|Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu
Sending T'Prina to the bridge just in case the residual desire to kill her manages to break through the exhaustion, Jim goes to the ornate desk, opening the terminal and pulling up the databases they'd downloaded. In the language of bureaucracy, there's everything they need to know about Romulan-Orion relations, but more than that, incontrovertible proof that the Orions had been behind the escalating hostilities between the Federation and the Romulan Empire.
"Computer, lock the door to my voice only," Jim tell it in Orion Prime. Changing screens, Jim takes a deep breath and pulls up the defensive capabilities of the ship and starts creating a series of tactical programs for when they cross the border. He doesn't have Chekov or Sulu, which means he has to depend on a computer to understand what he needs and when he needs it.
Yeah, this will end well, Jim thinks, starting to add the first set of instructions, letting Spock's knowledge guide him to write directly to the core memory itself, where he can get the fastest response time, though at the expense of system stability. System stability will be pretty much the farthest thing from anyone's mind if they can't get out of the line of fire of anyone shooting at them. The access to Spock's memories is easier this time, but Jim reminds himself if he starts talking about logic to phaser himself--it would give Spock too much satisfaction.
Breathe, he reminds himself. This will either end in death or getting back in range of Spock, and he's beginning to think either one is acceptable at this point.
In the background, he starts the compression sequence to fold everything they have into single-burst transmission size; before anything else, this has to get out and to someone who will read it and use it. Intact--he can't count on an Uhura or a Spock being able to clean it up.
Pulling up the communications log, Jim reads over the information T'Prina and her replacement had logged; his Romulan is pretty sub-par, but hey, mental breakdowns have useful side effects after all, and he can read enough to decide that under other circumstances, this would be highly worrying. Avis had been a very busy little contact the last few years, working between the Federation and Romulus, slowly but surely increasing suspicious activity; Nero must have been a godsend, and all the explanation of time rifts in the universe didn't remove the Romulan component from dominating everyone's mind. Even his own, Jim admits.
Two hours give him a working set of offensive and defensive programs, and by working, he means, enough to survive about five minutes. Going to the bridge, Jim loads them into the weapons memory as he familiarizes himself with the controls. While offensive isn't great, they hadn't stinted on defense at all. The power to hold the shields up is in question, but from the look of the configuration, they hooked it directly into the engines; they could lose warp and sublight and still stand up at least a little while against pretty much any weapons fire, at least until the environmentals fail. If the shields were in better shape, Jim reflects, they'd really have a chance here.
"Captain," T'Prina says, not looking up from her board, "I am starting a final diagnostic of ship's systems to locate the likely points of failure."
"And set up the reroutes? Yeah. Priority--communications, environmentals, defense, offense, engines."
"Communications?" T'Prina looks at him; he doesn't have to hear it to know what she's thinking. And she may be right; Jim doesn't like to think he'd walk into anything assuming he'd lose, but he's never had odds like this before either.
And that's just not on; Jim takes a deep breath and forces himself to think. Being realistic hadn't ever gotten him anywhere useful; why start now? Multi-state felons didn't one day wake up captain of a starship, and he's pretty sure they don't bang Vulcans like, ever.
"Well," he says, staring at the board. Everything depends on what they find at the border, but at a guess, if the Orions haven't figured out he's not dead yet, they're a lot stupider than their recent actions would suggest. "Communications, defense, offense, and hey, I don't know about you, but I can live without oxygen."
T'Prina's eyes narrow at the levity, but that doesn't hide the relief. "Captain--"
"Start the diagnostics. Rayiyah," Jim says, turning toward the startled looking Romulan, "while we have time, we need to go over a few things. Get your people and meet me in the office for a debrief."
Jim nods, counting down the time. A little over a day and a half. "Yeah. I have to teach you how to handle an engagement. Don't look like that; I train Starfleet cadets in hand to hand all the time. And I was amazing in tactics class and I beat the unbeatable cadet simulation of a no-win combat situation. Though that did require cheating, which in captainspeak is creative problem-solving."
"You have instructed Academy cadets three times, Captain," T'Prina adds unnecessarily, turning in her chair. It's possible she's learned the value of humor; Spock is going to hear about this and Jim will laugh so much. "But they were very educational."
"Captain," Rayiyah starts, eyes wide, and Jim shrugs, reaching to grab his arm, telling T'Prina, "Just call everyone up here that isn't in charge of making sure the engine doesn’t explode. I think I know how we're going to do this. It'll be fun, or at least, not all that boring."
T'Prina nods seriously. "Yes, Captain" while Rayiyah stares at Jim and says, "We have heard stories of your insanity, Captain. I did not believe them."
"Yeah, no one does." Pushing him gently in the door, Jim grins. "Sit down and relax. You're about to get a semester of Not Dying in Space 101 in about a standard day."
Glancing at the helm, Jim checks their trajectory from habit, staring at the numbers. Leaning over, he pulls up their course.
"Captain?" T'Prina asks as Jim starts to type. "We are changing course?"
"Yeah." Jim maps the new course, watching the bright line that follows a direct path between the Laurentian Fleet and the growing Armada. "Course adjusted to one one three eight nine, mark five three six."
T'Prina frowns slightly. "That will take us--"
"Noticed that, yeah." His hand hovers over the final change, though, staring at the numbers. "T'Prina, do you believe in intuition?"
T'Prina slides over. "Course changed," she says, entering the final codes, then pulling back. "Intuition," she says firmly, "is not logical."
Jim's mouth twitches. "But we're doing it anyway?"
