Deneva was just another entry in the logbook. The survivors had been transported to the hospital ship, USS Walter Reed, for treatment and rehabilitation. The single-celled entities responsible for the plague were preserved in stasis, and handed over to the epidemiology department of said ship for dissection, analysis, and classification.
In true black humor, people had nicknamed the infection, “The Zombie Bug.”
Kirk didn’t care.
He didn’t care about anything.
He didn’t even seem to care that his very own brother was dead because of this “Zombie Bug” or that his sister-in-law and his nephew had barely survived.
McCoy theorized Kirk’s lack of response was partially due to no closure being available. However, since he had been appointed to escort the Denevans to the investigating laboratory, the doctor wouldn’t be around to test his theory or act upon it. The Federation Presidium of Disease and Infectious Agents Information had overruled any disposition of the dead by confiscating the bodies, and all survivors were remanded to the nearest Federation facility via the Walter Reed. Space travel increased disease transmission rates exponentially and the Federation was hypervigilant when it came to control and prevention.
Kirk didn’t care that McCoy would be gone.
“Captain, the USS Walter Reed has signaled that transport from the Enterprise is complete, and they shall be underway in ten minutes. Is there any message you wish to convey to Dr McCoy?”
Kirk sat in the command chair and said nothing.
Kirk gave a lethargic wave of his hand.
Spock turned to the Communications station. “Miss Uhura, please acknowledge the completion of transport, and tell Dr McCoy that Captain Kirk will send a subspace message to him later.”
“Yes, Mr Spock.”
Kirk did nothing.
Towards the end of shift, the Chief of Security summoned the First Officer to his duty station. There was trouble brewing on the Enterprise. People find different ways to occupy their down time, and these entertainments historically included gambling. Friendly poker games, betting on sporting and other competitive events, and various dice games were all given a nonofficial pass.
Confidence scams and the accompanying loan sharking were crimes and absolutely forbidden on the ship.
Some stupid people still attempted them, and even more stupid people fell for them.
The Enterprise’s Security Branch was always on the watch for this nonsense, and the Chief wanted to report indicators of trouble.
“Looks like it’s in the fledgling stages, Mr Spock. We’ve got our undercover operatives trying to find the major player, but it definitely smells like a con artist is setting up on the Enterprise.”
“I do not understand, Mr Hassan, how illegal gambling can have a detectable aroma. Based on your preliminary data, though, I will have Communications analyze all monetary transfers made by crewmembers.”
“Thank you, Mr Spock. These crooks think they are so clever in hiding the money and they work hard to cover the transfers under layers of bogus transmissions. It’s a shame they can’t put that kind of effort into their actual jobs!”
“Please keep me apprised of your intelligence gathering, Mr Hassan, and I shall start the investigation with Communications.”
“Absolutely, Mr. Spock.” Hassan’s voice dropped to almost a whisper. “I hope the Captain is doing better, Sir. It’s rough to lose a family member. Please extend my personal condolences.”
Spock did a slow blink and nodded his head slightly. “On the Captain’s behalf, I thank you, Mr Hassan. I shall await any further reports on the matter at hand.”
Spock returned to the Bridge at change of shift. He observed that Kirk made no acknowledgement of the arrival of the Beta crew. The Captain merely lurched out of his chair and rushed to the turbolift, saying nothing.
The Captain’s atypical behavior continued for the next few days. Fortunately, the Enterprise was en route to her next assignment, and those transits were typically uneventful. Inside the ship, Hassan’s Security team and the Communications analysis were narrowing in on the con man.
Then the shit hit the fan.
Robinson Smith had never been one to play fair, and he had been strong-arming little kids for their lunch money and swindling old ladies out of their life savings since he was a pre-teen. He had a squeaky-clean demeanor and possessed a silver tongue that could sweet talk himself out of trouble. And all of this added up to Robinson Smith being dirty, very, very dirty.
Smith had enlisted in Starfleet, specifically for Security, thinking this would let him run the smoothest con in the galaxy.
Shortly after his assignment to the USS Enterprise, Smith began to lay the groundwork for his dream con. He was almost ready to set up shop when he caught wind of an investigation. Mrs Smith had not raised a stupid son, though, so he sniffed around to find those snooping on him.
It was so sad when one of the undercover ops “fell down the stairs.”
Ensign Visha Chmelewski stood over the bed of the critically injured crewman. Preliminary reports said that he had slipped down a Jeffries tube, but Visha specialized in forensic medicine. She could tell the differences between injuries suffered in an accident, and those inflicted by an attack. Visha suspected the on duty doctor hadn’t taken her concerns seriously. McCoy was still temporarily attached to the USS Walter Reed, and Chmelewski figured she was on her own until he returned.
Visha made sure all tubes running in and out of William Yancy’s body were open and freely flowing. She checked his breather and O2 rate. His blood gases showed normal limits on the overhead display, so she okayed that oxygen flow. Yancy’s extremity temperatures looked good—he had had such extensive injury repairs to his arms and legs that circulation was critical. A few clicks of the bedside keypad, and all current patient monitoring information was transferred to the Sickbay database. She shook her head. The guy had been pulverized by someone.
