Everyone knew that the captain would sometimes act like his ship was alive; it was just one of his quirks that the crew all knew about and agreed not to talk about. Nobody really remembered when they first noticed his strange habit of talking to her, just that Scotty was the one who had found out first, to nobody’s surprise.
Scotty had paused one day before leaving the Engine Room for the night. He had thought he’d seen a glimpse of gold tucked behind one of the machines on the other end of the room. Curious, he had decided to investigate, and had walked around the large metal structure only to see the captain sitting comfortably against the wall. He had appeared to be talking, and the rumble of the engines had almost covered his words, but Scotty could hear him just well enough to understand what he was saying.
“– Uhura told them that if she ever caught them mishandling the communication equipment like that again she would personally see to it that they would be sent back to the Academy as a first year taking remedial classes.” Kirk had laughed a little at the memory.
At the time, Scotty had been confused as to who the captain had been talking to, until he caught sight of the way Kirk had been looking at all of the engines surrounding him. He had been talking to the Enterprise. Scotty remembered smiling at the realization that the captain was much more like himself than he had originally thought, the Scotsman himself being guilty of the same thing once or twice when working on her engines.
“I’d better get going, or else I’ll be missed.” Kirk had stood up and brushed himself off. “I’ll see you tomorrow, m’lady.” Scotty had seen the other man catch sight of him and freeze, before grinning brightly as if nothing had happened and continuing on his way. After that, it was just common knowledge.
The crew all thought it was a little strange, but then again, when was anything actually normal when it came to their captain? Nobody really paid it much attention to that particular quirk until the Enterprise was overrun by space pirates of all things. The crew had been planetside on shore leave when it had happened, and before they knew it, the Enterprise was exiting the atmosphere and entering into orbit around the planet without them.
The captain had managed to get his command crew back on board by borrowing a shuttle from the planet’s tiny branch of Starfleet headquarters. He had then managed to sneak them back on board using several questionable methods, but they were in the outer shell of the ship, within its docking bay. They were protected from space, but they couldn’t get to the hallways, much less the Bridge, leading to their current situation.
Kirk was setting the explosive up quickly, his fingers flying over multiple wires as he attached small pads to the door, making minuscule adjustments the entire time. The rest of the command crew was watching anxiously from the sidelines. Several of them were seriously considering getting back in the shuttle and waiting out the rest of the mission back on the planet.
“Please tell me I’m not the only one a little concerned about the kid setting off an explosive on board a spaceship that is currently in space.” McCoy addressed the crew, but said it loudly enough that Kirk could hear him. Kirk flicked his eyes up from his hands for a moment, a devilish smile on his face.
“No worries, Bones; if there’s one thing I know how to make it’s explosions. This one is going to be small and isolated, and we’ll barely feel the heat. I could do this in my sleep.” He paused for a moment. “Actually, I think I did once. I’m pretty sure I was the one responsible for blowing a hole in the Richardson family’s barn. Never did like them much.” Bones stared at his friend for a moment before shaking his head incredulously.
“I swear I befriended a pyro.” he muttered in dismay, then glared at Chekov and Uhura when he heard their smothered laughter. Sighing, he turned his attention back to Kirk and narrowed his eyes. “That’s another thing. How do you even know this stuff? And don’t think I didn’t see how easily you masked our signal coming up here, or how quickly you hacked the dock to let us in.”
“It’s a long story.” Kirk said, rocking back on his heels as he checked his device one last time.
“I’ll bet.” Bones grumbled. “You gonna tell it to us?” Kirk flashed him a grin.
“Maybe one day,” he said, straightening fully, “but not right now. At the moment, we have a ship to steal back.” At the reminder of what they were about to do, the command crew tensed. Spock took a half-step forward.
“Captain, I feel it is imperative that I inform you that creating a hole in this location will trigger a ship-wide alarm. Those on the Bridge will know immediately that we are on board, and will be able to locate us in approximately ten point nine seconds, assuming they are at all competent.” Kirk gave a short laugh at his First Officer’s almost sarcastic addition to his sentence.
