The ship was an Antares-class freighter docked in the west wing of the outpost. Jim had seen them back in the shipyard a few times. Usually pretty hardy things, this one had been deeply scarred along one side of its hull and a hole had obviously been recently patched closed.
“Got hit in a meteor storm,” Scotty informed them. “Its crew dropped it off here for repairs a couple of months ago, been working on it off and on.”
Spock studied the ship dubiously. “It is space-worthy?”
“Oh yeah. Some of my best work’s gone into putting her back in one piece. Even worked in some upgrades while no one was looking. She may not be the prettiest anymore, but she’ll damn well do the job.”
“And what’s the recommended crew complement?” Kirk asked.
“Ah. Well. Typically you’d want a minimum of twelve.”
“Twelve? Even including you, we have less than half that! That’s not even taking into account that none of us have any training or flight experience.” Apparently he had already discounted the notion of the older Vulcan accompanying them, for which Spock felt strangely grateful.
“Speak for yourself,” Scotty protested. “I’ve spent most of my career on one ship or another, listening to captain after captain talk out of their arse to me. Just off the back of fixing their mistakes I’ve got enough practical experience to run my own damn ship.”
“And that’s what you’re expecting to do here, is it? Elect yourself captain and -”
“Some captaincy that’d be. Bunch of untrained, trigger-happy, wet behind the ears -”
“I’m starting to think this isn’t going to work,” Kirk snapped.
Spock cleared his throat. “I believe I have a working theoretical knowledge of navigational systems. If that influences your decision in any way.”
Argument derailed, they both turned to stare at him intently. Kirk narrowed his eyes. “How ‘working’ exactly?”
When Spock had been fifteen, he’d developed an interest in navigational theory. It had been one of many diversionary tactics, something to occupy an understimulated mind. He’d looked first at Terran vehicles as the most readily available; traditional ocean-faring ships and submarines, largely. The notion of traversing such vast expanses of water had fascinated him. Growing up on an overcrowded space station, water had been for drinking and little else. Even now, he could still summon a clear image of the ship schematics he had studied, the training simulators, the textual manuals, the sea charts and water current maps.
And when he’d exhausted that area of study, space navigation had seemed the natural progression.
Considering his answer carefully, he eventually said, “Given opportunity to familiarize myself with ship systems, I believe I am more than capable of plotting safe, efficient courses of travel.”
The Scotsman hummed under his breath. “‘Safe’ may not be what we’re looking for, but I suppose we’ll take it in a pinch.” He clapped his hands. “Alright, what other bits of skill can we scrape together?”
For a moment it seemed as if there’d be nothing. Then Nyota raised her hand.
“I took piloting classes in college.”
Kirk blinked at her in surprise.
“I mean, nothing extensive. But I took a shuttle up a couple of times, and a cargo ship a bit smaller than this one. Thought it’d look good on my Starfleet application.”
“Why didn’t I know that?” he asked, sounding slightly offended.
She shrugged defensively. “I was half afraid you’d ask me to steal something bigger than a bike. Of course, now you actually are, so...”
Scotty bounced on his heels. “So we’ve got our pilot, our navigator, I’m your engineer. What can you do, pretty boy?”
“Not a whole lot,” Kirk admitted easily enough.
“He’s a quick study, though,” Nyota argued. “Don’t let the airhead act fool you.”
“Guess you’re learning the tricks of the trade on the job then,” Scotty concluding, sounding as though it was less than his ideal scenario. “And Scarface over there can scare off anyone looking to board us.”
“What did you just say to me?”
“Anyway, we looking round the inside?” Under McCoy’s black glare, the Scotsman made a hasty retreat towards the freighter.
The bridge of the ship wasn’t as big as Spock had been expecting. A viewscreen stretched the length of most of the front wall, and below that a compact control console sported only two seats, presumably for pilot and navigator respectively. Other consoles stretched either side of the small space, though Spock wasn’t as sure of their function.
“There are some personal quarters just back there,” Scotty explained, pointing to a short corridor. “Bit cramped, to be honest. Most of the space on board is reserved for cargo and engines.”
Spock moved to take his seat at the navigational terminal. He touched the screen lightly and it lit up for him. His eyes immediately began scanning the reels of data which flared to life, fingers tapping and exploring. He remembered this math and physics as if he had studied it yesterday, his teenage interest so thoroughly captured. His mind played quickly through equations and calculations while his hands deftly programmed them into the computer, testing his own understanding of the task.
