"What is the central assumption of quantum cosmology?"
"Everything that can happen does happen in equal and parallel universes."
-Young Spock answering computer, Star Trek movie novelization
Part I: All Aboard
"Captain, we're being hailed by Admiral Pike."
"Put him on screen," Jim said. Admiral Pike filled the viewer, just as robust as Jim remembered from their last communication a year ago. It was a shame they didn't talk more, and he swore to himself that they would get together for a long-overdue drink one of these days.
"Captain, it's good to see you."
"I have a potentially urgent matter to discuss with you. A team of researchers at the Vulcan Science Academy have discovered a strange anomaly centered around an unknown planet in the Beta Quadrant."
"We've lost contact with two ships in the vicinity of this planet thus far. What's more, the Vulcan research team has detected an ion storm that's been growing progressively." Jim heard 'ion storm' and was immediately intrigued. Lightning storms in space seemed to follow him like the proverbial rain cloud, pun intended. "They've also hinted that they have information from an unnamed source that there's a sort of time porthole on this planet."
Jim raised an eyebrow in surprise. "'An unnamed source?' That doesn't sound very Vulcan."
"The Vulcans themselves aren't sure who sent the information, but they believe it's a valid explanation for the strange activity. Just before the last ship disappeared from contact, there was a garbled message in which we believe the captain mentioned something about 'ripples in time.'"
"And your reason for contacting the Enterprise, Admiral?" Jim asked.
"The phenomenon seems to be at an early stage and we were given a choice of who to send. Naturally, your name was one of the first to come up. It's entirely your choice if you want to accept or not."
"I'll meet with my commanding officers and then contact you shortly with a decision."
Pike nodded and ended the transmission. Jim pressed the ship-wide intercom button.
"This is the captain. I need Commander Stiles, Dr. McCoy, and Commander Scott to report to the briefing room for a short conference. Send Ensign Roberts to take the helm. Kirk out." He turned off the intercom and said, "Chekov, you have the conn. Sulu, wait for your relief then report to the meeting."
Jim left the captain's chair and entered the turbolift. As soon as the doors closed, he placed a hand on the back of his neck, massaging the dull ache that had been bothering him all day. He should take a couple of days of shore leave along with the rest of the crew when the time came, but there was just so much work to do that he wouldn't dream of leaving it in the hands of his subordinates. He was the youngest captain in Starfleet's history, and there was little time for rest when he was busy showing everyone that he deserved the title. It was days like this that he pined for the early years when he'd served as first officer under Captain Pike aboard the USS Farragut. The two of them had made a great team, equally sharing the workload and relying on the other. It made him deeply nostalgic.
Jim's current first officer was the third first officer on the Enterprise since he'd made captain. This was another record for Jim Kirk, though a much less distinguished one. His initial first officer had been killed exactly one month into service on an uncharted planet–slain by a deadly fungus, of all things. He'd chosen his next one based on the idea that a commander skilled in science might be a better choice, given that their five-year mission emphasized exploring strange new worlds. She'd lasted longer, but resigned for personal reasons. "Personal" being that she'd always secretly resented the fact that Jim rarely took her on away missions and had claimed it was because he was sexist. It had been a ridiculous assertion; everyone knew that Starfleet recommended that either the first officer or the captain should stay aboard while the other was away on an uncharted world. He wouldn't have minded taking her more or letting her lead missions herself if she'd done more than get herself kidnapped every time she'd been included in the landing party.
His new first officer, Stiles, was forthright, intelligent, and managed to actually help his captain on away missions rather than compromising them. Yet despite his obvious merits, Jim didn't get along with Stiles personally. He was boring, always going on and on about history–not in an interesting or insightful way, but condescendingly, as if he knew everything there was to know and could provide the best insight into any event that had ever occurred. Furthermore, he was prejudiced. He had once pissed Jim off to the point of having to dress him down right on the bridge for remarking that Ambassador Sarek might as well be a Romulan, since he chose to engage in peace talks with them. It wasn't the Romulans' fault that one of them from the future decided to try and take revenge for something that had yet to happen, and it certainly wasn't their fault that Stiles was fixated on hating them for a war involving his ancestors more than a hundred years ago. There was no room for bigotry on Jim's ship, especially when it didn't even pertain to the present.
When Jim arrived, everyone but Sulu was assembled already, and Jim was pleased. It was a point of pride that his crew was ready before he was; a fine-oiled machine, respectful. He sat next to Dr. McCoy, offering him a small, friendly smile. They'd met on board the Enterprise when McCoy took over the position of chief medical officer the day Vulcan had almost bee destroyed. He was a smart, warm, sharp-tongued country doctor with a tendency to question his captain, but he always knew where the line was and trusted in Jim's judgment. He was probably the closest thing Jim had to an actual friend.
Stiles sat down on Jim's left, nodding at him in acknowledgment. Jim tensed, trying not to show his reflexive irritation, and nodded back.
When Sulu arrived, Jim opened by reiterating Pike's missive.
"I haven't given him an answer yet. I realize that the crew was about to embark on a much-belated shore leave. I wanted to confer with all of you before making the final decision. Thoughts? Opinions?"
"We can always resume shore leave after completing the mission," Lt. Sulu said.
"Keep in mind that this is the first shore leave the crew's had in a year," McCoy said. "Some of the crew members have shown early signs of fatigue and restlessness. Missions become more dangerous when the crew is distracted."
"Both of these are true. What do you think, Mr. Stiles?" Jim asked.
"This sounds like an interesting mission. It would be good to take on it on for the betterment of the crew." Translation: It would look good on our resumes. God, what Kirk wouldn't give for a first officer who actually contributed something worthwhile and not glaringly obvious tripe.
"Doctor, your objections have been noted and recorded." Jim stood up and pressed the intercom button. "Lt. Uhura, please contact Admiral Pike and patch him through to the briefing room."
"Yes sir," she answered, and a minute later Pike was connected.
"We go only on the condition that there is not to be another mission assigned to the Enterprise after this one. Barring any galactic emergencies, of course."
"Of course, Captain. We would suggest that you to first go to Vulcan and pick up the research team who discovered the phenomenon and have been tracking its progress since the beginning. They'll be indispensable in sussing out the cause of this anomaly and coming up with a plan of action."
"That would be highly advisable," said Jim. "Who should I contact upon arrival?"
"Director Spock, head of the quantum physics department."
Jim's flip-flops smacked purposefully as he strode onto the bridge and sat in the captain's chair with a flourish. The intercom chirruped; it was Bones, clearly in a snit.
"I volunteered to stay on board for the last shore leave, and when it's finally my turn to enjoy a little rest and relaxation, we get an order to haul ass dozens of light years away to look at space weather. Only half of my body is tanned, Jim!"
"Now Bones," Jim said, placating. He sipped from the straw of a fuzzy glass that he'd smuggled back from their hastily-canceled shore leave, the little green umbrella tickling his nose. "You know it's our duty to investigate any strange phenomena, especially if there have been reports of crazy stuff happening."
"Tell that to the not one, but two women who invited me to a private party tonight at their beach house."
"Well hopefully you had enough sense to leave your contact information. Kirk out." Jim leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs. "Spock!"
"Yes, Captain," he heard from over his shoulder. Jim swiveled around to face his first officer, mouth steadily sucking down his well-deserved fruit smoothie. Spock, of course, was one of the few still dressed in uniform. Most everyone else still had beach gear on. Uhura looked especially fetching in a see-through shirt that tried (and failed) to cover her black bikini, much to Jim's delight.
"Report," Jim said around the straw.
"Admiral Pike should contact us soon with more details, but from the information that was given to us from Starfleet command, it seems that several ships have gone missing near an uncharted planet in the Beta quadrant. There is an ionic storm around the planet and all available Federation ships have been called to investigate the disturbance."
"Ah, shit. You know, I'm really sick of storms in space," Jim whined, his chagrin only magnified when he reached the end of his smoothie and his straw made loud, empty sucking sounds.
"I assume you mean 'sick' metaphorically, as I am certain that you do not wish to bother Dr. McCoy for any reason at present."
Jim smirked. "Yeah, he's sure got his panties in a twist. Totally not my fault this time."
Jim passed his empty glass to a yeoman and straightened. "Chekov, plot a course for the planet. When everyone's been beamed aboard, I want this ship en route to the Bermuda Triangle."
"Course already plotted, Keptain," Chekov announced.
"Captain," Spock began, and Jim smiled. He loved messing with Spock's Vulcan head, especially when he damn well knew that Spock was just playing along and only feigned ignorance most of the time. "Correct me if my information is erroneous, but I believe that the Bermuda Triangle is an Earth phenomenon, and therefore well away from the mission at hand."
"Metaphor, Spock. Also, next time you're beaming down for shore leave as well."
"I have expounded my view on shore leave to you many times."
Jim twirled his hand in the air, rolling his eyes as he quoted Spock's argument. "It's not rest if you're running around doing things and wearing yourself out partying. But I mean, it's not like you're against it, right?"
"My highest concern is that it would remove me unnecessarily from duty when I could use my time in a more sufficient manner and engage in peaceful meditation to renew energy."
"Come on, all you do is sit around in your room with that sexy incense and make up things to do, like fine-tune the food replicators. You may as well humor me and come down next time. Look, I even bought you a shirt," he said, leaning over and picking up the shopping bag he had walked in with. He handed the bag to Spock, who took it and glanced inside.
"It's awesome, I'm aware. And look, we coordinate," he said, presenting his chest, which was covered in palm trees. Spock had that tolerant expression on his face that meant he was laughing on the inside. Jim winked at him and returned his attention to the ship, which was still not going anywhere. "Is everyone on board yet?"
"Not everyone," Uhura said, hands moving over the communications controls as she listened intently to her headset. Spock went over and put on a headset as well.
"It appears that we have two ensigns who are having difficulty beaming aboard," Uhura said, frowning.
"Are the transporters malfunctioning?" Jim asked, because of course they never seemed to work when it was imperative that they do.
"The transporters are in prime condition," Spock said, fingers deftly moving over an information screen behind Uhura to double-check his own statement. "It appears that this is more of a personal matter."
Uhura blushed and Spock raised an eyebrow, both having heard something quite interesting. Jim walked over so they could speak in confidence.
"Uhura, what is it?" Jim asked. She refused to answer, tightening her lips, daring him to make that an order. "Spock?"
Spock leaned over to speak quietly to Jim. "It appears that the ensigns are engaged in coitus and have adamantly refused to stop."
"I don't care if we have to beam them up and have them finish on the transporter pad, get them up here or we leave them."
Spock nodded. "Please make yourselves presentable to be beamed up immediately, by Captain's order," he said into the communicator.
"I swear, what the heck has this ship come down to?" Jim asked the bridge.
"Those two are always making off somewhere. It'd serve them right to be left behind," Sulu said, removing a couple of leis from his neck. Chekov nodded vigorously, his straw hat almost tottering off his head.
"If it helps plead their case against outright mutiny, there are indications that they are using recreational pharmaceuticals and are thus impaired in their decision-making facilities," Spock added.
"Oh god, forget this," said Jim. "Leave them and let them know they're on immediate suspension. Sulu, take us out, warp factor three."
Jim walked back to his chair, annoyed. He encouraged his crew to relax and have fun while on leave, but, good god, give some people an inch and they take a light year.
"Captain, I'm receiving a transmission from Starfleet," Uhura said.
"Patch 'em through," Jim said.
As he settled, Pike swerved into focus on the view screen.
"Captain," Pike greeted warmly.
"Pike, it's Jim. There's no need for formalities when I'm one ukulele away from being a civilian."
"Jim," Pike corrected, smiling a little, and that was definitely a win since Pike looked harried and troubled, not a good sign at all.
"What's the emergency?" Jim asked, falling serious.
"There have been reports of several ships going missing around an uncharted planet in the Beta quadrant. I spoke with the Ambassador," Jim smirked, recognizing their ambiguous title for the elder Spock, "And he said that the planet hosts a long-forgotten alien construction called the Guardian of Forever."
"It called itself that."
"What kind of structure calls itself anything?"
"Obviously that one, Captain," Spock interjected from his immediate right, and Jim congratulated himself on not flinching. Jesus, the guy could sneak up on himself. He spared Spock a wry glance.
"I was merely being philosophical, my dear Commander. Now as for this...thing, is it causing the ships to disappear?"
"It's unclear, as something like this has never happened," Pike said, and Jim heard the unspoken in either of our realities, "but from what I could glean from the Ambassador's reluctant description, the Guardian of Forever had the ability to send a person to any time period."
"So the ships may not be destroyed, just somewhere else in time?"
"Precisely. That's not the reason for the emergency protocol, however." Pike sighed as he leaned forward, a weight on his shoulders. "The ion storm around the planet has increased exponentially since we first cataloged it hours ago. At this rate, a local planet that we've classified as an early Class M will be consumed, and who knows what will happen to it and its lifeforms. From there, if it continues at this rate of growth, it will spread and begin to make a whole lot more disappear."
Jim looked toward Spock, seeing the echo of his own concern there. "Glad we left those two idiots behind, this is about to get serious. Sulu, move to warp factor five."
Jim had spent the past week bouncing around the ship, making sure all departments were running smoothly, resolving crises as they occurred. The ionic energy field around what they now termed the time vortex planet had grown, forcing them to retreat several times. Despite their retreats, the unknown energy radiating from the planet kept the ship on constant alert status, malfunctions cropping up all over due to unexpected bombardments. A couple of other Federation starships had arrived mid-week to help, but with communications and the transporter malfunctioning, they may as well have not been there at all. Their current concern was for a planet nearby, an early Class M, which had no intelligent life but bore a plethora of lifeforms. It was important to preserve this planet, as it was much like Earth in its youth.
At the moment Jim was in the mess hall, a place he normally did not frequent (as he took his meals alone), nursing a cup of coffee in the relative quiet of mid-afternoon.
"Captain, may I speak with you?" Lt. Uhura asked, and Jim looked up at her, nodding once. She sat across from him, comfortable, even though they rarely talked outside of the bridge.
"The crew has been noticing some odd things."
"Have they been reported and logged?"
"It's nothing concrete or dangerous, just little things. Mr. Chekov thought one of his shirts had gone missing, only to turn around and find it in the last place he left it. Ensign Moore swore that the tile in his bathroom was a different pattern before realizing that it had never changed. Gaila returned to our quarters yesterday to find someone else's belongings in her side of the room. We thought it was a prank, but if it was, it was a hastily-executed one. We were only gone for an hour to look for the person who did it, and when we returned, everything was back in place."
