Sulu could remember a time when going over to the Captain’s quarters to have a drink meant something other than navigating one’s way through a minefield of baby toys to sit on a cereal covered couch and suck on a juice box. That was back before Spock had to leave the bridge to pump whenever his milk came in, before Dr. McCoy was the one thing tethering the galaxy’s most gifted telepath to this realm, and before Uhura stopped relaxing her hair. Good times, good times. Although, he had to say, Uhura’s new hair did look fetching.
Kirk sucked the last drops out of his juice box and placed it on the coffee table. He steepled his hands thoughtfully under his chin, and looked like he was going to say something before he caught a glimpse at his hands, which caused an almost rueful expression to cross his face. He blinked several times and began to speak. “As you may already know, several members of our crew will be departing very soon, leaving me... with no first officer. Considering how well you and I get along and your desire for command experience and Scotty’s aversion to leaving to the engine room, I’d like to offer you the job.”
“Oh, man I thought you knew. I thought you were the one who recommended me.” This was awkward. “Jim, bro, um, I’m getting the Excelsior. Our mission starts in two months...” He added quietly, “I’m taking Chekov.”
Jim sighed and forced a smile. “Congratulations on further demolishing our family.”
“Should I?” Sulu gestured toward the door behind him.
“Yeah, ya should.”
Sulu was going to pretend it was normal ship rumblings he heard as the door to the Ccaptain’s quarters closed behind him, and not the sound of a giant Lego nearly missing his head.
“The captain appears to be distressed by our impending departure,” Spock remarked, sidling up to McCoy in the corridor in the unnervingly quiet way of his. “I imagine he will be doubly so when he discovers our future colony will not be as close to Earth as you had previously estimated.”
McCoy stopped walking. “Spock, I’m sure Jim’ll be real touched to know that you started mother-henning over his emotional safety too, but don’t you try to shift the blame onto me. You were just as sure I was that Danube III was gonna be it.”
“While it is true that I estimated the likelihood of our group founding a colony on Danube III to be 86.2%, I also cautioned you not to reveal the proximity of our future planet to the Captain until it is certain we will reside there, as the Captain can be most disagreeable when disappointed. Need I remind you of the incident regarding the unmarked leftovers in the ready room refrigerator?”
“Who could forget?”
“Certainly not Ensign Keenser.”
“Say we end up on a planet in some far flung corner of the galaxy, how hard do you think Jim will take it?”
“I foresee an emotional outburst that will cause acute discomfort for at least half of the Enterprise’s senior officers.”
“How bad we talking? Tears?”
“At least one.”
Kirk was sure he was getting a bum deal out of this. “Can we renegotiate some of these?”
T’Pring glanced at her chronometer, but Sulu smiled openly. Smug bastard. “Which ones?”
“Uhhh...” He looked over his PADD. “Riley.”
T’Pring shook her head. “I will not give up Riley. I require an aide with his experience, and he desires diplomatic experience.”
“Okay.” Kirk leaned into the table. “But don’t you think it’s a little suspect to ask Kevin Riley of all people to move to a new colony? He doesn’t have the best personal history with them.”
“I gotta agree,” Sulu said. “I mean, you could be negotiating like a peace treaty or something and he could start having a Tarsus flashback and go all Rambo.”
“Fine,” T’Pring said. “The two of you may fight over Lieutenant Riley like two carrion birds circling a festering corpse.”
Before the last word was out of her mouth, the two men were shouting, “Dibs!”
“What do you need Riley for?” Kirk asked. “You’ve got Chekov.”
“I want Riley for my chief communications officer.”
“He’s better as a navigator.”
“But he wants to get into communications.”
“Well, he can’t go and change like that. You can’t just sign up for five years of navigating and friendship and leave half way through to go form a new...” Jim realized just how embarrassingly off topic he was getting. “...chain of command.” Kirk looked down at his hands. “You can have Riley, but I need Zahra.”
“Cool. Are we all done?”
Yes, they were all very nearly done.
The room quieted as T’Pring entered, noticing the food covered table. “I see you started without me.”
“The food was getting cold,” Uhura explained, pulling out the chair next to her at the crowded table. “And, besides,” Uhura teased, “you’re late.”
“The Captain seemed content to drag out the conference for as long as possible,” T’Pring said, taking her place at the head of the table, careful to brush her fingers against Nyota’s in what she called a “kiss hello.” Such a strange Human custom. “You will be interested to know that Kevin Riley will be joining Sulu on the Excelsior as chief communications officer.”
“Good for him. He’s a good kid,” McCoy said. “Guess you’ll be needing to find another aide.”
“That is, unless Nyota is willing to continue,” Spock added.
“No, thank you. I’m done playing telephone operator. I think I’m getting an infection from my earpiece.”
“Any news on the planet front?” Sybok asked.
“None that is good.”
“My parents said Old Spock might have a lead,” M’Benga said. “But coming from them that could mean any—ow!” He scowled in mock agitation at Valeris, who was grabbing his bottom lip with the impossible strength of a Klingon-Vulcan infant. “What are you doing? Give that back.”
Valeris let go and gurgled something akin to “ubba bubba.”
Spock cocked his head to the side. “I believe Valeris may have spoken her first word.”
