but the last one. Of a six week course.”
Jim replied before Spock could start, “Okay, that’s strange, but why’s it important?”
Vick responded, “We can’t find the last pill.”
“Not in her system, not in her stomach.” Bones leaned back so he could look Spock and Vick in the eyes.
“When we did the security sweep we found an empty pill pack in her room and I’ve had Finn and Asher take another look at her quarters. They didn’t find it,” Vick admitted blandly.
Spock looked over Jim's head at Vick. “A single missing pill is not indicative of anything.”
“We’re having some tests run on the pill pack we did find...” Vick let the sentence trail off.
Jim winced. Suddenly it was clear why the CMO and CScO thought he needed to be here for this confab. “You think she may have been murdered?”
Spock huffed. “There are many other plausible explanations as to why the pill is gone. Perhaps she had lost a pill earlier in the course of treatment.”
Bones glared at Spock. “I suppose that’s possible. But procedure is to tell the prescribing physician immediately when any medication is misplaced. Malea knew that.”
Spock wasn't letting his point go. “Had Ensign Bestine been emotionally disordered recently?”
Jim snapped his fingers as a memory came back to him. “She was friends with Lieutenant Quing, wasn’t she?”
Bones nodded. “Lieutenant Quing’s death was hard on her but she was coping.”
“Well, often...” Spock started.
Jim cut him off. “If there was a chance she was poisoned we need to take every precaution. If this was done deliberately other medications may have been tampered with too.”
Bones groaned. “Now that’s a scary thought. All medicine we can’t make ourselves is stasis locked. We would know if someone tampered with it. But the flu boosters are made on ship, by the chemistry department.”
Spock’s hands went behind his back. “That is not entirely accurate. All science personnel with sufficient chemistry background are on the rota to produce compounds requested by the medical department.”
Vick focused on Spock. “So who would have made the boosters?”
“Was the entire dosage delivered six weeks ago?” Bones nodded. “Then Lieutenant Quing would have made it.”
Jim squinted at Vick. “I don’t know what to do with that.”
Vick looked puzzled too. “I think that makes murder less likely, at least from that avenue.”
Spock pointed out, “The raw compounds are delivered to Medical. The doctors are responsible for creating the correct doses and packing them.”
Bones looked like he wanted to throw something. “Now wait a minute. You can’t seriously be suggesting that one of my doctors screwed up enough to put a lethal poison in instead of a vaccine?”
“Is it more likely that one of the science personnel did?” Spock's hands were still tightly clasped behind his back.
“Hell, yeah.” Bones' accent got thicker. “Cyanide has no medical purpose. There is absolutely no reason to have it in sickbay.” He thumped a fist on his desk for emphasis.
Spock's weight shifted and his posture stiffened. “May I remind you that in the scenario you are proposing a single pill was tampered with which indicates an irregularity during packing, not creation.”
Jim spoke over Bones' response to that. “This is all hypothetical until we know if the cyanide was mixed with the pills.”
“I would still like to interview the doctors who packed the pills,” Vick said, looking directly at Bones.
“Fine.” He grabbed one of the PADDs from his desk and started thumbing through records.
“The simplest explanation is still that she took the poison herself.” Jim decided he need to explain to Spock when to let things go.
“No more speculation until Lieutenant Commander Vick has finished her investigation. But I want any ship-made medications remade.” Bones and Vick nodded. Jim looked back at Spock.
Spock nodded. “Every precaution should and will be taken to assure the safety of the crew. No matter how unlikely the threat.”
Jim spoke before Bones could jump in again. “Lieutenant Commander, any idea when you’ll know more?”
She straightened. “I should have more information for you by tomorrow, Sir.” Then, to Bones, “Doctor?”
Bones looked at the PADD. “Says here Dr. Lars made the pills for Malea.”
“And did Malea and Dr. Lars get along?” Vick asked.
Bones chewed his lip.“I think so. Chapel or Moreau would know better.”
The meeting wrapped up then. Jim returned to the bridge. Spock went off to the science labs to coordinate with his staff.
Bones looked tired the next morning. Vick looked unflappable, her blond bun as crisp as ever. Spock looked like Spock, clean, fresh and in Jim's opinion lick-able. They were meeting before alpha in another of the Enterprise conference rooms.
Lieutenant Commander Vick started without prompting, “The pill pack did contain traces of cyanide.”
“That’s suggestive. But it doesn't really prove anything.” Jim bounced in his chair. “Have you figured out if any of the other meds were tampered with?”
Bones shook his head. “Not so far. We had our hands full yesterday getting everything back and replaced with new meds. We’ll start testing today.”
Jim turned toward Spock. “Okay. Spock, see who you can spare to help them. Ensign Bestine’s funeral is at 1600 today. I doubt any of the medical officers will be too focused on their work this afternoon.”
“Yes, Captain. Lieutenant Commander Vick, did you have the opportunity to talk to the Doctor who made the pills?” Spock continued.
“Yes.” She took a sip of her coffee.
Jim huffed pointedly. “And?”
She focused on a spot over and beyond his left shoulder. “I’m not sure. He swears up and down there was nothing unusual about those pills or any of the others he did that day.”
“And you think he’s lying?” Jim asked, leaning forward.
“Like I said, Captain, I’m not sure.” She shrugged.
“How not sure? Keep an eye on him not sure or keep him the hell away from my patients not sure?” Bones demanded.
“Just keep an eye on him,” Vick replied. “I also took a look at Lieutenant Quing’s psych evals. No red flags.”
Jim mulled that over. “Could it have been some sort of power game?”
“I don’t follow.” Bones stopped staring at his coffee to squint up at Jim.
“Well, could Lieutenant Quing have poisoned the pill but planned to take it out before it Ensign Bestine took it?” Jim explained.
Bones was obviously wondering where Jim got his ideas. “I suppose anything is possible.”
Vick tapped on the table with her finger. “It might not have been Lieutenant Quing. We only reviewed the forty-eight hours preceding the murder. If someone switched it out after Ensign Bestine picked it up they could have done it any time in the last six weeks.”
Jim nodded, thinking out loud, “It wouldn’t have been hard to get into her quarters.”
Bones shook his head. “I’m sure she had them voice-locked.” Jim and Vick exchanged a glance. “Why the hell do they have locks if they don’t work?”
“They work. Just for a given value of working.” There was the trademark scowl.
Vick explained. “They are enough to keep people from traipsing through each others quarters but given an hour, half the crew knows enough about engineering to bypass them.”
Bones humphed. “Huh. Well, I’m gonna move the top shelf stuff to my office.”
“Commander Vick, let me know when you find anything out. I still need to figure out what to tell the crew about all this.” Jim grimaced. “For now, I think we should keep this quiet.”
“Good.” Jim was a bit surprised to hear that coming from Bones. “People will get spooked and stop taking their meds if they think they might be poisoned.”
“Right. Back to work, everyone.”
Jim sighed. There was no way this wasn't going to get worse before they figured this out.
Ensign Bestine’s funeral was an eerily quiet affair. Over one hundred people came to watch Jim recite the standard ceremony over an empty urn. Malea's body wouldn’t be cremated until the investigation was finished. Jim glanced at the row of security officers standing solemnly along the back wall of the room. Or shelved. Bones got up to say a few words about how Malea was a fine nurse and a good person. Yeoman Cuard and Ensign Patil also gave brief eulogies. The crowd was almost preternaturally silent through their speeches. Even the scrape of a boot sole resounded in the quiet. Jim could only imagine what was going through their minds. Probably a lot like what Bones had felt a bit sad, more angry and a lot helpless. There was a spacers' adage just for this circumstance; one death makes many lives harder. It was the grizzly etiquette in the fleet and out that you didn’t kill yourself on a starship, you waited until you docked. So yes, a lot of the crew was probably feeling mad. Jim wondered how they would take the possibility it was murder. Not well, he thought. Lieutenant Commander Vick needed to figure out what happened and quick.
Most of the attendees dispersed after the final recitations. The mourners lingered, mostly blue but some red and gold as well. Jim stood on the fringes, available but not intruding.
Jim started a little at the sudden voice at his elbow. “Lieutenant Umba,” he acknowledged. “Did you know Ensign Bestine?”
“No. Unfortunately I did not.” She said scanning the crowd.
“A friend of a friend?” Jim asked.
She smiled slightly. “No, Captain, I’ve attended all the funerals on the Enterprise. It’s interesting to observe the nuances that change based on the method of death.”
Jim looked back towards the mourners. “I’m sure it is.” In his peripheral vision, he saw Lieutenant Umba tilt head. “Did you know her?”
Jim grimaced. “Not really. Just what Dr. McCoy told me.” He searched until he found Bones in the crowd. He was frowning through a surreptitious conversation with Dr. Evans. “He’s not taking it well.”
“No one is taking it well. An overdose, I expect, makes it worse.” Jim turned back to her. “Oh, women and medical professionals are more likely to intentionally overdose. I doubt doctors like seeing their tools used so by one of their own.”
“I expect not.” He saw Dr. Evans leave and decided that Bones would be better company than Lieutenant Umba. “Excuse me.”
He had barely sat down at his desk before there was a chime at his door. Ten-to-one it was Spock. “Come.”
“Good evening, Captain. I assume you are finishing Ensign Bestine’s paperwork.” Spock took his usual two steps into the room.
“What I can. Until we know what happened it will remain open.” Jim poked at the PADD on his desk.
“I am sure Lieutenant Commander Vick will exhaust her avenues of investigation soon.” Spock sounded... well it was impossible to tell what he was thinking.
And on the subject of Vulcan inscrutability... “That reminds me. Why are you so sure this is suicide?”
“It is the most likely cause of death given the available evidence.”
Jim frowned. “What evidence?”
“Exactly,” Spock replied. “There is nothing to show that the missing booster pill has anything to do with the poison. Rather than assume someone contrived to substitute a single pill in forty-two without being discovered and with no discernible motive, it is more logical to assume that Ensign Bestine administered it herself with the purpose of killing herself.”
“So,” Jim drew out the word, “the fact that the poison was on the pill pack doesn’t mean anything? Or the fact she hadn’t made any preparations for her death? I think the best we can say is the evidence is inconclusive.”
Spock opened and closed his mouth. “On Vulcan, suicides outnumber – outnumbered - murders by a factor of ten thousand.”
Jim sat back in his chair so he could concentrate on Spock's face. “I knew Vulcan had a low murder rate but that’s amazing. But why so many suicides?”
“Vulcan culture has several acceptable forms of suicide. Ta'an ma'toi, for example when the quality of life has degraded passed a certain point with no expectation of improvement. There is also pon ma'toi when an individual feels they can no longer contribute to society.” Spock didn't look away, but seemed to be looking through him.
Jim tried to get Spock to look at him.“Ensign Bestine wasn’t sick or unproductive.”
“The degradation can stem from physical, mental or emotional causes.”
Jim blinked. Had Spock just admitted Vulcans had emotions? He’d go back to that later. “And Bones said she had been upset.” Spock nodded. “But that’s not everything is it? You wouldn’t consider losing a dear friend reason for suicide.”
Spock licked his lips. “Perhaps my conclusion was influenced by the taboo Vulcan society places on premeditated murder. It is the most grievous breakdown of social order. Beyond that, if the perpetrator is still on board there is a possibility they will repeat the offense.”
Jim stood up to force Spock to meet his eye. “You’re scared.”
Spock stilled, his usually restrained movement stopping completely. “I will not allow it to affect my judgment again. If you will excuse me.”
And like that he was gone. Jim was left trying to deal with the whiplash from Spock’s speedy exit. That had been unexpected. But maybe it shouldn't have bee. Of all the places he had heard Spock talk about the Enterprise and the destroyed Vulcan were the only ones Spock called home. Vulcan was gone and Spock would take a 'grievous breakdown of social order' hard. He turned back to the paperwork. He would give Spock some time to calm down before talking to him again. Trying to talk to Spock before he was ready just didn't work.
At least 'Red River Valley' was playing for movie night tonight. The movie was a classic. Walking through the officers' quarters, Jim decided to see if Spock had recovered himself enough for dinner and a movie. That was something friends did. It wouldn't reflect at all on Jim's desire to ask Spock out. He hit the door chime. The door slid open a moment later and a wave of warm air washed over him. He leaned against the door jamb. “Hey Spock, want to see a movie?”
“I assume you are referring to movie night in rec room A. Yes, I had planned to attend.”
Jim was surprised. It was usually a harder sell to get Spock away from his projects. “Great. Want to get dinner together first?”
“That would be agreeable.” Spock pressed a few keys on his terminal and stood.
Jim grinned. “You’ll like 'Red River Valley'. It's a period piece about the great horror, just before first contact. It follows a family as they travel around the radiation pockets to get to the red river valley. To say any more would give it away. Su Tau Smith’s best film.”
Spock’s lips twitched. “I have seen the film.”
“While I was a cadet, Professor Earnhart frequently tried to improve my ‘cultural literacy’.”
“Oh.” With all his Vulcanness Jim sometimes forgot Spock had spent years on Earth.
“I do appreciate the film. It is well-structured and ambiguous enough to allow for multiple interpretations of the conclusion.” Spock slipped past him into the hallway.
Jim found his feet again. “Right, is the journey Micheal’s ultimate destination or is his journey just a series of destinations?”
“Indeed. Although I find Nathan’s abandonment more telling from a xenocultural prospective.”
The discussion continued all the way down to the mess.
The next day Jim was able to distract himself from Bestine and Spock with a review of the botanical department’s latest work on adapting ultra-low-gravity plants to other environments. The problem was that the plants had a tendency to cluster into colonies, which worked fine in their native gravity. But in higher gravity those colonies would implode under their own weight. Algae was interesting enough to keep him from contacting Vick or ogling Spock, not interesting enough to stop him thinking about either but enough to stop him from doing either.
The next day, his day off but when had that mattered, Vick had requested a meeting and Jim was anxious to hear what she had to say. He and Spock were in his office when Vick arrived. Jim could tell from looking at her that she didn’t have any answers. The tension line on her forehead was deeper than it had been three days ago.
“Captain, Commander,” she acknowledged.
“Lieutenant Commander Vick, what do you have to report?” Jim asked.
“I’m sorry to say that the investigation has stalled. Without a clear motive we can’t narrow down the suspect pool enough to focus our efforts.”
Spock was composed as ever. “Surely you have made some progress on determining if it was murder and if so, who did it.”
“Oh, yes, sir,” Vick agreed. “We’ve eliminated two hundred and thirty members of the crew. That just leaves two hundred more.”
“One hundred and sixty,” Spock countered.
“What?” Vick asked, confused.
“The current number of crew members aboard the Enterprise is three hundred and ninety. If you are not counting dead crew members among those eliminated, there are one hundred and sixty suspects,” Spock calmly explained.
Vick shrugged. “Fine. One hundred and sixty. That’s still a lot of people.”
“Technically, one hundred and sixty-seven people,” Jim couldn't help but point out. The pills could have been tampered with any time in the last six weeks.
“Yes, Captain,” Spock agreed.
Vick huffed. “Anyway, I’m not sure there’s a way to narrow that down.”
“Okay. Give me something by next week or I’m going to list this as a suicide. Dismissed.” She left.
Jim dropped his head into his hands. “Forty people. Forty people dead in a year.”
Spock stepped closer to him. “Since the Enterprise began its mission undermanned, the ship’s total is twenty-five. Which is in the upper fifty percent for exploratory missions.”
“I’ve never settled for average.” Jim laughed.
“You are the youngest and least experienced Captain to be given such a command. Logically you could be expected to be in the bottom ten percent, having lost over twenty percent of your crew.”
Jim stared up at him. “Is this the Vulcan version of a pep talk?”
“I am merely drawing your attention to the fact that in context you have an impressively low mortality rate.”
“So that’s a yes.” Jim smiled. Spock inclined his head then headed out the door.
Jim lounged against the long table while Scotty tinkered with the two miniature transporters he had brought for the demo in his lecture, ‘Travelin’ by Transporter.’ Scotty must have dug them out of somewhere along with the couple of metal bricks, bowl of fruit and a cage with one of his chirping fuzzball things that also sat on the table. Jim had arrived early to confab with Scotty about the resupply on Plix and what may or may not have been requisitioned for Scotty’s hypothetical still. They had settled it before the first early birds started drifting into the rec-room-come-lecture-hall.
Jim was surprised to see Spock enter exactly five minutes before the lecture was to begin. He made a beeline for the front of the room.
“Hey, Spock, what’s up?”
“I have come to offer my assistance,” Spock replied.
“Really?” Jim couldn't believe that Spock would help him heckle Scotty.
Spock tilted his chin forward. “Not to you, Captain, to Mr. Scott.”
Scotty flapped a hand at him. “Ach, thanks, Commander, but I’ve got my talk all worked out.”
“My assistance in keeping the Captain from interfering,” Spock clarified.
Scotty finally looked up from the unit he was tinkering with. He grinned, looking between the two of them.
“Hey, I’m just a firm believer in the Socratic method.”Jim defended.
“Any assistance you can give would be welcome.” Scotty paused, eyes twinkling. “Think you’re up to it?”
Spock looked Jim up and down. “I have calculated a reasonable chance of success.”
The rec room was starting to fill up now. Jim straightened from his slouch. “Come on. Let’s grab the good seats before they’re gone.” He led them to a couple of open chairs three quarters of the way back on the left side. Spock sat. Jim sprawled.
Scotty clapped his hands together. “Everyone ready? Good, let’s get started.” He launched into his lecture without a pause. “Now, the first transporter was created by Emory Erickson...”
Jim opened his mouth to ask his first question.
“2119,” Spock said in a low tone beside him.
Jim smirked. “You’re sure?”
“You sure we shouldn’t ask?”
Scotty had continued talking; “...and frankly, it was a piece of crap.” The audience tittered. “So bad, they didn’t even try to transport anything biological. The transporter wasn't consistently able to reassemble complex molecules leading to lost, malformed or dangerous compounds. Now, it wasn’t until about two decades later that we got something like a working one.”
Spock smoothly added, “Due to the efforts of the United Earth Technology consortium.” Jim opened his mouth. “By a team led by Recker Samore.”
“This is where things get interesting, because with the addition of pattern buffers the subatomic structure can be preserved for the microsecond of subspace transport. However these transporters only worked under the best conditions, and even then they had a high error rate,” Scotty explained.
“.000013%,” Spock said.
“And the...” began Jim.
“Between two to eight microseconds.”
“Now, I’ve rigged these little pads to simulate a 2140 transporter.” Scotty grabbed an orange out of the bowl of fruit. “So...” He placed it on the pad at the left end of the table, “we can see..” he picked up a the control box and pressed a couple of buttons, “...what the transport would look like.” Someone’s personal alarm went off at the back of the room. Half the room turned to shush them, which was pretty lucky because the shimmery transport beam flickered on both platforms and there was the odor of fresh squeezed orange juice. An orange mess started dribbling off the right transporter pad.
Jim covered his eyes with his hand. “I don’t think this was what Dr. Evans had in mind to reassure the crew.”
“Ach, sorry about that. Just a wee problem.” Scotty tapped the control again then pushed the orange bits onto the floor. The front row leaned back as he put an apple on the pad. Yeoman Green looked like she wanted to grab the fuzzball, cage and all, off the table and make a run for it. This time the transport went smoothly. Everyone in the room relaxed. “So, that apple might look fine and dandy but without a molecular imaging scanner there’s likely to be all sorts of copy errors. So we add a scanner.”
“Another invention of Recker Samore’s team.”
Why was Spock here? Jim let his mind wander. He couldn’t come up with a logical reason for it other than wanting Jim’s company. That was the problem with logic, so much harder to see from the inside. So did Spock like his company enough to want to join him on something they both acknowledged was a date?
“Forty-two.” Jim looked at Spock and laughed. “You were not going to ask what the standard phase coefficient for the Heisenberg compensator is?”
Jim laughed helplessly.“Not even close.”
“Then what were you going to ask?” Spock raised an eyebrow at him.
Jim turned in his seat to look at Spock. The energy beam of the transporter made shadows dance across his features. He could ask, right now. “I was going to ask...” Chicken. “What the negative inversion was?”
Spock focused on Scotty again. “3,180,251.”
Scotty continued to ramble on about the advancement of transporter technology, finally working his way up to the modern version in which the fuzzball survived intact.
Ensign Baloo muttered to himself as he maneuvered the dolly off the freight lift. Quartermaster Motto had sent him down to the storage decks to pull three bolts of acoustic fabric from one of the storage bays. Apparently it was going to be used as the backdrop for a concert later this week. Of course the red, blue and yellow fabric they had above decks didn’t fit the performers artistic sensibilities. Oh no, he had to go pull the green stuff from storage.
