2274 "Furthermore, in view of the recent treaty between the Traxians and the Mietre, the diplomatic corps has seen fit to arrange a reciprocal agreement for dilithium found among the variety of minerals available on this rich planet..."
Commodore Hayes monotonous drawl droned through Jim Kirks brain without really registering on his consciousness, something that rarely happened to Starfleets most decorated captain. But Kirk was tired, so tired that his mind could not hold onto any single comment the commodore mercilessly poured out, so tired that he didnt even notice his chief medical officer blatantly staring at him from across the level planes of the conference table. McCoys frown took in every crease of Kirks brow, each dark circle under his hazel eyes, and all the stifled yawns, which the captain tried in vain to hide.
In an exhausting effort to stop the warring factions of Traxus that Commodore Hayes had mentioned, and bring them to peaceful cooperation, Kirk had just pulled an almost-constant 72-hour shift with virtually no rest, and it showed eagerly on every line of his muscular body.
Slowly, Kirk became aware that all eyes in the room were focused on him, and he realized with a surge of panic that the commodore must have spoken to him. He bit his lower lip momentarily, struggled to decide how to react, then simply held up his hand casually, indicating that he had nothing to add, and hoped it didnt make him look like a bigger fool than he felt.
But the commodore just said, "Fine. Thats it, then. Thank you for your help, Captain." He extended a ham-like hand toward Kirk and as the captain grasped it, the senior officer leaned close and whispered, "And get some sleep, Jim. You look awful."
An ironic smile touched Kirks lips. "Aye, sir."
Before he could turn, McCoy was at his side, long fingers firmly attached to the captains arm, guiding him away from the pale gray gaze of Commander Corbin, Commodore Hayes thin, but persistent, legal shadow for the past week, who obviously waited for a chance to speak with the famous James T. Kirk. Well, hed have to wait a little longer. The doctors scowl left no doubt that he had taken charge. Corbin stepped back, frowning in disappointment as McCoy steered the captain out of the briefing room and through the familiar corridors of the Enterprise toward Level Five.
As Kirk noticed a few glances from curious crewmen, he disengaged his elbow from McCoys possession and squared his own broad shoulders. "Im fine, Bones," he insisted, even though he could not quite mask the fatigue that cut through his tone.
"Yeah." The doctor did not try to take Kirks arm again, but remained doggedly at his side. "I didnt quite catch all of the commodores briefing. Could you fill me in on the basic details?"
For a brief moment, Kirk, who could not have repeated a word the commodore had said if his ship depended on it, considered bluffing an answer, then saw the glint in McCoys blue eyes and knew he was already doomed. Pursing his lips, he glared at the doctor for a long moment before he allowed the smile pushing at his lips to emerge.
"Okay, so maybe Im a little beat," he admitted. "Nothing a good eight hours of sleep wont cure."
They resumed their pace toward the captains quarters, and Kirk felt the draw of welcomed sleep. He wouldnt concede to McCoy just how tired he was, but sensed the doctor knew anyway. When they arrived at the door, Kirk glanced at his friend. "Come in for a drink?"
McCoy nodded. "And to make sure you get that nap." His eyes followed Kirks every move, saw the effort it took for the captain even to lift the decanter of Saurian brandy and pour two amber glasses full. As they sat in silence, McCoy carefully palmed the hypo he had sneaked past Kirk, ready to press it home when he had the chance, but he never needed to. The captain set his glass on the table and stretched his legs before him, somehow reclining in his stiff office chair.
Before the doctor could suggest that Kirk lie down, he saw his friends eyes flutter closed and heard his breathing grow heavy and even. Fondly, McCoy watched the tired lines etched across Kirks features smooth and saw the face relax into its soft boyish planes. He shook his head and scanned his thoughts over the events of the previous three days. Few men could have accomplished what Jim Kirk did by bringing those two governments together and averting a devastating war, and yet Commodore Hayes had assumed the bulk of the credit for the diplomatic corps. McCoy sometimes wondered if Starfleet knew what they had.
With a grunt, he rose and somehow managed to drag the captains dead weight to his bunk. He removed Kirks boots and threw a light blanket over him, then, with only a slight hesitation, clicked off the intercom, leaving the captain hopefully interruption-free for several hours. Hed probably catch hell from Kirk when he woke, but the doctor would willingly put on his mitt and take it, if was for the health of his friend.
Gray moss hung low from the trees like heavy drapes darkening a bedchamber. The oppressing heat of the day sat on the lungs of those assembled, making each breath a labor. Perspiration ran in rivulets down their round faces and they all fidgeted, anxious to be done with the meeting. The comments, so numerous at first, had died to occasional murmurs and each person there cast frequent glances toward the leader, waiting for a sign of dismissal.
"We cannot believe them," one brave voice announced, more loudly than she had intended. She dropped her tone, but continued. "They make their promises, but it means nothing. Can you not see that?"
Another voice, quieter even, replied, "Does trust not begin somewhere? If we do not trust, shall they? We have had two days of cease-fire. Maybe they are serious this time."
"Only because Starfleet is still here," yet another voice added. "When they leave, what is to keep them at their word?"
The arguments rose again, their dissonant strains echoing across the forest. Amid the cacophony a thin, reedy tenor somehow carried above all, and each voice silenced abruptly at the realization. Their smooth faces respectfully turned toward the speaker who stood slightly above them.
"We have come through a great deal," he began slowly, his thin chest struggling for air. Wisps of yellow hair floated about his head like freshly cut hay. "For years, we believed we were alone on our world. Then we discovered another civilization with a people similar in appearance, but different in beliefs. Still, we attempted to meet with them, share ideas, technology." He paused, his breath coming in gasps, and momentarily accepted the support of a young man standing nearby. "Just as our battles began, we discovered another disturbing thing: that not only are we not alone on the planet, but we are merely a small population in an increasingly crowded galaxy."
The crowd remained silent. These revelations were still new to them, still incredible enough to inspire awe. Taking advantage of this, the leader continued.
"The Starfleet captain helped us find common ground. Are we so selfish that we would throw away this opportunity because it requires sacrifice?" His small eyes met several of those in the crowd, those he felt needed special emphasis. They lingered on the large eyes of a woman who towered above the others, both men and women. "I cannot make the decision for you, but you must know how I feel." A skeletal arm reached for support as he stepped off the stump he had used as a podium and shuffled into the humid vegetation.
After a moment, the female spoke. "Dakel is a respected leader and he has guided us well in the past." Her dark gaze met each face boldly, faces different from hers, but bearing the same desire. "But he does not understand the Mietre. If we are to survive, we must not allow them power over us. We must remain strong, and that means not giving in to their two-faced compromise." Unsettled glances gave way to certain ones. "Who is with me?"
One by one, the followers lifted tubular hands with her slim ones in acceptance until all had committed their loyalty to her, and to war. She nodded, satisfied. Deep in the trees, a lone, thin figure bowed his head and wept.
A crisp ocean breeze caressed his face with just enough salt sting to make his skin tingle. He closed his eyes to let the warming rays of the sun enfold his body, lulling the aching muscles into relaxation. His entire being floated in contentment. Then, like a sinister interloper, a noise, irritating and persistent, crashed into his peaceful thoughts, pulling him rudely from the welcomed calm. He tried to ignore it, but it remained steadfast, growing increasingly louder.
Jim Kirks eyes flew open and he sat straight up in bed. For a disorienting moment, he tried to place the situation; his attention focused on the door and the annoying buzz filling his ears. With a curse he threw off the light blanket, wondering vaguely how it got there, and stumbled across the room. He felt like he had crawled on his belly across the Rigelian Alps; he knew he probably looked like he had. Straightening his tunic into some semblance of neatness, he managed to croak out, "Come."
First Officer Spock stood in the doorway, his bland features only momentarily disturbed by the sight that greeted him. The uplifted brow confirmed Kirks assessment of his appearance. I do look like hell, he figured, but in typical fashion, the Vulcan recovered quickly.
"Captain, we are at Red Alert. A Traxian group of rebels has attacked the Mietre, and the hostilities have resumed."
"What?" Kirk exploded. "Why the hell didnt you call me?" His eyes fell on the red alert light flashing mutely and he realized, before Spock could respond, what had happened. "Damn McCoy!" he snapped. "He turned off the intercom."
"A predictable act," Spock acknowledged. "Apparently, the good doctor felt that your rest was of ultimate importance." His expression indicated that Spock may have agreed, because he said, "And I regret having to disturb you now, Captain, but I felt"
"Yes, of course." Kirk passed a hand across his face and drew in a heavy breath. "What time is it?"
"0300 hours, ships time."
The fatigue settled more deeply against the captains shoulders. 0300! He had slept less than three hours! Three hours out of 72. "Give me ten minutes, Spock, and Ill be on the bridge."
"Yes sir. And, Captain, Commodore Hayes is waiting in the briefing room."
Of course. "Fine. Tell himask him to come to the bridge."
Corbin will probably be there, too, right on Hayes coattails. It wasnt as if the Diplomatic Corps advising attorney caused trouble; it was just that he was always there, and Kirk disliked people hanging over his shoulder with no obvious reason for being there. There were only two lawyers Kirk had ever liked. One, Samuel T. Cogley, had saved his career in a court martial; the other well, he had different reasons for liking Ariel Shaw. Besides, something about the rail-thin Corbin triggered alarms in Kirks renowned intuition. He hadnt yet put his finger on it, but something about Corbin just wasnt right. As Spock left, he dismissed those inconsequential thoughts and dragged himself to the head, wondering what the hell had happened on Traxus. It had all gone so well before, but the captain had been in enough situations to know almost anything could happen when two so dissimilar peoples attempted to cooperate.
He also realized that he could not avoid seeking out McCoy for a stimulant. Without it, the captain had no doubt he would fall flat on his face before he could even make it to the bridge. The sonic shower did little to rejuvenate him. After combing a hand through his hair and donning a new uniform, he reluctantly headed toward Sickbay, knowing he would receive a lecture from McCoy, but also knowing there was no other choice. The doctor would fuss, but he would cooperate.
"This is not acceptable! Not acceptable at all!" Commodore Hayes jowls shook as he paced the upper bridge.
In the center seat, Kirk said nothing, knowing it would do no good anyway. Mitchell Hayes had never been one to keep his emotions bottled up and the captain knew that after a good rant, the older officer would calm down and approach the situation more sensibly. Besides, despite McCoys grudgingly administered stimulant, Kirk barely held collapse at bay. Better not to waste his energy on something he couldnt control anyway. Instead, he spent his time pondering solutions to the re-ignited hostilities and consciously forcing back the exhaustion that hovered ominously over him, making an effort to throw off any evidence of fatigue. He was only partially successful.
As predicted, the commodores ire faded, and he came to rest just to the left of the command chair. Kirk turned to look at him and noticed with some irritation that Commander Corbin waited, at attention, by the turbo lift doors. He wondered vaguely if the aide followed Hayes into the head, too.
"I dont know, Jim," the commodore said in a voice pitched solely for the captain, although Kirk knew Spock could hear. "What could have happened? Both leaders seemed quite pleased with our arrangement."
From the corner of his eye, Kirk noted the lifted brow from his science officer, and suppressed a smile. Our arrangement had actually been Kirks arrangement, but he was quite content to let the commodore assume some of the credit, especially since that arrangement did not seem to be working.
"The leaders," he reminded the senior officer, "are not necessarily the ones responsible for this, Commodore."
From their right, Spock joined the conversation, rising gracefully from the science station and approaching them with his hands clasped behind his straight back. "Indeed, sir. I have been monitoring communications from the planet. The attacks seem to originate in one, possibly two, isolated areas of Traxus, indicating that a faction, perhaps acting alone, is...taking matters into its own hands."
The commodores jaw dropped and he held up his thick palms. "But, why?"
"As you recall, Commodore," Kirk said, pushing himself straighter in the chair, even past the ache of his muscles, "there were several, even at the peace conference, who still expressed animosity toward the other peoples. It is certainly not inconceivable to consider that one or more of these have initiated riots, or perhaps even a coup."
Astonishment washed over Hayes florid features. "Do you think so, Kirk? Is it possible?"
The captain was surprised. Had the commodore not even considered that possibility?
"All things are possible, Commodore," answered Spock. Hayes flashed an annoyed frown at the Vulcan, for a moment contemplating whether or not Spock was being insubordinate. Apparently, he decided the first officer was serious and returned his attention to the captain.
"We cannot let these rebels ruin what we have accomplished!" He ran a huge hand over his face, and spoke softly to the captain. "Damn it! Two months away from retirement. Did you know that, Jim? This was my last assignment." He smiled wistfully. "Got a little place on the Martian Colonies Im going to settle on."
Kirk smiled sadly at the older man, feeling for him even though he had always considered Hayes just another blustery paper pusher.
As if he suddenly realized what he was saying, the commodore cleared his throat, shook himself brusquely, and returned to the current problem. "Well, what are we going to do about it?"
"Or should we do anything about it?" Spock added, oblivious to the commodores sudden irritation.
Hayes stared, aghast. "My God, man!" he cried. "How can you even suggest that? The Federation is counting on this treaty." Behind him, Corbin still stood, pale eyes visibly indifferent to the argument unfolding.
In the face of such outrage, the Vulcan remained maddeningly calm. "There is the Prime Directive, Commodore."
For a moment, Hayes did not move; then he visibly deflated. "Yes, of course. Kirk, we have not violated it, have we?"
As amused grin flickered across the captains face as he contemplated the irony of the commodore asking him about the prime directive. But he considered the question carefully. "We have interfered, Commodore, with the natural progression of the planet. This contact could be considered a violation of the Prime Directive."
Hayes large face paled.
"However," the captain continued, "they did request our assistance, and we are obligated to respond."
The commodores eyes brightened. "Thats true! Thats true!"
"The question then, is a moot point," Kirk offered. "It is our duty to help these people since they have asked." No one contradicted him.
At the possibility of action, Kirk felt some of his fatigue drop away. "Lets get on it, then. Lieutenant Commander Uhura, get me both leaders and have them meet me at the same neutral sitethe space station shared by both governments." He pushed himself from the chair, swallowing a groan. "Spock, put together a landing party and send them to the transporter room in fifteen minutes. Oh, and you have the conn."
The first officer did not actually touch Kirk, but he stepped close enough to the captain to draw his attention. "I can lead the landing party, sir."
Kirk knew the concern was well placed, but felt a tickle of irritation in spite of himself. "Thank you, Mister Spock, that wont be necessary," he said evenly, his tone pleasant, but final. Spocks expression remained stoic except for the elegantly lifted brow. To Kirk, it was in indication of concern and slight irritation. The captain sighed. "All right. You come, too. Get your gear." No one else caught the triumph on the Vulcans face, but it was there, nonetheless. Kirk turned to Uhura. "Commander, you have the conn."
