Disclaimer: Star Trek doesn’t belong to me. This story is a work of fiction set in the world Gene Roddenberry and JJ Abrams created.
Arms crossed, Kirk leaned against the curved wall of the central turbo lift. Next to him, Spock’s stiff posture radiated disapproval.
Kirk released a quiet sigh. "Just say it," he urged. His professional relationship with Spock was less cooperative than he would have liked. In the same strange way that he enjoyed bickering with Bones, he enjoyed his frequent arguments with Spock. Bones called him a masochist, but outwitting a Vulcan was intellectually stimulating in a way that drunken barroom debates had never been. He was particularly fond of trying to use logic against Spock. Nevertheless, when matters became time sensitive, he didn’t want to squabble over every decision he made.
Regarding his first officer, Kirk tried to find some hint of emotion in the man’s expression. The emotions were there, buried deep beneath the surface. He had touched them before. "You have that look, like you want to say something. By all means, say it."
Spock inclined his head and studied Kirk. His dark eyes were unreadable. "Very well," he said. "It is inadvisable for you to join the landing party. Starfleet regulation states-"
Kirk held up a hand to stop Spock before he cited regulation verbatim. He knew exactly what Starfleet regulations outlined as acceptable parameters for landing parties. There was an entire chapter on landing parties in the official ‘how to be a captain’ rulebook, and it was all pomp infused jargon that told captains to sit pretty on the bridge while everyone else did the dirty work. He didn’t need Spock offering statistics to persuade him of how illogical his decision was. He also didn’t need a rulebook telling him how to run his ship.
"This is our first mission," Kirk said. He waved his hand dismissively and amended, "First official mission. And if I’m not giving this my full attention, I can guarantee you Command will give me theirs."
"You are of the belief that Starfleet Command would encourage your presence on the planet’s surface?"
"You got it in one, Commander." When the lift reached its designated deck, Kirk cast Spock a playful grin and slipped through the open door. As usual, his first officer fell into a stride beside him. "Command wants me to learn a little finesse from the ambassador. I’ll be taking notes the whole time."
Kirk didn’t bother mentioning that he intended to play an active role in every off-ship mission. For now, he gave his first officer a rational explanation to mull over. He would have another excuse ready the next time.
Starfleet didn’t trust Kirk’s diplomatic skills. His penchant for negotiating tense situations with his fists left a lot to be desired. So, he would accompany Ambassador Eldridge and observe a master at work. Even Spock couldn’t begrudge him the learning experience. It was only logical.
A small, satisfied smile tugged at Kirk’s mouth. He loved it when logic worked in his favor.
First contact with Thelos had occurred three years ago. It was a backwater planet, unlikely to achieve warp capabilities for a number of decades. The planet was tiny compared to Earth and its people unsurprisingly homogenous. Thelosians had received Federation envoys with good grace. Their peaceful race was uninterested in things like space travel and alien technology. Thelosians were more interested in meditating towards spiritual enlightenment.
The Federation couldn’t care less about a pre-warp civilization, but the planet’s abundance of Ritalin had raised a few eyebrows.
Kirk didn’t appreciate the hypocrisy behind his first mission. Despite popular belief, there were a few rules and regulations he upheld. The Prime Directive was a rule that he saw in black and white, but his mission on Thelos was shading it in grey. Thelos should have been classified as ‘still developing’ and been left alone. But Ritalin was in short supply and Thelos had a lot to spare.
Although Kirk’s easy smiles and attentive demeanor didn’t show it, he felt anxious. The Federation wasn’t breaking the rules, just bending them to the point of political obfuscation. By nature, he distrusted authority figures. He couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if things went horribly wrong. Would Starfleet have his back, or would Command claim he had acted against orders? Saving the Federation’s face was more important than exonerating an inexperienced captain.
On Thelos, negotiations had gone well, but even that sat uneasy with Kirk. It was pointless to try and articulate his unease. Spock didn’t consider ‘gut instincts’ to be a logical basis for drawing conclusions. Nevertheless, he shared his misgivings. "I don’t like leaving Eldridge here. Something about this doesn’t feel right."
Several paces ahead of the captain, the twitch of Spock’s brow went unobserved. "Since first contact was established, Thelosians have been positively receptive of Federation influence. There have been no signs of contention over the terms of the trade agreement. I am perplexed by your apparent doubts."
Kirk shook his head. "I’m just thinking out loud," he said. He paused between steps to cast a calculating glance over his shoulder.
