Dedication III: The Search for Bones
The moment they stepped into the bright daylight, Spock opened his communicator. "Spock to Enterprise. Two to beam up."
"Already?" Uhura asked, completely surprised.
Spock frowned. "We have experienced a minimum of thirty minutes on the planet's surface."
"Wha... Spock, the two of you beamed down, scanned the area, then we lost your signal for exactly three seconds. The moment we gained your signal, you called for beam-up."
Spock raised his eyebrow at Jim, who shrugged slightly. "Fascinating," Spock said. "Nevertheless, we have learned all we can here. Have Mr. Scott beam us up."
"Aye, sir. Is... will we be beaming up Doctor McCoy as well?"
Spock stiffened slightly. "No, Commander," he replied. "He is not here."
When Nyota spoke again, her voice was clipped. "Aye, sir, two to beam up."
When the two men materialized back aboard the Enterprise, Jim trotted down off the platform and beckoned to the wide-eyed Mr. Scott. "Come on, Scotty, let's get to the bridge."
Scotty stared at him, not even trying to move. "Er... Admiral? Ah, wh-when didja... you're walkin' without your cane!"
Jim grinned at Scotty. "Little gift from our friends down there."
"C'mon, I'll explain when we get to the bridge."
The three men trotted toward the turbolift. "Admiral," Spock said as they moved through the empty halls. "I would like to remind you of the offer I made near the beginning of this mission."
"Offer, Spock?" Jim said. He had a good idea what Spock meant, but waited for clarification anyway.
Naturally, Spock didn't bother with the social niceties involved in tactfully taking someone's command away. "As your health is no longer a concern, Jim, I urge you to reconsider your decision. You are ranking officer aboard this vessel."
Scotty's eyes widened, but he didn't interrupt them. "Spock, I'm also deeply emotionally compromised by the mission. I'm probably the last person who should be taking command right now."
"I disagree," Spock replied. "In this instance, your emotional connection may provide an advantage, rather than be viewed as compromising your judgment. Each one of us has an emotional interest in the return of our friend. I believe that in this case, your actions may be clarified and focused by your emotional connection to this mission."
Scotty fairly sputtered. "Am I hearing right? Did you... did he just say emotions were a good thing?"
"I think he did," Jim said.
"Well, what I wouldn't give for a recorder right about now."
"I'm sorry, Spock," Jim said, forcing the grin off his face. "But I... I couldn't take command from you. It wouldn't be..."
"Fair, Admiral?" Spock supplied. Jim nodded, feeling uncomfortable. They arrived at the turbolift and stepped inside. Scotty entered their destination while Spock continued speaking. "That is not logical, sir," he said. "You are the ranking officer aboard this vessel. You are an excellent tactician, and your expertise would be welcome. The intellectual aspects of your command abilities were never in question, and now you are capable of performing any of the physical activities that may be required of a starship commander."
"Spock, that's not the-"
"If your concern is for my... feelings, Jim, I assure you I am incapable of jealousy regarding this issue. I am asking you to assume command. It would be illogical for me to resent you for acquiescing to my request."
Jim stared at Spock, a small smile playing at the corners of his lips. Scotty's smile was not so subtle. He stared straight ahead, a wide, silly grin spread across his face, rocking back and forth from heel to toe in an "innocent" manner. "He's got you there, Admiral," he said in a stage whisper.
Jim couldn't help but laugh. "All right, Spock." He put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Thank you."
"It is the most logical course of action, Jim," the Vulcan replied, but there was unmistakable warmth in his eyes. The lift doors opened, and the three men stepped onto the bridge.
Nyota looked over at them, then jumped to her feet. "Jim!"
The others all turned to him, and he smiled, trotted over to an unoccupied station, and hooked his cane behind the chair. He opened his arms, and said, "Tadaaa!"
Nyota squeaked and vaulted for him, squeezing him nearly as hard as she had when he first came aboard the Enterprise. "I'm so happy! How is this possible?"
