“Well, Captain, everything seems to be in order.” Admiral Floyd stepped onto the transporter pad and turned around. “I hope your crew will be able to get back to a normal procedure.”
“Yes sir, I think we will,” Kirk said. “Now that the Enterprise has been cleared of all charges, we should be able to recover in no time.”
“Starfleet demands regular checks, Captain. Just be glad the records supported your findings. And you’ve got a Black Ops official in your pocket.”
“With all due respect, sir, if you think anyone could ever have Blackburn in their pocket then - “
“I think I’m ready to beam across now, Captain,” The Admiral interrupted. “Wouldn’t want to delay your mission to the Beta Quadrant any longer. Oh, and I suppose you can let that specialist of yours out of the brig.”
“Yes sir. Energize.” A brief pulse of energy later and the Admiral was gone. So was Kirk’s fake smile. “Prick.”
“The Admiral has certainly had an effect on you,” Spock said as they made their way back to the bridge. Kirk scoffed.
“Yeah, he had an effect on everybody. You know how often a starship gets accused of working with Romulans?”
“There is no record of such an accusation in Starfleet’s records.”
“Exactly.” The turbolift stopped and Chekov’s ‘Keptin on ze bridge!’ rang out.
“Has the Admiral beamed over?” Uhura asked.
“Yeah.” Kirk spread his arms, theatrically raising his voice. “The Enterprise has been cleared of all charges and we are free to resume normal procedures!” He dropped his arms. “As if there was anything wrong in the first place. Blackburn said everyone's free to go back to normal.”
Uhura nodded. “I’ll alert the lieutenant on duty that Alex can come back up here. Doctor McCoy will want to make sure she's good to go back to work.”
Kirk stopped. “Oh right, we should probably do that.” Spock turned around.
“Did you forget that the Admiral arrested Alex before he brought it up, Captain?”
“No.” Spock raised an eyebrow. “Maybe.” Silence. “C’mon, let’s just go.”
The turbolift door closed on the bridge. Chekov and Sulu turned around. “I woold not like to be een ze room with Blackburn vhen she gets out and tells him vat happened.”
“I don’t think any of us would.”
“Why was she arrested again?” Uhura asked. The bridge crew looked at each other.
“I don’t remember.”
“Captain.” The lieutenant looked up from his screen as Kirk and Spock passed on the way to the cell. Kirk stopped when they reached the glass wall.
“This is the right one, isn’t it?”
“It is the one listed in the ship’s record, Captain.”
“Then where is she?” An empty cell stared back at them, no sign of its supposed prisoner. Spock walked to the other side.
“There.” Kirk crossed, and saw a small figure curled up into a ball hiding behind one end of the bench. “She appears to be in pain.”
“How? No one’s been into that cell, and I doubt she managed to hurt herself.” The girl’s head lolled to one side. One of her eyes was badly swollen, colored a mottled purple and black. There was a tight black band around her neck. “What the hell?”
“It is illogical to attribute her injuries to her own actions as it is nearly impossible for her to injure herself like that.” Spock took a step closer to the glass.
“Yeah no kidding. Go ask the lieutenant who might’ve done this.” Kirk opened the cell door and stepped in. His entrance caused the girl to stir. “Hey kid, Admiral’s gone, you’re free to come out now.” She looked up. Her uninjured eye blinked in recognition. The captain smiled. “It’s me, it’s okay.”
The girl tried frantically to scramble backwards against the wall to get away. She jarred her elbow against the bench and gave a silent wince. Her other arm didn’t seem to be working either. Kirk raised his hands. “Whoa, easy kid, I’m not going to hurt you.” She didn’t seem to listen, still trying to move away. Her mouth opened and a strangled gasp came out.
“What happened to your voice?” Slowly, he came closer, hands still raised. “Who did this to you?” Nothing. As he reached the girl, his eyes widened. “Who the hell put a silencing collar on you?”
At this, the girl stopped struggling and looked up, eye blinking in confusion. Kirk crouched down next to her. “Hey, it’s okay. Let me see.” Hesitantly, she tipped her head back, revealing the collar. The skin around it was red and there were scratches along the metal. “Damn, kid. I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
The girl started when he slid his hands around the collar, looking for the release mechanism. He tried to figure out what other injuries she had as he fiddled with the collar. “Hold on, almost got it.”