“That wasn’t even close to being a real word,” Sybok stated.
“‘Urba bubba’ is the Ferengi word for ‘small, oblong stone.’”
“So,” McCoy laughed, “not only does your five-month-old speak, she speaks Ferengi.”
“The timeline for developmental milestones in Klingon-Vulcan hybrids has never been charted. As far as we know, Valeris could feasibly begin talking at any time.”
“But talking Ferengi? Has she ever heard Ferengi?”
Spock thought for a moment. “I believe the little animated Betazoid girl with the backpack may occasionally speak in Ferengi.”
“You really don’t know when she should start walking and talking?” Uhura asked.
“No,” M’Benga answered, putting Valeris back in her highchair. “The developmental rates for Vulcans and Klingons are completely different. Klingons grow up rather quikcly, while it takes Vulcans decades longer to mature.”
“What does that mean for...” Uhura struggled to find a euphemism that would be appropriate to use in front of two babies. “...That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named.”
M’Benga blushed. “We don’t know. It could happen anytime between eight and seventy.”
“Eight?” McCoy echoed incredulously.
“Eight is the age when Klingons enter puberty,” Spock explained. “We are considering just allowing her to kill someone.”
Sybok shifted in his seat. While he personally wasn’t uncomfortable talking about pon farr, his siblings had a way of making any conversation about it awkward. He had to admit thinking about his two nieces in Klingon and Romulan flavored pon farrs made even him uneasy. A change in topic was desperately needed. What was it they said in those Terran films? “How are the sports?”
“The sports are good,” Uhura answered slowly.
“Good. Do you play?”
“Not often. I’ve always been more of a dancer. Do you?”
“No... I surf, but I haven’t had a chance to do so in awhile. M’Benga?”
“What?” M’Benga said around a bite of food.
“Do you do the sports often?”
He swallowed. “No. I don’t know how to play many sports. When I was growing up, my parents were against most competitive activities.”
“How did you get cardiovascular exercise?” T’Pring asked.
“We’d frolic mostly.” At the confused looks that received, M’Benga continued, “A couple times a week my dad would wake us up around dawn and we’d go outside and just run about. Skip occasionally. Commune with nature. That sort of thing.”
“This was considered normal where you grew up,” Uhura said skeptically. “You weren’t teased about it at school.”
“I was unschooled, so there wasn’t anyone to tease me.”
“Jesus,” McCoy cursed. “Is this the kind of stuff you’re gonna subject your kids to?”
Spock and M’Benga shared a fraught look over the heads of their two daughters. “That is still up for debate,” Spock answered. “We do not know to which extent such Human methods of child rearing will benefit Vulcan hybrid children. For example, co-sleeping has proved beneficial in Humans by reducing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In telepathic species, it is largely redundant; the familial bond works to synchronize the breathing of parent and child. In addition, skin-to-skin contact during sleep may result in shared dreams.”
“Which, depending on the dream” M’Benga added, “could be terrifying or wildly inappropriate.”
“Or both,” Sybok said. “If your subconscious is into that kind of thing.”
Uhura jumped in her seat. “My comm’s on vibrate.” She took her comm device out of her waistband. “Uhura.” She listed for a moment then put the comm on the table. “That was Old Spock. The Diogenes system is out.”
A chorus of “what's” and “why's” was heard round the table.
“The Klingons have mining rights there.”
“Damn,” McCoy grumbled. “In this galaxy, there's a mathematical probability of three million earth-type planets... and in all the universe, three million million, galaxies like this one. And in all of that, and perhaps more, we can’t find one lousy planet to squat on.”
“Captain, we’re being hailed by an unidentified vessel.”
God, he was gonna miss the way she said. She always seemed so shocked that she was receiving messages. “Put them on.”
A familiar, if wrinkled, Vulcan face appeared on the view screen. “Jim.”
“Hey! To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“My vessel was in the neighborhood, as you might say, and I need to confer to with several members of your crew. Additionally, my companions greatly desire to meet their grandchildren. May we beam aboard?”
“Sure, we’re gonna be starsitting here for a while.” When the view screen flickered back to the stars, Kirk swiveled his chair to face Uhura. “Call up you and Mr. Spock’s replacements. I--”
“Keptin, I vould be happy to stand in for Mr. Spock.”
“Fine. Call up you and Mr. Chekov’s replacements. I imagine this is about you.”
“Are you sure they don’t need you at the meeting?” M’Benga’s father asked, following Geoff and Spock into the ship’s day care center.
“Yeah. McCoy can tell me all about it later. And one Spock’s already there.” He greeted the early childhood researcher, who led them to the playpen where Saavik and Valeris were lying. “Hey, baby,” Geoff cooed to Saavik as he lifted her out of her pen and placed her into his father’s arms. “This is Saavik.”
Spock did the same, hesitantly passing Valeris to Geoff’s mother, Eva. “She is called Valeris.”
M’Benga’s parents began chattering at their grandchildren in Spanish peppered with terms Spock assumed had originated from the obscure Earth dialect the Captain was so fond of using with his offspring.
“When we get to the new planet, I’m going to spoil you rotten,” Eva sing-song’d. “Oh, yes I will.”
“You will be joining us on the new colony?” Spock asked.
