Kirk is the first one to speak after the Narada disappears and the explosion hurls the Enterprise away just in time to avoid following.
"Are we okay?" he says.
All of the ship's alarms are sounding, the hull is creaking and grinding, and somewhere nearby something is sparking and smoking like a campfire, but for just a moment the bridge feels eerily quiet.
"Status on all systems," Kirk says, and when nobody answers right away, he snaps, "Now. Hull integrity? Life support? Grav? Shields?"
The bridge crew erupts into action and everybody begins talking at once.
"Hull breach on decks five, six, and seven--"
"--structural integrity is unknown--"
"--the artificial gravity is stabilized for now but the aft damage is severe--"
"--but the shields are fluctuating and weapons aren't much better--"
"Uhura," Kirk says, his voice cutting through the cacophony, "send out--"
"On it," she says. Nyota knows what she's supposed to be doing; her hands are already moving. She broadcasts an emergency distress signal. All frequencies, no limitations. They're a badly damaged ship without a warp core an unknown distance from Earth and far too close to an unstable black hole. They don't have the luxury of being picky about who picks up their call.
One of her screens flashes red, and Nyota's mind skips quickly over already? and not a reply and subspace array diagnostics and that's impossible before ending up on oh, shit.
"Oh, shit," she says.
She doesn't realize she's said it out loud until Ensign Tick--Tack, Tuck, she can't remember the man's name--leans over from his seat to the right and says, "Nothing? Nothing at all?"
Uhura doesn't bother answering. She sets the initial diagnostic routine running, and half a second later DIAGNOSTIC FAILED flashes on the screen in bold red letters.
"What's wrong?" the ensign demands. Tock, that's his name; he's been panicking for an hour straight, probably longer. "Why isn't it working?" His words are high enough and loud enough to catch the attention of the rest of the bridge.
"Uhura?" Kirk says.
Nyota closes her eyes for the briefest moment, takes a deep breath and sets another series of diagnostic commands. The computer replies by spewing out line after line of reports, some of which appear to be complete gibberish.
What's wrong, as far as Nyota can tell, is that the Narada, with some help from its black hole, has blasted both the primary and secondary subspace transmitter arrays to pieces.
"Long-range and subspace communications are offline," Nyota says.
She speaks calmly, but it's loud enough that her voice carries over the bridge. The crew falls silent. Shipboard communications are working just fine, and voices are chiming in from all over with reports, but for a long moment, nobody on the bridge says a thing.
"What?" Tock blurts. "What do you mean? We can't call for help? What are we going to do?"
Nyota glares at Tock and risks a glance over her shoulder. Spock is still standing beside Kirk in front of the captain's chair, expressionless when she meets his gaze.
"Short-range communications are functional, but there's nobody within immediate radio distance," Nyota says. She doesn't let her voice waver.
Lieutenant Hawkins--he of the inability to distinguish Romulan dialects--is working furiously at his own station. "Even if there is," he says, "it's unlikely a radio signal will get through the interference from the black hole."
Kirk asks, "What do you need to fix it?"
Hawkins hesitates. "I don't know--"
"Uhura," Kirk says. "What do you need?"
Nyota stands up. "I won't know until I get a look at the damage, but for now, a spacesuit and a spare pair of hands."
He doesn't ask her if she can do it, so she doesn't tell him that she might not be able to. There is nobody else. Enterprise left space dock with less than half its usual communications crew, and half of them are now dead. She would be too, if she had been at her post instead of on the bridge when they reached Vulcan.
"You," Kirk says, pointing at Tock. "Whoever you are. You're her spare pair of hands. Do what she says."
Two hours later, Nyota amends her request slightly.
"Uhura to bridge," she says into her communicator, wrinkling her nose at the smoldering, melted gloves Tock has left on the floor in his hurry to escape. "I need another spacesuit and a pair of hands that don't belong to an idiot. If there's anybody you can spare."
The Enterprise is supposed to sail with a full complement of seven hundred crew members. They left Earth with barely three hundred and fifty, the most they could gather when the distress call came from Vulcan. Nyota has no idea how many have survived. They're all too busy trying to keep the ship together to count the dead.
The noise that comes over the comm almost sounds like a huff of laughter.
"Got it," Kirk says. "We'll find someone."
