When young Jimmy Kirk was in grade school, his grandmother taught him, ‘Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.’
Traversing the vast distance between two far-flung stars on the edge of Federation space, the Enterprise was approaching her second week of the journey. Outside, her hull was illuminated by the bright young stars and ionized gases of a nearby Mutara-class nebula, while inside on her bridge the crew silently and diligently worked at their stations, their tasks accompanied by the quiet cacophony of tones and beeps from the ship’s systems.
Captain Kirk sat in the center seat, legs crossed, a compslate balanced precariously on his knee as he read and signed reports. He scanned the latest document from his CMO, informing him that with little eventful happening beyond the day-to-day running of a starship, stress levels among his crew were at their lowest for nearly three months. Quiet times were all very well and good, Kirk silently acknowledged, but it was only two hours into his shift and frankly, he already felt bored.
Kirk caught a movement in his peripheral vision when his first officer stood to bend over the sensor shroud, its light casting an eerie glow over his face as he examined readings from the nearby nebula. Kirk’s gaze swept over Spock’s long, slim back, then dropped to the ass he never tired of surreptitiously checking out, having gotten over feeling any guilt for it early on in his tenure on the Enterprise.
His attraction to Spock – on both a physical and mental level – had been present right from the offset. He’d vowed never to get involved with any of his crew, but he knew early on he’d be willing to make an exception with Spock, especially since all the reasons he had for refraining – like concerns of being taken advantage of by the other party, or perceptions of favoritism by other members of the crew – were simply not an issue when it came to the Vulcan.
Despite closely observing his first officer during the first eighteen months of their mission, Kirk never saw him show the remotest interest in anyone, male or female. Since so much to do with Vulcan culture was shrouded in secrecy, he didn’t have the first clue about their sex-lives or sexual mores, though six billion inhabitants showed they obviously did engage with each other on that level, hard as it was for him to imagine it of such a logical species. He’d come to the conclusion that Spock was more than likely asexual, or as near as dammit. It was a theory that lasted until their mission to Omicron Ceti III – where spores had driven Spock’s attraction to Leila Kalomi. It would have kindled a hope in Kirk that he might be able to persuade Spock to take their budding friendship to a new, more intimate level. But on the journey to Starbase 27, where they dropped off the colonists, Spock completely reverted back to his previous level of disinterest, having been freed from the effects of the spores.
What that mission did was give him a tantalizing glimpse of what Spock was capable of in a relationship, showing him Spock could respond, but that he chose not to, apparently exercising that incredible Vulcan self-control of his to avoid romantic – and emotional – entanglements, keeping everyone at arm’s length, or further.
While the attraction remained purely on the physical level, he was able to shrug it off as being fairly typical of a red-blooded male with a far-from-ideal sex-life. He knew he was far from alone in becoming attracted to another member of the crew. Five years was a long time to spend in space so far away from home, and as a result dating among his crew was endemic, many of them regularly falling into and out of relationships. Unofficially, break-ups were the single greatest cause of crew transfers – though he’d yet to see that reason cited on the accompanying paperwork. Some did stand the test of time, and as he watched the ones fortunate enough to fall in love – and even conducted weddings for a few of them – he sometimes felt the loneliness of command that friendship alone couldn’t assuage. He managed to ease his bodily needs here and there, but while he enjoyed the fleeting sexual encounters, he found they were a bit like scratching an itch: the good feeling never lasting long.
The problem for him with regards his attraction to Spock, was that it – whatever it was – had gone and evolved into something more as he’d gotten to know Spock better. He actively sought the Vulcan’s company between shifts and reveled in the quiet times they had together. What really brought it home to him was their mission to Deneva. In its aftermath, and already grieving for his brother, he’d contemplated how close he came to losing Spock, too, as a result of the blindness, and how horrified he was at the thought of it on every level. While it did scare him, he continued to remain reluctant to analyze just what it was, exactly.
Spock moving to sit back at his station interrupted Kirk’s thoughts, the Vulcan’s slender fingers flying over the controls in front of him as he input the latest data from the nebula at a far faster rate than any human could manage.
Kirk admonished himself: this was not the place for his mind to be wandering. Uncrossing his legs, he sat up a little straighter and glanced around to see if any of his crew had noticed his transgression, but they all appeared focused on their own tasks, as he should be.
Just as he resolutely turned back to his compslate to initial McCoy’s report, the turbolift doors opened to deposit the man himself – a very welcome respite from the tedium, and not-very-helpful musings. He looked up as his friend stepped down to stand beside his chair, bringing with him a faint waft of the disinfectant that always reminded him of sickbay – and not in a good way.
“How’s it going, Bones?”
“Oh…” McCoy stared up at the ceiling as if contemplating the question, “about fair to middling.”
Kirk’s smiled. “That good, huh?”
