Dedication III: The Search for Bones
Jim gasped and sat up. He had no idea how long he'd been asleep - he didn't even remember falling asleep in the first place. Blinking, he looked at the spot where Leonard had been when he lay down. Jim's single pillow leaned against the bulkhead, and his blanket was bunched around it, and his arm still clutched some of the bundled cover. The ends of the blanket were around his shoulders. Jim swallowed hard, fists clenching.
An alarm squealed, and Jim jumped up from the cot and limped to the front of the shuttle, forcing himself to put the rearranged bedclothes out of his mind. "Damn!" The shuttle had automatically dropped out of warp drive - he'd missed the periodic alarm from the autopilot system that was designed as a safety measure to be sure someone was still monitoring the craft. He was drifting now at half-impulse, and the shuttle had dropped to impulse in a populated system. The alarm warned him that he was approaching a planet's gravity well.
Jim made a swift correction for the pull of the nearby planet, but before he could run a sensor sweep, another indicator bleeped. "Shit!" It was a communication attempt from a Federation ship. He felt a sinking sense of disappointment at the prospect of being captured now. You're on the right track. Jim checked the sensors, and his heart sank. The ship was in orbit around the nearby planet - so close that any attempt to flee would be useless. "Dammit!"
The communications light blinked and the console chimed again. With a sigh, Jim toggled the switch to allow the communication through. "Pilot of unidentified shuttlecraft," a young man's voice said. "Please respond. Are you in need of medical assistance?" Jim didn't answer - maybe he should feign injury, and... "Pilot of unidentified craft, we show that you read our transmission. This is the U.S.S. Enterprise, please-"
The rest of the officer's statement was lost as Jim let out a triumphant whoop. He grinned so wide his face hurt. He considered trying to mask his identity, but decided against it. If he boarded the Enterprise, word of his presence would reach everyone soon enough anyway. And God, did he want to board her, regardless of how dangerous it might or might not be to Spock. His friend would never stop him from going after Bones, but if it was found out that Spock had released someone wanted by Starfleet, it wouldn't be good for him. The thought nearly put a damper on his joy at not being discovered by some other ship, but he shrugged it off. Things would work out, dammit.
Jim opened a channel to the starship. "Greetings, Enterprise," he said. "Had some technical difficulties, but I read you now. Give my greetings to Captain Spock."
"We will," the communications officer said. "Please identify yourself, sir."
"This is Admiral James T. Kirk."
The gasp was almost comical, and Jim couldn't help but smile. "Good... good evening, Admiral," the communications officer stammered. "Uh... can we... um..."
"I could use some supplies," Jim said. "Please request docking procedures."
"Aye, sir. Enterprise out."
Jim closed his channel, and maneuvered the shuttle into orbit around the planet - Delos II, according to the charts. He turned the craft so that she would be facing the Enterprise when she came into view, and waited. In only a few moments, the disc of the vessel slowly loomed into view. Jim felt his chest swell with pride when he saw her - even though she wasn't his anymore, he felt like he was seeing a long lost love. He'd seen her during the last re-fit, before she'd gone out for her third mission, but that had been in space-dock. The beauty of her shining disc beside the curve of the green planet below moved him to tears.
His communications monitor lit up again, and he brushed the tears from his eyes and opened the channel. "Enterprise to Admiral Kirk. Please prepare for tractor beam, sir."
"All set, Enterprise," he said, not caring that the officer would be able to hear the emotion in his voice. The craft shook slightly a moment later, as the tractor beam took hold. "She's all yours, Enterprise." He finished wiping away his tears and tried to bring some kind of order to his hair. He was in his civilian clothes, but he straightened his shirt and jacket as well. By the time the Armstrong was guided into the shuttle bay, Jim was the picture of calm professionalism.
He waited for the decompression system to tell him it was safe to exit the shuttle, then opened the doors. Two security officers hurried over and snapped to attention. Jim smiled. "Hi Wilkes. G'Ktheon."
"Welcome aboard, sir," Wilkes responded.
G'Ktheon smiled. "Good evening, sir. This way, please."
Jim followed the two men to the bay exit, looking around at the bay, nearly bursting with joy. The moment his feet touched the deck, he could feel the familiar, subtle vibration of her engines. Even the smell - that special quality of the recycled air inside all large vessels - excited him.
When he stepped out of the shuttle bay, he smiled broadly at the tall, slender, dark-haired man who waited at attention to greet him. "Permission to come aboard, Captain?"
