Lacking a home or country.
Somewhere deep within the infinitely vast reaches of space, a sleek, gleaming white starcraft known as the USS Enterprise glid languidly through the blackness, cutting silently through the star-scattered vacuum. As it moved, its mountainous shadow fell across a minuscule dot of a vessel no larger than one of the billion pinpricks of light winking in the far distance, eclipsing the smaller ship in darkness. The tiny craft hovered beneath its hulking counterpart, drifting helplessly through space like a mote of dust suspended on air.
"Captain, we're receiving a distress signal," Sulu announced aboard the bridge of the Enterprise, eyes trained on the glowing neon readouts scrolling across the control panel in front of him. The ship's computer beeped affirmatively, confirming the helmsman's announcement. The other officers and helmsmen on the bridge—Spock, Uhura and Chekhov—glanced up from their stations in interest at this news.
"Oh we are, are we?" Captain James T. Kirk drawled lazily. He was slouched backwards in his captain's chair, jigging one leg up and down absently, knees spread apart in an uncouth posture which Officer Spock privately considered most unbefitting of a captain. He'd been resting the curve of his jaw in the palm of one thick-knuckled hand, but at Sulu's declaration he sat up somewhat, straightening his spine into an upright position much more becoming of the homo sapiens species than the one he had been in a moment previously. "Well whadda you know, fellas, we've got ourselves our first distress signal!" He grinned saucily, chomping loudly on a bit of gum he'd been chewing on for the past three hours straight. "What can you tell me about its source, Sulu?"
"Coming off the starboard bow, Captain, and issuing from a small unidentified vessel that appears to have no life support…" A frown creased Sulu's young Asian face. "…and no warp drive."
"No warp drive?" Kirk repeated incredulously, sharing in his helmsman's bemusement.
"Not only that," Sulu continued, eyes transfixed by the readings pouring out on the panel in front of him, "but the distress signal itself is highly unusual. It appears to be in some bizarre format. If it wasn't so basic, I doubt our ship's computer would've even recognized it as an SOS. The vessel itself isn't in Starfleet's database." Sulu looked up and swiveled his chair to face Kirk. "Captain, we may be dealing with something completely—forgive me for the use of the word—alien here."
"How long have they been without life support?"
"Three days, sir. I'm reading a single life sign, so whoever's in there is still breathing... for now."
Kirk pinched his bottom lip between his thumb and forefinger thoughtfully. "Huh," he mused. "You'd think our first distress signal, we wouldn't have to play guessing games who was on the other line!"
Over at his station, Spock exhaled heavily yet inaudibly through his nose. "Might I suggest we hail them, Captain?" He spoke suddenly with the manner of faultless, infinite calm and patience in the face of incredible intellectual ineptitude that came so naturally to him when he was addressing Kirk.
"Now don't you think that might be dangerous, Spock?" Kirk asked, spinning around lackadaisically in his seat. "There could be a pack of vicious Klingons in there, or, you know what—that tiny little shipping vessel could be just stuffed full of angry Romulans just waiting to break out their photon torpedo blasters and turn us into so much space dust."
"Your caution is commendable, but I find that highly unlikely, Captain."
Kirk's face split into a goofball grin. Out of the corner of his eye, Spoke caught Uhura attempting to hide a smile behind her cupped hand. "I'm joking, Spock. Lighten up, wouldja? Don't Vulcans have, like, a semblance of a sense of humour?"
Kirk rolled his eyes pointedly at his first officer. "Go ahead and hail them, Sulu."
"Sir." Sulu's hands worked over his console, attempting to open a channel with the vessel sending out the distress signal. Silence settled over the crew, and a tinge of anticipation hung in the air as they awaited the reply of the mystery shuttle, the miniature anomaly that they'd happened across, floating in the black, and there was just enough time for the crew to begin wondering how such a little ship with no warp drive had found itself so deep in the middle of nowhere. Sulu was just opening his mouth to inform the Captain that there was no response when the inky black stretch of stars before them abruptly blotted out to a view of the interior of what the Captain assumed was the vessel's cockpit. The transmission was black and white and scratchy, and the darkened cockpit, rimmed with shadows in the absence of emergency power for the lights, appeared empty. There were no crew members, not a soul in sight; the ship was empty, still. Kirk felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He found this vaguely unsettling.
"Can we get a better picture?" He asked his helmsman.
"Negative, Captain. The transmission they've established is… very exotic." Sulu frowned again at his control panel. "With the way their communications system is programmed, we're lucky our technologies are compatible at all."
"This is too weird…" Kirk muttered, rising from his chair as he peered at the dark, shadowy interior of the silent ship. "Hello?" He called. "This is James T. Kirk, Captain of the USS Enterprise. We received your distress signal and thought whoever's in there might need some help." He stared at the screen for a moment, unchanged except for the grainy flicker of the transmission. "Hellooooo?" Kirk tried again. "Anyone there?"
