Fire in the Lake

written by Ann Zewen

Fire in the Lake, the symbol of revolution.

- I Chang, Book of Chinese Proverbs


James T. Kirk mounted the platform, then turned and held the Vulcan's gaze steadily. "In every revolution, there is one man with a vision," he said. His unspoken directive seemed to hang in the air between them: Be that man.

"Captain Kirk," Spock replied, "I shall consider it."

Kirk watched the Vulcan slide the control lever into motion. The transporter room faded out, then back in again. Kirk swayed dizzily. Brushing one hand across his eyes, he shook his head to clear it. "Mister Spock ..." He stepped forward unsteadily, only to stop when he focused on the bearded figure standing before him.

"Captain?" Uhura's soft, melodic voice asked from behind him and to his right.

Kirk took a deep breath and let it out slowly before answering. "That's right, Lieutenant," he said, trying to sound matter-of-fact and in control of the situation. "We're still here."

"What the hell's going on?" Leonard McCoy demanded. "Shouldn't we be back on our own Enterprise?"

"A moot observation, Doctor," the bearded Spock replied evenly. "Since you obviously are not."

Uhura unconsciously took a step closer to her captain. "What do we do now?"

Kirk turned to face her before answering. "I don't know," he admitted.



The four displaced Federation officers gathered in the captain's quarters with Spock and Lieutenant Marlena Moreau. Kirk stood at the center of the room, his officers grouped around him. McCoy slouched in a chair to one side, while Spock stood a few steps away, managing to appear both relaxed and alert at the same time. At one end of the captain's bed, Montgomery Scott leaned forward to rest his forearms on his knees. Uhura sat poised on other end, a study in tense energy.

Kirk glared at the room's sixth occupant when she brushed one hand caressingly against his upper arm for the third time. Moreau took the hint and withdrew a few steps, pouting. Kirk began to pace as he talked.

"All right, it didn't work. Why? I want some answers, people." Instinctively, he turned to the ISS Enterprise's first officer, just as he would have to the Vulcan's double back in his own universe. "Spock?"

The Vulcan folded his arms and met Kirk's gaze evenly. "There are three possibilities," he allowed carefully.

"Specify."

"The power output may have been insufficient, either in calculation or execution."

"Nae." Scott shook his head decisively. "The calculations were accurate, and I programmed them into th' transporter m'self. There was nae mistake."

"Perhaps." Whether the Vulcan was agreeing with the engineer was unclear, but Kirk gave them no chance to argue.

"Continue," he demanded.

"An outside force such as a fluctuation in the ion storm could have altered the parameters in the equations used to make integral calculations."

"And number three?" Kirk prompted after a moment.

"It is possible," Spock finally answered, "that the original premise was incorrect. The transposition itself may be irreversible."

"What in the hell is that supposed to mean?" McCoy snapped.

"It means, Doctor," Spock replied calmly, "That you may be unable to return to your own universe regardless of external conditions."

The words fell heavily in the room, their finality leaving four of the six occupants speechless. Finally, Uhura spoke. "Captain?"

Kirk met her gaze briefly, then glanced around the room at each of the others present: Three of his own, and two others his instincts told him he could trust, at least to a point. Five people in an entire universe turned topsy turvy. He shook his head slowly, then faced Spock again.

"Which of those possibilities would you say is the most likely?"

The Vulcan considered. "The odds are..."

"Forget the God-damned odds and just answer the question!" McCoy blurted, straightening up in his chair.

"Best guess, Spock," Kirk urged gently.

Spock seemed to shrug, although he didn't actually move a muscle that could be discerned. "As I assisted Mister Scott with his calculations, and our instruments detected no significant energy fluctuations, I would theorize that the final option is the most likely."

"So, where does that leave us?" Kirk asked after a moment.

"For the time being, Captain," the Vulcan replied solemnly, "I would say it leaves you here."

"This is a hell of a time to develop a sense of humor," McCoy snarled.

"I was not making a joke, Doctor," Spock assured him.

Kirk ignored their sparring. "The question is, what do we do about it?"

"Of the available options," Spock offered. "The most viable is to assume the lives of your counterparts.

"I'm not working in that shop of horrors you call a Sickbay," McCoy announced grimly.

Spock raised a single eyebrow, regarding the doctor as if he were some sort of intriguing experiment gone awry. "Really, Doctor," he inquired calmly. "And where exactly do you intend to spend your time until we ascertain the probability of success inherent to a second attempt."

"Right here looks good to me," McCoy growled.

Marlena frowned, leaning slightly closer to Kirk. "Is he serious?" she asked, eyeing the doctor speculatively.

"Maybe the timing was wrong," Uhura suggested hopefully.

Kirk lifted his eyebrows in inquiry, encouraging her to continue.

"I mean, what if, for some reason they haven't figured out yet what to do? I'm sure Mister Spock is working on the problem, but he's most likely having to do it alone, or at least without the captain's or Scotty's help."

"What d'ye mean, lass?" Scott prodded. "Surely they want ta git home as badly as we do."

"Not necessarily," Uhura reasoned. "Or maybe they just don't trust Mister Spock. Either way, without assistance it would take him more time to work out both the solution and a possible timetable for the transfer. And he'd have to make all the actual alterations in the equipment himself. Or at least oversee them. There'd have to be three of him to do what we've done."

"Just out luck there's only two," McCoy grumbled.

Ignoring his CMO's gallows humor, Kirk finished her line of reasoning: "So, if we figure out what the next most likely point of interphase is, then we can try again.

Uhura nodded. "And maybe it will work this time."

Kirk turned to the first officer. "Spock?"

"It is an option to consider," he allowed. "However, since the ion storm is waning, there will not be sufficient power remaining to maintain an alignment of universes to make another attempt."

"Which means?" McCoy demanded.

"Which means we sit tight until the next storm," Kirk answered grimly. "And then we try again."

"Wait for the next storm. Great. We sit around here, for God knows how long--"

"I submit that your deity is not a factor, Doctor," Spock interrupted. "The Halkan Effect is a regular phenomenon, occurring at precise intervals. The Enterprise can continue with her business until such time as the next scheduled occurrence."

"Which is when, precisely?" Kirk asked.

"In Earth terms, seven months, three weeks, and eighteen point six three days."

"Seven months...three weeks..." Uhura repeated slowly. "It might as well be forever."

"In this hell hole," McCoy added, "it may be longer."

As though unable to find a suitable response to the doctor's pronouncement, everyone remained silent for the next moment or two. Finally, Spock spoke. "Captain, there is another matter that demands immediate attention if you are to remain in command of this vessel."

Kirk waited silently for the Vulcan to continue.

"The Halkans."

Kirk took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Of course. The Halkans." He glanced at each individual in the room, seeking inspiration, before finally returning to Spock. "Any ideas?"

"Ideas, at this juncture, would seem ill advised," Spock pointed out. "Starfleet Command has given you no options. You must destroy a Halkan city. And then another...and another, if necessary, until they submit and surrender the dilithium."

"Or die opposing us." Kirk's jaw tightened. There had to be another way. He could not simply order his ship to destroy an entire race -- or for that matter, even a single Halkan. He would not have the deaths of these pacifists on his conscience. Yet, if he refused to follow Empire orders, Spock had made it clear he would carry them out: first destroying his mutinous captain, and then the Halkans. The results, as far as the Halkans were concerned, would be the same. And Kirk himself would be dead, leaving his crew to the mercy of this merciless universe.

"Think, everybody," he ordered. "There has to be another way."

"Th' phasers?" Scott offered tentatively. Then, more confidently when Kirk gave him an encouraging glance, he added, "We could set them on stun."

"Then they'd just be out for a while, instead of dead," Kirk finished for him. He nodded, liking the sound of that. Could it work?

"Of course, we'll have to do some fancy footwork to keep that Rigillian blood worm out of our business."

"You mean Sulu," Kirk assumed.

"Aye. That's the divil."

"I can think of at least twelve people who fit that description," McCoy muttered.

"Only twelve?" Uhura countered wryly.

"We have to make sure that Sulu and the rest of the crew don't realize what we're up to," Kirk agreed, his mind racing. "Spock, can you program the computer to give him false readings, so when he fires the phasers, he won't realize they're not set on kill?"

"But the sensors will still read their life signs, won't they?" Uhura asked.

"Not if nobody asks them, lass," Scotty assured her.

"What if someone asks?"

"I've been known to lead a sensor array down the primrose path once or twice in my day. For a worthy cause, mind ye."

"Can it be done?" Kirk demanded of the watching first officer.

Spock considered the idea for twenty-six point five three seconds, then nodded. "However," he pointed out logically, "We cannot stun an entire planet."

"We don't have to," Kirk returned, his voice filled with growing enthusiasm for the plan refining itself in his mind with every word. "We'll bypass the primary target and hit the secondary. Although it's smaller, it's also closer to the mines. All we need to do is hit it with a wide-beam stun, transport down and get the dilithium, then get the hell out of here before anyone figures out what we're up to." He turned to Scotty. "You'll have to stay here to man the transporter controls. I don't want to have to worry about a mid-beam assassination attempt. And, Uhura, it'll be your job to keep Sulu off-guard. Distract him as much as possible so he won't notice if anything does show up on his security board."

"And what happens when the Halkans start screaming bloody murder?" McCoy interjected. "How do you think Command will react when they find out there wasn't any?"

"There is that," Kirk agreed. He began to pace the room again, mind searching improbabilities for a solution. He swung abruptly to face Spock. "You lead the team to retrieve the dilithium. McCoy and I will beam down for a nose-to-nose with the Halkan Council. We'll convince them that this is a better solution than the other options and that they shouldn't push their luck."

"How do you intend to accomplish that?" Spock asked.

Kirk shrugged. "I'll think of something."

A raised eyebrow was the Vulcan's only response.



"I cannot be a party to this," the Halkan leader protested.

"You don't have any choice," Kirk returned. "Even now, the dilithium is being removed from your planet. You can't stop it. You can only die after the fact."

"If I do not protest your actions to Starfleet Command, I am condoning your violation of my world, of my beliefs."

"Who do you think issued the orders in the first place?" Kirk snapped. "Look," he added with feigned patience, "Starfleet Command isn't going to do a thing about your protest. We can at least agree on that, can't we?"

"I expect nothing," the Halkan leader agreed.

"And by making that protest, you assure the deaths of every member of my crew who risked their lives on your behalf. Isn't that at least as much a violation of your beliefs as the implied collusion of silence?"

"You ask difficult questions, Captain," the Halkan said quietly.

"We're trying to do something here, sir. Trying to save lives, to put an end to the brutality, to the violence. Surely such a noble endeavor is worthy of whatever compromise you can afford it."

"How can I be certain your intentions are what you claim? You have lied to me before."

Kirk sighed. "I guess you'll just have to trust me. Peace is always a matter of mutual trust, isn't it? Why not start now? Start here, with me."

The Halkan studied the Human for a few minutes, then finally nodded in agreement. "We will not protest...on two conditions."

"Name them."

"Do not return here."

Kirk nodded. "And the other condition?"