Spock tilted his head. "Permission granted, Admiral," he replied. Jim stepped across the threshold, smiling broadly. Spock extended his hand, and Jim shook it - the equivalent of an embrace where his old friend was concerned. "Welcome home, Jim."
Jim found his eyes misting again at Spock's choice of words, and he blinked the tears back. "Thank you, Spock," he said softly.
Spock extended his hand toward the hall. "Shall we?"
Jim nodded, Spock dismissed the guards, and the two men walked through the halls as they had done so many times before. "Seems empty," he said.
"We are in the midst of shoreleave rotations," Spock said. "Delos II has a high capacity, so I have allowed a larger number of crewmen to leave than is usual."
Jim nodded. "Of course." He looked around, and took a deep breath. "I've missed her, Spock."
Spock touched his shoulder - another testament to how much the Vulcan had missed him. "I'm pleased that you are able to visit her again, Jim," he said.
Jim smiled at him, but his face fell almost immediately. "You may not be so pleased if Starfleet hears about this." Spock looked perplexed. "You haven't... haven't you received any message from Starfleet about me?"
"No, sir," Spock replied. "However, Commander Uhura did report a garbled transmission from Starfleet that arrived six days ago. We attempted to request clarification, but the subsequent message was also indecipherable."
"Strange. Well, I'm pretty sure that if you haven't heard, you will soon." He glanced around, and spoke softly. "I took the Armstrong without authorization," he said.
Spock's eyes widened. "You stole Starfleet property, Admiral?"
"Borrowed," he said, with as much playful indignation he could muster. "I plan to take her back." His smile faded. "I am sorry about this, Spock. I didn't want to get you involved in this mess."
Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "I understand your concern, Jim, but I don't think you should hold yourself personally responsible."
"Oh no? I am the one out here against Starfleet's orders in a borrowed shuttlecraft."
"Quite true, Jim," Spock said. "But if you will answer two questions, then I believe I can assure you that you are not responsible for anything that may happen between myself and Starfleet once our task is complete."
Jim smiled. "Our task, Spock?"
"If my theory is correct, then I am meant to assist you, at least in part. Tell me, Jim. When did you... appropriate the Armstrong?"
"Nine days ago," Jim said.
Spock nodded. "And, it is my understanding that our Communications officer attempted to reach you several times before you responded. Were you conscious at the time your shuttle dropped out of warp?"
"No, I... I fell asleep. I hadn't extended the auto-pilot, and the failsafe kicked in."
"Hm. I believe it may interest you to know, Jim, that your shuttle came out of warp directly in line with our orbital path."
Jim gaped. "Really?"
Spock nodded. "Your craft slowed down directly in front of us, settled into a tenuous orbit, then began drifting toward the planet before a course correction was made. Does it not seem odd that, of all planets in this system - indeed, of all systems along your route - your shuttle would have stopped directly in front of the Enterprise?"
"Very odd," Jim said softly.
"And it is also worthy to note that, although we have received all other transmissions from Starfleet Command without any problems, the report of your actions has not reached us. Such a report would have taken three days to reach us, which means that the garbled message we received six days ago was almost certainly the report of your actions."
Jim's eyes widened, as he began to understand the implications of such a coincidence. "My God, could they..."
"Jim. While I do not deny the fact that coincidence could account for these events, I am inclined to believe that this is the result of design, rather than random events. You happened to land directly in front of the only Captain in Starfleet who did not know that you were a fugitive from the law - due to an inexplicable technical failure that has affected no other systems or subspace messages. I also happen to be close personal friends with both you and Doctor McCoy, and I was present and conscious at the time of Dr. McCoy's death on Veris III - making me, perhaps, the least likely person in all of the Federation to hinder you, and most likely to help."
Jim gripped the handle of his cane tightly, fluctuating between anger at the thought of being manipulated, and gratitude for any help at all in getting back to Bones. "They want me back there," he said darkly. "They killed Bones and brought him back to life, and somehow they're making it so that he can visit me. I guess it's not outside the realm of possibility that they could arrange all this, but... why not just bring Bones back? Or take me to them directly?"
"It seems, Jim," said Spock, "that all beings we have encountered - even the most powerful of them - operate within boundaries. The Verisians may be bound by outside forces, or by self-imposed limits, but it may be that bringing Dr. McCoy back here may be outside those limits."
Jim nodded slowly. "Maybe so. Hell, it makes as much sense as anything else that's happening." He smiled at his friend. "Well, Spock, since you're destined to help me, how about we figure out how to get that shuttle's engines optimized. Warp seven might-"
Jim was interrupted by the sound of his name from a familiar, excited voice. He turned and smiled. "Eeeeeeeeeeeeee, it's true!"