Behind him, the temple towered six stories. A behemoth stone structure carved into a cliff face. The temple stood atop a terraced hillside, overlooking the city in the shallow valley below. Thelosians were a humanoid species, tall with disproportionately large upper bodies and wiry legs. The dominant features that Kirk had noted were the flatness of their faces and the insane sounds they could make deep in their throat. Uhura would have liked to sit in on the meeting to hear the intricate vocal vibrations.
The polished steps were slick. It had rained while they were inside the temple. The air was still moist with a light spritzing rain. Kirk had visited few planets other than Earth and was stunned at how similar the environments were. Thelos was light years from the Milky Way Galaxy, but its people and small planet were like a piece of Earth. The air was thinner, but not enough to need a tri-ox compound. Though, he wouldn’t want to run any marathons.
Kirk tore his eyes away from the temple and met Spock’s penetrating gaze. "It’s freezing," he commented, ignoring the sensation that the Vulcan was trying to read his mind. Rubbing his hands together, he burrowed deeper into his navy-blue parka.
Spock’s brow twitched. "Indeed," he murmured and continued his descent. Also dressed in a standard issue jacket, he showed no signs of his discomfort, not even as a cold wind assaulted them.
Kirk followed along, his attention torn between keeping his balance on the steep stairs and studying in the landscape. From his high vantage point, the sprawling cityscape was breathtaking. Thelosians considered Belmar to be their largest city, but it was really more of a township nestled in the dip of the valley. Smaller towns edged the valley’s ridge, the tiny communities connected by a river and its tributaries.
Buildings and houses made predominantly of a violet hued stone expanded out from the base of the hillside. There was a distinct division between the city and the surrounding forest. He likened the trees to pine trees, but the needles were long and shaggy. Instead of evergreen, they were plum red.
He wanted to explore, maybe visit a local pub or hike to the river. There was some sort of levy system that cycled water throughout the city and his inner mechanic was curious. It was a shame to visit a planet without actually spending time observing its people. A six-hour stint in a fancy room, poring over a trade contract, did not count as cultural exchange. He had met the temple’s shamans and the newly appointed Thelosian Ambassador, but he hadn’t mingled with the locals.
New orders from Command would arrive soon. Kirk was disappointed with the cut and dry nature of his first mission. He had ferried Ambassador Eldridge to Thelos, witnessed negotiations, and would now proceed elsewhere. It was this lack of excitement to which Kirk attributed his current unrest.
Spock’s measured steps never faltered, even when he turned his focus to his data pad. "Starfleet Command has confirmed approval of the signed trade agreement. They will send new orders shortly."
Kirk hummed a note of acknowledgment and let his thoughts wander. The other members of the landing party were already at the base of the stairs, waiting for their captain and first officer. Thelosians might not be a technologically advanced civilization, but they took great pride in what they considered an advanced spiritual awareness. Kirk didn’t know the specifics of their beliefs, but he had been amenable when they requested he not transport on sacred ground. The base of the stairs marked the end of temple ground. He didn’t mind the slow descent. It gave him time to absorb the sight of a world he might never see again. Sadly, there would be no bar hopping on Thelos. It might be just as well. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something as wrong.
Before Kirk could further reflect on the strange unsettled feeling in his gut, he caught the flagging signal from the security team. Picking up his pace, he drew abreast with Spock as they reached the last step.
"Captain," Lieutenant Carter said, "I can’t get through to the Enterprise."
Spock was already trying his own communicator. Kirk waited, observing the slight furrow between the Vulcan’s brows and the way dexterous fingers tapped faster.
"Indeed, Captain," Spock confirmed, still trying to get through. "All outgoing and incoming signals have been blocked."
"Blocked?" Kirk questioned. With a glance at the looming temple, he said, "They didn’t say anything about jamming our signals. Are we too close?"
Eyes never leaving his communicator, Spock answered, "Negative. Thelosians do not have the technological capability for such a feat."
Finally, Spock looked up. The others waited for the captain’s orders.
"Can you pinpoint the interference? Could it be something in the atmosphere? An ion storm too close to the Enterprise?" The knot of unease in Kirk’s stomach told him that the jamming of their communications was more intentional than an ion storm.
"Atmospheric interference is unlikely. I can attempt to triangulate-"
A sudden explosion sent their group sprawling. The ground quaked beneath their feet. Crouched defensively, Kirk’s eyes darted around for signs of attack. The explosion had been in the distance, near the center of the city. A cadence of screams filled the air. Billows of smoke and dust rose above the line of flat rooftops.
"What was that?!" one of the lieutenants exclaimed. "A bomb?"
"What about comm links?" Kirk asked Spock, his voice tight with urgency. "Can we hail each other?"
"Negative, Captain," Spock stated. He stood tall, appearing no more disturbed by the explosion than he would have a pleasant summer breeze.
