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[personal profile] rhaegal
Title: Evolution Part 1
Author: [personal profile] rhaegal
Pairing: Kirk/Spock (pre-slash in this part, but building) and implied Spock/Uhura.
Rating: PG this part, but there will eventually be adult content.

Summary: The Enterprise's first mission under the (official) captaincy of James T. Kirk.

A/N: Many thanks to [personal profile] katydidmischief, [personal profile] chosenmortal and [personal profile] waketosleep for betaing and for US English assistance.

*


"Ready to drop out of warp in fifteen minutes, Captain."

"Thank you, Mr Sulu."

Kirk lifted his head, shoulders back, and felt in control. Or so he insisted to himself, stubbornly denying the gnawing feeling in his gut.

In the week since leaving Earth, he had learned one valuable lesson: space was big. They had been traveling at warp speed for days, the stars streaking by and not another living soul in sight.

They had taught him all about the physical size of it in the Academy, of course; he knew that the Galaxy was about twenty-five kiloparsecs across, which was the length of the old Route 66 about 2 x 1014 times over. He'd worked that out once, doodled in the margin of his notebook in class, but he still hadn't really comprehended it. Because every time it was impressed on him just how monumentally vast space was, all he heard was the potential for new planets to explore, new life and civilizations to find. And while that was true, he had never really grasped that in between lay vast expanses of emptiness.

Captain James T. Kirk did not like waiting. His first week in command of the Enterprise - officially, that is – and all he'd had to do so far was watch and wait for action. In action, he could prove himself, prove that he belonged there. He felt a fool sitting around doing nothing.

Unable to stand it any longer, Kirk jumped to his feet. Chekov and Sulu looked up, startled by the sudden movement. Kirk ignored them, focused on trying to look as though he knew what he was doing, and turned to Spock. The Vulcan was engrossed in the scanner…doing what, Kirk had yet to figure out. Something sciencey, no doubt.

"I was thinking I might go and read up on the mission brief?" he said.

Spock looked up, and raised one of his slanted eyebrows in an expression that somehow managed to make Kirk feel that he was three inches tall. He realized too late that he had phrased his words as a question, and mentally kicked himself; as the Captain, there was no need for him to excuse himself.

"Mr Spock, Chekov, Briefing Room 2 in twenty minutes," he added, trying to appear authoritative. "And have Dr McCoy join us. Mr Sulu, you have the conn."

Kirk spun on his heel in what he hoped was a decisive manner and departed without a backward glance. Or that was the intention; in fact, as he waited for the turbolift doors to open, his head seemed to turn of its own volition towards the Vulcan bending over the scanner. He was struck by a sudden, inexplicable feeling of surprise, as though he expected to see Spock following him.

Blocking this ridiculous notion from his head as best he could, Kirk pressed the button for Deck 6 and held his posture ramrod-straight until the doors of the turbolift closed behind him; only then did he allow his shoulders to drop.

Unbidden, a memory flashed before his eyes, of himself and Spock in an underground tunnel, afraid, hunted – or was that hunting? He couldn't be sure. Only it couldn't be a memory, because Kirk had never seen that tunnel before. Besides, he shouldn't be able to see himself in his own memories. He pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head, as though that would somehow dislodge the unwelcome image.

The moment the doors opened, he was once again Captain Kirk, he of the arrogant swagger and self-assured smile. As he strode towards the briefing room, he couldn't help but notice the way crewmembers he didn't even recognize would stand aside for him, or greet him with a respectful nod. He tried to acknowledge each of them brusquely but politely, and was relieved when he reached the solitude of the briefing room.

"Computer," he said, "replay mission brief."

It was unnecessary, since he'd heard it once before and his plan was already formed, but pacing the room and listening without having to think was precisely what he needed to clear his head.

By the time the replay had finished, Kirk was entirely focused and excited about his first real mission as the true, official Captain of the Enterprise. That was, until he looked up and saw Spock standing in the doorway, hands clasped behind his back. His face was a blank mask, but his head was inclined in a way that conveyed curiosity or puzzlement – or maybe just indigestion, Kirk thought ruefully; he'd not yet got the hang of reading his first officer.

"This is a straightforward mission," said Spock. "I can see no cause for nerves."

"I can do without the condescension, thanks," Kirk snapped, flopping into the chair at the head of the table.

Spock looked taken aback at that, and Kirk realized too late that the words had been intended as comfort, not disdain. A little embarrassed, he gestured towards the seat to his immediate right. Spock sat down, and an awkward silence stretched out between them.

Kirk had never been more grateful for Bones' rough, snide affability than when he stormed into the briefing room minutes later, muttering about the replicators.

"Sure," he was ranting, "it can rustle up a passable turkey dinner with all the trimmings, but ask it for a coffee – a simple, basic coffee - and it gives you this – this sludge." He gulped down the offending liquid and slammed the empty cup on the table as he took a seat.

"If is it so distasteful, why do you persist in both requesting and consuming it?" Spock enquired.

"He's got a point, Bones," said Kirk.

McCoy scowled at them both. "What would you know? I've heard of the ghastly stuff they serve on Vulcan. Why –"

Kirk hurriedly silenced him with a glare, and McCoy looked away guiltily.

"Served," Spock corrected him quietly. "I believe the past tense is appropriate in this instance."

"Look, I –" McCoy sounded decidedly uncomfortable, and Kirk caught a pleading glance out of the corner of his eye. His attention, though, was focused on Spock. His face was entirely expressionless to the untrained eye, and Kirk, to his frustration, was an untrained eye. Yet somehow, he knew that there was fierce, intense emotion beneath the surface, and that the signs were there if he knew what to look for.

"Please," said Spock, with a sidelong glance towards Kirk. "I am perfectly aware of the events that transpired on my home planet. I find the human habit of concealing unpleasant truths from one who already knows them quite illogical."

McCoy looked as though he were going to say something inflammatory, so Kirk cut in with, "I think what you're referring to is that we try not to remind people of issues that are…sensitive."

"That presupposes that the incident is forgotten. I can assure you I have not forgotten, and that the mention of Vulcan is not to be unduly avoided."

"Is your blood cold as well as green?" McCoy retorted before Kirk could stop him.

"Bones!" Kirk snapped, but his gaze remained on Spock. He wasn't sure how McCoy had misunderstood, because to him it was perfectly obvious what Spock was saying; that the memory would always haunt him, that nothing could make it go away.

Spock, though, kept up the appearance of being entirely undaunted. "On the contrary, Doctor, my blood runs at a higher temperature than yours. As Chief Medical Officer of a ship whose crew includes a half-Vulcan, it concerns me that you would demonstrate such ignorance of our physiology."

"It's a figure of speech," McCoy ground out between clenched teeth, staring into his empty coffee cup.

Kirk had never been more relieved to hear the swoosh of the door opening as Chekov arrived.

"Keptin," he acknowledged with a nod, standing stiffly inside the doorway until Kirk indicated that he should sit.

Kirk sat back in his chair, unable to repress a grin as he regarded the three of them. Getting these wildly different personalities to gel as a team was going to be a tough job, but that was what being Captain was all about, and he was anxious to get started.

"Er, Jim?" McCoy interrupted his thoughts. "You're kinda scaring us with that maniacal grin."

"Right, right." Kirk sat up straight and turned his attention to the task at hand. "So, this is our first mission. Well, not counting… you know… so I wanted to make sure we're all clear on what we're doing. Mr Spock, if you wouldn't mind?"

"Certainly, Captain."

Spock took only a moment to collect his thoughts before launching into an explanation of the mission.

"KY Cygni IV is a Class M planet of 1.5 Earth masses, orbiting a red supergiant. This in itself makes it highly unusual and worthy of study, but it was adopted as a Terran colony in 2250 due to extensive dilithium deposits. In just a few years it has become one of the most prosperous mining planets in the Galaxy. However, in the last few weeks exports have dropped off considerably, and Starfleet has been unsuccessful in their attempts to contact the planet."

"Which is where we come in," Kirk interrupted. "Our mission is to find out what's wrong and fix it."

"Forgive me, Captain, but I'm quite sure the mission brief was to establish the nature of the problem and report back to Starfleet."

Kirk gave a dismissive wave.