T'Prina gives the helm a faintly betrayed look. "It seems," she answers, "that we are."
Straightening, Jim shakes his head. "You have the bridge, Cadet T'Prina. I'll be with the Romulans teaching them how not to die."
"We are eighteen hours from the border of the Neutral Zone," Nyota says, rising from the Captain's chair as Spock enters the bridge. "Sensors indicate that the Fleet is already assembling."
"Efficient," Spock answers, wishing that the Federation had not abandoned its usual lackadaisical approach to events occurring at the border. "Doubtless we can assume that the Empire has cloaked vessels gathering as well."
"Probably." She looks at him thoughtfully. "I've picked up two secured transmissions to someone in the Fleet, telling them that the vote is still stalled. They really don't want to do this without Vulcan support."
"That is not a surprise." And in this instance, highly useful. Taking his seat, Spock considers his father, still deep in contemplation of his son's illogical course of action or Orion treachery or both at once; Sarek is efficient. "Status?"
"On route and everything's normal. A lot of Orion ships are popping in and out," she says. "So I assume Dar's information is right on Rayiyah taking over the ship."
"Dar was unusually eager to be of assistance," Spock observes. From comments made by Dar during discussion--it couldn't be called an interrogation without a great deal of creative license--Spock is under the impression Jim owes Dar for certain items acquired during an earlier transaction that Spock would very much like Jim to explain, in detail. "What is our current heading, Lieutenant Sulu?"
"Five four three nine eight mark six two," Lieutenant Sulu answers.
The viewscreen flickers, and Spock studies the two dimensional representation of their travel in three dimensional space. The projected Laurentian fleet positions are easily visible, less than fifty light-years from the border of the neutral zone, as are the last known positions of the Orion ships they had detected. From the pattern, Spock wonders how long they have been utilizing an illegal cloaking device without Federation knowledge; where they procured it is obvious.
Current trajectory indicates they will cross the border well out of maximum range of the Laurentian fleet. "Alter our course to one one three eight nine, mark five three six."
Sulu turns, startled. "Sir, that puts us right on the edge of the Laurentian fleet."
"I am aware of that, Lieutenant."
After a moment, Lieutenant Sulu turns back to the helm. "Altering course heading," he says, programming the new coordinates in. "Course altered, sir."
"Inform me when we have reached weapons rage," Spock says, rising from the chair. He can sense Nyota follow him to the ready room; as the door closes, he turns to face her, anticipating her objections.
Oddly enough, however, she pauses, frowning slightly.
"You have a reason for wanting to land right between the Laurentian fleet and where the Armada is probably going to emerge from the zone."
Spock considers his answer; to say there is a logical reason would be an exaggeration. But he is certain. "Yes."
He waits for her to ask him to elaborate, but instead, her expression shifts to speculative. "Commander," she says, holding Spock's eyes, "I need the terminal to check something."
Intrigued, Spock leans over the desk, turning it. Bracing a hand on the edge of the polished metal, Uhura says, "Computer, show our current course and mark the location of all other verified ships in that vicinity. Add speculative location of the Romulan armada in relation to fleet location."
A glowing yellow line spreads across the screen, marking the course. Staring at it, Uhura reaches out, tracing a finger from their end point toward the neutral zone, where a blob of green represents the Romulan Armada. "You gave absolute course directions, not relative," Nyota says distractedly. "The only time we do that from warp is when we're damn sure there's nothing there. You wouldn't, period. Except for now. And since you aren't trying to check yourself into sickbay because you think you've gone crazy--"
Spock thinks for a moment. "Lieutenant, do you believe in intuition?"
Nyota looks at him, eyes narrowing thoughtfully. "Intuition," she says, flattening her voice in a way that Spock suspects is supposed to be a parody of his own; he wonders if Jim taught her that, "is not logical."
"This is true."
"But we're doing it anyway." She leans toward the terminal again. "Computer, map every potential route from Remus to the Enterprise's destination with an ETA within three to eight hours of ours."
Before their eyes, the screen blinks into a confusing blur of colors, lines appearing and vanishing, the scale shifting to bring Remus into view. Spock's studies each one, watching the computer create and discard, reassigning probability, then reaches out, touching a thin red line that's almost invisible: probability, twelve percent. "This one."
The computer seems to hesitate before it strengthens, darkening on the screen; Spock can see it in his mind as clearly as if he'd plotted it himself. Without meaning to, he touches a point on the line that's sixteen hours from the Neutral Zone border. "Here," Spock says, feeling strangely breathless; there is no logic in this. "He is here."
"Son of a bitch," Nyota breathes, mouth curving up in a shocked smile. "Of course. He stole a ship. Of course he did."
Spock takes a deep breath, fighting for calm. "He may not be in command--"
Nyota's finger stabs unsteadily at the screen, landing on their destination. "Flying into the middle of a face off between the Romulan armada and the Laurentian Fleet? You know anyone else who would think that was a good idea? Anywhere? Ever?"
"No," Spock admits, throat tight.
Nyota's shoulder presses against his, and for a second, he can feel her relief, a dizzy rush he can't make himself block or ignore, only share.
"Well," she says finally, looking at him with glowing eyes, "it looks like we better figure out his plan." Belatedly, Spock pulls away, but Nyota only grins, squeezing his arm before straightening. "Permission to call meeting of bridge staff in an hour?"
It take a moment to form the words. "Permission granted."