"Yes, sir," she replied as she made her way to the center seat.
The ships night cycle was just ending as Kirk and Commodore Hayes strode through the corridors toward the transporter room, Corbin close at their heels. Kirk could not help imagining his weary body cradled in the softness of his own bunk, or perhaps someone elses bunk, he thought with a grin, instead of preparing to beam down once again into a potentially hostile environment.
When they entered the transporter room, they were greeted by two security men, whose biceps and shoulders strained against their grey tunics and body armor, and by Doctor McCoy, tricorder and medical kit firmly in hand.
The captain stopped short. "Doctor," he began, his voice hard, "I dont recall assigning you to the landing party."
McCoy did not even blink. "No, Captain. It was my understanding that the first officer was responsible for assembling the landing party." He bounced slightly on the balls of his feet, a gesture Kirk recognized to mean that the doctor was holding an ace.
Still, the captain narrowed his eyes and asked, "And Mister Spock assigned you?"
"Yes, sir, he did." McCoy was so confident, it did not even occur to Kirk to doubt him. He turned to Spock, who had just entered, but before Kirk could muster any anger over that, a wave of vertigo swept across his vision and he swayed.
"Jim?" McCoy grasped his arm immediately, but Kirk shook him off.
"Im fine," he insisted, but decided perhaps Spock had been wise to send for the doctor. "Lets go."
As they disappeared in a silver shimmer, Kirk noticed the scowl on McCoys brow, and knew hed be hard-pressed to avoid the doctors close observation.
Sheera gathered her strength one last time and swung the butt of her spent rifle hard against the enemys head. A resounding crack and gory spray of blood rewarded her efforts as the attackers body spun, then dropped to the ground. She allowed her dark eyes to scan the horizon for more of the enemy. Satisfied, she dropped her eyes to encompass the immediate area. Twisted corpses, some with gaping wounds already attracting swarms of insects that feasted on the raw meat, were scattered over the uneven terrain. She failed to suppress the hot tears, which sprang up as she recognized the remains of some of her own followers among the carnage. The knowledge that she had been right, that the other side could not trusted, did not allay her overwhelming despair.
As the enemy swarmed in on them, they automatically fell into their well-practiced plan, scattering into small groups and disappearing into the surrounding tangle of vegetation, but not before a bit of serendipity was granted them. One of her scouts had discovered an opened crate of the alien weapons, phasers they were called, and managed to drag it with him on their retreat. At least now they might be able to match the Mietre if needed. She scanned the hideous scene, and recalled other atrocities performed by these attackers, atrocities done, not on volunteer warriors, but on women and children who had done nothing to them. When, she wondered, would it end? How could they stop such hate? Shoulders slumped, Sheera hastily gathered those closest to her and abandoned the field, grieving that they did not have enough time to bury these noble ones who had offered the ultimate sacrifice.
With his shock of yellow-white hair flying wildly, the Traxian leader shuffled as quickly as possible through the airlock doors and into the cramped space station multi-purpose room. The bright white walls, slightly curved at the tops and bottoms, created a tunnel effect, and Dakel had to make a conscious decision not to stoop, even though his head cleared the ceiling by a good half meter. His failed surreptitious encounter with Sheeras group weighed heavily on the thin shoulders and he wondered absently how a people that had achieved space travel and had built a space station together could not get along.
He dismissed these thoughts as he entered the room and shook the extended hand of the Enterprises captain, suppressing a chuckle at the sight of the larger humanoids bent against the ceiling that cramped them at under two meters. Several Federation officers had accompanied Kirk, including the hulking commodore and his ever-present assistant from the earlier negotiations. They sat at the oblong table and the Federation party heaved sighs of relief when their backs could straighten up.
As Dakel scanned the participants, he allowed his eyes to pass over the assorted undersecretaries and rest a long time on his adversary, the president of the coalition of the Mietre. Unlike him, Andar was young and energetic, his body round and plump with health, his shoulders thick, his sharp eyes alert, but, Dakel thought, not wise, not wise at all. He wondered how Andar would react to the rebels attack, if he would even believe Dakel was not responsible. Or perhaps it did not matter; Dakel felt responsible anyway.
The captains soft voice pulled them together. "Gentlemen," he began, then nodded toward a beautiful dark-skinned woman who sat to his right, "and lady. This meeting is to discuss the latest development and hopefully return to the amiable relationship that existed for a little while." He smiled, and Dakel saw again evidence of the charm and personality that had broken through years of animosity and brought them together the first time.
"First," said the captain, "Councilman Dakel is going to explain to us what has happened." He leaned back, indicating clearly that it was the leaders turn.
With effort, Dakel stood, accepting the support of Doctor McCoy, who rose from his own adjacent chair to help the frail man up. "I begin with an explanation, not an excuse," he declared, his voice almost like gossamer. "A rebel group, led by one of our former council members, Sheera, has apparently decided that peace is unattainable." He turned toward Andar and paused to draw a labored breath. "Frankly," he said, "she does not trust you and has refused to believe you really seek cooperation."
The young man stood indignantly. "Thats absurd! Why would we take such a step without true intentions?"
Dakel was surprised when the commodore nodded. "True." The young commander who had accompanied the commodore echoed the agreement.
Captain Kirk, still seated, also seemed surprised for a moment, but he quickly returned his attention to the negotiations and spoke directly to the Mietre leader. "Mister President, the councilman is merely relaying information to you; he is not accusing."
Dakel watched as Andars eyes narrowed, then the younger man sat, thick hands knotted into fists, but silent. The old man continued. "We have, of course, taken steps to locate and stop their group, but so far we have been unsuccessful." He failed to mention his earlier meeting with Sheera, in which he practically gave them the choice to fight or not. He had grossly miscalculated, thinking Sheeras logic would sway her to his view. But she had relied on emotion, and now he must face the consequences.
Andar had calmed down but his eyes still flashed. "And what if you cannot find them? What then? We will not allow attacks without retaliation."
Trembling with the effort to stand, the elder leader waved an apologetic thin hand and eased back into his seat, again with McCoys prompt assistance. "No, we do not suggest you do. Our only request is that you give us time to talk with them. Convince them to"
Andars broad face laughed. "You just said you cant find them. How can you talk if"
Dakel interrupted, looking directly at Captain Kirk. "We cannot, but I believe your ship has that capability, does it not, Captain?"
He could tell from the dark shadow that crossed Kirks face that the captain did not like the question. Without a word, Kirks eyes met those of his first officer and some communication passed silently between them. It was the latter who spoke.
"You are correct, Councilman," came the deep tones. "The Enterprise is capable of locating life signs; however, since all inhabitants of Traxus have the same genetic signatures on the sensors, we would be unable to separate the rebels from the others."
Dakel pursed his lips into a mass of wrinkles, then sighed. He would do what he could to help, even if it meant revealing a secret he had kept for twenty-five years. Of course, since the Humans were here, it really didnt matter anymore. "May I," he inquired, "speak privately with you and Mister Spock, Captain?" He saw Hayes straighten. He had forgotten about the other officer. "And, of course, the commodore, too," he quickly added.
If Kirk was surprised at the request, he didnt show it. He nodded and rose. Dakel noticed a slight grimace, which quickly disappeared. McCoy guided the leader into the side room while the woman and another officer in grey were left to entertain a suspicious Andar. The Starfleet aide just managed to stick close enough to the commodore to gain entrance to the private meeting.
When the doors closed, Kirk and Hayes turned expectantly toward Dakel and waited. Likewise, Spock and McCoy remained silent, following their captains lead. Corbin waited in the shadows, as usual.
"You can isolate the rebels," Dakel began without preamble.
Still, the officers did not speak.
"One of them is not of Traxus."
"What do you mean?" the doctor asked.
Shaking his white head, Dakel explained. "Their leader, Sheera, is not of our world."
"What?" Kirk stepped closer and took Dakels shoulders brusquely, then eased off as he felt the frail bones shift. "What are you saying?"
"Sheera came to our planet as a child. She was the daughter of a couple whose craft crashed on our planet. I found them, the parents dead, the child barely walking. I knew I could not let anyone find it. We were an ethnophobic people then, perhaps still, but her appearance was different, so I explained that it was a birth defect. My wife and I raised her as our own. She is my daughter."
Hayes practically jumped on his words. "So you had previous otherworld contact!"
Dakel noticed Kirks frown. He replied, "I suppose, in an indirect manner, but my wife and I were the only ones who knew until you came. We returned to the site, buried Sheeras parents and dismantled the spacecraft."
"Where are the parts now?" Spock asked.
"In the Ravine of Condor. No one goes there and anyway it is concealed under years of undergrowth."
McCoys grip tightened on his arm. "Do you know what race Sheera is?"
As the others stared at him, Dakel swallowed slowly, nodded, then gave them the answer. "She is of your race, Captain Kirk."
Kirks jaw dropped and his left hand grasped the table as if for support, but he straightened almost immediately and squared his shoulders. "How do you know?"
"She looks like all of you."
"There are many humanoids in the galaxy," McCoy suggested.
"If you saw her, you could tell."
"I hesitate," Kirk said, recovering somewhat, "to allow President Andar to fire on the rebels without speaking with them first to present our proposal. Perhaps if we talked directly to Sheera..."
"We?" McCoy echoed, glaring at the captain. "Im sure Spock could" But he cut off when he saw Kirks expression.
Dakel noted the exchange. "I do not know if it would help, but I will try to arrange it somehow. Without knowing where she is"
"We can locate her," Spock said. "As you indicated, since she is Human, her signature will be easily detectable among your people."
"And," Kirk added, his voice stronger with the decision made, "we can transport you to her position."
McCoy released his hold on Dakel and stepped to the captains side. "Jim, I dont know how strong the councilman is. I mean, maybe a shuttle would be better."
For a moment, Kirk looked as if he would deny the doctor, but then the lines around his eyes smoothed and he nodded. "All right. Spock, have a shuttle readied for a landing party. Ill lead it." He ignored the two pointed frowns from his officers and turned back toward the conference room.
Commander Corbin, who had remained silent during the exchange, now spoke, startling Dakel, who had all but forgotten he was there. "Captain, I dont believe you should go." He held up a hand as Kirk opened his mouth. "I understand your reasoning, but you are the commander of the Enterprise, and these are rebels, retaliating with violence. Starfleet cannot allow someone of such rank to place himself into danger."
Dakel could see the anger seething just beneath the surface of Kirks flushed expression.
The captain visibly gained control before he responded. "I...appreciate your concern, Commander," he offered, although it was obvious he did not appreciate Corbins concern at all. "But this is a potentially volatile situation. I was responsible for the original treaty."
Dakel saw Hayes frown at this and remembered that the commodore had been quite vocal about his own participation in the negotiations.
"And I will be responsible for restoring the peace." Before Corbin could speak, Kirk continued, turning toward Hayes, his tone now confident. "Commanders prerogative gives me that power to decide, as ships captain. Dont you agree, Commodore?"
Caught in the red tape Kirk had uncoiled before him, Hayes grunted shortly, then nodded. "But dont believe everything you hear, Captain," he warned. "Corbin is right. These people have killed and will kill again. I will not lose a starship commander to terrorists."
Dakel watched the exchange with interest. The thin aide had prompted the commodore to display more strength than the leader had seen before, but Captain James Kirk remained in control, despite the rank. That much was obvious. As they returned to the larger room, Dakel shuffled in last, feeling the incredible weakness of his failing body and wondering if he would survive to see peace with the Mietre or with his daughter.
"I understand, Mister President," Kirk was saying when he entered, "that your people have been attacked. I understand that you cannot trust an agreement until these attacks are stopped. Do you understand that Councilman Dakel is not responsible for these events? That renegade groups"
"I understand, Captain, that there will be no agreement until there are no more attacks." Andar stared with his tiny black eyes up at Kirk, defiance in every line of his stocky body. "We will take care of these ourselves if you cannot."
Kirk ran a hand over his face, then brought it down quickly, as if he had not intended to betray any frustration or fatigue. With a deep breath, he tried again. "Councilman Dakel is making every attempt"
"Thats apparently not good enough, Kirk."
The captain took a calming breath, then addressed the Mietre president. "We have a plan."
Andar looked dubious, but listened.
Kirk continued. "We think we can communicate with them, talk to them"
The round Mietre interrupted. "We have already talked, Kirk. What good has it done?"
Uncharacteristically, Kirks voice snapped, betraying his fatigue. "Are you that anxious to fight, Mister President?"
After staring into the captains unwavering gaze, Andar finally nodded. "You have only a few hours, Kirk. I am running out of patience. We will have to fight back, to protect our property, and not just with the rebels."
His stance softened unexpectedly and he turned toward Commodore Hayes and Commander Corbin. "To show we are willing to be reasonable, please allow me to send with you a sample of our finest beverage. I believe youll find it appealing."
Hayes glanced at Kirk, who did not respond, then nodded. "Of course. Thank you. I am sure we will enjoy it."
An aide to Andar then entered carrying a canvas covered rectangular box bound with twine. As he handed it to Corbin, Kirk stepped forward.
"Just a minute, Commodore." He gestured toward a security guard. "Open this."
"Captain," Hayes began in a placating tone, "I am sure President Andar has sent us no booby traps here."
Kirk turned to face his superior officer. Dakel watched carefully for signs of the young captain giving in, but could see no weakness in the firm stance. "I am sure he has not, as well, Commodore, but nothing comes on board my ship without being checked first."
This time, Andar moved toward them, his round hands reaching for the twine. "If youll permit me, Captain," he crooned silkily, taking the package from Corbin and placing it on the briefing room table. In a moment, the box was opened.
"See, Captain," the president said, "nothing but mijar wine." He drew out a long-necked darkened glass bottle and uncorked it. A faint aroma of fruit and alcohol teased their nostrils.
Kirk gestured once more and McCoy ran his tricorder over it. "Clear, Jim. A moderate alcohol level and some sort of fruit mixture."
"Of course," Hayes replied, picking up the box and handing it back to Corbin. "What else?" He glared at the captain. "Kirk, Ill speak with you in my quarters when we return."
The starship commander nodded, but did not seem at all intimidated, Dakel saw again. Perhaps this strong young man could talk some sense into Sheera, he reasoned. She was like him, after all, and when she saw that... Dakel held a great hope in the Enterprises captain, a hope on which his entire world rested.
James T. Kirk had been dressed down in his day on a few occasions. Most of the time he didnt deserve it. Once or twice he deserved more. And as an admiral at Starfleet Operations, hed given his share of oral reprimands. On this occasion, with the confidence of having made the right decision, he stood calmly while Commodore Hayes shook with rage. A disturbing maroon flush rose in the older mans face, and he did not seem to be trying very hard to control his anger.
