The bridge was silent as everyone waited for Uhura to report what she heard in her earpiece. She had had little time to study the Wramuth language, but she could recognize a few words and the basic syntax.
“They’re hailing the commander again,” she said. “The transmission is coming from just beyond the system.”
Kirk rubbed at his mouth and studied the viewscreen, knowing of course that he would be unable to see anything from this distance. Until they reached sensor range, there was no way of knowing how many ships were on the way. From Aiden’s description, they had a basic understanding of the weapons on the Wramuth ships, and unless they had other deadly technology, the Enterprise was more than a match for them. He rubbed at his mouth again and turned to the science station.
“Full scan the minute you find them,” he commanded. “I want to know what those ships can do.”
“Aye, Keptin,” Chekov responded, his eyes glued to the hooded viewer. The silence returned to the bridge, broken only by McCoy’s footsteps as he paced the upper level.
“Bones...” Kirk said, angling his head to the center of the bridge. McCoy stopped and descended to the command dias to stand beside the captain’s chair.
“You should prepare for casualties,” Kirk said to him.
McCoy grimaced. “Except for Spock, sickbay’s empty at the moment,” he said, “and I’d prefer to keep it that way.” He eyed the captain a moment. “Unless you’re planning on sending some Wramuth my way,” he continued, “and I don’t know anything about their physiology.”
Kirk’s answer was interrupted by Chekov’s call from the science station. “Four ships approaching Derilia now,” he said. “Standard Wramuth weapons only.”
“Hail them,” Kirk ordered.
Uhura pressed the earpiece to her ear and her fingers flew across the keyboard as they effortlessly complied with the command. Only a moment passed before she spoke but it seemed like an eternity.
“Response coming in now,” she said, sending the visual to the main viewscreen at Kirk’s silent signal.
The cramped bridge of the hailing ship appeared on the screen showing the commander in the center front, with other officers at stations arranged disorderly about the space. Most of the aliens had skin in varying shades of gray, but some were starkly white, causing McCoy to wonder if the deathly looking aliens had blood at all. The leader was staring hard at the screen, his narrow eyes squeezed into angry slits and his cone-shaped teeth clenched together in a frightful grimace.
“Identify your species,” the leader ordered gruffly as his eyes scanned the Enterprise’s bridge. Kirk rose and stepped forward, identifying himself as captain by that action.
“We are many species,” Kirk answered after a short pause. “It is our nature to cooperate toward common goals.”
The alien narrowed his eyes further still as if he could not comprehend that answer. “This system belongs to the Wramuth,” he said. “Leave now or stay and die.”
Kirk took another step toward the screen. “Commander Taln is our captive,” he said, gratified to see the man’s surprise, “and all his crew as well. He is responsible for the death of many.”
“There is always incidental death in any harvest,” the alien responded. “Even such as you must know this.” He stood up to face Kirk and his long claws clicked together impatiently. “You will release our people or more will die.”
“Keptin,” Chekov interrupted from sciences, causing Kirk to signal Uhura to cut audio. “The other ships are moving toward Derilia.”
At Kirk’s signal he sent the aft image to the viewscreen, allowing them to see the movement of the other ships next to the image of the Wramuth captain. Kirk looked to Uhura but she shook her head.
“No response on any frequency,” she reported. Kirk nodded toward the screen again and she reestablished the audio link.
“Your ships are no match for ours,” he told the Wramuth. “Call them back.”
The Wramuth captain said something to someone on his right and suddenly bright energy shot toward the Enterprise, not only from the lead ship, but from all four at once. The coordination and speed of it fascinated Kirk, even as he hurriedly stepped back to his chair before the impact.
“Shields up!” he shouted just before the hot blue energy slammed into the ship from fore and aft. Those already seated managed to retain their places, but McCoy had to grip the arm of Kirk’s chair to keep from falling down. The ship shuddered as the shields absorbed the energy, and the lights flickered several times as backup systems automatically rerouted damaged ones. Kirk swung his chair around to face the science station, demanding a report with a look.
