Jim shuts down his console with a flicker of fingers. "Andoria," he says slowly, staring over Spock's shoulder for a moment. "I don't believe this." Spock watches Jim as he gets to his feet, knocking his chair back into the wall. "Fucking Andoria?"
Jim's head snaps up. "Seriously, don't even start. They're protesting aid to the colony? Of all the fucked up--"
"A great deal of Federation resources have been diverted toward the Vulcan colony," Spock answers evenly. It's surprisingly easy to control his own reaction; Jim's anger is all-encompassing, leaving space for nothing else. "They are correct in stating--"
"They're filing a motion to cease aid while the needs of the colony are brought under review. That's--" Turning back, Jim paces toward the window, glaring out into space. "Like we don't have enough problems in the Federation without this shit on top of it."
"If you tell me to calm down, I'm going to throw this chair," Jim points at the overturned chair, "at you. And my aim is better than yours."
This is true, and Jim does not hesitate to remind Spock of the fact whenever it may seem relevant to the conversation. And sometimes, even when it is not.
"We will arrive at Starbase 3 within the next three hours," Spock says mildly. Jim scowls. "You are scheduled to meet with Captain Mitchell upon our arrival. He may have more current information on the situation."
Jim hesitates, and Spock senses Jim trying to gauge his mood, a faint touch brushing across his mind before Jim nods. "Probably. And he'll hold it over my head for fucking ever if he does."
After a moment, Jim leaves the window, leaning against his desk. "The thing is, I don't get it."
Spock raises an eyebrow.
"Andora pulling this now. I mean, it could be in reaction to the Vulcan colony's petition to the council, but I don't--" Jim stops, locking his fingers around the edge of the desk, blue eyes distant. "When I was a kid, I was in Chicago for a few weeks with my grandmother. I memorized the neighborhood, the transport routes, everything. One day, I fell asleep on the way home from--well, no need to go into that," Jim says, looking at Spock with a brief grin. "Anyway, I woke up and realized I'd gone beyond my stop and got off at the next one."
Spock frowns. "Why didn't you--"
"Hey, my story here," Jim objects. "Anyway. I got off and I was in a part of the city I didn't recognize. Long story short, eventually I caught a cab and got back home eight hours later, after I'd gotten myself completely lost."
"You could have taken the next transport--"
"Spock," Jim says patiently. "I was fourteen. In a strange part of the city. Of course I didn't do something sensible. For that matter, when have I ever been sensible? Have we met?"
Spock inclines his head, amused. "Granted."
"Thank you." Pushing off the desk, Jim claps his hands together. "So, right, I got lost, had a hell of a time trying to find the station, and ended up walking what felt like half the city. Then gave up, got a cab, went home, and got grounded."
"This is a truly fascinating story," Spock says.
Jim scowls. "My second year at Starfleet Academy--that would be third year for those who didn't test out of most of their first and second year courses--I went back to figure out where I'd been. And the thing is, it looked almost the same. But not quite."
"After over a decade--"
Jim rolls his eyes. "Yeah, no. I don't forget. So I kept looking around and trying to figure out what had changed. And it felt obvious, you know? Like it was staring me in the face and I was just missing it. After I left, I ran a few searches at the Academy and realized they'd moved the station itself, one mile east from where it had been, so I'd been just looking at the damn thing from the wrong angle. Which has got to be some kind of metaphor for something."
Dropping on the couch, Jim leans back, staring at the ceiling. "I'm looking at it wrong," Jim says, and Spock knows he's no longer talking about a neighborhood in Chicago. "I know I am, but I can't figure out what."
It's not that there are not many logical explanations for the actions of Andora; there are, and Spock can list them easily. The most important, and for that reason the least spoken, however, is the one he thinks most likely; before the Federation, before Earth, before humans had first touched the stars, the founding worlds of the Federation had existed in a perpetual armed neutrality, centuries of suspicion built between them. The forming of the Federation had been possible due to the buffer that Earth was between the older spacefaring races, and Earth, fresh from a conflict that had nearly destroyed their people, was unswerving in its quest for peace at all and any cost.
Vulcan and Andora had a millennia-old history that was not always peaceful, and even a century of Federation membership could not hope to erase it.
Jim blinks, turning his head to look at Spock thoughtfully. "You know, I think it's gamma shift and we're off duty. Though you know, if you want to call me Captain next time we--"
Jim smirks, straightening. "You want to come with me to see Mitchell?"
"Lieutenant Uhura has requested my assistance with identifying the algorithms recovered from the data solids you retrieved from the station. She thinks she may be close to decrypting the message we received."
"You'd think if they really wanted us to read it, they'd make it easier to decrypt, wouldn’t you?" Jim says with a sigh, standing up. "Maybe we should see if we can get Gaila to look it over. She's grounded in San Francisco until her ship's finished repairs."
Spock nods as he follows Jim from his ready room, glancing over gamma shift, who attempt to appear more alert as he and Jim cross the bridge. Jim bites back a grin until they're safely in the turbolift. "So. You busy for the next hour, Commander?"
Spock looks at Jim thoughtfully. "I do not think I have any conflicting engagements."
Jim smiles slowly. "Good."
"You would think," Nyota says, staring at the console screen in frustration, "that if it was important that we read this, they would make it somewhat less complicated to decrypt."
Not for the first time, Spock acknowledges the uneasy fact that there is a marked similarity of personality between Nyota and Jim. "The importance of the information is potentially the reason that the message is difficult to access," Spock answers, returning to his own screen. "Have you attempted--"
"Everything," she says tightly. "The message encryption matches the solids the Captain got from Dar, but we don't have anything in the database that's more than superficially similar."
"That is--unexpected," Spock answers slowly. "Perhaps--"
Abruptly, the door chirps. "Cadet T'Prina requests entrance," the computer drones.
