Dedication III: The Search for Bones
Jim ordered them to drop out of warp just outside the radius of a starship's sensor range, in case the Reliant was orbiting the planet. They approached the planet cautiously, and soon, sensors detected a starship in orbit around the planetoid that the star charts named Alpha Kenaari II.
"Shields at minimum for now," Jim said. "Put us in a parallel orbit. We're all friends here, right?" Scotty chuckled, and they continued their slow approach.
"Admiral, they're hailing us," Uhura said. "They want to know why we've come back."
Jim looked at the viewscreen - the stolen ship appeared peaceful and innocent, but he had none of the feelings of betraying a child that he'd had when he planned to destroy the Enterprise. "Scan them, Spock," he said. "I want to know who's on the ship. Uhura, tell them... tell them we'd like to negotiate for more slaves."
"Sulu, get as close as you can without arousing their suspicions."
A few more tense moments passed, before Spock announced that his scan was complete. "There appears to be a skeleton crew aboard, Admiral. Six humanoids are present, all on the bridge, and each bears a similarity to the genetically modified individuals in Khan's party."
Jim smiled. "Perfect."
"Admiral, they say they've already given us as many slaves as they care to part with," Uhura reported. "They say that they refuse to give us more."
"That's too bad," Jim said. "Chekov, how close are we?"
"We've matched their orbit, sir, and we're within weapons range."
"Good. Uhura, see if you can create a jamming signal between the Reliant and the planet's surface."
While she worked on the jamming frequency, Jim watched the Reliant on the viewscreen. "Are their shields up?"
"No, sir," Scotty said.
"Just a few more seconds, sir." She was silent for a moment, then said, "Got it! They won't be able to communicate with the planet at all."
"Good work. Fire, Mr. Sulu."
The bright stream made a direct hit to the Reliant's bridge. "Good shooting, Sulu!"
"Their shields are up now, sir," Scotty said. "But they're at eighty percent."
"Raise ours and fire again." There was another direct hit to the Reliant bridge, followed by a shudder from the Orion vessel as she was struck by phaser fire from the Reliant.
"Admiral, Reliant is hailing us."
"Put it on screen, Commander."
The screen changed, and a view of the Reliant bridge, foggy with smoke, appeared. One of Khan's men stared at him in shock. "It... it's you!" He turned to the side, and yelled, "Raise communications!!"
"I'm trying, sir!"
Jim glared at the man - he remembered the face from that fateful day when his ship had been ripped from him. "Hello, Rodriguez."
"You remember me, do you?"
The man gripped the arms of Captain Terrell's command chair. "How... how did you get that ship?"
"I got this ship the same way you got that one," Jim answered. "I took it. What have you done with Reliant's crew?"
Rodriguez frowned. "Those who were willing to be ruled have been spared," he answered. "The rest were executed. How did you find us?"
"Nevermind that. I want my people back. Where's Khan? Is he on board?"
Rodriguez shook his head. "Our Emperor is on the planet's surface. It is because of this that you will not be destroyed."
Jim shook his head. "It's because we have superior firepower that we won't be destroyed," he snapped. "Your shields are damaged and your crew can't handle another round of attack from us. I know the Reliant well. Surrender, and we'll let you live."
"No! We'll never be prisoners of yours, Kirk!" he spat. "You are weak, and Khan has already broken your body. He will be the one to destroy you completely, but I will not allow us to be taken captive."
Jim smiled and stood up, laughing when the other man's eyes widened in shock. "Don't be so sure of yourself, my friend," he said. "I'm giving you one more chance to surrender. Otherwise, we'll destroy you, whether you fight or not."
Rodriguez's brow furrowed, and he shook his head. "Never."
"So be it." He motioned for Uhura to cut communications. "Mr. Sulu. Fire at will."
Sulu began a swift barrage of shots to the bridge of the Reliant. True to their word, the other crew never fought back. Jim stared at the decimated bridge of the other ship for a few moments, allowing the memory of Rodriguez's words - the rest were executed - harden him against the natural distaste he felt at the idea of killing people who didn't put up a fight.