“Enjoying yourself?” Nyota teased gently as she took to the pilot’s seat next to him.
“I am,” he admitted.
“Bring up a map,” Scotty instructed him, snapping his fingers with excited impatience. “I’ll show you where we’d be going.”
Spock typed commands rapidly into the computer, and on the viewscreen appeared a glittering galaxy map. He tapped another set of buttons and enlarged the Beta Quadrant.
“So this is us, over here,” Scotty explained, cirlcing his finger around a solar system on the mid-left edge of the map. Then he trailed it down to the lower-right corner. “And this is where we want to be. This whole block is Omega Leonis. More specifically, we want to get to the Qo’noS sector, Sif system.”
“That’s a hell of a distance,” Kirk commented, as though the true scale of it was only now dawning on him. “Starfleet would be on us before we crossed a third of it - and that’s just assuming we make it out of Vulcan space.”
“Not necessarily,” Scotty argued. “See, you may not have heard, but as of late there’s a war on.”
“So? That makes things worse.”
“Not for us it doesn’t. Standing orders for the majority of the fleet is to pack in tight around whichever planets happen to be valuable to the Empire. They’re all busy playing guard dogs right now.”
“And you’re willing to gamble they won’t come after us if we just... What? Keep well enough away?”
“They’ll know exactly where we’re going, lad. It doesn’t take a genius. And with that being said, they won’t have to chase after us. All they have to do is intercept us before the Klingon border, where they’ll be patrolling anyway, and pick us up easy as you please.”
“And this is a good thing?!”
“It’s a surmountable thing, that’s the important part. I’m telling you, with the upgrades I’ve made to this baby, she’s as agile as you get. We can get past, I promise. All we need to do is cross that border and we’re home free. Starfleet won’t launch open invasion for the sake of five stowaways.”
“You’re hoping,” Kirk muttered. “And let’s just say all this goes off without a hitch, what happens once we’re in Omega Leonis? We give a friendly wave as we sail past the Klingons?”
“No. Like anything else, we pay our way, is all.”
The Scotsman threw out his arms. “We’re gonna be flying a cargo ship. With any damn thing we can cram into it!”
Spock intercepted before one of the Terrans lost their patience. “In our admittedly brief time here at the outpost, I have seen nothing of value sufficient enough to use in buying our passage through openly hostile territory. What exactly are you planning to barter?”
“I’d like an answer to that too before we go cruising off on a wing and a prayer,” Kirk said. “Oh, and another thing. How do you know all this?”
Scotty shrugged. “Got a friend who set himself up on Alpha last year. We keep in touch. And as for what we’re going to barter, I may have a few treasure troves stashed about the place. Don’t you worry your pretty wee heads about it.”
When no one looked particularly convinced, the Scotsman sighed exaggeratedly. “Alright fine, first thing first - we’re going to need enough fuel cells with us that we don’t have to dock anywhere on the way. Then the payment.” He patted the assault rifle he still wore slung over one shoulder. “Got a stash of these and other weapons in storage we can pack up. And there’s some not strictly legal computer programs I use on occasion that we can save and take with.”
“Don’t forget the moonshine,” McCoy muttered, slumping down into one of the chairs.
“Course I won’t forget the bloody moonshine, what do you take me for?”
“Is there a replicator on board?”
“Yup, so food’s not a worry.” The Scotsman glanced around at each of them, holding out his arms in question. “Well? Are we all convinced yet?”
Kirk gave one last begrudging frown. “How long is it going to take to get there?”
“Well, what a lot of people don’t realise about space travel is that it all depends on a wide range of interstellar conditions - any electrical or magnetic fields you might pass through, gaseous density, subspace fluctuations -”
Spock finished typing and examined the calculation he’d generated. “Should we adhere to the recommendation of passing exclusively through unpopulated areas and maintaining a consistent velocity of Warp 3, current ETA at the Klingon border is fifteen days, three hours and fifty two minutes.”
“That is without taking into account the additional three days it will require to reach Sif Alpha itself.”
“What are we supposed to do for nearly three weeks inside this metal tube you call a ship?”
Scotty jabbed a thumb vaguely over his shoulder. “Think I’ve got a pack of cards somewhere in the... No?”