Cadet T'Prina nods greeting as the door closes behind her. "Lieutenant Commander Scott states the ion storm is causing problems with ship's communications," T'Prina says. "The Captain has ordered me to acquire his codepicker from Lieutenant Uhura and to tell you that he is on his way to the transporter and you should not--wait up." She pauses. "I asked for clarification, but he stated you would understand."
"It's a human expression," Spock answers absently. "Did Commander Scott have an estimate on when they will be functional?"
"Less than a standard hour, sir." She turns to Nyota as Nyota removes the codepicker from the interface, tucking it into her pocket. "Lieutenant, Ensign Pachenko received a transmission before the communication system collapsed. She stated it was garbled and she was unable to reconstruct it."
"Hmm." Nyota taps a quick sequence. "Got it. Let me look at it and see if--" Nyota stops abruptly. "Spock, come here."
Leaving his station, Spock circles the table, looking over her shoulder at the screen. "This is a Ferengi encryption signature."
"And not one of the corporate or government ones either." Typing rapidly, she watches the screen. "I can compensate for ion interference."
"Perhaps the Captain should delay his appointment," T'Prina says unexpectedly.
Turning, Spock looks at her curiously. "Cadet?"
"With the ship vulnerable due to a communication outage," she starts, "it would be more appropriate if he were to wait until Commander Scott has confirmed that ship's communications are operational."
"T'Prina," Nyota says, sounding amused, "it's a Federation starbase. I doubt the Captain can get in too much trouble in an hour--"
"But if he were to--"
"I would know," Spock says. T'Prina's eyes flicker to him, then away. "There is another reason."
T'Prina's eyes fix on the wall, straightening. "Commander Spock--"
T'Prina stiffens, and not for the first time, Spock thinks that despite the relatively small difference in their ages, she seems so much younger than he can ever remember being. "Commander--"
"Do I need to make it an order, Cadet?"
T'Prina's looks at him, startled, with the faintest--very faintest--trace of rebellion. "No, sir. I also thought that the Captain might wish to know this message was received."
In peripheral vision, Spock sees Uhura turn around in her chair to face T'Prina. "Ferengi," she says. T'Prina nods. "You think this is from Jim's contact at the station? The one he got the data solids from?"
"Yes." T'Prina looks between them. "The Captain stated that he trusted Dar's business sense. If he has made contact--"
"I see." Spock glances at Uhura. "The Captain just entered the transporter room. I will inform him of the message--and that you are on your way."
T'Prina nods shortly, almost as if in relief. "Yes, sir."
After the door closes, Nyota looks at him. "That wasn't her reason."
"I know." Spock returns to his seat, but for some reason, he is unable to focus on the screen. Distantly, he can feel Jim enter the transporter room, saying something to the crewman on duty before he steps onto the transporter pad. Jim.
Change your mind? Jim answers with a mental smile. I promise not to drink anything I don't have a tolerance for. Where's T'Prina?
She should be there momentarily. We received a message with a Ferengi encryption signature before communications were interrupted. Lieutenant Uhura is retrieving it now..
Jim's mind goes through several variations of surprise. You think it's Dar?
Possibly. Would you recognize it?
Jim orders the crewman to wait. Show me. After a moment, Jim relaxes. Yeah. A new one, but I recognize it. Hold on and I'll--what the hell?
Spock frowns as Jim tells the technician, "I said wait! What the hell are you doing?"
"I'm not doing it, sir!"
Spock gets to his feet, caught between Jim's mind and the room. "Spock," Nyota says, her voice seeming to come from a great distance. "Spock, I have a partial on the message."
"It says something about a trap. And Starbase 3."
Jim. Get off the transporter.
The reply is an unstable mixture of acknowledgement and confusion. No one has ever recorded the effects of dematerialization during direct telepathic communication; perhaps this should be a future topic of research. It is extremely disorienting. Jim, get out of there.
"Spock?" Uhura says worriedly, and a hand touches his shoulder just as Commander Scott's voice over the comm states, "Commander Spock, communications are restored."
"Computer, security to transporter room one," Spock manages as Jim's mind suddenly begins to dissolve around him.
"Commander," T'Prina says over the comm, "an unknown ship has achieved a lock on the Captain's pattern. I have been unsuccessful in blocking the signal and can no longer delay transport without damaging the pattern buffer. I have logged my attempts and the signature of the transporter so you will be able to find the parties responsible. Security will have a more complete report of events."
"T'Prina," Nyota says, and Spock faintly realizes that they've left the lab and Nyota is leading them down the hall, "what the hell are you doing?"
Silence. "Security," Nyota snaps as the turbolift opens, "I want a report now. Evans! What the hell is going on down there?"
"The Captain and Cadet T'Prina have been transported off the ship," Lieutenant Evans says, sounding shocky. "I--we couldn't stop her. She got my communicator and both my phasers and just--jumped on top of him before he'd finished dematerializing."
Later, Spock thinks distantly, this will make sense. "Lieutenant Uhura--"
Abruptly, Spock feels the turbolift wall against his back. "Uhura to the bridge, red alert. I repeat, red alert. Shields up. Chekov, start scanning for an unknown ship or ships within transporter range. If you find them, commence pursuit immediately. Communications, send a secured message to Starfleet and Starbase 3 on emergency frequencies, war time encryption; Captain Kirk and Cadet T'Prina have been abducted. Then lockdown all communications to or from the Enterprise. We are in lockdown; I repeat, the Enterprise is now in lockdown."
"Lieutenant?" Sulu's voice is very faint.
"Just do it! You have the conn. I'll be in Sickbay with Commander Spock. Update me there. Uhura out." Warm hands settle against his face. "Spock, can you hear me? Uhura to Sickbay, we've got a medical emergency--"
Spock wonders to whom she could be referring.
"--when he was dematerializing. I don't know! Get someone to turbolift three, now--"
Spock blinks, the turbolift closing around him abruptly. "I cannot feel his mind."
"Spock!" Uhura says, then, "Leonard, he's not breathing, tell them to run…" and that's the last thing that Spock hears before everything goes dark.
