Rating: PG-13 for violence, references to torture and captivity, and stab wounds
Summary: Two years after embarking on her maiden voyage, the Enterprise returns to Earth for some holiday-season shore leave after a typical mission-gone-wrong. Then things go wronger.
Author's note: Part two of three. Word count for this part: about 8,000.
He stumbles back to his quarters, acutely aware of the ever-increasing time since his last painkiller. He's barely by his bed when his comm chimes, and he lets out a wordless noise of frustration before slapping it.
"Uh. Chekov here, Captain," comes Chekov's tentative voice.
"Yes, what is it, Ensign?"
"You have a call, sir?" It comes out as a question, not a statement.
Jim frowns. "Have you eaten dinner yet?"
"Yes, sir," says Chekov, sounding relieved to finally have good news to deliver.
"Then why the hell are you on comms right now?"
"Ah," says Chekov, "Sara did not believe me when I told her about our mission to K7. So I thought I would show her the records, under Starfleet Regulation six point zero-zero-two, permitting non-secured information sharing for purposes of - "
"Chekov," says Jim.
"Do you really think I care if you're showing a fellow Starfleet officer non-classified information about how you beat up a bunch of Klingons?"
"Patch the call through to my quarters. Kirk out."
Bones's face appears on Jim's comm, and Jim suddenly regrets not having asked Chekov who it was first.
"Jim!" says Bones, looking actually somewhat happy to see him.
"Uncle Jim!" says a younger, sweeter voice, and the nine-year-old Joanna McCoy is hoisted onto Bones's lap.
"Jo wanted to say hi," says Bones.
Bullshit, Jim doesn't say, because he does have some sense of restraint. Instead he pastes on a fake smile. "Hey, Jojo. How's school?"
Joanna wrinkles her nose. "Boring," she says. "They won't let me do geometry. They say it's too advanced."
"Joss's working on getting her into an advanced program," says Bones. "Don't know where the he – where she got the knack for math, since it certainly wasn't me."
"Dad can't even do long division," Joanna confides.
"Here, go help your mom clean up so we can start making dessert, I'll let you know when we're done so you can say bye," says Bones, and Joanna's face lights up again for the two seconds she remains on-screen. Bones looks after her, a warm glow to his face that isn't usually there. "Joss let me stay with them while I'm planetside," he adds. "I've never been so glad to cancel a hotel reservation. Turns out me and Joss get along a hell of a lot better when we're not in the same sector of the galaxy two out of three years." He turns back to the vidscreen, and his customary scowl returns. "Good God, man, what happened to you? Chapel told me you were doing better."
"I was," says Jim, grimacing. "I went too long between painkillers. I'll be fine." He immediately goes for a subject-change. "How's Jo doing? Other than being held back by school, obviously."
"You," growls Bones, "are entirely transparent sometimes, you know that? Try your tricks on someone else. What's going on? I thought you were going to be resting."
"So did I," says Jim darkly. "We've got surprise guests." He very briefly weighs the possibility of lying to Bones, but his mother shows no signs of leaving anytime before the Winter Reception, so it would be an exercise in futility. "Admiral Pike and my mom."
Bones's eyebrows fly halfway to his hairline. "Your mom? I thought she was across the galaxy."
"Funny story," says Jim, "so did I. Apparently she pulled some strings to get leave when she found out which ship was hosting this year's Winter Reception."
Bones makes a face at the mention of the event. "God, don't get me started on that dog-and-pony-show." His expression turns more serious. "How's that working out? Do you need reinforcements?"
"Bones," says Jim, equally seriously, "Chekov's handling – pretty much everything right now, actually. Do you think he'll hesitate for one second if I order him not to let your ass on the ship for the next five days?"
Bones sighs. "No," he says, "you've got him wrapped around your damn pinky but good."
"Damn straight," says Jim.
"But if your mom's there," says Bones, "you should think about talking to her. Christine said you'd refused a counselor - "
"Do you really expect me to let a Starfleet-certified headshrinker poke around my brain?" asks Jim sharply. "Also, don't you all have anything better to talk about than me?"
"No," says Bones, "and right now you aren't letting anyone within ten feet of your brain. Not talking about it isn't dealing with it, Jim, it's not dealing with it, and if you're not going to talk to me or Spock about, then you should still damn well talk to someone!"
"And what is it about my relationship with my mother that makes you think she'd be a prime candidate? Our lengthy and resounding silence over the past few years? The literal lightyears that've been between us since I was five? Just because she walks in here saying she wants to have an actual relationship doesn't mean I owe her anything." Jim sets his jaw, and waits for a response as Bones shakes his head slowly at the comm.
"I've got a radical suggestion," says Bones. "Maybe she actually cares."
"She didn't before. I don't see what's different now."
"Just because she couldn't be there doesn't mean she didn't care!"
"If she really cared she would've been there!" says Jim, louder and more forcefully than he'd intended. Bones looks as if he's been slapped in the face, and Jim abruptly comes to his senses. "Shit – Bones – "
"She cares, Jim, but God alone knows why – you can be a real ass sometimes," says Bones.
"Daddy! Everything's ready!"
Bones turns in the direction of Joanna's voice. "You want to come say bye to Uncle Jim first?" he calls.
There's the sound of distant footsteps drawing nearer, until the top of Joanna's head comes into view. Bones obligingly pulls her back up into his lap, and she waves ecstatically at the comm.