"When the planet was colonized," Spock carried on as though uninterrupted, "there was extensive flora on the surface, but no fauna whatsoever. My latest sensor readings indicate that, aside from the humans and the livestock they brought from Earth, this is still the case."

"So they haven't been attacked by any indigenous life forms," Kirk clarified.

"Negative."

Kirk nodded and took over. "Since we're not expecting to encounter anything dangerous, the plan is for Mr Spock and myself to beam down. Mr Chekov, you'll be in command here. We'll check in every two hours, and if anything does go awry, I trust you'll put that tactical brain to good use."

"Yes, sir!"

Kirk smiled; it was difficult not to at Chekov's enthusiasm. "All right, then," he said. "Dismissed."

Spock and Chekov departed quickly to make the necessary preparations, but McCoy lingered, looking decidedly sullen. Kirk waited, expecting a tirade about Spock's resemblance to a machine. Instead, McCoy just gave him a long, hard look and said, "Is this the way of it now? You and Elf-boy get all buddy-buddy, so you side with him?"

Kirk frowned. "First of all," he said with ice in his voice, "Spock and I may not be trying to kill each other, but we're a long way from being friends." He paused, hurriedly quashing the ridiculous feeling of regret. "And secondly, it makes no difference who my friends are. If you're right I'll back you up, but in this case you were way out of line."

"Yeah, I know," said McCoy with a rueful smile.

"So will you apologize to him?"

McCoy shot him an incredulous look, and for a moment looked as though he were going to say something cutting. Then he seemed to catch himself and looked down, shaking his head.

"I already did," he admitted. "Or do you think I back down that easy every time?"

Kirk smiled. "Good enough."

As he rose to leave, he clapped McCoy on the shoulder, hoping to convey that they were still friends, even when Kirk had to do the Captain thing. McCoy responded with a lopsided smile to indicate that he understood.

Kirk made his way back to the bridge slowly, welcoming the time alone to put his thoughts in order. By the time the doors of the turbolift slid open to reveal the gleam of the bridge, he was completely in control once more.

"Captain," Uhura called, the moment he stepped through the doors. "We're being hailed by KY Cygni IV."

"Open communications," Kirk replied, taking his seat in the command chair.

The screen flickered to life, revealing an elderly gentleman with long grey hair draping his shoulders.

"This is Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise."

"Greetings, Captain," the man responded with a smile that was perhaps a little too friendly to Kirk's eyes. "I am Governor Tobin. We are very pleased to see you, of course. It's not often we receive visitors out here. Though, if I may, what is the purpose of your visit?"

Despite the easy smile, something in the man's manner radiated tension. Without pausing to consider why, Kirk responded, "We were passing by, so to speak, so Starfleet requested that we drop in and see how you're doing. Just a formality with all new colonies," he added with a smile.

Tobin's brow furrowed only for a moment, but it was enough for Kirk to notice. He kept his smile in place, but the unease in his gut only tightened.

"Of course, of course," Tobin beamed in entirely too easy a manner. "By all means, beam down and we'll give you the grand tour. I daresay you'll be quite impressed. Transmitting beam-down coordinates to you now."

"We'll see you soon," Kirk acknowledged. "Kirk out."

The moment the screen flickered off, Kirk's smile slipped into a frown.

"I want a landing party of four," he commanded. "Mr Scott, have two security officers meet myself and Mr Spock in the transporter room in five minutes. Mr Chekov, stay in regular contact. We'll check in every half an hour. Any sign of danger to the ship, you get her out of here. That's an order."

"Understood, Keptin," came Chekov's dutiful reply, but he was frowning, obviously confused.

As he turned to leave, Uhura stood and looked as though she were about to protest, but Kirk shot her down with a glare and headed straight for the lift.

He was unsurprised when Spock stepped into the lift after him. They stood side by side in silence until the doors closed.

"You were not entirely truthful in your explanation of our visit," Spock remarked once they were alone.

"No," Kirk acknowledged.

"Forgive me, Captain, the human capacity for deceit is something I am not yet fully acquainted with."

"Because Vulcans never lie." Kirk couldn't help but laugh, remembering the other, older Spock.

"Precisely." Spock's tone was even, but there was a hint of something – uncertainty? – as he glanced sideways towards Kirk.

The turbolift doors slid open onto Deck 5, and they fell into step beside each other as they made their way towards the transporter room.

"There was something about him," Kirk explained as they walked. "I don't know what's going on down there, but something's off. I didn't want to tip him off that we already know there's some kind of problem."

"So your aim is to see whether he tells us of his own accord."

"Exactly. We'll find out how friendly Mr Smiley really is, then work out how to proceed."

"And if his intentions are hostile?"

"Why do you think I'm bringing security?"

"All the same, I must question the wisdom of both Captain and First Officer beaming into a potentially hostile situation."

"Huh." Kirk stopped just outside the transporter room, frowning. Spock turned to face him, one eyebrow raised in question. "You want to stay here?" Kirk asked.

There was a pause. Kirk could feel his insides squirming uncomfortably, though he couldn't have said why. He had been entirely unafraid of facing whatever was waiting for them, but the thought of doing so without Spock made him irrationally nervous.

"On the contrary," Spock said at last, fixing Kirk with one of his heavily laden glances. "I was going to suggest that you remain behind."

Kirk grinned, something that felt oddly like relief flooding through him. "No chance," he said.

Spock looked away for just a moment before catching Kirk's eye again, and though his face remained utterly impassive, Kirk recognized the gesture and laughed aloud.

"That was an eye roll, right? In Vulcan-speak."

"I believe you are ascribing to me an emotion akin to exasperation, in which case you are mistaken."

Still grinning, Kirk turned towards the transporter room, clapped Spock on the shoulder and said, "No I'm not."

They were equipped with phasers and joined momentarily by two red-shirted security officers, Matthews and Rayburn.

"This is a peaceful mission," Kirk explained to them, "but remain on alert. Discreetly. Phasers on stun."

They nodded and took their places on the transporter platform. Once everyone was in position, Kirk took a deep breath and gave the command to begin his first mission.

"Energize."

*


When they materialized on the planet's surface, Kirk's first impression was of a desert. Yet as he looked around, he realized that they were surrounded on all sides by trees of the deep red of autumn back home. "It's very red."

"Indeed," Spock confirmed in what was very nearly an amused tone. Kirk realized only then that he had spoken aloud. He floundered for something more intelligent to say, but Spock continued, "I mentioned that the planet had indigenous flora. In fact, it is significantly more prevalent than on other planets, even the pre-industrialized Earth, despite having a less humid climate."

"Interesting," Kirk lied.

"It is fascinating," said Spock, examining his tricorder, apparently oblivious to Kirk's insincerity.

Kirk watched him for a moment, a smile tugging at his lips. "Why Mr Spock, if I didn't know better I'd say you were quite excited about this mission."

That caused Spock to look up from his readings. "While the emotional implications of your assessment are, of course, inaccurate, I am a scientist, and as such it is only logical –"

"Of course," Kirk interrupted. "Carry on."

Spock did so, but with his back turned to Kirk, which amused the captain no end. Suddenly, a fleeting image flickered through his mind: Spock was smiling, laughing even, though he wasn't sure how he knew this, because it wasn't Spock he saw but himself. And accompanying that image, for some reason, was the most intense joy and relief Kirk had ever experienced.

"Gentlemen, I bid you welcome to our colony," a silky voice said.

Relieved to be pulled from his bizarre reverie, Kirk drew himself up and extended a hand to Governor Tobin. His handshake was a little too firm, and his smile seemed even more false up close.

"This is my first officer, Commander Spock, and crewmen Matthews and Rayburn."

Kirk watched Tobin closely as he greeted them each in turn, barely suppressing his annoyance when the Governor forced a handshake on Spock, as though he didn't know how intrusive Vulcans found the gesture. But how do I know that? Kirk started to wonder, before Tobin caught his attention once more.

"If you'll accompany me," Tobin said. "I will show you our city."

They were led down a tree-lined path, the boughs creating a deep red canopy above them. Kirk thought of them as trees simply because of their magnitude, but they were nothing like trees on Earth. Their trunks were almost purple and wound with red vines that spread out overhead, linking with their neighbors and forming a thatched ceiling. Sunlight streamed through the mesh, forming a dappled pattern on the ground.

