Disclaimer: Star Trek: TOS characters and premise are property of Gene Rodenberry. Star Wars characters and premise belong to George Lucas.

A/N: Here's to hoping I don't make myself a pariah in both fandoms . . . what can I say? I love 'em both! Enough to eschew the rivalry, and attempt a . . .meld.

Summary: The edge of the final frontier meets a galaxy far, far away. And on that line rests the future of two universes.


THE PLAY'S THE THING

Part 1: Much Ado

--Stardate 1057.9--

Kaadith, she said. What is, is. Rocks scraped fingertips bloody. So what the hell are you going to do about it?

'Nothing' wasn't an option.

But right now, find shelter. Rains were coming, not that it would do the crops any good. Exactly the opposite, in fact, as water dampened the soil, making it perfect to incubate and nurture the little parasites munching through roots and killing all the things that grew.

He'd seen as much on the news-vids, before communications and power had been cut.

Before he killed them all.

The boy pushed his way up steep rocks, aiming for the dark hole he'd seen from the height of a nearby tree. It took the larger plants longer to die; that one had looked to be sturdy enough to climb, to try to scout the area. He had no idea where he was. At least the rain will make it harder for the dogs to track me by scent.

As long as the black spot on the mountainside, half-hidden by boulders, really was a cave – and it wasn't inhabited by Tarsus IV's version of a bear – he might be able to stay there for a day or so. Maybe longer. If they weren't looking for him. They might not be.

What is, is. It hadn't made much sense the first time Aunt Jo had told it to him. It was a Vulcan saying she'd picked up somewhere. Supposed to be about acceptance, or something. Jim didn't see it that way. It was about determination.

Aunt Jo is dead. And Uncle Frank, and Sarah, and Luke –

Kaadith. It wouldn't happen to him. He refused to let it.

Have to do something. Survive. No food, no fire, wet and cold with nothing but jeans and a sweatshirt against the weather. If humans experienced a drop in core body temperature of three degrees or more, hypothermia set in almost immediately. Get to the cave. Just a little . . . further . . .

Sharp pebbles scraped his back as he rolled himself over the ledge. It was tiny – and the boulders looked almost as if they had been placed just so, to cover the mouth of the overhang – for that was all it was. He shivered, looking in. A deep overhang, almost bowl-shaped, hollowed by the wind.

The voice came out of nowhere, harsh with demand. "Who's there?"


--Stardate 3857.2--

"Captain. A coded message from Starfleet has just come in."

"Coded?"

"Priority One, sir." Uhura's face, normally so expressive, was blank.

Damn. Priority One . . ."Thank you, Lieutenant." Kirk smiled, leaving the command chair for the turbolift. "I'll take it in my quarters. Relay confirmation that we've received the message. Mr. Spock, you have the con."

Turbolift doors shut on the sight of blue moving toward the center seat. Priority One. Orders change – and now they've changed again. Excitement plucked every nerve; he let it run free a moment, run its course, and fade to something manageable.

By the time the lift reached Deck 5, he was calm again, and a little apprehensive. Carpet muffled his footfalls, turning intent stride to leisurely walk. "Privacy Lock," he ordered as the door to his cabin slid shut behind him. "Authorization: Kirk, James T. Level Gold." No medical override, or even the computer tricks of his engineer or first officer, would open that lock. Anything but his voice with a prearranged signal would fuse the doors shut. So here's to hoping there's no red alert in the next hour.

Because it would take that long at least to decode the message. Manual decoding. Kirk held back the sigh, reaching for pen and paper. Just below Ultimate in security, but requiring the memorized code he kept locked behind every mental shield he'd ever been taught. There was more than one reason that the Klingons wanted to get their hands on him, after all – and revenge didn't cover the half of it.

He hadn't done this a lot, but it was still often enough that the code came easily to the forefront of his mind. Minutes passed; fewer than he expected.

The pen slowed its arc, ink drying on the message. This doesn't make any sense.

Kirk reached for the comm.

"Uhura."

"Lieutenant." Kirk kept his voice carefully blank. "Was there any addendum to the Priority One message? Anything else at all?" Doubtful. Uhura's the best. It went without saying that she didn't miss or forget things like that.

"No, sir."

He couldn't answer the question in her voice, screened though it was. "Thank you, Uhura. Kirk out."

But it left him with a puzzle, and no answer. No one uses Priority One code to send a personal message. An unsigned personal message. One that he recognized, though it had been twenty years. Something's wrong here.

"Computer. Deactivate Privacy Lock. Authorization: Kirk, James T. Level Gold – Two – Nine." He folded the paper, unwilling to trust the words to a computer system of any kind, though he had no reason for the suspicion curling up his spine. Use your feelings . . .

A voice from the past, that he hadn't thought of since –

The door chimed.

"Come."