When Nyota is six years old, her grandmother lets her take apart a radio she keeps in the shed behind her house in Nairobi. It's an ancient piece of equipment, an antique from the family's storied past as rebels and smugglers in the days before African unification, but Nyota's grandmother is happy to let her pick it apart piece by piece.
"How else will you find out what's inside?" she says, smiling fondly as Nyota dumps over a tool box, spilling old-fashioned wrenches and screwdrivers into a pile on the floor.
It only takes an hour to dismember the radio, and it is a lot of fun, just as her grandmother promised, but it isn't nearly as much fun as the two weeks Nyota spends putting it back together. She makes mistake after mistake, shocks herself more times than she can count, loses parts and finds them between dusty floorboards. She spends so many hours hunched over the workbench her neck aches every night when she goes to sleep. She dreams about transistors and circuits.
Her grandmother helps, dropping hints and suggestions, pointing out problems and asking questions, but she lets Nyota believe she's doing all the work.
When Nyota finally gets the radio working again, the power comes on without sparking or smoking and the first voices crackle out of thin air. She squeals with delight and runs to find her grandmother. It's only after she drags her grandmother back to the shed does she realize she has no idea what the voices on the radio are saying.
"They're talking about cricket," her grandmother tells her. "Haven't you learned Yoruba in school yet?"
Two days later, Nyota has a list of seventeen different languages she's picked up on different frequencies on her grandmother's radio. One of her older cousins tells her there are more than two thousand languages just in Africa, and more than ten times that in the whole of the Federation. When Nyota goes back to school at the end of the holiday, she raises her hand and asks the teacher when they will begin learning all the languages in the galaxy besides the Swahili and Arabic and English they study in class every day.
The teacher laughs and says they have a lot of other things to learn first, but Nyota doesn't agree. She knows now there are people talking all the time, everywhere in the world, everywhere between worlds, and she wants to know what they're saying. They can't all be talking about cricket.
Nyota is halfway up the ladder in a hull-parallel Jeffries tube between decks five and six when she stops and glances down past the hem of her uniform and the toes of her boots.
"If you look up my skirt," she says, "I'll kick you in the head."
Kirk looks like he's already taken more than a few kicks to the head; the bruises around his neck and cuts on his face are ghoulish and mottled in the low red light. But he grins--almost manages to look like he means it, like it doesn't hurt like hell--and he says, "Wouldn't dream of it."
Nyota starts climbing again, the tools around her waist bumping against the ladder and wall. "What is it?" she asks.
Her voice echoes dully in the tube and she catches her breath, only for a moment, reminded sharply of how little lies between them and the vacuum of space, how unstable the Enterprise currently is.
"You asked for a spare pair of hands," Kirk says. "I'm a spare pair of hands."
"You're the acting captain," she says. "You could have sent anybody, if they need you somewhere else."
As much as the idea of Jim Kirk as captain of the ship makes her want to both laugh hysterically and weep uncontrollably at the same time, she can't deny that they would all be dead if it weren't for him, and Earth probably wouldn't exist anymore, and--
And she can't think of that right now. She has a subspace transmitter to fix. There's a fist of ice in her throat and a buzzing in her ears that hasn't stopped for hours. She can't think about planets, and how they disappear. She has work to do.
"Everybody is doing what they can," Kirk says, deliberately, like he noticed her pause but is choosing not to comment on it. "But what we really need is help, and to get help we need communications. We've got no warp core, we barely have impulse power, there's nobody in the neighborhood and nobody in the fleet knows where we are. Your ability to fix the subspace array is about the only chance we have of getting home."
Home. The word hits Nyota between the ribs, a sharp pinch in her lungs.
Then Kirk grins again, quick and gone so fast she nearly misses it. "No pressure or anything."
"I can fix it," she says.
"Never said you couldn't. But you set the last helper we gave you on fire, so now you get me."
Nyota reaches the top of the ladder and grasps the manual handle on the hatch. "Cadet Tock," she says, gritting her teeth as she pulls, "is an idiot. He tried to route the emergency generator plasma through the multiband signal amplifier. He's lucky he still has hands."
"Is that the problem?" Kirk asks. "Power system?"
"That's one of the problems." Nyota hangs on the hatch handle to move it; the hatch doesn't look warped or bent, but the ship is so damaged there are unpredictable stresses everywhere. The handle begins to turn, but slowly, with an agonized shriek of protest. "That's the easy problem. All of the transmitters are damaged, but I can put together at least one that works by salvaging parts." She looks down at Kirk again. "I don't think we'll be able to do a complete rebuild. How far are we from the nearest subspace relay?"