The soft click of the mechanism disengaging filled the room, and the collar fell away. Kirk laid it on the bench and turned back to the girl when she started talking. Well, ‘talking’.
“AdmiralFloydisworkingwithaseriesofcommandersallstationedondifferentstarbasesandheusedahologramprogramtotricktheofficers-“ Kirk placed a hand on her shoulder, causing her to flinch away. He moved it to her side.
“Slow down, kid, you’re hurt.” He started looking her over. “We’ll get you to Bones, he’ll fix you up.”
“HeusedhologramstoimpersonateyouSpockandMcCoyandthatswhathappenedimsorryididn’twanttohurtyou - “
“Shh, shh, calm down, kid.” Kirk could barely talk over her.
“Imsorryicouldntdoanythingimsorryididntknowwhattodoyouwerehurtingmeandididntrealiseitwasntyouuntillaterimsosorryiwassoscared…” The girl trailed off into sobs, burying her head in her arms. Carefully, Kirk pushed the collar out of the way and caught sight of Spock standing on the other side of the glass.
“Spock, alert Bones, Alex's been injured.” Kirk looked up. “What?”
“Captain, there have only been three people that have visited this cell.” Spock said, troubled. “Doctor McCoy, you, and myself.”
“What? We haven’t been down here.” The girl tried to talk again, but it was impossible to tell what she was saying through her sobs. “We have to get her to sickbay, she’s hurt. Bad.”
Slowly, the girl managed to stand and braced herself against the wall for support. She managed to stop crying, but one of her arms hung uselessly at her side and there was a large gash just below the elbow that was barely scabbing over. The other stuck out at a strange angle, throwing her off balance. Taking a few deep breaths, she started to walk slowly towards the exit. Kirk followed behind, making sure she wasn’t going to fall. Spock joined them outside.
“Captain, I do not understand how we could have come here when we have not.”
“Yeah, me neither. Can we talk about this later?” They rushed forwards to catch the girl carefully around her waist as she stumbled. Spock nodded as they helped the girl to sickbay. Bones was waiting, having cleared the rest of the staff out. When the door opened, he helped them get the girl onto one of the tables.
“My god, what happened to you?” He looked to Kirk who gestured helplessly.
“I don’t know, apparently we did.” Bones’ face showed his confusion. “Yeah, I know, I don’t get it either.”
“According to the lieutenant, we would come down and instruct him to shut down all sensors in Alex's cell, and only to restart them when we left,” Spock said. “He apparently had no issue with complying."
“Well I have a issue with that because I never went to that damn cell!” Bones said, starting to look at the girl. “Dislocated shoulder, tendons severed on the right arm, bust open lip, cracked rib, and one hell of a black eye.” He picked up the scanner and began to look over the gash on her right arm. “How the hell did this happen?”
The three men looked at the girl, who kept her head down. Spock spoke first. “The use of holograms is illogical - by nature they do not actually exist.”
“These holograms aren’t just images, they work by mapping the appearance of a person onto the body of another person. The field holds until it is deactivated. The people chosen to attack are either selected before hand or by an emotional toxin.” She shifted her head to show an injection sight. "Latter, in this case."
“And how do you know that, kid?” Kirk asked. The girl smiled slightly.
“I studied them at the Academy.”
“Of course you did.” Bones continued running the scanner over her arm. “How did you know it wasn’t actually us?”
“Well, your actions seemed slightly out of character.” The girl shifted slightly as Bones ran the scanner over her dislocated shoulder.
“What actions?” Spock asked. The girl didn’t reply. “It is difficult to come up with a possible suspect if you do not describe what happened.”
“Slow down, man, kid’s just gotten out of that damn cell,” Bones objected.
“Spock’s got a point,” Kirk said. “The more information you can give us the better.”
“I’m not sure I remember everything.” She bowed her head further. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, kid,” Bones glared at Spock over her shoulder. “You don’t have to remember.”
“Well how else are we supposed to figure out what happened if she can’t remember?” Kirk placed his hand on the girl’s knee when she flinched away from him. “Shh, I’m not mad at you.”
“There is another possibility,” Spock said, waiting until the other two had stopped talking. “A mind meld would allow me to learn the details of what happened without forcing Alex to recall everything. It would also allow me to see key details that may not be considered relevant that may be crucial to finding a suspect.”
