Pairing/Characters: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, OCs. Gen.
Summary: When history is altered so that James Kirk died on Tarsus, only Spock remembers the way things should be. With the Federation now at war with the Klingons, he must figure out what has happened and get his captain back before all hope is lost.
Warnings: Choose Not to Warn
Back in his quarters, Spock sits down at his desk to think. His – admittedly unlikely – hopes of convincing Ellison to yield to logic and help him have been dashed, and he is at something of a loss for how to proceed.
He closes his eyes and reaches out along the link, trying once more to make contact with Kirk, but is blocked as he has been every time before. Whoever has Kirk, they appear intent on keeping him isolated and unable to communicate.
Concern for his friend flares up, and Spock pushes it down, taking a few deep, calming breaths. He reminds himself that, if nothing else, the lack of change in the link means Kirk is still alive, and that, logically, if his mysterious captors were going to kill him, they would have done it by now. Therefore he is unlikely to be in any immediate danger.
The information does not eliminate his concern, but it allows him to push it down enough to think. It would help, he thinks, if he had some idea of what he was dealing with.
The cube on the edge of his desk catches his eye and he frowns. The Tarranian priestess who gave Kirk the cube must have done so for a reason. Could she have known what was going to happen?
Spock's gaze falls on his computer. Contacting the Tarranians to ask is, unfortunately, out of the question; any response would take at least a week, by which time the Klingons may well have blown them all into space dust. But perhaps there is another option.
Tarrania is a Federation planet, which means there is a decent amount of information about it in the databases. He remembers skimming through some of said information before they arrived at the planet, and he seems to recall there was a rather detailed section devoted to cultural artefacts and rituals. It is possible that it will contain some information on the cube and its function.
Sure enough, a brief search turns up an artefact that looks distinctly like the cube currently at his elbow. According to the databanks, it is known as a Xat-taian, or Cube of Remembrance.
The information speaks mostly of its current use in assisting with memory problems such as amnesia and dementia, but there is an associated legend about a warrior who disappeared one day and was forgotten by all except his wife, to whom he had given a Xat-taian as a wedding gift.
According to the legend, the wife, keeping faith when all around doubted her, tracked the demon who had stolen her husband away to his home and demanded that he release him. The demon, intrigued by her courage, said that he would return her husband, but only if she brought him another life in exchange. Without hesitating, the wife offered her own life, and the selflessness of this act overpowered the demon and allowed both her and her husband to go free.
It is not a complete parallel for his own situation, but there are enough similarities for Spock to wonder exactly how much of the legend is based on truth.
Unfortunately that is the extent of the information the databanks contain on the cube. It isn't a tremendous amount of help, but it at least reassures him that he is on the right path. Spock taps his fingers on the desk absently. He would gladly offer his own life in exchange for Kirk's, but that does not seem to be an option.
He sits back in his chair to think. So far his research has not given the answer, approaching McCoy proved to be a complete failure, and reasoning with Ellison even more so. Not for the first time Spock wishes he could speak with whatever beings have kidnapped Kirk and ask them their reasoning; why they have done this and what they intend to gain from it. Attempting to outwit an enemy that is completely unknown to him is difficult bordering on impossible.
With a sigh, Spock turns back to the computer and prepares to resume his search for information. But before he can even put fingers to keyboard, he feels a spark come alive in his mind, accompanied a second later by a burst of pain, fear and desperation.
Spock digs his fingers into the desk, wavering under the onslaught. But he bears it gladly when Kirk's mind-voice breaks through the mental static. Spock? Can you hear me?
Spock's heart soars. I hear you, he sends back quickly. Are you unharmed?
More or less. Before Spock can question further, Kirk continues, Listen, I don't know how much time I have before they catch on, so let's cut to the chase.
It is an unfamiliar idiom, but it is not difficult for Spock to deduce the meaning. Obediently, he sets his concerns about Kirk's safety to the back of his mind. I spoke to Ellison, he tells Kirk. You knew him, did you not?
Yes, Kirk replies. We were friends, once. Before he died.
Yes. Pain radiates from Kirk's end of the link. That's the key, isn't it? They've changed it so he lived and I died.