"Spock?" Jim asked after the phaser fire ceased.
"There are no longer any life forms aboard the Reliant, Admiral."
Jim nodded slowly. "Run a scan of the planet's surface. I want the location of every person on that planet - give me an idea of what's going on down there."
Jim waited, watching the curving planet below them through the viewscreen. Bones was down there. If he was alive, he was there - with Khan. He felt his rage building up within him at the thought. Six months. The Osler had been destroyed six months ago, and since then, Bones had been under Khan's control. He gripped the arms of the command chair and forcefully pushed thoughts of what that meant - the torment and pain and humiliation Bones had gone through - out of his mind. He was impatient for the scan to be completed, but he knew Spock was working as quickly as possible, and he refused to show his impatience by turning to watch his friend while he worked.
"Completed," Spock announced.
Jim jumped from his seat and made his way to the science station, no longer concerned with restraint. "What does it look like, Spock?"
Spock pressed a few keys on his console, and a schematic of Alpha Kenaari II's western hemisphere appeared on the Science screen. Spock pointed to a large, red square on the screen. "There is one primary structure on the planet's surface - I assume this is Khan's stronghold. It is guarded by a forcefield that is meant to repel transporter and phaser beams, but through which persons may pass without injury. The structure is also guarded by a large wall around the outer face, and is set at the foot of a small mountain range, which precludes the possibility of attack from behind."
Jim nodded. "Smart man," he said. "Weaknesses?"
"The wall has three openings that are guarded by what I assume are Khan's men judging from comparative readings of the men aboard the Reliant. There are only two guards per entrance opening. Clearly, though they have taken basic precautions, Khan does not fear attack from the ground."
"Then that's exactly where we're going to hit him." Jim pointed out several smaller marks, clustered in four groups lower down on the map. "What about these? More of Khan's people?"
"I do not believe so, sir. My readings indicate that these structures are far less substantial than the main building, and they are completely unguarded by forcefields. It seems logical that these represent the dwellings of Khan's captives. Most of them are occupied by humanoids of the type that we scanned at Veris III. Interspersed within these camps, I have found Human lifesigns, as well as a few other Federation races. Each of these groups of structures appears to be guarded by three of Khan's men."
"Excellent work, Spock," Jim said. "I propose we beam down in groups, and start with a team at each of these camps, and as many phasers as we can carry. We can't be sure how many of the Federation captives will be fit and able to help us, but whoever we can use, we will. The rest, I want beamed back up here, and all of the Verisians are to be beamed back, no matter how fit they are. I don't want them getting hurt. Keeping them sheltered may be a moot point by now, but I'd like to keep them isolated from the other people on this ship - try to honor the Prime Directive as much as we can where they're concerned."
Jim looked back at the map. "Spock, load that information into tricorders for us. Sulu, Scotty, Farris, I want you to find the weapons on this ship, and start gathering them up, then meet us at the Transporter room. Keenser, you man the controls. The two of you," he said, pointing out two of the doctors that had come up from helping their own set of captives. "Gather a medical team and stay at the transporter room to receive our passengers. Chekov, organize the rest of our officers into four teams, arm yourselves, and meet us in the transporter room. Those of you with Communications and helm experience, I need three people here on the Bridge. Uhura, you have the conn. Let's move."
There was a chorus of "yes sirs", and the bustle began. Jim let Spock know where he was going, and took a trip down to the second level cargo hold for a talk with some of their newly freed captives.
Jim stayed in the defensive crouch as the world shimmered into existence around him. When his vision cleared, he took swift stock of his surroundings. Their team's slave quarters were about a hundred yards ahead - a gathering of ramshackle wooden huts, with a single watch-tower at one end. Jim glanced at his small team. "There are three guards," he said quietly. "But I'm sure they'll be armed. Set phasers to maximum stun. Take the guards out, and we'll get these people back to the ship. Let's go."
