It began, after all the action and drama and near-death experiences, finally, with words.
All hands, this is – Captain – James Kirk. If I can have just a moment of your time – in a few minutes, I will be reporting to the bridge and we will be launching from Spacedock to begin our five-year mission. I hope it’s the first of many. I know it’s been a long road here. We’ve had to cram a lot of training and practice into a very short time, but every single one of you has passed with flying colors. This isn’t the ship that Starfleet expected to be launching, and we’re not the crew they thought she’d carry. But we will do them proud, and we’ll carry the memory of everyone who isn’t here today into the black with us. We’re flying for our homes, and for our friends and family, and for each other, and when we return five years from now, it’s going to be as the best damn ship in the Fleet. I made that promise earlier today to Admiral Pike, and he said he is holding me to it. I don’t intend to let him down, and I don’t intend to let my crew down. So. Let’s see what’s out there. Kirk out.
Sitting at her station, Uhura nodded to herself as she listened to the Captain’s speech. He was obviously reading – she wondered if he’d gotten someone to ghostwrite it or he’d done it himself. But that didn’t really matter, she reminded herself. He’d struck just the right tone. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see Chekov sitting up straighter at the Nav station, trading an excited grin with Sulu. She glanced to her right, at the lieutenant seated at Science, and sat taller herself when the door opened and Kirk strode onto the bridge.
“Dock Control reports ready, Captain.” She answered his nervous smile with one of her own. “Yard Command signaling clear.” Despite all her promises not to get swept up, the excitement was tickling beneath her skin.
When Spock slid into his seat, she was finally able to start breathing again. The Enterprise slipped away from her mooring, and Uhura informed the Yard that they were underway.
“Godspeed, Enterprise,” Docking Control replied, and just like that, they were off.
Their first mission was a milk run. So was their second. After they rescued a freighter convoy from pirates and chased them down in the Unallied Territories, Command started to take them at their word that maybe they were actually competent, and began giving them real missions to do: examination of the Westerlund 1 magnetar (which had everyone in Science, including Spock, utterly freaked out with excitement); mapping of the Catulian Sector (which was a nightmare thanks to the gravitational anomalies that refused to sit still); relieving the Aldrin for their turn patrolling the Neutral Zones; rushing to Starbase 51’s aid when an earthquake dropped half of the base’s dirtside structure in a liquefaction ditch (currently topping the list for Worst Mission Yet, but nobody dares ask what it would take to beat that).
There were other bad missions too, ones that shook the entire crew: the battle with a Klingon warbird that crossed the border near 14 Eridani that cost ten crewmembers their lives and ended in a draw when the warbird slipped back into Imperial territory; the first contact mission at Rho Geminorum IV that ended with the away team summarily dismissed and told to never return; and another first contact outside of the Betreka Nebula where the universal translators failed and despite Uhura’s best attempts at programming -- and Kirk’s best attempt at sweet-talking the situation -- they had to withdraw before the ship was blasted apart.
Nine months into their mission, they finally drew a diplomatic assignment.
“I’m pretty sure this is going to be a disaster.”
“I do not think you give him enough credit,” Spock said, and Nyota laughed and went back to tuning her lyre.
“Seriously? Spock, he’s a good captain, I’ll give him that. And he put all the pieces together, saved the planet, and got Pike back, so he’s clearly either incredibly lucky or crazy or both. But he works best when he’s flying by the seat of his pants, and that just doesn’t cut it for diplomacy.”
Spock regarded her mildly. “We are guests during the Coridan government’s debates about Federation membership. I doubt there will be any seat-flying required, Nyota.”
Nyota laughed at his expression. “Spock, this is Kirk we’re talking about. If there’s trouble in a ten-parsec radius, he’ll find it. If he isn’t causing it.” She struck a diatonic scale and modified it into the first of the Vulcan major tones. “So are we playing?”
Raising an eyebrow, Spock called up T’Ril’s second duet for lyre and handed the padd to her. “Where’s yours?” Nyota asked, and then she rolled her eyes. “Never mind. You have this one memorized too, don’t you?”
“I learned it as a young child,” he said, lifting his chin.
“So I stand a chance at it?”
He inclined his head and sketched out the tempo with a finger in human style. Nyota had just enough time to stick her tongue out at him before they began, and after that all her concentration was on the music.
They were expecting further orders, so Uhura was not at all surprised to receive the hail from Starfleet. She was surprised to see it was Lieutenant Toshbla. “Uhura. Greetings you I give. Admiral Pike to Captain Kirk must talk.”
It always took a moment for Uhura to switch languages when she was talking with Pike’s Saurian assistant. “Greet you I as well, Toshbla. Kirk summoning. Moment waiting.” She hit mute and spun in her chair. “Captain? Admiral Pike for you.”
Kirk turned his head, looking entirely unsurprised. “Ok good. I’ll take it in my office, Lieutenant, if you’d be so kind. Spock?” He gestured at the chair as he stood, and Spock rose from his chair, transferring his current work to a padd, and stepped over to take Kirk’s place without looking up once.
“Captain,” he murmured, and sat down. Kirk shook his head, a small smile on his face, and headed to his ready room, snapping off a two-fingered salute to Uhura as he passed her. She pressed her lips together and opened the line back up.
“Toshbla? Kirk receiving. To-through transfer, kindness appreciated.”
“Good talking, Uhura. Well travel,” Toshbla said, and she nodded at the screen. Uhura grinned back, and dumped the feed to the ready room. And then she left her Feinberg in her ear and kept the audio on, ignoring the knowing look Spock gave her.
Jim, you’re looking well.
All the beauty sleep I get, of course. Kirk’s tone was awfully familiar, but he’d always been like that with Pike. Nyota was desperately curious, but her careful and delicate sliding into (mostly) public records during quiet moments had revealed nothing, and unfortunately her hacking skills were not up to Kirk’s level, so she’d had to give up and accept she’d just stay curious.
Well. I have an update for you on the Coridan mission. Pike sounded exasperated. Remember that heads-up I gave you, that they’d be sending along a minder with the diplomatic envoy?
Don’t keep me in suspense, sir.
There was silence for a moment, and then Kirk started laughing. Uhura waited for Pike to cut him off at the knees, but instead Pike started chuckling too. She shook her head in confusion.
Kirk finally found his words again. God, sir, you must have really pissed them off this time. Is that supposed to be punishment?
I really think it is. Pike let out a heavy sigh. The Fed Council also picked their representative. Can you guess?
Silence, and then Pike laughed again. Come on, Kirk, if we were keeping this in the family, who would you go with?
Uhura picked her head up sharply, and Spock shot her a stern glare. She swallowed roughly and pulled herself to attention, ignoring him.
Kirk was laughing softly again. Should I tell him, or let him be surprised?
I’d tell him. Vulcans hate surprises.
Point. You up to this, sir?
Don’t you start, Kirk. McCoy’s regular badgering over subspace is bad enough.
He’ll be thrilled to have you here to chase around with hyposprays, I’m sure.
Pike groaned, and Uhura’s guilty conscience finally drove her to click off the feed. She went back to checking over the results of the morning’s portside radio diagnostics and didn’t look up when Kirk commed the bridge a few minutes later and asked Spock to give Sulu the conn and report to the ready room.
She could have easily hacked the security feed, but it wasn’t her department. Besides, she had some scruples.
Spock was quiet when they met for their evening meal, and when Nyota started to prepare for bed, he stood and reached for his meditation robes. “You’re not sleeping?” she asked, unsurprised.
“I must meditate first,” he said quietly. “You need not wait up.”
“Maybe I want to?” she said, and he tilted his head as he regarded her. She tilted her head in the other direction and met his gaze. “Maybe I’ve gotten used to falling asleep next to you. Maybe it’s comfortable.”
Spock blinked once, and let out a breath; it held the weight of a decision. “I will be perhaps an hour. If you wish to wait up.”
She crossed his quarters to lean in and kiss his cheek gently. “I’m going to get into pajamas and then I’ll read until you’re done.” He caught her hand as she stepped back, and squeezed her hand.
“Nyota. Thank you.”
She squeezed back, wishing she had the words to say you don’t owe your father anything, or maybe he’s not a bogeyman and you needn’t be so afraid of him or you don’t have to explain your decision to come with us to anybody or maybe just fear is illogical. But there was no language to make that easy to accept, so instead she went to find her pajamas and pick out a novel to read.
They picked up their passengers at Starbase 28: Admiral Pike, who leaned heavily on a cane but walked off the transporter on his own, looking around like he was expecting ghosts to pop through the walls; Ambassador Sarek, who looked much the same to anyone who knew how to read Vulcan expressions; and three diplomatic attachés who were loaded down with padds, bags, and exhaustion.
Sarek glided off the transporter and stopped in front of the captain, bowing slightly. Kirk returned the gesture smoothly. “Ambassador. Admiral. Welcome aboard. Gentlebeings,” he added, raising his voice to address the attachés, “if you’ll follow Yeoman Rand here she will show you to guest quarters. I’m sure you’ll want to settle in.” They scuttled off after Rand with relief, and Uhura watched Kirk trade an amused glance with Scotty from his spot behind the transporter controls. “Sirs, we have some refreshments in one of the conference rooms, if you’d come this way.” The hum of the deckplates shifted under her feet, and Uhura knew they’d just left orbit.
“Conference room one?” Pike asked, and Kirk let out a little huffing chuckle.
“That would be the one. Would you care to lead, sir?”
“Oh, you’re doing just fine,” Pike shot back. They traded a look that Uhura couldn’t identify, and headed for the door, leaving Uhura to walk with Sarek.
“Greetings, Ambassador,” she said in Vulcan, trying and almost succeeding in keeping her vowels pure. “I hope your journey was not unpleasant.”
“It was not,” Sarek said, letting her lead him from the transporter room, following Kirk and Pike. “The Admiral is an ideal traveling companion. It is pleasant to see you again, Lieutenant.”
“Thank you,” Uhura said, and flailed mentally for a good reply. “You as well. The circumstances of this mission are –” Bad bad bad dammit don’t compare this to the last time
“Certain to provide a challenge,” Sarek finished smoothly, and nodded as if he were accepting a compliment instead of rescuing Uhura from making an incredibly indelicate statement. “If still extremely urgent.”
“I have been attempting to learn as much as possible about the Coridani languages in advance of our arrival,” Uhura said as they reached the turbolift, switching to Standard with relief even as she told herself it was for Kirk and Pike’s benefit. “We are sadly lacking in information.”
Sarek nodded as they rejoined Kirk and Pike. “I have a number of files in the main Coridani tongue, which you might find useful. I will instruct my aide to make them available to you. She is quite fluent.”
Kirk looked relieved. “That would be really appreciated, Ambassador. Uhura is the best we’ve got, but without something to work with she’s kind of stuck. I was surprised how little was in our databanks, even after all this time.”
“Coridan’s an odd situation,” Pike said, and pressed his lips together, slowly limping onto the turbolift when the doors slid open. “Perhaps we should wait until we are settled in the conference room.”
Kirk nodded and eyed Pike. “Should I have Spock join us?”
“Probably. He’s smarter than you,” Pike said with humor, and Kirk scoffed.
“Probably, but I still beat him at chess twice last week, so I must have something going for me.”
Uhura followed the men out of the lift when the doors opened and managed to keep from saying the biggest pair of balls on this side of the Beta Quadrant out loud. Barely. But from the look on Pike’s face, he was clearly thinking the same exact thing. Kirk hit the comm button next to the door as they entered Conference 1. “Kirk to bridge.”
“Bridge.” Spock was still at the conn, then.
“Mister Spock, our guests are safely aboard. Please tell Mister Sulu to make for Coridan at our best speed, and then you can let Chekov have some practice at the conn. Join us in Conference 1 please?”
“I will be there momentarily. Spock out.”
“The more things change…” Pike muttered, and Kirk laughed.
“Tell me about it, sir.” He held out a hand to the table, and nodded at Uhura when she hesitated. “Anyone else I should have in on this?”
“If that doctor of yours isn’t busy,” Pike said, settling heavily into a chair. “The humanitarian situation will be of some interest to him.”
Spock entered a moment later and paused in the doorway. “Ambassador. Admiral. Captain. Lieutenant.”
Shaking his head, Kirk waved at the table. “At ease, Spock. It’s just old home week. Grab a seat.” He called down to have Sickbay send the doctor up. By the time McCoy had arrived, everyone else was set with coffee and spice tea and Kirk was eyeing the plate of doughnuts that had yet to be touched.
“Don’t even think about it, Jim,” McCoy growled when he came in. “Good afternoon, Ambassador, sir. Admiral, you’re looking well.”
“McCoy, my very favorite drill sergeant.” Pike stood up carefully, and McCoy gave him a quick once-over, while the Ambassador politely found his cup of tea to be extremely fascinating for a long moment.
“Don’t think you’re off the hook on exercises just because you’re shipside,” McCoy said as greeting, giving Pike a nod and reaching for the coffee carafe as he took his seat. “So what’s this all about anyhow?”
Pike settled into his chair, leaning his cane against the table, and started calling up diagrams. “Coridan is a resource-rich M-class planet in a system jam-packed with resource-rich planets. The current planetary population is 3 billion, and most of them are employed in some form of mining or resource recovery. Coridan has been warp-capable for centuries and has open trade with the Federation, the Orion Syndicate, and the Romulan Empire.”
Uhura flicked a glance at Spock. He glanced back, but said nothing.
“Coridan,” Pike went on, “has the richest dilithium deposits in known space. Most of our supply comes from them.” He flicked his own glance at Kirk. “An old friend of ours has informed us that we have reason to be concerned about the Romulan Empire’s knowledge of that fact.”
Kirk’s head came up sharply – and so did Sarek’s. Spock, on the other hand, froze in place. McCoy was the only one at the table who didn’t seem to recognize the phrase; he sipped his coffee without concern. “So?” he drawled. “They get their dilithium there too. Everybody does. It’s like Dilithium Mart down there. What’s this gotta do with us?”
Pike opened his mouth, but Sarek beat him to it. “If you were an empire teetering on the verge of financial insolvency, facing an invasion on one front due to the actions of a time-displaced rogue, and fearing war on a second front thanks to the same –”
McCoy’s eyes had widened slightly. “You’d want to secure what resources you had.”
Sarek inclined his head at him. “And from what we know, the Romulan Empire has several dilithium sources within its borders.”