"We are approaching the border of the Neutral Zone," T'Prina says from the helm. Rayiyah, at the engineering board, watches the readings uneasily, uncertain as the safety margins start to show signs of strain. "Do not be alarmed, Rayiyah," she says distractedly. "The warp engines are functioning well within the margin of error."
Rayiyah's head jerks up, startled; before he can start to think a question, Jim turns in his chair, getting his attention. "Check with Leesa in Engineering and see what she says," he orders, distracting him. At the communications board, Elris is blessedly ignoring them, the entirety of her attention taken up listening to subspace traffic; she's no Uhura, but she's pretty good at figuring out what's important to listen for and what isn't.
Getting up, he goes to the helm, studying their course. "We'll exit warp between the Laurentian fleet and the border," Jim says. "Communications don't work through the cloak, so we'll have to uncloak as soon as we get in range of one of the warships. If they follow regulations--which you know, this is the Laurentian fleet, they don't do independent thought if they can help it--they'll challenge, we'll identify ourselves, they'll see I’m alive, we'll surrender the ship--"
"That seems straightforward," T'Prina answers, giving him a sideways glance. "You do not seem sure of success, however."
"Murphy's law," Jim says, dropping in his chair to frown at the viewscreen. "If it looks easy, it's not, and if it can go wrong, it will, and badly. If it goes right, that's just to trick you so you're not ready when it goes wrong."
"Humans," T'Prina observes, "have strange beliefs."
"No, I just have been on way too many missions," Jim sighs, slumping. Rayiyah's low-grade terror is grating on his last nerve.
"You have loaded several contingency plans," T'Prina answers, looking at the helm's computer. "I do not see--"
"But you aren't thinking of those," T'Prina says, sounding confused. "You are thinking of secrets."
Jim tilts his head up, eyes narrowing. She flinches, but she doesn't look away.
"T'Prina," Jim says slowly, "that in-retrospect-not-random ion storm began before I received the order to go to Starbase 3."
T'Prina opens her mouth, then stops. "Oh."
"Yeah." Jim watches the warp-curved stars. "That's what I'm worried about."
Behind them, Rayiyah surfaces from his mumbled conversation with Leesa, approaching the captain's chair projecting wariness. "Captain Kirk--"
"Feel better?" Jim asks, tilting his head back to look at Rayiyah. "Look, I know you're worried--"
"I wished to ask--"
"Captain, we are preparing to cross the border of the Neutral Zone," T'Prina says tonelessly. "Sensors indicate that thirteen Federation warships are holding position thirteen light-years from the closest edge."
"Anything on subspace?" Jim asks Elris. Looking startled to be addressed, Elris shakes her head frantically, hands dancing nervously over the board. "T'Prina, could you verify--"
"I have, Captain. All ships are maintaining subspace silence, and I cannot find any indication of intraship contact."
T'Prina cranes her neck, looking at him with faint aggravation. "I verified the readings twice, Captain."
"Keep on course and bring us out of warp halfway between them and the border. Rayiyah, inform the rest of the crew we're about to leave warp. It's going to be bumpy; we don't have the power to buffer it."
"Yes, Captain," Rayiyah answers, returning to the engineering board. Jim watches him until he's sure he's distracted, then looks at T'Prina. "Radio silence, sure. But not with each other. Move over. I want to check the sensors."
"Yes, Captain." Turning back to the board, T'Prina concentrates on getting them across the border while Jim pulls up the sensor scans and correlates it with communications. The ships seem normal enough; Jim notes the shuttlecraft weaving lazily between the Monarch, the Challenger, and the Lzxynt, which Jim suspects he will never be able to pronounce no matter how many bets he loses to Uhura.
"We have crossed the border," T'Prina says. "Preparing to leave warp in five, four, three, two, one."
Jim braces himself on the console as the ship shivers; Rayiyah stumbles, looking up with a faint air of offense before returning to his board. "Captain," he says, glancing at Elris, "everyone reports there have been no malfunctions."
That must be a miracle, Jim thinks distractedly as T'Prina deftly maneuvers them in sublight, long fingers moving expertly over the board. "Elris, check subspace again, would you?"
"Yes, Captain," Elris answers obediently. Jim finds himself staring at the fleet, the patterned movements of the shuttlecraft--speaking of, why the hell are shuttlecraft doing that?
"Captain," Elris says, "I cannot find any sign of--"
"Why are they fielding shuttlecraft when they think they're about to start fighting?" Jim says slowly. T'Prina jerks, startled, as Jim turns to Rayiyah. "Rayiyah, when you raised that ion storm--what level interferes with communications?"
Rayiyah frowns, looking at his readings. "Those are usually the first affected," he answers. "The Enterprise surprised us, Captain Kirk. It usually takes hours before a ship can re-establish internal communication, much less access to subspace channels."
Jim closes his eyes, feeling T'Prina's alarm. Yeah, they'd fixed that fast. It had been a tiny ion storm after all; no reason not to let Scotty play with Torren's equations. "Elris, try every communication channel but subspace; focus on line of sight and short distance--they're using the shuttles as goddamn tin cans."
"Did they hit them with an ion storm?" Jim says, trying to find historical conditions for the area in the database; what the fuck, Orion, too much computer power to slaving and not a tetra or two for basic reconnaissance of an area? "There's not even a star of the right type--"
"The type," Rayiyah says, "is immaterial."
Jim swings around. "You can start an ion storm with any star? Are you joking?"
Rayiyah is not joking, and Jim so doesn't have time for this. "What reason would there be to disable communications?" T'Prina asks, rerouting power to sensors to give him more range.
