Dedication III: The Search for Bones
The moment they materialized, Jim scanned the bridge, aimed for the nearest Orion and fired. The others easily contained the two remaining bridge crew members, leaving the captain conscious, but dragging him out of his chair. Jim approached the platform, glaring at the Orion commander.
Ihkal cringed. "You... you said no tricks!"
"I lied." Jim looked at Spock. "Make sure he doesn't kill himself, and-" A flash stopped him, and Jim stared out at the viewscreen. The Enterprise disc was now engulfed in flames. Jim felt like he'd been punched in the gut. He staggered back, sitting heavily in the command chair.
"Kentish!" the Orion whispered in his own language. "My god, you killed them! Your whole crew... how... my men... you... you killed them all!" Jim held up a hand for silence, but the shocked Orion stuttered on. A moment later, he dropped unceremoniously to the floor, and Spock moved to stand beside Jim.
Together, they watched as the three remaining explosions silently destroyed their ship. "My God, Spock," he whispered. "What have I done?"
"You have done what you always do, Jim," replied Spock. "You have defied death, and given your crew a chance to live."
Jim watched the Enterprise until the fire suffocated in the void of space, and there was only debris remaining. He shut his eyes against the sight and spent the next few seconds forcing his own trembling limbs to be still.
Jim stood up and turned slowly to his crew. He couldn't force a smile, but injected as much confidence as he could into his expression and posture. He was gratified to see that the haunted looks in their eyes seemed to clear away. "Can you read the Orion language, Nyota?"
"Yes, sir." Jim tried not to hear the shakiness in her voice.
"Work with Scotty and the others - help get a working understanding of these controls. Get us back on course. Then I want you to access the computer and see if you can find any mention of our people. Find out where they might be now."
"Spock, Sulu, come with me. We're going down to check the holds. Scotty, take the conn."
Jim led the two men in his party to the single turbolift, and headed down to the first of the four cargo levels. The single Orion guard assigned to the first level was caught off guard by their approach. Jim dropped him the moment he stepped out of the turbolift, and looked around to be sure there were no other men present.
Jim looked around grimly. The Orion cargo hold was nothing like Starfleet cargo bays, with rows of shelves stocked with supplies, and anti-grav pallets either full, or waiting to be filled with relief supplies and other goods. Orion cargo holds were more like high-capacity brigs, with long rows of cells, locked off by forcefields. On this level, each cell held was furnished with a single cot, a toilet, sink, sonic shower, and what looked like a computer interface. Each cell had only a single occupant. For the most part, they were Orion women, scantily clad in tight-fitting body suits to complement the varying greens, aquas and blues of their skin. The various suits of greens, browns, yellows, blues and reds were artfully designed to show as much skin as possible while still leaving just enough to the imagination. There were a few Orion men, as well as a scattering of other species, each dressed in clothing that would highlight their most attractive assets.
Jim watched grimly as many of the women smiled and beckoned to him, moving seductively. Some of the slaves watched them warily, staying back near their cots, away from the forcefield. They didn't speak, and Jim didn't bother to explain their presence yet.
When they neared the back of the first row of cells, Jim was startled to hear his own name. "Admiral Kirk?" He turned sharply to see a young Rigelian man moving toward the forcefield. He was tall, at least 6'7", muscular, dark-haired and blue-eyed, and dressed only in a pair of tight-fitting navy colored shorts that Jim knew had been chosen to complement his eyes, and his skin. His skin tone was slightly pinker than a Caucasian Human's, and his eyes were a little bit larger - they seemed almost startlingly large now as he gazed in absolute amazement at Jim. "Oh, it is you! It's you, isn't it?"
Jim smiled. "Yes, son, it's me."
The young man laughed, edging even closer to the forcefield. "And Captain Spock, and Commander Sulu! The Enterprise is here? Oh thank God, I... I've been... I feel like... it's... I..."
"It's all right," Jim said calmly, trying to soothe the excitable Rigelian before he passed out. "It's okay, we're going to help you. Spock, the controls?"
"As we speak, sir," Spock said, looking at a control panel on the side of the cell.
Jim smiled at the young man. "We'll have you out soon," he said calmly. "What's your name, son?"
"Ken, Kenneth Farris, sir. I'm... I was an engineer aboard the Osler. Is... Is it true they think we're dead? I heard... they said no one would ever look for us, they s-said-"
"Yes it's true, Ken," Jim said. "We never got your final records. But Captain Spock and I did some independent research, and here we are."
"Oh, thank you, sirs," he said, his body quivering in anticipation. "Thank you, thank you so much, I'm... just..."
Jim smiled. "I understand, son." He looked at Spock, who had begun pressing keys on the pad. "How're we doing, Spock?" he asked.
