It was an auction of sorts, though of course far more technologically advanced than the ones he'd read about on old Earth. Led out onto a stage at the bottom of a small arena, Kirk was examined critically and loudly from all sides by a rude audience that ranged from burly Orion slavers to men and women who wouldn't have looked out of place on the Enterprise. When it came his turn to be bid for, a spotlight shone above his head and a loud voice rumbled a description of his better qualities as the viewscreen behind him displayed stats no doubt garnered during his physical.
He wanted to scowl, to rage, to at least show the slavers what they were bargaining for but the guard's orders had been specific and his implant made sure he complied: no movement except to walk forward or turn when ordered, no speech, and no displays of emotion on his face or otherwise. As such he was unable even to turn his head to see the entire crowd that surrounded him. He felt weak and helpless and ashamed and reflected grimly that, after four good years aboard the Enterprise, his luck seemed to have finally run out. Now he would lose everything he had ever loved or cared for, not just his freedom but his ship, his command, his life and his best friends. He would become a slave and there was not a thing he could do about it.
So he stood under the bright lights and the scrutiny of his captors, jaw set because his face had frozen, and wondered with an almost academic detachment how in the galaxy he would survive this whole if there really was no way out. He thought, of course, about his friends and regretted that as their commander, he had failed to keep them safe.
Bids, entered by each prospective buyer into computers affixed to each seat in the arena, began to appear on the viewscreen, which Kirk could see only out of the corner of his eye. The announcing voice, which apparently belonged to some slaver that Kirk couldn't see, rattled them off as they appeared and encouraged more, rousing the crowd like any expert salesman. Finally, after an exchange that Kirk could barely follow though listened with all his will, the voice boomed out a single word: "Sold!"
He had been captured before, cut off from his ship, thrown into cells and dungeons and made to perform for various cruel masters, but never like this. Hidden in the bowels of a planet the Federation thought empty, the Enterprise incapable of even the simplest sensor search, separated from Spock and Bones who were, themselves, just fighting to stay alive…he felt more alone than he could remember, and more vulnerable. There would be no last minute rescue—or rather, it had already failed. He was Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise and here, that fact meant absolutely nothing.
A new guard came from behind him and ordered him to walk in the direction of a door on the other side of the arena. He could feel the crowd's eyes on him as he walked and wondered how many recognized him, the great Captain Kirk, reduced to blind obedience by a few mistakes and an implant in the back of his neck.
He was led to what seemed to be a holding pen, a large cage in which several newly-sold beings now stood or squatted. He could feel the implant's influence lessen slightly as he entered, but he forced his face to retain its rigidity rather than let any of his anguish show. He was grieving, he realized, for the life he'd had, and all its wasted potential. No beach to walk on… no beach, no ship, no alien planets no bridge no Spock no Bones no crew no Enterprise.
The minutes ticked by. Others were added, and the occasional fellow slave was called by a number that he or she responded to by walking up to the door of the cage and standing stiffly at attention. Then the door would open and a masked guard would collect the unfortunate soul and disappear into another corridor. Of course Kirk tried to run for the door as soon as it opened, but of course the implant would not allow it. Still, at each opportunity he could not help but try, and by the time half a dozen slaves had been taken, he could almost feel Spock's eyebrows rising, doubtful but not entirely disapproving, and McCoy's voice in his head, You never do give up, do you Jim.
But it was a question he wouldn't have answered even had Bones been there to ask it, because the doctor would already have known the answer: some combination of no and just hope you're not around when that day finally comes.
Still, he allowed himself the luxury of sighing heavily and rubbing his face with his hands, a quick massage and perhaps admission to the fact that that day did seem to be necessarily on its way. At least he could still move this much. Then he put his hands down, heart beginning to thud with the excitement of a new possibility. He could move his hands, his arms, legs, face when his intentions were unrelated to his escape. But what if he could trick the chip, somehow, by planning out moves with two intentions? He could make himself believe that for each step in his escape, his actions were for purely innocent reasons. Might it not permit them then? What to do when his implant reached its boundary within the compound was another problem, of course, but one he could face when he made it there.
He supposed, of course, that he wasn't the first captive to think of this. It was possible that the implant included a safeguard of some sort, or would recognize the attempt. But on the other hand, what he wanted to do—that is, actually convince himself that he were not escaping-would be so difficult that it was possible the implant hadn't been equipped for it.
