Dedication III: The Search for Bones
Chapter 10 - An Enemy Revealed


"Approaching Veris III, Captain."

"Thank you, Mr. Sulu," Spock said calmly. "Admiral?"

"No sign of any other ships in orbit, or anywhere near the system," Jim replied.

"That is unusual," said Spock. "Please continue scanning. Commander Uhura, do you receive any transmissions in this area?"

"None, sir," she replied. "Controls are functioning, but I'm not receiving anything."

"I've scanned for life forms, Captain," Sulu said. "I read what appear to be several small settlements, but no human life signs." Jim felt his heart sink. "This is strange, though, sir," Sulu continued. "I don't read any humanoid life forms on the night side of the planet at all. Just animal life and vegetation."

"That is quite curious," Spock said. "Yellow alert," he said. "Mr. Scott, Admiral Kirk, shall we go to the transporter room?"

Jim and Nyota stood at the same time. "Spock."

The captain approached her and extended his two fingers toward her. "I will return, my wife," he said in Vulcan.

She returned the touch. "Your word is as a binding promise," she replied. Spock nodded gravely and headed for the turbolift. Nyota hugged Jim tightly. "All my hopes, Jim."

"Thank you, Nyota."

The three men rode down to the transporter room in silence. When they arrived, Scotty manned the controls automatically. "Shall I set you down near that circle of pillars, sir?"

"That will be ideal, Mr. Scott," Spock answered. "Monitor our life signs at all times. If, at any time, you believe our lives to be in danger, you will beam us back to the ship immediately."

"Aye, Captain, that I will."

Jim stepped up onto the platform, leaning heavily on his cane, and Spock followed him up. With a brief glance at Jim, Spock said, "Energize."

They materialized a few meters from the dais, with its surrounding circle of perfectly spaced and perfectly measured pillars. Jim shuddered, and staggered toward them, almost compelled. Touch the pillars! He reached for one, but Spock stayed his hand. "Sir, are you all right?"

"I..." Jim evaluated himself. He was shaking, and he felt clammy and suddenly nauseous. "I don't know, Spock," he said. "I... this is... what I'm supposed to do."

Spock gave him a slight frown, but he released Jim's hand. The admiral placed his hand on the cool surface of one of the columns. This was a different one than he'd touched the last time, but it seemed right that he should touch it. At first, there was no sign that he'd done anything. He didn't feel a charge, vibration, or even a change in the slight breeze around him. But after a few seconds, the nausea he'd felt seemed to subside, and he felt steadier on his feet. He stepped back away from the pillars, and moved so that he could see the doorway to the cylindrical building at the center of the dais.

"Do you read anything, Spock?" he asked.

"Nothing, sir," Spock said, looking down at his tricorder. "No energy readings, just as before. I-"

Jim gasped, and stepped away from the dais. A white light flashed in the doorway, and a moment later, a tall man stepped out. Jim recognized him, though vaguely, as one of the kings from the Verisian throne-room. He was tanned, with curly, chestnut hair highlighted with golden flecks, and his eyes were golden as well. He wore the thin silver circlet, and the long white robe that seemed to be the going fashion for Verisian gods.

Slowly, the man stepped forward and smiled down at them. Jim felt an odd stirring sensation within him - he found himself standing up straighter. He felt almost like he used to feel when he heard a speech from the admirals and other officers that he'd admired in his Academy days. A surge of adrenaline had been pumped through him. He wanted to fight, and he wanted to do so for the golden man standing before them. He wanted to make this man proud.

"Greetings, and welcome home, my children," he said, his rich baritone amping up the already heightened feelings of energy building inside Jim - of wanting to take action immediately - on what, he wasn't sure.

"Greetings, sir," Spock said after a moment. "We have been called to this place to help a friend. Are you aware of the location of Leonard McCoy?"

"Yes, my son," the man said. "We are aware of the location of all of our children. I am the Second King - I am he who protects - he who wages war to defend the innocent. We are in need of your help."

"We... we came here to help Bones," Jim said, fighting against the strong urge to pledge himself, life and limb, to the Second King. "Where is he?"

"Your journey to rescue our world will bring you to him, my son." Jim stared at him, completely confused. Rescue the world? "Our children have been taken," he said. "A ship came, like yours, and took our children while they were sleeping. Without them, we cannot live. Without us, they cannot live."

"The lack of humanoid life on the night side of the planet," Spock said softly.

