Chapter 1: Awake
He was cold. Too cold to shiver, and some half-formed memory told him that that was a dangerous thing. And then he realized that he was conscious and what that must mean. He flailed his arms trying to sit up, eyes wide open and blind to his surroundings. He hit glass and metal instead of open air, and a rush of panic overtook him. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Something was wrong.
He struggled with hands and knees to get the cryotube lid off, but his limbs were too weak to force it open. But a few moments later, the cryotube lid came away of its own accord and a hand pressed down on his chest. The level of force was more reassuring than restraining, though Khan fought against it nonetheless. “You’re alright, son,” an older man’s voice told him, and the Augment paused in his struggles to try and ascertain if he’d ever heard it before. “You’re safe. No one’s going to hurt you. Just relax. We’re going to get you out of this tube and warm you up.”
Khan had the good sense to lay back and control his urge to fight and flee like a wounded animal. Whatever truth or falsehood was in the man’s words, Khan knew that he was vulnerable. His vision was a blur, he was disoriented, he was weak, and he didn’t know what he was up against. It was better to wait until he had the advantage. Suddenly, there were several sets of hands lifting him. Even with the warning, it was jarring, though in fact it was a quick and efficient transfer to a biobed. He could hear the beeping of the sensors as they came online and the sounds of equipment moving around him. He could pick out four distinct voices among the medical crew. Four plus one. It must be a large room they were in.
He closed his eyes and opened them again, but his vision was still distressingly blurry. A temporary side-effect, he knew, but it was still unsettling. He could make out shapes of people and was strangely reassured to find that one of them was a blob of blue with vague antennae on its head. Andorian. Federation. He wondered how much time had passed.
He felt them roll him enough to remove the backboard, then he was covered with a blanket. It was heavy and soft and fresh from the warmer, the heat enveloping him like paradise and relaxing him in spite of his general state of agitation. He closed his eyes once more and waited for the shivering to begin. Shivering was good. Shivering meant he was trying to warm up.
It began a few minutes later, weak ripples through his body that quickly turned to uncontrollable wracking. But it didn’t last long. Between the carefully controlled warmth of the biobed beneath him and the blanket on top of him, he warmed sufficiently for the shivering to level off and disappear within a few minutes.
“Clear the room,” the man in charge said then. Khan had wondered where he’d gotten off to. “You can monitor his progress remotely. I need a minute alone with him.”
“Of course, sir.” The sound of instruments being laid aside, footsteps, and the swish of a door told Khan that the med team had left. All but the man. Khan heard him settle into a chair somewhere to his left with a soft sound of discomfort.
“Who are you?” Khan asked when no announcement of purpose was forthcoming.
“Admiral Christopher Pike, late of the U.S.S. Enterprise,” the man answered. The name was familiar to Khan. Captain Kirk’s ‘friend’ — obviously an understatement, and obviously misplaced if the man were alive when Khan had safely assumed he’d been killed at Daystrom. But it also meant that he couldn’t have been in cryo for very long.
“What do you want with me?” he asked, skipping the pleasantries in favor of getting to the point.
“That, Mr. Singh, is entirely negotiable,” Pike responded. “Rest first. We’ll talk business when you’ve had sleep and a shower and a meal. Unlike my predecessor, I don’t believe in the brute-force-intimidation method of negotiation. I promise all your questions will be answered once you’re recovered. In the meantime, my people are prepping the rest of your crew for revival. We didn’t want to start until you were able to be part of the process.”
Khan knew the taste of hope. He also knew the taste of betrayal. “My crew are dead,” he said, though he was no longer certain of the truth of his own words.
“No,” Pike replied quietly. “You were deceived. Commander Spock had the cryotubes removed from your torpedoes before you beamed them on board the Vengeance. You’ve been in cryosleep right beside them for almost a year.”
That was another question answered. But it made Khan suspicious. Why was this man being so accommodating? On the other hand, it made Pike a long shot better than Alexander Marcus. And if what he was saying were true, then it would benefit Khan greatly to cooperate with him. Hope bloomed despite certain knowledge that his crew had died in their sleep and by his own arrogance. He had no reason to trust this admiral. He didn’t trust his own responses. And yet, he wanted to trust the man.
“You can offer me no assurance that you’re telling me the truth, Admiral,” he observed after a quiet moment. “Why should I believe what you’re saying?”
“Because I can take you to them when you’re recovered enough to appreciate the gesture,” Pike replied evenly. “I know you’ve been lied to, manipulated, driven to desperate acts. I’m sorry for that. But Section 31 is under new management. And I do things a bit differently.” He reached over and patted Khan’s hand where it lay beneath the blanket, then got to his feet. “Get some rest, Mr. Singh. You’ve been through a lot. We’ve got some things to discuss, but I promise it can all wait till you’re recovered.”
Khan took a slow breath and nodded reluctantly. Loathe though he was to admit it, the admiral was right. Khan needed time to rest before he addressed the particulars of his revival and the terms under which his crew would be returned to him — if indeed they were alive at all. “Very well.”
“If you need anything, you’ve got a dedicated nurse on call, so just give them a ring. I’ll have them call me if you’re ready to talk and I’m not here.”
It was a courtesy he’d not expected. None of this was what he’d expected, though what expectations he’d had had been vague and ominous. “Thank you,” he answered. He felt rather than saw the other man’s smile.
“Rest well, Mr Singh.” He heard uneven footsteps and the tap of a cane on the tile as the man made his way out. It piqued Khan’s curiosity, but not enough to keep him awake. Revival had taken a lot out of him — one of the few things that could — and he knew he would sleep for a while before he felt rejuvenated.
Sleep took Khan by surprise, almost unwillingly. He did not dream.
Chapter 2: The Talk
When Khan woke again, it was with clear vision and the smell of curry in his nostrils. He sat up as the door swished open and an Andorian woman in Starfleet scrubs walked into the room. "Good afternoon, Mr. Singh," she greeted as she set a large tray on the side table. "Is there anything I can help you with?"
"No," he answered, though he could immediately identify half a dozen questions he wanted answers to. Where was the admiral? Where were his people? When could he see them?
"Admiral Pike is in the consultation room, if you'd like to speak with him," she offered as if reading his mind. He supposed it was a natural enough place to begin. He nodded an acknowledgement, mulling over the prospect of another conversation with the man. He did not want his disadvantage exploited in the way it had been once before. He was a man newly awoken from cryosleep, and his crew was once again being used as a bargaining chip. It was not a position he liked to be in. And yet the circumstances were very different than they had been before.
"Thank you," he said belatedly, and the officer took it for the dismissal it was. The door swished closed after her, and Khan threw the covers back and got out of bed to stretch. He was wearing the same off-duty blacks he'd been put into cryosleep in, and he very much wanted out of them.
The lav was easy to find; it was the only other door in the well-appointed hospital room. A change of clothes lay folded and waiting for him next to the basin, and not a uniform but a kurta shalwar in rich burgundy. It made him feel at once more wary and more at ease about getting on with whatever this admiral wanted. At least the man assigned him the proper cultural context.
He relieved himself and undressed, then stepped into the shower, setting the sonics to something invigorating and turning the water on as well for extra luxury. The shampoo and soap smelled of sandalwood. For a man who wasn't practicing psychological warfare, Admiral Pike had certainly made sure that Khan had all the comforts of home at his disposal. A worthy adversary indeed, Khan decided with a hint of a smirk. That was something worth looking forward to. He took his time in the shower, then dried himself off and dressed and stepped back into the main room to investigate the food.
Lunch was tandoori chicken with rice and mattar paneer. It smelled like somebody's Punjabi grandmother had just whipped it up, or perhaps Khan was just starved for a home-cooked meal. He took his time enjoying it. The last thing he was going to do was rush through it and give the admiral the satisfaction of knowing he had captured Khan's interest.
Which he had. He was a dead man who was very much alive. He was the new head of Section 31. He seemed accommodating, and he alleged to have Khan’s people safe and sound and ready to be revived. But more than that, his very presence seemed markedly different from that of Alexander Marcus. He seemed … less of an overt threat, though Khan knew very well that appearances could be deceiving.