"That's because you don't appreciate genius," Jim says comfortably, dodging from the path of a multi-tentacled matron and her attached offspring. To his semi-experienced eye, the oldest looks ready to drop, waving cheerfully at him as they pass. Waving back, Jim falls back in step with his companion. "Don't tell me--you've never played video games."
Cadet T'Prina gives the expressionless equivalent of a frown; Jim tries not to find it adorable, but he can't help it. In loose civvies (she'd borrowed them from Uhura) and a cap pulled over the neatly coiled mass of braided black hair (and hiding her ears), she's still every inch the Starfleet cadet. "Video games," she says slowly, testing the words to compare against a memory that rivals a Federation computer. "Do you mean educational holo--"
"No," Jim answers patiently, directing her to a side street, if you could call the equivalent of a space-junkyard turned space emporium's twisted hallways a side street. Someone that Jim devoutly hopes was a truly inspired engineer had encased this entire section of Begammon Station with a forcefield polarized to a strangely mesmerizing turquoise and established a complex series of environmental controls, creating the equivalent of an open-air market. "I mean, for enjoyment without any possible--and I do mean possible--academic or intellectual value."
"No, sir," T'Prina says. She's not quite as good as Spock at conveying utter contempt at the very idea with a single eyebrow, but she's getting there. "Is this a normal part of the dissolute lifestyle of human beings?"
"Very much," Jim answers, pleased. "Anyway, Cathis is a genius, and apparently, somewhere here is a man who has the pre-release. Which we are going to acquire."
"Did you not say that the game would not be released for another six months?"
Mind like a computer.
"That is correct." They slow their pace to allow a tall Andorian to pass, antennae moving erratically. If Jim knows his Andorians (he does), that one is very high, and he's on the right track. "And I'm going to be on the other side of the galaxy and won't get to see it for at least a year."
"Is that not illegal?"
He loves how she frames it like a question. "Yes. And it's wrong, so you shouldn't bootleg anything. And I'm buying a copy when it comes out, so that makes it okay."
T'Prina's eyebrow inches toward her hairline. "Your use of sophistry is unsophisticated but intriguing."
"I love Vulcans," Jim says; he does. Over her head, a Ferengi attempts to look casual. As T'Prina starts to answer, Jim shakes his head. "Hold on a sec. I found my guy. Remember--I'm a colonist from Alpha Centuria named Nogura and like to be called Admiral. And you?"
She gives the eyebrow equivalent of a sigh. "I am T'Prina," she says, "a former Starfleet engineer who assists you on your 'pirate ship'."
"I wish you'd say pirate more," Jim says a little wistfully. "All right, let's do this."
The Ferengi, calling himself by the unlikely moniker of "Mark", stops trying to be casual as they approach. Jim's always liked Ferengi; they're fairly straightforward about wanting to accumulate as much wealth as possible, and he respects a goal oriented people. With a significant look, Mark leads them down another, even narrower passage, and Jim fights T'Prina for the lead, because she's been listening to Spock way too much. With the faintest look of dissatisfaction, she plasters herself within an inch of his back.
A small, rounded door opens, once an airlock for a species that must have been very short; the Ferengi goes in, and Jim follows, feeling T'Prina radiating professional paranoia behind him.
The room has a vague resemblance to an auxiliary bridge gone wrong, hung with a variety of technology that Jim recognizes from certain missing shipments, boxes stacked without any regard for safety protocols or even neatness, but he's not here to judge. Much. There's a narrow door in the back, half-hidden behind a pile of mimetic silk and replicators that he takes note of before turning his full attention to Mark.
"I understand you require my assistance, Nogura?" Mark says coyly. Jim nods as seriously as he can with T'Prina breathing down his neck. "A game, you said?"
"Battlestations III," Jim answers, eyeing the chair that Mark indicates before slouching into it. "I was told you have it."
"Indeed." Going to a carefully sanded standard Federation cargo box in the corner, Mark keys in the combination; Jim cranes his neck, noting the data solids piled inside. "Very difficult to get, that one."
"Should be. Cathis' company keeps better security than Starfleet." And Jim would know. "So you have it?"
"Let me see…" Making a dramatic production of sorting through the solids, Mark casually shifts his balance, and Jim watches him press the ball of his foot securely on a scuffed section of the metal floor. "Ah, here it is." Closing the box, he returns, holding it out. "This you were looking for?"
What do you know--he actually has the damn game. "I'm almost feeling guilty about this now," Jim says, turning it over to look at the label with a pang. "Dar, I thought we had an understanding."
Standing up, Jim pushes past him, looking down at the cargo box. "Code?"
"Sir! I can't--"
Yes, stupid to ask. "T'Prina, watch him?" Pocketing Battlestations III, Jim kneels, pulling out his codepicker and attaching it to the side. It warms beneath his hand for a moment as it comes online. When he turns around, Mark aka Dar is perching uncomfortably in the chair under T'Prina's watchful eye with a phaser pointed at his head. "All right. Who are they?"
"Sir," Dar protests with almost-convincing hurt, "I would never--"
"Dar." Crossing his arms, Jim leans against the remains of the auxiliary bridge. "I feel our relationship has suffered a setback. See, I came to buy an illegal game, and you sold me out. Possibly to the same people giving you high-security Federation cargo boxes, suitable for transporting a warp core or a dozen teddy bears to kids during epidemics. Five seconds, then we just shoot. One, two, three--okay, I'm bored--"
"No!" Throwing an arm up, Dar's eyes narrow. "It's only to talk. I was asked to arrange a meeting."
"I don't really do meetings."
"Captain Kirk is always willing to listen," Dar says cleverly. "That is what is said. Was he wrong?"
"Please tell me this is a joke." Jim glances at T'Prina, who gives an infinitesimal shrug. She'd probably have to touch him to get more, and Jim really doesn't want her to have to do that if they can help it. "Dar, really--"
"You are willing to listen if it involves Romulans, aren't you?" Dar asks, smiling slightly, and there we go. T'Prina stiffens but gives no further sign of interest. "The border has become a dangerous place for the Federation. Many ships have been lost…but perhaps not destroyed."