"Maybe they thought the vote wasn't going to go in favor of war," Jim answers distractedly. "Look, technically speaking here, all they actually need is one of those ships to fire across the neutral zone. They don't even need to go first; they just need to shoot a Romulan cruiser and that's it. It's an illegal war, but no one will care once it starts. Maybe they're bored and want to see if they can escalate this without outside support. I don't know and I don't care. We have to get a transmission to the Fleet somehow."
"Without dropping our cloak--"
"Yeah, I figured that out, thanks." Sitting back, Jim tries to make some kind of sense of what he's supposed to do with this. Spock couldn't have written a better no-win, and Jim's not sure you can hack the universe.
"We could attempt to reach a Federation planet," T'Prina says dubiously. Rayiyah's alarm is almost deafening. "I'm verifying the status of the warp engines now, Captain--"
Jim rubs a hand over his face as Rayiyah and Leesa carry on a frantic conversation that seems to consist of the many ways warp engines can go wrong, which isn't inspiring.
"--but I do not think we will be able to go very far," T'Prina continues. "Using maximum warp to reach here has reached beyond the most optimistic estimates. The engines were designed for single-burst warp--"
"Yeah, get there, enslave the population, get back, no cruising. I knew that." Staring at the ships, Jim mentally flips through every regulation he ever learned on procedure on warships, pulling up the schematics to remind himself how fast you die when one of them decides to swat. His summer of command training before getting the Enterprise had been somewhat abridged due to the need to get the new officers into space, according to Starfleet; Jim had nodded and never commented on the exclusion of basic instruction on Federation warships. He hadn't needed a class to learn everything there was to know about ships that could destroy star systems, and he'd never needed anyone to tell him Starfleet would give him control of one over the collective dead bodies of the Admiralty.
They're Starfleet, though. The rules of engagement even now won't let them fire on a ship without provocation, and Jim can be very unprovocative when he wants to be. "T'Prina, get us in hailing range of the Tarsus," he says, going back to the Captain's chair and taking a deep breath. "Then drop the cloak."
Jim blows out a breath. "Do it."
"I don't know," Nyota says, frowning over the shoulder of the current officer assigned to communications. "All subspace traffic just dropped."
Spock glances at Chekov, frowning over sensors. "Ensign?"
"I'm not picking up anything unusual, sir," Chekov says with a frown. "There's some interference in subspace, but not anything that would interfere with communications."
"Radio silence?" Nyota says, having managed to ease the junior communication officer all the way to the science station, one hand braced on the console. "Not unprecedented, but--"
"There is no logical reason to black out communications," Lieutenant Chekov says, glancing at Spock. "They aren't attempting to hide."
"Continue scanning," Spock answers. "Record any and all anomalies, no matter how seemingly insignificant."
Sulu's fingers pause abruptly. "Commander, an Orion ship just decloaked on this side of the Neutral Zone."
Uhura crosses to the helm. "On screen, Lieutenant. Identification?"
"Searching." Chekov frowns at the board for a moment before looking up at the ship with narrow eyes. "The configuration is unfamiliar; however--"
"It's an Orion F class cruiser," Spock answers. Aware of three sets of eyes on him, Spock looks up from his datapad. "A slaver vessel."
Uhura's mouth opens, then shuts abruptly, turning back to the screen. "Keep an eye on the power curves on the warships. I want to know when they start charging. What's the shield capacity on the Orion cruiser?"
"Not great, but they can stand up to a lot of fire," Lieutenant Sulu answers, studying Lieutenant Chekov's readings. I'm showing some unusual power distribution and a lot of patching. They've taken some damage. Warp readings are minimal; it looks like they've been taken offline."
"Logical," Spock murmurs; it's barely there, a faint sensation of presence. "Attempt to hail them."
"Attempting now," Uhura answers, going back to communications and checking the readings with a frown. "Subspace is scrambling communications," she says slowly. "I've seen this readings before. Torren, Lieutenant Gaila, report to the bridge immediately."
Spock meets her eyes. "An ion storm?"
"Commander!" Sulu says suddenly, "another Orion ship just decloaked. It's on intercept approach to the cruiser."
"Red Alert." Spock puts down the datapad, ignoring the faint tremor of his hands. "Put us on a intercept course between the cruiser and the Orion ship. Lieutenant Uhura, continue to attempt to hail the cruiser on all channels as well as all Fleet ships."
"Yes, sir," Lieutenant Sulu answers, sounding bewildered. "Setting intercept course."
"The power consumption curve on the warships is rising," Lieutenant Chekov says breathlessly. "Weapons are coming online. The second Orion ship is preparing to fire. Commander--"
"I see, Lieutenant Chekov," Spock answers. "Arm phasers. When we are in range, target the second Orion ship."
Lieutenant Chekov swings around. "Commander?"
"I believe," Spock says slowly, "that Captain Kirk will appreciate the assistance."
"The Orion ship is firing," T'Prina drones from the helm, seconds before the first hit. Grabbing for the arm of his chair, Jim stares at the viewscreen with a faint sense of betrayal. It really always did have to be the hard way.
"Start evasive maneuvers and return fire," he says. "Did you ID that other ship?"
"The long-range sensors are currently degraded beyond accuracy," T'Prina answers. "It is possible the second ship is an echo of--"
"We can hope," Jim answers, rubbing his temple. "All right kids, we're about to play a very fun game of escape imminent death. T'Prina, I'm taking the helm; get weapons and try to blow them out of the sky."
