Chapter 3

Stardate 2255.2223.

Earth, Iowa.

Kirk Residence.

"Breaking news - Romulans have launched an attack in the Sol System."

Jim turned to stare at the plasma screen in surprise.

"Approximately one point three Earth hours ago, a Romulan ship left warp within Imperial territory and proceeded to launch an attack on a space station in orbit of the Jovian moon Io. The space station, which functioned as a juvenile care facility for Terran minors, was completely destroyed in the assault. Starfleet ships responded immediately, pursuing the Romulans at warp speed as they fled the system, but as of yet no confrontation has been reported."

Sitting on the edge of his bed, Jim shook his head in grim amazement. The Romulan-Klingon rebellion had been raging in the Empire for as long as he could remember, but this was the first time he could recall it striking so close to home.

"A handful of emergency shuttles managed to escape the blast, but it is thought that over twelve hundred Terran lives have been lost to the unprovoked attack - the vast majority of them under the age of eighteen. It has been declared an act of terrorism the likes of which hasn't been witnessed in two centuries."

"You listening to this?"

Behind him, wrapped in the sheets of his bed, Nyota was staring at the news broadcast with a puzzled frown. "Why a kids' home?"

"Shock factor?" Jim shrugged.

"Maybe, but... think about it. They've got the technology to sneak past Starfleet borders and appear in the middle of our system before anyone can do a thing about it, and all they do is blow up some meaningless space station? Why not the Luna defence base? Starfleet Headquarters?"

Jim looked back at the screen. They were showing images of the debris where the station had been. She was right. It was a tactically pointless move.

He stood up. "Want something to eat?"

"Not right now." She stretched, long legs kicking free of the sheets and making him hesitate about leaving the room or not.

Hunger won out.

Jim bounded down the stairs and into the kitchen, enjoying his regained freedom of movement. Three weeks had passed since the unfortunate incident in the Shipyard Bar's parking lot. The bruises on his ribs were a sickly yellow colour and still flared painfully if he twisted at the wrong angle, but McCoy had given him another once-over the day before and finally admitted he probably wasn't harbouring a haematoma time-bomb.

He placed an empty bowl and cup into the replicator, then programmed in his order and waited. The house had belonged to his mother's side of the family, which was the only reason they hadn't lost it along with George Kirk's commission. Built out in the exact middle of nowhere some time during the last century, modern amenities like the food replicator and sonic cleaning equipment were a relatively recent addition, and tended to look at odds with the old-fashioned Carpenter Gothic style of the place. Technically it was all in his brother's name, but Sam hadn't ever been back to reclaim it or kick Jim out, so he was content to remain the family sponge for now.

His replicator beeped to notify him, and he took out his breakfast of bland cereal, stale coffee and a slightly sour apple. It wasn't the most reliable of machines anymore, outdated by several years. He was more than a little tempted to spend his recent windfall on upgrading the damn thing. He missed eating food that tasted like food.

Still, it wasn't in his nature to skip a meal no matter how bad it was, so he set about spooning up cereal with determination.

The kitchen needed cleaning, he noted absently as he gulped coffee. Sam had left him one of those automated little dust-bots that was supposed to scuttle round while he was absent, but the thing had given up the ghost months ago and Jim hadn't yet bothered to fix it. He made a half-hearted attempt at wiping the counter he stood in front of, before deciding there were probably better things he could be going with his time.

Dumping the now empty bowl and cup into the sonic scrubber, he turned and made his way back upstairs. There was rarely much to occupy the mornings and afternoons, so most days typically began with long lie-ins, nursed hangovers, lazy marathons of e-net entertainment shows, and occasional bouts of convenient sex.

Nyota was dressed when he came back upstairs, to his vague disappointment. She was standing with her arms folded, staring intently at the plasma screen. It was still displaying the news broadcast and the wide-eyed reporter.

"Jim, listen to this."

"We've just... We've just received an update on the three Starfleet ships which left to pursue the Romulans. They were... All three ships have been confirmed destroyed."

Jim felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He felt suddenly, irrationally vulnerable.

