Over the nearly three years that Jim's been a captain, he's learned a very valuable lesson due to the number of times he's been captured, kidnapped, taken hostage, and fired on without warning; if people want to kill you, they tend to do it immediately. If there's a delay, there's a damn good reason for it. You don't take a Starfleet officer hostage and expect they'll play nice.
You don't take two of them and assume anything but the worst; the deep sleep was probably the only good idea they'd had, and then they let them wake up. That doesn't even make sense.
Finding themselves in a large room filled with vaguely-familiar looking machinery, Jim breathes out in satisfaction. "Servers, databases, and the world is my oyster. Our oyster. Get the terminal up and erase everyone's security clearance, then lockout the system."
"Spock and I haven't gotten that far yet," Jim admits with a sigh, joining her at the terminal. "He's having an ethics crisis or something. Apparently it's okay to be taught the theory of taking over vulnerable computer systems, but he said knowing I'd actually use it is all morally grey and questionable."
"Interesting. Do you not have access to his memories?"
Jim hesitates. "It's--not that easy." In meditation, Jim can find something if he knows what he's looking for without the risk of being overwhelmed by the flood of Spockness, but exploring Spock's extremely thorough education hadn't come up. "I don't have that kind of mental organization. Spock can do it--and let me tell you how weird that is--but it's more hit or miss unless he's showing me what I'm looking for."
T'Prina's fingers skim the board. "I can complete the lockout and security wipe, but it will not be inaccessible to anyone with a higher tech level than I have. And while their security is not thorough, I can state with certainty that the individual or individuals that control this are of a higher level than I am."
"What would they do?"
T'Prina licks her lips, studying the board. "A core memory override. I cannot reset the system completely."
"Shit." Jim looks at the door, finding and discarding alternatives. "How long would that take?"
"From initial access, ten to fifteen minutes."
That's not much. Jim looks at T'Prina, fighting down the second wave of panic; he let Sorin in, and that hadn't been the end of the world. And he doesn't know Sorin like he knows T'Prina, who's a fellow officer and his crew and his cadet all three. He'd trust her with his life; more, he'd trust her with his ship, his crew, with Spock's life without question or hesitation. "Getting out of here is kind of pointless when we don't know where we are or where to go. We need more information. Could Spock do it?"
T'Prina nods soberly. "Very easily."
Right. Jim takes a deep breath. "I've never tried this on my own," he starts, looking at T'Prina. "I'm human; we don't think like this."
"Do you trust me, Captain?" T'Prina says, brown eyes carefully neutral.
Jim nods slowly, reaching for her hand and pressing the long fingers against his temple; If you see anything involving nudity or ice cream, pretend you didn't. "Yeah. Let's do this."
Spock was taught by the acknowledged Vulcan authority; a Vulcan Academy graduate who had gone on to instruct thousands of Vulcan students before he found his life's calling in a Federation still so young it was hardly more than an idea, embodied by an extraordinary woman who would change the lives of billions in a single hearing that rewrote the meaning of the Federation's promise of freedom.
Spock comes by his brilliance honestly, at least; if anyone doubted what Amanda Grayson had contributed to her Vulcan son, Jim never has. Spock took his first instruction at his father's feet; but the first program he ever completed was at his mother's side, adding a subroutine to the interpretation matrix she had begun to develop that would speed Federation progress even faster toward its goal of unity.
This is Spock's history: the intimacy of his family home, where he learned the lessons that would drive him most deeply. His father taught him the theory, the skills, the languages, the purity of the math that built the algorithms that Spock absorbed as effortlessly as a sponge takes water, but it was Amanda that taught him how to use it.
It would be two decades before Spock sat beside another exceptional linguist of his mother's caliber, patiently teaching her as he'd been taught, each line of code a step toward erasing the barrier of language between worlds, and learning from her how to fall in love.
These things are Spock; the father who instructed him in computer skills that are second to none; the mother who influenced the child to become the greatest officer Starfleet would ever have; and the woman who had challenged him to be more than the strictures of the society he had not yet learned to leave behind, no matter how far he'd come from the Vulcan Science Academy hearing that decided his destiny.
Starfleet could only polish what was already there; never before and perhaps never again would a student so far outstrip all they could teach him. The student rebuilt security systems; the officer would design the architecture that would later create the memory core of every starship that explored the galaxy; the linguist would continue to improve the Universal Translator that began as an exercise in his mother's sitting room; the instructor taught Starfleet cadets how to be both officers and tourists faced with all the wonders of an unexplored galaxy. And one day, he would build the complex simulations to test a thousand cadets who would fail, time and time again--and meet a cadet who wrote thirteen lines of code that slipped between the elegant, meticulous algorithms created by Starfleet's most brilliant mind and changed the course of both their lives and perhaps Federation history to boot.
A level seven computer tech isn't just the highest technical skill that can be possessed, not merely brilliance, achievement, distinction; it's a mark of Federation trust, credentials that declare ethics that never deviate from the strictest right, unflawed judgment under the greatest pressures that can be brought to bear, a logical mind that knows when they should best be used and when they should not be. It makes sense, in a way; to know the secrets of the Federation's core, the massive underground databases that fill Memory Alpha and carry the history of all the worlds Starfleet has ever visited, the schematics of starships past, present and future, the defensive and offensive capabilities of the Federation, population projects, the details of people and planets and worlds, their value and their resources and everything, everything that the Federation is--few could be trusted with the knowledge it would take to crack them.
