He had no idea where they were headed.

Kirk glanced down at his companion, whose head was resting peacefully on his shoulder, and sighed, realizing he had probably meant that in more senses than one. Despite the less than optimistic circumstances, Kirk couldn't help a small smile.

It wasn't his fault really. If anyone's, it was of that Cardassian engineer who designed the escape pod, either having in mind two children or one really big humanoid. All right, granted, the fact that Spock was unconscious was his fault, but when he pushed the Vulcan into this Spanish Inquisition kind of a bunk, he set him in his own space as best he could. It wasn't his fault that the turbulence had nearly killed them, but then resigned itself to giving them a thorough shake. And after all, Spock could have drifted in another direction couldn't he? He chose to bump into Jim instead, as long as unconscious people could choose anything.

Kirk sighed again, feeling guilty for several reasons at once. In and of itself, the situation wasn't unique, strictly speaking. The two of them had been on far too many landing parties where the conditions were less than ideal. In cramped quarters, things like that were bound to happen, and they did, ever since Spock stopped holding himself as rigid as an ice cube with his Captain. And that happened quite some time ago to be anything new now.

Neither of them made a big fuss about it. Spock usually apologized. When it was his turn, Kirk joked. Both chided the other for not rectifying the inconvenience. Neither made any special effort to avoid these would-be unwanted accidents.

Spock was a quiet sleeper, but an expressive one. When he was really sleeping, as opposed to keeping his mind semi-awake, allowing only the body to rest, he succumbed to it so completely that it was a fascinating show. He denied that Vulcans were capable of dreaming, but the emotions that his usually impassive face displayed during sleep gave him away. To see that hidden, private side of him was strangely endearing, and Kirk rarely could resist the temptation to watch when he had the chance.

When he had just assumed command of the Enterprise, he was under the impression that Spock didn't sleep at all, never mind during planet fall. When ordered to rest on the surface, the Vulcan would rather induce a deep meditative trance, keeping his eyes open, only his focus inward. Back then, Kirk suspected strongly he wasn't capable of relaxing at all.

When was it that Spock had finally allowed himself to sleep for real for the first time during Kirk's watch planetside? Was it Aranta? Or Dahlia 7? Or even Organia? Kirk couldn't remember now for certain, but he did remember the sense of absurd pride washing over him at having his First Officer finally gain enough trust in him to let him guard his sleep.

Kirk didn't recognize it as such back then, but he knew now that it was a milestone of sorts, signifying a shift in Spock's view of him. From merely a superior officer and a human one at that, he turned into someone whom Spock could trust at least as much as himself to forewarn him of any danger.

This kind of thing went beyond training, basic or in-depth, beyond upbringing, beyond habit. It was more primal, more instinctive, going all the way back to the core, to those times when their ancestors hunted for food and resided in caves, when letting one's guard down almost always meant a sure death. Those pieces of racial memory, echoes of ancient drives, seemed to be stronger in some people than in others, and it took one to know one.

Kirk knew enough of Spock to know that, despite centuries of conditioning and civilizing, his basic, normally tightly controlled instincts were every bit as savage as Kirk's own. Show no weakness. Watch your back. Never let your guard down. Trust no one. In the modern world, attitudes like those were extinct, and both of them had to fight down their instincts every minute of every day, in order to fit into this would-be more benevolent reality.

It was probably harder on Spock, than it was on Kirk. If humans merely frowned upon such out-of-date exhibits, Vulcans actively condemned them. Spock, whose blood was calling to him with double effort, was constantly under a twice as potent looking glass, as any human or even Vulcan, because of that same blood. He learned to emulate trust when he couldn't bring himself to feel it. To make him voluntarily drop his guard for someone was by definition no small feat. What would happen after that someone would use it?

Kirk glanced down again, feeling his arm going mildly asleep under steady pressure. He sighed.

"You won't be like this when you wake up, will you?" he murmured softly. Spock, of course, didn't answer, but Kirk didn't need him to. "Yeah," he said quietly. "I didn't think so."

The drug-induced sleep made Spock look younger and strangely more vulnerable. Defenseless. Kirk knew he'd probably hate being seen like that, as much as Vulcans could hate anything. His conscience was nagging him constantly, reminding him that as far as Vulcan emotions went, being observed while sleeping would be nowhere near the top of the list of things Spock would probably get angry about.