“I know what will happen, Spock.” Kirk said, his tone turning serious as he returned to the matter at hand. “But this is our only option. Besides, I have a plan.”
“You have a plan? What plan?” Uhura immediately asked, looking at him slightly accusingly. “Why didn’t we know about this?” Kirk looked rather troubled at that, and turned away from her to rest his hand on the wall a little ways away from his explosive.
“I was hoping I would come up with an alternative.” he told her before going silent for a moment. When he next spoke, it was softer, and clearly to his ship. “Hey there m’lady. I’m sorry I have to do this to you, but I promise that if I had any other choice I would take it. This is going to hurt, but I need you to try and stay quiet for me, okay? I need you to keep the alarms silent for us so that we can take you back.”
The rest of the crew watched in bemused silence as he finished speaking. Once he was quiet again, Kirk rested his forehead against the door for a moment. They suddenly felt like they were intruding on something private – which seemed a little ridiculous because he was talking to a machine. Nonetheless, the captain was acting like he was talking to a close friend, maybe even a family member, and that alone threw the crew a little off balance. It was one thing to know about a quirk their captain had, and another thing entirely to actually witness it in person. Even Spock made no comment about how talking to the ship to get it to stay silent was a pointless endeavor.
Kirk then backed away from the wall and motioned for the others to follow his lead. The gentleness he had been using had disappeared, replaced instead with a fiery determination. Once they were all a safe distance away, he hesitated only a moment before setting off his explosive with a minuscule flinch. There was a brief boom, a wave of heat, and then –
There wasn’t a single sound coming from the ship’s alarms, and Kirk looked some combination of pleased, relieved, and guilty. The others just stared at him in shock. How in the world had he done that? The whole reason they had been forced to blow a hole in their ship was because the pirates had set up a jamming signal everywhere but the Bridge, making all of their combined hacking skills useless.
“That’s my girl.” Kirk said fondly as he walked over to the hole (perfectly formed and without jagged edges, the crew noticed) and patted the wall. He peered through the opening and motioned that the coast was clear. He then slipped through, and stood watch as the others followed him into the ship’s interior. Once they realized that nobody had heard their explosion, the entire group began moving down the hallway, following the captain.
“Where are we going?” Sulu asked from his place towards the back of their little pack of people. Kirk glanced at him as he turned the corner, then responded.
“The way I see it, even if they have closed off everything else, they will still need the lift to move around the ship. That means that it will still be working.” Sensing some of their doubts, the captain tacked on an ending to the rest of his statement. “Besides, the ship can take care of it if the pirates have the lift shut down.”
Before anyone could say anything about that last statement, Kirk picked up his pace to a jog, and the others had no choice but to follow. The captain’s last comment, though, had reminded them of the scene that took place just before they blew a hole in their ship. They also suddenly remembered the rumors circulating around the ship that Kirk talked to the Enterprise every day, like one would a friend. They studied their captain’s back suspiciously. Just what had he been up to all this time?
“We’re here. Soon enough we’ll see if the lift works or not.” The crew approached the doors hopefully, and they slid open when they were several feet in front of them. There was a collective sigh of relief from everyone there. “Good. Okay, once we’re in the lift, everyone set their phasers to stun. We don’t want to kill these people, just get our ship back. After that, follow my lead.”
The doors slid shut behind them, and there was silence apart from the whoosh of the machine and the sound of the phasers turning on. Everyone was on edge, unsure of exactly was waiting for them when the doors finally opened. The lift slowed, then stopped. Everyone tensed, and then the doors opened.
There were seven people of various species on the Bridge, and they were all staring at the crew who had just come up the lift in astonishment. Kirk didn’t wait, and exploded out of the compartment, phaser brandished in front of him. Seconds later, the crew followed his lead, not firing shots but each taking aim at one of the seven. The leader of the pirates, a male with dark blue skin and black hair, was on the other end of Kirk’s phaser.
“Ah, Tiberius. It’s good to see you again.” He said, his voice quiet and almost oily sounding. Uhura resisted the urge to wrinkle her nose in distaste, her ears much more attuned to sound than the others’ were. “Then again, perhaps not. We did have our differences the last time we were together.”