Kirk and Bones looked down at the girl, who had raised her head to look at Spock. She nodded slowly, and Spock raised his hand to place it on her face. Just before his hand touched her, she reached up and caught his wrist, holding tight despite the pain in her shoulder. Making eye contact, her voice shook slightly but was clearly audible.
“Promise me you won’t blame yourself for what happened.” Spock nodded but she didn’t let go. “Promise.”
“I promise.” She slowly released his wrist and let her arm fall back to the table, wincing when it jarred her shoulder. Her eyes drifted closed as Spock place his hand on her face, avoiding the bruising around her eye. HIs eyes widened. Kirk and Bones watched as Spock’s hand began to shake and he slowly retracted it. Placing one hand briefly on her leg, he turned stiffly towards the two men. “Captain, Doctor, may I speak to you outside?”
Bones walked back into sickbay, spotting the girl still sitting on the table, head down. He hesitated before crossing back, picking up the device and beginning to fix the cut on her left arm, trying to ignore the way she started when he took her arm. “Well, at least your injuries make sense now.”
“The program allows the skills to be transferred, but the specific memories are lost.” Bones released her arm and she bent it a few times, opening and closing her fist. "That makes it easier to spot the fake.”
“Yeah, well, thank god for that.” Bones used one hand to tip her head up, stopping and dropping his hand when he saw her damp cheeks and red nose. She met his gaze briefly before looking away.
“Sorry,” She mumbled, “I know you hate treating patients when they won’t stop blubbering.”
Setting the device down, Bones carefully moved her head so she was looking at him again. “Darlin, there’s no reason to be sorry for crying. Especially after going through something like that. Okay?” She nodded. “And you’re not blubbering. Not by a long shot.” She smiled weakly and tried to wipe her face. Gently, Bones caught her forearm. "Don’t. It’ll hurt.”
He picked up the device and tipped her chin up. “Close your eyes.” She did. He began to run it slowly over the skin surrounding her eye and the discoloration slowly faded back into her normal skin tone. Using a towel that sat next his tools, he gently cleaned her face of the moisture before dropping the towel onto the table. “You can open your eyes now.”
Bones paused. “For what?”
“For taking care of me."
Keeping her head elevated, he used his thumb to draw her lip down so her mouth was slightly open, running the device to close the teeth marks in her lip. He spoke as he worked. “I’m a doctor. It’s my job to take care of you.” He ran his thumb over it once he was finished. “Try not to bite, okay?” She nodded and he stepped away.
“I know you’re a doctor.” A small smile crawled its way across her face. “It’s the one thing you never stop telling us.”
Bones gave her a look that was meant to be irritated but he couldn’t help smirking. Turning away, he moved behind the table and rested his hand on her shoulder. “On three, ready? One - “
“Ah!” She cried out as her shoulder was unexpectedly reset. She cursed softly as Bones began healing the swollen bruising and ligaments. “What happened to three?”
“Didn’t feel like counting. And I wanted to fix what 'I' did.” He rested his hand on her newly healed shoulder, checking it was fixed properly before coming back to the front of the table, changing a few settings on the device. “How’re you holding up?"
“Not dead.” Bones looked up. She met his gaze. “Isn’t that a good thing?” He huffed a laugh and looked back down. “What?”
“I’m supposed to be the cynical one, kid,” he said, taking the hem of her shirt and pulling it up to expose her busted rib. As he ran the device over the swollen area, he glanced back up at her. “And I’m not the one that got beat to hell.”
“Would you believe me if I said I’ve had worse?”
Bones stopped. He looked up at her face, completely serious. Unconsciously, the hand that had been resting on her side tightened its grip. After a second, he clicked the device shut. “No. No I wouldn’t.” He set the device down and ran his other hand once over the area. “Alright, that’s everything."
He set the device down and began looking through the tray of hypo-syringes. “What do you want? 12cc? 20?”
He looked back up and narrowed his eyes. “You don’t have to play tough with me, darlin. There’s no shame in painkillers.”
“I’m not playing, sir.” She met his gaze easily. “I’m fine, promise.”
His gaze softened. “Would you tell me if you weren’t?” Now she seemed to fight to keep looking at him. “Thought so.”
Her shirt was lowered and she made to get off the table, but stopped in confusion when he held his hand out in front of her. “As your doctor, I’m ordering you to return to your quarters, and rest. Get a good night’s sleep, and take care of yourself.” She nodded nervously at his stern tone. His expression softened and he rested his hand on her shoulder. “As your friend, I’m asking you to come see me tomorrow, so I can make sure you’re alright. Okay?”