"Hey, Jim." Bright blue eyes beaming Southern charm preceded McCoy into his cabin. "I heard we've got a change in orders come through from the Fleet. This mean we can head out from mapping the boondocks to someplace with class?" The doctor slumped comfortably in a chair, the fact they were both on-duty the only thing that kept him from putting his feet on Kirk's desk, the captain was sure.

The ship's grapevine was damn near miraculous for speed and accuracy. He found a smile that was half-genuine for his friend. "Afraid not, Bones."

"Damn. You know, we had leave scheduled that got cancelled when those Orions blasted -"

"The starboard nacelle. I know, Bones." Kirk made for the door; alpha shift was only half-through and he needed to get back to the bridge. Spock was more than capable of handling the duties of command, but the Vulcan would much rather be charting anomalies and working on the three science projects he had running at his console, if Kirk knew his friend at all.

Gentle griping accompanied him into the turbolift in the form of a disgruntled doctor.

Spock rose smoothly from the center seat, and was bent over his glowing console by the time Kirk hit the stairs.

"Course change, Captain?"

Sharp. "No, Mr. Sulu." The entire bridge was silent for a moment; Kirk let them digest that. His people were the best, but Priority One was command's eyes only. Spock would need to know the implications of the message; indeed, one eyebrow had already hiked in his direction. But the content . . .

It's not HQ. They would have signed it, it would have been orders. Not five neatly ordered lines, sixteen words blasting open a month of his past that he had buried long ago. Quite literally.

The pain of that time soaked gently into the filaments of his heart -

Stop.

Stars glinted through the viewscreen. In Iowa, they had been small white specks that he had wanted with the impossible longing of childhood. Here, they could be seen in all the colors they were born to – whites and yellows and deep reds, pale blues and oranges.

Bright fabric in the corner of his eye. "Really, Jim, are you done being mysterious yet?"

He'd forgotten McCoy. How did I manage that? Kirk blinked, focusing sideways. "Excuse me?"

Bones was no idiot; the man heard the warning there. He just chooses to ignore it. As usual. "I said," the drawl got impossibly slower, "would y'mind letting me know what the fuss with that message is? What's this Priority One blather?"

"Priority One." The Vulcan's pronouncement was cool from over Jim's right shoulder. "Second-highest security level of Federation messaging. Command eyes-only."

"I didn't ask you," McCoy snapped right back, shifting feet irritably.

"But Mr. Spock's right." Kirk didn't bother reigning in the snap to his voice. "Command only, Bones. For Priority One, that means Captain and First Officer."

"So that pointy-eared nuisance gets to find out what's going on, and I don't?" Fists more used to healing clenched in frustration.

I won't deal with this today. "Control yourself, Doctor."

McCoy's face split open in surprise. Usually Kirk had more patience with his demands and attitude, but Jim couldn't spare any worry from that message. Taken aback, the doctor stared a moment. "Sorry, Jim."

It shouldn't have come the way it did. What's going on? "I'll talk to you later, Bones." He smiled, softening words that could have been a reprimand.

"Well, I'm off to sickbay," the doctor tried for an answering smile, but was starting to get a look on his face that Kirk automatically classified as psychoanalytical. Great. No doubt Bones was trying to think of ways to weasel the information out of his friend.

Silence descended once more as the turbolift doors swished shut.

Reports from his yeoman, and coffee. A steamy, rich sip that pretended at being the real thing; but he enjoyed it nonetheless. Engineering. Scotty's wanting a haul-in to Starbase 8 to repair the last bit of damage from the Orion attack. It would be the closest port available, with their projected position.

According to Spock. Kirk trusted the Vulcan's mind and instincts – logic, corrected a voice in his brain that was entirely Spock's – as much as he trusted his own. But the repairs weren't critical and they needed to complete this mapping before they could do more of an in-depth survey. And we don't need to resupply or rotate the crew out for another month. . . Scotty wasn't going to be pleased.

I'll have to make it up to him somehow.

Compartmentalization meant he got through what was left of alpha shift without thinking of the message. Beta shift relief was waiting; as he handed over the con, Kirk glanced toward the Science Station. "Mr. Spock. A word?"

"Captain," the beta-shift communications officer caught his attention. The blonde woman's head had an anxious tilt.

"Yes, Lieutenant Palmer?"

"Priority Ultimate message, sir. Just came in." The young face was shining with a mix of excitement and fear.

At that, every ear on the bridge swiveled their way, even if eyes remained on consoles. "I'll take it in my quarters," Kirk ordered, and let one side of his mouth quirk as dark eyes caught his. "In an hour, Mr. Spock?"

"Of course," was the Vulcan's smooth reply.

Decoding the Ultimate took less time, but the results had him frowning. Looks like we're in for a course change after all.


"Come."

