Waiting was the hardest part. It always was. Leonard paced the floor while Jim and Spock played chess as if they weren't hours away from goddamned self induced Armageddon. He'd snapped as much at them a while ago, but Spock's calm statement that worrying was not a logical expenditure of energy, and Jim's playful advice to pour himself another shot of brandy, had only served to infuriate him.
Leonard looked at the chronometer for the eighth time in as many minutes. Twenty-three seventeen. Exactly one minute later than it had been the last time he checked, and fifty-three minutes before they should expect answers from the other ships. Damn.
He turned and took another walk across the room, glancing at the chess board briefly, but unable to focus on the gameplay. He was about to suggest that they contact the bridge and find out if any messages had been sent yet, when the room brightened suddenly, and the red alert siren began its wail. "Shit!"
"Captain to the bridge!" It was Uhura's voice - the Alpha crew had been called back to their posts at 2300 to be sure that the most experienced crewmembers were on duty when Jim's deadline was reached. "Captain Kirk to the bridge," she said again.
Jim was already on his feet and headed for the door, Spock right on his heels. Jim paused before he reached the door and grabbed Leonard by the arm, pulling him in for a swift, strong kiss. "Be careful, Bones."
"You, too." Len glanced at Spock, whose expression was dark. Leonard touched his hand briefly, and Spock grasped him tightly and kissed him firmly as well. "I'll see you soon," Leonard said. Spock released him, and the two men hurried to the Bridge while Leonard turned and made best speed for Sickbay.
There was only one thing that could trump waiting on McCoy's list of detestable activities, and that was waiting where he couldn't be near Jim. He hated not knowing what was happening on the Bridge, but he had a duty to perform. Some of the details might be different, but his duty to his post was a constant, regardless of whether he was working for the Empire or against it.
Of course, at the moment, his post was manned by the only doctor in Starfleet rumored to be more fierce than Leonard H. McCoy. Dr. M'Benga's sharp voice could be heard even before Leonard reached Sickbay. "This is not a goddamn drill, people, let's hustle!"
McCoy moved easily between the hurried nurses and other doctors to reach his night-shift counterpart. "Need a hand, Geoff?" he asked.
"Didn't figure you'd be asleep," the doctor replied. "Sure, you can help get the patients secured." McCoy did so, while the other doctors and nurses prepped bio-beds for potential casualties. There were hardly any patients in the Sickbay with serious injuries, though there were far more than usual. Before, Sickbay had been an absolute last resort, only frequented by people who were forced to come, or who weren't conscious or lucid enough to insist that they'd be fine with just a little rest. Leonard strapped down the patients that couldn't safely walk back to their quarters, and prepared to wait for the casualties to come in - hoping that there wouldn't be many.
"I hate waiting," he said to no one in particular.
"You always were impatient," M'Benga replied. "Look, why don't you get out of here?" Leonard gave him a questioning look. "Go on, I know where you'd rather be, and we may as well have someone up there when the sparks start flying, right?"
"Good point," McCoy said, reaching for his full-sized medkit.
"Besides, you're giving me motion sickness with all that fucking pacing."
McCoy laughed. "Call me back if you need me." He waited for Geoff's nod before making his way quickly to the bridge.
Jim glanced briefly at the doctor when he arrived on the bridge, and nodded slightly before turning his attention back to the viewscreen. Leonard didn't speak, and no one else on the bridge took much notice of him. Leonard followed Jim's gaze, and was surprised to see only one vessel on the screen, The Constellation. She loomed on the other side of a wide span of asteroids.
Leonard stepped down beside Jim. "Where are the others?" he asked softly.
"Hanging back," Jim answered. "Probably waiting to see who comes out on top." Len nodded. It was something of a relief, even though Decker was a formidable commander. Leonard wasn't sure what kind of chance they'd stand against the entire fleet, even with the Keterna asteroid field providing its double-edged protection.