"That would explain a crate from Bella," Jim answers, kicking it lightly. "What else do you know?"
Dar shrugs elaborately. "I don't. But the one who asked me to arrange this meeting does."
The codepicker gives a single chirp, and Jim crouches, opening the lid, taking a careful breath before picking up the first solid. Neatly labeled, perfectly organized, the entire contents of five Federation ships' memory banks fill padded layers of the interior. Accessing the data is probably up to the customer; good luck with that. Starship security is a whole different barrel of laughs during the decryption process. Turning the solid over, Jim reads Einstein and thinks of the tiny science ship that did, of all things, space weather analysis. It should never have been a target of anyone.
"There's someone coming," T'Prina says softly, not looking away from Dar. "Four sets of bipedal footsteps, humanoid…" She cocks her head slightly. "They have a telepath."
"Then they don't want to talk." Closing the box, Jim takes out his phaser. "Dar, I'm disappointed. T'Prina--"
"There are four more that have joined them," she says with a frown. "Captain--"
Jim flicks the phaser onto stun, firing at Dar before he tries to be reassuring again, as that's just not working. As Dar slumps to the floor, Jim looks around the room. "Move him to the wall so he doesn't get stepped on."
T'Prina hefts up the Ferengi effortlessly; nothing like a Vulcan to screw with your self-image, Jim thinks, locking the front door. "Captain," T'Prina says, not even short of breath as she places Dar near the wall, "should we--"
"Run very fast? Yeah, I think so." The footsteps are audible to him now, which means they're very much running out of time. "Come on; we're getting out of here."
T'Prina follows him to the back door; it's locked, but Jim takes out his phaser, melting down the lock, pushing it open and arriving in what must have once been engineering, a dead warp-core assembly in the far center, and….
"Oh wow," Jim breathes, looking around. "I'm in the wrong line of work."
"Smuggling?" T'Prina says, closing the door behind them and sealing it shut with her phaser. Practical girl. Then she turns around, coming to a stop beside him. "Fascinating."
Not just Federation cargo boxes: Jim recognizes only about half of what he's seeing, but he figures if he threw his crew in here, they'd could set up their own government and start conquering a good portion of semi-industrialized planets. "Want to be a pirate instead?" Jim says slowly. "I think we could make it."
To her credit, T'Prina does think about it. "It would be unethical," she says, subtly managing to get ahead of him to test the catwalk. Below them, there are two more levels of storage. Maybe a highly industrialized world or two could be added to the roster. "It is safe."
Jim sighs. He's got to talk to Spock. "We need stairs," he says, following her along the swaying catwalk, ignoring the faint sense of vertigo. "There--ladder to the left. Go all the way to the bottom."
T'Prina swings easily down to the ladder; Jim watches the door until she's ten meters down, then follows, tucking his phaser into his shirt. "Hear anything?" he asks.
T'Prina hesitates, head cocked. "No."
"Yeah, that's what I thought." Closing his eyes, Jim pulls up his memory of the schematics of this part of the station; the files in the stationmaster's computer had been badly out of date, but this part at least had been very well documented. There are only three exits, and they have at least eight people and a goddamn telepath. He doesn't need algebra to work this one out.
At the bottom, Jim sights the doors, studying the reinforced metal walls, probably impenetrable to scanner or transporter under normal circumstances. "T'Prina, watch the doors." Reaching into his boot, Jim pulls out an extra phaser, flipping the cover and setting the overload. "Support beam, support beam, now where--here we go. T'Prina, five seconds." Setting it for a five second detonation, Jim pushes it against the wall and jogs back to a pile of cargo boxes. Four Mississippi, three Mississippi, two Mississippi….
"Oh for fuck's sake," Jim mutters just as the entire room seems to explode. Faintly, he's aware of something hard against his head, a hand knotted in his shirt, and a sudden rush of air; when he looks up, the cargo boxes are no longer a barrier and T'Prina is kneeling beside him.
"Did it work?" Jim asks, sitting up, reaching up to touch his aching forehead. Well, fuck. Staring at the tumbled boxes in betrayal, Jim tries to remember which pocket Bones had made him put a travel medkit in. "Federation cargo boxes don't fall over when stacked correctly," he says, offended by shoddy workmanship. "They're balanced and certified for space travel and at least ten kinds of fire fights."
"I doubt they were stacked correctly, Captain," T'Prina says coolly, hand still resting lightly on his shoulder. The wide brown eyes study him for a minute, and it's only the fact Jim's spent the better part of two years figuring out how to interpret Spock's eyebrows that he gets the wound may be more than a scrape. "There is access to one of the outer corridors."
"Excellent." Before he can stop her, T'Prina wipes away the blood and places an adhesive bandage removed from an interior pocket over the wound. "You know, I can do that myself."
"Of course, Captain." Getting to her feet, she reaches for his elbow, the cloth a safe barrier between them as she helps him to his feet. "Do you feel any dizziness or nausea--" she starts, then stops short, because it's pretty damn obvious he does.
"No," Jim lies. His vision doesn't really want to clear, but that's really not a problem; he knows where he's going. T'Prina keeps hold of his elbow as they approach the ragged opening in the wall. Pushing her behind him, Jim steps through it, feeling the jagged edges tear through his shirt; Bones is never going to let him live this down.
"Clear." Stepping away from the opening, Jim leans against the cool metal wall, noting the lights are lowering with a certain sense of inevitability. Faintly, Jim thinks he hears the roar of many people yelling before the heavy sound of a large door--say, the main door to the market--being sealed. "Market's closing early. At least they're letting people evacuate first."
"The forcefield is lowered at the end of each market day," T'Prina observes, unsubtly shoving a hand under his elbow. It's getting embarrassing. "All doors are timelocked and the atmosphere is evacuated--"
"I know." Turning, they hit a main thoroughfare; trying a door, Jim's unsurprised to find it locked. Abruptly, the lights vanish. "Huh."