"I'm not exactly sure," Jim said, smiling at her. "One of the Verisian kings did it for me."
She looked confused, as did the rest of the tiny crew who'd gathered around them. "I don't understand, sir," Chekov said. "They... they killed the doctor. Why would they help now?"
"Yeah," Keenser chimed in. "I thought we were here to rescue him from the Verisians."
Jim shook his head. "I don't understand it completely, but it seems like after all they put us through, they've taken some kind of special interest in us. They called Bones their child before, remember? Well, now they’re saying I'm their child, too, and so's Spock. They want to help me, and they need our help. We've got a new destination, and... well, I'll understand if you don't all want to go with me."
Jim turned to Spock, and the Vulcan nodded. "First," Spock began, "you should know that, for various reasons, including his sudden physical recovery, I have decided to abdicate command to Admiral Kirk." There were exclamations of surprise, followed immediately by smiles, and murmurs of approval. Uhura squeezed Spock's arm, while Scotty smacked Jim soundly on the back. "The two of us," Spock continued. "Are pledged to rescue Doctor McCoy and the missing natives of Veris III, all of whom have been abducted and enslaved by Khan Noonien Singh."
There was a collective gasp from the crew. "Khan!?"
"My god, how-"
"From what we were shown," Jim said, raising his hands for quiet. "It seems that Khan somehow escaped from the planet we left him on. The Reliant was in that sector when she disappeared, and Khan has control of her now, with no sign of the Reliant's crew as far as I can tell." There was another gasp, and Hikaru reflexively pulled Pavel closer to him. "I'm sorry," Jim said gravely, knowing that Chekov had made friends with several of the Reliant's crewmembers. Jim's expression darkened, and his voice was grim when he spoke again. "Khan has struck up an alliance with the Orions. They've given him a planet to convert into some kind of base for his 'empire', and in return, about a third of the Osler's crew has been sold off."
"Oh god," Uhura whispered.
"Is..." Scotty cleared his throat. "Is the Doctor..."
Jim shook his head at the unspoken question. "Khan's keeping him close in some kind of... twisted bid for revenge against me." Jim was silent for a moment, then felt a hand - he wasn't sure whose - on his arm, and realized he was shaking. He clenched his fists, and forced himself to calm down. "Listen," he said. "Going into Orion territory is... perilous at best. Spock and I have made a commitment. We have to do this, but you don't."
"Admiral," Chekov said, a note of reprimand in his voice. "We're wasting precious time!"
Jim smiled and looked at the others, taking in their determined expressions - practically daring him to question them. Jim was wise enough not to take that dare. "Mr. Spock," he said. "Feed the Verisian's coordinates through to Navigation. Mr. Chekov, plot a direct course, Mr. Sulu, maximum warp. Mr. Scott, Mr. Keenser, give us all she's worth. Ms. Uhura, send a message to Starfleet Command." He paused, pondering what to say. "No, send a message directly to Admiral Pike." Uhura's eyebrows rose. "Your impossibility is now our reality. Proof to be sent when available. Kirk out."
Uhura smiled, and everyone hustled to their respective stations. Jim took a more measured pace to the command chair, looking down at it almost reverently. This was one thing Khan had ripped from him that he thought he'd never get back again. He'd done it, albeit with a little help from semi-divine intervention. And by all that was holy, he would do it again with Bones.
He took his seat, feeling more comfortable - more right - than he had in years. "Take us out, Mr. Sulu. Let's bring our people home."
The Enterprise dropped out of warp just inside Orion space, still several light years from her destination. Jim reasoned that they had no idea whether or not Khan's planet was guarded by some of the Orion ships as well as the Reliant, so it made sense to be cautious. The Second King's knowledge seemed to be limited only to what Leonard had personally seen or heard, and he'd never mentioned the planet's defenses.
"No, sir," she replied. "No transmissions in the area."
"Scans show no sign of any ships in the immediate area either, Admiral," Spock said.