"Those are very odd occurrences. I have to disagree on them being classified as something that isn't dangerous. Please log these events. I'll confer with the Vulcan research team about it."
"Yes, sir." He made to stand. "Captain, I have one other matter to discuss."
"It's about you, sir. Myself and the other officers are concerned about your health."
"You've been working so hard, with little rest–"
"I assure you, Lieutenant, I'm fully capable of performing my duties," Jim said, bristling. He knew she was just showing concern, but it still annoyed him that she was implying that he was unfit for duty.
"That was never in question, sir," she said, somehow managing to sound both contrite and long-suffering. "Your efforts are commendable and we all strive to match it. Our concern is for you as a person. This mission is top priority right now, but once the mission is complete, I respectfully suggest that you take shore leave along with the rest of the crew. You deserve a break."
Jim listened, knowing that what she said was right. He sighed and smiled at her slightly. "I'm lucky to have you in my crew. You could command a starship yourself one day, you know."
Uhura blushed, and Jim felt his face warm as well. "I'm happy where I'm at, thank you. I'm glad we had this discussion," she said, leaving the table.
Jim stayed in the mess hall for a few more minutes, his thoughts returning to the state of his ship. He soon grew restless, however, and left to report the discrepancies to the science labs. The turbolift stopped to let in another occupant; Jim was mildly surprised to see that it was Director Spock. The man was reclusive, as Vulcans were generally wont to be. Jim had only spoken to him once, when they had picked up him and his team of researchers on Vulcan.
Jim cleared his throat after the lift moved and deposited them at the same destination.
"Director–may I call you Mr. Spock?" he asked, walking alongside the Vulcan.
"The proper protocol of a Federation captain is to address his crewmen by their title and any civilians with their preferred title. I have no preference for a particular appellation, therefore it follows that how you address me is to your discretion."
Jim looked at him. What a strange guy. "Mr. Spock, there have been some minor curiosities that have manifested recently, and I believe that they may be a result of this ionic storm."
"If you are referring to the small minutiae of changed elements on this ship, then you are quite correct. These have been observed and recorded by our team. It has not been unusual for pieces of science equipment in the laboratories to be found missing momentarily or in a different location."
"You are certainly on top of things, Mr. Spock."
"Vulcans as a race tend to be more observant and more prone to routine and habit than humans. Therefore it follows that these events would be noticed at an accelerated rate by my team."
"Indeed," said Jim, amused. Spoken by a human, the director's words would have been outright bragging.
They walked quietly for a minute, and even though he technically had no further business with Director Spock or on this deck, Jim felt oddly peaceful as they passed a couple of Vulcans in private conference. Their logical, serene minds intrigued Jim; he felt that, of anyone on the ship, the Vulcans would judge his character without lying and without the influence of emotions.
"Director, may I make a suggestion?"
Director Spock stopped walking and faced him, open and expressionless, an obvious master of self-discipline–probably more so than most Vulcans Jim had encountered in his travels. "You may."
"When we have guest workers on the ship, it is our custom to let them dress in Starfleet uniforms as a sign of respect and inclusion. It's not a requirement or a rule, but we offer the option to you and your team, if you desire it."
Another tendril of respect filled Jim as Spock waited and thought before answering. "The feeling of inclusion and camaraderie is not a part of our understanding, so in that regard, wearing the uniforms would be illogical. However, even if it is not a requirement, it is of cultural significance to your species. Respect for all cultures is intrinsic to the Vulcan heritage. We will wear your uniforms, Captain."
Jim smiled. "I'll inform storage," he said. Director Spock nodded. Jim was content to go check out the science labs anyway, just to see how they were operating while he was in the area, but was almost thrown off his feet as the ship quaked beneath another of those damn waves. The director grabbed Jim's upper arm and kept him on balance, letting him go as soon as he was stable; the guy had phenomenal reflexes. Jim nodded a quick thanks and found the nearest intercom to check in with engineering. After hearing that all was well from all major parts of the ship, he went to take a fifteen minute nap in his room before another disaster kept him up.
Tracks B & A
Spock opened another drawer, baffled as to why, instead of his spare Starfleet blue uniform shirts, there were instead three sets of gold commander uniform shirts that were not his size. Furthermore, all of his civilian clothing, nightwear, and formal attire were missing, replaced by unfamiliar clothing designed, if he was not mistaken, according to Terran fashion.
Even after spending years among Humans and even becoming somewhat romantically involved with one, the complexity of human pranks still escaped him. There were only three people who could have entered into his room to do this. He would have immediately assumed it had been the captain, but they were now on red alert status after experiencing several tremors upon entering the vicinity of the alien planet, and whatever else Jim Kirk took lightly, he would hardly take time out from an emergency situation on the Enterprise to prank his first officer. There was always Mr. Scott, but for the same reason as the captain, Mr. Scott would certainly be reluctant to leave the Enterprise alone when it was being threatened. The only other possible choice was Dr. McCoy, and even if they were still on shore leave, McCoy would be an unlikely person to engage in pranks of any sort. There must be a factor he was not considering.
The situation was odd enough that he decided to seek out the captain. He went to the first logical location, the captain's quarters, as they were just 20.3 meters away from his own. He pressed the door buzzer, and was satisfied when the door opened, allowing him admittance. He had not been here since their chess game two nights ago while en route to this planet, but even so he was momentarily surprised to see that it was more orderly than usual and there were a couple of personal items missing from the decor, most noticeably a hoverboard and the captain's collection of drinking glasses from other worlds. He must have finally heeded Spock's insistence that they be stored instead of being displayed in such a unprofessional manner. The captain himself was sitting on the edge of his bed, tugging on a boot. He looked up to see Spock and surprise flitted across his face.
"You certainly waste no time when you've made a decision, Mr. Spock."
Spock tilted his head, perplexed by this non sequitur.
"To what are you referring, Captain?"
Jim shook his head slightly. "It's nothing, just an observation. Also, storage seems to have goofed up your uniform."
"Yes. Starfleet uniforms reflect rank by using wrist bands, and so your uniform is actually a commander's uniform."
"I am quite aware of uniform rank designations. What I do not understand is why my uniform is, as you put it, 'goofed up.'"
Jim opened his mouth in preparation to answer, but then closed it. "Know what? It doesn't matter. I've been rude, and you're obviously here with a purpose."
"Indeed, I am," Spock agreed. The captain was behaving in a strange manner, polite and almost subdued. "I am here to inform you that the clothing in my quarters is not my own. Somehow all the contents of my wardrobe have been replaced or exchanged with those of someone else."
"Well, there you are, a reliable first-hand account of this continuing oddity."
"'Continuing oddity,' Captain? I was unaware that there had been more instances of this occurring."
"Not since we last spoke, that is true."
Spock was about to disagree, because the last time they had spoken had been on the bridge when the captain had shouted orders on the bridge and given Spock the conn while he went to engineering to resolve a circuit overload, when the captain's doors shushed open and Dr. McCoy entered, wearing a pair of reading glasses. Spock had been unaware that the doctor needed them.
"Captain, half of my medical supplies are out of order or missing."
Spock furrowed his eyebrows; Dr. McCoy's tone had been only mildly irritated (as opposed to his customary blustery nature). The doctor had also called Jim "Captain," which he usually only called him in more formal settings or when he was being sarcastic.
Jim looked at Spock, an eyebrow raised. "Yet another mystery to add to the ever-growing list. Doctor, we seem to be having the same problem throughout the ship. Unless people begin to go missing, it will have to be relegated to a secondary concern."
"Of course. This mission can't end sooner; I'm starting to feel spacesick."
Jim placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's long overdue. I think we'll take shore leave on Earth. I know you'd like to see your daughter."
"Did I tell you that Joanna wants to become a nurse?" McCoy said, smiling. "My ex-wife sent me pictures of her bandaging her friends."
Jim chuckled. "Let's hope she doesn't grow out of it, if she'll be half as good as you."
Spock stood there and listened, choosing not to barrage either of these men with all the questions he had. He was beginning to suspect that he himself was out of place, even if both of the men were currently behaving contrary to their natures. The sound of the intercom interrupted the strange moment.
"Bridge to Captain Kirk," Uhura said. The captain walked over and pressed his desk's intercom button.
"Yes, Lieutenant, what is it?"
"Yeoman Rand has fainted on the bridge."
"I'm on my way," McCoy said, leaving the captain's quarters.
"Do you know the reason why the yeoman has fainted?" Spock asked Uhura.
"Who is this?" Uhura asked. Spock felt a pang in his gut.
"Spock," he answered.
Uhura sounded confused. "We do not have an obvious reason for her fainting, no."
"Uhura, I'll be there in a minute," the captain said before turning off the intercom. He turned to Spock, face intent.
"I don't know what's going on with my ship, but it stops now. I appreciate your straightforward reasoning, and I want you and your team to find out what's going on."
He assumed the captain meant the science department, so he nodded shortly. At the very least he wasn't a complete stranger to the captain. Yet he was unequivocally aware that there was a great deal of distance in how everyone reacted to him. Wildly so. The captain left and Spock followed him to the nearest turbolift. When they reached the bridge, Spock tried to follow the captain but was stopped by a hand on his chest. It retracted almost immediately, as if the captain had forgotten himself. "I'm sorry, but civilians aren't allowed on the bridge."
Spock nodded, suspicions confirmed. "Of course, Captain."
Two security officers were staring at Spock suspiciously. Yeoman Rand was unconscious near the communications station, Dr. McCoy hovering over her with a medical tricorder. Spock stepped back into the lift. Sulu followed.
Spock pressed the button to return to his quarters, but as soon as the turbolift started to move, Sulu reached over and stopped it. Spock immediately tensed. Sulu looked at him, wary.
"Commander Spock?" Sulu asked, eyes searching his face. Spock was unsure whether to tell the truth or to prevaricate, as he was unsure how either response would come across.
"Yes," he answered. Sulu sagged in relief, the suspicion clearing from his eyes.
"Sir, what's going on?" he asked, anxious. "Everyone's acting really weird, and the captain told me to take orders from this guy named Stiles that I've never even met."
"Was he wearing command gold?
"Yeah, actually he was. What the hell is going on?" he asked again. Spock was about to answer when he saw, to his great astonishment, that the lieutenant appeared to be fading. Sulu noticed as well, looking at Spock wildly. "Sir! You're fading!" Even Sulu's voice was diminishing. A moment later he had completely vanished
Spock blinked and started the turbolift.
"Okay, this is getting ridiculous," Jim said. He knew the shopping bag hadn't been there a second ago. He grabbed it and looked inside, just in case there might be an explosive or a tentacle monster or something else fucking strange. After what he'd seen a few minutes ago, he was ready to believe anything. He walked over to Spock's desk and hit the intercom button with his fist, glaring at the weird Vulcan statue of some god with a name he had no hope of ever pronouncing. "Kirk here. I need a security team to the bridge if they're not already there. Send some security to find Spock and send him to his quarters immediately."
"Captain," Spock said from behind him. Jim flung himself around.
"Disregard that last order, first officer found." Jim punched the button behind him.
"I admit that I am relieved to see you, Jim," Spock said.
"Where the hell have you been, Spock?" Jim asked, brandishing the shopping bag at Spock in annoyance. "Sulu and Scotty disappeared from the bridge and I've been running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to find them and you."
"I have been engaged with another Jim Kirk," Spock said, eyebrow arched.
"What?" Jim asked.
"For approximately the last twenty minutes I have been in contact with a similar but wholly different Jim Kirk, Leonard McCoy, and Nyota Uhura."
"Oh, so now you admit that her first name is Nyota."
Spock's lip twitched. "I am now certain beyond any doubt that I am speaking to the correct James T. Kirk."
The intercom came on and Bones' deep growl filled the room. "Jim, I've got around thirty people in here who claim that either someone disappeared, furniture was rearranged, or they saw themselves."
"Themselves? That's something new," Jim said.
"I don't know what the hell is going on out there, but they're clogging up sickbay and I've got four people who've suffered injuries."
"What is the nature of their injuries?" Spock asked.
"One engineer with a broken arm from a long fall, two people who fainted, and one person who's currently puking all over my biobed. Damn it Nurse, put his head in a bedpan and keep it there!"
"I guess we've all got our hands full, Bones. Send anyone who's physically fit back to their positions. No one's clinically insane when it's all real."
"Carrying out your orders gladly, Captain."
Jim dropped the shopping bag and leaned on Spock's desk with both hands. "Your opinion, Mr. Spock?"
"From what I have ascertained, we are experiencing strange phenomena that include crewmen either disappearing or encountering their doubles."
"That I got, thanks for the recap. Now your opinion, Spock."
"It stands to reason that these events are linked to the physical disturbances that have been besieging the ship. Given what we already know, the source of this disturbance is from the planet's surface, most probably the alien structure Admiral Pike mentioned."
"The Guardian of Forever," Jim said. "What do we know about this thing?"
"We know that it can send a person to any time period in history."
"Well that explains the 'ripples in time.'"
"Unfortunately, it does not explain why the doubles seem to have different memories."
"Different memories?" Jim asked. "How so?"
"When I was with the other captain and Dr. McCoy, they did not recognize me as the first officer, but as a civilian aboard the ship. Lt. Sulu, however, recognized me as first officer and sought me out, only to disappear shortly thereafter. I believe that I was speaking with the correct Sulu, but now I am uncertain where he is."
"That...is insane. That's not just us being jostled around at different points in time."
"Indeed. It is almost like they were in a separate reality."
"You don't think we've encountered the prime reality that your other self came from, do you?" Jim asked. This was starting to go from confusing to holy fucking shit in the space of a few seconds.
"It is unlikely, given that even in the prime reality I was still in Starfleet."
"So what, another–" Someone buzzed at the door. Jim pressed the entrance button.
It was Uhura, panic-stricken. She surged forward and embraced Spock, and Spock put his arms around her, closing his eyes. Jim suddenly felt like he was intruding, and it inexplicably made him want to march out of there with Spock's shirt.
"I saw Gaila," Uhura said into Spock's chest. That caused both Spock's eyes and Jim's mouth to open.
"Gaila?" Jim asked. She had died on the USS Farragut.
"Yes. What's going on?" she said, somehow managing to sound commanding even while she was shaking against Spock's chest.
"That's what we're trying to figure out, Lieutenant," Jim said. They were still hugging and Jim watched, irritated. Uhura broke away after a few more moments, her shaking all but stopped.
"We have few options in which to consider," Spock said. "While nothing of serious consequence has yet occurred, it is likely that these events will continue at the same rate or with even more frequency. We could move further away from the planet, but it would make solving this current crisis even more difficult."