He didn’t mind really. He was looking forward to hearing Ensign Cho play. She was painfully shy and he wondered who had convinced her to preform; maybe Randy, the suave git. Muttering gave him something to listen to. Without something to say the white noise of the ship’s systems made him feel deaf. He had the irrational fear when he emerged into the inhabited decks he would still hear just a thrumming buzz. He could imagine Ensign Banes’ mouth moving, no sound coming out. He snorted. Nothing of value would be lost there. That man had more hot air in him than a blimp.
He stopped in front of hold 3C-04-028, the dolly bumping his legs as it came to a stop. He was checking the PADD one last time when he heard it, a muffled thump. He looked around, ears and eyes straining for anything unusual. He was almost convinced he imagined it but then...were those footsteps? He padded down the hallway. There was an intersection ahead; from there he should be able to figure out where the sound was coming from.
“Hello?” he called. He turned as he saw a shadow flicker in the corner of his eye, then whirled back as he felt the air move behind him, his momentum driving his head even harder into the pipe that someone was swinging at him. He crumpled down onto his back, vision swimming as his hands clawed ineffectively at the air. He could barely focus as the pipe came at him again. Just enough to register the face behind it. “But you’re...”
Jim had a completely justifiable sense of déjà vu. He was sitting with Spock in the mess getting ready to abandon half a chicken salad sandwich because Lieutenant Commander Vick was at the door. Maybe she had found something out about Ensign Bestine’s death. Spock rose with him. Jim paused the conference room they had used last time.
Vick kept walking. “Sir, you’re going to need to see this.” She led them to one of the industrial sized turbo lifts. Once the door was closed and they were heading to 3C Jim turned to her hoping for an explanation. “Approximately twenty minutes ago Yeoman Carmicheal and Ensign Banes went down to 3C on the quartermaster’s orders. They were to assist Ensign Baloo in retrieving supplies from 3C-04-028 then they were to proceed to 3C-03-025 to pull more supplies.” Jim stiffened. “When Ensign Banes and Yeoman Carmicheal arrived at the storage bay they found the dolly Ensign Baloo had checked out but not him. They searched the area and found him roughly 12 meters down the corridor.” She grimaced. “His head was bashed in.”
Jim sucked in a quick breath then blew it out. “Fuck.”
“Exactly.” The three of them stepped out on to 3C. “So far it looks like Ensign Baloo surprised someone down here who was doing something they shouldn't.”
“But who and what? What would be important enough to murder a person for?” Jim raged.
“There's nothing obvious. Logs show that no one else entered this deck for three days before Ensign Baloo this morning. After Ensign Baloo only Banes and Carmicheal entered the deck,” she replied.
“Do you think one or both of them is involved in Ensign Baloo’s murder?” Spock was standing straight and tense with his hands clasped behind his back. Jim swallowed the reassurances he wanted to give Spock. This couldn't be easy for him, to know there was a killer on their ship.
Vick shook her head. “I’ve got them cooling their heels until I can interview them myself. But I doubt either of them has the stones.”
Jim snorted at that.
“Regardless of their 'stones,' there must be some physical evidence of what transpired,” Spock said harshly.
Before Vick could respond the three of them came across a security officer, his red tunic oddly muted by the gray walls. He snapped to attention. “All quiet, Commander, Captain.”
Jim and Spock turned to Vick. “Do you think...”
She shrugged. “A precaution. At ease, Lieutenant Finn.”
They moved past Finn to a nondescript intersection. There were four more security officers in loose formation around a drab white cloth. The drape of the fabric outlined the form of the late Ensign Baloo. Jim squatted by his head and peeled the sheet back. It clung where the blood had started to dry. He got a look at the wound and gagged. He let the sheet fall back into place. “That kind of damage takes a lot of determination,” Vick nodded.
Spock a reassuring presences at Jim's should turned to look down the hallway. “What was Ensign Baloo retrieving?”
“Stuff for the concert this week,” Vick said. Spock continued looking at her, not changing his expression. She shifted a bit under his stare. “Grade three acoustic fabric, in green.”
“Not exceptionally valuable, particularly while ship bound. This entire section is devoted to durable goods, is it not?” Spock raised an eyebrow at her.
Again she nodded.“Yes. All the stuff that’s dangerous or likely to walk away is stored in the cul-de-sac or armory surplus.”
“There nothing here worth killing for and no one recorded entering this section. So we're back to a fight with Carmicheal and Banes as the most likely situation.”
“Not an equitable fight.” Spock eyed the sheet on the floor.
“Neither had any blood on them. I’d expect splatter.” She waved a hand at the red drops speckling the corridor. “The physical evidence we do have doesn't point to Banes or Carmicheal.”
Jim said, with feeling, “Damn.”
Everyone tensed at the echo of brisk footsteps. A Lieutenant in blue rounded the corner, pulling a stretcher. “Sorry it took so long for me to arrive,” he said in a lilting voice. He stopped short when he saw Jim and Spock. “Captain, Commander.” Jim recognize him as Dr. Lars, the only Kak'tan on the ship. His breath at the end of his sentences had an odd huffing quality, almost a laugh. Thin fuchsia lids blinked across bulbous eyes. “I needed to retrieve supplies for examination and transportation.” The lilt was now a few notes higher.
Vick looked intently at Jim and nodded quickly towards Dr. Lars. Jim raised an eyebrow. Vick grimaced and half shrugged. Jim sighed. Clearly Dr. Lars was still on Vick's radar as a potential poisoner. “Thank you Dr. Lars, but I think we're going to need for Dr. McCoy for this.”
“Captain, I assure you I am familiar with human physiology.” The breath was harder now and the blinking faster.
“I respect your skills, Lieutenant, but in this situation I would prefer the examination be handled by the Chief Medical Officer.”
“Captain, ha.” Dr. Lars nodded stiffly then turned away to start unpacking equipment. Vick pulled out her communicator and quietly requested Dr. McCoy come down.
Vick motioned them further down the corridor away from the knot of security personal and the disgruntled doctor. “Sir, I was going to tell you in my morning report but then this,” she nodded back down the hallway, “happened. Two more of the pill packs we retrieved after Ensign Bestine's death had cyanide in them.” Jim stared at the wall for a second wondering if the universe would spring Klingons on him as well; it was clearly intent on making his day shit.
“Why haven't you taken him into custody?”
“I checked. The medications were packed on different days by different doctors.” Vick ground her teeth.
Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. “You know the drill. Keep me posted.”
Spock returned them to their previous discussion. “The method of the two deaths do not suggest a connection. Ensign Baloo’s injuries appear consistent with being hit by a long, thin object. Have you located it, Lieutenant Commander?”
“Not yet. Once we have the hallway clear, I’ll call in everyone I can spare to sweep the area.”
Jim looked up from Baloo’s body. “See if Quartermaster Motto can lend you a few people. It's their world down here.”
“Yes, Captain,” acknowledged Vick.
“Okay. Let me know the minute you find out anything more.”
Once again the conversation paused at the sound of footsteps. “Point that thing somewhere else, kid. One dead body is enough.”
“Hi, Bones,” Jim said, with false cheer.
The doctor took in the scene at a glance. “You sure know how to ruin a man’s day.”
Jim went to the bridge, relieving Sulu at the conn. He sank down into the Captain’s chair and flipped the shipwide broadcast switch. “Attention crew; it is my sad duty to inform you of the death of Ensign Baloo. His death is being investigated as a murder. More information will be released as it becomes available.” As he pushed the button to end the broadcast he was intensely aware of every person on the bridge staring at him. There was no point in trying to keep the death quiet. Rumors ran riot on starships.
He swiveled his chair toward the communications console. “Ensign Himshe.”
“Yes, Captain?” She bit her lip.
“When is the net window for a live feed with HQ?”
She quickly pressed a few buttons and looked at her screen. “Half an hour, sir. There will be a fifty minute window.”
He drummed his fingers on the arm rest of his chair.“See if Pike’s available. If not, Nogura.”
“Aye aye, sir.” She hunched over her panel.
Jim tried to review reports but he spent most of the half hour wondering what Vick would come back with.
Ensign Himshe broke the silence on the bridge.“Sir, I have confirmation.”
“Thanks, Ensign. I’ll take it in my office. Sulu, you have the con.” Jim sprang from his seat.
Pike was half smiling when his image resolved on the screen. The smile disappeared when he took in Jim’s expression. “What’s wrong, kid?”
“There’s been a murder,” Jim told him bluntly.
Pike didn't flinch.“Who did it?”
“We don’t know.”
“Suspects?” Pike frowned.
“A few. Lieutenant Commander Vick is looking into it.” And Jim was going to stand back and let her. Even if every instinct he had wanted to drive in head first. Leading without doing was hard for Jim. The first three weeks of his captaincy, he had been involved in every aspect of the ship's business. Then he had passed out from exhaustion. Bones had bitched and called Pike. Jim had been ready to tell him that he had everything under control and it wouldn't happen again. Pike had laughed at him, the bastard. Then he had told Jim that if he ever felt like he was in control and steady the universe was about to fuck his shit up. Being Captain meant stepping back, letting other people do their work and trusting they would do it well. Jim had blinked and asked Pike if he had told Spock this, because he was trying to do Jim’s job along with the two he already had. Pike had laughed again and told Jim to fight Spock for it. It had taken a while but he had learned his lesson. He could delegate and his crew would do what needed doing.
Pike stared at him for a second them asked, “Want a suggestion?”
“Find out who did it, quick.”
Jim rolled his eyes and replied sarcastically, “Right, because I was thinking of waiting until after my annual pedicure.”
Pike ignored him. “You’re on your way to Ground Base 4. Once you get there whoever did this could jump ship.”
Jim nodded. “At least we’re already scheduled to get new crew. I’ll add three more to the personnel request.”
“Three?” Pike asked.
“One of the nurses may have been murdered.”
“Christ, Jim.” Pike thumped his desk. “Why am I only hearing about this now?”
Jim held up his hands defiantly. “It looked like a suicide. We just found evidence it could be murder.”
Pike's eyes softened to sympathetic.“Rough.” There was a moment of shared silence before Pike asked, “How many crew are you taking on?”
“Fifty one now.” Jim didn't even have to think.
“I thought you were still above ninety percent.” Pike rested his chin on his hand.
Jim sighed. “We are, barely. There are a few transfers.”
“Okay. You’ve done your duty and reported the murder. How is everything else going?”
Jim knew the question was a distraction and welcomed it. “Oh, you know. New life, new civilizations. We ran across a planet a few months back with sentient, ambulatory trees. It went pretty well until they decided Chekov wasn’t ripe and tried to plant a couple of yeomen. Then I sneezed during negotiations and had to explain pollen allergies to them. It was very embarrassing for everyone involved.”
“Did I ever tell you about the Ptolemy asteroid belt? Those plant people are more like shaped algae blooms. I had to figure out how to apologize for standing in Granddad. The Vicereine was very upset. The old man did seem to be put out by it.” Pike smirked.
Jim laughed. This job made you do crazy things.
“How’s the crew doing?”
“Pretty well. Scotty is Scotty, only more so. Sulu’s gung-ho about the football tournament. Bones is thinking about getting another specialization. Alien pathogens or psychology.”
“And how's Spock?”
“Confusing.” The problem with his chats with Pike, Jim reflected, was that he was too used to saying whatever the hell he was thinking.
Pike asked slyly, “Really?”
Jim waved him off. “Oh, he’s fine. He’s been working on a project to measure the subspace resonance of warp engines.”
“Good, he needs something to challenge him.” Pike appeared satisfied that Jim was taking care of his favorite Vulcan.
They chatted for a few more minutes about the ship then signed off. Jim felt better. His talks with Pike reminded him that while they were exploring new things every day, there were people who have done it before and survived.
Vick sent him a quick report at the end of alpha shift. There wasn’t much to it. The autopsy was underway, as was the search of the storage deck.
Her report the next day wasn’t much better. The autopsy had confirmed that Ensign Baloo had died of blunt force trauma to the head. There was nothing valuable missing from the storage decks. Neither Banes nor Carmicheal had confessed to anything. Based on the the time they left the quartermaster's office and the time they had reported the body, they would have had very little time to commit a murder, and not enough to hide the weapon and clean themselves up. So someone else must have done it. Banes and Carmicheal had been turned loose. Vick had ordered them to wear tracking badges until she was completely satisfied they weren’t involved. Vick was back to the process of elimination. She had Finn and Asher verifying the location of every single crew member. At least with Ensign Baloo they had a very specific time frame to check. Long story short, they were back to square one - if they had ever left it.
Vick didn’t have much to report the next morning either. It boiled down to 'the investigation is ongoing'. Jim spent that morning sitting on his hands, sometimes literally. Only occasionally did he have to keep a death grip on his chair arms to stop himself from comming Vick and making suggestions on what to look for.
He resolutely turned back to reviewing Scotty’s latest and greatest plan for improving the Enterprise. He did allow himself two more check-ins with Vick, once before lunch and once at the end of alpha shift. No change. The investigation was still ongoing.
Jim entered the mess hall and groaned. Apparently everyone had decided the comedy cabaret was the place to be. The tables had been rearranged to make room for a small stage at the end of the room. Someone had rigged it so there was a pool of light on the stage and dim beams shining on each table. The rest of the lights were off and low jazzy music was playing. All in all the mess looked passably like a hole in the wall night club. A crowded one. Jim sidled over to the bar and got a Rise ‘n Shine, virgin of course. Who could he cozy up to for an open seat who wouldn’t take it the wrong way?
Dr. Evans, Lieutenant Umba and Lieutenant Commander Baal were huddled in one corner, deep in what looked like a very private conversation. So that was a no-go. It looked like there was an empty table along the wall, but no, Yeoman Carmicheal was sitting there. All the other tables had at least three people, but he was alone, staring determinedly at the empty stage. Ah - Jim spotted Sulu, Scotty and Uhura at a table right in front of the stage. He wove his way through the table nodding and exchanging brief hellos with several crew members.
“Hi, guys.” He snagged a chair next to Sulu and across from the lovebirds.
Sulu smiled. “You're here. I’m so glad you made it.”
Jim sprawled into his chair. “The way Chekov's been obsessing for the last three weeks I couldn’t miss it.”
“The lad said he had plenty o’ laughs in store for us,” Scotty said. He had his arm curled around Uhura's waist while his other had was fiddling with his whiskey glass. Jim suspected it might actually contain real whiskey, instead of the synthehol being served at the bar.
Jim looked around the very full room. “So when does this shindig start?”
As if summoned by Jim's words, Yeoman Patil stepped up on to the stage. “Good evening, ladies and gentleman. Tonight it is my great pleasure to introduce you to not one, not three, but five up-and-coming comedians. Each will have fifteen minutes to show you what they’ve come up with. First up is Ensign Flanders. Let’s give him a big round of applause.”
Ensign Flanders, a tall thin man, bounced on to the stage and launched immediately into a quick series of jokes about the trials and tribulations of living on a starship. Jim laughed along with the rest of the audience at the jibes at the senior staff, and of course he approved of any joke that started with 'Captain Kirk is so hot that...'. All in all, Flanders wasn’t half bad. Ensign Flanders left the stage to hearty cheers.
During the break Sulu and Jim chatted about the upcoming football game. They tried to find a time for another practice. Sulu promised to check with the rest of the team about Saturday at 1600.
The next up was Petty Officer G’zzkh. His routine didn’t work out very well. Jim thought there was a culture barrier. If he was Grahkin he probably would have been rolling on the floor laughing. The one about the Caitain and the Andorian was great even without knowing exactly what a huulr was. He suspected Uhura knew; she laughed so much she had to brush away tears. G’zzkh looked a bit disheartened as he left the stage to polite applause.
Once again there was a break. Jim got up to refresh his drink. He noticed Evans, Umba and Baal were still intent on their conversation and Yeoman Carmicheal had been joined by Crewman Lightfoot. She was obviously asking questions, which Yeoman Carmicheal was answering curtly. When Jim got back to his table with his Fruity Flounder he found Spock and Bones had shown up. Predictably, there was an argument brewing.
“So you’re saying that they don’t have humor on Vulcan? Do they surgically remove it when you reach adulthood?” Bones asked sarcastically.
“Very little of post-reform literature could be classed as humor. It is considered morally inexcusable to take amusement from someone else’s pain nor is violence an acceptable method of problem solving.” Jim bit his lip to keep from smiling. He and Spock had been using violence to solve problems since they met.
“Not all humor is mean-spirited.” Bones gestured emphatically with the hand not holding his brandy.
“Indeed not, but a significant portion of what humans consider comedy involves one or more people being assaulted by other people.”
“I don’t think Spock is a Stooges fan, Bones,” said Jim, trying to hide his amusement.
Bones leaned back pointing a finger at Spock.“Well, what about the Marx brothers, you got a problem with them?”
“I assume you refer to the comedy of the absurd rather than the frequent maleficence in their films. The closest Vulcan literature comes are stories with bizarrely nonsensical plot lines, like 'Sov-mashau na'igen'.”
Uhura perked up. “I’ve read that one. It reminded me of 'Alice in Wonderland', or maybe 'Le Petit Prince'.”
The conversation was cut off when Chekov made his way on to the stage. He was wearing his ‘I can do this’ face. “Good evening, ladles and gentlemen.” Jim was sure he wasn’t the only one at his table groaning under his breath. “I grew up in Russia near a small town, and in this town lived a clockmaker. He made all sorts of clocks, spring, quartz, atomic, every kind you can think of. People, they came from miles and miles to buy his clocks. One day the governor came into his shop and asked him for his very best clock. So the clockmaker gave him a beautiful red one and said it was the very best in his shop. The governor took it and left, a week later the governor, he came back and said, ‘How can you call this your best clock? It keeps going faster and faster'. The clockmaker shrugged and told him, ‘Its a rushin' invention'.”
Jim and Sulu exchanged glances and broke down laughing. Bones had the widest grin on his face and Scotty was thumping the table with glee. The uproar caused by his first joke gave Chekov the momentum for a great performance. Once it was done and he bowed off to enthusiastic applause, Chekov came to sit with them, elbowing his way in between Scotty and Sulu. He got slaps on the back from Jim and Bones, a fist bump from Sulu and complements from Spock and Uhura. Ellings took the stage and gave a good show.
A few people drifted away during the last intermission, including Scotty and Uhura. Jim and Bones made a trip to the bar. Jim noticed that Yeoman Carmicheal’s table was now crowded with people listening intently to something Carmicheal was saying. Jim could make a good guess what he was telling them about. Better men than Jim had tried to stop the gossip mill on starships without success. Hell, Spock had tried on the Enterprise. Jim was sure that the details of Ensign Baloo's death would be well know by tomorrow morning.
Lieutenant Hagar was the last performer and his act fell flat. People started to leave pretty quickly after he finished. Bones seemed to think he just didn't have the comedic timing to make his jokes funny. Jim offered to walk Spock back to his quarters but the Vulcan mentioned he had work to complete in the chemistry labs. So Jim made his way back to the officers' quarters alone.
There was a senior staff meeting the next day. Each department head reported. Everyone was abnormally attentive when Vick was giving her report. She didn't have much to say. The pipe used to kill Ensign Baloo had been found in one of the storage bays but it didn't tell them much they didn't already know.
Scotty loitered brazenly as the meeting was breaking up. Jim was fairly sure Chekov was just hanging around to see if they could use a plucky Ensign in whatever scheme he thought the Captain and the Chief Engineer were cooking up. Jim shooed him out the door and turned to Scotty.
Scotty looked sideways at him. "Ah, Captain. You've not been improving my transporters, have you?"
Jim snorted. Whatever people thought, he wasn't that kind of crazy. "I wouldn't dare." He cocked his head. "Why? You find something?"
Scotty grimaced. "I was having another look at the pads I rigged up for the lecture and it should have worked. The matter equations were right for that first test."
"So, the people in the front row shouldn't have left smelling like orange juice?"
Scotty shook his head. “Nah, near as I can tell some junk code got activated in the transporter subroutines. And since I had just configured those pads that morning from the main transporters...”
Jim sucked in a breath through his teeth. “Nasty. Can you clean it up?”
“I already set the transporter code back to Starfleet standard. I’ve got Lieutenant Alvez running through all the safety tests now, but I've not fixed the wee ones the same. I'm tryin' to figure out what happened.”
Jim sighed. “Not many people would be nuts enough to mess with them. Half the ship's supplies and most of the crew come through the transporters.”
“That's why I'm checking with you, Captain.”
“I didn’t, and I wouldn't. Bones nearly gave me a concussion when I even mentioned it. Is it possible something went wrong during the last update?”
Scotty sucked his lip. “I suppose. I'll keep looking into it.”