Spock had fallen into step beside him, their guide in front and the two security officers behind them. Though he was keeping perfect pace and never once tripped over the many vines that crossed their path, Spock was entirely engrossed in his tricorder, so they walked in silence.

At last, the trees cleared, and Kirk's jaw dropped at the sight before them. Tall, transparent aluminum structures towered overhead, gleaming in the intense orange light of the sun.

Tobin turned to face them, and seemed pleased with Kirk's reaction. As he turned away again to lead them inside, Kirk glanced sideways towards Spock, whose expression registered no surprise at all. Not that that necessarily meant anything, Kirk reminded himself.

"Pretty impressive, huh?" he said under his breath.

"In what sense?" Spock replied, sounding wholly unimpressed.

Kirk shrugged. "It's shiny."

"Ostentatious," Spock countered. "It is illogical to build structures so tall when there is no shortage of space. The colony has been prosperous, as I said, but their architecture suggests that they are overly anxious to demonstrate that fact."

"Like they have something to prove?"

"Precisely."

Kirk laughed and shook his head. At Spock's questioning eyebrow, he explained, "Even buildings give away more about themselves than you do."

Spock seemed to consider that for a moment before he replied, his voice so low Kirk wasn't even sure he was meant to hear.

"I disagree."

*


The tour was long, tiring and, as far as Kirk was concerned, utterly fruitless. They were introduced to numerous management types and sales and marketing staff, all in spacious, modern offices. They were shown around the shipping department, a vast hangar in which a few harried-looking employees loaded crates into space shuttles, barely taking the time to greet the visitors. In between, Kirk checked in with the Enterprise at half-hourly intervals, and if Tobin found anything odd about the frequency of their contact he was polite enough not to say so.

Finally, and only because Kirk insisted, they were shown the mines themselves. They were deep, quiet and somehow eerily familiar; Kirk was reminded of an image he'd had, of himself and Spock in a deep underground tunnel. He shuddered.

Spock noticed, and moved swiftly to his side. "Is there something wrong?" he murmured.

"Not at all," Kirk replied. "But I'm bored. Let's get out of here." Spock nodded his agreement, so Kirk called Tobin over. "I think we're done."

Tobin smiled genially, but it was indisputably a look of relief that crossed his face. "Very well," he said. "We would, of course, be delighted if you would remain as our guests for the evening meal."

Kirk cast a sideways glance towards Spock and gave a small, almost imperceptible nod. Spock caught it and responded in kind.

"We would be honored," Kirk confirmed.

They were led to the tallest tower, and into a lift that seemed to go on forever. At last, they were led out onto one of the highest floors. The vast windows revealed a seemingly endless vista of deepest red, and made Kirk, who had never before experienced any kind of vertigo, feel vaguely nauseated.

Tobin gestured towards a door to their right. "These are our guest quarters," he explained. "Our dinner is served in two hours. In the meantime, please relax, and feel free to wander around. The computer will send for anything you need."

"Thank you," said Kirk, and Tobin departed with a bow and one of his beaming smiles.

Matthews and Rayburn went through the door first, while Kirk remained transfixed by the view. Though he could not see him, he knew that Spock was standing just behind him.

"It's so bright," Kirk remarked. He didn't really expect a response, but of course Spock had an explanation.

"Its host star is a supergiant. You can see it through the other window."

Kirk turned around, and there through the opposite window was the sun. It was high in the sky, at odds with the color that felt distinctly like an Earth sunset. Yet it looked only a little larger than Sol as seen from Earth.

"It doesn't look so giant," he remarked.

Spock made that slight gesture with his eyes again. He only shifted his gaze very slightly from Kirk, to a point just over his left shoulder, but it was unmistakably a sign of exasperation.

"That is because we are significantly further away from KY Cygni than Earth is from Sol."

"I'd guessed that," said Kirk, "I'm just goading you."

That earned him a raised eyebrow. "To what end?"

Kirk shrugged. "Undoubtedly fruitless attempts to elicit an emotional response. Give me a dozen or so more tries, I'll get there."

For some reason, this caused Spock to tense noticeably. He turned his back on Kirk, facing out of the window towards the red star.

"KY Cygni is over a thousand times larger than Sol, yet much cooler. We are over ten times further away than even the most distant planet in your system."

"How long before it goes supernova?" Kirk asked. At Spock's raised eyebrow, he rolled his eyes – the human way. "Yeah, I took astro at the Academy too. It's a red giant, so it's dying. When?"

"It has a few million years yet." Spock paused for a moment, then added, "And I was not questioning your knowledge of stellar evolution, merely the fact that you were willing to demonstrate it."

"I beg your pardon?"

Spock looked pointedly out of the window as he replied, "You have a habit of feigning ignorance in some matters. I have found it curiously illogical, given your tendency towards –"

Kirk was struggling to fight back laughter as he prompted, "Go on."

"It is of no consequence."

Spock turned away, but not before Kirk noticed the green tinge to his cheeks. "You were going to say arrogance," he supplied. "And I think blushing counts as an emotional response, so I win."

"I am not –" Spock began, but he cut himself off, apparently deciding that attack was the best form of defense. "I acquainted myself with your academic record, Captain."

Kirk laughed. "Then yeah, you're right, I know the theory. But working out the numbers, so I'd know what it looks like from down here? I can't do that without a computer, or at least a pen and paper. So no, it's not feigned – I really did expect it to look bigger. I mean, it's over a thousand Sols across. That's pretty big. But I'm guessing you had it all worked out in your head before we even arrived."

Spock regarded him closely for a moment. "If I am not mistaken," he said at last, "I believe that was what you would refer to as a compliment."

Kirk grinned. "I'll deny it on pain of death if you tell anyone. Come on, let's see what the others are up to."

He made his way into the guest quarters, but Spock hesitated before following.

The guest quarters were stunning. Kirk had expected a single room with a bathroom for them to freshen up. Instead, he was greeted by a vast living area, with three long leather sofas arranged before a screen that took up an entire wall. Leading off from that room were six large bedrooms, each of them with an en suite bathroom.

One of the security officers – Kirk realized guiltily that he had forgotten which was which – was sprawled out on one of the sofas, but sprang upright as he saw Kirk.

"At ease," Kirk sighed. "This place is quite something, isn't it?"

"Aye, sir," Matthews-or-Rayburn replied. "Although…permission to speak freely, Captain?"

Kirk nodded.

"There's something not right about it," he continued.

"What do you mean?" Kirk asked, taking a seat on another of the sofas.

"I mean, I used to work on a mining colony, and this one… Well, we met lots of office types today, but when we went to the places where the actual work gets done, they were all but deserted. It's no wonder they're not meeting their quota."

"How did you know –" Kirk frowned. "That wasn't in the official brief."

The security officer looked abashed. "I know, but the place I used to work was close to being put out of business by these folks, and… well, good news travels fast, as they say."

"Mr Rayburn is correct." Kirk had not heard Spock enter the room, and was startled to hear his voice from directly behind him. "I too observed a curious lack of activity."

Kirk stood and began pacing the room. "So you're suggesting the reason exports have dropped off is that they're understaffed?"

"Affirmative," from one side of the room.

"Aye, Captain," from the other.

"Which means," Kirk continued, thinking aloud, "that either people are leaving, or…" He left the alternative unsaid.

"They'd have a hard time leaving." The other security officer – Matthews – had emerged from one of the rooms. "These places don't have starships of their own, just shuttles to transport the stuff up to ships in orbit. One or two people could probably smuggle themselves on a cargo ship, but if it was happening on this large a scale, I can't believe we wouldn't have heard about it."

Kirk cast a glance towards Spock. "His logic is sound," Spock confirmed.

Kirk heaved a sigh. "How long do we have before we're summoned?" he asked.

"Ninety-three minutes and –"

"All right." Kirk held up a hand. "When the Governor said two hours, I doubt he timed that to the second," he added with a smile.

Spock looked impassive, as usual. "Then why specify a time?"

Kirk opened his mouth to respond, but stopped himself. Then, "You're winding me up, aren't you?"

