Please don't judge me for the title. I assure you, it is the only bit of inspiration I took from Saving Private Ryan. I own neither that, nor Star Trek.
Jim Kirk wasn't one to worry excessively when he didn't hear back from his away team. But this wasn't just an ordinary away mission. This was the first time Chekov had led an away mission. He was going to be honest, the idea of letting his twenty-two-year-old navigator lead an away mission had been a little bit daunting, but after Altamid, he figured Chekov had earned the right.
He knew the bridge crew could feel his tension. This wasn't just Chekov's first time leading an away mission, it was also the first away mission since the newly made Enterprise had left Yorktown. Normally such an honor would go to the Captain, but Jim had decided to let Chekov have it for some reason he didn't even know himself. The combination of worry about his friend down on the planet and being moderately gun-shy from the encounter with Krall was probably giving him premature gray hair.
"Status, Mr. Sulu," he said, wanting something, anything to break this silence. Why couldn't he shake the feeling that something was wrong? Jim's gut feeling wasn't usually off about these kinds of things.
Spock might beg to differ, as would Bones, but Jim stuck by his gut feeling most the time.
"All systems normal, Captain," Sulu told him. "Away team's signals still strong."
Sulu turned around in his seat and eyed Jim. From the look on his face, he wasn't fooled by Jim's attempt at normality.
"He's going to be fine, Captain," Sulu said, his voice lowered so that only the pair of them and perhaps Spock and Uhura could hear them. "I honestly wouldn't be shocked if Chekov could survive anything. I mean, he did survive Altamid."
Jim nodded, biting back the first thought that leaped to his mind. Yeah, but I was with him then. It wasn't so much a reflection on Chekov's ability to survive as it was on his own drive to protect his crew. It was the same drive that had led him to climb a damn warp core just so they wouldn't all be incinerated. No one could call that self-preservation if they tried.
And it was the same drive that told him not to ignore this gut feeling right now. Shaking his head as if to clear it, Jim turned to Spock. "Mr. Spock, you have the bridge. Mr. Sulu, you're with me." Without offering explanation as to what they were doing, Jim strode toward the bridge, motioning Sulu after him.
They didn't stop until they were safely down the corridor, and Jim turned to Sulu. "I've got a bad feeling about this."
Sulu frowned. "Everything's perfectly normal down there, as far as we can tell, Captain. Not even an elevated heart rate. What's the problem?"
Jim couldn't even explain it. He just knew something was wrong. "Call it a gut thing. I'm just – not sure this was such a good idea. Maybe I should have led this one. Why didn't I?"
"To be honest, Captain, we're all sort of wondering that one," Sulu told him. "But you've got to remember – Chekov's not a kid anymore. As much as we'd all relatively like to deny it, the exact reason you gave when he asked you why you sent him instead of you down there. He's earned it."
Jim nodded. "I know he's not a kid anymore, Sulu. This isn't me doubting Chekov at all. I have complete confidence in his abilities. It's not like I'm thinking he's going to trip over his own feet down there or anything."
"Though it wouldn't be out of the question," Sulu muttered under his breath, clearly trying to draw a laugh out of him. Jim gave him points for trying.
"It's not him I don't trust," Jim continued. "It's that I don't trust what's out there."
Sulu looked as though he were about to ask what was out there, exactly, but wasn't that the whole point of why they were here, on this five-year-mission, to begin with? They didn't know.
"Jim," Sulu began, calling him by his first name for the first time since he'd known the man, "you can't protect all of us. Not forever."
"You don't think I know that?" Jim snapped, then, seeing the barest trace of a wounded look in Sulu's eyes, sighed and amended, "Sorry, Sulu. It's just..."
He leaned up against the wall, grateful that the passing crewmembers chose to avert their eyes. He didn't like them seeing him like this. And honestly, he would prefer to be having this discussion with Bones. He considered Sulu a friend, a close friend, but there were only so many he felt comfortable revealing one of his deepest fears to.
"I get it, Jim," Sulu said. "You feel protective of all of us, but especially Chekov, right?"
Jim's head snapped up, and he stared at Sulu. Had the man read his mind?
"What? You don't think we all feel the same way?" Sulu asked, leaning up against the wall next to him, so that they were speaking more casually than before. "We're kind of stuck with each other, us senior crew members. You, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Chekov, and I. We've survived far too much together to not be. We're a family. And, as a family, we're naturally protective of our youngest member.
"As much as you'd do anything for any of us – which I know from personal experience," Sulu continued, smirking a little at the memory of the pair of them hurtling toward the crust of Vulcan, "you tend to worry about us less than you do Chekov. And that's because the first time you met him, he was still a kid. Granted, a very capable kid who happened to save both of our lives, but a kid nonetheless.
"And though we'd like Chekov to think we've fully switched over to anything other than protective mode, I think you and I both know we haven't. Which is why we just need to let the rope out slowly, get used to the idea that our resident kid isn't really a kid anymore."
Jim considered Sulu's words and nodded. "I mean, if I'm so worried, I guess I could just...contact the away team myself, right?"
Sulu's smirk widened. "Remind me to tell you about that one time Uhura practically tore some guy's head off in that bar on Risa when he took a swing at Chekov. I think she might have killed him if Spock hadn't – "
Jim's communicator beeped. "Kirk here."
"Captain," came Spock's voice, and though he was seemingly just as calm as ever, there was the barest trace of alarm that Jim had learned to detect in his first officer's voice. Sulu had heard it too. They eyed each other uneasily.
"Your presence on the bridge is required immediately."
Jim and Sulu hesitated for just a minute before simultaneously breaking into a run for the lift doors.
It was a tense lift ride, but fortunately it only lasted for a few moments. Jim saw Spock bent over the helmsman's chair, while Sulu's replacement frantically worked at his controls. Looking over to Uhura, Jim could see her fists clenched tightly, her face pale.