"Bye, Uncle Jim! See you at the Christmas party!"
Bones waves a bit too, albeit with an ironic twist to his mouth. "Remember what I said."
"The last part?" asks Jim, trying for a joke – it falls flat anyway.
"All of it," says Bones, reaching forward to turn off the comm. He stops his motion, adds, "But especially the last part," and then continues. The comm shuts off, the image blinking out.
Jim sags, letting his head fall into his hands, before the tugging across his abdomen reminds him of the painkiller that he has yet to take.
Sleep doesn't come easy; in his half-waking, wandering thoughts, Jim weighs his mother returning to his life and actively caring about him versus the possibility that the whole world is a lie, and when he finally does fall asleep, it's with one hand clutching the dully aching remnant of his wound.
His dreams are incoherent but vivid, sharing patterns of blood spatter – mostly a series of sensory impressions. The warmed metal of the knife against his palm. The torque it exerts against his hand when he slashes, twisting in his grip, and the way it slips back a little bit in the blood when he stabs. Colors, skewed and wrong – Spock bleeding red, Bones bleeding blue, uniforms changing shades without warning. He sees Scotty's face, first of many, mouth opened with surprise even as the blade slashes across his neck. Sulu next, a quick insertion through the ribs before he has time to raise any alarms. The breathtaking certainty that the world is wrong, and the only way to correct it is to destroy it, bring the setpieces crashing down around his ears and maybe the real world will lie behind it -
The thought is still in Jim's head when he wakes up - the world is wrong - and everything in his room is cast in an eerie red glow. For a second he really can't breathe, his stomach twisting in a way that has nothing to do with his half-a-week-old stab wound, and he has a moment of near-panic because he's out, he got out, it was a lie but he's out now -
A strange, shapeless blob floats into his field of view, and he recoils, or tries to – he ends up just twisting in midair, because he's floating about three feet above his bed.
"What the fuck?" he demands, although the facts begin slotting into place much more easily. The internal gravity's off, obviously, and the reason everything looks red is because some idiot designer thought that the best way to illustrate a red alert would be to have the lights literally turn red. Jim makes a mental note to track down the designer in Hell and teach him a few things about subtlety, preferably in unsubtle ways.
He hits his comm. "Kirk to anyone. Somebody respond!"
He waits for a response, only to be cut short by the sudden return of gravity. The impact with his bed is not too bad, luckily, as he manages to twist to avoid unfortunate pressure on his torso. The strange blob from earlier settles over him – his blanket. He tears it off his head and hits his comm again.
"I repeat, this is Captain Kirk, I want a status report from someone – anyone!"
Still nothing – the comms must be down, he decides. He stands up with a groan, and considers the pros and cons of painkillers: being able to function without doing his best impression of a hunchback in pain, or...well, there are really no downsides, are there? He grabs the painkiller container from his bedside, popping it open and swallowing one in a swift motion before he sets out for the bridge.
He's halfway down the first corridor when the gravity cuts out again. This time, at least, he has some idea that it could happen, and so manages to maneuver himself to stay on the floor; with a little effort, he continues his way towards the bridge, although he probably looks like a madman – arms and legs outstretched to the walls, inching himself forward on his back in a kind of upside-down akimbo soldier's crawl.
Gravity comes back and disappears again three more times before he makes it to the bridge, once even maintaining a strange half-gravity. The bridge itself is completely empty, all the consoles blank and powerless, including the main viewscreen. He gets himself into the captain's chair just as the ship loses gravity again.
"Goddamnit, why didn't they put a seatbelt in this thing," he mutters, clutching the armrests of the chair to keep himself in it. Another thing to bring up with the ship's designers, clearly.
Gravity reasserts itself, and Jim immediately tries the emergency shipwide comms. "This is Captain Kirk, all hands report to stations immediately, I repeat, immediately you guys – as soon as you get to a comm, call the bridge." A faint echo from the corridor outside tells him that the shipwide comms are indeed working, which is a mercy, and Jim waits.
It takes only a few seconds for the first call to come in.
"Captain, this is Gaila - I don't know if you're getting this, but I'm in sickbay, please respond."
Jim calls up sickbay's internal comm immediately. "Gaila, this is Kirk, I read you. What's your status?"
"Oh, thank God, I thought the comms were down," says Gaila, sounding relieved. "Well, visual isn't working, obviously, and something's playing merry hell with the gravity here - "
"Up here, too," says Jim. "I woke up three feet above my bed, like something out of a horror movie. Besides, the artificial gravity's shipwide."
"The artificial gravity system's shipwide," Gaila agrees, "the same as the atmospheric system is, but just like individual decks or sections can get depressurized - "
"That's a happy metaphor, thanks," says Jim. "Is anyone else with you?"
"It's just me right now," says Gaila. "But I sure as hell hope someone gets here soon - I can't imagine somebody hasn't gotten hurt by now."
"Are you hurt?"
"No, but I'm an engineer, not a doctor – as soon as anyone comes here with so much as a sprained wrist – Christine? Oh, thank God. Nurse Chapel's here."
"Captain, is that you?" comes Christine Chapel's voice.
"Nurse Chapel, are you hurt?"
"No, but Crewman Biggs is with me, with a broken fibula at the very least. I have no intention of leaving sickbay for the foreseeable future, so anyone who's injured can be sent – oh, for Christ's sake." Jim secures his grasp on the captain's chair as the gravity fails again. "Is there any way to fix this damn thing?"