"Spock and Chekov are working on it," he says.
"They don't know?" Nyota asks. Space is big and mostly empty, and Spock would have picked a spot that was emptier than most when he led the Romulan ship away from Earth. But he still had to choose a destination. "They have to know the coordinates--"
"They know where we were," Kirk says. "But that was before we rode a warp core detonation away from the event horizon of an artificial black hole. It didn't just push us away, it also distorted space to an extent we can't really measure right now." Kirk laughs a little, an uneasy sound. "Or so claims the seventeen-year-old kid on the bridge who has more shipboard experience than both you and I."
"So we don't know yet how powerful the transmitter needs to be."
"They'll figure it out," Kirk says.
Nyota turns the handle one more time and the hatch hisses open; there are red lights flashing slowly on the other side, but this section of the hull, at least, is still intact. She climbs through the hatch, ducks beneath a slanting beam, and puts on her spacesuit while she waits for Kirk to follow. She feels unsteady and light, off-balance even with both feet on the floor. She knows there's a gravity gradation between the ship's interior and its exterior surface, but she's never had to work in that uncomfortable boundary zone before.
"What are we looking for?" Kirk asks.
Nyota has a long list of parts in her mind, but she hesitates before answering. "Have you ever worked on a subspace array before?" she asks. She doesn't mean it as a challenge, and she definitely isn't picking a fight, so she adds, "I need to know if you'll recognize what we need."
Kirk doesn't look insulted. "Yes, I have. Not shipboard. It was planetside. But I know what I'm looking at."
"We're going through there to scavenge spare parts." Nyota points down the long row of machinery crowding the narrow red space. There's an airlock at the end; the section on the other side was breached and vented in the very first volley of attacks. The Romulans had known exactly where they were aiming. "We need at least one undamaged frequency modulator, two cooling regulators, a data translator that hasn't been completely fried, and..." She inhales slowly and shakes her head. "We'll start there."
Suits on and helmets in place, harnesses hooked to fixed ropes, they pass through the airlock and emerge in the underside of the ship's secondary subspace array. Most of the equipment is badly burnt and overloaded beyond repair.
"Which array did you work on? Livermore?" she asks. Her voice echoes tinnily in her own ear; nothing ever sounds right inside the helmet of a biosuit. She kneels beside a panel and pries it open, sets the cover aside and begins to pull connections apart. There's no sound from the destruction, no clanking of metal or hissing of gas. She imagines she can feel the chill of space, even though she knows the suit is keeping her temperature steady.
"It wasn't on Earth," Kirk says.
"Where was it?" She doesn't actually care where Kirk learned about subspace arrays, but the air is gone and there's a hole in the hull and the only lights around them are emergency red, and she doesn't want to work in silence.
"Small off-world colony," he says. "I lived there when I was a kid. There was nothing to do except take things apart.
"And put them back together, I hope."
"You asked me if I'd worked on an array before. You didn't ask me if I was good at it."
She rolls her eyes at him, but he's on the other side of a block of burnt-out equipment, and the look is wasted. She turns to the next scorched section of equipment and begins to open another panel, and she changes the subject. "Any news about Captain Pike?"
"Still in surgery," Kirk says.
She knows far too many of the medical staff were killed almost immediately. Another basic offensive tactic and more proof the Romulans knew exactly where the strike first.
"He's the least of our worries," Kirk adds after a moment. Nyota makes a small, disapproving sound, and he says, "I don't mean it like that. I mean, we barely have any crew at all and almost nobody has any real experience--" He pauses, clears his throat. Almost nobody left, but he doesn't say it out loud. "But Bones is one of the best trauma neurosurgeons in the Federation. He was even before he joined Starfleet. That's why they wanted him so bad. If anybody can help Pike, it's him."
With the machinery and the darkness and the helmets between them, she can't see Kirk's face, can't tell if he's sincerely optimistic or simply trying to convince himself. Nyota only knows Leonard McCoy as Jim Kirk's grumpy and slightly less annoying sidekick, but in this case, she's willing to take Kirk's word on his abilities. After everything else that's happened, she has to let herself believe that one small thing might work in their favor.