"Just what the hell did you think you were doing, Mister?" he demanded.
Kirk could tell he was not going to pause long enough for an answer, so he didnt attempt one.
"You insulted President Andar. Practically accused him of trying to poison us. I wouldnt be surprised if he decided not to cooperate with us at all. You have obviously forgotten who is the superior officer here. Ill be damned if Ill have a wet-behind-the-ears pup try to outshine me in front of my staff. Who do you think you are?" His tirade came to an abrupt halt, his bloodshot eyes glared only inches away from Kirks face.
Only a tightening of his lips betrayed Kirks anger. Barely resisting the urge to remind the commodore in no uncertain terms that he was hardly wet behind the ears, especially having been in charge of Starfleet Operations for two and a half years before resuming command of the Enterprise, the captain took a long moment to call on a few handy Vulcan techniques and maintained a steady gaze.
With a momentary silence from his attacker, Kirk finally offered, "Commodore, it is my duty, as captain of this vessel, to protect her and my crew, including you, sir, from any possible threats, whether real or perceived."
In the face of Kirks measured response, the commodore calmed somewhat. "How can you even think Andar would try to harm us? What could he possibly gain?"
"Regulations state" Kirk began.
Hayes waved a ham-like fist in the air. "Regulations be damned! You cant go by the book always, Captain."
Kirk suppressed a smile at this ironic statement. Obviously, Hayes was not well researched on James T. Kirk and his command record. He could be called many things, but, just in the case of wet behind the ears, "by-the-book" wasnt one of them. The commodore had moved to the small safe and removed a blue velvet box with the Starfleet emblem emblazoned on it. He opened it and displayed the contents for Kirk to see. Inside rested a small medal, along with the citation that had accompanied it when it was presented.
Kirk glanced over it, noticing that the engraver must have had a difficult time fitting all of the commodores four names on the limited surface space. He remembered the unusual look Hayes had given him at the reception to sign the first Traxian-Meitre Treaty, when he wore his dress uniform that displayed the almost-embarrassing array of decorations he, himself, owned.
Hayes hostility became much clearer now. "I have served Starfleet for thirty years, Kirk," he murmured. "Thirty years, and this is all I have to show for it. A second-class medal and a sleeve full of service stripes."
The captain shifted his gaze, unsure of the route the conversation was now taking. He risked a comment. "Commodore, I am sure Starfleet values you a great deal. The diplomatic corps has always been a thankless position."
Hayes laughed, but it contained no humor. "Yes. I am sure they do. You young space jockeys dash heroically around, shoot a few Klingons out of the sky, and they canonize you. Youngest captain in history. Youngest admiral in history. Me, I work my tail off trying to keep things peaceful so you guys dont have to risk your lives, and no one notices, or cares." Self-pity oozed through his voice.
Ignoring the additional slight about space jockeys, Kirk dropped his formal stance and moved toward his superior officer. "Thats not true, sir," he said, trying to put more sincerity in his words than he felt. "You are well-known as an accomplished diplomat." He was pushing that fact, but figured it didnt really matter.
All of the anger and bluster had vanished now. Hayes placed a heavy hand on Kirks shoulder. "Look, uh, Captain. Maybe you were right back there to check those bottles. I guess I just wanted everything to work out and its falling apart now." He caught the captains eye. "Dont ever leave your ship again, Captain Kirk. You made that mistake once. Dont let them take her from you again. If you do, youll end up like me." This last was whispered so that Kirk had to strain to hear. Before he could respond. Hayes waved him out of his cabin. The last thing Kirk saw was the hulking figure hunched pitifully over his desk.
As the shuttle cruised through the atmosphere of Traxus, its hull gleaming white against the blue sky, Jim Kirk breathed deeply, trying to feel the oxygen flowing to his fingertips and toes, willing McCoys latest stimulant to propel him from the pull of exhaustion into the anticipation of meeting the rebel leader. After the pathetic scene in Hayes cabin, he had easily managed to side-step the commodores objections to the mission. Still, it had been galling to have to defend his reasons, especially in front of Corbin, who had instigated the entire conversation. He couldnt imagine why Hayes put up with the arrogant little wimp. That attitude wouldnt last long under Jim Kirks command. Neither officer had volunteered to come along, and Kirk certainly had not suggested it. He actually looked forward to some relief from their constant presence, even at the price of dealing with the Traxan rebels.
Lieutenant Commander Sulu, Chief Helmsman of the Enterprise, piloted the maneuverable shuttlecraft between a grove of trees, which closely resembled the great spruces of North America, and a gently sloping meadow. Before they could emerge, the helmsman noted, "Captain, life forms thirty meters ahead at the edge of the trees."
"All right," Kirk said, "Phasers on stun. Ill go first. McCoy, you help the councilman."
When the doors shooshed open, Kirk peered hard into the lush blue-green needles. For a long moment, nothing moved. He stepped onto the ground, his hands raised to show he was unarmed. Sulu crouched behind him in the shuttle, phaser drawn.
"Sheera," Kirk called. "Im James Kirk, Captain of the Enterprise. I have brought Dakel. We want to talk with you." He waited a beat, trying to discern a movement among the branches. Then, the limbs parted, and a slight form stepped into the open, flanked by four thick guards, weapons ready.
Kirks breath caught as he couldnt help staring at the woman before him, the Human woman. He had no doubts now. In sharp contrast to the rounded, tubular bodies of her comrades, her form was slender and fine, her face delicately structured. Wavy auburn hair haloed a pair of emerald eyes. She was one of the most beautiful women Kirk had ever seen, and she was staring back at him, jaw hanging. He realized this must be her first encounter with her own species. To have lived your entire life among people completely different, and then discover you were not even of the same planet must be quite a shock, he figured.
To her credit, she managed to draw her shoulders back and demand, "Where is Dakel?"
"Here." With McCoys help, the leader stepped into sight and somehow the captain regained awareness to turn and lend a strong arm to lower Dakel to the ground.
Her eyes acknowledged him with respect, even in their current situation. "You are wasting your time," she said, although her tones were soft, unharsh. "We are right."
Kirk moved closer, hands out again in supplication. "Sheera, let us help you. We can talk with Andar. He has promised"
Sheeras gentle tone hardened instantly. "His promises are not worth bachan spit." Although he was unfamiliar with that fauna, Kirk comprehended her meaning easily. "We cannot trust him. He has already attacked our camps, killed our people."
She stared at him again. As the fire blazed in her eyes, Kirk forced himself to respond calmly. "Andar claims that you attacked him."
Sheera smiled, but it was not a pleasant expression. "Of course he does. Why should he suddenly become honest just because the all-powerful Starfleet captain has arrived?"
Kirk drew a deep breath to push past his impulse of anger at her hostility, and offered one of his most charming smiles. He saw McCoys brow lift. "If what you say is true, we will need proof. One of us will stay here, live with your people for a few days. If Andar attacks, we will be able to defend you, send a transmission to the ship."
He knew already who would stay, and sensed that McCoy realized his intent, because the doctor scowled at him. Kirk ignored the glare of blue eyes, and instead concentrated his attention on the attractive green ones. As their gazes locked, he felt a spark leap between them, knew that she was intrigued by this new discovery of Humans despite her cool facade. It was she who broke the stare to draw a deep breath. Even then, she remained silent for a long time.
Dakel, perhaps seeing an opportunity, added, "Give them the chance, Sheera, to save our planet." He played what Kirk realized was his ace. "I would like to see peace before my time comes."
Sheera winced. That was hitting below the belt, but it worked. She turned back to Kirk. "Fine, but you will soon see how it is. We do not live in comfort, Captain."
Kirk smiled. "We do not expect any."
From his right, a gravelly voice cleared and Kirk turned toward it. "Captain, I would like to know who you plan to choose to stay. I think Commander Sulu"
"Doctor, Ill select the crewman. Youll need the lieutenant commander to pilot back to the ship, and you will help the councilman. That leaves me"
"Jim!" He steered Kirk away from the others. "Jim, youre dead on your feet. How much longer do you think you can last? What kind of help would you be?"
"Thats enough, McCoy!" the captain snapped. Sheera looked toward them in surprise, and Kirk lowered his voice. "Im all right, Doctor."
McCoys voice remained equally low, but it carried finality. "The hell you are. Ill make it a medical order, Captain."
For a long moment, Kirk glared at his match, contemplating his chances with his chief medical officer. Finally, he relaxed, and felt the weariness push at his shoulders. "All right. Well keep two security, you, and me. That will show Sheera were sincere and Sulu can return Councilman Dakel." And you can catch me when I fall, he mentally supplied to the doctor.
"Well," McCoy drawled, "what if Dakel wants to stay?"
"Well let him choose."
"I dont like it, but"
Kirk moved away from the doctor and approached the frail councilman who had laid a thin, translucent hand on his daughters arm. Although he did not want to intrude on their private moment, Kirk realized his twenty-four hours were ticking by.
"Excuse me, Councilman, Sheera," he said gently. For the first time, the woman looked at him without the hostility she seemed to harbor before. He wondered briefly what Dakel had said to her.
"We are prepared to stay with you," he explained. "Do you wish to remain, Councilman, or have our pilot return you to your home?"
The pale, watery eyes seemed sad as he shook his head. "I regret, Captain, that my strength will not permit me to remain, much as I desire it." He grasped Sheeras hand, which dwarfed his own. "Remember what I said, and...take care in all your journeys."
She nodded, tears brimming, and their hands slid apart slowly. With McCoys help, Dakel shuffled back to the shuttle.
Giving Sheera a moment to compose herself, Kirk watched her father leave. When he turned, she was watching him. "Your father is quite a man," he said.
She nodded, and Kirk saw a very faint smile lift her lips. Whatever it was Dakel had said, Kirk was grateful for the change in attitude.
For a short, pudgy man, Andar could move very quickly when he had to, and circumstances had just propelled him from his overstuffed chair to glare with significant intimidation at the messenger. "What? Kirk did what?"
Swallowing, the hapless young Mietre somehow resisted the urge to back up, and remained at attention, repeating his information. "Reports have been received, sir, that a group from the Federation ship, led by Captain Kirk, is in the rebel camp. They intend to stay to see who is the aggressor in this war." He chanced a glimpse at Andars scowling features, didnt like what he saw, and swallowed again, eyes fixed straight ahead.
The president had almost forgotten his messenger, though. Now he paced furiously, talking to himself with increasing volume. "He lied to me. I didnt know he was going there. Who does he think he is," he roared, "interfering with our plans? Hell ruin everything!"
He stopped, the rich cloak waving back and forth for a moment longer until it decided to rest with its wearer. "You, boy."
The messenger clicked his heels crisply.
"Get out now, and if I hear that youve discussed any of this with anyone, youll be in the next group that meets those rebels."
The messenger nodded once, then turned on a heel and exited. Andar took a moment to calm himself, then strode to a native tapestry hung against the wall. Sliding behind it, he reached into his robes, removing the speaking device his contact had given him. In a moment, a soft voice responded.
"Is it true?" Andar prompted. "Is Kirk in the rebel camp?" He swore at the answer, then continued. "Does he suspect anything? Of course, he cant be allowed to leave. If they find outYes, yes, of course, butDont you think theyll investigate?"
The voice on the other end continued to speak quietly. He listened for a few moments, then smiled. "Yes. Thats perfect. Give me the position." He cackled with dark glee. "You can do that? They wont be able to track them? Excellent! Theyll be unwitting causes of their captains demise."
He paused, listening; then his face frowned. "I dont care. Its too late now. It must be done. Kirk is too dangerous. You have to know that, dont you?" A satisfied smirk replaced the frown. Youll take care of it, then? What? No, I told you not to worry. Therell be no connection to you. Our agreement stands."
Finally, the decision was made. Andar almost laughed at the thought of the mighty Federation throwing their resources gladly to him when they learned of the tragic death of the illustrious Captain James T. Kirk and his landing party at the hands of the rebels. Gleefully, he called in another messenger.
The smothering heat of the Traxus day evaporated at sunset, replaced by cool, refreshing breezes. Suffering from the cumulative effects of exhaustion and stimulants, Jim Kirk fought to keep his mind on what Sheera was saying. They had arrived at the rebel camp, hiking a good five kilometers from the beam-down site, an easy walk for the captain usually, but he found himself stumbling frequently over flat ground. The captain knew that Dakel, who had wisely chosen not to accompany them, could never have made it. Sheera glanced toward him once or twice, but he could not tell if it were more for curiosity or irritation.
On the third falter, McCoy grabbed Kirks arm and levered him back to his feet. "Lets take a break, Jim. Let you sit for a minute."
The captain released himself and shook his head. "Im not going to be nursemaided, Bones. I can make it." He pushed ahead before the doctor could berate him further, but could still feel the icy darts of McCoys blue eyes boring into his back.
"Damn it, Jim. Youre not as young as you used to be!"
Kirk swung around with a glare. "Bones, Im only forty-one years old. Stop making me out to be some sort of invalid. I admit Im tired, Doctor, but Im more weary from your nagging than anything else."
Fortunately, McCoys response was unintelligible.
Finally, they broke into a small clearing, with crude tents scattered among clumps of grass and low bushes. Curious rebels peered from the flaps, their black eyes shifting from Sheera to the Enterprise crew and back. They had never seen any other Humans and now gawked openly. Sheera ignored them, and pointed to a ragged canvas at the edge of the camp.
"Your quarters, gentlemen," she said. Kirk knew he heard satisfaction in her voice as they tried not to be too dubious about their accommodations. "We dont expect any trouble tonight, since Andar knows the Enterprise is still around. But just wait. It wont take long." She ran through the camp routine, noting that the bathing area was a stream just down the hill and that meals were served when they were lucky enough to catch them.
As she spoke, the captain felt his body shutting down, refusing to be bullied by his own will anymore. "I think I need to sit down," he muttered. From a long way away, he saw McCoys face loom above him, felt hands reach for him, fought to remain conscious, to refuse to go down, but a tunnel of black moved in on him.
When he opened his eyes again, he was seated on a small canvas chair, his head in his hands. A quick look around revealed the two body-armored security officers and a number of Mietre rebels also assembled, with Sheera hovering behind McCoy. He was somehow pleased to see the worry on her smooth features.
"Its okay, Jim!" McCoy was saying. "I told you youd crash when those stims ran out."
Kirk tried to nod, but he wasnt sure he managed it. "Sorry I snapped at you back there, Bones."
McCoy nodded. "I deserved it. Im just worried, Jim. You need sleep."