Mind buzzing with possibilities, Kirk assembled his thoughts. "Spock, you stay here with Lieutenant Carter. Keep trying to get through. I want to know where the jam is coming from." He checked the phaser at his hip. "Lieutenant Folsen, you’re with me."
"Captain," Spock called before Kirk rushed off. "I believe it would be wise if I joined you. As you are aware, my proficiency in combative situations is superior to both Lieutenants Carter and Folsen."
"That’s an understatement, Spock," Kirk said, grinning in remembrance of their time on the Narada. The commander was a dead shot with a phaser and even deadlier within arms’ reach. "But you’re also the only science geek we’ve got down here. I need you to work on getting through to the ship."
Spock would have argued, but the captain’s logic was sound. He watched as his superior disappeared around the corner of a tall building, headed for the source of the smoke.
Folsen became lost in the fray. Kirk searched the frantic sea of faces and jostling bodies, but the lieutenant’s telltale red shirt was hidden beneath a dark jacket. Mounting the stairs of a building, he took to slightly higher ground and scanned faces with a grim determination to find his crewman. He caught sight of Folsen down the wide cobbled road, little more than a block away. He called out to the man.
"Folsen!" His voice rose above the crowd before being quickly swallowed.
Folsen had heard the captain. He turned, a look of sheer relief on his face as he caught sight of dark blond hair and bright blue eyes. "Captain!" he shouted back. Civilians rushed past, but he just pushed against the flow to reach Kirk.
A shrill whistle grabbed Kirk’s attention. Darting a sharp look skyward, he spotted the exhaust tail of a missile. His eyes dropped to his lieutenant. The young man waved frantically, as though afraid Kirk might leave him behind. With gut wrenching certainty, Kirk waved his arms to ward the lieutenant back. "Go back! Get back!"
It was too late. A blinding flash forced Kirk to shield his eyes and a solid blast knocked him back.
At the second explosion, Spock darted a sharp look towards the building the captain had disappeared behind. How near had Kirk been to that explosion? Under orders, he continued a variation of code and frequencies. His resources were limited.
With a mere 0.97 percent chance of establishing contact with the Enterprise, he abandoned the attempt. "Lieutenant Carter, ascend the stairs to the High Temple and attempt to hail the Enterprise."
Carter looked relieved to have new orders. Continued failure to raise the ship added a feeling of helplessness to his current distress. "If I can’t get through, should I just keep trying or come back down?" he asked. He made no attempt to hide his apprehension as he looked towards the city.
Spock considered what the next logical step should be. If the small variation in elevation proved ineffective, then continued attempts to establish contact would be illogical. Among the ground crew, he was the only one equipped with a tricorder. Preliminary readings showed no evidence of radio interference, but further investigation could prove beneficial. "Should your attempts fail, you are to enter the temple and ascertain the whereabouts of Ambassador Eldridge. When you find him, apprise him of our situation and guard him against all possible hostile engagements."
"You think these people want him dead?"
"It has been my observation that these attacks are against a Thelosian settlement, but the possibility that Thelosians are themselves responsible cannot be excluded at the present."
"Yes, sir" Carter said. He gave a quick salute before he jogged to the stairs and loped upwards.
Dazed and disoriented, Kirk staggered to his feet. He shook his head to clear the ringing in his ears. For a moment, he thought the explosion had made him color blind. The world had gone gray. Examining his hands, he found a thick coat of dust covering him from head to toe.
As he stumbled forward on unsteady legs, he drew the collar of his parka higher to cover his mouth and nose. He made his way to the litter of unstable rubble that filled the street. Even before he reached the central blast zone, he knew Folsen was dead. He wiped at a warm trickle along his temple, impervious to the sight of his own blood. Bodies were everywhere, both moving and still. The crowd pushed against him in every direction.
As the ringing in his ears subsided, the roar of panicked screams hit him like another blast. He came to a standstill and observed the phaser still clenched in his right hand. His eyes drew upward along his arm, finding a gash in his coat. With numb detachment, he removed a piece of shrapnel from his upper arm and prodded the wound. A distant part of his mind assessed that the glass hadn’t bitten through enough muscle to cause substantial blood loss.
His mind began to clear. Retreating from the ruins of the building, he threaded his way through the crowd, redirecting anyone who was going the wrong way. He yelled for them to run to the temple. It was too dangerous to stay out in the open. Even if the temple was exactly where the attackers wanted everyone to gather, like sheep herded into a pen. The temple was the only fortifiable location.
Anger surged in him as he watched a fallen child taken into the arms of a complete stranger. Even amidst the chaos, Thelosians helped each other. They stopped mid-panic to keep from treading on those who tripped and to help them stand again.