"It appears to be a simple code, Admiral," Spock said. "I believe... yes."
There was a snap, and the forcefield shut off. Before Jim could even turn fully toward the captive, he was nearly knocked off his feet as Kenneth grabbed him into a tight embrace. Jim was shocked, but managed not to automatically go into combat mode. Rigelians were so emotional on a typical day that they made Humans look like Vulcans, and this particular man had been through a terrible ordeal. Jim shifted and wrapped his arms around the young man, feeling a little like he did when Leonard would give him one of his bear-hugs. The memory nearly brought tears to his eyes, but when he felt the Rigelian's body starting to tremble, and heard the choking sobs, he steeled himself, and tightened his hold on the young man.
"Okay, Ken," he said softly. "It's alright now." He let Ken cry for a few moments, then gave him a tight squeeze. "Listen to me. We're going to get you out of here as soon as we can. Okay?" Jim felt him nod. "Good." Jim pulled away, and Ken let him go, brushing at his tears.
"Thank you, Admiral," he said. He turned to Sulu and hugged him tightly, then let go and started vigorously shaking his hand. "Thank you, sir!"
"No problem," Sulu said, bouncing with the strength of the other man's handshake.
Kenneth let go of Sulu and looked at Spock, but raised his hands at the sudden stiffening of Spock's posture. "I won't touch, sir," he said. "Just... thank you so much, and, I... I'm sorry if this... if I'm making you uncomfortable. I know you can probably feel all this without even touching me, it's just..."
"It is quite all right, Mr. Farris, I am well shielded," Spock said. "However, your consideration is appreciated."
Farris nodded, and looked back at Jim. "Sorry about the... I just... they... they keep us alone, no contact, no... no one to talk to, or touch or..." His hands twisted nervously together, and he looked toward the other cells. "They... they even stagger the cells so we can't see each other, so we'll be more willing w-when..." He shuddered, and Jim could see the tears starting again.
"It's all right, Ken," Jim said, keeping his voice gentle, but firm and reassuring. "That's over now. We will get you home, I promise you. But I need your help right now, okay?"
"Yes, sir," he said, wiping at his tears again.
"What's your rank, Ken?"
Jim smiled. "Okay, Lieutenant. Tell me what you know about this place. Have you heard anything about the crew that was brought here with you?"
"Nothing recent, Admiral," he said, slowly beginning to calm down. "When we were first brought here, Khan - you know it was Khan who attacked us?"
"We do," Jim said grimly.
The Rigelian's face was just as grim. "Khan had us grouped by function when he traded us to the Orions," he said. "All the medical officers were grouped together, then Engineering, Security, and regular crewmen. Once we were brought here, they grouped us by physical attributes." His already pinkish face turned beet red. "Anyone who looked physically fit or attractive - even the most specialized, highly trained of our doctors - was s-stripped and examined by the slavers. They took the older doctors away, and some of the others who didn't... I m-mean, I guess th-the Orions thought they... didn't look..."
"It's okay," Sulu said, patting the young man's arm. "We know what you mean."
Kenneth smiled shakily at Sulu at the same time a sob escaped him. "S-sorry, it just..."
"Take your time, Lieutenant," Jim said softly, hoping that using his rank would help strengthen him.
Ken took a deep breath and brushed at his tears again. When he spoke again, his voice was steadier. "Thank you, Admiral. I... I think I'm okay. They took the others below, and the rest of us were put in the top level. The Orions seemed to consider it an honor - like we were being given the best rooms because we were the most important. We were kept in cells far apart from each other, and if we tried to talk to each other, we were punished, s-so... eventually we stopped. We... we resisted at first - individually. But they have a... tool. A chip they put in that can cause you pain without them having to bruise you, and it's horrible like... like pure agony." He began to twist his hands together, again, and Sulu stroked his arm encouragingly.
"The first time a group of us were together at a... a party of some kind," Farris continued. "We made an escape attempt, but..." He shook his head. "Doctor Russell and Ensign T'aal were killed in the attempt, and the rest of us were brought back and f-forced to watch them... execute Dhaleel from Security. S-she organized it, and... after that w-we..." He blinked back tears and fought to hold onto his slipping composure. "I... I've only seen maybe one or two of our people since then, and I haven't been able to talk to anyone. They keep us separate - don't want us to work together, I'm sure. But the others who were taken at the beginning... I... I don't know what happened to them."
Jim nodded. "Don't worry, Ken," he said, noting that the young man was shaking now, and his tears were flowing again. "I have someone working on locating every one of them."
Ken nodded, still wringing his hands absently. "Mr. Farris," Spock said.
"It was my understanding that the Orions were in the habit of selling their slaves. Yet you say you have been here from the beginning. Have you been purchased and returned?"