"Doctor?" Sheeras voice, as well as her face, betrayed concern. The rebel leader leaned closer, her hand on Kirks sleeve. "Is he all right?" Kirk never heard the answer, because at that moment, a hypo hissed against his shoulder and blackness occupied his thoughts.
With a grunt, McCoy rose from Kirks side and flicked off the feinberger. "Exhaustion mainly," he explained. "Hes had practically no sleep for three and a half days."
Her green eyes widened. "Why?"
"Why?" Sheera felt the anger flash from the doctor. "Because of your damned planet, thats why!" he spat. "Because you people cant get along, and youre fighting each other every chance you get, and because its his job to stop you." He took a deep breath. "Thats why," he finished softly.
They had carried Kirk to Sheeras tent, some hundred meters or so across the compound. McCoys instruments told him the captain would be fine after a long rest, but he still would feel uneasy until Kirk came around again.
Inside the rebel leaders quarters, the soft flicker of a lantern illuminated the sparse furnishings, casting dancing shadows against the tent walls. McCoy was reminded of camping as a youngster in the north Georgia foothills. When Kirk had been gently deposited on the narrow cot, Sheera motioned for the doctor to sit with her in the field stools positioned by a folding desk, similar to those from Earths 20th century, pieces McCoy had seen in museums. She offered him a cup. At his hesitation, she laughed and drank from it.
"Only water," she assured him. "Anything else is a luxury."
The cool liquid refreshed him more than he had anticipated. After a long swallow, he set it down on the desk and met her warm gaze. Somehow, her attitude had changed from their first meeting. She seemed much more approachable now, and McCoy tried to figure out what had caused the difference.
"Your captain," she began, glancing at Kirks still form. "Why did he come if he was not well?"
McCoy shook his head. "Hes the captain." He really didnt feel comfortable sharing that Jim Kirk felt responsible for the 495 crewmen on his ship when he was in space, and the rest of the galaxy at all other times. At her frown, the doctor continued. "Your planet asked for help. Hes in charge. Hes not going to send anyone else to do something he wouldnt do himself."
She nodded in comprehension. "I see."
Eager to change the subject, the doctor asked, "What about you? Tell me about this rebellion. Do you really think Andar cannot be trusted?"
The green eyes grew dark at the mention of the Mietre leader. She stood and paced as much as she could in the tight confines of the tent. "Andar," she spat in distaste. "Andar is a two-faced coward who puts on the mask of a diplomat while he stabs his own people in the back. He has oppressed his own country for years; now he wants to oppress ours. Some have been taken in by him, by his slick voice, but they will see. He will ruin us and it will be too late."
She turned on McCoy, anger knifing through her tone. "Some of us refuse to let it happen. You will see. He will not be able to hide the murderous crimes even though he knows you are here."
Stunned, McCoy stared at her. If this was true, what could they do to stop Andar? The Federation would not look approvingly on Jim joining the rebel side to defeat another faction. But if Andar really were the aggressor...
"Sheera," he said softly, grasping her arm and standing to look her in the eyes, "you must know that we cannot help you fight, but the captain will do everything he can to preserve your world and help you all live in peace."
"Peace?! There will be no peace as long as Andar is in control. And we have suspected for some time that he has off-planet contacts. How we can compete with that, I dont" She stood over Kirks cot now, looking down. "I am afraid...you have come down here only to fail. Andar will attack, as usual, and I...I wouldnt want anything to...happen to you." McCoy had the distinct feeling she wasnt talking about him alone.
He smiled, even though she continued to look at the captain. "Well be fine," he assured her, then zeroed in on what he felt was her true concern. "Captain Kirk is..." He started to say, "Starfleets finest," but thought that sounded too cliche, even though it was true, so he substituted, "pretty good at what he does. If anyone can work this out, he can."
Suddenly aware that she was staring at Kirk, Sheera swung around to face McCoy. "Its just that...youre the first Humans Ive ever seen. Besides myself, that is. Until you came, I never knew I was...not of Traxus. I just thought I was...different. I had gotten used to it. It was a bit of a shock to see you, even after my father told me. Now I see people like me, and its...appealing to know that Im normal."
The doctor chuckled. "More than normal, my dear." At her lifted brow, he explained, "You are...very attractive, Sheera. Didnt you notice us staring at you when we first beamed down?" He had seen the momentary connection between Jim and this woman, and had been around long enough to anticipate the inevitable.
McCoy had to smile a little. In that moment, the hard rebel leader looked so vulnerable. A soft pink flush spread across her cheeks. "I didnt know it was because...I just thought...Ive always considered myself a misfit. I thought you found me so hideous you couldnt help staring."
The doctors chuckle grew into an outright laugh. "Darlin, nothing could be farther from the truth."
For a moment, they stood in silence, then Sheera said, "You must be tired, Doctor. The hike, and all the negotiations. Well be breaking camp in the morning. Why dont you get some sleep. We have a tent for you just a few steps down the path." She noticed McCoys eyes dart toward the cot. "Ill stay with the captain, and if theres any change, Ill send for you immediately."
He seemed to hesitate, then shrugged. "Well, all right. Im sure hell be fine with a little rest. Good night, Sheera."
She smiled and walked him to the tent flap. "Good night, Doctor McCoy. Sleep well."
When he was gone, she returned to the chair and sat watching Kirk for a long time. She had never had any real interest in the few Traxian males who courted her, and now that she saw males of her own species, feelings she had not known before were creeping up on her. Her eyes lingered on the captains face, traveled down his muscular body. It was not the tubular bulk of the Traxians, but a more contoured form, with broad shoulders and a longer frame.
She closed her eyes and tried to imagine herself in a world of Humans. She felt a kinship with these people who had suddenly appeared in her life, and the last thought she had before sleep drifted over her was that if Andar attacked again she would lead these new-found kinsmen into danger, a danger that was not theirs, a danger which might cost them their lives. The idea made her heart ache.
The head councilman of the Traxians sat, ochre head bowed, gnarled fingers fiddling absently with a set of prayer beads. It had been several years since he had prayed as earnestly as he did now. Even in prayer he could not resist cursing his own bodys betrayal of the years. Somehow, he knew that if he still possessed the strong, round body of his youth, he could have prevented this. Somehow, he could have stopped the killings. The pale, watery eyes lifted toward the sky, although he sat under the cool drapes of a canopy. Like Sheera, he really did not trust Andar, but he felt the obligation, as leader, to begin peace somewhere. There were too many hot-heads, too many who felt that everything could be solved through battle. Even Sheera, his Sheera.
As her strong, angular face swam in his mind, he recalled the time she had first asked about her differences. He had dreaded the day since they found her, knowing she would become self-aware. With a deep sigh, he tried to explain that some people just looked different.
"But who?" the young child asked persistently, her large, green eyes, so unlike his own small black ones, pleading. "I have never seen anyone as different as I."
With a fathers pain, Dakel nodded. He would try to be as honest as possible. "No. You are right about that, Sheera. You are unique, special. No one here is like you. That is an important thing to remember. The Maker of All designed you for a purpose." He paused, watching her features, features he had come to love, but features which drew instant stares from others. She did not let her gaze leave his. "We will watch, and wait for that purpose, my love. I believe it will come."
After that day, she had not asked again, but seemed to accept her lot in stride. Eventually, Sheeras natural confidence, despite her looks, drew others to her. They ignored her strangeness and drew her into their social realm, even placed her in positions of leadership. Dakel noted, with mixed emotions, that many of the young Traxian males searched her out for courtship. He did not think she returned their interest, but it was good, in a way, to know that someday, someone might look after her as he had done.
As she grew, however, Dakel realized that no one would ever have to look after Sheera. She had chosen to become one who looked after others. On the day she left to join the resistance against the Mietre, they had parted on bad terms. Still, Dakel held hope that she could see the futility of that effort.
The beads clattered to the floor, startling the councilman from his memories. Again, his thoughts turned to the starship captain. He had seen Sheeras intrigue with the new Humans, had seen her eyes linger on Kirk, and began his prayers anew that the youthful commander of the Enterprise could sway Sheera. Knowing his strength would fail soon, Dakel spoke quickly, appealing earnestly to the Maker of All to hear him, to save his daughter and his planet.
When the attendant entered to see to the councilman, he found Dakel asleep on his divan, the beads again clutched in the failing, crooked fingers.
A persistent chirping woke him. For a moment, he just lay there, taking stock of his body and its condition. His muscles ached, his head pounded, and his mouth felt like he had cotton stuffed in it, a hangover from the stims, he knew from experience, but the heavy weight of fatigue which had been so much a part of him for days seemed lighter. Considering it safe, the captain of the Enterprise finally decided to open his eyes and was surprised to find not McCoy, but Sheera sitting by his side. He took a moment to watch her as she slept upright in the stiff-looking chair, enjoying the soft look of her slightly parted lips and the shadows the long lashes cast across her smooth cheeks. Loathe to wake her, but knowing he needed to take care of some personal details, he sat as quietly as he could.
She was instantly alert. "Good morning," she greeted.
Pushing the headache away, he smiled charmingly. "Good morning. I must say this is a pleasant surprise to wake to."
He saw a blush creep across her face. "How do you feel?" she asked.
"Better," he said honestly. "How long have I been asleep?"
"Most of the night."
He pushed away from the cot and stood, but the sudden rush of blood from his head swept blackness across his vision, and he swayed forward. Sheera lunged to catch him, despite her petiteness. Her arms encircled his waist and even through the swimming images, Kirk felt her body pressed against his. After a moment, he could see. His first sight was of her flushed face gazing up at him, a clash of emotions battling on her fine features.
With effort, he cleared his throat and muttered his thanks, pushing gently away to sit back down.
Still flustered, Sheera kept her slender fingers on his arm. "Youre not all right," she realized. "Ill get McCoy."
"No." He covered her hand with his. "I just stood up too fast. Really." She looked dubious, but remained where she was. He was suddenly conscious of their hands touching and withdrew his reluctantly. Sheera moved across the tent, then returned with water and a small cloth.
"Here," she offered. "This might help."
Gratified, he took them, drank the sweet-tasting water, swirled it around in his mouth, and wiped his face with the cool, damp cloth. "Thank you." He knew he had not imagined the natural spark that had leaped between them, not surprising since they were the first Humans Sheera had ever seen. It was to be expected that she would want to be with them, learn about them, look at them. He warned himself to go slowly. The emotions, the confusion she must be experiencing would make her vulnerable. But looking now at her, her hard jaw, determined eyes and defiant stance, it was difficult to see any vulnerability.
"The latrines and wash basins are out back," she said. He nodded gratefully and disappeared through the tent flap. When he returned, she had tidied the bunk.
"Did you stay here the whole time?" he asked, although he suspected he already knew the answer.
Her auburn hair bounced once. "Your doctor needed sleep, and so, he tells me, did you. How long had it been?"
Kirk shrugged, not wanting to make his weakness an issue. "A few hours."
"More like a few days." When his head snapped up, she smiled. "The price of responsibility," she added, and he realized here was a kindred spirit, one who had lost sleep, too, because of duty. Their eyes locked for a moment, her flashing green ones, his warm hazel ones before he reluctantly dragged his gaze away.
"Well." Defying stiff muscles, he stood again, waiting out the dizziness, and trying not to let her see. "Lets see whats going on around here." With only a slight effort, he regained his balance before they stepped out of the tent. Sheera followed closely.
McCoy was the first to see them. "Jim!" he called, jogging toward them. "How do you feel?"
Kirk resisted looking at Sheera as he responded, "Fine, Bones. Good as new."
The rebel leader scowled. "Better, Doctor," she clarified, "but hes still a little dizzy, I think."
McCoys frown echoed hers. "That true, Jim?"
"Just leftover from the stims," Kirk assured his friend.
"Let me just check you out"
This time, Kirk stood his ground. "Later, Doctor. Im really fine, and weve got a mission to run. A mission thats already behind schedule."
McCoy seemed to consider fighting, then gave up. Kirk hid a grin of satisfaction, knowing it would only irritate the doctor. "Well, let me show you what Ive found, then."
They followed McCoy toward one of the tents. Kirk noticed the pitiful condition of many of the rebels. Their bodies, normally heathily rounded, had shriveled so that the skin that had stretched over the frames before now hung like fading drapes. Despite this, the fire of battle remained in their small eyes. With a surge of sympathy, he determined to find a way to help them, even if he had to challenge the Prime Directive...again. They arrived at the tent, stepping around several rebels lying by the entrance in various stages of injury. Kirk recognized the doctors touch on some of them, even though he had not brought medical supplies from the Enterprise. The captain knew McCoy would be pestering him for permission to bring down a protoplaser, and Kirk would be tempted to let him do it.
The doctor was bent over one of the rebels, pulling up a discolored bandage. "Tell me what you see," he said, looking at Kirk.
The patients entire right side swelled in a reddish-purple mass, angry welts streaking vertically from armpit to waist. Kirk winced in uncomfortable empathy, feeling the effects himself, memories from more than one similar experience.
"Thats a phaser burn," he realized aloud.
Nodding, McCoy waited a moment until the implications became clear.
As his eyes met the doctors, Kirk felt his jaw drop. "A phaser burn. Who the hell has phasers on this planet besides us? Spock told me these people are still using gunpowder."
"My thoughts, exactly," the doctor agreed. "But thats definitely what this is. And all these others have the same wounds." His arm swept across the tent to indicate at least fifteen Traxians stretched out on the floor.
"Those are Andars weapons," Sheera explained, bitterness dripping from her tone. "You see what were up against."
Spinning to face her, the captain grasped her shoulders and asked, "How long have they been using these? Do you know where they got them?"
She didnt answer immediately, only extracted herself from his grip and glared. Obviously, Kirk realized, she didnt like being threatened, no more than he did. He hoped the softened expression in his eyes conveyed his acknowledgment and apology. Apparently, it helped, because she answered, "I told Doctor McCoy already that Andar has outside sources. We dont know who, but they supply weapons and resources for him. We cannot hold out much longer against such forces."
"Damn it!" The captain glanced around the tent, then gritted his teeth, coming to a decision. "We have to find out who the supplier is. If off-world contact is that prevalent, then the Prime Directive doesnt mean anything anymore."
"And we can help Sheeras people?" McCoy supplied hopefully.
Without answering verbally, Kirk shrugged and took Sheeras elbow, relieved when she did not pull away. "Bones, do what you can for these people. Im going to talk with Sheera and her group leaders to see what we can do. I have a feeling were going to be in this deeper than we planned."
The doctor nodded in acceptance and returned to his ministrations over the wounded as Kirk and Sheera moved across the compound.