Spock walked through the door to see the Captain sitting at his desk, frowning at a piece of paper. "Captain? It has been one hour since you requested to see me."

"It's Jim, Spock, we're off-duty." But the human's smile for him was more worried than the message's security level could account for.

"Jim. Is something troubling you?" He would not have dared to ask that question months ago, but the familiarity between them had deepened to a level Spock had not expected. If he closed his mind to the c'thia of it, it could catch him by surprise at times. Yet he was far from true acceptance.

"Yes," sighed the figure, slumped before the paper-strewn desk. "Read this."

The handwriting was strongly masculine and smooth; Jim had decoded the Priority Ultimate message some time ago, given the ink was quite dry. Approximately forty-one point nine minutes.

But the content was intriguing.

To: Capt. JT Kirk, USS Enterprise

From: Starfleet HQ – Div. 23B

Regarding: Pirated signals broadcasting Priority One message traced to Sector 957. Enterprise ordered to investigate immediately, following Regulations 24.8 and 173.5.

"What do you think?" The human was rubbing at a headache lodged behind hazel eyes.

"Fascinating," Spock replied immediately. "All ships in the fleet received the original message?"

"If you read between the lines." One finger tapped a folded piece of paper. "It's the Regulations that concern me."

"Indeed." We are now mandated to keep constant record of everything that occurs shipboard and transmit every two hours an updated version of ship's affairs and status. "It appears Starfleet is taking this breach of security very seriously."

"Authorized to immediately terminate a possible threat? I'd say so." Jim tossed the words back with a smile Spock had come to associate with the term 'wry'. He was beginning to become accustomed to myriad human emotions and expressions. Spock was fortunate he had prior experience with his human mother, or it was doubtful that he would ever truly comprehend many of the seemingly pointless actions of the crew around him.

"What was the content of the Priority One message?" Technically, Spock was not usually informed of the content of the messages, other than the implications for the ship in terms of course changes and mission status. Need-to-know.

"I suppose it won't hurt to show you," Jim shrugged.

Spock took the folded paper, smoothing it out, and felt one eyebrow rise as he read. "Fascinating."

"What do you make of it?"

Spock's head came up. For a human, he is exceptionally good at screening his emotions. Jim's voice was carefully blank, normally expressive features bland. It pricked against Spock's knowledge of the man. "I am reminded of many of the mediations undergone by students of c'thia upon Vulcan," was his careful reply. "Children are taught using such mantras, commonly spoken, and certain words are required for specific mind disciplines undertaken by healers and adult Vulcans." The mind-meld.

The human did not meet his gaze. Reluctance to make eye contact. Dampening of emotions in a being more used to expressing them. Breaths coming at a rate of twenty-five per minute, heartbeat at eighty beats per minute – above human norms. Probability effects of extreme emotion, 39.8 percent. Probability effects of undisclosed knowledge pertaining to message, 55.7 percent. Probability unknown factor, 4.5 percent. "Jim. You are in distress."

A distracted nod, only.

"Captain," Spock tried instead. "Do you have knowledge pertaining to the meaning of this message?"

Hazel eyes stared sightlessly into the future, blinked, and focused in on him with unnerving intensity. "Just intuition, Spock. I have a bad feeling about this."


McCoy waited for two hours past the end of alpha shift before deciding that if he wanted to know, he was going to have to track the Captain down and pry it out of the man himself. More stubborn than a left-footed mule.

Deck 5 refused to divulge any answers. Not on the Bridge. Though apparently he'd been there to change course not half an hour before. Not in Sickbay, or his cabin. No luck on the Observation Deck, or the Rec Room. Where did you get yourself off to, Jim?

Whirling back to the turbolift, McCoy slammed the call button. One more place, and then I'm going to send out a shipwide page. And then we'll see who

Swish.

The two young ensigns and redshirt standing in the turbolift took one look at the wrath Bones knew was etched into his face, and carefully moved aside.

One short, tense ride later he was striding toward the Enterprise's gym. No one working the weights, but . . .

And ten gets you twenty.

The figure cutting through water was familiar in its focused intensity. I might have known. "Captain Kirk!"

Jim stopped on reaching the pool wall, blinking water from hazel eyes. "Bones."

"What's going on? I thought you said we didn't have a course change lined up in front of us, and then I go to the Bridge to find out that we're now pinpointed straight toward the middle of nowhere -"

"Not exactly the middle of nowhere." Water crested, splashing over his boots as the Captain hauled himself from the pool. "More off to the side."

"I'm a doctor, not a navigator," McCoy snapped. Shook off his boots and tossed a towel at the dripping Captain. "What in blazes is going on?"

"Orders, Bones."

"What orders? That Ultimate Priority nonsense?" He caught Jim rolling his eyes, and huffed. "Well?"