This time Kirk jumped in. “So the ideal situation, in their view, is to make sure they’re the only ones with dilithium.”
“You think they’d try to occupy Coridan?” McCoy asked, and Sarek cleared his throat.
“Not just occupy,” he said softly. “Destroy.”
“They’ll blow the mines,” Kirk said, his voice weighted with certainty, and when Uhura looked at him, his eyes were shuttered. It took her a moment to follow his train of thought, and she slumped against her seat, aghast.
“The planet’s covered in mines!” she protested. “If even only a few of them caught – that’s planet-wide devastation!”
Sarek nodded to her. “This is the Federation’s fear. Millions of innocent lives could be lost, were such an attack to come to fruition.”
McCoy thumped his coffee cup on the table. “Do we know if they’re actually planning anything right now?”
“There’s chatter,” Pike said darkly. “Without going in to specifics, I can safely tell you, Doctor, that there’s a great worry that we are going to be looking at a high-casualty situation before the end of this mission. That’s why the Ambassador is here – to try to forestall that possibility –” He broke off at the look of confusion on McCoy’s face. “The Ambassador is here to convince Coridan to accept our offer of membership to the Federation.”
“You really think that’d stop them?” McCoy asked, sounding exasperated, and Uhura fought off the urge to kick him under the table.
“The whole goal of the Romulan Empire, Doctor,” Spock said, surprising everyone as he broke his silence unexpectedly, “is to avoid a two-front war. As long as Coridan remains unaligned, attacking them is a viable strategy that interrupts dilithium supplies for both the Federation and the Klingon Empire. However, if Coridan accepts Federation membership, in the current political climate a declaration of war would be a certainty – if an attack were perpetrated.” He did not meet anyone’s eyes, but delivered his analysis while staring at the padd lying before him, at a perfect right angle to the table’s edge.
Silently, Uhura calculated her chances of getting him to split a chocolate bar with her after shift.
“So if the Ambassador,” and McCoy nodded to him, “can’t convince these people that joinin’ the Federation and curtailing their trade with the Klingons and Orions is in their own best interest, we’re gonna have another dead planet and a war on our hands?”
Sarek bowed his head, gravely. “That, Doctor, is an accurate summation.”
McCoy stared at him for a long moment. “Well,” he finally said. “Shit. Knew I should’ve stood in bed today.”
Pike let out a bark of something that might have been laughter. “You’re not kidding, Doctor. Is your sickbay prepared, if your services are required?”
Lifting his chin, McCoy gave the Admiral a distinctly Kirkian glare. “We are always ready, Admiral, just give the word. But I gotta say, one sickbay for a whole planet, even one with staff as good as mine, is not going to cut it.”
“We have RRR teams waiting on radio silence and lockdown just out of sensor range ready to go,” Pike said, sliding a padd over to Kirk, who picked it up and lifted both eyebrows in surprise. He put it down and slid it across the table to Spock, who also arched a brow as he studied it. From where she sat, Uhura could just see that it was a deployment schematic. “We’ve contacted the civilian trade ships associations, and they’re standing ready to send ships to assist if needed, and the Fleet stands ready.”
“And in the meantime,” Sarek said, voice deepening, “I am prepared, as they say, to put up a fight.” Every human at the table smiled at his deadpan delivery, and Spock regarded his father with something that Uhura couldn’t quite identify, but she thought might be respect. “Humans seem to do their best work when the stakes are highest. I believe this shall be no different.” Sarek favored Kirk with another of those Vulcan expressions, and this one Uhura decided was approval. Well. Who knew?
“So here’s the take-away,” Pike said as McCoy chuckled into his coffee. The table grew serious once again. “Enterprise will make best speed to Coridan. Upon making orbit, Ambassador Sarek will beam down with his aides, Lieutenant Uhura to run the translators and step in as necessary, and Captain Kirk and myself, to convince the Coridani government that we’re serious. Doctor, your department will be on alert from the moment we make orbit. Commander, you will of course take the conn in the Captain’s absence. While our diplomatic mission is not classified, the reason behind it is and everyone in this room will conduct themselves accordingly. Are we clear?”
In that moment, Uhura could see where Kirk had gotten his model for sounding like a captain. She felt her spine snapping into line as she spat out a crisp, “Yes, sir!” along with her fellow officers.
“Excellent,” Pike said. “Dismissed.”
In Spock’s quarters that night, Nyota sat curled up on the small sofa, a pile of chocolate wrappers and padds scattered across the table in front of her. “I hate languages that don’t do tenses,” she complained, and Spock raised an eyebrow at her as he carefully packed his meditation mat and candlesticks into their box.
“I sincerely doubt the Coridani lack of tenses was intended as a personal affront to you specifically,” he pointed out. “Therefore your hatred is illogical.”
Peeling the wrapper off another piece of chocolate, Nyota balled it up and threw it at him, and Spock batted it aside without blinking. He bent to pick up the wrapper from the deck and deposited next to the rest on the table. “As is your attack.”
“Warning shot,” Nyota said around her mouthful of chocolate. Spock bent and gently kissed her lips, and she felt the corners of his mouth tilt for just a second.
“How is your progress?” he asked as he seated himself on the sofa next to her.
“About as well as could be expected,” she said, starting to pile the padds up. “I haven’t had to do a crash course like this since second year at the Academy. I’ve got the basic conjugation and declensions down – would you believe there are nineteen different possible subjects?”
“Telori maintains twenty-two overt and eleven implied subjects,” Spock pointed out, and reached for a chocolate.
“I can’t speak Telori,” Nyota pointed out bitterly. “I have vocal cords, not lingualized gills. I can’t manage it.”
Pausing in his precise unwrapping of the chocolate, Spock raised an eyebrow at her. “You can, however, comprehend it well enough to translate.”
“Are you suggesting I suck it up?” she asked, plucking the chocolate out of his hands. He glared at her fingers for a moment, and she laughed and bit the chocolate in half, offering him the rest. He raised a brow at her and after a moment, leaned forward, neatly eating the chocolate piece from her fingers.
“Yes, I am,” he said, and held out another piece of chocolate to her, an almost smug expression on his face.
Sarek’s aide T’Meil sat next to Uhura in the mess the next morning, where she had her nose buried in a padd of word lists while she ate a bowl of yoghurt and muesli without looking. “You are Lieutenant Uhura?”
Swallowing hurriedly, Uhura looked up. “I am. How can I help you?”
“The Ambassador told me you are assigned to learn the Coridani language for this mission,” T’Meil said. “I am to assist you.”
“Oh, wonderful,” Uhura said, and forced herself to concentrate. “Please to take this seat,” she added, trying to make the Coridani vowels flow. T’Meil nodded and sat across the table, and began speaking in Coridani, far too quickly for Uhura to follow. After a moment, Uhura had to hold up her hand.
“Apologies, following hard, talking too fast,” she said slowly.
T’Meil narrowed her eyes. “I was told you had been studying Coridani,” she said in Standard, and Uhura knew it was probably her imagination but T’Meil seemed annoyed.
“Studying I first last night,” she answered, staying in Coridani on purpose. “Material in ship data insufficient for earlier beginning.” The syntax was already making her want to gargle. Preferably with wine.
“The word you are looking for is euqeht,” T’Meil said, sounding bored, still speaking in Standard. “It originally meant library but has come to include electronic databases and records. You have not made it very far into the vocabulary.”
“Well, since I have been relieved of my bridge duty to focus on this mission, I will be able to devote myself to just that very task today,” Uhura said brightly, refusing to rise to the bait. If T’Meil wanted to indulge in some traditional Vulcan patronizing, she would do it on her own, without any help from Uhura.
“You may ask me for assistance once you have learned sufficient vocabulary to converse properly,” T’Meil said, and stood and left without another word. The tables on either side of Uhura had both fallen silent, and now they all watched as T’Meil swept from the room.
“You OK, Lieutenant?”
Looking up, Uhura realized that Yeoman Rand was among the crew eating breakfast at the next table. She ran a hand over her hair and shook her head, shaking off the encounter. “I am, Rand. Wasn’t expecting an oral exam just yet – I figured I’d get at least a full twenty four hours first!” As she’d hoped, Rand chuckled and they all left her alone. But her concentration was wrecked. She had to run the list she was looking at three times before it began to stick. Her attention kept wandering back to T’Meil – what on earth had that been about?
By the end of Beta shift, Uhura had managed to memorize all of the Beginner and Intermediate vocab lists and was halfway through the Expert. Her head was swimming and when she went to Sickbay to get an analgesic for her headache, Chapel took one look at her and steered her to a biobed.
“I’m fine, I’m fine, I just need something for this headache,” Uhura protested, and Chapel crossed her arms.
“I can scan you now and make sure you’re all right, or I can tell Doctor McCoy you left here without treatment and he will track you down no matter where you are,” and she shot Uhura a significant look, since everybody knew Uhura’s quarters were pretty much unused and had been since they left Earth, “and he will go up one side of you and down the other while he does what I can get done now in a minute.” Chapel tilted her head and tapped her fingers rhythmically against her arm. “So?”
Grumbling, Uhura settled herself on the biobed. “Fine. Fine. Go ahead. Eyestrain and a tension headache, I’ll bet you.”
“Spoken with the air of experience,” Chapel said, and frowned at the tricorder. “Also a bit of a drop in your blood pressure. Did you skip lunch?”
Uhura looked away. “Um. Perhaps. I was busy.”
“Whatever. I swear, it’s like the captain’s infected the entire lot of you bridge crew with his – whatever you want to call it. Here.” She gently pressed a hypo to Uhura’s neck, and blessed relief spread, cool and numbing, across her head. “That should go into effect quickly.”
“Already has.” Sliding off the bed, Uhura slowly shook her head. “Marvelous. Thank you, Chapel.”
Chapel had crossed her arms again. “Uhhuh. You are to go to your quarters – or Spock’s, whatever – drink at least a half a liter of water and have a decent meal. And then you are to sleep. Scuttlebutt says you’re cramming languages in advance of our next mission, and sleep is important for retention. Now get out.”
Trying not to blush at Chapel’s matter-of-fact reference to her flagrant violation of regs, Uhura nodded. “Good plan. I’m on it. Thanks.” She was heading for the door when Chapel’s voice stopped her.
Spinning around, Uhura frowned. She and Chapel were friendly, but not really on a first-name basis. “Yeah?”
Crossing the ward, Chapel looked like she wasn’t so much crossing her arms now as hugging herself. “Look. Can I ask – what is the deal with this mission? Doctor McCoy has us running around doing all sorts of prep and he hasn’t said, but – he’s got us doing disaster response drills. He hasn’t said, but I took the same courses in Emergency Response he did and I know a disaster drill when I see one. What is going on?”
It’s classified. But she couldn’t just say that, not to Chapel standing in front of her with anxious eyes. Or I don’t know but that was obviously a lie, she’d been in briefings and was obviously being prepped for translation work. “I think it’s mostly a case of better safe than sorry,” she finally said slowly.
“Or you hope so,” Chapel said, just as slowly, and her face fell a little. “I was afraid of that. This is going to be bad, isn’t it?”
One of the Coridani words Uhura had learned that afternoon was nesuarg – their word for a feeling of dread that comes before a crisis. It was the opposite of neduarg, the dread of a crisis that fails to materialize. Footnotes to her vocabulary listings had linked her to Vulcan translations of long philosophical treatises she didn’t have time to read, discussing one’s ability to identify the difference between nesuarg and neduarg, and at what point the presence of auhcskcur – hindsight, as far as she could tell, it must be on the advanced lists she hadn’t gotten to yet – changed a person’s perceptions enough as to make either emotion invalid, as the crisis had arrived or not.
She suddenly realized she knew exactly what nesaurg felt like, and so did Chapel.
“I hope not,” she said quietly. “But I don’t know.”
Chapel watched her with wide eyes for a moment, and nodded, clearing her throat before she began speaking normally. “All right. Don’t forget, Lieutenant, half a liter of water and a full meal, and then you need eight hours of sleep.”
“Yes. Thank you, Nurse.”
“Don’t mention it.”
Leaving Sickbay, Uhura contemplated her epiphany, but only until she’d reached Spock’s quarters, where, despite his insistence that the smell was disgusting and she would have to brush her teeth immediately after eating, Spock had fetched her a replicated BLT on whole grain bread, slathered in mayonnaise. She ate with gusto, fought Spock over the last of the French fries they shared, and drank a full liter of water without complaint. As Spock was tucking himself into bed behind her and ordering the lights out, she mused on the ability of new words to rearrange your worldview – until Spock wrapped an arm around her, pulling her closer. Giving up, she rested her head on his shoulder and drifted off with a happy sigh.
Bridge duty couldn’t be skipped the next day – Voort had pulled a double-shift and she didn’t trust anybody else to take alpha, not with them barely two days out from Coridan. Uhura loaded a padd with word lists and in between her other duties she drilled herself.
A bit before her meal break, Kirk leaned over her console. “Sseurg,” he greeted her, a shit-eating grin on his face. Concentrating deeply, it took Uhura a moment to realize he’d greeted her in Coridani.
“Oh!” she said, surprised. “Sseurg hcid, captain.” She had to give the sentence a moment to take shape in her head. “Hci etssuw thcin eis teriduts sed Coridani.”
Kirk blinked at her in confusion.
“I didn’t realize you’d been studying Coridani,” Uhura repeated patiently in Standard, and Kirk laughed.
“I was aiming for a few polite greetings, since there’s only room for one xenolinguistics genius per ship,” he said, and waved a hand at her padd. “How’s it coming?”
“Resseb reba thcin tug,” Uhura quipped, and Kirk chuckled again.
“Right, I can take a hint. Don’t forget to take your meal break,” he said, and stood up. “Spock, take the conn while I go have a sandwich? You can make sure the lieutenant here remembers to eat after.”
“Of course, Captain,” Spock said from his station without looking up, but after Kirk and Sulu had left for their meal he passed her station on his way to the captain’s chair, and a small smile ghosted over his face as he did.
By the time they reached Coridan two days later, Uhura was starting to dream in hcridani. Spock woke her two hours before her shift, amusement in his eyes. “What does hcim ssub mean?” he asked quietly as she yawned and stretched.
“Hmm?” It took her a moment to parse that. “Oh. Uh. Kiss me,” she said, blushing.