"You must promise that the crystals will never, under any circumstances, be used to kill."

Kirk considered the request, then straightened and took out his communicator. He stepped back and away. "You have my word." He flipped the communicator open.

"Just exactly how do you plan to keep that promise?" McCoy hissed in Kirk's ear.

"I don't," Kirk said softly, then raised his voice to a normal tone: "Scotty, two to beam up."

McCoy was still staring at him incredulously a moment later when they materialized on the transporter pad. "Your word means less here than it used to," he noted finally.

"What do you want me to do, Bones?" Kirk snapped as he stepped off the pad. "Let them die? Or maybe you'd prefer it if we died."

"Not passing judgment, Jim. Just makin' an observation."

Kirk fixed his CMO with an icy glare. "Well observe this, Doctor," he said quietly. "The order of the day is survival. We'll worry about ethics tomorrow."

McCoy shrugged and offered a lopsided grin in apology. "Guess I'd better practice up on my lyin' then, huh?"

Kirk grinned back. "Guess you'd better."



Kirk returned to his cabin, weary beneath what felt like the longest day he'd ever put in on the bridge of a starship. Even the planetside diversion added to the tension, rather than relieving it. He stretched his back, flexing the muscles of his shoulders in a futile effort to lessen the tension that gripped him.

Seven months, three weeks...

Spock's words echoed through his mind now, as they had all day, choosing odd moments to taunt him with the knowledge that he and his crew were stuck here. Perhaps indefinitely. At the very least, for seven months, three weeks, and eighteen point six three days.

An eternity.

If a single day of being constantly on his guard against Chekov and Sulu and anyone else who didn't outrank him (that is, everyone aboard, he mused wryly) left him this tense and exhausted, how could he do it for nearly eight months? Did he even want to?

Kirk sighed and stretched his back again as he turned to the sleeping area, then stopped abruptly.

Marlena lay stretched luxuriantly on his bunk, watching him with half-veiled eyes. Clad in a diaphanous gown that revealed more than it hid, she nibbled on the end of one finger, her dark eyes following his every move. Kirk hesitated a moment, frowning, then smoothed the expression on his face and continued his approach to the bed.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, sinking to the bunk at her side.

"I live here," she replied evenly. Her eyes narrowed. "Unless you've changed your mind again. You said I'd be the captain's woman until--" She broke off and continued in a softer voice, "But that was before, when I still thought you were my captain." She sat up and began to stroke his upper arm slowly. "Does it change that? Now that I know who you really are?"

Kirk watched her hand a moment before meeting her gaze and shrugging, a crooked smile on his lips. "It doesn't have to...if you don't want it to."

Moreau smiled back at him. "I like being the captain's woman...whoever the captain is." Curling one hand behind his neck, she drew his head down for a long kiss, then broke it to nibble along his jawline before closing her small, perfect teeth on the lobe of his ear.

"Ow," Kirk protested half-heartedly, then "Ow!" when she bit again, harder this time. Pushing her away, he felt his injured ear and frowned to find his fingers stained with a small smear of blood. "What the hell was that for?" he demanded.

Instead of answering, Moreau just smiled and laced her fingers behind his neck, pulling him down with her as she reclined on the bed. Kirk's resistance lasted for just seconds; then, breaking slowly to a grin, he captured her hands with one of his, raised them above her head and slowly lowered his body atop hers.

"No biting," he murmured as his mouth closed over hers. His free hand began to caress her body, and Marlena moaned softly, struggling briefly to free herself from his confining hold before settling into it. She moaned again and bit his lip. Jim jerked back, but the glare in his eyes changed to passion when Marlena lifted her head and licked a tiny droplet of blood from his lower lip. "Marle--" he started, breaking off as her tongue slid between his lips and ignited a fire deep in his belly, driving all rational thought from his mind. This time he moaned, surrendering to the passion. His responses escalated with the occasional barbs of pain she inflicted, goading him to return it.

His last coherent thought for a long time was that a little pain wasn't such a bad thing after all.



When he returned to lucidity, he was lying at her side, spent, eyes closed as he waited for his heart rate and respiration to resume their normal rhythms. He opened his eyes to find Marlena frowning down at him.

"What?" he asked, a crooked smile on his lips to soften the demand in the one word.

"Are all men in your universe so...tame?"

"Tame?" he repeated, voice deliberately even.

"Hmmm," she replied. "Is that all there is?"

Despite the fatigue that still gripped him, Kirk rose from the bed, shrugged into his uniform and headed for the door. "I'll be on the bridge," he announced as he stepped into the corridor.



"Come," Leonard McCoy answered to the chime that requested permission to enter his personal quarters. He glared warily at the opening door until he spotted a welcome Scotsman bearing gifts on the threshold, awaiting a more sincere invitation. McCoy smiled a genuine smile, the first he'd managed the entire day.

"Come on in, Scotty." He gestured encouragingly to the engineer. "You're certainly a sight for sore eyes."

"As are you, Leonard," Scotty replied, stepping into the room to allow the doors to slip shut behind him. He waved a bottle in the air. "I thought we might share a wee drop o' refreshment."

"An excellent idea." McCoy's smile widened into a full grin, then faded a bit. "Although we'd better go easy on it. Around here, we may need all our faculties intact."

"Aye," Scotty agreed mournfully, then brightened. "But a wee drop won't hurt."

"Won't hurt a thing," McCoy replied, reaching into a cabinet to provide a pair of glasses.

"Leonard..." Scotty said when they'd poured the drinks and settled in to savor them, McCoy on the bed, the engineer on a nearby chair. "What do ye think's goin' ta happen ta us?"

McCoy shrugged. "I don't know, Scotty. All we can do is hope that Uhura's theory is the correct one and we can go home again at the next point of interphase."

"And if she's wrong?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure I can adjust to life on this Enterprise." The doctor swirled the drink around his glass, watching the liquid reflect the room's lighting. After taking a small sip, he resumed his thoughts. "I'm not sure I want to. I pledged to save lives and `above all to do no harm,'" he quoted the Hippocratic Oath. "Here, that's not the way they do things. In fact, it would be virtually impossible without endangering my own chances of survival."

"Aye," Scotty agreed. "An' it canna be enny easier for th' captain."

"No. It can't. You should have seen him negotiating with the Halkans. Jim has the most puritanical view on honor of any man I know. He takes it out and shines it every day, yet I watched him spit out that lie like it was second nature. `You have my word on it,'" McCoy quoted, lowering his voice slightly in a vague mimicry of the captain's tone. "He knew he couldn't promise it, but he did. I don't know how long that knight-in-shining-armor complex of his can survive beatings like that without caving in."

Scotty poured himself a second drink. "Aye, he managed ta dodge th' bullet with th' Halkans, ta be sure, but what happens th' next time?"

"I have no idea. I don't think even Jim knows what he's goin' to do next."

Scotty pondered the possibilities. "Maybe..."

"Maybe what?" McCoy leaned forward.

"What th' captain suggested ta Mister Spock just before we tried ta beam home."

McCoy narrowed his gaze, searching his memory, but found his thoughts scattered and disorganized. Must be the liquor, he thought, and set his glass on the table, unwilling to risk any more of the intoxicant. "And that was?" he prodded his friend.

"A revolution," Scotty pronounced.

"Revolution..." McCoy remembered now Kirk's words to the Vulcan. He nodded, frowning a bit as he considered it. "Now that fits in with Jim Kirk's sense of honor. Nothing like fixin' what's ails the world -- or universe -- to get him all fired up." He tossed his friend a wry grin. "Now, the question is: Can we survive the attempt?"

Scotty grinned back at him and lifted his glass in symbolic salute. "Ta th' revolution."

McCoy picked his glass up again. Just a tiny sip, he warned himself. "The revolution."



"All right..." Kirk eyed each member of his team in turn. "Who's most dangerous?"

"Chekov," McCoy answered without hesitation. "He's already attacked you once." The doctor turned to the bearded Vulcan. "And Spock's punishment hasn't endeared him either, although I don't think anyone stands a snowball's chance in hell of getting by that giant who's standin' guard outside this room right now."

The Vulcan lifted one eyebrow as though surprised that anyone would question either his particular brand of punishment or his choice of personal guard, but he remained silent.

"Sulu," Uhura added to the list. She shrugged as all eyes turned her direction. "I don't know why, but I know we'd better watch him. He gives me the creeps."

McCoy reached over and patted her hand. "Me, too, darlin'" he said gently.

"Has he threatened you?" Kirk wanted to know.

She shrugged again. "Nothing I can't handle."

Kirk watched her carefully a moment, then turned to the others. "All right. Chekov and Sulu. Who else?"

"Capt'n?"

"Yes, Scotty?"

"We're not plannin' ta kill them, are we?"

Kirk shook his head. "We're not killing anybody if we can help it, but I want them out of the way. Spock's searching for a some place we can isolate them."

"Some place?" McCoy repeated tentatively.

"Planet. Asteroid. Moon. Anywhere remote enough that we won't be tripping over them at every turn."

"Like Khan?" Uhura suggested.

"Who is Khan?" Spock asked.

Kirk turned to him, surprised that the Vulcan hadn't encountered the twentieth century "superman." The Human had somehow expected everything from his own universe to be duplicated here. That some things weren't, or were so different from his own history opened up questions he knew he'd have to have answered -- but later. First things first.

"Someone we once knew," Kirk said finally, answering Spock's question without really answering it. He returned to Uhura's query. "Yes. Exactly like Khan. We don't have enough people to guard them here on the Enterprise, and we can't risk them reporting to Command what's going on here."

"So we put them someplace out o' th' way," Scotty commented.

"Why not simply dispose of them?" Spock asked.

Four pair of eyes focused on the Vulcan, but no one knew exactly how to answer his question. After a minute of silence, Kirk spoke again. "We're not disposing of anyone. Who else?"



An hour later, when they'd drawn up a tentative list of several dozen crewmen most likely to cause trouble, the group broke up and headed for personal quarters.

As Uhura prepared for bed, slowly brushing her hair, the door chimed. She frowned.

"Who's there?"

"Sulu."

Her frown deepened. "What do you want?" she demanded, unconsciously tugging the hemline of her uniform a little lower.

"I need to speak to you." He hesitated. "It's about the captain.

Uhura sighed and glanced at herself in the mirror. What she saw there was a neckline far too revealing and a woman afraid of the unfamiliar world around her. She didn't care for either. Drawing her shoulders back proudly, she turned and faced the door.

"Come."

The door hissed open, and Hikaru Sulu slithered in. He smiled a smile that didn't resemble in the least a man she considered one of her best friends in another time, another place.

"Well?" She prompted impatiently.

"Well ..." He took a step closer. "You said I should...come back."

"You said," Uhura countered, trying hard not to show the sudden acceleration of her heartbeat, "you wanted to talk about the captain."

Sulu's smile widened. "I lied."

With careful deliberation, Uhura turned her back and resumed brushing her hair, all the while tracking his movement in the mirror. "And I," she offered with false nonchalance, "changed my mind again."