Jim put his hand over his mouth. Now that was a horrible thought. “Any chance this was related to Ensign Swanson's death?” The smashed orange morphed into Swanson’s broken body in his mind.
Scotty grimaced and swallowed heavily. “Could be. I'll run a few simulations and see what I can find.”
After Scotty left and Jim was alone he took a moment to bury his face in his hands and breathe. He really hoped something, or someone, hadn’t FUBARed the transporters enough to kill someone. He already had a suspicious death and a murder to deal with. He set off to find Vick. She would need to talk to Scotty to get all the details.
Jim stood to the side of the room waiting for the mourners to arrive. Ensign Baloo’s funeral was just as full and silent as Ensign Bestine’s had been. This time the silence was watchful. He could see a hint of fear in each eye. Everyone was wondering if the murderer was sitting here with them. Ensign Banes and Yeoman Carmicheal had come together. They sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the first row of chairs. They were obviously aware of the whispers that surrounded them but didn’t acknowledge them. Vick, Finn, Asher and four other security officers were security team at attention along the back wall.
Jim stepped up to the podium where he would conduct the service. He scanned the crowd once more and noticed the fuchsia face of Dr. Lars. He was seated near the back. His eyes kept flicking back and forth over the rest of the mourners. He was looking for someone or something. In the very last row of chairs near the door was Lieutenant Umba, also scanning the room, but being a lot more subtle about it.
Kirk cleared his throat and began, “We come together today to mourn the passing of Emmanuel Baloo...” A quiet sobbing started. Ensign Cho had her face buried in her hands. Petty Officer Stein had his arm around her shoulder and was whispering in her ear. Jim continued the service, trying not to draw attention to her grief.
If Madeline ever had to describe the Captain she would probably use the phrase 'crazy like a fox'. At first she didn’t know what to think of him, only that Chief of Security on the Enterprise was a step up from her assignment on the USS Resz. The Enterprise was an exploration vessel. The Resz was just a short-haul freighter. She had been bored with the routine supply runs the Resz got. The most interesting thing that happened on that assignment was a brawl between some crewmen and the local thugs about who would be the first to steal the supplies the Resz was delivering to Nicus 2.
Well, if she wanted adventure and excitement, the Enterprise was certainly the place to find it. She had seen the moons rise over the Pillars of Pertrak, been a guest at the Centennial Games on Serrik and been shot at by a staggering number of people. And now she found herself walking into a remote section of Engineering based on a wild hunch. She blamed the Captain for those last two. He saw the universe in a different way and spending any amount of time with him started to change your view of the universe too. She was pretty sure she would have never have had this hunch if she hadn’t met James T. Kirk, and certainly not felt compelled to chase it down. All she had was some distortion on a transmission and an offhand comment made months ago. She glanced at her handheld. A couple hundred meters across this deck then a left. She hurried past the massive pipes that pumped air, water and other essentials throughout the machinery of the ship. This wasn’t a high-traffic area. The engineers did daily walk-throughs to check for problems but even they didn’t go to the deepest areas often - which was why that was where she was heading. At least no-one would be there to witness her embarrassment when she gave up on this harebrained idea and went to catch the second half of 'Ark of Avalon' in rec room A.
The floor turned from solid plate to grated walkways. The clanging of her footsteps was swallowed up by the bone-tingling hum of the engines. She paused, hand planted firmly on the rail, to look at the dizzying drop. It reminded her of looking down on a waterfall, all the pipes gurgling and going down, down, down. There was a rush of air on her neck. A sharp pain in her wrist and a brutal shove between her shoulders. She toppled over the railing. As the floor rushed toward her she had time to think, ‘Idiot’.
Jim had just set his breakfast tray down next to Spock’s when he saw Lieutenant Finn at the door. He had deep worry lines around his eyes. Once he spotted Jim, he quickly made his way over to him, looking furtively around the mess.
“Shit,” Jim muttered.
“In all probability, correct,” Spock agreed as he noticed Lieutenant.
Finn sounded panicked. “Captain, I can’t find...”
Oh, gods. Jim interrupted him before he got any further, “Lieutenant, is this a conversation we should have in private?”
Finn’s eyes widened. “Yes, sir.”
Jim looked down at his tray. He tucked the bacon between the toast and wrapped the impromptu sandwich in a napkin. “Come on. Conference room six should be open.” Finn followed Jim and Spock out, wringing his hands.
When the door to the conference room closed behind them both Jim and Spock looked at Lieutenant Finn expectantly. Finn was staring at his hands.
Jim prompted, “Lieutenant, Why'd you need to talk to me? ”
“Well, sir, I...we can’t find Lieutenant Commander Vick. She usually gets gamma shift’s final report but today she didn’t come. Reese went along to her quarters but she wasn’t there. So, Kay got me. We’ve looked everywhere she might be and still haven’t found her. I wanted to get your permission to start a shipwide search, sir.”
Jim and Spock exchanged glances. “Since Vick is a member of the senior staff, Mr. Spock and I will coordinate the search.”
Finn bobbed his head. “Thank you, sir.”
“I want you to talk to the other security personnel and make up a map of where you’ve searched and when. Mr. Spock, ask the communications officer on duty to send out a shipwide broadcast asking Vick to check in.”
Lieutenant Finn brightened. “You think she just got busy somewhere, sir?”
Jim gave him a tight smile. “I hope so. Dismissed.”
Finn snapped a salute and left. Spock cocked his head. “You hope so.”
Jim let the smile drop. “I do. I just don’t think its very likely.”
Spock nodded. “I will contact the communications officer. Shall I ask them to start configuring communicators for a shipwide search?”
“Yes.” Jim took a bite of his bacon sandwich. It was only breakfast time and already the day was doing downhill.
Lieutenant Finn was back in the conference room fifteen minutes later with two other security officers in tow. The three pulled up a map of the Enterprise and started marking off sections. The shipwide broadcast had yielded no results. In another half hour and Jim planned to make another broadcast, asking the crew to provide any information they could on Lieutenant Commander Vick’s whereabouts. Then the cat would be well and truly out of the bag about the missing Chief of Security. Most of the crew probably suspected already.
Finn tentatively stepped up next to him. “Sir?”
“We’ve marked out where we searched.”
Jim scanned the map. Light yellow squares shaded a tiny fraction of the ship. It looked like they had searched the obvious places; the Security department admin area including Vick’s office. They had looked in Vick’s quarters, the mess, the gym. They had poked their heads into a couple of the rec rooms as well, the bridge, the armory, Sickbay, Jim office. It was a fair start. There was a yellow smudge in the storage bay. He tapped it with his finger.
Lieutenant Finn nervously told him, “We checked where Baloo was killed. I though maybe she would have gone there to have another look.”
Jim started tracing another smudge of yellow. “Good thought. And the transporters?”
“Standard procedure, sir. All transporter activity is monitored so we checked with the techs.”
Jim nodded. Not that there was anywhere to transport to in this part of space. “Good. That still leaves a lot of area left to cover. What was her last logged access point?”
Finn slapped his hand to his forehead. “I didn’t look, sir. I’m sorry, I didn’t think of that. I'm really, really.”
Jim cut him off, “Why don't you do it now, Lieutenant?”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Finn flushed as he issued the commands on the desktop terminal. “It looks like she went into Engineering around 2000 hours last night, sir.” He swallowed. “No record of her leaving.”
Jim grimaced. “Okay, so she either left through the Jefferies tubes or she’s still there.” He poked at the comm console. “This is Kirk, get me Engineering.”
“Engineering. This is Ensign Sun.”
“Ensign, can you check if anyone down there seen Lieutenant Commander Vick in the last twelve hours?”
“I’ll check, sir, but most of gamma shift is off duty right now.”
Jim cut the comm and turned back to Finn. “Lieutenant, I want you to take a team and check the main areas in Engineering. Warp core, life support, deflector array.” Finn turned to go. “And ask people if they’ve seen anything suspicious. There’s no point in keeping this quiet any more.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Finn hurried out with the two other security officers on his heels.
“Spock, how are we doing for search teams?” Spock had take over the task with his usual efficiency.
“Ten four-person teams, six of those have one member of Engineering department. I assume that is where we will focus our search.”
“Yeah, we’ll start there.” Jim headed out the door. “I’d better warn Scotty.”
By 1100 they had all the search teams canvassing Engineering. Each team had been issued a communicator and a PADD with direct access to the search map. Jim had been sitting with Scotty watching it slowly turn more and more yellow. Scotty had been invaluable for pointing out the places that engineers frequently went and where they didn’t.
He commented that, “If I were ever looking for some place to hide a body, Captain, I'd dump it down one of the exhaust shafts. It would vaporize in an instant.”
“You’ve thought about it?” Jim wasn't really surprised. Scotty took people attacking his engines very seriously.
“It came up, in a strictly hypothetical manner, at one of the Engineering 'social' events.”
Ensign Himshe had taken over coordinating the search parties’ communication. “Captain, team nine is reporting they found something.”
Jim started thumbing at his PADD. “Team nine, that’s..”
“That’s Keenser’s team. They're in the pipes.” Scotty was already bounding away.
Jim peered over the railing, considering the mass of pipes. It was an impressive drop, even after he'd spaced jumped onto a Romulan mining platform. At the bottom of the well of pipes he could make out a small patch of red and black. He turned to Lieutenant Gray, Ensign Vasquez and Petty Officer Huun. “Where’s Lieutenant Keenser?”
“Down there, sir,” Gray replied smartly.
Jim looked back in time to see the red and black shape divide into two. “How did he get down there?”
“He’s always climbing all over the place,” Scotty grumbled.
Quicker than Jim expected, Keenser had scaled the wall and stood on the walkway. “It’s Vick, Captain. She's dead.”
“Damn.” He had pretty much been expecting this for the last three hours. “Okay, how are we going to get down there? Petty Officer Huun, have Ensign Himshe recall the search teams. Ask her to have Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock meet us here. Scotty, ideas on how to get us down there or her up here?”
Scotty sucked his lip. “Grav pads. We can wire a pad between two generators and lower one down.”
“Let's do it.”
In short order the grav pad was set up and Bones, Spock and Lieutenant Finn had arrived. Jim gave Finn a minute then gently ordered him to round up a security team to document the scene. He stood with Spock and Bones on either side, looking down. “What do you figure?”
“A fall from this height would most certainly be fatal,” said Spock.
“It wouldn’t take much to help someone over,” Bones added.
Jim turned towards the grav pads. “Come on, let’s get down there.”
“Strictly speaking, Lieutenant Finn, as Lieutenant Commander Vick’s second, should handle the investigation,” Spock said from behind him.
Jim spun on his heel to face his first officer.“My chief security officer died in the course of an active investigation. Its my duty as Captain to protect my crew and that means taking over this investigation.”
“Paint a big target on your back, you mean.” Bones was scowling.
“I’m not going to have anyone take risks that I’m not willing to.” He lowered his voice. “You saw the kid. He’s barely keeping it together.”
Bones looked past around him at Spock. “Spock, are you going to let Jim run headlong after a murderer?”
“I see no evidence that he would be in significantly more danger should he investigate. Whoever they are, they are able to traverse the ship unhindered.” Spock seemed calm but the muscles in his jaw were tight.
“You’re just going to let him stick his pretty little nose in everywhere?” Bones demanded.
“I am the Captain. This is my decision,” Jim told them both, annoyed.
Spock shifted closer to him. “As the First Officer it is my duty to ensure the Captain’s safety. The most effective way to do this is to work with him to determine what has been going on and who is responsible.”
“So you're both going to be nosing around. Regular Sampson and Hayes, you two.” Bones gave in. “Which I guess makes me Rembrandt. Always hated his hair. Let’s get down there. That body isn’t getting any fresher.”
After a day slogging through Engineering they didn’t know much more. So far there was nothing inconsistent with a fall. Bones said she had probably died shortly after 2000. So she had walked out here and then what? Had she planned to meet someone? He and Spock hung around long enough to question the engineers on beta shift. Chief Petty Officer Lucca said she might have seen Vick on her way in but she couldn’t be sure. Jim had developed a stabbing headache from the bone-rattling hum in the section of Engineering he'd been searching, so he suggested to Spock that they start afresh on Vick’s notes the next day.
Jim wasn’t sure why Spock had decided involve himself in the investigation. Spock was a master of half-truths, or at least half-answers. Officer-ly concern for his captain? Sure. A more personal concern for Jim’s safety? Maybe. Curiosity? Probably. A desire to find the culprit and feel safe again? Certainly. A deep un-professed love for Jim? Probably not. Any of, or all of, those reasons. Jim couldn’t decipher Spock’s motives. It would be nice to have him around. Deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, Jim was sure Spock could rock them all.
Jim gave Lieutenant Uhura the conn for alpha shift. He had arranged to meet Spock outside Vick’s office that morning. Spock was rather remarkably late. Jim loitered in the department common area. He had sent Finn on his way to do the routine security tasks for the ship, then struck up a conversation with Ensign Reese. Reese was shaken by his superior’s death but willing enough to talk about what she had done in the last couple of days. “She had been working on Ensign Baloo’s death, sir. And the bad meds. She had Asher running down crew locations when Ensign Baloo died. He’d have the list. The meds, well, at first she wanted Dr. Lars removed from duty but they weren’t all packed by him. Dr. McCoy is treating it as accidental contamination. The case was still open but Vick was spending her time on Ensign Baloo’s death, to be honest.”
“And Ensign Swanson’s death?” Jim had managed a few words with her about it before Baloo's funeral.
“Had she mentioned it?” Reese slowly shook his head. Spock came into the common area then. He was walking so briskly he was almost jogging. “Okay. Ah, Spock, there you are.”
“You’re late.” Jim chortled. He rarely had a change to say that while Spock had taken Vulcan non-delight in telling him that during their first few months.
“I apologize. I was detained in the chemistry lab.”
Jim rapped his knuckles on Reese’s desk. “Thank, Ensign Reese.” He turned toward Vick’s office. “Come on, Spock, let’s get started.”
Jim had never seen Vick’s office before. The reports were routed to him or Vick met him at his office so he hadn't come down here. The best description he could think of was 'mess'. It looked like someone had take a box of PADD and tossed them all over. He poked his head out. “Ensign Reese?”
“Did her office always...?” Kirk wasn't sure how to phrase his question politely.
Reese smiled. “Yes, sir. She said it helped her think.”
“So, not attacked by a cyclone beast?” He checked.
Reese straightened. “Not tossed in an attempt for a criminal to retrieve a vital piece of evidence?”
“No, sir. Finn and I are the only ones who’ve been in there since Lieutenant Commander Vick.”
“Right.” Jim went back in and rubbed his hands together. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”
“Extreme disorder.” Spock was picking his way across the room taking care not to step on any of the PADDs. “I am unclear how such disorder can contribute to coherent thought.”
“Order is only a matter of how you look at things.”
Spock nudged a flimsy with his foot. “I am looking down.”
“You take that pile, I’ll take this one, and we'll start sorting by person.” Jim grabbed a stack from the floor. “I’ve got Ensign Bestine’s preliminary autopsy, the roster for the football teams and the shift rota for the next month.” He looked around but couldn’t find a large enough space to start a new pile. He settled for sweeping the files away from the center of the floor. He set his files down, saying, “Bestine, general and Security business. What do you have?”
“Lieutenant Quing’s psychological evaluation along with Yeoman Carmicheal’s and some holos of Ensign Bestine’s quarters when her body was found.” Spock dropped Carmicheal’s file on a clear bit of floor to start a new pile, and the others on top of the autopsy report.
Jim grabbed another stack for himself. “Inventory of items missing from storage, Baloo’s tox screen - clean, list of tampered-with medications, who got them and when.” he grimaced. “Holos from the scene of Baloo’s murder, with notes on blood spatter analysis.”
“Various crew members locations at the time of Ensign Baloo’s murder, an attempt to reconstruct Dr. Lars’ movements between four and eight weeks ago. A recipe for clams de beurre rigellian, an inventory of Ensign Bestine’s quarters.” Spock listed as he set each in its appropriate pile.
They went back and forth like this for a while. Jim declared a break when everything on the floor was in neat piles. Spock stood while Jim propped himself on the edge of Vick’s desk. That unbalanced one of the haphazard piles on the desk, which fell onto the chair then slid on to the floor with a gentle whoosh. Spock raised an eyebrow but Jim kept his back to the new mess. They had five piles: Bestine, Baloo, Security paperwork, general ship's stuff and personal. “So what do we know?”
“Earth is spherical in shape.” Spock deadpanned.
“Ha, ha. What do we know that we didn’t know an hour ago?”
“Someone has removed three lengths of standard phase cabling from the storage bay without completing the requisite paperwork.”
Jim tilted his head. “Do you think it means something?”
“Unlikely, as it appears to have been removed at least ten weeks prior to Ensign Baloo’s death.”
Jim chewed his lip. “So how do we figure out what matters?”
“I do not have an answer. We should start by assuming that all of it does, then attempt to put it all into context.”
“Let’s get the rest of this sorted out.” He grabbed the files that had fallen to the floor. “Report on Kumba 6-4 away mission.” Jim started a sixth pile. “And Swanson’s personnel file. A treatise on forensic acoustics and details of cyanide poisoning.”
They had barely finished clearing the desk when Lieutenant Finn came in. He glanced around then stared at his feet. “Captain, here’s the report on where the Lieutenant Commander’s body was found, and Dr. McCoy,” he swallowed, “should be done with the autopsy any time now.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
Once the door had shut Jim dropped the new files down to start a seventh pile. “So, three suspicious deaths and one outright murder.”
Vick’s office wasn't big enough for the lives of six people and there wasn’t room to pace. Jim commandeered conference room nine and they moved everything there. It was one of the bigger rooms, with a long oblong table. Jim put each person’s files in front of one of the chairs. He sat at the head of the table and stared at them for several minutes before Spock spoke. “Shall we start by outlining our assumptions?”
“Yeah, that. Okay. Should we assume that some or all of these deaths are related?”
“Your reasoning?” Asked Spock, adding an eyebrow for effect.
Jim rolled his eyes. “Do you believe we had four unrelated deaths in less than a month of smooth sailing?”
“Statistically unlikely but not impossible.” Spock countered.
Jim shot back. “One of those deaths was that of the person who was investigating the other deaths.”
“Point. If we assume they are related we must assume an intelligent force arranging them.”
Jim waged a finger at him. “The Killashandra encountered an anti-probability field where the normal laws of probability didn’t apply.” He could play Spock's game.
“That was localized to a single UA and the Enterprise has traveled several thousand times that distance in the last three weeks. There have been no reports of similar anomalies in this area, and,” Spock was clearly getting ready for the coup de grâce, “there is at the moment no evidence that the anti-probability field is not the work of an intelligent force.”
“So we will assume that more than one of the deaths are the work of an intelligent force. But why kill anyone?”
“Let us finish our assumptions.”
Jim frowned and tossed off, “The force is corporeal and therefore on board the ship.”
“That assumption is more likely if Ensign Baloo’s death is related to the others. The obvious second actor does make it inconsistent with the other deaths.”
“Okay, let’s focus on the others. Why would someone want to kill people but make it look like accidents?”
“To avoid investigation as long as possible. Ensign Baloo’s death was investigated immediately whereas Ensign Bestine’s was not treated with the same urgency. We have only recently started questioning Ensign Swanson’s death.”
“So why these people?”
“We will need to determine a commonality. With so many deaths it is likely we can find something of statistical significance.”
They set to it, each taking two of the personnel files. “Lieutenant Commander Vick and Ensign Swanson both joined the crew at the beginning of the five year mission,” Spock said gently, examining the PADD on the table.
“Bestine and Baloo were both on board for the Narada incident. Let’s focus on after the start of the five year mission. If we don’t find anything we can go back further,” Jim replied.
Spock cocked his head at Jim. “Ensigns Bestine, Baloo and Swanson overlapped years at the Academy.”
Spock did have a fair point that this whole thing might have its roots a couple of years and a million light years away. “Fine. I’ll send a transmission to Willie at the Academy, beg for some of the gossip about them.”
Spock appeared appeased and moved on to the next common fact he found. “Bestine and Baloo took shore leave on New Toulouse.”
Jim shook his head. “So did Vick and Swanson and half the crew.” Not him or Spock they had been making nice with the ruling council. Sulu and Uhura had come back with some fun stories though.
And on it went as they continued trying to find links between the four. Bones stopped by to deliver Vick’s autopsy report. He slouched in a chair not by one of the piles of personal records. “No surprise that her fatal injuries were consistent with a fall from a height. I'm going to run a tox panel on her to be sure, but all evidence was that she was conscious when she went over the railing.” Bones also mentioned in a heavy handed way that Dr. Evans thought it would be better for ship morale if the Captain would show his face some. Let the crew see their fearless leader. He didn't linger, heading off muttering about ghouls.