There are reasons that Jim never made it past level three, and it wasn't his skill that was found to be at fault.
Here T'Prina says, carefully distant, not permitting herself intimacy with the memories Jim explores, only direction. Jim touches them, tracing the skills and letting the associated memories wash through him--bring the system online and enter this, change this, strip away the fingerprints of the one who wrote it, make this yours, know every line, every quirk, the meaning behind every symbol, and find the place you can change what it once was into something that is yours and yours alone.
He wouldn't have taken Sarek as this much of a romantic.
"Oh," Jim breathes as the board hums encouragingly--though he must be imagining it, must be, must be--his fingers sliding into newly familiar patterns. He builds an image of the multidimensional core matrix in his head, crystal-clear and bright, before he starts to take it apart.
"Yes," T'Prina breathes. "Captain, they are instituting countermeasures--"
Jim feels T'Prina join him, distracting the others while he looks for that core while a long time ago in a small room, Spock sat at a terminal in the Vulcan Science Academy and logically destroyed the work of a classroom of students. Revenge is not logical, Sarek said, and Spock had answered, but instruction is logical. This is a lesson that logic requires that they learn.
Jim's been breaking into systems since before he understood that what he did like he breathed was supposed to be hard; Spock's been taking them apart like an extension of his own will since his father first showed him what they were.
Jim surfaces as he finishes rebuilding the matrix and rewrites their security from the algorithms that protect Memory Alpha, line by line pulled from a flawless memory. Bring up their database and erase clearances, lock every door and take effortless control of a hundred labs as well as six massive bays that blink warningly at his touch. Curious, Jim brings up the manifest and hits reality again with a bang.
"Jesus," he murmurs, eyes wide. "They're here. All of them."
"Captain?" T'Prina's mind brushes his, verifying he hasn't gone crazy or something. "Captain, who--"
"The crews." Jim pulls the screen up, staring at the blinking cold sleep units with a feeling of numbness that's like joy and fear both. "The crews we lost. They're all here."
Leaving T'Prina to continue searching the wide-open databases, Jim follows the path in his mind down winding corridors, opening the heavy storage doors and looking at the stacks and stacks of crew in cold sleep, people written off and nearly forgotten.
Captain, we are located on Remus.
Jim stumbles slightly at the feel of her voice in his head, though he doesn't think he really has the right to complain; he asked her to, after all. That's--unexpected. He pauses. This is a shell company for the Syndicate, isn't it?
I believe so. T'Prina hesitates. There have been no transmissions calling for reinforcements, even before we took control of the system.
And that's the most interesting thing of all. Jim approaches the display, checking the status by rote before looking at the neat stacks of sentient beings that represent the difference between war and peace.
There's a faint prickling between his shoulder blades; Jim doesn't need Captain! A lifesign approaches your position! because it's not really that much of a surprise. Turning, Jim watches the doors open and a single man enters the room, shutting the door carefully behind him.
Muddy green eyes in a faintly olive face, unkept black hair, a too-big lab coat wrapped around a too-thin body, all forgettable; the voice is anything but. "Captain Kirk."
Jim nods. "So I guess I should have hung around Begammon after all."
The Romulan quirks an eyebrow, spreading his arms, weaponless. "I suspect the end result would be no different. I believe it is time we spoke. If you have no objection?"
"Yeah," Jim breathes. "I guess we should."
T'Prina hovers at his elbow, refusing to so much as sit down, staring expressionlessly at the three Romulans sitting across the bench in one of the empty labs.
A bundle of clothing and weapons are pushed across the table; Jim blinks, staring at his own phaser as if he's never seen it before. "I think your companion will be easier if she is armed."
Jim lets T'Prina pick out their weapons, checking them before she nods. "They are undamaged, Captain."
"That's--good." He's not sure. Resting his palms against the table, Jim studies the two men and woman who apparently took them prisoner, in creased lab coats and stained clothing, looking exhausted and painfully like Scotty after a three day bender with the warp engines. While he prides himself on not prejudging, he just cannot believe these three were the masterminds behind this.
"I am Technician Rayiyah, chief scientist of Gilen Technology, in your language," the familiar voice says, looking at Jim sardonically. "These are two of my science team: Technicians Irylli and Dyoshi. We specialize in interstellar weather research and tracking--"
Jim straightens, feeling something fall into place. "Like for ion storms?"
Rayiyah's smile widens. "You are familiar with my work, I take it. We call it the Sunseed Project. It is still in development--"
"Not by the Romulan government."
Rayiyah pauses, looking at Jim speculatively. "Very good, Captain. It was a side-effect of an experimental procedure to deflect and eventually control ion storms in vulnerable systems; the Orion homeworlds are subject to violent storms of long duration. You can imagine our surprise when our first efforts caused the opposite to occur." Rayiyah's smile grows bitter. "The Syndicate was not behindhand in realizing the potential of our discovery; to be able to induce, perhaps even control ion storms in other systems would be a great advantage. Unfortunately, during testing, they were interrupted by--"
"Our weather ships. But why--"
Rayiyah gives him a curious look. "I see Starfleet politics is not so different from Romulan; the ships were taken because they were able to discover what the Syndicate could do. A natural ion storm is very different from an induced one; an intercepted transmission between the Einstein and Starfleet Headquarters was able to confirm that they had somehow been able to detect the difference, though they did not--yet--understand what it meant."
