Chapter 7

Stardate 2255.2225.

Vulcan System.

Delta Vega.

It took longer than Spock would have liked to reach the outpost building. He estimated just under three hours, judging by the workings of his internal body clock. He had to assume Nero was distracted by whatever aftermath was involved in destroying a planet. Perhaps Starfleet had arrived earlier than expected, and that was the reason he hadn’t yet come looking for Spock and his other self. It was hardly a distraction they could count on indefinitely. By the time the outpost became visible on the horizon, Doctor McCoy was noticeably flagging, burning an unlikely feverish heat; Kirk could not stop watching the sky with paranoid intensity, stumbling several times in his distraction; and he and his other self were both struggling against lethargy as the cold stole heat and energy and willpower, seeping into the very bones of them.

The entrance was unmanned. He and Kirk threw their shoulders against the frost-sealed door and it broke open with a horrendous metallic crash. Automated lighting tried to turn on at their arrival, flickering feebly the length of the corridor. They stepped inside and pushed the doors closed behind them.

Nyota leaned back against a wall in relief at the relative warmth, pushing down her fur lined hood. “At least we made it here. What now?”

Kirk was staring along the corridor, the disruptor gun in hand. “Doesn’t exactly look well populated. Might be able to take whoever’s manning the place.”

She frowned. “And do what? In what possible way does shooting through a Starfleet base actually improve our situation?”

He looked back at them as though it were obvious. “There’ll be transporters here.”

Spock inclined his head. “While you are likely correct, that does not change the fact of Starfleet being able to track us wherever we might transport to.”

Kirk held out his arms. “Look, I’m trying to find a way out of this. If anyone has a better idea, floor’s open.”

Evidently, no one did.

He nodded. “Right. Okay.” Inspiration seemed to strike and he turned to address the doctor. “Don’t suppose you could get them out? The implants, I mean. We were going to ask you before the whole abducted by Romulans thing.”

McCoy glared. “With a surgery full of equipment and two good eyes, maybe. Since none of that is readily available...”

Kirk winced apologetically. “Alright, alright. So maybe some officer here can deactivate them.”

“And I suppose asking nicely is gonna work a charm,” McCoy muttered, his voice low and guttural with scepticism.

“Well, no. But we deal with that when it becomes a problem,” Kirk said decisively. “Everyone ready?”

They began to move along the corridor in a group, Kirk leading and Spock a pace behind, followed closely by Nyota and McCoy, and tailed by Spock’s older self. The other Vulcan’s voice was clipped with barely restrained anger as he asked of them, “Are you planning to simply shoot any opposition you find indiscriminately?”

“No, not indiscriminately. You always take out the biggest guy first.” Kirk aimed a withering glance at Spock, whispering as they approached a door. “If this guy really is you, you turn into a real buzzkill. Just so you know.”

“As I have explained to you at least once already, his views are not necessarily mine.” To demonstrate his point, he drew his own stolen weapon from his belt, holding it before him in steady hands.

Kirk gave him a somewhat surprised look.

Spock raised an eyebrow at the scrutiny. “I have no more wish than you to be arrested by Starfleet. Whatever consequences you face, as a non-Terran my own will be considerably more severe.”

Blue eyes examined him, perhaps searching for signs of wavering resolution. Spock opened his expression as much as he was ever able, trying to communicate the truth of his determination.

At last, Kirk nodded. “Guess we’re on the same page then.”

“It would appear so.”

“If you two are just about done bonding,” Nyota hissed, “you might want to keep your voices down.”

They reached the set of double doors. Spock peered through the inset plastite panel into a sprawling room of machinery, computer terminals and constructs he could not identify. There were no officers or personnel that he could see. The place really did appear abandoned.

They stepped inside. Again, lights flickered on at the movement.

It was quiet, the only sounds the faint buzz of electricity and the external howl of winds against the walls of the outpost. It smelled of oil and old, stale coffee. Thick tubes of wiring snaked haphazardly across the floor, leading to hulking, outdated looking generators that buzzed and vibrated loudly. They edged past them, Spock’s eyes scanning for signs of movement among the shadowy structures.

They passed by an expansive panel of computer screens that each showed surveillance images. Some were of nothing but the empty ice fields, others seemed to be from orbiting satellites and showed the planet from space, presumably in case of approaching ships. Spock wondered fleetingly if any of the cameras had captured Vulcan’s last moments.

