When Jim Kirk woke, he was not at all where he expected to be. In fact, he had not expected to be waking at all. Last he remembered, he was on the transporter pad with Spock and Bones…
He should have been rematerializing on an uninhabited planet, just a routine survey mission. So what had gone wrong and where the hell was he?
This was not the clearing they were supposed to be put down in. It wasn't outside at all. It was a room. A metal box with no windows and only one sealed door.
"Captain, are you well?"
Jim glanced over his shoulder to find Spock on his feet and already examining the walls. Of course Spock would be the first to wake. Not that he knew what had knocked them all out in the first place.
"I'm fine…" Another glance about him told him Bones was still unconscious nearby, but he didn't seem injured. He did, however, have a pair of what looked like metal bracelets around his wrists. Jim moved quickly to his friend's side and picked up a wrist to look at one of them. It appeared to be a seamless ring. "What in the—"
"I examined them as well. They give no indication of their purpose or of how they were manufactured. The metal is also unfamiliar to me."
Spock was just looking away to the wall again when Jim looked up, but he could swear the Vulcan seemed concerned. He was worried himself that the metal rings might be meant to somehow harm McCoy, but Spock was…well, Spock.
Then again, things had not been easy for him lately—for any of them, but for Spock in particular. All within the last month or two the first officer of the Enterprise had suffered from an attack by one of the neural parasites on Deneva, been temporarily blinded in the process of killing the creature, and only short weeks later gone through what Kirk now knew to be called Pon Farr—losing his emotional control completely in what led, in the end, to a fight to what Spock believed briefly to be Kirk's death.
Any normal human, after that much physical and emotional pain in such quick succession, would not be functioning nearly as well as Spock was. Spock, as usual, seemed perfectly fine whether he was or not.
Jim let it go and turned back to McCoy to shake him. "Bones…Bones, wake up. Can you hear me?"
McCoy answered with a quiet groan of annoyance, and his eyes flickered open. "Jim?" He blinked in confusion at the dull metal ceiling above them, and then focused on Kirk again. "What in the Sam Hill…?" He started to sit up and Jim helped him out of instinct, but he seemed fine.
"We have no idea," Jim admitted, in regards to their situation.
"None? Why not, the computer broken?" McCoy said it with a nod towards Spock in his explorations, and the Vulcan momentarily looked back with a raised eyebrow.
"Perhaps I would have more answers, Doctor, but I must admit that I have not been conscious for much longer than the captain and yourself."
"Yeah, whatever," McCoy shrugged. He got to his feet and Jim followed suit. At the same moment they both realized that the doctor's medical kit was still hanging from his shoulder. They remembered then, to, to check for phasers and communicators, but those were all gone.
"Why would they leave the med kit if they were going to take everything else off us?" McCoy wondered aloud.
"Considering the unfamiliar metal and construction of these walls and of the rings around your wrists, as well as the unknown manner in which we arrived here, it is logical to assume that whoever or whatever has imprisoned us is of high intelligence. In that case, it would also be logical to assume that they or it would recognize that your medical supplies would likely cause no threat to its continued incarceration of us."
"Thanks for the explanation I didn't need, Spock."
"You are welcome."
Bones just glared, but it was nothing more than the usual banter and Kirk rolled his eyes good-naturedly and began to look for something to examine himself.
There were one or two panels that looked like they might come open. Spock was poking and prodding and prying at the one by the sealed door, and Jim was about to head for the one on the opposite wall when a voice echoed through the room around them. It came from everywhere and yet nowhere.
You have violated the sacred land of our Ancestors. No life form is to set foot on this land. It is to be preserved, and yet you used your transportation device to come here. What you have done must be punished.
Jim turned quickly in place, but he couldn't make out any more than he already thought. There was no way to tell where the voice came from. "What? We don't remember setting foot anywhere! The last we remember we were on our ship. How do we know you haven't taken us directly from there for some other reason?"
We have not. We would not have taken you if you had not come. We have no interest in strangers, but to punish those who violate this place. You were rendered unconscious the moment you were fully materialized, so that you could not see the place to which you had dared to come. None but the descendants of the Ancestors may see this place, and even they may not disturb it.
"We didn't know," McCoy said, speaking up. "If we had known we wouldn't have come."
