Nero’s body servant Nhia lay on the floor of his quarters, a secondhand blanket the only separation between herself and the chilly plascrete, exactly where she needed to be. Nero, sated with contraband chocolate, snored on his bunk. She slid to a sitting position and reached into her elaborate coif for a long, slender pin, hollow on the inside and filled with deadly poison. She scraped the pin against the textured surface of the floor until a sharp nib formed with a bead of thick, clear fluid at the end.
She turned her attention to Nero. There had been discussion of the wisdom of killing him, but several members of his crew had nearly the knowledge of the future that he had, and a few, technical specialists, had considerably more. The Narada was too big a prize for the Tal Shiar to risk its loss or worse, its nature becoming common knowledge. In the dim light, she sought the telltale curve of his lowest rib as his chest rose and fell. With a single, precise movement, she drove the pin up under his ribcage and into his heart, then out again just as quickly. He cried out once, loudly, then more hoarsely. The bed shook with his twitching. She rolled underneath it and lay still until he stopped moving, practiced fingers reaching over her head to slide the pin into a small crack behind a set of shelves, where the wall met the floor.
The agent slid out from under the bed and picked a thin film of golden false skin from behind her ear, placing it over the pinprick in Nero’s side. She disheveled her hair still further, tugged her brief, sheer slip off one shoulder, and dug her knuckles into her eyes until they were bruised olive and wet with tears. She screamed, the shrill sound sure to alert not only the other lover she had taken aboard the ship, but also every man sleeping in the berth nearest Nero’s quarters.
Velik reached her first, as he ought to given that he had been keeping watch all night waiting for just this moment. She buried her face in his chest. “He’s dead!” she screamed for the benefit of the gathering crowd. “He cried out, but when I looked, he wasn’t breathing and now he’d dead! What’s going to happen to me?”
“Shhhh, shhh. I’ll take care of you,” Velik said, stroking her hair. He bent to whisper in her ear. “I have dispatched the second in command. The ship is mine.”
She snuggled into his shoulder, calculating how long it would take for her to prove herself an able crewman, rise through the ranks, and remove the sentimental idiot whose sweat she inhaled. She gave it a year, perhaps two.
Spock removed his Healer’s whites for the last time; the loose bloomers, the tunic, shorter and a little more form fitting than most formal clothing, the simple white pillbox hat. Each he folded with the deftness of long practice, tucking them precisely into the small box he would present formally to his uncle—after he spoke to his parents. He replaced them with new travel clothes, the soft black fabric comforting against his skin. He wondered if his father would note their anonymity, the complete absence of the symbols of his clan.
It was a logical precaution, as was the bag already packed and resting by the door. He had taken his leave of I-Chaya this morning. The transport to Earth would not leave until tomorrow, but he could stay the night on the orbital platform with other departing passengers at need. He did not want to endure the awkwardness of delaying to change his clothes if his father responded to his announcement according to his expectations. He resisted the urge to look in the mirror, collected the box and the large, flat envelope on his dressing table, and closed the door to his room behind him. His parents and uncle waited in the small, informal dining room of their city cottage.
Sarek and Amanda waited side by side, close enough to touch under the table. His father’s face was schooled to blankness, his mother’s wary. His uncle stood near the door in his own whites. “Mother. Father,” he said, choosing to speak Federation Standard as a point of emphasis. “The Adepts at Gol have declined to complete my certification as a Healer for the third time, citing neurological differences between myself and full Vulcans that make it impossible for them to determine my mastery of all required techniques. My petition to substitute empirical testing has been denied as well. I have, as of today, terminated my apprenticeship with my Uncle Sovar and will be seeking a more appropriate venue for my skills.”
His mother stood abruptly to plant her hands on the table. “This isn’t right! You should fight this!”
Spock shook his head. “Mother, I have been presenting my case to the Adepts for over a year. My efforts have taken time away from my research and further studies. They have also consumed a considerable portion of Sovar’s valuable time. I am not content to remain his apprentice in perpetuity. Most full Vulcans I have encountered during my training have hesitated to allow me to diagnose and treat a simple infection, much less conduct the more invasive and delicate mental work for which I am best suited.”
Sarek spoke next. “Will you then be joining the Expeditionary Service with the VSA? I was told that you had been invited to do so.”
“No.” Spock replied. “I have had no intention of associating with the VSA in any capacity since I learned of the stipulation placed on you at the time Michael joined. As mother would say, they had their chance. I have been accepted at Starfleet Academy Medical, where I will pursue a medical degree in the human fashion. I look forward to the chance to—”
“You will not do this,” Sarek said. “You will reconsider the VSA’s offer, or failing that, enter the diplomatic service with me. I would take you as my own aide.”