Spock chuckled, almost inaudibly, and brushed his lips against her cheek. “I see. You wanted time to go to the gym before your shift. It’s 0600.”
“Thanks,” Uhura said, and pulled him close for a moment, resting her chin against his shoulder. “You ready to send us dirtside?”
“No, I’m not,” Spock said quietly, running a hand over her hair. “But I’m sure you will make sure the captain is well behaved. And my father.”
“I’m not worried about your father,” Uhura said, chuckling, and Spock pulled back and raised an eyebrow at her. “Should I be?”
“If you have time, ask him about his assignment to Rigel Minor.” No matter how much she pressed, Spock would say nothing more about it, and Uhura finally gave up. She dressed quickly in her workout gear and left Spock’s quarters with him, heading for the aft turboshafts while he headed fore.
Forty minutes and a treadmill run later, she hit the showers, grabbed some breakfast in the mess, and was on the bridge early. Voort had been pulling gamma, and he shifted to the backup station and let her take the console as soon as he saw her. A quick check showed her standard orbit expected in five hours; enough time to run the day’s diagnostics. She was halfway through the subspace radio checks when Kirk strolled onto the bridge, five minutes early and with a steaming cup of coffee in his hand.
“Good morning, my favorite bridge crew!” he announced, and looked around. “Oh, shoot, Alpha’s here already? You guys are totally my favorite too.” Sulu, just taking over his station, smirked, and Chekov rolled his eyes from nav. Lieutenant Cromarty at Science gave a nervous giggle. “All right. Busy day today,” Kirk said as he took his seat. “I hope everybody’s wide awake and excited for diplomacy!”
That got him a round of eyerolls that traveled across the bridge like a wave.
“Mister Sulu, standard orbit.”
“Standard orbit, aye.” The shift of the impulse engines was almost imperceptible, if you didn’t know what to feel for. Everyone on the bridge, by this point, did know, and they all relaxed as the great ship slid into place around the planet. “Standard orbit achieved, sir.” Sulu set his board for orbital maintenance and rolled his shoulders.
“Lieutenant Uhura!” Kirk spun in his chair to face behind him, where Spock and Uhura had both turned to watch the approach of the planet on the screen, and then to the Ambassador, who stood waiting by the turbolift with his arms held calmly before him.
Uhura reached up to readjust the Feinberger in her ear. “Aye sir. Hailing the planetary government now.” She spun back to her station and dialed up the frequencies provided, careful to speak crisply as she announced the ship’s presence. The reply came immediately. “Captain, the planetary chancellor will be available to speak to you in just a moment.”
“Great.” Kirk sat up a little straighter, tugging his tunic straight and not meeting Sarek’s eyes. He’s nervous, Uhura realized, and it made her feel more charitable than she’d expected. She started monitoring the planet’s broadcasts while they waited, looking for anything of interest. Like every other planet of this development stage, it was a mix of news, education, and entertainment with the occasional coded channel thrown in to keep things interesting. She had just settled on a news station when her console beeped.
“Captain, I have Chancellor Darnok Tdnar,” Uhura announced, and Kirk jumped. “Ready to put him through on your command.”
Kirk took a deep breath and smoothed his tunic again. “All right. Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
“On screen now,” Uhura said smoothly, transferring the feed. An office immediately overlayed the view of the planet, a plump man smiling broadly as he saw them. It took the universal translator a few seconds to kick in.
“Captain Kirk! Welcome to Coridan! I am Chancellor Tdnar, and we are most happy to welcome you and your great ship to our planet.” The chancellor spread his hands wide and bowed.
“Thank you for your welcome, Chancellor. I see we don’t need introductions,” Kirk said, and the chancellor frowned until the UT picked up again. He laughed heartily.
“Introductions for you are never necessary, Captain. You saved the galaxy!” Tdnar nodded to himself. “Very flattered, very flattered are we.”
Uhura saw movement out of the corner of her eye and glanced sideways to see Sarek gliding smoothly down the steps to stand just behind Kirk. He’d seen it too, and he gestured to his side as if it was planned. Maybe it was, Uhura realized – she had no idea. “Chancellor Tdnar, allow me to present Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan, who will join us for these talks.”
Sarek bowed. “Chancellor. I come to serve.”
“Ambassador.” Uhura wasn’t sure if she’d imagined it or not but the smile on Tdnar’s face faltered for just a second. Then she saw Spock’s back stiffen and knew she hadn’t imagined anything. “You’re very welcome on Coridan, I’m sure.”
“Chancellor,” Sarek repeated, and he bowed again. “I come in my capacity as a representative of the Federation government, and it’s solely in that capacity that I am authorized to act.”
There was a staring contest for a few moments. Uhura watched Sulu shift uncomfortably in his chair as he stared at his board. “Of course,” Tdnar finally said. “Our sympathies on the loss of your home planet, Ambassador.”
“I thank you,” Sarek said, inclining his head, and stepped back.
“We’re ready to beam down at your convenience, Chancellor,” Kirk said, trying to redirect the conversation.
“Oh, not just yet!” Tdnar said, and he smiled again. “You must understand, Captain, this is a rather momentous occasion for us, and we would like to welcome you properly. We must finish our preparations for the banquet! We will begin tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” Kirk said, trying and almost managing to keep the question out of his voice.
“Tomorrow! I will have my office transmit coordinates and information to your ship and we will meet at the appointed place and time,” Tdnar said happily. “I do love a good banquet, Captain, don’t you? I have to thank you for the excuse to throw one, it’s been a while.”
Kirk chuckled. “I’m looking forward to it, Chancellor. Until tomorrow, then.”
“Tomorrow!” Chancellor Tdnar laughed, treated them to another smile, and the connection ended.
“Receiving coordinates and information, Captain,” Uhura said, looking at her console in surprise – she hadn’t expected it to start transmitting so quickly.
“Most efficient,” Sarek commented, sotto voce.
“Most interesting,” Kirk commented back, a little less quietly. “Lieutenant Uhura, what time are we expected tomorrow?”
Opening the file and running it through the translator took a moment. “Their equivalent of 1900 hours, sir, which is roughly 1645 out of 2740 for the capital’s location, sir.”
“Right. So a day and a half, almost.” Kirk made a face. “All right, people, fun’s over for now. Back to work. Ambassador, I’d like to meet with you at your convenience.”
“I am free now, Captain,” Sarek said with his usual dignity, and Kirk grinned. “Great. Mister Spock, the bridge is yours. After you, Ambassador.”
Uhura went back to her diagnostics and monitoring the planet’s frequencies, and wondered just what they were getting themselves into.
She was off bridge duty the next day, prepping with T’Meil until beam-down. The ambassador’s aide was still frosty, but even she had to admit Uhura had mastered a great deal of hcridani in a very short amount of time.
But that didn’t mean she had to be nice about it; Uhura had never been so glad to be summoned to the transporter room. She had just enough time to change into her dress uniform and her just-polished dress boots, and to send a quick text-only message to Spock: Beaming down in a few minutes. I’ll see you when I get back. She debated adding more, but -- he knew.
Admiral Pike, the Ambassador, and his aides were already waiting, as well as Doctor McCoy, who was tugging at the collar of his dress uniform with a very unhappy look on his face. “You don’t look the slightest bit uncomfortable,” he greeted Uhura. “How do you do it?”
“If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret,” she said with a grin, and despite himself McCoy chuckled. “Just fake it until you don’t notice anymore.”
He grunted. “Easier said than done.” But he stopped tugging at the collar, and glared at Pike when Pike started laughing behind his hand.
“All right people!” Kirk strode in, two redshirts following him like ducklings. “Are we ready?” Sarek eyed the security crewmen, opened his mouth, and closed it again. Pike had no such qualms, and his voice was as dry as the Mojave
“Just two, Kirk?”
The Captain didn’t blink. “Just two, Admiral. This is a peaceful mission, sure, but we’d look like idiots to show up without any sort of backup. Call them an honor guard.”
It was a point in his favor, Uhura had to admit to herself, that even the redshirts were in dress tunics. She could tell Pike had noticed that as well, but he didn’t say anything as he climbed slowly onto the pad. “All right. Let’s get this show on the road. Ambassador, Captain, Ensigns.” He nodded at Uhura. “If you would lead the remainder down, Lieutenant.”
Sarek’s other two aides looked unaffected by this statement but T’Meil wrinkled her nose, as if she’d just smelled spoiled plomeek. Uhura ignored her. “Yes, sir.”
“Excellent.” Pike nodded at Kirk, who grinned.
Behind the plasteel separating the control section from the active pad, the chief engineer looked up. “Aye, sir?”
“Ready, Scotty?” Kirk gave Mr. Scott a grin, and he returned it.
“Of course, sir. Jes’ say the word.”
“Energizin’ now, Captain.” Uhura watched him as he activated the unit, admiring as she always did the comfort he demonstrated around the incredibly complex machine. Not that she would be volunteering for any of his experiments.
“All right, Lieutenant, Doctor. Our honored diplomats.” Scotty gestured to the pad a moment later. “Step into my parlor.”
“Don’t sound so excited, Mr. Scott,” McCoy growled. “You know how I feel about these things…” T’Meil’s head whipped up and she eyed McCoy like he was something she might scrape off her shoe. Uhura eyed her back until she followed her two fellow aides to their places. Uhura took the spot in front and turned to face Scotty. “OK, Scotty. Energize.”
Uhura’s first thought was how bright everything was. Her next thought was how clean.
Blinking away the last few lingering sparkles in her eyes, she took a deep breath, made sure her lungs were working right, and then took a step forward to join the Captain’s party. He was standing next to the chancellor, who had a large party of his own behind him.
“Ah, yes, here’s the rest of our party,” he said as Uhura and McCoy fell into line between the Admiral and the security personnel, and the attaches behind the Ambassador. “Chancellor Tdnar, may I present my ship’s Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Leonard McCoy, and my Communications Officer, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. In addition, members of Ambassador Sarek’s staff: Lady T’Meil, Undersecretary Dolik, and Mister Alexander Jones-Penby.”
Everyone nodded and murmured polite things and the Chancellor beamed at them all like he had just gotten an unexpected present. “Welcome, welcome! You’ve come at such a good time, this is our finest season. Summer is always so hot and winter so cold, but there’s a short period between the two where the weather is just perfect. Come, come, we have a banquet and I would like to introduce you to some of my fellow officials. Come!” With a wave, he turned and headed for the nearest building. With a shrug, Kirk gestured for everyone to follow, and off they went.
The banquet was set up in a large room that opened onto a huge courtyard anchored by a large fountain that occasionally sent up great jets of water. There were tables indoor and out laden with food and drink, and a large crowd of well-appointed officials milling between tables. Kirk glanced at McCoy, who surreptitiously started scanning foods with his tricorder. “Nothing blue,” he muttered after a moment. “The red stuff’s ok, and the vegetables, whatever they are. Stick to water. No wine.”
“Thanks, Bones,” Kirk muttered back and stepped forward as Tdnar started waving for them to come forward. Pike was hiding a smirk behind his hand but as he stepped past Uhura she could hear him tell McCoy, “You’re getting better at that.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” McCoy said as they followed Kirk. “No blue stuff for you either. Packed with potassium; it’s counter-indicated with your meds. Uhura and the goons can help themselves.”
Uhura managed to hide her smile when she caught sight of Ensign Gowai’s face. “Better hope you don’t need their help, Doctor,” she said quietly, and gave Gowai a little thumbs up behind the doctor’s back. McCoy scowled at her and moved off to shadow Kirk, the security team following them. Uhura trailed along behind, looking around and listening to the conversations swirling around them.
“Ud tmats sua med ffihcsmuar,” someone said quietly next to her, and Uhura turned to see a young woman standing nearby. “Oh! Dluchstne!”
Uhura blinked, and considered her words carefully. “Sthcin uz negiduhcstne,” she said slowly. “Se rhaw, hci emmats sua Enterprise. Hci essieh Lieutenant Uhura, Snoitakinummok-reiziffo.”
The girl nodded, and held out her hand. “This is the human custom, correct? My name is Siri.”
Uhura shook her hand carefully, and then bowed in the hcridani. tradition. “It is. Thank you for the wonderful welcome to your world, Siri.”
“Oh, that was all my father’s doing,” Siri said, with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I just got to tag along because he thought it would be a good learning experience.” She grinned then. “But now I’ve gotten to meet an actual alien, so it’s definitely worth it now.” She stepped a little closer. “What is it like, flying all over the galaxy?” she asked, in a hushed voice.
Uhura couldn’t miss the hero worship in her eyes, and she allowed herself a brief moment of ohshit. “Sometimes it’s very boring,” she finally said. “Sometimes it’s exciting; sometimes frightening. Every day is different. You never know what is going to happen when you start a mission.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Siri said, hands waving through the air. “Something new every time! Nothing changes here,” she added, darkly. “The politicans go on and on about things changing but they don’t really mean it. They wouldn’t know change if it bit them in the face.”
Uhura choked back a giggle. “I think that’s a constant of politicians everywhere,” she said, and realized she’d been speaking completely fluently – she hadn’t had to stop and think of a word once.
“Even in your Federation?” Siri asked, with interest. “I will have to tell that to my father.”
Oooohboy. “I’m afraid I don’t know your father,” Uhura said, with as much delicacy as she could muster. She was relieved when Siri laughed.
“Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t introduce myself properly.” The girl drew herself up. “,i>Hci nib Siri Tdnar, rethceot med Releznak-Netenalp. Niem retav tshcnuw ssad hci krewstaas nereiduts.”
That took a moment to parse, and another moment to frantically dredge up proper terms of respect. “Se tuerf hcim rhes, Nieluarfegidang.”
Siri shook her hands in front of her. “Oh, you don’t need to bother with fancy titles. I’m just Siri. I have a ways to go before I can stand for a position. Come on, I’ll introduce you around. If you work in communications you should meet Tmaeb Relleum; she’s in the Information Office.” She started across the room, stopped when she realized she wasn’t being followed, and turned back around. “Come on! There’s lots of people here to meet tonight!”
Laughing, Uhura let herself be led through the crowd.
By the time the landing party returned to the ship, a good 12 hours had gone by, and Spock was waiting in the transporter room looking for all the world like a parent catching his kids out after curfew. McCoy was muttering under his breath as he discreetly helped Pike off the transporter platform, and he pointed a finger at Kirk on his way out. “You feel any reactions starting, you call me or the attending on call tonight. No joke.”