Jim sits back. "That technology hasn't gotten to the experimental stage--never mind, of course it has or this wouldn't be happening. The ships that were taken were ones with experimental ion detectors, weren't they? All of them."
"They were. And if you are curious, they do far more than I speculate their creators expected. They cannot merely detect an ion storm forming; they can anticipate them to two standard days. Combined with the Sunseed Project, I believe that potentially they could both detect, create, control, and deflect ion storms entirely."
"That would be--" T'Prina stops. Looking up at her, Jim sees the expression on her face and remembers Torren's theories, Torren's paper, Torren's equations. That was how the Federation had made the leap from theory to reality: Torren, a theorist who valued the practical.
Rayiyah's next words confirm it. "I was ordered to discover how the ion detectors had been created. Oddly enough, it was a rather minor paper authored by a student at the Vulcan Science Academy that seemed to point toward how Starfleet had made such an--intriguing jump in theory."
Leaning forward, Jim captures Rayiyah's attention. "Why am I alive? Why are they?"
"Because I am a scientist, not a murderer," Rayiyah says, the smile fading. "An Orion cruiser was sent to kidnap and assassinate you, for reasons I believe you already know. I volunteered to accompany them to create the ion storm to cover their actions."
Jim stares at the thin scientist dubiously. "And--what? You took over the ship before they could finish?"
"It would be more accurate to state that you and the cadet took over the ship," Rayiyah answers. "When the few survivors had managed to subdue you, my scientists and I killed them before they could cause you harm. After giving you medical attention and putting you both in hibernation, we brought you here to decide how to proceed. I regret that we were required to confine you upon your arrival; dehibernation recovery side effects have been known to include temporary psychosis, especially at the accelerated rate we were required to pursue. It seemed wiser to keep you confined until the process was complete and you both had returned to rationality."
That makes an odd sort of sense. "That doesn't explain why you didn't just dump us at the nearest Federation or Allied planet and get the hell out of there."
Rayiyah smiles patiently. "Because the Syndicate will be merciful despite its great reach? No. I knew when I decided to prevent your death that my life afterward could be measured in weeks, if not days.
"But you still did it."
Rayiyah nods shortly, hands clenching together on the table. "The Orion Syndicate has neither the technology nor military to challenge either the Romulan Empire or the Federation at this time. Should there be war between us, neither of these things would continue to be true." Rayiyah meets his eyes, and Jim thinks he sees a flash of horror. "When the Sunseed Project was found to be viable, I was required to travel to Orion Prime and give my report in person to the Syndicate representatives themselves. I have seen--what they are. Slavery is not anathema to Romulans, Captain, you must understand. But what I saw was not slavery as a Romulan knows it. This cannot come to pass. My world will not be--I will not permit my people to--" Rayiyah cuts himself off, looking away.
"Yeah." Jim thinks of Gaila, who never spoke of the Orion slave camps but dreamed them every night; he'd never asked. He'd never needed to. Everything that he would ever need to know could be encapsulated by the rough, broken sound of her voice, pleading in the camp dialect of her childhood. "If you'd gone to Starfleet--"
"No." Rayiyah's head snaps up. "I am prepared to die, but not without meaning. If my death buys the lives of my people, I go to it proudly. A Federation prison or a silent death--"
"We're not like that."
Rayiyah shakes his head. "You are very young, Captain Kirk."
"I'm really not." Jim braces both hands on the table. "You came to me, and if you thought that--"
"I came to you," Rayiyah says evenly. "Not Starfleet, and not your Federation. To you."
"Why?" Jim feels T'Prina responding to his frustration, hip brushing his shoulder, and tries to calm himself. "If you don't know my views on a war with the Empire--"
"You have been very vocal in your assertions that war is inevitable," Rayiyah interrupts, folding his hands neatly on the surface of the table. "You are refreshingly direct for one of your kind."
Jim really doesn't want to go there. "Rayiyah, what the hell did you think I could do?"
"Stop this war, of course." Rayiyah looks at him in genuine surprise. "That is why I came to you. Was I incorrect?"
Jim licks his lips, feeling the warmth of T'Prina against his shoulder, the cool of the table beneath his hands, and thinks of the thousand times he'd stood on the bridge of the Enterprise, feeling the hum of potential in the tips of his fingers in every Romulan engagement, every time he'd felt himself hover on the edge of giving an order that would change the shape of their galaxy, and every time that he let the moment pass.
What Nero had done to them can never be forgiven or forgotten; the Federation was wounded in a way that can never fully heal, a scar that cuts through what they are and all they will ever be. Jim knows, perhaps better than even the Ambassador, the true scope of what was taken from them; they learned too early to be afraid, and if Jim's an explorer now, he was a soldier first and he always will be. Every cadet who watched Vulcan die knows that to their bones.
He doesn't see, may never see, what Pike sees when he looks at the Federation; that doesn't mean he will ever stop trying. "No," he answers, voice rough. "You weren't."
T'Prina, under protest, goes with the two scientists to get an idea of what they have to work with. Jim doesn't miss Rayiyah's unsubtle attempts to get him alone but goes along with it, letting Rayiyah lead him back to the cargo bay to look at the sleeping officers again, like that's something they really need to do right now.