Spock felt his lips tense for a moment. He took a fraction of a second to master himself and continued. “To reward the VSA’s insult on myself, on our clan, and on you and mother would be illogical and, I believe, dangerous. I will not enable their racism.”
“Then the diplomatic service, where you might publicly demonstrate your excellence for all to see. In addition, the opportunities for travel will provide ample chances for you to find an appropriate bondmate.”
“As will enlisting in Starfleet, Father. I did not devote eight years of my life to the study of healing to become secretary to a diplomat.”
“I have already lost one son to human emotionalism. I will not lose two.”
“And, what, precisely, is wrong with human emotionalism?” Amanda asked, turning so quickly toward Sarek that her gown swirled around her.
Sarek’s mouth snapped shut as he turned to regard Spock’s mother for a long moment. “Emotionalism is acceptable in a human. Our son is not human. As you have always understood until now.”
“Because he has to be better,” she clarified. Spock could hear the challenge in her tone. His father apparently could not, or chose not to.
“Yes, he—” Sarek stopped himself at the look on her face. “That was not my intention, my wife,” he revised.
“It is illogical that our son must be twice as proficient to be considered half as valuable as his peers.”
Spock waited to speak while his parents glared silently at one another for a beat too long. “Father. Mother. What is, is. I did not ask you to meet with me to obtain your permission, but to inform you of my future whereabouts. I will not allow myself to become a wedge between you. Live long and prosper.”
“Peace, and long life,” his mother responded. His father said nothing.
He turned to his uncle. “T’Kahr Sovar. I return these garments to you in order to signify the termination of my apprenticeship. I value the effort you put into my education, despite the result.”
Sovar bowed slightly and received the box. “You are a skilled Healer, regardless of the questionable judgment of the examiners at Gol. I release you from your apprenticeship. What you have learned will serve you and others well wherever you make your home.”
He found it more difficult to control his emotional response to his uncle’s endorsement than to his father’s rejection. The human sentiment, “Thank you, Uncle,” escaped his lips.
“One does not thank logic,” Sovar said, the barest hint of fondness in his voice.
With that, Spock collected his bag from the doorway and walked out into the deep gold sunshine, not intending to look back.
The hum and faint squeak of a type II support chair roused Leonard McCoy from the monotony of catching up with reports. “Captain Pike,” he said without turning around. “You’re welcome to visit, but there’s been no change since last time.”
“So he’s not worse,” Pike said. His voice was still softer and more breathless than it had been before the attack that nearly killed him, though there were better than even odds that he would walk again.
McCoy turned to face his former captain. “No, he’s not worse, thanks to Sulu and Uhura.” He spared a sideways glance at the biobed where Kirk lay, no longer dead, but not yet able to draw breath on his own. The ECMO machine hissed continuously, delivering oxygen to his tissues while sparing his ravaged but healing heart and lungs. “We’ll reduce the drugs in a few more days, start letting him work his way out of the coma.”
Pike eyed the pile of papers listing off the edge of McCoy’s desk. “I see you work in here. Do you sleep here too?”
McCoy shrugged. The answer was yes, but he didn’t need to confirm that to Pike. McCoy had no intention of going anywhere until Kirk woke up, not even to sleep. The fold out cot next to his desk was comfortable enough, and he’d sleep better knowing he wouldn’t miss an alarm. At least there were fewer of those now, enough so that he was finally catching up on the rest of his paperwork—not to mention the correspondence that had built up over the last few days. “Albieri and I think it may be possible to reproduce the serum in scalable form.”
“What do you mean?”
“We can grow the regenerative enzymes and shepherd cells in vitro. It will still be a while before the serum is widely available, presuming there aren’t unforeseen side effects,” again he regarded Kirk lying peacefully in his biobed, “but we may be looking at improving our treatments for radiation damage, disruptor burns, possibly even spinal cord injuries.”
“Well if Kirk pulls through, when he pulls through, sign me up as your second test subject,” Pike offered.
“You’ll be the first to know.”
Pike directed his chair to its spot beside Kirk’s bed. McCoy went back to flipping through nearly two weeks of ignored correspondence. He had worked his way forward to messages sent three days ago, two days after Kirk had died and been resurrected and roughly 15,000 citizens of San Francisco had died permanently. There was one from Jocelyn’s lawyer. What could she possibly want now? Probably found out McCoy was Earthside and wanted to demand some other unreasonable concession from him. He’d already given Jocelyn everything he had. He’d legally acknowledged himself as solely at fault for their divorce. He had given her control of all of their assets, including their home. He’d allowed her control of all of their friends, most of whom wanted nothing to do with him anyway after the way he’d behaved. He had even signed away his parental rights in trade for a promise to share a photograph a month, photographs that had at first arrived like clockwork, but had become more and more rare until now his most recent was over a year old.