But he supposed the time had come to investigate further. He set his tray aside and moved on slippered feet to the door, gratified that it opened for him. Beyond the door was a large nurse’s station. He could see several other rooms across the way and wondered who occupied them. It hadn’t escaped his notice that there wasn’t a single window on the ward. Maybe they were in space. Maybe they were underground. Whichever it was, the ward was as secure as it was luxurious.
A nurse pointed him in the direction of the consultation room, and Khan made his way there with the affectation of ease, though his stomach tightened with anxiety that increased at every footfall. Were his people truly alive? Was it possible?
The door opened before him to reveal a pair of sofas and a low table before a large window with a view of the skyscape beyond. Not underground then. Potted plants adorned the area, and it lacked the antiseptic smell of the rest of the ward. Admiral Pike sat with his back to the window, evidently signing documents on the padd in his hand. A cane leaned against the arm of the sofa. He looked up when the door hissed open, smiling to see the Augment there.
"Mr. Singh," he greeted, and he set his padd aside.
"Admiral Pike," Khan returned the greeting, and he stepped inside, waiting until the door closed behind him to speak. "You said you were preparing my crew for revival." He wasn't much for small-talk. Not about this.
"That's correct," Pike replied. “We’ve reverse-engineered the necessary sequencing. We can begin waking them up when you're ready."
"And what am I expected to do in payment for this kindness?" Nothing came without a price-tag. He knew that all too well.
"I'm not reviving them to coerce you," Pike told him. "I'm doing it because it's the right thing to do."
"They're war criminals."
"According to some."
Khan fixed the older man with a glare. "Don't toy with me.”
"I'm not," Pike assured him. "The historical record we have for the time of the Eugenics Wars is sketchy, but it does cast doubt on the validity of the tribunal that convicted you. For starters, it was a blanket conviction. I've found no trace of any evidence that might've corroborated individual allegations of war crimes made against you and your people. There's plenty for other Augments in other places, but nothing against you. The whole thing looks like a witch-hunt to me."
"It was a witch-hunt," Khan replied quietly. He didn't like to think of those fatal last weeks before they fled for space. It felt too much like failure and tasted too much like shame. "You could've revived them and not revived me," he said then. "You chose not to. So the question remains, what do you want with me?"
"That's a simple question with a complicated answer," Pike told him. "Historical allegations aside, what we can prove about your recent actions is damning to say the least. What you've done is so heinous that we don't have an adequate punishment for it. Putting you back in cryo was seen as the safest and most humane way of dealing with a problem that no one knew how to deal with."
”And now you've taken me out of cryo," Khan pointed out.
"Because two wrongs don't make a right. We could leave you in a cryotube and neglect you until it failed, whether that be years or decades or centuries from now. It would be an effortless and convenient solution. Or we could stand and face the real problem, which is neither effortless nor convenient. So here you are. You're, what, twenty-seven? Twenty-eight? Experientially, I mean."
Khan blinked. It was an unexpected question. It caught him off-guard, which was not a position he liked being in. "Twenty-seven, I think," he replied after a moment. Without an exact date, he couldn’t give a precise answer.
"You're young,” Pike said with a smile. “You've got your entire life ahead of you. And you're brilliant. You've got a lot to offer the world. It was wrong of you to kill people and destroy property, and I'm not making light of what you did, but it's wrong of us to not give you the opportunity to come back from that. The question is, do you even want that opportunity?"
Whatever Khan had expected, this most certainly was not it. He wanted to rail against it simply because it was unexpected. But the admiral was right when he spoke of opportunity. And opportunity knocked but once. "I suppose it would depend on the alternative,” he answered, trying for reasonable and feeling more like he’d ended up with something wary.
"Incarceration for the rest of your natural life," Pike responded. "You'd start out in solitary and maybe end up in a high-security penal settlement. You wouldn't be left to rot, but your freedoms would be seriously curtailed."
"And this opportunity," Khan asked slowly, "what would it entail?"
"A lifetime of service to the Federation in the employ of Section 31. I can think of no better reparation for your actions than to serve the very people that you once tried to destroy."
"I doubt Starfleet would feel the same."
"That's why you'd be working with me. Section 31 is my command now, and with that comes a certain amount of leverage. You're familiar with the sort of operations that Section 31 is involved in. You'd be a valuable asset. You'd help a lot of people."
Khan’s lips quirked. ”I didn't realize that the Federation's secret intelligence service was in the business of helping people," he remarked with a hint of disdain in his tone.
"Yeah, well, that is its ultimate aim. Hard to see sometimes with some of the things it's involved in. Extreme measures against extreme threats. It's not something I believe in, but it is something I see the value of." Pike gestured to the sofa perpendicular to him. "Please, sit. If we're going to talk business, you could at least be comfortable."
Khan moved to the sofa then, easing himself down onto it and studying Pike with keen eyes. The man in front of him was in his prime, rugged and fit though clearly age and injury had taken their toll. Sharp gray eyes spoke of intelligence and wit. ”You're not the man Marcus was," he ventured.
"No," the admiral agreed. "I'm not. I understood his point of view. But I can't say I approved of his methods."
"You knew him then."
"He was my mentor. He talked me into applying to the Academy when I was dead set against anything Starfleet. But that doesn't mean I didn't see his flaws or disagree with him. I think the outcome for everyone would've been a great deal better if he'd chosen a different strategy in dealing with you.”
"He feared us," Khan told him, feeling unexpected anger well up in his chest. "From the moment he realized who we were, he feared us, and that fear drove his decisions.”
"Are you saying he was wrong to fear you?" Pike asked astutely. "History tells us that you were both the most brilliant and the most successful of the Augment warlords of the late 20th Century. The very best of tyrants, you're called, and rightly so. Your regime spanned almost half the planet, putting you alongside some of the greatest conquerors in human memory. And yet where other Augments were conducting campaigns of genocide, slavery, and forced eugenic breeding, your lands were fairly peaceful. Strictly policed, naturally, but peaceful. The only wars you fought were defensive, and you did go to war, it was for the good of Augment and Human alike."
Khan was grinning a Cheshire-cat smile, clearly proud of his accomplishments. And proud of the fact that someone had taken the time to educate himself about them. “That was a long time ago," the Augment reminded him, demurring even though he would rather discuss his successes, short-lived as they were.
"Not for you," Pike pointed out. "Earth hasn't known war or poverty for generations, but the vast majority of your life was influenced by just those things."
"Some would say that's an advantage," Khan replied. "I'm capable of great and terrible things, the likes of which humanity hasn't seen since the last of the World Wars. It’s why Marcus needed me.”
"You are a warrior," the admiral agreed unequivocally. "But you've been in survival mode for so long that you've lost your self-restraint."
Khan's expression changed then from one of growing respect to one of defensive anger. "You know nothing of what I've endured," he shot back. "Don't make the mistake of patronizing me."
"I'm not patronizing you," Pike responded evenly. "I'm observing a flaw in your behavior. You lash out in anger like an undisciplined child. If someone wrongs you, you think of revenge first and deny the long-standing consequences of your actions. You're thinking with a very small mind. And it will be the end of you if you don't stop." The resulting look was one that Pike had seen before. Hurt. Shame. Anger. And a defiance that had only one purpose. "You want to prove me wrong," the admiral divined. "That's good. I want you to prove me wrong. I want you to prove to me that you're more than the sum of your biology and your schooling. You're better than what you've become, and you know it. So rise up. Be glorious. But know that doing that is going to be one of the hardest things you've ever done, and I'm well aware of what you've accomplished when I say that." He looked unflinchingly in Khan's eyes as he spoke his next words. "Join me at Section 31. You'll have a life and a future. It may not be what you once envisioned, but it's a hell of a lot better than cryo or solitary."
Khan looked at him for a long moment before he found the words he wanted. "Why are you doing this?"