It's slow work, picking apart the damaged equipment to find what they can use, but over the next couple of hours Kirk puts together a complete coolant system, Nyota finds and fixes a frequency modulator, and together they figure out a way to adapt one of the short-range data systems to convert signal input into a format capable of surviving subspace distortion. They leave the breached zone behind and carry their scavenged parts to a corridor two decks below the primary array. This part of the ship suffered the worst damage in the initial attack at Vulcan, but Nyota still thinks the primary array is her best option for repair. It was aimed away from the black hole and the subsequent warp core explosion, so it isn't glowing with radioactivity quite as vibrantly as the ship's smaller arrays.
"We might not be able to transmit much," she says. With only one barely functional system, they'll have no redundancy, which means no fail-safe against signal degradation and no guarantee whatever gets through the relay stations will be anything but garbage.
But maybe they don't need to transmit much. Just an identifier, an SOS, a position. A string of numbers. The simplest signal in the universe. That would be enough, but Nyota wants more. She wants for them to be able to talk to somebody out there.
Kirk is looking at her, his expression worried, waiting for her verdict. "Will it work?" In the normal white lighting of an undamaged corridor, he looks pale beneath his mottled collection of bruises. He's trying and failing to hide the fine tremors of pain and exhaustion in his movements.
"Yes. But I have to go up there." Nyota jerks her thumb toward the ceiling, toward the evacuated decks and the hidden wreckage between them and the damaged array. "And don't take this the wrong way, Kirk, but I would prefer help from somebody who looks a little less like they're about to fall over."
Kirk puts his hand over his heart. "Uhura, that's the nicest way you've ever told me to get lost in all the time we've known each other. I'm touched."
"Send me somebody who can follow directions and won't panic working in the breached zone," Uhura says. "If that's all right, Captain."
"Yes ma'am." Kirk gets to his feet, barely manages to stifle a groan as he unbends and regains his balance. He disappears down the corridor, talking into his comm as he goes.
With Kirk gone, taking the background noise of his constant comm conversations with him, the corridor is quiet. This deck has been evacuated since minutes after they dropped out of warp at Vulcan. The lack of activity is unsettling. No ship like the Enterprise should ever be this empty, not on any deck. But in a way it's also a relief. None of the lifts are operational, and Nyota has been walking and climbing around the ship for hours. She knows that everywhere there are people grieving, weeping, panicking, or sitting in numb shock while others work around them.
It's easier to work alone, without the distractions.
Nyota goes back to the frequency modulator. She makes a few adjustments, but she can't test it thoroughly until she gets it out into the array, and she knows better than to do that by herself.
"Sickbay to Cadet Uhura."
The voice startles her; she jumps and her heart skips. She grabs her comm and answers, "This is Uhura."
She doesn't recognize the voice: a woman, her voice quick and calm. "Cadet, there's somebody here who is insisting on speaking to you."
Nyota frowns at the comm. "Go ahead," she says. She's been listening to updates from around the ship for hours, and to all the people asking Kirk what to do because they need somebody to make the decisions, but she can't think of anybody in sickbay who would need her.
There's a brief silence, then a different voice comes on. "I thought you were on the Farragut."
Nyota exhales sharply. "Gaila. You're--are you okay? What are you doing in medical?"
"You were supposed to be on the Farragut," Gaila says. She's not crying; her voice is barely altered at all. But Nyota has known Gaila for three years, and she knows what anger and relief sound like. "That's what they said. That's where you--I thought you were--I didn't even know you were here until right now, and this person was talking about you, and he said you melted his hands--"
"That was not my fault," Nyota says. She laughs, shuddering and relieved. "Yes. I'm here. I've been here all along. I didn't know you didn't know. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Are you okay?"
She knows there's no good way to answer that question, but Gaila understands what she's asking. "It was just a little fire in engineering," she says. "I'm fine. The nurse is giving me a look, so I have to give her comm back. I wanted to make sure you were here."
"I am. I'm fine."
Gaila says, "I'm glad you're okay, baby girl."
"You too," Nyota says. "Go get yourself fixed up."
She sets the comm down and leans against the wall, draws her knees up to her chest and closes her eyes.
And she sits there, her hands in fists at her side, mentally going over the steps she needs to fix the array, until there are footsteps down the corridor and somebody is saying, "Um, I'm supposed to help you? The captain sent me?"