"Look, we know it's something on that planet. Maybe we should fix this at the source?" Jim said.
"Given the unpredictable nature of the ion storm and the virtually unknown state of the surface of the planet, that would be highly inadvisable."
"So, what, we sit here with our thumbs up our asses?"
"I assume you mean that we do nothing," Spock said. "It appears that we must, as we do not yet know for certain what the nature of this phenomenon is."
"Well then let's brainstorm some working hypotheses. One, we know that this Guardian of Forever thing can take you to any place in time. Two, this would explain why things are getting moved around. Three, it does not explain why people are seeing doubles and are vanishing. One, two, three, shit up a creek."
Spock's eyebrows twitched in confusion at that last part. Uhura took it upon herself to translate.
"There is no explanation apparent for what's happening."
Spock moved toward the window in his quarters, looking out at the planet in the distance. "There may be one possibility that we have only touched on. Captain, you mentioned the possibility of us interacting with the prime reality. While that assessment was proven erroneous, there is still a great logic in your conclusions. If this Guardian of Forever can indeed take one to any point in time, it may also be true that it has the ability to transport one to an alternate timeline."
Jim's eyes widened, but he remained skeptical. "How so?"
"In theory, the universe can be thought of as a multiverse. The universe, being infinite, can be seen as having an infinite number of volumes. New volumes can be created or old ones destroyed, each volume a reality to itself. This could very well explain why history can be altered at all. Instead of chaos and the future changed irrevocably, a new volume is simply formed within the universe to compensate for the change. As we ourselves are currently existing in a known alternate timeline, it does not seem unreasonable to believe that, in what we term the 'prime' timeline, Romulus is still destroyed and my counterpart is still missing."
"Your counterpart?" Uhura asked.
"We'll have to fill you in on that one later," Jim said, mind spinning. Another alternate dimension, apparently similar enough to theirs that they could physically pass for the other and yet different enough that Gaila was alive and Spock was a civilian.
"I suppose we could wear name tags," Uhura said, the joke coming off weak. Jim appreciated the effort anyway.
"Let's just hope it doesn't get much weirder than this," Jim said.
If he believed in a heaven, it would be just like this. Spock was behind him, thrusting into him, hands slipping on the wet expanse of Jim's hips. Jim buried his head in his pillow, breathing damp. Spock grabbed Jim by his hair and pulled him to his hands and knees again. Jim moaned, frustrated, wanting to be held down, owned, claimed.
It's pretty fucked up, even for him, but he loves it whenever he almost dies. Oh, the nearly dying part is bad, of course, but it's what happens afterwards that makes it all worth it.
Their latest catastrophe had ended fairly well, in Jim's opinion–he'd merely passed out from oxygen deprivation when he had slipped through the interphase on the USS Defiant and was trapped in a universe that was completely void of anything; usually he ended up in a much bloodier and more critical condition. He'd learned about the events that occurred during his absence from Bones while Bones had irritably patched him up in sickbay. Everyone on the ship had believed that Jim was dead except for Spock. Spock had turned into a dictator, challenging the Tholians and nearly risking the entire ship to find Jim when all evidence pointed to Jim's demise. Spock had even thrown a chair at Bones when he saw him organizing Jim's funeral.
When Jim had woken up and been released from sickbay, Spock had dragged Jim to their quarters and promptly fucked him over his desk, pulling Jim's pants down just enough for the material to bunch under his ass before slamming in, Jim's hands scrabbling for the edge of the desk to hold himself up. Jim had only found out later that most of Spock's anger had been because Jim had insisted Spock beam up before him from the wreck of an old Federation ship they'd been salvaging.
Jim crawled forward a little, growling when Spock slipped out of him. He turned around and pushed Spock to a sitting position, lowering himself into Spock's lap–nuzzling his neck and grinding his ass along the length of Spock's dick, teasing. Jim tilted his head back, eyelids lowered, drinking in the sight of Spock: skin verdant, eyes dark and fathomless, hair falling into his eyes. Jim ran his hands through the longest parts of Spock's hair, smirking when Spock lost patience and worked his way back into Jim's body, lifting Jim and pushing inside.
"You know, you let your hair grow out any longer, I'll start putting bows in it while you sleep."
"That is inadvisable," Spock bit out, concentration reserved for fucking Jim.
Jim put a hand on Spock's chest, stopping him. Putting on a good show was just one of many talents James T. Kirk possessed. He let his mouth fall open a little as he rode Spock, looking him in the eyes. Spock traced the outline of the scar on the left side of Jim's face, which ran from his forehead to the middle of his cheek. Jim squeezed down around him and rocked down, wanting to take Spock's mind away from those dark memories carved into Jim's skin.
A smirk tugged at the corner of Jim's mouth as he calculated how much time he had before Spock broke. It didn't take long today. Spock growled and threw Jim onto his back, wrapping Jim's legs around his hips and fucking him in earnest. Jim could barely catch his breath; Spock was hitting his prostate with every thrust, probably calibrating each movement to put as much strength behind them as he could without tearing Jim apart. Now it was Jim who was incoherent, staring blindly up at the ceiling, curling back so much that his shoulder blades dug into the bed below him.
"Please," he begged, and he felt Spock shiver in reaction to that, at Jim Kirk begging for anything. Jim grabbed Spock's hand and arranged Spock's fingers against the three psi points on his face, the mind meld position. They had done this so often that Spock didn't even have to correct his hand's position before their minds opened. For a few moments, the sex was secondary; here, finally, Jim felt Spock's desperation when he refused to believe that Jim could be dead for their bond had not severed, was merely missing, and surely he would have felt the loss of Jim as he felt the loss of his planet and family. Spock, too, was learning what Jim had felt, all alone in an entire universe, in that dark, cold place that reminded him so much of the time on the prison planet before he met Spock. He had been there in that vacuum for hours, his life support diminishing, certain that he was going to die because he was truly alone and he had always known he would die alone.
The physical plane rushed back and Jim cried out from the intensity of it, feeling both his and Spock's pleasure through the meld. Then Spock did something he rarely did, and brought his other hand up to the other side of Jim's face, opening the bond further. Jim screamed beneath it and came so hard that it was almost painful, his body seizing and his breathing cut off. Eventually he had to tear Spock's hands from his face because he could still feel Spock's arousal through the meld and it was too much. Jim spread his legs as wide as he could, whimpering as Spock kept fucking him, body weak from hours of sex and emotional transference. Finally Spock came, his face buried in Jim's neck, moaning out Jim's name. Spock carefully pulled out and fell to Jim's side. As Jim drifted to sleep, he felt Spock lay his head on Jim's chest, over his heartbeat.
The intercom buzzed some minutes later with an urgent message from the bridge. Spock showered and dressed, smiling down at Jim, who was still passed out, sweat cooling and bites and scratches blossoming over his skin. When Spock arrived on the bridge minutes after receiving the message, everyone stood up from their stations and saluted him. He saluted back, moving to where first officer Decker was still standing at attention.
"You hailed me, Commander."
"Captain, our sensors and long-range scanners have identified a peculiar ion storm ahead."
"Peculiar in what way?"
"There seem to be energy waves radiating from a fixed point on the planet's surface. We've been tracking these waves for an hour now, and they're increasing steadily."
"Fascinating. However, it would not be prudent to idle too long observing the phenomenon. Set course to circumvent the planet in question."
"There is another factor. There is a neighboring planet, an early Class M, uncharted by any advanced civilization."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "You have my interest, Commander."
"The planet has no visible intelligent life, but does seem to have flora and fauna. Sensor readings indicate a dense gravity, an arid desert climate, a thin atmosphere, and a reddish hue."
"I wish to view it," Spock said.
"Yes sir," Decker said, moving away from the science station. Spock looked into the science scope at the planet. His breath caught. It looked exactly like Vulcan had. He viewed the more technical readings and was equally astonished that they so closely resembled the conditions of Vulcan. It took an effort to pull himself away.
"I can see now why you hesitated to take direct action."
Decker nodded. "It's in the direct path of this phenomenon. Soon the energy waves will disrupt the surface of the planet, causing significant damage at the very least. We're still unsure what exactly the phenomenon is. It's especially dangerous for us to stick around, but I know the Empire's prime directive and thought it best to consult you."
"You have acted accordingly. We must investigate this occurrence and take every measure to preserve this planet." Spock walked over and sat in the captain's chair, mind working fast. A planet so near to what Vulcan had been. Thousands of Vulcans could finally leave their ships and begin rebuilding their lost civilization. Given time, structures could be built with climate controls so that thousands of humans could reside there as well. It would be...home. The word rushed over Spock and he dared believe it could happen for the first time in years. He longed to stand upon that planet, Jim at his side, finally able to make good on the promise they had given each other and all those that followed them. The decision had been made as soon as he had seen the planet's red surface. He pressed the intercom button to the captain's quarters to call Jim. When no one answered, he went there himself, not wanting anyone else to see his bondmate in such an intimate setting.
Tracks A & C
Spock buzzed for entrance into the captain's quarters, highly curious as to why the captain had summoned him to his personal quarters. No one answered, so Spock buzzed again. This time the door opened, and Spock was hit with a strange odor. He separated the different elements using his elevated olfacatory glands and arrived at the conclusion that he was smelling a combination of sweat, bodily seminal fluids, a nondescript soap, and lubricant. He was puzzling over the logistics of all this, especially the part where the captain had not utilized the Enterprise's excellent ventilation system before conferring with any visitors, when his eyes came to rest on the bed, most specifically at the captain, who was undressed and had marks and bruises scattered over skin. Spock decided to alert the sickbay, as obviously something malicious had occurred here. The captain turned his head to look at Spock, and Spock noted that his conclusions had been correct as the captain had suffered from a deep cut. Before he could walk over to the intercom, however, the captain addressed him.
"Oh my god, you actually cut your hair?" the captain said, sitting up and swinging his legs to rest on the floor. "I was only kidding about the bows, you know."
"I do not understand. However, it is imperative that sickbay is alerted of your condition."
The captain tipped his head back and laughed. "Oh, so now we're doing a little role play?"
"Captain, the complexities of human idioms are not within my nature to comprehend."
"All right, Spock, I'll play." Spock was quite honestly baffled as the captain slid sinuously off the bed and began to crawl toward him, much like a Terran lion stalking its prey, the movments akin to the Felis species. The action brought the captain closer, close enough for Spock to see that the cut on the captain's face was a long-healed scar, which was not possible as he had seen the captain an hour before and his face was unmarked. Even the scar itself was suspect, as scars were almost unheard of since the rise of modern technology.
The captain crawled all the way to Spock's feet and pulled himself to his knees, his head listing to the side, an expression that Spock most closely recognized as hunger on his face. Spock had difficulty translating these behaviors. In fact, Spock had never observed Humans display the behaviors he was currently witnessing. Admittedly, his knowledge of their customs was limited to his mother, Earth visitors on Vulcan, and the crew on the USS Enterprise, but it was safe to say that this behavior was unique.
The captain smiled, standing up and leaning close to Spock, edging on impropriety. "I love it when you talk dirty. Wanna see you all messed up, begging me for it this time," he said, leaning even closer, his mouth obscenely close to Spock's.
"You need to report to sickbay," Spock said.
"You're losing control," the captain sing-songed, and Spock felt a sudden rush of disappointment and anger as he realized that he was indeed behaving in an illogical manner. He made a snap decision and employed the Vulcan nerve pinch, stepping past the captain's prone form and using the intercom to contact sickbay.
"Sickbay, the captain is behaving strangely and is covered in abrasions."
"God damn it, Captain, I don't give a rat's ass how hard you fucked Jim, I've got bigger fish to fry in here, so why don't you get your Vulcan ass down here and use that big brain of yours for something useful?"
The communication snapped off. Spock held his clasped hands behind his back, dissembling that message. Why was he being referred to as the captain by the chief medical officer, whom he had never spoken to? Furthermore, given the evidence of the captain's quarters, the captain's abrasions may have resulted from an amorous encounter, which contradicted what he knew of the captain's character.
Spock heard the door open behind him. Before he could turn around, he was slammed against a bulkhead by a remarkably strong individual. Spock's vision whited out briefly and he felt his feet leave the floor as he was pulled upwards by his neck, which effectively cut off his air supply. When his vision swam back into view, he saw that he was being attacked by a Vulcan that looked remarkably like himself, save that his hair was grown out in an nontraditional manner and he was currently displaying distinct anger.
"Identify yourself," the Vulcan said, his voice identical to Spock's own. Spock attempted to speak but could not make use of his constrained vocal cords. Realizing this, the grip on his neck loosened just enough for him to rasp out, "I am Spock of Vulcan, Director of the Quantum Physics Department at the Vulcan Science Academy."
The grip tightened and he was once again rendered speechless. "I am Spock and there is no Vulcan. Revise your assertion."
The hold slackened. "There is no revision necessary, as this is the truth as I understand it."
"You have harmed Jim Kirk. Is he physically sound?" Spock struggled to speak, but this time it was not for the vice-like grip on his neck. In his doppleganger's eyes there was concern and a trace of fear. Emotion. His eyes did not move at all from Spock's, as if he could not bear to check the captain's status himself.
"I rendered him unconscious only. Killing is quite illogical in almost all situations."
"I would have to disagree," the Vulcan said, letting Spock's feet touch the ground but not removing his hold. "You will explain your presence. Furthermore, you will obey my orders and do as I command."
"No, Captain Spock," a third voice said from the door. "You will."
His counterpart swiftly turned his head to new individual, keeping his grip on Spock's neck. A young ensign and two security guards had phasers locked on both of them. The other Spock released him, and Spock focused on leveling his breathing while the two faced off.
"Mutiny, Mr. Chekov?"
"It was the only way!" Chekov said. Spock noted that the hand that held the phaser was shaking. "You are not leaders, you are tyrants! You lead us like dictators. You are no better than the Romulan pigs we left behind!"
"What evidence can you bring forth to support your allegations?"
"Only the evidence of everyone you control. The salutes, the blind obedience you demand! And now what is this one, a clone? Another way for you to keep us in line with your plans?"
"I assure you, I am no clone," Spock said.
"If you would lower your weapon, we may consider this a bout of insanity only. If you would logically review the facts at hand, you would understand that we are experiencing an outside threat that must be dealt with."
"You cannot fool me, Vulcan!" Chekov screamed, face exhibiting signs of high emotion and pain. The door to the captain's quarters opened, and a security guard immediately trained his weapon on the newcomer. It was Dr. McCoy, or at least someone who had a vague resemblance to the CMO. This one had small, razor-thin scars crisscrossing his face and more wrinkles on his forehead and around his eyes.