"I knew a kid like you once. Brilliant. Ambitious. Charismatic. He was picking up cadets in a bar in Iowa, got his ass handed to him in a fight. Now he's captain of the Enterprise. I didn't do much for him, not really. Gave him an ear when he needed it, a kick in the ass, a few pointers here and there. Other than that, he achieved greatness on his own terms. Now, he's screwed up a time or two, I'm not saying he's perfect, but he lives with the consequences of his actions just like everyone else. Just like you, if you're up to the challenge."
Khan scoffed. "You think I'm like James Kirk.”
"I know you're like James Kirk," Pike corrected him. "You're meant to contribute meaningfully, to make the world a better place. It's what you were created for. But you can't make yourself king of everything. It doesn't work that way. Real success is a team effort. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow. You're not always going to be on top. But if you can muster half the strength of will that you did trying to save your people, then you'll go far no matter what you set your mind to." He paused then, and Khan could feel the way the admiral's eyes studied him before he spoke further. "I'll give you some time to think things over. This isn't a decision you should make lightly."
"But it's the decision you think I should make," Khan pointed out.
"Starfleet has the reputation of being a clean slate for those who need one. A lot of convicts serve their time in a penal settlement and then distinguish themselves in the 'Fleet when it's all over. In your case, we're skipping the penal settlement in favor of some dangerous operations where your expertise would be valuable. Considering the nature of your crimes, I'd say it's pretty equitable."
"And when you say 'a lifetime of service', how long is that?" he asked. "I was created to live 200 years or more."
"And a human life-span these days is about 150," Pike replied. "I'd say as long as you're capable of doing the work, you'll be working. That's not to say you won't have time off or the opportunity to pursue your own interests. I'm not a slave-driver. But I'd expect at least 50 years out of you. This is a long-term gig."
Khan nodded, thinking that over. It was a generous offer, all things considered. He could reasonably retire at a hundred and still have a century to himself, provided he didn't die in the line of duty. "And what would my limitations be?" he asked then. He couldn't imagine that a deal this sweet didn't come with limitations.
"You'll start out under house arrest," the admiral told him. "Your movements would be monitored, your visits supervised, your excursions away from home performed under escort. In time, those limitations will be renegotiated."
Khan thought that over. It was better than a slab in a brig somewhere, that was certain. And it implied he'd be allowed a certain array of personal possessions. "I suppose all of my belongings have been confiscated as evidence," he mused aloud.
Pike chuckled at that. "I'm already working on getting them released," he assured the other man. "I thought you might like having your own clothes again."
Khan smiled softly at that. "They are a comfort, yes," he agreed. They were, in fact, his favorite guilty pleasure. "Thank you, by the way," he continued, gesturing to the kurta shalwar he wore.
"I thought a little bit of home might make you feel more settled," the admiral accepted by way of explanation.
"I did not expect kindness," he admitted quietly. He knew now that kindness was what it was.
"I'm not Alex Marcus," Pike told him. "I'm your ally, not your adversary."
"Why?" Khan asked.
"Because hate never solved anything. Now tell me the truth, Khan. Do you have any sort of remorse for what you did?"
Khan knew that the question was a test. And he knew somehow that this man would know if he lied. And the truth of the matter was, he did regret some of what he had done. Not really for the archive, and only a little bit for the conference room, but a great deal for the Vengeance and San Francisco -- especially now that he knew his people were alive.
He nodded at last in response, but he had a suspicion that Pike could already see the answer he wanted on Khan's face. "Too many lives," he murmured. "So much destruction for so little progress. It wasn't worth it." And yet he didn't know what the alternative could have been. He didn't know what he should've done instead.
"And that, son," Pike told him softly, "is the reason you're getting a second chance. You remember that when things start getting tough."
Khan didn't want to trust Pike. He had trusted a Starfleet admiral once before and gotten nothing for his hard work, faith, and patience. But unlike Marcus, Pike seemed genuine, and that was what won Khan over despite all rational objections. He wondered why the man was so willing to help him. This couldn't be a popular decision. In fact, Khan could safely assume that Pike would be throwing his weight around quite a bit defending his course of action -- and not just about Khan but about the other Augments as well.
"Why are you doing this?" he asked again.
"Why do you think I'm doing this?" the man asked in return.
"You're familiar with the Eugenics Wars as a historical event," he answered, voicing his reasoning aloud, "and therefore familiar with my policies and what it reveals about me as a leader. You also seem to be familiar with the time and the circumstances under which I worked for Section 31. You find them disagreeable, as any officer of good moral character would. And yet you find yourself at the head of an organization whose very existence flies in the face of what Starfleet supposedly stands for. You have on at least one occasion recruited an individual of great potential and poor circumstances, and the return on that investment has been substantial. For whatever reason, Admiral, you believe I'm worth saving, which is more credit than most people would give me."
"I do believe you're worth saving," Pike confirmed. "You've got a lot to offer the world. The Federation could benefit from your insight. But you could benefit from the our insight as well. It's not a one-way street. You're going to find your ideas challenged at times, and that's going to be difficult for you. Sometimes you're wrong, sometimes your actions aren't justified, sometimes the best idea comes from the idiot across the table. That's life. Just roll with the punches and keep on going. Think you can do that?"
Khan pursed his lips. On one hand, he felt like he was being coddled. On the other, he felt like he was being respected. It was a disorienting change of pace for him. But he liked Pike, he decided. The man had yet to promise him anything outlandish and he was open about the challenges inherent in the promises he did make. He knew where he stood with Pike, which was a huge difference from his interactions with Marcus. But did he trust Pike? Not yet.
"Yes," he replied at last. "I believe I can. But I’d still like some time before I make a final decision.”
“Fair enough,” Pike agreed. “Now then, let’s go for a walk. You can see your people and we can discuss the next steps in the process.” He lifted himself off the couch, grabbed his cane, and made his way to the door. Khan was on his feet before he even realized it. The mere promise of seeing his people again propelled him after the admiral and back into the main hospital ward. He had been waiting so long for this moment. He dared hope that it would be worth it.
Chapter 3: First Sight
Admiral Pike led Khan back out into the main corridor, and from there across the ward. The man favored his right leg with a cane on that side, though the Augment could read in the man’s posture that there was something amiss with his left shoulder as well. He filed that away for future rumination and returned his focus to the present moment and the prospect of seeing at least one of his people.
Pike stopped at a door and keyed a code into an access panel. The door opened, and Khan caught a glimpse of the foot ends of two cryopods laying on biobeds. His heart skipped a beat. Pike shifted to one side and Khan took the opportunity to step inside the room and get a better look. Yes. They were his cryopods, still functioning and with a live body in each of them. Joaquin Weiss and Suzette Ling. He’d know their faces anywhere.
He hadn’t expected the depth of emotion that welled up inside of him as he reached out and touched Joaquin’s cryopod. The last time he’d been this close to any of his people — to say nothing of two of his dearest friends — had been when he’d smuggled them into torpedoes. Now it was all he could do to keep his breathing steady and his eyes dry.
“There are six others on the ward,” Pike told him quietly, evidently sensing a need to politely distract the other man. “I thought it would be better to revive them in small groups. That way there’s a manageable number to deal with at any given time.”
Khan nodded silently, his hand still on Joaquin’s cryopod. This was really going to happen, he realized. His family were finally being returned to him. He knew then that he’d go to work for Section 31 and willingly. Anything in payment for the lives of his people. Part of him still argued that this could all be a trick and that nothing was certain until his crew were safely revived and allowed to move freely. But for the moment, he was willing to rely on the hope that Admiral Pike was a man of his word. He certainly seemed to be thus far.
“When can they be revived?” he asked at last.
“As soon as you’re ready,” Pike answered. “The med team’s on stand-by.”
Khan nodded. “As soon as possible, then,” he requested, amazed that he was being given such a degree of choice in the matter. He wondered once again what the kindness would cost him later, but for the moment he was willing to pay the price.
The admiral stepped out of the room. Khan heard the tap of his cane stop several feet down the corridor and presumed he’d gone to the nurse’s station to issue orders. It could have just as easily been done over the comm, but this way it gave Khan a moment alone with his two friends. His lover and his confidante.