"I believe the computer system has been compromised," T'Prina says with a fine talent for stating the obvious in a way that doesn't sound nearly as terrifying as it is. "It seems the stationmaster's security is indeed faulty."
"Anything that can be hacked from a rec room terminal is not secure. Cadets hide their diaries better than this." Jim considers; they can go back into the warehouse and try to get into an inner room, but he's going to guess the only one available will be filled with telepathic people who want to talk to him. That just can't end well. "Okay, thoughts?"
He can't see her face, but her fingers tighten minutely as she considers and discards options. Blowing a hole into a secure room will kind of defeat the purpose of the room, and the secure rooms aren't going to be off any of the main streets anyway. That would also assume they could see where they were going. Reaching up, Jim rubs his forehead while she can't see it; this headache, he can tell, is going to be a doozy.
Abruptly, they're bathed in light; Jim winces, covering his eyes; yeah, that helped the headache. Beside him, T'Prina tenses. "Captain Kirk," a voice says smoothly. "It is a pleasure."
"God, I hate it when they're polite," Jim murmurs, squinting until he can make out that the light stops only a few feet away all around them. It's starting to feel a little stuffy, which is either the concussion or the atmosphere is being evacuated. Tilting his head in the general direction of the speakers, Jim says, "Can you just get on with it?"
"I have some information that you might find of interest. I'd be willing to trade," the voice says. Jim glances at T'Prina, who leans into him enough for her knee to activate the tricorder in his right pocket. "Regarding the missing Federation ships."
"That the Romulans took them? Huge surprise, but thanks for confirming," Jim answers. T'Prina's grip on his elbow and his own pride are basically the only things that are going to keep him on his feet for much longer. "Can we go?"
"I thought perhaps you would be interested in the fate of their crews," the voice says lightly. Jim stills, feeling T'Prina's hand tighten again. "If you think you will wait until your ship comes for you, it is currently occupied with more--immediate matters. I suggest you accept my generous offer. I think we can come to an arrangement."
"Probably," Jim answers a little breathlessly, hoping they can't see that T'Prina is pretty much the only thing keeping him on his feet. "But not interested. So we'll just be going, if you'd unlock the door."
"Captain Kirk," the voice says; less smooth. Interesting. "I do not think you understand the gravity of your situation. The atmosphere will be depleted in one minute." Yeah, and boy does it feel like it. "If you refuse, I will merely wait until you are both unconscious. It will be easier for you to agree; in return, I will allow your companion to be returned to your ship, as a gesture of good faith."
"I am not permitted to leave Captain Kirks' side," T'Prina says in a stunning display of how very much Spock isn't allowed to instruct their cadets anymore. "Your threats are of no consequence." Stepping closer, she puts an arm awkwardly around his shoulders in some insane gesture of solidarity that someone really clueless at the Academy must have taught her for integration with the population purposes. "We will not surrender."
There's a general sense of confusion from above them, and Jim hears her breathing hiss as the air thins even more. "I liked that last bit," Jim whispers, then closes his eyes, chest tight. "Very. Coup de grace."
T'Prina makes a virtue of necessity and has them sitting down look casual and not the result of suffocation. "Captain," the voice says, sounding unhappy; well good. It's not like Jim's having a party down here. "I will ask one more time--"
Abruptly, the klaxons announcing the forcefield drop cut through the voice; distantly, Jim hears shouting and orders to get to the airlock, but T'Prina is curling up around him like she can block vacuum by sheer will--which, well, she's Vulcan. It's possible. It's okay, he wants to tell her as the pressure suddenly starts to drop. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi….
The Academy had a simulation of vacuum. It had not been all that great. Jim's pretty sure the real thing is a hell of a lot worse, but on the bright side--
Abruptly, Jim gasps, air surrounding him, just as T'Prina tips them both over in a sprawl on the transporter pad. This could be more humiliating, but Jim can't quite see how.
--on the bright side, it won't last long.
"Captain!" McCoy's voice is unmistakable. As T'Prina levers herself up, radiating cool embarrassment, Jim opens his eyes on the ceiling of his own transporter room and immediately closes them when he sees Bones hovering over him with a scowl. "Captain, what--"
"Lock onto the codepicker," Jim wheezes. "T'Prina--"
"I will enter the correct codes, Captain," she says, sounding nothing like they hadn't been able to breathe for a minute. Goddamn Vulcan lungs. "He has a mild concussion, Dr. McCoy, and suffers from oxygen deprivation, but otherwise he is uninjured. Please excuse me, crewman. You do not know what you are doing."
He's pulled upright by two of Bones' crazy medics--Sickbay is like a goddamn cult--and someone shoves a tricorder toward his head. Behind him, the transporter hums at a decibel more appropriate for a rock concert. The headache sharpens so suddenly that he feels himself start to black out, but a warmth follows almost immediately, inserting itself between him and the pain enough to think.
I'm fine, Jim answers, because he is and everyone just needs to calm down already. Got it. Nice timing, by the way.
"The cargo box is secured, Captain," T'Prina says from very close. Jim squints at her, then motions with one captured arm toward his pocket. "Captain?"
"Bridge, warp eight; we may make our rendezvous on time for once. T'Prina, take the tricorder to Uhura and see what she can find out from that voice," Jim says just as a stretcher shows up. T'Prina nods, waiting until Bones has him lying down like a trauma victim, then acquires the tricorder, ignoring the medics staring at them both. "Report to Commander Spock and--"
"Oh, for God's sake," Bones says, abruptly pushing T'Prina out of the way. "Shut up, Jim."
And there's the hypospray. Typical.