“Serchivm, it’s been a long time.” Kirk replied, his tone falsely light. “I never expected to see you again after you got stuck on that planet in the Neutral Zone. And I prefer to go by Kirk now. Captain Kirk, actually, if it’s all the same to you.” Serchivm dipped his head agreeably.
“Very well, Captain.” He said, running a hand along the top of the captain’s chair pensively. “Congratulations on your promotion. I must say, the others at ICE were quite disappointed when you dropped out of the program. You were one of our best, and nobody can handle a Klingon like you can. Not to say that they haven’t tried.” Kirk raised an eyebrow that somehow conveyed both interest and disinterest at once.
“How many pieces did they come back in?” he asked, his tension not relaxing for a moment, despite his conversational manner. At this, Serchivm’s expression gained a hint of true emotion, and Kirk looked slightly thrown at the grief the other man was showing.
“They didn’t. None of the agents we sent returned at all, and after losing four of them in as many months, ICE decided that it wasn’t worth it to keep trading with the Klingons like that.” There was a moment of silence, then the pirate schooled his expression again. “But, that isn’t why I’m here. As I’m sure you’ve realized, I am taking your ship. I need her to seal a deal with the Xelvans over in Sector Nine.” Kirk suddenly looked panicked at that news. The reason was apparent as soon as he spoke.
“You can’t do that, they’ll tear her apart and use her as – as scrap metal! They’ll rip her to pieces and wrench out her heart!” Kirk looked like he was struggling to maintain his control. The rest of his crew was understandably outraged at the notion, but not one of them was as distressed at the news as their captain was. Even the pirates were slightly taken aback at Kirk’s strong reaction.
“Ships can be rebuilt. Unless . . .” Serchivm said flippantly before giving the other man a sharp and searching look. His white eyes suddenly widened in shock, the black surrounding his iris becoming more prominent. “No. You didn’t. You actually found it? After all this time? How did you manage to get it?” Kirk shifted uncomfortably, his expression still showing lingering signs of panic, despite his evident wariness and distrust.
“I didn’t steal it, if that’s what you’re thinking. They gave it to me, and then I gave it to her.” He smirked slightly, his eyes cold. “Turns out you just have to be a decent person to get people to like you. You should try it sometime, you’ll be amazed at the change.” The pirate rolled his eyes even as he appraised the Enterprise anew.
“I wouldn’t have thought you’d lower yourself to schoolyard insults, Kirk. Although, I must admit, this makes the Enterprise all the more valuable to me.” He eyed the phasers in their hands, and gave a smile that was more threat than humor. “I suggest you lower those. One push of a button from me or one of my men will fire all possible weapons on the planet below. If it were any other planet, that wouldn’t mean much, but this is Lelth.”
“The atmosphere.” Kirk realized aloud, and the pirate nodded in confirmation. “It would catch fire with the type of energy the ship’s weapons use.” The rest of the crew exchanged a horrified glance, and the rest of the pirates smirked at their reactions, knowing that they had the upper hand in the situation.
“Exactly. So,” Serchivm said, stepping forward, “ as you can see you have two choices. Hand over your weapons, or we will hit the button, and we would rather avoid that mess if we can help it. We’re pirates, not murderers, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive.” Kirk hesitated for just a moment, before a glance out the window at the planet seemed to make up his mind. He lowered his phaser and motioned at the others to follow his example as he handed it to Serchivm.
“Do as he says.” Kirk said quietly. The crew reluctantly handed their phasers over to the pirates. They glanced at the captain figure out what they were going to do next. His expression would have seemed passive to an outsider, but they could tell that he was thinking intently about something.
“You made the right choice, Tiberius.” Serchivm said, smiling slightly. As he spoke, Kirk rested a hand on one of the bars in an action so casual it didn’t raise any suspicions from the pirates. However, his crew knew that he never did anything without a reason – especially in a stressful situation. Taking their subtle clue for what it was, each of them found a way to hold onto something nearby and waited expectantly.