They had been through a lot together, he and Joaquin. They had saved each other’s lives more than once. And while they’d said their goodbyes before they’d put themselves to sleep on the Botany Bay, he still meant a great deal to Khan. And Suzette? How many times had she been good counsel to him when he’d needed it? Too many times to count, he knew. But Khan was glad that Joaquin and Suzette would be the first to wake up after their long sleep.
“Soon,” he murmured to the cryopod. He patted the cold metal, then turned to do the same to the other cryopod. Then he made his way out to join Admiral Pike. “Where are the others?” he asked.
Pike pointed out the three next rooms in the corridor. “I can let you in to see them if you like,” he offered, but Khan shook his head.
“I’ll see them soon enough,” he replied. Right now, selfishly, all he wanted was to see Joaquin and Suzette. He looked like he was about to say more, but he paused, studying the admiral for a long moment.
The admiral patiently endured his scrutiny before finally asking, “Something on your mind, Mr. Singh?”
“On Qo’noS, Captain Kirk accepted my surrender on your behalf. He then proceeded to punch me until he couldn’t raise his arm anymore.”
Pike huffed a soft laugh. “Sounds like something he’d do.” But he read the unasked question in the words. “He and I were both at Daystrom the night you attacked, I as captain of the Enterprise and he as my first officer. When he assumed command of the ship, it was with the well-founded understanding that I was dead. In point of fact, I did die, but the medics kept working on me until I came back.” He smiled sadly then. “But that’s a long story and no one comes out looking good in the end.”
“He doesn’t know,” Khan divined quietly.
“No,” Pike answered solemnly. “He doesn’t.” There was visible regret in his eyes, and Khan sensed that it would be better if he did not pursue this line of questioning.
The med team walked past them then and headed into the room where Joaquin and Suzette were. "Come on," the admiral said then, and he started making his way back into the room. "I'm sure you'll want to be there for the process."
Damn right, he did, Khan thought to himself, and he made his way back to where the med team was preparing for the revival process. He wanted to be the first thing his friends heard when they woke up. He was anxious. Terribly anxious. He understood it and accepted it, but it left him unsettled all the same. He realized with a flash that every heartbeat brought his people — and his past — closer to him. Always before, he’d been able to ignore the reasons why they’d ended up in a sleeper ship in space in favor of whatever crisis occupied the present moment. But with the prospect of being reunited with his family finally a tangible reality, the demons of the past were catching up to him. Regardless of the victories he’d won in the Eugenics Wars, there had been more failures, and they weighed on him now that the people who’d followed him, who’d bled for him, were about to be awakened.
It was easy enough to put the past in the past. The Eugenics Wars happened over two centuries ago. The combatants were dead and gone and his present context was totally different from what it had been in the late 20th Century. What was more difficult to square with were the decisions he’d made, the strategies he’d used. Those spoke of character defects that he didn’t like to examine.
Pike was correct, he grudgingly accepted. He’d been in survival mode for so long that he’d lost his self-restraint. What he was coming to realize was that it had all started long before Admiral Marcus had revived him.
“You look very pensive,” came Pike’s voice from the seat he'd found for himself in the corner, well out of the way of the med team. "What's on your mind?" The words jolted Khan out of his thoughts.
“I wasn’t aware that counseling was part of an admiral’s duties,” Khan replied, though he did turn to look at the man, hiding his troubles behind a collected front. He might trust Pike to make good on his word, but he wasn’t sure he trusted the man enough to let him see him bleed.
“Any command officer picks up a few extra skills along the way,” Pike responded with a bit of a smile.
Khan considered his options, then decided that it couldn’t hurt much to continue this conversation. And if it did, well, it would only hurt him. Strange as it was, his people were safe for the moment. “Fleeing Earth was a forlorn hope,” he began. “We knew the risks, the probabilities. Twelve of my people died in cryogenic sleep before Marcus found us. We all reasonably expected to meet the same fate.”
“And now your people are about to be revived.”
“But to what purpose?” he asked. “We were bred for leadership, trained for warfare. You’ve already told me what my sentence is to be. What about them?”
“If they’re anything like you then they’ll adapt and thrive,” Pike told him. “The rest of it will come in time. Section 31’s taken responsibility for them so far. We may as well do so for a while longer.”
Khan considered that. He was hiding his own turmoil behind concern for his people, he knew, but it was better than wallowing in self-loathing. “I can’t imagine that the Federation is going to grant them citizenship and all the economic privileges that go with it,” he said at last. “We predate the United Federation of Planets by a century and a half.”
“I’ve been thinking about that, actually,” the admiral replied. “As far as citizenship is concerned, if birthright falls through then there’s always the path of asylum through one of the Federation’s member governments. You were fleeing persecution on a number of grounds, after all. Considering the history involved, it would be better to petition Tellar Prime or Andor rather than Earth, but whatever the case, I’ve got people working on a few options. A lot of it is going to depend on what each individual wants. But you have my word that I’m not going to just abandon them. They’ll have support until they’re able to stand on their own.”
Khan nodded. Everything seemed reasonable. Too reasonable, considering all he’d done to arrive here. Or perhaps that was just the paranoia talking. “How long will I be allowed to stay with them?” He knew they’d be separated eventually. He just wanted to prepare himself for the inevitable so he could soften the blow a bit for his crew.
“There’s your own health to look after,” Pike told him. “The doctors will want to keep you another night, probably, just to make certain you’re recovering well from cryo. After that, I’ve arranged for some quarters for you. We’ll take some time to get you settled in. But as long as we’re reviving and orienting your people, you’ll be involved.”
Another nod. “There will be questions,” Khan murmured at last.
“There are always questions. I figure we’ll deal with little things like sonic showers and food replicators and work our way up to why you’re being treated differently from the rest of them.”
That seemed a logical enough plan. It was enough for Khan to risk bringing up what was really on his mind. “You seem remarkably well-versed in the period of time surrounding the Eugenics Wars,” he ventured.
“Before I enlisted in Starfleet, I was a history teacher,” Pike answered. “I know how to research. As cloudy and contradictory as the information we have is, I’ve made a decent survey of it.” He smiled softly. “I like to know what I’m getting into.”
“You have no idea what you’re getting into,” Khan retorted with a shake of his head, his voice quiet and resigned.
“I’d say that puts us in the same boat then,” the admiral observed.
It irked Khan that Pike was correct. It irked him more that he seemed to be so easy to read. He felt like he had open wounds and the admiral could just look at him and tell which parts were most tender. Strangely, though, he didn’t seem to be using his observations to his advantage. Quite the contrary, in fact. The man seemed to be doing everything possible to give Khan security and dignity. It ran completely counter to everything Khan had experienced with Admiral Marcus, and he couldn’t even say whether he preferred this situation to that. It was all very unsettling. He didn’t like feeling unsettled. And yet, he had no reason to reject the gestures that Pike was offering. Rationality and courtesy far outweighed his visceral reluctance on the matter.
“I can’t say how my people will react to the 23rd Century,” Khan responded after a long moment. “What they left behind will be on their minds.” Just as it was on his mind.
“I’ve been thinking about that as well,” Pike said then, his tone turning thoughtful. “Are you familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 1995?”
“A restorative justice body assembled after the abolition of the South African apartheid regime.” He remembered it being a very progressive move and credited superior thinking for its success. It had given him hope — by that time it was obvious that the purpose for which the Augments had been created would never be fulfilled — that humanity was capable of bettering itself without Augment help.
“Perhaps something similar could be adopted in this case,” the admiral told him. “There’s so little we know about the Eugenics Wars and the events that led up to them. It would benefit everyone to have a clearer understanding of that time — not just the politics and who did what to whom but the experience of the Augments involved. Your story is part of the story of humanity. We should preserve that.”
“It would change your understanding of history,” Khan pointed out. Some things needed to remain in the past, forgotten or reinterpreted. He liked his legacy much better the way it was remembered than the way it actually happened.
“History changes every day,” Pike argued. “We’re always finding something new that revises the story.”
Khan pressed his lips together. “We were young,” he said then. “We were arrogant. We made stupid mistakes because we were arrogant.” He more than most, but then he’d been in charge of his contingent of Augments.