"I repeat, all three ships have been confirmed destroyed. An emergency transmission made by Captain Anderson of the ISS Normandy records the last harrowing minutes of the firefight, during which a collection of Romulan and Klingon ships waiting beyond Imperial borders succeeded in ambushing Starfleet, reportedly using unfamiliar weapons systems." The reporter shook her head, glancing back at the pristine structure of Starfleet Headquarters behind her. "I don't have any final figures on how many may have escaped in shuttles and lifepods, but Starfleet warships are known to carry a minimum of seven hundred crew members per vessel. This reporter can only speculate on the sheer loss of life that has taken place today."

The screen cut to a harried looking Starfleet Commodore climbing the steps to the Headquarters, ducking away from the flurry of questions being hurled by a crowd of press representatives.

"...Shit," Jim said at last, in summation.

"What kind of 'unfamiliar weapons system' takes out three fully armed, pre-prepared warships? They're supposed to be rebels on the outskirts of the Empire, where are they getting all this tech?" Nyota sounded almost offended, like they'd skewed her world-view and she didn't appreciate it.

He shrugged. A cloaking device effective enough to let them sneak into the very heart of the Terran Empire was impressive on its own, let alone the raw firepower needed to take down three Starfleet ships. He wondered if the Romulans knew what they'd just done. This wasn't the petty uprisings and picking off of Terran cargo and surveillance ships. There was no way the Empire wouldn't see this as an act of war.

Still, he supposed there was an upside. If Starfleet went to war, the shipyard would be getting busier, and Jim could have his pick of easy marks.

It was late afternoon when the first announcement was made.

They were getting ready to go out, Nyota squeezing into her black jeans and Jim patting down his pockets to make sure he had the keys to his bike. The plasma screen was set to cartoons when it suddenly went quiet. They glanced at it, only to see the Starfleet insignia emblazoned across the screen. It remained there for ten seconds or more, before the image changed again and an automated voice explained, "This is an emergency broadcast on all channels. Please stay tuned for an important Starfleet announcement. Repeat: this is an emergency broadcast on all channels."

Admiral Archer was shown standing on a podium in front of a crowd of press representatives, Starfleet officers and cadets, and curious citizens who'd managed to gather round the edges. Decked out in his formal grey uniform and cap, chest glittering with the numerous medals of service pinned there, he looked grim and resolute. Surrounding him were stern looking lieutenants, their hands resting on badly concealed phasers at their hips. They were tense, eyes relentlessly scanning the crowd. Even those gathered to listen seemed solemn, with none of the usual hype and excitement of a Starfleet press statement.

Archer raised a hand, calling for attention.

"For too long now we have tolerated the defiance of the Romulan and Klingon races. For decades they have resisted our rule, broken our laws, spurned our people. And finally, with these acts of unforgivable terrorism, they have declared open warfare on the Terran Empire. No longer will we turn a blind eye to the crimes of these aliens. No longer will we allow enemies to strike at the heart of us."

A susurrus of agreement swept through his audience. The camera gave a panning shot of people nodding in agreement, one or two clapping to emphasise the sentiment.

"By Imperial decree, Starfleet has been authorised to prepare for active engagement. Effective immediately, commercial travel throughout the Alpha Quadrant is terminated. Military presence in all systems is to be increased, both within Starfleet vessels and positioned planetside on all local worlds. Anyone suspected of aiding, conspiring with, or otherwise sympathising with the Romulan-Klingon rebels will be detained at the discretion of Starfleet operatives."

Jim could translate that last part easily enough. All non-human citizens had just been declared de facto suspects. While Earth didn't exactly have a high xeno population to begin with, he suspected it would be dwindling even further soon enough.

Onscreen, Archer was quiet for a protracted moment, pointedly looking into each attentive face and then the camera which hovered a short height above them. His eyes were hard.

"I have only one final announcement to make. And while I'm sure there will be those among us who raise voices in dissent, I have faith that the majority will strive to remember the thousands of innocent lives lost on this single day, and embrace the necessity of what must now be done.

"As of the moment this broadcast airs, compulsory conscription into Starfleet military is reinstated throughout the Empire."

