The dinner on Rinel was supposed to be calm, quiet – peaceful, even. The Rine peoples were subdued by nature, with soft voices and gentle dispositions to match the delicate blue crystal-like structures that grew naturally up from the planet’s crust and decorated the city streets. Even the air seemed to hum silently with a contented stillness.
But, like all situations with which James Tiberius Kirk came into contact, what was “supposed” to happen rarely occurred with such ease.
Commander Spock and Ensign Chekov had mused quietly upon one occasion that the rate of disastrous outcomes increased whenever their Captain decided to tag along – most often in such spectacular ways that even Spock had given up trying to predict possible conclusions. They were simply too extreme to quantify and there seemed to be a lack of logic in trying to encompass the effect of Jim Kirk on unsuspecting corners of the universe.
Once, this had aggravated Spock to no end; now, he found himself merely amused. The talent of his captain to “add a little excitement” to their lives (as Jim had once defended) only truly made Spock angry when such talents landed his bondmate in Med Bay.
M Class planet Rinel (Rine’le sholn v’rean to the local inhabitants) turned out to be no exception to the rule. As quiet natives set a large table for a dinner celebrating the arrival of the Enterprise, a massive explosion rocked the hall. A spray of wreckage from across the room rocketed off the walls with volatile force, shattering on impact and raining debris down upon their heads. Screams were swallowed in the billowing dust and loud tumble of rubble from somewhere outside of the great room.
Spock staggered to his feet when the room seemed to stabilize, phaser in hand, squinting to assess the dining hall through thick, oily clouds of smoke and stone dust. To his left, Uhura coughed. He saw the red of her uniform in his peripheral vision as she stood unsteadily.
“My communicator is down,” she shouted out, which would seem unnecessary since he stood less than a meter away, but the noise that bombarded them from all sides rendered her voice almost inaudible.
“Misters Ectson and Raynard?” he called, tasting bitter ash on his tongue as he spoke. Around them, the terrified voices of their hosts began to rise. The second half of their team did not respond. They had been standing on the other side of the room, speaking to a Rine diplomat.
An open window behind them pulled some of the floating debris out, leaving semi-clear air in its wake.
“This way,” he said, turning to the wall, where the smoke had cleared enough to see. Uhura jogged behind him and held her comm unit to the light. He brought his up as well and saw it, too, had suffered from the detonation.
It was then – Spock realized with belated shock – that the bond had been unusually silent. Where Jim’s constant, chaotic flow of consciousness normally soothed his mind, there was nothing. He reached for it, logically restraining the panic that threatened to rise.
The bond was dark. He could not feel his bondmate’s mind.
“Something has happened to the captain,” he said urgently, turning to seek an exit. They had been waiting for him when the room was thrown into pandemonium. With rising apprehension and alarm, he looked again at the comm – still dead – and felt with telepathic fingers for the thread that linked him to his captain.
“I’m trying to contact him,” Uhura replied, tinkering with the settings of her unit, which continued to be unresponsive. “I can’t reach anyone.”
Spock scanned the room. There were four doors, all of which were hidden in the thick shroud of dust, but he knew where they were.
“Continue to attempt contact with the Enterprise. Request immediate emergency personnel and have the bridge lock onto the captain’s signal. Regroup with Mister Ectson and Mister Raynard if they reappear.” Phaser set to stun, he held his breath to minimize inhalation of harmful particulates and ran in the direction of the nearest door. The wide double entry was shut; he put his strength behind the heavy surface and pushed until it slid open.
This passage – and the next three – were filled with dust, which swelled and swirled as he sped through. His eyes – nurtured by the desert sands of Shi’Kahr, where he spent his childhood – burned, but did not fail him.
His captain had separated from them 1.3 hours ago to talk to the Matriarch of Rinel, stating he would “catch up later.” He had not returned. Spock did not know if his disappearance had coincided with the explosion or if an unknown series of events had taken Jim beforehand, leaving a window of uncertainty with which he was most uncomfortable.
He knew one thing: Jim was alive. The bright line of mental threads that joined them still shone, albeit more dimly than was common, and they disappeared into an impenetrable darkness when they reached the boundary of his t’hy’a’s mind. He was alive. His condition… undetermined.
Spock ran. Confused and panicked shouts rang up from the streets outside. The acrid smell of chemically-ignited fire licked the air and stung his nostrils. The hall where he had last seem Jim was just ahead. Just as he turned the corner, a shape on the group brought him to a halt.
The Matriarch, Ferinis of the Danu Clan, lay huddled by the wall. He knelt beside her. The soft blue striations in her skin were ashen; the frills on her neck – common to the Rine people – were limp.
Unshielded contact was a dangerous thing, but he was unwilling to guard his mind in fear of cutting off his awareness of Jim. Mentally bracing himself, he swiftly searched for a pulse. Instantly, the barrage of telepathic information told him she was alive.
He sent a gentle alert through to her mind – not even deep enough to be called a surface meld – but it had the desired effect. Ferinis’s eyes flickered open.
“Can you hear me?” he demanded. The chance that she had suffered a severe concussion was 79.34%. Still, he attempted to gain her attention. “Can you hear by, Matriarch?”
“Tel’ama…” she muttered. Her eyes would not focus. Steeling himself again, he reached for her psy points. In moments, he was assaulted with images, confusion, pain, and… Jim.
The memory burst forth in a combination of clarity and fog. They were talking. Captain Kirk of the United Federation of Planets was a young man – younger than any Rine citizen of comparable rank. His capacity for leadership was admirable.