A stack of shelving teetered under the weight of badly labelled containers, which upon closer inspection seemed to hold little but geological samples. Kirk poked despondently at the boxes of rocks, lowering his gun with a sigh. “Maybe whoever works here got beamed up to help with Nero’s mess?” he ventured.

“You should not sound so disappointed by the lack of opposition,” the older Vulcan reprimanded quietly. “If you are still set on this course of action, at least now you will be able to access the base’s transporters without resorting to violence.”

“Doesn’t solve the implant problem, though...” Kirk muttered.

“Where will the transporters be?” Nyota asked, peering into the gloom.

“We should look around,” Spock advised. “There may be other supplies here which we can utilise before we leave, food and medicine in particular.”

“I don’t want to waste ages picking apart this junk heap,” Kirk argued. He looked around, eyes landing on one of the computers. “There’s got to be schematics of the place on here, maybe an inventory of some sort...”

He moved towards it.

“Wouldn’t touch that if I were you.”

The unfamiliar voice was thick with Scottish brogue. Spock turned quickly on the spot, disruptor pistol held ready, but he could not locate the source. Kirk backed hastily away from the computer.

Movement to the right finally caught his attention, and a Terran emerged from beneath one of the inactive generators, obviously having been working on repairing it. Was it not for their location, Spock would have had difficulty identifying the man as an officer. Clad in overalls, a filthy coat and woollen hat, carrying no visible weapon, he did not appear typical Starfleet.

Both he and Kirk brought up their guns regardless.

The Scotsman quickly raised oil-stained hands beside his head. “Woah! No need for threats. Just trying to stop you electrocuting yourself, laddie.” He pointed a finger at the console Kirk had been about to touch. “That’d be my personal rig. Caught Keenser hovering round it this morning - like I don’t know full well what he was doing, bloody fiend.”

Spock wondered fleetingly who Keenser was, and what he’d done to the computer.

“Watch this,” the Scotsman said, as though in answer. Seemingly dismissing the threat of their guns, he took a wrench from one of the bulging pockets of his coat, edged nearer and tossed it towards the console. It hit the terminal with a sudden flash and crack of electricity, clattering away onto the floor. Spock could smell smoke as circuits fried.

“Gonna have to shut down the mains again to salvage this mess.” He shook his head wryly. “Been waiting for something ever since I dunked him in the filtration tank. Really thought I had him with that one. Who knew the little bastard was amphibious?”

Spock forced himself to discard his curiosity over what was apparently a competition of who could succeed in murder. He exchanged a look with Kirk. The Terran shrugged, equally bemused.

“You and this Keenser are the only Starfleet officers here?”

“Yup,” the Scotsman supplied easily. “Budget cuts, they told us. Bah, I’m well aware it’s because Archer’s a cranky old sod who can’t take no for an answer. Anyway, keep your eye out. Bloody little oyster-face is lurking round here somewhere. He’s a terror for springing nasty surprises when you’re least expecting it.”

It was a strike of luck Spock could scarcely believe, that the outpost be so low on security. Two officers would be easy enough to restrain, if they could just locate the second one.

His older self abruptly swept by him, reaching out to grasp Kirk’s arm as he’d been about to take aim with the disruptor pistol.

“Do not - either of you! - shoot this man. Montgomery Scott was among the closest of your friends, in my universe. I suspect it would be... unwise to change that.”

The man in question looked entirely unconcerned by Jim’s aborted attempt. Hands in his pockets, he cocked his head at the older Vulcan. “We know each other or something? Would have thought I’d remember, but the old moonshine may have killed off a few braincells over the years.”

Spock was growing increasingly intolerant of these cryptic portents of a future that would never come to pass. He was about to say as much when the Scotsman frowned.

“Now that I’ve said it, you all look a wee bit familiar.” He cocked his head first one way and then the other, squinting at them in a peculiar manner. He even pushed back his hat to scratch at his forehead in thought.

Then his eyes flew wide.

“Oh! Oh my god, you’re them!”

Nyota’s expression hardened in alarm, Kirk visibly tensed, and somewhere behind them McCoy groaned quietly.

“To whom would you be referring, exactly?”