T'Prina gives him a surprised glance but moves over. Taking her seat, Jim pulls up the first of the engagement programs and loads it. "Rayiyah, you're on shields. Try to keep us alive."
"The Federation ships are arming weapons," T'Prina says flatly. "They are not yet attempting to establish a lock."
"They're trying to figure out what the hell is going on," Jim answers absently. The Orion ship wouldn't be much of a challenge if their ship wasn't about two good hits from a salvage yard; the pilot is distinctly uninspired, and Jim's opinion of the captain isn't high. A glancing blow to their starboard shakes the ship; Jim grabs on for the edge of the helm and grimly changes course, trying to keep an eye on the Fleet power curves.
"The Orion has locked photon torpedoes on our starboard bow," T'Prina says. "Rayiyah, strengthen shields--"
"Our shields won't survive a direct hit even if we put everything we have over there. Continuing evasive maneuvers--lets see if I can get the Andromeda between us. They eat photon torpedoes for breakfast."
T'Prina gives him a sideways glance. "Captain--"
"Their shields are a hell of a lot better than ours and there are a lot of ships out there. I'm not going to cry over scratching their paintjob." Swinging the ship around, Jim winces at the way it shakes; they won't be able to do nearly as much as he wants to. Even sublight is starting to look like it wants to take a vacation. Passing beneath the Andromeda, Jim forces a sharp ninety degree turn and feels it like it's his own bones, but--
"The lock is disengaging," T'Prina says with a faint hint of relief. Jim grins; he hadn't thought the Orions would want to risk hitting one of the Fleet.
"Tell me we have communications."
"Not yet, sir," Elris answers. "Continuing to attempt compensation for subspace interference."
"I would kill for a tin can right now," Jim says, swinging back around the Fleet far enough to not look like a threat. The Fleet wouldn't interfere with what appeared to be an Orion engagement unless directly threatened; Jim's not entirely sure that would be a positive at this point. "Keep trying to--fuck."
The ship shakes at the next hit; phasers this time, but phasers are enough. "Shields, Rayiyah?"
"Starboard are at eighteen percent," Rayiyah answers, trying to sound calm and failing badly. "Port are seventy-eight--"
Another hit rocks through them; Elris and Rayiyah both lose their balance, hitting the floor with a litany of Romulan profanity that Jim tries to memorize as he ducks back around the Fleet and toward the Neutral Zone.
"Returning fire," T'Prina says. "Their shields are at seventy-two percent."
"Great." Blowing out a breath, Jim pulls the ship around. "Arm photon torpedoes and hit them, I don't care where."
"Locking." T'Prina's eyes flicker to the viewscreen. "Firing."
"Starboard shield at ten percent. Attempting to--"
"They're arming photon torpedoes," T'Prina says. Jim glances at the sublight engines power curves and leans back, looking at Rayiyah for a moment. The man's head jerks up, eyes wide.
Rayiyah. Time for Plan B. Now.
Rayiyah nods jerkily as Jim reaches over, grabbing T'Prina's shoulder and pulling her away from the helm. "Hey, kiddo? Need your attention for a second."
"Captain?" Jim takes the hypo from his tunic and pushes it against her throat. "What--"
"Like you said," he says, easing her into Rayiyah's waiting arms, "this is where we cheat. Elris, open shipwide comm." Elris nods slowly. "Everyone, it's time for Plan B. Report to the cargobay and pick a hibernation pod. Five minutes until full evacuation, so you'd better run." Nodding at Elris, Jim reroutes shields, putting everything they have around the cargo bay. "Now."
Getting to her feet, Elris gives Rayiyah an uncertain look before assisting him with T'Prina to the turbolift. As the doors close, Jim watches the readings, then shuts down life support and communications, rerouting T'Prina's power conduits into sublight and shields. Now he doesn't have to worry about burning out sublight, he can find out what this ship can take.
"All right," he says, feeling the headache come back, the screen beginning to shiver nauseatingly; right, he remembers this part. Without the sex component, it's even more unpleasant than it had been before, and that's saying something. "Let's do this."
"The Captain's shields are at ten percent," Chekov says bluntly. "They can't take another hit."
"He's keeping them moving," Sulu says, sounding impressed. "Didn't know Orion ships were that maneuverable."
Spock nods, watching the power consumption curves from Jim's ship. "The sublight engines have begun to overheat," he says. "Estimated time until failure--six minutes."
"We're eight minutes away," Sulu says. "Make that seven--come on, Captain," he murmurs. "I just need a little more time."
"Communications are still garbled," Uhura says as Torren and Gaila study her readings. "Ion storm?"
"Yes. They will not be able to create another one, however." Torren's eyes narrow thoughtfully. "If you would allow me to access communications, I think there may be a way to compensate for interference."
"Do it." Getting up, Uhura joins Spock, one hand resting lightly on the back of the captain's chair. "Chekov, status on those Fleet ships."
"Weapons are online and charged, but they're remaining neutral." Chekov pulls up another screen. "Commander, the Captain's current course seems to be headed into the Fleet."
"To protect him?" Gaila asks, watching the screen from beside Torren. "They'll withdraw unless directly threatened--"
Spock watches as the small ship seems to duck beneath the Andromeda, coming to a relative stop. "Commander, he's--dropping shields."
Spock stands up. "Scan the area around the ship."
"Scan--" Sulu narrows sensors, focusing them on the small area of space. "There's--the cargo bay doors are open--it's lifepods, sir. I’m getting a count now."
Uhura straightens. "What's the crew complement?"