Probably. You wish.

A light on the panel started to blink, and Kirk disengaged himself gently from the unresisting Vulcan in order to reach it. Not that it did him any good. He had figured, more or less precisely, what the key controls were, but the majority of the board was still terra incognita. Spock would probably have more luck once he was awake.

Mission-wise, they were in a lot of trouble. They had the information, at least Kirk hoped they did. He looked over the records in Spock's tricorder, but the files clearly required to be deciphered and made no sense to him the way they were now. But even assuming their expedition to retrieve the data was a success, it didn't change the fact that the rest of their plan seemed more and more unviable.

Even if the Enterprise had survived the encounter with the Cardassians, they had no way of finding the escape pod. At least, not any time soon. The thought of his ship made Kirk frown deeply. If there was anything he hated as much as waiting, it was this nauseating, tugging feeling of uncertainty, of not knowing. As a starship captain, he was supposed to care first and foremost for the mission, which in this case was flushing out this Big Game and protecting the Federation from the Cardassians. Yet he found himself thinking constantly not about the long-term intergalactic consequences, but of his people.

He felt for them, he couldn't help it. As a Starfleet officer, he was duty bound to care more about the Federation's well-being than that of his crew, but the human in him protested loudly. He had left a lot of friends on board. It was his crew, and they were counting on him. He did what he thought was best for them, but it didn't make the choice any easier.

The soft sound coming from behind alerted him to the fact that Spock was coming around. Kirk stilled inwardly, before what he knew would inevitably lead to a confrontation. He just hoped it wouldn't get too much out of hand. After all, they weren't in the safest of environments.

He could feel Spock sitting up straighter and trying to come to grips with the world of consciousness once again. From experience, Kirk knew that Spock must be slightly nauseous and quite disoriented. He wanted very much to ask Spock how he was feeling.

Instead, he said, "Oh good, you're awake at last. I need some help determining our position."

Spock straightened up silently, not looking at him, and bent over the console without a word, studying it. He didn't ask any questions, but his eyebrow crept up somewhat.

"There's been a huge disturbance in the nebula," Kirk jumped in to explain. "Probably when the Cardassians engaged the Enterprise. I don't know what happened, but we've been thrown away pretty far."

Spock gave no sign that he heard him, checking various panels.

"Those Cardassian pictograms, I couldn't make heads or tails of them," Kirk confessed, watching Spock's face closely. "I thought if you would maybe take a look—"

"I require a moment of silence, Captain," Spock uncharacteristically interrupted him in a cold, sharp tone, his voice slightly deeper from sleep.

Kirk closed his mouth, assessing the situation. Bad, he thought. He was in deep trouble, if Spock started with snapping at him like that. He watched the Vulcan checking panels, seemingly at random. From the look of mindful concentration on his face, however, Kirk deduced that the Cardassian alphabet made more sense to Spock than it did to him.

"If my interpretation is correct, we are approximately twelve parsecs away from the Purple Corridor," Spock said, without inflection. "Navigational controls appear to be malfunctioning."

"Yes, I couldn't quite get a hang of them, either," Kirk replied, trying for casualness. "We seem to be stuck with wherever we are headed."

Spock didn't offer any comment, continuing to study the board as if he was alone in the pod. Suppressing his stirring irritation, Kirk tried again.

"The good news is, the environmental system seems to be intact. And there're some rations over there, though I can't know if we'd care much for the taste. According to the tricorder, though, they are edible."

Spock failed to react again, looking over another monitor, instead.

"Look, Spock," Kirk took a deep breath. "I know you must be—"

"I have no wish to discuss it, Captain," Spock dropped flatly.

Kirk was really getting tired of being either ignored or cut off.

"Well, I do," he snapped. "Look, I'm sorry for pulling a stunt like this on you, but I had no choice. I couldn't just leave you there. It was... I didn't... Look, you really left me no other choice."

Spock remained silent.

"Dammit, Spock, say something!"

The Vulcan lifted an eyebrow and, apparently satisfied with the readings, pulled back, sitting primly on the bunk, staring forward.

"What specifically do you require me to say, sir?"

Kirk winced.

"God, Spock, don't do this."

"You will have to make your requests more concrete if you wish me to comply with them, sir."

Kirk rounded on him, as much as their cramped quarters allowed.

"So suddenly you're all compliant, are you? What about what happened on that ship?"