“I told you before, it’s Captain Kirk.” The captain said, his eyes hard. “And this ship will never be yours. Enterprise, go to Warp Seven.” Had the crew not been holding on to a part of the ship, they would have been knocked off their feet at the sudden jolt the ship gave, given that it had taken off without its stabilizers engaged. As it was, they stumbled and the pirates went flying. The view out of the main window showed that the stars were streaking past.
“Enterprise, exit warp.” There was another jolt as all motion stopped, and the crew cautiously stood. Kirk was standing tall, facing the direction where Serchivm lay groaning on the ground. He released the bar he was holding onto and stalked over to him. He then ripped several strips of his golden overshirt off and pulled the other man’s arms behind his back to restrain him, tying his hands and feet up with the lengths of fabric.
The rest of the Bridge crew followed his lead with the rest of the pirates, and once they were tied up, watched as Kirk made his way back to the center of the room and stopped. He took several calming breaths, then looked up at the ceiling before speaking.
“You okay, m’lady?” Before any of his friends could ask him what he was doing, or ask just what had happened a moment ago, an electronic tone sounded and three of the screens nearby lit up. Words then showed up on each screen, and they were large enough that they could be read from a distance. I. Am. Fine. Kirk raised his eyebrows in mild surprise.
“Well, that’s new.” he muttered quietly.
The crew stared at the screens in a stunned silence for a moment before McCoy looked over at Kirk with an expression that clearly demanded an explanation. Kirk turned slightly pink, and cleared his throat awkwardly. However, he couldn’t avoid his friend’s unasked question, and he had to admit that his crew deserved an explanation about what had just happened.
“Um.” At his eloquent response, Uhura and McCoy rolled their eyes, Spock raised his eyebrows, and Sulu and Chekov laughed. Scotty seemed to be more interested in the ship than his captain’s explanation. “So, that happened.”
“Yeah, that happened.” McCoy said sarcastically, giving him a deadpan look. “Except we don’t know what ‘that’ was! Jim, why is the ship doing what you say, and why in tarnation is it talking back?” Kirk thought distantly that his friend was looking just a little unhinged, and several of the others clearly felt the same, as he caught several of them shuffling slowly away from the doctor. He cleared his throat.
“Right. Well, that’s a bit of a long story, and it’s going to need some background first.” he began, glancing between his crewmates to see their reactions. Seeing that they all looked agreeable to that, if not slightly impatient, he continued. “So the story really starts when I was fifteen. I had been off-planet for a while and had just returned. I ended up in Los Angeles and managed to catch the eye of an agent from ICE – that’s the Intergalactic Cooperative Economy, in case you hadn’t heard of them. They pretty much trade with whoever will deal with them, Federation planet or not. Anyway, he ended up offering me a job.” Uhura looked surprised at that.
“They offered you a job at fifteen? That’s illegal! The legal working age on-planet is sixteen for humans, and the age to work off-planet without guardian approval is nineteen, and even then you’d have to be of legal working age on Earth. Why would they hire someone who could get them into legal trouble?” Kirk gave a wry smile at that.
“I asked them the same thing. Apparently they decided that I was worth the risk.” He continued with his story before they could ask anymore questions. “So anyway, I ended up working for them for several years, and it was discovered that the Klingons and I could get along well. Really well, actually. They became my main clients as an agent, and I spent most of my time going to and from their home planet.”
“Why did zhe Klingons like you so much?” Chekov asked curiously. Kirk spared him a quick grin, and they could see a familiar gleam in his eye that said he was about to tease them a little bit.
“Probably for the same reasons humans normally don’t: I’m stubborn, argumentative, and supposedly reckless, though we’ll have to agree to disagree on that last one.” There were several eyerolls from his audience, though the ones who did also had small smiles on their faces. “Anyway, towards the end of my time working with ICE, I was on my way to the Klingons when my ship picked up some unexpected chatter over the airwaves. Turns out, there’s a tiny planet somewhere in the Neutral Zone with its own civilization.”
Here Kirk paused, gathering his thoughts. The others waited patiently, even though they wanted answers. They knew he would tell them in his own time, and that pushing him when he was thinking only made everything take longer. Several of the pirates had woken up again with slight groans, and were listening along with the crew. Serchivm was one of them.