Two hours into beta shift they decided to call it a night. “I think I’m going cross-eyed from rereading those things.” Jim rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Let’s get some supper.”
“I had planned to forgo the meal so I could arrive on time for the concert this evening.”
“Oh, right, that’s tonight. We still have a half-hour. We could grab a bite and still be on time.”
Spock nodded. “Unless you would prefer to continue investigating.”
Jim shook his head. “I need to let it stew for a while. And, like Dr. Evans says, the crew will wonder if we disappear.”
When they arrived the mess was brimming with people, most of them talking over empty trays. 'Come for the food, stay for the gossip,' Jim though wryly. He felt eyes on him as he got his food. Whenever he was under scrutiny he always had the urge to give people something to watch. Today he resisted doing a pirouette or busting out the first verse of ‘I been gone again’. A attentive silence surrounded him and Spock as they sat down. He would bet that every ear in the place was listening for any tidbit of information.
“So, Spock, how about this weather we’re having?”
“Captain, you know as well as I that space is not subject to planetary climate variations.” The pressure of listening ears faded as it was clear the Captain and the first officer weren’t going to discuss anything interesting.
The same rec room Scotty had given his lecture in had been transformed into a concert hall for the evening. The long table had been removed from the dais and replaced with music stands and chairs for the four performers. Behind it red and gold fabric was hung from floor to ceiling. The concert hall was empty compared to the mess. Maybe a third of the sixty seats were occupied.
They arrived just in time to find seats before the lights dimmed and the performers filed onto the stage; Ensign Cho with a flute, Petty Officer Mercer with an oboe, Chief Petty Officer Robitaille with a bassoon and a crewman Jim recognized but couldn’t name with a clarinet. Ensign Cho looked like she was going to throw up as she stepped forward. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight we will be playing the first, third and ninth movements of Sunset on the Sadalbari. We would like to dedicate the performance to Ensign Emmanuel Baloo. He was a good friend and we miss him.” There was a smattering of applause led by a crewman in the front row, the same one Jim had seen comforting Ensign Cho at Baloo’s funeral.
Ensign Cho sat down and after a short pause they all took up their instruments. The music ebbed and swirled through the hall. Jim lost himself in it for a while. Letting his brain pick out the patterns of the notes and anticipate the musical themes. He glanced over once or twice to see Spock, eyes closed, head tilted, completely absorbed in the music and breathtakingly beautiful in his serenity. Too soon the music came to an end. Jim was watching when Spock’s eyes fluttered open. He really wanted to kiss him. Spock didn’t lose his mellow look when he noticed Jim staring at him.
The applause started then, with a couple of whistles from the back. Jim’s attention jerked back to the performers as they took their bows. With the show done the divide between performers and audience dissolved. Ensign Stein had immediately jumped up and started congratulating Ensign Cho, who looked a lot less like she was going to be sick now that the concert was over. Spock fell into step with Jim as he made his way to the stage to complement the group himself.
Mercer accepted Jim’s praise with a near euphoric attitude, Robitaille with the calm of an experienced performer. Jim nodded to the clarinetist, who was surrounded by audience members and engaged in a lively conversation. Ensign Stein was still at Ensign Cho’s side when they made their way to her. “Ensign Cho, it was an amazing concert. Thank you so much for sharing your talent with us this evening.”
“Thank you, Captain.” She blushed. “Randy was actually the one who convinced me to. I was really nervous.”
“You performed with an impressive degree of accuracy.” Spock added.
Ensign Cho looked a little bewildered. She probably wasn’t used to complements Vulcan-style. “It is unfortunate that more crew members did not take the opportunity to observe.”
“Actually, sir, I’m kind of glad they didn’t. I’m not sure I would have been able to play if everyone had been here.” She bit her lip. “I’m sure you’ll have a full house for your concert, Commander. Ashley says that everyone’s looking forward to it.”
“Thank you, Ensign.” They continued to chat about the performance while Jim stared at Spock. Spock was performing in one of the concerts? Why hadn’t he told Jim? He ate two meals a day with this guy and shared the bridge at least three shifts a week. Surely it would have come up that Spock played an instrument; that he was going to play it for the crew. Unless Spock was deliberately keeping it from him. Spock had to know that Jim would show up if he knew. Did Spock not want him there? What the hell?
He zoned back into the conversation as Ensign Cho was saying, “Yes, that’s why we went with red, not the green we had originally planned.”
“Well, it looks very nice. If you’ll excuse me, Ensign Cho, Commander.” Stupid hard-to-read Vulcans. Jim was almost to the door before Spock caught up with him.
“Captain, are you well?”
“Peachy, Commander.” Jim stretched his lips in something that might have been a grin.
Spock kept pace with him and after a second said, “I do not believe you are telling the truth.”
“Really?” The not-grin had a lot more tooth in it now.
“While I am not an expert on human communication, Ensign Cho did not seem to think it entirely appropriate to say the decor was very nice when the color had been modified to honor a dead friend.”
Jim winced. Not an inexcusable faux pas, but it must have been clear he wasn’t paying attention. “I’ll think of something better to say about the curtains at your concert, if I show up.” Jim knew it was petty and childish but that was how he was feeling.
Spock stared at him for a second then asked. “You are upset that I am giving a concert?”
“I’m upset you didn’t tell me.” Jim hands curled into fists.
“It did not come up in conversation.”
“No Spock, you got what you wanted, a Jim-free concert. Because I won’t be showing up.” By then the conversation had taken them out of the rec area and to the turbolift. Jim darted inside and hit the close button. “Good night, Commander.”
When Jim got back to his quarters he threw himself onto the bed to sulk. He knew he was acting like a teenager but he needed to get his angst out now so he could face his first officer like a man tomorrow morning. He thought he had been reading Spock right. That their strange friendship would, could, become a more intimate relationship. After all, they seemed to have been orbiting each other for the past three weeks. When Jim wasn’t seeking Spock out, Spock seemed to find him. That’s what it had felt like, at least. Maybe Spock had just been doing his own thing and on a ship of less than four hundred people they just happened to overlap with Jim’s things. With a Vulcan’s abhorrence of murder, Spock injecting himself into the investigation might have been a cultural reaction, not a personal one.
Jim buried his face in his pillow. Where was a human-to-Vulcan translator when he needed one? Maybe he should ask Uhura. Maybe not.
He grumpily got ready for bed. He fell asleep surprisingly easily but it wasn’t a restful night. He dreamed he was chasing a funeral dirge through darkness. He woke sweating. When he dropped off again the dirge led him to the painting with all its shifting faces. This time Lieutenant Commander Vick’s face, neck at an impossible angle, joined the parade. Ensign Bestine was there as well, still and pinker than he remembered. Lieutenant Quing’s eyes were open, staring through him. He caught flashes of red too, but didn’t turn to look. He didn’t want to see Ensign Baloo’s smashed face with its half-open, cloudy green eyes.
Ensign Branson Garrett stepped in to the storage area-come-art gallery. There was a maintenance request for a couple of the holo projectors. It seemed like they where always going out. Ensign Singh had been very passionate in the request and Branson could respect that. Phrases like 'artistic truism' and 'disruptive of the conversation between the artist and the observer through the medium of light and color' had been used. Garrett might keep a copy when he was done with the request. It would remind him there were other men with a appreciation for language in the service.
He looked down at the notes. So the problem was with the 'Bird of Paradise' and 'Watchful'. He surveyed the room. While the works were inspiring invocations of the deepest human soul none here resembled a bird or a watcher. He set off around the room, checking the tag next to each piece.
He found the 'Bird of Paradise' in the first room. It was sinuous lines of red, pink, fuchsia and gold intertwined to make a fantastical winged creature. The flight of a phoenix caught in light. He watched it until he saw the tremor of purple light across one of the wings. Ensign Ylnets was the name on the card. Using the panel pick he popped the panel below the holo revealing the innards. The image coil looked good. So did the phase regulator. Must be a bad connection into the central grid. Working by feel he found the junction box and the power supply. Sliding two figures up the cord he gave a little shove. It slid more firmly into place. Sitting back on his heels he looked at the bird again. The wing blazed a clean orange. He replaced the panel and got up.
Making his way around the room he noticed that the seascape seemed to be flickering. He didn't find 'Watchful' in the front room so he ventured onward. He would check that one on his way out.
He passed an animation of a strong woman and a wall hanging with geometric patterns picked out in purple. Finally he came across the piece, 'Watchful' by Elizabeth Daws. So this was what his lovely lady Elizabeth had been so proud of. He stood back taking in the whites, muted grays and soft blacks. He saw a face in the corner of his eye but when he looked to the holo there was only two smudges of black and a brighter white blur. He would have to ask her how she had conjured faces into the amorphous shapes. They had made plans to walk through the exhibit on Thursday. She would get animated and she would probably blush prettily. He decided he wouldn’t tell her he had already seen it. He’d have her introduce him to her holo herself.
Ensign Singh's note said that this one had been skipping pixels, making the center lose contrast. Probably another bad connection. He pulled the access panel and did a quick check. The power cable was good but it looked like the image coil was loose this time. He got his hand around the back of it and the cable. He was pressing them together when he registered a hair thin wire running along the coil. As the plug slid into place his world became black fire.
Annelee wasn't quiet sure what to do with the half shift free she'd just got. Lieutenant Umba had said they wouldn't need her in the anthropology lab this afternoon. Apparently Doken and Freiday had decided today was a good day to examine the artifacts they had picked up on Vbercov. They had had her help arrange each of the half-ton stoneware cylinders on special stands before shooing her off.
She knew it made sense. Those two had been working on reading the writing system for months and they had been on the away team that explored the ruins and retrieved the cylinders. It wasn't like anyone else could work in that lab while they studied them either. The ink inside the cylinders had strange photo-phobic properties and would only glow in in the absence of light.
Still, it stung a bit to be dismissed. Once she completed her degree she could get commissioned and have projects of her own, not just help on other people's.
But that still left her with the question of what to do with her shift.
Doken had been talking about the art gallery. Not so much about the pieces themselves, but the motivation for creating one now, and how the crew were reacting to their mortality. Even if the art was crap it could be an interesting case study in modern anthropology.
Mind made up, she headed to deck C, nodding to Teresa as they passed in the hall. When she entered the room she took in the holos and sculptures at a glance. A tech was fiddling with the panel beside a seascape. He nodded to Annelee but didn't look up from his work. Deciding she wasn't in the mood to be around other people just now, she made her way to the back of the room where she could see another area. When she turned the corner she saw a red and black lump on the floor. Her first thought was that a tapestry had come off the wall, or maybe a statue had fallen over. It was only as she got closer that she realized it was a person, a body. She tried to scream but all that came out was a choked gurgle as something heavy slammed into the base of her skull and continued upward. She fell to her hands and knees. Her face was close enough to the body on the floor to smell charred flesh. The dead man's insignia swam and grew in her vision before blackness overwhelmed everything.
Jim woke up late and skipped breakfast the next morning. Spock was already in conference room nine when he got there and he looked like he had something to say.
Jim didn't let him start. "So I figure we should take another look at the victims' friends and enemies. There might not be a direct connection between them all but they might all be connected to one person."
Spock replied stiffly, “I wasn't aware anyone in the crew had enemies aboard.”
“They were murdered, Spock. Of course they had enemies,” Jim told him.
Spock stared at him for a moment then decided to move the conversation on. "Do you wish to assume there is a single perpetrator?"
"Until we have good reason to think otherwise. Yeah, I think we should." Jim sighed.
"I will not challenge the assumption." Spock was looking at his hands where they rested on the table. Jim stared at Spock's bowed head. His pose reminded Jim how hard this must be for Spock. That Spock had to acknowledge there was a killer aboard must have pained him to his Vulcan soul. Spock wouldn't challenge the assumption because he didn't want to think that there were many killers on the Enterprise. Jim wanted to hug him.
Shaking himself he said, "Anyway, I think we need to start working on this in a different way. We need to get positive indications that someone is involved. The process of elimination isn't going to get us very far."
"As you say." Spock met Jim's eyes and nodded.
Since there was next to nothing on the table about Vick or Swanson, Jim asked Ensign Asher to join them. He sat on the edge of his chair, seemingly ready to spring at the slightest command.
Jim started, with a pleasant smile, "Ensign, what can you tell me about Lieutenant Commander Vick?"
"She was Lieutenant Commander on the Resz before she transferred here, sir. She had been in security her whole career. She had certifications in knife and unarmed combat. She was seventy-eight sessions for weapons, well above the required fifty." Asher nodded to himself.
"What about her personal life?” Jim prodded. The duty records for the victims hadn't yielded any shared experience between the four.
Asher looked sideways at him and lowered his voice even though it was just the three of them. “Most of this is speculation and gossip, sir.” Jim gave him a little 'go on' gesture with a flick of his fingers. “I think she had been involved with a few people on the Resz but nothing serious. She hit it off with Lieutenant Commander Baal pretty soon after she came on board. I think they were serious for a while. Maybe two months ago, it ended. I’m not sure which of them did the ending. The Commander wasn’t exactly happy about it, but she wasn’t crying her eyes out either.”
“Do you know if she have many friends?”
“A couple that she corresponded with, I think. She always knew what was going on on the Lazarus and the Hoshi. Not sure who or how she knew them.” Asher's eyes flicked to Spock and back to Jim.
Spock finally joined in the conversation. “What about on board the Enterprise?”
Asher shrugged. “She spent a lot of time with the other security officers, sir. I think she saw herself as a mentor for a lot of us. Other than that she sparred with Quartermaster Motto pretty regularly.”
Motto was Baloo's boss so Jim asked. “Do you know if she ever talked to Ensign Baloo?”
“I don’t know, sir,” Asher replied.
“Okay. What about Ensign Swanson? What was he like?”
Asher sucked in his cheeks. “Kind of an odd duck, sir. I mean, he was always professional but never really more than that. Pretty quiet, too. I pulled guard duty with him a few times and he could go for hours without talking. He must have had something interesting going on inside his head.” Jim leaned back mulling that over. It was odd. Most departments were as thick as thieves after a few months in close quarters.
“What about his acquaintances, Ensign Asher?” Spock questioned during the pause.
“I think he palled around with a bunch of different people but I’m not sure how close they were.” Again, Asher shrugged.
“Like who?” Jim asked making sure he made eye contact.
“Some of the Engineers, I think some of the techs too. We joked a bit that he had missed a turn at the Academy and went down the wrong track.”
“And how did Ensign Swanson respond to such jokes?”
“He did seem to care,” Asher answered, a touch defensively.
“Can you think of anyone who would know more about either of them?” He and Spock would need more information to work with.
Asher looked at the ceiling while thinking it over. “For Vick, Baal or Motto; for Swanson, Finn might know some more, or maybe Reese. I think they had more shifts with him than I did.”
“Thanks, Ensign, keep it-”
“-quiet, sir, of course.” Asher nodded sharply.
“Dismissed.” Jim watched him go. “He seems smart. Okay, let’s look at Baloo’s and Bestine's files and see what Vick found out about their friends.” He flipped on the PADD. “Malea Bestine. Friends with Lieutenant Quing. Well-liked by the rest of the medical staff. Might have had something going with Ensign Garrett. There’s a note that Ensign Janis was reprimanded for a verbal altercation she had with Bestine.”
Spock looked at the other PADD in a way Jim knew meant he had it memorized. “Ensign Baloo is reported to have had a mildly antagonistic relationship with Ensign Randall Stein. Probably due to their friendship with Ensign Cho. In general he was well-liked by the others working with the quartermaster. He may or may not have had a friendship terminate with Ensign Garrett in the last one-point-five months.”
“Did Vick interview Motto about it?”
“What about this Ensign Garrett? Asher said that Swanson hung out with a lot of the techs. It's possible that Swanson knew him too.” Jim drummed his fingers on the table.
“It is worth interviewing him. He may know if another connection exists between Ensigns Baloo, Bestine, and Swanson.”
Jim pressed down the comm on the table. “Connect me with Security.” There was a moment of white noise before the reply. As much as Jim itched to chase down Garrett on his own, he knew he needed to delegate.
“Lieutenant Finn here.” Come the tinny response.
“Lieutenant Finn, I need you to locate Ensign Garrett for me and bring him to conference room nine.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Jim cut the comm and swiveled toward Spock. “What else have we got?”
“Lieutenant Commander Vick was found in Engineering and Ensign Swanson may have had friends there,” Spock responded.
Jim wrinkled his nose. “Somebody could have thought Vick was responsible for his death and pushed her into the pipes as revenge?” But that didn’t feel right.
“Lieutenant Commander Vick may have discovered some maleficence when she started investigating his death. She may have entered Engineering looking for evidence, and been killed to prevent her from finding anything. Or she may have been there for a completely unrelated reason.”
“If she was looking for something did she find it?”
“We have very little evidence from which to speculate. If she was meeting someone it was likely the murderer since no-one has come forward to claim they were going to met. It is unlikely she would be there for personal reasons. So she was probably there in a professional capacity.”
“Hmm.” Jim leaned back to study the ceiling.
“There was nothing on her body that, at first investigation, appears to be evidence.”
“So if she found anything the killer must have taken it off her before she went over.”
Spock cocked his head. “On what do you base that assumption?”
“How would they have gotten down there? It took us hours to retrieve the body even with the grav pad.”
“Lieutenant Keenser scaled the distance in 7.43 minutes. And the body was unattended for sixteen hours.”
“His species is designed for it. Anyway, the person who bashed Baloo’s head in was about the same height as he was.” Jim swung himself straight in his chair.
“So we have reached no conclusion about what Lieutenant Commander Vick was doing in that part of Engineering.”
“Nope.” The intercom buzzed. “Kirk here.”
“Captain, you need to come to the art gallery.” Lieutenant Finn sounded panicked.
Jim bit down on a preemptive curse. “What’s going on, Lieutenant?”
“I found Ensign Garrett, sir. He’s dead.” Jim turned to Spock, his jaw hanging open. Spock closed his eyes. They could hear Finn swallow hard over the comm. “And-and so is Annelee.”
Jim got up and walked over to the wall, pulling back he swung, shoulders, hips and feet moving to drive his fist hard into the wall. His fingers blazed with pain. His scrapped second knuckle started to ooze blood. He breathed in once, twice then turned towards Spock and the comm.
“Get Medical down there now and post guards around the door. Don’t let anyone in until I get there.”
Jim struggled to keep his pace to a brisk walk as he headed out the door, before deciding that everyone would know soon enough and heading to the gallery at a jog. Spock was a silent, reassuring presence behind him. He was forced to slow down when he got within a few doors of the gallery. People were standing in the hallway in groups of twos and threes whispering to each other. The frequent glances toward the two security officers in front of the door made it clear what they were talking about.
Jim marched up to the door and stood with his back to it. Looking up and down the hall he said, “Whatever has happened in this room will be thoroughly investigated by the security personnel and myself. Rest assured, we will release details when all the facts are know. Until then, please remember your duty as Starfleet officers and return to your assignments.” No-one moved. “We are doing everything we can to figure this out. But to do that I need each one of you to continue the work that keeps this ship running.” A few people drifted back a step. Jim used his best command voice to say, “Dismissed.” Finally the groups broke up.
He turned, nodded to both of the security guards, and entered the gallery. It looked pretty much the same as the last time he had been there. There was a petty officer in red carefully documenting the room but he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Jim followed the sound of voices around the first corner. There were Finn and Asher quietly arguing over the two bodies. He wrinkled his nose. There was an odd charred smell that the ships air recyclers hadn’t cleared up. Petty Officer Annelee Morn’s black hair was caked with blood. Streams of it had run down onto the floor, turning it a deep red. Jim swallowed heavily and looked beyond her to Ensign Garrett. He was laid out in front of the damned holo that haunted Jim's dreams. His hands were cracked and blackened. His mouth and eyes were wide open, giving him a stunned look. Jim turned away from the bodies to talk with Finn and Asher. “What do we know?”
Asher nudged Finn when he didn’t say anything. Finn jerked then spoke.“You asked me to find Garrett. So I asked Lieutenant Duke where he was. Duke told me he had gone on maintenance rounds and that he had closed all the incident reports before this one. So I came here to track him down for you and I found them like this.” Finn ran out of steam. His eyes were focused beyond Kirk to the bodies.
Jim prompted. “You didn’t see anyone else here?”
Finn's eyes snapped back to him. He shook his head.“No, sir. I called Asher and we did a sweep. No-one was here.”
There was a commotion in the front room. Jim ducked back around the corner to see Bones and Dr. Lars hauling two stretchers loaded with several pieces of equipment. “Bones, I need a preliminary report; Petty Officer, get those bodies documented if you haven’t already.” He poked his head back. “Finn, do you have the maintenance request Garrett was working on?’