"Twenty five--there're five hundred and eighty-three pods," Sulu says, frowning. "How could they fit that many people--"
"The missing crew," Uhura breathes. "How long until we're in range of the Orion ship?"
"Five minutes," Sulu says grimly as they watch it approach Jim's ship. "He's blocking the Orions from the pods."
"He believes one of the Fleet ships will retrieve them," Spock answers. "Or force the Orion ship to risk direct fire on the Fleet ships to destroy them."
"They won't do anything without orders," Uhura says grimly. "Sulu, get us between the Captain and that Orion ship now."
"Power distribution has been altered," Chekov says. "He's rerouting everything into shields."
"The Orion ship is locking photon torpedoes," Chekov says. "Firing…. It's a direct hit. The shields have collapsed."
Jim shakes his head as he pulls himself back into the helm chair, reaching up to touch his forehead with a wince of pain, fingers coming away slick with blood. He really should have braced himself better.
"Get the pods," Jim tells the Fleet. "Just--get them. Or at least surround them and look dangerous, I don't even care."
Vision is hazier than he likes, but at this point, readings aren't going to tell him anything useful anyway. Power, gone. Sublight, not doing great. And he's pretty sure with T'Prina safely asleep, his flirtation with sanity is coming to a fast end. "Which is why I can talk to myself and it's okay. Crazy people can do that."
"I concur," Rayiyah says calmly; for a hopeful second, Jim thinks he's hallucinating. But no; Rayiyah is settling beside him like the suicidal idiot he apparently turned into when Jim wasn't paying attention, taking control of the ship. "However, in our acquaintance, I had already come to the conclusion you were not sane."
"So--not a hallucination." Jim takes a deep breath. "We're like one minute from being blown up, you know."
"Perhaps two." Rayiyah types something into the helm. "I've completed rerouting all power to shields and impulse engines to keep us between the Orion ship and the pods."
"Huh." Jim squints, trying to bring the readings into focus, but it's not working. "Right. So we die in two minutes?"
"I hold hope for three," Rayiyah answers placidly. Rolling his eyes is a mistake; the headache increases, and for a second, the bridge seems to waver into something far more familiar. His crew, his bridge, his extremely pissed off domestic partner, who is going to be even more pissed that Jim couldn't manage to finish what he started. Jim wonders if he updated his will bequeathing Spock to Uhura. Maybe they'll name their first kid after him.
You are less amusing than you believe you are, Jim.
He's--definitely hallucinating. "What's the Fleet doing?"
Rayiyah hesitates. "Nothing has changed."
Jim opens his eyes. "You know I can read your mind, right? It can't be a secret at this point."
"I know." Rayiyah continues calmly adjusting their course. "They are attempting to withdraw."
Son of a fucking bitch. "Fuck." Jim tries to remember what shape the warp core is in. If there's any juice left, they can set off a chain reaction and use themselves like a dangerously unstable bomb if the Orion ship comes close enough. They'll lose the memory core and the databases, but he can live with that if it buys those lifepods time. "Get the self-destruct up," Jim says hoarsely as the bridge wavers again. "The range should be enough to get them too."
Jim, how much time before the self-destruct activates?
Rayiyah affirms the request, and Jim lets himself lean back, enjoying the comfortable view of the Enterprise bridge, where Uhura seems to be close to strangling Sulu (not new), Chekov looks incredibly earnest (not new) and--Torren is at communications. Huh.
"The Orion ship has locked on," Rayiyah says calmly. "Self-destruct has been initiated." Jim glances casually at the numbers. Two minutes.
"Wonderful." Jim squints, frowning at Torren as he stands up, turning to look at Uhura. "You know, the last time, I didn't have nice hallucinations. They were all mountains and bells and horrible ways to die with sharp weapons and strangulation, of all things. Who the hell thinks ritual strangulation is appropriate to a marriage ceremony? That's what I want to know."
Jim can feel Rayiyah's sharp glance. "Never mind," he sighs as he gets a glance at the viewscreen. The Fleet is slowly but steadily moving away and being an utter bitch. "All right," he says, forcing himself to straighten and focus on the board. "They'll be okay," he tells himself. "This will work."
"The Orion ship is preparing to fire."
The viewscreen still isn't his, and to his surprise, he sees his ship suddenly in view, tiny and broken, the only thing between the Orion ship and the lifepods. "When the Orion ship goes, the Fleet will check out the pods."
"Communications--" Rayiyah starts.
"Don't worry," Jim says as he watches the screen fading to black. "T'Prina's got my codepicker's beacon on. They'll be fine. They're home."
Jim tries to focus on his bridge--if he's going to die, he's going to watch, dammit--but it dissolves again, and Nyota's fingers are wrapped around his arm. I'm trying to die well here.
What did you call yourself? A literary trope that combines periods of unconsciousness in conjunction with bandits--
Jim snorts a laugh. I am not a Regency heroine, Spock.
On the contrary, Spock answers, distant amusement a faint glaze over chilled focus, this time, I believe you are.
Sulu has never met a dangerous starship maneuver that he didn't love; Spock feels Jim slipping away and tightens his hold on the fragile touch. "One day, Jim," he murmurs, "you must introduce me to the classics of this interesting literary genre."
Almost effortlessly, the Enterprise slides between the cruiser and the Orion ship, taking the photon torpedo directly in aft shields; Spock steadies himself with a hand on the arm of his chair.
"Arm photon torpedoes and return fire," Spock says. "Engineering, prepare for single mass transport; five hundred and eighty-three lifepods and two humanoid life signs from the Orion cruiser on my mark."