“Of course,” Eva answered. “Our Spock—” Geoff visibly flinched at the use of the possessive “—is excited to live amongst Vulcans again. We couldn’t deny him that.”
“And,” Apple Pie Motorbike—or whatever stage name Geoffrey’s father was using this week—said in a voice apparently designed to appeal to infantile ears, “we couldn’t let these two sweethearts grow up without sus tres abuelos.”
If Spock were fully Human, he could fool himself into believing that Apple Pie had merely miscalculated or misspoke, but, as things stood, Spock could not deny that Geoffrey’s parents believed their son-in-law’s older (alcoholic) counterpart from a different timeline should have full privileges as grandfather. Spock’s mother had a word for times this: egads.
“To borrow a popular Terran framing device,” the elder Spock said, addressing McCoy, Sybok, T’Pring, and Uhura in a small conference room, “I have both good and bad news. In the interest of positivity, I will relay the good news first. My companions and I have located a planet that meets all of T’Pring’s qualifications. It has a diverse ecosystem that can support a wide variety of sentient life. It is entirely devoid of fauna, including any beings that could place a claim on the planet. It has bountiful natural resources, but none that would draw the interest of any of the major powers. The planet is lit and heated by bioluminescent plants that naturally dim during the evening hours. The planet is in a defensively powerful position in the galaxy. None of the—”
“We get it,” McCoy interrupted. “It’s perfect. Now tell us what’s wrong with it.”
“The only negative aspect of the planet is your past experience with it,” Spock said, bringing up a photo of the planet on the bulkhead.
“You’re fucking with me, right?” Sybok asked, his voice rising about an octave.
“I am not.”
“How could you even consider—”
“We have run out of options.”
“That planet tried to kill me!” Sybok stood up from his chair, knocking it over. “And going off of what I’m getting from you right now, it did kill me!”
“From what T’Pring has told me, it was not the planet itself that attempted to kill you; it was the energy creature trapped—”
“You knew?” Sybok howled at T’Pring. “How could you even let him entertain—”
“Sybok,” T’Pring said sternly. “Sit.” Sybok pouted for a moment before righting his chair and settling down into it. “Good. As Elder Spock as has stated, we have run out of options. And while you may have the time to wait for another planet to be located, the T’Pelih do not. I would not subject you to this planet again if it were not our last resort.”
“I know your people are suffering, but this planet ain’t normal,” McCoy said. “Last time we were there, there was no life on that rock. No flora, no fauna. Hell, there wasn’t even water. Now, you’re saying it’s some ecological paradise. If this is some normal planet, how the devil did that happen?”
“I do not yet know for certain,” Spock answered, “but my best conjecture is that the energy creature residing in the planet’s core devoured all of its nutrients. Since the creature died, the planet has been allowed to flourish.”
“Flourish is one thing. Become the perfect planet is another. This rock has everything we need down to the letter. I don’t believe in coincidences that big.”
“Are you suggesting that the planet is conspiring against us?”
“I’m suggesting, you insufferable pointy-eared toad, that whatever we thought we killed there might be trying to lure us back for a little revenge. Or it might try to steal our vessel and go apeshit on half the galaxy.”
“That is why we will take all the necessary precautions when we further investigate the planet. I have assembled a highly skilled team including one of the Federation’s up-and-coming molecular biologists, a Klingon expert in exogeology, Dr. Christine Chapel, and an incredibly gifted telepath.”
“Poor sucker,” Sybok muttered. At Old Spock’s raised eyebrow, he said, “I’m that poor sucker, aren’t I?”
“I’m always that poor sucker.”
“No,” McCoy said furiously. “That’s not happening. Last time he got close to that thing, it damn near liquefied his brain. You can send somebody else. Hell, you’re a telepath, you could do it your damn self.”
“I know you,” Uhura said to McCoy, “and you’re not going to trust the judgment of any other telepath but Sybok. If we send Spock or T’Pring or Elder Spock, and they come back with good results, you’ll say it doesn’t mean anything because they’re not as sensitive as Sybok.”
“She has a point,” Sybok conceded. “I would still be apprehensive to move there even with Spock or T’Pring’s go ahead.”
“Fine, but if you’re going, I’m going.”
“No.” Sybok shook his head. “If that thing attacks me again, I need you far enough away so that the pain can’t bleed through our bond.”
“I’m not letting you go alone. Even if that energy creature is dead, knowing you, you’ll probably fall in a hole down there.”
“He will not be alone,” Spock said. “I will be there, along with three others.”
“But besides you, none of them have field experience in dealing with angry energy gods.”
“I’ll go,” Uhura offered. “I’ll make sure he’s all right.”
“When do we leave?” Sybok asked.
“As soon as possible,” Spock responded. “My team is waiting on a planet just outside the Great Barrier.”
After hearing the stories Geoff told, Uhura was a little wary when she found out his parents would be piloting the transport vessel to the Great Barrier. “Do you have much experience flying?” Uhura asked, strapping herself into her seat. As soon as they beamed aboard, Sybok had locked himself in the bathroom either to throw up or hot box—Uhura wasn’t sure which.
“Oh, yes,” Eva said, turning away from her console. “When Geoffrey was a baby, we worked as curators at the Nairobi National Museum. We would fly all over the Federation picking up work and soliciting exhibitions.”