“Such is life. You’re older now. You’re wiser. The mistakes of the past don’t have to influence the present, especially when the past is over two centuries ago. This is a fresh start for all of you.”
“Is it, though? You can’t hide us under the wing of Section 31 forever. People are going to find out that seventy-three Augments from the 20th Century are alive and well. The natural state of information is to want to be free.”
“And when we come to that bridge, we’ll cross it. One step at a time. Right now, we have a couple of people to revive and orient. From there, we’ll get a game plan about the others. After that, we’ll start worrying more closely about the earth-shattering consequences and how we’re going to address them. But don’t think you’re alone in this. You’re not. And neither are your people.”
Khan looked to the cryotubes again, and he took a breath. “As you say,” he agreed quietly.
One of the doctors put a hand on Pike's shoulder and nodded to him. “We’re ready to begin when you are,” he said.
Pike looked to Khan, the question unspoken. Are you ready? A ghost of a smile crossed Khan’s lips. “I’m ready,” the Augment replied. The doctor smiled, turned away, and entered the revival sequence into the computer. A beep sounded throughout the room, monitors coming to life, and the process began.
Chapter 4: Home Is Not A Place
Oddly enough, Khan could deal with waiting now that something was actually happening. The hum of Joaquin's cryotube as it warmed its precious cargo was soothing to his nerves. The viewscreen on the wall displayed heart rate, respiration, brain activity, core temperature. He watched as the numbers slowly increased and periodically glanced in the direction of the med team as they prepared Su’s cryotube for the same procedure. Soon. The word kept repeating itself in his mind.
He wondered what was going on on the other side of the glass. Wakeup dreams were a well-known side-effect of cryogenic sleep. The brain processed the physical stimuli of the revival sequencing as dreamlike in nature, though the experience wasn’t always pleasant. Khan’s own experiences had bordered on uncomfortable. He didn’t much care for the sensation of being locked inside his own skin. Both times he’d been woken, he’d fought to regain control of his body as quickly as possible. And the second time had come with the added panic of being trapped in a confined space. It wasn’t always a good thing to spring back to consciousness so quickly.
He thought back to the last night he’d spent with Joaquin. They’d napped in two-hour shifts in the cockpit of the Botany Bay while his people had finished the final preparations for launch. Their last meal had been field rations from the emergency stockpile. They’d watched the sun rise before firing the liftoff rockets and said their goodbyes in the forward sleeper compartment. Khan had put Joaquin to sleep himself, leaving the ship’s computer to do the honors for his own cryotube.
And now he’d be the one to wake him up. Somehow it seemed wrong. They hadn’t expected a reunion.
“Brain activity coming out of coma range,” one of the nurses reported.
“Status of Ms. Ling?” Admiral Pike asked from his position in the corner, politely out of the way of the medical staff whereas Khan had plunked himself down between the two tubes, right in the middle of the action.
“Starting the revival sequence now, sir,” someone answered him.
There was nothing to do but wait.
Khan turned back to Joaquin’s cryotube. Color had returned to his friend’s face and he could see his eyes moving beneath closed lids. REM sleep. It wouldn’t be long now.
After a few more minutes, the latches on the cryotube released and the nurses lifted it up and away. Joaquin’s eyes were open, but Khan knew he couldn’t see yet. “You’re safe, my friend,” he told him, unable to hide the smile in his voice. “Just relax. Let the medical staff take care of you.”
“Khan… Where are we?” Joaquin’s voice was quiet but a distinct Israeli accent was detectible.
“Earth, in the 23rd Century,” he replied readily. “It’s a long story. I promise I’ll tell it to you it in due time.” He glanced briefly at Admiral Pike before adding, “But we’re among friends, Joaquin, at least for the moment.” It was quite a statement considering his tumultuous thoughts on the matter. But he wanted to reassure Joaquin, who was nothing if not overprotective. He shifted away to let the medical staff lift the backboard and transfer the newly woken Augment from the cryotube to the biobed, then helped put a blanket over him and squeezed his friend’s hand.
“Where are the others?” Joaquin squeezed the hand in return, though it his body was wracked with shivers.
“Awaiting revival. You and Su are the first. We’ll wake more after the two of you are rested and oriented. I’ll need your help with them.”
“Of course, my Khan.”
Khan smiled wistfully at Joaquin’s words. The endearment that had become a title. It was bittersweet, hearing it again. It brought many things to mind: power, pleasure, shame, defeat. But he accepted it in the spirit with which it was intended. “Rest,” he instructed. “You’ve got a great deal ahead of you.” He squeezed Joaquin’s hand again and remained with him until Su’s cryopod unlatched.
The process of moving and warming was repeated with Su, who woke only briefly. “Is she alright…?” she asked in a broad Louisiana accent as one hand shifted blindly to her abdomen.
Khan turned to her. “Is who alright?” Khan asked her gently, though his lightning-fast mind had already deduced the answer.
Khan reached out and stroked her hair, even as he glanced up to the medical staff, who were themselves reaching for medical scanners and data padds. “It’s too soon to say, Su,” he replied for them. “Get some rest. We’ll know more in a little while.”
She seemed too exhausted to be insistent. She gave a small nod, and a moment later she was asleep again.
“Talla,” came the doctor’s voice from behind Khan, “fix her up with a hypo of HCG and progesterone.”
Khan tucked the blanket a bit tighter around Su’s body. “Cryogenic sleep was neither designed nor tested on pregnant subjects,” he pronounced simply.
“Then we’ll do what we can and hope for the best,” the doctor replied. “Did you know about this?” he asked after a moment.
“No,” Khan replied honestly, “but it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if I had. We were running for our lives.”
“I understand.” There was something in the man’s tone that gave Khan the inkling that he really did understand those sorts of lesser-of-two-evils decisions. If Su had disclosed her status, she would have risked being left behind, and if she’d been left behind, she would’ve been killed.
Admiral Pike’s voice interjected then. “Let’s get out of the med team’s way and let them do what they do best,” he said. “We need to take a walk down to the storage bay. You can tell me who needs to be woken up next.”
It was a polite command, and Khan rankled at it, but he knew there was little he could do here besides hold the hands of sleeping people. His medical expertise was comparatively limited. It would serve Joaquin and Suzette both to have an undistracted team working on them. He got to his feet and stepped between a couple of nurses, taking a position behind Pike and a step to his right as they made their way out of the room.
He didn’t speak again until they reached the end of the corridor and were waiting on a turbolift. “Boyce is one of the best. He worked on Jim after he came out of that warp core. He’s been my doctor for ages. If there’s anything to be done, he’ll do it.”
“Only time will tell,” Khan replied, though his tone was kind and he really was thankful for the gesture of reassurance. “Thank you, Admiral.”
Pike smiled as the doors slid open. “Call me Chris,” he said, and he stepped inside the turbolift.
Chapter 5: A Private Reunion
Khan sat in the room with his two sleeping friends, having made his tour of the storage bay with Admiral Pike and selected the next group of crewmembers to be woken. It had taken his mind off of the shock of Suzette’s revelation to see the rows of cryotubes firsthand and know that they were all still operational. The revival process would continue with the six men and women who were already on the ward, but Khan wanted Joaquin and Su to be able to assist in the process. He couldn’t be everywhere at once, and he wanted each Augment who woke to know that they were safe and among friends.
The med team had cleared out of the room hours ago, leaving the two Augments to rest undisturbed. But Khan couldn’t make himself stay away. He’d been away for far too long as it was. At least Admiral Pike seemed to understand his need to be close to his people. He’d taken his leave for the afternoon with the promise to return if Khan or either of his crew needed him. But judging from Khan’s own long sleep, it would be some time before Joaquin or Su woke.
He’d spent a good long time just watching them, marking the rise and fall of their chests and the flutter of movement beneath their eyelids. True sleep, no longer frozen in suspended animation. It was reassuring to him to know they were resting comfortably. Reassuring enough to relax him into a sleep of his own. He drifted off on the sofa and didn’t wake again until he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Khan.” It was Joaquin’s voice, and a moment later there was the shifting of weight beside him on the sofa as the other Augment sat down. “How long have you been here?”