"We'll have to drop shields," Uhura says distractedly, leaning over Torrens' shoulder. "Anything?"
"Almost have it, Lieutenant," Torren answers tightly.
"The Fleet has paused," Chekov says worriedly. "They're scanning us."
"What are the chances they have orders about the Enterprise?" Uhura says rhetorically. "Get me something, Torren."
"Photon torpedoes locked. The Orion ship is attempting evasive maneuvers," Sulu says. "Firing."
"Drop shields. Commander Scott, orient on Captain Kirk's codepicker signal and transport everything in a five kilometer range, adjusted for drift. Transporter room one, beam the Captain and the other individual from the cruiser. Self-destruct will initiate in less than one minute."
On the screen, the Orion ship shudders under the direct hit, but the entirety of Spock's concentration is aimed at the cruiser, locking his hold on Jim's mind.
"Transport initiated," Transporter Room One reports as Commander Scott says, "Patterns locked. Transporting now."
"Dr. McCoy and Healer Sorin, report to Transporter Room One for emergency medical assistance. The Captain is suffering from massive cerebral hemorrhaging."
"On my way."
"The Andromeda has locked weapons on us," Sulu says. "Weapons are charged."
Spock shuts out the bridge, feeling the second that Jim's pattern disperses and withdraws before he can be captured in the aftershocks--and then re-coalesces in the transporter room as Jim collapses onto the floor. "Commander Scott--"
"Got everything," Commander Scott says as Transporter Room one announces they have the Captain and his companion, following with, "Commander Spock, the Romulan that accompanied Captain Kirk needs to speak to you. He says it's urgent."
Spock nods. "Put him on, Crewman."
"Commander Spock?" The man's voice is familiar; Spock sees Uhura straighten, recognizing the voice. "We need the datacore from the ship. The Captain's orders. It explains--"
Spock glances at Sulu.
"Twenty seconds. Piece of cake. Scotty, what cargo hold is open?"
"Four," Commander Scott says, sounding suspicious. "What are you--"
"Prepare for transport of computer core--now."
From Communications, Torren abruptly turns around. "Got it. Commander--"
"Get up," Uhura orders, pushing him out of the chair and sitting down. "Federation vessels, this is Lieutenant Uhura of the starship Enterprise. Do not open fire. I repeat, do not open fire."
Scratchy and oddly toneless, a voice comes over the comm. "Enterprise, you are ordered to surrender immediately to--"
Gaila touches Uhura's shoulder. Uhura hesitates, then nods, sitting back as Gaila answers.
"This is Lieutenant Gaila of Starfleet Operations. By order of Starfleet Security, the Enterprise is to be detained but not boarded, authorization ultraviolet." Gaila meets Uhura's eyes. "Initiate direct contact with the Federation Council and inform Admiral Pike that we have information regarding Orion-influenced aggression in Federation space and the loss of five experimental Starfleet ships. Captain Kirk and Cadet T'Prina have been retrieved and will report as soon as we are given permission to return to Headquarters."
There's a bemused pause. "Repeat authorization, Enterprise."
"Authorization ultraviolet. We will wait for confirmation."
Dr. McCoy is waiting for him at the doors of Starfleet Medical, circles like bruises beneath bloodshot blue eyes. Despite the fact that Jim is not under his direct care any longer, Dr. McCoy had insisted on being involved in all aspects of his treatment, a circumstance that Spock has chosen to find logical. "Spock."
Straightening, Dr. McCoy jerks his head toward the hall instead of the medical facility. "Come on."
"I need to talk to you," Dr. McCoy says slowly, as if he's uncertain Spock understands the words. "I'm being subtle."
After a brief hesitation, Spock nods, following McCoy down the hall and through an exterior door that leads to a small garden that the visitors to Starfleet Medical sometimes utilize. As Dr. McCoy takes a seat on one of the small stone benches, he rubs his face tiredly, looking years older than he had even during those first frantic days on the ship while he and Sorin had worked to stabilize Jim's condition after placing him in coldsleep and attempting to repair the damage that Jim and T'Prina had suffered (the latter when she was removed from coldsleep).
"Sorin thinks T'Prina will wake up sometime today," Dr. McCoy says. "Torren just came out of trance and her EKGs are showing she went into REM a few hours ago. It looks like she'll be okay. The hibernation halted the hemorrhaging early enough and we repaired most of the damage while she was still down. Sorin thinks most of the coma is associated with Vulcan reaction to coldsleep; you go down hard and come up slower the longer you're under."
Hands behind his back, Spock nods, knowing that Dr. McCoy is working his way up.
"Jim's still stable." Shoulders slumping, Dr. McCoy seems unable to meet his eyes. "But the brain scans aren't changing. He's showing about on level with Melody."
"You have a reason for reiterating what you know I am already aware of."
"I do. Admiral Pike wants to pull the plug."
Dr. McCoy looks up, blue eyes sharp. "Spock--"
"The damage was corrected using Sorin's brain regeneration techniques," Spock answers flatly. "I can sense Jim's continued--presence. He is not dead."
"You're the only one that does," Dr. McCoy says, voice cynical. "And there are several Vulcan healers who are willing to report you are not rational in your suppositions due to your emotional state."
"They are wrong."
Dr. McCoy cocks his head. "You're sure about that?"
Faintly, Spock feels something pushing through the carefully constructed calm he's surrounded himself with for weeks; it feels like anger. "I am certain."
"Even if the telepathic healers agree? That he's brain dead? That you need to kill him?"