Ken blushed, but answered right away. "Not exactly, Captain. They still sell most of them, but they have several that they use like... r-rentals I guess. They charge by the hour, or for an event, or sometimes for a day or two if they're docked somewhere. Rigelians, Humans, and basically all Federation-world species are considered exotic, so they can make more money using some of us repeatedly instead of selling us for one big fee."
Jim's hands clenched involuntarily, but worked to manage his rage before it burst forth. "Alright," he said. "That means there may be several more of our people still right here."
"The code to release the forcefields is three taps to the green button, four to red, then one to green," Spock supplied.
"That was simple?" Sulu muttered.
Jim just smiled. "Good, Spock. You and Sulu take the cells here to that wall, Farris, you're with me to take the rest. For now, only release our officers. We've got a dangerous mission ahead, and I hate to keep them locked away, but I can't have pandemonium down here while we're fighting for our lives. Rendezvous at the turbolift."
Jim jogged down the hall and turned toward their half of the cargo hold, with Farris trotting beside him. After a moment, he heard the Lieutenant gasp, and turned toward him. Farris was staring down at Jim's legs. "You... how... you're running!"
Jim chuckled. "It's a long story," he said. "I'll tell it to you once we get out of this mess."
Ken smiled. "If anybody could get a permanent injury magically healed it'd be you, sir."
Jim just grinned, and kept running, not bothering to tell him how close he was to the truth. They moved through the aisles, calling out to any Starfleet officers to identify themselves. By the time they returned to the rendezvous point, they'd collected eight more members of the Osler's crew. Sulu and Spock had retrieved ten.
There was a joyous, and (on the part of some) tearful reunion, along with fervent thanks to the rescuers, and shock at Jim's healed limbs. Jim let them hug and talk and gush for a few minutes before raising his hands for attention. "All right, everyone." Silence fell immediately, and the crew gave him their full attention, looking somewhat incongruous standing at attention while wearing the seductive outfits forced on them by their captors. "You have no idea how happy I feel to see each one of you here right now," Jim said. "I know you've all been through hell these last six months, and we have every intention of getting you home as soon as we can." There were several smiles at the mention of home. "I'm sorry I can't get you home right away, but we've got a lot more rescuing to do. I'm sorry to ask more of you after all you've been through, but if you'll help me with this last mission, I promise I'll make my strongest recommendation to Starfleet Command to get you the best all-expense-paid shoreleave package that credits can buy."
There was a smattering of laughter at this, and Jim looked at Spock. "Take your team down to the third level, and we'll head to the second. Bring everyone up to the officer's deck below the bridge. Let's go."
The second level of the cargo holds was made up of large cells, occupied by around thirty captives each, separated by species and gender. These captives seemed to be of two types - some were strong and muscular, while others appeared of average build, but none fit whatever aesthetic the Orions clearly favored in their "upper level" slaves. It was clear that these were of lesser value in the Orion's eyes. Though the cells housed an average of thirty prisoners, there were only two toilets to each cell, and no showers or computer interfaces. There weren't even cots for them to sleep on - just a handful of worn and tattered mats, and certainly not enough for everyone to have a comfortable place to sleep at the same time.
There was much more noise on this level - sounds of talking, laughing, crying, even shouting and fighting filled the air, making Jim realize just how eerily quiet the upper level cargo hold had been. Jim glanced at his team of recently freed officers and motioned for them to stay where they were. He trotted down the main aisle, looking for the guard. The cacophony of sound made it easy to "sneak" up on the Orion once Jim found him. The guard was busy yelling at a cell full of Caitian males when Jim took aim. There was a roar of laughter from the cat-like men when the Orion dropped to the floor. Jim rushed forward and disarmed the Orion, to the cheers of the Caitians.
He smiled at them, and one of them pointed at him. "Kirk! Kirk, aren't you?"
"Yes, do you know me, sir?"
The Caitian smiled, revealing his sharp, teeth. "I am Prr'iens M'Res. Shala'an M'Res is my sixth removed younger sister. She is a Starfleet officer on Enterprise."
Jim smiled again, reminding himself of the Caitian family structure - Shala'an was the man's sister from the sixth litter after his own. "I haven't had the pleasure of meeting her yet, but I hope I will. You wouldn't happen to have seen any other Starfleet officers here, would you?"
The Caitians all began speaking at once, but M'Res hissed, and his fur raised in a ridge along his spine as he turned to glare at his companions. "Kirk is speaking to me!" The others looked offended, but settled down, and he turned back to Jim and continued. "Starfleet strong men and women were brought down one hundred eighty-three feedings ago. Humans only. All Humans are kept on the eighth row. Maybe some of your officers are still there - business is slow since we Caitians destroyed our last masters." He flashed his claws and the others laughed heartily.