When Kirk reached the clearing between the temple and the city’s border, he found Spock herding groups upwards.
"Tell me the temple’s safe," Kirk said when he drew close enough to be heard.
"There are underground chambers that may serve as fortification against further attack," Spock said.
Kirk nodded, having thought as much from his brief visit inside. "Have you reached the Enterprise?" Before Spock could answer, he turned to address an approaching group of distraught Thelosians. "Up there," he told them, gesturing to the stairs and the temple perched high above.
The group hesitated, looking at him pleadingly. He wasn’t one of their shamans, but they knew him as a Starfleet officer. He set a reassuring hand one of the Thelosian’s shoulders. He squeezed gently. "It’s okay," he said in as soothing a tone as he could manage. "Follow the others."
The man’s eyes fell to his lips as he spoke, trying in vain to translate. After a moment, the man seemed to understand. Kirk conveyed his meaning through the touch of his hand, the tone of his voice, and the fierce authority in his eyes. The Thelosian gave a small bow and said something to the group behind him. They moved to the stairs without looking back.
Spock observed the captain with distracted interest. A sooty coat of dust streaked across the man’s sweat damp brow. Blue eyes were made unnaturally bright against the gray shade that painted the man’s face. When those blue eyes turned to him, he gave his report. "I have not been successful in locating the interference with our communications. The tricorder detects no anomalies in the surrounding area."
Before Spock could inform the captain of Lieutenant Carter’s whereabouts, the harsh staccato of what was unmistakably gunfire filled the air.
Drawing his phaser, Kirk ordered, "Secure the stairs."
"Captain, I must object to your apparent intention to again approach the source of disturbance." Spock observed a smear of blood along the captain’s temple. There was a glistening dark patch in sandy blond hair. His captain was injured.
"Objection noted," Kirk said. Locking eyes with his first officer, he instructed, "Stay here. We still don’t know what the hell is going on. Keep these people moving. If your position is jeopardized, I want you to head up to the temple with everyone else."
"I am of little assistance here. The Thelosians are capable of reaching the temple unaided. My presence at your side would be a more efficient use of my experience."
There was more gunfire and a renewed chorus of screams. Kirk’s whole body tensed. He couldn’t keep from taking a step in the direction of the noise. The need to help was overpowering. "I know, but Ambassador Eldridge is up there. Our priority is keeping him safe. It’s still our mission."
When the captain turned, Spock saw the gash in the man’s arm. Something inside him twisted at the sight of the open wound. "If your concern is for the ambassador, then I suggest you take shelter in the temple where you may seek his company and see to his safety yourself. If you insist on learning more of the attacks, I will endeavor to-"
Kirk cut Spock off. "I’m not sending you out there. Stay here for as long as you can, then get inside."
Kirk didn’t allow for further debate. He jogged off, his form quickly enveloped in the thick haze of smoky air. Spock’s placid expression tightened as he watched until all sign of the captain was gone. He did not understand the man’s reasoning. If he didn’t know from experience that Kirk had a strong instinct for survival, he might think the captain was throwing himself into harm’s way without regard for the consequences. A captain was not as expendable as a first officer. If circumstances warranted one of them to subject themselves to danger, then the first officer was the logical choice.
With the aid of the translator, Spock employed several key phrases that urged the Thelosians to hurry and to take care on the steep stairs.
Kirk came across the source of gunfire. Unfortunately, the source of gunfire also came across him. By the looks of them, they were Thelosian. Were they a violent faction set against the Federation, or against the current Thelosian government? His mind ran through the possibilities. There weren’t enough known variables.
The attackers’ goal was to create panic, not to increase the body count. They shot their archaic bullets into the air.
A single phaser against a band of ten Thelosians was not what Kirk considered ideal odds.
Dust and smoke clogged the air. Jacket unzipped so he could move better, he adjusted the collar of his command shirt over his nose and mouth. Suddenly, Bones’ suggestion to make filter masks part of the landing party’s inventory seemed like a good idea. He squinted from his position on the stoop of a building.
His pulse jumped at the sound of bullets lodging into stone railing he crouched behind. He’d heard live gunfire once before, but only a single resounding bang. He had been seven years old when Sam had showed him the antique collection of shotguns in their neighbor’s barn.
A violent attack against a peaceful civilization just didn’t make any sense. Nor did the use of weaponry that was two centuries out of date. No, these people weren’t at the same stages of development. He was thinking in terms of Terran weapon development. Machine guns, shotguns, pistols and revolvers, and every sort of barbaric weapon used in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Those were Human inventions, but not exclusive to Humans. The harnessing of destructive forces was a universal development. Other species built bombs and weapons, similar enough to recognize by Terran standards.