T'Prina waits patiently as Bones clucks over Jim, muttering about vacuum exposure ("Five seconds! T'Prina was blocking me from it!" "For God's sake, it's not a phaser, she can't block vacuum.") and much bitterness over his head wound ("Of course a bunch of crates almost fell on you; how could anything else happen? This is you.") and fuss over the fine line between a mild concussion and brain death which Jim so does not want to hear again. After a hypospray for the headache, armed with a bottle of painkillers he won't use, and a lecture that seems to be more aimed at T'Prina ("And if he tries to go to the bridge, do that Vulcan pinch thing,"), Bones let him go with a glare that the nurses and medics echo with really disturbing effectiveness.
"I don't need an escort," he tells her as she redirects him from walking into the wall. "Was there always a wall there?"
"Dr. McCoy gave you a powerful opiod solution," T'Prina says calmly, herding him into the turbolift. "I am to make sure you go to bed and do not try to--Lieutenant Uhura said 'backseat captain' the ship."
"Uhura is trying to lead a mutiny," Jim says bitterly, leaning back with a sigh. The lack of headache is great, and he can't say getting Bones' very best drugs is ever a bad thing, but-- "The cargo box--"
"Lieutenant Commander Scott has taken possession of it for further analysis," T'Prina says calmly. "Lieutenant Uhura says she will begin analysis of the audio recording from my tricorder immediately. We are proceeding at Warp Eight to our rendezvous with the Fortune. Commander Spock will have his report complete by morning. And Lieutenant Sulu is unhappy he was not permitted to be a pirate and wishes to discuss the issue at length." The turbolift signals they've come to a stop, and a strong hand hooks beneath his elbow. "If you will, Captain."
"Fine," because really, why fight it? Jim ignores the indulgent smiles of the few crewmembers that pass them, letting T'Prina walk him into his quarters and wait patiently until he retreats to the bathroom.
"You can use my terminal," Jim shouts through the door, steadying himself against the sink. Stripping off his uniform, Jim steps into the sonic shower, leaning against the wall while it does its job; he's always preferred water, but that would require moving and the bed idea is sounding really good.
When he gets out, there's a neat stack of folded clothes waiting. Jim stares at them for a minute, then decides not to think of T'Prina logically going through his clothes, getting dressed and stumbling toward the bed.
"Rest well, Captain," is the last thing Jim hears before curling up on the right side of the bed, pillow soft beneath his head, and silently hating Bones' hypos as he falls asleep.
Jim's had a pretty good sense of time since early childhood--growing up on a farm will do that to you--and the ship feels like gamma, which means he slept nine hours straight through. Opening his eyes lazily, he watches Spock through the open doorway for a few seconds, soberly working at his terminal instead of waking Jim up for sex. Jim's almost sure that's a rule. Hell, he might have made it a regulation.
"Did I say you had to sleep on the couch?" Jim asks, not bothering to raise his voice. Spock finishes typing before looking up. "Because I'm over whatever it was."
"I was completing my report of the day's events," Spock answers, standing up. There's a faint mental brush, and Jim thinks that maybe he should be used to that by now, but he never is. Mostly because he likes how it feels. "There is a tablet and a glass of water beside you," Spock says, pulling off his tunic. "Please take it."
Jim has the vague idea that Spock uses undressing as some kind of bizarre positive-reinforcement for good behavior; it works extremely well. Watching the long fingers reach for the hem of the black cotton undershirt, Jim picks up the tablet and drinks the water. "I don't like painkillers," Jim tells Spock, craning his neck to watch for the pants. This is possibly the best part of his day.
"It is illogical to continue to experience unnecessary pain, which will interrupt your sleep and make you extremely volatile," which is like the nicest way possible to say he doesn't want to deal with a sleep-deprived James Kirk. Jim can't blame him; he doesn't like to deal with himself. "Cadet T'Prina reports you did not argue with her."
Jim shrugs. "Maybe I'm taking advice for once."
Spock gives him a sharp look, projecting an insulting amount of disbelief, but Jim kind of doesn't care because Spock's sorting efficiently through the drawer and the domesticity of it all is kind of flooring.
"The analysis on the crate come back yet?" Jim asks; it's been nine hours. He knows his crew.
"Preliminary analysis is complete. The databases of the missing ships are accounted for, as well as a variety of companies associated with both Starfleet and the Orion Syndicate."
"The Orion Syndicate." Jim pulls his knees up. Huh. "Was it encrypted?"
Spock pauses to pull on a long sleeve shirt--Jim squints, recognizing the threadbare cotton as one of his--before coming to bed. "Yes." Appended with of course; Jim's not sure where that thought was going. Setting it aside for later, Jim indulges himself in one of his favorite pastimes--Spock watching.
Maybe it's the concussion, but it's come to Jim's attention he's been mostly-married for about a year now and has a kid--well, a cadet, anyway, which is kind of the same thing. They're discussing ship's business in bed. There's a better than average chance they will go to sleep like sensible adults really soon.
"Yeah, no," Jim says, grabbing for the collar of the shirt when Spock's close enough and pulling until he can get to Spock's mouth. Are we really at the work in bed place? Really?
Is there a problem-- A mental self-check, always an odd feeling, and Jim licks over Spock's lower lip, pushing him back into the mattress. I see. You feel that--the romance is dead.
It's still funny when you use the word romance. Jim can feel Spock unsubtly checking him for further injury--you can't hide that when you're in someone's head--before he responds, and this, this is the best part of his day, bar none. You should have come with. It was fun. I think I saw a Vulcan meditation stone in their warehouse and you need a new one.
"I was occupied," Spock says, abruptly rolling him onto his back, having picked up on Jim's dizziness before Jim's aware he's even dizzy. "I completed analysis of the worm that was inserted into our systems."
Computer Maintenance hadn't cried when Jim had told them to ignore the unsubtle attempt to infect their computer system, but it had been a very close thing. "I'm surprised they thought that would work," Jim admits, stretching comfortably as Spock breathes against his neck. It's stupidly hot. "Was it Orion?"
Jim can feel Spock's sudden attention. "Not in compilation, but the algorithms were similar in construction," Spock answers; Jim thinks it says a lot about the Vulcan species that curiosity and lust are pretty much interchangeable. With a sigh, Jim reaches for his hand, pulling it against his face until Spock gets the idea, fingers sliding into place. Right. This is what happened.