"Perhaps."

Kirk shook his head, laughing. Had they been alone, he would have goaded the Vulcan further about a sense of humor – even a dry one – being another emotional trait, but in deference to their company, he said instead, "Is there any entertainment in here?"

"Some vids," Matthews supplied. "And there's a chess set in that cupboard."

"Excellent." Kirk clapped his hands. "Mr Spock, do you play chess?"

Spock shot him that look only he could produce, the one that was at the same time completely blank yet conveyed an amused smirk. Tilting his head slightly, he replied, "I am acquainted with the game."

"You get it set up while I check in with Chekov."

There was no doubt about it now; Spock was definitely suppressing a smirk as he located and set up the three-dimensional board. Kirk watched him carefully as he relayed their plans to the Enterprise.

"Kirk out," he said when he was done. Snapping the communicator shut, he turned a predatory glare upon his first officer. "Sure you're up to this?"

By way of reply, Spock made his first move. Kirk slid into the seat opposite him, grinning. "All right," he said. "Bring it on."

The security officers hovered for the first few moves, obviously curious to watch their commanding officers, but they soon located the latest in virtual reality consoles and disappeared into one of the other rooms for a game that appeared to involve much jumping and waving of arms.

Once they were alone, Kirk said in a low voice, "There's a reason I asked about the supernova."

"You are thinking about Romulus."

It was a statement, not a question, but Kirk felt compelled to reply, "Yes."

"There is nothing about Nero's interference with the timeline that ought to affect the course of the Hobus star's life. Since I know precisely the time that the supernova will strike, I assume it will be my duty to prevent it in time, and complete the task that my…counterpart could not."

"And you'll do that, after what they did to Vulcan?"

Spock fixed him with one of his intense stares. "Nero did not speak for the Romulan Empire. And even if he did –"

"Two wrongs don't make a right. Yeah, I know."

"A curious expression, but apt."

Kirk moved his knight and could have sworn the tiny twitch of Spock's eyebrow was an expression of triumph.

"Are you certain you wouldn't rather join in with them?" Spock asked.

Kirk glanced through the open doorway to see Matthews, a headset covering his eyes, leap off the bed, his arms flailing in a bizarre manner. Come to think of it, it did look like more fun than chess. But then he caught sight of Spock leaning over the board, his eyebrows drawn together only slightly, yet in one of the most emotive expressions he'd ever seen on the Vulcan's face, and he felt inexplicably warm.

"If you're surrendering," he teased.

"On the contrary," came Spock's curt reply, "I'll have you checkmated in three moves."

In a sudden flash of inspiration, Kirk abandoned his strategy and moved his rook. This caused Spock to sit up straight with an unmistakable frown.

"Would you like to rethink that?" Spock asked. Kirk shook his head. "Are you sure?" Spock tried again. "Logically –"

"– is the wrong way to play with you," Kirk cut in; though he could not have said where the certainty he felt came from. "If I play illogically, you can't predict my next move. It frustrates you enormously." Again, he could not have said how he knew that, but the fact that Spock didn't immediately jump down his throat for ascribing an emotion to him was proof enough that he was right.

Sure enough, half a dozen moves later Kirk was able to announce, "Checkmate!" to an extremely bemused Spock.

Kirk sat back triumphantly and watched as Spock stared blankly at the board, obviously completely at a loss to explain how he'd been beaten.

At length, Spock sat up and met Kirk's gaze evenly. "I kindly request a rematch, once we are back aboard the Enterprise."

"As often as you like," Kirk replied, and meant it.

*


Dinner was served on the very top floor, in a vast hall whose transparent walls made it seem almost that they were outside on the roof of the tower. As the sun set, the sky outside turned such a deep red that it gave the disturbing appearance of being aflame.

Kirk and Spock were seated at one end of a long table. To Kirk's left, at the head of the table, was Tobin. Opposite them, one of the managing directors of the mine and her husband, a farmer, prattled mindlessly about the new farm they'd just built, and the wonders of modern machinery that meant the place effectively ran itself – and, to Kirk's ears, took all the fun out of it.

At last, the conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a dozen scurrying waiters, each of them bearing a large – oh. Kirk frowned and turned as discreetly as possible to Tobin.

"My apologies, Governor, I had assumed you were aware that my first officer is a vegetarian."

He glanced over towards Spock, who was wearing his usual veneer of calm, but with straightness to his posture that suggested severe discomfort, though whether that was due to the steak in front of him or the fact that his captain was making an issue of it, Kirk could not tell.

Tobin looked panicked. Probably because of his unintentional gaffe, Kirk assumed, and felt grimly satisfied that he'd been able to wipe that insincere smile off the man's face.

While Tobin called over one of the waiters to the corner of the room and had a whispered but obviously heated conversation, Kirk turned to Spock and whispered, "Are you all right?"

"Affirmative. I should of course have declined the invitation. Regrettably, I fear I was too tempted by the offer of non-reconstituted food."

Kirk had to smile at that. "I know the feeling," he said. But then he registered what Spock and said and added, "But of course you shouldn't have declined. It's something anyone ought to know about Vulcans."

"There are not so many of us that we can expect such things to be widely known."

Taken aback, Kirk could think of nothing to say. He laid a hand on Spock's arm and swallowed around the sudden, humiliating lump in his throat as an image flashed through his mind. It was something he'd seen in his head a thousand times – a planet breaking up and being swallowed into nothingness – but not from the perspective he'd seen it; he saw it now from the surface of another nearby planet, and the accompanying grief was overwhelming.

A warm hand covered his, snapping Kirk back to the present. He met Spock's eyes, expecting understanding or sadness or anything but the confusion he saw there as Spock gently but firmly removed Kirk's hand from his arm.

Right, Kirk remembered with an inward cringe, Vulcans were weird about being touched, and Spock especially so. He supposed living in a society of touch telepaths would do that.

It was only as his hearing and vision cleared that Kirk realized he'd been feeling light-headed. Forcing his thoughts back to the issues at hand, he turned his most charming smile on the couple opposite him, realizing only as he looked over that they were both staring unabashedly at him and Spock.

Kirk grasped idly for something to say, but was spared by the timely arrival of another waiter, who swiftly exchanged Spock's steak for a plate of red vegetation, muttered something apologetic and then beat a hasty retreat. Kirk was given no time to wonder at this strange behavior before Tobin returned to his seat, his ingratiating smile fixed back in place.

"I do hope you'll forgive our faux pas," he said. "We are not accustomed to non-human visitors, and there are no vegetarians here."

That struck Kirk as odd, for a colony of this size, but he didn't say so.

"Understandable, Governor," said Spock, in what Kirk considered far too charitable a tone.

"I've had them prepare some bloodvine for you. Please forgive the name – they're the huge red plants you saw as you arrived." He beamed again in that infuriating manner. "The blood part refers only to the color."

"Fascinating. It had never occurred to me to associate Terran plants with bloodshed."

Kirk had to force himself to suppress a laugh at the look of bewilderment that passed across their hosts' faces; obviously none of them had seen a Vulcan bleed. Kirk was quite ready to believe they'd never seen a Vulcan at all.

"It seems you're quite the enigma here," he said to Spock, but with a wink at the woman – Linda? Laura? – seated opposite him that caused her husband to visibly bristle.

Perhaps sensing that a distraction was required, Tobin proposed a toast to the Federation and they tucked into their meals.

The steak was marvelous, but Kirk was more concerned with watching Spock, though if the bloodvine was in any way disagreeable he didn't show it. Not that Kirk had expected he would, of course.

The meal passed slowly, accompanied by dreary conversation about state-of-the-art mining technology and holiday homes beside the planet's single vast ocean. Kirk recalled what Spock had said about their buildings, and had to agree that they seemed awfully eager to impress upon them how wealthy they were.

Before long, he found his attention drifting, and he looked longingly towards the other end of the table, where Matthews and Rayburn were engaged in a raucous and no doubt more entertaining conversation with some of the miners.

When at last the ordeal was over, Tobin invited them to stay for some musical entertainment. Kirk was anxious to leave, but he turned to Spock.