"Basically." Cotton rubbed vigorously through hair darkened with water. "Look, Bones, there's a briefing for alpha-shift bridge crew scheduled for 0830 tomorrow morning. Can't you wait?"

"At last!" Two hands beseeched the ceiling as he followed Kirk into the small locker room. "The promise of answers. I mean, come on, Jim."

He knew he'd pushed too far when the Captain's face went blank. Half-dressed, the freezing stare was still enough to stop a Klingon in his tracks. "Doctor, I appreciate that waiting is difficult for you." Ouch. "But," Kirk continued, face carved from stone, "I have orders. And I abide by those orders, for the safety of my ship and everyone on it, including you."

Not all the time. Kirk was notorious for breaking the rules as it suited him . . . unless . . . Coldness swam through his gut. Something's wrong, really wrong. "Jim – these orders – how serious is this?"

For a moment, he thought that there would be no answer, that he would have to wait twelve hours with this new apprehension multiplying within him.

Then Jim's face lost the steely aloofness of command, softening into a quirk of lips. "Bones, calm down." Shrugging into a shirt, the Captain paused for a moment, fingers gripping his shoulder reassuringly. "This isn't as bad as all that. It's our standard mission, actually, explore and observe. Headquarters is just telling us precisely where, for the first time."

Really, Jim-boy? Then why the anxiety? Why are you hiding behind the strictness of command? McCoy opened his mouth –

"Come on." Metal clanged as the locker door bounced shut. "Let's get dinner; I'm hungry."

Fine. McCoy nodded, following the Captain toward the turbolift. You can run, but you can't hide.


Humming quietly, she puzzled at the middle two measures of the fifth line. It might be easier if I had the music with me. Well, she was on-duty now, and there would be plenty of time later to practice the new Vulcan lullaby Mr. Spock had shared with her. Still –

"Morning, Nyota."

Glancing up, she smiled as Sulu breezed in. "Got your coffee for the morning, Hikaru?"

He raised his cup to her, slipping into a chair. "And you are the first here, as usual."

Briefing room doors opened on whatever she was going to respond to that, and the doctor bounded in. "Dr. McCoy."

"Morning, Uhura, Sulu. What, isn't the Captain here yet?"

Hikaru rolled his eyes.

Nyota couldn't help but agree. He's been chomping at the bit since the Priority One. It's a wonder he didn't try to pry it out of the Captain yesterday. Her own coffee had a sickly-sweet aftertaste from the replicators. Ugh. Now I remember why I don't drink this.

Pavel stumbled in a moment after metal made contact with the table, bleary-eyed and yawning. Slumping down beside her, the tired Russian's eyes lit upon her cup. "Are you going to drink that?" His words were blurred more with sleep than the familiar accent, but Nyota hadn't made a living off being a communications officer for nothing.

Chekov had barely wrapped his fingers around the cup before Montgomery Scott arrived, followed closely by the Captain and Mr. Spock. Precisely punctual, as ever.

"Lady and gentlemen." At the head of the room, the Captain surveyed the table. "Thank you for being here. As you know, yesterday we received a Priority One message, followed by Priority Ultimate." She'd been trying to read the content of the looks exchanged between the Captain and First Officer for weeks now, and Nyota still couldn't decipher all the layers of meaning.

"It appears," the Vulcan continued, "that the Priority One signal was pirated to send a message that reached all ships in the Fleet."

Nyota picked up her jaw. Oh, no. "But that's Starfleet's second-highest security code!"

"Which is precisely why we've been ordered to do a bit of directed exploration." The smile didn't reach hazel eyes. Kirk held out a piece of paper, folded, to her. "Uhura, this is the decoded message. I'd like you to analyze it. If there's a code within the message itself, I want to know. I'd also like you to collaborate with the anthropologists in the Science Department. See if you can't pinpoint any cultural references from the content."

"Of course."

She glanced over at Spock; the Vulcan's head tilted, conveying his own interest. Body language was the most important aspect of deciphering the unspoken words of the Vulcan people.

"Sulu."

"Captain?" Hikaru's face was bright, his whole body almost twanging. Nyota wrestled back her amusement. He's excited.

"We're headed now into Sector 957. I want you to be closely coordinated with the Science Department, as well as Communications. As of right now, all we have is Starfleet's backtracking to pinpoint the origin of the signal. We're going to need more detailed information and a clearer trail to follow if there is anything out there."

This is what we signed on for. First contact, exploration. Hot adrenaline thrilled her own veins, even though Nyota knew nothing was going to happen for awhile. They weren't anywhere near the source of the signal. Still, it never hurts to be aware. Pavel was almost bouncing with energy.

"And start refreshing your evasives." Knuckles paled where the navigator gripped his coffee mug. The seriousness of the situation brought every being in the room to focused intensity. "Chekov."