Exactly how he would fool himself into believing in his own innocence was, of course, an interesting problem. On Melkot, when they'd needed to convince themselves that the O.K. Corral was an illusion, he had needed Spock's telepathy to create the certainty. On his own, he would have to make himself believe entirely in something that was not just doubtful but fully untrue. But he couldn't spend his time waiting around for Spock—after all, the best case scenario was that his officers had already made it off the planet, hopefully to spend a nice convalescence in sickbay where Spock, at the very least, belonged. He would have to find a way around it somehow.
And there was another possibility. He could play by their rules, but play by them better than they'd ever expect. A command could be interpreted in so many ways, there was no telling that his interpretation would be exactly what his captors wanted. Raise his arm? Would it matter if his hand were in a fist and the raising happened right into a guard's masked face? It was their game, yes, but Kirk was a fast learner.
When his number was finally called, then, he was deep in concentration. And as his legs moved him toward the door just a little faster than perhaps they had intended, he allowed himself just the slightest smirk of satisfaction.
"You what?" McCoy stopped crawling immediately and stared at the Vulcan.
Spock halted as well. "I may be able to—"
"I heard you the first time," McCoy said, resisting the urge to glower at the Vulcan's backside, which was currently all that was available for glowering at in the narrow confines of the service tunnel. "What I meant to ask is how?"
"It is yet a theory, Doctor," Spock said, and McCoy noted with a stab of worry that he seemed more breathless than usual. He felt his hand moving almost of its own accord to his medical scanner, but for once he was actually more interested in what the Vulcan had to say.
"And?" he demanded.
"When the captain was…incapacitated," this word came out as something distasteful, and with it came a rush of guilt and blame that he realized Spock had turned inward in an effort to keep from affixing it to him. McCoy shook his head and resolved to comment on that, eventually, seeing as he was the doctor and therefore also responsible for Jim and Jim's body and anything that might be implanted in it. "I touched his mind, Doctor, in an attempt to… ease the pain. I felt the disorder and I think I was able to alleviate some of it. As you know, however, it cost me and perhaps because of that I did not see…" he trailed off, distracted for a moment. 'That' was probably his unconsciousness in the storage room, McCoy realized, though at the time he'd attributed it easily to stress and exhaustion. "If we can free him in time, Doctor, I believe that I should be able to alter his mind sufficiently to stave off the insanity for the time it takes to bring him to the Enterprise and perform the necessary surgery."
"In your state, Spock?" He had to ask. The Vulcan stiffened.
"Just fine, I'm sure," McCoy snapped. How many times had they had this conversation? Spock remained tense but did not reply. "Spock, I'm tired of asking what all of your plans are going to do to you." He did pull out the scanner now, and waving it over the Vulcan confirmed his fears. He had heard the crunch of bone as Spock had heaved himself into the shaft, and unless Spock took it easy he'd start bleeding internally or worse. "You shouldn't be sitting up at all, let alone crawling through vents and putting yourself in harm's way just for the chance to get to Jim, when you don't even know if it's possible to save him! Spock, I know how you feel about Jim. I actually know. But I can't let you kill yourself over this when we both know our chances of getting him out of here are astronomical! I can't let you kill me over it either," he added.
For while his own life tended to lie fairly low on his list of concerns when his friends or patients were in danger, it was occurring to him, finally, that he might very likely be a casualty in Spock's plans. Plans which were, in all likelihood, hopeless to begin with. They'd no way to even find Jim, let alone free him from the guards or get him to the implant's limits where Spock's telepathy would even be necessary. They'd solved one tiny aspect of the problem, but not the most important—like fixing a man's splinter and expecting his Rigelian fever to be cured. Spock's was a fool's errand, and one that would most likely leave him and Spock dead and Jim killed or captured again. He had told Spock that they would do their best, but this was no rescue operation. It was a suicide mission likely to fail.
"Doctor, I do not intend for either of us to become sacrifices!" Spock insisted, though his voice was taut with pain and McCoy realized he barely even believed himself. The emotion thrumming through their link was ill-controlled and desperate.
"No, Spock," McCoy said sharply, for he had just realized an absurd truth that needed sharing. The Vulcan didn't turn his head, but he could see the edge of an eyebrow rising. But this was something he'd never have believed aboard the Enterprise…for he and Spock had traded roles, somehow; Spock had become the irrational one, following his emotions when realistically, logically, there was no hope, while McCoy in his desire to preserve life, not just Jim's but Spock's and his own as well, had taken Spock's place as the voice of reason. And while he'd once have applauded Spock for acting more human, embracing his emotions, here it was just wrong, wrong and made Spock dangerous. For Spock's single-minded devotion to Jim was going to get them killed, and maybe Jim too, unless he could make Spock see what he was doing.