Breathing slowly, evenly, she watched him edge toward her in a sideways movement reminiscent of a cat stalking its prey. He lunged suddenly, expecting to catch her unawares, and found himself brought up short by the knife she withdrew from her boot in a single quick, smooth motion.

"I said I changed my mind." She spoke each word distinctly, her face a careful mask of confidence.

Sulu lifted both hands and took two steps backward, eyes rivetted on her knife. "Okay, okay, you win." As he turned to the door, Uhura breathed a soft sigh of relief, lowering the blade to her side.

It was her second mistake.

Sulu pounced, grabbing her knife arm and twisting it behind her. She gasped, muscles screaming in protest, and dropped the blade.

She began to struggle in earnest, but it was no use. No matter how she twisted and turned in his grasp, he managed to hold her firm, both arms pinned where she couldn't use her lethally long nails on his already-scarred face.

He grinned, and Uhura's heart skip a beat. "That's it, little tigress," he purred. "Keep fighting. It's better that way."

Sulu backed her to the bed and forced her down, using his own weight to hold her in place. With her arms trapped thus, it freed him to explore her body at will.

Uhura shuddered as he ripped the halter top aside, squeezing her breasts cruelly and pinching the nipples with a force that brought only pain, no arousal. He shifted slightly, moving to slide his hand between her thighs, and Uhura jerked sideways to separate their bodies by a few, vital inches.

It was enough...barely. She lifted her leg and kneed him in the groin, wrenching free as he cried out in pain and rolled away. Scrambling from the bed, she fell to her knees and scurried across the floor, hands extended before her in frantic desperation for the knife that skittered away at every touch. Her fingers closed about the gilt handle as he stumbled across the room. Turning, she lifted the blade into the path of his blind lunge.

Sulu screamed. The knife pulled from her grasp as he staggered a step away, the blade buried to the haft in his belly. He made an abortive grab at her, perhaps as one friend might reach to another for help, but Uhura evaded him easily. She simply stood and watched as he collapsed in seeming slow motion, first to his knees and then onto his side.

And he was still.

She watched him for a full three minutes before she dared approach close enough to see the glassy veneer of death in his wide-open eyes. With one booted foot, she reached out and nudged his leg. He didn't move. Carefully, making sure that he remained motionless, she knelt at his side and placed her fingers on the pulse point of his neck.

And felt nothing.

Still watching him, she recoiled, tugging the remains of her top into place to at least partially cover her breasts. Her breath and heart rate were speeding up with each second that passed until suddenly she was on her feet, dashing through the doorway and down the corridor to the only haven she knew.



Kirk had just tossed his vest into the clothing recycler and was stretching in a less-than-successful effort to release the tension in his shoulders when the door signal buzzed. He turned and stared it at a moment, wondering who it might be at this time of night. The door buzzed again.

"Come."

The doors slid open, and Uhura darted inside, a wild look in her eyes.

Kirk frowned. "Lieutenant?"

"He's dead," she whispered.

Kirk crossed the room swiftly and caught her shoulders between his hands. "Who's dead?" he demanded.

"Sulu."

"How?"

She tilted her head back to look at him, chin trembling a little despite her valiant effort to control it -- and the tears that filmed her eyes. "I killed him. I..."

Kirk's eyes narrowed, roaming over her disheveled appearance, noting the torn uniform and the scratches on her arms and shoulders. "Uhura ..." His fingers tightened. "Nyota," he breathed. "Did he ...?"

Uhura shook her head quickly, decisively, brushing her fingers across her eyes to remove the tears that were now clinging to her lashes. "I stopped him," she answered, knowing by his voice that he meant more than scratches. "He tried, but I fought him, and then..."

"Then what?" Kirk urged when she failed to finish the sentence.

"I...killed him. With my knife."

Kirk cupped her cheek in a gentle hand. His voice was soft, concerned. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine, but he's--" She broke off, unable to complete that sentence either. "Oh, God," she whispered. "I killed Sulu." Her eyes searched his for some kind of answer. "I killed him, Captain. I killed Sulu."

She began to tremble. Unable to hold back the tears any longer, she bowed her head to hide them from the man who watched with such compassionate concern.

"I'm sorry. I..."

Kirk gathered her in his arms, cradling her against him and murmuring quiet words of comfort. When she'd calmed somewhat, he reached out to jabbed at the wall comm.

"Kirk to McCoy."

"McCoy here."

"Report to my quarters. At once."

"You okay, Jim?"

"Just get here, Bones. Now." He paused. "And bring your medikit."

"On my way."



Fully dressed once again, Kirk paced his quarters, glancing frequently at the woman who lay motionless in his bed. Her breathing was calm, structured. Too much so. She hadn't moved, hadn't stirred at all since she let him lead her there, her hand clinging to his for support.

Only her eyes moved, watching him, unwilling to let him out of her sight.

The door buzzer cut across the tension in his spine. "Come," he ordered. McCoy entered, followed almost immediately by Spock and Scotty.

"Are you okay?" McCoy demanded, eyeing Kirk critically as he approached.

"I'm fine." Kirk nodded toward the bunk. "It's Uhura."

McCoy veered off to sit on the edge of the bed. "What happened?" he asked as much of Kirk as of the motionless woman.

"Sulu attacked her."

"That dirty Sassenach bastard," Scotty swore.

"Did he...?" McCoy glanced up, the question discretely confined to his eyes.

Kirk shook his head. "No. She stopped him."

McCoy began running the mediscanner over Uhura's body, noting the bruises and contusions, but finding no signs of more serious injury.

"I killed him," Uhura said quietly. "I killed Sulu."

"Good for you, lass," Scotty muttered fervently.

Uhura's gaze swung to the engineer, dark and unblinking. "I killed Sulu," she repeated as if perhaps he hadn't understood.

"He deserved it," McCoy said, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder and keeping it there when she flinched. Her eyes flicked uncertainly to Kirk.

"He deserved it," Kirk repeated.

Eyes too bright but without tears filled with gratitude. Woven with it was a kind of hesitant calm that filled the voids of haunted horror still resident to her expression.

The doctor replaced his mediscanner in his kit and removed a hypo, checking the available cartridges and inserting one in the instrument. "This'll help." He pressed the hypo against her upper arm, releasing the calming sedative/pain-killer into her blood stream, and then began tending to the scratches on her shoulders.

While McCoy was busy with Uhura, Kirk led Spock and Scotty out of the cabin and down the corridor to the lieutenant's quarters, their personal guards following at a discreet distance. He paused in front of her cabin, needing a few answers before facing the task that lay ahead.

"Does this kind of thing happen often?" he demanded.

Spock raised an eyebrow of inquiry. "To what kind of thing are you referring, Captain?"

"That." Kirk jerked his head back in the direction of his own cabin. "Rape. Is that another common occurrence on this ship?"

"Rape? I am unfamiliar with the term." Spock shrugged. "Sulu was merely attempting to obtain that which he desired."

"Surely you canna be serious, Mister Spock," Scotty protested. "He forced himself on th' poor lass."

Spock raised an eyebrow as if considering a new concept. "I hardly believe that Sulu would agree with your evaluation of Lieutenant Uhura's vulnerability. He should have learned his lesson the first time."

Kirk struggled to control his voice, angry beyond measure at the Vulcan's calm indifference. "You mean this has happened before?"

Spock turned his attention to the captain. "I fail to understand your disquiet with this encounter. Your crewman seems to have fared far better than her opponent."

"Fared better?" Kirk snapped, outraged that he should have to justify Uhura's distress. "She was nearly raped. She had to kill a man who's been her friend for years to stop it."

Spock stared at Kirk for several long moments, his eyes studying the Human so intently they appeared to be dissecting his expression, feature by outraged feature.

"Fascinating," Spock muttered finally.

"Damn you, Spock," Kirk fumed. "This isn't one of your experiments. We're talking about life and death here. Sulu's... Uhura's. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

"It does present an unparalleled opportunity to study atypical Human behavioral patterns and loyalty structures."

Kirk's eyes hardened, narrowed. Again, he was confronted with the disquieting fact that although this Spock resembled his own first officer, he was not. Suspicion coiled like a viper in Kirk's gut. He stared at the bearded Vulcan, wondering what other pools of brutality lay treacherous beneath a thin veneer of surface cooperation.

"In my world, Captain," Spock allowed after a moment, "It would not mean even that, to you."

"I'm not part of your world, Spock," Kirk said quietly.

"That is exceedingly obvious. But until such time as you are successful in returning to your own, I would suggest that you make the effort to appear as if you are."

For almost a minute, Kirk didn't answer. He stared at this stranger Spock, and the stranger Spock returned his intent gaze. Nearby, Scotty shifted his weight nervously from foot to foot, waiting for one or the other of his commanding officers to break the tense silence.

"How would I view this ... incident," Kirk asked finally, "if I were the captain of the Imperial flagship?"

"You would no doubt view it as fortuitous," Spock responded without hesitation.

"Fortuitous," Kirk repeated.

"Indeed. As chief of security, Lieutenant Sulu may have proven a significant impediment to your plans. He had few vulnerabilities, and a great many aspirations. In addition, as an informant to the Imperial Council, his disappearance would have been investigated. And you, Captain, are hardly in a position to court intimate inquiry."

Kirk considered it for a moment, then nodded grimly. Returning his attention to the entry pad, he keyed in his override code and the door slid open. They stepped across the threshold.

Furniture and other belongings were scattered across the room. In the middle of it all lay Sulu, steeped in a puddle of his own blood.

"The puir lassie," Scotty whispered.

Kirk crossed the floor and knelt at Sulu's side, checking for a pulse. The helmsmen's skin was cold. Already, rigor mortis was setting in. Kirk reached out and closed the dead man's eyes.

"Fortuitous," he reminded himself.

Kirk pushed to his feet and took a step back. "Take care of that," he ordered, inclining his head at Sulu's corpse. "And make sure a proper report is filed."

Spock nodded, and Kirk turned away. He crossed to the dresser and rummaged through the drawers, removing a couple of items before he turned to the lieutenant's undisturbed bunk and stripped it of both pillow and coverings. His load carefully folded in both arms, Kirk spared a moment to look around.

Scotty was where he'd left him, watching Spock and his silent guard attend to the details of their assignment. Kirk found himself drawn by the engineer's gaze to Sulu's as-of-yet untouched body. Lying on his side, scar hidden in the shadows where his face met the floor, he was familiar enough to wrench Kirk's stomach back against his spine.

"I'll be in my cabin if you need me, Scotty," he muttered, heading for the door. "We'll meet in the morning, 0900 hours."

"Aye, sir," Scotty answered. His expression flickered with anger as Spock's guard lifted Sulu's lifeless body and slung it over one broad shoulder like so much grain.

"I wish he'd be takin' a wee bit more care," the Scotsman muttered darkly. "He may've got what he had comin', but he's still Hikaru Sulu. At least ..." Scotty glanced at his captain. "In a way, of sorts. Isn't he?"

Kirk gave no answer, because he had none.

After a moment, Scotty shrugged and shook his head. "Tell th' lass I'll be droppin' by for a visit when she feels up to it."