“That was, of course,” Geoff’s dad (Uhura, great lover of the arts she was, still refused to call him Apple Pie) added, “before we grew disillusioned with the artistic industrial complex and started the commune.”
“I should warn you,” Elder Spock said, sitting down next to Uhura. “This vessel has been modified according to the energy creature’s specifications. We will be traveling much faster than you are used to.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“I have no doubt. However, the counselor—”
“Eva,” M’Benga’s dad said. “Sensors are picking up smoke in the commode.”
Uhura rolled her eyes. “He’ll be okay.”
Eva turned around. “Tell Counselor Sybok next time no pre-flight ritual if he doesn’t have enough to share with the rest of the crew.”
“Plotting a course to the Great Barrier. Heading 000-mark-0 at maximum speed.”
If Uhura hadn’t spent the past decade saving Earth, traveling through time, and defying the laws of physics, she surely would have puked all over Old Spock. Which, considering what she knew about his relationship with his timeline’s T’Pring, wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing. In fact, it could be quite amusing.
It wasn’t that she hated Elder Spock. She didn’t think she could hate any Spock, except for the one with the goatee. Uhura merely had high expectations for what an older, wiser Spock should be. Mainly, older and wiser. Despite the name, Old Spock seemed almost adolescent. Going off of what she’d heard from Kirk and Sybok, the old man achingly desired to go flying around the galaxy having adventures with his two best bros. And from what Elder Spock revealed about his timeline, everyone there seemed content to stay in deep-space commitment-free until they got a bridge dropped on them. (Uhura wasn’t quite sure what the significance of the bridge was, but Elder Spock was always issuing dire warnings to Kirk about them.) None of them sounded like they were married or had children, which was strange because half of the people she knew on the Enterprise were married with kids, or at least a dog. What had happened that made the people in this timeline much more willing to settle down? The Kelvin’s destruction? The loss of Vulcan? The whales?
The vessel fell out of warp and Uhura’s stomach settled back into its proper place. Sybok stumbled out of the latrine, smoke unfurling after him. Uhura wrinkled her nose. “You smell like a pet store.”
“But I feel like awesome.”
“Nudibranch to Chapel. Chapel come in,” M’Benga’s dad spoke into his comm.
“Is ‘Nudibranch’ his name or the ship’s?” Sybok whispered to Uhura.
“The ship’s,” she chuckled.
“Prepare for beam up.”
Uhura could hear the telltale sound of the transporter, and a few moments later they were joined by Elder Spock’s team of experts: a Klingon male, a familiar looking blonde Human, and a very pregnant Christine Chapel.
“Oh my god,” Sybok said, pointing at Christine’s belly. “Is that a person in there?”
“No, I’m just retaining water in anticipation of a long journey,” Chapel responded dryly.
“It’s good to see you.” Uhura gave Chapel a one-armed hug.
“You too.” She smiled.
“Lieutenant Uhura, Counselor Sybok,” Elder Spock said, gesturing toward the Klingon “this is Dr. Maltz. He will be assessing the geological structures of the planet. And this,” he looked at the blonde Human, “is Dr. Carol Marcus. She will attend to the organic lifeforms on the planets. And, you, of course, know Dr. Christine Chapel.” He turned back at his team. “Lieutenant Nyota Uhura has years of field experience in the exploration of strange planets. Counselor Sybok is a very talented telepath.”
“Have we met?” Uhura asked Carol.
“I think we might have hung out after one of my brother’s shows. Did you go to the University of Ghana?”
“Yeah. You’re Daniel’s sister.”
“Not by choice.”
“Hey, Sybok.” Uhura pulled on his sleeve. “This is Cupcake’s sister.”
“What a crazy, random happenstance,” Sybok said, glaring at Elder Spock.
Sybok cornered Old Spock in the transporter room while the ship was taken through the Great Barrier to the planet’s orbit. “Hey.” He grabbed Spock’s arm. “What are you doing?”
“Many things. Could you be more specific?”
“Why is Carol Marcus helping us?”
“Out of an interest in abnormal molecular biology, I suppose.”
“You are just like him except him ten times more glib and annoying.”
“I am told some things improve with age.”
“God, you’re... Just tell me why you chose Carol. Does it have to do with David and protomatter?”
“Are you reading my thoughts?”
“No, if I was reading your thoughts, I wouldn’t be asking you questions.”
“Then how do you know about David Marcus’ connection to protomatter?”
“He told me.”
“He is an infant.”
“No, your David told me. When I was quasi-dead, I met him—or I think it was him—and he told me to warn this timeline’s David about protomatter.”
“And have you?”
“I gave Kirk and Cupcake a set of microtapes to play when he’s sleeping. To make him smarter. Underneath all the classical music is me saying, ‘Protomatter is stupid. Protomatter is highly overrated.’”
Elder Spock grinned. “That is an ingenuous plan, but you could have simply told his parents to caution him.”
“I thought about that, but I was a kid once, and if Sarek told me not to do something, I would do it just to piss him off.”
“A wise decision. It is not difficult for me to imagine my David Marcus employing protomatter to spite his mother. I am also taking measures to ensure this David does not meet such a terrible fate. Carol Marcus’ life work indirectly caused that David’s death and the deaths of many others. By recruiting Dr. Marcus for this project, I am hoping to steer her career in a direction where she is less likely to create a device capable of near instantaneous genocide.”