She wanted to know more about Starfleet and the function of the device he called a ‘phaser.’ As he spoke, she felt apprehensive about the need for such an implement. The only violent people on Rine’le sholn v’rean were the ones who suffered from mental illnesses, which destroyed their previous understanding of peaceful society. If Captain Kirk represented a coalition of planets in which phasers were necessary to keep the peace, perhaps Rine’le sholn v’rean would suffer greater consequences than benefits in joining such an alliance.
As she opened her mouth to reply, her concerns on the tip of her tongue, a great noise like the shattering of an iceberg broke the solitude of their discussion. She turned – saw the great crystal door to the adjoining wing smashed on the floor – and was tackled just as a group of figures in outlandish clothing pushed their way into the hall.
James T. Kirk rolled over her, clutching her close. A cry of dismay left her throat in a strangled gasp only to be engulfed in the sound of weapon discharge. Captain Kirk grunted in pain above her and then he was gone. The openness at her side was terrifying – she was unprotected. Horror, stark horror, overwhelmed her. She curled into herself, shaking uncontrollably. And then something hard – a boot – struck the back of her head.
Spock yanked himself from the memory of feeling his bondmate ripped away, breathing in sharply. Smoke and dust filled his lungs and he coughed harshly. The Matriarch stared up at him with glassy, unfocused eyes.
Swallowing his anger – his fear – he slid his arms underneath her shoulders and around the backs of her legs and lifted her easily into his arms.
The courtyard outside was a mess, to put it simply. He saw the ruined crystal structures, the blackened walls and charred flora, and he knew there had been fatalities. Clusters of people sank to their knees beside bodies, screaming their grief. Inside, he felt a similar urge well up, seeking the reassurance of his missing bondmate.
The two suns were obscured by a massive cloud of dust. Even in the wan light, he could see that the pressed fabric of his uniform was completely covered in white-gray powder and he knew his skin and hair must be equally coated.
A dignitary – distinguished by his fine black robes – saw Spock and ran over, fingers clawing at his mouth in distress. “Alagh! Alagh! V’nes Ferinis!”
His cries caught the attention of others in the courtyard. They seemed to notice who it was that Spock held. A stretcher appeared and he placed her onto it.
A crackle came from his comm unit. “-ock! Commander!”
“Mister Sulu,” Spock responded. “Status report.”
“A signal jamming frequency kept us from being able to contact anyone on the planet’s surface until three minutes ago. Uhura, Raynard, and Ectson are all aboard and in the Med Bay. We beamed down four teams of medical and security personnel to help the natives. Lieutenant Winston from engineering and Lieutenant Q’cral from the science department went down with the last team to help determine the source of the explosion.”
“And the captain?” Spock pressed.
“No sign of him, Commander. We can’t find his signal anywhere on the planet. Everyone else on the away team resurfaced when the jamming frequency disappeared.” Sulu’s voice reflected the inner tension Spock was currently experience. “We’ll keep looking, sir.”
“Search the long range scanners for any ships in the area,” he instructed. “The captain may have been captured and taken from the planet, in which case further scans of the surface will continue to yield fruitless results.”
He looked around, lowering his silent comm unit. Rinel citizens had flooded the damaged building, which bore a gaping tear in one façade. It smoked and smoldered, emitting a few errant flickers of flame that continued to eat away at the crumbling structure. In the crowd, he recognized a few members of the Enterprise in their red shirts helping to pull bodies from the wreckage.
“Spock to transporter room.”
“Beam me up.” There was nothing for him to do here; the scene was still too wrought with chaos and panic to retrieve any kind of valid information regarding his captain or the suspects from the Matriarch’s memory.
“Right away, sir.”
A weightless sensation accompanied the bright lights of the transporter and then he was once again on the Enterprise. The ensign manning the transporter station nodded a quick salute as Spock left the room at a brisk pace, not wasting any time to get to the bridge.
“Sir,” Sulu said immediately as he entered, “long range scanners show an unidentified freight-class ship leaving the solar system approximately twenty minutes ago, based on the warp trail.”
“Winston to bridge. Enterprise?”
“Yes, Lieutenant?” Spock asked, sitting in the captain’s chair. Immediately a sense of wrongness pervaded his mind. This was not his place. The discomfort he felt only emphasized the gaping void where his bond stretched into… nothing.
“Sir, we’ve detected traces of potassium chlorate and palladium-copper seven,” said Lieutenant Winston. “There’s enough shrapnel here to suggest a type of pipe-bomb. The exterior was coated in a salt solution that increased thermal conductivity, but decreased the amount of fragmented pieces.
“I would say their goal was to damage the structural integrity of the building, not to kill as many people as they could. But if they really wanted to do harm to the structure, they should have placed more. The security teams are sweeping the area for more, in case there were duds.”
“If no other explosives are found, the assailants could have merely used the detonation as a distraction. In a memory from the Matriarch’s mind, I saw a group of five men and two women come into the building. They left the Matriarch alive, but it appears they may have Captain Kirk.”
Spock turned to Sulu. “Prepare for warp, Mister Sulu. Lieutenant Winston,” he directed to the disembodied voice from the planet, “the natives of the planet are still in need of assistance. Chief of Security Lieutenant Commander Giotto is in the city. I leave him in charge of all Starfleet officers on the planet for the duration of the Enterprise’s absence; you are to safeguard the natives as prospective applicants for Federation status. Continue with rescue and salvage efforts.”
“Yes, sir,” the engineer’s reply came.
“Enterprise out. Set a course after the unknown ship, Lieutenant Sulu.” And then after a minute, “You have the conn, Lieutenant.”
Sulu’s ‘yes, sir’ met his retreating back as he left for his quarters to prepare a message to Starfleet Command and log his ascension to the rank of Acting Captain.