"Sir?" Looks like the coffee did the trick. The helmsman's eagerness brought a bright smile to the Captain's whole face. Nyota couldn't help her own grin.

"We'll be at Sector 957 in roughly -"

"Four point two three hours," Spock filled in.

"Thank you, Mr. Spock. In three hours, I want you to recalibrate the sensors at your station. Increase sensitivity as high as you deem reasonable – if anything even slightly unusual is out there, I want to know. And be prepared to assist Mr. Spock at the Science Station."

"Yes, sir." The ensign's attention wavered back to her now; Nyota rested folded hands on the Priority One message. Later, Pavel. They were still in the middle of the briefing.

"Scotty."

"Aye, Cap'n."

Kirk was standing quietly; the very stillness of his body gave away how much he would rather be pacing the deck. "What's the state of the engines?"

Spock's face was immobile. If I didn't know better, I'd think he wasn't breathing. What's going on here?

"She's mostly up an' repaired from the Orions," the Scotsman's brogue thickened in his anger. Poor Montgomery – his silver lady took a beating and he's still tetchy about it. Some time in the Rec Room, over a game of cards, might be enough for her engineering friend to vent his frustrations. "I'm concerned tha' we'll no' have enough supplies for emergency repairs should we run inta summat unpleasant. For now she'll hold together well enough, though I can't promise more than Warp Six."

"Keep patching her up." Scotty didn't look pleased, but the Captain wasn't finished yet. "I want Warp Ten ready if we need it."

Nyota had to work to keep her eyes from widening. Poor Montgomery.

"Warp Ten!"

"I doubt we'll have to push her so hard, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared for every eventuality, Scotty."

"Aye, Cap'n." But he doesn't have to be happy about it. Anything that threatened his bairns roused Montgomery's Scottish anger, devoted to the Enterprise and his laddies.

"Are there any other concerns?" The Captain opened the floor up to comments, but she had nothing to say. Pavel seemed to have relapsed into semi-sleep from the burst of energy he'd used before, and Hikaru was mentally planning evasives, from the far-off gleam in dark eyes. Scotty doesn't look too happy, but we all expected that. Mr. Spock seemed intent as ever, but no one opened their mouth.

Except McCoy. "What are you expecting to find out there, Jim?"

"At this point, any answer could be nothing but conjecture, Doctor." Not even the smallest of smiles. Why is Spock running interference?

"Speculate," Leonard's lips pursed. Reigning in his irritation.

"Sentient beings. But what sort, I wouldn't dare to guess." Fingers rubbed around closed lips; Kirk's gaze was distant. A blink brought him back to them, somewhat. "Anything else?"

This time, the silence lasted.

"Well." The smile on the Captain's face was genuine. "I noted in the reports that all Departments are working at top efficiency. Good job, everyone."

Pleased expressions round the table; even Mr. Spock's solemnity softened for a moment.

"Dismissed."


"Anything, Mr. Spock?"

The sensors were straining. Their capabilities are limited. Perhaps if I were to modify – "No, sir."

Every human on the bridge with one exception slumped; Vulcan ears caught soft noises of disappointment.

The Captain's tone was even, unreadable. "Very well."

It is not. Speed had been reduced to impulse power not long after crossing into Sector 957. Despite scanner capability, increased sensitivity requires decreased speed in order for the computers to have time to assimilate an increased influx data.

They had been traveling slowly for the past two point nine seven hours, and had found nothing. The last anomaly had been promising, but proved to be nothing more than a variation in the flux of power between the computers and scanners.

The scanner readout caught his attention once more. Fascinating. The scientific value of the data the Enterprise was collating was immeasurable. One part of Spock's mind was calculating the time required for a thorough examination of the information, but it was illogical to think such time could be devoted to the study before their mission was accomplished.

Ensign Chekov was monitoring the long-range scanners, while Spock dealt with the greater volume and detail of data brought in by the short-range scanners.

"Captain."

Again, most of the humans on the bridge sat up straighter, interest rekindled in what had already become a monotonous search.

The one that didn't nevertheless turned in the command chair. "Yes, Mr. Spock?"

"Recommend we increase speed to Warp 1."

Hazel eyes encouraged, the mind behind moving in leaps and bounds. Intuition. Most illogical, yet unerringly accurate. "Reasons?"

"It is logical, for the moment, to assume that the entity which pirated the Priority One signal is capable of a certain minimum level of technology. We are proceeding to the source as determined by multiple-axis-triangulation." Spock steepled his fingers under his chin. "At the moment many of the variations registered by the sensors are minor anomalies and variation in vacuum that are too small to constitute a being, physical or non-corporeal, with access to the necessary devices to hack into Starfleet Security."

A trace of bright smile. "Sensor ghosts?"

Spock raised a brow. Colloquially expressed, yet essentially correct. "Affirmative."