"Status, Mr. Spock," he said, moving to his first officer's side while Sulu resumed his position.
"It would appear all of the away team's signals have cut out, Captain," Spock said, and Jim felt his heart sink. A cut off signal didn't necessarily mean death, but it did mean a cut off from communication, and a lack of ability to beam the away team back.
"All but one," Sulu added, going over everything his back-up had left him. Spock nodded.
"Mr. Chekov's signal is still strong, Captain," Spock said.
"But his heart rate is way elevated," Sulu said, frowning.
"Can we beam him back?" Jim asked, fighting back the growing pit in his stomach.
"There's a bit of surface interference, but it's not – "
"Captain, we're being hailed," Uhura cut over him, her voice barely calm. There was, just as there had been in Spock's, a small trace of misgiving.
"The transmission is coming from the planet," she said, staring at him.
Jim swallowed hard, working hard not to show the trepidation that he felt. "Onscreen," he said, turning back to the viewer himself.
Their distinctive green skin and fine features flashed across his screen. There were about eight of them, standing in a circle. And in the middle of that circle stood Chekov. Jim saw Sulu's shoulders stiffen out of the corner of his eye, and rather felt the same way. However, it was his job to seem unflappable in this situation.
"Captain Kirk," said the one in the very front of the group, a male. "At last we meet face to face. It's a pleasure."
Jim glanced briefly from the front man to Chekov. He was staring straight ahead, almost completely emotionless. Had he been taking lessons from Spock or something? Then Jim saw the ragged rise and fall of his shoulders. He knew that his navigator was attempting to control every fight or flight instinct in his body. He also knew that Chekov was rather inclined to impulse. That was occasionally useful, but in this case, it could be his undoing.
Show no fear, Chekov, he willed. Just keep doing like you're doing, and maybe we'll find a way out of this.
"Forgive me, but I find it hard to believe that an Orion slave trader would find it a pleasure to come face to face with a Starfleet captain," Jim commented drily.
"Slave trader?" the Orion replied smoothly, a grin tipping his mouth. "Not us, Captain Kirk. At least, not now. Now we're more what you'd call...negotiators. On behalf of one of our own."
Spock turned to Jim. "Captain," he said under his breath. "This may be about the recent capture of Raycek."
Jim nodded. Raycek, one of the most notorious leaders of an Orion slave trade ring, had been brought to Yorktown just before they'd left. He would still be there for another week or so before he was taken to a prison planet, on charges from the Klingons. It wasn't too far of a leap to assume that these were Raycek's followers.
This was a hostage negotiation on both sides now.
"Where's the rest of my crew?" Jim asked, keeping his voice hard and neutral.
"They're perfectly all right, Captain," the Orion said of the other two crewmembers who had beamed down with Chekov. "Now tell me about my comrade."
"I know nothing of Raycek," Jim said. "If that is, of course, who we're talking about here."
"But who doesn't know of Raycek – at least, who that has been on the starbase Yorktown recently?" the Orion said. Jim's teeth clenched. Another despot who was freakishly aware of the Enterprise's comings and goings.
"Your instructions are clear, Captain," he said. "Return to Yorktown, bring me back my leader, and meet me on the Orion colony Geshaash. Tell him to take you to Moloz. That's me, by the way."
He appeared to survey the ground by his feet. "We'll send these two back to you. They're a bit old for most slave trades, seeing as how they're females. This one, however..."
Moloz reached back as though he had eyes in the back of his head and grabbed Chekov by the chin, dragging him forward. Jim's fists clenched, but he almost thought he saw Chekov subtly shaking his head at him. Don't get angry now, he appeared to be saying. It won't do anyone any good.
Moloz examined Chekov closely. "Yes, this one's a fine specimen. Around the right age for a male. The females we prefer a bit younger, depending on what they'll be used for. But this one is strong, and attractive. He'll go well for whatever they choose to utilize him as."
Cheap labor or sex, Jim thought, translating the unspoken.
"Bring me Raycek before three days are passed," Moloz said. "Then I might be willing to return him to you. Fail me, and your friend will be lost to whichever person might buy him forever. Are my instructions clear?"
Clenching his teeth nearly as tight as his fists, Jim spat, "Perfectly."
"I'll see you in three days, then," Moloz, who hadn't released Chekov yet, smirked. "Or not." He gave Chekov another appraising look. "Of course, I'd prefer Raycek back, but, considering the amount people pay to get a slave as good as this one – " Jim bit back the desire to punch the Orion in the face as he leered at Chekov – "well, let's just say I won't be complaining."
Moloz shoved Chekov backward, the force of it shoving him back against another trader, a female, who gave him an equally appraising look.
"Three days, Captain Kirk," Moloz said, before the transmission cut off and the screen blipped out.
There was complete silence on the bridge. Jim stood rigid in the center, sure that if he moved, he'd grab the nearest thing to him and take his anger, frustration, and fear out on it. Unfortunately, that was Spock, so it was moderately out of the equation.
Lieutenant Kyle's voice came over the comm. "Captain, only two of the away team have beamed back...and they're unconscious, sir. Ensigns Robertson and Ingalls."
Before Kyle could continue, Jim cut in. "Affirmative, Mr. Kyle. We'll send a medical team down there immediately."
The entire bridge crew was looking at him. He knew they were waiting for his response, but for once, he had no idea what to do. This was one of his many worst nightmares that he had not yet had to deal with. And it was the only one that had him completely paralyzed.
A member of his crew, his friend, was out of his reach, and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. Save for one thing.
"Uhura, are we within communication range of Yorktown?"
Wordlessly, as though she didn't trust herself to speak, she nodded.
"Get me Commodore Paris."