Jim laughed with them, knowing it was considered rude among Caitians not to appreciate a job well done, no matter how brutally it had been accomplished. "Good work," he said. Each of them smiled, flashing their sharp teeth. "I'm surprised you weren't killed, though," Jim said.
"Caitians are too valuable to slaughter," another male said. "And the owners were abusive - against the terms of the Orion's contract. Two of us were made example of - declawed."
They laughed again, and Jim knew his confusion had to be obvious, because Prr'iens explained. "Caitian claws regenerate." The resounding laughter that followed echoed throughout the deck.
This time, Jim's laughter was genuine and not driven by politeness. "Serves the bastards right," he said. "Gentlemen, I appreciate your help. I can't open all the cells just yet, but I give you my word, I'll be back to free you as soon as possible. We'll take everyone to a safe location soon and contact your governments."
There were more cheers, and Jim gave them a final smile and a wave before heading back to his team. He split them into pairs, gave them Spock's release code, and instructed them to go through the other aisles as quickly as they could and look for any non-Human officers while he and Lieutenant Farris headed to row eight. In a very short time, they'd gathered six more officers. Jim led them back up to the officer's deck, and met Spock and nine elderly men and women wearing the same plain, loose fitting shirts and slacks that the captives on the second level were wearing. There was another brief reunion, but Jim called them to order quickly.
"All right, my friends. I know many of you are tired, and you've all had a hard road thus far. But the rest of your fellow crewmembers are still captives of Khan, and I intend to do everything in my power to rescue them. I understand if you are tired, or you're too sick to help," he said, glancing at the older doctors, who seemed to sag wearily where they stood. "You're welcome to rest in the quarters on this deck until this is over, or until you're feeling stronger. Please know," he said, looking at all of them now. "There's absolutely no shame in sitting this out. No one here will blame you for taking a break after what you've been through. Those of you who feel you can help now, come forward and we'll head up to the bridge."
Lieutenant Farris was the first to step forward, followed almost immediately by several of the other officers. Of those who stayed back, most were the elderly doctors, who'd been forced to work hard keeping all the slaves in the ship healthy when they were ill from being in closed quarters too long, or injured in fights. Some of the younger officers who seemed healthy enough also stayed behind, too emotionally weakened by their time as slaves to join the rest of the crew just yet. Of the crew that felt strong enough to help, Jim assigned two of the doctors to get the rest into quarters and help them get settled. "Do what you can for them, then join us."
The crew split up, and Jim led them up to the bridge. "Report," Jim said. "How are we coming?"
"The Commander's given us some pointers on where to look for what," Scotty said.
"Can you fly this thing without accidentally blowing us up?"
Scotty laughed. "Aye, sir."
"And we have weapons control, sir," Chekov added.
"Good. Sulu, take your station, get briefed on these controls, and get us back on course for Khan's planet. We've got some extra hands here," he said, gesturing to the twelve officers who'd felt strong enough to join them. "Let's put them to good use. Once we're underway, we'll see if this bird can produce something resembling a uniform." Jim sat down in the command chair. "Uhura, did you find out anything about the other captives?"
"Yes, sir. The Orions keep meticulous records where their financial accounts are concerned. I have the names and locations of the people who've purchased our officers."
"Excellent work, Uhura!"
"Thank you, sir."
"Okay, I want you to send a message to all of them." He thought for a moment. "Tell them there's been a recall of all slaves bought at the time they purchased our people. The slaves were... exposed to a disease - non-communicable, but serious. Tell them if they want a full refund or replacement slaves, they should bring their purchases back, and... give them the coordinates to Khan's planet. How long until we reach it, Chekov?"
"No more than eight hours, sir," Pavel replied.
"Perfect. Tell them twelve hours, Uhura. Ask them to respond if they want a refund. Anybody who doesn't respond, we'll have to go after personally when this is done."
Nyota smiled. "Aye, sir, I'll send it right away."
"And when you've done that," Jim continued, "why don't you make an announcement to the lower decks. Let the captives know that we'll be letting them out as soon as possible, but we're restricting their movements to the lower decks - just until we can get everyone to a safe location. Check and make sure we don't have any warring species' down there first, though. Then, you can send a team of our new crewmembers to start opening up the cells."
"Okay, sir, I'll take care of it."
Jim glanced around, and saw the three Orion officers, still unconscious in one corner of the bridge. "Someone get those three into a cell, and make sure they don't have any weapons or pills on them. Strip them if necessary."
"Yes, sir, Admiral Kirk," one of the young ensigns from the Osler said. "We'll take care of that."
Jim nodded, then looked back at his helmsman, who now sat on the "wrong" side of the console. "How are we doing, Sulu?"
"I can manage the controls now, Admiral," he said. "Just give the word."
"The word is given," Jim said. "Best possible speed."