Facing away from the bodies Finn was more with it. “Yes, sir, here.”
Jim scanned the PADD Finn handed him. He stalked over to the comm. “Engineering.” There was a click. “Find Scotty and tell him the Captain needs him in the gallery pronto.”
There was a startled, “Yes, sir,” through the comm.
Jim stared at the seascape Scotty had fixed weeks ago. “Finn,” he called, “find me Ensign Singh.”
“Aye, aye, sir, I'll get-” Finn rounded the corner and started for the door. “I’ll just-”
“Lieutenant. Delegate.” Finn may have been Vick's second but he was not ready to be in charge. But Jim had to work with what he had.
“Yes, sir.” Finn slipped through the door.
“Captain, you have an idea?” Spock spoke for the first time since they had arrived on the scene.
“What are the chances of three different holos having shorts in the same three weeks?”
“.0015%. Although if the same person installed them all they might have a recurrent installation fault. You conjecture that these faults are not the result of chance or ineptitude?” Spock looked at the seascape and raised an eyebrow.
“Yep, It looks like an attempt to make Ensign Garrett’s death look like an accident.”
Spock pointed out. The shift of his shoulders told Jim he had tightened the grip of his hands folded behind his back. “Petty Officer Morn’s murder was not concealed in any way.”
“I think that she stumbled on whoever rigged this panel to kill Garrett. Suddenly there was a witness and they had to kill her, too.”
“Would that not nullify the attempt to make the circumstances of Ensign Garrett’s death appear accidental?”
“Yeah, but we still don’t know who did it.” Jim said with a grimace.
Scotty trotted in. “Captain, you needed me?”
“Yes, Scotty, when you fixed that holo over there what was wrong with it?”
“The cable between the image regulator and the power had come loose. I can show you.” Scotty said already moving towards it.
Jim grabbed his shoulder. “Carefully. It could be booby-trapped.”
Scotty whipped out a tricorder and started scanning the panel. After a few encouraging chirps Scotty slowly slid his ever-present panel pick in and around then with a flick of his wrist popped the panel off. He studied the wiring for a moment. “That isn’t right.”
Scotty poked at the wires with his pick, frowning. “Someone’s been in here since I fixed it.”
Jim and Spock both stepped forward to examine the wires. “Explain.”
Scotty traced it with out touching it. “See this red wire here? I put it to the right when I do work like this. The plug can go either way on this connector but I always keep the red on the right.”
Jim eased himself back remembering Garrett's charred hands and empty eyes. “So it's booby-trapped.”
Scotty turned his head sideways, squinting at the wires that disappeared upwards into the ship. “Nay, I don’t think it is.”
“What?” That wasn't the answer he had been expecting.
Spock who had been looking at the holo said. “There are no visible flaws in the holo matrix.”
“Its working fine. It looks like a solid connection. I don’t see any other funny business.”
“So someone fixed it again after you did?” Jim would have to ask Lieutenant Duke to pull the maintenance logs to see if anyone had worked on the holo after Scotty.
Scotty shrugged. “Someone did something.”
“Okay, once the bodies have been take to sickbay I want you to get someone to check every holo in here.” Jim had a hunch they would be fine but they still needed to be checked by someone on the look out for sabotage.
“'O course, Captain.”
Jim poked his head around the corner again. “Whatcha got, Bones?”
“Two dead bodies, a twitchy staff and an ulcer in the making.”
Jim huffed not quite a laugh. “What happened to them, Bones?”
Bones pointed back over his should with a finger. “He was electrocuted by some godforsaken part of this tin can.” There was a muffled, 'Don’t mind him,' from Scotty.
He switched to point with his thumb. “And she was hit repeatedly by some kind of blunt object.”
“Nothing strange?” Bones gestured wildly at the two corpses. “Right, let me know if you find anything.” Jim left Bones and Dr. Lars to it. He really hoped they would come up with something.
It took the rest of the day to sort out the bodies and the gallery. Asher had confirmed they were finished documenting, enough for Bones to take the bodies away. Finn returned with Ensign Singh shortly after. Jim spent a couple of unproductive minutes grilling him about the holos and their problems. Ensign Sigh denied any knowledge of when the holo arrays had been set up or who had done the job. He had given the specs to the ops department and they had added the temporary walls and the holo arrays. He had only noticed the problem that first night because Scotty had been fiddling with Sun’s seascape. Later, when he came back to check up on things, he realized that the ‘Bird of Paradise’ was having a similar problem. So he had checked all the pieces. That was when he had found the problem with ‘Watchful’. He'd made the repair request and that was all he knew about it.
At the same time Spock had been tracking Petty Officer Morn’s activities. Lieutenant Umba calmly explained that Annelee had been given the part of her shift off because research required the main anthropology lab be completely dark. A chain of events that supported Jim's theory that Annelee had stumbled on to the scene. Lieutenant Umba took the news of the death with an eerie calm. Hell, her entire manner up to this point had been pretty damn creepy, and what was her connection with Lieutenant Commander Baal? Baal, who had been involved with Vick who was friends with Motto who was Baloo's boss. Jim sighed. It was terrible to have to think about which crew members might murder others, and it was horrifying that he didn’t have to think hard to come up with several names.
Jim did return to the bridge at the end of alpha shift. With this latest set of murders he had to get in touch with Command. He needed to inform them of the deaths and the fact that the Enterprise crew complement had gone below ninety percent of the standard. It wasn’t much comfort that they were already on their way to pick up new crew. “Lieutenant Uhura, when’s the next window for real-time communication with HQ?”
She didn’t even have to look. “Three days, Captain.”
“Right, I’ll put together a data packet to send out tonight.” It wasn’t real-time, but it would still get there in under a day. “Sulu, how long until we reach Plix?”
“Twenty eight days, sir.” Came the prompt response.
“Send a message to HQ now. Tell them we’re under ninety percent crew complement and still twenty-eight days out from the nearest base. Maybe we can arrange something with the Plix Ground Base. Have a ship meet us halfway.”
“Captain?” Sulu said as calm as ever.
“We’re only four days away from Outpost ZZ-9pza.”
Jim sighed then straightened in his chair.“New plan. Change course to Outpost ZZ-9pza. Uhura, inform HQ and the Admiral on Plix of the change and get me a live link with whoever is in command of Outpost ZZ-9pza ASAP.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Sulu turned back to his station already making the necessary course adjustments.
“Sulu, how long will it take us to get to Plix after we’ve picked up crew from ZZ-9pza?”
“Twenty nine and a half days.”
Jim sighed. Just his luck. The outpost was out of their way but regulations were clear. The Enterprise had to report to the nearest Starfleet installation.
Uhura said, “Captain, Commodore Anwir can speak to you immediately.”
Jim stood up. “Put him through to my office.”
Jim activated the small video console on his office desk. The picture resolved to a show an older man with straight black hair and dark eyes. Uhura would probably use the word 'austere' or 'severe'. To Jim he just looked like a hard-ass. Carefully burying the fires of teenage rebellion, Jim gave him a polite smile. “Commodore Anwir.”
There was an awkward pause. “How are things on Outpost ZZ-9pza?”
“They continue apace. Not as interesting as life aboard a starship, I venture.”
“Well, you know, the Chinese have a curse; something like ‘May you live in interesting times'.”
“And you feel you are cursed, Captain?” There was an unmistakable note of scorn in his voice.
Jim didn’t roll his eyes but it was a near thing. He had met a lot of superior officers who resented his immediate promotion to Captain. “At the moment, yes. I’ve had several crew members die recently from apparent accidents. Enough that we've dropped below a safe personnel level.”
“And so you’ve come to commandeer mine?” Anwir sneered.
Jim gritted his teeth. “I, in accordance with Starfleet regulations, have diverted to the nearest installation that could supply more crew.”
“Ah, one must follow regulations, mustn’t one?” Another jab at Jim's unorthodox rise to Captaincy.
Jim gave him a hard little smile.“Yes, so unless you can cite extreme circumstances, I’m going to need five people.”
“You expect me just to give you five of my people?”
Jim curled his fist out of range of the view screen. “Yes, the station’s standard crew is one hundred people. Unless you’ve lost people, five should be no problem.”
Anwir pursed his lips and said haughtily, “I will have to check with my superiors on Plix.”
“You do that.” Go be a jackass to them, Jim thought. They'll tell you the same thing I did.
“Commodore.” Jim cut the transmission with a vicious stab at the button. No wonder Pike liked Jim, if this was the kind of pompous ass he was used to dealing with. Sighing, he went about putting together all the reports he needed to send to HQ.
The next day had Jim and Spock tracking down people all over the ship. First they had gone to talk to Lieutenant Duke, who wasn't head of Maintenance but knew who was fixing what and where. He had pulled up everything he could find about the holos in the art gallery, and stood nervously back while Jim and Spock looked it over. There wasn't much, just the installation and maintenance requests Ensign Garrett had been on. Jim sighed and asked Lieutenant Duke to let them know if any other requests came through for the room.
They also swung by Engineering to ask Scotty about the other holos. Scotty said that they had looked but hadn't found anything wrong with any of them.
After that they went to see Quartermaster Motto. Motto looked how a quartermaster should look, in Jim's opinion. The man was built like a proverbial brick shithouse and had the perpetual expression of someone smelling said shithouse. Now sitting behind his desk, he looked more worn than anything. Spock asked him about Ensign Baloo and seemed satisfied that the man's answers matched what was in Lieutenant Commander Vick's reports. Jim took over when they started talking about Vick. Motto told Jim that Madeline's hobbies included sparring and cooking. Of course on a starship she did more of the former than the latter. She had also been mentoring several of the Security officers, just like Motto was mentoring his people. Motto was completely honest, telling Jim that the friendship had started with the two of them bitching about all their underlings being wet-behind-the-ears kids. The only time the man clammed up was when Jim asked him about what happened between Vick and Baal. Motto hemmed and hawed and in the end all Jim could get out of him was that Vick had been pissed, but not heartbroken. Jim speculated, based on the man's half-guilty, half-defiant expression that Motto had selfish reasons for wanting Vick and Baal to split up.
Following that thread Jim decided to get Baal's side of the story. Baal was in the astrometrics lab. Jim thought he looked a bit shifty when they came up to his console, but that could just have been a reaction to having the Captain and the First Officer show up unannounced during his duty shift. The man didn't relax when Jim explained they wanted to ask him a couple questions about Lieutenant Commander Vick. He acknowledged that he and Madeline had been dating. He fumbled with the buttons on his console as he told them that the breakup had been a mutual decision, but that could have been because Spock was looming over him. Jim left after a few more questions, ignoring Spock's incredulous eyebrow. As they walked away, Jim tried to explain to Spock that sometimes when a breakup is 'mutual' it just meant that both people had done the screaming.
Spock suggested another look at the art gallery on their way to sickbay. Jim agreed. He wanted to see what the place looked like again without all the bodies and Security personnel. What Jim wasn't expecting were the eight crew members who had decided to visit the gallery as well, each of whom became very interested in this or that piece when Jim and Spock entered the room. Jim gave the room a quick look then chivvied Spock out again.
When they got to sickbay, Bones couldn't tell them anything new. The apparent causes of death were the actual causes of death.
After that they went back to the conference room. Jim dropped into a chair and closed his eyes trying to decide what to do next. So of course Spock took the opportunity to stage a conversational ambush.
“Lieutenant Uhura and Ensign Lichee only recently asked me to join their ensemble after Lieutenant Trye announced he would not be able to devote sufficient time to rehearsals.”
Jim groaned. It seemed like much longer than a day and a half since he had stormed out of the concert hall. “It's fine, Spock. ”
Spock cocked his head at Jim. “It is obviously not 'fine'. You were quite distressed when you learned of the concert.”
“It's fine. Really. I'm sure you're going to have a great concert.”
Spock pursed his lips ever so slightly. “Both Lieutenant Uhura and Ensign Lichee are competent musicians, so that is a logical assumption. I would, however, prefer you reserve judgment until you have witnessed the performance yourself.”
“So I'm invited?” Jim couldn't help but ask.
“Yes, the concert is open to the entire crew. I am also personally requesting that you attend. Will you come?”
“I would love to,” Jim said, and damn it if it wasn't true.
They both let the topic drop then and got back to work. They need to start finding out as much as they could about Branson Garrett and Annelee Morn.
When Jim finally sat down at his desk he found a terse message from Commodore Anwir acknowledging Jim's request for crew and telling him that he had selected five people that the station could do without for a while. Jim idly pondered how the man could imply that he was doing Jim and the Enterprise a great favor while at the same time conveying that the five crew members were the most worthless Anwir had to offer.
Alpha shift was over and Jim had called a halt to their investigation. It was time for food and football. He felt a bit guilty about taking the time when they had two obvious murders and another four deaths that he was convinced were not accidents. But, like Dr. Evans said, the crew needed to see their captain, and Jim would prefer they see him winning a game. Beyond that he needed some time to let things settle in his mind. Right now his thoughts were bouncing around like marbles. One fact would hit another and ricochet to send more flying. Which of the facts they had mattered? He had no idea.
Jim had grabbed a bite in the mess. Spock hadn’t come along, citing an obligation in the labs before he would be able to referee. They were back to their weird game where Jim was almost but not entirely sure that Spock was interested in him. It was something in the way Spock watched him. His eyelids would sink a bit while his eyes tracked Jim’s every move. Jim sighed. Now was hardly the time to be thinking about what the hell was going on between them.
He was on his way down to the gymnasium when a woman ran straight into him. She had had her face in her hands and ended up with her face and hands in his chest. She was already mumbling an apology as she raised bloodshot eyes to him. Her expression tightened. She started, swallowed and said, “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll just...” She trailed off into a sob.
“Hey, hey.” He gently took her shoulders and steered her towards one of the small exercise rooms. There was a low bench along the wall and he got her to sit down next to him. “What’s wrong?”
“He...” She hiccuped a sob and took several deep watery breaths before starting again. “He’s dead.”
Jim's stomach dropped. “Who’s dead?”
He breathed out slowly. Ensign Garrett's first name was Branson. Thank God there wasn’t another one. “Yes, I’m sorry.” She started weeping again. “So you knew him?” He could have kicked himself it was a stupid thing to say.
“Yes. We...” A deep breath. “We had a thing.” That was news to Jim. “He was so sweet and charming. And now he’s dead.”
He put his arm around her shoulder as she shook. “I know, I know, I’m sorry.”
“I-I feel like it's my fault.” She kept her eyes on her hands tightly clasped in her lap.
“You can’t think like that.” Well you could but it would destroy you or lead to yelling matches and a pissy first officer.
“But the holo. It was my fault.”
Jim drew in a quick breath. “What about the holo?”
“It was my holo. Only something went wrong with it and,” she stuttered, voice going higher, “and-and he died. He died trying to fix my stupid holo.” Jim rubbed her shoulder. “I was so proud of it. I thought it turned out so well. I wanted him to see it and then he did and he’s dead.” He continued to rub his thumb back and forth in small motions on her shoulder, while Elizabeth cried.
“Somebody rigged it. It could have been done to any one of the pieces.” Jim wasn’t sure he believed that. Rumor had it that Bestine had been involved with Ensign Garrett. Now here was Petty Officer Daws, claiming to be his girlfriend too, and he was killed by her holo. Jim decided to follow that train of thought. Elizabeth gave a shuddering sigh. “So, you said you had a ‘thing’ with Branson.” Not quite a question.
“I, yeah.” Her face relaxed a hair. “It’s sort of been going on since we left Earth, but not really.”
“It sounds,” Jim pursed his lips and paused for effect, “complicated.”
She didn’t smile but her frown lessened. “The first time we met he was being kind of an ass.” He nodded. “One of the idiots he was hanging out with asked if he wanted to get up close and personal with me. Before he could say anything I told him that I wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole. Everyone thought it was hilarious but Branson took it seriously.” Her lips twitched. “Sort of. I was down in his area gathering reports and Gunther, his supervisor, asked him to give them to me. So Branson,” she sniffled, “put them on the floor and kind of kicked them over to me. I didn’t know why he had done that. He said he would be a cad of the highest order if he did not respect a lady’s wishes and therefore he would stay ten feet away from me.” Jim blinked and shook his head a little. “I guess you had to be there. So I told him I could probably stand nine feet.”
“That’s...” Sweet, bizarrely cute.
“Yeah.” She hiccuped.
They sat in silence for a while. Jim let the subliminal hum of the ship comfort him. Elizabeth bit her lip. “Captain, do you think you could do the dark for him?”
“Do the dark?” Jim wrinkled his forehead in confusion.
“Sorry, I forget that not everyone grew up in space. It's a spacer tradition, when someone dies, to turn off all the lights on a ship, just for a few seconds. My grandfather said it was to let the person’s soul see heaven.” Jim was a little confused, and it must have shown on his face. “Because the ship is usually the only light for hundreds of light years, the soul supposedly gets confused. It tries to go towards the light but the ship is so bright it can’t see where it's supposed to go.”
Head nodded slowly. “So you turn the lights off so the soul can set its bearings to the afterlife?”
She gave him a weak smile. “I know it sounds a bit silly but when I was a kid, I’d always feel this moment of lightness.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Not much, probably. Even if turning off all the lights on a Constitution-class ship wasn’t enough of an undertaking, Jim wasn’t hot on the idea of turning all the lights off when there was a murderer on the loose.
“So, a year. That’s a long time.” It was the best opening he could think of. He didn't have a lot of experience with long term relationships or even people in long term relationships.
Elizabeth blinked at him. “I suppose it is.”
“Without touching, I mean.”
She rolled her red eyes at him. “It started slow. We exchanged ‘tokens’. I’d leave him a letter or a sketch. He’d leave me a poem or a bit of candy. At five feet he gave me this tiny robot. If you press its top it will walk five steps and raise a little sword and say ‘release the fair maiden'.”
“Wow.” Branson certainly had style.
“He had this whole thing about defending my honor from the unworthy knaves. Mostly to ‘advance his own suit'.”
Jim was familiar with beating the competition to get the girl to swoon in his arms. But he had never done it with that much whimsy.
Elizabeth continued without seeming to realize that Jim was silently critiquing Ensign Garrett's seduction technique. “He hid an orange in my underwear drawer a couple weeks ago. When I asked he denied putting it there and insisted on sleeping at the foot of my bed to defend me against the lecherous grocers of the ship.” From the way she smiled, Jim would bet that if Garrett had started the night at the foot of her bed, that wasn’t where he'd ended it, sly dog.
“Sounds like he was a great guy.”
“He was.” She stared at the opposite wall. She smiled but it lessened by degrees and a thin line crept up on her forehead. “You’ll try to do the dark for him, Captain? Please.”
“Yeah, I’ll see what I can do. But I’m not sure I can make it happen.”
She frowned, her lips disappearing. After a tense moment she said, “The Enterprise has too many ghosts already. I don’t want him to become one too.”
“I know, I know. Starfleet is all about science and discovery,” she looked away, “but sometimes I feel like they’re still here, just watching. Waiting for something.”
Jim paused considering how to ask his next question. “Have you talked to anyone else about this?”
She gave a bubbly wet laugh. “Dr. Evans, you mean.”
“Or McCoy, or anyone.” Jim defended.
She shrugged and said, “I talked to Malea about it when Ice Heart died. She said all the usual things, that I could handle grief in my own way, but I needed to realize that she was gone and move on.
“Did you know her well?” Jim tried not to give away his interest.
“Ice Heart, enough to say hi to. But our paths didn’t cross much.”
“What about Ensign Bestine?” Jim asked.
“I don’t know if she knew Ice Heart.” She blinked. “Oh, you mean me. Mostly I knew of her.”
The door slid open before he could follow that thread.
“Captain!” And there was Spock, in exercise reds and referee jersey. And a phaser?
Jim jumped up. “Spock, what’s wrong?”
Spock scanned the room for threats before answering him. “You did not arrive when the match was scheduled to start.” Jim bit his lip. “You were also not in any of your typical locations when I endeavored to locate you.”
Oh, crap. He had gone missing and Spock couldn’t find him anywhere. With a murdered on the loose, no wonder Spock was wandering around with a phaser.
“Drat, I’m sorry Spock. I just ran into Elizabeth here and she needed a sympathetic ear.”
Elizabeth made a tiny wave and slipped passed Spock out the door. Spock glanced at her over his shoulder then fixed his eyes back on Jim. “I respectfully request that until this investigation is concluded, you carry a communicator with you at all times.”
Jim covered his eyes with his hand. “Please, please, tell me you didn’t do a shipwide broadcast.”
