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Chapter One: At Your Side

 

     The explosion was a complete surprise, and as the fire roared towards him, his involuntary last breath filled with heat and char, his last sight was of Spock’s body: blue and black thrown desperately across Jim’s own in a final, futile attempt at protection. He didn’t even have time to scream.

 

*****

 

     The afterlife was cold and the floor was unforgiving under his naked body. He thought he blinked his eyes open but everything was pitch black around him and he felt a surge of frightened panic until he heard a familiar voice next to him.

     “Jim. Be calm.”

     “Fuck.” Jim struggled to control his breathing. “Spock, am I blind?”

     He didn’t realize he had reached out until he felt the warm, dry press of another’s hand clasping his own. “Negative. We are being held in total darkness.”

     Spock’s fingers tightened almost reassuringly as Jim brought himself back under control. The captain gently released his friend’s hand and felt along the floor underneath him as well as along his own limbs. Naked, indeed, but intact, with no wounds he could feel even as adrenaline powered through his veins. The floor was smooth, and the air was fresh, apparently re-circulated somehow, with a perceptible current against his skin. He shivered, smelling the faintest scent of char. His hair? Spock’s? The flames had been so close.

     “We’re not dead.”

     He heard the smallest exhale from the Vulcan. “No, Captain. I surmise we were transported from the room nearly coincident with the triggering of the blast.”

     “And the others?” Jim almost didn’t want to ask. The diplomatic talks on Cresd’ti had been about to conclude, and the room filled with thirty-eight other souls, including a Federation ambassador and three other members of the crew of the Enterprise.

     Spock evenly replied, “I do not know. I regained consciousness four point two minutes prior to you and have been unable to detect the presence of any other beings. My time-sense indicates we have been out for six point one hours.”

     “Fuck again. Fuck it all,” Jim muttered, pushing himself to his knees and then attempting to stand, swearing again as his head made contact with a low ceiling, preventing him from rising any higher then a crouch. Another surge of panic followed, and he dropped back to his knees, placing both hands flat on the floor, concentrating on deep breaths.

     He could almost sense Spock’s furrowed brow and he said quickly, “It’s nothing, I’m okay. Are you alright? Injuries?”

     “No injuries to report, Captain. However, I seem to be in a state of complete undress.”

     Jim snorted; he couldn’t help it and the brief moment of humor helped him regain his bearings. “Me, too. Speculation?”

     “We appear to have been kidnapped as part of a premeditated act, however the motivation and identity of our kidnappers is unclear. I surmise that the bomb will act to dissuade an immediate recovery effort, as we will be presumed dead, and the number of beings in the room will make identification of remains difficult.”

     “But not impossible.”

     “No, Captain, but—.”

     “But it’ll take time. Which we don’t have,” Jim interjected. He concentrated, listening. “We’re on a ship?”

     “I can presume that we are, sir. One equipped with stealth runners, or our…enclosure is soundproofed.”

     And then Jim began to put the pieces together, remembering Fleet briefings about high-stakes piracy and trafficking in sentient beings. About Orion ships being equipped with increasingly sophisticated weaponry and shields and venturing ever more boldly into Federation-controlled space. His nakedness suddenly made him feel much more vulnerable. “Slavers.”

     “A possibility, Captain.” Spock’s reply didn’t give anything away.

     Jim curled his hands into fists. “But to plan and execute this; right under the nose of the Enterprise and on a supposedly secure Federation planet—.”

     Spock remained silent and Jim scowled. The captain of the flagship and his first officer would fetch a huge sum from the Klingons or the Romulans just for intelligence purposes, making such a risky endeavor worthwhile. And if not for that, there were other uses for slaves.

     His eyes searched for Spock in the darkness, suddenly terribly aware that his friend was the only one of his kind: the very definition of rare.

     “Spock, I—,” he began; abruptly stopping as a low hiss came from somewhere above them and he suddenly smelled the dull metallic scent of gas.