"I'll tell her, Mister Scott."

Spock led Sulu's body to the door, watching Kirk disappear down the corridor with his load of Uhura's personal belongings.

"He seems quite fond of the lieutenant," Spock observed.

"We're all quite fond of her," Scotty snapped.

Spock raised an eyebrow.

Scotty didn't like the leer he perceived in the expression. "We're all quite fond of each other," Scotty elaborated defensively. "That is why we'll git home, Mister Spock. All of us, together, and in one piece. Because we care about one another."

"Indeed," Spock murmured, taking a step out into the corridor, his guard and Sulu's body close behind.



McCoy was sitting in a chair, watching Uhura sleep when Kirk re-entered his cabin and tossed pillow, bedcoverings and feminine garments unceremoniously in one corner of the room.

"How is she?" he demanded.

"Sleeping."

"How long until she wakes?"

"Hard to say. Medications in this universe are more potent and carry a greater potential for undesirable side-effects than I'm used to, so I gave her a minimal dose. Just enough to ease her sore shoulder and calm her a bit. The sleep's natural. She could sleep all night, or she might wake in hours...or minutes."

Kirk leaned against the desk. "Why don't you go get some sleep yourself?"

"That's a good idea." McCoy began gathering his medical kit together. "What about you?"

Kirk nodded at the pile of bedding in the corner. "I'll make a pallet and sleep there. Then if she wakes, she won't be alone."

"What about Marlena?"

"What about her?"

"She's `the captain's woman,'" McCoy pointed out. "And she doesn't strike me as the type who likes to share."

Kirk shrugged. "Then she can find someplace else to go."

"You sure that's a good idea? Seems to me we have enough enemies in this place without adding a woman scorned. Maybe I should take Uhura to my ..."

"No."

McCoy eyed his friend closely, trying to read the calm mask he knew better than to take at face value. "Something goin' on that I should know about, Jim?" he asked finally.

"I'll handle Marlena," Kirk replied coldly.

"It's not Marlena I'm worried about."

Kirk's eyes strayed to the sleeping Uhura.

"And it's not Uhura," McCoy added. "You can't watch all of us, all of the time, Jim. There was no way you could have anticipated this."

Kirk's features softened slightly. "Goodnight, Bones," he muttered, still watching the woman who lay in his bed. "Don't sleep too tight, and don't let the assassins bite."

"I haven't slept tight since the uniform re-design," McCoy grouched. He started for the door and then paused. "She may be in for a rough night," he noted after a moment.

Kirk nodded. "I know. I can handle it."

"If you need help, you know where I'll be."

The captain nodded again.

McCoy watched Kirk watch Uhura for a moment more and then stepped into the range required to activate the pneumatic door. It hissed open.

"Leonard?" Kirk called quietly.

McCoy stopped in the doorway, waiting for the younger man to continue, wondering what was coming because Jim Kirk only called him `Leonard' when he was going to say something that, under normal circumstances, he wouldn't consider saying.

"Watch your back," Kirk finished.

McCoy grinned. "And my front," he agreed. "And my sides, and the soles of my feet."

Kirk nodded. He turned to the computer terminal on his desk as the door slid shut behind McCoy.

"Computer."

"Working," the computer responded in its flat monotone.

"What is the governing structure of the Empire, beginning at the top?"

"The Empire is headed by the Empress T--"

"Stop," Kirk interrupted as the door slid open again.

Marlena Moreau sashayed into the cabin. She stopped two steps past the threshold, her eyes narrowing at the sight of another woman in her bed.

"What is she doing in here?" Moreau demanded in a dangerous voice.

"I invited her."

"You invited her," Moreau repeated. She walked slowly across the room and programmed the food slot for two glasses of wine. She returned to him, one in each hand. "Well," she observed, handing him his glass and taking a slow sip of her own. "She looks like she's had more fun than I have."

Kirk smiled slightly. "It isn't like that," he assured her.

"Then tell me what it's like," Moreau agreed, leaning into the wall.

"Sulu attacked her."

"So?"

Anger flared in Kirk's chest. He was getting just a bit tired of the cavalier manner in which these people accepted the concept of rape.

"So," he continued, his tone reflecting sharply off his words. "She was forced to kill him. And, not knowing what else to do, she came here."

Moreau laughed. "So she killed the little sewer rat. Good for her." She took a long, lingering drink of wine. "To tell you the truth, I didn't think she had it in her."

Kirk set his wine aside. "She didn't have much choice."

"There are always choices," Moreau countered. "Speaking of which, I believe it's time for you to make one."

"What do you mean?"

"Either she goes, or I do."

Kirk met her dark eyes. "If that's the way you want it."

Moreau straightened. "What I want," she said calmly, fire in her eyes, but ice in her voice, "Is to continue as the Captain's Woman. I like my position, even if it has disadvantages it never used to."

The way she said disadvantages left little doubt as to what she meant.

"But I won't be shared, Kirk," she continued. "Not even by you. Most especially, not by you. You're not enough man for one woman, let alone two."

"Everyone's entitled to their opinion," Kirk answered calmly.

"You said I was the Captain's Woman until the captain says I'm not," Moreau reminded him grimly. "Is that what you're saying? That I'm not?"

"I'm saying Uhura stays," Kirk responded.

"You bastard."

"There is an alternative," Kirk suggested on sudden inspiration. "A way you can keep your power without subjecting yourself to any more...disadvantages."

Moreau's eyebrows lifted in interest, so he went on. "There is one other man on this ship who has virtually as much power as the captain. Perhaps, considering the circumstances, even more."

"Are you crazy?" Moreau spat the words at him, not pretending to misunderstand. "He's a Vulcan!"

Kirk shrugged. "Suit yourself. There's always Commander Kenner."

"You're damned right there is! Among others." Moreau crossed to the dressing area and returned with an armful of clothing. "You'll regret this, Kirk," she promised him."

"I doubt it."

She glared at him a few seconds, then stormed out of the room.

"Was that wise?" a soft voice asked from his bed. It drew Kirk across the room to sit at her side.

"How are you feeling?" he asked rather than answering her question.

"Better." Her face didn't have that terrified look any more, but there was none of her usual sparkle either. "I asked if you thought that was wise," Uhura repeated. "She knows a lot. She could be a dangerous enemy."

Kirk shrugged. "She could be a dangerous ally," he countered. He grinned at Uhura, trying to ease some of the worry from her troubled expression. "Don't let her worry you too much, Lieutenant. Despite her protests, I think Marlena knows where her bread's buttered. She knows I'm no longer in control of the ship, and she knows who is. You'd be surprised how quickly she'll come to see the wisdom of my suggestion."

"But will he?"

"I've seen the way he looks at her. Once he knows she's available..."

"Why, Captain," Uhura muttered, a slight glimmer of humor creeping into her voice. "You're a devious man."

"When I have to be."

"But," Uhura went on quietly. "I hope you didn't do that just for my benefit. I'll be all right. After all, I did prove I can take care of myself, right?"

Kirk shook his head. "No."

"No, it wasn't just for my benefit? Or, no, I can't take care of myself?"

"Both."

Uhura sat up on the bed. "Now look here, Captain. I think that's exactly what I did. I think that under the circumstances, I--"

"No, you look." He took her shoulders between his hands and forced her to meet his gaze. "I know you can hold your own in a fair fight...and in many unfair ones. But this is different. This place..." He glanced around the cabin, although they both knew he meant more than either his own quarters or even the entire ship. "This place isn't anything like what we're used to. You have to be on your guard, here. Always. And even then, it's sometimes not enough. What Sulu did isn't uncommon. They take what they want by force. They have no concept of rape."

Uhura shuddered, and Kirk tightened his hands on her arms. "Sulu's death will only serve as a challenge," he said quietly. "It will make you more of a prize. More of a target. You can't be watching over your shoulder all the time for the next man in line. And ..." He grinned softly at her, trying to ease the growing fear in her eyes." ...and even if you could, I can't have you killing half the crew."

"Then what do I do?" she asked quietly.

"There's only one way you'll be safe here," Kirk told her firmly. "Only one way they'll leave you alone." He took a deep breath. "If they think you're the captain's woman, no one will dare touch you so long as I'm alive."

Uhura searched his face, then allowed her gaze to drop until it focused on the point of the V of his vest. "You're right," she whispered the acknowledgement.

"I know I'm right." He lifted his right hand from her shoulder to brush a tendril of dark hair back from her forehead.

"I'm sorry, sir."

"Sorry?"

"To be such a...a burden."

Kirk laughed gently. "You're not a burden, Lieutenant," he told her. "Actually, you're a Godsend. I'm not sure I would have survived another night in Marlena Moreau's bed."

Uhura's lips quirked slightly. "Thank you, sir," she said quietly. "For...I mean..." Her eyes lowered themselves again. "...I don't think I would have ever felt safe again," she murmured.

Kirk put a finger under her chin and lifted it until she met his eyes. "Trust me, Lieutenant. I'll see that no one lays a hand on you."

Uhura glanced down at the hand that still clasped one shoulder, then looked up at him again, a trace of her usual impish grin tugging at the corner of her mouth. "Not a hand," she declared.



"You are certain you wish to take on such an endeavor in a world...`not your own'?" Spock asked, studying Kirk's expression carefully.

"I told you before, Spock. This way of life is nothing more than a waste of time, energy and people. In time, your Empire will be overthrown. Why not help it along a bit and avoid as much of the death and destruction as possible? Besides," Kirk shrugged, "I've got nothing better to do for the next seven months."

"You don't know what you're suggesting. T'Pau..."

"T'Pau?" The Vulcan matriarch who had refused a seat on the Federation Council back in Kirk's universe, and who had presided over Spock's own farce of a wedding. "What does she have to do with anything?"

Spock made no attempt to hide the surprise in his eyes. "The Empress has everything to do with it. She is, after all, the single most powerful force in the Empire. For a revolution to succeed, we would first have to dispose of her."

"Empress." Kirk stood and paced the floor of his cabin, rubbing the back of his neck with his right hand. He turned back to Spock. "I think you'd better fill me in on a little Imperial history and politics."



"So, when would they be most vulnerable?" Kirk asked a couple of very long hours later. He felt like an Academy student again, only none of his instructors had covered so much ground in such a short period of time. He hoped he could keep it all straight.

"There is the bonding ceremony."

Kirk frowned. "Bonding?"

"I am due to return to Vulcan in six days time for my formal bonding to T'Pring."

Kirk frowned again. Here was more evidence that history didn't unfold in the same order in this universe as in his own.

"The most powerful Vulcan leaders will be there. With all of them in the same place at the same time, perhaps it would be our best opportunity. Also, they will not be expecting such an attack at that time. T'Pau's opinion of me is not...generous." There was no regret in Spock's tone, just a statement of fact.

"We'll see to it that she has to revise that opinion," Kirk offered with a grin, then sobered. "But if she doesn't think much of you, then why attend your wedding?"

"It is necessary. Despite the taint of my unfortunate Human heritage, I am still her grandson; and, as such, I have my uses. Primary among them is the linkage through which she may pass the Imperial throne to her chosen heir apparent."