He had allowed himself to be erased so completely that Joanna believed his best old ex-friend Clay Treadway was her biological father. A hollow opened in his gut as he tapped the file open. He’d almost have called it a premonition if he were a suspicious man.
Dr. Leonard McCoy:
Please contact me at your earliest convenience about an emergent matter concerning Jocelyn and Joanna Treadway.
Ms. Rhianna Bell.
What could be so urgent that a lawyer would use the term emergent? He thought about his response, stifling the urge to be catty and replying with his own brief message.
Ms. Rhianna Bell:
I am at Starfleet Medical in San Francisco. I have attached a direct link to my comm unit. Please let me know what you need so emergently.
Dr. Leonard H. McCoy.
He sent the message and returned to churning through his inbox, expecting to hear from her in a couple of hours. His comlink chirped. McCoy swallowed and picked it up. If it was Bell, this could be more serious than he’d thought. “This is McCoy,” he said.
The voice on the other end of the line spoke rapidly, breathily. “Finally! You are impossible to reach! Never mind that, this is Ms. Bell. I’m so glad I found you.” There was a short pause. “It’s about Jocelyn and Joanna.”
The flesh of his hands and feet chilled. He swallowed a knot in his throat, knowing that tone. He’d used it himself too many times in the last few days. “What’s happened?” he managed to say.
There was a pause on the other end of the link. “They were on the waterfront. In San Francisco. Joanna is--very bad. You need to be here.”
McCoy swallowed, blinked back the memory of a daughter too young to walk when last he’d seen her in person. “How bad?” He needed to know. He didn’t want to know.
“Bad enough some nurse is getting sanctioned for switching her tag and sending her to Tokyo with a dead kid’s routing number.”
He took a moment to wrap his head around that. Joanna had been classified as beyond help and was only alive because someone disagreed with that assessment and broke the rules in a career ending kind of way. He forced himself to focus on the present.
“You need a medical consult?” he forced out. There could be no other reason for them to call on him. Jocelyn had made it plenty clear Joanna wasn’t his daughter anymore.
“Jocelyn’s still unconscious. Clay. Clay’s dead, and so are Jocelyn’s parents.”
McCoy swallowed acid. Back when they all used to live in Atlanta, when his plan had been to finish his residency and take a job at Atlanta General or the CDC, he’d been as close to Clay as he was to Jocelyn. Closer in some ways. He’d always hoped that, whatever happened, they’d reconcile someday. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he managed to choke out. “He was a good man.” A better man than McCoy was. “Where are they?”
“Jocelyn’s in Sydney. Joanna’s at Tokyo Children’s.”
The chances Joanna or Jocelyn would be anywhere near McCoy or even each other was vanishingly small. The nine thousand or so injured survivors had been beamed to intensive care units all around—and above—the planet in the hours following the disaster. He breathed a slight sigh of relief on hearing Joanna was at Tokyo Children’s. They had an excellent reputation. The most likely reason Bell would need him to see Joanna forced itself into his mind at last. “Just tell me now. Is this about withdrawing life support?”
“Not yet,” Bell said.
McCoy was not reassured. “Right. What are my rights here?”
“Jocelyn kept you as a second next of kin with medical power of attorney if she, Clay, and her parents were unavailable.”
“That means I can access her records. Get my contact info to whoever’s in charge of their cases. I want to see both of their charts. I have an extremely critical case of my own I can’t leave for long, but I’ll arrange to stop by Tokyo Children’s, then Sydney later today if I can.”
“How extremely critical?” Bell asked, probably wondering why McCoy wasn’t leaping out of his chair to beam over immediately.
McCoy glanced at Pike, who still sat beside Kirk, one limp hand clasped between his own. “Critical enough I’ve been sleeping in his room.” He sighed. “It’s the lieutenant commander who damn near died of radiation poisoning while making sure that only one starship crashed into San Fran.” Damn near was a damn lie, but they weren’t making public just how dead Kirk had been. “I’ve been overseeing an experimental treatment protocol.”
“I see. I’ll have the PICU attending in Tokyo contact you.”
“Thank you, Ms. Bell.” She signed off. He sagged into his office chair.
Pike turned his chair to face McCoy. “I’ll get Dr. Albieri.”
“Thanks, Captain,” he breathed. He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees and run his shaking fingers through his hair. Shit. Shit. Shit. What were they all doing in San Francisco anyway? The absolute horrible fucking luck.
He pulled out his datapad to flip through his pictures of Joanna, to the last picture Jocelyn had begrudged him. Joanna had just turned four. She was at a splash park in downtown Atlanta in a sodden green sundress, her dark hair corralled into curly pigtails, her eyes closed, face uplifted. Her toes were bare and pink, her hands outstretched to catch glittering droplets of spray. He was going to see her again. Under any other circumstance he would have considered that fact a miracle. Today the prospect filled him with nothing but dread.