“I’m caught up on my paperwork, I’ve done a full inventory of the medical stores and run two medical simulations for drill practice for my team. I hate to admit it, but I’ve just reached that point where I’m running out of ideas what to do next.”
Kirk’s smile widened. “‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’”
“Yup, that about sums it up. I never thought I’d be the one saying this, but we could do with a little action around here.”
“Be careful what you wish for, Bones!”
“Ain’t that the truth!” the doctor agreed. Turning to glance at the nebula on the viewscreen, he frowned. “Have you increased magnification, or is that thing nearer than it was at the start of shift?”
“It’s nearer,” Kirk confirmed, mentally steeling himself for McCoy’s reaction.
The doctor looked alarmed. “Didn’t you say yesterday this type of nebula was dangerous if we get too close?”
“I did, but only if we are within its boundaries. All we’re doing is skirting a little closer, maintaining a maximum safe distance, so Spock and his astrophysics team can get some more accurate readings from it.”
McCoy scowled. “And whose clever idea was that? Spock’s?”
The comment irritated Kirk as he disliked his decisions being questioned. “It was mine,” he said firmly. McCoy didn’t need to know he had chosen to do it as a favor to Spock when he reported over a third of the sensor readings were coming back garbled and unusable.
Spock turned in his chair, drawing Kirk’s attention to him. “Doctor. As I explained in yesterday’s briefing, Mutara-class nebulae contain high levels of static discharge and ionized gases that render starship shields and sensors inoperable and—”
“Which is precisely why—” McCoy tried to cut in.
“—as a result StarFleet is eager to gain a greater understanding of the phenomenon,” Spock continued as though the doctor hadn’t spoken, “in order to design more robust systems that will ensure ships are not left vulnerable and open to attack when passing through such celestial bodies. Given this fact, diminishing the distance between the ship and the nebula in order to facilitate more accurate and comprehensible sensor read-outs was a logical command decision.”
“Logical?” McCoy spat, then looked at Kirk. “And what about our safety, Jim? You can’t tell me it isn’t a risk.”
Kirk felt another flash of irritation, as the doctor’s comment was borderline insubordination. “Your concern is noted, Doctor,” he said emphatically and watched as McCoy’s eyes widened and then his posture changed as he consciously let go of the tension he was holding.
Satisfied that McCoy had backed down, Kirk explained, “The proviso to the course change, was that long-range scans within a three parsec radius had to show no potentially hostile ships. You’ll be relieved to hear there’s absolutely nothing out there.”
McCoy scowled. “How do you know the accuracy of the long-range scans for sure, if that thing messes up the sensors?”
“It’s fine, Bones. Trust me. Besides,” Kirk smiled, “didn’t you just say we could do with a little action?” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Spock turn back to his station and felt relieved the two of them didn’t start one of their rows on the bridge. Neither did Kirk want to have to remind the doctor again of his place, so he deftly changed the subject with a smile. “Anyway, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”
McCoy crossed his arms and smiled back, but there was an edge to it, and a steely glint in his eyes that made Kirk immediately wary. “Well now Captain,” he drawled, “bridge crew quarterly check-ups are due. I’ve scheduled yours for tomorrow at 14:00 – I checked your diary and what do you know? You’re free!” McCoy’s smile widened. “So just send me an acknowledgement when you get the time.”
“Right.” Kirk disliked the physicals more than inactivity, mostly because McCoy never failed to get on his back about his diet. There was another aspect, too, which unnerved him, and that was the knowledge that as CMO, McCoy ultimately had the power to relieve him of his command. He knew McCoy would never do such a thing lightly and would need Spock’s agreement, but even so…
McCoy bounced on his toes with what, Kirk thought with dismay, was a distinctly smug look on his face, recognizing his victory for what it was; they both knew there was no way he could claim he was too busy. “If you’re not doing anything tonight, Jim, want to meet for dinner?”
Kirk’s eyes flicked unconsciously to Spock, who he’d barely seen outside of shift time for the past week thanks to the nebula project. “Sure Bones, I’m free.”
As the lift doors closed on the doctor, Kirk sat back in his seat, feeling it mold to the contours of his body. His gaze was once again pulled to the science station as he reflected that it wasn’t just the fact that with Spock being so caught up in his research he was left with more free time than usual, he actively missed Spock’s company.
While dinner with the doctor at least gave him something to look forward to, he needed to take an edge off the restlessness he was beginning to feel. A hard work-out in the gym would do it. Turning back to his compslate, he checked his schedule, smiling inwardly when it showed he was free at the end of his shift. Glancing at the bridge chrono, there was a little over five hours to go, so with a quiet sigh, he began to work through the long list of reports and requisition requests from his department heads.