Kirk shook his head slowly, still trying to digest the word grandson. "And that is?"

"T'Pring."

"T'Pring," Kirk repeated. "Well, at least there are some consistencies between our worlds, Mister Spock."

Spock's eyebrow lifted.

"Who else will be there?" Kirk asked, rather than explain the disdain he knew colored his voice at the mention of Spock's bondmate.

"As distasteful as he finds it, the military governor of Earth will return to Vulcan for the ceremony."

Kirk frowned. "The governor?"

"Sarek."

"Your father." Kirk felt as though his head were swimming with the complicated political and interpersonal relationships that were being revealed.

"He who sired me," Spock responded.

"And Amanda?"

"My sire's chattel is, of course, at Gol." Spock's expression was as stoic as even, and yet Kirk was certain he had seen something flicker in the dark eyes for just a moment -- anger? pain? He couldn't be sure.

"T'Pau, T'Pring and Sarek then," Kirk repeated.

"And Admiral Stonn," Spock added after a moment of thought. "He will certainly be recalled for the event, as well."

"Stonn?" Kirk repeated. "Admiral Stonn?" He was beginning to feel like a looped tape. He had to break himself of this habit of repeating everything Spock said.

"The admiral is directing the campaign against the Romulans."

Kirk shook his head again. "And so we'll have in one place..."

"The four greatest tyrants of the Vulcan-Terran Empire," Spock finished for him. "We can dispose of them all at once and throw the entire Empire into chaos."

Kirk frowned. He didn't like the cavalier way Spock kept talking about `disposing' of people, especially his own family. "We're talking about your father, your grandmother and your wife, Spock. Can you dismiss them all so easily?"

"He who sired me blinded my mother, murdered his bondmate and imprisoned my brother."

Brother! Kirk reeled from the latest shock, but Spock continued as though he had said nothing surprising.

"She who bore Sarek considers me a shame to the House, and she who is to be my consort has already taken Admiral Stonn as her lover and will likely order my death -- with T'Pau's sanction -- as soon as her right to inherit the throne is assured." Spock paused, then added in a deadly soft voice. "I not only dismiss their disposal, I anticipate it with great relish."

"I--" Kirk looked up to realize that the door to his cabin was open. He and Spock had been so wrapped up in their conversation that he hadn't heard its characteristic whoosh.

Marlena Moreau was watching him steadily, no sign of any emotion on her face.

"I've come to collect my things," she said. "Commander Kenner has agreed to accept me as his woman...on my own terms."

Kirk watched silently as she crossed the room and began to empty the storage drawers. How much had she heard? And what would she do about it? He knew by the look on Spock's face that the Vulcan expected something, and it turned his stomach to realize he knew exactly what that was.

He'd hoped Marlena would take his suggestion about Spock to heart, but after the lesson he'd just learned on Vulcan/Human relationships, he understood her earlier reaction much better. While Spock might find her desirable, Marlena would never submit to being used in the only way a Vulcan ever possessed a Human woman. There was no status in being chattel -- and no reprieve. If Kirk had understood the political dynamics of this universe a bit better at the time, he might have found an alternative to simply throwing Moreau out of his quarters. It was too late now, though. He simply would have to keep a wary eye out for her. After all, not only did Moreau know who he really was -- or wasn't, as the case may be -- she also knew the secret of the Tantalus Field. And she knew the access code to his cabin.

Making a mental note to change that immediately, Kirk turned away from Moreau and faced Spock once again. "All right, let me get this straight. I report to Admiral..." His mind working double-time, Kirk carried on an innocuous conversation concerning Fleet organization, all the while wondering exactly when Moreau had entered the room and exactly how much she heard.

Spock raised a disapproving eyebrow, but thankfully refrained from any suggestions concerning disposal.



"It's the Vulcan who's most dangerous," Moreau whispered in the man's ear. "You must eliminate him if you're to have a chance of getting to Kirk."

"And when I do?"

"You'll win the gratitude of the Empress herself when you expose the traitors."

A grin spread across his face. The Empress! Now that would be a powerful sponsor indeed. With her support, he could command his own ship, maybe even an entire fleet of ships.

"Tell me more..."



Spock strode swiftly down the corridor unconcerned about his lack of a guard. That Safab had been summoned to Sickbay was odd, but hardly worthy of worry. Kirk's doctor was even less likely than his own to involve himself in the machinations of others, or to initiate a plot of his own. He depended in fact, as did the other three displaced officers, upon Spock's participation in their plans to return home. It would be highly illogical, even for McCoy, to divest the first officer of his personal guard in collusion with those who might wish to see him assassinated.

Why, exactly, the Human doctor would wish to see Safab, Spock couldn't imagine; but as he found this doctor even more difficult to understand than his counterpart, he simply didn't bother trying to find an explanation. It was enough to know that there was no injurious intent behind the request.

Whatever the doctor's reasons, Safab would join his master in Engineering as soon as McCoy finished with him. Until then, Spock could take care of himself. He rounded a corner en route for the turbolift...and they attacked.

One Human Spock could have fended off easily. Two would have taken little more effort, and three would have been difficult, but manageable. But four...

Spock managed to take two of the Humans with him, snapping one's neck with single-handed efficiency as he cracked the other's head against the bulkhead. The body fell to the deck, right temple distinctly dented, but Spock was already pivoting to face his surviving attackers.

Before he could complete the turn, however, they were on him, knives flashing. A blade sank deep into Spock's upper right arm. He grabbed the man attached to it and tossed the attacker down the corridor. The body slammed against a bulkhead with bone-crushing force. Even as he completed the maneuver, a second knife plunged between Spock's ribs. He staggered and fell. Soon he, too, was lying on the deck unconscious and bleeding, his breath rattling in his chest.

Pavel Chekov knelt, withdrawing the dagger from Spock's torso. A satisfied grin spread through his features as he considered the thick olive fluid smeared on the blade.

"Soon," he told the unconscious Vulcan, "I will be in command of this wessel. And you, my green-blooded friend, will be nothing more than an assortment of molecules scattered among the cold darkness of space...along with your traitor of a captain."

Chekov lifted his arm, prepared to plunge the knife into Spock's body again when the turbolift door behind him slid open and an imposing figure emerged.

"You!" the Russian exclaimed, jumping to his feet and pivoting to face Safab. "You were supposed to be in Sickbay."

Eyes narrowed, the huge Vulcan took in the scene. He saw Spock, lying in a pool of green blood; and he saw Chekov's dagger, covered in that same blood. Slowly, Safab advanced on the smaller man.

Chekov backed away until he came up against a bulkhead and found he had no place to run. Slowly he sank to the deck, staring up in terror at the silent guard whose strength was legendary.

Slow-witted and mute, Safab's loyalty to Spock was unlimited, as, it was rumored, was his strength. Though Safab was a joke among the Enterprise crew, it was only behind his broad back. No one dared comment to his face about a lack of intelligence or voice, or the shaggy-haired, unkempt appearance. Or his rumored ancestry.

Even when they laughed among themselves, crewmen were prone to glance over their shoulders. No one wanted to be overheard by the Silent Giant. No one wanted to test the tales told about his ability to disassemble Humans limb by limb.

"No," Chekov begged. "Pleas-- aiee!"

He screamed as Safab grabbed the wrist of his knife hand and snapped it as easily as he would have a tiny twig. Undeterred by the navigator's pain, Safab reached next for Chekov's neck. He either did not hear, or chose to ignore, the sound of the turbolift doors opening again.

"No!"

Kirk's voice stopped Safab instantly. He paused, fingers deep in Chekov's throat.

"Don't kill him," Kirk ordered.

Safab looked at Spock, then back at Kirk.

"Don't kill him," Kirk said again, more softly this time. Four ship's security officers came running down the corridor as Safab tried to decide what to do. They relieved him of his prisoner, rendering the dilemma moot.

"Take him to the brig," Kirk ordered.

"The agony booth?" one asked.

Kirk hesitated, his stomach churning in reaction. Swiftly he quashed the nausea that rose at the memory of Chekov's previous visit to the booth. He nodded, then turned away as the security men dragged the whimpering Russian away.

Kirk's eyes met Safab's. There was something there, something full of question and confusion. The dull gleam was less than intelligence, but no less questioning for it. He was a dog without a master, a child without a parent. He looked to Kirk for an explanation.

Kirk crouched at Spock's side, noting the ugly bruise on the side of his head and the blood that soaked his tunic. He pressed his fingers against Spock's neck to feel for a pulse.

It was there, impossibly slow -- as Spock's always was -- but there. Kirk looked back up at Safab. The question remained in his eyes. And something more.

Fear.

"He's alive," Kirk assured the big Vulcan quietly. For the first time, he saw something he remembered from his own world in the eyes of a man from this one. "Let's get him to Sickbay."

Safab bent and lifted Spock into his arms. He carried the unconscious first officer down the corridor as easily as if he were a small child.

After a moment, Kirk followed.



"Bones!"

McCoy turned at Kirk's voice to see Spock's huge personal guard enter Sickbay carrying his blood-soaked master.

"Here," he directed them to a medibed. "What happened? Who did this?"

Safab laid Spock on the bed and stepped back. McCoy set immediately to work.

"Chekov and three of his men. Another bid for advancement."

McCoy reached for the instrument needed to bind the flesh back together. "Where are they?" he demanded, never looking up from his patient. "What condition are they in?"

"Three of them are dead." Kirk hesitated. "Chekov's in the brig."

McCoy's head jerked up. His penetrating blue gaze met his captain's hazel eyes, darkening almost to black with fury. "The booth?"

Kirk nodded.

"Damn barbarians!" McCoy swore, returning to Spock's injuries. "Can't you stop them?"

"It's expected."

"You're the captain--" McCoy started.

"And if I want to keep that designation," Kirk interrupted, "I have to keep up the charade. After..." He didn't say after what. "...I've ordered him to be held in the brig until further orders."

"Which are?" McCoy's snapped.

"He'll stay there until we can put our plans into motion and leave him where he can't do any more damage."

McCoy looked up at him again. "Have you found someplace?"

"We have not." Kirk and McCoy were both surprised to hear the injured Vulcan speak. McCoy watched in stunned wonder as Spock pushed away his hands and sat up. The doctor shook his head, disbelieving in spite of the evidence of his own eyes of Spock's swift recuperative abilities.

"But we will," Kirk stated firmly. "And soon. He's too dangerous to have wandering around the ship, and I can't keep him in the brig indefinitely."

"No, you cannot. He has confederates who will see to his liberation before long."

"So what are we supposed to do?" McCoy demanded.

"He must be eliminated."

"No." Kirk shook his head. "I can't do that."

"You can do whatever you wish to do," Spock corrected. "You are the captain."

"I won't do that," Kirk amended grimly.

"Then you are a fool," the Vulcan announced. "He will eliminate you, sooner or later."

"I'll take my chances."

"Unless you act, you have no chance," Spock countered.

"I'll find a way."

"You will die."