Jim nodded, though he didn't know whether or not the owner of the voice could see him somehow. Still, he did it emphatically. There was already a weight in the pit of his stomach, and Bones was rubbing anxiously at the strange bracelets around his wrists. Jim couldn't blame him; he had a bad feeling about this.
"Let us return to our ship and we'll leave," he added quickly. "And we'll tell everyone we know not to return here."
If the punishment is not carried out, then what real incentive will you have to do so? What reason will those you tell have to listen to you? No, our laws are set. You will be punished before you are released. THEN you will tell others not to return.
"We will! We will swear to it—"
Jim hadn't finished his sentence before McCoy shouted, and his knees went out from under him. "Bones!" He caught his friend under the arms, at first trying to help keep him on his feet. He quickly realized there was no point, because McCoy was still shouting, and he was all but dead weight now. "Bones!"
Spock was beside them in an instant, helping him to lower McCoy to the ground. The doctor was al but writhing in pain, and the bracelets were giving off a faint glow. Kirk reached for one, hoping it wasn't heat and that McCoy wasn't being burned, but he didn't feel any heat.
When he touched one of them, he did feel something else—white-hot pain, racing up one side of his body and down the other, as if every nerve were on fire. He jerked away instinctively, knocked almost physically backwards. He heard himself cry out, and when he oriented himself again he realized he was flat on his back.
And that McCoy was still screaming.
He didn't think he'd ever sat up that quickly, and adrenaline negated any dizziness as he launched himself forward again, reaching for his friend who was still on the ground. "Spock, what's it doing to him!"
The Vulcan was trying to keep McCoy still with one hand and read the doctor's medical tricorder with the other, and even with his alien strength he wasn't having much luck with either thanks to McCoy's thrashing.
"Captain, please, if you could hold him still—the tricorder cannot get an accurate reading—"
Jim didn't need to be asked twice. He wrestled Bones up into his arms and held him against his chest, and that seemed to help a little. Spock began to scan, and Jim took the opportunity to shout up at the ceiling.
"Stop this! What do you really want from us? It can't be this!" McCoy's head smashed back against his chest, catching him right in the sternum and nearly knocking the wind out of him, but he held on. A sound like a tortured sob tore from his friend's throat, and Jim grimaced and tried something else as the knot in his gut twisted.
"I am the captain of the ship in orbit! Everyone on it is subordinate to me; I am responsible for them and their actions. If you're going to punish someone, damnit, punish me!"
It was barely audible, but it was McCoy's voice, and he did not sound like he was agreeing. Quite the opposite.
Kirk ignored him beyond keeping his hold, and soon enough McCoy had abandoned any attempt to speak and was back to shuddering and shouting.
He'd almost forgotten about Spock and the tricorder. The immediate concern was that someone or something was hurting one of his crew—a member of his crew who happened to be a very close friend—and he had to stop it. Never mind that it was his responsibility; it hurt like hell, too, just to be watching this.
It always hurt. It didn't have to be Bones or Spock or Scotty or anyone even that close for it to hurt. He was the captain. If anyone under his command was hurt, or killed, he felt it. He always felt it.
"Stop this madness! If you have to do this, do it to me!"
It was Spock, making himself known again.
"It is still not clear precisely how the devices work, but they are attacking the doctor's nervous system directly. It is extremely dangerous, and could easily result in damage or death if not stopped."
"Then why the hell shouldn't we stop it!"
"I did not say it should not be stopped; I only said that it should not be stopped by you."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Jim snapped. McCoy's cries were grating on him. This had to stop now or he was going to lose it. Spock was about the only one of them who was safe.
Spock, however, didn't answer him directly. Instead he stood up, and began to speak—presumably to whomever the voice belonged.
"This is not logical," he said, calmly but loudly—to be heard over McCoy's shouting. "From what you say, this is meant as a punishment—not as an execution. However, if you do not cease your attack on Doctor McCoy, he will die—perhaps within minutes.
Jim's stomach dropped out entirely at that. Spock hadn't been that specific a few seconds ago, and now that he had been Jim felt his arms tightening around his friend. Oh god. Bones.
It took a moment, but the voice answered.
The devices of punishment are set at their lowest capacity. If it is killing the one you call McCoy, then his is a weak species indeed. That is not our concern. If he dies, so be it. You and the one called the captain will still live to tell others not to return here.