It was clear from his in-box that his senior team were spending the ‘down time’, while they were en route to their next destination, catching up on a backlog of paperwork. Although their efforts were laudable, he found his administrative duties tedious, not helped by the fact Spock was currently too busy working on his project to share some of the load. This wasn’t what he came to space for – he much preferred the excitement of missions when he got to do something interesting.
As he stifled a yawn, he felt a slight breeze on his face. Surprised, as he hadn’t heard the turbolift doors open, he glanced over his left shoulder to see if McCoy had returned, and frowned when it was obvious no-one had entered the bridge. Just as he was concluding the anomaly must be due to a minor issue with the life-support system, a space-vessel materialized from no-where, without warning, directly in their path.
A flood of adrenaline propelled Kirk from his seat in surprise. “Raise shields, full intensity!”
He wasn’t taking any chances, even though they were inside Federation space, as a ship suddenly appearing like that could well have hostile intentions. He stared at the completely spherical vessel on the viewscreen, brightly colored lights pulsing counter-clockwise around its circumference. He’d been working in space for almost fifteen years and still he found himself occasionally surprised by the things they came across.
“Shields activated, Captain,” the helmsman reported.
On the bridge, the previously relaxed atmosphere had gone. Everyone was sitting alert in their seats, waiting to see what would happen next. Without taking his eyes from the viewscreen, Kirk sat back down. “Mr. Spock, report.”
“A spaceship of unknown origin, Captain, matching our heading and speed.”
“Helm, standby for evasive action and—”
“Sir,” Spock cut in from over his shoulder. “They have a tractor beam on us and are pulling us towards the nebula.”
Kirk knew they’d be sitting ducks if they went too close. “Let’s try to pull free of the tractor beam. Sulu, reverse, full thrust.” Kirk hit the red alert button. “Uhura, cancel the klaxon on the bridge and put me on ship-wide.”
“Aye sir,” came the comm. officer’s calm voice behind him. “You’re ship-wide now, Captain.”
“This is the captain. All hands to battle stations. Repeat, all hands to battle stations.”
Seconds later, Scott stepped out of the turbolift and went straight to his station, his speed of arrival telling Kirk the engineer must have preempted the call. Kirk firmly believed the efficiency of his crew in potentially crisis situations was one of the main reasons the Enterprise had survived this long.
He sat for a tense minute gripping the arms of his chair as the sound of the engines increased and the ship began to judder.
Sulu turned to him, a sheen of sweat on his face. “Their tractor beam is too powerful, sir. Engines are overloading.”
Kirk swung his seat counterclockwise. “Scotty, I need more power.”
“You’ve already got everything she has, sir.”
“Captain,” Spock said, before Kirk could respond to his engineer’s statement, “if we don’t break loose of this tractor beam in seventy three point four seconds, we will be within the boundary of influence of the nebula and sensors and shields will become inoperable.”
Kirk could feel his body buzzing, adrenaline pumping. “All engines stop.”
As Sulu executed the order, an almost eerie silence fell over the bridge.
Kirk was too wired to sit and jumping down from his chair, he walked across to the engineering station and gripped the rail. “If we can’t pull away from the beam, we need to find a way to break it. Get on it, Scotty.”
“Aye aye, sir. I’ll need to go to engineering for that.”
“Go. Uhura, ship to ship.”
“Hailing frequencies open, sir.”
Walking back to his chair, he sat and took a deep, calming breath. “This is Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation Starship Enterprise. We convey greetings. Please identify yourselves.”
There was a pause before Uhura confirmed, “No response on any channels, sir.”
“Thirty seconds to the nebula boundary,” Spock added, peering into the scanner.
Kirk turned to his first officer, realizing Spock hadn’t provided his usual data update. “What do you have on their ship, Spock?” he prompted. “Any idea who they are?”
“Negative sir. The vessel appears to be from a civilization unknown to the Federation.”
“‘Appears to be’, Mr. Spock?” Kirk asked, trying to keep exasperation out of his voice. “Why so imprecise?”
Spock stood upright and turned round to face him. “That is because according to the sensors, Captain, the vessel does not exist.”
Kirk frowned. “Explain.”
“Since its appearance, our sensors have been unable to detect the vessel’s presence. It is apparently employing a highly sophisticated sensor-blocking device. As a result, I am unable to determine its distance, size or mass. Given this, I would estimate a ninety four point seven percent probability that the sole reason we are able see them on the viewscreen is because they allow it.”
Kirk gazed at the ship as it hung against the backdrop of the nebula, which now filled the viewscreen. “They want us to see them? Why?”
“Deflector shields down sir,” Sulu said, his voice tight with tension.
Kirk turned to Spock for confirmation, his science officer bent again over the sensor shroud. “We have entered the boundary of the nebula,” he confirmed. “Sensors are now inoperative.”