"Haven't made a move or tried to contact us, yet," Jim said. "But I-"
"Captain, we're being hailed."
"On screen," Jim said. Leonard backed away, standing close to the guardrail so as to be out of viewscreen range. A moment later, the view of the Constellation was replaced by the image of Commodore Decker, glaring at them from his command chair.
"I've always admired you, Jim," Decker said. "You're brave, you're smart, and you were always good to have around in a fight. But what you're doing now..." He shook his head. "You've crossed a line, Jim. I can't allow you to go against the Empire."
"You're making a mistake, Matt," Jim said. "You're fighting a losing battle."
"According to whom? Some mathematician? Some oracle on a planet full of pacifists?" He said the word with a disdainful sneer. "It's ridiculous, Jim. You've lost touch. I don't know what Spock did to you, but I think he's brainwashed you. You're not the man I used to know."
"There's been no brainwash, Decker," Jim snapped. "I can see a better way, and I'm not afraid to fight for the future of the Empire."
Decker scowled. "That's the second time you've called me a coward today, Jim," he said darkly. "You won't do it again. Now I'm giving you a chance, for the sake of our old friendship. Put an end to this madness. We can fix this - tell Starfleet Command that you were under mental control, and-"
"And secure the execution of Spock and every Vulcan aboard this ship? Guarantee the destruction or enslavement of our allies? I don't think so, Decker. Even if I wanted to stop, I'd never do it that way. But you still have time to change your mind. It's not quite midnight, yet."
Decker chuckled, but there was fire in his eyes. "Well, Jim," he said softly. "I tried." Decker made a "kill" motion with his hand, and the screen returned to the view of the asteroid field, and their opponent's ship.
"Energy surge," Sulu said sharply. "They're charging weapons, Captain."
Sulu's hands flew across the board, and the ship dipped and swerved. They weren't quite fast enough. The screen brightened for an instant, and they were rocked by the jolt of phaser fire. Leonard stumbled, but quickly braced himself against the railing. Jim was shouting out orders before the ship had finished rocking.
"Evasive, dammit, get us back! Damage report!"
"Crews report minimal damage, sir," Uhura said quickly.
"Shields holding at ninety-eight percent, sir," Sulu said.
"Captain," came Spock's calm voice. "It appears that some of the phaser energy was absorbed by the surrounding asteroids."
"So, that wasn't really a warning shot," Jim said. "That was meant to do a lot more damage than it did."
"Affirmative, sir," Spock said. "And we will need to boost our own phaser power if we are to do more than negligible damage to the Constellation.
Jim slammed his hand on the chair's console. "Scotty."
"Get me as much power to the phaser banks as you can. Drain from the shields if you have to, but I want those phasers at absolute full strength - get them to ten percent higher than our usual maximum if you can."
"Aye, sir, I'll do what I can."
"Good. Spock, if we-"
"Sir, they're firing again!"
"Take evasive action!"
The second blow was much milder than the first. Leonard could see several asteroids explode on the viewcreen, and he was easily able to brace against the slight rocking of the floor. "Shields holding at seventy-five percent," Chekov reported.
"Good. Keep weaving, Sulu."
"Shouldn't we fire, Captain?" Chekov asked.
"No, not yet. At this point, it would be a waste of ammunition. Spock?"
"Affirmative, sir," the Vulcan replied. "We may succeed in destroying some of the asteroids around the Constellation, but damage to the ship would be negligible."
"What about using some of that energy against them?" Bones asked. "Couldn't we superheat some of those damn rocks around them, and-"
"Hey, that's not a bad idea," Jim said. "We might be able to confuse them, scramble their sensors."
"Aye," Chekov piped in. "And if we can fire quickly enough, we could destroy them with a strong enough beam."
"We could," Jim said. "But we won't."
"Captain?" The shocked cry was heard from more than one member of the bridge crew.
"We're aiming to disable them, but no more," Jim said sharply. "I don't want my first public act in the new Empire to be killing over four hundred of our own people."