Nyota wipes her eyes, takes a deep breath, looks up. There's a young man in a security uniform standing over her, a biosuit draped over his arm. It's time to get back to work.
On the second day of her first year at Starfleet Academy, Nyota is late to her cryptography class. She slips in the door at the back of the auditorium and slides into a seat in the last row, and she breathes a sigh of relief when the instructor doesn't even glance her way. Commander Tybonne is an old school fleet officer turned old school professor. He didn't want to let her take the class as a first year, in spite of her qualifications, and she doesn't think she made a good impression arguing her way in.
But she's here now, even though the class starts at 0730 and that's unreasonably early, and she's not going to screw it up.
At the end of the lecture, the girl in the next seat leans over and says, "Don't worry. He can't even see past the fourth row. Pratian ocular degeneration. He spent the first ten minutes telling us about it."
Nyota laughs. "Good to know. I'll keep it in mind."
"I'm Gaila," the girl says as they leave the auditorium. "Computer engineering."
Nyota has seen her around, of course; Gaila is only the third Orion cadet in the history of Starfleet Academy. There were news reports, announcements, an unbearably awkward addition to orientation regarding Orion cultural sensitivity. Nyota was the star of her prep school in Nairobi, but here she's just another overachieving cadet in a sea of overachieving cadets. She can't even imagine how overwhelming it would be to have everybody's eyes on her.
"Nyota," she replies. "Xenolinguistics."
"You know Tybonne's expecting both of us to fail." Gaila sounds amused by the possibility, not upset.
"I know," says Nyota. "It will be fun to prove him wrong."
A few months later they're asked to "offer their cooperation" and "provide some information" to Starfleet Intelligence due to the "unforeseen consequences" of their final project, which has apparently "revealed some inconsistencies" in the standard encryption protocols. Nyota spends seven hours in a small, windowless room with blank-faced agents who don't bother to introduce themselves. She isn't entirely sure what she's done wrong, except possibly embarrass a whole team of Starfleet cryptographers by pointing out that two first-year cadets could break their codes, but in the end they let her walk out of the building without so much as a warning on her record.
She waits outside in the grim San Francisco morning, watching the fog crawl between the buildings, and the longer she waits, the more she worries. They let her go, but she's not Orion.
She hears footsteps behind her and Gaila is slipping her arm through Nyota's.
"They didn't expel us," says Gaila.
"They didn't arrest us either," says Nyota. "What took you so long? Was there trouble?"
Gaila grins, wide and bright. "No trouble. Just an argument about eavesdropping in triple-entangled short-range systems. I said I couldn't believe Starfleet is still using the Xiang-Goldberg method and the man gives me this look and he says--" Gaila lowers her voices into a thick parody of a Lunar accent, "'Dr. Goldberg is my father. His work is unparalleled in the cryptographic community.'"
Then they're both laughing, shaky with delayed panic and giddy with relief, and together they break into a run to get as far from Starfleet Intelligence headquarters as they can. They're still laughing when they stop, several blocks away, and they lean together until they catch their breath.
"We're signing up for the advanced course next term, right?" Gaila says.
Nyota presses her hand against a stitch in her side, and she grins. "Absolutely."
Nyota has no idea how much time passes while she's working in the breached deck beneath the primary subspace array. It's cold and silent and dark, and through the gaps in the hull she can see distant stars and nothing else. Ensign Reynaldo is good at following directions and bad at hiding the fact working in space terrifies him, but he does what he's told and he still has both of his hands by the time they're done.
"Now what?" Reynaldo asks.
"Now we make sure it isn't going to overload when we try to send a message," Nyota says. "Uhura to bridge."
"This is Commander Spock."
He sounds perfectly calm, perfectly controlled. Uhura wishes she could see his face, which rarely betrays anything, or his hands at his sides, which reveal a lot more.
"Commander," she says. "We're ready to send a test signal. Do we know yet where the nearest relay is?"
"We have identified Subspace Station 331-K as the closest relay to our location," Spock says. "It is two point nine light years distant."
That's a lot closer than Uhura expected, but designation 331-K means they're near the Kippori sector, and that means Spock purposefully warped to a region where there was a high density of passive scientific monitoring but no inhabited systems. She should have known he would choose the destination wisely. She did know, but it's still a relief to know where they are.