Jim nodded, and stared keenly into the pinpoints of light on the viewscreen, wishing he could pierce the darkness between with the naked eye and see straight to Bones. "Mr. Sulu, keep us at Warp 3. Proceed with caution. Spock, Uhura, keep scanning."
They traveled on for another twenty minutes before Spock announced, "Sensors detect a vessel four thousand kilometers off our starboard side, Admiral."
"Orion?" Jim asked.
"Yes, sir. Initial scan shows it to be an Orion freight vessel."
Jim narrowed his eyes, automatically running through the specifications of Orion freighters. Heavy defenses, powerful weaponry, fast but not capable of very swift maneuvering. They were shaped similarly to Romulan birds of prey, with a single major section, and the nacelles extending out on broad wings. The main section of Orion freighters was bloated to about four times the depth of a typical bird of prey to make room for as many slaves and other cargo as possible. Despite their large size, they were warp capable up to the same speeds as a Constitution Class Starship.
"Deflector shields at maximum," Jim said. "Hold on present course."
"Aye, Captain," Chekov replied.
They continued, but moments later, Spock spoke again. "The Orion vessel has changed course, Admiral. They are now on intercept course with us."
Jim sighed, and continued to stare at the viewscreen. "Steady as she goes, Mr. Sulu."
Before long, the Orion freighter came into view. "Slow to impulse," Jim said. "Uhura, open a channel."
"Aye, sir. On screen."
The viewscreen snapped onto a view of the Orion bridge. The pale blue commander glared at them through the eyepieces on his helmet. "Identify yourself!"
"Commander Orion Vessel. This is James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. We are on a rescue mission. Discontinue your intercept course."
"Impossible, Kirk," came the sharp voice of the Orion commander. "This is Captain Ihkal of the Kheshia. You are violating Orion space, and you will withdraw. There have been no distress calls made from within this sector."
"Several Starfleet officers were kidnapped and wrongfully purchased by your people," Jim snapped. "The... criminal responsible is on a planet in this sector. We won't withdraw until we have our people back."
Ihkal scowled, and pointed at the screen. "You will go back to Federation territory, or we will use force against you! We will destroy you, and any survivors will be enslaved!"
The connection terminated, and the Orion vessel advanced. "Damn. Sulu-"
"They're charging weapons, sir," Sulu said.
"Full power to shields."
"Aye, Admiral," Scotty said.
There was a jolt, and Jim braced himself. "Sulu, return fire! Full phasers, but focus your fire on the bridge. Spock, are there people in the cargo holds?"
Spock checked the science station monitor and nodded. "Yes, Admiral, I read at least two hundred distinct life signs in the holds. And Jim." The admiral looked at Spock, alerted by his tone. "Some of them are Human."
Jim's eyes widened, and he looked back at the viewscreen in time to see the phaser beams shoot out toward the Kheshia. Her shields flashed, but with full power, he could see that there had been damage to the bridge. Almost immediately, fire was returned, harsh enough to rock the bridge sharply before the ship settled. "Damage report," Jim snapped.
"Direct hit to the starboard nacelle, sir," Uhura said.
"Shields are holding, Admiral, but at seventy percent," Scotty announced.
"Divert as much power as you can to the shields, Scotty," Jim said. "Sulu, fire at will, but don't aim at the lower decks, I don't want those captives hurt."
Their next shot weakened the Orion's shields, but only by a small margin. The Orion's next shot brought the shields down below sixty percent. A volley of phaser fire ensued, but the Orion shields were powerful. Even with full phaser fire leveled at the ship, they were at a disadvantage without the photon torpedoes. Even if they'd had the manpower to operate the photon torpedoes, Jim didn't dare fire anywhere near the ship's holds.
Before long, the bridge was clouded with smoke, and Uhura's damage reports were becoming more dire. "Admiral!" Scotty cried, after the fifth round of fire. "Our shields are down to twenty percent! We'll not be able to take many more hits."