“You would have heard it had we issued one. No. Dr. McCoy pointed out that the crew would rightly interpret such a communication as proof that we did not know where the Captain was.”
“Good. Great.” Jim relaxed.
“I did not find this particularly compelling. Lieutenant Commander Baal pointed out that if you were indeed missing, I would have to assume your responsibilities, and it would then be questionable whether I could actively participate in a search for you.”
Jim narrowed his eyes. “Exactly how many people were involved in this discussion?”
“Five. Dr. McCoy, Lieutenant Commander Baal, Mr. Scott, Lieutenant Sulu and myself.” Spock reported. Jim had a sudden mental image of the five of them all in different colored jerseys having a huddled argument about what to do.
“Okay. Tell me nobody knows and nobody’s panicking.”
“Several crew members noted your absence from the field.”
“You started the games?” Jim headed into the hallway. He needed to get changed. Spock nodded. “Good. So who else is looking for me?”
“Since we agreed so many absent participants would be noticed, Reese, Asher, and Lieutenant Keenser were asked to discreetly inquire as to your whereabouts.” Spock fell in to step close behind him.
That wasn't too bad. Those three all knew how to keep calm. “You tell them I’m alright. I’m going to change and let people see me play football. How many of the crew are at the game?”
“I estimate ninety to ninety-five percent of the off duty personnel are in attendance.”
Jim whistled. “That many?”
“They are highly trained. I expect they recognized a pattern in the recent deaths.” Spock was still invading his personal space.
“Right. Safety in numbers. Spock, do you intend to follow me into the changing room?” They had reached the locker room and Spock wasn't getting any further away.
“Until you have been issued a communicator I will keep visual contact.” Spock said without so much as a twitch.
Jim took mental stock. Nope, today was not the day he was going to get naked in front of Spock. There should be flowers, candy or at least alcohol on that day. “You’ll have to settle for aural.” He grabbed his exercise gear and retreated into one of the changing rooms.
He heard Spock shift then the chirp of the communicator and Spock informing Reese, Asher and Keenser that the situation was resolved.
Jim pulled on his shorts and Command yellow T-shirt. Sulu had claimed he had been the last to choose jersey colors and had chosen yellow over the eye-searing purple. Jim wasn’t sure he believed him. Sulu actually looked good in yellow.
Jim came out, shoved his stuff in a locker and turned to find Spock doing a visual sweep of the room. “Right, let’s go.”
Jim waited a moment before saying, “Spock, you may want to put that phaser away.”
“No, I find that I do not.”
Jim sighed. “Spock, I know you know there are regs about no live weapons on the field or in the audience during a football game.”
Spock looked down at the weapon in his hand then back at Jim. “I will return it to the armory after the games are complete,” Spock countered.
Jim was so going to bring this up next time Spock quoted regs at him. “You will return it now.”
“I will remove the power cell. It will then no longer be a live weapon.”
Jim rolled his eyes. “Fine, and don’t let anyone see it.”
They stepped into the gymnasium by a side door behind the spectator seating. “So if you were looking for me, who was refereeing the second game?”
The sound of yelling with a distinctly Southern tone reached his ears. “If I say you were offside, you were offside.”
“How’d you get him to...?” Jim waved a hand towards where Bones was browbeating a player in green.
Jim's team lost one to two the first game and nil to one the second. They carefully didn’t ask him where he had been or why he was late, or why Spock was rarely more than ten feet away from his side the entire night. Spock went so far as to walk Jim back to his quarters after the post-game chatter had broken up. He had mumbled a 'thanks' at his door. Spock was still standing in front of his door when it closed.
Jim decided to take a walk. He and Spock had spent the morning talking to several of Ensign Garrett’s friends. They all said the same thing. He was a nice guy, with a dramatic streak a mile wide. Lieutenant Gunther had added that he had been a good worker. He gave his work the same dedication as his flights of fancy. There was also the consensus that Ensign Garrett and Ensign Bestine were friends from way back, not lovers. Still a link, but it helped quash the insidious little voice in the back of his head saying that Elizabeth Daws had engineered their deaths as some sort of revenge.
Jim and Spock spent the afternoon trying to put what they learned into a coherent story. A network of loose ties between the victims was starting to emerge, but it wasn’t aligning to point in any one direction.
Jim had needed to get away from those six seats with their PADDs and prints that tried to convey the essences of their lost people. Spock wasn’t happy with Jim’s decision to stretch his legs. Even though Jim had a communicator and promised to keep it with him, Spock had hardly let him out of his sight. He had had to tell Spock exactly where he planned to walk and agree to take Ensign Asher with him before Spock would let him go without him. It left him feeling muddled. On the one hand Spock’s overbearing protectiveness was kind of sweet, for maybe a half hour. Jim was pretty sure Spock wouldn't react that way for any Captain; not that he would throw another Captain to the wolves. He would probably arrange a guard rota with ruthless efficiency, but he wouldn’t take on the duty personally.
The other side of it was that Jim hated, hated, hated having to take a guard with him when he walked around his own god damn ship. They were all supposed to be in this together. They were supposed to fight the Romulans, the Klingons, whatever freak of the week was trying to kill them at the time. But someone had broken ranks. One of their own was killing them. After that, Spock’s assumption he couldn’t take care of himself was small potatoes.
Jim was about three quarters of the way around the saucer section when he was stopped. “Captain, you caught the killer yet?”
He saw Lieutenant Veni along with Ensign Himshe and Chief Petty Officer Liefson standing in the hall. When she saw that she had his attention she called out again with her hands on her hips, “Well, sir, have you figured it out?”
Jim slowed and politely told her, “We are still looking for credible suspects.”
“What about Dr. Lars?” She asked loudly. “He was acting really strange at Baloo’s funeral.”
Ensign Himshe added, “And I heard he was responsible for Malea’s death.”
Petty Officers Goon and Salavtos had stopped walking to gawk at the confrontation. Jim squared up to her, ignoring the little voice in the back of his head that said this would not lead to good things. “Lieutenant Veni, Dr. Lars was on duty during Ensigns Baloo's, Garrett's and Petty Officer Morn’s deaths.”
“Well-” Lieutenant Veni was interrupted by Petty Officer Salavtos.
“What about Turner? He’s been acting pretty shifty since Lieutenant Commander Vick died.”
Jim wasn’t actually sure who Turner was. The name hadn’t come up in any of the reports. “Look, I can’t stand here and listen to you accuse the entire crew.” Especially since four more people had stopped to watch. Jim turned and started walking away.
“What about Lieutenant Commander Baal?” Asked Veni. “He was cheating on Lieutenant Commander Vick for months. Hanging around sickbay and the archeology labs a lot.”
Jim turned back. “Half the crew saw him at movie night when Lieutenant Commander Vick was killed.” Jim mentally cursed himself for going back to defending people to the crowd.
A voice from the back piped up, “I think Ensign Garrett killed them all.”
“That’s absurd,” a person closer to the front replied. “Garrett hadn’t been near sickbay in months.”
“Thank you. He was also on in Engineering when Ensign Baloo was killed.”
Jim went to leave again but the flood gates had well and truly opened.
“It was Banes.”
“That jerk Stein.”
“Sun’s your killer.”
“You bastard!” Ensign Asher caught Petty Officer Redell before he could charge into he crowd. “I never.”
“QUIET!” Jim bellowed. They hushed. “Now, I know you're all nervous, but pointing fingers is only going to make things worse. If any of you have facts to back up your accusations, Commander Spock and I would love to hear them.”
Lieutenant Veni broke in, “Why should we trust him? He’s probably the one who did it.”
Jim realized he was clenching his fist and made a effort to relax. “Unless you have any facts...?”
“He could have sabotaged the transporters, he knows how. He’s also in charge of all the medications they make.” Veni cried.
A faceless voice chimed in. “He’s been making all of them himself.”
“He’s strong enough to bash someone’s head in or throw them over a railing. And,” she stressed the word, “he could have rigged that holo to kill Garrett.”
Dear gods, the Enterprise rumor mill was efficient. “In order, any of the engineers and a bunch of other people knew how to fuck up a transporter and the rest could figure it out pretty quick. He didn’t make the medications that killed Ensign Bestine. Any human that passes the Starfleet starship physical has the strength to crack someone’s skull. Commander Spock has a solid alibi for Ensign Baloo’s death, and Lieutenant Commander Vick’s and Petty Officer Morn’s.”
“Really, what?” There was a fractious gleam in her eye.
“Me.” He stared her down. “Now, Lieutenant Veni, I believe you own me an alibi for each of the deaths.”
“I don’t have to.”
He interrupted her. “That’s an order from your Captain, Lieutenant.” She hesitated. “Start with Bestine. Have you been to the C deck quarters in the last two months?”
“Well, yes.” She said stunned.
“And when Ensign Baloo was killed?” Jim pressed.
“I was on duty.” She snapped with a frown.
“And your coworkers will confirm that?”
“And Lieutenant Commander Vick’s death? Were you at the movie that night?”
“Then where were you?”
“I was in my quarters.”
“Yes, sir, I wasn’t feeling well.”
“Did you go to sickbay?”
“So, no-one can say you stayed in your quarters.”
Her back was ramrod straight. “I can, sir. I can say I didn’t leave my room and I did not kill anyone.”
“Just like Spock knows he didn’t kill anyone. Just like Dr. Lars knows he didn’t kill anyone, just like everyone except the murderer knows. So,” he looked out to the crowd, “unless someone knows more than the fact that they didn’t do it, get back to work.”
The crowd slowly dissolved from the edges. People on the fringe decided they didn’t want the Captain to see them there and slipped away. That gave the next layer of people room to drift away. Finally it was just Jim, Veni and Asher.
“Lieutenant, no more of this shit. You understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Stood at parade rest glaring past his right shoulder.
“Dismissed.” She turned sharply on her heel and marched off.
Jim continued his walk in silence. By the time they made it back to the conference room he felt a bit less like he would punch the wall when he stopped.
He found Spock seated in one of the chairs with his eyes closed. Jim dropped down beside him, elbows on the table, head in his hands. He turned to look at Spock through his fingers. “How much of the medication for sick bay do you make, personally?”
Spock opened his eyes to stare at the opposite wall. “For the last thirteen days, I have undertaken the production of all medications created by the science department.”
Thirteen days, since their talk of Vulcans and suicide. Somehow Jim couldn’t resist giving Spock a soppy smile.
Jim leaned back in his chair. “On a scale of one to ten, how hard would it be to turn off all the lights on Enterprise?”
Spock looked at him. “Excluding emergency lights?”
“Sure.” Jim shrugged.
“Eight-point-three-seven-six.” Spock responded promptly.
Jim rolled his eyes, amused. “I think you missed the point.”
“You did not specify the precision of your scale. Why would you undertake such a task?”
He briefly explained his conversation with Elizabeth, ending with, "They seemed to have had a good thing going." Jim left it hanging out there for Spock's reaction.
“That is suspect. She or an accomplice could use the event to perpetrate some maleficence, up to and including murder.”
“You think she is trying to get the lights turned off so she can kill someone?” Jim asked.
“I thought about it too. But turning out the lights that feels like a tradition. On the other hand I’ve never heard of it before.”
“Nor have I.” Spock told him. He had take one of the PADDs from the desk.
Jim wanted to get another person's opinion. Spock was great at many things but human idiosyncrasies wasn't one of them. “Do we have any other spacers who might know?”
“Lieutenant Umba’s thesis focused on the death rites of the African subgroups during the great horror. As such she is familiar with the funeral customs of many human subgroups.”
He hadn't known that. It actually explained a lot. “So she’s creepy in a professional capacity.”
“Creepy?” Spock looked up from his PADD.
Jim waved his hand lazily. “She’s been to all the funerals. I though it was odd. She didn’t seem particularly sad.”
“It is likely she is observing them as a scientist.” Spock nodded.
Jim set his feet on the floor and hoisted himself out of the chair. “Let’s have a chat with her. There are a few other things I want to ask her.”
They located her quickly in the main archeology lab. She ushered them into her office. She sat, smiling expectantly, with her hands clasped in front of her on the desk.
“What’s your opinion of Petty Officer G’zzkh's comedic skills?” Jim asked her.
The smile disappeared into confusion. “I’m sorry, sir, I don’t understand.”
He smiled brightly as he repeated the question. “You were at the comedy night. What did you think of it?”
“It was alright.” She offered.
Jim stated blandly. “I noticed you spent the whole night with Dr. Evans and Lieutenant Commander Baal.”
“Yes, I did.” She replied equally blandly.
Jim knew he was skipping the polite questions but he wanted to keep her jumping. “And how was Lieutenant Commander Baal handling his break up with Lieutenant Commander Vick?”
She arched an eyebrow at him. “As he instigated the breakup he was doing well.”
“Do you know why he ended it?” Jim was curious how different her answer would be from Baal's.
“Yes.” She kept looking him in the eye.
Jim rolled his eyes. “Why did he end it?”
“Allen and I convinced him he would be more fulfilled if he joined our relationship.”
Jim blinked. “You seduced him?”
She rolled her eyes this time. Condescendingly she elaborated. “We made a compelling argument that Allen and I would provide superior mental, emotional and, yes, physical engagement then he was experiencing at the time.”
“What did Lieutenant Commander Vick think of that?” Jim pressed.
Lieutenant Umba gestured vaguely. “She was not happy. While she never approached me about it, I understand that she and Allen exchanged heated words on the subject. He mentioned her views on relationships were antiquated.”
“It never went beyond that?” Jim wondered.
She frowned. “We are all professionals and Allen was able to suggest several healthy coping mechanisms to her.”
Jim could imagine Vick’s reaction to that. Honestly, he was surprised no one had ended up with a split lip over this. Then again, they may just have had the good sense to keep it quiet. He let the silence stretch but Lieutenant Umba wasn’t inclined to fill it. Spock too seemed content to wait her out.
Finally he asked, “What do you know about spacer funerals?”
Lieutenant Umba blinked quickly. “They are far more likely to spread the ashes in space, having no more emotionally meaningful place to store them.”
“What about lights?”
“Ah, that is traditionally done as soon after death as feasible. The level of darkness varies across sub-groups. Some find it necessary to eliminate every light, including external running lights, others just turn off the ambient lights and leave panels and incidental lighting on. The length of time the lights remain off varies as well. It is roughly inversely proportional to the length of the contract a ship takes. So a ship on a one month freight contract might keep the lights out for a minute or more while a ship on a 6 or 8 month contract would only keep the lights off for ten seconds. Dr. Comer suggested in his paper on early space funeral customs that-”
Jim knew where this was going and didn’t have an hour to listen to it. “Thank you, Lieutenant Umba, that was very informative.”
Jim glanced at Spock with an inquiring eyebrow. He stood. “Indeed. Thank you Lieutenant.”
They left the labs and started back towards the conference room. “Why is it every time we seem to have a suspect they turn out to have a perfectly good explanation for what they’re doing?”
“Any reasonably intelligent person intent on murder would arrange a plausible excuse for their actions."
"True, but that doesn't help us and we are running out of time."
"Logically, since the murders have already been committed, we have until the end of the universe to determine the culprit."
"I can't have guards following me around until the end of time and you can't be metaphorically sleeping across my threshold for the rest of the mission."
"Inside your quarters would offer a better vantage point."
Jim stopped walking. "Spock, stop."
"I was merely-"
Jim held up a hand. "I’m having a thought." Spock regarded him curiously. He let the idea gel. It was unlikely, but was it impossible? "We need to talk to Scotty."
"Oranges." Spock tilted his head. "Come on. I'll explain when we get there."
"Hey, Scotty, did you ever figure out what was going on with the transporters?" Jim spoke to Scotty’s back as his front was buried in an access panel.
Scotty hauled himself out and popped the panel back on. "Not yet. I know the rogue code is there but I don't know what triggered it."
"I've got an insane idea."
Scotty started to smile. "That's what I like to hear, lad."
"Is it possible to set a transporter up to duplicate a pattern?"
Scotty chewed his lip. "You'd need a hell of a lot of space to store it."
Jim wondered aloud. "What about duplicating it so that it materializes in two places at the same time?"
"It would take a fair bit of power to do that. And whatever algorithm you use to transcode the pattern would have to be quick enough to integrate both patterns without electron drift."
"But is it possible?" Jim was starting to get excited.
Scotty gave him an amused look. "Since when have we worried about that?"
Jim started to grin. “So what would you say if I told you an orange had showed up a couple weeks ago apparently out of no where?”
“I can have those micro transporters set up in three minutes.” Scotty frowned. “Er...nothing else has shown up, has it?”
Jim had learned with Scotty that sometimes you just didn’t ask. “Not that I’ve heard.”
“Good, good. Come on, let’s get those wee transporters set up and see what we can find.”
The three of them headed towards Scotty’s lab. Someone most have cleaned up recently because all of Scotty’s tinkering had been corralled into large boxes, each secured in a shelving unit. A bumpy ride would have hopelessly jumbled any components left on the wide work bench itself bolted to the floor. Scotty took out one of the boxes and started pulling out pieces.
“This seems like an ill-advised experiment,” said Spock.
“The worst that can happen is we waste an hour or two playing around.” Jim tried to reassure him.
“A outcome supporting your hypothesis of duplication would potentially be disastrous. I can think of ninety-two distinct places that, were they integrated with an orange, would cause significant impairment of their function.”
Jim leaned towards Scotty. “You got a mini shield to go with those mini transporters?”
“Of course, Keenser designed one years ago.”
He leaned back. “Happy, Spock?”
Spock nodded. They got the portable shield and transporters assembled on the workbench. Scotty found a cracked piece of water coil as big as his hand and set it on the first pad. The shield zinged to life after a few pokes to the control pad. They waited expectantly as Scotty keyed in the transport sequence and kicked it off. The coil flicked out of existence and a fraction of a second later flickered into existence on the other pad. The shield didn’t so much as twitch. Jim sighed.
Scotty frowned down at the control. “It worked exactly like it was supposed to.”
“Perhaps there is a missing variable. As you said, there were no reports of any of the other objects used in the demonstration materializing in unexpected locations.” Spock offered.
“So what else was happening when Scotty was transporting the orange?” All Jim could remember was staring at Spock wondering what it would be like to kiss him.
“A PADD alarm went off one-point-two seconds before transport was initiated and continued for another five-point-seven seconds.”
“Oh, yeah.” Jim nodded.
Scotty cheerfully said. “It’s worth a try.”
Quickly they reset the experiment, adding a PADD with its alarm ringing on the table. They retreated a few steps as the shield activated. Scotty hit the button and they all watched as the coil flickered and disappeared from the first pad then started to materialize on the second. Jim held his breath. The beam shivered and the shield sparkled then fizzed. On the second pad was a mangled water coil and embedded in the table was another smoking coil. They all shared a moment of wordless glee.
Spock came back to his senses fastest. “Was the orange reported to be in good condition when it was found?”
“Ensign Daws didn’t mention pulp all over her panties.” Spock gave him a flat look. “So I’m guessing it materialized fine.”
“Probably reflecting off the shield that did it in.” Scotty explained.
Spock continued the thought. “So we must assume that under ideal conditions something-”
Jim cut in, “Or someone...”
“...could have survived intact.” Spock paused. “You believe Ensign Swanson was subject to this mechanism.”
Jim nodded. “And if we haven't found him in the twenty-four days since he beamed up from Kumba 6-4, we can assume he doesn't want to be found.”
Scotty, whose eyes had been bouncing between them during this exchange mumbled, “That’s unbelievable.”
“I think there is a good chance he’s involved in what’s been happening. We need to figure out where that transporter algorithm sends things. So we need to run a few simulations.” Jim's mind was racing.
“Given the underlying code we could use probabilistic modeling to predict the likely vector and velocity coefficients to any-”
Scotty broke in, “Nah, the data you need to generate a reasonable test set is enormous. It would work better to start with a specific set of variables and get a beginning data set that way.”
“There is no reason to infer that the problem space is simple enough to get relevant metrics from a limit set of comparison.” Spock turned to face Scotty.
Jim stepped away from their debate and pulled out the communicator Spock insisted he carry. “Kirk to Uhura.”
“Uhura here, Captain.”
“I need you to go over some of the transmissions from the Kumba 6-4 mission.”
“Sir?” Her surprise filtered through the comm.
“See if you can find anything strange in the transmission when Ensign Swanson was beaming up.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“Oh, and could you send Chekov down here? I think we’re about to bust out some serious math.”
“I thought Spock was helping you?”
Jim held the communicator out to clearly catch the sounds of Scotty and Spock loudly discussing the most efficient way to build the simulation. When he turned it back Uhura sighed. “I guess I’m eating alone today.”
Jim grinned. “I wouldn’t say no if you stopped by with some sandwiches.”