Chmelewski touched Yancy’s arm and leaned down so her lips almost brushed his ear. “Don’t worry, Bill. I’ll make sure you are safe here.” Her eyes watched the spike in the heart rate on display, and she knew her words had been heard. After one last glance, she went into the nearby stockroom to check inventory.
Out in the corridor, Robinson Smith used a pocket jammer to remotely disable the sensor that would register his presence in Sickbay. He slid into the Intensive Care room, and sidled next to Yancy’s bed. “I take care of snitches, Asshole,” he hissed, as he reached for the tubing to the breather mask.
A high pitched buzz passed next to Smith’s chest, and he followed the noise to the bulkhead. A small battle star was imbedded in the surface, and something dangled from it. Curious, Smith moved a little closer, and realized it was a severed digit, suspended by a single tendon pierced between one of the points and the wall.
“YAHHHHH!” he screamed, and jumped backwards away from the wall. It was only then he noticed the blood. The small arterial bleed from the stump on his hand was spraying in graceful arcs as he waved his arms about wildly.
In his dance of panic, Smith finally turned around and noticed Chmelewski in the room with him. She smiled at him, the same cold grimace a shark has before chomping on a living snack. She quickly reached up to her head, and removed something from underneath one of her cornrow braids. And then she started whipping her hands in front of her body. Smith became aware of sharp needle-like pains on his chest and arms.
“Shit! Jesus Christ! Stop, stop, you’re killing me!”
“I’m Medical, Smith. I know just how to hurt you so you won’t bleed to death.” Her voice was colder than her smile.
Smith’s sorry ass was hauled to the brig, after his finger had been reattached and a dozen small punctures bandaged. Chmelewski explained to Lieutenant Hassan and First Officer Spock that battle stars were a hobby of sorts for her. She was completely self-taught in throwing styles, and she had a collection of numerous sizes, from one half-meter in diameter to tiny ones barely a centimeter across. Oh, and she carried an assortment of stars on her person at all times, because, “you never know.” Hassan was jotting furiously on a datapadd and muttering about instituting mandatory training sessions for Security personnel.
Once the processing was finished, Spock automatically headed for the Captain’s quarters. Standing at the door, he recalled the indifferent mood that Kirk had been displaying since leaving Deneva. This wasn’t the time to discuss the Security situation, he decided. But he still needed to see Kirk. He straightened his shoulders, and rang the chime.
The lock released, but no voice summoned him inside. He entered into the darkened room, and ambient light showed Kirk reclined on his bunk, facing the wall.
“Go away, Spock.”
“I need to speak with you, Captain.”
“I said, go AWAY, Spock.”
Spock quietly stepped around the divider, and stood next to the bunk. “No.”
Kirk seemed to burrow deeper into the bedding.
“I’m aware that Dr McCoy is your typical source of companionship and comfort whenever you are in need.”
“Oh, God,” Kirk groaned. In slow motion he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bunk and hunched over, facing the floor. “What part of ‘Go away’ didn’t you understand, Mister Spock?”
“I want to help you.”
Kirk looked up at Spock with a face ravaged by unexpressed pain. “You can’t. Nobody can.”
Spock pulled up a chair, and sat opposite Kirk, their knees almost touching. “Jim,” he said, softly. Human eyes looked into Vulcan eyes. Spock placed his fingers on Kirk’s psi points.
Kirk was falling, falling, falling again. And the same darkness was there as before. This time was somehow more than just touching. And it was…nice.
“This is a mind meld,” he heard Spock’s voice in his head. “My thoughts to your thoughts, your thoughts to mine.”
Spock was standing next to Kirk, and he had his arm around his Captain’s shoulders. And with his thoughts, he bade him to look, to watch the memories unfold.
The crushing paralysis that had enveloped Kirk since the death of his brother fell away. In its place, Kirk remembered Sam: growing up together, sharing good times and bad, the fun, the teasing, and Sam’s ineffective attempts to shield his little brother from the abuse of a vicious stepfather. He relived Iowa summers, homemade ice cream, Sam teaching him to ride a bike, and the musty smell under the porch where the two of them hid when Frank went on one of his rampages. They grew older, they grew apart, yet they were brothers who loved each other no matter what. Then the regrets surged forward, and Kirk began to sob.
There was grief, there was pain, yet beyond those sensations, there was a pervasive serenity, a cloak of peace that James T Kirk had never known in his life. And Kirk knew he wasn’t alone.
He’d never be alone again.
“T’hy’la. I grieve with thee.”
Spock lifted his hand off Kirk’s face, and Kirk bent his head towards Spock’s chest and wept.
With exquisite gentleness, Spock eased Kirk back onto the bunk, and pulled a blanket over him.
Kirk never heard it when Spock left the room.