     He instinctively pushed himself back, but it was only seconds before he felt the cool hardness of the floor against his cheek, and then even that vanished.

 

*****

 

     His arms were yanked painfully behind his back, secured with something unforgiving, and a blindfold was wrapped around his eyes. His ankles were secured together so that he could barely walk and he kept stumbling, the unfamiliar hands gripping his upper arms tightening each time he fell, pulling him back up, irritated growls, snippets of the Orion dialect, and grunts of frustrated effort sounding in his ears as he was dragged along. He turned his head helplessly; wanting to call out to Spock, knowing they were being separated and there was nothing he could do about it. His body, still nude, felt heavy and lethargic, his neck and chest ached fiercely, there was a rank taste in his mouth, and he was surrounded by the pungent smell of his own urine, sticky on his skin.

     He stumbled once more and suddenly the hands released him and he fell forward, barely landing on his knees, his body twisted awkwardly. He raised his chin defiantly, though, and heard, surprisingly, the thin voice of an elderly woman, speaking in heavily accented Standard, “This is the one he came with?”

     “Yes, Lady, this is Kirk.”

     “And you’ve scanned him? Is it as the Vulcan says?”

     There was a slight hesitation from the thick Orion voice before continuing, “Our scans cannot verify what he claims, ma’am.”

     “But you think it’s true.”

     The Orion cleared his throat. “Lady, we agreed to deliver you the Vulcan, unharmed. We took the human,” Jim reeled as a rough blow descended against his back, “to give the impression that it was an assassination attempt against the command team of the flagship.”

     The old woman guffawed, “You brought him because you thought I might pay extra for another pretty boy. And when you found out that didn’t reflect my current interests you tried to kill him.”

     The Orion sounded annoyed, “The Vulcan’s life functioning ceased at the same time as this one for no reason our medic could understand. We were forced to revive the human or we would have lost both of them. If you want one of them, you have to take the other, it seems. I submit that compensation would be appropriate. After all, we discovered this—side effect before something happened that might have been irreversible.”

     She chuckled, saying wryly, “You mean you’re lucky you didn’t just shoot him. You sick bastards like to play with your food too much.”

     The Orion snorted, contending, “If they are mated, Lady, you’ve gotten a good deal out of this. The human can be used to control the Vulcan; he can’t be kept drugged indefinitely.”

     “Perhaps.” She paused. “Rohmer, give this Orion con-artist another twelve points for his extra…effort and see that he makes it back to his ship without incident.”

    Jim heard the slight emphasis on the last word, but kept his own expression under control.

     The woman continued, “Put this one with his mate and clean them up. I want all the drugs out of the Vulcan’s system before we begin.”

     An unfamiliar voice responded crisply, “Yes, madam.” There was the sound of footsteps, and Jim flinched away instinctively as two more pairs of hands grasped his upper arms, hard enough to bruise. This time he was dragged, making no effort to move his own feet, and minutes later he was dropped unceremoniously on a thickly carpeted floor. A pause, and then his blindfold was wrenched from his head and he blinked rapidly in the sudden brightness, a large room coming into focus.

     A bald, heavyset humanoid man was standing over him, a smirk on aquiline features. “Welcome home, filthy little pet.” A boot kicked at Jim’s side, flipping him over, and the man and his unseen companion walked away, accompanied by the sound of a door hissing shut behind them.

     Jim swallowed, wincing at the ache in his throat, waiting until his eyes adjusted before gingerly turning over and awkwardly rolling himself up onto his knees. And then he saw the figure haphazardly sprawled onto the floor next to the far wall.

     “Spock!” He shoved himself to his feet and hobbled over to fall again next to his friend. The Vulcan was similarly restrained, lying facedown, his arms cuffed behind him and his ankles manacled. Jim leaned forward, pressing his ear to the Vulcan’s back and feeling, barely, the slight rise and fall of breath, the flutter of an alien heartbeat. Relieved, Jim sat back, collapsing to lean against the wall when his leg muscles spasmed.

     “Fuck.” He jumped as he saw movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to the left to see a mirrored wall.