The temperate night had faltered in the persistent face of the returning heat of the morning. The Starfleet officers found themselves in a constant battle to keep the sweat from stinging their eyes. Having seen to the comfort of the wounded, Leonard McCoy paused in his study of the rebels limited medical supplies to glance toward the captain, who stood with Sheera and another rebel, listening to her gloomy predictions about their chances for success. His main concern, however, was Kirks health. He watched carefully as his friend wiped his brow again and pushed up the sleeves of his command tunic, wrinkling the rich braid at the wrists. Still, they all felt the heat, and since he had awakened, the captain seemed much more alert, in command. Briefly, McCoy wondered if Sheera had anything to do with that, then chuckled at himself. Even Kirk didnt work that fast. But one or two memories flashed across his thoughts, and he reconsidered the chuckle. Still, if the captain was back to normal, it didnt matter how he had gotten there, at least to McCoy.
Returning his attention to the medical gear, he shook his head in disgust. How could these people manage to defeat a technically advanced power with medieval instruments? If Jim would let him he would gather his own...
A smattering of sharp pops interrupted him, and he looked up in time to see the rebels scatter across the compound, diving for shelters, trees, anything to shield them from the forces that swarmed from the forest. Without thinking, McCoy flopped to the ground and began a belly crawl he had not used in years. His eyes searched for Enterprise crew, especially seeking one in blue, but the dust, kicked up and now swirling about, dominated his view. Shouts mixed with alien cries clashed in one horrible cacophony of sound. Desperate, McCoy reached for his wrist communicator. The ship must know. They needed help.
Before he could activate it, a heavy boot slammed down on his hand. The doctor yelped at the pain as the device was snatched from his wrist. Gathering enough strength for a lunge toward it, he was stopped short by the rifle barrel pressing against his forehead. He decided perhaps now was not the time to test his reflexes.
Lieutenant Commander Uhura tapped a well-manicured nail three times on her pad, anxiety growing as her fears that this was no faulty circuit were realized. No, the signal had vanished, as if someone had pulled the plug. Heart leaping into her throat with the implication of what must have occurred, she swiveled to face the center chair and its current occupant, First Officer Spock.
"Commander," she began, and the Vulcan turned instantly. "Something has happened to the sensors. Ive lost scanning abilities. I cant keep track of the captain and landing party that way."
The Vulcan rose gracefully and stood by her station immediately. "Have you tried a re-boot of the system?" he suggested. She nodded. "A re-route?" Another nod. "A"
"Mister Spock, its as if it was turned off. Theres no information coming in at all."
"And you cannot contact them at all?"
"Well, Im still trying the communicators, but Im not getting a response"
He nodded. "Continue." As Uhura returned to her boards, the Vulcan fought back what he could only describe as a feeling. He did not like admitting to feelings at all, but this one gave him an uncomfortable eeriness. A calm answer from the captain would remedy that.
Spocks feeling did not dissipate. On the contrary, it grew even more irritating as he listened to Uhura call for the captain over and over, with no answer on the other end. As their gazes connected, the communications chief met the Vulcans eyes and shook her head.
"Impossible!" declared Commodore Hayes, his generous jowls shaking with rage. "How can you have lost their signal? Weve been in constant touch since they went to that God-forsaken piece of rock." As his boss paced, Commander Corbin stood in his usual spot by the turbolift. He was hardly noticed anymore by the bridge crew.
Spock waited out the tirade, having witnessed the captains method of dealing with the volatile senior officer before. When the verbal avalanche settled, the Vulcan replied, "As I have already indicated, Commodore, we are working on the sensors even now."
This piece of information did not seem to satisfy Hayes in the least. "Whats talking so long? Ive got a Starfleet landing party unaccounted for. And not just any landing party, one with Captain James T. Kirk in it. Do you know how valuable that man is?"
The Vulcan, who did indeed know how valuable James Kirk was, not just to Starfleet, merely nodded.
Before he could comment, the commodore continued, "Why the hell didnt he send someone else, anyway? Whats the captain doing on landing party duty?"
Although he actually agreed with Hayes, a fact which disturbed Spock slightly, he felt duty-bound to defend his captain. "As you know, Commodore, regulations leave landing party selections to the captains discretion. Captain Kirk occasionally accompanies the landing parties when he feels his presence is...necessary." He did not add that when the captain did not beam down with the party, he nearly drove the bridge crew crazy fidgeting in his chair and asking dozens of questions about the group planetside. Spock knew Jim Kirk could no more stay on the ship than he could give it up. Still, the Vulcan wished his friend chose to stay more often.
"Well," Hayes mumbled, "we need to change that."
"That seems to be irrelevant at this point. If you like, sir," Spock offered, "we can alert you when we have re-established contact with the captain. Perhaps you could rest"
"Rest! How can you suggest that with our people missing? No, Ill stay right here on the bridge until we know whats happening." He planted his ample frame firmly by the captains chair and stared at the screen, which gave up no secrets with its view of the benign-looking planet.
Unfortunately, thought Spock. Having the commodores bubbling emotions so close at hand would be a distraction, not to mention the ubiquitous Corbin. Spock would not admit to irritation with the commander, but he would certainly not be disappointed when the mission was finished, and Commodore Hayes and his, what was it the captain had called him, his shadow, were gone. He glanced around the bridge and found that the expressions of the crew mirrored his opinion. Still, he did not betray his thoughts outwardly, but focused on locating Jim Kirk and his crew.
When the attack began, Jim Kirk instinctively shoved Sheera behind him. She pushed away, glaring at him, and then grabbed at his hand. "This way!" she called. "Hurry!"
"No!" he cried. "I cant leave. My people are here. Wheres McCoy?" He started toward the medical tent, but Sheera pulled back.
"You cant help them in this," she yelled. "One of my people will guide them toward a haven. We have them hidden around the area. Theres a plan already in place. Trust me." For a moment their eyes locked, his angry, hers wide and pleading. "Well regroup later. We cant do anything now." The anguish bled from his eyes, but she would not relent. Finally, he gritted his teeth and swore. She took it as acquiescence, turning away and pulling him with her.
They leaped over the rebel they had just been talking to, his chest now a pincushion of bloody, oozing wounds. Kirk could not spare a moment for regret. He would do it later. The rapid fire crisscrossing the compound left little doubt that anyone who had not scampered in the first seconds would never scamper again. Feeling completely helpless, he let himself be dragged with her.
She let go of his hand and plunged into the forest. As they ran, a sudden burst of pain tore through his left upper arm near the shoulder, throwing him off balance. He stumbled and slammed hard against a thick, gnarled tree, which stubbornly refused to give an inch. Grimacing, he realized that he had been hit, but how bad he wasnt sure. That would have to wait, too. Before he could steady himself, another burning sensation flashed across his back, just above his right hip and grazed his wrist. Looking down, he grabbed at the wrist comm, but all that was left was a semi-melted wristband. The device was now completely useless.
Fighting to gain his feet, he caught up with Sheera and let her lead them through the undergrowth which tangled the floor of the forest, fighting the terrific urge to turn back, to see to his crew, but she was right. In that chaos they could not have done anything. He prayed she was right about the safe havens. Oh, Bones, he groaned. Be okay. Be okay.
Finally, she slowed, picking her way gingerly through the deep vines and bushes. "Were almost there," she called over her shoulder.
But she did not answer, only took his hand again. He grimaced as the searing pain cut through his arm and shoulder and hoped that wherever "there" was, they had time to stop a moment. He needed to gather his scattering thoughts, to regroup, as she had said, to plan how to get to McCoy and the others.
Suddenly, as if it had materialized from a transporter, the jagged mouth of a small cave beckoned them. Wriggling into the narrow entrance, Sheera stuck her hand back out for Kirk. He had trouble pushing his shoulders through and could not suppress a cry of pain when the rock scraped against his wounds, but he squeezed in, and was rewarded when he realized the cave itself was much larger than the entrance. As a matter of fact, Sheera had already stood and touched her hand to the wall. Dim lights grew brighter until they could see each other and the cave well.
The cave spanned about fourteen to eighteen cubic meters. Its walls glistened with quartz-like formations. Centuries-old stalactites cascaded like chandeliers from the ceiling. Kirk took a moment to appreciate the glittering architecture of nature. As his eyes left the walls, he saw equipment that looked like small folding tables and chairs propped against the stone walls directly in front of them. Rolled bundles, which he assumed to be sleeping mats, were piled together to the left, and the cave seemed to continue on past the lighting toward the right. Obviously someone either came here frequently or expected to come. In contrast, a familiar-looking space crate rested incongruously against the natural stones. He tried to focus on the print and realized with surprise that the words were written in English: MACH 1, Inc.
"We prepared places like this several months ago," she explained even though he had not asked. He still lay panting near the entrance, trying to gain control over his dancing vision. Finally, he managed to prop himself against a cool wall.
"The standard practice after a raid is to wait in the safe havens until daybreak of the next day, then meet in a pre-determined place. Andar doesnt know about them. Well be safe here, and we can plan" Her eyes widened when she saw the blood that soaked his uniform sleeve and dripped from his hand mixing with the moisture that trickled from the formations. She dropped beside him. "Youre hurt!"
The captain shook his head and closed his eyes against the swimming images before him. "Not bad," he managed. "Ill be"
She darted into the unlighted area and returned almost immediately with a small bag. Folding beside him, she opened it and rummaged through, grinning in victory as she lofted the small bottle and cylindrical-looking object.
"Take off your shirt," she instructed.
He stared at her, his vision a little fuzzy, until she laughed, misinterpreting his silence, and moved toward him as if to remove it herself. "Look, I need to get to the wound. Now, I can cut it off if you cant manage"
Nodding, he tightened his eyes against the expected pain and drew the shirt over his head. She just clicked her tongue and took his arm, examining the injury more closely.
"Hmm. Looks like friendly fire." At his questioning gaze, she explained, "Conventional weapon wound made by a bullet. Andars men use phasers."
He stared, knowing he had experienced that, too, and wondered again where the phasers had come from. Sheera was reaching for the medikit.
"Well, it doesnt look like it hit the bone. I can take care of any infection that might come up with the antibiotic. Except for loss of blood you ought to be okay." She carefully cleaned the wound, grimacing sympathetically along with Kirk, then unrolled the cylindrical object, which turned out to be bandage, and wrapped it snugly around his arm.
Withdrawing a silver object that tapered into a long thin foil, she held it up to the dim lights. "This ought to do it," she decided firmly. As she took his good arm, he realized with a start that she meant to push that sharp end into him. He recoiled slightly.
"Is that really nec"
But her tongue clicked. "Youre a big boy, Captain," she said, amused. "Dont tell me youre afraid of a little shot."
"Oh, its a hypo, but it doesnt look like"
The needle pierced his skin and drove deep into the muscle. The cry that escaped him was involuntary. None of McCoys hypos, even the bad ones, had ever really hurt.
Sheera smiled. "There. Now that wasnt so bad, was it?
Kirk frowned. Now both arms hurt. "Yes," he declared. "It was."
She laughed and began replacing the medical kit items. "For infection, Captain," she explained. "And theres a pain killer with it. You should feel better soon." Sitting back to admire her handiwork, among other things, she asked, "How do you feel?"
He shrugged, illogically not wanting to admit that he felt like crying over the events, like screaming at the pain in his arm, like lying down with the fatigue that had not quite left him. Instead, he drew a deep breath, allowing the oxygen to clear his brain and found that the pain had lessened.
With his good arm, he pointed to the crate he had seen earlier. "Whats that?"
She followed his gaze. "Oh. One of our few victories over Andar. We captured a partial supply of phasers. Only a fewso were saving them for an important moment."
His brow raised ironically. "You didnt consider what we just went through an important moment?"
"Just a skirmish," she shrugged.
Again, he read the stamp. "MACH One."
"You heard of it?" she asked curiously.
He shook his head. "No, but its written in English. That gives proof of a Federation connection." Pulling himself back to their immediate needs, he stared hard at her. "What now? I have to know my crew is safe." His conviction left no doubt in her mind about his intentions.
She forgot about the crate under his intensity. "They will have secured the camp by now, and made it almost impossible to retake without superior forces. Well meet the others in the morning and make our plans."
"Almost?" He pounced on that particular adverb.
Sheera smiled. Here was indeed a kindred soul. "Almost. But then, I have as my accomplice the Captain James T. Kirk of Starfleet. And I have a plan, if youre up to it."
He glared at her, his hazel eyes growing dark, his handsome face hardening into intense lines. She caught her breath at the purpose and confidence coming off him in waves. "Yes, well, as I said, I have a plan."
In her quarters, Uhura paused as she studied the printout with a somewhat astonished expression. Slapping the intercom button, she called urgently, "Uhura to Bridge."
Almost immediately, the desired response came. "Spock here."
She wasted no time with preliminaries. "Mister Spock," she rushed out, "I have something I think you should see. Can you meet me in my quarters?"
The Vulcan hesitated. Uhura had never invited him directly to her cabin. He noted the surprised glances from the bridge crew. Chekovs eyes snapped with what Doctor McCoy would have identified as lasciviousness. Commodore Hayes raised both bushy eyebrows. Still, Spock determined, Uhura must have a good reason. He pushed the uncomfortable innuendoes from his mind and responded. "On my way, Commander."
Turning to the helm, he said, "Mister Sulu, you have the conn."
As he exited to the sound of Sulus relief being summoned, he thought he heard a snicker, but refused to dignify it with a reaction.
When he buzzed Uhuras door, she wasted no time in opening it. His brow arched at the sight of her flowing diaphanous gown. Obviously, she was relaxing off duty, but her next words changed his impression immediately.
"Look," she said, thrusting a flimsy printout in front of him.
Curiously, he scanned it, his sharp eyes talking only seconds to absorb the information. It was a legal document incorporating a new mining company, MACH 1. Attached was the petition of incorporation issued by the Federation Bureau of Commerce.
"The signature," Uhura prompted.
At the bottom of the page, concluding the length of legal nomenclature, stood a boldly printed name: Titus Corbin, Attorney at Law. Black eyes met warm brown ones in sudden comprehension. "Has anyone else seen this, Commander?" he asked, although he already knew the answer. Uhura was smart and loyal.
She shook her head. "I just dug it up from several rather unconventional sources," she confided.
He thought he heard the synonym "illegal" for unconventional, but did not comment.
"What do you think, Mister Spock?"
He pondered the facts for a moment. "This could be totally unrelated, of course," he offered, but she heard the doubt in his deep voice, and continued to wait in silence. Finally, he handed the evidence back. "Do nothing for the moment, except perhaps utilize your sources for any more information." He turned to leave.
"Yes, sir. And what about the captain? He needs to know."
Spock paused at the door and for a brief moment, she glimpsed rare pain behind his mask. "I am afraid, Ms. Uhura, that the captains concerns at the moment are probably more focused on surviving."