"Wha... wait, wait, why did you pull me here," Jim snapped, feeling his anger rise. "You people can... can bring Bones to me wherever I am, but you can't get your own planet's people back? You can fuck with my mind and make me live six years of my life in some kind of nightmare, but you can't bring Bones back to stay?"

"Your trials were real, my son," the man said. "We did not feed them to your mind. You lived them - all that happened to you, did happen. When you gave your life for our Chosen Son, we brought you back to this place and time, and erased the memory from all but you and our Chosen Son."

Jim felt his limbs beginning to shake as the king spoke - in part from fury, and partly from shock at the confirmation that his ordeal with them had been real to everyone around him, not just to himself. Spock drew closer to him and stared up at the Second King. "It is obvious that you are beings of great power," he said. "Please explain why you cannot simply transport the Doctor and your own people back permanently."

"The Nine may not interfere with the affairs of those outside our world."

"What?" Jim cried. "You interfered with me! You've been interfering since-"

"The First King rang the Ritual Bell, and a child was chosen from among you. When you gave yourself for him, you were chosen as our child as well. Spock, son of Sarek, is also a child of The Nine - his suffering in the face of your trials told of his love for both of you."

"But-"

"Our children are of our world, but our power is diminished because they are gone from this place. This place is The Source - the Source gives life to us all. We belong to one another. The Nine are using our powers to keep our children alive while they are away from The Source. Each day, we are diminished." The Second King looked directly into Jim's eyes. "Without them, we cannot live. Without us, they cannot live. Help us, my son. Bring our children back - save the inhabitants of this world. In doing so, you will save your loved one - our Chosen Son."

Jim clutched his cane tightly, trying to force his body to stop its shaking. "I... I want proof," he said. "Prove to me that you know where Bones is, and I'll really be able to get him back by helping you."

"Enter," the king said, gesturing toward the doorway. Jim looked at Spock. The Vulcan did not look pleased at the thought of entering the structure, but he didn't say anything. "Enter, and all will be explained to you."

Jim steeled himself, and took a step forward. Cross through the gateway. He looked at Spock again - the Vulcan hadn't moved. "It's what I'm supposed to do," he said. Jim didn't insult his friend by telling him he could stay behind if he wanted, but the unspoken statement was there. Spock seemed to stand straighter, even though he'd been displaying his perfect posture already. He moved to stand beside Jim, and the two men walked forward to the doorway together.

Jim paused when he reached it. Nothing could be seen inside - no sand-stone walls, no mysterious throne room - nothing. "Enter, my children. All will be explained."

Jim gritted his teeth, took a deep breath and stepped inside.


Red alert! Jim gasped and looked for Spock. The Vulcan was beside him, looking just as stunned as Jim felt. They were on the bridge of a small Starship - a ship in the middle of an attack. Smoke billowed from several consoles, lights were dim, and the red alert lights glared. Jim tensed and scanned the Bridge. He recognized a few of the faces, but froze at the sight of Bones. He stood beside the Captain - Kevin Smith. They were aboard the Osler.

The remainder of the bridge seemed to clarify, and suddenly, Jim could see the viewscreen. He glared, and he could feel burning hatred rising in him from his very core. Khan. Bones was also furious, fists clenched. "My captain gave you a chance at life that you didn't deserve!" Leonard snarled.

The ancient criminal smiled. "Still as loyal as ever. Captain Kirk cares a great deal about you, Doctor. I saw it in his triumph when you refused to join me." Jim felt his gut twisting inside him - he longed to wipe the smug grin off of the bastard's face. "You will soon learn that your decision was unwise. It will be a pleasure destroying you, Doctor."

The viewscreen darkened, and Captain Smith turned to Leonard. "Doctor-"

"Sir, please initiate General Order Thirteen!" Bones gripped the arm of the captain's chair, face somewhere between fury and terror. "Khan is ruthless, Jim's report is in Starfleet records. We need to-"

"Captain!"

The warning shout was too late. The ship lurched, throwing Bones, and several other crewmembers to the floor. Jim and Spock were unaffected, standing completely and almost disturbingly steady on their feet despite the fact that the deck shook beneath them. The ship rocked again and again, but even though the Bridge was in complete chaos, Jim was focused solely on one man - Leonard McCoy. Their position seemed to shift, so that they were closer to Leonard. Jim could see each detail, even though the bridge was lit only by the red alert alarm. He saw the blood trailing down the side of Len's face, and the tears flowing from his tight-closed eyes. Len's mouth moved slightly, and though he was speaking so softly he shouldn't have been able to hear, Jim could distinguish each word. "Help Jim. Help my children, please. Please God, get them through this. And if I've done wrong in my life..."