Kirk met the bearded first officer's gaze. "Don't bet on it," he answered darkly.



"You!" he hissed between his teeth. "What do you want now?"

"I'm going to help you get out of here," she answered, punching a code into the security panel.

"Where did you learn that?"

She shrugged. "It doesn't matter. I know it. That's enough."

The force field dropped, allowing him to emerge from the cell. He started to leave the brig, but a small hand on his forearm brought him up short. He turned to her in inquiry, then slowly began to smile, sliding his arm around her shoulders.

She shrugged him off. "There's no time for that. You have to get out of here. Now."

"Out of here? How?" he demanded. "And where would I go?"

"To Vulcan."

"Wulcan? They'll kill me there."

"No, they won't. Not when you arrive with the information I'm about to tell you."

His eyes widened. "What information?"

She leaned forward conspiratorially. "Well..."



Kirk sat in the command chair, apparently idly considering the starfield on the viewing screen, but the tap-tap-tap of his fingers on the arm of the chair betrayed his anything-but-calm state of mind. Though he acknowledged the accuracy of Spock's assessment of the danger inherent to allowing Chekov and his cohorts their continued existence, he couldn't bring himself to order their disposal or even to look the other way and allow the bearded Vulcan to take care of matters for him.

Marooning them on an isolated planet was only a slightly more acceptable solution, but at least it avoided the immediate necessity of their deaths. And it had worked once before, in his own universe. Though Khan would doubtless have preferred to rule the universe, he had his own world to build, and his life to build it with.

That was as much as he could ask, under the circumstances. And considering Chekov's predilection for assassinations in this universe, it was probably more than he deserved.

"Captain?" Uhura's voice interrupted Kirk's train of thought.

"Yes, Lieutenant?"

"Someone's activated the shuttle bay doors, and the Galileo is powering up."

"What?" Kirk lurched to his feed, jabbing at a button on his console. "Kirk to Engineering. Scotty, who's in that shuttle?"

"I dinna know, Cap'n," came the puzzled reply. "My men are trying to override the controls and block the doors, but they're nae havin' enny luck."

At that moment, the huge bay doors reached the full open position, and Kirk saw the shuttlecraft ease into view on the bridge screen. He sank heavily into his chair. "Open a frequency, Lieutenant."

"Open, sir."

"Kirk to shuttlecraft pilot. Identify yourself."

The view on the screen faded and was replaced by the sneering face of Pavel Chekov.

"Return to the Enterprise immediately," Kirk ordered in a deceptively soft voice.

The laughter that replied traced a chill down the captain's spine.

"Mister Chekov..." He still hadn't raised his voice. "I suggest that you return to this ship immediately."

Chekov laughed again. "What are you going to do, Keptin? Destroy this fine wessel? I don't think so. The Empire would garnishee your wages for eternity."

"It is possible he has set a course for Vulcan," Spock informed the captain.

"Wery good, Mister Spock. I will give the Empress your regards."

Chekov cut the transmission so that the exterior view of the Galileo filled the viewing screen.

"Power to phasers." Kirk said quietly.

And then he stared at the image, refusing to think, until the new helmsman/security officer broke into his non-thoughts. "Captain?"

For a moment, Kirk didn't answer. Then, never taking his eyes from the screen, he said, "Fire."

The lieutenant pressed the appropriate button, and the powerful burst of energy erupted from the ship's phaser banks, dead on target. A second later, and it was all over. The Galileo was nothing more than a scattering of debris and the waning light of a fiery explosion.

And Pavel Chekov, at least in this reality, no longer existed.

Kirk pushed himself to his feet, feeling a hundred years old. "Mister Spock, you have the conn." He headed for the turbolift, careful to avoid Uhura's gaze.



Uhura entered the captain's cabin to find it in near darkness. She paused just inside the doorway, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dim lighting, then glanced around the room until she located the still figure lying on the floor.

It was too still. No one was that motionless unless they were dead or being very careful not to move. She crossed the room slowly, silently, to stand over him, watching until she was able to discern the slight motion of his slow, even breathing. With the knowledge that he was at least alive, she recrossed the room to prepare for bed.

Ten minutes later, she was sitting on the edge of the bunk, watching him again. He hadn't moved since she'd entered the room. Not a muscle. Not a millimeter. She remembered the haunted expression on his face when he departed the bridge earlier.

And then she remembered the gentle way he held her the night she killed Sulu. Just held her, allowed her to cry. Everyone needed someone to lean on occasionally.

Even a starship captain.

She rose from the bed and went to his side, kneeling on the deck and placing a gentle hand on his hard shoulder.

The flinch was so slight she wouldn't have noticed it if she hadn't been looking for it. After the single, involuntary movement, he was motionless again, obviously, pointedly ignoring her.

Uhura didn't care. She wasn't about to let him bear this pain alone. Hesitating only a few seconds longer, she stretched out along his back, wrapping one arm around him.

Kirk remained still another minute, and then Uhura felt him draw a deep, shuddering breath and release it in a heavy sigh. So slowly she wasn't convinced as to the accuracy of her perceptions at first, Uhura felt the tension ease from his body.

And then he slept.



Uhura awoke the next morning to find herself in bed alone. She lay still and listened for sounds from the head before deciding that Kirk was long gone.

Turning over, she winced at muscles stiff from a night spent on the hard deck. She smiled briefly at the thought of Kirk sleeping there for the past several nights so she could have the cabin's single bunk.

She rose from the bed and began preparing for duty. Her mind drifted, began to worry their predicament as it was wont to do whenever left with nothing to keep it busy.

Firmly, she made herself imagine them going home, made herself picture the four of them materializing on a transport pad where Mister Spock had no beard and Sulu and Chekov were the gentle duo of jokers she had always known them to be.

And they were still alive.

She found herself on the edge of the bunk, crying. For a moment, it shamed her to be in tears, but then it made her proud. It made her proud that after all that had happened, she could still mourn the loss of men who had once been her friends.

And would be again, when they returned home.

If they returned home.



Kirk stepped through the doorway to the captain's quarters and released a sigh in concert with the whoosh of the closing door. He glanced at the empty bunk and thought briefly about stretching out for a short nap, then shrugged and headed instead for the desk. The bed wasn't his anymore, and the hard pallet wasn't particularly inviting at the moment. Besides, he had work to do.

Sitting at the desk, he activated the monitor and stared at the screen, rubbing tired eyes. It was done. They'd dropped off 293 crewmen on Ceti Alpha VI, leaving a hundred or so people on the Enterprise. That was barely enough to operate the starship, but they were the only ones he felt he or Spock could trust -- or control. And unless they were susceptible to one or the other form of persuasion, he didn't dare keep them aboard. If Chekov had succeeded in his escape to Vulcan -- or anyone else did -- then Kirk and his crew were dead, as were Spock and anyone else who supported him.

Part of Kirk regretted that escape attempt, yet part of him was thankful for it. Without it, he never would have known, not for sure. But Chekov's escape and his arrogant confirmation of intentions toward Vulcan confirmed Kirk's suspicions about Marlena and how much she heard that fateful day.

And how she intended to use it.

Therefore, Marlena Moreau was among the 293 people stranded on Ceti Alpha V.

It wasn't an elegant solution to the problem, but it was the only one Kirk could come up with at the moment. It would have to do.

At least until Khan showed up in this universe. Then, either he or his counterpart would have to find another planet. Kirk pinched the bridge of his nose, fervently hoped Khan would never be his problem again.

He refocused his eyes on the screen.

The face that stared back at him was a familiar one, although in unfamiliar garb and circumstances.

T'Pau. All Vulcan in a single package. She had been intimidating enough in his own universe, but here...

Here she was the Empress. Not only all of Vulcan, but all of the Empire. The Vulcan/Terran Empire.

Kirk chuckled mirthlessly. Vulcan/Terran. The Terran was a joke, as he was learning fast. James T. Kirk might be in command of the I.S.S. Enterprise, but it was a position he, as all his Terran counterparts, held on sufferance. Kirk commanded only because Spock didn't want to. Terrans were allowed to advance through the ranks as far and as fast as they could, moving up step by step through assassination of superior officers.

But they could only do so as long as they didn't step on any Vulcan toes.

Spock was perfect example. As one of the most powerful individuals in Starfleet, he could take command of the Enterprise any time he so chose.

But he chose not to.

In that way, they were alike: his Spock and theirs. But though Kirk prided himself on understanding his friend's motivations, those of this Spock were more complicated. Kirk was only now beginning to untangle them.

He stared at T'Pau, mentally reviewing what he'd read, testing himself on his cognizance of the data and the dynamics of the individuals involved.

Vulcan, and by extension the Empire, was a matriarchy, with the throne passed from mother through son to the son's bondmate, which meant that the next empress should have been Sarek's wife

But it didn't worked out. Though such bondmates were carefully chosen for both breeding and ruling potential, T'Rea had turned out to be a traitor. Kirk couldn't help but admire a woman who, decades before she could expect to ascend to the throne, began to amass a network of supporters to assist her in her plans to turn the Empire into a kinder, gentler universe.

Unfortunately, when her husband learned of her plans, he killed her, with his mother's blessing. Reports were that Sarek took unholy pleasure in prolonging her death, while their son was forced to witness the deed. Afterward, that son, still reeling from shock, was consigned to a life in exile at Gol with others who lacked the inner fortitude to cope with their violent world.

Kirk shook his head slowly. T'Rea and Sybok, her son. Their existence was more evidence of the differences between the universes.

After T'Rea's death, Sarek defied his mother and refused to take another bondmate. Instead, he exhibited a vulgar proclivity for alien women. First came Amanda, whose attraction and usefulness waned when she bore Spock. She, too, was consigned to a lifetime at Gol, but only after Sarek blinded her, plucking her eyeballs from her head and leaving it to the Gol healers -- with their unparalleled skills but almost nonexistent technology -- to save her life as best they could.

Some said Sarek's decision to spare his concubine her life was a sign of weakness, but Kirk suspected it was the opposite. Only a true sadist could do to another person what Sarek did to Amanda -- and then force her to live with the consequences on a world that tolerated no weakness.

After Amanda, followed a succession of other concubines who served his needs during his cyclical bouts of mating fever. Each was chosen from among the current crop of slave women captured during various conquests by the Empire. Once it was a Romulan; and once, a Klingon. It was even rumored that he'd taken an child to his pon farr bed. Barely fourteen, she hadn't survived the ordeal.

Kirk brought another face up on the viewscreen and grimaced in unavoidable reaction. T'Pring. T'Pau's chosen successor who would ascend to the throne through her bonding with Spock, who despite his illegitimacy and unfortunate Human blood apparently was a more acceptable linkage for the succession than his older half-brother. T'Pau might have little respect for her grandson, but she would still make use of him to secure the throne for someone she knew would follow in her malevolent footsteps.

Unconsciously, Kirk raised one hand to his throat as if he could still feel the pressure of the ahn woon that had almost cost him his life in his own universe.

T'Pring had been cruel there. How much more so would she be here?

Kirk deactivated the terminal and rose to pace the room.