"Aye, aye, sir," Chekov said softly.
Jim turned in his seat. "Spock, how much energy would we need to destroy some of these asteroids, and fire a focused beam long enough to take out their engines?"
"I can have the calculations within three minutes, Captain," he said.
"Good, get that down to Scotty as soon as you can. Sulu, Chekov, keep this ship moving, and try to keep us out of phaser range for those three minutes, understood?"
The bridge rocked again. "Damn! Get us back, now!" The ship rocked again, less violently, as they backed through some of the asteroids. Sulu kept up his evasive maneuvers, while Leslie reported occasionally on their shield strength.
"Computed," Spock announced.
"Scotty," Jim snapped. "When can you give us the kind of energy we need according to the formula Spock's sending down?"
"Less than... sixty seconds, sir," Scotty replied. "But for the full power beam, I'll have to drain quite a bit of power from the shields. We'll be down to thirty percent for about fifteen seconds after the phaser blast, sir. With those asteroids banging us about..."
"I understand, Scotty. Just get me that energy."
Sulu looked at one of the indicators on his board and winced. "Captain, the Constellation's advancing on us."
"Keep us out of phaser range, Sulu," Jim said. "I'll tell you when to close in."
"We're being hailed, sir."
"On screen, Uhura."
Decker's smug expression filled Leonard with fury, but he did his best to hide it. "Jim, what's the matter with you," Decker asked, the sneer in his voice matching his insufferable grin. "The brave new captain of a brave new world, and you're turning tail?"
Jim just smiled. "We still haven't reached midnight, Matt," he said. "Sure you don't want to change your mind while you have a chance?"
Decker shook his head. "You're full of talk, Jim. But the only action I've seen you take is to dance out of the way."
"Well, Matt, there's one thing you should know about me. When I take action, I damn well make sure it counts." He waved a hand at Uhura, and she cut the connection. Jim scowled. "Scotty! Where's that power?"
"Less than twenty seconds, sir."
He slammed his fist against the console, cutting his connection to Engineering. Those seconds seemed to take hours. Jim was tense, glaring at the asteroids and the ever-advancing Constellation. The ship rocked occasionally, buffeted by the Constellation's occasional pot-shots at them, as well as the asteroids that Sulu couldn't avoid. Finally, Scotty called up from Engineering, after what seemed like five seconds might have passed, or maybe three hours. "Whenever you're ready, sir."
"Good work, Scotty. Move in now, Sulu."
"Yes, sir," he said, with an almost gleeful tone in his voice.
"I want you to fire a random pattern spread at the asteroids close to the Constellation. As soon as you've destroyed enough of them to confuse her, go in even closer and hit them with that strong beam. Aim for her engines."
"Leslie, be ready to divert power back to shields on my mark."
"Firing random pattern now, sir," Sulu said.
The screen lit up with the flare of hundreds of exploding asteroids. When the screen cleared, the space between the Enterprise and the Constellation was almost clear of asteroids. "Fire that beam now, Sulu."
"Target locked, sir." A vibrant phaser beam streaked through the remaining asteroid particles, and struck the Constellation's port nacelle.
"A direct hit," Spock said, his incongruously calm voice cutting clearly through the tension on the bridge.
Leonard felt a surge of pleasure at the sight of the damaged ship. "That'll teach the bastard to be so damn smug," he said.
"Excellent work, Sulu," Jim said. "Spock, can you evaluate the damage to their ship?"
"It appears we were successful in disabling their warp drive engines."
"They're pulling back at impulse, sir," Chekov said.
"She's charging weapons again," Sulu snapped.
"Transfer full power to shields, Leslie."
Moments later, the bridge rocked again, more violently than before. "Pull back, Sulu."
"Captain," Spock said. "Engineering reports that we have enough energy recovered to fire at eighty percent power."