As the doors close, Jim eyes Rayiyah. "Just spit it out."
Rayiyah, to his credit, doesn't hesitate. Straightening, he turns toward Jim, expression carefully neutral. "Before you and Cadet T'Prina were put in hibernation, we had both of you scanned in case you required immediate medical assistance."
Jim knows where this is going. "I'm guessing this has something to do with this headache?"
"There was hemorrhaging in the cerebral cortex," Rayiyah says flatly. "We were able to repair some of the internal injuries before there was permanent damage. However, there were--abnormalities in the peri--"
"The psi-center," Jim interrupts; yeah, he'd seen this coming. "On a human, anyway. You have the scans?"
Rayiyah nods, extending his datapad; Jim finds he really hates convenience. Opening it, Jim studies the scans for a moment, already knowing what to look for, even if he doesn't know exactly what it is. "Right. Don't tell T'Prina about it. It'll keep until we get back to the Federation."
Rayiyah hesitates, then takes the datapad with a quick nod. "Is there anything--"
"A medical synthesizer," Jim answers promptly. "And an empty lab. There's a couple of things that will help until I get back to my ship. I'll need you to translate--"
"Of course." Rayiyah gestures toward the door. "If you would, Captain."
A normal side effect of dehibernation on humans is sudden exhaustion; Jim verifies the computer system is still locked out and communications restricted before letting himself collapse on the first relatively soft surface he finds, T'Prina with two phasers set to kill in her lap, because Spock's crazy and that's the kind of thing he teaches their cadets to do.
The last thing he thinks is how much he loathes Vulcan biology right about now; this shit never happens to Vulcans.
It's thirteen hours before he feels himself begin to surface, and two hours more before T'Prina finally obeys a direct order and reluctantly brings him a stimulant. Pressing the hypo against his neck, she waits until he opens his eyes to say, "I have agreed only because my estimates suggest that--"
"We're out of time, yeah," Jim mutters, feeling warmth uncurl through every muscle, head clearing abruptly; he can even pretend his headache isn't getting worse. Sitting up, Jim takes stock of his body and decides that he can deal with this. Beats the shit out of running after Nero with his throat still swelling from the bite of Spock's fingers with only Bones' painkillers keeping him on his feet. "All right, we need a plan."
"I have been considering our options," T'Prina answers, holding out a datapad. Jim feels himself start to grin as he takes it, looking down at the neat list of their assets, which is a lot shorter than he had hoped. An office building, he reminds himself with a sigh; they don't even have disruptors on site. "As you can see, our resources are limited--"
"Yeah, but you know what they say--adversity breeds innovation, or something." Jim pauses at the specs of the ship. "Huh. I'm not familiar with this type of Orion cruiser."
"I do not believe anyone in the Federation is," T'Prina says flatly. "The neural inhibitor is a standard feature in the transporter matrix, which is supplied with a separate engine and controlled by a dedicated second computer core with a buffer capable of pattern retention for up to seventy-two standard hours. It has a capacity of over one thousand beings on a single beam and seventy thousand in one hour without requiring a new power cycle."
"Whoa." Jim whistles, reading down the list, pausing as the schematics display. "Minimal personnel quarters, but they outdid themselves on cargo space."
"The capacity," T'Prina says, "is roughly--"
"Seventy thousand or so in cold sleep units." Jim looks up sharply. "Warp engines with a maximum short-burst speed of Warp 10, triple shielding, and a very illegal cloaking device. It's a slaver ship. Which Orion has sworn up and down they don't have, since they confine their activities to their own systems and planets."
"Right." Jim makes himself continue reading. "And not in very good shape."
"I have verified warp integrity," T'Prina answers, sounding wary. "However--"
"Can it fly?"
"Yes. I believe that it will sustain structural integrity for long enough to return us to Federation space. However, sir--"
"Good enough for government work. T'Prina--"
"Captain," T'Prina says, voice rising slightly in the closest thing Jim's ever seen to T'Prina indulging in a fit of temper, "we do not have a crew."
Yes, there is that, which on a normal day would be a real problem. This is not one of those days. "We'll worry about that part later," Jim says, slapping the datapad into her hand and getting to his feet. "Where's Rayiyah--"
"I anticipated that you would wish to utilize the cruiser," T'Prina says, jogging up beside him as he goes into the hall. "He and his team are currently attempting basic repairs."
Jim smirks at her. "Very good, cadet. Now what's her name?"
T'Prina frowns. "Her--"
"The ship," Jim says as T'Prina directs them down another nondescript corridor that Jim hopes is leading to the ship. "If I'm going to captain her, I really need to know her name."
"Ah." T'Prina scrolls down the datapad. "She is the Soli, Captain Kirk. In Orion, that refers to--"
As they reach a set of wide double doors, Jim touches the palm lock, watching as the doors slide open onto a cavernous bay, one ship settled in the middle, almost tiny surrounded by so much empty space. "Soli is the primary slave camp on Orion III. It means 'those born without value'."
Pacing to the edge of the ship, Jim looks her over, pitted metal and blackened panels; once, this ship had haunted the skies of unsuspecting worlds, taking entire populations from their homes in only hours.
"All right," Jim says, bracing himself. "Let's check out the inside."
"This ship is not--optimal," T'Prina says diplomatically as they explore the interior of the cruiser. She's being very kind; Jim hadn't known she had it in her. As she runs a system check on the cramped, dark bridge, Jim picks up a Romulan tricorder and wishes he'd studied Romulan after all for the written language aspect.