“Ages,” he answered sleepily as he opened his eyes, a hint of Punjabi intonation slipping past his English accent, and he wrapped an arm around his companion. Joaquin returned the embrace without hesitation, warm and strong even in his tired state. Khan relaxed into it, finding himself the most content and centered he’d been in a long time.
“Your back is not going to forgive easily if you sleep in that manner,” Joaquin pointed out after a long moment, and he shifted to lay on the sofa and pulled Khan after him to stretch out.
“Always so attentive to my needs,” Khan murmured with a soft chuckle. He fit himself against the other man, nestling into his lover’s bulkier form.
“Especially where I reap the benefit,” Joaquin assured him, and he dragged a hand through Khan’s dark hair. “Go back to sleep.”
“You should do the same. You’ve only just woken from cryo.”
“I sleep better when you’re with me.”
“Fair enough.” Khan snuggled closer, brushed an idle kiss across Joaquin's jaw, and closed his eyes once more. “If you happen to see someone with blue skin, pointed ears, or fur, don’t be alarmed. Humanity’s a spacefaring civilization. We’ve made friends.”
Joaquin hummed warmly at that. “Goodnight, Joaquin," he teased his lover. "Rest well. Don’t worry about the aliens.”
“I thought you deserved forewarning.”
“Always so considerate of my nerves,” he mimicked Khan’s earlier statement.
Khan found himself smirking. “I just don’t want to get dumped on my arse on the floor in the event you should react with your typical dramatic flair," he pointed out warmly.
“Your vote of confidence is reassuring.”
“Go to sleep," Khan said with a soft laugh.
“You first,” Joaquin replied in the same fond tone.
Khan melted back into sleep with ease, supremely reassured by the presence of his best friend and bodyguard. When he woke again, it was because he heard movement in the room. He opened one eye to see Su on her way back from the lav.
“Looks like you two wasted no time lookin’ adorable,” she remarked in that drawl that never failed to surprise those who judged her solely by her Asian appearance. It was a trait that the two of them shared. If people judged Khan solely by his pale skin and light eyes, they would assume that he was Anglo, not Desi.
“It’s all his fault,” Khan defended himself, and he rolled to his feet to move over and give her a hug. “How are you feeling?”
“Better,” she answered as she returned the embrace. She pressed her lips together, hesitating, and Khan could guess the question she left unasked.
“They’ve given you supplementary hormones. The preliminary scans don’t show anything amiss, but the next several days will tell us more. That’s all I know from the chart log. The doctor, I’m sure, will be able to give you exact details.”
She nodded, relaxing a bit. “So far, so good,” she put in encouragingly.
“And you’ll let us know if anything changes.”
“Of course.” She smiled then, brushing away the lingering worry with a turn of her mind to other thoughts. “So. Where are we?”
“Earth, in the 23rd Century,” he answered with a soft smile. “The planet is united under one government. Faster-than-light travel is possible. We’ve made contact with a number of alien species, both sentient and non-sentient. It’s an amazing time to be alive.”
Su was smiling as well. “It sounds like a dream.”
“It’s certainly better than what we left behind," Khan agreed.
“How long have you been awake?” she asked then.
“I was revived a couple of years ago,” he found himself answering honestly. “The circumstances were not ideal, but I was awake for a little more than a year before I was returned to cryosleep. I was revived again yesterday.”
Her eyes narrowed, growing more distrustful of their safety with every word. “If you were awake, why did they put you back?”
He gave her a look that was one part sad and one part haunted. “It’s hardly flattering,” he murmured. “You’ll hear the full extent of it soon enough, but it’s not worth worrying about now. The circumstances are much different, I assure you. And our primary objective will be waking and situating the others.”
“How many of us made it?”
“Seventy-three. Twelve of the cryotubes failed from damage before the Botany Bay was found.” Khan never did figure out what happened to their bodies, but he suspected that Marcus used them for research purposes. But he wasn’t going to think about that now.
“I see,” she murmured thoughtfully. “And I suppose we’re being held in a secure location.” She’d been his chief of security. Their accommodations hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“Secure, yes,” he agreed, “but we’re not prisoners. If anything, we’re being shepherded for our own protection. History has not looked upon Augments with much kindness. And neither has recent memory. But it is what it is.”
Su pressed her lips together, regarding him for a moment, then moved past him and shook Joaquin’s foot to wake him up. “You’d best start from the beginning,” she told Khan then, and when Joaquin moved his feet and sat up, she settled herself on the sofa.
Khan realized then that he couldn’t keep the truth from them. Whatever plan he’d had to dazzle them with the state of the technology first and deliver the hard truth later dissolved before him. These were his two strongest supporters. They could take the truth. So he pulled up a chair and sat across from them and told them the truth. Every bit of it.
When Admiral Pike arrived the next morning, Khan was waiting for him in the consultation room. He’d changed into white kurta shalwar with gold embroidery on the collar. It made him look more regal than he felt, but at least he was rested. Being with Joaquin and Su had done wonders for his stress level. “Good morning,” he greeted, and he stood in deference to the other man.
“Good morning,” Pike replied. “I hope the evening went well for you last night.”
“Better than I’d hoped,” he confessed. “I told them everything.”
Pike arched a brow. “And how did that go?” he asked as he settled into a spot on the sofa
“They are understandably concerned about the future,” he answered honestly, and he took his own seat again, “but for the moment they’ve turned their attention to educating themselves.” Khan had left them both with padds and a short list of topics to research. They would undoubtedly come up with more on their own, each according to their own interests.
“I’ll make sure to talk to both of them. I want them to know that they’re in good hands.”
“I’ve assured them that much,” Khan told him. Then he took a breath. “I’ve decided to trust you,” he said then. He said it more for his own benefit than Pike’s. “And I’ve decided to accept your offer of working for Section 31.”
Pike regarded him for a moment, then nodded. “Both good decisions, though I admit I’m biased. What made up your mind?”
“Something Joaquin said. Overthinking the situation only muddies the waters, especially when we’re capable of dealing with whatever may arise as time goes on.” Pike had advertised himself as a reasonable, humane, charitable man. Should that turn out to not be the case, they could always respond in such a way as to preserve their own interests.
And Pike seemed to understand that that was precisely what Khan was saying. “Wise words,” he replied. “I hope the only things you’ll have to deal with are those related to establishing yourselves here. Speaking of which, we should set aside some time today to get you settled in to your new home. I don’t want to take you away from your people for too long, but your things arrived out of storage last night and I thought you might want to get them sorted.”
“Of course,” Khan agreed. He wondered where he would be living. A billet in the officers’ district? An apartment somewhere further afield? But he didn’t ask. He’d find out soon enough.
“Have you given any more thought to when you want to wake more of your crew?”
“Later this morning if at all possible,” he replied. “Now that Joaquin and Su are awake, there’ll be one of us for every two of them. That’s a good ratio to start with.” Each Augment would have a hand in reviving the next set of people, so eventually it would cascade into a one-to-one or better ratio. Every crewmember would have at least one person to turn to for answers to their general questions, and more specific information could be relayed in a group setting.
Pike nodded. “I’ll let the med team know. Any word on Su’s health?”
“Everything’s stable so far,” Khan reported. “They put her through a deep scan this morning and it looks like the baby made it, though the next several days will tell the truth of that.”
He nodded. “Good. I’m glad. She seemed very concerned.”
“She’s holding up well.” He hadn’t been the only one to benefit from Joaquin’s presence. He and Su were close as well. Close enough to make Khan wonder whether he was the father of Su’s baby. Lovers they might be, but they were hardly exclusive.
“Good,” Pike said again. “So, looks like we’ve got a full day ahead of us. I’d like to start off by talking with the two of them, then we can get the med team prepped to wake the others. Have you had breakfast yet?”
He chuckled. “Not yet.”
“Well, let’s start there then. Breakfast and introductions.” He got to his feet and gestured for Khan to follow. Within minutes, they had a cart full of breakfast for four and a table in the day room to put it on. Su came right out to join them, long overdue for a meal. Joaquin had to be physically separated from the padd, more engrossed in the founding of the Federation than the idea of food.