"What about it?" Spock asked, uninterested.

"Do you really think I could have left you there to be further interrogated? You're a far greater security risk than that blasted data ever was."

Spock looked at him impassively.

"You should be aware by now that I do not submit information under pressure. There was no risk of a security breach."

"Granted, but that didn't make it right!"

"That was not your decision to make."

"Really? And why the hell not? Last time I checked I was still the captain here."

Spock's look became steely.

"Yes. Sir." His tone was stingingly deliberate. "And as captain, you allowed me to make an agreement with the Cardassian. You let me negotiate the terms. You agreed for the plan to proceed. And when he fulfilled his obligations, you stopped me from fulfilling mine. You made me break my word, Sir. Until this day, I was unaware that this was one of your command prerogatives."

"I never agreed to those terms because you never told me!" Kirk exploded. "And had I known, I'd never have agreed to them!"

"That does not change the fact that the obligation was taken and then abandoned."

"That was an obligation given to an enemy!"

"And to humans it is, apparently, a crucial distinction. It seems to have slipped from my mind that you only fulfill those obligations you find convenient."

"Don't you dare," Kirk hissed. "I haven't broken my word once in my entire life, Spock!"

"But you didn't hesitate before making me break mine," Spock said flatly. "Why is that, Sir? Why would you consider something unacceptable for you acceptable for me? Is being true to his word a captain's privilege only?"

"You know damn well that I don't think so! I did it because I had no choice, Spock!"

"That is inaccurate. You did have a choice. You made it."

"That wasn't a choice! To change your life for staying true to your word—"

"Would be some people's definition of honor, Captain. It used to be yours, on occasion. But apparently, you do not consider me deserving of the same privilege."

"Spock, that was my fault at any rate, not yours."

"Are you now taking the responsibility for my disgrace away from me as well?"

"Oh, God damn it! I understand that this is frustrating to you, Spock, and I'm sorry for forcing your hand, but I only did it because the other option was unacceptable!"

Spock considered him for a moment, his demeanor infuriatingly calm. Then, he spoke blandly. "Do you regret your actions, Captain?"

Kirk knew he was trapped. There was no way he could lie about this, and no way Spock was going to take the truth well. He remembered briefly the incoherent, feral Vulcan they brought back from his first date with the Cardassian. And then he remembered the feeling of Spock leaning against his shoulder in his sleep, spreading warmth by his mere presence; remembered the quiet sound of his untroubled breathing. He didn't have to weigh the two memories against each other to know his answer.

"No," he said firmly. "No, I don't regret them. I would do the same again."

Spock pursed his lips, as if to say, 'I rest my case.' For some reason, the gesture reignited Kirk's fury tenfold.

"What about you, Spock? I gotta tell you, you have some nerve lecturing me about honor after what you tried to pull on me back on the ship. I never thought betrayal with a kiss was your style, but apparently I was wrong."

Spock blinked.

"I was only trying to protect you," he said, a bit uncertainly. "You are a very responsive individual, and I acted in the only logical manner open to me at the time. That was not meant as a personal attack."

Kirk laughed bitterly at that. "So, you not only tried to seduce me, you didn't even mean it personally? And I thought I couldn't possibly feel any worse."

"That was not my objective. I assure you, I acted having your interests in mind."

"In other words, you're allowed to bend morality in order to have your way, but I'm not?"

Spock frowned, his face darkening.

"You do not understand, Captain. What you made me do was not 'bend morality.' It was not even acting against my upbringing, against every rule of Vulcan society and tradition. What you made me do is considered a crime on my planet, second only to entering another's mind without consent. What you made me do is not against my morality or honor. It is against my very nature."

"Really?" Kirk felt so angry, he could barely contain himself. "How inconsiderate of me! But with your plan being against your very life, Spock, I still say I win!"

"You win," Spock repeated pensively. "Yes, of course. I should have realized this earlier. That is all that matters to you—to win at all costs, over anyone and everyone. How shortsighted of me not to have seen it immediately. All you care about is another victory."

Kirk stared at him, breathing heavily, unable to believe Spock was being serious. Which he apparently was.

"How can you say that?" Kirk asked slowly. "How can you..."

"What other logical reason would you have?" Spock asked calmly.

"I don't know, Spock. Nothing comes to mind, help me out, would you? What reason did you have when you came on to me in the briefing room?"