"Beggars can't be choosers," Jim answers, trying to figure out what these boards actually do. As it turns out, if it looks like environmental, it's actually a self-destruct, and that's ten minutes of Jim's life he isn't ever getting back. "She'll fly just fine."
"She will fly adequately," Rayiyah says from behind them, standing at the science station with a pensive expression. Since their arrival, Jim had noted the number of Romulan scientists aboard, giving him half-frightened, half-fascinated looks as they pass carrying data solids, burned out boards, and new interface modules. It really makes him wonder what's said about Federation captains in the Romulan Empire.
"So," Jim says, trying to make some kind of sense of the board Rayiyah is fusing together. "How are we doing?"
"Poorly, Captain Kirk," Rayiyah answers without looking up. "However, I estimate we will reach the limits of what can be repaired in three hours."
"Does that mean we won't die a horrible decompression death in space?"
Rayiyah considers the question too carefully. "Not immediately."
Great. Jim sighs, fingers tapping on the edge of the board. "That's encouraging."
"It will be adequate to allow us to reach Federation space," Rayiyah answers. "I assume once there, you will contact Starfleet. That will be sufficient."
Jim blinks, backtracking. "'Us?'"
"My team and I will accompany you," Rayiyah answers as a slim, attractive woman hands him a datapad to read, giving Jim sideways glances before Rayiyah hands it back. "Our death warrants were signed the moment I stopped your assassination; there is no place for us here."
"There are thirty of us."
Jim wonders if there's such a thing as delayed dehibernation psychosis. "You're just going to come along. To the Federation."
"I told you, the Syndicate--"
"And your best bet is a crappy ship and surrender to the Federation?"
"Of course not." Rayiyah gives him a patient look. "We are surrendering to you."
Jim takes a deep breath, letting it out between his teeth before he ends up doing something stupid, like start yelling. "T'Prina," he says, leaving Rayiyah to his insanity. "Can you get a signal to the Enterprise? On the off-chance they really are going for a mass court-martial?"
"Not yet, Captain." T'Prina answers, sounding strained. "There is a great deal of traffic between the Neutral Zone and Romulan Command and our message would be noted. In addition, the distance is considerable and subspace degradation is inevitable."
Jim doesn't like the sound of that. Subspace traffic is probably the single best indicator of just how fucked a situation is, bar none. "Can you translate what's going on?"
"Only a little, Captain. They report there are ships gathering on the border of the Neutral Zone." T'Prina hesitates. "Federation ships."
"There aren't any Federation ships in this--" Jim trails off, calculating the amount of time it would take for the Laurentian ships to be called in, and something cold settles in his gut. "Rayiyah, engines. How much longer?"
"Momentarily, Captain Kirk," Rayiyah answers. T'Prina, ashen, turns to look at him, eyes wide with the same knowledge that's pounding through Jim, counting off the seconds like a metronome. He'd been thinking of the vote all along and never considered that Starfleet had been preparing for a war they didn't believe in for years, decades, the length of Jim's life, from the moment the Kelvin was destroyed. They were sure, that sure of the vote, that sure that this time, there would be war.
Jim thinks of all the times he shouted at Spock how much better it would be if this just started already, and look at this, it has. "T'Prina, did we get the facility's database?"
"Yes, sir." Long fingers close over the edge of the board. "Captain--"
"Start the self-destruct on the database; we're not leaving anything here we don't have to. Then start beaming up the cold sleep units and get them hooked up." Jim turns to Rayiyah. "We're about to do the fastest preflight in history. So your people want to be crew? Let's get started. Whoever knows what will get us through the Romulan defensive grid when they ask what we're doing, get them on the comm. Has the Romulan armada started forming?"
T'Prina licks her lips. "From what I am able to decipher, they are calling in their warbirds for escort duty. The heavy cruisers are assembling at the Romulan border."
Fuck. "Rayiyah," Jim says, "we have to go. Bring the engines online. We gotta get out of here now."
The interview cannot be put off indefinitely; Spock arrives at the palatial ambassador's quarters on the Enterprise, remembering Jim's utter disgust--Okay, I get that rank has its privileges, but three replicators? Dedicated comm access? Is the head gold-plated? Are there servants' quarters or are my crew expected to fetch and carry? Am I being really bourgeois about this?
The head is not gold-plated, but Spock, thinking of many of the Admirals of his acquaintance, does not think the concept is very unlikely. "Commander Spock," Spock tells the computer, waiting patiently. It is not logical to keep his father waiting when his presence was specifically requested (demanded), but logic is known to fail when the personal is involved.
The door opens at the farthest edge of courtesy, and Spock walks into the carefully immaculate quarters. Spock had assigned Yeoman Rand to see to his father, despite such duties being far beneath her rank, knowing she would understand the logic. Alone among the enlisted crew, her duties intersected with Spock's most, and over the last year, she had made an effort to learn everything she could about the culture of her First Officer. In this, at least, his father can have few complaints.
As the door closes, Spock nods a greeting to his father. "Live long and prosper, Ambassador."
"Irony does not become you, Commander." Sarek, seated precisely in the center of the overly-luxurious couch, watches Spock expressionlessly. "I assume you are here to explain why I have been taken captive? My presence in San Francisco is required, as you know. I must assume you have reason, however flawed, for wishing to delay a council vote."