Thelosians were not as peaceful as the shamans had led him to believe. Clearly, they had progressed beyond bows and arrows. There was still the possibility that outside forces had helped this progression or provided the weaponry. The possibilities were endless without more facts.
Another loud series of shots aimed his way told him to ask questions later. He waited for a break and returned fire. There was a lag in response. They were not well trained. Even as he shot down one gunman, the others conferred with each other before shooting at him again.
He managed to take down three others before his position became compromised. Backup came trooping down the street. He ducked inside the building, eyes scanning the area for something to barricade against the door. As he absorbed his surroundings, he realized that he was inside a home.
He swallowed thickly as he moved farther inside, finding evidence of the recent inhabitants. There was abandoned food and plates on a table and scattered toy-blocks on the floor. A family lived here.
The front door had a latch, but no lock. There wasn’t time to secure his location. Weapon held aloft, he moved down the nearest hallway. He kept his steps silent and hugged the wall until he reached the first doorway.
He tested the latch. It opened. In a rush of movement, he threw the door wider and leveled his phaser around the room. All sections were clear. It appeared to be a child’s bedroom. A low to the ground bed, too narrow and short for an adult, sat in the far corner. He considered using the bed as a barricade, but there were no windows to escape through.
The front door burst open and stomping feet quaked the ground. Cursing silently, he stepped behind the bedroom door and waited for his attackers to file in. They shouted orders at each other. Kirk was tempted to switch on the universal translator secured at his hip, but he could interpret the gist of what they were saying. They were looking for him.
It wouldn’t take long for them to find him. His phaser had half of its charge left, which meant another twenty rounds to stun. He only had five kill shots left.
With steady fingers that betrayed nothing of the adrenaline in his veins, he adjusted his phaser setting. He didn’t want to kill them. At point blank range, a stun would render them unconscious.
His breath caught in his throat as the first man stepped into the room. His body tensed with the need to surge forward. His instincts screamed for him to act. Like jerking the reins on a willful horse, he suppressed his initial reaction. Teeth gritted, he took a deep, silent breath.
The Thelosian, a six and a half foot mammoth, had reached the center of the room before glancing his way. It was a foolish move, one that reaffirmed how inexperienced these men were. The Thelosian’s eyes widened upon spotting Kirk behind the door, but his shout never left parted lips.
A single shot to the chest and the man was down for the count. The others heard the commotion and stampeded his way. Lucky for him the doorway was narrow. Two more filed in and Kirk clipped them off without ever leaving his position.
There was a lapse before the next three came rushing in. Their attempt to sprint around the doorway failed to account for Kirk’s deadly accuracy with firearms. With three shots fired so quickly that the buzz of energy sounded like a single long whine, they were down. The unconscious bodies formed a barricade of flesh, impeding the progress of the others.
There were more in the hallway. Kirk estimated at least ten others, but he couldn’t be certain. He had ten shots to spare. Beyond ten, he would have to exchange his phaser for one of their archaic weapons.
His attackers seemed to understand that rushing into the room was a mistake, if the pile of bodies were any indication. A smoking canister rolled inside and Kirk knew he was in real trouble. Crouching low, he pulled his shirt over his mouth and nose again.
There was no escape. He choked on the first lungful of smoke that came his way. His lungs expanded with the murky haze of greenish brown smoke and suddenly felt on fire. His throat burned as if he had swallowed lye. The effect overwhelmed him. He doubled over in a coughing fit, desperate for air, but each breath brought greater agony than the last.
Watery eyes glanced around desperately for a window. Children needed windows in their bedrooms, didn’t they? Why would this bedroom not have windows? He cursed Thelosians and their alien architecture.
Shaking his head, Kirk fought to focus his thoughts. A heady buzz told him there were sedative properties to the smoke. Holding his position was not an option. With all the grace of practiced drunk, he staggered around the doorway and into the hall. He fired at the first moving body, but strong hands were all over him in seconds. His eyes burned too much to keep open. Pain exploded against the side of his skull just before he blacked out.
The first sensation that breached Kirk’s dark world was the press of a cool hand against his neck. Spock’s baritone voice roused Kirk further. "Captain."
Kirk gave a mumbled reply. The hand at his neck disappeared.
"His pulse remains steady," Spock announced.
Kirk cracked an eye. A dim, filmy light streamed in through cracks on a boarded window above his head. "Spock?" he murmured, his voice breaking.
As he tried to sit up, his head throbbed and stomach rolled. The cool hand returned, pressing against his shoulder this time.