“So how does a history teacher become the head of a clandestine intelligence organization?” Su asked a long while later. She was curious about Pike as a person, and she didn’t mind asking questions to that effect.
“That’s a long and convoluted story,” the admiral answered with a chuckle. Khan didn't expect the man to elaborate, but to his surprise, he did. “My parents died when I was twelve," Pike began. "I went to live with my biological father, who was married to the ‘Fleet. Needless to say, by the time I was finished with school, I was all Starfleeted out. I had an interest in history, so I steered my university education in that direction, got my bachelor’s, started teaching, got my master's. But I wasn’t really happy with it. I was content, but there’s not much room for advancement in education. So my father’s friend Alex Marcus sat me down one day and talked me into taking the Academy entrance exam. Mostly I figured if I did it it’d shut him up, so I go and I sit for this exam and I promptly proceed to exceed everyone’s expectations — including my own. And all the recruiters are after me. They want to know what it is that I need them to do for me to be interested in joining up, and I tell them I don’t want a shipboard posting. I want to be a desk jockey. I want to work in the archives. I don’t want to go to space. They say fine, we can do that. So I enlist. And my anti-space kick lasts until my third year of the Academy. Everyone’s required to do a shipboard rotation and my number came up and off I go, and damn if I don’t fall in love with the stars. End of my rotation, I come back to San Fran, I change my focus, and I go full-throttle for command track. It was even worth the I-told-you-so’s. After that, it was just a jaunt up the ranks. Got my own ship, explored strange new worlds, met new life and new civilizations, nearly got myself killed more times than I can remember, distinguished myself I don't know how many times. I made Admiral after the Battle of Vulcan. Then I died for real and here I am.”
“Clearly alive and well,” Joaquin remarked. “I take it your experience isn’t typical of Starfleet officers.”
“Not at all,” Pike agreed, though he was thinking of Jim as he said it. “Most of them stay dead when they die, and they sure as hell don’t have their mentors doctor the records and hide them away." He sighed. "From what I’ve been able to reconstruct, Admiral Marcus had the medical team fill out the paperwork as if I was dead on arrival, then had me stabilized and moved to a private hospital in San Diego. After everything was said and done and Starfleet realized that there wasn’t a body to match the death certificate, they tracked me down, and they reasonably assumed that I had something to do with Alex’s grand plan to go to war with the Klingons. I mean, he had moved heaven and earth to save my life and then hide it from everybody else. I had to have something to do with it, right? So they move me to a penal facility in Auckland. I wake up in the brig. And they keep me, and they question me, and they pore over every facet of my life until I don’t have a secret left, and they finally come to the conclusion that Alex saved me because I was the son he never had and regardless of the manipulation he put my first officer through, he didn’t want me to die on his watch. And by that time — months later, I mean, this took forever — they realized the severity of their mistake and the hell they’ve put an otherwise outstanding officer through and the only apology they can give me is a promotion. They can’t give me my life back. They’d have to admit how seriously they’d screwed up, and that’s not going to happen. That’s not the way the ‘Fleet works, not at this level of play. What else could I do but take my promotion and my official identity and my pain-and-suffering payoff and make the best of it?” He shrugged. “At least this way, I can have a say in what happens. With any luck, we can keep the peace going a little while longer and make the war as short and bloodless as possible.”
“And how do you plan to do that?” Su asked.
“That’s what Khan is for,” he answered with a smile.
Chapter 7: Accommodations
It was late afternoon before Khan got a moment to himself. After breakfast, he and the others had turned their attention to reviving the Augments still laying in cryosleep. It had been a slow and repetitive process, but well worth it. Now the six were awake. Liam MacPherson, astronautics expert. Kati Ahart, chief of intelligence. Annette Nwokolo, physician and geneticist. Antonio Rodriguez, ethics officer. Kamui Murakami, assassin. The unfortunately named Aleksandr Markos, artist and architect.
Another set of eight had been sent up from storage. Khan had seen the cryotube-laden gurneys in the corridor when he’d gone to scare himself up a cup of chai. The sight of them left butterflies in his stomach. Now that the revival process was well underway, he felt rather like an expectant father.
Not that he’d felt that way when any of his three children had been born. He’d been far removed from the process, and the mothers had all approved of his absent fatherhood. They’d been women of means, exceptional in their own right, who’d wanted exceptional children but not the complications of a relationship. Two girls and a boy, he recalled. He wondered whether any of them had survived long enough to have children of their own.
The sound of Admiral Pike’s lopsided gait announced his entry into the dayroom. “There you are. Everyone tucked in?”
Khan looked up from his cup of tea and nodded. “Resting comfortably,” he reported. “They’ll probably wake up in the late hours, but that can’t be helped.”
“I don’t know. You slept for a good long time. It could be that they make it through till morning.”
“One can hope.” He felt unaccountably fatigued. Emotional stress, most likely. He preferred not to glorify it with more attention than necessary.
“If you’ve got some time,” Pike said then, “there’s some business we need to attend to.”
“Of course.” He pulled some motivation together and got to his feet, taking his mug of chai with him as the admiral led him back to his hospital room. Philip Boyce was waiting alongside a tray with a few instruments on it.
“You’ll recall that one of the terms of your service was monitoring,” the admiral said. “Doctor Boyce will install a subcutaneous transponder. It’ll track your location. As long as you’re at an approved location or en route between two locations, you’ll be fine. But if you’re outside of the agreed-upon parameters, it’ll trigger a security alert and you can expect to be met with armed officers. It’s pretty standard, but in your case the transmission frequency will be encrypted so only the people who need that information will have access to it.”
“If you would take off your shirt, please,” the doctor said then. Khan set his mug of tea aside and pulled the kurta over his head. Boyce directed him to turn his back with a gentle touch to the shoulder. A moment later Khan could feel the other man counting vertebrae and pinching up the skin between the shoulder-blades, right where it was most difficult to reach. After another few seconds there was a sting as the needle angled in and a slight burn as the tiny device was injected. Boyce gave him a gentle pat on the back to let him know that he was finished, then turned to destroy the needle.
Khan pulled his kurta back on and rolled his shoulders to soothe the twinge between them. “Thank you, Doctor,” he said, a gesture of polite gratitude to show that he didn’t hold Boyce personally responsible for the device. Pike was correct. Monitoring was part of their agreement, and it was a part that he would honor.
The man smiled. “Take care of yourself,” he advised. “You’ve got a lot of people counting on you.” With a nod to Pike, he took his instruments and departed.
“Which brings me to the next item on the to-do list,” the admiral said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small stack of cards. “ID, access card, credit chip,” he said, handing the items to Khan.
The first card read “Starfleet Intelligence” and was issued in his own name in the rank of commander. The second was an integrated access card similar to the one Marcus had once given him for a flat in London. It was a key that would open many locks. The third held markings for accounts with the banking institutions of Orion, Bolias, Ferenginar, and Andor. He slid the cards into his pocket. “Section 31 is a generous sponsor,” he remarked.
“You haven’t seen your new digs yet.” Pike smiled. “Come on. I’ll show you. It’s not far from here.”
A five-minute chauffeured car ride later — the landmarks told Khan they were in San Francisco — they arrived in front of a high-rise residential complex that Khan deduced from its architectural style, location, and the number of uniformed officers in the lobby to be accommodations for high-ranking Starfleet officers and their families. The lift took them to the top of the building and opened into a private foyer. A chandelier dominated the high ceiling and the far wall sported massive windowpanes. The floor was marble tile and a mahogany wardrobe stood beside a matching door, one on each side of the foyer.
"Welcome home," Pike said as he stepped off the lift. "You're on the left. The front room might be a bit jumbled. I had Logistics stack your things in there. I’ll be across the hall.”
Khan chuckled softly. “A penthouse, a private car, a friendly next-door neighbor. Very comfortable conditions for house arrest.”
“Yeah, well, I like to keep my talent happy,” the admiral replied with a smile.