"I have reason to believe that the vote is founded on mistaken assumptions," Spock answers coolly, taking the chair across from his father, despite his preference to remain standing. It is not logical to be affected by simple psychological cues, but to remain standing will emphasize the difference in position between them. "I hope your residence has not been uncomfortable," Spock says, ignoring the faint sense of awkwardness. "Your absence will assure the vote cannot be completed."
"If you mean that I am not residing in the brig, I see little difference. Am I to consider myself a prisoner, Commander?"
For a Vulcan, Spock supposes, a comfortable suite on a starship and a brig cell probably have little difference at all. "It was necessary," Spock answers. "If the vote were permitted to continue, it would be a disaster, both for the Federation and for the Romulan Empire. The Romulan Empire did not instigate this war; they were not responsible for the disappearance of those five ships, nor for the abduction of Captain Kirk."
Sarek's expression doesn't change. "You have evidence to back these assertions?"
"Yes, but without Captain Kirk shown to be alive and to testify as to the circumstances of his own abduction, I do not believe it will be--heeded."
"I think we are both aware, Ambassador, that logic and the Federation Council do not often intersect." Spock meets his father's eyes. "The actions of the Elders of the colony testify that self-interest can clothe itself as logic, and the Council is easily swayed to the point of view of those that carry the most influence."
Sarek's mouth tightens slightly. "And you can speak with certainty that your actions are wholly logical and not influenced by circumstance?"
"I cannot." Spock holds his father's eyes. "But they are the only correct ones possible."
"My captain," Spock corrects. "And my bondmate. These things are neither categorical nor separate. He is alive, and my duty as a Starfleet officer and bondmate require he be retrieved. Anything less is a contradiction of who I am, as an officer and a Vulcan."
Sarek doesn't answer for a few moments. "I wish to see the evidence you have accumulated."
"I came here to extend that offer, Ambassador."
"I see." The Ambassador nods. "I thought perhaps it was my son that had come to see his father."
"The officer is inseparable from the son," Spock answers carefully. "You raised me and from you and my mother I learned my first lessons in duty."
Sarek nods agreement. "There is much between us unsettled," he says, settling into the formality of a Federation Ambassador once again. "Have your evidence transmitted to my terminal. I understand I will not be able to send a message to the Federation at this time--"
"Nor at this time would they accept it," Spock admits. "I do not believe anything that is sent from this ship at this time would be viewed as--unbiased."
The formality cracks. "Spock, I understand you are pursuing this course without orders to do so--."
"That is correct." Perhaps it is the nature of family that defies logic and control both; Spock thinks of a moment in his father's study that felt very much like this, when he'd destroyed the work of his classmates. In retrospect, the logic of his actions could be considered questionable; that does not mean there was not logic, however.
"--but were you specifically ordered not to pursue this course of action?"
"No," Spock answers. "That would have required disclosing my intentions to Starfleet. It seemed logical to avoid outright defiance."
"That is sophistry," the Ambassador says, as once he spoke of the illogic of revenge.
"It is--I believe it could be called 'plausible deniability'."
For a second, the Ambassador's face shows something very like exasperation; Spock supposes the small break in control can be excused under circumstances such as these. "Your logic is--interesting."
"Ah. My apologies; Jim would phrase it more colloquially. I believe 'don't get caught' would be his advice."
"That," the Ambassador says after a pause, "would be more logical."
"I have often thought the same." Rising to his feet, Spock nods. "Yeoman Rand will come to give your terminal access to our databanks. I do not need to ask that you do not go beyond the established parameters. You are capable--"
"I will not." Rising to his feet, the Ambassador raises one hand. "Live long and prosper. May your endeavor prove successful."
"I am confident that it will."
After leaving the Ambassador's quarters, Spock contacts Yeoman Rand to adjust the Ambassador's terminal and goes to the bridge. Dar had said that if Technician Rayiyah had been able to take control of the ship--which seems highly likely, as they have noted more Orion ships than normal on their path toward the Neutral Zone, which argues they are searching for something--they would go to Remus.
Spock had once estimated that their chances of getting across the border of the Neutral Zone as only somewhat above the end of the universe. With a fully functional and somewhat technologically advanced cloak, however, the probability of success should be higher.
The potential presence of the Laurentian fleet, however, does make those odds suspect.
"We will arrive at the border of the Neutral Zone and Federation space in one point eight three two standard days," T'Prina says from navigation; Jim nods from the captain's chair--the most hideous thing he's ever sat in, thronelike and yet somehow even less classy--and looks around his small bridge at what appears to be, on first glance, a crew, if you squinted.
Technically speaking, Soli's crew isn't wildly unqualified--Romulans have required military service, so the scientists at least know what they are looking at and what to do with it, which is actually doing better than Jim. But they're not Starfleet either; an Academy graduate never stops being a military officer, even if they never step foot on a ship. He could grab any ten Starfleet lab scientists and throw them on pretty much any ship in the Fleet and be relatively sure they could carry out their duties competently, if not brilliantly.