“Yes, sir.” Bones tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. “Okay, Leo.”
“There’s my girl.” He squeezed her shoulder and jerked his head to the door. “Go on. Get some rest.”
The comb clattered to the table as it caught on a snarl of hair. The girl sighed and finished braiding her hair using her fingers. Some water fell onto her tank top and leggings but most of it dripped into the sink. She looked up as the door chime went off.
The door opened. Her brow furrowed. “Captain?”
“Hey, kid.” Kirk stood just outside the door. “Can I come in?”
“Yes, sir.” He smiled and stepped inside. The door slid closed behind him. “I thought you were on the bridge?”
“Well, Bones came up and said he sent you back here, and Uhura pretty much ordered me to check up on you.” He twisted his hands together and looked up. “And I wanted to apologize.”
“It’s not your fault, Captain,” She started but never finished.
“Yeah, it is kid, I’m the one who let this happen. I should’ve gone down there before, that’s standard protocol. I just got too damn distracted by everything else that bastard was doing.”
“So you didn’t come down, that’s fine, it’s not like you could’ve done anything about it.” She argued.
“No, kid, you don’t understand.” Kirk ran hand through his hair as he turned away. “I let the Admiral arrest you, I shouldn’t’ve done that.”
“And then you would’ve been arrested or relieved of duty.” Her voice was slowly rising. “That wouldn't’ve been any better, it would’ve been worse!”
“Damn it kid, that’s my job!” Kirk shouted, not noticing her flinch. “I’m supposed to protect you!”
“I don’t need protecting!”
“Well, obviously you do!” He swung round to see her staring back at him. “You couldn’t stop him!”
“And apparently neither could you! It’s my fault he has that damn program in the first place!” Her voice was borderline screaming. Kirk shook his head and turned away again. “Don’t blame yourself for it because - “ She ducked her head and uttered a muffled ‘dammit’. “Because of how he manipulated all of us.” Her voice cracked on ‘us’.
“Dammit, kid, why can’t you just - “ Kirk looked back at her and stopped. “Oh, Alex.” Her hands were covering her eyes and she was furiously wiping her face. “Don’t cry, it’s okay.”
“I don’t need your pity!” She said. “Crap.”
“Hey, hey, just stop crying.” Kirk began moving slowly towards her, hands raised. “You don’t need to cry.”
“Get away from me! Don’t touch me!”
“Shh, I’m sorry. You’re right.” Kirk was still moving towards her. “The Admiral would’ve done it anyway.”
“N-no, y-you don’t understand.” She was fighting to keep talking. “H-he’s used the p-program to h-hijack the star b-bases near the N-neutral zone. It’s m-my fault.”
“Okay, okay, shh, we can deal with that later.” Kirk reached out to wipe her tears, stopping when she flinched horribly at the contact. “Hey, hey, shh, did I hurt you?”
“N-no, it’s just…” She trailed off, and sniffled, breaking eye contact. Kirk waited.
“I’m not going to leave you. Just breathe. Then talk.” She took a few more seconds, then slowly made eye contact again.
“My brain knows it wasn’t you, but it’s going to take a while to convince the rest of me.”
Kirk stepped back, mouth opening slightly. The girl took his expression to be anger and turned away, muttering an apology. He reached out to stop her, before remembering and instead calling out. “Hey.” She stopped, looking slightly over her shoulder. “Come here.”
She turned, walking back towards him, stopping about an arm’s length away. Kirk raised his arms, stepping closer. “May I?”
She nodded. Slowly, giving her time to pull away, he rested his hands on either side of her shoulders, gripping her upper arms. “I’ll just stay right here, okay?” He waited, letting her adjust before taking a breath. “You still mad at me?”
“…no.” She looked away when Kirk’s face broke out into a huge grin. “Don’t, I’ll start c-crying again.”
“Shh, that’s okay, you can cry all you want.” She lowered her head, sobbing as Kirk supported her shoulders. He debated giving her some privacy, before letting out a breath and slowly taking her into his arms. “You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now. I promise.”
She stiffened slightly when she felt him move, but sagged against him when he wrapped one arm around her back. “Hear my heartbeat? Just focus on that.”
He let her weep for a few seconds before her breathing began to steady. Sliding one hand up to the back of her neck, he pulled her away slightly from his chest.