"Spock, I want to know some odds," McCoy demanded. He had to speak a language that Spock understood, and experience at least told him that confronting Spock about his emotions was not usually the most profitable of activities.
Spock was perplexed. "Doctor, I hardly-"
"The odds, Spock," McCoy plowed on. "What are the odds we rescue Jim and all survive? And that includes finding him, fighting his guards, doing your Vulcan magic on the chip and then somehow getting out of this place with him and getting to the Enterprise before anyone kills us."
"Doctor," Spock began again, but McCoy cut him off.
"Calculate them now, Spock. What are the odds?"
There was a moment of silence, and he could see Spock's back lower slightly as the Vulcan sighed. "Approximately… sixteen thousand to one," he said softly. "Though it is a rough estimate."
"All right then," McCoy said carefully, and wished he didn't have to be having this conversation on his hands and knees with Spock's rear end. "Now the odds that we make it out alive, if we leave now and head straight to where the ship is probably looking for us."
Spock said nothing for a moment, then hung his head. "Doctor, if you are attempting to make a point it is received," he said coldly. "But I must point out that if we leave now the captain must surely be doomed."
McCoy's face hardened. "What are the odds, Spock," he said.
Apparently it was a battle that Spock was too tired to fight, for he answered, "Approximately five to one."
"Look," McCoy said, softening his tone both in victory and because he could feel Spock's despair through their link as plainly as his own. Then he chose his words carefully. "I can't tell you how much I don't want to leave Jim here. Especially not when it seems like there might be a chance." Spock tensed again, and McCoy took a second to process the frustration and guilt and anger that surged momentarily his way. "But I don't want to get killed, Spock, because you insisted upon carrying out a rescue that is almost certainly going to fail! And I don't think Jim would want that either." He paused to take a steadying breath. "In fact, you know as well as I do that the last thing the captain would want would be that, for you to die for the tiniest, slightest sixteen-thousand-to-one chance to save him. Not when we can make it out alive."
"And that's not to mention our responsibility as Starfleet officers," McCoy went on doggedly. "Jim isn't the only being enslaved, here, and if we don't make it back to the ship Starfleet will never know. Is your having Jim worth the freedom of every single slave in this place? You're acting like a human, Spock, irrationally chasing after what you want with no regard for the consequences. You've gone beyond emotionality Spock, and this is downright irresponsible."
"Doctor, you have made your point." The words were practically growled, and for a fleeting moment McCoy wondered if he'd finally pushed Spock too far. Then, after a long silence in which McCoy wondered if maybe he'd simply broken him instead, Spock seemed to deflate. "However…you were correct to make it," the first officer said finally, and his tone was one of mourning. "You are under my command. Your safety…the discontinuation of this facility…should have been my chief concerns." But the rules were somehow different when Jim was concerned, McCoy knew, and he felt Spock's shame now, embarrassment that he had shirked his duties for a cause he'd barely realized was so personal. Still, he knew that the Vulcan's next words were perhaps the most difficult he'd spoken since they'd arrived on Catelus II two days before. "These service shafts should lead us near to an exit. We can attempt to reach the Enterprise from there."
McCoy only nodded. There was nothing to say. They started crawling once more, Spock in the lead.
"We will come back for him," McCoy offered after a little while.
"By then, Doctor, it may be too late."
"Because I do not believe that the captain will remain here for much longer," Spock said. "The guards were gone. It is only logical to assume that slaves were being moved or traded, and that the captain was being led to such activity when we encountered him."
McCoy could think of no response to this, but concentrated on following Spock, finding the energy through his own tiredness and pain. He wondered, as he'd known he would, if he had done the right thing in convincing Spock to leave Jim behind. Had he just ruined two lives, rather than one? What if Spock's odds had been wrong, and there really had been a chance to save Jim from a terrible fate? Well, he decided, he would never know, and he would just have to live with that no matter how much it might hurt tomorrow or years down the line. He only hoped that Spock might do the same.
When Spock's thoughts touched his mind again, it was hard to believe he hadn't found an answer. For, roiling with guilt and pain and anxiety as they were, there was one thread that stuck out among all the others, that captured the multitude of emotions with which Spock now grappled.