"Captain, it would be unwise to sit up so soon after regaining consciousness. Without a medical scanner, I cannot determine with any certainty if you have sustained a concussion. It is my belief that you should remain awake as a precaution."
Kirk’s mind reeled to process Spock’s clinical statements. Waving a hand in dismissal, he tried to sit up again. This time his first officer helped him, apparently resigned to his stubborn insistence.
"You should remain reclined."
"Yeah, I got that," Kirk assured. "I’m still gonna sit up."
"Indeed," Spock replied as he steadied the captain.
Reaching a tentative hand to the side of his head, Kirk felt the swollen lump and grimaced.
"Captain?" There was a note of concern in Spock’s usually even tone.
"I’m fine," Kirk said, lowering his hand.
Blinking still watery eyes, Kirk took stock of his surroundings. In a small shed-like structure, he was on weaved mat that did little to separate him from the dirt packed ground. Spock knelt beside him, appearing no worse for the wear.
Across the small room, a group of Thelosians sat huddled together. He recognized several of the shamans, the Thelosian ambassador, and Ambassador Eldridge. Behind Spock, Lieutenant Carter hovered anxiously.
Despite his desperate need for water, Kirk croaked out, "Report."
Ambassador Eldridge broke away from the group and came over. He had a reedy figure that didn’t quite fill out his high-collared dress shirt and black slacks. He wore his black hair slicked back. Even in the poor lighting, it had an oily sheen. He had mousy features, his lips almost too thin to see, and his eyes darted around as if afraid to settle on anyone for too long.
Spock spared the ambassador a brief glance before reporting to the captain. "As you aware, there was an attack on Belmar. The attackers have identified themselves as a group of Thelosian rebels called Brothers of the Relic."
"What do they want?" Kirk prompted.
"They have expressed a desire for what the shamans refer to as the Holy Relic. It is an artifact of unknown purpose, housed within the High Temple. I do not know if they have already obtained the artifact or why they chose violence as a means of making their demands."
Ambassador Eldridge cut in. "Thelosians worship the relic. It is the foothold of their beliefs. The insurgents desire its power for personal gain."
Kirk kept his attention on Spock. "What does the Federation have to do with this? Don’t tell me the timing of the attack was coincidence."
Spock’s sober eyes continued to study the captain for signs of distress. "Indeed not," he said.
Kirk sighed. "They wouldn’t have needed a jamming device against the shamans. Are we hostages?"
"Affirmative," Spock replied.
Kirk gave a mirthless chuckle, but regretted it when his headache flared. Rubbing his temple, he sagged against Spock’s bracing arm.
"Captain, you are injured," Spock said, his tone clipper than usual. For what purpose did his captain insist on ignoring these injuries? "You should rest."
"Just give me a hand," Kirk said as he made an attempt to scoot back against the wall. When he was situated, he set his head back, careful to avoid the throbbing lump. After several steady breaths, his nausea settled.
Though his expression remained controlled and blank, Spock’s eyes simmered with concern and frustration. "Captain," he said in the same clip tone. He had not anticipated ever desiring Leonard McCoy’s company, but the doctor’s ability to cajole and badger the captain into submission would have been greatly appreciated.
"I know," Kirk said. "I’m being illogical. I should rest." He kept rubbing his temple. "But I doubt these rebels will put their plans on hold just because I’ve got a headache."
Spock felt a small flicker of resentment at having logic used against him. "It is at least some consolation that your ability to reason logically indicates you have not sustained brain damage."
Stunned into silence, Kirk’s hand stilled at his temple. As the Vulcan’s words repeated in his mind, he couldn’t help but laugh. The joyous sound was short-lived when his head throbbed. He groaned and wrapped an arm around his chest to stifle movement. "I’m glad you still have a sense of humor. That’s usually the first thing to go when you’re taken prisoner."
"This is no laughing matter!" Ambassador Eldridge snapped.
Tired blue eyes sharpened. Since first picking the ambassador up from Starbase 6, Kirk had humbly acknowledged the man’s authority. Starfleet wanted him to learn from Eldridge, to gain diplomatic experience. As such, Eldridge had assumed a kind of superiority over Kirk. This had been fine, since the man hadn’t dared to lecture him on ship’s operation. Kirk had swallowed his pride during the negotiations, listening to Eldridge’s instructions to keep his mouth shut.
However, diplomacy didn’t seem to be a language that the Thelosian rebels wanted to speak. It remained Kirk’s duty to protect Eldridge. The man was under his authority now.
Pinning Eldridge in place with a sharp look, Kirk said, "Thank you for clearing that up. I was under the impression this was some sort of elaborate prank."