The Scotsman was practically vibrating with something like excitement. “You’re the deserters who blew up a bloody planet, that’s who!” He thrust his hand out to shake, and when Spock recoiled he grabbed Kirk’s instead without missing a beat. “Honest to god, it’s a real honour. Name’s Scotty. Tell me everything, I’m dying to know how you did it.”

Kirk’s mouth hung slightly open, and he couldn’t quite seem to force it closed as Scotty pumped his hand enthusiastically. He cast a somewhat helpless look over at them.

“Are you saying you believe us to be responsible for the destruction of Vulcan?” Spock asked, if only to confirm he had not misheard or misconstrued the far-fetched implication.

“Well, not just the four of you, obviously. Be damn impressive if it... Wait. Are you saying you didn’t blow up a planet?”

“For what reason do you believe this?” Spock pressed.

The Scotsman jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “Top priority alert got sent out to all officers in the quadrant a couple of hours ago. Your four faces plastered all over it. Romulan allies, something or other, said you were in the area. Now, just to be clear, you don’t know how they blew up a planet then?”

Kirk covered his face with both hands, turning to walk a few paces away from them all.

Nyota looked stunned. “There’s... There’s not even an official punishment for something like that. They’ll execute us!”

“Oh, worse than that, I’d imagine,” Scotty offered unhelpfully. “The Admirals aren’t the type of men to let things go that easily. Trust me on that. Hell, how do you think I ended up stuck out here in the first place?”

“Well I’m guessing you weren’t accused of genocide,” Kirk snapped.

“Nothing so ambitious, I admit.”

The Terran suddenly swung his gun up into position again, swiftly sidestepping the older Vulcan before he could intervene a second time.

“Jim, do not do this.”

“Sorry, but we can’t have him telling Starfleet we’re here.”

“Oh they already know you’re here, laddie.” Scotty wiggled his fingers vaguely in their direction. “Got those wee tracker thingies, haven’t you? Shooting me isn’t gonna change much, in the big scheme of things.”

That seemed to give Kirk pause, but whether it would have changed his mind or not remained unseen. There was a crash and a thud behind them. They turned in alarm, simultaneously trying to keep Scotty in sight.

Doctor McCoy had fallen against one of the computer terminals - thankfully not one with live electricity coursing through, Spock noted. He groped at the terminal in search of purchase, managing to knock over a stack of data PADDs and cause the computer to beep alarmingly. Sweat had sprung out on his forehead and he was visibly losing the fight to remain standing.

“Ah shit,” Kirk swore. He hesitated, then cast a meaningful look at Spock. “Keep an eye on him. He moves, shoot him.”

Then he was darting to help Nyota lever McCoy off the terminal. He got the doctor’s arm braced round his shoulder, staggering slightly when the other man’s weight slumped against him.

“He’s burning up,” Nyota said worriedly. “We should have done something sooner.”

“Yeah you’re right, I should have hailed that med-unit that drove past us on the way - oh wait!”

“God, just shut up and help me.”

She found a chair nearly hidden beneath a stack of well-worn blueprints and swept them aside, then moved back so Kirk could deposit McCoy into the vacant space. They both hovered uncertainly in front of him. Kirk snapped his fingers loudly in the doctor’s face.

“Hey. Still with us?”

Immediately, McCoy tried to swat him away. “Yeah, but I’m starting to wish I wasn’t. Give me some damn space, will you?”

“Where’s your medkit?” Nyota called over her shoulder.

Scotty thought for a second, eyes raised to the ceiling. “Let’s see, last time we needed anything was when that game of poker got out of hand... Should still be in my desk drawer, lass.” He started to move towards it, but Spock held up a hand to stop him.

Kirk jogged towards the indicated drawer, slamming it open and hauling out a metal case. He brought it over to McCoy and opened it. “Okay, what do you need?”

“Antibiotics, painkillers, and a shot of that moonshine he mentioned.”

“Man after my own heart!” Scotty enthused, beaming widely.

Spock sighed.

Nyota took a small bottle of anti-bacterial gel from the kit and quickly scrubbed her hands. Then she reached out to the doctor. “I’ll change the dressing -”

Immediately, McCoy knocked her hand away. “Don’t.”

“What? Why? It needs changing, it’s filthy.”