"What in the hell are you doing, Chekov?" the doctor burst out, enraged.
"Look at them! They are plotting something, can't you see?"
The doctor noticed Spock for the first time. He tilted his head to the side and gestured with his arm. "Who the hell is this?"
"I am Spock," he answered, seeing no reason to lie. The doctor's eyes widened and his mouth parted in shock.
"I'm guessing you're the one who told me something was wrong with Jim. You didn't press the crisis button, so I waited until I thought you two were dressed before getting down here."
"I'm so glad everyone has met. Now we are all going to go to the brig," Chekov said.
"Yeah right," the newly-awakened Kirk said from the floor, right before he kicked out at Chekov's legs, bringing him down hard. McCoy punched a bodyguard who had lowered his weapon in surprise, and the third guard tossed his weapon aside and threw his hands up in surrender. Kirk straightened, still naked, and swung around to look at the two Spocks.
"I should have known you wouldn't go that far for role play," Kirk said, addressing the other Spock with a lifted eyebrow. Then, to Spock himself: "Who the hell are you?"
Spock was spared giving the same rote answer as everyone in the room began to fade away. The other Spock reached out to grab him, but was gone before he could connect. Spock was left alone in the captain's quarters, which had lost its low lighting and most of its decorations.
Jim pulled on a pair of fingerless gloves as he spoke to the entire ship through the intercom in his quarters.
"If you should come across anyone wearing a classic Starfleet uniform, your orders are to immediately apprehend them and send them to the brig. Set phasers to kill. If they resist, do not hesitate to fire. Kirk out."
"We need to discuss the matter of the mutiny," Spock said from his desk chair, hands steepled in thought. Jim sighed.
"We can't kill him, he's earned that much. We'll put him in the booth for a while."
"Are you certain that is wise? It may be necessary to enforce execution, as he may attempt to mutiny again."
"You know as well as I do what he's been through. He'll be my responsibility." Spock nodded once. "Besides, we've got bigger worries. For some crazy ass reason, there are doubles of people all over this ship that have just vanished from sight. We need to get the other ships away from this place and get the hell out of here, away from whatever the hell is going on with this planet you told me about."
"Jim," Spock said, standing so he could place a hand on Jim's shoulder. "Before this incident, commander Decker had discovered a planet not far from this unstable one. It is a geographical match for Vulcan."
Jim stilled, turning around to look at Spock in wonder.
"A planet like that, uncharted and well away from the Romulan and Klingon influence," said Jim. "Of course, it's next to this other goddamn planet that's fucking with our ship and, apparently, fucking with our sanity."
"I agree that we should immediately warn off the passenger and cargo ships, but perhaps we could investigate this planet further."
"Look, Spock, obviously I want that planet, and I sure as hell know what it means to you. But we're dealing with some strange shit and some other version of you managed to drop me with little effort."
"They merely had the element of surprise. This time, we will be prepared," Spock said, a razor edge of promise in his voice. Jim smirked, pulling Spock close to his lips, breathing moist air over his.
"Just think, after all these years, the Empire will be able to build on solid ground, not floating around in space, fighting for our survival on fucking starships. We'll live like kings...hell, we'll be kings."
"I have no desire to rule," Spock said.
"Bullshit. Besides, you and I won't be there long enough to put down any real roots. Not until we've found an Earth too, not until we're strong enough to defend ourselves against the Romulan and Klingon Empires. Not until we see the Romulans burn."
Spock lifted his hand and touched the scar on Jim's face, sliding two fingers from where it began above his left eyebrow down to where it ended at the middle of his cheek. Jim shivered and pulled Spock in, kissing him deep and fierce.
The buzzer sounded. Jim growled, pulling away. "Enter," he said.
"Your orders for the prisoner?" a security guard asked, saluting.
"Place Mr. Chekov in the booth for an hour," Spock said. The guard flinched, but nodded and left.
Jim nipped at Spock's ear in thanks. "Let's get to the bridge."
The ship was in chaos. They were now close enough to the planet to experience heavy tremors. Jim sat in the captain's chair while Spock busied himself at the science station, mind reeling, barking out orders to the crew. He felt better when Bones arrived, placing a hand on the back of his chair and speaking to him in low, hushed tones.
"We've got four casualties and a few serious injuries. I had to kill Olson because he was flipping out about a Romulan attack and threatening the medical staff with a knife, of all things."
"God damn, Olson," Jim said. Every loss of life pained him, and he knew that Spock would know the exact number they had left. He tried not to keep a strict count himself; hearing the numbers would keep him more awake at night than he already was.
"Whatever the hell went on earlier is making everyone a little trigger-happy. Has anybody figured out what the hell is going on yet?"
"No clue, Bones. I thought it was just Spock that was doubled, but everyone's been seeing their doubles or things on the ship itself being changed for no reason."
"I may have a theory about that," Spock said, approaching from Jim's right. "We are currently passing through an ion storm. Commander Decker has just informed me that, during the time we were interacting with our counterparts, they were able to get a read on the planet's surface, but are unable to do so now. The sensors located a single high energy source on the planet."
Jim straightened in the chair. "Meaning that if it's in one place, we could have a chance at stopping it."
"While that is essentially correct, the danger involved is substantial. Beaming down to the planet is out of the question, as the ion storm coupled with the unknown conditions on the surface of the planet would cause significant damage or outright death to any who tried. An alternative would be to send a shuttlecraft, but even if it managed to navigate successfully through the ion storm, there is the same risk to one's safety on the planet's surface."
"Your suggestion, Spock?" Bones asked, crossing his arms.
Spock's eyes fell on Jim's. "We move from the area."
"I don't have to tell you that this would mean losing that other planet," Jim said.
"It is not worth risking lives. If we move further away, we can avoid damage to the ship and perhaps gain the ability to utilize our sensors and gain more insight."
"If we go too far, we risk–" Jim was cut off by the intercom signaling. "Kirk here."
"We have a serious problem down here," Scotty said, and if his words weren't to be believed, the sounds of yelling, explosions, and alarms proved it for him.
"Let me guess; something happened to the engines and we only have impulse power," Jim said, sure that whatever was the worst thing that could possibly happen did happen.
"No, the engines have shut down completely."
Spock clasped his hands behind his back and Jim hit his fist on the arm of the chair. "Son of bitch, someone had to have done that manually. I want a security team down there and I want another team to pull the security footage to see who could have done it. You've got to get those engines started or we'll go through a hell of a lot of turbulence."
"A normal restart will take thirty minutes!" Scotty shouted over the chaos in engineering.
"In twenty minutes, we will be too close to the planet's atmosphere to effectively pull free, even with our engines," Spock said. "Should we be able to somehow break free from the massive amounts of energy we have observed emanating from the surface, our ship will be damaged beyond repair, perhaps destroyed altogether."
The bridge went quiet. Everyone looked to the center of the bridge.
"I guess someone made the decision for us," Jim said, speaking to Spock. "When we're in the planet's atmosphere, how much time will we have before the ship is destroyed from the energy alone?"
"If we do not utilize our engines, we have a window of three hours before the ship will suffer inescapable damage," said Spock. "Before then, there is going to be damage to the ship. There is a 38.9% possibility of being destroyed before the estimated time frame."
"Great, that sounds really promising," Bones said, throwing his hands in the air. "I'm going back to sickbay and letting you two play god for a while."
"I should check on those security feeds. Chekov may not have been acting alone," Jim said, standing. Spock took the chair, holding out two fingers. Jim touched them with two of his own.
I believe it is unwise for us to be separated at the moment, Spock said through their bond. You were attacked once today through an attempted mutiny.
You're awfully sweet when we're in imminent danger, Jim responded, morbidly amused.
By that criteria, I am 'sweet' in almost all of our waking moments.
I'll be fine, babe. If anything happens, I'll yell for you to come save me. Take care of our ship.
Jim pulled away and left the bridge.
Tracks B & C
"Just a few more meters and we'll be right as rain," Scotty said as they inched up the Jefferies tube to the next deck. Jim cursed as the ship rocked again, sparks flying overhead.
"Fucking turbolifts are out, the engines have stopped, my first officer is missing again, your tribble is shaming a rabbit's fertility..."
"I told Mr. Chekov not to feed her but the lad was won over by her charms," Scotty defended. A moment later they made it to the top, pulling themselves out and checking their surroundings. So far they only saw various crewmembers, but it was hard to tell if they were real or a copy of them that existed in some other universe. Jim tried carefully not to think of Spock currently in a separate universe, because that made him lose focus.
"Captain, look at this!" Scotty said, gesturing in front of him. Jim looked, not understanding what he was supposed to be looking at until he realized that Scotty meant the wall itself. On the usual blank, glowing white walls, there was a watermark of Earth with a kind of axe stuck through it. A lirpa, his mind supplied, recalling a high school history lesson that featured ancient Vulcan weapons, rare now that the Vulcans were no longer a warrior people.
"That's...different," Jim said. "Scotty, try to get back to engineering, phaser on stun. I think we're on someone else's turf."
Scotty took out his phaser and set it, nodding his head once. "Aye, Captain. Are you coming too?"
"I'm all about not splitting up, since that's the best way for the enemy to pick us off, but I have to see what else is going on and I need you down there. If you need help, signal me with your communicator."
"I don't like it, but I'll do it," Scotty said, going back to the Jefferies tube to get to engineering. Left alone, Jim carefully maneuvered through the hall, phaser held in front of him, checking around corners as he went. He made it to another Jefferies tube and climbed up that. He heard voices talking above him and was glad he was ensconced in a tube, because if those two people really were in Starfleet, they were in serious breach of the uniform code. The male was human and dressed in dark, torn jeans and a vest, his arms decorated with black bands and his neck sporting a silver choker. The woman was Vulcan, and she looked like one of Jim's wet dreams from grammar school, her shirt short enough to expose her midriff and her long legs wrapped in tight leather boots.
Jim waited until they disappeared at the other end of the corridor, then climbed the rest of the way up the ladder and made his way further along, carefully putting himself in doorways in case he ran across someone else. As he neared the middle of the deck, he heard screaming. Male, young. His mind raced as he moved, wishing the Enterprise was outfitted with some heavy pillars or something because, unless people were blind and he was extremely lucky, it was likely he wouldn't make it very far. The screams were louder now, and the voice sounded familiar, like it was someone he knew but had never heard them scream like this before. A few more minutes passed with Jim having to creatively plaster himself in doorways as other people passed, some dressed like they were going to a sexy biker bar and others dressed casually, their clothing appearing worn and bedraggled, like they either had no other outfit or they simply didn't care if they wore it until it fell off.
When he reached the source of the screams, it took all of his self control not to bust in there and start firing. A large glass chamber in the center of the room held Chekov captive, and the screams were coming from him, where he was being essentially electrocuted. But it was not his Chekov, given not only that post-Apocalyptic dress, but a close-shaven head. Two others who he assumed to be security guards stood nearby with their arms crossed, their faces impassive. There was nothing Jim could do; he could only console himself with the fact that it wasn't his universe's Chekov. He moved back to the exit the way he came when a gloved hand clamped over his mouth and another grabbed his wrist and twisted it back, painfully forcing Jim to drop his phaser. He struggled with all of his weight, but found that his aggressor was stronger than him but not inhumanly so.
Jim was dragged backwards into a room, the doors hissing shut behind them. They were in a cargo area, most likely one where they stored personal items for crew members, given the mid-ship location and small size. The hand left his mouth and Jim heard the sound of a phaser's setting being changed.
"I sure as hell hope you're ready to kill, because I'm not going to sit still and be a hostage on my own goddamn ship," he spit, jerking against the hold on his wrist. The person moved his head until lips grazed Jim's ear. Jim flinched, creeped the fuck out.
"Good thing I am, because this isn't your ship."
Jim flinched again, but this time it was because of shock. It was him, another James T. Kirk. If he had any doubt, it was gone when he was twisted around to look at himself dead in the face.
Whatever universe he was currently visiting had not been kind to this Jim Kirk. It wasn't so much the sickly scar that ran down his face as much as it was the lines filling that face, like he hadn't had a relaxing day in years. His eyes were hard, cold, the eyes of a man who had seen unspeakable horrors and inflicted some himself. There were few things that truly scared Jim, barring anything happening to those he loved, but this man terrified him, made him think of all the ways another version of himself could cut through all his bullshit and know exactly where to plunge the knife. A version of himself that wouldn't hesitate or concern himself with mercy.
"Now, you have two options. Either you can tell me which Vulcan on board your ship cut the Enterprise's engines, or we can see what it will take to make you beg."
Spock finished viewing the security feeds from the auxiliary control room, stepping over one of the other universe's crew members that he had incapacitated. It was clear that they were dealing with a second parallel universe, as was evidenced by the few oddly-placed humans and Vulcans he had come across thus far. The captain was gone and security was engaged in seeking out the trespassers who had already killed fifteen crew members in the space of twenty minutes. He himself was occupied in discovering what had happened to the engines and half the capabilities of the ship. The ship's computer had supplied him with a view of the engine room and an unidentified Vulcan appearing out of nowhere, dressed in a junior science officer uniform, cutting the power to the engines and causing other system failures. As there were no other Vulcans serving on the Enterprise in his own universe and the Vulcan was dressed differently than the more casual universe he was recently exposed to, it was only logical that either the Vulcan came from the first universe he encountered, or there were even more universes merging with their own.
They had approximately nine minutes until they were in the planet's atmosphere and would be powerless to escape. Spock had briefly toyed with the idea of a cold restart with a controlled matter/antimatter implosion in balanced engines, but Scotty was currently missing and so was an estimated one quarter of their crew, including the captain. He would not risk escaping the gravitational pull when there was no solid proof that they wouldn't be leaving their own behind to die.
His contemplations were cut short when he felt what he assumed to be a phaser press into the back of his head. An unfamiliar voice said, "Don't move a muscle, Vulcan. You're coming with me to the brig."
Spock attempted to swiftly turn and incapacitate his attacker, but the man knocked his arm away and backed up, keeping the gun trained on Spock the entire time. The human was blonde and classically handsome, wearing a finer grade of garments than the others Spock had previously encountered from this universe, his loosely-termed uniform featuring a black leather coat. Spock surmised that all this signified that he was an officer.
"Nice try. You must be that Vulcan that looks like Captain Spock," the man said, sneering at him. Spock raised an eyebrow, folding his hands behind his back.
"I do not believe that we are the same Spock, for I was unaware that there existed one who was captain of the Enterprise."