Spock sighed, but Jim only grinned wider. "Nyota! How are you?"
She ran to them and slammed into Jim, embracing him tightly. "God, it's good to see you!" She glared at Spock and playfully tapped his arm. "When were you going to tell me?"
"Nyota, you have access to-"
"Oh, shush!" She hugged Jim again before letting him go, and looking him over and smiling as if she couldn't believe he was real. "How are you? How are the kids? What are you doing here? I-"
"Nyota, I do not understand the logic of asking Jim questions, then refusing to allow him time to formulate a response."
Jim smirked, and Nyota giggled and stuck her tongue out at Spock. "Don't be mad just because you can't speak Terran Female."
Spock sighed again, giving her a pained, long-suffering expression. Jim couldn't help but laugh. "It's all right, Spock. And as for you," he said, kissing Nyota on the cheek. "Fine, great how are yours, and it's a secret."
Nyota laughed, and they continued their walk, with Nyota's arm hooked around his elbow. She told him the latest news about Amanda, Skon, T'Pann, and their little twins, Bashira and Ayana. "They're driving Sarek crazy, I'm sure, but they'll be with my parents next summer to give him a break." Then, she asked, "So, you came all the way out here in a shuttlecraft? That must have taken ages!"
"It did," Jim said.
"Well, I hope you can take a break from your top secret mission long enough to get some real food into you. The options on shuttlecrafts are so limited! We need to sit you down to a nice Constitution Class meal."
"Sounds good to me," Jim said. "I've been skimping to conserve resources, too, so an Enterprise meal sounds delicious! Especially if Scotty's still adding recipes at the rate he was before."
Nyota smiled. "Well, you're in luck, Admiral, because he's been at it as usual, and he's been tweaking the replicators so everything tastes even more authentic."
"Ha," Jim said. "I think Bones would have wanted to be the judge of that."
Nyota laughed, and squeezed his arm. She looked over at Spock, who returned her gaze. Jim felt like more was exchanged between them than a simple glance. It might have been telepathic, but he felt that it was simpler than that - something along the lines of "Thank God we still have each other." Jim took it in his stride - he was used to that from all the other officers and students at the Academy who knew what he'd lost. Besides that, if he was right, he would have his husband back at the end of all this.
"Jim," Spock said. "I think it may be prudent to discuss your situation with the senior staff. I have a plan, but I believe we should discuss it with them."
"Whatever you think is best, Spock."
They continued to move through the ship, eliciting surprised looks, and not a few handshakes and hugs from various crew members who'd served with him while he was still in command. Spock led them to the recreation room on the officer's deck. While Nyota showed Jim all the different choices, and some of the many options that Scotty had added in, Spock went off to collect the senior crew.
Before long, Jim had been hugged, patted on the back, squeezed and cheered more than he ever thought possible. All his friends were still there - Mr. Scott, now a captain, had flatly refused to be removed from the Enterprise, despite the fact that his new rank would have allowed him to command a ship. Sulu, Chekov, and Keenser - all commanders now - had opted to stay with the ship, too. Chekov had even turned down a promotion to First Officer aboard the Reliant so that he could stay with the ship and crew that he loved. Considering the mysterious fate of the Reliant's ship and crew, Jim was glad Pavel had passed up the offer.
Once the friends had shared a truly delicious meal, they moved to a briefing room, and Spock began their meeting. "I am sure you have deduced that Admiral Kirk did not arrive by shuttlecraft at Delos II for a social visit," he said. There was a smattering of chuckling from the floor, and they looked curiously from Jim to Spock. "I wish to make you aware of certain facts, after which I must ask you to make a choice." Spock looked at Jim for a moment, then said, "At this moment, Admiral Kirk is wanted by Starfleet Command for the theft of the shuttlecraft Armstrong."
Everyone gasped, and his friends looked at him in shock. "It's true, I'm afraid," Jim said.
"But we never heard anything about it," Chekov said. "How could-"
Uhura snapped her finger, realization dawning. "That transmission we couldn't read. That must have been the bulletin."
Spock nodded. "That is correct. The Admiral is attempting to travel to a restricted system, in order to initiate a rescue. Certain... incidents lead us to believe that the crew of the U.S.S. Osler may not all have been destroyed."
There were more gasps. "What? But-"
"D'ya mean the Doctor could still be alive?" asked Scotty.
Jim nodded slowly. "It's very possible," he said quietly.
"My God!" Uhura breathed.
Sulu frowned. "But how? I thought there was no record of any ransom attempt."