They moved with utmost stealth, creeping carefully toward the back end of the encampment. There didn't seem to be much activity in the camp - the captives weren't mingling outside in the "courtyard" at the center of the gathering of buildings, nor did they seem to be talking to one another inside their huts. The only sound came from the curious night creatures around them, and Jim made sure to tread as softly as possible as they crept into the camp. Jim motioned for the team to spread out, and set about looking for Khan's guards.
Jim moved quietly and quickly through the huts, peeking into windows to see shadowy figures huddled on the floor. After a few minutes, Jim caught sight of one of Khan's men, walking between the huts. Jim took aim and fired immediately. The moment Khan's guard went down, there was a sharp cry, and Jim raced toward the sound in time to see another guard fall to the ground. Ken Farris knelt beside him and disarmed him, and Jim turned back to his own felled guard and did the same.
Soon, Spock trotted toward them. "I have incapacitated the watch tower guard, Admiral," he announced.
"Good work, Spock. Let's check on these people." He turned to Farris. "Lieutenant, gather the others and tell them we're clear."
"C'mon, Spock, let's start in here."
Spock followed Jim into the nearest hut. Now that the guards had been taken care of, they turned on their lights, and Jim knocked boldly on the shed door before stepping inside. In this shed, there were only Verisians - about twenty humanoids laying on the floor, huddled close to one another. The Verisians were very similar in appearance to their deities - with varied skin tones from dark brown to light tan, and hair in black, red, and golden tones that seemed to have no correlation to skin tone. However, instead of being over eight feet tall, the Verisian people were smaller than the average Human - only about four feet tall on average.
Even without knowledge of their physiology, Jim could tell that these people were sick and weak. At the sight of strangers, those who acknowledged them simply blinked wearily and turned away, sighing and seeming to fall back asleep. Most didn't even budge, laying still and breathing in even measure, as if the intrusion hadn't even been noticed. There was one notable exception - an older male Verisian with caramel colored skin and golden hair stood up straight and walked toward them. He smiled as he drew near. "Greetings, brothers," he said, startling Jim by speaking perfect, accent free Standard. He then raised his hand in a perfect imitation of the traditional Vulcan greeting. Jim's eyes widened, and he glanced at Spock, who seemed equally unnerved.
"Greetings, sir," Jim said hesitantly. "Er... may I ask, how did you learn Standard? Did... did your captors teach you?"
"No, James Tiberius Kirk," the man said, shocking Jim again. "You are our brothers," he explained. "It is through the Nine, our mothers and fathers, that I am able to communicate with you. I am Listener Kol. I hear the words of the Nine. The Second King has sent you to rescue us, has he not? He has sent you to bring us back to The Source?"
Jim nodded. "That's correct." With a glance at Spock, he said, "I don't fully understand how they could help you speak our language or understand our customs, but I'm grateful for their help."
"You seem to hold a position of leadership," Spock said. "Can you assist us in organizing and gathering your people, so that we can transport them to a safe location?"
"Yes, brother," Kol said. "The other Listeners and I will assist you. We must return to The Source as soon as possible. Our people are weakening by the hour."
"I understand," Jim said. "We'll do our best to get you out of here and back home as fast as we can."
Kol nodded solemnly. "There are more that you will rescue," he said. "I will tell you where the remains of your people are. Many have been sent to the New Time, because they resisted Khan and his people." Jim shuddered. Welcome to the New Time. He felt his hands clenching involuntarily. Kol didn't seem to notice. "I will also tell you where you may find our third brother." He looked up, directly into Kirk's eyes. "He is the only one who is kept alone, in the place Khan calls his palace. All others are here in one of the four places of sleeping, and are allowed to dwell with others of their kind." Jim frowned, feeling his already-clenched hands tighten even more. "Come. Sit with me, my brothers, and I will tell you all that you will need to know to gain entrance to the palace."