Kirk felt a knot in his stomach at their predicament, staring at the ship that had them in their thrall, as if by doing so, he might be able to divine more about them. “The way they just appeared,” he said to Spock, “they must have some sort of cloaking device.” He knew from personal experience that the Romulans had them, and rumors were the Klingons may, too. “You’re certain the ship doesn’t belong to anyone we know?”
“It is highly unlikely, Captain. The vessel is dissimilar to any we have encountered before; furthermore, its design is not a logical progression from those already documented in the Memory Alpha database. Its sensor-blocking capability and powerful tractor beam suggest a race more technologically advanced than any known to us.”
Kirk was so attuned to Spock, that a slight tensing of his frame out of the corner of his eye was all he needed to know something was amiss and swiveled his chair towards him.
“Captain,” Spock said before he could ask. “We are being invaded by strong sensor probes everywhere.”
Again the puzzling imprecision. “Everywhere?” Kirk echoed with a frown.
“Our electrical systems and our engines,” Spock clarified.
Kirk stood up and stared at the ship on the screen. “How can that be? How is it their sensors are working, when ours aren’t?”
“Unknown…and Captain,” Spock added, standing up and turning to face Kirk, “they have just scanned the entirety of the ship’s computers.”
Kirk shook his head. “That shouldn’t be possible,” he murmured to himself in dismay. He was appalled at how vulnerable they now were, knowing it was likely the aliens – whoever they were – were carrying out hostile reconnaissance as a precursor to an attack. He turned again to Spock. “How can they read so many zettabytes of data that quickly? And how did they get past the firewall and all the extra security measures you put in place?”
“Sir, I estimate the disparity in the level of technology between them and us to be approximately akin to the Enterprise visiting early twentieth century Earth.”
Their recent mission through The Guardian, Spock desperately trying to build a working computer in an era when tools and components were not much more advanced than ‘stone knives and bear-skins’. Is that how primitive these aliens saw them?
Horrified at the technological disparity and its implications, Kirk turned once more towards the screen. Realizing he’d unconsciously gripped the arms of his chair, he forced his fingers to relax. “Ship to ship.” He waited a beat for Uhura to set it up. “This is Captain Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. You are a vessel of unknown origin in Federation space. We therefore request that you identify yourself and state your intention.”
Between one heart-beat and the next, Kirk was no longer on the bridge. Gone were the primary colors and the familiar noises, replaced by an almost dazzlingly white room that had no discernible boundary between its walls, floor and ceiling, and a silence so profound he could hear his own heart hammering wildly in his chest.
Spinning round, he quickly took in the fact there were no doors or windows. Whatever teleport mechanism had brought him here was unlike any transporter he’d ever used, which served to reinforce Spock’s assertion that whoever these aliens were, they had technologically far superior to any civilization known to the Federation. It didn’t bode well for the Enterprise and her crew, especially now her captain was no longer on the ship.
“Why did you bring me here?” he demanded angrily. “Return me to my ship immediately.”
A moment after the words left his lips, Kirk’s head was wracked with such excruciating pain, as though it were being crushed in a vice, that he fell to his knees, clutching his head and almost losing consciousness. It lasted only a few seconds, but the experience left him sweating and nauseous.
Opening his eyes, he staggered to his feet, his stomach roiling uneasily, forcing him to swallow hard against rising bile. “Under Federation Law, abducting and attacking a StarFleet officer is considered an act of aggression,” he said angrily. “I demand that you return me to my ship.”
Once again, almost as soon as he’d finished talking the pain returned, though not as severe as the first time, and it lasted for a shorter period.
“What do you want with me?” he shouted, again having to swallow against the nausea.
We regret causing you discomfort, came a voice that he realized originated inside his head. It was not our intention.
His instinct was to spin around to look for the voice’s source. He’d melded with Spock on occasion in the line of duty, but this felt qualitatively different – more invasive, perhaps because permission wasn’t given.
We meant you no harm. You are the first corporeal being in this dimension with whom we have attempted contact. We were required to adjust for the lower frequency of your brainwaves.
Kirk wanted them out of his head and with effort, clamped down on his anger. He needed to know more about them so he could better assess his situation and that of his ship, aware that his every thought was likely being monitored.
“Who are you?”
We are… The answer wasn’t a word he could understand, but he suddenly felt a breeze across his face – the same as the one earlier on the bridge – and an almost sickly sweet taste in his mouth.
We are unable to translate who we are as it is an unknown concept to you.
“So tell me why you’re here. What’s your intention?”
We wish to experience one of your stories so that we may learn about your species.
Stories? Kirk wondered what they could mean. “Send me back and we can talk.”
We assure you we will return you, unharmed, after you give us your cooperation. When you have given us your story.
“Well, you won’t get my willing cooperation by abducting me, so we’re at an impasse.”
A moment later, Kirk’s head was wracked with such searing pain he couldn’t hear his own scream.
And then the world went dark.