Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek.
Leaving Without You is set shortly after the events of "The Tholian Web," to which there is a reference. A marooned crew, a plague planet, the ultimate test of friendship and character, Kirk-whumpage and Christine to the rescue. What's not to love!
This is a rewrite and reshuffle of chapters of Leaving Without You, which was first published in January 2011. For those who have already read it, most of the changes were made in the last chapters.
Spock turned from his scanner at the science station to his Captain. Kirk sat in his customary posture of alertness, on the edge of his chair, elbow on the armrest, thumb at his cheek and index finger on his lips. He was squinting in concentration, all his attention on the main view screen.
"The debris indicates that it was, once, a starship, Captain."
"The Troika," said Kirk, not taking his eyes off the grey planet and the narrow belt of wreckage orbiting it. "Gav Siderov's ship, missing in action for one year now."
Spock observed the Captain's fatigue, perceptible - if only to those who knew him well - right under the surface of his natural vitality and the adrenaline of the moment. They had been en route to the nearest starbase for repairs and a well-deserved rest. Their stand-off with the Tholians and subsequent run-in with a barrage of severe ion storms had put them "through the wringer," as Doctor McCoy quite adequately put it (for once). The Captain had of course taken the brunt of both the danger and the worry.
It had been known that the Troika had disappeared in this quadrant of space, but a survey six months ago had come up with nothing. That they had picked up on the debris had been sheer coincidence. Spock could tell, from their faces, that it was not entirely welcome to some of the present bridge personnel. Not so to the most sleep-deprived of all of them, of course. The Captain had come instantly alive to the situation.
"Eleven months and three days, Captain. To be exact."
This broke Kirk's reverie. He sat up straight and offered Spock a wry smile.
"Thank you for that, Mister Spock."
He leaped from his chair and practically bounded over to resume his preoccupation with the main screen from the vantage point of the science station. Spock considered again his Captain's need for the sensual - the satisfaction of moving his body, the hand gripping the backrest of Spock's chair and the attraction of the visual on the screen. Spock never ceased to be amazed at the fascination of humans for that screen, which surely presented an at best inadequate picture of reality. He turned back to his own scanner, which displayed an infinitely more complex and vibrant abstraction of that reality.
"Any indications of what happened? Signs of attack, malfunction?" Kirk asked.
"Attack is ruled out by the fact that there are no traces of ion disturbance. As for malfunction, it is hard to say. The evidence strongly suggests that the ship was operational for several months before its orbit decayed and surrendered it to the atmosphere. There it broke up and most of the fragments bounced back into space."
"Any signs of human remains?"
"None, Captain. If anyone had been on board when the ship was destroyed, we would have picked up the traces."
Spock could almost sense the flare of the Captain's excitement.
"So they abandoned ship!" Kirk concluded, a sudden urgent hope rebounding in his voice. "They must all still be down there. Scans of the planet, Mister Spock?"
"Proceeding, Captain. Class M, like Earth in many respects. Sensors pick up many life forms, but of the humanoid kind there are…" He hesitated and, raising an eyebrow, turned to face the Captain, "forty-three."
"Forty… three? The Troika had a crew of five-hundred!"
"Could anything have attacked them on the planet surface?"
"Scans indicate that all other life forms are small and benign. I read no harmful bacteria that would cause a massive die-off like that. Doctor McCoy is looking into it now. Also, Captain, all forty-three humanoids are homo sapiens."
"Didn't the Troika have Sarans on board? And… Vulcans?"
"Two Sarans, two Vulcans. They are not on the planet. Not alive, in any case," Spock informed him impassively. "The humans are congregated in a small city on the continent in the northern hemisphere. This city unquestionably predates the Troika's arrival."
"Ruins of an older civilization?"
"It is primitive, Captain, but how old is hard to tell."
"We'll have to go down there," Kirk concluded, as he always did, simply and with conviction.
"It would seem so," said the Vulcan with a hint of amusement. Exploring alien worlds was like walking from one room into the next for the Captain. But Kirk either failed to notice his witticism, or decided to pass it up.
"Let's find out what shape they're in," he was saying, already on his way to the turbolift, "and what decimated their crew before we bring them on board. Tell McCoy to report to the transporter room with environmental suits. Select four security personnel."
The turbolift doors opened in front of him, but he stopped short.
"Oh, and Mister Spock," he added, singling out his First Officer with a shrewd smile and a beckoning finger, "you're coming too."
They materialized in a part of the city which scans indicated was deserted. In the outskirts and at the top of a slight hill, their beam down point gave them a good overview of the city below. McCoy grumbled. The place had a medieval feel to it. The narrow streets and winding alleys were crowded by one or two-room houses of stone or wood. Most of the roofs had caved in, walls had crumbled, mosses and weeds had taken over on the edges. It had rained recently, and everything was wet and uninviting underneath a dreary, grey sky.
The Doctor shivered and pushed the thought to the back of his mind.
"This city would have housed several thousands," Spock observed over his whirring scanner. "There are no indications of war or a natural calamity. It is, simply, empty."
"Well, it spooks me!" McCoy blurted out.