“Tell it to your yeoman.” He imagined he could hear her rolling her eyes.
“Right. Kirk out.”
Jim rubbed his hands together and dived into conversation with Spock and Scotty.
Chekov joined them before they could come to an agreement on exactly how to figure out where the second transporter beam went. Eventually they decided to try to use the mini transporters to identify the boundary conditions while Spock and Chekov would work on a way to integrate the input from the full scale transporters. Jim hacked the PADD alarm to bleat at different frequencies. He and Scotty spent a couple of happy hours smashing bits of junk against the shield.
Uhura showed up two-and-a-half hours in with a handheld audio unit and Yeoman Rand in tow with lunch. Spock and Chekov came out of the corner where they had been working, heads bent together over the data terminal. Rand was dismissed after the food was laid out. They pulled an assortment of stools, chairs and boxes around the workbench to eat.
Uhura explained what she had found while the four of them munched. “So I focused on the last transmission from Kumba 6-4 like you asked.” She played the audio. “First thing I did was remove the voices, which gives us this.” She played the modified file. “Take out the dinosaur noises and this is the result.”
Spock tilted his head as the recording played. “That is not ambient noise.”
“No, it’s not. I cleaned up as much of the background as I can. Based on the lack of sound variance, I’d say that this sound was coming from the communicator.”
“The communicator?” Chekov wondered.
“Yes, I checked the other transmissions from Kumba 6-4 and it doesn’t appear in any of them. I also asked Ensign Himshe to check for similar sounds on the last five away missions.”
“Why, thank you, Captain.”
“Let’s see what this sound does,” Scotty said, popping the last of his sandwich in his mouth.
What it did was send the burnt-out panel glass in a completely opposite direction from the other junk. Spock and Chekov had an intense exchange in Russian before Spock looked up and said, “We are ninety-six-point-one percent certain that all the transporter safety protocols are being applied to the version not directed to the pad. Hence the consistent destruction of the ones on the pad without the shield the other transporter beam will materialize safely. Furthermore, we have narrowed the area of transport down to thirty meters, based on the starting point of the primary transporter room.”
“Well?” Jim beckoned Spock to give him the location.
“Engineering deck L, M or N between walkways 85 and 95 and phi and upsilon.”
Jim pulled up his mental map of the Enterprise. “Lieutenant Commander Vick died between main Engineering and that area.” Spock nodded. “Come on, let’s get some security and do a bit of reconnaissance.”
Spock insisted on rounding up several security officers before they went to investigate. Jim was pretty sure Swanson wouldn’t have hung around a place that he could potentially be traced to. They started on deck L and did a sweep of each corridor. They were almost finished with M when something caught Scotty’s eye. One of the floor-level panels had been inexpertly removed, judging by the faint scratches. After scanning it six ways from Sunday for booby traps, Scotty popped the panel off. Everything looked normal to Jim but Scotty was quick to point out the missing cable cord from the twist of power wires. To keep everything neat a cord was placed around the cables at every juncture. Any engineer working with the cables would have replaced the cord when they were done. The only reason someone would have removed the cord was if they needed to pull the cable out to power some device in the corridor. Jim ordered security to finish searching to be thorough, but he had his answer. Ensign Swanson was somewhere on the ship.
They retreated back to Scotty’s lab to figure out what to do next. “So, gentlemen and lady. How do we find him?” Jim asked the group.
“Internal ship sensors aren’t designed for that kind of scan. The external scanners are, but not on such a small scale,” Chekov offered.
“Even if the internal sensors were suitable for the task they do not cover enough of the ship to be useful,” Spock continued.
“We might be able to rig handheld units to pick up on a person’s heartbeat. They would need to have a huge range of sensitivity and be able to filter out the ambient ship noise,” Uhura suggested.
“That would register anyone in the immediate area,” said Spock.
Jim nodded. “We’ll give our people transmitters. One each, broadcasting a specific code. Then we can build a real-time map of where everyone is. We set up audio checkpoints in major areas and if a heartbeat without a matching transmitter shows up we check it out. Then we can have search teams with audio scanners too, doing the same thing.”
Scotty looked over at him. “Just so we’re clear you want us to build a hand held unit that can pick up a heartbeat at a useful distance, say twenty meters. And that can separate it from the rest of the noise around here. Then produce almost four hundred transmitters. And write a program that will mash that data together.”
“Yep.” Jim nodded decisively.
“Give me three days. I love a challenge.” Scotty rubbed his hands together.
Jim told him, “You have until tomorrow.”
Scotty chuckled and Jim grinned. It felt so good to be moving again after spending so much time thrashing over the files. “Scotty, Chekov, work on the handhelds; oh, and find some engineers to put together the transmitters. Those are simple enough. Uhura, I want you to find Bones and the two of you to figure out how to identify heartbeats. Spock, you’re with me putting together the mapping program.”
Jim waited a beat for Spock to object. The program was the simplest part of the whole plan. It probably wouldn’t take either of them more than four hours to do. Spock just nodded and went to the terminal. Together it only took them two-and-a-half hours to get it done. Jim briefly fantasized about working on a bigger project with Spock. Who knew what they could create together?
Jim checked in briefly with Uhura and Bones. If he interpreted their quick, half-formed sentences correctly, they were making progress and would let him know when they had a prototype. Spock joined Scotty and Chekov over the guts of a heavy duty recorder unit. It looked like they were recalibrating the artificial membranes and adding several more than normal. Jim decided to join Keenser, who was seated on the floor assembling transmitter after transmitter. He already had a pile of fifty or so of the pin-sized devices in front of him. After another two hours Jim asked Yeoman Rand to bring another meal. She delivered it, along with a stack of paperwork, implying that the ship would fall out of the sky if he didn’t complete it in the next twelve hours. He set to it.
An hour after that Uhura and Bones appeared bearing an audio filter that they thought would do the trick. Then it was still awhile until the audio sensor prototype was all put together. It reminded Jim of the ray guns from 'Billy Bob’s Great Space Odyssey'. There was a handle which had a frame that had twelve disks. The largest was probably thirty centimeters across. In front of it was a smaller one, then another smaller one until the last one, the tip of the cone, was only a centimeter across. A cord came down to a modified tricorder which would process the sounds with the new filter.
As usual, when there wasn’t certain death awaiting them in the next five minutes, the first try didn’t go well. Jim drifted back to his paperwork after it was clear it wouldn’t be a quick and easy bug to squash. He must have nodded off somewhere around the reviews of the mess’ upcoming efficiency estimates, because the next thing he knew someone was shaking his shoulder. “Captain.”
He cracked an eye open. Judging by the blue sleeve and hot hand... “Hey, Spock. How’s it going?”
“We believe the sensors, transmitters and tracking program are all working within acceptable parameters.”
He shook himself, trying to wake up the rest of the way. “Great. What time is it?”
“Wow.” He rubbed his face. “Scotty, it’s working?”
“Aye, it is.”
“Good work, everyone. Get some sleep. I’ll start organizing search parties.”
Bones poked Chekov until he slid off his stool and wandered towards the door yawning. Scotty roused a sleeping Uhura more gently and they left with their arms around each others' waists. Keenser must have left sometime earlier. Spock stood calmly, next to the five sensors they had created during the night.
“That goes for you, too, Spock.”
Spock blinked serenely at him. “I do not require sleep at this time.”
“You sure?” Jim was still trying to wake up but Spock still looked fresh after a night of working.
He stood up and did a full body stretch trying to convince his muscles moving was a good idea. “Okay. Let’s get this show on the road.”
They rounded up as many security officers and crew members with combat experience as they could find and explained the plan. The transmitters had been dropped off at Communications with orders to do word-of-mouth disbursement. Since it would take a while for every crew member to receive one. Jim decided to start their search in Engineering where there were fewer crew members per square meter, and which Swanson had already shown a fondness for.
Each search team was equipped with a scanner, a communicator and phasers. There was a good chance Swanson was armed. It took a little wrangling but Jim managed to get Spock on a separate search team. He needed team leaders he could trust to do things right. Jim's team was himself, Lieutenant Finn and Petty Officers Rothschild and Obedallah. They were assigned deck Q to search. All of the engineers starting alpha shift were given a transmitter before the search parties set out.
Petty Officer Rothschild took the lead once they descended to deck Q. The idea was that they would start at the low-numbered corridors and work their way towards the higher numbers. It wasn’t perfect but they would take advantage of the multidirectional nature of the scanner and multiple search parties. Each person wielding the scanner would scan the complete hemisphere giving them a reading including the deck above and the deck below. Each party was starting in a different place and walking a different way. Jim's team was starting at the fore. Spock’s team on the deck below would start on the starboard side and work upwards through the Greek alphabet. The team below his would start at the aft and work down the corridors from high numbers to low and so on with the group below them. It would be hard, but not impossible, to avoid all the search teams that way. Jim had scrambled to get everyone ready quickly. The sooner they started the less likely Swanson was to hear about the search and the more likely they were to catch him.
Jim's team were only two corridors in when the scanner started to blip quietly. Jim, Finn and Obedallah drew their phasers while Rothschild hung back with the scanner. They crept up on the cul-de-sac that was making the scanner blip a steady tone. He nodded to the others then turned the corner, phaser ready. The small gray-and-white cat that had chosen that particular piece of floor to sleep on blinked a lazy eye at him. Jim sighed. Obviously there was still work to do to get the scanner to only pick up on humans. They couldn’t leave it here. It might start running around and set off false positives all over the place. The cat must have decided it didn’t like the look of him because when he walked towards it it sprang to its feet, neatly avoided his grab for it by diving between his legs and was off like a shot. Lieutenant Finn made a lunge for it as it streaked passed. Obedallah let it go by him before raising his phaser and shooting. The shot went wide but the cat stumbled to a halt and collapsed on its side.
Jim gave Obedallah a sideways look.
He smiled. “We had troublemaker cats on the Royale, sir. I learned pretty quick how close you need to hit with a human graded phaser to stun the pests.”
“Thanks, Petty Officer. Take that little guy up to main Engineering. Either tag him with a transmitter or get someone to keep him until we’re finished down here.”
Obedallah tucked the stunned cat into his arms and walked away.
“Okay. Let’s get back to searching.” Jim told Finn and Rothschild.
They had made it almost a quarter of the way across the deck before the scanner started to blip again, more intensely this time. It pointed them towards one of the auxiliary control rooms. Jim and Finn positioned themselves on either side of the door, once again with phasers at the ready. Jim palmed the entry panel and the door hissed open. Jim and Finn swung forward, pointing their phasers at two crewmen that until a second ago had probably been very aroused. Mortified was probably a more accurate word now. Jim looked long enough to verify that neither was Swanson then barked, “You’ve got sixty seconds to make yourselves presentable,” before palming the door shut. Finn had turned red and was biting his lip and avoiding eye contact. When Jim judged the awkward silence had lasted more than a minute he opened the door again to a shame faced and silent Ensign Sun and an extremely apologetic Chief Petty Officer Howell. He cut her off. “At the moment I don’t have time to give you two a lecture on appropriate places for personal activities.” Sun’s shoulders relaxed. “Expect one from Commander Spock in the near future.” Sun winced and Howell’s red face started to fade to white. “For the moment, complete your work here and report to main Engineering for further instructions.”
Sun offered hopefully. “Umm... neither of us are on duty, sir.”
He waved them away. “Then report to main Engineering now. They’ll explain what’s going on.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
They ducked passed him and started briskly -very briskly- away from the search party. Jim snorted. He was sure tomorrow that little encounter would seem absolutely hilarious.
They set off again, slowly working their way back and forth across Q deck. It was another five passes before the scanner began to blip again. They stopped at an intersection to try to get a fix on this new signal. As they stood the blipping became faster; whoever it was was moving towards them. Jim hastily motioned Finn around one corner while he and Rothschild ducked around the other way. After a few seconds came the quiet sound of footsteps. They weren’t going fast or slow. Whoever it was was going somewhere but they weren’t in a rush to get there.
Petty Officer Rothschild fumbled with the scanner, making a shushing sound as it slid against his uniform sleeve. The footsteps stopped. Jim thought, ‘Ah, fuck it,’ and wheeled around the corner. Too late. Ensign Able Swanson was already ducking low and charging. His shoulder jammed into Jim's gut, winding him. Swanson continued his charge on a diagonal past a gawping Finn. Finn turned to track Swanson.
Jim bellowed, “Stun him!” Finn’s hand twitched convulsively around his phaser. The wild shot sparked and dissipated ineffectually along the wall. Jim pushed past the unresponsive Finn to chase after Swanson. He pulled out his communicator as he ran. Still winded from the blow to the stomach he panted out, “Found hm. He’s running up corridor sixteen.” There was a jumbled series of acknowledgments. Dimly he heard two sets of running feet behind him. Swanson swerved.
Rothschild called out, “He’s turning!”
Jim echoed it. “He’s turning down Mu.” Again a jumbled response that the other teams were closing on their position. The red-shirt in front of them made another sharp turn. “He’s going down seventeen now.” Swanson tried to throw them off by going around in a large loop between seventeen and fourteen. They managed to keep up with him, barely. They were all panting and red faced after sprinting for five solid minutes. Swanson came out of his circle at fifteen, where he flung himself up the metal stairs to deck P.
“Damn it,” Jim breathed. The stairs shook as the three of them pounded up. They reached the landing just in time to see him duck around one of the massive turbines. P deck had five story high ceilings to accommodate the large equipment. It was going to make Swanson hard to catch since he could hide behind machinery as big as buildings. They turned the corner and Jim literally skidded a foot trying to stop. Swanson had stopped and while gulping for air he was holding a phaser menacingly towards the busily blinking computer bank behind him. Jim desperately tried to remember what this particular section did. They all stood for several seconds, breathing heavily. He could sense that Finn and Rothschild had come to flank him. Finn’s quiet, “Shit,” was almost drowned out by their breathing and the ambient noise. It validated Jim's suspicion that Swanson was in a position to fuck their shit up.
Swanson, still swallowing heavily, waved the phaser from side to side. “If you don’t know what this is, it’s part of the navigation system. It’s the part that does all the warp calculations.”
Jim grasped at that. “Machinery isn’t affected by phaser fire.”
Swanson rolled his eyes. “Like you don’t know that they’ve been using bionetics for years in that circuitry. One good blast and the warp bubble goes poof.”
A hasty clatter signaled the arrival of another of the search parties. Spock didn’t look at all winded from what must have been a mad dash up here. He did look pissed. Not like he was going to fly into a wild rage but like Swanson had just removed himself from the category of those things worthy of life. Jim shivered.
As Spock stepped up beside Jim he spoke in a voice so carefully controlled it might as well have been a computer. “You are acting illogically. A persistent habit of your race.”
“Oh. Yeah?” Swanson sneered.
“Oh, as you say, yeah. We are many. You are one.” Spock's diction was razor sharp, conveying his annoyance more thoroughly than shouting.
Swanson had his eyes on them but his phaser was still firmly point at the computer. “One good blast to this-”
“And you will die just like every other individual on this ship.”
“Yep.” Swanson agreed manically.
“We merely have to wait. You have nowhere to go. You are surrounded.” Two more of the search teams had arrived. “And eventually you will fall asleep or pass out from exhaustion.” Spock continued.
Swanson's smile grew. “That’s why I’ve rigged this with a dead man’s switch. The second my finger comes off this trigger...boom.”
Jim stepped in. This wasn’t getting them anywhere. “What do you want, Able? If it was us dead you’d have already fired.”
“Ha. The great Captain comes begging.” A flicker of silver rapidly descending caught Jim's eye. Swanson continued, “What I want...” He trailed off as he noticed Jim's attention had shifted. He looked up just in time to catch a wrench in his face. He crumpled. His phaser tumbled out of loose fingers. Jim hit the deck with a hundred pounds of Vulcan on top of him, as the phaser sprayed out a wide area blast of energy. He watched in horror as its butt hit the ground and bounced, then fell towards Swanson and the computer bank.
Thoughts flashed across his mind. 'We’re all going to die' lead to 'what the hell'. He gripped Spock’s face and turned it to plant a closed-mouthed kiss square on his lips. Spock didn’t pull away. Nor did he respond as Jim counted off the seconds of contact in his head. Two, three, four, five. Shouldn’t they be dead by now? He moved his eyes then his head. The phaser was still discharging in stuttering bursts on the floor. There was no way the beam could have missed the computer bank. Spock levered himself off of Jim to investigate.
Jim shivered, missing the warmth. He shook himself and stood up. “Where the hell did that wrench come from and why the hell aren’t we dead?”
The rest of the search party seemed just as confused as he was. “Captain?” It was soft and it was coming from above him. He squinted up at the gray metal ceiling. On one of the scaffold-like protrusions he saw a shock of red. “Keenser! Get down here! With an explanation!”
The background buzz stopped as Spock figured out how to undo whatever Swanson had done to his phaser. It became quiet enough to hear a labored exhalation. “If he’s still alive, get Medical down here. Hell, get Medical down here anyway.”
Petty Officer Rothschild jumped to, quickly relaying the message to sickbay. Jim jogged over to where he could see Keenser climbing down the wall. Keenser had just touched down when he demanded, “What the hell?!”
“We were listening to the comms, sir. When we figured out where he was we started switching all these systems to backups.”
Jim gaped at him. “And you couldn’t have just commed us to say so?”
Keenser tilted his head to the side. “It slipped, sir.”
Jim repeated the phrase, attempting to convey his massive disbelief. “It slipped?”
“Yes, all will swear.” Keenser nodded.
“Fine. It slipped.” He took a deep breath and blew it out. “Thank you for your quick thinking, Lieutenant. But keep better track of your tools in future. And find someone to look at the damage that phaser did to the computer.”
“I will assess it now.”
Jim walked back to the computer bank with Keenser. He had to consciously slow down because however fast Keenser was at climbing, his short legs didn’t let him walk very quickly. When they got back they found Bones, Dr. Lars and Nurse Chapel working hurriedly to stop Swanson’s bleeding. Bones was barking orders while his red hands plucked at Swanson’s face. Dr. Lars was administering hypos. Spock was quietly dismantling the search parties. Jim caught Lieutenant Finn’s eye and nodded back up the walkway a few meters. Finn set his jaw and followed.
Finn stared at his feet instead of meeting Jim's eye.
“You okay?” Jim asked.
Finn mumbled, “Yes, sir.”
“You froze back there.”
Finn swallowed. “I did, sir.”
“I-I wasn’t prepared, sir.” His jaw worked. “I didn’t believe you, sir. When you said it was him. I thought, sure, maybe someone is hiding down there killing people. I just didn’t think it could be him.” Finn blinked quickly. “I couldn’t believe he would have killed Vick.” His eyes closed and his lips disappeared into a frown. “But I was wrong.”
“Lieutenant, I can either request or order you to talk to Dr. Evans about this.”
“Dr. Evans, sir?”
Right. Finn might have figured out what had happened between Dr. Evans and Lieutenant Commander Baal. “Make that whichever of the medical staff you feel comfortable with.”
“I will talk to one of them, sir.” A request wouldn’t show up on his record like an order would.
When they got back the doctors had take Swanson to sickbay, leaving Chapel to check whether anyone else had been injured. She was slowly rotating Ensign Non’s wrist while she hissed in pain. Keenser was moving his hands across the computer console. The diagnostic script was scrolling across the terminal and from the amount of red Jim caught in three seconds, it would probably need extensive repairs. Spock was standing there with his hands behind his back. It wasn’t like Spock to linger when there was work to do.
Jim decided to employ one of those arts of diplomacy he had learned over the last year. Time to stall. He needed to talk to Spock. He knew that. He didn’t need to talk to Spock when he was coming down from an adrenaline high or finally relaxing after weeks of chasing a murderer. “Spock, hold down the fort. I’m going to put together a report for HQ. Let them know we’ve found our killer.”
Another thing he’d learned during his year of command was that a strategic retreat looked a hell of a lot like running away.
When Jim actually sat down at his desk to write something his mind was blank. He spent almost an hour at it and the only thing he could come up with was 'Ensign Swanson not dead'. 'Went on a killing spree. Currently in sickbay. Details to follow.' Maybe if he asked Spock nicely he would add in some pronouns. If he and Spock were on speaking terms. Damn, that conversation was going to have to happen soon. Jim puttered around the bridge for another hour, doing some paperwork, avoiding Sulu’s hurt looks in his direction. Some one most have told him about the impromptu senior staff pow wow in Scotty's lab.