Verbal debriefings were never this thorough; they also weren't this fun. Jim relives the two hours in the station in seconds, aware of Spock studying it both as observer and living it along with him. Yeah, that was a mistake. They're back to work and that goddamn pill is hitting Jim like a drunk Gorn.
God, they are going to go to sleep at a decent hour.
Planting a hand on Spock's shoulder, Jim twists onto one hip, depositing Spock on the bed and rolling onto his side. The hazy edge of the drugs are far more noticeable now, and Jim tries not to consider a known side effect of a powerful painkiller as a personal failure. It's just not helping.
"I'm going to sleep," Jim tells the wall loudly. For a second, Jim senses rueful amusement before Spock remembers he's not mostly-married to a fucking Vulcan and shuts that down, but it's enough.
Jim falls asleep with a faint sense of warmth anyway.
T'Prina, as she has every morning since she joined the crew, is waiting outside the door, tricorder and datapad in hand, Starfleet issue backpack over both shoulders, braids coiled immaculately at the back of her head, as bright and attentive a cadet as could possibly be imagined in her blue science uniform.
"Good morning, Captain Kirk," she says promptly. "You are on medical leave, but I understand that you do not care, so I prepared for the day accordingly."
Jim eyes the cup of coffee she extends. "Thank you," he says warily; this is new and considering she's Vulcan, terrifying. Sipping it (Vulcans don't poison their captains, he thinks, even the ones who might have logical fantasies of him dying in a fire), he leads the way to the turbolift, trying to ignore the fact it's black and sweet and pretty much exactly how he likes it. "How was your morning?"
T'Prina joins him in the turbolift. "Productive, sir. My report on yesterday's events has been completed for your review." Jim fights the urge to wince. "I've prepared a properly edited one for you to approve to be sent to the Academy; I understand missions where one is--" she pauses, searching for the word, "--'undercover' would be considered classified information. I was discreet, Captain."
Jim makes a note to read that report as soon as possible; it'll make his week. "I see." Taking another drink, Jim braces himself. "You're on bridge duty today."
T'Prina hesitates. "To observe?"
He's going to regret this, but Jim can't help it. He had never interned (there was a recipe for a disaster in the making), but he's heard about it and it had sounded pretty damn boring. "We're in open space for most of today. Sulu's going to supervise you at the helm after he runs you through a sim test."
T'Prina looks at him; if he squints, he thinks he might have actually startled her. "Sir?"
"You were certified on Constellation class before you finished the last term," Jim says, fighting the urge to twitch under the sober regard. "Let's see what you can do outside of a sim."
"I see." Jim waits for her to quote an obscure regulation against cadets taking the helm of starships--she has Spock's gift for finding them--but instead she says, "I appreciate the privilege, Captain." She seems to think for a moment before adding, "Thank you."
"Good. Have some fun."
Luckily, the doors to the bridge open before the coffee runs out. Relieved, Jim gestures for her to precede him, wondering a little at her hesitation as he nods at Sulu. "Mr. Sulu, show T'Prina the ropes. She's certified, so test her on the simulator and teach her the board, then let her have her head. Don't crash into anything."
Sulu's enthusiasm is unsettling when Jim's had less than two cups of coffee. "Yes, sir!"
"Captain, the computer is in second-stage analysis of the voice," Uhura says, turning gracefully in her chair. "We should have a confirmation by the end of alpha."
Jim drops into his chair and gulps the rest of the coffee. "Right. So what odds?"
"I'll give you three to one," she says generously. Jim sighs. "Five to one if you get the dialect."
God he hates xenoling games. "Male, Orion, with a Remus south continent dialect?"
Uhura grins, which means he lost. "You have it backward. Male, Romulan, Orion Prime, third continent. Not bad, though." She touches her screen lightly. "The Universal Translator has some quirks when translating the third continent dialect patterns in Romulan vocal constructions; it's rather obvious to the experienced."
He hates her. Morning people suck. "I'll pay up at lunch," Jim says; he needs more coffee to deal with this. "Anything else?"
"Dr. McCoy states you are to be at Sickbay for a check-up at 0900 hours," T'Prina says without looking up from the simulator. "You are then to accompany him to breakfast at 0930. You meet with the head of recreation at 1000 and rest from 1030 to 1200." She looks up then, face smooth. "At that time, you are to meet your senior staff for the midday meal. At 1300--"
Jim finally remembers he can talk. "Very good, Cadet," he manages. No one is laughing, because they're saving it for lunch. Sulu continues to fall violently in love with T'Prina as she steadily works her way through a phalanx of simulated Romulans. Jim wonders vaguely if Spock was anything like her when he was in the Academy; God, he needs more coffee. "Well, carry on," he says, standing up. The faint headache that's haunted him since he woke up increases startlingly, and his ready room--and replicator, and couch--are really tempting. "I’m going to see what Starfleet has for us. Also, McCoy lied; I'm on duty. Uhura, you have the conn."
Abruptly, T'Prina materializes beside him. There's a datapad thrust in front of him; beneath it, an iron hand is locked around his elbow. "If you could verify this," she says. "Excuse me, Lieutenant Sulu; I will return in a moment." She pauses. "Your simulations are quite sophisticated. I am--impressed."
Sulu is going to try to marry her before she goes back to the Academy and there will be some kind of single combat; Jim can feel it. "Thank you, Cadet," Sulu answers, enslaved, as T'Prina manages to pull off hauling Jim to his office without making it look like she's doing any such thing. As the doors close, she deposits him on the couch, crouching to look into his face soberly. "Your headache has increased exponentially since we left the turbolift," she states.
"How did you--" Jim puts down the cup as she averts her eyes; while her skin is several shades darker than Uhura's, the faint olive flush is unmistakable this close. He's probably flushing too, though less subtly and more humiliatingly. "I wasn't shielding."