I believe so, yes. Ellison denied any involvement in such a plot, but I suspect he is lying. Curious, Spock adds, Have you managed to learn anything from your captors?
Not much. They don't really interact with me – apart from before when they stopped us from talking they've mostly stayed away. They wear these long robes and hoods so I don't even know what they look like. Kirk's frustration comes through clearly.
Spock is about to reassure him when the red alert sirens begin to wail. "Red alert! Red alert! All hands to battle stations!"
Years of service on a starship has given Spock an almost Pavlovian response to the sound of a red alert siren, and he is halfway to the door before he realises he is moving. With dismay, he realises his link with Kirk has once gone dormant, likely a result of his concentration being broken. It appears he is on his own.
He makes his way to the bridge, arriving just a few seconds after Ellison. The lieutenant commander in charge of beta shift – Rodriguez, Spock's memory informs him – moves out of the centre chair as they approach. "Three Klingon ships have entered the solar system, sir," she says. "They appear to be heading for the planet."
"Raise shields, and move to intercept," Ellison orders, slipping into the centre seat.
Spock takes up a position just behind him, a step or two back from where he would stand if Kirk were in command. Now, more than ever, he wishes that Kirk were here. Now that he knows most of what is going on, he has concerns about Ellison's ability to handle this situation without bloodshed. His stomach twists as he remembers the dark look in Doctor Stevens's eyes when she spoke of their options. The price of failure, here, is far too high.
"Captain, they're hailing us," the beta shift communications officer states.
"On screen," Ellison orders.
The Klingon who appears on the screen is not one that Spock has seen before, with a bushy beard and an imperious scowl on his face. "I am Captain Warg, of the Klingon Empire," he tells them. "You are trespassing in our territory. Leave now or be destroyed."
"This is not your territory, and we will not leave without our people," Ellison replies.
A slow, cruel smile spreads across Warg's face. "I wonder," he says, "what on this ball of dirt could be so important to the Federation that they would send a starship to protect it?"
Ellison sits back in his chair, feigning aloofness. "It is a simple colony, nothing more. To us, all life is worthy of protection."
Warg barks a laugh. "We shall see." With that the screen goes blank.
"Keep us between them and the planet," Ellison barks. ""And contact Doctor Stevens. Make sure she knows what's happening."
Spock raises an eyebrow in spite of himself. For someone who in reality did not live past the age of thirteen, Ellison is a surprisingly competent leader. But the hard part is still to come.
"Captain, they're hailing us again."
Warg appears again, still with the cruel smile. "Your 'simple colony' is protected by a class five force-field. Would you care to explain that?"
Ellison shrugs, but Spock can see his shoulders tense. "The planet is prone to violent storms and earthquakes. The force-field is to protect against them."
"Ah," Warg says, nodding. "And the fact that it prevents anyone from scanning to see what you are doing down there is just a side effect, yes?" His eyes go hard. "That planet is ours, storms and all. If you do not remove your people immediately, we will have to take it by force."
"Even if we agreed, there are more than a hundred people on the colony. We have no way of accommodating them all, not without another ship."
Warg smiles, showing a mouthful of pointed teeth. "That, as you humans say, is not my problem." He laces his fingers together, looking smug. "You have two of your minutes to decide, then we will open fire. The choice is yours."
Once again the screen goes blank.
Spock's internal timer immediately begins counting down the seconds. One hundred twenty, one hundred nineteen, one hundred eighteen, one hundred seventeen…
"Doctor Stevens reports they're as ready as they'll ever be," the communications officer says.
Ninety six, ninety five, ninety four…
"Good," Ellison replies, then turns to the navigation console and adds, "Target the main ship, ready phasers to fire on my mark." He chews on a thumbnail and says quietly, "We're not going down without a fight."
fifty two, fifty one…
"Phasers armed, target laid in."
Ten, nine, eight…
The hail comes on 'two', mildly upsetting Spock's sense of order. "On screen," Ellison orders.
"Well?" Warg asks them. "Have you made your decision?"
"Go to hell," Ellison tells him.
Warg smiles. "Ah, I was hoping you would say that." He turns and makes a sharp order in Klingon. Spock recognises it as the order to fire.
"Fire phasers!" Ellison yells, as the ship shakes with the impact.