“What about the others? Maltz and Chapel?”
“Mere coincidences. Dr. Chapel volunteered, and Maltz was my neighbor on Ferenginar.”
“It’s a small world after all.” Sybok looked Elder Spock up and down. “You’re not...” He mimed drinking from a bottle and breaking off and eating a piece of chocolate.
Sybok slapped him on the shoulder. “Then, as long you’re not killing anyone, I guess I don’t have any major objections to you playing god with the time stream.”
“Is this really necessary?” Sybok asked, standing alone on the transporter pad.
“You said it yourself. You would have to fully open your telepathic sense to determine whether or not there was a malevolent presence on the planet,” Uhura answered. “And if we were with you when you did that, you would be able to completely read our minds. None of us want that.”
“But I’m scared.”
“Are you a man or not?” Maltz scoffed.
“I am, but in my culture that means being quietly fearful and listening to whatever women say.”
“So, listen to what I’m saying,” Carol demanded, running out of patience. “Go down there, do your voodoo, and comm us with the results.”
“I do not do voodoo,” Sybok grumbled as the transporter beam disintegrated him. When he was all back in one piece on the planet’s surface, he could feel... nothing. Nothing but the ground beneath his feet and the warmth emanating from nearby foliage. Cool. No evil energy creature masquerading as a deity so far. Now for the hard part. Sybok hadn’t ever gone completely unshielded before. Even as an infant, he had the shielding provided by the bond with his father. There had always been some mental or physical barrier preventing him from seeing how far a net his telepathy cast. It would be interesting, and ego-boosting, to know how powerful he was. Geronimo!
Waking up with his face buried in the sand who knows how much later, Sybok realized that, yes, he was very powerful, but also that power was stupid.
“Nudibranch to Sybok. Sybok come in.”
Sybok lifted his face out the sand, and dug his comm out of his pocket. “Sybok—” He spit out a mouthful of sand. “Sybok here.”
“What happened?” Elder Spock asked. “Twenty-four minutes have passed since you beamed down.”
“I saw the universe,” Sybok said feebly. “Or a part of it.” He crawled into a sitting position. “The planet’s clean. There’s nothing down here but me.”
“Are you certain?”
“Is it possible you missed—”
“You once forced a mind meld on Valeris.”
Spock was quiet for a moment. “I see. We will beam down shortly.”
“This place isn’t too bad,” Uhura said, watching as Sybok flushed the sand out of his mouth with a bottle of water she brought. “Besides the sand.”
“I like the sand. I just don’t like it when it’s in my mouth.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to go back up to the Nudibranch? The others won’t be done for hours.”
“No. I’m feeling rather claustrophobic right now. You can go if you want.”
“No, I don’t feel like braving M’Benga’s parents alone. Yesterday, his dad asked me to donate urine for his next project.”
Sybok reclined on the sand, staring up at the blue miasma that swirled around the planet. “What do you think that stuff is?”
“Xenon ions in the upper atmosphere. Maybe some argon ions.”
“It’s pretty... Did you say something?”
“I could have sworn...” Sybok held up his index finger. “You don’t hear that?”
Sybok stuck his ear to the ground. “It sounds like there’s a clone of you buried under the sand.” He started to dig. “It’s getting louder. It’s definitely getting louder.”
“Wait, I can hear it.” Uhura dropped to her knees and began digging alongside Sybok.
“I hit something!” Sybok dusted off a piece of metal embedded in the sand. “Listen.”
“—S Enterprise. This is your last chance to surrender. I repeat: your last chance to surrender...” emanated from a speaker on the upside of the metal object.
“That’s the Last Chance Protocol recording.”
“The what?” Sybok asked.
“It’s Starfleet regulation for planetary attacks to be preceded by one last chance for surrender. Usually this is done through subspace communication to a head of state, but in cases where there is no possible formal line of communication, the drone itself issues it. This has to be T’Pring’s drone—the one we sent down to kill the energy creature.”
Sybok slithered away from her, making an inVulcan yipping sound.
“The drone crashed onto the creature’s energy source!”
“Which disabled it, so there’s nothing to be skittish about.”
“Me? Not skittish. Cautious.”
“Stop being such a tribble. I need your help digging this out.”
“Why? Why can’t it just rest there for all eternity?”
Uhura rolled her eyes. “We need to bring it back to the Enterprise for analysis. Who knows what it could tell us about this planet? So, c’mon and help me. You’ll be fine.”
“Yeah,” Sybok said, slowly crawling back to the drone. “Famous last—”
He was cut off by what he could only describe as a giant fucking robot arm erupting from the sand and dragging Uhura and the drone beneath the earth.
Driven purely by instinct and his own lack of self-preservation, Sybok dived toward the hole left in the robot’s wake, readying to fight for Uhura’s life or (more likely) die alongside her—two goals he would not realize that day, for sand is tricky. Millions of teeny tiny particles working in concert to fulfill gravity’s sacred duty to go down. Yea, the hole was quickly filled in, leaving Sybok with no recourse except (a) digging another hole by hand or (b) calling for help. Having the dubious honor of being the least intelligent member of his clan and still being a little baked, Sybok opted for plan a. After five minutes of back breaking work, the shock wore off and Sybok’s senses returned to him. How foolish of him to think he could dig such a hole by hand; as a powerful telepath, he could manipulate the psionic field to move objects on the physical plane. He could simply blast away with his mind the layers of the planet until he found Uhura.