“Minor damage to the lower decks and the starboard nacelle,” Chekov reported. “Shields at eighty percent. Propulsion and weapons unaffected.”
Kirk stared at the forward screen, the right image showing the ships proceeding again to Derilia.
“Is that all they’ve got?” he asked incredulously. He could hear muted chatter in the left image, but the captain he had been speaking with was no longer visible.
“Disable those ships,” he ordered, directing the command to Sulu at weapons. Almost instantly bright phaser fire flashed toward the three ships in rapid succession. His aim was good and the terminal flash of destroyed engines left each vessel drifting slowly in space.
Kirk turned his attention back to the forward screen. The angry face of the Wramuth captain was again visible, and his loud and rapid protestations overwhelmed the universal translator. Kirk winced at the harsh guttural language that transmitted instead and rose from his chair to match the height of the alien. He waited for the translation to catch up as the alien captain continued to rage.
“This planet belongs to the Derilians,” Kirk interrupted his tirade. “Your harvest is ended.”
“By what right do you do this?” the alien seethed.
“The right of self defense,” Kirk replied hotly. He took a few steps toward the viewscreen and stared at the alien defiantly. “The galaxy is filled with many species....many people,” he said. “Our Federation recognizes the intrinsic value of each one. Even yours.” He paused and studied the Wramuth’s cold narrow eyes. “But until you share this sentiment, you are not welcome among us. Go home.”
The alien’s head twitched at the insult of another creature’s orders and he bared his teeth in a deadly grimace. “I shall have Commander Taln and his crew,” he growled.
“The Derilians will decide the fate of Commander Taln and his crew,” Kirk replied, watching the surprised rage flash across the other’s face. “Any attempt to rescue them will be forcibly resisted.” He stepped forward again, filling the screen with his image. “I have disabled your vessels with just one ship,” he said slowly. “I could call a hundred ships to enforce peace in this sector.” He stared at the cruel image of the other captain. “I don’t believe your species is foolish enough to want a war.”
The Wramuth captain stared back at him, his pupils dilating and contracting rapidly and he growled something unintelligible to the translator. Then his image left the screen as his undamaged ship proceeded forward to join its disabled comrades.
“Should we offer to help with repairs?” Sulu wondered.
Kirk rubbed at his mouth. “I don’t think they would accept it,” he said. As he spoke a tractor beam emitted from the lead Wramuth ship, split into three and caught each of the disabled ships at once. With a steady momentum, the ship turned with its burden and slowly headed away from Derilia into open space.
Sulu whistled low in fascination. “That’s one bit of technology we don’t have,” he observed.
“With all the trausium they’ve stolen,” McCoy observed, “how long do you think it will be before they create more powerful weapons?”
Kirk took a deep breath. “I doubt we’ve seen the last of them,” he said. “But with a little luck, their social evolution might outpace any technological advances. In the meantime, we can help the Derilians to be prepared for unwanted visitors.” He took one more look at the now empty viewscreen. “I believe we have a number of passengers who would like to go home now,” he said as he settled in his chair again. “Standard orbit around the first moon and alert the local authorities.”
As Kirk settled into the more routine duties of a starship captain, McCoy slowly made his way off the bridge. He considered going back to the observation lounge but decided that the Derilians and colonists would probably be too wrapped up in their individual homecomings to socialize. By habit he found himself back in sickbay without giving much thought to how he came to be there. He said hello to the few nurses and research technicians still on duty and made his way to the rehabilitation area. Spock was there as he had suspected, steadily working through his exercise routine. He noticed the machines set to maximum weight and the relative ease with which Spock executed the exercises. He silently watched his progress until Spock realized his presence and sat up.
“Well the Wramuth have run back home with their tails between their legs,” he told him. “But I suspect sometime in the not so distant future, they will be a much stronger adversary.”
“A quaint metaphor,” Spock commented, “unless you have first hand knowledge that the Wramuth do indeed have a tail. However, I agree that they will learn from this encounter, and develop strategies and weapons comparable to our own. We must prepare the Derilians to repel attacks from this and other aggressive species.”