“I feel fine, Bones,” Kirk said, but when he crossed the room to clasp McCoy’s shoulder his voice was serious. “If anything starts up I’ll call. I was careful.” He nodded at Pike as McCoy escorted him off for a few hyposprays.
“I do not understand,” T’Meil said in Vulcan as she stepped off the platform. “Why should there be concern over reactions on the part of the Captain but not the rest of the landing party?”
Uhura didn’t look over, but she saw Kirk’s back straighten up out of the corner of her eye, but Spock beat her to it, answering her in kind, but with a much softer voice. He knew what languages Kirk spoke as well as Uhura did. “The Captain has a number of allergies, autoimmune reactions to foreign substances that can lead to life-threatening symptoms if not treated promptly.”
“Fascinating,” T’Meil said, in a tone of voice that one might use for a zoo exhibit. “How fortunate that his job so rarely requires exposure to foreign substances.” She turned to Sarek. “Permission to retire for the evening, Ambassador?”
“You may all retire,” Sarek said, in Standard. “I believe I will do the same. Good night, Captain, Lieutenant. Spock.”
“Father,” Spock said, in Vulcan, and nodded as he left, followed by T’Meil and the other two aides, as well as the transporter tech. It wasn’t until the doors hissed shut that Uhura let herself relax, rolling her shoulders one at a time.
“Hell of a night,” Kirk said, running a hand through his hair. “Who was that girl that latched on to you, Uhura?”
“Siri,” Uhura said, knowing a fond smile was crossing her face. “She’s the Chancellor’s daughter, and she introduced me to about half the attendees – everyone she knows personally. I think she’s trying to work up the nerve to ask for a tour of the ship.”
“Huh.” Kirk considered that. “Maybe we should just offer.” He glanced over at Spock, who nodded agreement. “Good. Done. When we start with the boring meetings tomorrow we can offer that as a sign of respect for our hosts. Excellent.” He stretched, hand on his back, and then yawned, looking thoughtful. “So that one aide of your dad’s is an incredible bitch, Spock.”
“The Lady T’Meil’s family are among the Lost,” Spock said quietly, and Kirk immediately looked abashed.
“Right. I should have figured that, I guess.” He shook his head. “I’m hitting my bunk. Night, you two. See you at 0900.”
“Captain,” Spock said, and Uhura echoed it. She watched him leave, trying not to think about what it meant that she had entirely agreed with Kirk – T’Meil was a bitch. She looked up after a moment to see Spock watching her, a fond expression on his face.
“Shall we retire?” he asked, and she nodded, and together they left the transporter room.
The first day of negotiation and debate was a disaster.
A crowd of angry protesters surrounded the buildings in the center of the capital where the summit was taking place. Some of them held signs that Uhura couldn’t read clearly though the windows of the ground car taking them from the beam down point to the shielded buildings. They were all shouting different things, a raging cacophony that left everyone in the ground car trying to hide how shaken they were. The Ambassador, seated on her right, leaned over at one point. “Lieutenant,” he asked, “Can you identify anything being shouted by this crowd?”
Uhura had to shake her head. “I’m sorry, not like this. There’s too many voices.”
Sarek nodded and sat straight again, eyes closed in apparently contemplation. Across the groundcar, T’Meil looked witheringly at her. Uhura stared at her head-on until she looked away.
The shouting grew louder and more organized as they neared the summit site. Uhura closed her eyes and listened: Hcridan Teikgidneatsnegie! Neik Nererheuf reuf eid dunbreklov! Hcridan Teikgidneatsnegie! She opened her eyes and took a deep breath. “They’re calling for Coridani independence, sir,” she said to Sarek. “And opposing outside rulers.”
“Interesting,” Sarek said, in the exact same tone Spock would use. Kirk caught her eye and grinned and she knew he’d caught it as well. She smiled back.
The morning sessions were dull introductions and speeches; Kirk began discreetly squirming in his seat an hour in. Uhura started to glare at him, but then she noticed T’Meil had beaten her to it, so instead she started shifting in her seat herself. T’Meil couldn’t figure out who to glare at more.
They had just begun the break for the midday meal when there was a shattering sound and then shouts. Uhura jumped out of her seat, adrenaline rushing. “Ambassador, get down,” she snapped, putting herself between Sarek and – whatever it was.
“Riw negiewhcs thcin!” A voice suddenly screamed. “Riw negiewhcs thcin! Riw nefrewretnusnu thcin!”
Kirk stepped in front of them both, hand on the phaser concealed under his tunic. The shouting continued, and Sarek, still sitting calmly, looked at Uhura. “We will not be silenced,” he said. “We will not submit.”
“What?” Kirk snapped, but Uhura ignored him.
“Submit to what, then?” she asked the Ambassador, and he shook his head.
“I can only presume they mean us,” he said, steepling his fingers in front of his face. “Fascinating.”
Kirk glared at them both and slipped his hand beneath his tunic. Uhura wanted to smack it away.
“Ambassador! Captain!” They all turned to see Tdnar hurrying across the chambers. “And your lovely crewwoman. I must apologize, we have a tradition of rather loud democracy.”
Kirk eyed him, hand unmoving from his hidden phaser. “That’s certainly one way of putting it, Chancellor.”
Sarek stood and brushed his already impeccable robes into order. “I would be most curious to learn what instigated this disturbance, Chancellor,” he said, tilting his head. “At your convenience, of course.”
Tdnar pursed his lips and shifted his weight a bit. “Perhaps over dinner, Ambassador. For now I must go make sure this disturbance has been properly tended to. Captain. Lieutenant.” He nodded at them and disappeared back into the crowd. Sarek waited until he had gone, and sat back down.
“Democracy isn’t at all what I’d call that, knowing this planet’s history,” Kirk said, and his voice was bitter.
“Indeed,” Sarek said. “I believe Tdnar is not being entirely forthcoming on the state of his government’s mandate.” He steepled his fingers again. “And yet, that does not change our duty. It is possible that the Federation’s presence may in fact aide those suffering most.”
Kirk nodded and dropped his hand, but he looked unhappy. Uhura sat back in her own seat and turned her attention to the slowly-dispersing crowd. A man and a woman were being led away, wrists restrained. “No weapons,” she said quietly, and Kirk shrugged.
“A fist can be a good weapon,” he pointed out.
Sarek cleared his throat. “So can words,” he added.
They sat in silence until their escort for the luncheon arrived.
An aide approached at the end of the day’s session bearing Tdnar’s regrets and inviting the Ambassador and his company to join him for dinner after the next day’s session. Sarek gravely thanked the young girl and accepted the invitation on behalf of himself and the Enterprise, after flicking a glance at Kirk, who nodded.
“Myself, McCoy, Spock, Pike, and Uhura,” Kirk said after the aide left. “And your staff. Too many?”
“Perhaps. I will send Tdnar’s staff a message once we have returned to the ship and inquire,” Sarek said, gathering his materials together. Jones-Penby cleared his throat and finished gathering up everything, placing it neatly in the carry-all he held. Sarek raised an eyebrow at him. “My staff is most solicitous,” he told Uhura. She hid a smile at the eyeroll Jones-Penby didn’t quite mask.
“Just doing my duty, sir,” he told Sarek. “Would you like me to take your request about tomorrow’s dinner to the Chancellor’s staff?”
“That would be acceptable,” Sarek agreed, watching as Jones-Penby crossed the room to find Tdnar’s aides. “We need not wait. It will take some time to exit, there will be much – what is the human phrase? So evocative. Gladhanding.”
Tdnar welcomed them all for dinner at the Chancellor’s palace, an elegantly appointed building directly in the center of the city. “Come in, come in,” he urged, waving them down a long corridor. “I’ve made this a family dinner, of sorts, my brother and my daughter will be joining us and several of my close staffers – you do end up almost like family when you spend so much time with them. I’m sure you can relate, Captain, when you and your crew are in space together for such long periods.”
Kirk traded a glance with McCoy and smiled. It was one of the most genuine expressions Uhura had ever seen on his face. “I can indeed,” was all he said, but McCoy snorted and muttered something under his breath. Uhura was behind him so she wasn’t entirely sure what he said, but Spock’s eyebrow immediately jumped. She made a note to herself to ask him later. Next to her, Admiral Pike coughed, hiding a smile behind his hand.
The dining room was smaller than Uhura expected, with a large table set simply. Siri was talking with a portly man in the corner, but she turned with a wide smile when they came in.
“Ambassador, Captain, guests, you have met my daughter Siri,” Tdnar said, crossing the room to take her hand for a moment. “And this is my brother Mlehliw, my chief of staff.” He went on, introducing the two other staffers, both of whom Uhura recognized from earlier.
Mlehliw bowed his head to them. “I regret I wasn’t in the city to join you at the welcoming feast earlier, but I’m glad to meet you all now. Siri’s been overjoyed at the opportunity to meet so many offworlders.”
“Well, you usually don’t let me have any fun,” Siri shot back, but she squeezed her uncle’s hand before taking her place at the table, gesturing at them all. “I invite you all to dine. Ettib, mmok dnu netsef.”
Ritual completed, they were seated and Siri began passing plates, family-style. “The eldest child in the household opens every meal,” she explained as they served themselves. “It’s supposed to signify the household’s good fortune, in harvest and in children.”
“That’s a lovely custom,” McCoy said, giving Siri a smile. “I have a little girl back on Earth. I’ll tell her about that, the next time I’m home.”
“It must be difficult being so far from your children,” Mlehliw said. “Mine are grown and parents of their own but I still miss their childhoods.”
“Her mother takes good care of her,” McCoy said, suddenly sober. “And I talk to her whenever I can. She’s a beautiful girl.” He passed the bowl to Pike with a discreet shake of his head, and Pike passed it on to Sarek.
“All daughters are,” Tdnar agreed, a proud smile on his face as he regarded Siri. “Mine is just about done with her primary education, and is ready to select her field to begin her secondary training.”
“I want to go to space,” Siri said firmly.
“Which we are discussing,” Tdnar said, just as firmly. “As you can see, we have not yet decided.”
“Since my father assumes that going to space means I will be facing all sorts of diseases and death and danger,” Siri said, neatly slicing her food into bite-sized pieces. “I think having these Starfleeters here demonstrates what a false assumption that can be, Father.”
“They are Starfleet, nehcbeil eniem, with the weight of the Federation behind them, and they explore,” Tdnar said, a gentle tone to his voice. “Our own fleet faces very different dangers.”
“Well, were Coridan a member of the Federation, Siri would be welcome to apply to the Academy,” Admiral Pike said, sipping at his water glass. “For a time I was assigned as one of the recruiting officers, and I’ve gotten very good at spotting what will make a good cadet. I believe Siri could be one.”
Sitting up straighter, Siri directed a proud smile to her father, ignoring the look he traded with Mlehliw. “Thank you very much, Admiral,” was all she said, settling in to a satisfied silence.
“I’m sure you can appreciate what a delicate proposition that is,” Mlehliw finally said. “There are many, even now, such as the young people this morning, who believe the Federation is putting their own interests above that of Hcridan. They fear for their future.”
“And their thoughts on the Federation are true, of course,” Tdnar said, politely ignoring the sudden awkwardness around the table. “Any good government has to put their own interests, the interests of their people, above that of outsiders. That is what the purpose of a government is, is it not? The trick is for all those governments to find where their interests coincide with the interest of the others.”
Sarek was nodding as he regarded Tdnar. “That, Your Excellency, is exactly what we are trying to do here.”
Mlehliw shook his head. “That may be but it doesn’t mean every citizen here understands it – or believes it. We haven’t had the best of luck before with foreign governments. Maybe if we were a little less resource-rich, and a little more out of the way, we’d be free to go our own way without interference.”
“But without those things we wouldn’t have any trade at all, Uncle,” Siri pointed out. Uhura thought this had the sound of a well-rehearsed debate.
Mlehliw looked directly at Sarek and Spock. “I can’t blame those of our people who are feeling skittish. We have not always been well served by those who have come bearing the guise of friends.”
“Mlehliw.” Tdnar spoke sharply. “Enough.”
“The point is well made,” Sarek said. “And there is no offense taken where none is intended.” He raised an eyebrow at Mlehliw. “We understand each other, I believe.” Mlehliw scowled, but he finally tilted his head.
Tdnar clapped his hands together. “Excellent! Understanding, understanding, this is how you find answers!” He waved his hands at the table. “Please, keep eating.”
Uhura traded a glance with Spock and took another bite, and wondered how many more layers of complication had yet to be revealed. At precisely the worst time, probably, she thought. Spock glanced at her again and the very tip of his lips crooked upwards in the smallest of smiles, for just an instant.
Two more days of the summit dragged by while everyone tried to pretend things were being accomplished. They agreed to have the planetary council observe, the planetary council agreed to welcome the Federation envoy and his party to their chambers, the rules of order were agreed upon… it dragged on forever. Through it all, Sarek sat calm and still, observing everything without judgment or question. Nyota admired his serenity, and told Spock so when they returned to the ship that night.
“He is frequently more frustrated than he lets on,” Spock informed her as he lit his meditation candle. “I am certain he is spending all of his time on board ship in his own meditation. With so much at stake, to spend so much time quibbling over inconsequentials like the lunch menu is… illogical.”
“He’ll get no argument from me,” she muttered, settling herself across from Spock. “Do you mind if I join you?”
“I would welcome it,” Spock admitted quietly. “I have found remaining on board ship while the landing parties are dirtside to be –” He closed his mouth and considered, before lifting one shoulder in an elegant shrug. “Frustrating.”
“Aren’t you coming down tomorrow?” Nyota asked, folding her hands on her lap and starting to breathe more deeply.
“I am. I have been invited to tour one of the former shantytowns with Admiral Pike and Doctor McCoy. Chancellor Tdnar is eager for us to see how many improvements their government has made in the last century.” Spock pursed his lips. “I’m sure it will be enlightening.”
“More so than the endless talking we’re sitting through,” Uhura agreed, and took another deep breath. “Shall we?”
Spock lit the last candle and placed it between them. “Yes.” He placed his hands in his own lap and lifted his face to meet her gaze.
She stared into his eyes for a long moment. “Spock. Does your father meditate with anyone?”
He looked away. “I would not know,” he finally said, and turned his face forward again, looking fixedly at the candles. “Shall we begin?”
She let out a discouraged breath. “Yes. I suppose we shall.”