As he left, she felt the heaviness of worry fall on her shoulders. He had voiced what they had all feared for some time. The captain was in danger, perhaps serious danger, and they could not do a damn thing to help.
James Kirk sat back on his heels and considered Sheeras plan. It was daring, dangerous, and desperate. He liked it. He also had come to the realization that he liked her, too. Even in their current predicament, he found himself focusing too closely on the way her hair cascaded across the plan she drew out in the cave, the way her eyes held his when she wanted him to feel her intensity. He had enough experience to know, too, when the woman was just as interested, and he could see it in those green eyes. It would be several hours before they were scheduled to meet with the rest of the groups. The medicine had kicked in, and he felt much better. He began considering ways to fill the time.
"Hows the arm?"
"Hmm?" He pulled away from his thoughts, realizing she had spoken to him.
"I said, hows the arm?"
"Oh, okay," he lied. In truth, despite the painkiller, it still hurt like hell, but he somehow didnt want her to know.
"Yeah, sure." She moved closer to him. "I know you, Kirk," she said.
He knew she didnt mean it in the obvious way, so he waited for her to continue.
"Youre not going to admit that it hurts. Youre not going to show any weakness if you can help it, nothing that will make anyone think you cant handle anything."
He stared at her accuracy, a flush of defensive anger coloring his cheeks. She moved closer. "I know you because Im the same way. Were alike. Kindred souls." Her face hovered above his and Kirk relaxed. An impish grin tugged at her lips. "Do you realize youre the first Human Ive ever kissed?"
He smiled. "You havent kissed me."
"Easily corrected," she assured him, leaning so that their lips touched.
Kirk did not draw her closer, but let her lead. This was her move. Still, it was hard not to pull her against him and breathe in the honey-scent of her hair.
The kiss lasted only long enough to make him yearn for more. Perhaps that had been her intention. Still, he just waited.
Her eyes flickered with uncertainty at his silence. "Was that wrong?" she asked. "Dakel told me that he had learned from sources aboard the ship of my parents that Humans consider this...anticipatory to mating."
Kirks eyes widened.
"Traxians have other methods, but I think with my biology they are not as effective. Perhaps I have been here so long, I have lost the sensations necessary"
Kirk stood, drawing her against him and lowering his mouth to hers. He concentrated on pouring all the passion he was capable of into the kiss, and could not suppress his bodys reaction to it. It took only a moment for Sheera to respond, flinging her arms around his neck, arching her own lithe form against him. His head swam, a combination of the injury, the danger, and the feel of her breasts burning against his bare chest. When he finally released her, they both swayed for a long moment before she lifted her eyes to his.
"Do all Humans kiss like that?"
He smiled, fighting the urge to blush. "Well, I cant speak for all Humans, but I think its generally done that way."
Her eyes almost glowed as they held his. "Hmmm. I like it."
Kirk laughed, ignoring the muted pain in his arm, and waited for her to make the next move, assuming she knew her choices. She did. Her fingers slipped to the fastenings of her tunic and released them, dropping the garment to the cave floor and displaying her curves for his gaze, which grew more heated by the moment. As her hands grazed his back and moved lower, he drew in a sharp breath. Sheera paused, unsure if that meant pleasure or pain. Her eyes fell to the wicked welt caused by the phaser blast that had grazed his back and melted his wrist communicator.
"Why didnt you tell me about this?" she demanded.
Kirk shrugged. "You didnt ask."
Jumping up before he could stop her, she dragged the medical kit over again. Kirk sighed in frustration as he watched her pull two mats over and stretch them out onto the hard cave floor.
"Lie down on your stomach," she ordered.
"Lie down and drop your trousers."
Kirk stared at her for a moment, then complied, knowing it would do no good to protest. Sometimes she was as stubborn as McCoy. "Ow!" He raised his head and turned toward her.
"Be still and Ill have this taken care of soon." Her hands smoothed a cool ointment over the wound, the palms brushing lower as she rubbed. Kirk gritted his teeth at the sensation and unsuccessfully tried to concentrate on something besides her caresses. She finished, but lingered in the same position, her hips straddling his buttocks. Kirks body was responding despite his feeble attempts to calm it.
She urged him over, staring at her first sight of a Human male, then eased his uniform pants off. Gently at first, Kirk drew her to him, turned her so that she was beneath him, guided her with more patience than he realized he had at the moment. They moved together, bodies intertwining, mouths burning, souls touching. The danger still lurked outside, his crew waited, but this moment was theirs.
He wanted Sheeras first time with one of her own to be memorable, so he concentrated his considerable talents on arousing every nerve in her body. She was ready for him, anxious to join, but he held back, reluctant to cause her pain, not knowing how experienced she might be. Finally, he eased into her, his jaw muscles catching in an attempt not to lose control. Yes, the barrier was there.
With his eyes, he asked permission. She nodded, although he wasnt sure she knew exactly what she was agreeing to. As gently as possible, he gave a firm thrust and broke through. Sheera gasped, tears coming to her eyes. He kissed them and waited. Then he began to move, his gentle rhythm soothing. Again, Sheera gasped, but not in pain. Her eyes sought his, and she pulled him deeper into her, groaning as the rhythm quickened.
Kirk held out as long as she did, slowing when he drew too close, until he felt her strong convulsions and hot release, his own control crumbling as she cried out. He finally let go, catapulting over the edge with her, oblivious to any previous physical discomfort in the face of overwhelming passion.
When he reached coherence again, he looked down at the woman in his arms, brushing away a lock of hair that fell across her smooth cheek. Smiling, he kissed her gently and settled back onto the sleeping mats. Sheera propped up on one elbow and stared at him so long he had to ask, "What?"
"I...I didnt anticipate... You see, Traxians are not as..." She faltered, not sure how to verbalize her feelings. "Im not inexperienced, but Traxan males are, well, their bodies are...not big, and...since Im Human, they dont..."
A furious blush colored his cheeks as he realized what she was saying. Not knowing how to respond, he remained silent for a long moment, then whispered, "We need rest before we move against Andar."
But Sheera did not want to rest. She raised up over him, drew her slim hands lightly across his chest, then moved lower. Kirks breath caught as she straddled him, and he decided maybe they didnt need as much rest as he thought. He ran his fingers up her body and arched into her, gasping at the journey of her own wandering caress. No, she was definitely not inexperienced.
"I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Commander," Andar said, his small eyes sad, "but we have reports that your captain and crew have been taken hostage by the rebels." He shook his head slowly. "Of course, if we had known Kirk planned to come to the planet in the first place, we could have warned him."
First Officer Spock ignored any semblance of courtesy and interrupted the image on the viewscreen. "When did this happen, Mister President? Are you reports confirmed?"
Andars tubular hands waved casually in the air. "Some time during the early afternoon. We have, of course, sent troops to investigate, and will do our best to help in this...unfortunate situation. We will keep you updated." The screen blanked, then returned to the pleasant view of Traxus, a view Spock was quickly coming to dislike.
He swiveled in the captains chair and faced the communications officer, back on the bridge without much more information from her surreptitious investigation. "Lieutenant Commander Uhura, have we located any of the landing partys coordinates by way of their communicators?"
"Weve found a signal from some of the communicators, sir, but they are obviously not being carried by crewmen. The signals are all on top of each other, like"
"Like they are lying in a pile," he finished.
She nodded, then said quietly, "Mister Spock," she said softly, "could you help me with this?"
Her request rang alarms in the Vulcans head. Uhura needed help? Immediately, he rose and stepped up the bridge to communications, mindful of the presence of Commodore Hayes. "Yes?" he answered in a low voice.
Just as he had assumed, Uhura didnt really need help. As soon as he arrived, she whispered, "Weve accounted for all of the landing partys communicators except one." She paused pointedly, and Spock felt a sick flip-flop in his stomach.
"The captains?" he questioned.
She nodded, the worry tightening her smooth features. Her expressive eyes mirrored the anxiety he could not share. "And theres more, Mister Spock," she added, then mouthed, "Look," and pointed at a panel she had gently set aside. Inside, among the components of her board, rested a small obelisk about the size of a computer wafer. Fused to it were a series of wires, tangled in a mass of colorful snake-like coils.
Spock understood immediately. "Sabotage?" he mouthed back.
She nodded slowly, comprehending the seriousness of this revelation.
His back shielding them momentarily, Spock motioned toward the panel and whispered, "Work with as much haste as possible to restore the sensors. Be discreet."
She glanced toward Corbin, who had apparently not noticed their interest in the panel, and nodded. Spock returned to the center chair, painting on a serene expression as if nothing had changed.
His only acknowledgement was an order. "Get me Dakel, Ms. Uhura. We will beam him up to the ship immediately. He has questions to answer."
Hayes, who had remained unusually quiet during the exchange, stepped forward between the Vulcan and communications. "Commander," he said, "do we have time for talking? Obviously, Captain Kirk has failed. Now is the time for action! We must destroy the rebels while we can." Commander Corbin silently stepped toward them in support of his commanding officer.
Spock considered the commodores unexpected decisiveness momentarily, his dark eyes falling briefly on the aide, as well. "Commodore, if the rebels do hold the captain, Dakel is perhaps the only one who can resolve this without violence. The captain knew the risks. We must not act in haste, if we want to act wisely."
Hayes gaze faltered under Spocks certainty. "Well, you cant wait too long. Suppose Kirk is already dead?" He was oblivious to the pained looks he received from the bridge crew at this harsh speculation.
With effort, Spock quelled the disturbingly emotional reply that jumped to his lips and calmed himself with a studied survey of the bridge. Punching a button on the arm of the chair, he called Engineer Scott to the bridge to assume command before he entered the turbo lift and headed to the briefing room with Commodore Hayes and, as usual, Commander Corbin at his heels.
Leonard McCoy glared at the Mietre guards who stood stiffly at the edge of the tent that accommodated the Enterprise crewmen. For several hours they had been detained here, told nothing about the fate of their missing crewmen, one of whom was James T. Kirk. Wild visions forced themselves through the doctors tired brain, the worst of which had Kirk sprawled lifelessly in the back of the large transport they used to dump the bodies of the rebels that had not survived the attack or managed to escape. So far, thank God, Jims body had not shown up.
Most of the rebels had been rounded up and corralled in the various tents throughout the compound. The Starfleet crew merited separate quarters. Shifting his gaze carefully, McCoy caught the dark eyes of Sloane, the one security guard captured; the other lay twisted in the pile of corpses. A questioning brow rose, but Sloane answered with a minute shake of his head. No one had seen the captain or Sheera after the attack. McCoy worried about their fate.
Just beyond the guards, the doctor saw a gleaming jumble of equipment, tricorders, phasers, and wrist communicators. Something unusual covered them, and after a moment, McCoy realized it was a portable interference field, designed to mask technological instruments from detectors. Usually, that meant Romulan or Klingon detectors, but the doctor realized in anger that it would prevent the Enterprise from detecting their signals. Maybe that was good, though. Maybe Spock would send help when he could not contact them.
As he looked more closely, his eyes fell on a familiar symbol. Startled, he blinked, then looked again. The Starfleet stamp glared back at him impossibly. This was Starfleet issue. How in the galaxies did Andar obtain it? Then he remembered Sheeras certainty that the Mietre had other connections. Dear Lord! Starfleet itself?
As he considered this disturbing revelation, the tent flap lifted higher and a guard barked something to them. No one moved. With obvious anger, the guard issued his command again, this time adding a threatening fist shake. When he received no response, he moved menacingly toward McCoy. Despite the small stature of the attacker, he looked menacing and the doctor braced for the blow.
The abrupt order garnered McCoy a momentary reprieve as the guard turned crisply and saluted the figure that had entered. His rounded body sauntered in with confidence as he surveyed the battered group.
"Andar!" McCoy snarled down at him. "I should have known youd be behind this. What a hypocrite you are, accusing the Federation"
The Mietre waved a tubular hand casually. "Doctor McCoy, you know nothing of this situation. I suggest you keep your mouth shut and wait until we are finished. Then, maybe, Ill let you go."
Ignoring Andars advice, McCoy stepped closer. "Wheres Captain Kirk? What have you done with him?"
The rounded cheeks tightened in amusement. "My dear doctor," the president said with obvious satisfaction, "your brave captain is dead."
The force of his words slammed into McCoys brain. It couldnt be true. He stiffened his legs to hold him. "No. No, youre wrong."
"I am sorry to be the one to tell you," Andar offered with fake sincerity. "He and the rebel leader were killed during the rebel attack."
"Rebel attack!" McCoy snarled, recovering enough to respond. "You were the attackers. Youve been the attackers every time, havent you?"
Annoyingly, Andar seemed unfazed by McCoys accusations. "I have learned one of your Earth phrases, Doctor. One which seems appropriate here. To the victor belong the spoils. And I believe the spoils include relating events in any way you wish. The rebels have been defeated. Unfortunately, your captain was in collusion with them, hoping to gain some of our Mietre riches for his cooperation. He and the misfit Sheera, who was actually one of you, placed as a spy by Humans years ago, met their just fate in a cowardly attempt to run from our troops. A tragedy, Im sure. And one your Federation will be anxious to rectify in any way possible."
Rage spilled over the doctors blue eyes and he lunged for the smaller man, thrown to the ground by four guards before he could reach his target. "Liar!" he screamed. "You liar!" His struggles continued until the blunt end of a phaser rifle came down on his neck and he sank into the dust.
Jim Kirk scanned the cave walls impatiently as Sheera re-bandaged his arm. The sparkling stones reflected their pale light, and he could not help but wonder about them. "Are these common to your planet?" he asked abruptly.
She looked up to see what he meant, then bent her head to her task again. "We use them for building. They are quite hard, and found in abundance."
"Hard?" He rose against her protests.
"Hey! Im not finished!"
Realization hit him suddenly. "Diamonds!" he breathed as he ran his fingers over the generous clusters. "My God. Millions of credits worth!" He spun to gather her attention again. "And these are common?"
She shrugged, then reached to finish the dressing. "Sure. What about them?"
For a moment, Kirks eyes tightened, then his lips pressed together and he swore softly.
"Jim?" Sheera tied off the bandage and touched his face with sudden concern.
His eyes scanned the cave, lingering on the crate. "MACH One," he whispered, not necessarily to her. "M-A-C-H One. Thats it!"
He seemed to shake himself from his musing and smiled at her. Leaning forward, he kissed her softly, then shrugged into his tattered tunic and moved ahead to the cave entrance. "Come on; were late. Ill fill you in on the way."