“Well I damn well don’t want you doing it.” Glowering, he hunched away from her. “Where’s the Vulcan? He can do it.”

The Vulcan is otherwise occupied,” Spock responded tightly, refusing to allow his concentration to waver from Scotty. “So allow Nyota to aid you before you contract irreparable infection and we are forced to leave you behind for a better likelihood of escape.”

“You cold-blooded bastard!”

But Nyota looked vindicated, reaching out a second time. “I’ll be careful.”

“...Not that,” the doctor muttered, words barely audible.

She paused, then after a few seconds rolled her eyes. “I’m not squeamish, if that’s what you’re worried about. Now shut up and sit still.”

As she began gently unwrapping bandages, Kirk thrust a small metal canister under McCoy’s nose. “That the right stuff?”

He squinted his eye to read the label. “Have to do, I suppose.”

“How much do I use?”

“That’s one dose. Put it in the hypospray and hand it to me.”

Kirk slotted it into place and slapped the injection into the doctor’s palm, resuming his rummage through the medical supplies. McCoy lifted his chin, angled the hypospray, and with practised ease discharged it into himself.

Nyota hissed sympathetically as she began to peel fabric away from burned flesh. She picked it away with quick, deft fingers, but even so it was evidently an uncomfortable process. Kirk pointedly kept his back turned as she worked. At last it came free and she tossed the soiled bandages somewhere behind her.

Spock glanced across as she pulled off the final piece of wadding. It was indeed an ugly wound. Red, blistered skin stretched from his cheek, up across the hollow of his orbital socket, and encroached into his hairline. One eyebrow and a patch of hair at the temple had been seared away, but that was superficial. The real damage was to the eye, as Spock had suspected. The lid was swollen almost shut, but beneath could be glimpsed a bloody sliver where the sclera had been inflamed crimson, not unlike the result of a severe chemical burn.

Kirk excused himself, slipping away as Nyota set about gathering fresh supplies. He rejoined Spock, shrugging awkwardly when he received a look of askance. “Thought I’d give them some privacy.”

Scotty was watching the proceedings with increasingly enthusiastic winces. “What happened to your friend, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Got shot in the face,” Kirk answered bluntly. “You should see the other guy.”

“He was attempting to defend Nyota,” Spock elaborated. “I believe she is now endeavouring to return the favour.”

Nyota’s expression was neutral, her movements unhurried as she cleaned the weeping burn with a sterile wipe. In contrast, the doctor’s face was flushed with colour, either in reaction to pain or self-consciousness. Nyota made no comment. She deposited a pile of clean bandages into McCoy’s lap and retrieved a tube of anaesthetic gel from the medkit, crouching down in front of him to begin applying it.

“Don’t go making things worse with those damn nails of yours,” he complained, twitching away from her nervously.

She glanced briefly at the cat-like points, quirking half a smile. “I said I’d be careful, didn’t I?”

“Just see that you are.”

Spock turned away from them, refocusing his attention on Kirk, the Scotsman and his other self. “What is our current plan of action?”

Moving to stand at Spock’s side, Kirk purposely turned his back on the other two, his quiet voice carrying to Spock’s ear. “This isn’t going to work. I don’t care if we were supposed to know him in some other life, he’s too much of a liability in this one. McCoy’s out of it, Nyota’s playing nurse, Vulcan 2.0 is peace and love and rainbows and shit.” He took a breath. “So it’s gotta be us. You up for it?”

Scotty’s attention was still taken with the spectacle of McCoy’s injury, so Spock tipped his head in Kirk’s direction, also lowering his voice to the barest of whispers. “Allow me to be certain. You are suggesting that the two of us murder a Starfleet officer?”

“After we get him to take out the implants... yeah. Look, how much difference do you think one kill is going to make on top of the six fucking billion we’re already accused of?” the Terran hissed angrily, his breath skimming across Spock’s jaw. “We can’t just keep him at gunpoint and hope he doesn’t pull something. And there’s the second one he mentioned, wherever he is! Time’s running out as it is, we have to move.”

“It would not be in self-defence, as the Romulans were. This would not trouble you?”

Kirk rolled his shoulders. “If it’s necessary, no.”

“Are you asking me to confirm it is necessary?”

“I...” He stopped, staring at Spock as though in deliberation.