"Working on it," says Jim tightly. "Gaila, you still there?"
"Aye, aye, Captain," says Gaila. "Just watching the equipment I just inventoried float its way into chaos. I've had nightmares like this."
"Thing is, Gaila," says Jim, "with the skeleton crew we've got, you're the most senior engineer aboard. Meaning that you're Acting Chief Engineer in a time of crisis – like, say, right now. I need a status report, ASAP."
"Well, at a glance, I can tell you that power's not the problem."
Jim glances at the dark, empty screens and readouts all around him. "Really? Because from where I'm sitting, it looks like the problem is that everything's off." He lets out a slight whuff of pain as gravity turns back on. "Some of it intermittently, I admit, but - "
"Power's definitely a problem," Gaila agrees, "but not the central one – we're looking at a software issue, not hardware. The artificial gravity system doesn't work off the main power lines, or even auxiliary – it's a self-sustaining system, with levels of entropy and inefficiency so low as to be negligible unless you're looking at a timescale of decades. But it's still governed by programming, same as everything else on this ship – the only way to get at the power and the gravity at the same time is through the code, and that's not Engineering's department."
Nurse Chapel's voice, again: "Well, whose department is it, then?"
Jim grits his teeth. "Spock's. Gaila, I want you - " He hesitates, weighing the advantages of Gaila at the bridge against the risks of taking a turbolift three decks with unstable and unpredictable gravity. "Gaila, I want you to stay there. See if you can patch into the system and figure out what's going on. If the gravity and power are being messed with, there's no telling what else might go wrong. Kirk out." He switches off that frequency, and immediately the computer chimes another incoming transmission – three, in fact, and Jim remembers that the shipwide systems can only have one frequency open per comm. Damn.
He keys in the overhead frequency. "Let me rephrase that," he says. "Ensign Chekov, Admiral Pike, and Commander Kirk, page frequency 662." He does so himself, and immediately hears a welcome voice.
" - said to call bridge, so we call the bridge, he says 662, we call 662, and if he says to jump off cliff, we say how high of a cliff sir!" comes Chekov's voice, clearly agitated.
"Uh, no cliffdiving today, Ensign," says Jim, blinking.
"Sir!" says Chekov, clearly surprised. "No – the – the cliff is metaphorical, sir."
"What are our orders, sir?" comes Rao's voice.
Jim frowns. "Where are you two?"
"My quarters, sir," answers Chekov immediately, this time slightly embarrassed. "We were, ah, discussing your leadership style. Sir."
"Right," says Jim. "Your quarters are, what, three decks down from the bridge?"
"There's a turbolift if you need me, Captain," says Chekov.
"Turbolifts are too dangerous in variable gravity," says Rao. "Unless you want to go splat against the ceiling when suddenly the force exerted on the lift isn't being counterweighted by the ship's artificial gravity."
"She's right, Ensign," says Jim. "Stay there for now. If I need you in the bridge, we'll - "
"Jim?" Winona's voice comes onto the frequency. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," says Jim. "Where are you?"
"In my guest quarters," she says. "I didn't want to try using the turbolifts - "
"Good call," says Jim. "Are you any good at coding?"
"You think this is a coding problem?" she asks. "Well, I guess that would make sense, if it's affecting the artificial gravity and power both. How was our orbit? Do we have to worry about degradation?"
"We had reached stable orbit – the thrusters were only being used for occasional modifications," says Chekov. "We'll have to worry about dying of old age before we worry about our orbit decaying."
"That's comforting, Chekov, thanks," says Jim. "Mom – Commander - whatever, can you see what you can do about the code?"
"I would," says Winona, "except that I took a look at the computers earlier. The Enterprise works on a different operating system than any of the other ships I've served on – it looks like a new version, but it's completely incomprehensible."
"The Enterprise is the beta for the system," Rao says. "And Admiral Pike has already received several strongly-worded complaints to that effect from the Science Department here."
"Including Spock?" asks Jim, curious despite himself.
"Yes," Rao admits. "His was very...polite."
"Sounds like Spock," Jim agrees. "Okay, so you can't fix it. Damn." He drums his fingers against the arms of the captain's chair, then abruptly stops as the ship loses gravity. Again. "Oh, god damn it. Okay, Mom – stay where you are. Tie yourself to the bed, whatever it takes – if you get hurt...Pike'll have my ass."
Winona snorts. "True."
"Chekov, Rao – work on getting shipwide computers back up, but stay on your deck. I don't want any of you falling down any turbolifts – that's one cliff that's staying firmly metaphorical, am I clear?"
Jim checks his chrono. "Where the hell is Admiral Pike?" he wonders.
"Speak of the devil, and the devil, he shall appear," comes Pike's voice.
Jim stares at the light of his comm. "How long have you been on this channel?" he demands.
"Just long enough to hear the best straight line I've ever been given in my life," says Pike. "Where do you need me?"
Jim hesitates. "You're the ranking officer in this situation," he says slowly. "Technically, you're in command."
"It's your ship," Pike points out.
"It's your fleet," Jim counters.
"That means I get to delegate. This one's all yours, Captain."