"Mr. Sulu, increase speed to Warp 1. Mr. Spock, Mr. Chekov, adjust the sensors accordingly."

Spock noted the dilation of capillaries in Pavel Chekov's face, staining formerly pale skin pink with an increased flow of blood. Probable cause: physiological response to psychological discomfort resulting from emotion. Illogical.

"ETA to source of the pirated signal, Mr. Sulu?"

"New ETA eight standard days, nineteen hours and eleven minutes."

They were still moving slowly, but this was a more reasonable estimate than the first, which had calculated over a month to reach the source.

"Better," Kirk nodded. "After all, there's no guarantee that the source won't have moved since the original message was relayed."

Spock had double-checked the original triangulation, refining it to within three parsecs and reducing the calculating error to point one four percent. As they had no clues on the source of the signal, if it was capable of motion of any significant degree, probability was in favor of it having disappeared by the time they reached signal source. Four-hundred and sixty-five to one.

Statistics, however, were nothing but what his Captain would call speculation. Conjecture. Essential to the scientific process, but unverified.

Bent over his console once more, Spock continued to scan the sensors.


Deep breaths. Anything to stifle the yawn working its way out. Alpha shift is almost over. Just stay steady at the helm; we haven't seen anything yet, and we're not likely to for another week, but that's no excuse for inattention.

Sulu couldn't help it; he yawned.

Today had been very much like yesterday, but without a good deal of the fire and enthusiasm the bridge crew had felt after that briefing. Starfleet's second-highest security code, stolen!

He hadn't seen the Priority One message. Neither had Pavel, for all he'd been after Nyota about it. The Communications Officer had held her silence, and so far, the Captain and Spock were the only other ones who knew what it said.

My money's on the Romulans. Maybe the Klingons, but probably the Romulans. No one knew much about that enemy, but their intelligence was incredible. No one knew what espionage techniques they used, but rumors flew from ship to ship after every encounter. Sulu'd had fifteen different evasive strategies prepped yesterday, and was working on more. No telling what's out there.

Why use the Priority One unless you wanted to attract attention?

Trap.

His instincts were screaming it, and the jittery energy that had taken hold after he'd had time to think on it was only just abating. Pointed at the viewscreen, Sulu kept his attention fixed to his console.

But if the Captain harbored the same doubts, the man was hiding it very well. Not that you can usually tell what he's thinking. Sulu had long since stopped trying; Kirk's mind worked differently than his on every level.

Which was why he'd been attached to the Enterprise so long. To learn how to get people to follow me like that, to lead like that. . . It was the greatest opportunity of his career, and only a fool would give it up.

"Mr. Sulu," Kirk's hand on the back of his chair. "You have evasives worked up?"

"Sixteen, sir."

So many were needed simply to cover a few of the various situations they had been faced with so far during the five-year mission. Every battle's a new one. But some are similar, and that's where having so many different evasives on the tip of the brain comes in handy.

Praise warmed the helmsman. "Very good, Mr. Sulu." And he knew it would go into his record. Kirk was like that.

"Thank you, sir."

Turbolift doors split the silence, expelling the doctor onto the bridge. "Anything?"

"Mr. Spock?"

"Nothing, Captain."

"You see, Bones? You're better off waiting in Sickbay. If anything happens up here, trust me, you'll know."

"Blast it, Jim, I usually find out after we've fired or been fired on that something's going on!"

"Like I said, Doctor. You'll know."

Sulu kept his eyes forward, seeing a grin creep over Pavel's face at his station. Dr. McCoy fumed a moment, pacing behind them. Left, right, left again. Past Engineering, and then back to Communications and Science.

The Captain let him mutter a short while, soft words drifting from and between the different stations, but as ever, the sensors were empty of anything out of the ordinary.

"What's our projected ETA, Mr. Sulu?"

The clock had counted down since the last time Kirk had asked, but not by enough in his opinion. "ETA six days, twenty-two hours and forty-nine minutes, sir."

"There. Six more days of this, Bones. When we do get there, the odds that the . . . source of the signal may have moved are high. The probability that it will have moved to intercept us before we reach it is -"

"Seven-hundred ninety-five to one." Mr. Spock, as ever confident in his calculations. He's rarely wrong. The Vulcan's ability to calculate such numbers was amazing.

"Low," Sulu could hear the small smile in Kirk's voice.

Another yawn was trying to make itself felt. Five minutes until beta shift relief. Not that anyone ever really went off-duty on the Enterprise. Life in space didn't allow for such luxury. But at least we have time to rest. Relax. He'd been staring at his panel so hard that his eyes were starting to hurt.

"- later, Jim." Turblolift doors swished closed, taking McCoy with them.

I really must be tired if I missed the Doctor saying something.