"Firing!" Lieutenant Harris looks over his instruments and adds, "Direct hit. Looks like their shields are damaged."
"Target their weapons systems, fire at will."
But one ship against three is not the best odds, and as the lieutenant locks on to the first ship, they are hit by a blast from another.
"Shields down to eighty-two percent!"
"First ship weapons system is disabled," Harris reports.
"One down, two to go." They are hit by another blast, harder this time, and Spock has to grab the handrail to keep from falling.
Harris looks down at his instruments. "Captain, the third ship is breaking away. It's heading for the planet."
"Move to intercept, but keep firing."
Unfortunately, the split in their attention allows the second ship to get several hits in. "Shields down to twenty-six percent and falling! We can't take much more of this!"
Trying to fight on two fronts is difficult, and despite their best efforts, the third ship gets past them. "Captain, the third ship has fired something at the planet," Harris reports.
"What is it?"
The communications officer speaks up then, "Sir, Doctor Stevens is on the line. She says…." She trails off briefly before continuing, "She says the last blast knocked out their power and she has no choice but to go to plan Z."
Spock swallows hard. Plan Z: self-destruct, under the thinking that it is better to destroy their work than have it fall into the hands of the Klingons. And Doctor Stevens and what is left of her staff will be collateral damage. A 'necessary sacrifice'.
Ellison's hands clench into fists, and Spock steps forward. "You can still stop this," he says. "But you must act now. Before it is too late."
The silence after he has spoken seems to last for eternity. Spock holds his breath, wondering if, even now, Ellison will argue.
The ship rocks with another hit, and alarms begin to blare. "Shields critical! Damage reported on decks seven and eight!"
And with that, the barrier breaks. "You're right," Ellison whispers. "If this is the price of life then I don't want it." He raises his eyes to the ceiling and yells, "You needed me to agree to this, right? Well, I take it back! You hear me? I take it back!"
For a moment nothing happens, aside from the rest of the bridge crew exchanging worried glances. Then everything aside from Spock and Ellison suddenly freezes in place.
Spock has a moment to observe the Klingon ship frozen in the act of firing, before three beings appear in front of him. They are humanoid, with pale skin and androgynous features, and are clad in long silver robes.
They turn as one to look at Ellison. "You realise what you are saying, do you not?" one of them asks him. "What it is you will be giving up?"
Ellison nods firmly. "I understand. And I don't want to die, but Spock's right. My life isn't worth the lives of all the people on the planet down there, all the people on this ship." He shrugs, managing a smile. "And hey, at least this way my death will mean something."
The alien beings turn to each other and converse briefly in a language Spock has never heard before. When they turn back, there is a look of almost surprise on their faces. "We may have underestimated your species," the leader says eventually. "From what we observed, self-preservation is an extremely strong instinct, and not easily overcome."
Ellison shrugs again. "Yeah, well, as a friend of mine once said; the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
Something in Spock aches at that, and he wonders what Ellison's understanding of their relationship really was. He steps forward. "May I ask; why put us through all this? Was it merely a test?"
The three of them seem to notice him for the first time. "Not merely," the leader says. "But if it were, rest assured that you would have passed."
He turns back to Ellison. "Your bravery is to be rewarded. We will do as you ask."
He raises his hands, and the world shimmers. Spock closes his eyes against a rush of nausea, and when he opens them the aliens are gone, along with Ellison, and the world has unfrozen.
Spock's gaze flickers to the viewscreen, to find that the Klingons are gone. Before he fully realises it, he is moving, striding over to the science station and asking the ensign on duty if he can use the console for a moment. The young woman steps aside, and Spock quickly accesses the computer systems.
Everything seems to be back to normal. They are not at war with the Klingons, there is no secret weapons base disguised as a colony, and James Kirk is captain of the Enterprise.
Spock has barely had time to read that statement when the door to the turbolift opens and he turns to see Kirk standing there. "Mister Spock?" he asks quietly. "May I have a word?"
Spock turns to the ensign beside him, and says quickly, "Thank you, Ensign. You may recommence your work." He is striding away before she can respond.
A second later he is in the turbolift, and Kirk is ordering it to the deck with their quarters. The moment the doors close he turns, reaching out and clasping Kirk's shoulders to make sure he is really real.