Jim nods to himself. "Right. Okay." He clears his throat. "Our first priority should be fixing the turbolifts. I'm ordering a complete evacuation of decks thirteen and twenty-six by shuttles and transporters respectively. In the meantime, Rao, your priorities are going to be getting the computers to turn on – after that, make sure all life support systems are online and functioning properly, and then get to work on the turbolifts, if they aren't already fixed. Admiral Pike, which deck are your guest quarters on?"
"I'm not evacuating," says Pike firmly.
"I'd like to point out that you gave command to me," says Jim.
"One of the privileges of outranking you is that I can make you give orders to everyone else and ignore you when you try to give them to me," says Pike. "I'm on deck thirteen – I'll oversee the evacuation by shuttles. How many evacuees should I anticipate?"
"Good question," says Jim grimly. "Off the top of my head, I can think of about fifteen, but without the computers online I can't check the skeleton crew by deck."
"I'll expect around fifteen, then," says Pike. "Make the announcement."
"Yes, sir," says Jim wryly. "Everyone else, unless you're directly paging another area of the ship, keep this frequency open – the emergency comms will override it anyway. Chekov, your quarters are on twenty-six, right?"
"Captain, I will be more useful on the ship," says Chekov, his voice strained.
"I agree," says Jim. "But first you're going to work your transporter magic and evacuate the deck. Everyone's got their orders – let's get this done. Keep me posted."
"Understood, Captain," says Chekov.
"Yes, sir," says Rao.
"All right, Jim," says Winona, with surprisingly little debate.
Jim switches back to the overhead. "Everyone, this is the Captain speaking. As you can probably tell, we're having some trouble with our artificial gravity, and at the moment we don't know what other systems are affected. Turbolifts are officially off-limits – so far the gravity's only been switching between on and off, but we don't want to risk trying to operate the turbolifts in six-gee with people inside. I'm ordering evacuations on decks thirteen and twenty-six by shuttle and transporter – all personnel from those two decks are to report to the shuttle bay or transporter room immediately. Everyone else will be evacuated as soon as the turbolifts are dealt with. Senior staff are working on the problem – for now, everyone needs to stay at their stations and try to keep things from falling apart. Kirk out."
He switches off the overhead comm just as the gravity returns, and he winces as the half-an-inch fall jostles his still-sore stomach. Then he looks over at the helm, and gets an idea.
He's always been a fairly good hacker; the Kobayashi Maru was hardly the first time he'd gotten into supposedly-secure Starfleet programs. The issue here seems to be more that nothing will turn on in the first place, making coding something of a moot point; he's about ten seconds away from taking apart the helm itself when the first update comes in.
"Bridge, this is Admiral Pike."
Jim crawls out from underneath the helm and sits up. "Admiral, this is Kirk. What's going on? It hasn't been long enough to evacuate."
"No, it hasn't been," Pike agrees. "The shuttle bay's been decompressed."
Jim raises his eyebrows. "What?"
"Evacuation by shuttle's no longer an option, and I think this also rules out the possibility of an accident. The shuttle bay is designed to maintain compression in case of an emergency – this has to be deliberate."
Jim swears under his breath. "Which means this just got a lot more complicated."
"Exactly," Pike agrees.
"So what do you think are the chances of the transporter still working?"
"Slim to none."
"Let's see." Jim switches back to 662. "Ensign Chekov, this is the Captain, please respond."
Jim catches the end of a Russian curse. "Captain, yes, I am here. Something has significantly reduced the range of the transporter – am trying to compensate, but it does not want to - " He breaks off with another curse. "This should not happen!"
"Chekov, I want you back with Rao," says Jim. "You need to get the computers back - "
"Jim, what the hell's going on?" demands Winona. "The transporters aren't working, Pike just told me that the shuttle bay's decompressed, the gravity's gone all to hell - "
"Mom - " Jim hisses out a breath in frustration. "Just – not now, okay?"
"Captain – the range of the transporter has been limited, but we could still attempt to beam within the ship...?" suggests Chekov timidly.
"And beam someone right into a bulkhead," mutters Rao perfectly audibly.
"If you were trying it, perhaps," snaps Chekov. "I know this ship like the back of my hand - "
"Kids!" barks Jim. "Argue later, fix things now! Something weird is going on with my ship and I want to know what it is!"
Rao and Chekov both mutter apologies.
"Okay," comes Gaila's breathless voice, "I've got Sickbay systems up and running."
"How'd you do that?" asks Jim.
"I disconnected the network connection," says Gaila apologetically. "The room's not on the wireless network, since it's shielded from EM interference. It's not going to work anywhere else. But anyone who's hurt can be sent here now – we're having the same gravity issues as everyone else, but our machines aren't going to malfunction and we've got our own secondary generator."
"So you can't tell what's causing all this?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," says Gaila.
"Right," says Jim. He raises his voice a little. "Chekov, you said that you could beam within the ship?"
"Uh," says Chekov. "Da, yes, is possible, but not directly from a third location to sickbay – would have to be the third location to the transporter room to sickbay."
"Fine." He switches back to the overhead. "Attention all personnel. Any and all injured crew members should contact the transporter room – Ensign Chekov will transport you to sickbay for treatment. Use the emergency frequencies in the comms built directly into the ship – personal comms are not, I repeat, not functioning. Kirk out." He flips a switch on the console of the captain's chair, muttering to himself, "Jesus Christ, this job is like herding cats."