Fortunately for everyone on the planet, Old Spock comm’d him before he could do any real damage. “Elder Spock to Sybok.”
“Oh, god. Spock.”
“Is Lieutenant Uhura with you? Her comm is malfun—”
“No, no! She... fell in a hole. No, no. She was kidnapped by a robot!”
“Did you ingest any of the native fungi?”
“I need your help! Or a sand badger.”
“I know what I saw,” Sybok said, rocking back and forth with his knees clutched to his chest. “I know what I saw. I know what I...”
Christine blocked him out. “While he’s not technically sober, there’s no trace of hallucinogens in his system,” she reported to Spock. “I’d say he’s in shock.”
“Thank you.” Spock went back to Carol and Maltz, who were scanning the area for any signs of Uhura or movement underground.
Sybok kept rocking. “I know what I saw. I know—”
Christine placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I believe you.”
Sybok reached up and placed his hand on her belly. Christine wasn’t surprised when the baby began kicking like there was no tomorrow. He removed his hand, and she stopped. “Girl,” Sybok smiled. “They kick the hardest.”
“You’re telling me.” With some difficulty, Christine managed to sit down next to Sybok. “I ate one cheeseburger. She punished me for hours. And, of course, I couldn’t ask Sarek to calm her down because then he’d know I’d eaten meat and he’d go off on a twenty minute lecture on the Vulcan way and spend the rest of the night pouting in the corner.”
Sybok smiled at the thought. “I ate meat once.”
“Really, Mr. Hippie-Free Love-Peace Man?”
“It was right after I was booted from Vulcan. I was mad and willing to do anything I thought would piss off Surak. I spent the next twelve hours puking, shitting, and crying.”
“What did you eat?”
“Oooh, after I drop this, I am going to eat all the bacon.”
“When are you due?”
“You volunteered for a landing party eight months pregnant?”
“Please spare me your thoughts on my recklessness. I get enough of that from your father.”
“I don’t think it’s reckless; it’s pretty bad ass.”
“I’m one bad ass mama, running away from trouble.”
“What do you mean? Are you and Sarek—”
“We’re fine. We’re happy. We’re having a baby. It would be perfect if it weren’t for the rocks getting thrown through our windows every night like clockwork. Good old Vulcan consistency,” she said bitterly.
“Is the Council doing anything about it?”
“Beyond encouraging it, no.”
“How can they get away with that? T’Pau would have their ridges, if she was still alive.”
“But she’s not. Ding dong, the matriarchy’s dead. Long live the—” Chapel was interrupted by a booming pneumatic sound behind them. “What the hell is that?”
The robotic arm emerged once again from beneath the sands, carrying an unconscious Uhura. It deposited her almost tenderly on the ground before snaking its way back underground.
“Jesus! Help me up,” Chapel said. Sybok got her to her feet, and they rushed to Uhura’s side. Chapel whipped out her medical tricorder.
“Is she alive?”
“Yes, but her bioreadings are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”
“I hate it when you people say that!”
“Here.” She tossed Sybok a hypospray. “Inject her with that. It should help her regain consciousness.”
“I don’t know how to do that. Why don’t you do it?”
“By the time I get down there, she’ll be needing a gerontologist. Just put it to her neck and press the button.”
Sybok did just that, and, true to Chapel’s word, Uhura did wake up. Unfortunately, and foreseen by no one, she also grabbed Sybok by the throat and threw him farther than the strongest Human ever could. Feeling for her phaser, Chapel was armed and ready to put down the new, evil Uhura before Nyota sat up, saw how far Sybok had gone, and yelled, “Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” Uhura scrambled to her feet and ran to Sybok, who was lying on the ground in a daze. “Are you okay? Did I break anything? I didn’t know it was you. I’m so sorry.”
“What?” Sybok rasped.
Maltz did not know why the Humans had not shot her as soon she reappeared. Then he shot her and the stun blast ricocheted off her arm into a million directions and perhaps it would be best to talk this out.
“I am not your enemy,” Uhura growled.
“What have you done with Lieutenant Uhura?” Elder Spock asked.
“I am Lieutenant Uhura.”
“She’s telling the truth,” Sybok said, limping over to Spock. “I could feel her when she touched me.”
Maltz lowered his phaser. “What granted you such strength?”
“I don’t know. I was unconscious during whatever happened down there.”
Chapel was still waving her tricorder around. “Going off of my years of medical experience and a childhood spent reading too much science fiction, I’d say you’ve been converted into a cyborg.”
Maltz saw a look of pure fear cross Elder Spock’s face, like he was seeing his own murder. “Can you remove the cybernetic implants?” Elder Spock asked.
“No, not without killing her. Her nervous system has completely adapted to control the cybernetic implants. If we remove them, she would go into organ failure.”