Khan smiled in return and moved to the door, pressing his access card against the lock pad. The door opened a moment later to reveal an apartment that was understated, functional, and filled with little details of comfort. A cashmere blanket lay folded over the back of an overstuffed leather sofa. A terrarium bowl of succulents served as a centerpiece for the walnut dining table. A framed viewscreen displayed message inboxes and calendar events. And in the midst of it all stood large grey cargo lockers stacked three high.
It was at least orderly chaos, he thought as he stepped inside. His first move was to open the nearest locker and verify that they were indeed his things. What hadn’t come with him on the Botany Bay he’d acquired over his time spent in Admiral Marcus’s employ, and it didn’t amount to much beyond his expansive wardrobe. Clothes were his guilty pleasure, and one of the few comforts he’d been able to indulge under Marcus’s rule.
He found his violin in its case, a box of incense, a statue of Avalokiteshvara wrapped between layers of silk sheets. Whoever had collected his things had done it in an orderly fashion, which was surprising considering the vehemence with which his flat must’ve been searched following the attack on the Kelvin Memorial Archive. Perhaps some forward-thinking young officer had been thinking about the redistribution potential.
He closed the locker and stepped past it into the hallway which led to a spacious lav and bedroom. The king-sized was made up in silver and blue. A communicator lay on the bedside table. He didn’t resist the urge to bodily flop on the bed, and he immediately determined it to be suitably comfortable.
He could get used to this, he decided. He was sure it was all reasonable compensation for risking his life on what he was sure would prove to be some challenging missions on the Federation’s behalf, but for the moment, he was willing to accept that. He didn’t even remember drifting off, but something woke him a little while later.
A wet-nosed something. With green eyes and black fur. And a stubby excuse for a tail, Khan realized as he reached up to pet the small cat.
“I don’t know where you came from, but I’m sure you don’t belong here.” He reached up and gently scruffed the feline to immobilize her, then scooped her into a proper carrying embrace and rolled to his feet. He went out the door and across the foyer and hit the doorchime on Pike’s lock pad.
A few moments later, the admiral appeared. He’d abandoned his flag uniform in favor of a line officer’s off-duty blacks. “Dammit, Lucy.” He reached out and took the cat from Khan with an annoyed sigh. Lucy mewed in half-hearted protest. “That explains why she didn’t materialize at dinner. Sorry about that.” He stepped aside and waved Khan inside. “Come on in. Can I interest you in a cup of coffee?”
“That would be lovely, thanks,” he said as he entered.
“How do you take it?”
“Cream and sugar.”
Pike nodded and set Lucy on the couch, then made his way to the kitchen. Khan glanced around. The living room was all Mission furniture and desert colors. He spied a guitar case near the fireplace, but what really caught his eye were all the pictures on the mantelpiece. Somehow he hadn’t thought the admiral would be a sentimental man. Here was strong proof to the contrary, and there were some familiar faces to be seen. Jim Kirk. Carol Marcus. An older man in admiralty whites who bore a strong resemblance to Pike. Biological father, Khan realized. A young couple who must be Pike’s deceased parents. Admiral Marcus was conspicuously absent.
When Pike returned, it was with two mugs of hot coffee clasped by their handles in one hand. Khan carefully accepted his with a murmur of thanks, and he followed the admiral to a pair of wingback chairs and took a seat.
“So,” Pike asked after he took a sip of coffee, “how do you like your new place?”
“It’s certainly comfortable,” he answered. “And quiet. I hadn’t expected a flat in the middle of the city to be so quiet.”
“We’re above most of the noise,” he responded, “and the Old City has a lot of special restrictions to maintain the historic atmosphere.”
“How close are we to Starfleet Headquarters?” he asked.
“Close. We’re just east of The Crash Site.”
Khan cringed at the matter-of-fact tone. “How goes the recovery effort?” he ventured.
“On schedule,” he answered. “New buildings come up every week, but it’ll always be The Crash Site, I think.” The Vengeance had carved a new neighborhood into the north side of the city. The Crash Site was just another district now, like The Mission and The Presidio.
Khan took a thoughtful sip of his coffee. “I’m surprised you’re housed somewhere so conspicuous,” he said after a moment. “Aren’t you concerned that someone will recognize you?”
“I’m the worst-kept secret in Starfleet,” he replied with a chuckle. “The people who interact with me know who I am. They just call me by a different name, at least in official communications. But the uniform lends a degree of anonymity. Even in San Francisco, there aren’t a lot of people who can keep track of everyone in the Admiralty.”
“It’s no small wonder that Captain Kirk hasn’t been appraised of your condition.”
“Admiral Komack made sure that the people who had a reason to know the truth also had a reason to keep their mouths shut.” He smiled and shook his head. “Personally, I’m amazed that he hasn’t been told yet. It never ceases to astound me the sort of transparent lies that manage to hold the ‘Fleet together.”
“The fine art and science of official versions,” Khan remarked ruefully. “Why haven’t you told him yourself?” He was curious. The man had a strong connection to Kirk and it was certainly within his power to do so.
“I’m only now at a point where I can begin to consider it,” he confessed. “It wasn’t long ago that I was in a brig in New Zealand. But Jim’s on assignment now, and a long-term one at that. The first five-year mission in Starfleet’s history. Getting in contact with him could be problematic.”
“An inconvenience he would greatly appreciate,” Khan pointed out. “He thinks a great deal of you.” At least the ferociousness of his punches seemed to indicate that.
“Oh, no matter what the circumstances, he’s not going to take it well,” Pike said then. “He’ll see it as a betrayal of trust that I didn’t contact him as soon as I was able. He’ll rationally understand the reasons, but emotionally he’ll have to process the shift in his foundation of reality before he gets around to being glad I’m alive. I was thinking of twisting Komack’s arm and having him offer a formal apology. It’d make the transition easier.”
“And direct that betrayal of trust somewhere more appropriate.” Komack would blame Marcus for the deception, but he’d have to acknowledge Starfleet’s part in perpetuating it.
He nodded. “But it still won’t be a walk in the park for either of us. And Spock, God, he was mind-melded with me when I flatlined. I owe him an explanation as well.”
“One would hope that the Vulcan would be accepting of the logical progression of events,” he remarked, though he remembered all too well how emotional the commander could be when pressed.
“The only thing I’m certain of is that there are no easy answers. And as much as I would like to make a reunion a top priority, the fact of the matter is that Jim and I both have more immediate priorities to deal with. The secure ward will only hold half of your people at the max. Before too much longer, we’re going to have to start shifting them to proper housing, at least until they decide where they want to end up.”
Khan considered that. “They’ll want to stay together at first, if possible,” he mused. “They’re accustomed to living and working in fairly close proximity.” Indeed, most of them had permanent quarters at his compound in Chandigarh, back in the old days.
Pike nodded at that. “I’m looking into housing options in the south end of The Crash Site. It’s close to Starfleet and the major governmental buildings, but far enough away to not be Uniformland. My hope is to give your people a centralized place to start from, then as they adjust, they can relocate as suits their personal preferences and career choices. But in the beginning, I anticipate they’ll be using a lot of academic and governmental resources. You’ll be a great help to them in that regard. You already know your way around the bureaucratic structure.”
“So I take it my first assignment will be facilitating their assimilation into the 23rd Century.”
“That will be your major responsibility to begin with, but you’ll also spend some time in operational preparation. How’s your Klingon?”
Khan arched a brow. “I understand more than I can convey, but I’m hardly conversational.”
“I need you to become an expert,” Pike told him. “Language, culture, battle tactics. Everything we know about them, I need you to learn. You come from a warrior culture. You’re a one-man army in your own right. If anyone can come up with a reasonable approximation of what the Klingons are thinking, it’s you.”
He considered that. It was true that he came from a culture which prided itself on martial prowess. He had practiced gatka since he was a child, and his training in modern military combat had only supplemented his lifelong familiarity with warfare as an art form. The Klingons were also a warrior culture, though he had to wonder what the prevailing reason was for being so. Were they like the Sikhs? Did they have a spiritual reason for their emphasis on warfare? Or was Klingon culture built on personal honor and glory?
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said at last.