"I was trying to protect you," Spock repeated.

Kirk snorted humorlessly. "So you're allowed to cheat to protect me, but I can't do the same to protect you? That seems fair somehow to your superior Vulcan honor?"

"There is no emotion involved in my actions, sir. I am duty bound to protect you. You are my captain."

"How convenient for you. That's a great excuse, Spock, but I don't have one like that."

Spock gave him a long withering look and then said very calmly, "I cannot possibly fathom what you would require one for."

It was all he could do to remain immobile. There was a strange buzzing in his ears, similar to the aftermaths of being hit on the head. Was it possible Spock's meaning had somehow eluded him? Took another form? Was there any chance at all that this expressionless, indifferent face was a mirage? That he didn't really say what Kirk thought he just said?

Because if the answer to any of those questions was 'no,' he would have to admit that Spock had taken even rejection to an art form.

"You know," Kirk said slowly, wondering briefly why his mouth felt so dry. "You're probably right. I shouldn't be needing one. It seems like I owe you another apology. I'm sorry I care, Mr. Spock, when it so clearly goes against your wishes. My mistake. Rest assured, I'll be working on correcting it."

Something broke in Spock's eyes at these words, but only for a moment.


Kirk raised a hand, silencing him.

"You wouldn't mind taking this shift, would you? I feel I'm in need of rest."

Spock watched him a moment longer, then nodded curtly.

"Of course, sir."

"Great," Kirk muttered, lowering himself to the bunk, trying to maintain as much distance as possible. "Wake me up if anything happens."

"Yes, sir," Spock replied succinctly.

Kirk closed his eyes, more to shut off the image than anything else. It seemed more and more to him that he'd never learn. This habit of transferring his own emotions onto Spock simply had to stop. Spock never gave him reason to believe his loyalty was anything more than professional. And if Kirk thought at times that he did, it was nothing more than wishful thinking.

He would really give anything to be able to fall asleep right now.

As it turned out, it wasn't so difficult a task after all.

It was probably exhaustion or maybe the sense of overwhelming defeat he was feeling in abundance, or perhaps even the somewhat lulling vibration of the escape pod. Whatever the reason, Kirk drifted off to sleep when he had least expected it. Not that it resulted in anything good.

It was a dark, murky, positively nasty place. Like a cliff and a quagmire at the same time. Tugging, pushing, pulling into the lightless depths, where no life could survive. He couldn't remember ever feeling so alone or so desolate. He was certain there must have been times when it was worse. If only he could recall, surely, he'd find a way out? If only...


Kirk came to with a start, heart beating rapidly in his throat, breathing uneven. Several things dawned at once—that it was just a dream, that he obviously had been trying to wake up for some time, but couldn't, that it was Spock who finally shook him literally into consciousness, and that, judging by the force of his voice, he couldn't do it at once, either.

"Oh God," Kirk groaned, relief washing over him, relaxing the wound-up muscles. "Oh God."

"Are you all right, Captain?" Spock asked, as he slowly let go of him, watching him warily.

"Yeah," Kirk nodded, suddenly tired all over again. He rubbed his shoulder absently. "What the..."

Spock pulled away, somewhat self-consciously.

"I apologize. You were dreaming, you would not wake up. I might have... used more force than necessary."

"I'm glad you did," Kirk muttered, still under the impression of his nightmare. "It was some dream. Excuse me."

Still rather groggy between the sway of realities and adrenaline, Kirk climbed up from the bunk a bit awkwardly, intending to visit the head. There was literally half a meter of space separating it from the cockpit, and the room itself didn't deserve the name, as it was more of a closet. Kirk cursed, realizing that the light was either broken or non-existent. Well, for all he knew, the Cardassians might not even need it.

"There is a light panel forty centimeters up to your left," Spock's voice came muffled from behind the door. "If you push it slightly—"

Kirk hit the panel with considerable force, working out his irritation. He couldn't tell what got him more annoyed—the thought that Spock would probably have no problems with the darkness, or that he now believed Kirk to be in need of micromanagement. It was entirely possible that the dream was still affecting him, too, even though the details were fading rapidly from his memory.

For the best.

Kirk emerged, grumpy and still somewhat ill-coordinated, and slid down into the bunk clumsily. Spock gave him a quick assessing look, before returning his attention to the tricorder. Kirk knew he was supposed to ask, so he made an effort.