To his surprise, Spock realizes he's hovering over Dr. McCoy, and it's only the fact that this is Dr. McCoy, Jim's closest friend, that is stopping him from doing--something. "They are incorrect," Spock says, voice low. "He is alive. And he will be healed."
The belligerent expression on Dr. McCoy's face dissolves into relief. "Good. If you had said anything else, I was going to have to file for emergency custody, and that shit would be tricky with you as the spouse on record." Bracing his hands on the stone seat, he turns his head toward the door as it opens. "You're late."
Nyota smiles at them as she comes down the stairs. "Sorry, Leonard. Gaila came by; she has friends in Starfleet Med and wanted to warn me."
"That girl has friends everywhere," Dr. McCoy says, shifting over on the seat so she can join him. "What did you tell her?"
"That we're on it." Looking at Spock, her smile fades. "They're going to talk to you later this week, once T'Prina's up and about; Gaila gave me the heads-up and I told Leonard to find you as soon as Security was done with you for the day before they could set up a meeting."
"I thank you." After a moment of consideration, Spock takes the bench parallel to them. "Healer Sorin has contacted Betazoid on my behalf. When he takes Melody to the hospital there, he has offered to take Jim as well and will undertake his care until I can join them."
When that will be, Spock cannot be sure; there's been a week of private inquiries from all branches of Starfleet, and Technician Rayiyah and his crew became uncommunicative after the first day, insisting on Jim's presence. As that is impossible, the inquiries have been--unpleasant, to say the least.
As if following his thoughts, Uhura says, "Gaila also wanted us to know that without Rayiyah's testimony, we're going to have problems, even with the datacore. They need a lot of translation and there aren't many people who are fluent enough in Romulan and the Orion dialects to accurately translate. The missing crews don't know anything; most don't even remember the attacks."
"Long term hibernation commonly causes retrograde amnesia proportional to the amount of time in deep sleep," Dr. McCoy says. "They might eventually remember more, but it's not reliable, and it could take years anyway."
"Nor do they trust me or Gaila right now to do the translations," Nyota adds with a cynical smile. "However, Ambassador Sarek vetoed the war vote on the grounds that there's enough evidence that the original conclusion of Romulan aggression is now in doubt, and it looks like the Council will agree, though they aren't happy about it."
Which leaves the crew of the Enterprise in a potentially politically embarrassing position. That Captain Kirk was kidnapped is indisputable; that he returned and with the crews of the missing ships is also unquestioned. But the entities responsible are not entirely clear, even with Rayiyah's initial testimony of Orion involvement. The actions of the crew of the Enterprise are also under review; there has been discussion of a full court martial being instituted, and it seems probable that it will come to pass. Those most insistent seem to be exclusively grouped with those who had been vocal on behalf of war with the Empire.
"Someone's talking to Rayiyah," Nyota says softly; Spock straightens in surprise. "I don't know what they said, but it scared him badly, and he was pretty damn nervous before. His testimony is already considered suspect, and he doesn't trust anyone here but Jim."
"That is logical," Spock answers as Dr. McCoy nods glumly. The truth is, Rayiyah has every reason to distrust Starfleet, and for his own safety. From what Spock had understood during their first and only meeting on the Enterprise, before Rayiyah and his subordinates were transferred to the Andromeda for the journey back to Starfleet Headquarters, Captain Kirk had promised his personal protection before Starfleet, and there is no one else Rayiyah trusts.
"If they'd let you talk to him again," Nyota says in frustration, "I think he'd talk. He's asked to see you, but with the inquiry on everyone on the Enterprise, none of us can even see him, even Gaila. And Mitchell was sent off as soon as they could get him into space."
As examples of political maneuvering, no one is being subtle; they don't need to be, Spock reflects. Admiral Pike's influence is all that has kept them from being court martialed so far, but the longer Jim remains in a coma, the less likely it is that they will avoid it.
"If we could just get him to talk." Dr. McCoy stands up jerkily, pacing toward the far side of the garden. "Rayiyah's got everything; he came up with the ion storm program and was there for the capture of at least two of those ships as well as Jim's kidnapping. There's no one here he trusts, and God knows who might have gotten to him since he was taken to the Andromeda. They don't trust him, but they'd have to believe him when he shows them how he created the ion storms."
Nyota's expression changes abruptly. "There's someone who can see him," Nyota says slowly, staring at the door with an arrested expression. "Someone from the Enterprise, and someone he'll trust. After all, she was there for all of it."
Dr. McCoy stops, blue eyes narrowing as Spock rises to his feet, wondering why he hadn't considered that option. "You said T'Prina would be awake in a few hours."
"Sorin says five, and he's never wrong," Dr. McCoy answers, turning abruptly toward the door. "You two, go do something somewhere else, somewhere you'll be noticed; don't be here when she wakes up. I'll take care of it."
"You aren't allowed to see her either," Nyota says. "All Enterprise crew are restricted from--"
"Not me," Dr. McCoy says with a faint hint of glee. "Sorin. He's the healer on record thanks to their physician releases for a mindhealer. Jim changed his before he was taken because of what happened at the Colony--"
"Right." Standing up, Nyota takes Spock's arm. "Let's find Admiral Pike and take him and Gaila to dinner in the city. Maybe Magoo's."
"That is a bar frequented by Starfleet personnel," Spock answers slowly. "However, their onion rings are considered superlative."
Dr. McCoy jogs up the stairs, looking back only long enough to give them a feral grin. "Have fun, kids. I'll be in touch."