“They were incredible people. They had encountered the same problems with technology and industrialization that all Federation planets have had at some point or another: environmental degradation. However, instead of solving the problem the way any of us would have expected, they took a route so far removed from anything we’ve ever known that it wasn’t even funny.” Kirk looked up at them seriously, and seemed to hesitate.
“What did they do, Jim?” McCoy asked quietly, prompting his friend to continue. Kirk sized them up briefly, his gaze so intense that each of them felt like he was staring past their skin and bones into their very souls. After a moment, he continued.
“What I am about to tell you is information you must guard with your life. If this gets out, it could be disastrous. I promised them I would keep their secret safe, and I must demand the same from all of you.” The crew exchanged a perplexed look, but readily swore their silence. Kirk seemed to judge their acceptance of his terms as genuine, because what he next said revealed the need for such secrecy. “When faced with the issue of too much technology, they didn’t use less of it or find cleaner methods. Instead, they created life.”
Utter silence met his words as the crew stared at him in shock. Nobody really knew how to respond to that, and even Kirk seemed a little awed by the memory. Had they been able to say anything, they certainly would have. After a moment, Kirk seemed to find his words again.
“They gave their technology a consciousness of its own, and somehow found a way to keep it from needing any additional energy input at all.” He gave an amazed laugh, clearly lost in his memories. “I still have no idea how, but they created machines that essentially ran on thoughts. You can see how this could be a huge problem should the technology end up in the wrong hands, so when my partner and I arrived on the planet, they were willing to guard the secret with their lives.”
“Understandable.” Uhura muttered, prompting nods of agreement from several of the others. They were still in slight shock. Had the news come from anyone but Kirk, they would have written off the claim as a lie. A lot of things could be said about their captain, but they all knew that he would not lie to them about something as important as this. Kirk gave Uhura a grin and raised his eyebrows in agreement.
“Right? Anyway, my partner and I began visiting the planet on our regular trips between Federation Space and the Klingon Empire. Over time, we became friends with the planet’s leaders, and things were going well. However, my partner had failed to mention that he had gone behind my back and told ICE about the living machines we had encountered. He had enough sense to keep the planet’s location a secret like he had promised, but he had been tasked to get ahold of the method for creating living machines.”
“The partner you have repeatedly mentioned is the criminal you have just apprehended, is it not, Captain?” Spock’s words were coolly curious, however those who knew him could tell he was disquieted by what he had just heard. Kirk looked at his First Officer in mild surprise before grinning broadly.
“Yes, actually. Well done, Spock. I hadn’t expected anyone to put that together. Serchivm was my partner when we discovered the planet and its contents, and he was the one to tell ICE about the living machines.” The captain sent a glare in the pirate’s direction, and the other man scowled at him from his place on the floor.
“Sir, if they guarded the secret to their machines, how did you end up getting it?” Kirk turned to look at Sulu, and he seemed slightly rattled by that question. Seeing the look on his captain’s face, Sulu hurriedly explained. “Your story seemed to be headed in that direction, and well, the Enterprise has been showing signs of – er – life all day, and you don’t seem to be very surprised by that.”
“Right.” Kirk blinked and looked slightly more placated, though he still seemed a little thrown. “I need to remember all of you are geniuses, unlike those idiots back at ICE. Well, I ended up finding out what Serchivm had done, and blew up at him in public, yelling about how he had betrayed their trust and whatnot. Somehow the Supreme Council on the planet heard about our confrontation, decided I was trustworthy for some reason because of that, and gave me a vial of their . . . stuff to use myself.” His eyes drifted back over the ship’s interior, looking incredibly fond for a moment.
“I almost used the stuff on my motorcycle back on Earth, but something told me to wait. Once I became captain of the Enterprise, it was pretty clear this was what I was waiting for. I used the vial of whatever that the people gave me on her, and the rest is history.”
There was silence on the Bridge as the crew absorbed the news that, yes, their ship was in fact alive. Scotty looked positively delighted, while the others looked intrigued or simply stunned. Kirk himself was looking at the roof of his ship fondly.