A loud and pointed cough recaptured their attention.

Scotty was staring at them with raised eyebrows. “Sorry. Feels like I interrupted a private moment, there.”

Scowling, Kirk stepped further away.

“No? Oh good. Anyway, I’m assuming you boys are huddled over there discussing my upcoming convenient demise?”

They made no effort to deny the fact.

The Scotsman nodded, unsurprised. “Well, before you go doing something rash, let me offer you an alternative that benefits everyone involved, aye?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

The man’s demeanour visibly changed. “You honestly think I enjoy my life out in this frozen hellhole? Stuck here with only that psychotic little gremlin for company, trying to kill me every five minutes because he’s such a sore bloody loser!” He raised his voice on the last phrase, shouting the accusation to the room at large. Nyota and McCoy looked over in alarm. “You wanna know why I’m here in the first place? Because that bastard Archer won’t have me working for anyone else in the ‘Fleet except him, and until I agree this is my personally tailored purgatory.”

Under their bemused scrutiny he took a moment to regain himself, and then finished, “What I’m saying is I have less loyalty to Starfleet than you’re probably imagining. Top and bottom of it is I want out.”

“So?” Kirk asked warily. “What does that have to do with us?”

“You’re my chance, just like I’m yours.”

“Chance for what?”

“To get out of here!” The Scotsman gestured expansively. “That’s what you came here for, right? Looking for some way to get off the planet? I can help.”

Evidently baffled by the turn of events, Kirk snorted disbelief. “Yeah, okay. How about you just get these implants to stop broadcasting and we’ll be on our way.”

“You’re not even going to hear me out? I can make it so Starfleet can’t get near you. All I want is to come with.”

“And we’re supposed to just believe that?” Kirk demanded sceptically. Still, Spock noted that he had not yet made another attempt to shoot the man, so perhaps he was more intrigued by the idea than he revealed.

“Believe whatever you like, lad, can’t stop you there. But I thought it worth making the offer. I’d just have to arrest you otherwise, and then no one gets off this godforsaken rock.”

There was something disquieting in the offhand confidence with which he spoke, given that both he and Kirk still had weapons drawn and an inclination to use them.

Spock’s eyes narrowed in sudden comprehension. “You knew we were coming.”

The two Terrans and his other self looked at him.

“When you were given the alert about us being in the vicinity, the implants we carry would have told you we were coming here. You must have expected our imminent arrival. Why did you pretend to be surprised?”

And just like that, the Scotsman’s mask of jovial well-meaning fell away, revealing something sly and cold in pale eyes.

“Suppose you have me there.”

Kirk tightened his grip on the disruptor pistol, looking furious. “I knew you were lying.”

“Only a wee white lie. So I knew to expect you, doesn’t change a word of my offer.”

“What does it change?”

“Well. Had to have a means of subduing four armed criminals if you said no, didn’t I?” He raised two fingers to his mouth and whistled sharply.

There was a sound behind them. Spock started to spin, but Scotty threw up his hands. “Don’t turn around. Let’s keep this nice and calm now.”

Without moving his body, Spock glanced back over his shoulder. Standing atop one of the power generators was some sort of green, wrinkled creature, and in its hands were two weapons nearly bigger than it was. Before anyone could react, much less stop him, he threw one of the guns straight over their heads and into the Scotsman’s waiting hands.

Spock could only assume they had just been introduced to Keenser.

“This here is your good old-fashioned energy particle assault rifle,” the Scotsman informed them cheerily, patting the gun. “Capable of power settings high enough to blast apart the human torso. Not sure if that holds for Vulcans, but we’ll give it a go, aye?”

Spock let out a slow breath, thinking fast. He and Kirk would undoubtedly be the first targets, but it was possible Nyota and Doctor McCoy might be able to take advantage of the situation.

Anticipating the same thing, Scotty called out, “Don’t even think it, lass. One more step and these two get it in the head.”

She had already started to creep forward, but froze at his warning.

“Right, let’s calm down and talk like civilised people, shall we? Like I said, nothing stopping us all from being friends here.”

“I can think of at least a couple of reasons,” Kirk growled.

“Now, now, you boys set the tone. How about this: I’m not even going to ask you to hand over those pea-shooters you call guns. Just stop pointing them at my head, aye?”