"Uh huh, right, I'm sure they'll love to get revenge on you for getting past them. Not many do."
The man reached into his belt and pulled out a communicator with a slimmer design and what appeared to be a symbol of a planet with a lirpa running through it. Quite odd. "Decker to Captain Kirk, I've got that Vulcan you wanted." There was no response, so Decker tried again, still to no avail. He changed the frequency. "Captain Spock, come in Captain Spock."
"Spock here," Spock heard, surprise filling him as he heard himself speak.
"I've got that Vulcan that looks like you on Deck 9. I can bring him to the bridge if you want."
"The bridge is compromised, Commander. I will come to you. Have you been able to reach Captain Kirk?"
"Negative, sir. His signal is jammed."
"Adjust the signal and continue attempts to reach him."
"Captain, if his personal signal is jammed–"
"Damn you sir, you will try," Captain Spock said, and Spock furrowed his eyebrows. This version of himself was both ruthless and worried.
Decker appeared genuinely contrite, muttering a low, "Yes Captain," and attempting to change the signal while keeping his gun trained on Spock.
"It is illogical to adjust the signal," Spock said, mind flitting over the fact that his counterpart would suggest such an illogical action.
"Yeah, we both know that, but it's Captain Kirk, so goodbye logic."
Spock let Decker work, mind fixed on the imminent meeting with his other self. He had thought that meeting an alternate version of himself was a unique event in one's life, but probability itself could not account for repeated singularities.
"Commander, you called both of them Captain. I admit that I fail to understand why you would do so."
Decker quirked his mouth, looking over the communicator at Spock. "They're both captain. We're not your typical space-faring vessel."
If Spock were human, he would have used one of the captain's favorite colorful expressions: No shit, Sherlock.
Jim rose from the captain's chair and turned to face the ring of security guards that were assembled on the bridge.
"Computer," Jim said. "Scan all living organisms aboard the ship. Only identify lifeforms with a heartbeat over 150 beats per minute."
"Scanning," said the computer. "Lifeforms identified. Nine organisms detected."
"Give tracking coordinates," he ordered. While security programmed the information the computer was reeling off, Jim strode over to the science station.
"Lt. Gaila, have you been able to read anything else on that planet?" he asked.
"Our last readings confirm that there is some kind of alien structure on the planet. I don't know if it's that same time portal the Vulcans reported, but it's there. Yet the source of all this energy is coming from miles away from that."
"Is it another kind of source? Those waves of time the Vulcans were tipped off about?"
"There are no structures around it and it's too powerful for us to scan properly. Captain," she said, lowering her voice in confidence. "The Vulcans sent in data from their own scans during this time frame and identified some of the elements. There were high levels of hydrogen and helium. It's emitting gamma ray photons, which are causing a small amount of stellar wind, and that's what's causing the time waves we observed coming from the portal and what's making the atmosphere lock us in and pull us toward the nucleus of the energy source.
"Is it just me, or did it sound like you were describing–"
"A star. A very, very small star, forming on the surface of the planet."
"How in the hell is that scientifically possible?"
"By all estimates, it shouldn't be. It's like someone put it there, or it was already there, which is impossible because at the rate it's expanding, it would have grown into something much, much larger by now."
"Keep trying to read the surface, I want more data. Our Vulcan guests are going to be busy for awhi–"
The ship rocked hard and cut Jim off mid-speech. He hurled sideways, skidding down the bridge and landing on the floor behind the helm control, where he grabbed onto the base of the helm chair to keep himself still. The ship shuddered once more, then went back to a heavy vibration. Lt. Sulu helped Jim to his feet and the crew resumed their stations.
"Security," Jim said. "Your bioscanners will be able to lead you to each Vulcan on board. I want at least three security officers to every Vulcan. Bring them to the brig for questioning. It's unlikely they'll rebel, but if one does, do what you have to."
"Sir," said his head of security. "Does this order apply to the director, as well?"
Jim hesitated. "The Vulcan on our recordings wasn't the director, but I still want all of them apprehended." Jim cut his eyes over to Stiles, who had been infuriatingly smug ever since they'd viewed the security footage of a Vulcan shutting down their engines. He absolutely hated saying this, but there was nothing else he could do. "We can't be certain that one worked alone. Phasers on stun. Lt. Sulu, you have the conn."
Jim entered the turbolift, flanked by Stiles. He stilled Stiles' hand as it reached for the control and Stiles put his hands behind his back, at attention.
"Commander, let us get a few things clear. The only reason I'm bringing you to the questioning is because it's regulation for the first officer to be included in questioning of a high-profile fugitive. While we are there, you are to reserve your objectivity and keep all personal opinions to yourself. I'll be damned if you go in there and start accusing all the Vulcans of treachery."
"With all due respect, Captain," Stiles said, his tone making Jim's jaw tighten, "At least one Vulcan has already been confirmed as a guilty party. The ship's in danger and we're in a war for our lives–"
"A war, Commander? Nothing has been confirmed, despite your insinuations. Just because your ancestors fought in a war with the Romulans a hundred years ago doesn't mean that you are still at war with anyone who happens to have pointy ears."
"No, but I do protest against anyone who's going to cause the death of over 500 crew members, sir," he said, face red with barely-controlled anger.
"I'll handle the majority of the questions. We don't have the time to waste on grudges; we need to focus on figuring out why they shut off the engines and how we resolve this crisis, lives intact." Jim pressed the button for Deck 3, ending the conversation.
"I have your orders, Captain," Stiles muttered, staring at the wall next to him.
Jim watched as the Vulcans were escorted into the brig. Director Spock had been the third Vulcan ushered in, and the blank look on his face had made Jim uneasy until he remembered that was the director's usual expression. None of the nine Vulcans in the research team had to be brought in by force.
Jim–flanked on either side by Stiles and two security officers–identified the Vulcan who'd shut off the engines within a minute of looking at all of them lined up in a cell; the culprit's name was Narak. Jim had Narak separated from the other Vulcans to another section of the cell, under the observation of two security personnel. Jim scrutinized the Vulcans' faces for any sign of guilt, but, of course, there was none. His eyes lingered on the director. Jim refused to believe that he could have been in confidence with Narak; in fact, the whole situation didn't add up–Vulcans had a logical respect for life and were, despite their violent origins, a peaceful people.
"Narak," he began, breaking eye contact with the director to look at the other Vulcan. "You were caught by the ship's security feed shutting down the engines during a crucial moment which sent the Enterprise into this volatile planet's atmosphere, possibly sending us all to our deaths. Since there's no question of your guilt, I only ask why you did it."
Narak simply looked at him.
"You must give testimony, Narak, to your crime," Director Spock said, turning toward his team member. Narak still said nothing.
"Don't speak unless the captain asks you to," Stiles commanded. Spock nodded his head in acceptance, but Jim frowned.
"The director hasn't been charged with a crime himself, so he has every right to respectfully parlay for his team member, Commander," Jim said, brusque. Fucking asshole. He gave Spock a small smile. "I apologize. We're all a little on edge."
"No apologies are necessary. It is clear that the perpetrator of this crime chooses to remain silent on the matter. It is logical for you to keep the entire team here in the brig, as it is uncertain if he acted on his own impetus. I render my own testimony, that I was not aware of Narak's actions, nor do I approve of them. You may question the rest of my team. If we recover from this crisis, my team and I will submit to Starfleet's tribunal on these matters."
"Problem is, we don't have time for all that. You guys figured out what the source of the energy field is, and it's likely that none of us will survive unless we can gain more insight."
"I remind you, Captain, that we can't let the other eight loose on the ship. Even with security on each of them, there's no guarantee they can all can be monitored," Stiles said. "Also, we don't know if that information or any other information collected by their team has been falsified."
"I can assure you that our calculations have not been tampered with and that our data is accurate," Spock said, addressing Jim.
"And we're supposed to trust your word?" Stiles asked.
"Commander," Jim said. "You're needed on the bridge. Relieve Lt. Sulu from the conn and put yourself in charge."
Stiles left, but not before giving both Jim and Spock nasty glares.
"My first officer was right about one thing. We can't let all of you return to duty. I want only Director Spock released, under my command and authority," he said. If he was wrong and they lived through this, Jim could be charged with reckless endangerment, but he didn't have the luxury of following procedure.
"Acknowledged, Captain," Spock said, moving from the group to stand at his side. Jim nodded to the guards, knowing they would know to lock up their prisoners accordingly. He walked swiftly from the brig, Spock trailing behind him.
"I was briefed on the information that was collected, Mr. Spock. Do you have any theories?"
"I do," Spock said. Jim stopped and turned back to give his full attention. "Before the discovery of this phenomenon, my team was involved in a top secret project."
"You're the head of the quantum physics department, so I assume what you were working on had something involving atomic and subatomic materials."
"Like something that could artificially produce a star?"
"Not precisely. I am certain that you remember the day Vulcan was almost destroyed."
"I'm sure everyone in the quadrant knows my involvement," Jim said. "Captain Pike made me acting captain of the Enterprise and sent a team to disarm the drill. They disarmed it while I beamed aboard the Narada to bring Pike back. We stole a really advanced ship, realized the invading Romulans were from the future, and made it out just before Nero self-destructed his own ship to avoid capture."
"The vessel you recovered, the Jellyfish, was commissioned by the Vulcan Science Academy. It was returned to us for analysis. Inside we found the red matter that was to be used to destroy Vulcan. While we knew of its ability to create a black hole, we were unable to discover how the red matter was constructed."
Jim smirked. "I imagine it's hard to put that stuff under a microscope."
"It took us months of careful research to even develop a way to handle the material. We had isolated every property of the red matter and had discovered the final isotope 3.5 standard weeks ago."
"Narak was a part of this project?"
"Then it looks like he gave that info to someone else. Imagine a weapon like that in the wrong hands."
"It appears that someone received the information, attempted to synthesize red matter, and launched the red matter into a barren planet as an experiment."
"Which failed, and now we've gotta clean up the mess. I still can't figure out why Narak would turn off the engines when it's obvious that he knew what was happening. Wouldn't he want to get the hell out of here?"
"There is a factor we are overlooking," Spock agreed.
"Hold on, this flooring is different," Jim said, holding out his arm to stop Spock. It wasn't a huge difference, but the floor was solid black and was missing the single silver stripe that ran down the middle of all the floors throughout the Enterprise. He looked up and down the hallway, then walked further along, wary. As he walked, the silver striped faded back, but he ignored that in favor of the watermarks he had seen earlier; they flickered in and out on random walls. As he rounded the last corner, he stilled as he saw people themselves fade in and out, each confused or scared, and it was then he realized what was happening.
The universes were merging completely.
Part II: Derailment
"You know, I freely admit that you're one hot son of a bitch, but I think this borders on some kind of self-incest," Jim said as Batshit Insane James T. Kirk lovingly ran the edge of a knife across his cheekbone. He'd tied Jim's hands together with his own leather belt after Jim had punched him in the stomach, which had done very little except piss Jim's captor off even more. Now Jim was on his knees, getting all kinds of bad-dirty-wrong vibes about the entire situation.
"So you're a Starfleet captain," his captor stated, voice lower and scratchier, like Jim's own when he first woke up in the morning. "Apparently you never had the pleasure of meeting Nero."
"On the contrary, he punched me in the face once. It was awesome," he said, deadpan. "What, did you lose that fight or something?"
The guy flinched, and Jim catalogued this obvious sore subject for later use.
"I never fought him myself. By the time I met him, Spock had already disemboweled him for me." The knife traced a path along Jim's throat. His other self smiled like Jim imagined a shark would. "It was awesome."
Jim tried to imagine a Spock that would do such a thing, but failed. He was sure his Spock would have killed Nero, but he'd have done so as nonviolently as possible, like with that tal-shaya martial arts move Spock told him about once, not simply ripping someone open.
"Captain Kirk?" a voice Jim didn't recognize came from the other Kirk's communicator.
"Decker, how are ya?"
"I had the Vulcan that broke into your quarters earlier, but he...gave me the slip."
His captor's face darkened, and Jim had to admit to himself that it terrified him. He wouldn't want to be Decker at this moment.
"The next time we meet, I'll want your agonizer."
Jim didn't know what the hell that meant, but Decker went silent and subdued, voice tinged with fear. "The captain has been trying to get ahold of you."
"Patch him through, before you mess something else up."
A few seconds passed and Jim was momentarily hopeful when Spock's voice said, "Jim, are you well?" but then remembered that this was not his Spock.
"Relax, Spock, I'm just talking to myself."
"I presume you are not speaking figuratively."
"You should see him. A baby-faced me in a little Starfleet uniform. Maybe we can play with him a bit."
Jim struggled against his bonds, growling, "You just go ahead and try."
"He has your spirit," Spock said, and Jim wondered if he had heard actual amusement in those words.
"But not my animal magnetism. Lock onto my signal, we'll be waiting for you."
"I am on my way. Stay vigilant, ashayam."
"Darling, you're making me blush in front of the hostage," he drawled before flipping his communicator shut. "Now, since we have a little bit of time before he gets here, let's get the ball rolling on this 'torture for information' thing." Jim flinched as his double sliced a shallow line into his neck.
"Yeah, well, I don't know where the fuck you come from, but if you're anything like me, then you'd know that I don't bend over and spread for just anybody."
"We'll see about that. Now, let's get back to the question I asked from the get-go: who is the Vulcan that cut off our engines?"
"I didn't know that someone had shut them down, and before you start carving into me again, that wasn't me being a stubborn jackass. There's only one Vulcan on my ship, and Spock wouldn't do that."
"You're lying, because I saw the security feed and it was a Vulcan, dressed in a Starfleet science uniform. Guess again or I start sawing on your pretty little mouth."
"There's a third universe, we encountered them before we encountered you. They might have more Vulcans on board their ship."
"Alternate universes? You expect me to believe that?"
"Is it so hard to believe it when you're staring at the evidence yourself? Tell me, in your universe, have I suffered any kind of brain damage? Otherwise, I'm a bit disappointed with myself."
Kirk flicked the knife and nicked Jim's mouth. Jim sucked his lower lip into his mouth, tasting blood. It said a lot about the way he led his life in that it was a familiar taste.
"Really, you almost make torture boring. You could at least beg a little. Everyone begs, eventually."
"It'll take a while for me to get there. How about telling me a little about yourself until then?"
Another cut, this time on the edge of his jaw. Jim breathed through his nose and tried not to cry out. There was nothing like being sliced open by a psycho, never knowing how deep they'll go.
