"We have our orders, Lieutenant."

"I understand that, Commander. But are we certain who they are?" Despite his protests, Kirk checked the power pack on the phaser rifle he'd been handed.

Lt. Commander Pizzaro opened another case of weapons recovered from the wreckage of the USS Atahualpa. "There's been a lot of activity around WT5. And no one but the colonists would want it. If we keep wiping out anyone who tries to establish a base, we can dissuade them from trying again. Easier to hit a handful than an entire base. Don't complain."

"Can I take Red and Mitchell down with me?"

"The survivors from the Atahualpa are spoiling hard for a fight. You can pick from them."

Kirk took a deep breath and counted to five. Slowly. While he was doing that, Pizzaro said, "This is a cakewalk. I want Mitchell at helm for the asteroid belt when we check the moons for activity. And Red is leading his own party."

"We aren't going to have support overhead?"

"Captain wants to be in and out of the system in twelve hours. It's four people, Lieutenant, and not very much in the way of equipment, based on the scans. Take a few prisoners. Destroy everything else. Get a gold mark in that record of yours. It needs it."

Kirk slid a phaser reflective breastplate on to check the straps for size. He didn't bother to say that he was proud of those black marks. "No such thing as easy."

Pizarro ignored his comment and Kirk grabbed up a spine plate and followed him out, fitting it as he went. He'd shuck them off before approaching potential team members, but he had wanted first pick from the pile.

Lt. Kirk watched his fireteam arrange themselves on the transporter pads. Morton, King, Dervishi, and Lehner. King concerned him the most; he held his rifle as if it smelled badly and he wanted to put it down. They'd managed two quick runs in the simulator as a team and it hadn't gone horribly. With a little calm leadership, they should be in and out in good time.

The star Wolfram Thesus beat down its orange-yellow rays when they materialized. The color made the heat waves on the horizon shimmer more as if the spiky stones emerging from the sand were dancing.

"King, lead on," Kirk said. "You are on scanner."

King hesitated, but as the others put their phaser rifles at low ready, he turned and walked. He was probably safer with that rifle on his back, Kirk thought.

Lehner was a tall woman who rarely spoke. She had volunteered for landing before anyone mentioned there would be a landing. She had been the Atahualpa's nurse and was the team's medic. Kirk had put her on the right since she was left handed. He didn't like the way she couldn't seem to move forward without watching her feet.

Morton and Dervishi were in security. They seemed more nervous than they should be given their positions and that they were used to working together. "Not bots," they kept saying to each other, sometimes teasing, sometimes as a mantra. Kirk hoped they were the type who liked being nervous. They each carried a launcher on their back and one had a heavy pouch full of shells and the other a pouch full of the charges needed to activate the shells. It was a ridiculous amount of firepower to take against an encampment of four people. But they had been told to destroy everything. Sometimes that was harder than it sounded.

A low square roof came into view, seeming to float between the rocks and brush with thorns as long as an arm.

Kirk gestured for a halt and sidled over to King.

"They are inside, sir. Not doing much."

I don't like this, Kirk thought. He didn't say it. He really wanted to say it, but a team like this lived and breathed a special kind of fantasy that should not be pierced. "Let me know if they seem to spot us."

"The scanner is blocking for us, sir," King said.

"We are in visual," Kirk said. "Never assume. Let's go."

They covered half the distance and still no signs of detection. They could now see where the rocks had been leveled by phaser fire and piled up to protect stacks of equipment cases. Tall barrels stood beside the roof, perhaps for water. The cleared area was larger than it seemed on approach, at least a click in diameter. Something about how the cases were stacked among the piles of rock bothered Kirk. It looked hasty, for show.

"Who wants to scout ahead?" Kirk asked.

Lehner raised a hand. Kirk didn't want to send his medic, but King was out, and Morton and Dervishi both had haunted looks. He was ready to go himself before she volunteered.

"Give me your medkit," Kirk said to Lehner. "I'll have you covered."

Kirk followed behind her to a solid jutting rock positioned at the edge of the clearing. She stood beside him looking around at the buildings, jaw working. She fingered the stun settings compulsively. Wide. Heavy.

She whispered. "Scanner doesn't block at this range. Why don't they know we're here?"

"I don't know. Want to cover me and I'll go in?"

"At least there aren't any bots," she said. She looked right at him. "Right?"

"Haven't detected any."

"Doesn't make sense for you to go, sir." She raised the rifle and scooted straight at the wall around the corner from the darkened doorway.

Kirk kept his aim on the doorway. A breeze moved his hair where it wasn't pasted to his forehead. The stone scratched and burned his cheek. He pressed harder against it, letting the feel of it anchor him.

She slid along the wall, stopped, looked around the clearing in confusion. Kirk didn't look around, he kept his eyes on the darkened doorway. She moved slower, bent low. Looked around. Something was very wrong, but whatever it was wasn't clear from this distance. She moved along the wall to stop just beside the door. She was making a face.

She had done the best in the simulator with learning routines and used that now to lead with the phaser around the doorway before glancing inside. She pulled her head back and leaned it back against the wall, appearing stunned. She waved to Kirk to approach.

Back low, Kirk ran across the open ground. The wall of smell hit him before he made it beside her. The stink of rotting corpses. They had approached upwind on the level, otherwise the odor would have been obvious when they landed. But there had been life signs. Still were just minutes ago.