Of course, that would also be a Fleet vessel and not an Orion slaver, either, and Jim really can't hold it against anyone when they stare blankly at panels that don't act anything like they're supposed to. There are also the cargo bays that aren't cargo bays, even if Jim keeps calling them that in his head, because "slave pens" just make him twitch. Knowing five hundred and change Starfleet officers in coldsleep are currently being housed in them isn't helping. That's not logical, Jim knows, but logic doesn't apply to the realization this isn't just a goddamn Orion cruiser--this is a slaving vessel, built and destined to capture unaffiliated planetary populations for the slave camps of the Orion homeworlds.
He'd let Rayiyah assign the personnel at first, but it quickly became clear that being a theoretical expert at something doesn’t mean they're any good at it. The two engineers are currently watching environmentals (Jim is honestly surprised those are functioning; even his codepicker couldn't make sense of how the hell that mess could be working), while the woman he'd seen earlier, Technician Leesa, was at the engineering board despite being a astrometerologist, as she at least seemed to understand that this isn't an interesting theoretical exercise in how long someone can run warp engines on the bare minimum of dilithium, but understood the goal was to keep them running no matter what.
They shouldn't have any problems getting across the Neutral Zone, as Romulans are quite used to Orions being around, apparently, which Jim files away for further investigation. They'd known there was a relationship between the two, but this smacks of alliance. And they, at least, should have known this was a slave ship. Being copasetic with an Orion slaver in their airspace as well as the Neutral Zone would have been enough at one time to make a lot of Starfleet admirals lose sleep at night.
"Captain," T'Prina says, voice softer. Jim gives her a warning look, and the brown eyes flicker down, giving him the chance to back down and pretend to keep his dignity.
"In the ready room," he says, getting to his feet and glancing from habitual paranoia at the Romulan he's effectively leaving in charge of the bridge. Honestly, even if this is some kind of extraordinarily far-fetched Romulan plot that ends in some strange, overly-complicated climax, Jim can't see how they can pull it off in a ship that requires all their attention to keep from dying in the middle of open space. "Rayiyah, you have the bridge. Keep me informed."
Rayiyah gives him a faintly harassed look for interrupting soldering a board back together by sheer luck. There are a few tentative agreements from the others that Jim acknowledges with a nod. Reluctantly, Jim heads toward the door, bracing himself as he goes inside.
The rest of the ship might not be much, but the budget had definitely gone over in furnishing the Captain's retreat; Jim looks at the expensive balsam-wood desk, the state of the art terminal, and blocks out the knowledge of how many people this cost to furnish. There's a hideously ornate couch in the corner, and Jim heads toward it, dropping on the plush comfort to level a glare at T'Prina. "Dehibernation reaction, I get it. I have a few more hours before I need another shot. Why do Vulcans never have these problems? If you say superior biology, I'll seriously airlock you. I can do that. When I figure out where the airlocks are."
T'Prina crouches in front of him. "Your shields are no longer functional."
See, he didn't need to know that, even if he sort of already had. "T'Prina--."
"You've been reading the Romulans since we were awakened," T'Prina says flatly; it's not a question. "A range of roughly ten meters from your position, but it is strengthening. It is currently passive, as it was the first time you experienced this." Then, faintly accusing, so very Vulcan. "You knew."
"My Romulan isn't that good," he admits. Even their best translation matrix makes a hash of Romulan, and conversation's been way too damn easy. "How did you know about--"
"I accessed your medical records and read Healer Sorin's conclusions."
On some level--the legal and ethical, come to think--that's pretty questionable, but Jim thinks that just maybe they're beyond that. "You used the codepicker, didn't you?"
T'Prina licks her lips. "It was--" Jim waves it away. "Captain--"
"So you know what's going to happen."
T'Prina nods roughly. "I do not have Commander Spock's ability to shield you should you begin to send and receive active thought. But if it becomes necessary, I can consolidate bridge function and minimize the number of people required on the bridge to spare you the excess psi-traffic. While Romulans and Vulcans have taken different evolutionary courses, the similarity is enough that your mind will interpret them in similar ways. That should help extend your mental stability."
Jim had always suspected Vulcans were capable of vast amounts of denial. "The first time, I didn't know what was going on," he answers levelly. "This time--"
"This time, you command a ship that can destroy a world," T'Prina says simply, "and here, there is no one who would know to stop you if you told them to destroy one, other than I. And I do not believe that the current crew would listen to me."
Reaching for her shoulders, Jim jerks her to her knees, sliding a hand down to her hip until his fingers brush the phaser. Meeting her eyes, Jim catches her hand and presses it against the hilt, making sure she gets the message. "This time," he says softly, "I know what's going on. That's why you're carrying a phaser and I'm not."
T'Prina stiffens. "Captain--"
"I remember how it felt when plak tow was getting too close," Jim continues, tightening his grip on her hand when she tries to pull away. "I know what will happen to my head when it starts and I know what will be left of me when it's over if it goes that way. I felt Melody from Spock's memories of reading her. That's not living, and Spock shouldn't--" Jim fights back the image of Sorin; that won't be Spock. "I have the right to ask this."
"I do not think--"
"You can. That's what I've been trying to tell you. You're going to be an extraordinary officer. But today, you have to think like a captain. And this is where it starts." Reaching into his pocket, he takes out the codepicker and folds it into her hand. "Hold onto this for me. Last time this happened, I could still break into the Enterprise."
"It's not like there are a lot of options," Jim says before she can get any farther. "We have at least a day or two; all I have to do is get this ship to the Federation so they know what's happening. You can do the rest, if it comes to that."