A shadow moved behind Kirk, drawing Jim's attention. Had his Spock found him already? He heard the familiar sound of a phaser being shot and Kirk was knocked sideways from the blast. Jim was surprised when he saw Uhura move from the shadows. She gave him a look of mingled worry and relief and began to untie his restraints.
"You're getting one hell of a commendation when this is all over," he said.
"We've gotta get out of here, company's on the way," Jim said, remembering that the other Spock could be there any minute. They made it to the hallway, checking around for enemies and running for the nearest Jeffries tube.
"How did you find me? Don't tell me you just happened to be searching random storage rooms."
"I'd been monitoring your frequency before communications scrambled, and when it was back online I identified your voice and listened to the channel, and I heard that other Captain Kirk saying that he had you captured."
"Oh, you've been monitoring my frequency, have you?" he said playfully, taking a moment to stun one of those weirdos from the bondage universe. "Is that your universal way of saying, 'I love you, baby?'"
"Have you suffered a concussion?" she asked.
"Not that I'm aware of, Nyota."
Instead of the usual anger that usually got him, Uhura merely looked confused. It was then that Jim bought a clue and realized this was most definitely not his Uhura. But she seemed innocent enough, so he kept going, sans-flirting.
"Where are we going?" she asked as they ducked into a doorway, waiting until a group of ensigns rushed past before entering a Jeffries tube to climb up to the next deck.
"The arboretum," he answered, checking the deck number as they reached the next floor. One more to go.
"The arboretum?" she said, surprised. "The ship is under red alert."
As if to punctuate her point, a line of phaser light zipped just over his left ear. He dropped and rolled up onto one knee, firing in the direction it had come from. He heard the satisfying thud of a body dropping and hoped like hell that it wasn't Cupcake from his universe, because the guy already hated him like Spock hated split infinitives.
"A red alert, you say? Thank you, Lieutenant, or whatever rank you are. Without your help, I would never know what was happening on my own damn ship."
"I knew there was something off about you. My Captain Kirk would never be such an asshole to a member of his crew, especially one that just saved his ass."
"Now there's the Uhura I'm used to!" Jim said brightly. She scowled at him.
"You still haven't answered my question."
"You said it yourself; the ship is under red alert and that's one of the least-likely places for anyone to be, because the arboretum has no real use except to look pretty. No one is going to be relaxing there in an emergency, and strategically it's a horrible place to hide in because it's open and there is nowhere to hide."
"So what, we're hiding in plain sight now?"
"Hell no, it's a rendezvous point." Jim said, smiling to himself. "Spock and I came up with a couple of months ago. Our ship had been infiltrated and controlled twice already, so we wizened up and came up with a plan. Chances are, if our ship is boarded and we're under attack, we won't be able to communicate the traditional way and it would be impossible for us to find each other. So we figured out a place that no one would be, and so if something like this happens, we'll either know where to wait for each other or, if we're busy, how we can communicate."
"That actually sounds like a good plan. Is Mr. Spock in Starfleet where you come from?"
"'In Starfleet?' He's the best first officer in the entire fleet," he said, glad he was busy climbing up the last Jeffries tube so she couldn't see the flush of pride steal over his face.
"He seems like a capable man," she agreed. Wow, so apparently Spock and Uhura hadn't dated in this other universe. It occurred to Jim that this Uhura might actually like him. Might actually like him a lot, given that she certainly treated him nicer and she'd been monitoring his frequency. He must have had his balls cut off in the other universe or something.
When they reached the arboretum, he was pleased to note that it was emptier than Bones' stomach when they used to go drinking and take an aircar back to the dorms. He strode over to the fountain, feeling underneath for the crack in the rock that held what he wanted. Finding it, he held it up triumphantly.
"A notepad? With actual paper?"
"If you found it, would you assume it held anything important?
He opened it and was glad to see Spock's unfailingly perfect scrawl.
Captain, I have reactivated turbolift four. Barring unforeseen complications, I will be located on deck five.
Thank god for Spock. He really hadn't wanted to climb twelve decks just now. He slid the pen from the metal rings on top of the notepad and wrote, I'm on my way, unless shit goes down.
"Why write back when you're going there right now?" Uhura asked, and Jim was pleased to note that she never stopped analyzing their surroundings for impending danger.
"If I don't make it, he'll know what happened. Let's go."
The turbolift worked as Spock said it would. There was a lot more activity going on at this level, given that it not only contained a surely busy-as-hell sickbay, but also engineering, the transporter room, and even his own quarters. They didn't even have opportunity to sneak around. Everyone seemed on-edge and wary, but no one tried to harm them as they jogged down the hall. The first stop was engineering, which was controlled chaos. At the main power circuit, Jim did a double-take at three Scottys arguing over something. Jim went over to them.
"...and I'm telling you, if you try that you'll blow us all away right enough!"
"We're a wee bit past worrying about that now. I take it you have enough brains to see that we have little choice if we want the kind of power to pull from this bloody atmosphere."
"But if we're without the inertial dampener, everyone on board will be smashed into walls!"
"Gentlemen," Jim said, interrupting their feud. All three turned to him. The non-uniformed Scotty, presumably from the insane universe, looked much like he did when Jim had first met him on Delta Vega, giving Jim hope that not everyone was dressed like they were about to go to a leather bar in that universe.
"Captain?" the two uniformed Scottys said in unison.
"Right, I don't know which one of you two I should be addressing, but I just need to know if you've seen Spock."
"Sure I have, he was with you fifteen minutes ago. You were going to the bridge."
He looked over at Uhura. "Well, at least you know where your captain probably is. You may as well go up there."
"I'm still looking for someone else," she said. The uniformed Scotty that had just spoken to him pulled Jim aside.
"Captain, I assume yer mine since the other one certainly wasn't. I have to tell ya, it's not looking good. We have power to the main engines and are holding her steady, but we're stuck like flies to flypaper and we won't be stable for long."
"How long do we have?"
"I give her an hour at maximum, Captain. And less than two hours overall until she's destroyed completely."
"Do whatever you have to, Scotty. Baby her, sing to her, wine and dine her if need be. We need time to even figure out what the hell is going on down there, let alone come up with a good resolution."
"I'll do everything I can, Captain."
Kirk spared a glance for the other two before leaving, the other Uhura still in tow. He did a cursory check of his quarters to make sure Spock hadn't gone in there, and boggled at the weird ass arrangement of both his old stuff and things he'd never own, like a frankly creepy painting of a woman laying on a bed with a hairy demon sitting on her and a limned-eyed horse staring voyeuristically at them both, or a bookshelf proudly displaying dusty old tomes that anyone could easily download into a PADD or at least buy new.
They moved on, checking more rooms until they got to sickbay. It was, by far, the most packed place on the ship. Every bed was occupied and several gurneys and cots had been set up.
Jim went in, barely sparing a glance for the activity around him, knowing that Bones was somewhere in this mess. He sighed in relief when he spotted the back of him, but froze when he saw that Bones was leaning over a bed inhabited by a person with a familiar pointed ear. Jim bum-rushed the bed, calling out, "Spock!"
"Easy, Captain, he's in a state of shock," Bones said, and Jim got a good look at him. He looked exactly like his Bones, all except for a pair of glasses, which Jim knew his Bones didn't need. At least this one didn't look shifty-eyed and wasn't wearing a leather doctor's coat or something.
"What happened to him, Bones?" asked Jim.
"Bones?" McCoy said. Jim waved his confusion away, motioning for him to continue. "I didn't know at first, since I've never treated Vulcans, but I called the brig and one of them was able to tell me that he was on the bad end of a mind meld. I'm giving him Lexorin for weakness and the psychological transference. He should come around soon, but I don't know how bad off he'll be."
Jim nodded, staring down at Spock. He was muttering under his breath, a deep frown etched onto his face. Jim hesitantly reached out then retracted his hand before saying a mental 'fuck it, he probably won't know' and touched Spock's temple, smoothing his thumb over his brow to relieve the tension there. He heard a loud gasp behind him and yanked his hand away, thinking that it was because of his gesture. It was Uhura, who then ran across sickbay to a curtained area. Curious, Jim looked at Spock and McCoy and then went after her to see what was up.
Jim smiled when he saw an expanse of familiar green skin. He'd missed Gaila deeply since he'd read her name off the list of casualties on the failed rescue mission to Vulcan; it was nice to see that, at least in another universe, she was alive and well and, judging from the fierce hug she gave to Uhura, still had a heart and a personality too big for one person.
When he edged closer, Jim realized that the two women weren't hugging. They were full-on making out in sickbay. It was like Christmas come early, and Jim didn't care if they were due to crash and burn a minute from now, at least he'd have a hell of a nice image to die with.
They separated too soon, and Jim continued to her beside. "Gaila, it's good to see you," he said.
"Thank you, Captain," she said, confused.
"He's not our Captain, Gaila," Uhura clarified, pushing a lock of red hair behind Gaila's ear.
"So how long have you two been dating?" Jim asked.
"About a year. Why, is it important?" Gaila said.
"Let's just say I'm an interested party where I come from," he said, remembering a couple of long nights drinking Cardassian sunrises and having the best sex of his life in a dormitory.
"I'm sorry about your Spock," Uhura said. Jim's mood plummeted.
"He'll be fine, Bon–Dr. McCoy said so. Is there a triage center up yet or is this all the casualties?"
"They were talking about setting up one in shuttlebay," Gaila said.
Jim's mind worked fast. His Bones was probably down there, if he wasn't busy with something else or injured, and Jim tried not to think of that. As he wondered if he should go down to check, Spock took the decision from him by yelling from across sickbay. Jim hurried back to Spock's bedside where the bespecaled McCoy was trying to restrain him and push him back to the bed, having a tough time of it even with Spock's weakened condition.
"Spock!" Jim said, joining McCoy in trying to get Spock to lay back down.
"Jim! Get out, find you, make them bleed!"
"Spock, I'm fine, I'm right here," Jim said, terrified of the mixture of raw anger and fear in his friend's face. Jim grunted with the effort it took to keep Spock from lurching out of the bed. Spock's eyes were unfocused; he was currently doing his best to pry both of their hands from his body.
"Where are you? Have to...TEAR YOU APART GET AWAY!"
Jim's ears were ringing from the volume. "Spock! Look at me." Spock thrashed more. "Look at me!"
Finally, Spock's eyes focused and fell on Jim. All the fight left him; he started to shiver, huge wracking quakes that made him gasp as he flopped back down, reaching out a hand to Jim. Jim took Spock's hand, which calmed Spock even more. He slipped into sleep almost immediately.
When Jim looked back up again, most of sickbay was staring at them. Jim slid down into a chair, wondering what to do now.
He knew he was dreaming. The world he was living in was not his own.
He was in a prison camp on a planet made of ice. It was cold, colder than anything he had ever felt, and it sank into his very bones. Day after day of laboring alongside the broken remains of two species had hollowed him, left him with no feeling except the physical sensations cold and fatigue. They were all going to die here, killed by either execution or exhaustion, every day bringing them closer to their inevitable extinction. Still he felt nothing.
The memories came fast, crisp like staccato notes after a long dirge.
A mining elevator filled with Vulcans and humans, saved by a human who had dared to fight back; he had received a disfiguring wound for his trouble–a light punishment. Seeking out this human, this Jim, becoming friends. Long nights together in a dim barracks, talking, sharing meals outside in the cold, huddled together, drawing attention. The guard who had disfigured Jim–and it was his Jim now, only his–taking Jim into an alley and raping him with a phraser held to Jim's head, Spock helpless without a weapon, forced to watch, the attacker stunning them both when he was done. Spock waited days to take revenge, had cut the guard up, reveled in his screams and his hot green blood on Spock's hands. None of the other guards suspected a Vulcan; there was no shortage of highly-emotional Human prisoners who wished death upon their captors. Jim knew what Spock had done the moment he saw Spock, and that had, fittingly, been their first time together. After that he had spent his nights entwined together with Jim, mapping out every inch of Jim's body, each kiss against his scars a dark promise.
When Spock woke, his fever had passed and the emotions left behind in the meld had mostly faded, leaving only their impressions. Jim was next to him in a chair. He lifted his head when he sensed Spock move.
"Spock, you okay?" Jim asked, and though the memories of that other life were still carved into his mind, Spock had no trouble distinguishing between the two James Kirks. He offered Jim a small nod.
"How long have I been unconscious?"
"Just ten minutes; the Lexorin finally kicked in. What the hell happened?"
It took Spock a moment to remember, dredging up his own memories from the maelstrom of others. "After I left you a message, I went to engineering to see if I could be of assistance. Upon arrival to this deck, I was ambushed by an alternate version of myself, who seemed to have a grudge with yet another one of my alternate selves. I attempted to explain that I was not the version he was searching for, but he did not listen and instead tried to force a mind meld. I resisted and we fought for dominance, causing us both to tear thoughts and memories from one another. However, my alternate self was much more practiced and skilled with telepathy and recovered quickly from the assault, leaving me on the floor in the corridor."
"Well, judging from what I know about Captain Crazy Kirk, I imagine that you got off pretty easy."
"That is an understatement," Spock agreed. "He does not possess the information we do about what is occurring. To him, we are invaders, enemies, and I only hope he took from me the fact that this is not the case."
Jim's eyes narrowed. "What else did you pick up from him? The more we know about these psychos, the better."
Spock hesitated. It was not that he did not wish to tell Jim everything he had learned, but much of it was of a...personal nature. He could still see Jim in a hundred positions, skin damp with sweat, flushed all over, mouth slack just as it had been after that first mission when Spock had lost control and nearly choked his future captain to death, Jim lying against the console and gasping for air. The line between lying and withholding information was thin at best, but Spock told himself that if they survived, then he would tell Jim more.
"In their universe, Nero escaped from the Klingon prison planet of Rura Penthe approximately two and a half years earlier than in our own time line."
Jim appeared stricken. "That means I had only been at the academy for a few months."
"And I had yet to serve under Pike, if we are to assume that our lives were the same until that particular event. Because we were not there to prevent it, Vulcan was destroyed, and then Earth. The details of these events are unknown to me, but Nero's personal vendetta against myself was such that he tortured my counterpart in that timeline for a brief period before sending him to a prison planet, along with most of what was left of the human and Vulcan species."
"Why would he want to imprison the others?"
"I recall something about a war. Perhaps the Romulan Star Empire wished to use the survivors as slave labor to assist their side of a war."
"So that universe's Kirk and Spock managed to escape and steal the Enterprise?" Jim said, incredulous.
"The Enterprise was completed and spacedocked shortly after you enlisted in Starfleet, so the Romulans may have kept it for practical purposes."