"Herding captains is worse," comes Pike's voice. Jim glances down at the console and sees that he did not, in fact, turn the comm off like he'd meant to, but instead switched to the open frequency.
"I can only imagine, sir," manages Jim. Then he frowns, and turns towards the familiar sound of a transporter, and sees his mother materialize in the middle of his bridge. "Mom? What the hell are you doing?"
"I thought you could use a hand, so I asked Ensign Chekov to beam me here," says Winona, heading towards the helm.
"Chekov," says Jim threateningly, directing his voice towards the comm on his chair.
"She said she could help!" says Chekov.
"You need a science officer," says Winona, ignoring them both. "I happen to be both qualified and present, which puts me ahead of most other possible applicants. How many science personnel are on board right now, not counting the ones working on hydroponics for the party?"
Jim puts off answering as long as he can. "Three," he says finally.
"There you go, then," says Winona. "I hope you're not going to ask me for character references or anything, because we really don't have the time."
"It would be hypocritical of him," says Pike. "I know for a fact he didn't ask Spock for them."
"What are you doing?" Jim asks Winona, as she ducks beneath the helm console.
"A little trick I picked up in my time aboard the Jumpcannon," says Winona. "Or maybe it was the Endeavor. There's a smaller power supply built into each individual console, to keep it running in case of smaller-scale blackouts from combat damage, but if this is a coding problem like I think it is, then it could be that each console got a shut-down message before the power cut, meaning that the power supply should still be full." She begins tugging out various wires, crossing them and un-crossing them. "We could get a good couple minutes of access before it runs out. And," she adds, "I apologize in advance to your chief engineer and helmsman, because this is not going to be pretty when I'm done with it."
"I'm sure he won't mind," Jim says absently, "he already lost his poker game."
"What, dear?" asks Winona.
"Nothing," says Jim quickly. He crosses to the helm and ducks halfway under before his torso protests; he stays crouched there until Winona pulls herself out from beneath it.
"There," she says, and Jim stands up again – only the helmsman's console is on, and it's glowing much dimmer than usual, but at least it appears to be working.
"Not bad," says Jim, examining it. "Okay, first things first - " He opens the trajectory projection.
Winona glances over his shoulder. "Jim," she says slowly. "Does that inward spiral mean what I think it means?"
"That's impossible," says Jim. "The orbit was stable – it shouldn't be decaying this fast - " He taps on the screen a few more times, and stares some more. "Okay, that's not right," he says. "Our velocity had a couple more zeros behind it."
"Can you check the engine's logs?" suggests Winona, and Jim does so, before cursing.
"There," he says, pointing at the last entry. "An impulse burst, decelerating us." He frowns. "But who gave that order? There wasn't anybody on the bridge – with the skeleton crew as light as it is, nobody's assigned to gamma shift..."
"Just because nobody's assigned doesn't mean nobody's there," Winona points out.
"But it was under an hour ago," says Jim. "About the same time that the gravity started to go. There's no way anyone would risk the turbolifts, and I didn't see anyone in the corridor - "
"And the order didn't necessarily have to come from the bridge," adds Winona.
"True," says Jim darkly. He walks back to the captain's chair, sits, and changes frequencies again. "Gaila, you there?"
"I'm here," comes the reply. "The fact that we're not tapped into the network means that we can't access any computers outside, well, this one - "
" - I'm working on it!" says Rao.
" - or any data from before the system went down – which was at around oh-four-hundred hours this morning."
Jim glances back at the dimmed console. "But you can access information stored before then?" he asks.
"Oh, yeah," says Gaila. There's a bloodcurdling scream in the background, and Gaila adds, "Sorry. Lieutenant Otero dislocated her shoulder – Christine had to pop it back in."
Jim winces, and Winona hisses in sympathy.
"Can you see whose authorization code was used to give an order for an impulse burst at oh-three-fifty-two?" he asks. "Or was that after it stopped storing data?"
"No, that was about two minutes before," says Gaila, and Jim can hear her tapping, although it could, he supposes, equally be Pike, Chekov, or Rao.
"Sir," says Chekov quietly, "I cannot help but notice – has been a while since the gravity has gone, yes? Maybe it is a good thing?"
"Feels like the calm before the storm," says Pike.
"Feels like it's gonna be a big one," Jim agrees.
"...was only a thought," mutters Chekov defensively.
"Okay, I've got - " Gaila breaks off, sounding puzzled. "That doesn't make any sense," she murmurs.
"What? Gaila, you got something?" Winona looks over at Jim expectantly.
"I – maybe," she says. "It's telling me – it says that the authorization code used was yours, sir."
Jim freezes. "What?"
"The Captain's authorization code," says Gaila uncertainly. "That's – it's what it says here, sir."
Sir, Jim thinks distantly. Weird how people get more respectful when they're telling you the last thing you want to hear.
"Someone got his code...?" says Chekov, in a very small voice.
"No," says Jim dully. "I don't think so." He clears his throat, over the roaring in his ears. "Admiral Pike?"
"Yes, Captain?" says Pike wearily.
"I hereby resign my commission," says Jim, "under the suspicion that I've been compromised."
There's a moment where it feels like no one breathes; Jim can see his mother's eyes widen, and hear Chekov's sudden intake of breath.
"Compromised?" Winona repeats.