She realized his actions were at least partly to keep her behind him, and shook her head at his hopeless chivalry before tagging after him. As he explained his theory, she nodded in agreement. It all fit. Things seemed to be coming together. Their light-hearted mood vanished, though, when they broke into the open cove determined as the meeting spot. Only a handful of rebels met them and none of them wore Starfleet blue, grey, white or yellow. Sheera saw Kirks teeth clench and noted the anguish clearly in his eyes.
"Wheres McCoy?" he asked one of the rebels. "Sloane? Rjon? Any of my crew?"
Solemnly, the rounded head wagged back and forth. "We tried to get to them, but the Mietre seemed to target them first."
Kirk took a deep breath as if to steady himself. "What exactly do you mean by target?"
Apologetically, the rebel replied, "I am not certain, although I do not think they were killed. But certainly, Andar made a special point of capturing them. I am sorry."
Sheera touched Kirks shoulder gently and he turned toward her. At once, the warring emotions on his face kicked her into action. She turned to the pitiful rebel clan. "We must determine what has happened to our people." She smiled reassuringly at the captain. "All of our people. Seekar, you take three of our group and scout out the camp. Elkraft, you take the rest and check the known paths Andars men take. The captain and I will...try another route." They scattered, making her proud with their prompt and unquestioning obedience.
She raised her emerald eyes to meet Kirks hazel ones, now softened from their earlier hardness. "What...route do you suggest?" he asked quietly.
With a sigh, she answered, "Andars palace." He didnt react at all, but seemed to accept this as a perfectly logical option. Sheera smiled again at the evidence of their similar mindsets.
"All right, then," she agreed. "Lets go."
This time, Kirk let her lead, following close behind, always ready to step up beside her if necessary.
Commander Spock, First Officer of the Enterprise, stared at the uncooperative viewscreen on the small monitor in the briefing room. If his captain had been there, he would have seen the blatant irritation on the Vulcans stoic features, but Commodore Hayes took no notice of any deviation from Spocks usual expression. Indeed, the commodore seemed much more intent on finding and annihilating the rebels. He had, on more than one occasion, expressed his disagreement with Spocks decision not to retaliate immediately, but had not yet gone so far as to usurp the first officers authority and assume command.
Still, Spock remained expectant that the possibility existed. Commander Corbin had uncharacteristically remained absent during most of the recent proceedings. Spock had even considered calling him to the briefing room, but decided to wait. It was a...feeling, he admitted only to himself, and one not based upon any sound evidence.
Lieutenant Commander Uhuras mellow voice dragged him away from the screen. "Mister Spock, Councilman Dakel is on board."
"Very well, Commander. Have him escorted to the briefing room."
Spock stood."Oh, Uhura, have you completed that project you were working on, yet, the one for Captain Kirk?"
Hayes looked at him curiously, but did not comment. The commodore drew his bulk up beside the Vulcan.
Uhura shook her head. "Not quite, sir. Im trying to untangle all of the red tape, so to speak."
He inclined his head slightly and followed Hayes into the lift.
"Do you really think Dakel will be able to help?" the senior officer asked.
"I do not know, Commodore Hayes," he said with patience he did not really feel. "But the councilman is one of our few options at this time." He stopped, then decided to go ahead with his question. "I am curious, sir, as to the whereabouts of your aide."
"Corbin?" Hayes looked as if he had just thought about the commander. "I dont know. Hes usually right here." At least the commodore noticed. "Why?" Suddenly Hayes grabbed Spocks arm, heedless of the breech of Vulcan protocol. "You dont think he has anything to do with this?"
Extracting himself from Hayes clutches, Spock tried to ignore the wave of chaotic emotions that swept from the Human. He got a sense of concern, anger, confusion, and determination, an odd mix. Perhaps the commodore had suspected Corbin all along. Spock began to reconsider his previous concern.
"Perhaps we should locate the commander," the first officer suggested.
"Yes," Hayes agreed. "Of course. It makes sense, now. Thats how the rebels found out where Kirk was. Corbin alerted them. My God! And to think I trusted him."
Spock reserved his own condemnation of Corbin until he had actual evidence, but that seemed more and more probable as the situation deepened. The doors breezed open. Dakel waited on a security officers arm, his frail skin possibly more transparent than before.
Without preamble, Spock seated him and began the explanation. "Councilman, our landing party is unaccounted for. We receive no answers to our signals from any communicators, and..." He hesitated to reveal the information he had received from the distraught Uhura. "And we have totally lost the signal from Captain Kirks communicator."
Hayes looked at him suddenly, but Spock did not respond. Dakels pale eyes showed sorrow, but he did not speak.
"I am asking you, sir, if you have any information on this development."
For a moment, the Traxian stared silently, then he sighed. "Andar," he whispered. "He warned us. I had hoped..."
"Hoped what?" Spock prompted.
"Hoped he would not have the courage to test the Federation, but he must have stronger allies than we assumed."
Hayes stirred uncomfortably, thinking about the missing Corbin, Spock realized.
"Do you think these allies are inside Starfleet?" Spock asked.
Dakel tilted his head curiously, so much that Spock was momentarily afraid the old man would lose his balance and fall. "Perhaps. I only know Andar seems to fear no one or nothing. That speaks of significant backing."
"Indeed," the Vulcan mused quietly.
Hayes seemed to overcome his shock enough to bluster, "By God, Ill have that damned Corbins head for this!"
At that moment, the intercom beeped. "Spock, here."
"Commander," filtered through the voice of Azrit, a security guard, "we have located Commander Corbin."
Bursting past the Vulcan, Hayes barked, "Stun him! He could be dangerous!"
"Sir?" The uncertainty was clear behind the grid.
Spock stepped forward quickly. "Commodore, perhaps that is a...hasty move. We do not have evidence"
"No evidence? But you practically accused him earlier"
Noting the flush of panic in Hayes ample cheeks, the first officer made a quick decision. "Lieutenant Azrit, apprehend Commander Corbin with the least amount of force necessary. Ill question him in the brig."
Azrits crisp accent broke in hesitantly. "Uh, Mister Spock?"
"What is it?"
"I dont think that is youd better come down here, sir. Level Four."
Before he rounded the turn on Level Four, Spock knew what had happened. His suspicions that had been steadily growing were verified. Sure enough, the scene revealed several body-armored security guards gathered around a prone figure. The dark eyes of Azrit rose to meet his own.
"Corbin, sir," the guard explained needlessly. "Hes dead, sir. Phaser at close range."
Spock kneeled by the body and noted the neat, discolored circle at Corbins ashen temple, the only outward evidence of injury. "Regrettable," he remarked simply.
Commodore Hayes caught up with Spock, having been left behind in the Vulcans fast pace, and peered at his former aide. Shaking his large head, he clucked sadly. "Suicide, I imagine. Realized what he had done and couldnt handle it."
The first officer raised a brow, but James Kirk was not there to realize what a reaction that was to the commodores statement. "Indeed, sir. Doctor Chapel has not yet had the opportunity for autopsy, yet you appear quite certain." He met Hayes eyes directly.
"Well " For a long moment, the senior officer seemed flustered. Then he straightened and gathered the confidence of his rank. "Its obvious to me, Commander, but Ill understand that you need official confirmation."
Without taking his eyes form Hayes face, Spock stood, drawing his own imposing frame to match that commodores. Still holding Hayes gaze, he addressed Azrit. "Lieutenant, place Commodore Hayes under arrest and take him to the brig."
"Sir?" Azrits astonished question lingered only briefly before the guard moved to obey his orders and trained a phaser on the ranking officer.
An eruption of outrage met his action. "What the hell do you think youre doing, Spock? Hayes shouted. "Have you gone mad?"
"Hardly, Commodore," Spock responded. "It is now clear to me how Andar has anticipated our actions and how he has moved with such confidence. Corbin had outlived his usefulness, had he not? And he knew too much. But he made the mistake of threatening you and telling you he was going to report it to Starfleet. You couldnt let that happen."
"Youre mad! See here. I demand that you release me at once!" The heavy jowls swayed with anger.
Spock took the demonstration in stride. "The question now, Commodore, is why?"
Hayes had stopped wrestling and now stared quietly ahead. He did not answer Spock. Suddenly, the large man moved with a quickness the Vulcan would not have suspected. Drawing a phaser from his sleeve, he sprayed the corridor with enough stun power to effectively disable his pursuers. Frantically, he stepped over the fallen crewmen and rushed toward the transporter room.
Concealed by the rich, flowering bushes just outside the palace gates, Kirk and Sheera crouched, their eyes registering each detail of the elaborate, and well-guarded entrance. Before them lay the testament to opulence. Buttresses arched like condors wings from the towering gray walls. In several designated areas, kaleidoscope stained windows reflected the afternoon sun. Tall, formidable doors forbade casual entry.
The two beefy guards in front did not help, either. To the side stretched a line of small windows two or three meters from the ground. Iron bars covered them.
"Prisoners, possibly," Kirk theorized.
"Well," Sheera breathed. "What now?"
Kirk shook his head, but she could tell he was thinking. After a moment, he pulled her down behind the thickest of the branches. "Ill backtrack to the main entrance for the palace, make some noise, a commotion. As the guards move away from the doors to investigate, you come around behind them and get in there. Locate my men. Theyll know what to do if you can get to them."
"And what about you? Youll just let yourself be captured, too?"
"Damn it, Sheera," he snapped. "Weve got to get them out of there."
The anger in her voice cut through other emotions she could not conceal. "I wont let you do it, Jim. Were in this together, remember?" She placed a gentle hand on his arm.
Sighing, he asked, "Do you have a better idea?"
Sheera smiled slyly.
As Kirk snatched the phasers from the prone figures of the guards, Sheera gathered up her clothes. He shook his head and muttered something about "a plan." Still, he couldnt deny it had worked and reflected a moment on the gift of witnessing it. A slight rustle from the bushes froze them both until one of the rebels slipped from the thick foliage and greeted them.
"We have word that the Starfleet crew are held in the side wall cells," he began without preamble, pointing to the barred windows.
"Good, Seekar," responded Sheera. She flung a hand to indicate the unconscious guards. "Take them into the bushes and bind them. Exchange clothes and take their places. We may need you later."
They hurried to obey, and Sheera guided Kirk around to the side of the palace where the cell windows waited.
Leonard McCoy woke up in pain. He soon realized that pain came from the hard, cold floor he lay on, his bony elbows and knees stiff from the contact. With a groan, he rose, wincing at another sharp pain from his neck. He seemed to be alone in the cell, and he wondered where Sloane was. He didnt let himself consider what might have happened. Suddenly, like a kick in the stomach, he remembered what Andar had told him. Jim was dead. Even though he vehemently denied believing it in front of his captor, the nausea that rose in his gut now with the memory told him it was true. Damn, damn, damn! He slammed his palm against the floor in helpless grief and frustration. It was so unfair. Jim deserved to die much better.
Hanging his head, he threw his arms over him, unable to face the truth.
He gritted his teeth, damning his memory for being so vivid. Jims firm baritone was realistically clear in his mind.
"No!" McCoy said. "No! I wont hear it!"
This time the entreaty grew louder. "Bones!" McCoy looked up and saw a small window toward the ceiling of his room. Beyond that, those bewitching tones were coming. Incredulous, he managed with difficulty to push his body from the floor and walk to the opening. As he looked up, the sight that greeted him almost threw him backwards.
Just beside the opened wooden shutters floated Sheera, 10 feet off the ground. Standing on tip-toe, McCoy saw to his shock that below her, supporting her on his shoulders, stood Captain James T. Kirk, sweating, tattered, and splattered with mud, but very much alive.
"Jim! My God, Jim!" McCoy cried, the tears springing hot to his eyes. He didnt care one bit. "I thought you were dead!"
"Hardly," came the sharp reply. Kirks grunt let him know the captain labored under a burden.
McCoy decided to move quickly. "Whats the plan?"
It was Sheera who answered quietly. "Where are the others?"
"Dont know. Im the only one in this cell. I havent seen them since the raid." The doctor turned reluctantly toward Kirk. "Rjon is dead, Jim." He watched the pain crossed the captains face at his words. Kirk closed his eyes for a moment and McCoy saw Sheera touch his shoulder gently.
"Stand back," she suddenly commanded, with such authority that McCoy did not hesitate, but moved away from the window. The red beam of a phaser quickly followed, severing the bars neatly. Within moments, the doctor had wriggled his way through the small window and lowered his body halfway to the ground.
"Jump," Kirk said, and regretted it when he had to serve as the fall-breaker for McCoy. As the two untangled, the doctor grabbed his friend in a bear hug, pulling back with a frown at Kirks quick gasp.
"Whats wrong?" he asked, but one good look at the captain told him. Kirks blue shirt sleeve was darkened with dried blood stained around a jagged rip. "Let me see that, Jim," the doctor began, grasping the arm gently.
Kirk did not resist, but told McCoy, "Ive already had medical treatment, Doctor."
McCoy looked at Sheera, whose cheeks flushed suddenly, and he suppressed a sigh. "For your arm?" he asked pointedly.
Frowning, the captain nodded, then sucked in his breath as the doctor peeked under the bandages.
"It was a clean shot," Sheera said, wiping a hand across her eyes to distract attention from her embarrassment. "No bullet left. I administered an antibiotic and painkiller, although I think the latter has probably worn off by now."
"Well, theres not much I can do now. Weve got to get back to the ship"
Before he could finish, Kirk interrupted. "Not yet, Bones. Weve got to get into Andars palace. I have a feeling the answer to our problem lies there."
A bit of information occurred to McCoy. "By the way, Jim. You do have a slight advantage. Andar thinks youre dead."
His eyebrow lifting in interest, Kirk allowed a brief smile to cross his lips. "That could be good," he pondered, then turned to Sheera. "Okay. Stage Two of the plan. Are you with us, Bones?"
"What other choice do I have?"
"Exactly." The captain sprinted off with Sheera close behind. McCoy scrambled after them.
As they passed the main entrance, the doctor noticed the two Traxians standing guard. Before he could stop Kirk and Sheera, all three Humans had dashed past the doors. To McCoys confused surprise, they received only a nod and brief smile from the enemy, but within seconds, the doctors mind sifted through the quick event and guided the facts into their logical slots. Somehow, rebels had taken the guards places. Hed have to ask Jim later how that came about. In the meantime, he struggled to keep up with his companions, shaking his throbbing head occasionally to clear it.
"What are you doing here?" Andar hissed as Commodore Hayes rushed into his chambers, moving much quicker than the Mietre president would have suspected he could.
"They know," Hayes groaned. "That damned Vulcan figured it out. Im ruined!"
Pacing, the shorter man thought, his small hands rubbing together. "What does it matter?" he reasoned, not looking back at the Human. "They still have no proof. Kirk is dead"
"Kirk?" Hayes looked almost sad.