"That is also illogical. Would not the spreading of such knowledge be better served by three than by two? Would it not be better for those who need to be told to hear it from someone who has felt the punishment? If the one whom you punish dies, then your cause is severely diminished."
If it wasn't Spock Jim would wonder how he could be so calm when McCoy's life was hanging in the balance. But it was Spock, and at this moment he was grateful for it.
He was also hoping that Spock's plan was to logic them out of this completely, and that this wasn't going where he thought it was going.
It took longer for the voice the return this time, and the only sounds were McCoy's. Those sounds were becoming slowly less deafening, and Jim didn't know if that were a good thing or a very bad thing.
The voice interrupted him.
This reasoning is sound. What are you suggesting?
Kirk was already looking up at Spock, and he was sure now that he saw the Vulcan's hands, clasped behind his back, clench tighter. It looked like every inch of him was stiff where he stood. Apprehensive. As apprehensive as a Vulcan could look, anyway.
"My physiology is much different from those two with me. It is much stronger. I am suggesting that if it is imperative that you carry out this punishment, that you do so to me."
Bones reacted to that, just as he had when Kirk tried to pull that stunt. Perhaps even more violently, really. He surged forward with an alarmed sound, but he didn't get far before he cried out again and fell back against Jim's chest once more. He was drenched in sweat by now, and he looked like hell.
"Spock, there has to be another way—" Jim began.
Spock didn't quite glance back at him. "There is not, Captain." His arms were at his side now, though he still looked…well, he looked like he was bracing himself.
No, no, this isn't right—
That was when McCoy went limp in his arms, and Kirk realized that the bracelets had simply disappeared. Bones was free. He wasn't in pain anymore.
He promptly tipped over out of Jim's arms to vomit.
Jim caught his shoulders to keep him from falling in it, and pulled him back when he was through. By then Kirk was half on his feet—enough to drag his friend back a distance and then lower him back to the ground easily.
"Bones, are you all right?"
McCoy was still moaning quietly, but he nodded anyway. "The hell," he managed after a moment. "What did that damn Vulcan do?"
Kirk looked back quickly, and the question was answered by a heavy thud. It was Spock, hitting the ground. The bracelets had appeared on his wrists, and while the only audible sound the Vulcan made was a startled gasp, the rings were definitely glowing, as they had been when McCoy was in pain only a moment before.
Jim didn't leave McCoy's side just yet, but called out in concern. "Spock…?"
"I…am all right…"
Well that was a lie, and Bones could see it too. The doctor had shoved himself up on his elbows, and he quickly covered the horrified look on his face with a scowl. "Damnit, Spock, what the hell is wrong with you!"
"It was logical…doctor. Your human…physiology…could not withstand what was…being done to you, and…it would be inconvenient to lose the…ship's chief medical officer…this far from a starbase." Spock tried to push up off his knees, but he only ended up closer to the floor as he slipped off them instead and a cry of pain escaped him.
"Spock!" McCoy wasn't moving very fast right now, but when Jim called out the doctor nodded quickly at him to get moving; he was fine, it was Spock that needed the help now.
When he got up to cross to his first officer, strangely enough he noticed that the puddle of vomit from Bones was gone now.
It was almost funny. All of this cruelty, and yet apparently their captors cared about keeping a clean house.
It was wrong was what it was.
Jim lowered himself to his knees beside his friend, reaching to rest a hand on his shoulder, and the Vulcan reluctantly looked at him. "I am quite all right, Captain. Or…I will be in a moment. I merely need time in which to gain control of the pain. It should not…be long. I will be all right, just as I was during the investigation at Deneva. I could control the pain then, and I can now. That is also why this was logical…I can rise above the pain. You or Dr. McCoy could not."
"Maybe, Spock, but even two months ago you admitted yourself that you didn't think you could keep that up forever, and from the way Bones was—" He stopped and swallowed, not wanting to say it. "And I felt it, just for a second, and it has to be at least as bad as—"
"It is," Spock admitted, "as much or more than the pain inflicted upon me and the other victims of Deneva by the neural parasite. However…remember that this is not…meant to go on indefinitely. It will be a set amount of time, albeit the fact that we do not know the length of that time. However…it is still only a certain amount of time, and it will be over." As he spoke the heavy breaks for breath were becoming fewer and farther between. He was gaining control.