It was not long before it occurred to Spock that he had lost track of his other self. Leaving Nyota to continue her exploration of the ship’s computer system, he stepped outside and looked around. The older Vulcan had separated himself from the others and was standing some distance away next to one of the small heating generators, gaze cast out over the rest of the storage facility.
Spock moved to stand next to him, resting his hands in the small of his back. They were quiet for a few moments, before Spock broke the reverie.
"You are not coming with us."
His other self glanced at him. "That does not sound like a question."
"It is not," Spock agreed. "The fact is I do not wish you to accompany us."
"Because of my unwanted familiarity with yourself and your new companions."
"Among other things, yes." Though in truth, Spock suspected that such familiarity was at least partially illusionary. James Kirk was not the heroic captain he had glimpsed in the other Vulcan's thoughts, Leonard McCoy not the kindly doctor, nor Nyota the soft-hearted communications officer. That the older Vulcan could not seem to see beyond those ghosts of memory was disconcerting, and potentially hazardous.
"You are fortunate, then, that I had no intention of joining you."
Surprised, Spock studied him in periphery. "Oh?"
He half-chuckled. "I do not think myself suited to the life of a pirate."
"We are hardly pirates."
"You are in the midst of stealing a ship and all the valuable cargo it can transport. How else would you describe yourselves?"
Reluctantly, Spock conceded the point. "Then what will you do?"
He drew a long, contemplative breath. "I shall remain here, and await Starfleet. Someone must inform them of Nero's involvement in... what happened here today."
"Do not inform them of your own," Spock advised immediately. "Starfleet is not what you think it is. They are not benevolent explorers, not curious or peaceful. If they believe you at all, it will be to your detriment. As I have been tied to your crimes, so will you be tied to mine."
"And what crimes they are."
Spock bristled at the judgemental tone. "You opinion on the matter is unsolicited."
"Nevertheless, I am struggling to comprehend the version of myself you represent. I watched you take lives today as if they did not matter to you."
"Likely because they did not."
"I understand that there are times when lethal force is necessary, but surely you cannot harbour a true taste for violence-"
"And what is the consequence if I do?"
The direct question seemed to leave the older Vulcan at a loss. He shook his head helplessly, mouth open on the verge of a protest.
Spock stepped closer, lowering his voice to a whisper. "I have told you already that we two are not alike, but it seems you still fail to comprehend my meaning. One final time, then: I share neither your need for diplomacy, your fearful passivity, nor your moralising tendencies. If blood must stain my hands in order to survive, I can find no objection.”
The older Vulcan shook his head, either in denial or disapproval. “I must remind myself again that you were not raised as I was.”
“Not a Vulcan, you mean to say.” Spock let his upper lip curl derisively. “Perhaps that is for the best. The only truth I know of Vulcans is that they allowed themselves to be conquered by a physically and technologically inferior race, thereby facilitating the Empire. They lived in oppression, and today they died without protest. Why should I wish to be Vulcan? At least the Terrans taught me strength.”
His other self looked like he’d been struck. For the first time, real anger was betrayed in his expression. Spock welcomed it, finally glimpsing something that looked even halfway familiar to him.
Then laughter rang out, breaking the tension.
They turned in time to see Kirk and Scotty struggling to carry a crate of fuel cells between them. The Scotsman was gasping and sweating under the exertion, Kirk grinning sharply at him.
His older self watched their progress intently.
Eventually he sighed, some of the rigidity leaving his shoulders. With obvious and conscious effort to set aside the discussion, he simply said, “Alike or not, it would seem our first destiny is always to be aboard a ship with James Kirk at its helm.”
“He is not my captain.”
The other Vulcan’s mouth twitched at the corners. “Give him time.”
They were as prepared as possible.
The store rooms were full to bursting. Both he and Nyota had taken rapid crash courses in the workings of the ship systems. Scotty had busied himself making final adjustments down in the engine room. They had all made stilted, perfunctory goodbyes to Keenser and Spock’s older self, who had retreated back into the main generator room as though reluctant to witness their parting.
All that remained was the act of powering up the ship and actually departing the planet.
They had taken up their positions on the bridge. The docking clamps had been detached, the doors opened, and they stared through the viewscreen at the expanse of white sky waiting for them.
“You really think we can pull this off?” Kirk asked quietly.