He got a sympathetic smile from Kirk. The Captain turned – his tight-fitting environmental suit creaking around him - to monitor his men one by one. The place must also be giving him the creeps, and he was making sure they were all alert and objective.
"It's okay, Ensign Dow," Kirk reassured the youngest of their party, who was looking particularly pale behind the bleak reflections on the glass of his helmet. "There is no immediate danger."
The young man nodded gratefully.
"Doctor, aside from those spooks, any signs of harmful organisms? I've bad memories of these suits…"
McCoy quickly revisited his medical scanner.
"Like I concluded from the ship's scans, none, Captain," he was glad to report. Half of his own uneasiness stemmed from seeing the Captain in that suit again. "All clear."
With an audible sigh of relief Kirk unclasped his helmet and lifted it off. He set it down out of sight behind a crumbling wall and proceeded to peel off the rigid suit. They followed his example.
McCoy shivered with the humid chill in the air, like of pending snow. But instead of fresh the air tasted stale in his mouth. A stagnant fog was accumulating among the broken walls around them. He shivered again and stood still, listening.
"That bird," he said to no one in particular.
"By its song I surmise that is the largest bird on this planet, Doctor," said Spock. "Similar to the American Robin. It is also the largest animal, excepting the humans."
"Damn it, Spock," McCoy snapped, "I was referring to its song. Doesn't it sound eerie to you?"
Spock minutely cocked his head.
"Gentlemen," Kirk cut in before they all fell to listening to that disturbing sound, "let's approach carefully. Who knows what state of mind Siderov's crew is in, after being in this place for a year."
He started toward the center of the city.
Kirk was acutely aware of their bizarre situation. The sinister state of the city set his teeth on edge, but at the same time its low-grade misery also threatened to lull him into lethargy. Or perhaps that was his fatigue, the stress and lack of sleep that had been catching up with him until they had come across the wreckage. It was still there, of course, in his bones. He fervently hoped they would solve the mystery of the Troika soon. There were limits to even his endurance.
Still, exhausted or not, he was taking no chances. He had opted out of approaching the center by the broader road and was following instead a narrow street that ran parallel to it. The dirt had given way to a rocky pavement. At intervals the crumbling houses stood aside to a view of a cobblestoned square, sometimes with a disused well at the center, or, more disturbingly, a scaffold of sorts in tatters. A shutter hung by a hinge. A door stood callously open to a ruined room. And all of it, empty and hollow, wooing the wind.
Too many holes from which snipers could pick them off, one by one. Too many holes from which, in the blink of an eye, a pack could swarm them.
Kirk wondered why such dark thoughts should occur to him. The only inhabitants of this planet that could pose a threat were, after all, Starfleet. But his hope, when he had realized that the crew of the Troika had beamed down to the planet, had all too quickly turned to this feeling of dread. And now his gut was telling him – virtually screaming at him – that something was very wrong with this place.
The scurry of a rodent made him jump. And something else was nagging him, scratching at the tensioned edge of his vigilance.
"Everything alright, Jim?" McCoy, right behind him, asked.
Unintentionally Kirk had stopped. He moved his tongue along his palette, frowning.
"This thirst… The air tastes chalky," he murmured.
It was McCoy's turn to frown.
"To me too, Captain," Dow put in.
"Not to me," McCoy said. That tiny scanner of his was already whirring around Kirk's face, then moved to Dow. "Nothing out of the ordinary with either of you."
Kirk glanced around. The others were shaking their heads.
"Probably nothing," he said, swallowing to get the taste out of his mouth. "Let's take a break. Dow, Forbes, take the watch."
They sat down below a low wall. They had been on-planet for a little over an hour now, and already Kirk felt bone weary. He wished for a cat nap and wondered if it would be a good idea to contact the ship and have water flasks beamed down. Their away mission equipment often left a lot to be desired. He discreetly assessed his men. Their faces betrayed a low-level anxiety. Even Spock seemed on edge.
"The majority of this city was built well over a hundred Earth years ago, Captain," said the Vulcan. He sat very still, looking intently at a spot across the alley.
Kirk glanced over. He saw nothing of note.
"But these parts at least haven't been lived in for over a decade, if not longer," Spock continued. "I have seen no evidence that, technologically, this society advanced beyond the pulley. What surprises me is the obvert absence of any religious or artistic architecture. It's all practical, basic."
"And no signs of the Troika crew?" Kirk asked.
"Not until now, Captain," Spock answered, and he nodded in the direction of where he was looking.
Now Kirk spotted it.
"An arrow!" he gasped.
Why did I miss it? I've been sitting here for five minutes!
He ran over at a crouch, picked up the stick and returned to the wall with it. He felt the point.
"If the city was long deserted when they took shelter here, there would have been no agriculture or livestock for life support," Spock observed.
"So once their supplies ran out they resorted to scavenging," Kirk continued the thought. "Rats, mice, birds. Could starvation have led to their demise?"
"It's unlikely," McCoy put in. "True, the ship's supplies wouldn't have lasted a crew of five-hundred very long. But they could have brought down a generator and a food synthesizer."
Kirk nodded, frowning.
"Too many riddles, gentlemen. I'll be glad to meet someone who can tell us what's going on."