The meditation didn’t clear her mind any, and her knees buckled when she stood up, locked from sitting too long.
They beamed down in the morning in a large group, waiting politely outside the summit chambers while aides and assistants scrambled around the large lobby. Several of them approached, bowed, and invited the delegation touring the Outer City to join them.
“Gentlemen, Lady T’Meil,” Pike said, rising from the chair he had claimed. “That’s us. We’ll see the rest of you back on the ship. Enjoy your day,” he added brightly. Kirk gave him a suspicious look before giving McCoy a clap on the back.
“Looking forward to your reports, gentlemen,” he said. “And Lady.”
T’Meil looked at him rather like she would consider the muck one scrapes off their shoe, and Uhura had to deliberately bite her tongue so she wouldn’t suggest where the woman could shove it, in a half-dozen languages. To start.
Spock’s glance at her was amused, and Uhura had to further resist the urge to add him to her suggestions. I may complain about him but he’s my captain and I would never act like that in front of other people, she thought at him darkly. He raised an eyebrow and she knew he’d gotten the message. Enjoy your day.
He inclined her head, which she knew meant you as well, and followed Pike out. She followed Kirk and Sarek and the assigned security redshirts into the council chambers for the day’s proceedings.
Their day was just ending when shouting broke out in the back of the room. Kirk turned his head instantly, but Sarek was undisturbed. When the security personnel started to stand, he gestured at them to sit. “Democracy on Coridan seems to be frequently loud.”
That didn’t ping immediately, but then it came again, along with a sudden subliminal whine that made her ears ache and her spine tingle.
Uhura stood up. “Ambassador. Get down. Captain –”
There was a flash of light and a sonic boom and everything went dark.
It was dark, and dank.
It took a few minutes for her eyes to open – there was something crusted in them, and her head was aching. Everything was aching. She felt like she’d been run over by a shuttlecraft.
“Hey, easy, easy.” Hands helped her sit up, and she batted at them. “Hey, just trying to help. It’s Kirk.” He guided her until she was sitting against a wall. “We’re all here, not everyone’s awake yet.”
Uhura took a deep breath. “Where are we?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.” She blinked again and Kirk’s face slowly resolved in the dim light. “But I’m guessing one of the lower levels of the palace, by how the air feels.”
“I concur,” Sarek’s voice murmured. Uhura turned her head a little too fast, and had to suck in a breath of air.
“Oh god,” she muttered, and Kirk chuckled, a dark sound.
“Yeah. I said go easy, right? I almost tossed lunch.” Kirk rubbed her back for a moment, and then pulled his hand back, a little too suddenly. “Sorry.”
“’Salright,” Uhura muttered, cradling her head in her hands. “Just need a moment.”
“Take your time,” Kirk said. “We got plenty.”
One of the security officers – Volmeis – laughed, a little hysterically, and Uhura picked her head and took a deep breath. “We’re all here?”
“Yeah,” Volmeis said. “Torrence’s sleeping over here.”
“I am unharmed,” Sarek chimed in.
“Banged up my knee at some point, but I’m in one piece,” Kirk said. “You?”
Uhura stretched carefully and considered. “Sore as hell but I’m all right.”
“Good.” Kirk stood up. “All right, everyone’s checked in. Uhura, rest up a little. Volmeis, leave Torrence to sleep and come help me scope this cage out.”
“I would help you, Kirk,” Sarek said, standing smoothly. Kirk picked up his dropped jaw quickly enough that everyone could pretend they hadn’t seen it, and clapped his hands together softly.
“Excellent. Let’s get to it.”
Uhura awoke with a start, arm flying out to strike – another person?
“Ouch,” it muttered, shifting. Kirk.
“Oh.” Shit. Uhura could feel the embarrassment rush to her cheeks. “Sorry, Captain. I forgot where I was.”
Kirk let out a sour-sounding chuckle. “That’s fine, Lieutenant, I wish I could do the same.”
Uhura frowned. “You haven’t slept?”
He didn’t answer right away. Just when she was about to give up and go back to sleep, he cleared his throat. “No. Somebody needs to keep watch.”
She struggled to sit up a little straighter, scrubbing at her eyes. “Let me take a shift then.”
“Later,” Kirk said firmly, and he put a hand on her knee. It was warm, warmer than anything else in the room. “I couldn’t sleep now anyway. You get rest while you can. I’ve got the watch tonight.”
“You’re sure?” she murmured, but she could already feel her eyes drifting shut – and she was pretty sure he could hear the sleep in her voice.
“I’m sure,” he said, and the laughter in his voice told her she was right.
She muttered at him that she would stand watch next, but he was still chuckling as she drifted back to sleep.
By the time she woke up properly, there was a dim light in the room; several camp-style lanterns had appeared, and several packs. Sarek turned as she stood. “Lieutenant. Our captors have seen fit to give us food. Come and eat.”
She crossed the room to find the Volmeis and Torrence going over the food packets with a critical eye. Kirk sat beyond them, back against the wall. “Ah, Lieutenant,” he said as she approached. “Sleep well?”
“I’m taking next watch” she reminded him, and he just gave her a small smile and nod.
“Fair enough. Your breakfast choices are this really stale crumbly bread, or…more really stale crumbly bread.” He held out a packet. “It’s not half bad, but don’t try to pick it up, just eat straight out of the packet. It’ll fall everywhere otherwise.”
Uhura peeled the wrapper back. It was crumbly and dry – almost more of a cake than a bread, and it smelled of something akin to anise. She tried it. “Not bad,” she agreed. “Is this all they brought?”
“There’s enough here for two more meals for all of us,” Volmeis said, from where he was examining the rest of the packets. “Everything looks untampered with, as far as I can tell.”
Uhura lowered the packet of bread. “OK, that is not making this taste any better.”
“It is not logical to worry on that score. They need us alive for some reason,” Sarek countered. “Otherwise we would have been killed instantly.”
They all looked at each other. No one spoke for a long moment. Uhura was the first to look back down. She slowly nibbled at the bread.
“The unknown variables are what we must now examine.” Sarek finally continued. “Who is responsible for our captivity, for what reason, and what goal do they hope to obtain by keeping us here?”
Torrence picked up one hand a bit. “I was posted at the back of the room, sir, and there was one Coridani who kept pacing and checking his chrono. I don’t know his name but I think he was with the delegation from the western coast.”
“Ressolhcs?” Sarek asked, and Volmeis nodded.
“That’s him, sir. I could seem him from the floor where I was posted. He seemed nervous, like he was expecting something.”
Kirk frowned. “But expecting what?”
“That is the question we must solve,” Sarek said calmly, taking up one of the other bread packets. “From what we have seen of our captors thus far they appear to be uniformed in standard military garb. It is not unlikely that we have been caught in the midst of a coup d’etat.”
“Why keep us captive, then, sir?” Volmeis asked, leaning forward to flip the bread packets idly. “The Federation doesn’t negotiate with terrorists; they can’t hope to gain anything by keeping us here.”
Uhura looked across the little circle at Sarek. He met her eyes, and nodded. It was almost sad. “The Federation might not negotiate,” she said quietly. “But Spock will.”
Kirk looked from her to Sarek and back. “Pike won’t let him,” he said quietly.
“Are you certain, Captain?” Sarek asked, and Kirk looked away.
“Right. Our first order of business is to get the hell out of here. Now that we have some halfway decent light, I want to go back over this room and make sure we haven’t missed any vents or doors or joints or anything. Torrence, you’re with me. Uhura and Volmeis, you two will take over when we need a break, and in the meantime figure out if there’s anything here we can use as a weapon. Ambassador.” His expression always became a little more respectful when he was talking with the elder Vulcan, Uhura realized. “Are you able to – communicate – with your son at all?”
Sarek pressed his lips together, and shook his head. “Not in the sense you mean, Kirk. I am aware of him, and that he lives and is unharmed – as he is of me – but no more than that.”
“No, that’s good,” Kirk said. “They know we’re not dead then. That’s a mark in our column.” He turned to look at the rest of them and clapped his hands. “All right, people. On your feet. Let’s get this show on the road.”
Uhura woke up from her nap and wrinkled her nose. After a day – or was it two, now? She was starting to lose track of the passage of time in here with no windows or daylight to help judge – the air in the room was growing close and heavy. Once their captors realized they were awake and moving around, they began standing regular guard, but even having the door to their chamber opened didn’t do anything for the stale air. She silently stretched, feeling her spine pop. It didn’t make her back feel any better.
“Uhura,” Kirk said quietly, and she looked up. He was sitting not far from her, cross-legged and back against the wall.
“Sir?” she asked, and crossed over to sit next to him.
“How good’s your Coridani?” he asked. He had his voice pitched very low and he was barely moving his lips.
Uhura’s gaze flicked from him to the guard standing in the doorway, looking bored and mostly ignoring them. She lowered her head as if she wasn’t awake yet and followed his lead. “As good as I could get it before we beamed down.”
“Have you understood everything you’ve been hearing?” Kirk asked.
She considered. “Most of it. If there are too many people talking or they are talking too quickly I start to loose things but most conversations I was able to follow well enough.”
Kirk nodded a little. The guard looked around the room and he faked a yawn, eyes sliding shut. As soon as the guard turned back to the hallway his eyes snapped open again. “Right. Can you forget you know all that?”
What the hell. Uhura turned her head to glare at him. “Excuse me?”
“Look, if we don’t get some water and soap in here soon I’m not gonna be able to stand myself,” Kirk said patiently. “Much less the rest of you. And I’m pretty sure the Ambassador’s more finely-tuned nasal receptors are ready to go on strike. He’s getting greener by the hour. I want you to go ask them for soap and water and some towels.”
Uhura shrugged. “I can do that no problem,” she said, still a little confused and not just a little annoyed. All that time learning and he expected her to just blow it all off?
“Do it badly,” Kirk said, and he gave her a little smirk. “Let them think we’re a bunch of assholes who are up Shit Creek when we don’t have our UTs on us, and hopefully they’ll chatter more in front of us where you can conveniently eavesdrop on everything they say.” He lifted his eyebrows at her in an almost Spockian gesture, and waited.
“Right,” Uhura said, and then she got it. “Right.” She pushed herself to her feet, and made a show of stretching again and trying to look uncomfortable. The guard turned to eye her from the doorway, still looking bored. “Anything else we need?”
“I require food,” Sarek said quietly from the corner. “The bread they have provided is not meeting my nutritional requirements. I will be fine for several more days but after that I will likely begin to experience symptoms of malnutrition.”
“Right,” Uhura repeated, and looked over at Torrence and Volmeis. They were both still fast asleep. She looked back at Kirk. He nodded at her, so she turned and approached the guard. “Dluchstne, dluchstne.”
The guard looked her over, unimpressed. “Ssaw?”
Uhura opened her mouth and realized abruptly that she didn’t need to fake her nerves. “Riw nussem rassaw, efies, nesse.”
The guard’s face hardened, and he pointed to the water bottles and wrapped food they had been brought earlier.
“Ssaw, ssad riw rid nebegeg tiss thcin dnehciersua?” the guard snapped. Uhura understood him perfectly, and no, it damn well wasn’t sufficient, but she remembered herself just in time and faked looking confused again.
“Dnehciersua?” she repeated slowly, doing her best to mangle it.
“Thcin geuneg,” the guard said condescendingly. Not enough?
Uhura’s cheeks burned, but she didn’t try to keep from flushing. Let him think it’s embarrassment. “Rred retfahcstob,” she said, indicating Sarek and deliberately mispronouncing the word, making sure her accent was flat and Standard-inflected. “Nesse... nesse rrun neztnalfp.“ Actual food, not that damn bread.
The guard laughed, like that amused him. “Osaj? Rhi tabh hcon rassew.“
Uhura tried to look pleading. “Rruf…rruf nehsaw. Rassew dnu efies rruf nehsaw. Ettib. Ettib.“ Please give me some goddamn soap and a towel because if I have to smell myself for one more minute I’m going to do something drastic.
“Heg kcuruz ssin ztalp,” the guard said angrily, and when she didn’t move fast enough he waved his weapon at her. She jumped, let out a squeak that wasn’t entirely manufactured, and scurried back across the room, slipping back against the wall next to Kirk. She wrapped her arms around her legs and pulled them to her chest, resting her head against her knees.
“Well?” Kirk asked out of the corner of her mouth.
“Well, he thinks I’m an idiot,” Uhura muttered back. “I don’t know. He laughed at me, pointed out we already had water, and I probably shouldn’t have said the Ambassador only eats plants.”
“On the contrary, you did very well, Lieutenant,” came a quiet comment. “Thank you.”
Uhura traded a worried glance with Kirk – Sarek even sounded weary. “No thanks are necessary, Ambassador,” she said softly in Vulcan, and Kirk let his head fall back against the wall when Sarek didn’t reply.
“This sucks,” he whispered, mostly to himself. Uhura was in complete and utter agreement. It took her a long moment to realize he had said it in highly colloquial -- and terrible -- Vulcan. Despite her disappointment, she managed a smile.
The guards changed a little while later, and Uhura slumped a little more. “I guess they’re not entertaining requests,” she muttered to Kirk.
“It was a good try,” he said, and bumped her arm with his. “Chin up, Lieutenant.”
“Yeah,” she muttered, and went back to contemplating the patterns formed by the dust on her boots. She wasn’t watching the door, so when the guard she had talked to earlier walked in she was caught by surprise as he dropped a box on the floor, and pointed to her.
“Ud. Rreih dnis enied tnaivorp,” he said. “Rrhesettib.”
“Eknad, eknad!” Uhura manged to stammer out. “Thank you!”
The guard gave her an expression that was clearly exasperation. “Ud tshcirps hcilkcerhcs hcridani,” he said, and left, exchanging greetings with the current guard on his way out.
Uhura jumped to her feet and stumbled over to the box, starting to unpack it. “He brought everything,” she said, unable to keep triumph out of her voice. “Look. Soap, towels, there’s more water, and – Ambassador, there’s more food here.” She pulled out a large packet of fruit.
“Good job, Lieutenant,” Kirk said, joining her as she sorted out the new supplies. “What did he say to you, anyway?”
Uhura managed to avoid sounding smug. “He said my Coridani sucks.”
Kirk threw his head back and laughed, and after a moment Uhura joined him.