Jim glanced at Spock again, then sat on the floor, cross-legged in imitation of the Verisian. Spock adopted the same position, and Kol began speaking. The next second, Jim was far too stunned to pay attention to the Verisian's words. He was too busy trying not to panic from the flood of images that assaulted his mind. It was something like what happened when he'd seen the pillars of Veris III during Bones' last visit at home - sharp images springing to his mind unbidden. But this time, they weren't from his own memory - they were unknown images, like when the older version of Spock had melded with him. Only now, there was no warning, no touch of a hand to his face to ground him in reality. He felt his own body shaking, despite his attempts to quell his rising panic.
A moment later, he heard - felt? - Spock's voice - calming him, soothing him in words he couldn't hear or understand. There was a sense of remorse from the stranger - Kol - mingled with more soothing calm from Spock. Jim's body relaxed, and he felt better able to focus on what Kol was trying to show him. He saw the captives' camp, a broad field with half-finished structures, followed by the wall surrounding Khan's palace. He saw the leftmost entrance, then a smaller entrance to the actual building, then many halls and passages, followed by a completely dark room. He couldn't see anything, but he knew that Bones was in that room. There was the impression of metal bars, like an antique cage, and there was an emotional sense - fear/despair/hope/shame all swirling together, with none of them rising as the victor. Bones' feelings? he wondered. There was an affirmative answer from Kol.
Jim felt his own strong emotions rise forth - relief and joy that Bones was still alive, along with rage and sadness at the emotions they were sensing from him. Kol pulled away, and Spock seemed to take charge of the mental... event - slowly guiding Kol away, then, even more slowly, backing off himself, until Jim was alone again, sitting on the floor of the wooden hut. He took in a deep breath, looking from Spock to Kol, adjusting to himself again. They didn't speak at first, though Kol looked concerned, as if he might have made a mistake. Finally, Jim smiled and said, "Thank you, brother. Thank you for your help today."
Kol nodded. "We will have greater reason to thank you very soon," he said. The three men stood, and Jim looked toward the door, eager to get to Bones. "We will organize our people, and we will await your return to take us to The Source. Through loyalty and strength, may success be yours."
Jim's eyes widened, but he smiled at the words the Second King had said to them before they left Veris III. "Thank you, brother."
"Your assistance is greatly appreciated," Spock said.
"You are welcome, brothers," Kol said.
The three of them left the hut, and Jim dared to use his communicator to check in with the other three teams. They had all taken care of the guards at their respective camps, and Sulu's team had found the Federation prisoners. Chekov reported (somewhat nervously) that an older Verisian had approached him speaking Standard and offering to help gather their people. Jim advised him to accept the cooperation and get the Verisians gathered into beaming parties right away.
Most of the remaining Reliant and Osler crew members were scattered between the four dwelling places, but their numbers were greatly reduced. There were a little over a hundred fifty people left, which meant that nearly four hundred people between the two crews had been massacred by Khan and his warriors for "resisting". Many of the remaining officers were still in good health and willing to help, but Jim only chose a few of them - mostly those who had been Security personnel. The rest, he asked to assist with getting the Verisians settled aboard the ship, then sit tight until he could get them to safety.
Jim contacted Keenser in the transporter room, and asked him to send down their "secret weapon", then begin beaming refugees back to the ship as quickly as possible. When the invading party had been gathered, Jim gave them the plan of attack, based on the detailed layout Kol had shown him. "Prr'iens," Jim said, looking up at the leader of his special team. "You and your people, create as much confusion as you can. We need to get into the main building, so create as much havoc as you need to cover our entrance. The rest of you," he said, turning to the Starfleet officers, "go in after the Caitians and make sure there are no more of our officers working or being held anywhere else in the complex. If you find anyone, get them back to the ship. If any of Khan's people get in your way, kill them." Some of them looked surprised, but most nodded grimly. "Remember," Jim said. "We gave these people a second chance at life once, and they used it to murder and enslave our people. If they choose to surrender, accept and detain, but otherwise show no quarter."
"Thank you everyone. Good luck."