There was no reply. "Well, this su-" Kirk started, but he was interrupted by a sudden, ear-piercing shriek. Everyone on the bridge jumped about a foot out of their chairs (even Spock flinched noticeably) as a large, dark shape threw itself violently at the screen, its two huge, wide, penetrating eyes staring deliriously into the camera. It took Kirk a second to realize that the thing was a girl—and a human girl, at that, a genre he considered himself quite familiar with—her hair hanging limply on either side of her white, gaunt face. The crew stared at her for a moment, frozen in shock, as she exhaled static, her ragged breathing crackling and popping over the transmission.
"I can see you," she whispered.
Captain Kirk swallowed the lump that had risen unexpectedly in his throat and tried to ignore his heart pounding against his ribcage. "Miss," he started, "my name is James T. Kirk and I'm Captain of the Starfleet vessel the USS Enter-"
"Get me ooooout!" The girl screamed into the screen, causing everyone to flinch again, and she began to babble frantically and incoherently. "Ican'tgoback, don'tmakemegoback, I'll die in there, they'll kill me! They strap you, strap you in, strap you down, stick needlesmosquitos in your—in their hair. Mosquitoes in my hair and eyes and—and they say they're immuh--immunizing you, protecting you, that s'for your own good, but they're liars, they suck things out, they don't put things in, they suck the life out of you and put death in its place! There's death in here! Get me out! Won't somebody—" her voice cracked into a hoarse whisper. "—please help me?" Tears beaded in her eyes and caught the starlight, making them shine. Kirk stood rigidly staring at the girl, muscles tense, his back and jaw set.
Spock eyed Kirk warily, knowing from the way the Captain stood that he was about to do something impulsive and foolhardy. He was not disappointed.
"Beam her aboard," he ordered. Spock rose quickly from his chair.
"If I may speak, Captain—" he began urgently.
"No, you may not," Kirk cut him off, striding briskly through the sliding doors from the bridge into the hallway. After a beat, Spock sprung after him, the girl's wild dark eyes leering imploringly after them. He matched the Captain's urgent pace, a steely glint of determination in his narrowed eyes.
"Captain!" Spock called as Kirk stepped into the elevator at the end of the narrow hall, bolting after his superior and slipping lithely between the sleek white elevator doors just as they snapped shut. Kirk shot Spock an impatient glance with a hint of annoyance, a look that, unbeknownst to him, caused the Vulcan's blood to quietly begin to boil. "Didn't you just express concern, Captain, regarding the nature of that vessel's occupants?"
"Yeah, but this is serious, Spock. Who authorized you to leave your station?" Kirk demanded brusquely, punching one of the glowing neon buttons on the elevator panel with his thumb. As if sensing the Captain's urgency, the elevator jolted and hastily began to whisk the two men to the transport bay.
"Forgive me for this transgression, sir," Spock said, sounding calm and not the least bit apologetic, "But I simply felt it pertinent to remind you that when a crew is responding to a distress signal, Starfleet protocol—"
"Starfleet protocol says what, Spock?" Kirk snapped suddenly, rounding angrily on the Vulcan. "That we're not allowed to help someone in trouble? See, last time I checked protocol, it said we're supposed to offer assistance to those in distress if it doesn't pose immediate undue risk to us. And the way I see it, here we are in a nice, big, shiny ship with plenty of room and valuable commodities like, I dunno, air, and there she is, floating helplessly with no one in that ship but her—"
"Starfleet protocol also advises us to treat distress signals with caution," Spock resumed, calmly as ever, and with the air of one explaining simple concepts to a small, impetuous child. Now it was Kirk whose blood began to boil. "There are certain unseemly characters in the galaxy, Captain—Klingon marauders, interstellar pirates—more than willing to take advantage of those with good intentions." The elevator slid to a stop and the doors peeled back on the transporter bay. Kirk strode forward without a pause with Spock keeping relentlessly in step. "I am simply urging you, Captain, to think through the situation logically and assess the risk factors before pursuing your next course of action. I might remind you that we have very little information on this stranger that you are beaming aboard the Enterprise."
"Damn it, Spock!" Kirk burst out, coming to a dead halt and whirling on his first officer once again. Spock observed the Captain's sweaty palms clenching and unclenching into fists, as if he were about to threaten the Vulcan with physical violence—but Kirk didn't bother, as both of them were grimly aware of which one of them would win in a fair fight. Instead, the Captain fought to lower his voice and fixed Spock with a harsh, fiery state. "There's a girl on board that vessel who's been stranded in the middle of space for three days with no life support. That is all the information I need. Chekov!" He roared suddenly, slapping the Starfleet insignia communicator on his chest. "Do you have a lock on her?"
"Aye aye, Capteen!" Pavel replied cheerfully.
"Beam her aboard," Kirk ordered. Spock slowly turned his head to fix his gaze on the transport pad, where the shape of the mysterious wild-eyed girl that had appeared on the viewscreen a moment before was beginning to materialize before his and the Captain's grim stares; crouched, hunched over, contorted into an ugly posture that was pained and broken and barely humanoid.
"You would do well, Captain," Spock said quietly, "not to judge so much based on appearances."
Author's note: Thank you for reading the first chapter. For all those who may be concerned, the girl the Enterprise has picked up is not an original character, though I don't want to spoil anything quite yet. If you care to leave feedback, whether it be unadultered praise or unflinching criticism, I would be very appreciative. Once again, thank you for giving this story your time!