Jim averted his eyes, shutting out the sound of his husband's voice. He felt like he'd violated some holy confidence - a man's final words to God should belong to him and God alone. There was a sudden shout, and Jim looked up in time to see a bright flash as the ship was hit again. A piece of debris flew and connected with Leonard's head. The view faded briefly, then resolved on another Starship's bridge.

This time, the atmosphere was calm - the bridge looked like it had been through an attack some time ago, and only partially re-built. In the command chair was Khan, and Bones stood before him. "What have you done with them, you bastard!" Leonard hissed.

Khan wagged a finger and tsked at him. "Now, now, Doctor," he said with a smile. "That's no way to speak to your new master." Without warning, he smacked Leonard hard, sending him sprawling backward. "You will learn to respect us, Doctor," Khan said lightly.

"You're not a goddamn monarch, you son of a bitch," Leonard snapped, wiping blood from his mouth, and staggering to his feet. There was still dried blood on his face from the wound he'd received aboard the Osler. "You can stop talking in second person like you're something more than a pathetic, posing-" Leonard was cut off by another harsh blow from Khan.

"Silence! You dare speak to me like that?! You are nothing! Nothing but a worm to be crushed! You are alive only because I wish to see you crawl before me like the insect you are!"

Leonard pushed himself up, and got shakily to his feet again. "You won't break me with those meat-hook hands of yours," he snarled.

Khan clenched his fists, and Leonard seemed to brace himself. A moment later, though, Khan laughed. "I like your spirit, McCoy. You are a brave man. But you will break. In time, you will. And when I have destroyed your spirit, I will find a way to parade you before Admiral Kirk. Perhaps I will even allow your children to watch." Jim and Leonard both gasped. "Oh yes, McCoy," Khan said with a smile. "I know about them. I know. Your colleagues are weak. They were quite... pliant by the time I finished with them."

"You monster! What did you-"

"Was it a pleasant life, Doctor? You, with your man hobbling by your side, and your little second-hand children playing at your feet?" Leonard seethed, and Khan laughed again. "Much as the pitiful image amuses me, it was more than I had. Watching my beloved wife die a slow, painful death from the venomous bite of one of the creatures on our little colony. That was my fate. And now, your Admiral Kirk will feel what I felt. In part, he feels it already. He believes you to be dead."

"What? No, they-"

"I intercepted the transmission of your ship's final records. They will learn nothing of me, just as they learned nothing from the Reliant crew. You are dead, McCoy." Khan smiled at the pain obvious on Leonard's face. "Yes, and he will feel it. Day after day, month after month. But it is not enough to hurt him this way only. I wish to go on hurting him. Your medical ship was too puny for my use, but when I have amassed my fleet, my first visit will be to San Francisco. It will please me to bring you to him, years from now, when he has... come to terms with your death. I will present you to him alive, yet not alive - devoid of everything but the need to obey me. I look forward to the day when I can watch the rise of his hopes, then see them crumble to nothing. And after that, it will amuse me to watch the two of you beg for your children's lives, and then force you to watch while I cut their throats one by one."

"NO!" Leonard lunched, and Jim stepped forward, even though he knew this was only a vision.

Khan easily blocked Len's attack, waving his men away when they tried to pull Leonard back. Khan grasped Len by his neck and lifted him easily off the floor. Bones reached out with clawed hands, grabbing for his face, but Khan gripped his wrists with one hand and held them down. "Oh yes," he said, smiling again. "Yes, Doctor, you will break in time. You care too much, and that will be your downfall. The Orions will-"

"Orions!" Leonard cried. "You ca-"

His voice was cut off, and Khan shook his head. "Your master is speaking to you, McCoy. You will be silent." Jim watched helplessly while Leonard's face reddened and he struggled to take a breath. Khan smiled as fear began to fill Leonard's eyes and his legs flailed uselessly. Len gasped suddenly, taking in deep gulps of air. Khan watched him for a moment before saying, "I will make your next lesson more unpleasant if you interrupt me again." Khan stared him down for a moment more, and Leonard kept quiet.