They would all be in one place for the formal bonding ceremony between Spock and T'Pring. T'Pau, Sarek, T'Pring and Admiral Stonn. The four most powerful individuals in the Empire. If he could neutralize their effectiveness, then there might be a chance for change. Together he and Spock could set this universe on the path to a more humane existence.

And thus Jim Kirk would leave it a better place than he found it.

There was a certain satisfaction in that.

Whatever his own fate might be.



"Are you out of your ever-lovin' Vulcan mind?"

"I assure you, Doctor, that I am sane. Can the same be said for you?"

"Why you...you--" McCoy sputtered, then broke off as though unable to think of an appropriate descriptive phrase.

Kirk rubbed his temples, unsure whether to smile at the familiar repartee or be angry. They didn't really have the time for this verbal sparring, but he knew that his friends indulged in it more for his amusement than out of any real animosity. Still... He frowned as he remembered that this Spock wasn't his friend. There were more differences than the beard, as shown by the statement that had drawn McCoy's all-too-real anger. Kirk rubbed his temples again. The headache wasn't feigned either.

"Gentlemen, please," the captain interrupted the argument. "We don't have time for this. We arrive at Vulcan tomorrow, and we need to know exactly what we're going to do." He paused to let the thought sink in, then turned to the bearded first officer. "Spock, we need the most efficient means of neutralizing the Vulcans."

"How 'bout a disrupter?" McCoy growled, drawing a stern glare from Kirk.

"Though crude, the doctor is correct. T'Pau, Sarek, T'Pring and Stonn will all be at the ceremony. A carefully placed phaser burst would eliminate the threat represented by the ruling council."

"It would eliminate them period," McCoy pointed out.

"Yes," Spock agreed calmly.

"No," Kirk countered.

Spock raised one eyebrow. "No?"

"No," Kirk repeated firmly. "That's not an acceptable solution. We have to eliminate the threat, but I won't eliminate the people."

"And how would you suggest we accomplish this?" Spock demanded acidly.

Kirk flinched, unprepared for such undisguised emotion from his first officer, and aimed at him. He clasped his hands together on the top of the conference table, leaning forward to lend his plan credibility.

"Stonn's ship is the only all-Vulcan vessel in the fleet, and it's in orbit now with only a skeleton crew on board. If we disable its weapons and engines, along with those of the other two ships in orbit, then we can destroy the planetary defense systems as well. That should delay them long enough for us to make contact with other dissident factions. By the time they're up and running again, we'll have broken their power lock on the Empire."

"And then what?" Uhura asked.

Kirk spread his hands and shrugged. "Then it's up to the people of this universe to decide what kind of society they want: one of virtual slavery, dominated by the Vulcans, or something more...democratic."

"What if they choose Vulcan domination?" McCoy asked.

Kirk took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Then so be it. To force them to accept anything else would be just trading one form of tyranny for another. They have to have a choice, a say in their own future."

McCoy sighed. "Now, he chooses to obey the Prime Directive," he observed, half in jest, and half in real exasperation.

"There is just one flaw in your plan, Captain."

Kirk shifted his gaze to meet Spock's.

"The shields around the planetary defense system, as well as those on the Le'Matya, were designed to be impenetrable."

"True." Kirk agreed blandly.

"That's a hell of a flaw, Jim," McCoy objected.

Kirk shrugged. Leaning back in his chair, he grinned that old Kirk grin, the one he hadn't felt since arriving in this universe. "But, since they were designed by you, Mister Spock, I would have to assume that you left a back door. That is," he added coyly, "if you're anything at all like my Mister Spock."

"That's a hell of an assumption," McCoy grumbled.

Spock didn't answer. Instead, he studied the man across from him.

"Well?" Kirk prodded after a long moment.

"Your assumption," Spock allowed guardedly, "is not entirely inaccurate."



"No," Spock told Safab quietly. "You must stay here."

The huge Vulcan looked as if he'd been slapped.

"If I do not return," Spock continued, his face a mask of calm. "You belong to Kirk. You will serve him as you have served me."

Safab's eyes turned slowly to Kirk. He nodded, once, but his eyes were dull with despair.

"Now return to your quarters. Remain there until it is done."

Safab turned and left the shuttle bay.

"He's your brother, isn't he?" Kirk asked when they were alone.

Spock's eyebrow climbed into his hairline. "Your assumptions are usually more accurate," he observed finally.

"It's not an assumption. It's a hunch."

"And on what do you base this hunch?"

"I was reviewing your family history," Kirk said, almost as if it had nothing at all to do with anything. "Your father's liaisons after you were born. One was a Romulan woman, wasn't it?"

"Safab's mother," Spock agreed.

"Then he is your brother."

"He is not."

Kirk frowned.

For a moment, Spock looked as if he had no intentions of elaborating, but then he relented. "Safab was nine when he who sired me took the Romulan woman to the pon farr bed. Safab was the product of another, earlier such union."

"Oh."

"He remained in my father's household after his mother's death," Spock went on without being prodded.

"As a slave," Kirk muttered quietly.

"It was a kinder fate than afforded many such chattel. Whelps of concubines are summarily executed. Especially one with Safab's impediments."

"His muteness."

"And his IQ." For a moment, Spock's eyes darkened. "He was born with neither."

"Sarek?" Kirk asked.

"Safab has no tongue," Spock answered vaguely. "He was a clever child. Too clever." The bearded Vulcan's eyes chilled suddenly. He turned to Kirk, his face without expression. "We have been master and servant since the time of our childhoods," he told Kirk coldly. "I will expect you to care for him if I do not return. He will serve you well. He knows it is what I wish."

"I can't take him with me if we return to our own universe."

Spock considered it. "Then kill him," he said finally.

Kirk jolted beneath the calm pronouncement. "Kill him?" he repeated.

"A far kinder fate," Spock said quietly, "than would be afforded him without a master to serve. To protect him." Spock met Kirk's gaze. "I ask this of you in honor, Kirk," he said quietly. "Do not fail me in it."

"Good luck, Spock," Kirk responded after a moment. "And come back. Safab's a bit big to fit in my suitcase."

"I shall endeavor to accommodate you," Spock returned. He nodded once to Kirk, a gesture of respect, and climbed the shuttlebay ramp to disappear inside.



Kirk fidgeted in his command chair. He'd like nothing better than to be at Spock's side, but the Vulcan wouldn't be accompanied by Human friends at this bonding ceremony. And proceeding as normal was the only way they were likely to catch the Vulcans unprepared for the forthcoming attack. Everything was timed down to the last second. They couldn't risk a single deviation from the plan. To do so would be to court certain defeat.

Scotty was ferrying Spock down to Vulcan aboard the shuttlecraft Newton, a traditional sign of respect for someone deemed too important to risk through the transporters. No matter than he used them hundreds of times every year; at Vulcan, Spock would travel via shuttlecraft.

Once on the planet, below the shields, Scotty would await the moment of the high point of the bonding ceremony, and while everyone was distracted, he would use the device he and Spock had rigged to interrupt the planetary shields. At the same time, Kirk would send a similar signal from the Enterprise to the Le'Matya.

The timing was tricky. All attending the ceremony must be so absorbed in it that they would ignore any attempts by their defense force to contact them about the lowered shields. No one and nothing was allowed to interrupt the ceremony once begun in earnest. Only the perimeter guards even carried communications devices, and, by custom, they were forbidden to answer any contact during the ceremony itself.

The destruction of the defense systems would cause such a large explosion, however, that is was bound to interrupt the ceremony, custom be damned. If Spock didn't effect his escape then, logic would lead T'Pau to conclusions, and her opinion of her grandson would become markedly less generous. Then the tricky part: Since Spock's communicator would be useless within the ceremonial perimeter, he'd have to somehow find his way back to Scotty before they could be beamed back to the safety Enterprise.

And just to keep things interesting, it all had to happen before the challenge. Once the kah-if-fee was spoken, Spock's mating urge -- muted by his Human blood, but there all the same -- would escalate into blood fever, and he would no longer have sufficient control to successfully manage his own escape. He had to leave the koon-ut kal-i-fee before that happened, or he was doomed to die.

And the revolution, to fail.

Kirk chewed on the first knuckle of his right hand. There was nothing he hated more than simply sitting and waiting.

But there was nothing else he could do right then.



Montgomery Scotty gently settled the Newton on the hot, windswept desert plain of Vulcan, near but out of sight of the ceremonial gathering. As the engineer secured the small vessel, Spock rose and walked to the doorway, then turned back to face him.

"You will activate the remote signal in precisely eighteen point five minutes, Engineer," he reminded Scott. "I will return here three point five minutes later."

"Aye, sir." Scotty's words were as respectful as they would have been to his own Mister Spock, although there was a hint of something not quite...trustful?...in his tone. Spock eyed him carefully a minute, then, without another word, he exited the Newton and headed across the desert sand for the bonding ceremony.

Two point five eight minutes later, he rounded an outcropping of rock and reached the place of Koon-ut Kal-i-fee. Ringed by ancient, time-worn stone juxtaposed with some kind of smooth, polished granite-like material, the temple itself was marked by two high arches and contained a fire pit and a pair of giant, jade-colored windchimes.

Spock approached the empty ceremonial site. He was aware that the others of the wedding party were nearby, but knew they would await his signal before proceeding into the ring of stone. Carefully monitoring his time sense, he approached the chimes, lifted the stone mallet and struck one.

The sound rang out across the desert, and as he turned, Spock saw the others enter the temple. T'Pau in her ornate litter led the other dignitaries. They were flanked by teams of husky bodyguards.

Behind T'Pau was T'Pring. As coldly beautiful as ever, and as coldly aloof. Spock suppressed the stirring of his blood, an involuntary reaction he despised and must control if he was to survive.

Following T'Pring were Sarek, as austere as Spock remembered him, and Stonn, who wore the look of a patient predator.

And behind them all was the sacrificial lamb. A smaller, weaker man, this was the one who would act as T'Pring's `champion' once she issued the challenge. In a less important family, the champion was real and would fight to the death for the right to mate with the woman.

But in Spock's case, the fight was a sham. It was a fight to the death, true. But the challenger's death was a foregone conclusion. After all, Spock must live.

For now.

If this farce was allowed to play out to its logical conclusion, he would die soon enough -- probably at Stonn's hand, perhaps with Sarek's help.

But first he must sire a son to ensure the right of succession. Only then would he become expendable and pay for the sin of his Human ancestry.

Spock watched as the others took their places, still monitoring the time. Now. Scotty would be lowering the defense shields.

And now...



"Fire!" ordered Kirk. "Fire!"

The first burst of phaser fire hit the Le'Matya, which exploded instantly, eliminating it as a threat to the Enterprise. Kirk gaped in horror. It came to him suddenly, and he cursed his own naiveté.

"Damn you, Spock," he snarled. "Damn you to hell." But there was nothing he could do. It was too late. They'd gone too far. The second and third shots hit the smaller vessels, and they, too, burst into flames.

"The planet," he ordered Sulu's successor as helmsman and security chief. "Now!"