"Has anything..."

"Nothing to report, Captain," Spock said, when it became clear that Kirk wasn't going to elaborate. "I have attempted to adjust our heading towards the Starbase, but I am uncertain of the results, as we are still within the nebula and the navigational computer is not functioning."

"I see," Kirk said, staring at the viewport.

Several minutes passed in silence. Kirk was all but sleeping with his eyes open, trying to get a grip on things once again. Spock shot a wary glance at him, before reaching for a nutritional bar and handing it over. It took Kirk a moment to realize what it was.

"I'm not hungry," he shook his head.

The bar remained in front of him.

"Captain, you require sustenance at this time," Spock said quietly. "It has been approximately ten hours since you partook of a meal."

"I said I'm not hungry," Kirk repeated with a hint of impatience.

Spock's hand wavered somewhat, but didn't retreat completely.

"It is illogical... to refuse to take nourishment... when it is obviously needed."

The strange hesitation made Kirk actually glance at him. Spock wore an open and a strangely familiar look on his face. Kirk couldn't pinpoint it at once, but then he remembered. It was the same kind of look his Newfoundland used to give him, when Jimmy came home from school to find out that some of his belongings had gotten chewed or smashed in his absence. Coming from Spock, it was ridiculous. It was also quite unbearable.

"Oh, all right," Kirk grunted, snatching the food bar from his hand and starting to work the wrappers. He was certain he was seeing things.

It was probably this state of semi-coherency that made him so slow on the uptake. Otherwise, he would have picked up Spock's uncharacteristic nervousness earlier. As it was, Kirk found his mind able to focus on one thing at a time only, and at the moment, it was the food bar.

"Oh hell."

It tasted like paper. Really thick, raw paper, pressed together, with some incursions of brick. Kirk chewed mechanically, wondering idly about the bar's nutritional value. He hoped it was high, because he'd rather not repeat the experience of consuming it too frequently. His thoughts stumbled and broke in unpredictable patterns, as he watched the mildly orange flows of gas unfurl along the viewport. He wished he could see the stars.

"We shouldn't serve together anymore," he said suddenly, catching a thought by its tail.

Spock made some kind of muffled noise, which a crude observer would have labeled startled.

"Captain," he said evenly, but tensely, looking up from his tricorder. "At this point, it is unlikely that either one of us will have a chance to continue in Starfleet. However, if I may ask, why are you against our continuous service together?"

"Oh, it's not me so much," Kirk shrugged, disposing of the last of the nasty food. "Mostly thinking of you. You're so fiercely loyal, you deserve a captain whom you can respect. Not one who stabs you in the back for reasons passing understanding."

"About that, sir..." Spock started hesitantly, but Kirk raised a hand.

"Spock, I know you're itching to give me another lecture on ethics, but I'm like years away from being ready for round two right now. I yield to your superior morality, just give it a break, okay?"

Spock paused and then said quietly, "I only wanted to say that I may have overreacted, Captain."

"Overreacted?" Kirk repeated mindlessly, turning to look at him, and then it hit him.

His eyes widened slightly, as it all came to him at once. Spock's uncharacteristic hesitancy, that odd look from earlier, his evident dismay. Kirk was suddenly very awake, very alert, and slightly dizzy from the realization that somehow, impossibly, he won the game he had given up on. With a mixture of elation and embarrassment, he realized that he must have been quite a sight in his sleep, too. And apparently—thank God for timely nightmares—Spock wasn't as immune as he tried to convince himself and everyone around him.

Checking himself from spilling it all instantly, Kirk raised his eyebrows innocently. "Overreacted? You, Mr. Spock? Impossible."

Spock blushed. He had obvious trouble meeting Kirk's eyes, and the sight was plainly incredible.

"Normally, I would agree with you, sir, but at the moment... the stress of the situation... our conditions... I might have... neglected to take into account that... my continuous existence may be of some personal value to you..."

"Of some," Kirk put in ironically.

Spock glanced up at him curtly, before dropping his eyes again.

"It occurred to me that if our positions were reversed, I might have been prone to do the same thing."

"I know."

"It would not have been... merely because you are my captain... I had no right to chide you... in any case. It was not my place, and I... hope that you can... that you can..."