The guard tossed in a radio on the third day, and then slammed the door behind him. It broke when it hit the ground, and it took both Volmeis and Uhura to get everything back where it belonged: Volmeis carefully angling the light while Uhura carefully fit the receiver and battery packs back into place. “I think I got it,” she finally said, flipping what she hoped was the power button. The radio came on with a snap and a hiss and a voice came out of the speakers, an angry Coridani voice that took Uhura a few minutes before she was able to translate.
“This attack – no, this cowardly attack, sorry – will not go unpunished,” she murmured, as everyone gathered around her and the radio. “We demand satisfaction for this insult to Coridan. We will not tolerate this blatant disregard of our sovereignty!”
“Just what the hell pissed them off so bad?” Kirk muttered, and Uhura waved a hand at him to shut him up.
“Not only have these vile Federation worms killed our beloved Chancellor –” Uhura broke off with a gasp. “Oh my god.” Volmeis backed away from the radio like he’d been physically hit, and Sarek closed his eyes, lips moving silent. Kirk spun away, nearly knocking into Torrence, and pounded his fist into the wall.
“Kirk! Injuring yourself isn’t going to help,” Uhura snapped. “I’m not done. They’re claiming we kidnapped Tdnar’s daughter.”
“We did no such goddamn thing,” Kirk snapped back. “How can we when we’re here?”
“If no one knows we’re here, who are they going to believe?” Torrence asked. “You almost took me out there, sir.”
“Dammit. Sorry, Miguel.” Kirk rubbed his other hand over his fist. “That was pretty stupid.”
“Not as stupid as killing the Chancellor,” Torrence agreed. “He was a good guy. You don’t see that in politics much.”
“Hold on, there’s more,” Uhura said, as the voice started again. Everyone shut up instantly, leaning closer in anticipation. “They – they are stating they are holding a number of Federation prisoners, and if Tdnar’s daughter isn’t returned they will begin executing us, one at a time, until she’s returned.”
“Spock better be listening to this,” Kirk muttered. “Dammit. Dammit.” He started pacing the room in swift, sharp steps. “Uhura, can you hot-wire that thing?”
She gave the radio a long look. “No voice pick-up, but maybe I can get a decent beep out of it. Volmeis, care to return to flashlight duty?”
Grinning, Volmeis scooped up the lantern and perched next to her.
It took the rest of the day to get a reasonable transmitter rewired from the radio, and she had to interrupt her work twice as guards came in to dump bottles of water and packets of the ubiquitous bread. They would look around the room, satisfy themselves that the headcount was the same, and leave. Each time, Uhura let out a sigh of relief, uncurling her hands and examining the burnt fingertips.
She finally sat back on her heels. “All right. Ready to attempt communication with the ship, Captain.”
“Go for it, Lieutenant,” Kirk told her, getting up from his corner and heading over.
“I had to disable reception to get this to work,” she told him. “I have no way of knowing if they’re receiving.”
“They’ll get it,” he said simply. “Go for it.”
She met his eyes for a moment. They were clear and open, and he genuinely looked like he believed this would work. Taking a deep breath, Uhura let herself believe it too.
“Here goes nothing,” she said, and started hitting the lead. AWAY TEAM TO ENTERPRISE. ALL 5 ALIVE; HELD CAPTIVE SOMEWHERE IN PALACE. LOCATION UNKNOWN. She kept repeating the message, ignoring the growing heat in the unit until it suddenly let out a great spark and began to burn. “Shit,” she muttered, snatching her hand away. It wasn’t quick enough; the burn registered as a searing pain a moment later.
Sarek quickly shrugged out of his outer ambassadorial robe and began beating the flames out, while Torrence grabbed her hand and examined it. “Didn’t break the skin at least,” he said, pouring some of the precious water over it. “We don’t really have anything to wrap it in.”
Sarek shook his head. “Incorrect,” he said, and calmly began tearing strips off the bottom of the undertunic. “It is not sterile but it will do.” Torrence took it and began wrapping her hand gently.
“Stop twitching,” he told her. “You don’t want that tearing and getting infected. You did good, Lieutenant.”
“I counted twenty repetitions,” Sarek said. “I believe we were successful.”
Kirk turned from examining the now-melted remnants of the radio to Sarek. “You think so?”
Sarek raised an eyebrow. “The Enterprise is in a synchronous orbit above this city. Spock and Admiral Pike have undoubtedly assigned a member of the Lieutenant’s staff to listen for such transmissions as this. Twenty repetitions gives that crewmember ample time to identify the transmission and triangulate a rough location.”
Torrence waved a hand at the melting unit, and then grabbed Uhura’s hand when she tried to tug it away to fix the bandages herself. “Assuming this got through however many walls are between us and them right now.”
“The incoming signal reached us,” she pointed out with some asperity. “If things are getting in we have no reason to expect they’re not getting out as well.”
“We have no reason to believe otherwise,” Sarek chimed in. “Therefore it is illogical to – borrow trouble, I believe the human phrase is.”
Uhura met Kirk’s eyes at just that moment, but it took her a minute to realize he was working as hard as she was to suppress laughter. They managed another thirty seconds before they were both giggling helplessly, leaning against the wall for support, while Torrence and Volmeis looked on, confused, and Sarek gracefully ignored them, all dignity – even if his eyebrow looked amused.
The next inspection by the guards led to a lot of lecturing about the radio that Uhura pretended not to understand, while Kirk tried his best not so smirk and Sarek attempted to intervene while he, too, pretended ignorance.
“Hci ehetsrev thcin nuztenub!” Uhura finally spluttered, only just managing to keep her accent flat and Standard-inflected.
The guards stared at her for a long moment, and quickly murmured to each other too quietly and too quickly for her to follow easily. She looked to Sarek quickly, but he shook his head minutely.
One guard finally turned to her and held out Uhura’s own UT. She found herself staring at the scratch in the corner of the unit, from her second away mission, when she’d dropped the damn thing against the edge of the transporter platform. Scotty had nearly had a coronary over the scratch on the platform, she remembered idly. “You destroyed the radio.”
“I didn’t understand how it worked!” Uhura protested.
“You will come with us.” The guard switched the unit off and pocketed it. Uhura glared at him as they lined them all up and marched them out of the room.
“Where are we going?” Kirk demanded loudly. None of the guards answered him, but two of them began arguing as they walked. Uhura managed to nudge Kirk when he opened his mouth again, and inclined her head. He nodded clamped his mouth shut, looking for all the world like an angry teenager as he glared at the guards.
”Hci ssiew thcin. Riw nuut ssaw riw nelhazre raw.”
“Stlohlaum. Eiss neroh.”
“Eiss nehetserv thcin. Setehg, stsi auhcskcur.”
“Ud tsib red tim red neduarg. Thcin hci.”
“Liew eistiehrehcis rref neduarg tbig. Stlohlaum dnu theg.” The second guard gave the first one a not-so-friendly clap on the shoulder and then turned to glare at them. Uhura dropped her head.
They were marched around the castle – “We’re going in circles,” Volmeis muttered at one point, and one of the guards growled at him until he put his head back down – and finally stopped in front of a door that looked very similar to their old one, in a corridor that was just as dank and dark.
The guard pulled out the UT again. “No more radio for you. We were letting you hear the news so you would know your fate but now you will just have to sit here and wait until we are ready for you. You are deeper now and your ship will not find you here. We are in charge, not you.” He switched the unit off, dropped it on the floor, and ground it under his heel, giving them all a disturbingly toothy smile before opening the door. They were unceremoniously shoved inside, and the door was latched behind them. The room was large and lit dimly through grates set into a high ceiling. Uhura blinked several times but her eyes refused to show her more than dim shadows.
Uhura whipped her head up. That voice sounded familiar.
“Who’s there?” Kirk demanded.
“Olah?” the voice whispered again, more quietly this time. “Rew tsi ssad?”
Uhura closed her eyes against the dark. “Oh no. Oh no. Siri, tsib ud reih?”
“Uhura?” There was shuffling as a shape formed in the shadows. “Oh please, please be Uhura,” it begged in Coridani, and then it hurled itself across the room. “It is you! But – why are you here? What happened? Are you all here?” Siri grabbed Uhura’s hands and squeezed them tightly. They were trembling. Throwing caution to the wind, Uhura pulled the girl close and embraced her.
“Did – is my father – do you know anything?” Siri whispered after a moment. Uhura looked over at Sarek, helpless. Siri followed her gaze and took a step back, pulling Uhura with her.
“What’s she asking?” Kirk asked, after a moment.
“About her father,” Uhura whispered, and Kirk took a deep breath.
“Right. Can you translate for me, Lieutenant?” He waited for her nod, and knelt in front of them and waited for Siri to turn.
“Miss Tdnar,” he said slowly. “I’m very sorry to be the one to tell you this, but it seems that your father has been killed.”
Siri squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head wildly. Kirk reached for her hands and grabbed them and held them tight. “Miss Tdnar. Siri. Your father was a good man. I’m glad I got to meet him, and I wish I’d gotten to know him better.” He paused, and glanced at Uhura. She nodded when she finished translating. “We’re going to find out what happened for you.”
“I know what happened,” Siri whispered. “They killed him. I was there, I saw it all. That’s why they put me in here. I’ve been waiting for them to come kill me.”
Sarek turned abruptly and began pacing the length of their cell. As soon as Uhura had finished translating, Volmeis did the same, dragging Torrence with him and leaving just Kirk and Uhura in their huddle around Siri.
“Do you know who did this?” Kirk asked, and once Uhura had repeated the words in Coridani she pulled one hand free to wave.
“No. They wore helmets. But they call themselves the Freedom Group. They weren’t all Coridani, I think, but I don’t know who else is there. I couldn’t see, it happened too fast!” She was nearly hyperventilating. Uhura put her hands on her shoulders.
Kirk picked his head up as soon as the words left Uhura’s lips. “Goddammit. Goddammit. They were here all along. Someone was here all along. Ambassador!”
“I heard.” Sarek was still pacing, but with gravitas, almost as if he were meditating. “Our first order of business must be to escape. We can not afford to wait here.”
Uhura squeezed Siri’s shoulders tightly, trying to get her to focus. “Siri. Breathe for me, all right? You’re with us now, we’re in this together, all right? Do you know if there are any ways out of here?”
Siri looked around and shrugged Uhura’s hands off. “Just the grates,” she said, pointing up to the ceiling. “But they come out right in the middle of the city in the central square in front of the castle. It is where everyone would gather for events and proclamations. This is where they put prisoners who were awaiting execution, in the old days. They would hold the trials up above so they could hear before they died, and then build the scaffolding over the grates. It was… cleaner.”
Uhura just translated the highlights of that.
“If the only other way out is through that grate…” Kirk leaned his head back, considering. “Siri, do the guards come to check on you often?”
She had to think about it. “Three, four times a day? Sometimes they come more often, sometimes not – I think they want to keep me from expecting them.”
“Sir?” Volmeis was over by the wall, examining it. “I could climb it.”
“I know you like freeclimbing, Volmeis, but that’s pushing it a little,” Kirk told him, joining him at the wall.
“There’s plenty of handholds. We could do it. I know I climbed worse in the Academy gym, and I’m pretty sure you did too.” The look Volmeis gave the captain was nothing short of a challenge.
“The Academy gym had ropes,” Kirk pointed out, but now he was looking up too, running his hand over the wall, tugging on handholds.
“It’s carved out of the rock, there’s plenty to hold on to.” Volmeis stood back, arms crossed. “I can do it.”
“What will you do when you reach the top?” Sarek asked. “Can you remove the grate?”
Siri nudged Uhura. “What are they saying?” Uhura told her and her eyes opened. “But they can! It’s not secured, so that people can throw things down on the people here. It was… public entertainment, once.”
“Wait.” Uhura held up a hand. “One moment, guys.” She turned back to Siri. “They can just push it open?”
“Yes. My friends and I used to pull one up and throw things down when we were children, sticks and leaves and stones, just to watch them fall and see if we heard when they hit the bottom. These chambers have been empty for years now, but someone must come and empty them, because I looked for all of it when I realized where they’d put me, but –” She waved a hand at the empty space.
“But they can be opened.” Uhura looked up, and so did Siri. She turned to face Kirk and Volmeis. “Siri says the grates aren’t secured. It’s a historical thing – prisoners in here used to have things thrown to them. Or at them.”
“And if you make it up and out, then what?” Sarek pointed at Uhura’s wrapped hand. “Not all of us will be able to make that climb. I will be honest; I do not believe I would be successful, myself.”
“If two of us are out is better than all of us in here,” Volmeis said, and he sat down and started taking off his boots and socks.
“You’re not going now,” Uhura said, and Siri looked from one to the other.
“Uhura. Uhura. Is he going to climb?” She looked horrified. “No one has ever climbed this wall!”
“Volmeis. Siri says no one has ever climbed this.” Uhura didn’t know if she should grab him or hold him down or sit on him or what, and beside her Siri hovered nervously.
Kirk looked around the chamber at all of them, and sat down and started stripping off his own shoes and socks. “Lieutenant, Emor and I were on the extracurricular freeclimbing squad at the Academy. I made it halfway up Half Dome before they had to call it on account of bad weather. Emor was almost to the top.”
Uhura fought the urge to brain him with her bare hands. “Sir. With all due respect, this isn’t Half Dome.”
Kirk laughed. Laughed. “Wouldn’t be any fun if it was; why would you climb the same wall twice? And I don’t intend to climb this one more than once. Lieutenant, if we make it to the top, or – you’re in charge. Do whatever it takes to get the Ambassador and Ensign Torrence and Miss Tdnar out of here safely.”
Uhura took a deep breath and picked her chin up. “Aye sir.”
Kirk nodded and stood and jumped up and down a few times. “Ready, Emor?”
Volmeis was stretching next to him. “Yeah. Let’s do this.”
Kirk grinned, like he didn’t have a care in the world, and stepped over and put his hand over Uhura’s elbow and drew her off to the side. “Look. Not like I’m planning, but – if anything happens, and you make it back, will you – just. Tell Spock I’m sorry I fucked up our first big political moment, and tell him I did my best to take care of his dad, OK? And tell Bones – just tell him I’m sorry.” He squeezed Uhura’s elbow quickly. “And when we bust back in here to get the rest of you out you can pretend you never heard this, OK?”
Uhura regarded him. Even in the dim light she could see the blue of his eyes. “Yeah. OK. And – if it’s the other way – tell Spock I’m sorry too.” She had to swallow then, before she said anything else, anything stupid. But Kirk was watching her with understanding and something else she couldn’t quite identify.