"Huh?" Fingers gripped his shoulder; Sulu blinked up. "Riley?"

"You're relieved, Sulu." Quicksilver Irish grin, reminiscent of the time Riley'd sung 'Kathleen' over the entire ship's communications system. Psi 2000. Well, before the Doctor had sedated him, Sulu's own performance under the influence of the disease had been just as embarrassing.

Turning over the helm, he managed to squeeze into the turbolift with Chekov and Uhura. The Captain and Spock were speaking quietly out of the way of the beta shift, but he couldn't make anything out as he slipped by.

Another yawn, more voluptuous than the first, stole sight and breath from him for a moment. Time to sleep.

Doing nothing, they might be, but all this waiting for something to happen was exhausting. I almost wish someone would attack us, and get it over with.

Then again, maybe not.


She was singing.

Ahhh, beautiful. Montgomery Scott whistled his pleasure.

Both transformers were once again smoothly encased in cylindrical steel; the grill blocking the power conduits had been repaired. Engineering had taken a minor hit in the action against the Orions; enough to knock things out of shape.

Loveliest tune in space. Nyota's voice was beautiful, but Enterprise's song had fingers woven into his heartstrings.

Healthy engines throbbed, giving life to the very air.

Now if we can only keep her that way.

"Orions, Klingons, Romulans . . ." Scotty couldn't help the grumble. Ah, silver lady, ye've beaten' all o' them. Not without a price.

It was the matter-antimatter chamber that had required the most delicate handling and repairs. She's a classy lady, an' no mistake. Deserves the best, she does. But three days of solid work meant she would give them Warp Ten, if they asked.

She'll keep us alive.

And the Captain had been pleased by his report. The two of them, Kirk and Enterprise, kept them all alive through every scrape the edges of space could carve into them. An' we've bled. But most of us are still breathin'.

One last rub with soft cloth and shiny metal showed Scotty his reflection, smiling back from the panel's surface. Deep into gamma shift, he'd been working. Trouble if the Captain finds out, but he's visiting Medical on tonight's shipwalk. Didn't mean he couldn't pull a surprise visit on Engineering, but he'd been by just when the repairs started; and he'd be by tomorrow night.

Something the Captain did regular; walking the Enterprise deep into his own sleep cycle, meeting all of his crew, not just alpha shift. An' the laddies appreciate it right enough. Mark of a good commander, it was. Our lives are all in one another's hands, an' we don' even know everyone shipside.

Four hundred and thirty people was one-forty or so per shift; not so many, really. The soft cloth joined a pile of others in a locker tucked under the control panel. Scotty leant back in his chair, surveying the two floors comprising Engineering. My lady, singing strong again.

No matter what they might come up against, Enterprise was ready.


"A week," McCoy muttered. Green leaves lumped on circular glass did not respond. Fork in hand, the doctor poked at his salad. "A week we've been at this, and we haven't found anything."

"The nature of life on a starship, Doctor." Jim was barely looking at the chessboard. He's not distracted on the bridge, but every off-duty moment . . .

A black brow hiked. "Check in four, Jim." Spock's voice supremely confident, as always.

Wonder what's eating Jim. Whatever it was, dollars to donuts it was related to their new mission. I'll go one better. It's related to that Priority One nonsense the whole ship's caught up in. Even the Priority Ultimate wasn't as troubling as the first message they'd received; McCoy had heard a dozen different theories over what it was, and that was just at this morning's meal.

Leonard had been watching Spock try to draw the Captain out for the week they'd been searching, and the First Officer's persistence had been met with gentle evasions and deferrals. He's not trying to put us off. Maybe he knows that would just make us try harder to find out what's wrong.

What was wrong was that Spock's extensive and careful information searches had turned up nothing – nothing in relation to the message, or to whatever could have been causing Jim's distraction.

Another seemingly careless move; a bishop, this time, jumped down two levels.

The Vulcan frowned, reaching for a rook.

"Aren't you going to eat that, Doctor?"

Leonard decided to ignore the Captain's tiny smirk. At least he's smiling. Better than that thoughtful distance he's held all week. Every psychologist's instinct in him – a rare few, but they were there – was twitching. "I still think something should have happened by now."

Pieces were exchanged on the board, Spock emerging with a telltale air of impending victory. And, typically, a question. "Why?"

"Whaddaya mean, why?" McCoy gave up on the salad in favor of glaring at Spock. The Vulcan was unperturbed. "The whole crew's been on tenterhooks for what feels like ages. Time is relative, and all that." Which is why we mess with Stardates in the first place.

"Perhaps it is only your perception which is relative."

"Vulcan time-sense," he grunted. Blue eyes glared at the ceiling for a moment, and Leonard shook his head. Typical.

A new problem rose before Spock could make any retort to that. "Check."