"Actually, Captain, I find myself quite fatigued," said Spock with an apologetic glance towards Tobin. "Though if you wish to stay –"

"Not at all," Kirk interrupted, probably too eagerly, he realized. "Let me fetch the others."

The four of them said their goodbyes, were given an earnest and yet somehow – to Kirk's ears – entirely insincere invitation to return, and were soon making their way back through the trees, the path now outlined by small, concealed lights. Kirk was so lost in thought, frustrated beyond belief by the entire lack of information their hosts had offered, that at first he didn't notice when Spock fell behind. Only when he turned to his side, seeking an opinion, did he realize that the Vulcan was some way behind them.

"Spock?" he called. "Are you all right?"

"Quite well, Captain," came the reply, but his voice was weak. Kirk paused. The two security officers came back to flank him, waiting for instructions. Kirk hesitated only until he saw Spock stagger slightly, then he rushed over and was just in time to catch the Vulcan as he fell to the ground.

For a moment, he just knelt on the ground, Spock's head in his lap, utterly stunned. His chest felt constricted, and his head started to swim. Then he started shaking Spock by the shoulders, calling "Spock, Spock, Spock!" over and over, blood pounding in his ears as panic gripped him.

Matthews knelt beside him and took Spock's wrist. After a moment, he announced, "He has a pulse. Slow, but… I don't know what's normal for a Vulcan."

Kirk nodded dumbly. Then his command training took over and, as though operating on autopilot, he heard himself bark, "Communicator." Rayburn held his out, flipped open so that Kirk didn't have to remove his arms from around Spock.

"Kirk to Enterprise," he called, aware that his voice shook but not caring.

"Enterprise here." It was Scotty's voice; Kirk closed his eyes in relief.

"Mr Scott, I need you to see if you can beam us up from here. Mr Spock is…" He trailed off, looking desperately at the limp form in his arms.

"No worries, I'll have a stab at it."

"And have Dr McCoy standing by," Kirk added.

"Aye, Captain."

Kirk waited, helpless, his head spinning. Mere seconds passed, but they stretched out endlessly. Matthews was still clutching Spock's wrist, monitoring his pulse. Rayburn had the tricorder, but was shaking his head. "There's nothing around, Captain," he reported. "If anything attacked him it's gone."

"No," said Kirk with a sigh, "he started feeling ill right after dinner. 'Fatigued' my ass! Why didn't you say anything, you pointy-eared bastard?" He shook Spock's shoulders with vigor, but the Vulcan's head just lolled lifelessly.

Suddenly, a tingling sensation swept over him, and he saw their surroundings flicker and fade, to be replaced by the sterile gleam of the transporter room.

McCoy was at his side in an instant. Clumsily, Kirk tried to stagger to his feet, still clutching Spock's shoulders as McCoy grabbed his legs. But Kirk found his own legs were none too steady, so when Matthews pushed him to the side and took Spock's weight, Kirk stood aside and watched them go.

"Did you see that?" Scotty's cheerful voice smashed rudely through his stunned state. "Weakest signal I've ever seen, through those whatevers down there! I like this ship!"

Kirk simply stared at him for a moment, dumbfounded by the tone of triumph. Suddenly, his despair melted into anger, and acid dripped from his voice as he snapped, "Don't you have a ship to run?"

Scotty looked taken aback, but not frightened.

"I dunno," he sighed. "One minute Mr Pointy-ears is tryin' to kill ye, the next you're cluckin' over 'im like a mother hen. I cannnae keep up wi' this place!"

Scotty walked out shaking his head. Keenser trailed after him, casting Kirk a lingering, sad look, and then Kirk was alone in the transporter room.

He took a deep breath, then moved to the console, meaning to contact the bridge, but before his hand could reach the button his mind was flooded by another memory that was not his own: he was looking down on himself – or someone who looked somewhat like him, but a little older – lying unconscious on a bed. With a hand that was not his, he reached out touched his own face, and he was overcome with worry and grief.

And then he was alone in the transporter room again, breathing heavily, the intensity of what he'd just felt still twisting in his gut. But he could not allow himself to be distracted; he drew himself up, took a deep breath, and marched out towards the lift and the bridge.

That he went via Sickbay was, he insisted to himself, an unhappy coincidence, but since he was passing he slipped inside. Spock was still unconscious, and McCoy was drawing green blood from one arm. Uhura sat stiffly beside the bed, and did not acknowledge Kirk's arrival.

Kirk felt his insides clench. He tried to look away, but felt unable to tear his gaze from Spock's lifeless form. His skin was even paler than usual, and he looked pained even in sleep.

He didn't notice McCoy moving until the doctor was by his side. "It's not good, Jim," he said in an undertone. "I've done all I can to make him comfortable, but…"

Kirk was suddenly overcome with inexplicable blinding rage. Why are you wasting your time making him 'comfortable' instead of curing him? he wanted to yell. Instead, he took a deep breath and fought for focus. Yet when he spoke, he could hear the tremor in his voice.

"What's wrong with him?" he asked.

"I don't know," McCoy admitted, "but it's undoubtedly –"

"Poison, I know," Kirk finished.

"They did this?" McCoy turned to face him, and to Kirk's surprise the doctor's expression was livid.

"That's what I'm going to find out. But while I take care of them, you're going to save him. That's an order."

"I know."

"Lieutenant," Kirk raised his voice to address Uhura. "I believe you're supposed to be on duty."

The look Uhura turned on him was laced with venom. "Then have me court-martialed. I'm not going anywhere."

"Yes, you are. You can stay here and pathetically moon over him, or you can meet me in the transporter room in five minutes."

Her anger melted into an expression of pure – Kirk would have to remember this, always – gratitude as she nodded her acknowledgement.

With a curt nod to them both and carefully avoiding looking at Spock, Kirk turned away and all but ran to the lift.

The moment he set foot on the bridge, all conversation ceased, and numerous curious faces turned to him. Scotty had preceded him, and no doubt filled in everyone else.

"I'm beaming back down," Kirk announced. "Mr Scott, Mr Sulu, you're coming with me. Chekov, I want all weapons on standby."

If Chekov was taken aback by this he had the discipline not to show it, though his "Yes, Keptin" was a touch quieter than usual. Sulu and Scotty leapt to their feet; Sulu looked concerned, but Scotty was grinning.

Uhura was already in the transporter room when they arrived. While they were being equipped with communicators and phasers, Kirk laid out the plan.

"Tobin is behind this, somehow. Sulu, you and I are going to get him to tell us what he slipped in Mr Spock's dinner." He smiled ruefully. "Another chance for you to prove those fencing skills."

"Yes, Captain."

"Scotty, I want you and Lt Uhura to work out what's in those plants."

"We're… pickin' flowers? While you and Mr Sulu get into a brawl with the locals?"

"That's right. If there's something dangerous in those plants, you're to find it and report back to Dr McCoy immediately – don't go through me. If it's something that bastard added, we'll find out. Understood?"

Uhura nodded, wearing that fiercely determined expression that Kirk had been on the receiving end of more than once. He began to wonder if he shouldn't have placed her with the combat party.

It was completely dark when they materialized on the planet's surface. The stars formed unfamiliar patterns overhead, but there was no other light; KY Cygni IV had no moon. Kirk could just make out the faint glow of the softly-lit path to the city, so he headed towards it. The others automatically fell into line behind him.

Shortly before they reached the end of the path, Kirk stopped and turned to face Scotty.

"Mr Scott, Lieutenant Uhura, you will remain here. I repeat, if you find anything, you're to report to Dr McCoy first. Understood?"

"Aye, Captain," said Scotty. Uhura didn't reply; she was already examining the tall, red structures.

Kirk turned to Sulu. "Ready?"

Sulu grinned. "No space jumps onto tiny targets manned by armed guards? Our standards are slipping, Captain."

"Do half as good a job as you did there and we'll be out in no time," said Kirk. Then, with a reassuring clap on Sulu's shoulder, he drew his phaser and led him out towards the tall tower they had left only a short while before.

Kirk was almost disappointed to find no security at the entrance to the tower. They made straight for the lift and emerged on the top floor to find the evening's festivities still in full swing.

"Everyone on the floor," he roared. Instantly, the music stopped, and dozens of shocked faces turned in his direction, Sulu's among them. "The floor!" Kirk repeated.