He was babbling, and it was adorable, not to mention unbelievable, but Kirk did have a heart. They were both right, and they were both wrong, and there was little to be done about it. He didn't need to hear it, didn't have to make Spock apologize. He could sense his discomfort, and he wasn't enjoying it any more than Spock did. He didn't want to watch Spock squirm.

He didn't need him to say something neither of them was ready to hear.

"Spock," Kirk interrupted firmly. "Spock, look at me." Their eyes locked. Kirk smiled softly. "Forget it."

"But I—"

"Forget it. Really, Spock. It's all right. I understand. I'm not proud of myself, either."

Spock's expression was still doubtful, and Kirk did what felt natural to him to reassure him. He offered his hand.


Spock took it, a bit hesitantly, but clasped tightly.

"Friends, Captain."

Kirk's look became sterner.

"Jim," Spock amended.

Kirk grinned. "That's better. Let's take a break from ambushing each other, okay? I got tired of being suspicious of you. I need to be able to trust my second in command, you know. In whatever fleet we end up serving."

Spock lifted an eyebrow. "As your hypothetical second in command, it will be my duty to point out that you have your priorities wrong."

"Do I?" Kirk gave him a cocky smile, which was just a touch wistful. "I don't think so. After all, I was only ensuring that Starfleet wouldn't lose a highly valuable officer."

Spock pursed his lips, having his own words backfiring at him.

"At the risk of losing another?"

Kirk grinned disarmingly. "Whatever it takes." He assumed a more serious expression. "For the record, Spock, I have no problems letting you risk your life when it's warranted. When there are lives at stake or it's vital for the mission. I know it's your duty. I did order you into that amoeba thing, didn't I? But don't expect me to stand aside for something like this."

Spock shook his head in exasperation. "You are the most impossible human I have ever met, Captain."

Kirk beamed, his gaze turning mischievous. "Why, Mr. Spock, did you just tell me I'm one of a kind?"

Spock very nearly rolled his eyes. "Fortunately."

Kirk laughed, patting his shoulder. "Could you pass me another one of those bars, Mr. Spock? I think I am hungry after all."

"I thought you didn't care much for the taste?" Spock noted, reaching for the holder.

"No, no," Kirk shook his head, grinning. "I think I find them better than strawberry."

Spock made no comment, but Kirk didn't blame him. He could see Spock barely holding back a grin of his own. Pushing him now wasn't kind, and Kirk desisted. Given their renewed understanding, he was certain there would be time for it later when it would be a more fair game.

"How's your Cardassian?" Kirk asked, yawning and leaning over Spock's shoulder to look at the tricorder.

They had been travelling for nearly forty-eight hours now, still within the nebula. An escape pod wasn't designed for speed by definition. Its main purpose was to sustain the life of its occupants for as long as possible. Spock occupied his time with deciphering the logs he had downloaded. Kirk took the opportunity to rest, but his ability to remain idle was slowly coming to an end.

"Progressing," Spock said, without looking up. "I believe I am close to decoding this block."

Kirk leaned a little closer to see the highlighted data.

"That's not the ship's log," he said, certain.

"No," Spock confirmed. "I believe it is the module where the orders from Central Command are stored. It may include the orders both executed already and those for the future."

"That'd be invaluable for us," Kirk mused. "Central Command?"

"I believe it is the equivalent of Starfleet Command for us. My knowledge of the Cardassian military and government system is still regrettably sporadic."

"Oh, come now, Spock. You're doing fine. See how quickly you've taken up the language."

"You forget that I had a brief contact with the mind of my interrogator," Spock reminded him quietly. "As I had no shields and no defense mechanism at the time, I couldn't prevent certain images and information from slipping in. It took me a while to sort it out, but where the language is concerned at least, I find myself in possession of certain... intuitive knowledge. No doubt, it originates from my contact with him."

"Still, Spock, it's very impressive. Why is it always so hard for you to give yourself any credit?"

Spock turned to him, but very slightly, avoiding the inevitable collision.


"Hm? Oh, sorry, Spock," Kirk muttered, pulling away.

"There is no need to apologize," Spock shook his head softly, visibly relaxing a bit.

"Of course there is, I should know better than to crowd you."

"We are in rather confined quarters, there is little you can do," Spock pointed out reasonably. "I would not have objected had my shielding been in place. As it is, your close proximity is... distracting."