Neither he nor Kirk made any effort to lower the weapons.

The Scotsman sighed. “Fine. Forget friendly, straight to business then. I want out of Starfleet, you want out of Starfleet, our interests line up. Help me or I shoot the two of you in ‘self-defence’ and hand the rest over as my ticket back onto a starship. Not ideal, but better than staying here for the rest of my natural life.”

“I’m not sure I trust someone who doesn’t give me a choice about partnering with them,” Kirk argued.

“Not asking for trust, lad. Just agreement.”

The Terran lowered his voice, addressing Spock. “He’s lying. Got to be.”

“He has no reason to maintain the deception,” Spock observed. “We are effectively at his mercy. That he continues to propose an alliance is actually... convincing.”

Kirk growled low in his throat in utter frustration. He hesitated another moment, then finally dropped the pistol to his side with a curse. “Fine. Talk. What’s your plan? We’ve already wasted enough time as it is.”

Scotty shrugged. “By coming here you may actually have bought yourself some time.”

“How do you figure that?”

“We work something out and I’ll contact the bosses, tell them I’ve got you safely under lock and key and they can take their time sorting out that mess up there. It’ll get us a few hours, at the least.”

Spock lowered his own gun at last, relieved when the Scotsman mirrored the gesture. “Do that now,” he insisted, “and then we may discuss partnership.”

Scotty considered, then gave a nod of agreement. “Aye, alright.”

“I’ll go with you,” Kirk said immediately. “I want to hear anything you say to them.”

“Fine, fine, come on then.”

Before they set off, Scotty moved past Spock to stand at the base of the generator, holding up his arms and gesturing impatiently. They all watched in bemusement as he lifted the alien down and set him on his feet, giving a little expectant shove when he continued to stand there.

“Well go on with you, that’s all I wanted.”

Keenser clicked irritably, swinging his unused assault rifle over his shoulder with enough force that it nearly struck the Scotsman’s groin. Ignoring Scotty’s snarled response, he turned and marched off into the chaotic layout of the outpost, promptly disappearing.

Scotty watched him go. “I’m gonna miss the little guy, now that it’s come to it. Keeps me on my toes, yanno?”

“God, come on!”

“Alright, keep your bloody hair on!”

Kirk followed him a short distance away. Spock was careful to ensure they stayed within sight, just in case the Scotsman had any other ideas of ambush.

“Do you believe now that his friendship will be valuable to you?” his other self inquired, with a marked note of smugness.

Spock ignored him.

Nyota approached, her movements slow and overly precise with fatigue. “Everything okay?”

“It would seem we may have found an ally in the officer.”

“Oh. That’s good.” She held a hypospray in hand, lifting it for him to examine as she drew near. “Energy and nutrient shot. Found them in the medkit.”

It had been over three days since any of them had eaten properly. Even Spock was beginning to feel the toll on his physical and mental functions, and he could only imagine how the faster metabolising humans were faring.

“There’s one waiting for Jim, and I already gave one to Leonard and myself. It helps.” She stepped closer to him hesitantly. “May I?”

It was only sensible to accept her help. He nodded, tilting his head accommodatingly to one side.

She pressed the hypospray to his neck. Her fingers brushed his bare skin in doing so, and a flood of unguarded foreign emotion rushed through him. She was terrified, almost paralysed by dread of what would happen next. Exhaustion draped a grey haze across all her thoughts, dimming them, slowing them down to a crawl. Hunger was a constant, gnawing distraction. But beneath those things was hot fury at it all - Nero’s abduction, Rekar’s assault, Starfleet’s erroneous accusation. It fuelled her, kept her moving, unpleasant but effective.

He controlled his instinctive flinch, reluctant to reveal he had stolen insight without her permission or knowledge. It was a relief when quick sharp pain indicated deployment of the hypospray and she drew away from him.

“See. Not so bad. Give it a moment and you’ll feel good as new.” She smiled wanly.

He studied her face and posture, privately surprised that no trace of emotional turmoil was betrayed in either. Humans were typically emotive beings, but had he not felt it first hand, he would have been deceived into believing the increasingly disastrous situation took no toll on her.

Frankly, he was impressed.

She moved towards his older self, accepting his habitually blank expression in stride. “There’s another one. If you need it, I mean.”