"Dammit!" Jim slammed his fist on the ship's console. He felt his heart sinking at the prospect of defeat. He lowered his head and took a deep breath, forcing the rage and frustration away, trying to focus. "Mr. Sulu. What is the crew complement of an Orion freighter?"
"Approximately twelve men, sir. Four guarding the... the cargo, and the rest in the upper decks."
Jim took another deep breath. "Uhura. Send a message to the Orion commander, requesting terms of our surrender."
"Surrender to Orions, sir?"
"Do it. While we still have time." Jim could feel the eyes of the crew on him, but he stared intently at the viewscreen.
"They... they want to accept, Admiral," Uhura said softly.
"On screen," he said.
The Orion captain was back on the screen, now with a smile on his face. "You have made a wise choice, Kirk," Ihkal said. "Your crew will make an excellent addition to our... inventory." Jim scowled and the captain laughed. "It will be better than death, will it not?"
"That's my hope," Jim answered tightly.
"Prepare to be boarded, Kirk. We will manage the organization of our property."
Jim nodded. "We will, I... I just... need a minute to inform my crew."
"Certainly, Kirk," he said with a smile. "Contrary to Federation belief, we Orions are not without honor. I give you three minutes."
"That's very generous of you." Jim waved a hand, and the connection closed. Jim stood up and looked at his friends. "We're not finished yet," he said. "Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, Keenser. Arm yourselves, get phasers for the three of us, and get to the transporter room on the double. Keenser, lock transporter coordinates onto the enemy's bridge."
Keenser smiled. "Yes, sir."
Nyota stood, but hesitated. "What about you, and-"
"We'll follow you down." They left, and Jim beckoned to the two other men. "Spock, Scotty. We have work to do." He took his seat at the auxiliary control access station, and the other two men stood beside him. "Computer," Jim began. "This is Admiral James T. Kirk, requesting security access."
"Access granted," came the computer's pleasant voice.
Jim paused a moment before speaking the next words. His gut twisted inside him, and he felt like he was betraying one of his children - beckoning to her with one hand, while hiding a knife behind his back in the other. "Computer." His voice cracked. "Destruct Sequence One." He ignored the hissing intake of breath from Mr. Scott, and continued. "Code one, one-A."
Mr. Scott leaned forward, chest heaving. "Computer," he said, voice hoarse. "Captain Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineering Officer. De... Destruct Sequence Two. Code one, one-A, two-B." Jim gripped Scotty's arm and squeezed once, then looked up at Spock.
"Computer. This is Captain Spock, acting First Officer. Destruct sequence three. Code one-B, two-B, three." The slight lowering of Spock's head told Jim that, even though his had been the only voice that hadn't cracked during the delivery of the code, Spock was far from unaffected.
Jim didn't have the heart to give even a slight smile of reassurance as the computer requested final count-down. "Destruct sequence completed and engaged," she said, as calm as if she had no idea she was going to die - or maybe she simply knew that she was sacrificing herself for people who loved her. "Awaiting final code for one-minute countdown."
Jim shut his eyes. "Code. Zero, zero, zero, destruct. Zero."
"Destruct sequence is activated."
Jim pushed away from the console and stood up swiftly, less from fear that they would take too much time than from a need to escape what he'd just done. "Let's go."
The made best speed to the transporter room, where the others were waiting nervously for them. "Got the coordinates?" he asked Keenser.
"Aye, sir, locked and ready to go."
"Good." Nyota passed him a phaser, and Jim nodded, then jerked his head in the direction of the transporter platform. "Everybody on." He waited for them to move, then opened a channel to the Orion ship. "Captain Ihkal. We are ready to accept your boarding party."
"My men are ready to board, Kirk. And no tricks! We know the size of Starfleet crews, but we will use deadly force if we are opposed."
"Understood, Captain, no tricks. I assure you, no one here will put up any resistance." He glanced at the transporter pad to be sure everyone was in place. "Captain, we're energizing transporter beam... now!" He activated the transporter on a three second delay, hurried to the transporter pad, and let the beam take him.