“I am sorry, Lieutenant.” Elder Spock turned to the other Vulcan. “You were right; we should not have come here. I have placed us all in grave danger.” Spock took out his phaser, turning it to kill and pointing it at Uhura. “I am so sorry.” He closed his eyes and...
Some unseen force knocked the phaser from the old man’s hand. The Vulcan—the weird one who smelled like mint—charged at Spock. “What the hell was that?”
“A failed attempt at mercy.”
“What is wrong with you?”
“Lieutenant Uhura is as good as dead. Would you leave her to be dissected by the Federation and used as a weapon to kill millions? In my universe, a century from now the galaxy was not prepared for cyborg technology. Entire species were scattered in the wind or granted a fate worse than death. And before we knew of that horror, trials were held to determine whether cybernetic beings were sentient or merely supplies to be picked apart to craft an army of slaves. If she is found, not only will she die, but whole planets will go with her.”
“So we hide her!”
“Have you forgotten her commitment to Starfleet? She cannot abandon her post without an official inquest.”
“Oh, look, everyone,” Chapel deadpanned. “Uhura has a multiphasic prion infection. I better keep her under strict quarantine.”
“See?” Sybok said. “Problem solved.”
“Where you will hide—”
“Guys, you really don’t have to worry about me,” Uhura said, strangely calm.
“Nyota,” Sybok said, “you’re my family. I’ll do whatever—”
“You really, really don’t have to worry about me.”
And, then, out of nowhere, a tree.
Uhura felt good. Probably much better than she should have felt just having heard that her very existence put the entire galaxy in peril, but good nonetheless. The sudden terror of having an unstable Vulcan point a phaser at you made certain things click. It was akin to language immersion programs. Nothing made your brain more willing to learn the lingua franca than the danger of being lost in a strange city where no one spoke Standard. It didn’t matter how long she had studied, if Nyota needed to find her way home or go to the bathroom, she could recall the right words.
That was her superpower. One of them anyway.
“You just,” Sybok stammered, “a tree!”
“What the actual fuck?” Carol yelled.
“Don’t be too impressed,” Uhura said, smiling.
“How?” Maltz asked.
“A tree!” Sybok yelled.
“I believe Lieutenant Uhura is now capable of controlling the physical features of the planet,” Elder Spock explained.
“Got it in one.”
“And, I conjecture that prior to the destruction of the energy creature’s power source, it played Uhura’s role. However, as an incorporeal prisoner, it had very little interest in growing life. After the energy creature dissipated, the planet’s computer latched onto the nearest sign of sentient life—the recording of Uhura’s voice played by the drone. The planet scanned through subspace for future instruction from its new master and heard Uhura transmit the specifications for our future planet. Once the lieutenant arrived on the planet, the computer matched her voice to the recordings and took her to the planet’s core to outfit her with a neural link that would allow her to make adjustments to the planet directly.”
“That sounds about right.”
“So, according to you,” Carol started, “this planet has been stalking Uhura for several years, and when it meets her, it kidnaps her, knocks her unconscious, and inserts things into her body.”
Carol turned and addressed the others. “Am I the only one who finds this explanation completely ridiculous?”
“Just because something’s ridiculous doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” Uhura responded.
“This is hardly the strangest thing that has happened in deep-space,” Chapel said. “I got drunk on water once.”
“Yeah,” Sybok said, “I’ve been to the afterlife.”
“And I have risen from the dead,” Elder Spock said.
“Maltz,” Carol said, “you’re a geologist. Tell them this is impossible.”
“Theoretically, it’s entirely possible. If the planet is a powerful computer with enough energy in its core, it could replicate a surface that mimics that of a normal planet. Everything on this planet—the rocks, the trees, the water—has been created from the computer’s energy and transported to the surface in a way that mimics natural growth. Even weather phenomena could be manipulated through a sophisticated, large scale climate control center.”
“That would take a ridiculous amount of energy,” Carol scoffed. “Who would design a computer planet with enough energy to obey the whims of a Humanoid controller? Call me a cynic, but I don’t think there’s scads of altruistic god-like aliens looking out for us. Humans don’t do nice things for Humans without expecting something in return. Why would anyone else?”
“What if the energy creature wasn’t controlling the planet before?” Chapel asked. “Maybe Spock was wrong.”
“I love hearing those words,” Sybok said.
“That’s why you’re married to McCoy,” Uhura replied.
Chapel continued, “We know that the planet was used as a prison for the energy creature. But what if it wasn’t an energy creature?”
“It’s always an energy creature,” Sybok said.
“It died when the drone destroyed its power source,” Uhura said.
“You assumed it was its power source; we never found out exactly how it worked,” Chapel said.
“There is no compelling evidence to suggest it was not the creature’s power source,” Elder Spock remarked.
“Okay,” Chapel said to Elder Spock. “According to your theory, the prisoner held Uhura’s power; it could use the planet’s replicator to create the environment and anything else it wanted.”
“Yes,” Elder Spock said. “That is true.”
“Then why did it need the Enterprise? Couldn’t it replicate its own starship?”
Elder Spock looked like he sucked on a lemon. “Your logic is sound, but we do not know if the planet is capable of producing synthetic materials, like those used in a starship.”
Uhura held up her hand, closing her eyes. After roughly a minute, she opened her eyes and dug something out of the sand. “Transparent aluminum,” she said, holding up a sheet of see though material. “Give me a few years in solitary confinement, and I could make a starship.”