Jim finally admitted he needed to face the music when Bones commed him to tell him to come and collect his Vulcan. Apparently Spock had been lurking in sickbay long enough for Nurse Chapel to offer him the latest edition of a journal of neuroscience research, a bowl of soup and a back rub. Bones was demanding Jim come down before Chapel could offer anything else. Jim mused that Spock planted himself in the one place Jim couldn’t avoid for long. He would have to go and get a report on Swanson’s condition. Jim was surprised Bones hadn’t already started pestering him about a check-up after the shoulder he had taken to the gut. Maybe Bones hadn’t heard about that yet, or the flying tackle.
When Jim stepped into sickbay he didn’t see Spock. “Captain.” He jumped at the voice behind him. Spock had decided to lounge, with impeccable posture, right next to the door. “Spock.” Jim was just about to ask what he was doing when Bones ambled into view in a clean pair of surgical scrubs. “Hey, Bones. What’s the word on Swanson?”
Bones snorted. “Its still touch-and-go. Half of his face was crushed. He’s in a coma now. If he wakes up at all, I won’t swear he’ll be coherent or even sentient, with the amount of brain damage he suffered. He’ll be blind in both eyes and need a bunch of reconstructive surgery on his face.”
“There goes any hope of a reason.” Jim mused.
Spock joined them, keeping himself between Jim and the the he noticed. “Perhaps now we know the murderer as well as the victims the motive will become clear.”
“Could be he just went crazy. Transporters can do that to you.” Bones grumbled.
“Bones...” Jim really wasn't in the mood for McCoy's paranoia.
Spock raised an eyebrow at him. “You postulate that his actions are the result of transporter psychosis?”
“It’s as good a theory as any. The victim loses their grip on reality but is still capable of complex reasoning. There was a case on the Heron where the victim thought all blue wires were faulty. He managed to rewire half the core systems,” Bones waved a finger for emphasis, ”correctly before anyone caught on.”
Jim shrugged. Even if you could actually go insane from transporters, it didn’t feel right to blame five murders on a transporter problem. He vaguely remembered doing a puzzle once with another kid in grade school. When two pieces didn’t quite fit together the other boy would pound them on the desk with his fist until they did. This day reminded him of that puzzle. The blue sky mingled with green pieces from the grass. Jim hadn't been able to figure out what the picture was supposed to be but the other kid had been so proud he finished it. Jim ran his hands over his face and through his hair. Maybe this would all make more sense tomorrow. He made sure that there were guards posted around Swanson and said goodbye to Bones.
He wasn’t a bit surprised when Spock fell into step with him. “Captain, we need to discuss today’s events.”
“Right as usual, Spock.” Tired and anxious Jim couldn't resist asking. “Your place or mine?”
The wound up in Spock’s quarters, since they were a couple of yards closer. Spock didn’t offer him tea or a chair or a last cigarette. Spock faced him, hands behind his back, with the usual expression of placid interest. “Captain, I request an explanation for your actions today, when you believed the warp bubble would destabilize.”
There were a hundred excuses on the tip of his tongue. He thought he was going to die. It could have been anyone. He wanted to go out with a bang. It's a reflex, honest. Anyone could have tackled me. Hell, Spock would probably accept any of those and they would pretend it never happened.
Jim squared his shoulders and looked Spock right in the eye. “I’m attracted to you. You’re smart. You’re funny when you want to be and you don’t take any of my shit. I’ve wanted to kiss you for months and if it was the last thing I did I wouldn’t have regretted it.”
Neither Spock's expression nor his posture changed. “I see. Do you wish to pursue an ongoing monogamous sexual relationship with me?”
Jim squinted at him, wondering if this was a trick question. “Umm...yes?”
“Very well. We will begin one immediately.” Spock nodded.
Jim tried to catch up with this conversation. “Did you just ask me to go steady?”
“'Steady' is not the first adjective that I would apply to you. 'Captivating' is more apt.”
Spock replied stepping towards him.
Jim looked at the ceiling. “Spock, how long have we been flirting?”
“Three months, seven days, eight hours.”
“You have been flirting with me for twelve months, twenty days, two hours. It appears to be a compulsive behavior on your part, to flirt with all individuals you encounter.” Jim made a hurt noise. Spock continued. “It made it difficult to judge your intent.”
“Okay... So you started flirting back four months ago.”
“Affirmative.” Spock was even closer now.
“Huh.” Jim was sure that there was a story behind that, which he would ask Spock for sometime when he wasn't dead tired and giddy, but for now... “So, if we’re dating, does that mean I get a good night kiss?” He gave Spock his best hopeful look.
Spock stepped into his space slowly sliding his fingers along Jim’s jaw and leaning in for a slow, solemn kiss. The kiss felt huge to Jim. They were at the beginning of something. Something vast, possibilities multiplying infinitely before them, Jim knew this could be so much more than a round of slap and tickle. Jim grinned at the phrase. He leaned in for another kiss and another. He kept his eyes closed. Somewhere in the last ten minutes the tension of the past days had bled out of him. Spock’s warm arms around him and the soft touch of his lips let him drift farther and farther into his fatigue.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
His brain caught up with his ears and he rolled away from the warmth to face the ceiling. “What is it?”
Ensign Himshe hesitated. “Captain?”
Jim blinked at the ceiling. Oh yeah, these weren’t his quarters. “Yes, Ensign.”
“We’ve arrived at Outpost ZZ-9pza. The new crew members are ready to beam aboard, sir.”
“Tell them five minutes.” Kirk rolled upright off the bed and started hunting for his cloths. “I’ll meet them in the transporter room.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” She signed off.
He found his uniform tunic draped over a chair and his boots neatly aligned under it. He heard Spock rise as he slipped the gold shirt over his head. Spock was in a similar state of dishabille, still in undershirt and trousers. Jim sat down to pull on his boots. He gave Spock a goofy smile. A few hours' sleep and the start of something with Spock made this seem like a very good day. Add to that he could assure the crew beaming aboard that they would be safe. He paused with a boot in the air. He let that thought spiral gently through his mind, connecting with others from the past weeks.
He jammed his foot into the boot and slapped the comm link on Spock’s desk. “Security, get a team down to the transporter room. Now. Captain’s orders.” Spock was looking at him quizzically. “Come on.” Jim set out for the transporter room at a sprint. It must still be gamma shift, he thought. The hallways were clear enough to keep running all the way to the transporter room. They burst in just as the figures resolved from the golden whorls. The transporter operator, Lieutenant Alvez, shot a glance at them, but quickly turned back to make sure the sequence completed correctly.
On the pad were five Starfleet personnel, three men and two women. Three in red, one in gold and one in blue. Hair colors ranged from white-blond to dark brown.
One of the men in red was already stepping forward stiffly. “Captain, it’s a-”
Jim cut him off. “I have a security team on its way as we speak.”
The four behind the man exchanged confused looks. The one in front extended his hands, palms up. “Captain.” His eyes flicked to Spock standing at Jim's shoulder then back. “Why do you need a security team?”
Jim kept running his eyes over them. He had hoped that the mention of a security team would make one of them flinch. They all seemed genuinely confused. Behind him the door hissed and the four-man security team filed in.
“Okay, let’s try this.” He tapped the comm. “Captain to Medical. I need someone with a medical tricorder to the main transporter room now.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw the man in blue lunge towards Reese, scrabbling for his phaser. Reese sidestepped, letting the man’s momentum carry him dangerously off balance, then slid his leg in and over, forcing the weight-bearing knee out and around. The man toppled to the side. The man in blue recovered to find Petty Officer Mutu’s phaser pointed at him.
Jim crowed. “Thought so.” Reese went about securing the man. Jim looked speculatively at the four newly arrived crew members, each in a different state of shock. “Lock ‘em all up. We’ll sort it out later.”
He turned on his heel and was out the door, the protests silenced as the door shut. Jim hightailed it to the bridge. Spock caught up with him at the turbolift. “Perhaps you may provide an explanation of your actions?”
“In a minute.” A thought struck him and he grinned. “Hey, can you teach me to say something grossly insulting in Romulan in the next ten seconds?”
Spock went still for just a moment with his mouth half open then responded. “Ah. I believe I am starting to comprehend your actions. Kllhe and amton'wi-kha would both be insulting to a member of Tal’Shiar.”
Jim mimicked each phrase twice before the doors opened. “Ensign Himshe, get me a channel to Commodore Anwir. Now.”
She whirled her chair and hastily worked at her console. Jim dropped into the Captain’s chair as he waited for a connection. “On screen now, sir.”
Jim smiled and sprawled. “Commodore Anwir.”
“Captain Kirk.” If Anwir was surprised by the call he didn't show it. “I trust the personnel transfer went smoothly.”
Jim tried not to show how much he wanted to grind his teeth. “Yes, they are all safely aboard, Commodore.”
“I hope they remain so. What with the accidents you have been having recently, I am of course concerned for their well being. “
Jim knew his bright smile had an edge on it when he replied, “Happily, we’ve resolved that problem.”
Some of Anwir's haughtiness was replaced with calculation. “That is indeed fortunate. What was its origin?”
“Sabotage, if you can believe it.” Jim saw Sulu and Djarc exchange looks, probably wondering at his manic glee.
“Someone with a personal grudge, no doubt.” Anwir offered baring his teeth.
“You know what the ‘fleet says about that, Kllhe.”
Commodore Anwir snarled and the connection was cut.
“Sir,” came Sulu’s said, “they raised the outpost’s shields and have locked their main phasers on us.”
“Red alert. Raise shields. Begin evasive maneuvers.” Immediately the lights dimmed and shifted to red.
There was a chorus of “Aye, aye, sir.”
A console chirping coalescing into a whine tracking the photon torpedoes the outpost had sent their way. The Enterprise shuddered as the charges skidded along her shields. Sulu’s quick course change had prevented a direct blow.
Jim knew that an outpost like this one would have a well-shielded weapons array. The idea was that the outpost would be able to knock out any ship before it could lay siege to it. Outposts didn’t have the option to retreat like starships did.
It would take the Enterprise time to knock out the weapons, time Jim was loath to give Anwir. The Romulan must have some sort of exit strategy. “Sulu, ignore the shielding around the weapons array. Focus on the outpost’s main shield array.”
“I’ll have to get really close to hit it.” Sulu pitched the ship to avoid a phaser blast and used the momentum to skim the Enterprise around the circumference of the outpost.
Djarc neatly dropped two torpedoes, one causing the outpost to glitter and shake. “A hit, sir.”
“Their main shields are down to seventy percent, Captain.” Spock reported behind him.
Sulu’s hands skittered across his console to pull the Enterprise out of its loop in time to avoid a phaser blast to the port nacelle. “They're charging phasers for another shot, sir.”
Jim shook his head. “Bring us around for another pass and keep an eye out for those photon torpedoes.”
The Enterprise dove quickly. He was right. The phaser charge had been a smoke screen for a new battery of torpedoes. Sulu corkscrewed them through it, avoiding almost all of the charges. Djarc landed both shots this time. Spock calmly reported that the outpost’s shields were down to twenty-five percent as the ship rocked from another glancing blow. It took a full minute for Sulu to work the Enterprise back around for another shot. Whoever was in command down there must have realized that the Enterprise had a specific target. After whipping past the outpost, Sulu flipped the ship one-hundred-and-eighty degrees, stem to stern, to give Djarc one more clear shot at the shield array.
“Shields are down, Captain.” There was a question in Sulu’s voice. What are we going to do to them.
“Begin standard emergency evacuation procedures for the outpost.” Djarc looked at him quickly over his shoulder. “They can’t fire on us if there’s no-one there to fire.” And no way in hell was he firing on defenseless Starfleet personnel. “Sulu, keep us out of their sights but stay in transporter range.” He hit the comm. “Security, block off cargo bays eight, fifteen and...” Jim racked his brain.
“Nineteen is also empty and contains a bulk transporter,” Spock said.
“Thanks, nineteen for potentially hostile evacuees. Oh, and have someone scan for Romulans among them.”
Sulu kept them out of phaser fire for a good twenty seconds before Lieutenant Alvez commed. “First group is in eight, twenty people, sir.” By the time fifty people had been transported aboard, the outpost weapons fire had become chaotic. One last errant torpedo fired as the last ten people were transported to bay nineteen. Jim sat back in his chair while Sulu sagged. There was a shared moment of silence as the tension ebbed away.
“Cancel red alert.”
“Captain, I request a summary of the logic behind your actions.” Spock left his station to stand by Jim's chair.
The bridge doors hissed open. “What the hell has been going on? First we get called to the transporter room, by you, and when we show up security is hauling people away and have no idea why we’re there. Then we’re under attack. Everyone is alright, by the way. Now I’m told there are a hundred people in the cargo bays.”
“It wasn't transporter psychosis, Bones.”
“Swanson wasn’t killing people for revenge or because he was insane. It was too organized, but too random. Ensign Bestine’s meds and the other ones were all created before the away mission to Kumba 6-4 and we can’t blame transporter psychosis for the fact that he was able to get himself transported, safely, into an isolated area of Engineering where some piece of equipment had been set up and taken down.”
“You believe there was a secondary transporter pad set up prior to the Kumba 6-4 mission?” Spock asked.
The bridge crew had all turned to listen to Jim. “Yep. The supplies to make one had all gone missing from ship stores before then.”
“So Swanson put a lot of planning into his ‘death’ and always intended to hide out on the ship.” Bones was nodding.
“Why?” Sulu asked. “If he wanted to jump ship he could have holed up down there until we got to Plix and no one would have known.”
“The same reason why he was the only one alive after the Kumba 6-4 away mission, why he didn’t hide Vick’s body when he had the time or why Morn stumbled across him when Garrett was already dead. He was killing just enough people to make us stop at Outpost ZZ-9pza.”
“You speculate that he made certain that away team didn’t come back because of his action or inaction.” Jim nodded and Spock continued. “Which left four people before the Enterprise was below the critical personnel threshold.”
“Ensign Bestine’s death took it down to three. Ensign Baloo’s death was improvised, I think. He caught Swanson getting something from the storage bays. With Vick he probably had time to hide the body but until we located Vick’s body she wouldn’t have counted against crew requirements.”
Bones chewed his lip. “And you would have kept searching until you found her, which meant you might find him.”
“Right. Ensign Garrett got our numbers down to the point we had to detour.” Jim told him.
“So why kill Annelee?” Bones asked frustrated.
Jim grimaced. “He had gone through all the trouble to make Ensign Garrett’s death look like an accident instead of sabotage. If Scotty hadn’t mentioned that some of the holos had been reconnected we wouldn’t have noticed.”
“He was attempting to make it appear that only the holos listed in the service request were faulty to keep us uncertain.”
“And Annelee walked in while he was doing it. He didn’t want to take the chance she’d recognize him.” Bones paused. “All of that was to get us to divert to Outpost ZZ-9pza. Not to jump ship there?”
Jim sat back. “I’m not sure if Swanson planned to leave there or on Plix. It doesn’t matter. The point of Outpost ZZ-9pza was to pick up more crew.”
Sulu asked. “So he was leading us into an ambush.”
“No, any crew we picked up would have been given the option to stay on the Enterprise at Plix and go with us into the neutral zone.”
“So, they’re Romulan spies?” Djarc breathed.
“Some of them, at least. So is Anwir.” Jim confirmed.
“You really think Swanson was part of a plot to deliver the Enterprise gift-wrapped to the Romulans?” Ensign Himshe asked eyes wide.
“More than I believe an uninspiring officer and student suddenly came up with a way to redirect transporter beams based on sonic interference and managed to upload it into the Enterprise systems without anyone noticing.” Jim said rather grimly.
“Huh.” Bones said after a pregnant pause. “Well I don’t think we’ll make whatever date we had with the Romulans. It’s going to take a while to get everything sorted out here.”
“Which reminds me, Bones, Security could use some medical help figuring out who from the station is Romulan.” Jim gave Bones his winning smile. Bones turned on his heel and left muttering about insane Romulans and starship Captains.
“Sulu, you have the conn. Spock, go help Security sort things out with the outpost personnel. I have to figure out how to explain this whole mess to HQ.” At least, now that he had all the pieces the report would be coherent.
Jim had moved his paperwork extravaganza to his quarters around the end of alpha shift. He had sent a preliminary report off in which he tried to emphasize the Romulan spies and murders and downplay the firing on a Starfleet outpost. He had started working on the more detailed reports as well as keeping an eye on the situation with the ‘evacuees’. Spock managed to sort out who was Starfleet and who was Tal’Shiar. At the moment they had Security and Engineering down on the outpost looking for any nasty surprises Anwir might have set up. Spock seemed to think he was the type.
The door chimed and Jim would bet he knew who it was. “Come.” He was right. “Hi, Spock.”
Jim gave him a wide smile. Apparently this relationship they had made Spock willing to use first names. “Everything wrapped up for the evening?”
“The infiltrators have been isolated and temporary quarters arranged for the outpost crew.”
“Awesome.” Jim smiled. He was feeling good, like the world made sense again.
Spock steeped towards him. “Indeed. I have yet to express my admiration for your deductive reasoning skills.”
“Thanks.” He said ruefully. “I almost didn’t make the connection.”
“You were the only one who did. Neither Dr. McCoy nor I considered Swanson’s actions in totality. You did.”
“Aw, is that your way of say you find my logic sexy?”
“The ability to put aside one's preconceptions and approach a problem logically is a desirable quality.” Spock tilted his head to the side.
Jim laughed. He had to. The number of times Spock had talked about desirable qualities; he had never put it together with attraction. “Three months, seven days, eight hours, huh?”
“Three months, eight days, five hours, now.” Spock corrected.
Jim didn't even try to hide his sappy grin. “Right, let me get this report finished and we’ll go to dinner.”
Spock nodded and dropped into the opposite chair.
There had been ten Romulan spies, Commodore Anwir, four of the remaining outpost personnel and all of the replacement crew Anwir had given to the Enterprise. Heads were rolling at HQ as they scrambled to figure out how the Romulans had managed to plant so many people, plus a Commodore on a Starfleet outpost. That hadn’t stopped Jim from having to explain repeatedly why he had the Enterprise fire on a Starfleet outpost. Komack seemed particularly sullen when HQ closed that part of the investigation, commenting that Jim had acted with in his purview as Captain and in accordance with regulation. They also had people working to figure out when and how Swanson had become a double agent but so far hadn't come up with much. The Romulan Empire was disclaiming any knowledge of Anwir and his spies. Last Jim had heard the Empire had still been implying that Starfleet had planted members of a rebel Romulan faction on the outpost to be found in some sort of triple cross.
The Enterprise was left to kick back their heels and wait. The outpost’s third-in-command was keeping things running until the new Commander arrived from Plix. Even the repairs Scotty had organized for the damage to the shield array during the fight didn't keep them occupied for along. So they had ended up keeping most of the ship’s social activities on schedule after they had sorted out the outpost’s personnel. Spock’s concert was amazing. Jim sat in the front row and was on his best behavior. Even if he hadn’t promised Spock, Uhura’s warning look would have kept him quiet, maybe. When the outpost crew had heard about the football tournament on the Enterprise they had asked to join and fielded two teams. Jim's team was zero for six now.
The Koto arrived at the outpost after twenty-six days and Commodore Lee took command of the outpost. The prisoners, including the still comatose Swanson, were transferred to the Koto, which would make its why back to Plix along with the Enterprise. The Koto had also brought more personnel for the outpost and the Enterprise. A total of fifteen of the new Enterprise crew had been able to ship out early. They would pick up the other twenty-nine when they got to the Ground Base. Eight Plixi, three humans, two Nicadian and two Betazoids. They were settling in well, according to Dr. Evans, although there had been a bit of an awkward moment when the Betazoid Ensign, Marhz, had tried to empathically greet Petty Officer Daws. After Elizabeth had calmed down, Ensign Marhz explained that she had sensed Elizabeth was an empath and assumed she was familiar with the custom. Daws was going to start working with Marhz and the medical staff to determine the extent of her abilities.
Twelve days after they left the outpost Jim told Sulu to drop the ship out of warp. Then he asked Scotty to switch to low level emergency lighting throughout the ship. He open a shipwide broadcast. “Attention, crew. We’ve seen a lot this year. We’ve lost a lot, too. We’ve lost good officers, good friends and good people.” Jim heard Spock’s footsteps as he came to stand beside the Captain’s chair. “I would like to take a moment now to acknowledge each of them. Yeoman Daren Smith.” He paused.
Chekov echoed him. “Yeoman Daren Smith?”
“Ensign Esmeralda Grez.”
Chekov, Sulu and Djarc replied, “Ensign Esmeralda Grez.”
“Chief Petty Officer Bloom.”
The whole bridge crew repeated, “Chief Petty Officer Bloom.”
“Lieutenant Henry Harrington.” And on it went, Jim reciting names in the dim blue light and his crew whispering them back. After he named, “Petty Officer Annelee Morn.” and heard it repeated, he let the silence build. “You will be missed.” He blinked. “Scotty, lights.”
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