The older Vulcan’s mouth twitched at the corner, a telling sign of emotion. He carefully pressed the offered hypospray back into her hand, patting her fingers closed around it without hesitation. Spock felt a flash of envy at the easy contact. He looked away.

“Keep it for yourselves, Nyota. You need it more than I.”

She seemed taken aback by the familiar use of her name, but not nearly as offended as Kirk had been. She nodded, and slipped the energy shot back into her pocket.

“Is Doctor McCoy able to continue?” Spock asked, if only to interrupt the charged atmosphere.

She glanced back at the injured Terran and hitched a shoulder. “He’ll have to be.”

That was true enough, at least.

“So you can’t take them out? Deactivate them? Something?” Kirk’s voice carried ahead of him as he and the Scotsman returned.

“’Fraid not. No idea how they’re made or how they work. Wouldn’t wanna go fiddling in case I made something worse.”

Spock felt the sinking sensation of disappointment. He had not realised how much faith he had placed in Kirk’s idea of coercing an officer to remove the implants, not until it was confirmed impossible. He let out a breath. There would be no running now. What point to it?

Clearly Kirk was thinking along the same lines. His shoulders slumped, and his expression turned sullen. “Then why even bother going through all this? Why make a deal with us if you knew you couldn’t -”

“Hold on now. Give me some credit. I do have... one idea worth looking at.”

“What’s that?”

The Scotsman grinned. “Alpha.”

They stared at him, uncomprehending.

“Oh come on, Alpha? Sif Alpha? Former defence outpost in the Omega Leonis sector? You have to have heard of it.”

“Omega Le- Isn’t that Klingon space?!”

“Well, technically yes. But believe it or not, it’s generally considered safe haven.”

“Why the hell would -”

“I have heard of it,” Spock interrupted. When they all looked at him for elaboration, he added, “In my first year living on Terra, I knew an Orion female who claimed she intended to seek passage to Sif Alpha. She advised me to accompany her, on the grounds that the opportunities for xeno individuals were far more plentiful there than anywhere in the Empire. I’ve since learned that many non-Terrans make attempts to reach the outpost.”

“Why there in particular?”

“See, that’s the beauty of it,” Scotty resumed. “Whole place is outside government control. Any government. Including Klingon.”

“How does that work?” Nyota asked. “If it’s in Klingon controlled space, surely it belongs to them.”

“Maybe on paper, but I’m telling you, no one has had any practical ownership of this place in decades. That’s the appeal. Might as well be be walking into the old wild west. Only... with space ships and aliens and what-have-you.”

“You are understating the matter,” Spock accused. “Sif Alpha runs on the dogma of survival of the fittest. It is not as free of rulership as you would have us believe, but rather controlled by whichever mercenary force happens to have seized violent control of the outpost at any given time. There is no law and little safety to be found there. It may be regarded as a haven for non-Terrans, but most who thrive there are criminals, exiles and pariahs.”

“Sounds just about right for you lot then,” the Scotsman snapped, once again letting slip a glimpse of the coldness behind all his false smiles. In a second it was gone, and he turned to Kirk with upturned, appealing hands. “Okay yeah, he’s right about all that, but just hear me out. Klingons don’t interfere with Alpha because it’s such a lucrative business. You’ve got your Terran smugglers bringing in weapons and other goods from the Empire. Orion slave traders bringing in flesh. Drug runners selling crates of the good stuff. Rare livestock, stolen valuables, illegal tech - you name it, it passes through Sif Alpha. And the Klingons make sure they get a tidy cut of everything. You can imagine how overly protective they might be of such a place.”

Nyota’s eyes widened as comprehension dawned. “So if we could actually get there, we’d effectively be out of reach...”

“Starfleet hasn’t even been able to get into the same sector for over a century,” Scotty confirmed. “There’s many an Imperial turncoat living it up out there they’d love to get their hands on.”

“So even though they’d know we’re there, there’s nothing they could do about it,” Kirk surmised, nodding. He was clearly warming to the idea, and despite Spock’s own misgivings he had to admit it had more potential than any idea they’d arrived at so far.

“How would we get there, though?” Nyota asked reasonably.

The Scotsman pointed at her. “And that, lass, is exactly why I’m bothering to make you the offer. Can’t get there on my own. Need a crew first.”

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