“That still does not explain why the prisoner wasn’t an energy creature,” Maltz said. “Or how that relates to the amount of energy required by the planet.”
“Okay.” Chapel started pacing. “This planet was created to be a prison for a very dangerous, mindreading creature with delusions of godhood. Let’s assume that this creature did have godlike powers.”
“It felt like he believed he was a god,” Sybok added.
“Right. And he had an affinity for Christianity. Carol, your family is Catholic, what does God look like?”
“I was never into church,” Carol said, “but in most of the iconography, the Holy Trinity is shown as an old man, a young man, and a dove.”
“God can take several forms.”
“And the creature identified with Him because what?” Sybok asked. “It was a shapeshifter or something?”
“Exactly. The prisoner could transform into any form of life it wanted, including one that would allow him to escape. What you thought was a power source was really a containment field that kept the creature in a weaker form that couldn’t escape without a physical vessel.”
“Like a starship,” Uhura said.
“But why did it die when the containment field was destroyed?” Sybok asked.
“It is possible the aliens who imprisoned the creature here created a failsafe,” said Elder Spock. “If the creature tampered with or destroyed the containment field, it would destroy him.”
“Uhura is not replacing the creature; she’s replacing the containment field,” Maltz said.
Sybok raised his hand. “You lost me there.”
“In scans conducted by the Enterprise, the machinery for the containment was the only electronic equipment on the planet’s surface,” Maltz explained. “From what we have seen today, the only other electronic items are belowground: the arm that grabbed Uhura, the machinery necessary to turn her into a cyborg, the replicator. All underground. This leads me to believe the containment field was a temporary feature, installed by the alien creatures to tell the planet what form to take and to funnel energy into containing the prisoner.”
“That’s where all the energy comes from,” Chapel added. “The designers equipped the planet with enough energy to imprison a god.”
“Correct,” Maltz said. “Now all of that energy is available to replicate physical features that make this a desirable planet.”
“How is Uhura replacing the containment field?” Sybok asked. “She’s not containing anything.”
“I thought Vulcans were intelligent,” Carol sighed.
“Fuck you! I can move things with my mind!”
“Are you familiar with basic computer programming?” Elder Spock asked.
“Yes, I did pass the third form.”
“The planet itself is hardware. Lieutenant Uhura and the containment field are software. They determine how the planet will operate. When the drone crashed into it, the containment field was uninstalled. Upon hearing Lieutenant Uhura’s voice on the drone, the planet began to install her. It continued by listening to her subspace communications and modifying the planet to fit her descriptions. Once she arrived and it recognized her, Lieutenant Uhura was taken underground where the installation process was completed.
“Ooh! Ooh!” Sybok started to jump up and down. “And she had to be modified because the hardware wasn’t equipped to run organic matter, and the psionic overflow would rupture her organs and eventually turn her bones and muscles into gelatin.” Sybok was very proud of himself, but Uhura was horrified.
“Gelatin?” She looked at Chapel, panicked. “Gelatin?”
Chapel ran her tricorder over Uhura again. “No gelatin. Your bones and muscles have been replaced with cybernetic implants. Your organs are hardwired to the neural implant. That’s keeping them from liquefying.” Chapel smiled. “You’ve got nothing to worry about. From my readings, it looks like these implants will prolong your life by at least fifty years. The only problem is you’ll appear to age slower because your epidermis and connective tissue is hyper-resilient. People might wonder why you look forty when you turn eighty.”
“I will shoulder that burden with honor,” Uhura said, elbowing Maltz in his side.
Their bon voyage party was a somber affair. McCoy knew a few tears were bound to be shed, but he couldn’t help but think that everyone would have more fun if Uhura was there. That was too bad about that multiphasic prion infection. But, hell, maybe if he had been treating her, she would have been better by the then. (What the hell was Christine doing stealing his patients, anyway? Wasn’t she busy enough with that new baby of hers?) T’Pring seemed to coping with Uhura’s illness rather well. She’d been a wreck at first, but after visiting her on the new planet, she looked a lot better. Maybe Uhura was doing well; Sybok was quick to tell anyone who would listen that she was going to be okay. Still, the rest of them were worried, putting a damper on the party.
At least the beer was good, even if Jim seemed to be drinking all of it.
“I’m going to miss you so much, Bones,” Jim said, wrapping him in another awkward hug. (The first five weren’t awkward. The following twelve were.)
“I’m gonna go order another round,” McCoy said, peeling Jim off of him.
McCoy snaked his way through the crowded dive to the bar. “Another round,” he said to the barmaid.
She smiled. “You’re the most important person in the galaxy,” she said in a raspy voice.
“Thanks.” The woman was attractive enough. For someone with no eyebrows. “But I’m married.”
She laughed. “Don’t flatter yourself. Here.” She put two pitchers of beer on the bar. “It’s on the house.”
The next morning, in addition to a killer headache and a bad case of dry mouth, McCoy found he’d acquired some time the night before a single playing card—an ace of spades with, “Tell her Guinan sent you,” written in smudged ink—and no idea how he’d gotten it.
See, this is why he didn’t like to get drunk with Jim.