Sulu took only a moment to compose himself, before taking his place at Kirk's side, phaser drawn. Everyone dropped to the ground – everyone except Tobin, who wore a hesitant version of his omnipresent smile, his hands raised and his eyes darting between Kirk and Sulu's phasers.

"You," Kirk barked, jabbing his phaser towards Tobin. "You will tell me what you did to my first officer."

Tobin's face visibly fell. "Your Vulcan has fallen?"

"Fallen? What does that mean? You poisoned him!"

Tobin shook his head vigorously. Impatient, Kirk aimed his phaser, but then thought better of it and charged towards the Governor. His fist connected with the man's jaw with a satisfying crack, and he went flying towards the wall.

A crowd of burly miners had them immediately surrounded. At first, Sulu just stared at the scene in disbelief, but then he swung into action. Arming himself with a simple wooden chair, he charged at a group of them and left them sprawled on the floor.

From behind him, an arm wrapped around Kirk's neck. With a jab of his elbow, he was able to spin around and pin his assailant underneath him, but then another leapt on his back. He rolled, trying to shake him off, but two more appeared and held his arms behind his back while another charged towards him.

Kirk braced himself, but the impact never came. He opened his eyes and saw the miner lying unconscious in front of him. In the instant it took him to register this, the two men holding his arms also dropped to the ground.

Sulu, one foot on Tobin, was holding out his phaser. His eyes were darting around the room, searching for any more attackers, but no one else approached them.

Kirk shot Sulu a grateful smile and staggered to his feet. Apart from some soreness in his shoulders and a rip across the right shoulder of his gold shirt, he was unscathed. With all the dignity he could muster in his state, he gestured Tobin towards a chair. Sulu released him and pulled him to his feet, but Tobin declined to sit. He faced Kirk squarely, his hands on his hips.

"Would you care to explain to me what gives you right to charge in here and murder –"

"They're not dead," Kirk cut in. He held up his phaser. "They're set to stun."

This barely seemed to mollify the Governor. "We have been perfectly hospitable –"

"You poisoned my first officer!"

"We did no such thing!"

"Then explain to me why he, the only one of us who ate anything different to what you served to your own people, collapsed moments after we left here, and is now dying in my ship." To his horror, Kirk's voice caught at the end. He covered it up by lifting his chin defiantly and declaring, "If he dies, I swear I'll kill you."

To his surprise, all signs of aggression left Tobin's posture, and he simply looked sad. "You misunderstand. I can't explain it. No one here can explain it, and we've been trying for eight years."

"So this is what's been killing your people? The reason your exports have dropped off?"

Tobin nodded.

"Yet you served the same thing to my first officer!"

"No!" Tobin insisted. "You don't understand. I would never… I lost my wife to this. The bloodvine… it is not poisonous. At least, we have tested it, over and over again, and can find nothing wrong with it."

Exasperated, not to mention frustrated that he was finding it difficult to hate the pitiful figure who was pleading with him, Kirk dropped his phaser to his side and pinched the bridge of his nose. "You're contradicting yourself. You say it's killing people, though you can't find out why, and you still eat it."

"Nothing else will grow here," Tobin admitted miserably. "We tried everything, and all that we plant is spoiled or dies. We had no choice but to eat the bloodvine, and to feed it to our livestock, and for a while it was fine…"

"But then," Kirk prompted, "people started dying."

"It took us a while to link it to the bloodvine, but even once we did there was nothing we could do."

"Why?"

"It's like no other disease." Tobin's expression was desperate, almost pleading. "It changes so rapidly our medicine can't keep up. It strikes at random. Sometimes, months will pass, and then suddenly, dozens will die at once."

"And you didn't think to mention this before serving this mysterious death plant to Mr Spock?"

"I was anxious, Captain, but the chef assured me that he had a safe plant, one that numerous others had eaten of this very day."

"And you think it just randomly developed this toxin this evening?"

"I have no other explanation," said Tobin.

Kirk cast a look of exasperation towards Sulu, but he was looking around at the others in the hall; they were all huddled around the edges, looking frightened. But their shocked, fearful expressions were not aimed at the intruders, but at Tobin himself.

With a sudden uneasy certainty, Kirk said, "This is some big secret, isn't it?"

"It is not spoken of," Tobin admitted. "Not with off-worlders."

"Why? Did you not think to ask Starfleet for help?"

"We tried, in the beginning," said Tobin. "But there is no help. This planet…as I said, nothing grows here but this one plant, and that attacks us at random. If they knew…they would close us down, force us to leave!"

"Then leave! There are other worlds, all over the Galaxy."

"We cannot leave!" Tobin's eyes widened. "The dilithium –"

"Is not as important as people's lives!"

"But we have a good life here. Our dilithium reserves are greater than any other planet. We know wealth where before, on other worlds, we scratched out our livings in the dirt –"

"Wait." Kirk was unable to hide the disgust in his tone as he looked around, addressing the whole hall. "You mean to say you choose to stay here, even though people die, because you're rich?"

Tobin's response was to drop his gaze to the floor. Around the edges of the hall, the others were doing the same, carefully avoiding Kirk's judgmental stare.

"And you say there's nothing you can do for Mr Spock?" he asked at last, resigned.

"Nothing," said Tobin. "This latest strain… it has defeated everything we've tried."

Feeling numb, Kirk clipped his phaser to his belt and cast one last incredulous look around the hall. Then he turned to Sulu and said, "Let's get out of here."

They left the building in silence, since there was nothing to say. He hated them, all of them, yet he pitied them at the same time. But most of all he hated them, for the pathetic lie they were living was going to cost him his first officer, and his friend.

The darkness that surrounded them suddenly felt stifling. His insides churned, and his breath came in short, sharp gasps. He wanted, more than anything, to return to the ship, though the idea of doing so with no solution burned him.

They found Scotty and Uhura where they had left them. "Come on," Kirk called. "We're beaming back."

Scotty shot him a sympathetic look, the resignation in his tone testifying to the fruitlessness of their mission. But they had walked no more than a few paces before Uhura called, "Wait."

"You won't find anything," Kirk snapped. "They've tried."

"Look at this," Uhura insisted.

Kirk approached her with an impatient, "What?"

Uhura reached out and tore out a section of vine that was wrapped around one of the nearby trees. "See how it recoils?"

"Lots of plants do that," Kirk shrugged.

"But now look." She reached for it again, and before her fingers made contact with the plant, the vines retreated. "It's afraid."

"Don't be ridiculous," said Kirk. "It's a plant."

"That's my point, Captain," Uhura insisted. "I don't think it is. Not as we know plants, anyway."

"The trees are alive?" Scotty exclaimed, shooting a panicked glance at the canopy above them.

"Sentient," Uhura confirmed.

Kirk paused for a moment while he wrapped his head around this new idea. It was completely insane, yet.... "It makes sense," he concluded.

"Captain?" Sulu sounded disbelieving.

"Think about it," said Kirk. "If they can consciously create and alter toxins, it would explain why the attacks have been so random."

"And it's understandable, if they're being eaten," said Uhura.

"Right," Kirk confirmed. "So what we have to do is explain to them that our intentions are peaceful and that we didn't know and it won't happen again, and get them to give us an antidote."

Kirk looked expectantly at Uhura. There was a pregnant pause, then Uhura exclaimed, "You want me to talk to the trees?"

"You're the communications officer," Kirk said with a shrug. "They must be communicating, for this thing to spread, so communicate with it."

"I don't think they have language," said Uhura, eyeing him in that way that meant he was clearly dangerously insane. "If they communicate, it's not with sound."

Kirk kicked the ground in frustration. "Well, there has to be something we can do. Anyone?"

Three blank faces greeted him. Scotty gave an apologetic shrug.

Kirk was about to admit defeat when, with a sudden certainty whose source he couldn't identify, he said, "Spock can do it."

"What?" said three voices in unison.

"He's a touch telepath," Kirk explained.

"He's also the one who's unconscious," Uhura pointed out.

"Still," said Kirk, "he's our – his – only shot. We need to take one of these things alive."

The other three exchanged incredulous glances, but didn't argue.