The doctor ignored the bait and just nodded. “This would all be easier if they were a member of the Federation,” he said.
“Indeed,” Spock agreed. “I intend to address the Council on that issue when I return to Earth.”
McCoy shook his head. “We’re right back where we started, aren’t we?” he said, “trying to get these people to join the ‘club’.” He pulled up a chair and sat down opposite Spock. “I’ve sent a communique to Starfleet to send some doctors and researchers out here to see if the insanity can be helped at all. If it can, they’ll be needing psychiatrists as well to make sense of what they’ve done.”
Spock nodded. “Starfleet will certainly send many specialists here to maintain order and offer assistance after we depart,” he said. “The Derilians must repair not only the damage done to their world, but also the self-inflicted damage to their relationship with their own colonies.”
“At least all parties seem willing to work on that,” McCoy said. “After Jim gets all our passengers home, I suspect we’ll be setting up talks again between Derilia and its colonies.”
“I believe my father will be interested in conducting such talks,” Spock said. “It is after all, the reason he came here.”
McCoy nodded and studied him a minute. “Will you be working with him or resuming your role on the Enterprise?” he asked.
Spock took a deep breath as he considered the question. “I will accept whichever position is most conducive to the mission,” he answered.
“Jim wants you back,” the doctor pointed out.
Spock’s eyebrow rose. “It is up to the captain to make that request,” he said.
McCoy slowly shook his head. “Still holding a grudge?” he asked.
Spock’s other eyebrow rose as well. “Vulcans do not hold grudges,” he affirmed.
“Poppycock!” McCoy snorted, shaking his head again. “Give him a chance, Spock,” he urged, “for old-times sake.”
Spock’s expression remained unchanged but he inclined his head in silent response.
“Well,” McCoy said as he stood, “I might as well check the condition of my favorite patient,” he said.
Spock rose also and went to sit on the biobed. The doctor noticed that his limp was becoming less detectable.
“Any pain?” McCoy asked as he quickly scanned the bed’s readout and picked up his hand-held scanner.
“None,” Spock replied as he lay back on the bed as directed. The doctor nodded and put down his instruments to palpate the previously injured areas.
“Weakness?” he asked, watching for any reaction to his touch.
“Negligible weakness in the right quadriceps,” Spock answered, “but it does not unduly affect my functioning.”
McCoy smiled and patted Spock’s shoulder firmly. “Go home, Spock,” he said. “There’s nothing more I can do for you here.”
Spock sat up, looking as close to smiling as a Vulcan could without actually doing so. “Thank you, Doctor,” he said as he stood.
McCoy watched him go with a feeling of professional accomplishment. The restorative nature of Vulcan physiology was still a fascinating mystery, but his own skill had certainly contributed to Spock’s recovery. He grinned at Spock’s attempt at a dignified exit, but didn’t fail to notice the hurried eagerness of his departure.
“Welcome back, old friend,” he said to himself as he dimmed the lights on the now empty rehabilitation unit. He walked into the main section of sickbay and looked around at the rows of empty biobeds. He shook his head as he wondered if there was any other profession that wished for such a lack of clients. He grinned as he found himself looking forward to the pure research on Vulcan, without a live patient to worry about. Except for Saavik, of course. That was one patient he wasn’t about to give up.
He smiled to himself and said goodnight to the nurses and techs as he slowly ambled from sickbay in the direction of his quarters. Against all odds the Enterprise crew had once again managed a positive outcome to an impossible mission. He wasn’t about to retire just yet, but he was more than content to leave the next big adventure to a younger crew. He paused to look out a viewport at the starry vista of space. Many decks above, Jim Kirk could surely see the same dark expanse. He laughed softly to himself, knowing his friend would never stop seeking such adventures, and knowing too that he would probably be drug along whether he liked it or not. He had no doubt that Spock would be convinced to join as well, and the three of them would find a way to change history just one more time.