"Captain Kirk, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it’s imperative we contact Starfleet. They will acquiesce to the rebels’ demands and arrange for our release. Now, if we can just talk with the rebels’ leader-"
"The Federation doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, Eldridge," Kirk said. "Our involvement in a civil feud needs to be minimal. We can’t break the Prime Directive. Any demands they make for our release can’t be met. We’re on our own."
"Captain, between the two of us, I am better suited negotiate the terms of our release. If all they want is some relic-"
"They cannot have the relic," the Thelosian ambassador interjected from across the room.
The approach of voices from outside interrupted further debate.
The door swung open. A Thelosian leveled a gun around the room before landing on Kirk. Spock edged closer, attempting to shield the captain from view, but the Thelosian shouted at him.
Without his translator, Kirk was left guessing. He set a hand on Spock’s shoulder and gently pushed his first officer away. Dark eyes snapped to him in disapproval, but Kirk only glanced to Ambassador Eldridge. "Does he want me to stand up?" he asked the ambassador.
"Y-yes," Eldridge said in a shaky voice. He nodded and gave a nervous smile to the rebel. "Hands on your head as you move."
Kirk complied, his movements slow and deliberate. "Easy, take it easy," he said in a soothing voice, locking eyes with the rebel.
For a moment, the rebel’s eyes widened and stared at Kirk uncertainly.
Kirk never broke eye contact. "We’re unarmed. Just take it easy."
The rebel’s shoulders relaxed and he seemed about to lower his weapon, but Eldridge began speaking a fast stream of words. Kirk thought the ambassador might be begging for his life.
The rebel stiffened and gestured violently at the ambassador, shouting over Eldridge’s almost sobbing pleas. Finally, when the rebel kept stabbing the air with his gun, Eldridge fell to the ground and covered his head.
"Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!" Eldridge began saying, switching to Standard in his distress.
A thoroughly riled rebel turned to Kirk and used his gun to gesture to the door.
Kirk knew it was useless to try and talk the rebel down again. Switching tactics, he decided to play the compliant prisoner. He would follow every order, hoping to dupe them into leaving him unguarded. Even a split second lapse could prove useful.
Orbiting Thelos, the Enterprise was on yellow alert. Lieutenant-Commander Montgomery Scott sat on the edge of the command chair and reviewed the latest sensor readings. Behind him, Dr. Leonard McCoy paced while he raved against malfunctioning technology.
"Those sensors can snap shots of an ant in a jungle from up here," McCoy said. "Why the hell can’t they find a group of grown men?"
"It’s not that simple, doctor," Scott said, his thick brogue in full force as his thoughts remained on the readings. With a deep frown, he stood from the chair and approached the science station. McCoy was hot on his heels. "Lad," he said to Chekov, "there’s something not quite right here."
Chekov nodded and pulled the latest scans onto the flat panel above the station. "There is being much interference. We have been knowing this."
Eyes glued to the panel, Scott set a hand on the back of Chekov’s chair. "Aye, lad," he agreed. "Interference enough to lose eyes and ears on our captain, but I’m referring to something that’s missing."
Chekov’s eyes flew over the console, double-checking his calculations and the scans. "It is the captain missing, no?"
"No, lad. He’s down there alright. No one goes to this much trouble to hide something if it’s not there."
"Then you are having to explain. I have adjusted the sensors the best I am able." The sensors projected garbled readouts of the planet’s surface. Prior to losing the transmitter signals on the landing party, the readings had been crisp and focused. After an attempt to recalibrate and rescan the planet, it became clear that something was interfering. There was some distortion rebounding the sensors’ signals.
"Aye, it’s a fair sight better than I could manage meself. But where’s the river?"
Chekov turned and regarded Scott with questioning eyes. "River?"
Scott’s eyes left the panel, determination burning in them. Something had seemed strange about the scans, and now he realized what it was. He smiled triumphantly. They had their lead for cutting through the jamming signal.
Chekov’s eyes grew comically large with sudden understanding. A stream of Russian left his lips. "There is being big river! Why have I not been seeing this?"
Chekov’s hands flew over the console. Seconds later, the panel overhead became a split screen. Beside the obscure disfigured satellite imagery was a crisp aerial shot of a sprawling city with a sliver of dark water that wound its way through the valley.
"I’d bet me whole stash of scotch that the jam is coming from somewhere on this river."
"Yes," Chekov agreed. "There is not being interference enough to mask buildings." He gestured to the patch of light toned dots in the center of the valley. The buildings were just barely recognizable. But the river had disappeared completely. "The signal must be strongest by river."
"Along the river," Scott mumbled under his breath, staring fiercely at the image. To obscure the length of the river, multiple points of interference would be necessary.
"Did you find him?" McCoy asked.