“Deal,” he said quietly, and then he turned and clapped his hands together. “All right! Climbing time! This wall is going to be our bitch. You first, Emor.”
After, Uhura really couldn’t say just how they’d managed to swing over, remove the grate, and get out – but somehow they had, and she had a semicircle of bruises in her upper arm where Siri had been gripping in panic as they watched. There was nothing to do, then, but settle in and wait. Sarek folded himself into a meditative posture and sat silently, staring into space. Torrence talked Uhura into a few games of tic-tac-toe, drawn into the dust in the floor, but she tired of the game quickly. Luckily, Siri was entranced by the idea and caught on quickly, and promptly introduced Torrence to the Coridani equivalent.
There were precisely thirty-two paces from wall to wall, Uhura discovered.
She confirmed that a few more times, carefully skirting the leips grid that Siri was demonstrating for Torrence.
Then she paced out the other dimensions, just for completeness’ sake.
“Lieutenant,” Sarek finally murmured, after she had passed him for the fifth time. “Are you quite all right?”
She stopped, letting her head fall back on her shoulders. “I apologize, Ambassador. I’m a little restless.”
“You could put it that way,” Sarek said, and gestured next to him. “It is not terribly comfortable, but I offer you a seat.”
She fell against the wall and slid against it until her bottom met the floor. It was not comfortable. “Your’re right,” she told him. “I’m pretty sure even Klingon chairs are better than this.”
“It is not the Ritz,” Sarek agreed mildly. They watched Siri and Torrence hunched over their game for a moment. “Do you believe Kirk will succeed?”
“He’ll die trying,” Uhura said without thinking – and then caught her breath, because she realized she honestly did believe it, and that she believed it because Kirk really would.
“Illogical,” Sarek commented, and Uhura almost bristled, but he went on. “I am coming to believe that it is humanity’s most admirable quality.” He contemplated the grating in the ceiling for a few minutes. “My son is most concerned about you.”
Distantly, Uhura was aware of annoyance at being caught in a moment of surprise twice in as many minutes, but mostly she was gaping at him like a fish. “I’m – excuse me?”
Sarek left out an amused breath and resettled himself imperceptibly. “Vulcan families maintain a mild telepathic bond throughout their lifetimes. Spock and I are both high-ranked telepaths and we are therefore able to attune to one another despite the distance between us.” He turned to regard Uhura. “He’s concerned for my safety, of course, and for your captain and your crewmates – but his thoughts are primarily of you.” He watched her for a moment longer, and turned his head back to the grate. “I am gratified.”
She absorbed that, following his gaze for a lack of anywhere else to look. When she glanced away, the afterburn painted the bright daylight in neon colors against her eyes. “Spock said I should ask you about Rigel Minor.”
Shifting, Sarek stared into space, the corner of his lip twitching slightly. “That was a very long time ago.”
“He wouldn’t tell me anything more about it.”
“He would not,” Sarek agreed. “On Rigel Minor I almost resigned as a Federation Ambassador.”
Uhura leaned back in surprise. “But -- why?
Sarek was staring into space, eyes unfocused. “That was the first mission on which She who was my wife accompanied me. The Rigellian premier decided she was a gift.” He looked at Uhura, grimly amused. “I could have resigned, and taken Amanda away, but that would have angered both the Federation, who required that treaty, as well as my wife. So I fought for her.”
Speechless, Uhura could only stare, jaw open.
“I won, and so I kept my wife, and so impressed the premier that he granted us several trade concessions that have lasted until the present day,” Sarek went on, still watching a memory only he could see. “My son has never quite known what to make of that tale.”
Sarek did not speak for so long that Uhura had decided he wasn’t answering. “It was the most un-Vulcan thing I had ever done, even more so than marrying my wife. Spock was unable to reconcile this.” He turned to fix Uhura in a stern gaze. “My son has kept himself apart for too long. First he had to learn to be Vulcan. Now he must learn to be human.”
She had no answer for that, so she just nodded. Sarek returned it, and they went back to contemplating the grate.
By her reckoning it had been nearly ten hours with no visits from the guards, food, or water. She was just slipping into an uncomfortable doze, head falling forward to rest on her knees, when a shout echoed through the now-dark chamber.
Uhura was on her feet in an instant. “Where was that?”
It came again, followed by more voices – shouting. Screaming.
“I believe it is from outside. Above.” Sarek shook his head. “I cannot follow.”
Uhura spun to the corner Siri had claimed. She was still curled up, but her eyes were open. “Siri. Please, they’re talking too fast and they’re too far away. Can you hear them more clearly?”
Siri nodded, tilting her head up. “Hegkcuruz,” she murmured after a moment. “Hegkcuruz redo riw nesseihcs.” She shook her head. “I can’t make out anything else. Too many people, too far away.”
“Get back,” Uhura muttered. “Get back or we’ll shoot – shoot who? Who’s shooting?”
The gunshots echoed, mocking as if in answer, and even Sarek flinched. The screaming grew louder, and wails soared over the voices.
“Someone was shot,” Siri said quietly. Her face was pale. “That’s the mourning cry.” Torrence looked between her and Uhura, and quietly sat next to them without a word. Siri didn’t say anything, but she gave him a grateful look.
“What do we do now, Lieutenant?” he asked.
“We wait,” Uhura said firmly. Because I don’t know what else to do.
The scraping noises began at dawn. Light was just beginning to creep in through the grate when the noise filtered in.
They all stared up. “I have no idea what that is,” Torrence muttered.
“Without further evidence we can’t speculate,” Sarek agreed.
Siri tilted her head to the side, listening.
Uhura just closed her eyes and tried to figure out how long they’d gone without water.
The noises went on with the morning, and slowly coalesced into the sounds of construction. It made Siri very uncomfortable. “There’s not supposed to be anything up there,” she explained finally. “It’s a public gathering place. Any Coridani is supposed to be able to come there, for any reason, that’s why it’s right next to the palace, left over from the days when people had to fight to be heard. It’s not supposed to be blocked.”
Uhura translated that for Torrence and Sarek, who had already been nodding. “And yet I believe such a thing is happening,” he told Siri in his passable hcridani.
“What could they hope to gain?” Siri asked, and retreated to her corner.
That was when the door burst open.
When nobody moved, the lead guard repeated it, angrily. Siri rose to her feet, slowly, and the other three followed her lead. The guard waved his weapon at them.
They lined up, Uhura taking the front spot and waving Torrence and Sarek to cover Siri. Four more guards were waiting outside the door for them, and Uhura’s heart sank. The head guard nudged her with the butt of his gun. “Heg!”
She took one step, slowly. One of the other guards nudged her this time, and she looked up angrily – and saw a pair of bright blue eyes beneath the helmet.
Kirk winked, and moved on down the line to prod the rest of them as they passed, walking at the back of their little parade. They had just reached the end of a corridor when suddenly he shouted, “Down!”
Uhura dropped to the ground, and Torrence threw Siri on top of her, covering them both. Sarek landed beside them as gunfire rang above their heads. Siri was trembling, eyes pressed shut.
“Estheg, estheg!” Uhura chanted. “Dins nednuerf!” It didn’t matter, not until Kirk pulled his helmet off and held out a hand to help Siri up.
“Sorry it took so long,” he said. “Took me a while to find a better outfit.”
Relief made her head swim, and she closed her eyes. "Fashion in here? Really, Kirk," she managed to drawl. "I don't suppose you have some water?"
"We do, actually," Volmeis announced, pulling a bottle out of the pack on his shoulder. He was in a guards' uniform too.
"Let's get out of the corridor," Kirk suggested, pointing. "Siri?"
The girl looked startled for a moment, and then straightened, pointing back they way they came. "There's a staircase back here."
It took Uhura a moment to remember what neppetr meant. "Sorry. Stairs, down there."
Kirk eyed her with concern. "You OK?"
"A little dehydrated," she said, claiming the bottle from Volmeis. "I'll be OK. Torrence, drink something."
“Everyone,” Kirk said, pitching bottles around. “Siri, lead the way.” He gestured for her to go ahead. She gave him a shy smile, straightened her shoulders, and started walking.
The room Siri led them to was a small one, with neat shelves of bound material lining the walls and narrow windows letting in shadowed daylight. A large table took up the center, covered in scattered papers. Siri hurried them all in and shut the door behind them, waving Uhura over. “I am keying the lock. This is the passcode. Watch carefully.” She pressed the series slowly and Uhura committed it to memory as she did, murmuring along. Siri nodded at her. “That was my father’s code. This is his private study.” She turned her back to the doorway, looking around the room like she’d never seen it before.
“Sir?” Torrence was leaning against one of the bookshelves, looking out. “Better come get a look.”
“There is a good view of the courtyard and plaza,” Siri told Uhura, and waited for her to translate. “That is why I brought you here.”
“Good call,” Kirk said, leaning carefully to peek out unseen. “What the hell. Ambassador, I think you better get a look at this.”
Siri followed Sarek across the room and peered behind him.
“Fascinating,” Sarek said, eyebrow climbing into his hairline.
“Essiehs!” Siri said, and then she colored. “Sorry.”
“I don’t know that one,” Uhura commented, and Siri let out a nervous laugh.
“If you don’t know it I’m not telling you what it means,” Siri muttered, and turned back to the window. Uhura leaned around and saw – people. A huge crowd of people.
“How many, you think?” Kirk asked, and Torrence shrugged.
“A thousand, easy.”
“Closer to fifteen hundred,” Volmeis chimed in. He was looking towards the other end of the plaza. “What are they building?”
“That’s what we heard,” Uhura said, as she turned. “The construction. Is that a wall?”
Siri clenched her fist; if Sarek had not caught her hand in time it would have connected with the window. “Lies! It’s all lies!” Wrenching her hand free, she whirled away from the window, pacing across the room. Kirk gave Uhura a look and she quietly translated. He gestured impatiently.
Uhura looked at him sharply and mouthed stay back, she’s upset at him before crossing the room. Siri was standing against the table, her arms wrapped tightly around herself as she stood staring down at a page half-filled with hand-written symbols.
“Was that your father’s?” Uhura asked gently.
“Yes,” Siri said shortly. “He’ll never finish it now. He was writing down everything he thought I needed to know. I’ll never even know what he didn’t get to put in.”
“He loved you,” Uhura said. She glanced over at Kirk, who was watching them, and turned to her back to him. “Did you ever hear the story of when the Captain was born? It’s famous in the Federation. He is the Kelvin baby.”
It took Siri a moment. “Wait. I’ve heard that story. The ship that was destroyed by the Romulan who later destroyed all of Vulcan – that was him? That is him?” She reached down and ran her fingers over the half-blank page. “He didn’t know his father at all.”
“No. But – what his father did, out of love? It changed everything for him. It saved him.”
“My father saved me,” Siri whispered. “He heard them in the corridor coming for him, he told me to run. I did, but – I stopped, and I turned around, and –” her voice cracked. “Why would the Vulcans do this? Do they want our world now that theirs is destroyed? That’s what my uncle Mlehliw thought – he’s probably dead too. They killed everyone else. They’ll kill me when they find me.”
“They’ll have to get through us first,” Uhura snapped, and then she paused as her brain processed what Siri had said. “Siri, those aren’t Vulcans. They can’t be. There aren’t enough Vulcans left.”
“And the Ambassador was truly negotiating,” Siri went on, like she hadn’t heard a thing Uhura said. “Why bother when he was just waiting for this?”
“Siri!” Uhura interrupted. “Those aren’t Vulcans.”
Subsiding, Siri looked at her. “But – who are they then?”
“Who destroyed Vulcan?” Uhura asked in return. She could tell the exact moment Siri figured it out. Her eyes grew wide. “Why would the Romulans – they’re our trading partners – they’re our trading partners.” She pulled the chair at the end of the table out and sat down heavily. “But how did they get in?”
Sarek had been observing out the window but he slowly approached the table, speaking in slow but deliberate Coridani. “Neiluarf Tdnar.” Siri turned slowly to look at him and didn’t speak. Sarek waited a moment and inclined her head. “Miss Tdnar, I believe this event is the result of much planning and work, and I do not believe the perpetrators acted alone.”
“You mean, they had help?” Siri shook her head. “No. No, they couldn’t have. No Hcridani would do such a thing, we fought too hard for our independence and fought each other too long – ”
“With all due respect, I submit that that very civil war suggests that it would not be unexpected to find violent disagreement in your culture,” Sarek said, as gentle as Uhura had ever heard him. “In order to determine the true course of events here we must discover who assisted in this coup against your father.”
Siri pulled the page of writing closer and rested her hand flat against it. “He worked so hard for Hcridan. This isn’t right.”
“No, it’s not,” Uhura murmured, and she thought of Christine standing in sickbay, knowing without being told that something wasn’t right -- and that was when it clicked. “Siri.”
The girl looked up. “Yes?”
“The guards who brought us into the chamber with you were talking, and – one of them said something – “ she closed her eyes, trying to remember, and recited. “’Eiss nehetserv thcin. Setehg, stsi auhcskcur.’ And then[ar] the other replied, ‘Ud tsib red tim red neduarg. Thcin hci.’” She opened her eyes again. “He knew. Neduarg. He knew.”
Siri closed her own eyes, and put her head down on the desk, and wept.
Uhura stared in horrified silence for a moment, unsure how much comfort to offer – if any! – or if it would even be welcome. “Lieutenant,” Kirk hissed behind her. “What is going on?”
Sarek spoke before she could. “A bitter pill, Captain.” He sat in the chair next to Siri’s, and surprised them all by reaching for her and drawing her close. “Resseb uz neniew tztej, osud retaps ralk dnu hcsigol tsnnakneis.” Siri hitched a breath and buried her face against Sarek’s shoulder, and he ran a hand along her hair, stroking gently. “Riw nednif neid sertav sreredrom, senielk,” he murmured.
It was the endearment -- little one -- that made Uhura turn, drawing Kirk away. “They need a moment,” she said simply at his questioning look. “We all do.”
“What was that all about?” Kirk asked, and Uhura let out a long breath.
“Her father was betrayed by his own people,” she finally said, staring out the window at the fence going up. “Her people are not all as she thought they were, and her father’s gone. The whole world has turned upside down.” She turned back to look at Sarek, still holding Siri. Kirk followed her gaze, and his face softened.