There was an immediate outcry from the gathered crowd. The reporters in the front row all began asking questions at once, hopelessly talking over each other. The cadets present looked surprised, whispering to each other and to their superior officers. But the biggest uproar came from those at the back and far edges, the everyday citizens who'd come to watch. Their voices rose in chaotic protest, panicked, angry, indistinguishable. The camera seemed to lose audio for a minute, in a blatant display of censorship.

On his podium, Archer waited with his hands clasped behind his back, perfectly unmoved by the riotous reception. He remained like that for an almost unbearable amount of time, silent and implacable. Only when the shouting finally settled, and his audience stood there tense and unhappy and waiting like chastised children, did he finally deign to speak again.

"I take no pleasure in exposing civilians to the grim reality of war, but in order to combat the growing threat of the Romulan-Klingon alliance, this is the step we must take. Conscription implants have already been distributed to law enforcement officers, and in the coming days will be issued to all eligible persons capable of defending this Empire. You will be given further details of assignments upon receiving your implant. Terra Magnum Imperium."

He left the podium, and the camera swept to a neutral view of the Starfleet Headquarters building.

Jim found himself on his feet, jaw clenched so hard his teeth ached.

"They can't do this!"

He turned to Nyota in disbelief, needing to see his own reaction mirrored. She did look shocked, but nowhere near the horrified outrage Jim felt was justified here.

"What the hell? Tell me they can't do this!"

"Well... Conscription hasn't been sanctioned since the First Contact War, but -"

"Fuck Starfleet, I'm not being dragged into a war I couldn't give a shit about!"

He stalked furiously across the room, then back towards the bed, then to the door. "How are you not more angry about this?!" he demanded eventually, throwing his arms out to demonstrate the full scale of the injustice. "Conscription, Nyota. They might as well call us canon fodder!"

She tossed him a haughty glare. "Speak for yourself. When we met I had every intention of joining Starfleet, remember? That's why I was at the shipyard in the first place. So maybe that plan just got a little... delayed."

He scoffed, amazed at her naivety. "You're not gonna be an officer or a specialist, you know. You'll be a conscript. If you're lucky, they'll give you a phaser before they throw you at the Klingon horde."

She frowned.

"Our life expectancies literally just got cut short, you understand that, right?!" He walked over to her and gripped her shoulders, then the sides of her neck, pressing his forehead against hers. "Yota, this isn't a good thing. It's not an opportunity. Starfleet doesn't care about the likes of you and me. We get caught up in this, we die."

"You don't know that for sure," she said, but she seemed to have thawed a little. She thumped him in the chest with the heel of her hand. "And stop being so damn sappy. Get off me, Kirk."

He flashed her a grin as he backed up. "That's my girl."

"Shut up."

He glanced around the room, then seemed to come to a decision. "So I'm thinking we should pack."


"We should just... take off, get out of here."

"And go where?"

"I don't know, anywhere! Just as long as it's not sitting around here waiting for someone to knock on the door and drag me off to fight fucking Romulans and Klingons." Even as he ranted, he slid open a concealed storage space in the wall and tugged out an empty travel bag, tossing it onto the bed. Then he went to the dresser, opening each of the drawers and flinging anything that looked even vaguely necessary in the bag's general direction. Underwear, shirts and a second pair of jeans tumbled haphazardly through the air.

"It'll be great," he went on, distracted in trying to shift through some junk on the floor to find his PADD. "We'll do what we said. Get to a city, use the scanners, stay anonymous. We do that long enough, this whole thing will have blown over before we have to worry."

Nyota rolled her eyes. "The Empire just went to war, it's not 'blowing over' any time soon."

"Would it kill you to help?!"

Sighing, she set about folding the clothes he'd tossed her way and placing them quickly into the bag. "Any of my stuff coming with us, or is your collection of drop-out chic too extensive?"

He threw her bra at her head.

They moved round the house at a whirlwind pace, grabbing up clothes, valuables and necessary gadgets. Nyota used the replicator to produce a stash of food that would travel well for at least a few days and stuffed it all into air-sealed bags. When she was done, Jim had the presence of mind to remember to switch off the house's main power supply. It felt strangely final, and he wondered for the first time if he'd ever have cause to come back here.

Their frantic preparations were done in just under an hour. Jim hoisted his bag over a shoulder. "You're sure you want to come with me, then?"