Scott shook his head. "No, doctor, but we’ve a better idea where to look."
McCoy wasn’t satisfied. Jim was down there somewhere, probably rushing into danger instead of away from it.
Spock sat cross-legged, attempting to meditate. The captain had been gone for approximately 1.3 hours. Discussion with the shamans had proven ineffective. The Thelosian Ambassador kept insisting they protect the relic. Ambassador Eldridge chose to converse with the shamans in Thelosian rather than translate Spock’s words. Lieutenant Uhura’s linguistic skills would have been invaluable in such a situation.
Concentration breaking, Spock’s thoughts fell into disorder. Between his concern for the captain and the squabbling voices nearby, he could not meditate. Panicked emotions battered against his mental shields.
The latch on the door jostled before the door was thrown open. Kirk stumbled in, his bottom lip split and swollen. Spock rose in a single fluid movement, hands reaching out to steady Kirk.
"I’m good," Kirk assured.
The guard who had pushed him inside cast a warning look around the shack before he stepped back and pulled the door shut.
Kirk shrugged Spock’s hold off, but gave the Vulcan’s shoulder a firm clap. "I’ve got some good news and some not so good news."
Spock thought to point out that Kirk’s definition of "good" had a distressingly low standard. He kept his skepticism to himself and simply clasped his hands behind his back. He made a quick catalogue of Kirk’s injuries, judging that a swollen lip was the only new addition.
"Did they hit you?" Carter asked, gesturing to the captain’s mouth. The question behind the question was clear. Were you tortured?
Kirk shook his head. "No more than I hit them," he said. This earned a small smile from the young lieutenant.
A sound of horrified disdain came from Eldridge. "Provocation is not diplomacy. The most expedient means of winning our freedom is to concede to their demands."
Kirk ignored the comment. He was mildly amused by the ambassador’s elevation in vocabulary. It was diplomatic posturing at its most pointlessness. The man didn’t seem capable of maintaining face with a gun pointed at his head. "The good news is that we get a quick bite to eat in a little while, and they don’t plan on executing any of us."
Eldridge shuffled forward, demanding the captain’s attention by standing in front of him. "Of course they won’t kill us. We’re being held for ransom. We’re no good to them dead."
Before Kirk could comment that Eldridge hadn’t seemed as confident while begging for his life, Spock spoke up. "I believe the captain meant to imply that even those among us who might be considered expendable are granted the same assurance of safety."
"As always Mr. Spock, I couldn’t have said it better myself."
"Quite the contrary, Captain. Your manner of speech tactfully avoided directly reminding Lieutenant Carter and the shamans that their lives were at greater risk than our own. I believe the phrase is ‘softened the blow’. However, Ambassador Eldridge’s incomprehension has warranted a more direct approach. I simply… dumbed it down."
Carter fell into a fit of nervous laughter, which became something more genuine when Kirk’s infectious laugh filled the small shack.
The shamans gathered closer to Kirk, perplexed by the starship captain’s amusement.
Kirk wiped at a tearful eye. "Spock," he said on a breathy exhale. Eyes alight, he regarded his first officer with a warm smile.
Spock’s hands clasped tighter. He fought down a rush of satisfaction at the captain’s reaction.
"Completely inappropriate!" Eldridge hissed.
Kirk held Spock’s gaze, wholly unaware of anyone else. "I needed that. Thanks." His smile widened, showing a flash of white teeth. "Who says Vulcans don’t have a sense of humor?"
Spock knew he should remind the captain that levity had no place when they faced such dire circumstances. Despite this, he said, "Dr. McCoy has repeatedly remarked that my inability to understand Human humor has a direct correlation with my Vulcan heritage."
Kirk didn’t laugh as Spock had anticipated. Instead, he smiled in such a way that the corners of his eyes crinkled. A rosy flush came to his cheeks. His smile fell too quick, a wince taking its place as his lip stung. His pink tongue darted to the cut.
"You have reopened your wound," Spock observed. He took a step forward, but stopped short. Without a medkit, he could not help.
"It’s fine." Kirk dabbed the sleeve of his coat to his mouth.
The shamans had gone quiet. They stared in open interest between Kirk and Spock.
"What’s the bad news?" Carter asked, breaking the suspended moment.
Kirk cleared his throat. With some reluctance, he tore his eyes from Spock and glanced around the gathered group. "Once we eat, they’re taking us to one of their main base camps." He turned to the head shaman. "I’m sorry. They already have the Holy Relic."
The Thelosian ambassador gasped, causing the shamans to look to him in confusion. When the ambassador translated Kirk’s statement, the shamans deflated and gave Kirk pleading looks.
There was nothing Kirk could do for them.