McCoy chortled, taking a good look at the pieces. Then the laughter died. Queen threatening check. But vulnerable to being taken by the castle. There, his ability to play chess wavered and fizzed out, but if even he could see that something was fishy. . . .

There was nothing to stop Spock from capturing the queen, which he did, and looked faintly puzzled about it as well. Three moves later, the play stopped and went no further.

Intrigued despite himself, the Doctor leant forward. "Well? Who's winning?"

"No one," Spock said slowly. One thin finger rubbed the lowest level of the board. "We are at an impasse."

"A draw," Leonard drawled, slathering disbelief thickly over each syllable. Took in the arrangement of pawns, lingering castles, rooks, and patterns of defense in three dimensions. How many times has that happened?

"You sacrificed the queen." Spock was frowning at Jim. "Why? There was no reason to do so. Your line of defense was solid, though I had the advantage."

I'll take his word for it. What Leonard knew about chess might fill a urine sample jar, on a good day. As in, it feels like a lot, but isn't really so much.

"Highly illogical." And there it was, faintly shining in dark eyes. Spock's worried. Or 'concerned', as he would put it.

"Only if your objective is to win." Jim stood, stretching a little, and didn't meet McCoy's or Spock's eyes, shifting toward the door. "Let's get to the Bridge."

Uhura's dulcet tones filtered over the com. "Captain Kirk to Bridge."

"Shall we?"

Jim was practically out the door; McCoy blinked. Good timing. "Any luck?" he whispered to Spock as the doors slipped open for them.

"None."

"Me either." McCoy's hands fisted. Well. As soon as this mess is settled, Jim's going to spill about what it is that has him so off-kilter. Like it or not, the entire ship revolved around Kirk; he carried the responsibility of their lives on straight shoulders. Whatever this was hadn't affected the Captain's command performance yet, but it was a worry. "I wish I knew what was going on!"

The Vulcan raised a brow, but rounding the corridor all conversation was effectively silenced as they saw Jim waiting for the turbolift. Right, then. Let's find out what's up.


Святейший Бог!

What is that?

He hadn't been in space as long as the others on the Alpha Shift Bridge Crew, Pavel was painfully aware of that. But this looks like no Federation ship I've ever even heard of! The Orions, Klingons and Romulans were using different technology; he'd come from the Academy's most up-to-date courses more recently than anyone else. But even so . . .

It didn't look like any of those vessels, either. At least it's not a Klingon Bird of Prey. Sulu'd lost some money on that bet.

Sleek lines, almost as if it could cut through air and water as easily as vacuum. Starlight glinted silvery off the hull, reflecting the Enterprise's own exterior lights back through the viewscreen. She's pretty.

Nothing was a match for the beauty of the Enterprise. But she was a sweet girl.

"One thousand kilometers, Captain."

And small!

"Full stop, Mr. Sulu."

At Pavel's side, Hikaru's hands flitted across the console. "Full stop."

Kirk's voice sounded, his calm like a dash of cold water against the jittery excitement in Chekov's gut. "Uhura, scan all frequencies. Mr. Spock, analysis?"

"Vessel, captain, approximately fifty meters across. Metal alloy unknown to sensors, though trace elements match iron, zinc, aluminum, and gold. Life-sign readings indicate nine beings, humanoid. Atmosphere and gravity compatible with Enterprise and Earth norms."

Humanoid! Like us! Pavel shivered with excitement. First contact! Why he'd signed on, jumped at the chance for gamma shift, anything, on the five-year mission; and found himself bumped up to alpha-shift navigator.

"Captain. . ." Uhura, uncertainty coloring her tone. Nyota's never uncertain. He couldn't rip his eyes from the viewscreen, admiring the симпатичная девушка, even so.

"Any signals, Lieutenant?"

"I'm getting a faint reading on one of the main frequencies. But I believe it's still transmitting using the Priority One code."

Nyota's brown eyes were wide with surprise. Wait – but I thought the signal was only hijacked once! And doesn't Nyota – идиот! Only the Captain is given the key to decode the Priority One and Ultimate messages! It wasn't until he met Kirk's level stare that Chekov realized he'd jerked all the way around and was ignoring his console to gape.

"Steady, Mr. Chekov."

"Yes, sir." Heat crawled up his cheeks and made itself at home. Fool! Pavel concentrated furiously on the buttons and viewscreen, but couldn't help trying to hear every word passing between the Captain and Nyota.

"Transmit Linguacode."

"Yes, sir. Transmitting Linguacode now."

But if they're transmitting in the Priority One code, won't the Linguacode decode it?

Apparently not.

"Sir, receiving a response!"

Pavel shot a grin at Sulu, and his friend returned it. Here we go!


A/N: Translations (Russian to English)

Святейший Бог!Holy God!

симпатичная девушка – lovely girl

идиот - idiot