The Scotsman made a see-saw gesture with his hand. “Ish? Course, you can always change your minds. I’d have to hand you in, but we might all avoid dying in a fiery explosion when they blow us out of orbit.”
“Christ...” McCoy muttered, dragging a hand over his jaw.
“Anyone feel like taking him up on the offer?” Kirk asked. “Last chance to back out.”
Spock briefly considered what would happen should Starfleet take them into custody. People would say Kirk was living up to his father’s disgraced name, exceeding it even. Few would be surprised. Nyota would quickly lose that determination he admired in her, the shining defiance in her eyes. She would not cope well with captivity. But Doctor McCoy, he suspected, would be the first of them to succumb to despair, having courted it for as long as Spock had known him. And Spock himself... He was a non-Terran thought to have been involved in the most extreme act of terrorism ever committed. His fate was iron-clad. Even dying in the escape attempt would be preferable.
“So we’re all agreed?” Kirk prompted, when no one made a last minute bid at backing out. “We’re doing this?”
“I believe we are,” Spock confirmed, relishing the sense of certainty that at last settled in his mind. The others were nodding, faces hard as the weight of the decision fell upon them.
Kirk looked around at each of them in turn, no doubt considering how minuscule their chances of success. Even between them, Spock and Nyota’s combined knowledge of space flight was flawed and largely theoretical at best. Doctor McCoy was as of yet no practical use to any of them in operating a ship. Scotty possessed the most experience, but his professed speciality was in managing engines and tributary systems, not navigating them away from Starfleet pursuit. And Kirk himself... Truthfully, Spock found he could not estimate the Terran’s skill range. He was certainly the son of a Starfleet family, but Spock had seen no evidence of either the same talent or ambition in all the months he’d watched Kirk drink, brawl and thieve his way through evenings at the Shipyard Bar.
Blue eyes met his own assessing stare, and despite himself Spock straightened in his chair. For a fleeting second he saw a second image in his mind’s eye, superimposed atop the other man. A golden uniform, a Starfleet insignia, James Kirk gazing out into the vastness of space like it was his own personal challenge.
Then it was gone, and the actual Kirk stood smirking at him in his battered leathers.
“Yeah. We’re ready.”
It was a clumsy ascent. Breaking the atmosphere caused enough turbulence to rattle Jim's teeth in his skull.
"Sorry! Sorry!" Nyota's hands flew over the terminal as she struggled to bring the freighter back under control. "It's been a while since I've done this."
Scotty hurried over to the station. "Just try not to crash us into a satellite, lass." His eyes scanned her screen. "You have activated inertial dampeners, right?"
"Christ, what was I thinking. This is going to be a right sodding disaster."
"I can do it!" she snapped. "Back off and let me figure it out."
Hands clenched in his woollen hat, the Scotsman walked away from her in frustration.
Jim ignored him, biting his lip as he willed her to get it right. Slowly their passage evened out and she sat back in her chair with more confidence. They left orbit and sailed into the blackness of space, and his breath caught on an excitement he hadn’t expected. The stars were laid out before them like the promise of freedom.
"Good. You ready to take us to warp?"
"Yes. Just let me -"
Jim's station beeped shrilly. He looked down at in surprise, then winced. "Uh, I think we're being hailed."
As he spoke, a Starfleet ship dropped out of warp directly ahead of them. Scotty swore profusely. In contrast, Jim was struck speechless by the sheer size of the thing. Somehow the half-constructed skeletons back at the shipyard hadn't done the real thing justice.
"Patch it through. Might as well."
He pressed the button numbly. A stern looking face flashed up on the viewscreen, familiar silver hair and eyepatch causing Jim's heart to sink even further.
"Kirk, we meet again," Pike said from the comfort of his captain's chair. "I see you're still living up to that family name. Winona and Sam must be so proud."
Jim glared, once again feeling the sting of needled pride.
"And Lieutenant Scott, you surprise me. You had such a promising career ahead of you, once. Why throw yourself in with the chaff now?"
"I'd have to say it's the chance to work with enterprising young minds, sir."
Jim stepped forward. "Captain. We had nothing to do with Vulcan. We didn't even intentionally skip out on conscription." He didn't really think he'd be believed, but at this point there was no harm in trying.
Pike leaned his chin on his fist. "Save it. You think I give a shit about conscription penalties? You think anyone does? The fact is I'm intercepting you fleeing the scene of a terrorist strike on a stolen Starfleet vessel. Trust me, when they're sweeping up the tiny pieces of your ship that's all anyone will know or care about."