Again the starship's mighty phasers fired, and in seconds a series of explosions erupted from the surface of the planet.

It was done. Kirk felt a curious mixture of satisfaction and shame, but he suppressed both emotions and jabbed a button on his command chair. "Mister Scott?"

"Aye, sir," came the response.

"Get back up here as quickly as you can."

"Aye, sir. Mister Spock should be here soon. We'll be home in a few minutes."



The wedding party looked up in surprise at the sound of the distant explosions. Before they could turn their attention to the half-Vulcan/half-Human in their midst, Spock reached beneath his tunic and withdrew a phaser. Its controls set to the highest setting, he aimed first at Stonn.

And fired.

Even as the Vulcan admiral glowed briefly and faded to nothingness, Spock turned and fired again, this time at T'Pring.

The third shot felled T'Pau; the fourth and fifth her closest guards.

And then he turned to face Sarek.

Spock felt his blood begin to boil, but this time, not with the mating urge, but rather with bloodlust. As Sarek unflinchingly met his son's gaze, Spock eased the phaser's fire controls down two notches and aimed at the older Vulcan's left shoulder.

He fired. Sarek flinched slightly, then stiffened. The only sign that he had been hit was the torn and blackened fabric and skin at his shoulder.

Spock aimed again and fired at his father's other arm. Again, Sarek flinched but stood his ground.

The third shot dropped Sarek to the ground. Spock approached with measured steps. He stood over the older man and spoke for the first time.

"Now you know what it is to be at another's mercy." Spock paused and reset the phaser yet again. "And now you will suffer as my mother has suffered." Twin, pinpoint bursts of phaser fire in rapid succession struck Sarek's eyes, and he cried out for the first time.

"Spock!"

A slow, malevolent grin stained Spock's features. He reset the phaser a final time.

Sarek raised his hands in a vain attempt to defend himself from that which he could not see.

For a moment, Spock remained where he was. He stared at the man before him, watching the familiar features, twisted now as he had seen them so many times in his mind's eye.

Slowly, the phaser lowered.

"Long life, father," Spock said quietly. Turning, he walked away, quickening his pace as he heard the approach of the parimeter guards.

Behind him, Sarek, son of T'Pau, whimpered.



Scotty glanced up from his post near the Newton to see Spock running across the desert, with a handful of Vulcans in pursuit. The first officer passed him without stopping, pausing only briefly when he reached the shuttlecraft's main hatch.

"Return to the Enterprise, Engineer." He started through the doorway.

"But th' capt'n's expecting us both."

"The captain will have to wait. Follow your orders, Mister Scott." He disappeared inside the shuttlecraft, activated its engines and slowly eased it off the ground.

Scotty hesitated only seconds, then flipped open his communicator, watching the knot of Vulcans draw nearer.

"Enterprise, one to beam up."

"One, Mister Scott?" came the sharp retort.

"Aye, sir. One," Scotty answered mournfully. He disappeared in a sparkle of light just as a Vulcan guard lifted his phaser and fired. The burst of energy passed harmlessly through the space where the Human had been.



"Where the hell is he?" Kirk pivoted at the conclusion of his third trip across the conference room and glowered at Scott.

The engineer shrugged. "I dinna ken," he answered, lapsing into the Scottish dialect that thickened his brogue whenever he was upset. "He said ta return ta th' Enterprise and then took off in th' shuttle. He dinna explain."

"And you just let him go?" McCoy interjected, ignoring the glowering look Kirk threw him as though to say, `Let me do the questioning.'

"I couldna stop him," Scotty answered, either missing or ignoring the silent communication between his two companions. "He ordered me back here an' took off on his own. What was I supposed ta do? Grab onto th' hull and try ta hold it down?" He paused, then added as Kirk's glower swung once again his direction: "And besides, Cap'n, he does outrank me."

Kirk resumed his pacing. "What the hell could he be up--" The sound of his communicator interrupted him. He flipped it open.

"Captain?"

Kirk relaxed visibly at the sound of Uhura's voice. "Kirk here."

"The Newton's on the viewscreen."

"Good. Thanks, Uhura. Kirk ou--"

"Captain," she interrupted again. "There are twelve lifeforms on board the shuttle."

Kirk exchanged puzzled glances with Scotty and McCoy. "Twelve, Lieutenant?"

"Aye, sir. Twelve. Mister Spock, one Human and ten Vulcans."

"One Human..." Kirk mused, then, "All right, Lieutenant. Let them into the shuttle bay. I'll meet them there."

"Human?" Scotty and McCoy asked in unison.

"His mother," Kirk answered.



Kirk shifted from one foot to the other outside the shuttle bay while he waited for it to repressurize after being open to the vacuum of space during the docking maneuver. Finally, the doors slid open. He hurried through with Scotty and McCoy close on his heels. They came to a halt as the shuttle door opened and Spock emerged, turning back to assist a frail, middle-aged woman wearing dark glasses out of the vessel. Kirk stepped forward as they reached the deck.

"The Lady Amanda, I presume?" he asked in his most charming tone of voice, an equally charming smile on his lips.

The charm was wasted. She started at the sound of his voice and took a step backward, clutching at Spock's arm. Up close, Kirk could see the faint network of scars fanning outward from behind the glasses. He suppressed a shudder of revulsion at the thought of what those glasses hid.

"Just Amanda," the woman finally said so softly Kirk wouldn't have heard her if he hadn't been so close.

"It is all right, Mother," Spock reassured her. "This is Captain Kirk. He is...my friend."

"Friend, Spock?"

"Yes, Mother. My friend. He is to be trusted. Without him, you would not be here now. You would still be at Gol."

"I was safe at Gol," she said plaintively.

Kirk frowned, remembering the proud, confident woman from his own universe. In that moment, he shared in Spock's hatred of Sarek. To have done this to Amanda...

"You are safe here," Kirk told her. "No one will harm you."

"Sarek?" She turned her head toward her son.

"Sarek will harm no one ever again."

Kirk met Spock's gaze, a demand in his own. Spock returned the look steadily. "This is my universe, Captain. I must act as I must."

Kirk held the look a moment longer, then released his breath in a soft sigh. "Who else?" he asked in a flat voice.

Spock hesitated only a second. "T'Pau, T'Pring and Stonn."

"Why, Spock?" Kirk demanded. "Why? They didn't have to die."

"It is the way of my world," the Vulcan answered simply.

"It isn't of mine," Kirk retorted.

"Then perhaps you should return to yours."

"If I can."



The revolution bubbled and simmered and boiled itself into existence. As harsh as it seemed, Spock had been right. The spark they ignited was a fire in a lake. It did not explode as he'd expected, but it simmered; and in time, it grew, an ember fanned into a flame.

Had the Imperial Council survived, things would have remained the same. But the Imperial Council did not survive. And slowly, the universe began to change.



She couldn't sleep. The darkness lay around her, familiar now as it had been unfamiliar for all those months. Tomorrow, they would try again.

"Captain?" she murmured quietly, just in case he had managed to find sleep on this night of waiting.

"Yes?"

"It's odd. After all this time. I've kind of grown accustomed to this place."

"For heaven's sake, Lieutenant," Kirk was half exasperated, half amused. "I hope you're kidding."

"Do you think it's changed much?" she asked.

"Not as much as we have."

"What will you do first?"

Kirk didn't answer for a moment. "Get a good night's sleep in a real bed," he decided, his voice gently teasing.

Uhura laughed. "Seven months on a hard deck. You've been quite the gentleman, sir."

"Seven months, two weeks, six point four three days," Kirk corrected.

"You've been keeping track."

"My back's been keeping track."

For a moment, the silence revisited their conversation.

"Care to break the streak?" she asked quietly.

"Is that a proposition, Lieutenant?" Kirk countered just as quietly. "Or merely an invitation to comfort."

"I'm not sure."

Again, the silence.

"It would seem a shame to spend all this time on the hard deck and fall off the wagon just short of the goal line, don't you think?" he said finally in a tangled metaphor.

Uhura laughed. "I never thought of myself as a scoring proposition, sir," she told him.

"Goal line referring to returning home, Uhura," he corrected sternly.

"Oh. Well, I suppose."

"Not that I'm not tempted," he added.

"I understand."

"Sorely tempted."

"But?"

"It would create...complications." He hesitated. "Don't you think?"

"You mean if we make it back home."

"When we make it back home," he corrected.

"I suppose."

"Try and get some sleep, Lieutenant," he advised gently. "Tomorrow is going to be a long day."

For some time, the only sound was their breathing.

"Captain?" Uhura whispered.

"Yes?"

"Please, don't call me Lieutenant. My name is Nyota."

"Nyota," Kirk repeated.

"Goodnight, Captain."

"Jim," Kirk corrected.

"Goodnight, Jim." she agreed.

"I mean," Kirk's voice reflected his smile. "After all, we have been sleeping together for the past seven months."

"Seven months, two weeks, six point four three days," Uhura corrected.

"You've been keeping track." And then, his voice sobered in the darkness: "Nyota?"

"Yes, Jim."

"Ask me again tomorrow. If we're still here."

"If we're still here," she agreed.



Kirk faced Spock one last time before stepping up onto the platform. "You will be able to carry on alone? You're sure you can deal with him?"

Spock lifted one eyebrow. "I will not be alone, Captain. Sybok is by my side."

Kirk turned to the second Vulcan. Bigger, bulkier than Spock, with a heavier, salt-and-pepper beard, this one held a fire in his eyes. Whether it was the fire of fanaticism or of leadership, Kirk wasn't sure. Right then, he wasn't sure there was a difference. But he had come to learn in the preceding weeks that Sybok's loyalty to his younger brother was complete.

"Together we can handle him." Like Spock, in deference to Kirk, he used only the pronoun.

Kirk nodded. "So be it." He raised his right hand and forced it into a close approximation of the Vulcan salute back in his own universe. "Live long and prosper, Mister Spock."

Spock's right eyebrow lifted in inquiry.

Kirk allowed his hand to drop and smiled sheepishly. "Never mind. Just...live."

Kirk stepped up onto the platform, exchanging encouraging glances with each member of his crew, flashing Uhura a gentle, special smile, then turned to face Spock again.

"Send us home, Mister Spock."

The Vulcan nodded and stepped to the controls. Just before sliding the lever, he met Kirk's gaze one last time. "Live long, Captain," he said and activated the controls.

The room faded from view, then slowly reappeared, the same and yet different. Kirk shook his head to clear it of the slight dizziness.

"Welcome home, Captain," a familiar voice said.

Kirk's lips curved to a grin at the sight of the smooth-shaven face. "It's good to be here, Mister Spock," he said sincerely. Looking around, he met the eyes of each member of the landing party that had so long ago set out to the discuss peace with the Halkan ruling council.

"Aye," Scotty agreed, his face twisting to an expression of triumph. "Home."

"About time," McCoy grumped.

Kirk found himself finally with Uhura. She was smiling, but there was also a sadness in her eyes. "Win some, loose some," she said quietly.

"Welcome home, Lieutenant," he responded.

"And you, Captain," she agreed.

the end


There's more Tantalus Revisited.