T'Prina's fingers clench around the codepicker convulsively before she tilts her head, looking at him. "This is what you consider a plan, Captain?"
"It's not a good one," Jim admits. She's shielding well enough that he can't pick up a thing; for possibly the only time in his life since all this started, he regrets it. "T'Prina--"
"When we reach Federation space…" She stops, blinking for a moment, then gets to her feet, clumsy in a way that he'd never seen her before. "You do not believe there will be enough time."
"I can't count on that," Jim answers flatly; it's like goddamn déjà vu, Spock all over again on that damn planet. "Neither of us can. And if I'm a danger to this ship, you can't take that risk. Starfleet has to know--"
"--what's going on here," T'Prina breathes as she picks up the projected memory. Taking a step toward him, eyes distant, she continues "And you said, this is where you--where you cut your losses--"
"And get the hell out," Jim licks his lips, caught in that last memory on the planet, Spock holding him up and the utter surety that had filled him, as if Jim could do anything, even delay his own death. "That's what we do."
"No, it is not." Abruptly, one hand fixes on his shoulder, pinning him to the couch, one knee planting itself by his hip. Before he can figure out what she's doing, her other hand cups his jaw. "That is not what we do."
"I believe," she says, fingers pressing into his skin, bringing every nerve awake, "that Commander Spock explained what we do; this is where we cheat."
It takes a second for Jim to realize what she's doing, fingers slipping into position over each psi-point. "My mind," she breathes, "to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts."
There's nothing light about her mind this time, a hard push that feels like slamming head-first into solid stone. "T'Prina--"
One delicate forearm presses against his throat, cutting off the words. "My mind to your mind," she repeats, forehead pressing against his, her mind stretching around his like a vise, searching for a way inside. "My thoughts--" To your thoughts. Let me in, Captain Kirk. Let me in.
Let. Me. In. I am not trained to do this as a mindhealer would. Let me. My mind to your mind, my thoughts--
Jim can feel her desperation; as a Vulcan, she can break him to this if she wants to, and he can feel what it's costing her to hold back. Jim looks into her naked brown eyes and thinks--
I trust you.
--to your thoughts.
It's not the careful precision of Sorin or the familiar touch of Spock, as much at home in his head as Jim is; it's a rough, desperate push inside, that neatly organized mind with the sharp focus of a razor as she searches, focusing, narrowing, then stopping with sudden, sharp attention. He senses something like threads being pulled, web-fine, twined around delicate fingers, and then T'Prina's voice fills his mind, sounding nothing like herself.
This is what we do, she says, and here, he senses so much more than he'd expected to find in her; there's no way to define it, and she doesn't try to hide anything, not here. We protect the Federation against what would come against her, against what she would become. We protect our ships, our crews, our people.
Something tightens in his head, like what it must feel like to be a string being tuned on a guitar. Jim reaches clumsily for her hand; catching it, she brings it to her face and spreads each finger across the smooth skin of her cheek, her forehead, and lets out a shocked breath as the connection strengthens.
I cannot shield you from what will come, she says. But what is shared is halved; I can stabilize your mind when it begins.
That's what she's doing. Don't-- Like he can fucking stop her.
To protect your crew, there is little you will not do, she says, tightening the threads further--Jim wonders if his head can even hold this, so much of her here, relentless and ruthless. So I do this. Where you go, I will have no choice but to follow. You will fight, to protect me when you think you are too exhausted to protect yourself. You will not let it take you. You will not let it have you. Or it will have us both.
There's a final long twist, a string pulled too tight, then everything snaps; Jim finds himself collapsed against the back of the couch, panting into the ceiling with T'Prina sprawled messily across his lap, breath warm against his collar.
There's a headache, but honestly, Jim couldn't have expected anything less. "I'm putting you in the brig for a year," Jim mutters as he feels her sit up. Blearily, he watches her shift to the couch, one hand pressed to her forehead, a slight frown creasing the skin between her eyes. "What the hell--"
She raises her head curiously. "I have never hated you, Captain Kirk. Why would you have thought that?"
For the love of God. "Stop that! We're fucked, Cadet. This is not the time for--"
"That is possible," she says seriously, shaking herself as she straightens. "But it is unlikely. The period of time you will be functional has been effectively doubled, if not tripled. As a Vulcan, I am capable of keeping your mind focused--"
Jim thinks about strangling her. It's an increasingly attractive thought.
"--and stabilizing the disintegration of your personality," she finishes, coolly twisting a few stray braids away from her face. "I believe that will be sufficient--"
"You know we won't survive this."
T'Prina looks at him. "What did you tell Commander Spock? You--when you told him of the Kobayashi Maru--"
"How the fuck could you pick out that memory?"
"It is always there," she says, touching his temple. "What you are. What you will always be. What you chose to become. You said when there is no chance of success, when there is no choice--"
"--you only fail when you stop trying. A no-win only exists when you believe in it. Until then--" Jim stops, words catching in his throat, words he built a career on, a life on and maybe a relationship, too. "Until then--"
"Until then, anything is possible." She nods, dropping her hand. "This is where we shall prove it to be true. This will make anything possible."
T'Prina freezes. After a moment, both hands drop to her lap, and she draws in a deep breath.
You are my Captain, she thinks, carefully, clearly. And you are my friend. The brown eyes meet his. "Do you understand?"
Jim leans his head back on the couch. So very fucked. "Yeah, I do."