"So we hijacked it, went after Nero, and you disemboweled him with me watching."
"The pronouns you are using are not correct. They are not us. Also, I did not receive that information."
"Oh, Captain Kirk told me all about that detail. Gleefully, I might add."
Spock swung his legs over the side of the bed. "We must find out what our current situation is."
Jim sighed. "Scotty told me that we have less than two hours before we go up in smoke. I've been sitting here running everything through my head, and the only thing I know is that if we're going to figure this out, well, two heads are better than one."
"Should you not have already sought out our counterparts from the safer universe by now?"
"The other Bones told me you were going to wake up soon, and I didn't want to be separated again. If we're all going down, then I don't want to do it worried that you're lying in some hallway alone."
Spock didn't know if it was some residual feeling from the mind meld, but he warmed all over at Jim's words; he wanted to reach out and touch him, ground himself in reality. Instead he removed himself from the biobed.
"We must find them now, as we have wasted enough valuable time."
Jim took Scotty's tip about their counterparts going to the bridge and headed there first. No one was there except various crewmen. He strode past Chekov, who stopped him as he went by.
"Captain, this is all very strange," said Chekov–and then, more quietly: "Lt. Sulu hit on me!"
"Trust me," Jim said, remembering another version of Chekov locked in a torture chamber. "It could have been a lot worse."
"But this is very strange. Sulu is dating girl in botany, and I am sure it was not a different Sulu who hit on me!"
Jim clapped his shoulder absently, heading for the captain's chair. "Keep saying it, it's starting to sound like you liked it."
Jim pressed the intercom button for the entire ship. Spock walked over to him, curiosity apparent in his face if you knew what to look for.
"This is the captain speaking. Or well, one of the captains. I hope everyone has gotten over their initial freaking out and are starting to realize that we've got an even worse crisis on our hands than just having a few extra copies of ourselves. In half an hour, we will lose control of our thrusters and experience heavy turbulence until we're pulled into whatever is down on the planet's surface. I know most of you are busy with your own crises all over the ship, and I want everyone to keep attending to their work. However, I request the presence of anyone named either Kirk or Spock, and anyone else they feel should be included in a briefing. We'll meet in the main conference room. Should anyone attempt to inflict violence upon any person, the deal's off and we will fight. Seeing as how we're all trying to stay alive at this point, I hope we can come to a mutual understanding. Kirk out."
He left the captain's chair and entered the turbolift, Spock right behind him.
As soon as the door closed, Spock asked, "Are you certain this is wise, Captain?"
"Look, we're all about to die anyway, we may as well see if they know something we don't. Even the people from the off-balanced universe will understand survival. Maybe even more than we do."
"In any case, we have our phasers and can solicit help from security if need be."
Jim smirked. "Always safe to have a backup plan."
Spock imagined seeing many things upon entering the conference room, but the elusive Kirk and Spock from the Romulan-controlled universe calmly standing in the middle of it was not one of them. Granted, they did have a random Vulcan tied up and gagged between them, but it was odd that they were there and not actively trying to kill anyone. Spock gave himself a moment to look over his alternate, who looked so different from himself that only their facial features remained the same. This Spock was dressed in a long black coat held closed with silver fastenings fashioned with Vulcan symbols. His hair was styled differently, cut as close as Spock's own on the sides but longer and messier on the top. Spock was interested to find that this version of him had no qualms about displaying emotions; his mouth was twisted into a sneer.
"The only reason we're here," the scarred Kirk said, voice hard with warning, "is because Spock read your Spock's thoughts and knew you wouldn't try anything stupid."
"I also learned that this Romulan was not a member of your crew," the other Spock said.
"What Romulan? That's a Vulcan," Jim said.
"He is most certainly a Romulan. I discovered his true identity with a mind meld."
"Jesus Christ, you sure are giving those out like candy, aren't you?" Jim said.
"Especially given the ethically gray nature of forced mind melds," Spock added, voice betraying his disapproval.
"Aw, don't be mad, sugar," Kirk drawled, its effect ruined when the ship trembled under their feet. The thrusters were giving out.
The doors to the conference room opened and a man wearing command gold walked in. Spock checked his uniform stripes, relieved to see that it was not a captain's uniform. Yet another universe would complicate things even more than they already were.
"Captain," the stranger said, addressing Jim. Jim opened his mouth to answer but was prevented from speaking by the advent of the last pair of Kirk and Spock, to all appearances bearing exact likeness to themselves, except that this Spock's Starfleet uniform had no stripes.
"Commander, I did not order you to be here," the new Kirk said to his officer.
"To be fair, sir, you haven't been around to give orders at all."
His Jim would have immediately ordered this man to leave. This Kirk leveled a hard look at him, eyes accessing. "You can stay, but if this crisis is resolved, there will be disciplinary action against you for an insubordinate remark." He turned his glare to the two Kirk and Spocks with the hostage. "That man is a civilian and a prisoner of the Federation. You will not harm him."
The other Kirk sneered. "The Empire doesn't recognize your authority."
"Empire?" Jim asked.
"The Terran Empire," Spock supplied, recalling more fragments of memory from the mind meld. It also explained the emblem he had seen on the bulkheads, the planet Earth and the Vulcan lirpa, a ancient weapon of war. "It was formed when their home planets were destroyed by Nero and they turned into fugitives of the Romulan and Klingon Empires."
"But where we're from, the planets were saved. Is that true in your universe?" the other Captain Kirk asked Jim.
"Just Earth," Jim said quietly, eyes briefly flickering over to Spock. Spock nodded, not trusting himself to do more.
"Fascinating," the Spock in the Starfleet uniform said. Spock felt a rush of anger for his alternate self, one who had never lost his entire home planet, who could never imagine what it would feel to lose so many. To lose his mother.
"I assure you it is not," the third Spock snarled, and it was disconcerting to Spock to hear how closely his alternate's tone mirrored what he himself felt. "You would not find it 'fascinating' to see both Vulcan and Earth destroyed and witness a madman tear your parents apart in front of you."
Spock had not been aware of this information from the mind meld. He briefly tried to understand how that might feel, how much worse things could have been, but could not. The other Spock turned his eyes to the floor, but his voice, when he responded, was toneless.
"I must still point out the imperative: discussing discrepancies in any alternate universe at this juncture is illogical."
"Right," Captain Kirk said, pointing at the newly-outed Romulan. "What are you doing with Narak?"
"He is a Romulan spy, from your universe," the other Kirk said from beside the captive.
"A Romulan? What the hell, did he get cosmetic surgery?" said Jim.
"That is obvious," the prison universe Spock said, scornful.
"Indeed," the other Spock agreed, showing no indication that he had picked up on the sarcasm. "I had been contemplating why a member of my research team would have motivation to send our scientific research to the Romulans. The answer is now apparent."
"What research?" Jim asked.
"Red matter," Spock said, sure that his conclusion was correct.
The other Spock nodded in confirmation. "The energy on the planet is reminiscent of the energy contained in a small star, which is why we are currently losing control of our thrusters to what is undoubtedly solar wind."
"So the Romulans in your universe took the information from this dead Romulan," said the scarred Kirk, putting a phaser to the back of the Romulan's head and firing, not bothering to watch the Romulan fall to the floor, "fucked up the instructions in their first experiment and realized they needed to do a clean-up operation to get rid of all evidence."
"That's why he shut off our engines," the uniformed Kirk said, scowling at the supine body on the floor. "The Romulans ordered him to sabotage the mission when they found out that we were looking into the strange occurrences around the planet. They didn't want us to find out about the weapon they're developing."
"Your logic is sound," the other uniformed Spock said to his Kirk.
"Except there is information that you seem to be unaware of," Spock said, clasping his hands behind his back. "There is a dangerous likelihood that their experiment only failed as a result of the planet they chose. On this particular planet there is an alien structure that is referred to as The Guardian of Forever. It is reported as having the ability to send a person to any point in history, or even to different dimensions."
"Which is probably why the red matter didn't ignite properly in the first place," Jim said. It was a fascinating event to watch, when Jim instinctively worked out facts that Spock had just as swiftly calculated in his head. "The Guardian was described as being sentient, remember Spock? Pike said it called itself The Guardian of Forever. I bet you a keg of Romulan ale it's protecting itself from destruction."
"A defense mechanism," the Empire Spock said.
"This is all well and good," the commander said, reminding them of his presence. "But how the hell do you know any of that when the planet is uncharted?"
"Excuse me, who the fuck are you and why are you talking to me like I care?" said Jim.
The scarred Kirk laughed outright, and his Spock smirked in approval. Even the other Captain Kirk couldn't quite repress a small smile. The third Spock, of course, reacted to none of it.
"First Officer Stiles," the man said, flustered.
"And you put up with this crap?" Jim demanded of the other Kirk.
"I follow regulation and procedure, yes," Kirk said, his humor dissolving. Spock braced his feet more firmly on the ground as the ship tilted three degrees to the left.
"You didn't answer my question," Stiles said. "It's obvious that you too are keeping information, possibly working for the Romulans as well, given what kind of first officer you have."
It was almost a blessing that the shaking of the ship slowed Jim's charge of Stiles. Spock grabbed Jim's arm, holding him back. "Captain, do not lose focus. Now that we are aware of what we are dealing with, we must conceive a plan to save the ship."
"Get the fuck out of here," Jim said, relaxing in Spock's grip. Spock released him.
"Before I am compelled to shoot your prejudiced ass down like a Romulan dog," the third Kirk added, aiming his phaser at the commander. Stiles left swiftly, and Kirk retracted his phaser and smiled at Jim. "I think I'm beginning to like you. At least you're not a shivering little pussy like that one," he said, gesturing towards third Kirk.
The uniformed Kirk glared openly at his scarred counterpart, then ignored him, showing a degree of restraint that Spock had never imagined a James T. Kirk could possess in any universe.
"We need to figure out how to fix this, and fast," Kirk said, beginning to pace.
The moment the thrusters failed completely was obvious. The ship shuddered and jerked violently; Spock could almost feel the motion of the ship caught in the solar wind, like a sailboat tossed around in a storm. Everyone braced themselves.
"All we have to do is somehow figure out how to neutralize a star in about an hour," Captain Kirk said.
"Theoretically the solution is simple," the other uniformed Spock said. "A star burns out when there is no hydrogen in which to burn. If we could somehow expedite the process, the star may outwardly expand and then evolve into a degenerate form."
"And how the hell do we 'expedite the process'?" Jim said.
"It may be possible to neutralize a star by emitting enough energy to affect the gravitational binding energy, which would pull the subatomic material apart and free us from its gravitational pull. However, this procedure is inadvisable, as hydrogen itself is extremely flammable."
"Great, so we electrocute the star. How the hell do we get that kind of power?" said Jim.
"I do not know," the other Spock said. The room fell silent.
The answer hit Spock all at once. "The warp core," he said. "If we are able to build a small matter/antimatter reaction chamber and launch it into the star, the resulting explosion may be enough to neutralize it."
"That is a foolhardy suggestion, considering the limited amount of time we have to implement such a plan," the uniformed Spock said, raising his eyebrow.
"Yeah, but it might save our asses, so let's get down to engineering," Jim said, heading towards the door with Spock following. The others hesitated for a moment, but eventually followed.
As they walked down the halls, the reactions of the various crews were interesting. Most appeared relieved, as if having all of their commanding officers working together meant a solution was at hand. Others demonstrated confusion, most notably those in the universes with Starfleet, and with good reason. The Kirk and Spock not wearing uniforms stood out with their odd features; they made themselves even more conspicuous by walking with their hands in the ozh'esta, their two fingers linked as they continued down the hall. Spock had witnessed numerous bonded couples do the same on Vulcan, most notably his own parents. There was no question what these two were to each other, even if he didn't have the memories to confirm it. Jim was currently speaking to his uniformed counterpart, and Spock shifted his attention to their conversation.
"So you enlisted in Starfleet when you were eighteen. Who the hell talked me into that?"
His counterpart appeared surprised. "No one talked me into anything. I wanted to be an officer like my stepdad."
"You're telling me one of my mom's shitty husbands was actually a member of Starfleet?"
Kirk's eyebrows furrowed. "I've only had one stepfather, Anthony Carter. He was a good man. I learned a lot from him."
Jim frowned. Though Spock was not schooled in grasping the subtle nuances of human emotions, he knew from his prolonged exposure to Jim Kirk that his captain was feeling bitter. It was the same emotion Spock felt towards his own alternate self from that dimension–the Spock who still had his mother, could still reach out to her, could tell her all the things that Spock never could until it was too late. Jim looked back at Spock, then slowed and aligned his footsteops with Spock's, looking at him consideringly.
"Come on, Spock, I know that look," he said. "What is it?"
Spock hesitated briefly. "I find that the version of myself that attended the Vulcan Science Academy is a compelling individual."
"If by 'compelling' you mean 'stick jammed so far up his ass that you could use him as a puppet,' then I agree."
"He is obviously going through the kolinahr, a discipline where one seeks to purge oneself of all emotions. I myself wished to pursue this discipline before opting to turn down entrance into the Vulcan Science Academy."
"Spock, don't do that."
"Do what, Captain?" he asked, perplexed.
"Don't compare yourself to them. You think I'm not feeling a little envy either? This guy obviously never got smacked around a little or drove cars off cliffs. But if you start comparing yourself to them, you'll just get a big headache and start to hate your own life. Besides, it was their universe that started this whole mess with the red matter, so they probably have a bitch of a future to look forward to, and he doesn't even have a kick-ass first officer to fight with him through the fallout like I do."
Spock looked downward, irrationally pleased with the sentiment. He couldn't help but look to his left to see the topics of their discussion walking with a great deal of distance between them, and then to the right to see the disquieting (but oddly compelling) image of a Kirk and Spock who were as close as two individuals could be, forged together through tragedy and great hardship. He consciously shifted an inch closer to Jim, and for a moment he let himself feel grateful.
It took them approximately 35 crucial minutes to relay the plan to each of their Montgomery Scotts and build a crude device that could be launched from a shuttlecraft and achieve the desired results. Engineering was chaos, and Spock was convinced that the only reason they managed to build the device so fast was because they had the skills and knowledge of the three chief engineers and three versions of himself, all working to make calculations and direct others in building what they required. It was a mad race down to shuttlebay, with only twenty minutes remaining before they would be pulled off course and into the star itself.
The new Galileo 7 was immediately requistioned and a team of engineers equipped it with the device. Spock surveyed his surroundings as they worked. A sufficient proportion of shuttlebay was set up as an emergency triage station. Cots and medical equipment sat alongside shuttlecraft and engineering stations, doctors and nurses from all universes working to help the wounded. Their own Dr. McCoy was there.