But for how long?
He wasn't sure whether Spock shifting so that Jim's hand fell from his arm was intentional or not.
"Jim. I will be all right. If…you will leave me to meditate—" Spock cut off in a choked sound. It was one very much like the ones Jim had heard from him in sickbay after the parasite attacked him on Deneva, before he had complete control. It was an uncomfortable flashback, and Jim realized that just because Spock wasn't rolling around screaming didn't mean this was going to be any easier than watching Bones suffer. It hadn't been easy to know Spock was hurting then, and it wouldn't be any better now.
He also realized that he was distracting his friend, and that Spock really would be better if Jim stopped talking and left him as he asked.
"Okay, Spock…but we're here. Listen to me, Bones and I are here, and we'll find a way out of this."
Spock nodded. "I will be able to assist shortly, I—ah…as soon as I have gained full control…I will assist."
"You don't have to—"
"I will, Captain."
Jim didn't argue any further because he knew it would be useless. "Fine."
It wasn't necessary, but Spock repeated that he would be fine then. Jim wondered if it was really more to assure his commanding officer, or himself, and as he was standing to go back to Bones he saw something in Spock's eyes that made him wonder if it was even really true.
He tried to ignore the stone in his chest, but he didn't stop himself from squeezing his first officer's shoulder briefly before he was entirely on his feet and moving away.
He tried, too, to ignore the quiet sounds and gasps behind him as he went back to McCoy. He tried to leave Spock his dignity in that way, but it was difficult. He wanted to turn around and go back and he wanted to make it stop.
Bones was having just as much luck as he in that regard. He was pretending to study the medical tricorder that he had picked up from where it had been abandoned, but he didn't look well and he kept glancing at Spock.
Jim settled on the barren metal floor again beside his chief medical officer and touched his knee, asking without asking if he was okay.
McCoy swallowed and handed over the tricorder. His hands and arms were still trembling, almost imperceptibly but there, after effects. He was pale, but that wasn't all that was making him look ill.
"Jim, he really did save my life," he all but whispered. "He said I had minutes or more, maybe, but I think that was exaggerating."
Jim scanned the saved readings on the tricorder, and there was a lot of it he didn't understand but he got enough out of it to know what McCoy meant. He didn't say anything. He only swallowed and set the instrument down on the floor.
"Bones, maybe you should lie back down."
Maybe worrying about Bones would keep his mind off of Spock so much while they tried to figure out what the hell to do.
"I am not lying down, Jim. I'm going to stand up, and we're going to figure out how to get out of here and how to get those damn bracelets off Spock and contact the ship and leave."
"No matter how stubborn and annoying he is, we cannot just let him suffer, Jim. Not when there may be something we can do this time. I'm a doctor!"
"I know that, Bones! I know all if it!"
Their voices were raised now, but raised from a whisper. Part of them knew that Spock with his Vulcan hearing probably knew every word they were saying anyway—then again, maybe not right now, while he was trying to meditate and maintain control—but it didn't matter. It was human nature to pretend, anyhow, and maybe it gave them the illusion of a modicum of control. So they whispered.
"All right then." McCoy started to get up, but he was still too unsteady and he didn't even need Kirk's help to end up on his haunches again. "Or I'll…join you in a minute." He waved Jim off in frustration, not at Kirk, but in general. "Go on now."
"I'm going. I'll find something. Just rest."
"'M not resting for long if I have anything to say about it," McCoy growled, and when Jim looked at him more closely now he realized that his friend's eyes were not entirely dry. He was still stealing quite a few glances in Spock's direction, too. When he spoke again, he was even quieter than before.
"Jim, after everything he's already been thr—damnit." He swallowed. "I know he's a Vulcan. Right now I don't care, because I know that doesn't mean as much as he likes to think it does." Spock's happy grin when he realized Jim was still alive after the death match on Vulcan was still at the forefront of both their minds. So were the memories of seeing Spock in pain at Deneva and being unable to do anything. "We have to stop this."
Jim knew what he meant. Spock felt. Maybe it wasn't quite the same as for the rest of them, but he did. If anyone knew it, they dis. He was nodding before McCoy finished, and his jaw was clenching now. "I know."