"Now. The Orions will no doubt take some of my captives as tribute. But there will be plenty left for me to use as leverage against you. You were strong when I tortured Kirk - when you believed you were saving a world from being conquered by me. But how strong will you be when you must choose between kneeling before me, or watching my men mutilate one of your fellow crewmen? How much resistance will you offer when you must decide whether to yield to my authority, or watch your Captain Smith have his eyes gouged out?"

Leonard had been growing more and more horrified as Khan spoke. "You... you'd..." Leonard didn't finish the question, no doubt knowing that Khan would do exactly what he threatened to do.

"Yes, McCoy, you will be my special project. My pet project, if you will." He chuckled, then dropped Leonard so suddenly that he lost his balance and fell to the floor. "Take him to my quarters and chain him to the partition. When we meet with our new friends, he doesn't exist, understood?"

"Yes, sir."

Their surroundings blurred again, and suddenly, they were in the bright daylight of an M-Class Planet. For a moment, Jim thought the visions were over. They were standing near the Veris III dais, several feet from the encircling pillars. But they were not alone. Khan and three of his men stood looking around at the manicured grass, smiling pleasantly. Leonard was there as well, dressed now in the rough gray pants and tunic Jim had seen him wearing when he hadn't been able to find the children. Now, though, his clothes were fairly clean, and although the bruises on his pale face and arms were at different stages of healing, he wasn't nearly as bad off as he had been when Jim had seen him at home that last time. Leonard looked tired, and he'd lost a little weight, but he looked to be in good health otherwise. He also looked terrified - his wide, frightened eyes and tense features a sharp contrast to the enchanted looks on the other men's faces.

"What is wrong with you, slave?" Khan asked. "This is a paradise!"

"It's dangerous! We shouldn't be here."

Khan shot his hand out and gripped Leonard tightly by the hair, yanking him forward and forcing his head back. "Perhaps I've let you out of your cage too soon, dog," he said sharply. "You've forgotten your lessons."

"I... I'm s-sorry, Your Excellency," Leonard said meekly. Jim found himself clenching his fists. "B-but... I... th-this place is dangerous, sir."

Khan frowned, and Leonard cringed. "I see no evidence of these powerful beings you seem to fear. There are only scattered tribal groups and these structures, which serve no purpose! What is the Federation really hiding on this planet?"

"I told you-" Leonard gritted his teeth and hissed in pain as Khan tightened his grip on his hair. "Th-there's... w-we're not hiding anything, Your Excellency. This planet is quarantined for the safety of Federation citizens. It's-"

"Lies!" Khan shouted, tossing Bones toward the pillars. He kicked Len in the side, shoving him hard against them. Jim found himself surging forward again, but felt a hand on his shoulder. He glanced at Spock, who slowly shook his head. "Tell me the truth, what is so special about this place?"

Leonard didn't answer, and Khan kicked him again. Len doubled over, then scrambled toward the other side of the pillar, trying to get away from Khan's tirade. "Please, I've told you the truth, sir," he said. "The records-"

"Don't tell me about Starfleet records! You expect me to believe they wouldn't leave out the real importance of this planet?" Khan advanced on Leonard. "I give you one more chance, slave," he said. "You will not enjoy what I have in store for you if you do not tell me the truth."

Leonard cringed, pressing himself against the pillar. "S-sir, I..." He pressed his hand against the pillar, trying to edge away again. The moment Leonard's hand touched the pillar, a light flashed from the doorway. Leonard gasped, and Khan turned toward the dais. A moment later, the Second King appeared. Jim edged back, even though he knew it was a vision. The king's face was fierce, and he pulsed with a reddish glow. He looked down, and Bones shuddered and cowered against the pillar, covering his head. Len couldn't see it, but the king's eyes looked sad for a moment, before he turned to glare at Khan.

"Who dares attack a child of the Nine?" he boomed.

All of Khan's party cringed at the terrifying sound of the Second King's voice - even Khan himself. Then, one of Khan's men rushed toward the dais, but the Second King stared at him, and he froze. A moment later, he screamed in agony, and dissolved into a mound of ashes. Khan stared, a look of horror crossing his face. The other men froze, and Leonard edged slowly away from the dais. Before another move could be made, the world began to shimmer. Spock and Jim appeared in the transporter room of the Reliant. Khan, his two remaining crewmen, and Leonard all materialized on the transporter pad at the same moment.

Khan stormed down from the pad and glared at the transporter operator. "What happened?!"