“We’ll leave them for a moment then,” he agreed, and squeezed Uhura’s shoulder before he went back to the window.
As the sky darkened, they sat on the floor in a circle, leaving Tdnar’s work table as it was – except for the half-finished page Siri had found. That she carefully folded and tucked into a pocket. Whenever she thought no one was paying attention she would lay a hand over it. Kirk had found a blank pad and pen-like writing implements in a drawer at the base of a bookshelf, and was currently sketching out diagrams of the palace complex.
“So our best bet is to try for the back gardens,” he said, and Siri nodded, putting her hands in her lap as Uhura translated.
“If we can disable the electric fence that keeps predators out of the gardens then we can just walk out of the palace grounds,” she said. “It runs into the forest that surrounds the city. There’s nothing else there.”
“Something’s happening down here, Captain,” Torrence said from the window, peering out.
“Can those windows open?” Kirk demanded. “I want to hear this.”
Siri nodded, and stepped forward. “Excuse me,” she said in neatly accented Standard, and showed him how to work the window closure. They slid the window up slowly.
“— uz nerhi nesuah! Eseid ztalp tsi nessolhcseg! Tobrevhegsua tsi thein rabgartrebev!“ Guards were slowly advancing on the crowd, which was standing its ground.
“Riw neheg thcin!” a thin voice shouted, barely audible.
“Lieutenant? Ambassador? Can somebody translate?” Kirk was shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“They will not leave,” Sarek said softly, and pressed his lips together. “This cannot end well.”
“Se tsi eid ztalpreklov,” Siri whispered. “Se tsi eresnu.”
Uhura opened her mouth to translate when a crack echoed around the plaza, screams erupting from both sides of the standoff. “What was –”
“Projectile weapon,” Torrence interrupted, pointing. “There. Someone’s down.”
“Wounded,” Sarek added, squinting. “There is a great deal of blood loss.”
Siri pulled back from their cluster around the window, hand over the pocket on the side of her tunic. “I have to go down there.”
“Siri, you can’t!” Uhura blurted, turning. “They’re shooting.” She had to say it again in hcridani, too shaken to tell which language was which.
“My father would be right in front,” Siri said, lifting her chin. “That’s where I should be.”
Helplessly, Uhura turned to Kirk. “She wants to join them,” she said, spreading her hands. “That plaza – she says it’s the people’s plaza, that her father would be leading them if he were here. If they’re shooting –”
Kirk held up a hand, and turned back to look out the window. Uhura peeked past him. The crowd had lined up in front of the injured, a wall of people protecting the fallen, while the guards all stood with weapons at the ready. He turned back to them, challenge clear on his face. Volmeis stood up, and then so did Torrence. Sarek nodded when Kirk’s gaze landed on him. “It is the only logical response to such senseless violence,” he said quietly. Kirk nodded, and turned back to Uhura, asking the question with the lift of his chin.
Uhura lifted her own in answer, and got a grim smile from Kirk. Turning back to Siri. “If you’re going, we’re coming with you. All of us.”
Siri’s shoulders slumped and she closed her eyes for a moment. “Thank you,” she finally said. “Thank you. I’ll lead the way.”
It was ludicrously easy; in the end they simply walked out of the palace at the end of one of the long wings, right on the edge of the crowd. Siri stopped short at the size of the crowd, which had grown in the short time since they had last seen it. Sarek put a hand on her shoulder, and she took a deep breath and started walking.
The crowd parted to let them through, pointing to Kirk’s golden uniform and at Siri as she made her way and they followed. No one spoke, but it was not silent – there was a strange rumbling, a mostly-subliminal hum of anger and anticipation as they made their way through the crowd. Siri pushed on ahead, and Kirk followed, flanked by Torrence and Volmeis. Uhura followed with Sarek on her heels, and the crowd closed up behind them, curious and eager. There was no going back, even if she could bring herself to run.
They reached the front of the crowd, the empty no-man’s land that had grown before the row of soldiers standing guard before the fence blocking off [as]the palace. Uhura bit her lip at the sight of the bodies that lay sprawled where they’d been shot. Siri started, her hands shaking. “Ssaw tsi ssol?” Uhura whispered to her.
“Eis dins eniem nednuerf,” Siri whispered, and she stopped moving and stared at them. “Rieh dins Reuanad dun Mlehliw. Eniem neudnuerf.” She raised her voice. “Eis dins eniem nednuerf! Eniem eilimaf!”
The crowd moved uncertainly, and Uhura traded a worried glance with Sarek, but Kirk simply picked up his head, grabbed Siri’s wrist, and pulled her to the front of the crowd. With clear deliberation, he turned his back on the row of soldiers, who were fingering their guns with interest, and scooped Siri onto his shoulder. Torrence slipped in front of them, arms crossed, his eyes daring any of the crowd to touch. “Talk,” Kirk said, and Uhura pushed closer.
“Eder,” she translated, but she didn’t need to. Siri was already talking, and Uhura could hear her father in her voice.
“You know me,” she called out to the crowd. “You all know who I am, but you don’t know where I was. They lied to you. I’ve been here the whole time, on the planet, held in the palace. I saw my father die, and the Federation people did not kill him.” She twisted on Kirk’s shoulders to point at the soldiers. “They did! They killed him before my eyes. My father, and for what?” She spread her arms. “Hate the Federation if you want to, but they saved me. They helped me when these men would have killed me. These men killed my father!” She kept talking, but the crowd was growing louder, her words being repeated further and further back, and the ire was growing; they were being pushed closer and closer to the no-man’s land.
Kirk stumbled and Siri tumbled off of his shoulder. Sarek grabbed her and held her close for a moment before he helped her regain her footing. “You spoke bravely,” he said quietly in hcridani, and kept a firm hand on her shoulder as the crowd surged around them.
A shout came from the line. “Any closer and we open fire! Return to your homes as you have been ordered!”
The voice came from somewhere in the crowd, and for a moment everything grew still.
It was a different voice, and another joined it, and another.
Murderers! Traitors! Murderers! Traitors! Next to her, Siri took up the cry, and then Kirk and Torrence and Volmeis, and Sarek beside her. Shaking, Uhura joined them, pushing to the very front, next to her crewmates, next to Siri. The crowd parted for her and stood close behind her, no longer pushing. They have our backs, Uhura realized, and then no, that’s wrong. They have ours, and we have theirs. She stared into the face of the closest soldier, who looked beneath his helmet to be barely older than Chekov. She stared at him and willed him to lower his gun.
It wasn’t he that broke. It was another, even younger boy standing further down the line who threw his weapon to the ground with a shout and tore off his helmet. He ran across the no-man’s land, sending his helmet flying behind him, and met the crowd with his hands in the air. They parted for him and reformed, the boy safely protected by the mass of people.
“Fire!” the commander shouted, fury in his voice. “Fire, damn you!”
“Shoot us!” cried a voice from the crowd. “Shoot your own people!’
The crowd took up the chant. “Shoot us! Shoot us! Shoot us!”
Kirk had inched closer to her, but Uhura didn’t realize until she felt his hand grab hers and squeeze tightly. It was slick with sweat, and when she darted her eyes to the side, she could see he was covered with it. He was petrified, but his expression never wavered as he joined in the cry. “Shoot us!”
Another soldier broke and ran across the dirt to land on his knees at Siri’s feet, sobbing so hard he couldn’t[at] be understood. Siri reached down and pulled him to his feet, and hugged him; the crowd cheered and taunted the remaining soldiers and chanted as the second soldier was absorbed into the fray.
As if the dam had burst, more soldiers were throwing down their weapons and fleeing into the crowd, who welcomed and shielded them as the commander screamed with increasing rage, until one of his own men struck him with the butt of a rifle before pointing the business end squarely at his face.
The cheer that the crowd let out was deafening, and they rushed the gates in a sudden smooth motion, pushing through and into the palace grounds.
Uhura was kneeling, translating for one of the Enterprise medics when she heard her name being called. “Hci nib reih!” she called, and blinked when the medic glanced at her in amusement. “Shut up,” she muttered. “You try switching languages all the time.” She stood up and repeated, “I’m over here!” – in Standard this time.
Whoever it was bellowed her name again, and she called out louder. “Over here, with the medics!” It wasn’t until she saw Spock push his way through the crowd that she realized he’d been calling her first name.
“Nyota,” he said, and crossed the space between them in two strides, tackling her into a fierce embrace that pushed every last atom of air out of her lungs. His fingers dug into her shoulders and his hands were shaking as he buried his face against the side of her neck. “Nyota. Nyota.” He stepped back, and cupped her face with his hands for a moment, and then seized her in another embrace. “Nyota.”
His voice was shaking, and she threw her arms around him. “I’m all right. Spock. I’m here.”
“You could have been – “ He didn’t finish, just took a shuddering breath and held her tighter, pressing his forehead against hers for a moment as he rocked her, and she rested her cheek against his shoulder and clung to him just as tightly.
Her vision had gone blurry, but for just a moment after she blinked it cleared, and she could see Kirk standing with his hands shoved in his pockets, watching them with a sad smile on his face. As soon as he realized she’d seen him he turned and went back to helping the Coridani who were tearing the gates down, and she wondered if she hadn’t imagined it.
Spock’s breath was a ragged rhythm against her skin as he reassured himself she was still there, and she closed her eyes and listened to his heart beat a staccato against the sounds of the crowd and the tearing of metal and the cheers of the people around them as the gate fell to the ground in pieces.
The square was clean now, quiet and peaceful in the morning light. Uhura stood apart from the landing party, watching people come and go across the corners of the square. They stopped to talk to friends, carrying children and groceries. Some of them hovered around the borders, watching as the Federation and Coridani officials mingling.
Crossing the square, Uhura stopped in front of a grate set into the ground.
“That’s where we were,” a voice said behind her, and she turned to find Siri, standing uncharacteristically subdued a short distance away. “Underneath.”
“I can hardly believe that was just a few days ago,” Uhura answered softly.
Siri came to stand next to her. “I can hardly believe any of it was just a few days ago,” she echoed, and picked her chin up. “Do you think it will get easier?”
Uhura turned around to look at Spock, who was standing poker-straight between Admiral Pike and T’Meil, but listening intently to Ambassador Sarek as he and Pike spoke with Mlehliw, still bandaged and battered. He’d only just survived, thanks to the intervention of McCoy and his surgery.
Spock looked across the square at her, and something in his expression eased as their eyes met. When he turned back to the conversation, it was with a deep breath as he opened his mouth to join the discussion. Next to him, T’Meil remained silent, listening to the conversation without a word. “Yes,” Uhura said to Siri, her eyes still on Spock. “It won’t stop hurting, I think. But you learn how to cope.”
“It never gets easier,” another voice chimed in, slightly tinny as the UT kicked in. “But you get stronger.”
Siri spun around. “Captain!”
Kirk joined them to look down at the grate. “You know, I kind of can’t believe I actually pulled that climb off?”
“I still can’t believe you did!” Siri said, and gave him a shy smile. “But I’m glad it worked.”
“Oh, me too,” Kirk said fervently. He looked around the square. “Why is everybody hiding in the corners? I thought this was the people’s square?”
“They are waiting for you to leave,” Siri said, and offered him a human-style shrug when they both looked up in surprise. “They are still skittish.”
Siri turned back at the palace and tilted her head back a little, looking at the sky. “When your Admiral offered to help me to go to Starfleet Academy, was he serious?”
Kirk traded a glance with Uhura. “Absolutely. Are you interested?”
They stood around the grate for a long moment, while Siri stared at the sky. “I am.” But she didn’t move, or lower her head.
Uhura gave it another few heartbeats. “Rebaa?” she asked softly.
“But.” Siri took a deep breath. “I want to stay here, and help my planet first. And make sure my planet is safe.” She looked at Uhura then. “Is that -- do you think --”
“I think he’d be proud of you,” Kirk said, and when they both turned to look at him, he was looking at the sky too.
“Siri, come tell the Admiral about your ideas,” someone called, and when they turned Mlehliw was waving her over.
“Excuse me,” she told them both with a smile, and crossed the square to rejoin her uncle.
“She’ll be fine,” Kirk said, watching her go.
Uhura glanced at him sideways. “Why do you say that?”
“She’s got a purpose,” Kirk said, and he inclined his head at the group, where Siri was now talking to the Ambassador with animated gestures while Spock and Sarek looked on. “It helps. It doesn’t fix everything, but it helps.” He gave Uhura a small sideways smile. “You did a hell of a job in all of this, Lieutenant. Nobody I’d rather have at my back.” He tossed off a lazy salute and left her there, sauntering back across the square.
They returned to the ship in multiple groups. Uhura was with Kirk in the last party to beam-up, after saying a unexpectedly teary good-bye to Siri. Spock and Sarek were both waiting in the transporter room, and then both relaxed visibly when the transporter beam released her.
Kirk gave her a knowing smile and clomped off the platform. “I’m off to debrief McCoy,” he say to nobody in particular, clapping Spock on the back as he went by. Spock glared at him as he left the room, switching his dark look to Admiral Pike when he followed Kirk out, chuckling.
“Your Captain is very informal,” Sarek observed as Uhura climbed off the platform. “It suits him.”
“I agree,” Spock said. “He...makes it work.” He turned to Uhura as she joined them, arching his eyebrow.
“He does,” she said, and held out her hand. Spock’s eyebrow arched higher, but he took it and squeezed briefly. “Good climber, too.”
“Indeed.” Sarek inclined his head to her. “Good night, my son. Lieutenant.”
Spock turned to her after he’d left them in the empty transporter room. “You agree?”
“He makes it work,” Uhura said, and took his hand again, tugging him after her. “We might all be getting the hang of this thing.”
Spock let her lead the way. “Indeed.”
Attention all hands, this is Captain Kirk. We will be warping out of the Coridan system shortly to return our passengers to Starbase 28 and debrief. Crew can expect 48 hours of liberty once debrief is completed. I am pleased to announce commendations for bravery for Ensign Volmeis, Ensign Torrence, and Lieutenant Uhura. Well deserved, all three of you. Kirk out.
At her station, Uhura sat up in surprise, and turned to look at the command chair. Kirk swung slightly to the side and winked at her. Uhura grinned and turned back to her board, knowing without needing to look that next to her, Spock was regarding them both with gratification.
Chekov announced their course, and at Kirk's command Sulu engaged the engines. They were off.