"That's close enough," Nyota says. "We need to ping the relay. Standard three-part test signal."
"Understood," says Spock.
It doesn't work the first time, or the second or the third, but after half a dozen tests, Nyota has identified the main problems, and after half a dozen more she's solved nearly all of them. Enough that she's confident they're not only ready to send out an emergency distress signal, but a complete message as well, and possibly even have a conversation if anybody is willing to talk.
"Very well," Spock says, after their final test is finished. "Please return to the bridge."
"I'll be right there," she says.
Uhura slumps against the wall beside Ensign Reynaldo and they both sigh. The lifts are still non-functional; she doesn't look forward to all the ladders and tubes again. Her calves are aching, her back and shoulders sore, every muscle in her body reminding her of how tired she is, how long she has worked without rest.
"Cadet Uhura," Spock says.
"That was excellent work."
Uhura closes her eyes so Reynaldo doesn't see the tears gathering. But when she does she sees Vulcan crumbling, crushed like a ball of sand in the fist of an invisible giant, and she can't bear to look, even in her own mind.
"I'll be right there," she says again. "Uhura out."
When Nyota tells her sister that she's in a romantic relationship with a Vulcan, Subira laughs so hard she falls off her chair and out of sight. There's a soft thump, and more laughter, and Nyota considers ending the transmission.
But she waits patiently for her sister to recover. "Are you finished?" she says.
"No." Subira hauls herself back into view. She's still quaking slightly, and she makes a great show of wiping a tear from her eye. "I will never be finished. This is the greatest news I have ever heard in my entire life. Is it too early to ask embarrassing questions about Vulcan physiology?"
"If you ask me if it's--"
"Is it green?" Subira asks. "Does it get greener when, you know? You have to tell me. I'll die if you don't tell me."
Nyota loves her sister, she really does, but there are limits. "It was nice knowing you," she says. "I'll say nice things at your funeral. Mostly nice things. Well, some nice things, and a lot of true things."
Subira's eyes are still dancing, but her next question is serious. "Isn't it hard?" she asks. Then she cracks up again and says, "No, wait, don't go yet. I'm not talking about the mysteries of the Vulcan penis. I mean--everything. Isn't it difficult?" When Nyota hesitates, Subira goes on, "If you're happy, then I won't feel guilty about making fun of you for the rest of your life. But it can't be easy. I know you."
"It's not," Nyota says, because she doesn't lie to her sister, and Subira is right. Nyota's recent ex-boyfriends include a successful poet, a failed musician, a psychology PhD student, and a sex therapist--a far more exciting idea in theory than in practice--and this is the first time in her life she's not the cautious and repressed one in the relationship.
But she doesn't know how to explain it, so she doesn't try. She doesn't talk about Spock's weird sense of humor that even people who have known him for years have never noticed, or the sly way he insults people so politely they thank him for it while feeling vaguely confused and not knowing why. She doesn't tell her sister about how he tries so hard not to be angry that nobody ever lets him forget he's not Vulcan enough to be Vulcan and not human enough to be human, and how it is obviously a battle he is ashamed of losing. She doesn't try to explain how every conversation they have, whether they're standing a respectable half a meter apart in public or lying in bed with nothing but skin between them, every interaction is like decrypting a code nobody has broken before, line by intriguing line, and how exhilarating that is for both of them, never mind what anybody else thinks or says or believes.
"It's not easy," Nyota says. On the screen Subira's eyes are warm and thoughtful. "But I don't mind. I like it that way."
After the emergency call is sent and they're waiting for a reply, any reply, from whomever might be listening, Kirk gathers the bridge crew in the captain's ready room. They're all exhausted, red-eyed, slumping in their chairs, nobody except Spock even pretending to maintain a proper posture. Ensign Chekov hides a yawn behind his hands and his eyes close for a moment, but they snap open again a moment later and he sits up, rubs his hands over his face. Kirk perches on the edge of the table as though he's afraid he won't be able to get up again if he sits down. There is a clock that says the shipboard time is 2347, but Uhura realizes after staring at the numbers that she has no idea what day it is.
"I'm sure you've thought of this already," says Sulu, the helmsman, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table, "but will we be able to hear if anybody answers our call?"
"The receivers weren't as badly damaged as the transmitters," Nyota tells him. She's certain that was another deliberate choice from the Romulan captain; he wanted the Enterprise to listen to his taunts without being able to call for help. "We'll pick up any reply."