"Lock phasers on target, Sulu, but let's wait until we have a stronger beam. The asteroids are already filling in the space we blasted, and I don't want to waste the energy if it's just going to be absorbed. Mr. Leslie, any move from the other ships?"
"No, sir, they're still holding position well out of firing range."
"Good. Uhura, no communication yet?"
"No, sir, none that I can detect."
"Keep monitoring, both of you. Mr. Sulu-"
Just then, the ship lurched, and Leonard was thrown to the floor. "Damn!" Jim snapped. Smoke clouded the bridge briefly, and Leonard struggled to his feet to see if any of the crew were injured. "Damage report!" Jim snapped. Neither Uhura nor Leslie answered, and Leonard focused his attention on them. Leslie was slumped over his console, and appeared to be unconscious. Uhura was conscious, but holding her head, clearly in pain.
McCoy grabbed his medical kit from where it had flown from his hand and rushed to assist Uhura. He scanned her, confirming his visual diagnosis - a head wound, with a very mild concussion. "Let's see it," he said, moving her hand away from her head. The cut wasn't visible - it was somewhere high on the scalp, covered by her hair, but it bled profusely. Uhura stared at her blood-covered hand with disgust, and a little fear. "Looks worse than it is," Leonard said quietly.
"Damn it, I said damage report!" Jim glared first at Leslie, then at Uhura's station.
"Aye, sir," Uhura replied. She turned toward the console, but her movements were slow and she blinked rapidly, unable to fully focus. Spock was beside her in under a second. He, too, was bleeding from a head wound - a gash just above his right eyebrow - but he was steady on his feet. He took the earpiece from Uhura and reviewed the board. "A direct hit to the disc, Captain," he said. "Structural damage to decks 1- A through 4-C, but no hull breach has been reported."
Leonard focused on putting a temporary sealant on Uhura's wound, while Spock answered Jim's questions. "This will help reduce the pain, and help you stay alert until I can work on that wound," Leonard said quietly.
"Thanks, Doctor," Uhura replied.
"Sulu, I want those phaser banks destroyed!" Jim said. "Fire random pattern on the asteroids again, then I want two full power phaser beams - the first to their phaser banks, and the next to the starboard nacelle."
"Aye aye, Captain."
Leonard turned away from the viewscreen and glanced at Spock. His head was still bleeding freely, and Spock wiped at the blood with a frown. "Want me to treat that, Spock?" McCoy asked.
"Yes," he answered. "The blood is distracting, but pain medication will not be necessary."
Leonard didn't argue. He sealed the wound carefully and quickly, then turned his attention to Mr. Leslie, who still hadn't moved. Leonard scanned the fallen officer, and was relieved to find that he was still alive. He'd suffered a severe concussion, but if he received treatment soon enough, he would survive with no permanent damage. Leonard quickly injected him with anti-inflammatory and anti-shock. "Help me get this man to the floor," he snapped. A security guard helped Leonard carefully get Leslie out of the chair and lay him down so that he was supported against one of the bulkheads to keep him as secure as possible.
"Take over tactical," Jim said. McCoy caught sight of a young ensign taking Leslie's place. "How are they, Bones?"
"Stable, sir, but I'll want Uhura and Leslie in Sickbay as soon as this is over."
"Target's locked, Captain," Sulu said.
Jim turned swiftly back to the viewscreen. "Fire!"
The viewscreen flashed, and Leonard stood up. "Watch him, keep him from moving too much," he ordered.
"Direct hit!" Sulu cried.
"Their phasers have been destroyed, Captain."
"Target the starboard nacelle and fire when ready, Sulu."
Leonard watched the screen, as the blackness of space was again lit by phaser fire. The Constellation dipped, performing an evasive maneuver. The pattern must have been known to Sulu and Chekov, because they glanced at one another, and compensated without even discussing it aloud. Leonard again felt a surge of pleasure when their phaser beam took out the Constellation's starboard nacelle with another direct hit. He felt the thrill of complete satisfaction at a battle won.