She stares expressionlessly at the wall behind his shoulder. "When you were injured yesterday, they became unstable. I assumed Commander Spock had assisted you in repairing them, but they collapsed when you began to experience pain."
He probably would have had Spock check them if he'd known, but with T'Prina on the ship, Jim has to be shielded constantly, and he's not a telepath; it's exhausting. Jim hadn't bothered to check himself when he'd gone to bed. "I apologize," Jim says stiffly. Uhura had briefed him extensively in the finer points of courtesy regarding Vulcans and telepathy, along with the fact that Vulcans did not look kindly upon cross-species bonding in a very unsubtle way. Which honestly, Jim doesn't give a good damn about, but the courtesy thing, he can do.
"There is no offense when none is taken," she says soberly, looking him in the eye. "The physical pain is a manifestation of the mental strain of your shields," she says slowly, tilting her head. "I had not realized it would be painful for you."
"It's not, usually," Jim says tightly. "T'Prina, you can go."
"I will wait with you until your bondmate arrives," she says firmly, taking a seat on the other side of the couch. Jim sighs; he'd felt Spock's focus shift and knows he's on his way. Honestly, this is exactly what his day needed.
"Do you read romance novels, T'Prina?" Jim asks, reaching for his coffee cup, only to be intercepted by T'Prina, who takes it to the replicator on the other side of the room.
"I have studied the literary tropes of the genre, sir," T'Prina asks, punching in a sequence that's not coffee. "Commander Spock recommended a course in human literature and my advisor considered it prudent to heed his advice."
"There's this thing," Jim says, watching in resignation as she returns with something green and probably very healthy and terrible, "where the heroine faints a lot. And the hero catches her. Or rescues her from bandits. Or--well." Jim takes a drink and doesn't make a face. It's terrible. "What is this?"
"It is a nutritional supplement," T'Prina says promptly, somehow managing to restrain herself from telling him the ingredients, which makes him never want to find out what they are. "Please continue. The heroines require rescue?"
"Constantly." Jim looks at the door as Spock comes in. "Me and Regency heroines have a lot in common these days."
"Captain," Spock says, utterly correct. "Cadet. If you would excuse us."
"Yes, Commander." Rising to her feet, she picks up her datapad, punching in a code before tucking it under one arm. "The mental strain was very pronounced," she says expressionlessly, which Spock answers with an equally expressionless nod. "I had not been aware my presence would require the Captain to exert himself beyond his human tolerances Please accept my apologies for my ignorance."
"It's fine, T'Prina," Jim says; Spock hasn't raised an eyebrow, but there's a faint sense he might at any moment. "Go bother Sulu. Don't accept any marriage proposals."
"I will not, Captain." Back straight, she leaves, and Jim squints as the door closes behind her. The faint sense of disapproval goes with her.
"At least she didn't say 'inferior human physiology' again, so that's progress," Jim says thoughtfully, wondering why Spock seems to be amused. The dark eyes fix on the glass curiously.
"What are you drinking?"
Jim looks at the almost empty glass; T'Prina's stare has the same effect Uhura's does, and he hadn't dared stop drinking. "What evil tastes like, Mr. Spock." Putting the glass on the floor, Jim leans his head back, rubbing the sensitive skin of his temples lightly. "Sorry, I didn't realize I'd stopped shielding."
"You were not in error." Spock picks up the glass, studying the remaining liquid, before taking it to the recycler. Jim projects coffee at him as hard as he can, which has the advantage of making Spock twitch, but he doesn't return with coffee. Jim stares at the ceiling, wondering what it's like to be captain of a ship where people actually wanted to do what you wanted them to. Hell, one where they'd do it whether they wanted to or not.
"I was negligent," Spock says, very softly, and Jim startles at the trace of anger in his mind, directed toward himself. "I should have insisted on examining--"
"I’m really not a Regency heroine," Jim says tiredly as Spock sits down, not bothering with personal space at all. "I'm just pretty bad at this. In my defense, I had a terrible head wound. Or so everyone keeps saying."
"This situation has placed you under a great deal of strain," Spock says coolly. "And I have been--less than adequate as an instructor."
"I knew what I was getting into." We're not talking about T'Prina, by the way.
Long fingers brush against his temple in a light caress. Regency heroine? Almost casually, Spock's fingers move into position, finding the psi-points. Jim opens his eyes enough to give Spock a flat look. I wish to understand the resemblance.
And Spock is trying to distract him while he does--whatever he's doing. Jim relaxes into the mental touch; concern and irritation, worry, but beneath it, embarrassment that T'Prina had been aware of something he had not been, and the faintest--very faintest--trace of something territorial, carefully hidden beneath the rest. Spock thinks he's really good at hiding things, and he's just not.
After a few seconds, Spock withdraws; Jim misses him. Bonding's great and all, but this is--
I do as well.
Jim smiles, opening his eyes. "That was romantic."
One corner of Spock's mouth twitches, which when they're on duty is pretty much a smile. "Fascinating." He doesn’t move away, watching Jim thoughtfully. "Do not attempt to shield yourself for the remainder of the day. Tonight, we will meditate--"
"I hate my life."
"--and restore your shields."
Jim thinks about T'Prina, on his bridge for all of alpha shift. "I know you refuse to discuss this, but--"
"I do not consider Cadet T'Prina's opinion on the matter of our bond relevant. If it offends her, she may restrict herself to her quarters and remain there until we return to Starfleet."
At least it's not throwing her off the ship.
"I have no grounds to do so at this time." Spock's thumb brushes gently against his temple, and the remainder of the pain fades, locked down in whatever weird way Vulcans can do that. It's like having a narcotic that also provides orgasms and good conversation. "That is--a strange comparison."
"As long as I can still confuse you, I feel I'm doing my job." Jim checks the time. "And I’m supposed to see Bones."
"I will accompany you," Spock says firmly, rising to his feet. Jim gives up; Spock he can get around, maybe, Bones, probably, but not both at him at once. Getting to his feet, Jim gives the replicator a sad look, then goes along with his fate.