“So you’re saying zhat we are currently inside a living being? How is zhat possible, and why didn’t we know about it sooner?” The captain glanced at Chekov, whose brow is furrowed in concentration, clearly trying to understand.
“Well, that’s not entirely correct.” Kirk explained, moving to lean against one of the railings, paying no mind to the criminals on the floor, apart from checking occasionally that they weren’t getting loose. “There is only so much consciousness that can be stored in a receptacle the size that the vial was. Think about an ant, for example. They don’t have nearly the awareness that a dog does, or even a frog. There was enough life in the whatever that I put into the ship to give it a consciousness, but not enough to make her fully alive as far as I’m aware.
“Because of that, her awareness is usually centered around the engines, where the greatest center of energy is – the engines are essentially the ship’s heart. This is one of the only times she has left the engine room entirely, which is the reason I usually talk to her down there. Even then, she’s never formed words before now; she usually can only convey a sensation or emotion.”
“What does this mean for them?” Uhura asked, gesturing to the pirates on the floor. “Actually, what does this mean for us? Living machines aren’t exactly common, and they did just try to steal ours. Aren’t you worried they’ll tell someone?” Kirk’s gaze drifted to the group of tied up criminals, the disdain in his voice made clear.
“Well, first off, they are going to be arrested by the Federation Police, as well as by Starfleet. They are criminals who just tried to steal a Federation ship belonging to Starfleet; those two will just have to deal with sharing jurisdiction. As for them telling people, well, who exactly would believe them about there being such a thing as living machines?”
The crew had to acknowledge that most people would probably think that the pirates had a few screws loose or that they were making things up if they talked about a conscious spaceship – especially without any proof to back it up. The pirates seemed to realize that as well, and several looked horrified, while others looked merely disappointed. Serchivm was the only one who felt differently, if the murderous glare he was giving them was any sign. Kirk locked his gaze with the other male’s.
“Besides,” he continued, his voice suddenly more dangerous than the crew had ever heard, sending small shivers down their spines, “they know that if they did attempt to lead people to the planet, not only would I stop them, but I would make them disappear. Slowly, painfully, quietly disappear forever, with no sign that they ever existed in the first place.”
There was a small smile on Kirk’s face as he continued his stare-off with Serchivm, and his face was deceptively peaceful. His eyes, however, showed that he meant every word he said, with the kind of conviction a person only had when they were certain that they could fulfill whatever promise they were making. Serchivm lowered his eyes, and a muscle in his jaw jumped even as the air sacks in his neck dipped inward suddenly as he swallowed.
“Now,” Kirk exclaimed brightly, his solemn mood suddenly gone, “let’s make some calls so that we can get back to Lelth. I don’t trust the crew alone down there, and by the stars, do we deserve some shore leave. Why is it that just when things settle down, people like you come along to disturb the peace?” His question was directed at the criminals, who seemed a little uncertain as to whether or not he was actually expecting an answer.
“You’d get bored if they didn’t, sir.” Sulu said with a smirk as he slid into his chair, Chekov slipping into his station beside him. Kirk considered that for a moment, before nodding in agreement.
“You’re probably right. Uhura?” He turned his attention to his Communications officer, who had made her way to her station without even glancing at the criminals she’d had to walk through to get there.
“Ready when you are, captain. Who should I hail first?” Kirk wasn’t fooled by the innocent look on her face in the slightest. She was out for blood behind her professional facade. He considered his options for a moment before he sent her a grin.
“Why don’t we call Admiral Kormack first? I hear the Enterprise was his pet project, and he was the one who commissioned her in the first place. He should have some valuable input as to what should happen with the pirates who stupidly thought they could take her from a crew of literal geniuses.”
“Yes sir.” Uhura replied, a grin of delight forming on her face as she caught the nervous expressions on the faces of the criminals on the floor nearby. Oh yes, they were going to get put away for a long, long time. Especially if she and Kormack had anything to say about it, and that wasn’t even considering what would happen when Kirk got involved. As she turned back to her console, she smirked. She loved Starfleet, but most of all she loved being a part of the crew on the Enterprise. It was time to get some revenge for her ship.