Jim was smiling, too. He kept his eyes on the screen, and said, "What's their status now, Spock?"
Spock, who had returned to his Science station, checked the readings and nodded. "Her engines are completely disabled, Captain." Leonard thought he could hear a note of triumph in his voice. "I see no evidence of an attempt to use photon torpedoes."
"Sir," Uhura said, voice sounding tense. "I've picked up a transmission from the Constellation. It's-"
"Put it on audio, Uhura," Jim said.
She toggled a switch, and a terse male voice came over the comm. "... repeat, mayday. We are incapacitated, and Commander Decker is requesting immediate assistance. Mayday."
"Cut it!" Jim snapped. The transmission stopped and Jim gripped the arms of his chair tightly. "Damn it!" he hissed.
"Aye, Mr. Spock?" the young tactician replied nervously.
"I suggest you resume Mr. Leslie's scan for activity from the other Imperial vessels."
"Captain," Uhura said. "I'm not picking up any response from the other ships."
Jim looked at her, surprised. "Nothing?"
"Not a sound, sir."
"N-no change in position, Captain," the boy said. "It looks like they've adjusted their positions for the movement of the asteroid field - staying out of range of the field, but they arenít coming any closer to us, or to the Constellation."
Jim smiled and looked back at Lieutenant Uhura. "Hail the Constellation," he said.
A second later, the dark, smoky bridge of the Constellation could be seen. Commodore Decker turned toward the screen. There was soot and sweat on his face, and he scowled at Jim, breathing hard. "What the hell are you waiting for, Kirk?" he snapped. "Get it over with!"
"Are you ready to give up your crew so easily, Matt?"
His scowl deepened. "Dammit, Jim! You know we're disabled! You never were the type to gloat before, so just get it over with!"
"I'm not contacting you to gloat, Decker," Jim said sternly. "I told you in the meeting - we've eradicated the death penalty."
Decker gaped at them in shock, then glanced at his bridge crew before focusing on the viewscreen again. He cleared his throat, and when he spoke again, he voice was filled with uncertainty. "What... what happens now, Jim?"
"Now, we give your crew the chance to decide if they want to join the revolution or not."
Decker glanced around him again, then edged forward, looking intently at Jim. "What about me, old friend?" he asked. "What are you going to do with me? Lock me up like you did that woman? By God, Jim, I'm telling you right now, I'd rather die than sit in a cell with nothing... no one..." He swallowed. His voice was still steady, but Leonard could see an almost panicked look in his eyes. "I'm... I'm asking you not to do that to me, Jim."
"We'll see, Matt," Jim said. "If the others decide to join me, I'll talk it over with them, and we'll see. In the meantime, prepare to be boarded."
The Commodore's shoulders sagged slightly before he straightened his back and nodded. "All right, Jim."
"It won't help your cause if my boarding party is attacked," Jim said in a warning tone.
Decker held his hands up. "No tricks, Jim. You have my word on it."
Jim nodded. "I'll hold you to it." He glanced at Uhura, and the connection closed. Jim toggled a switch on his control board. "Security."
"Thornton here, sir."
"I want a boarding party organized immediately. Assemble in the transporter room within ten minutes."
"Aye, Captain, right away."
Jim closed the connection and smiled at Leonard. The doctor smiled back. "One down," he said. "Only ten more to-"
"Captain!" Jim and Leonard both turned toward the communications officer. "I'm receiving multiple transmissions from the other ships. Text only, sir." Uhura looked at Jim, eyes shining. "I think you want to see this."
Jim stood up and approached her station. He looked down at the board, and his lips curved up into a slow smile. He patted Uhura's shoulder, and she smiled brightly at him.
"What is it, Jim?" Leonard asked.
"What time is it, Spock?" Jim asked in turn.
"Precisely twenty-three fifty-nine, sir."
Jim's smile broadened. "Put those on the screen, Lieutenant," he said.