It was easier said than done. Scotty aimed phaser blasts at the area around the thing's roots, while Kirk, Scotty and Uhura pulled. With the heel of her boots, Uhura was able to tug the roots loose from the ground, and at last it was free. Only as it fell to the ground did Kirk appreciate how incredibly vast it was. It took all four of them, with multiple stops, to heave the thing to the beam point.

The look on the duty engineer's face as they beamed up with a massive red tree was priceless. In the confines of the transporter room, it was bent over double, and its vines spread everywhere.

They wrestled it down the hall and into Sickbay, where they were greeted by an utterly disbelieving McCoy.

"Are you insane?" he bellowed. "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a botanist!"

"It… I'll explain later," Kirk gasped under the strain of the tree-like thing. "You have to wake him up."

McCoy looked at him then as though he'd grown an extra head. "You want me to what? He's barely alive, Jim."

"I don't care what it takes. Wake him up. It's his only chance."

"He's right, Doctor," Uhura backed him up.

McCoy hesitated for just a moment, his eyes flicking between the two of them. Then he rolled his eyes, muttered something Kirk was glad he didn't catch, and started preparing a hypospray.

"I'm warning you," he said. "He's going to be in a lot of pain, and he won't last long. So whatever you've got planned, it has to be quick."

Kirk nodded, and held his breath as McCoy jabbed the hypo into Spock's neck. It took only a moment, then Spock was blinking and gasping for air.

Without any conscious thought, Kirk was at his bedside in an instant. Uhura was there too, grasping Spock's hand desperately.

"Spock," said Kirk, trying to keep his voice calm. "We need you to do something."

Spock opened his eyes, looked disoriented for only the briefest moment, then fixed his gaze on Kirk.

"This tree…thing. It's what poisoned you. We think it's sentient. I need you to communicate with it, with that meld thing."

"How…?" Spock rasped.

"Look," Kirk insisted, unable to keep the impatience out of his voice. "I know you can do this. Don't ask me how, I just do. And this is your only shot, so you are going to do it. I order you not to let my first officer die, you understand?"

"Captain –" Uhura cut in, evidently shocked by the anger in Kirk's voice.

"There's no time," Kirk snapped at her. "You can mollycoddle him later."

Kirk gestured towards Scotty and Sulu, who dragged the red monstrosity over to the bed, within Spock's reach. In response to Spock's raised eyebrow, Kirk leaned in and helped him to sit up. There was only a brief flicker across his face, but Kirk knew, somehow, that he was in intense pain.

"This won't take long." He tried to sound reassuring, but knew that there was panic in his voice.

Spock nodded, took a deep breath, and wrenched his hand from Uhura's grasp. He flexed his fingers and then carefully, deliberately, placed them on the plant's thick purple trunk.

Kirk sat on the edge of the bed, waiting with baited breath for any sign that it was working.

A minute passed in silence. Then another.

Uhura sighed. "Captain, I don't think –"

Kirk silenced her with a wave of his hand and watched Spock closely, willing him desperately on.

At last, Spock made a strange, desperate rasping sound. Kirk jumped to his feet. "What was that, Mr Spock?"

"You came from the stars," Spock murmured in a monotone. "You ripped us up…destroyed us…"

"Yes, yes, we know, but you can help?" Kirk demanded.

"Jim," said McCoy from over his shoulder. "Give him some space."

Kirk reluctantly stepped back and waited. It was agonizing. Spock's face was creased in pain – whether his own or the plant's, Kirk wasn't sure – and he kept murmuring disjointed sentences about death and destruction.

Kirk was just about to interrupt and order him to stop when Spock finally removed his fingers from the plant and collapsed back on the bed. Uhura reached desperately for his hand again, shooting a pleading glance towards McCoy, who was already preparing another hypospray.

"Please," said Spock, holding up his free hand. "That will not be necessary. The kra'koi will give you the antidote you need, and you will return her to her home."

With that, his eyes closed and he slipped into unconsciousness once more. Uhura let out a desperate sound and clasped his hand to her chest.

"Bones," Kirk ordered, not taking his eyes off Spock. "See if you can get an antidote out of this thing."

McCoy had already found a syringe and was frowning at the vast creature. "I don't know where to –" he began, but then a single vine extended towards him. His eyebrows shot up towards his hairline, but he carefully drew some thick, green liquid from inside. "Will you look at that," he murmured. "The hobgoblin has another green-blooded friend."

As soon as he had withdrawn the needle, Kirk heaved a sigh and cast a lingering look over Spock's form. He wanted to remain, to be absolutely sure this was going to work, but there was something too discomfiting about the intensity of the protectiveness he felt. Instead, he resolutely grasped the base of the tree. "Come on," he ordered. "We're taking it back."

*


The orange sun beat down through a twisted red canopy, casting a fire-like glow over everything it touched. Kirk paused on the path. Ahead, Spock was crouched on the ground, his fingers splayed against the trunk of the tree – the kra'koi, Spock had called it – that they had uprooted.

Kirk held back, watching. A memory surfaced in the back of his mind, but this one he knew was his own; fingers much like those but far older reached for him and were positioned carefully on his face. He felt dizzy for a moment, recalling strange sense of what should have been a violation but felt more like intense intimacy.

Before he could consider it any further, his Spock – the younger one – climbed to his feet and acknowledged Kirk's presence with a nod.

"Everything okay?" Kirk asked.

"They have agreed to provide antidotes for anyone in the colony who is currently sick, on condition that they are left in peace."

"We'll have a hard time persuading them to leave the planet," Kirk said ruefully.

"Unnecessary. She tells me that the soil here is perfectly fertile. The kra'koi have been sabotaging anything that the humans plant, but have agreed to cease."

"Huh." Kirk was almost disappointed. "So they'll get to carry on being ridiculously wealthy."

"Until the dilithium deposits run out, but that is many human lifetimes away."

"So they put wealth before their own lives, and their loved ones' lives, and they get rewarded for it. It doesn't seem right, somehow."

"Rewarded, Captain?" It was only a slight incline of the head, but Kirk understood; it really wasn't that fulfilling a life they had, what with all they'd lost.

"Well," said Kirk, beaming. "I think our first mission went all right, all things considered."

"Indeed. I understand you injured several civilians, nearly resulting in an interplanetary incident, had one of your senior officers poisoned, and earned some rather startling bruises yourself."

Kirk laughed and rubbed the sore spot on his jaw. "As I said. All things considered."

"May I suggest you exhibit more restraint in assigning blame in future?"

"Hey," Kirk protested. "I wasn't entirely wrong about that guy. Only a little bit. And he did deserve to get beaten up."

"I am quite sure Starfleet will agree with you," said Spock in a voice that said otherwise.

"Well, I'm not taking that chance," Kirk conceded. "I'm going to go in there and apologize, and explain the deal with these things," he indicated the kra'koi. "Hopefully they'll be grateful enough that they'll keep this whole thing quiet."

Spock nodded, a peculiar glint in his eye that could have been amusement, were he prone to such an emotion. "As much as I would enjoy bearing witness to the momentous occasion of your apology," he said, "I find myself in need of rest." With that, he turned to make his way back to the beam-up point.

"Right," said Kirk. "I'll see you back on board. Oh, and Spock?" Spock paused, but did not turn around. "Try not to almost-die again, all right? Working stuff out without my science officer gives me a headache."

There was a pause, then, "Understood, Captain."

Kirk watched him leave, and allowed himself a smile before he went to see to business.

*


"Enter."

Spock's voice was gratifyingly strong; Kirk felt a distinct sense of relief as he admitted himself to the Vulcan's quarters. To his horror, though, he found that Spock was already preparing his report on the mission.

"Aren't you supposed to be resting?" said Kirk.

"This requires no physical exertion," Spock protested.

Kirk rolled his eyes. "Leave it," he said. "It can wait."

"Is there something I can assist you with, Captain?"

"Yes, actually." Kirk stepped inside and waited for the door to close behind him. "Are you sufficiently recovered that I wouldn't be taking terrible advantage by challenging you to that rematch?"

"Provided that being beaten by an invalid would not be too damaging to your self-esteem," Spock replied, inclining his head in a gesture Kirk had come to recognize as teasing.

"Very well. Get ready to have your ass handed to you on a platter."