"Joaquin ordered us to transport you back, sir," he said. "When Darin's life signs ended, we-"

Khan slammed his hand on the intercom. "Joaquin! Get the ship out of orbit! Transfer to the night side of the planet."

"Aye, sir."

Khan slammed his hand against the console again, growling in frustration. He stood silent for a few moments. The other men from the landing party stepped down from the transporter pad.

One glanced at Leonard, who stayed crouched on the transporter pad, looking nervously at Khan. "How... how could he have-"

Khan held up his hand, and the younger man fell silent. After a moment, Khan's fury seemed to wane slightly, and he smiled and turned to his friends. "When we arrive on the planet's night side," he said, "lock onto as many of the humanoid lifesigns we detected as possible and beam them directly to the brig."

"What?" It was Leonard's voice. He moved off the transporter pad and edged toward Khan. "What are you going to do?"

"Obviously, these people have the ability to create structures." Khan leered at him. "And judging from your presence here, child of the Nine, they cannot necessarily interfere with our transporter beams. I came in search of workers for my empire, and I have found them here."

Leonard shook his head, his face growing pale. "No, you... you can't do that!"

"Can't I?"

"Those people are innocent, Khan! They're protected by the Prime Directive!"

Leonard was cut off by a harsh blow to his face. "Do you take me for a member of your ridiculous Federation?" he snapped. "Your Prime Directive means nothing to me! And if this is true, why do you know about them? Why do they know you?"

"We stayed well away from the inhabited parts of the planet!" Leonard shouted back. "They had no way of scanning us, so there was no violation! But you can't enslave an entire-" Khan backhanded him again, knocking him to the floor.

"You will cease to speak to me about what I can and cannot do, slave," Khan said grimly.

Len pushed himself up from the deck and glared at Khan, clearly too furious to worry about Khan's "punishments". "You didn't listen to me before, and now a man is dead," he cried. "Now you want to bring something worse onto our heads by stealing their people! You're depraved! Your own sense of self worth is so damned overinflated I'm surprised you even fit on this goddamn ship!!"

Leonard stopped, breathing hard, and Khan stepped slowly forward. He gripped Leonard by his tunic and struck him in the face again. He reached back, but paused before striking another blow. "No, no," he said slowly. "Not this time." Khan let Leonard go, and the doctor stood his ground, though he looked distinctly nervous. "Lao. Bring our little guest to the bridge - the mousy one. Doctor... Day, is it?" he asked, smiling at Leonard. "My slave shall have the pleasure of seeing her right hand cut off."

Leonard gasped, horrified. "No, don't-"

"You are insolent," Khan said calmly. "I have tried to train you well, and yet you task me time and time again. A lesson must be learned."

Leonard's face crumpled, and Jim could tell he was fighting against tears. "Please... Your Excellency, please don't hurt her, I... I'll-"

"You will get down on your hands and knees and beg me to excuse your behavior. If I am satisfied, I will allow you to remain in your cage for three days without food, and Doctor Day will be left alone."

Len's hands shook and he closed his eyes, sending a slow trail of tears down his face. He dropped slowly to his knees, then fell forward, pressing his hands to the floor. Jim shut his eyes and turned away from the scene, unable to watch anymore.

Enough. Enough, please, I can't-. Before he could fully articulate the thought, there was a slight, almost imperceptible shift in the air, and the sound of Leonard pleading with Khan ceased. When Jim opened his eyes again, he was standing in the throne room. The thrones were nowhere in sight, but the walls were covered with the cryptic writing Jim had seen when he'd come back from the dead. Spock was still beside him, features stiff and deceptively calm, but hands clenched tightly into white-knuckled fists at his sides. Jim's limbs shook, his breaths were ragged, and his gut twisted with fury and shame and an unbridled hatred for Khan Noonien Singh.

The Second King stood before them, deep sorrow in his eyes. "I am sorry that these visions have caused you pain, my child," he said. "We have shielded you from much of Leonard's suffering, since it is Khan's wish to torment you through him."

"Why... why couldn't you have kept him here?" Jim asked, choking back a sob. "He was right here, why didn't you stop them from beaming up?"

The Second King frowned sadly. "He who removed them was not at The Source. We were not aware of his thoughts because the intruders themselves were not aware - they did not make an attempt to escape of their own will." Jim brushed furiously at his tears, trying to force himself to understand - to remember what Spock had said about power and beings and limits. "We know the depth of your pain, my children. We share your fury. But unlike you, we are powerless to go to the aid of our stolen people."