"The Jallidar isolationists were experts at conditioning," says Jim numbly. "They had it down to a science. Every time an off-world official came to the planet, they were kidnapped, held, and eventually sent back to their ship, which inevitably didn't make it back to its destination. At least," he adds, "not with any survivors. Apparently they thought it sent a stronger message than just sabotaging the ships themselves."
"They conditioned you?" asks Winona, looking horrified.
Jim looks at her, eyes bleak. "Have you got a better explanation for all this?"
"But Commander Spock said you'd broken through it," protests Chekov. "And Doctor McCoy and Nurse Chapel said - "
"We're looking at empirical evidence that suggests otherwise," says Rao, then, more softly, "I'm sorry."
Jim's not entirely sure if she's talking to him or Chekov.
"Captain Kirk," says Pike heavily, "your resignation is accepted. Ensign Chekov, can you get a lock on him?"
"I will not send my captain to the brig," says Chekov stubbornly.
"I was going to say 'sickbay,' Ensign," says Pike. "I think at this point it's better if we keep the Captain sedated until all this is figured out."
"Oh," says Chekov. "I. Yes."
"I guess this is your can of worms now, Admiral," says Jim, refusing to meet his mother's eyes.
"Don't expect me to thank you for it," says Pike. "Assuming we survive."
"Chekov," says Jim, finally looking up. Winona's staring at him disbelievingly. "Whenever you're ready," he finishes hoarsely, and the bridge disintegrates around him.
Chekov is standing at the transporter controls, next to Rao. Both of them looked worriedly at him as he materializes, and Chekov comes around the controls.
"Sir," he says urgently, "I don't believe it was you. You wouldn't do anything to hurt us - "
"You're right, Chekov," says Jim, cutting him off. "I would never deliberately do anything to harm my ship or my crew."
Chekov catches the emphasis, and looks away.
Rao clears her throat. "Coordinates are set for sickbay," she says quietly.
"No offense, Ensign Rao," says Jim, "but I'd prefer if Chekov handled this one. He's done it before."
Chekov nods, still looking at the floor, but crosses back behind the console. "I would like to state for the record," he says, "that I still do not believe it was you."
Jim swallows thickly. "Noted," he says. "And thanks."
Chekov glances up, and nods once, sharply.
"Engage," says Jim.
And nothing happens.
Rao frowns. Chekov frowns harder and presses the button again, more forcefully. Jim gives it a second.
"Everything all right over there, Ensigns?" he asks.
"Uh," says Chekov. "Yes. That is, no."
"How the hell did that happen?" says Rao.
"What the hell did happen?" asks Jim.
"The transporter's range has been altered again," says Chekov.
"Approximately half a meter." He looks up at Jim. "The range was more than that when we beamed you here, Captain."
"Seeing as I wasn't standing right over there, I believe you," says Jim, stepping off the transporter pad. "Admiral Pike, are you there?"
"I'm here," says Pike. "I have to say, this is a pretty convenient failure of equipment."
"Admiral, please believe it was not me," says Chekov. "I would cover my tracks much better."
"He really would," says Jim.
"And could not be the Captain, either," adds Chekov stubbornly. "Unless he can jerry-rig equipment with his mind, and if anyone on the ship could do that, it would be Scotty, not him." He glances over at Jim, and shrugs. "Sorry, Captain, but is true."
"It could've been a pre-programmed subroutine, or an AI-directed virus," says Winona. "I'm sorry, Jim, but I don't think this gets you off the hook."
"Me neither," says Jim darkly. "Ensign Chekov, do you have your phaser on you?"
Chekov's eyes widen, and Jim adds, "I just want you to set it on stun and be prepared. We don't know what – what they could make me do."
Chekov looks relieved, and sets his phaser on stun. "Do not want to find out if shooting Captain is still considered mutiny if on Captain's orders," he mutters to himself.
Jim looks at Chekov, and debates lying to him and telling him everything will be okay. Chekov's nervous, definitely – these days his accent only gets this thick when he's either drunk or convinced they're all going to die – but Jim is getting surer by the moment that this is going to end badly.
"I think we need to get a clearer idea of what, exactly, is going on," comes Winona's voice. "Right now, we don't have a lot of information."
"Here's how it looks to me, given the information we have," says Pike. "We're a bit pressed for time, so you'll excuse my frankness. The Jallidarians captured Captain Kirk, along with Doctor McCoy and Commander Spock, with the intention of influencing Captain Kirk to return to the ship and kill everyone aboard. Although Captain Kirk appeared to break free to the conditioning on Jallidar, it's still possible there was another subconscious layer there, in case he should escape. Captain Kirk returned to the Enterprise, where the conditioning took hold and he enacted the sabotage, creating the situation we're now in."
"It still doesn't make sense," argues Winona. "I barely know the ship at all, and if I were trying to sabotage it, I'd just begin the orbit degradation and cut power entirely – then there'd be no chance of a rescue. And Jim knows the ship a whole hell of a lot better than I do – Jim, if you really wanted to bring the Enterprise out of the sky, right now, could you?"
Jim grimaces. "Probably," he admits.
"Then why the hell are we still up here?" asks Winona. "This whole thing is too complicated. Why mess with the gravity or the coding at all, if you have the full authority to go ahead and order the ship on a collision course without the computer asking a single question? Or to order the warp core to lose its own containment? Why worry about the transporters, or the shuttles – or for that matter, if it was Jim, why didn't the sabotage occur the first night he was out of sickbay? Or the first night he was conscious? Why now?"