“When I came into that cell, after you realized it was actually me, you looked…surprised. Can I…can I ask why?”
She held his gaze for a few seconds before opening her mouth. As she spoke, he rubbed the back of her neck reassuringly. “Normally when the holograms are used, it requires a very in-depth scan to perfectly mimic the person’s image, one the requires certain…preparations.” Kirk nodded. “No, as in…” She took a breath. “As in very extreme physical…tests are used to find the body's limits.” Kirk exhaled slowly. Oh. “So…when I saw it was the hologram, it wasn’t you, Captain - “
“Jim.” She stopped.
“Call me Jim, sweetheart.” She waited a few seconds.
“Jim…I thought you’d been hurt. Bad.” She looked away shyly, cheeks going red. Jim carefully took her chin and turned her head to face him, smiling slightly at her red face.
“Hey, I’m okay,” He placed a hand flat on his chest. “You’re okay,” He lightly prodded her chest. “We’re okay.” He wrapped one hand around the back of her head. “Okay?”
“Okay.” She smiled! She actually smiled. Tugging her back to his chest, he held her for a bit longer. “The Admiral has other starbases under his control.”
“And we’ll get to them tomorrow, after you’ve had your rest,” Jim interrupted gently.
“But I’m not ti-“ The rest of her sentence was interrupted by a yawn. Jim chuckled, guiding her towards the bed and setting her down carefully on the edge.
“Get some rest. We’ll kick his ass tomorrow.” He hesitated a moment before leaning closer. “Can I kiss your forehead? Please?”
She nodded. Carefully, Jim pressed a kiss to her forehead, cupping the back of her neck. Her eyes fluttered closed and she let him stroke her cheek before straightening up. “Goodnight, sweetheart. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Keptin on ze bridge!”
“Don’t you ever get tired of doing that?” Jim sat down in the chair with a huff.
Chekov smiled. “No, sir.”
"Captain," Sulu said, "we've found a subspace carrier wave in transmission from the Enterprise. It seems to be registering as a separate frequency, with different moving sources."
Kirk frowned. "Any patterns?"
"They appear to be...connected to the Bridge Crew. Wherever we go," Sulu gestured around, "the sources seem to follow."
"Who has technology like that?" Spock said to Sulu.
"As far as we know, no one."
"Dammit," Bones swore, "emotional toxins. That's what A was talking about, how the Admiral got the holographic program to work. Emotional toxins can be controlled via an outside modulator. The injections can register as sources of radiation waves."
Spock stared. "How did you come by this information?"
"Blackburn's files. The in-depth was in one of the briefings the Admiral sent me. Apparently he forgot to take that out. The kid knows about them. If we're registering," Bones nodded to the panel, "we've all been injected."
"Then why haven't we been feeling any side effects like the kid has?" Jim frowned.
Chekhov typed on the console for a second. "Zere appeers to be a slight vareeation een ze relatiwe strength of ze sources. One of zem is much stronger zan ze others."
Spock turned to Bones. "Can the signal be rerouted by anything other than the control modulator?"
Bones shrugged. "Theoretically, I'd guess you'd be able to reroute the strength of the signal to practically eliminate the other sources, but you'd need to have some kind of connection to the modulator either psychically or through technological means, and..." He trailed off and cursed again. "Alex. Is the strongest source in her quarters?"
Chekhov looked. "Zat is correct."
"That's probably why Floyd arrested her. She probably figured out we'd all been injected. So she rerouted the signal so that we wouldn't feel anything."
"Which probably meant hers was so much worse," Jim interrupted. "And she couldn't reach any of us."
“How is she?” Spock asked. Jim shook his head.
“Better off than I would be.”
“That kid’s resilience is insane.” Bones shook his head. “And she said she’s had worse.”
“Well, by tomorrow that Admiral’s gonna wish he never laid a finger on her,” Jim growled.
“Captain, I would strongly advise against taking action against the Admiral personally. Starfleet could have you court marshaled.” Spock warned. Jim smiled grimly.
“Wouldn't be the first time they've tried.” He swiveled to look at Uhura. “You called Blackburn, right?”
“Yes sir, he's on her way to Starfleet HQ.” Uhura smiled. “He's…eager to see the Admiral again.”
“I’m sure he is.” Jim smirked. “Mr. Sulu, plot a course for Starfleet headquarters.”
“Course already laid in, sir.”