"There has not been one," Spock replied. "But there is reason to believe that the official report on the events is incomplete." He explained the evidence that the true final records had never reached Starfleet, and reminded them of the Klingon encounter. "That, along with other... clues," he said, glancing at Jim, "lead us to believe that a rescue attempt may be in order."
"Other clues like what?" Nyota asked.
Spock hesitated, and Jim spoke up. "It's all right, Spock. Listen, if you all think I'm crazy, I won't blame you. But if you're going to be involved, you should know everything." He took a deep breath, never feeling more self conscious than he did now, with his friends looking expectantly at him. "I have seen Bones every week for the past several months," he said. Jaws dropped, and they sat up and stared at him. "Once a week, for fifteen minutes at a time, Leonard has appeared in my home and spent time with me and the kids. We were able to touch him, he knew who we were, and I was able to get him to tell me where he is." He looked at each of them in turn, seeing the shock in all their eyes. "I'm going to Veris III."
There was complete silence at the table for several seconds. Finally, Chekov said, "But, Admiral. Why would you want to go back to that place? How c-can you be sure... I mean..."
"I'm not very sure of anything, Pavel," Jim replied. "But I know that Bones is in danger, and the answers I need are on Veris III." There was another uncomfortable silence.
"Admiral," Keenser said. "I... I hate to be the one to ask this, but... are you sure of what you saw?" The others looked at him anxiously, and Keenser squirmed. "I'm sorry, Jim, but-"
"It's alright," Jim said, waving a hand. "I know it's hard to believe, but yes, I'm absolutely sure."
"Aye, but Admiral-"
"Mr. Scott," Spock said. "I understand your concern, and I realize that it may be the concern of many of you. But there is no need to doubt the reality of what Admiral Kirk has seen. No one here should have any reason to question my sanity, correct?"
"We didn't mean-"
"I have seen Doctor McCoy as well."
Spock held up his hand to stem the tide of shocked questions that were threatening to burst forth from the crew. "I contacted Admiral Kirk at the time that is apparently appointed for the doctor's visits. I held a brief conversation with him before he left the room."
"Oh my God, but how?"
"That's what I want to find out, Nyota," Jim said. "I'm sorry to have put you all in this position, but I'm asking you not report me, or-" Jim was interrupted by several voices crying out that they'd never do such a thing.
"But, sir," Sulu said. "Couldn't you just play back the phone conversation to Starfleet Command? Wouldn't that prove... something?"
"We considered that, Commander," Spock replied. "However, the record of the call was distorted and unusable."
"Listen, everyone," Jim said softly. "I know this is a lot to swallow. But I have something I must do, and it is in defiance of Starfleet regulations. I am asking for help - just some supplies, and maybe a little help getting the Armstrong's engines to-"
"Pardon me, Admiral," Spock said. Jim looked curiously at him. "Adjusting the shuttle's engines will not be necessary, sir." He looked at the people around the table. "I intend to take Admiral Kirk to Veris III in this vessel." The room stilled, and everyone stared at Spock. The captain looked at his wife and said slowly, "I am aware that this means I will be risking court martial and imprisonment by the Federation, but it is a risk I am willing to take."
Uhura nodded once, but Jim was already shaking his head. "Spock, no, I can't let you do that."
"There is no choice, Jim. You attempted to stop me from helping you, and the Verisians guided your shuttle directly into my path. I do not doubt that there is a reason for this. The Verisians mean for me to aide you."
"Admiral. Doctor McCoy may be alive now, but for how long? The time it would take you to arrive at Veris III in the Armstrong, even with enhancements, may be too long."
Jim's fists clenched involuntarily, and he gritted his teeth, trying to banish the thought of Bones dying before he could reach him. "How will you handle the crew?" he asked.
Spock glanced at the rest of his team. "Delos II is a high-capacity planet," he said. "They can accommodate the entire complement of this ship if necessary."
"Aye, so they can," Scotty said. "And we'd only need a skeleton crew to run the ship. We-"
Jim frowned. "Scotty, I don't want to get the rest of you involved in this. Spock and I may have to go, but knowingly joining us could mean the end of your careers."
They looked quizzically at him, as if he'd suddenly broken into Ancient Vulcan. "Admiral," Scotty said at last. "I'd be most appreciative if you'd give the word'n we can be on our way."
He couldn't keep the smile off his face. "Alright." He looked at the others. "Do you all feel the same?" There was a chorus of "Aye sirs". "Thank you, my friends," he said softly, wishing that he wasn't so sensitive these days. He could feel the thickness in his voice as he looked to each of them and said, "In that case, the word is given. There's a lot to do. Let's get to it."