"Maybe I'm an incompetent subconscious saboteur," says Jim. "Or maybe my subconscious is fighting the programming and leaving loopholes."
"Conveniently leaving loopholes that nevertheless somehow manage to close themselves as soon as we can actually use them?" Winona presses.
"Deliberately breaching the warp core requires voice-print authorization," muses Chekov. "Ordering a change of course requires voice-print authorization. Ordering an impulse burst only requires an authorization code."
"An impulse burst doesn't count as a change of course, even in a gravity well?" says Winona skeptically.
"Not under the current operating system," says Rao. "I'll, um. Make sure to file a bug report about that."
Chekov continues. "And nobody knows the ship better than the Captain – everything that is happening now feels like someone is poking around the systems, trying to figure out what does what."
"From what I was given to understand," adds Pike thoughtfully, "the previous victims of the Jallidar isolationists left the ships entirely intact, only killing the crew. Why change that now?"
"Maybe they never had to resort to Plan B before," says Rao.
As the argument continues, Jim sits down on the edge of the transporter. He feels useless, or worse – helpless. Every second the ship loses altitude, possibly because of him, and he can't help but shy away from every thought that crosses his mind, uncertain of whether it's actually him thinking it. The frustration is almost overwhelming, and he wants to punch something, but he can't tell if it's his usual impulse or something more sinister, sliding through his mind and using him like a puppet.
He looks up and sees Chekov, looking worried, and it occurs to him that that probably wasn't Chekov's first time trying to get his attention. Rao, standing next to him, looks similarly skittish, although she's also watching Jim warily, like she can't quite tell if he's friend or foe.
Welcome to the club, Jim thinks.
"If there's even a chance that I'm a threat," he says, "we can't risk it."
"But it does not make sense!" wails Chekov.
"I'm tempted to agree with Ensign Chekov," comes Gaila's voice, sounding strained. "He's right – things just don't add up."
"Like what?" says Jim, trying to rein in his sudden impatience. "The gravity? The way the orders came down?"
"No," says Gaila patiently. "Like the fact that there are eight more lifesigns aboard the ship than are accounted for by the skeleton crew and our visitors."
Nobody speaks for a long moment. Then Jim manages a shocked, "What?"
"They may not be on the ship," Gaila admits. "Or might not have been until recently. It could be that they were in a shuttle trailing behind us, in the lee of our warp – if they did that, they could get by with using virtually no power output, and we wouldn't be able to detect them. Of course, with the search radius I used for the portable lifesigns detector, it seems a lot more probable that they're actually on the ship at this point."
"Where did you get the lifesigns detector? I thought you weren't connected to the network," says Rao.
"I'm not," says Gaila. "There's a portable one in the emergency medkit here in sickbay - I figured if I got it working, we could check to make sure the whole crew's accounted for, just in case. Of course, now we don't know for sure – we weren't expecting more lifesigns."
"They're on the ship?" breathes Jim. Then he gets angry. "Those bastards are on my ship?"
"Do you know where they are?" Winona asks.
"The emergency lifesigns detector is only supposed to be used to determine how many survivors need to be rescued," says Gaila. "It's not connected to the network, and it doesn't have any schematics – it's not supposed to be used onboard the ship, since that's what the ship's lifesigns detectors are for."
"It was bad enough when I thought the bastards were just in my head, but they're on my ship?" Jim snarls.
"We don't know it's Jallidarians," says Rao, although she sounds uncertain.
"No, you're right," says Jim. "It could be one of those other races we've visited within the past week with a vested interest in killing everybody onboard."
"It would explain a few things," says Winona. "The reason the attack's been so incompetent is because they're unfamiliar with our systems. The gravity issues could be an accident – if they don't know what they're doing - "
"It's a very convenient accident, though," says Gaila. "Doing exactly the act of sabotage that keeps the crew confined to their deck, since who's going to risk the turbolifts or Jefferies tubes when the gravity could come or go at any moment? And most people wouldn't even dream of risking transporting within the ship – only Chekov."
"Is not that hard," Chekov mutters, smugly.
"So maybe they do know what they're doing," Pike allows. "Why reduce the range of the transporters, instead of just sabotaging them altogether?"
"Because the shuttle bay's decompressed," says Winona. "That means they can't use it, either. But if they know where their shuttle is, and have a transporter pad there - "
"You think they were going to use our transporter to get off the ship?" asks Jim.
"It makes sense," says Rao. "They left it up as long as they could, but once they realized that we were still using it anyway, they made it useless again – but still running, so that they don't have to do an entire system restart, which would take too long. If they've got control of the main computers, they can change the range back whenever they want."
"So they get onboard, cut the power so that we don't know we're falling, cut the gravity so we can't leave our deck, cut comms so that nobody else can tell us we're falling..."
"Starfleet Command won't be expecting a known friendly ship to suddenly fall out of the sky without any warning, especially not when it and pretty much everyone else is on leave," adds Pike. "And especially not on gamma-shift."
"Even if they did figure it out, a ship as massive as the Enterprise, what can they do?" says Winona. "Without any help from onboard the ship itself, you put in a lot of force and still get relatively little acceleration, and when you're trying to keep yourself in orbit, too, you're definitely not going to get a the sort of force required, to say nothing of the damage you'd incur on your own ship if you tried."