     Frowning, Jim ignored his own disheveled and bruised image and took in the rest of the room. It was relatively spacious, with the thick carpet underneath extending across the entire space. One wall was mirrored, and the other three were plain plastisteel. The opposing wall held the door, and to Jim’s right an entryway opened to what looked like a bathroom. There was no furniture besides a large, flat pallet covered with blankets and pillows and no obvious security sensors, but Jim supposed that the mirrored wall was itself some sort of viewer. The light source was an inset fixture at the center of the ceiling, protected by a transparent window.

     Next to him, Spock’s body shuddered and the Vulcan let out a soft moan. Jim leaned over again. “Spock? Can you hear me?”

     “Jim.” Dark eyes blinked open and Spock shifted slightly, turning to his side and then his back, his bound hands beneath him.

     Jim’s eyes flicked over his first officer’s exposed body, noting the absence of any serious wounds. “You okay?”

     Spock’s normally sharp gaze was unfocused as he replied, “I am still suffering the effects of the…drug. I—.”

     His voice trailed off, and Jim nodded, reassuring, “It’s okay. Do you remember anything that happened?”

     “You were dying.” This was matter-of-factly said, despite the Vulcan’s unsteady voice. “I followed you.”

     “I don’t understand.”

     Spock’s eyes closed as he murmured, “I would not…let you go…again, t’hy’la.” His head lolled back.

     Jim stared at him in confusion and he whispered into the silence, “T’hy’la?” Almost as if on cue, the main door slid open and three men and one woman stepped into the room. All bald, with elaborate gold jewelry along the shell of their ears, wearing sheer white clothing that left little to the imagination, they each had a strangely blank expression on their faces, no life behind their eyes.

     “Do not resist.” The woman looked at him unblinkingly, her voice a placid monotone. “You will come with me to be cleansed and prepared.” She gestured to the men behind her.

     Jim felt a surge of protectiveness as they neared his first officer, pushing back against the wall and forcing himself awkwardly to his feet. “Prepared for what? Get the fuck away from him.” He moved aggressively forward, still hampered by the ankle restraints, seeing Spock’s eyes blink groggily open again.

     The woman did not answer, and the three men did not stop, and Jim had no intention of simply going quietly. His headlong rush was more of a bodily sprawl into them, a desperate maneuver with all his weight behind it. It was as if he had hit a brick wall: the men’s bodies were cold, hard, and unforgiving, and Jim hit the floor in front of them with a grunt. He heard Spock’s voice call his name, and then all was lost in the roar of blood in his ears as his throat was grasped in a fierce, cold grip and he was pulled up to dangle, his feet barely brushing the floor. He struggled, and felt panic rise and then he was suddenly released to land again, gasping for air.

     Spock had turned over, was pushing himself to his own feet, his entire body slow and unsteady, and Jim caught the glint of silver out of the corner of his eye. The woman had some sort of weapon and was aiming it at his first officer, and with a flash of light Spock went down again.

     The woman sounded unaffected, “You were warned not to resist. Now you will learn how your actions will be punished.” The weapon was aimed again, and Jim saw his friend’s eyes go wide, saw his body twist and convulse, his legs curling up.

     “No!” Jim yelled, his voice ragged, his throat burning, and he struggled, wanting to get to Spock, to stop the woman’s assault, to move. An iron hand descended on his shoulder, holding him down, and Jim cried out again, feeling something hard press against his throat, and darkness descended over him.

 

*****

 

     Awareness came back slowly, painfully, and Jim blinked his eyes open as he flexed his fingers, digging blunt nails into soft blankets, tasting something vaguely antiseptic in his mouth. His body felt strange: slightly slippery, like oil or lotion had been rubbed into his skin, and though he was now clothed, the fabric felt thin and insignificant. He shivered at the chill in the room, wincing as he pushed himself into a sitting position, noticing that most of the pain had faded from his neck and chest.

     “Spock?”