Jim looked up at the being, feeling a pang of sympathy for him. He knew helplessness. He knew the rage, frustration and pain that came with it. Ironically enough, his sharpest lesson in those feelings had come from these very people, but he still empathized with the deity.

Jim straightened, again feeling the strong desire to stand and fight, but now having a personal reason to do so. "I'll help you," he said. "If you can tell me where they are, I'll do my best to bring them back."

Spock stepped forward. "I make the same pledge, sir."

The Second King smiled, and Jim felt his approval, as well as seeing it on his face. "Thank you, my children. Our gratitude is boundless. There is little, son of Sarek, that I can give you - your intellect and your strength will serve you well, as always. For you, my son," he said, turning to Jim. "I have a gift to give that will aide you on your journey."

With a nervous glance at Spock, Jim said, "You don't have to give me anything. Bones' coordinates are enough."

"You are a noble man, James Tiberius Kirk," the king said. "But you will be well served by our gift, and your likelihood of success may be increased. Step forward, my son."

Jim stepped forward slowly, leaning heavily on the cane as if it could provide him with moral support, as well as the physical variety. The Second King approached him, and slowly placed a hand on Jim's head. Jim shuddered, feeling a warm tingle run through him from head to toe. The king removed his hand, and Jim breathed a relieved sigh. No pain. "Did it..."

"It is finished, my child," the king said. "You are whole. Turn, walk to your brother. Understand."

Jim turned, and his eyes widened. He looked down at himself, as if to be sure he was the same person from the waist down. "Spock," he whispered. "I..." He picked his cane up and took two pain-free steps forward. He laughed, and Spock stared at him with wide eyes. "Look!"

"I am," Spock said in awe.

Jim laughed again, feeling slightly hysterical. He sprang forward, grasped Spock's shoulders, and smiled at him for a second. Then he pivoted and ran toward the other end of the room. The space expanded, so that he was able to run farther than should be possible, and he increased his speed - testing himself, pushing his body to the limit. Eventually, he did get tired, but there was no residual pain in his "bad" leg. No ghost of the stiffness, or the aches that plagued him whenever he exerted himself too much, or tried to stand for more than a few moments without the aid of his cane.

He looked back, waving at Spock and pointing at his leg. He could see Spock nodding, and he could even see the small smile on Spock's face, even though now, Jim was probably half a mile away from them. He did a practice lunge, putting pressure on his right leg, and grinning when there was no buckling, no undignified tumble to the ground - no pain.

It was the unbidden thought that he couldn't wait to show Bones how well he could move that brought Jim's high crashing down. He focused on Spock and the king, and was transported back to them. He looked up at the king and nodded. "Thank you for this," he said. He resisted the urge to ask if the change was permanent, or if he would return to his limited mobility once their mission was over. It doesn't matter, he told himself. All that matters is getting Bones back. "Can you tell me where they are?"

The king nodded and turned to Spock. "Will your scanning instrument store the mapping language of your people?"

"Yes, coordinates can be stored here," Spock replied, opening his tricorder.

"The location of Khan's planet has been given to your instrument," the king replied. "Our people have not been traded to the Orion slavers. They are all at the planet, being forced to build Khan's empire."

Spock checked his tricorder, and nodded to Jim. "Sir," he said, looking up at the King. "Do you know if Khan sold part of the Osler's crew to the Orions?"

The king closed his eyes briefly, then looked down at them. "Leonard has seen a list of names. In exchange for ownership of his base of operation, Khan gave fifteen skilled doctors and nurses, and thirty strong men and women to the slave traders. Leonard believes the doctors and nurses are being kept on one of the major Orion cargo ships, to provide medical service to the other slaves. He is afraid that the other officers may already be disbursed, but he will be punished if he asks about them again."

Jim felt his outrage boiling up again. "I'd like to get started now, sir," he said. "Is there anything else we should know?"

"The strength of The Nine will diminish over time. When we are no longer able to support our people, they will sicken and die. Our people have been gone from The Source for over five of your Federation months. There has never been such a separation, and we cannot know how long our power will last. If our children are returned to us, balance will be restored, and our gratitude will be yours forever."

"I give you my word - we will do everything in our power to save your people, and ours."

"We know you will, James Tiberius Kirk." The Second King gestured toward the doorway. "Through loyalty and strength, may success be yours."

Jim smiled. "Thank you, sir." With a glance at Spock, he walked to the doorway and stepped through.


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