"How did they get control of the main computers?" wonders Chekov. "Or the Captain's authorization code? Perhaps they altered the readout so it said the Captain's quarters?"
"How much of your three days on Jallidar do you remember, Captain?" asks Pike.
Silence falls, thick and uncomfortable. Eventually Jim admits, "Not a whole lot. It – wouldn't surprise me if that's how they got the code."
"But you wouldn't - " begins Chekov, before a severe look from Rao quells him.
"Ensign," says Pike, "if you're ever in an interrogation situation, and I hope to hell you never are, remember this afterwards – everybody breaks. Everybody. It's just a matter of time."
Jim keeps his gaze away from Chekov. "Gaila, what's the easiest place aboard the Enterprise to access the main computers?"
"If you're trying to get both the gravity and the power, it's still a code issue," says Gaila. "Which means it has to be the server room. That's the only way to get both and maintain this level of control."
"The server room," repeats Jim. "That's...way on the other end of the ship."
"Thirty decks away from you," Gaila agrees. "Thirty decks down."
"Okay," says Jim. "So the question now becomes, risk the Jefferies tubes or take the turbolift?"
"Captain," says Gaila. "Jim. I just want you to know that Christine's done with all her patients, so she came over here and has been listening, and she doesn't look particularly pleased with the idea of you going."
"Chekov, do you still have that phaser?" asks Nurse Chapel dangerously.
"There are eight of them, Captain," Pike says. "And there's only one of you."
"Someone needs to go or we all go splat," says Jim. "Call me strange, but I kind of don't want to go splat."
"Sir, you can't go alone," protests Chekov.
"He's right, sir," says Rao, before taking a deep breath. "I'll go with you."
Jim stares at her. "Yeah, no," he says. "Have you got advanced combat training?"
"I led the Starfleet Academy Women's Lacrosse team to Interplanetaries four years in a row, sir," says Rao firmly. "We were undefeated all four years."
"Nobody's going down there," interrupts Winona. "One on eight - "
"Two on eight," says Rao stubbornly.
"Three," says Chekov.
"Ensign, I'm ordering you to no," says Jim. He turns to Rao, considering. "Four years of women's lacrosse?"
"Yes, sir," says Rao, her expression tight but fearless.
"Then I'm coming too," says Winona.
"No, you're not," says Jim. "For one thing, you're three decks above us – that's three more decks of potential death to navigate."
"Captain," says Pike, "I'd like to remind you that you resigned your commission."
Jim pauses. "Oh. Right." He clears his throat. "Well, I don't think I'm compromised any more, if that makes a difference."
"Can we really be sure of that, though?" asks Pike.
"Oh, believe me, Admiral," says Jim, his eyes glinting. "I'm way, way too pissed off to be compromised."
There's another short silence, until Pike says, "Ensign Rao, how would you like some practical experience in a combat situation?"
"I would like it a lot, sir, thank you," says Rao.
"Very well, then," says Pike. "Captain Kirk, I've changed my mind. Your resignation is no longer accepted."
"Thank you, sir," says Jim, and something occurs to him. "Right, here's the plan. I'm taking the turbolift down to the server room, alone – quiet, Ensign, I'm not done yet. I'm taking the turbolift down to the server room, as a Trojan horse – offer to surrender, distract them until I can get the transporter working again. Chekov, you beam Rao in and any other reinforcements that might be useful, and we kick their asses. How does that sound?"
"It sounds like the worst plan I've ever heard," says Winona. "You can't possibly be serious."
"If it doesn't work, you can say I told you so." He hesitates, and then adds, with emphasis. "I suggest we maintain radio silence. Kirk out." He turns off the frequency, and turns to Rao and Chekov, who are both staring at him.
"Sir," says Rao eventually, "that plan is suicide."
"Which is why we're not doing it," Jim agrees. "If they have control of our main computer system, then why the hell have we been assuming that our communications are secure? I should've thought of it earlier. Rao, you and I are taking the Jefferies tubes down. Chekov, you're going to hotwire one of the turbolifts to go down there on its own – they'll probably turn off the gravity, to strand us between decks, but since we'll be in the Jefferies tubes - "
"And if they turn the gravity up to crush you?" asks Chekov, eyes wide.
"Then the turbolift's still empty, and we'll just be really, really careful in the Jefferies tubes," says Jim. "I'm hoping they'll want to keep us in case they need hostages."
"Forgive my saying it, sir, but that's not particularly comforting," says Rao, looking pale.
Jim looks at her, surprised. "What makes you think that anything about this is going to be at all comfortable, Ensign?"
She looks even more disconcerted.
"Chekov," says Jim, switching back to Captain-mode. "Rao and I are going to try to take them by surprise and get the transporter working again. As soon as it's back up, you're going to beam them to the brig, and beam Rao and I out of there, you understand?"
Chekov does not look particularly pleased. "Still do not like this plan."
"Have you got a better one?" asks Jim. "Here, does Lieutenant Remedios still keep an extra phaser beneath the console?"
Chekov checks, and hands over the resultant weapon.
"Rao, you got one of your own?"
"Yes, sir," says Rao, her voice shaking a bit. Jim glances at her.
"You think you're gonna be okay for this?"
"I'm fine, sir," says Rao firmly, standing up straighter.
"Your asking me if I'm sure is not making me any surer, sir," she snaps.
"Duly noted," says Jim, setting his own phaser on stun. "All right. Let's go."