     He was alone, lying on the wide pallet in the center of the room, and he suppressed a wave of panic, gritting his teeth and looking down at himself. He was wearing loose black pants and a long-sleeved tunic, both of a fine, shimmery texture. His hands felt…different, and he held them out in front of him, noting that his nails had been manicured and minor cuts and imperfections, like where he characteristically chewed the cuticle on his thumb or abrasions where the manacles had fastened, were gone.

     “Spock!”

     He tried again, despite some inner knowledge that his friend would not hear. He stood up, fighting a wave of vertigo, catching a glimpse of himself again in the mirrored wall and then peering closer. His hair had been trimmed and combed, and the way the thin clothing clung to his body made him think of—. He swore, anger breaking through the panic, striding over to the empty bathroom and then back across the room, raising a fist and slamming it against the mirrored surface, growling, “Where is he?”

     He hit the wall again and again, feeling his hand bruise and welcoming the pain. “Goddammit!” And he barely heard the soft hiss of the door opening behind him. He whirled, and saw the same large man from before, Rohmer, looming in the doorway, a weapon held threateningly in his hand.

     “Back away, pet,” Rohmer ordered firmly, and Jim glowered but obeyed, his hands clenched into fists. The larger man looked slightly amused as he stepped further in, turning his head to call out back through the door, “He’s ready, madam.”

     A low mutter preceded the appearance of a tall, slender woman, perhaps human and quite old, her heavily lined face in marked contrast to the bright intensity of her blue eyes. She moved slowly, carefully, and her weathered hands were clutched tightly in front of her, her silver-gilt hair bound in many small braids wrapped around her head. She wore a rich, purple robe that hung to the floor, and Rohmer stepped back submissively, lowering his eyes briefly but keeping the weapon trained on the captain.

     The woman lifted her chin, her eyes skeptical as she inquired, “You are the Vulcan’s mate?”

     Jim stared at her, his anger pushed away as his mind raced. He remembered the clipped conversation before and the cryptic, confusing thing Spock had murmured. He also knew the apparent stakes should he say the wrong thing.

     He hesitated, deflecting, “Perhaps what I am makes little difference to what you want me to be.” Jim unclenched his hands, making a flippant gesture that sent the material of the tunic shimmering in the low light, his expression contemptuous.

     The woman’s eyes narrowed and she grunted, remarking, “Pretty and quick-witted.”

     “Where is my first officer?” Jim fixed her with a glare.

     She smiled slightly. “If I choose to keep you, it will be because of your usefulness, one way or another. Usefulness of body,” her eyes flicked over his figure, “or because of what you are to the Vulcan.”

     Jim’s jaw tensed. “Where is he? Why do you want him?”

     She ignored his questions, glancing casually to the side. “The former people of this world had a saying that was quite beautiful: Isn’hara gli loe’ati vni a dua di litin. It was understood as the purest expression of love in their culture, and I find it most appropriate now. Would you like to know the translation?”

     Jim remained silent, an icy pit of fear growing in his stomach as her eyes fixed on his again.

     “It means: ‘I will suffer a thousand deaths to keep you from harm’.” She smiled coldly. “Consider this a test of your usefulness. Rohmer, proceed.”

     The flash of light from the weapon was immediate, and Jim crumpled, feeling fierce agony surge along his limbs. He may have screamed; he knew nothing other than the terrible burning pain that seemed to stretch endlessly—and then was suddenly gone. Gasping for breath, his arms and legs twitching as he lay on the carpeted floor, Jim heard Rohmer chuckle.

     “It appears, madam, that your test was successful.”

     The woman made an irritated noise. “For now. To think that Orion idiot may have stumbled upon our solution.” She grunted. “It will have to suffice. Watch this one to see if he exhibits any side-effects from the procedure; considering their potential convolution I do not want to take a chance with his life.”

     They withdrew, the large hulk of a manservant behind the strange woman, and the door slid shut again, leaving Jim alone. No, not alone: he could see the mirror and knew without a doubt of who was on the other side. Spock.