"You remember, right?" Kirk asks. "That wasn't just some horrible nightmare I had?"
"Unfortunately not," Spock tells him. "Although, as we were the only ones to notice the change the first time, it seems likely that the same will be true now that things have changed back."
Kirk sighs. "Maybe it's better that way," he says, as the lift arrives at their floor. "I'd forget it all too, if I could."
There are things Spock wishes to say to that, but as they are no longer alone, he refrains. Instead he follows Kirk out of the turbolift towards his quarters. When they get there, Kirk unlocks the door and waves a hand for Spock to enter before him.
Spock does so and is relieved to see that Kirk's quarters look exactly the same as they always have. Kirk sits down at his desk, and Spock does likewise. For a moment they just stare at each other, then Kirk says quietly, "I guess we should talk about what happened."
"What did they do to you?" Spock asks.
Kirk shrugs. "Not much, actually. They did some kind of mind-probe thing that gave me a major headache, and they didn't exactly seem thrilled at the idea of us communicating, but other than that they mostly left me alone." He shudders. "Mostly I just remember darkness and the fear that I was going to be trapped there alone forever."
"Not alone," Spock replies, and Kirk smiles, more genuinely this time.
"No, not completely," he agrees.
Spock allows his expression to soften at Kirk's smile, basking in the feeling of having his friend back, alive and whole. But in the back of his mind he knows that the situation is not quite over – much as he suspects they would both rather avoid discussing that other reality, it must be dealt with before they can move on.
"Jim," he begins hesitantly, "would you tell me about Jacob Ellison?"
Kirk's expression falls, and he looks suddenly very tired.
"I understand if you do not wish to talk about it," Spock adds.
Kirk shakes his head. "No, I want to." He snorts and adds, "Well, all right, that's a lie. But I'm going to."
He sighs heavily and begins, "Jake was born just a few months before me, and we knew each other pretty much our whole lives. His mom was a friend of my dad's. They met when they served together on the Endeavour, a few years after I was born, and our families would often meet up when the ship was on leave. Jake and I hit it off pretty much instantly. He lived in San Francisco, and of course I was in Iowa, so we didn't see each other that often, but we sent each other messages. First through our parents, and then as we got older, we became pen-pals."
Kirk shakes his head. "Even though we only saw each other a few times a year at most he was one of my best friends. We talked about everything. And we were both adamant that we'd go into Starfleet as soon as we were old enough."
He pauses briefly, then continues, "I'd just turned thirteen when he commed me out of the blue, saying he'd heard about this exchange program for gifted students, and that we should apply for it. I read the stuff he sent me and it sounded incredible – the chance to spend a semester living on another planet, learning skills we'd never learn in ordinary school." He snorts. "Well, you know how well that turned out, but back then I thought it was the best thing ever. I begged my parents to let me go, and Jake did the same with his. Eventually they agreed.
"There was no doubt in either of our minds that we'd be chosen, and of course we were. And so a few months later we said goodbye to our families and boarded a shuttle that would take us to our destiny."
"Tarsus," Spock puts in quietly, and Kirk nods.
"The very same." He takes a breath and continues. "It took us over a week to get there, stuck in a shuttle with six other kids. It was pretty boring, but the thought that we were travelling to a whole other world was enough to – mostly – keep us from complaining. Can't say the same for some of the other kids, though."
He shakes his head slowly. "You can imagine what a relief it was to finally get there and step out onto solid ground. Jake picked up a handful of dirt just to feel it trickle through his fingers.
"We were taken to the house we'd be staying in and told to pick a room and a roommate. Obviously Jake and I chose to room together. After that, we got to meet the rest of the kids. Aside from the eight of us from Earth, there was an Andorian, two Deltans, and a Megazoid. It was the first time I'd ever properly interacted with aliens, and it was kind of a revelation." He shuts his eyes and grimaces. "Back then I thought I'd never be able to remember all their names. Now I can't forget them."
Spock reaches out and touches his hand briefly, and Kirk gives him a grateful look. "Anyway, we settled in, and at first it was great. We went to school with the local kids, and then in the afternoons we helped out with things like gardening and tending to the animals. To be honest, it wasn't all that different from what we'd do at home – especially for me, since I grew up on a farm – but the fact that we were on an alien planet was enough to make it seem like an amazing adventure."