"Get us moving," Jim said under his breath, voice low and urgent.
But Nyota shook her head. "Warp drive isn't engaging."
"I put the shields up," Scotty explained. "Can't jump until they're down again, but it's not looking like that's a good idea right now. They're locked on us."
On the viewscreen, Pike smiled lazily. “Think of it this way, son. At least you’ll be the Kirk who went down with his ship.”
The connection cut.
Scotty swore again. “They’re firing! Get us out of here!”
“Attempting evasive manoeuvres,” Nyota said through gritted teeth, rapidly manipulating controls. Phaser burst barely missed them as they darted away.
“Try to keep abreast of them,” Spock advised, bringing up an image of their positions on-screen. “Constitution-class ships are typically equipped with front-facing weaponry. It will have difficulty targeting us if we stay close at its side.”
“Doing it now.”
“And how long is that going to work?” Jim protested. “The idea is to get away!”
“Well we’re waiting for your bright idea on that! Jump in any time!”
But there was no bright idea to be had. They’d been banking on at least having a head start into unpopulated space before Starfleet realised what they were doing. To be caught right at the starting line took away almost all their options. Agile or not, there was no outrunning a constitution-class warship.
Still, it seemed that Spock had been right about them having trouble taking aim. The rain of phaser fire stopped, the massive ship unable to turn fast enough to keep up with them. Jim thought it a pity that the freighter didn’t come equipped with weapons of its own. They might at least have been able to do some damage to the other’s hull and underside before being taken down.
Which was a fate rapidly approaching.
“Shit. They’re firing a torpedo.”
“Don’t think I can -”
The viewscreen flashed a warning seconds before it hit them. Jim clung to his station in an attempt to steady himself as the freighter shuddered violently. McCoy was less fortunate, stumbling into a wall panel.
“Ah Christ, shields down to thirty two percent. They’re not gonna take another hit like that.”
They weren’t going to pull it off, Jim realised. Unable to extract themselves, they were going to be unceremoniously blasted out of the sky before their daring escape attempt even got properly underway. It didn’t seem fair.
“Two minute respite before they can fire another one,” Scotty advised. “Ideas? Anyone?”
They were silent, as each of them came to the same conclusion. Phaser fire still lit up the darkness of space, preventing them from dropping the shields and re-entering warp. Even had they been able to, it was little trouble for Pike’s faster ship to give chase. They were going to fail.
Spock squinted at his computer screen, then glanced back over his shoulder at them. “There’s something else approaching -”
The ship seemed to crash out of warp right on top of them. Jim saw Nyota duck instinctively as the viewscreen was filled with the dark, massive underside of another vessel. It skimmed over them, so close they barely avoided scraping a grove the length of it.
“What the hell is that?!”
“It would appear to be another Romulan ship,” Spock answered calmly.
“I cannot tell.”
Not that it mattered. It surged over them like a behemoth, completely dwarfing the freighter. Weapons fire lit the darkness as it immediately engaged the Starfleet vessel, blasting it with a savage burst of its disruptor canon. Apparently taken by surprise, Pike didn’t get his own shields up in time, and the shot made direct contact with his primary hull. Then, as he began to return fire, two more Romulan ships materialised on his flank.
“It’s another ambush,” Nyota hissed. “They’re doing it again, taking out the first responders.”
“Good,” Jim said bluntly. “Drop the shields.”
“Drop the shields so we can go to warp. Does it look like anyone’s paying attention to us right now? We can get out of here while they blow each other up.”
“Right you are, Captain Perfect Hair,” Scotty mocked, nevertheless hurrying to follow the suggestion.
Jim took a breath and held it, new hope igniting in his chest.
“Shields are down. Ready when you are.”
“Entering Warp 3 now.”
Almost immediately, everything visible in the viewscreen disappeared into the blue slipstream of space-time. No one moved or said anything. Like him they were waiting, braced for one of the enemy ships to come tearing after them.
It didn’t happen.
Minutes drifted by and nothing.
When Jim saw Spock at last take his poised hands away from his terminal, he let out a little uncontrolled laugh, full of mystified relief. Nyota glanced back at him, her smile mirroring his own. Scotty patted his hand against the ship wall as though in praise.
They hadn’t failed. Not yet at least.
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