"That is not an aspect of the game with which I am familiar, Captain."

Kirk laughed as he flopped into the chair on the opposite side of Spock's desk.

"Jim," he corrected. "Call me Jim."

It was the most curious thing; Spock's lips didn't move, yet Kirk knew, with a certainty that he would never be able to explain to McCoy, that the Vulcan was smiling.

~Continued in Part II~


A/N: More soon, but in the meantime anyone who spotted the Watership Down references gets cookies ;-)
Page 1 of 2 << [1] [2] >>

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-09 06:56 pm (UTC)
reilael: (Default)
From: [personal profile] reilael
Oh, this was really great! I look forward to the next part(s). ^_^

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-09 07:09 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Wonderfully written. You've really managed to find a great balance of action and character development with this part. I look forward to more!

:)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-09 11:33 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This was SO GOOD. I really enjoyed it; it felt just like a real episode. Thank you so much!

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-10 01:06 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Intelligent, original, and well-done~! Thank you for writing this, and I hope that we see more from you soon! :D

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-10 04:25 am (UTC)
chaosraven: Chopper (Default)
From: [personal profile] chaosraven
This is great! I can't wait to read the rest of it.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-10 06:26 am (UTC)
silviakundera: (Default)
From: [personal profile] silviakundera
This is insanely good! Reads just like an episode of Star Trek, but with Reboot!Crew. Very satisfying, and I'm loving the K/S build up.

I am VERY eager for the next part.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-10 07:13 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I think this is a fabulous start! I'm really enjoying your characterisations and the interesting dynamics bewtween Kirk and Spock sutbly shifting as we go through the chapter. The storyline in this segment is great -- really original, with a freaky O/C in Tobin. I'm really looking forward to future chapters and seeing how the relationship progresses. A couple of things I'd request of you, would you consider posting this to LiveJournal's Kirk/Spock slash group:
http://community.livejournal.com/kirkspock/

And also spreading the love a little wider, as I know a few K/S fans who don't read LJ, by posting to the K/S automated archive:
www.ksarchive.com

Meanwhile, keep up the terrific work! Amanda W

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-10 09:43 am (UTC)
noxie: friendly girl smiling (st_art_spock)
From: [personal profile] noxie
Oh, this is so good. It's so well-written. The chars are spot-on, the K/S dynamics nothing but believable and wonderful. Please continue this! Reading this was like "watching" an actual Reboot episode. I loved it! *hearts you*

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] noxie - Date: 2009-06-12 11:43 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-10 12:00 pm (UTC)
clancy_s: TOS Spock wearing a fedora hat, from "Piece of the Action" (Default)
From: [personal profile] clancy_s
Here from treknews.

This is a wonderful story - with an interesting plot as well as good characterisation. Whilst the characters are unmistably reboot the plot would work as a TOS episode:

excellent!

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-10 02:01 pm (UTC)
glitterandlube: (zombies)
From: [personal profile] glitterandlube
I really enjoyed reading this, it was an excellent story, and I liked how you formed everyone's characters. The idea of the plant was especially interesting. I'm looking forward to the next part highly! Thank you!

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-10 02:41 pm (UTC)
illariy: entrance into a swimming pool (bluestars)
From: [personal profile] illariy
I love the mix of action plot and character development and the way they grow together slowly. Can't wait to see the next "mission". :D

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-10 09:50 pm (UTC)
yevgenie: the world needs more spies like these (garak/station)
From: [personal profile] yevgenie
So interesting! I love the thought you put into the worldbuilding (and I feel really bad for Spock, *also his dinner*, yikes!!!). I'm looking forward to the next installments! :D

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-11 04:03 am (UTC)
foliageink: notuploaded24-1 (Default)
From: [personal profile] foliageink
Absolutely loved it.

I feel like watching a real adventurous episode unfold only it is K/S! All the better! This is great and thank you for sharing with us, very much looking forward to more~

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-11 04:44 am (UTC)
deepsix: (Default)
From: [personal profile] deepsix
This is fantastic! It really does read like an episode. Loving the build-up, but I'm also a huge geek and was v appreciative of the worldbuilding. So well done. Can't wait for more!

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-12 07:55 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] flamewarrior
:-D Loves!

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-13 04:23 am (UTC)
feather_qwill: (Default)
From: [personal profile] feather_qwill
More soon, but in the meantime anyone who spotted the Watership Down references gets cookies ;-)
Cowslip's warren with the food the Man gives them but there's snares everywhere! Cookies?

Really looking forward to the next part.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-17 10:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rae1013.livejournal.com
That was most excellent. I'm so glad you have plot in your story. So very rare. Can't wait for the rest. =)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-22 12:09 am (UTC)
laitaine: star trek reboot spock and kirk on the bridge (star trek - kirk + spock - bridge close)
From: [personal profile] laitaine
I loved this! You have Jim and Spock absolutely spot on, their voices were perfect; and their blossoming friendship was delightful. I love when they tease each other :) And I really liked how you integrated Jim's flashbacks of oldSpock's memories, it was very natural. Also, I adore your Bones a little bit, with his little replicator rant (and you got a "I'm a doctor not a..." in there too ♥); and Scotty with his "I cannae keep up" ♥ I really enjoyed this.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-26 08:48 pm (UTC)
silvertoekee: (Default)
From: [personal profile] silvertoekee
dang been to long since i have read watership down or did i see the movie doh! i lol'd at there tree hauling thru the ship it was to funny :D.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-01 04:40 am (UTC)
garryowen: (kirk loves aliens)
From: [personal profile] garryowen
Awesome. How did I miss this? Well, it's good to have the next two parts to look forward to! Lots of great lines, which I was too sleepy to note for this comment, but I loved how TOS-y this felt. Hee!

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-02 05:31 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This was great fun! I love the building UST. Kirk's memories of SpockPrime make for a great way to give him insights into Spock. And I really love the slowly growing trust they are building.

I loved the science (stars are so fascinating) and you worked it in there so deftly. Spock is great for that, isn't he?

And can I thank you for treating Uhura as real character? I'm so tired of reading fics where the first thing the author does is find a reason to shunt her off like she has no right to exist. I like to think of all of them as good friends and allies first and foremost.

r0ck3tsi3ntist from lj

(no subject)

Date: 2009-10-01 01:27 pm (UTC)
ext_15510: (Default)
From: [identity profile] whochick.livejournal.com
This fic is the kind of thing that should be used as a yardstick that all other fic is measured against. Seriously, your character voices, your plot your grammar, spelling and pace are perfect.

I can't tell you what a delight it is to find a fic of this calibre in one of my favourite fandoms, or what a pleasure it was to find that it is only part one of twelve!

(no subject)

Date: 2009-10-22 06:14 am (UTC)
ext_390747: (Default)
From: [identity profile] darstellen.livejournal.com
This is fantastic. I have to pause here and get back to work, but I'll be reading the rest of over the course of the next few days with pleasure.

You have a marvelous style: clear, organized, logical and yet also light, humorous. I was delighted by the structure of your plot, by the way each detail provided meaning, and also grateful for the insights into astronomy!

Each line of dialogue is frankly astoundingly precise and of the character; there were also some extremely interesting exchanges, such as when Spock speaks of Vulcan in the past tense. All of the Kirk/Spock/McCoy exchanges were fabulous, actually. I can't wait to read more. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-11-19 06:02 pm (UTC)
ext_3277: I made this (Default)
From: [identity profile] laura-trekkie.livejournal.com
This was an intriguing first mission, even if it was a close call for Spock. I'm glad he's ok now. I liked all the interactions, especially Jim teasing Spock and slowly figuring out Spock's teasing in response.

Then there's the flashes of memory he keeps getting from Ambassador Spock. How will that affect things? Will he mention it to Spock?

Laura.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-07 10:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kradie.livejournal.com
I really enjoyed this bit, and will have to continue reading as soon as I find time. I liked how Kirk made Uhura shape up by telling her to report for duty. Also, I have a soft spot for suffering/ill/injured/sad Spock, so this was right down my alley.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-07 10:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kradie.livejournal.com
Completely forgot to mention this: something I enjoyed immensily was the memories form Prime shining through. A very nice touch!
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