He shakes his head slowly. "We were there for just over three weeks when the first crops started failing. At first it didn't seem like a big deal, there were other crops, and plenty of food already stockpiled in bunkers. But the blight spread to other crops, and then to the stockpiles, and within a week almost all of the food was gone.
"Jake and I didn't realise how bad it was, but we knew something was wrong, especially after the rationing kicked in. The adults tried to pretend nothing was wrong, but after the second or third time they stopped talking the minute we entered a room, it became pretty obvious that they were hiding something from us. One of the other kids – Lyta, her name was – hacked the security system, and that's how we found out what was really going on."
He pauses, as if gathering strength. Spock gives him a moment or two, then probes gently, "What happened after that?"
"We confronted the adults with the evidence, and they broke down and admitted it – that the crops had failed, that the food supply was limited, and that the governor had called for help but no one knew when it would get there. They still tried to sugar-coat it, reassure us that everything would be fine and all we had to do was sit tight and not panic, but I'm not sure any of us really believed it.
"The rations seemed to lessen every day, and as they did people became violent. Rioting, fighting, looting…. The police tried to keep order, but they were far outnumbered and barely made a dent. We were scared to go outside, but by then school had been cancelled so we didn't have to."
He takes a long slow breath, then adds bitterly, "It was two weeks after the crops started failing that Governor Kodos made his grand announcement."
Spock watches, but doesn't interrupt as Kirk continues, "He told us he'd come up with a plan to save the colony, to make sure there would be enough food to last until help came. You can't imagine the relief we felt, hearing that. If we'd only known." One side of his mouth twitches upwards. "He told us that we'd need to make sacrifices, that the weakest members of society would be seen to first. Anyone who fit certain categories – age, health, disability status – was to report to the meeting hall."
Spock takes a breath, hesitating to ask a question he has always wondered about. "Were you…?"
Kirk smiles harshly. "Was I on The List? Is that what you want to know?"
Spock nods, already regretting his decision to ask.
Kirk tenses, but shakes his head. "No." He lets out a long slow breath and slumps back into his chair. "None of us kids were. We weren't from there, we had homes and families; people who would raise hell if something happened to us. Most people there weren't that lucky. Including one of our guardians, Gila. She suffered from anaemia, and was pretty badly affected by the lack of food, so when we heard the news the others convinced her to go. Even us kids joined in. We thought we were helping her."
"It was not your fault," Spock tells him.
"Yeah, I know that, but it doesn't change anything." Kirk shakes his head. "Anyway, the other guardians got worried when she didn't come back, and one of them went out to look for her. They sent us to bed, but that wasn't about to stop us. Lyta hacked the feeds again, and found footage of the whole thing. Kodos's speech, the guards with their phaser rifles opening fire, people falling, dying." He closes his eyes briefly. "No kid should ever have to see that."
One side of his mouth twitches upwards. "I know now that Kodos wouldn't have dared touch us, but back then we were convinced that he was going to kill us next, unless we left. Twelve kids of various ages, from various planets, all far too aware of our own intelligence… I think that was the first time we ever agreed on anything. We didn't even discuss it, just grabbed whatever we could and ran. We split up pretty quickly, thinking it'd be less conspicuous. More than a dozen kids running around would've gotten attention we didn't need. Jake and I took one group, and Tom and Deena took the other. We agreed we'd meet in the woods if we could, but it didn't end up happening.
"I found out later that they got caught, but they didn't go down easy. Tom lost his left eye in the struggle, and all he would say about it was that I should have seen the other guy. They spent the rest of the disaster locked up in Kodos's estate, imprisoned but safe from harm. In a way they were better off than those of us who managed to escape." He shakes his head slowly. "I wonder sometimes how things would have been different if we'd been in their group, but I guess there's no point dwelling on things that can't be changed."
He is silent for a moment, before continuing, "The rest of us made it to the woods and hid out there. We had some food, but not much, and it quickly ran out. We managed for a while after on berries, and small animals we managed to catch, but soon those were gone too. After that we tried sap from the trees, and even grass, but eventually we realised we'd have to go find food. Me and Jake had the most training in fighting and self-defence, so we volunteered.