"Aye aye, Captain," she said brightly.
Jim turned and went back to his chair. The screen turned an opaque, off-white color, and slowly, messages began to fill the screen.
To: Captain James T. Kirk, I.S.S. Enterprise
From: Captain William J. Tanner, I.S.S. Reliant
To: Captain James T. Kirk, I.S.S. Enterprise
From: Captain Immanuel R. Ude, I.S.S. Farragut
To: Captain James T. Kirk, I.S.S. Enterprise
From: Captain Jonathan S. Keyes, I.S.S. Heron
Leonard stared at the screen, his own features lightening into a broad smile. As more and more "yes" messages filled the screen, his smile grew so wide his face started to hurt. "Well, I'll be damned," he said softly.
"On the contrary, Doctor," Spock said. "It appears that those messages indicate that you will not be damned."
"Dammit, Spock! You-" Jim's laughter cut him off, and Leonard could see other crewmembers grinning and trying not to. Uhura wasn't even trying to hide her amusement. When he saw the almost playful look in Spock's eyes, he just shook his head. "Pointy-eared, green-blooded... who said Vulcans don't have a sense of humor?"
"We don't," Spock said.
Leonard rolled his eyes and went back to watching the viewscreen filling with messages. "Thatís all of them, Captain," Uhura announced.
"And every last one of them a yes," Jim said.
"I must confess a modicum of confusion, Captain."
"Will wonders never cease," Leonard muttered.
"What's confusing you, Spock?" Jim asked.
"The other captains failed to assist us during the battle with the Constellation. And yet they have unanimously agreed to join our revolution despite their earlier doubts, and despite the fact that if they join forces against us, they could certainly overpower and defeat us."
"It's very simple, Spock," Jim said. "They want to join us. Whether it was your logical argument, or my emotional tirade, they want this change to happen. That's why they didn't help Decker when he sent his distress call. They didn't help us because they weren't sure of us yet. But now they've seen that we're serious about making a real change. We're serious about... maintaining our integrity."
Spock raised an eyebrow and glanced at the screen again. "Fascinating."
Jim smiled and winked at Leonard. "Am I to understand, Spock, that after all you did, you didn't actually believe that we might succeed?"
"Negative, Captain. However, the... difficulties I faced in presenting the new principles to the crew did lead me to believe that unanimous acceptance would be unlikely."
"In other words," Leonard said. "You're shocked that a bunch of emotional humans would have agreed to your logical course of action so readily, is that it?
"Succinctly stated, Doctor, and quite correct," he replied, eliciting a scowl from McCoy, and another laugh from Jim.
"Uhura, send our new friends a message," Jim said. "Video conference in one hour to discuss our plans."
"Sulu, hold position until we've secured the Constellation, then pull us out of the asteroid field."
"And Uhura, once you're done with that message, I want you to go to sickbay and get checked out. You men get Leslie down there, too. Spock. Bones. Come with me. We've got a revolution to plan."
Jim stood up and headed for the turbolift. Leonard and Spock followed him. As the turbolift doors closed on the bridge, Leonard caught sight of all the "yes" messages and smiled again. The road that lay ahead wouldn't be easy, and changing the fundamental values of an entire society wasn't exactly a short-term project. But their success today was a major step in the right direction, and Leonard couldn't help but feel optimistic. He glanced at the two men who shared the lift with him - who shared the adventure of a lifetime with him. He truly believed what he'd told Jim all those weeks ago - with the Spock and Kirk working together, there was nothing they couldn't do.
Leonard again felt the thrill of being on the verge of something new and exciting - only this time the fear was gone. Together, the three of them had done what no one would have dreamed possible - and this was only the beginning. There was no doubt in Leonard's mind that his prediction would come true - Jim and Spock would work together, their special brand of magic would ensue, and eventually - with a little help from Leonard, and the rest of the crew, too - all would be more right with the world.