Kirk pulled his gas mask out and elbowed her to do the same. She was swallowing repeatedly beneath the mask and breathing in gulps. He returned her medkit to her and led the way in, finger on the trigger.

Status lights flickered on equipment in the corner and water covered the floor and a wave of cold air touched Kirk's hands. He found a worklight built into a generator. The light brought four figures into view, propped on chairs. Corpses, wired and tubed. Three of them were twitching. Wires had been attached to fingers and toes with gold tape. Liquids circulated. All of it to give the appearance of life on the sensors. The fourth setup had failed and the body cavity hung open like a gaping maw, liquids running onto the floor.

Kirk compulsively raised his boot from the puddle on the floor, but he had no choice but to set it back down again. He could smell the rot through the mask, or thought he could. He ran his wrist recorder over the room once, hurriedly, and gestured to back out. Lehner stopped gaping instantly and followed. Accidentally, he had chosen the right person to scout ahead with him.

Outside, he jogged back across the clearing. He could hear matching footfalls on his right. The dust was sticking to Kirk's boots, collecting in a a biological muck. He didn't pull the mask off until they reached the rest of the team.

"It's a trap, we're going to retreat to the most defensible spot we can find."

Morton made a face. The reek of death was clinging to them, apparently. All Kirk could smell was gloriously fresh air.

Dervishi said, "We burning this?"

Kirk turned back to the low building. There was a purpose to all of this. Burning it would be the obvious action.

"No. But we need to put as much distance from it as possible. We have twelve hours from drop to pickup. We need to survive until then."

"What's going to happen between now. And. Then?"

Kirk couldn't shake the idea that bots zeroed in on life signs. "I don't know. But let's move. King, scan for a defensible spot."

Morton said, "That building is steelcrete. It's pretty defensible."

"We want to divide their attention," Kirk said.


"Let's assume the worst." Kirk started moving, but stopped. Only Lehner was following.

King had his head bent over his scanner. Morton and Dervishi had their weapons at high ready. Sweat stood out as droplets on their faces.

"This is a trap," Kirk said. "Staying here cannot be the best option." He flipped open his communicator but there was no response. "We are on our own for ten and a half more hours. We can find a rock formation that aids the scanner blocking our life signs. Best chance we'll have, but we have to move. Now."

"Maybe we should split up," Morton said. "Defend from here. Defend from elsewhere. We're a big team."

"You haven't been in there," Kirk said. "We're going. NOW."

They were going to disobey. And they weren't going to care that they did.

"I'll die before I get captured," Dervishi said.

"If your goal is to die, then you will likely get that," Kirk tried to sound kindly saying that, but with his anger, it sounded menacing.

King said, "Fuzz on the scan, 34 mark 1."

Everyone turned that way even though there was nothing to see this far away. The bots had scan blockers but when there were a lot of them, they showed up as haze on the scan when signals bounced between them, confusing the fake reflections.

"God ate a rutabaga," Dervishi said.

Morton bent over, laughing hysterically. He pinched his eyes he laughed so hard.

"I refuse to be out in the open. Morton is staying here, I'm staying." This was Lehner. "We can phaser-burn that place clean enough to hunker down."

"King?" Kirk asked the last of the four.

"I think I'm with the others, sir. Sorry, sir."

"Give me the launchers," Kirk said. "If I'm going to be playing defense, I want the heavy weapons. You are going to be defending in too close of quarters. That's an open field weapon."

Kirk walked over and held out his hand for the bag of shells, then for the bag of charges.

"Try hurrying while you are in the middle of your court martialable offense."

"The only court I'm worried about is the court of death, sir." Morton said this with a twisted gleeful look on his face.

With everything slung over his shoulders, Kirk departed at a rapid clip, running in the direction of the fuzz on the scan. Maybe he should have stayed and browbeat them. If the scanner had been clear, he might have. As it was, if they were unreliable, then they were worse than useless. It felt natural to lead, but only if people wanted to be led.

If he could live to inherit yet another black mark, he'd be willing to accept this one too. Starfleet was stretched so thin, it's not like they were going to boot him completely out.

Kirk ran hard enough that his lungs stopped burning and he lost the sense of his limbs. At a ravine, he skidded and slipped, banging the launchers on a boulder. He ignored the strain in his quads as he pushed to his feet and kept running. At the next rise, he stopped. He had a good view over a wide plain and a rocky outcrop on two sides. He swung everything off his numb shoulders and placed it between two large rocks where the dust would be less likely to cover everything and where he had a slit to fire through. He used a phaser to level off a lower rock as a work area and began twisting the caps off shells and placing charges into them. He had a row of six before he stopped and made sure he had a working launcher.

One of them was jammed. The other seemed fine. This made him feel less guilty for taking both of them.

Something trailed brown and black smoke through the sky above him. Kirk put his hand on his brow to shade his eyes. A ship was burning up in the atmosphere, crumbling into geometric comets. Much too small to be the USS Sanchez. Kirk felt the terror that clutched his heart ease. At least they still had a ride out.

A/N: I wanted to write something with a lot more action. And I wanted to put Kirk in a place where he doesn't have so many really good people to work with. He's such an idealist and I wanted to try him out in an environment where that's a lot tougher to maintain. He's such a sucker for being the hero and that really should get him into more trouble than it does in canon.