Nyota looked up from where she was making the final adjustments to her own bag, giving a humourless smirk. "Where else do I have to go?"

He took that as the enthusiastic agreement he was sure she'd intended. "I'll be outside. Don't be long, I want to get going before it's dark."

He skipped quickly down the stairs, out through the front door and into the mild Iowa evening. He was just beginning to consider the logistics of getting both of them and their luggage onto his single bike when he saw it.

Jim froze halfway down the driveway, travel bag hanging heavy in his hand.

Standing in front of its own bike, the robotic officer scanned up and down the length of him, before its synthesised voice announced, "Your physical appearance falls within the parameters of one James Tiberius Kirk, the recorded occupant of this residence. Is this an accurate identification?"

"...No?" Jim tried, hopeful.

The officer ignored his negative response, apparently holding more confidence in its own facial recognition abilities. It walked closer to him, heavy soled boots kicking up dust clouds.

"This unit is hereby charged with informing you that due to your current lack of gainful employment, you are considered by Imperial authorities to be a priority candidate for conscription into Starfleet military." His faceless helmet tipped slightly to one side. "Congratulations, citizen."

"Congratulations?" Jim repeated faintly, very nearly impressed that he'd just been sassed by a robot. Surely this wasn't happening, not for real. Since when was any new government policy this fucking efficient? He shook his head. "Look, I absolutely have gainful employment. I work at... at this bar down the road."

"Your last registered occupation was terminated four hundred, seventy two days ago, due to repeated incidents of petty theft."

"It's a clerical error, you walking heap of scrap metal! I have a job!"

"If this is indeed the case, you may appeal your conscription through Starfleet channels. Should your former occupation be deemed a valuable contribution to society, you may be released from your obligations prematurely. At this time, however, this unit is required to administer your Starfleet conscription implant."

The officer raised its right arm, and something that looked like an unholy cross-breed of hypo and weapon slid smoothly from the metal joint of its wrist.

Jim dropped his bag, almost tripping over it in his haste to back away. "You're not implanting me with -"

It moved faster than he was expecting, closing the distance between them before Jim even had a chance to react, and when it grasped his wrist it might as well have clamped a manacle on him. He tried to pull away in sudden panic, his heels digging into the ground, but if the officer even noticed his struggling it didn't show.

"Don't you fucking dare! I am not consenting to this -!"

Completely unperturbed, it proceeded to angle the injection point of its terrifying looking hardware to the inside of Jim's elbow. There was a soft mechanical hiss, a split second of disbelief, and then pain shot through his forearm.

He yanked away in horror. This time the officer let him go without protest, and Jim landed on his ass in the dirt. He grasped his arm, staring at it like it was suddenly a foreign appendage. "No, no, nonono...!" A pinprick of blood beaded on his skin, drying even as he watched.

"You are to report to Starfleet Headquarters, located in San Francisco, California, within a week of receiving your Starfleet conscription implant. Any travel expenses incurred may be reclaimed from Starfleet. Failure to appear will result in an enforcement officer such as this unit locating and escorting you to Starfleet Headquarters. Tampering with or attempting to remove your Starfleet conscription implant is a crime punishable by time served in a penal colony after your service to the Empire is completed.

"Your cooperation is appreciated, citizen."

Jim just squinted up at it, too stunned to feel anger yet. There was a noise behind him, and he looked back over his shoulder to see Nyota standing in the doorway, obviously having just witnessed the whole incident. Her mouth was pressed into a tense thin line.

The officer's helmet tipped slowly up and down in that unnerving scanning motion as its attention turned on her. "Your physical appearance falls within the parameters of one Nyota Penda Uhura. Is this an accurate identification?"

She remained scornfully silent.

"You have neglected to update your official place of residence for three hundred, thirteen days. This unit's databases indicate you still reside within the African Confederacy. This is inaccurate. You are also without gainful employment."

"Let me guess - I'm a priority candidate too?"

"Affirmative. This unit will now administer your Starfleet conscription implant."

It stepped over Jim and moved towards her. Evidently she'd noticed exactly how useless his escape attempt had been, and elected instead to maintain her dignity. She remained still and poised as it clamped a metallic hand around her wrist and injected a second implant into her forearm, only her glacial expression betraying her distaste.