"Distracting." Kirk grinned. "I like the sound of that."

"No doubt," Spock said dryly. "If you would kindly give me another ten minutes of peace, I believe I might be able to crack this code."

"Sure," Kirk agreed readily. "I'll even promise to keep my hands to myself."

Spock gave him a blank look, which nevertheless didn't fail to convey exactly what he thought of this kind of humor, before returning to his tricorder. Ten minutes weren't up, however, when he made a soft muffled noise, staring at the screen.

"Spock, what is it?" Kirk asked, alarmed. "What?"

"These orders, Captain," Spock put the tricorder on the board between them.

"You switched them to English," Kirk muttered. "Nice work... Holy hell." He turned pale. "Which Starbase do you think?"

Spock shook his head.

"There is no doubt about it. They left too many traces there, as it was, I believe, with Kalina Ranga space station. They are now eliminating those traces."

"And doing a thorough job at it, too," Kirk said grimly. "Can't we do something?"

"Not until someone picks up our distress call, no, sir," Spock said.

"How long till we clear the nebula?"

"Approximately four hours."

"That's way too long to wait."

"Captain," Spock fixed him with a steady gaze. "It might have already happened."

"I know, Spock, but we can't just sit here and wait till we're picked up," Kirk shifted impatiently, exercising his frustration. "We need to try and break from our route."

Spock nodded somberly.

"Very well, sir. There is no guarantee this will work, however. The turbulence has damaged the pod quite extensively."

"I understand. Let's do it."

"I shall attempt to create an interface," Spock said, linking his tricorder to the control panel. "It should facilitate our ability to read the indicators."

Kirk nodded, knowing that by 'our ability' Spock meant Kirk's ability, because the Vulcan had already committed the known Cardassian symbols to memory. Consideration of speech was an indigenous trait for Spock, though, and Kirk let it slide.

"It's ready," Spock said. "If you would take the helm, Captain, I can focus on the weapons controls."

Kirk stared at him.

"This thing has weapons?"

"Indeed. Short-ranged, but effective."

Kirk shook his head, amazed and impressed. "These guys really are the trusting types, aren't they?" he muttered rhetorically. "Weapons on an escape pod."

"Not completely illogical," Spock noted. "One might never know—"

"Indeed, Mr. Spock. Let's go."

He could plot and read the course more easily now, after Spock reprogrammed the board. It still didn't change the fact that the automated navigation was out, but that didn't concern Kirk much at the moment. As soon as they saw the stars, he should be able to navigate by them. The controls weren't fully responsive, but he hoped he'd be able to avoid flying into a star or an asteroid.

"Approaching the nebula's perimeter," Spock warned quietly. "Crossing in three minutes."

Kirk tensed involuntarily, staring at the screen expectantly. They didn't know where they would be dropping out. There was no way of telling if he was going to need all his impressive reaction and piloting skills at once.


The escape pod slid into open space, the sudden change of scenery causing Kirk to blink. To his relief, however, they were in no danger of colliding with anything straight away.

"Readings, Mr. Spock," he said. "Any vessel in the vicinity?"

Spock scanned the sensors, as best he could, then shook his head.

"Negative, Captain. However, I remind you that the sensitivity of this craft is extremely limited."

As if having heard his words, the pod shook violently once and then stopped moving abruptly. Kirk glanced at Spock, managing to do a decent frown.

"I'd say it's limited," he grumbled. "Have we just been caught in a tractor beam?"

"There would seem to be evidence to that effect," Spock said.

"Friend or foe, Mr. Spock?"

"I do not know, sir. However, I would not be optimistic. The Enterprise is definitely too far away, and we do not have any other 'friends' right now."

"Well," Kirk drawled resignedly. "I didn't think we'd be in the dark for long."

Spock looked at him.

"On that matter, sir, there could be no argument."

Kirk grinned. "Just think of it, Spock. The last thing we do may be actually agreeing on something."

Spock frowned, lifting his head, as the pod around them started to shake and squeak dangerously.

"It might indeed be the last thing we do, Captain," he said, raising his voice above the crackling and sputtering. "I believe the pod may have been more damaged than we thought. It probably can't withstand the force of a tractor beam."

"Make that definite," Kirk snapped, as the control panel erupted in a series of blazing sparks.

Spock turned towards him to answer, but there was no time left, as a growing pool of light swallowed them.