Andar ignored him. "Kirk is dead, and it will only be your word against the Vulcan. Surely, theyll believe you, after all the service youve given them."
Hayes was completely devastated, crumpling pitifully against a swirling marble pillar. Andar felt only disgust for his weakness. He directed his attention to a display of weapons. Most of them were some sort of axe or sword with bright blades and ornate hilts gleaming. Scattered among then were pikes, lances, knives, and occasional black powder rifles. A rich burgundy velvet provided the backdrop.
"These weapons represent the victories of my ancestors over the years," the president explained, whether or not Hayes wanted to hear. "They show power, control." He turned to fix his small eyes on the cowering commodore. "No one is going to ruin that power for meespecially a simpering Human like you!"
This comment touched some clinging remnant of dignity in Hayes and the Human rose to his full height. "You cannot address me like that" he started imperiously, but could not complete his sentences before he was unexpectedly interrupted.
Hayes jumped visibly as the large doors exploded open and Jim Kirk and the Human female rebel burst in. Stunned, he blabbered out his first thoughts. "Kirk! I thought you were dead!"
A dangerous smile crossed the captains lips. "Perhaps you are familiar with Mark Twain, Commodore?"
The older officer frowned in confusion.
"Your literary loss, then," Kirk said, and did not take the time to explain. "The games up now. Your traitorous deal with this crook is over." He tossed a disdainful look at Andar.
Incensed, Andar moved toward the captain. Kirk had to give him some credit for guts, or insanity, either one. "Captain, I must protest this. I have no idea what you are"
"Dont you, Andar?" Sheera interrupted. "Youve betrayed your own people with a few worthless crystals in trade for complete and total dictatorship. You sicken me!" she snarled at him and for a moment, Kirk thought she might spit in his face, but she stopped there.
With his phaser pointed directly at Hayes, Kirk glanced backward at the red wall of weapons and instructed, "Move this way, Commodore, and well just call the ship."
Gathering his own limited charm, Hayes drew a breath and smiled at the younger man. "Kirk Jim surely you cannot believe this madness. Let me explain"
The phaser seemed to whine a little louder as Kirk gripped it. "Dont bother, sir. Does the name MACH One mean anything to you?"
"The evidence is there. Im just sorry I didnt piece it together earlier. Those crystals are worthless on this planet, but on Earth and several other planets, they are priceless diamonds. Youd be rich. And all you had to do was help ensure this Hitler remained in control of this planet."
With the truth stated so bluntly, Hayes could not refute it. "Damn you, Kirk. Do you know how long Ive worked for Starfleet? Ive given my life to this miserable Federation. Do they care that I make a little extra money? What harm has it done?"
"Harm?" Sheeras voice fairly screamed at the commodore. "Harm? How many of my people have been sliced down by your weapons? How many have lost their families, their jobs, because of you and your greed? Harm?" She advanced on the commodore and Kirks attention was drawn to averting a disaster.
"Sheera!" he warned. "Dont. We have it under control, now."
She ignored him, or did not even hear him; he wasnt sure which. Just as she reached the uncertain officer, another sound stopped her. It was quieter than Kirks plea, but made more of an impact.
They all turned toward the source. Shaking and unsteady, Dakel stood at the entrance to the great hall. "Sheera. Do not. Do not stoop to his level. You are better than that. You are Sheera. A leader. The next leader of our people."
"Father?" She wavered, and stepped toward him tentatively. "What do you mean?"
He did not move forward, could not move, Kirk realized with a sad pang. "My days are numbered, daughter. You were right and I was wrong. Sometimes, the fight is necessary. Andar is revealed. We will need a new leader. Do not deprive us of that."
She slumped suddenly, and Kirk wanted to move to her, to hold her, but he could not remove his attention from Hayes and Andar. But she remained on her feet, and reached a hand to grasp Dakels. Just as their fingers touched, his small and wasted, hers long and slender, a sudden move from Andar drew Kirks attention.
A flash of light appeared from his cloak and the slashing beam caught Dakel, slicing through the council leader in one quick swoop. The frail body crumpled to the floor in two pieces amid the agonized scream of his daughter. One second too late, Kirks own phaser beam hit Andar directly in his barrel chest. The gaping hole smoked eerily as the former president tottered momentarily, then crashed to the floor.
Kirk took a moment to glance toward Sheera as she stared, uncomprehending, at the gruesome scene. It was a costly moment. Hayes thrust his hand behind the heavy drapes and withdrew from them a metal pole used to light the candles. Immediately knowing he had made a mistake, Kirk dodged the blow to his head, catching it squarely on the aching wound in his upper left arm.
Bright hot pain exploded from the site and screamed through his shoulder and torso, so intense that it knocked the phaser from his good hand and sent it skidding somewhere under the heavy furniture. The motion threw him against the wall, and he found himself sprawled on the cool stone floor, unable to focus on anything past the complete blanket of pain. Somehow, through a tunnel of comprehension, he watched as Hayes drew toward him, the weapon once again held ready to strike.
"Jim!" Sheera cried from across the echoing hall.
Almost as if he looked upon the scene from outside his own body, the captain saw in his minds eye the elaborate collection of ancient swords and pikes behind him. Even as the commodore lunged, Kirk thrust his good arm up, and, without even looking back, grabbed the first weapon his fingers met. He mustered the strength to get to his knees and brace the pike he had pulled from the wall, his ruined left arm hanging uselessly. Hayes, who had already committed himself to the lunge, cried out as he impaled himself on the weapon, driving Kirk again into the wall, and dropping the candle lighter harmlessly.
With a strangled cry, Sheera fell at his side. Throwing Hayes lifeless body off Kirk, she could not suppress a moan at the sight of the captains bloody, mutilated arm.
"Oh, Jim," she whispered.
"My God!" From the doorway, Leonard McCoy took in the chaotic aftermath of the fight; then his sights turned to the figures by the wall. Without a word, he knelt by Kirks side. Sheera moved to make room and watched as the doctor ripped away what was left of the captains tunic, now soaked in a deep red mixture of Hayes blood and his own. She turned her head at the mush of muscle and bone revealed beneath the cloth.
McCoy looked up quickly and she saw the anguish in his blue eyes. "Weve got to get him to the ship, Sheera," he insisted. "Get Hayes communicator."
She dived for the commodores corpse. "Not there!" she cried.
He did not bother to face her, but replied, "Surely Andar has some way, if Jims theory is right. Look around."
Sheera turned to search, but McCoys soft voice drew her miserably back to the scene. "And hurry."
Where would Andar keep something like that? Something that no one should be able to see? She opened drawers, looked behind doors, under the bed. All the time, she heard Kirks breathing grow more and more labored. Hang on, Jim. Ill find it. I promise you.
Finally, she allowed her gaze to fall again on the macabre scene of Andars body lying near Dakels mutilated form. Swallowing a sob, she skidded to the side of the president and ran her hands across his robes.
With a triumphant cry, she jerked a small silver box from an inside pocket. "Ive got it," she cried, but McCoy did not respond. There were only two buttons on the device. Pressing the green one, she could barely contain her panic. "Enterprise, Enterprise! This is an emergency."
Only static answered her, but she tried again. "This is Sheera. I need help for Captain Kirk now! He is seriously injured."
Again, she got static. For long moments, she tried again, caught between the harsh sounds Kirk was making and the frustrating buzz of the communicator. Suddenly, a smooth female voice magically erupted in mid-sentence. "terprise. Do you read?"
Anger and relief cut through her anxiety and she fairly screamed into the unit, "Damn you. Get the hell down here, now!"
Even as she finished her final command, silver sparkles appeared, and to her shock, the sparkles coalesced into men. Three men, to be exact, and one of them had pointed ears and the same color tunic as Doctor McCoy. Another was a female with the same white uniform. She did not speak, but hurried to McCoys side
"What happened?" the pointed ear officer asked, surveying the aftermath of the chaos. His eyes feel solemnly on Dakels body.
Sheera stared for a moment before she found her voice. "Hayes and Jim fought. Jim won I think."
"Indeed." The tall males voice was deep and his eyes hooded and mysterious. He was not Human, she thought, but close, anyway. "Spock to Enterprise," he called into his wrist communicator. "Have two corpsmen beam down with a body bag."
There was obvious hesitation on the other end, before a shaky female voice responded, "Yes sir."
Before she could ask anything else, McCoy had risen and approached. "Spock, weve got to beam up now."
She did not realize what was happening until it was too late. The scene before her wiggled and waved and was replaced by a completely different one. It was a room, not large, but not particularly small, either. As she stood on a platform of some kind, the scene burst into life. Other people appeared carrying a stretcher onto which McCoy and the one he had called Spock placed Kirk.
In a second, they were gone, rushing out of the room with the doctor barking orders and the others racing at the side of the stretcher through the doors. Arriving immediately after, two crewmen in grey jumpsuits, one male and one female stepped up onto the platform with the requested body bag, their expressions a bit relieved as they watched their captain being taken out of the room. They disappeared in a sparkle.
Sheera dismissed this amazing scene, determining to deal with it later. She turned to Spock. "Will he be all right?"
The stern mask she had seen on his face the entire time flickered for a moment before it reset. "That is for Doctor McCoy to determine." Then his voice seemed to soften. "Would you like to wait?"
She knew what he meant. She nodded, her breath catching in surprised gratitude for this strange officer as they both stood to watch the transporter until the detachment returned with the body of her father.
Her auburn hair conquered into a single binding ring at the nape of her neck, Sheera looked out over the solemn assemblage gathered to pay respects to her father and their fallen leader. Even those who had parted with Dakel in the Rebellion stood silently, eyes cast slightly down in the custom. Nodding acceptance for their gesture, the slain mans daughter spoke in a calm, reassuring tone, different from her usual inciting, patriotic fever.
"You have come to remember a leader todaya man whose wisdom carried us into peace, even at the cost of his life. He wanted only to see that peace and to know his world was safe. I pledge to you this hour that I will strive to carry on his dream." Here she paused and gathered several gazes into her own. "With your help."
Gently lifting the dancing torch from its sconce, she touched the flame to the pyre and watched as the fire ate toward the thin body atop it. As was custom, one Traxian week had passed since Dakels death, and Sheera had already grieved privately, saying her goodbyes without company and was now determined to move on. It was time for the living. As the blaze climbed higher, she turned to meet the eyes of her people, once again, but stopped to linger on one set of warm hazel ones amid the sea of black.
Jim Kirk stood, at her request, with the Mietre and Traxian leaders, his left arm still thickly bandaged and bound tightly to his body, the hand crossed over his chest. Draped across his broad shoulders was a coat she had not seen before, but which appeared to be part of the uniform. He cut, she thought with a ghostly smile, quite a dashing figure.
After making the obligatory greetings to council members, she found herself standing before the Enterprises captain. He took her hand briefly and kissed it, his lips lingering just a bit longer than etiquette dictated.
"Madame President," he acknowledged. She smiled at his formality. "May I remind you that the Enterprise is here for another two days to assist you in the re-organization of your governments. Mister Spock has assigned personnel for your convenience, and I I will be pleased to help in any way I am able."
His completely innocent expression almost drew a very inappropriate grin from her. She quickly guided him away from the crowds. "Indeed, Captain," she responded in kind. "And are you able?"
Kirks eyes met her with a fire that stole her breath and ignited a flame at the pit of her belly. "Try me."
That evening, after the diplomats had departed and the re-organization parties rested for the night, Sheera lay in her own bed, her head gently placed on Kirks right shoulder, their bodies intertwined and glistening from their exertions. They had been quite careful not to undo any of McCoys hard-won handiwork, but the results had been more than satisfying.
Even now, as she smoothed her hand across the binding bandages and her fingers danced lower, she felt him respond once more to her touch. She found that she ached for him again.
As Sheera moved to straddle him, she savored the fullness of his entry, the completeness of his thrusts, the tenderness of his kisses, knowing this would probably be the last time for them together. But also knowing that this world was her place and his was the Enterprise. They were two Humans who had found each other for a brief time, but had other obligations, other duties. Perhaps at another time or place, she would find this moment again, whether in reality or merely in memory, but what a memory it would be.
Captain Kirk took his rightful place once more at the center seat of the Enterprise, flanked by Commander Spock on his right and Doctor McCoy on his left.
The Vulcan clasped his hands behind him and turned to his commander. "I had felt, Captain, that you would be able to determine what was happening, but I must admit surprise that you could do it without access to the evidence Ms. Uhura uncovered."
Kirk smiled. "If I hadnt stumbled across that crate with MACH One plastered all over it, I might not have."
Clearing his throat, McCoy entered the conversation. "I must tell you, Jim, thats a pretty long connection. How did you figure out Hayes was involved just by the name of the company?"
Kirk grinned. "You remember when Hayes called me on the carpet for checking the wine Andar sent?"
"After a while he stopped yelling and it just became kind of sad, with him lamenting his lack of recognition. He showed me a medal he had gotten for an incident when he was just starting out. It was not a very big medal, and I remember thinking how hard it must have been for the engraver to fit all of his name it."
His audience waited, still not quite sure where he was headed. He thrust out his left hand, palms up. "His name. His full name was Mitchell Andreas Cbeck Hayes."
"Ah." McCoy tapped his lips lightly. "MACH. Smart, Jim."
Spock inclined his head in acknowledgment. "Yes, Captain. Quite logical."
Kirk grinned at them.
"Still," continued the Vulcan, "I do not understand why Commodore Hayes would expend so much energy on acquiring dilithium that was second-grade at best."
Surprised, Kirk twisted to look at his science officer, wincing slightly at the pull in his still-tender arm. "Not dilithium, Spock," he corrected and felt some satisfaction at the obvious confusion on the Vulcans face. "Diamonds. Millions of credits worth in the caves. I found them when Sheera and I were escaping Andars attack." He fought down a blush, but McCoy had not missed the moment.
"Ah, the caves. I was wondering where you were the whole time I was driving myself crazy with worry." His pointed smirk drew a deeper pink to the captains cheeks, but Kirk grinned good-naturedly.
"Not my fault, Bones, if you didnt know which way to run." At the mention of Sheera, his eyes grew a bit melancholy and McCoy quickly changed the subject.
"I heard Traxus is due to join the Federation in a few months. What do you think the chances are Nogura will let us be the representatives?"
Cutting his eyes to the wise face of the doctor, Kirk let a slight smile creep back before he returned his gaze forward and said softly, "Not bad. Not bad."
McCoy smiled and rested a hand on his friends broad shoulder before stepping toward the turbo lift. Simultaneously, Spock glided to his science station, and Kirk turned back to the view screen. "Mister Sulu," he announced formally, "take us out. Warp One."
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