Task done, the officer began to repeat its terms and conditions speech.

She sneered. "I heard your spiel the first time."

It ignored her.

Only when it had completed a second rendition of its programmed speech did it retreat, stomping mechanically back towards its hoverbike without a backward glance. They watched as it mounted the vehicle, shifted into gear, and guided the bike serenely away from Jim's house. The whine of its engine grew quiet as the officer reached the highway and took off in the direction of the shipyard. When it disappeared completely, all that could be heard was the faint rustle of cornstalks in the breeze and a bird flapping somewhere overhead.

Jim stood up, still holding his arm away from himself like it was something repulsive. He walked back into the house, pushing roughly past Nyota. She turned and followed him.

"What are you doing? Jim, stop, leave it alone."

He let out a mildly hysterical laugh. "Leave it alone? Screw that, I told you I'm not joining Starfleet. I'll cut the fucking thing out if I have to."

He reached the kitchen, striding immediately to the utensil drawer and pulling it open so forcefully it nearly came off its sliders. He fumbled through the contents, looking for a sharp enough knife.

Nyota dragged him back. "Don't be so stupid. The thing's microscopic. You'll butcher yourself long before you find it."

"Well I have to do something!" He cast around helplessly for inspiration. "What about McCoy? How much credit you think it'll cost to get him to take it out?"

"They'll arrest you both if you try it," she pointed out, infuriatingly reasonable. "And anyway, in all likelihood he's got his own implant to worry about by now. They're going to snatch up doctors, alcoholic or otherwise."

"Well what do you suggest?"

"I..." She chewed her lip, then visibly deflated. "I don't know. But slicing it out isn't an option."

Running wasn't an option either, now. There was no doubt in Jim's head that the implants were traceable. He slumped back against the counter, scratching aggressively at the pinprick cut on his arm. His mind raced, looking frantically for an escape route like an animal trapped in a snare, but over and over it kept running into the same looming, unhelpful thought.

He didn't want to die a Starfleet footsoldier.

"What if we could disable them somehow?" Nyota said abruptly.

Jim squinted at her. "What?"

"Well, we could leave them in but try and stop them working. An EMP maybe. Or a sonic pulse? It'd have to be something we were sure would work. We'd only get one shot."

"And we'd have to be ready to get the hell out of dodge right afterwards," he added, snatching up the beginnings of the idea and turning it over for inspection. He looked at his arm. "How fast do you think their response time would be? Not like we can afford a test run."

"No, but we could give ourselves a head start if we -"

She fell silent.

Jim waited for her to finish the thought, distracted in trying to organise all the shiny new ideas appearing in his head. When she remained quiet, he glanced up.

His breath caught in surprise.

White light was coalescing all around her. Nyota was staring down at herself in bemusement and growing alarm.


He reached out to grab her, and it was only then he noticed that the motes of light were circulating around himself as well.

Instinctively, they both turned to run, to try and outpace the transportation energy, but it was already too late. Jim couldn't see for light, couldn't feel his kitchen floor beneath his feet - and then he knew nothing at all, disappearing into the atmosphere in a final flare of radiance.

They materialised in a cage barely big enough to hold both of them.

It was nearly pitch black, wherever they were, and he squinted blindly out into the darkness. His hands groped around and found metal bars on all sides. Next to him, Nyota did the same. He could feel her quickened breath on his neck. Neither of them dared make a sound, all senses straining for some sign of where they were. Some half-crazed part of Jim thought maybe they'd been overheard plotting their escape, and been beamed directly to the penal colony the officer had threatened them with. In growing desperation, he wrapped his fingers around two of the bars and tried shaking. When they didn't so much as vibrate, he steeled himself and called out, "Hello?"

They waited.

Out in the darkness, footsteps padded closer. A figure seemed to slide right out of the shadows in front of them, and both Jim and Nyota pressed themselves back against the far wall of their cage at the sight of him. This wasn't a Starfleet penal colony, Jim realised pretty quickly.

With his pointed ears, severe brows and tattooed face, the grinning Romulan looked like a nightmare straight out of Imperial propaganda.

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