"The streets were deserted when we got there. It was like a whole different world from the one we'd left. We broke into a couple of houses that looked abandoned, but they were pretty much bare." He swallows hard, gripping his hands together. "The third house we broke into wasn't abandoned. We were going through the cupboards when the owner – or someone anyway – interrupted us. We took one look at the rifle he was carrying and ran. He shot at us, but we managed to get away. At least, that's what I thought."
His eyes are haunted when they meet Spock's. "We made it all the way back to the woods before Jake collapsed. Adrenaline, I guess. Turned out one of the shots had hit him in the chest. I tried to stop the bleeding, but it was too late. He died, right there in my arms, and I couldn't save him."
"I grieve with thee," Spock says solemnly, and Kirk gives him a grateful look.
"I think you know most of the rest of the story already," he says. "We managed to hide out until Starfleet arrived, and those of us with families went home. I made sure they found Jake's body, took it back to his parents. It was the least I could do." He shakes his head. "I never forgot him, you know? I joined Starfleet partly because it's what he would have wanted. I wanted to help people, to save them, because I couldn't save him."
He wipes his eyes, where moisture is gathering at the corners. "I've never told anyone that story before," he says. "Not completely."
"I am honoured that you would choose to share it with me," Spock tells him.
Kirk shakes his head slowly. "I still can't really believe all this," he admits. "Jake was my best friend, and to think he'd make a choice like that…. But he was a child. We both were. If I'd been in his position, dying and given the chance to live, can I honestly say I wouldn't have made the same choice?"
"I do not believe you would have," Spock says.
Kirk smiles briefly, but it doesn't reach his eyes. "I wish I was as sure," he says. He closes his eyes briefly, looking weary. "Do you think that's why they did it?" he asks. "Why they picked that moment to change? To show that we really weren't all that different? He would've had the same life I did, if he'd lived."
Spock wants to argue, to tell Kirk exactly how important he is, and how badly awry their universe went without his influence, but he suspects it would not help. Instead he simply says, "I do not know." He hesitates, then adds, "I feel you should know that in the end Jacob Ellison acted with honour, and willingly sacrificed his life so that others would live. I believe he was, at heart, a good man."
"I hope so," Kirk replies.
There is silence for a moment, then Kirk shakes his head as if throwing off the thoughts, and says brightly, "So, Mister Spock. I never thanked you for saving my life."
"You do not have to do that," Spock tells him. "My part in the proceedings was minimal."
Kirk gives him a smile – the first genuine one since he returned, even if it's tinged with sadness. "Just let me be grateful, okay?" he says.
"Very well," Spock replies solemnly, and is gratified when Kirk breaks out in a laugh.
"You don't make things easy," he says, then reaches out and lays a hand on Spock's arm. "I mean it, though," he continues earnestly. "Thank you."
Spock meets his gaze, allowing himself to feel the gratitude and relief that his captain – his friend – is finally back where he belongs. "You are welcome, Jim."
A young boy, barely thirteen years of age, lies bleeding on the ground. Another boy bends over him, tears streaming down his face as he presses his hands against his companion's chest. "Come on," he whispers fiercely. "Please. You have to… you can't leave me like this. We're a team."
The other boy doesn't respond at first, his face a mask of pain and fear. When he does he only manages three words, "It isn't fair." Blood bubbles between his lips, and even at thirteen his friend knows that's not a good sign. He presses down more firmly on the wound and watches as his friend's eyes seem to focus briefly, staring at something behind them. He shakes his head, suddenly, and the first boy whirls round, ready to attack, but sees nothing. When he turns back to the other boy he sees his eyes are glassy, his chest still.
Out of sight, three beings in grey robes watch the display with interest.
The boy glances round, then, working quickly, covers his friend's body with leaves and branches, tears still running down his cheeks. When he has finished he whispers, "Goodbye, Jake," then turns and disappears into the trees. He does not look back.
The beings watch until he is out of sight, then direct their attention briefly to the leaf-covered body of one Jacob Ellison. It is rare for anyone to decline their gift, even to save the lives of others. These 'humans' are intriguing, and clearly require more dedicated research.
They glance at each other, then turn as one and vanish into the wind.