When he spotted them, he ran over and greeted the captain with relief and a reprimand.
"I've been sitting down here wondering if some other version of you was going to cut your balls off or something else that I'd have to reattach later, if you got lucky."
"Nice to see you too, Bones," Jim said, letting McCoy hug him for several long seconds before gently prying off McCoy's arms. McCoy took the hint and released him, trying to appear nonchalant. "How have things been going down here?" Jim asked.
"Absolutely insane. I've been working with my counterpart, and let me tell you, if you thought I was a grouchy asshole–"
"You, doctor?" Spock could not help saying. McCoy scowled at him.
"Nice to know you haven't changed a bit, Spock," said McCoy. He then turned to Jim and said in a quieter voice, "No, this guy is seriously unhinged. He asked me if Joanna was alive where I'm from. He hinted that she'd been killed right in front of him."
Jim put a hand to McCoy's shoulder, rubbing gently. "That's not your reality, Bones. And thank god, because I don't know if I could like you if you got even more grouchy."
The ship lurched and Spock almost stumbled into Scotty, who had rushed up behind him in a state of manic energy.
"Captain! The, er, the one I met on Delta Vega?"
"Over here, Mr. Scott!" Jim said, turning from McCoy.
Scotty shouldered past Spock; the rest of them gathered around to hear. "I did what ye asked, I strapped the homemade matter/antimatter bomb to the sides of the ship, but you can't use it!"
"What are you talking about?" the second Captain Kirk demanded. "If you hadn't noticed, we're minutes away from certain death."
"Aye, that I agree, but I've been conferring with that less-friendly Spock and he told me that, with the amount of energy and radiation pouring from that thing, a person in the shuttlecraft will surely be killed!"
"So we get someone to save the ship," the Kirk from the prison universe said, shrugging. "I'm sure someone out of the roughly 1,500 crew members from all three universes would volunteer."
"It's not just a matter of manning the thing and martyring someone. A person wouldn't survive long enough to be able to detonate the device at the right time, and without detonation the thing won't mix the matter and antimatter and it'll just explode normally with the ship and its pilot."
"Surely there has to be some way to keep them alive long enough. An environmental suit, perhaps..." Kirk suggested.
"I'm telling you, no human could survive long enough!"
There was a stillness as his words rang out, and Spock glanced at the other two Spocks, each with perfect understanding.
"But a Vulcan might be able to, Mr. Scott?" he himself asked.
Scotty was stricken. "Aye, but they would have to know how to pilot a shuttlecraft and input the proper codes, and we've only got a few minutes left to figure it out."
"Then it must be one of us," Spock concluded.
"Oh hell no," Jim said, staring directly at Spock.
"I agree, you're not going," the scarred Kirk said to his own Spock.
"If I may invoke logic, gentlemen," said Director Spock. "Logic dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
"Not where I come from," prison universe Kirk said, then made a surprising gesture, holding out two fingers and linking them with his Spock. Spock watched the scene in rapt curiosity, noting the emotions flickering across the two men's faces as they communicated through what was undoubtedly a telepathic bond.
It took seconds to occur, and when it was done, Spock's counterpart looked up and said, "I will not be going."
"What are you two, cowards?" Captain Kirk said.
"Look you asshole, it's not just about us. We're the leaders of all that's left of two species. It's just not one of us dying. If even one of us dies, everything falls apart."
"Captain," Director Spock said, swiveling to face his own Captain Kirk. "Perhaps it is I who should go."
"You're a civilian, Mr. Spock. You are the most brilliant mind on Vulcan. I can't allow it."
"He is also unqualified to pilot a shuttlecraft," Spock said. "I am qualified to pilot one and am willing to go."
"No," Jim said, face inexplicably flashing with anger.
"Captain–" he began.
"You're not going, and that's an order, Commander!"
Spock stared at Jim's reddened face, at his fiercely protective expression, into eyes that were so alive, that had captivated him since the moment he had looked down into a simulator room at the defiant cadet who wouldn't consider defeat an option. Regret swept through him, though he did not show the emotion.
"Perhaps you're right," he said. He turned to address McCoy. "Is there a qualified Vulcan patient present?"
As McCoy began to answer, Spock reached over and subdued Jim with the Vulcan Nerve Pinch, holding him as he dropped.
"I am sorry, Captain, I have no time to explain this logically." He felt everyone staring as he positioned his fingers at the meld points on Jim's face, felt their emotions around him as he opened up his mind, transferring his entire being, his katra, into Jim, whispering, "Remember."
He eased Jim the rest of the way to the ground, then stalked towards the equipped shuttlecraft.
"Hang on, I can't let you do this!" McCoy said, blocking the doorway.
"You and I both know that, if I wish to go, there is little you can do to stop me."
"Spock," McCoy said, swallowing, voice gone thick with emotion. "Jim would never forgive me if I let you do this without a fight. Hell, I wouldn't forgive me."
"I will be saving more than a thousand lives, Doctor. I can think of no better death. Please remove yourself from the entrance before I am forced to remove you myself."
Hesitantly, McCoy slipped away from the door. Spock moved past him and was surprised to feel a hand on his shoulder. He looked back to McCoy, feeling the other man's sorrow through the point of contact.
"I'll miss you, Spock. You're...a damn good officer, the best. And a good friend."
Spock felt his eyes burn, and he looked over at Jim one last time before looking back at McCoy. "If I were the captain, I would say, 'See you around, Bones.'"
Part III: Track Service
Jim launched to his feet as soon as he regained consciousness, swaying dangerously with the ship and supported by Bones. "Where the fuck is he?" Jim said.
"He's out there, Jim," said Bones, sounding tired and old. Jim wrenched himself from Bones' grip, racing toward a communications board. He saw the shuttle's current position, more than halfway to the planet. He tried to make a run for a shuttle, but Bones and Scotty held him back.
"Jim, no, it's too late!" Bones said, grunting as Jim stomped on his foot.
"It's not too fucking late, he's still out there, I just have to get to him!"
"He's taken on too much radiation. He's dead already," Scotty said, voice shaking. Jim slumped, the fight leaving him as the reality of the situation hit home. Bones and Scotty released him and he hurried to the communications board, frantically typing in codes, needing to see Spock. The signal wasn't perfect, but Spock's pale face soon filled the screen. He felt the others back away, giving him what privacy they could.
"Spock," he said. Quiet. Spock looked at the screen.
"I am pleased to see you, Captain, despite the circumstances."
"You fucking son of a bitch," Jim said, voice raw like he'd been screaming for hours. "You goddamn, stupid-ass Vulcan."
"No, you listen, damn you," he said. "You need to pull back."
"I am launching the matter/antimatter reactor now. It is too late."
Jim heard the sound of Spock deploying the missile, saw the flash of bright light and the coalescing colors as the hydrogen at the planet's core began to use itself up at an alarming rate, losing energy but becoming larger. Spock changed direction, but Jim saw that the damage had been done. Spock's skin was mottled and he could see green veins protruding all over his skin, poisoned from radiation. Spock's eyes moved blankly across the screen, and Jim realized with a renewed pain that Spock was blind from the harsh light of the star. Jim pounded his fist on the communications board, feeling himself cry and not caring, screaming, "Spock, damn it, no! Spock, Spock, you asshole–"
"Do not grieve, Captain," Spock said, struggling to catch his breath.
Jim touched the screen, wishing he could reach out and touch his friend, feel his warmth. "Spock, I can't lose you."
"Jim, I am sorry for causing you pain, but I hope you will one day forgive me for my actions."
"Spock," said Jim, faltering. "–I'm not strong enough. I'm only at my best when you're there."
"You are strong, in any universe," Spock said, voice soft. "You must go on. As for myself...I, for one, do not believe in angels. But you have my katra, Jim," he said, smiling at him, and Jim knew this is how he'd remember his friend, the one he loved best, serene and affectionate in the face of death. "It is yours for as long as you're willing to carry it."
Jim laughed brokenly. "Then you can kiss it goodbye, because I'm never letting go."
Spock nodded, too weak to talk anymore. He began to slump in his seat, head listing to the side.
"Spock. Spock!" Jim said, but he knew it was useless. Spock was gone.
"The shuttle is going to overshoot the Enterprise," Bones said tonelessly into his communicator. "Try beaming Spock aboard,"
"The transporters are not at full power," a crewman answered in confusion. "It would be dangerous."
"Damn it, he's already dead! It doesn't matter."
"Yes sir," the man said. Bones went over to Jim and ran a hand through Jim's hair, tender.
"I'm sorry, Jim. I tried to stop him."
"It's okay, I know you couldn't have stopped him. God, Spock, Bones," he said, voice small and hurt. Bones' communicator went off and Bones answered it with one hand.
"Sir, there's a faint pulse!"
Part IV: Last Stop
"Don't you move a fucking muscle," Jim said, trying to sound commanding but too happy to achieve it. Spock stirred in the biobed, eyes fluttering open. Bones swooped in like a gruff, whiskey-breathed angel, shining a light into Spock's eye and running a medical tricorder over every inch of his body, muttering obscenities under his breath.
"You'll need a few days to recuperate. The feeling will return to your leg in another day, and I have no clue how you managed not to go blind."
"An inner eyelid my ancestors developed to protect from the harsh environment of Vulcan. We tend to ignore it, as you often ignore your appendix."
"Damn luck," Bones said, voice scathing.
"As luck is a force that brings good fortune, I must disagree, as it was merely anatomy that saved my vision."
"It was luck and you know it. By all accounts you were dead for a couple of minutes, because I saw your life readings before they beamed you up."
"Maybe the transporter scrambled his molecules just enough to save his life," Jim said, teasing.
"Don't even try to make a saint out of those damned things," Bones reprimanded, pointing a warning finger in his direction.
"You will not hear complaints from my own person. If the transporters were sentient, I would have liked to express my gratitude," Spock said, and Jim laughed brightly at Bones' scandalized expression.
"Whatever the case, I'm glad you're here and not six feet under," Bones said.
"Six feet under what, Doctor?"
"You know damn well what I mean, Spock. Did that scary-as-hell version of yourself teach you how to pull someone's leg or something?"
"Doctor, I hardly need instruction to 'pull a leg' as the procedure for that action is clear, though the motivation to do so is not."
"Speaking of which," Jim cut in before Bones could retaliate. "The other universes. Are they all back where they belong?"
"After Spock kamikazed that star, the others faded and disappeared again, so I guess that's where they ended up," Bones said.
Jim smiled. "The planet wasn't destroyed, then. Maybe that Terran Empire will be able to settle and rebuild both of their species, except with a lot less crazy thrown in."
"It is highly possible. When we are able to contact Starfleet again, we should recommend the planet for habitation. It may be a more suitable planet than New Vulcan."
"But wouldn't Spock, the other Spock–the original Spock–good god I will never not be confused," Jim said.
"Spock Prime," Spock supplied.
"Thank you. Wouldn't Spock Prime already know that this planet existed, since he was the one who told us all about it before we got here?"
"He arrived years after this point in time, so the planet may have been destroyed or endured some natural disaster to render it inconsequential."
"I hope for their sake that doesn't happen," Bones said, finished changing the gauze over Spock's torso. "Still, I wouldn't envy being in that other universe either. To think, Romulans armed with red matter decades and decades before they should be, if they even had that technology before Nero stole it."
Spock nodded. "They will likely go to war, or at least become bitterly entangled in an intricate diplomatic battle."
"I almost say it serves them right, since they got to keep both of their planets and defeat the bad guy way too easily," Bones said.
"I don't know, Bones. Yeah, they managed to get places earlier and accomplish more, but they were late for at least one thing," he said, touching Spock's arm. Bones looked down at Jim's hand on Spock's skin and widened his eyes, comically flustered.
"I'll go run these results and deal with the rest of these patients. Half of them need to get out of sickbay; they don't have me fooled for a second about their supposed 'fatal' injuries." As he left, he drew the curtain, (about as discreet as a pissed-off Tellarite), shielding Jim and Spock from the rest of sickbay. Jim kept looking at Spock, unable to believe that they'd really made it out okay, that he'd been fortunate enough to have been given a second chance.
"There is a personal matter we need to discuss," Spock began, and Jim thought, oh, you bet your ass we do. "If my katra is left in you for much longer, you will begin to experience unpleasant symptoms due to the mental stress of carrying my essence, as well as endure a variant of a multiple personality disorder. I will need to perform a shallow mind meld to extract my katra from your mind."
"Do you really need to ask when you're doing me a favor?"
In answer, Spock reached up and positioned his fingers over the meld points. "Our minds, one and together."
Jim had been unconscious the first time Spock had done this, so this was the first time he felt this particular Spock enter his mind. The feeling of Spock's soul leaving him was like when he was tired and every part of his body relaxed and he drifted into sleep. When it finally left completely, Jim felt awakened. He sensed that Spock was about to break the contact, so he physically grasped Spock's wrist and said in their minds, Hold on there, I've got something I wanna say, and I seriously doubt I'll be able to say it out loud.
As you wish, Spock said.
I don't know what the hell I'm doing, what I feel about any of this, about you. But I know that when I thought you were dead, I felt like I'd lost part of myself. The best part. I didn't know it before, that you already meant that much to me, that you were necessary. You don't have to say anything about it, you can ignore me if you want, I just wanted you to know that–
His thoughts were cut off as Spock broke the contact, but Jim didn't have time to feel hurt before he felt Spock slide his hand to the curve of his cheek, gently pulling Jim down for a kiss, a brief press of their lips that felt inexplicably better than some of the best make out sessions Jim had ever had. He pulled back a bit and Spock let him, eyes warm and liquid brown.
"I guess this means you're propositioning me, Mr. Spock," he said, chest so light that Jim was surprised he wasn't floating away.
"By no means, Captain. I am merely signifying that I return your sentiments."
"You can return them all night long if you like," Jim said, waggling his eyebrows. His flirting was off, perhaps because Jim was on uneven footing or perhaps because this was Spock and the stakes were much higher.
"I look forward to this mutual commendation," Spock said. "I have only one question that requires immediate clarification."
"Shoot," Jim said, mouth curved upward.
"Is it imperative that I wear the pineapple-patterned shirt on our next shore leave?"
Jim burst out laughing, loud and startling in the quiet of sickbay.
"Goddamnit, Jim!" he heard Bones yell from several feet away. "You made me inject too much sedative into this bald-headed security guy that hates your guts, and now he'll never get out of my sickbay!"