Sulu nods and looks marginally reassured.
"Scotty, tell me what kind of power we have," Kirk says.
"Well, that's a tricky one," Scott begins, but he's interrupted by the door sliding open.
"Bones!" Kirk says. "How's Captain Pike?"
Dr. McCoy comes in, looks over the gathered group, sits on the edge of the table beside Kirk. He looks just as tired as the rest of them, and there's blood on the sleeves of his uniform.
"Unconscious but stable," McCoy says. "The damage to his spinal cord is severe, but he'll live. He has a good chance of a full recovery."
There are audible sighs of relief all around. Even Spock looks visibly reassured, his shoulders loosening just a fraction.
"Good work," Kirk says, nudging McCoy with his shoulder. He hesitates, visibly steels himself to ask, "What about the rest? What's our casualty count?
Uhura remembers the first time she saw the two of them, sharing a flask on the recruit shuttle out of Riverside. They had both looked so disheveled and out of place that Uhura had spent the entire flight thinking increasingly unfavorable thoughts about Starfleet's recruiting standards and mentally composing angry notes to everybody who had promised her that her future classmates would only be the best of the best, the brightest minds in the Federation, the greatest hope for the future. She wonders how reality would have come across in a recruiting pitch: Join Starfleet! Explore new worlds! Travel to the stars! And someday those guys you thought were addicts or convicts who wandered onto your shuttle by accident will be your captain and CMO on the worst day in Federation history!
She's exhausted enough and frayed enough that she feels a giddy half-laugh, half-sob rising in her throat. Nyota covers her mouth to choke it down. Nobody notices except Spock, who only looks at her and says nothing.
The comm chimes. "Bridge to Captain Kirk."
Kirk stands up. "Kirk here."
"We're receiving an incoming transmission. It's from a Federation ship, Captain." The woman's voice quavers. "They heard our call."
It's probably not dignified, the way they all run out of the ready room and back to the bridge, but Uhura knows that none of them care. She's gratified when Hawkins slides out of his chair--her chair--and lets her take over without a word. Spock stands behind her, watching over her shoulder.
"On screen," Kirk says. He's standing in front of the captain's chair, but he turns to look at Uhura. "Can we talk to them? Is it coming through that clearly?"
Uhura holds her breath and reads the output from her array. Her repairs are holding. "We can. On screen now."
The image of a black-haired woman in a gold command uniform fills the cracked screen; the picture is grainy and banded but steady. Murmurs ripple across the bridge.
"This is Captain Tsab of the USS McClintock," the woman says. "We received your emergency signal, Enterprise, and it looks like we're the closest ship to your current location. What is your status?"
Kirk grins. "Captain Tsab, you have no idea how glad we are to hear from you."
Nyota turns away from the screen to keep an eye on the transmission data. The McClintock is in contact with Starfleet; Tsab assures them they'll have help soon. Spock's hand comes to rest on Nyota's shoulder. She reaches up to touch him, the briefest brush of fingers, and for the first time since they came out of warp in the middle of a massacre, she starts to believe they might get home again.
When Nyota is five, her family goes to the Moon.
It's a family vacation, parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins all together. They take up most of the tourist shuttle and fill the cramped dark space with laughter and noise during the flight. Nyota and Subira fight over who gets the window until Auntie Afya offers her seat to Nyota.
Subira sticks out her tongue and says, "I get the better side."
Nyota looks at Afya, who smiles and pats her hand. "Don't listen to your sister, Nyota. There's something to see from both sides."
Nyota doesn't understand until they've left the atmosphere and begin to curve away from the planet. On Subira's side of the shuttle, the view through the windows is of Earth, blue and green and white below, looking exactly like the three-dimensional maps in Nyota's primary school classroom.
But on Nyota's side of the shuttle, the view is different: space docks and satellites and orbital habitats, glowing and glinting like Earth's pretty jeweled necklace. Nyota kicks her feet happily and laughs with Auntia Afya. After the shuttle has passed beyond all of that, there is nothing but the stars and the black, so clear and so vast she believes she could reach through the window and take the single brilliant speck of light in her hands and hold it close.
"You see?" says Auntie Afya, her voice low and warm. "There's a good view from this side too."
Nyota nods, and she watches the stars.