Chapter One: Playing With Fire
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SPOILER ALERT! This fanfic deals with the storyline introduced in the first nine minutes of "Star Trek Into Darkness." If you want to go to the theater without any foreknowledge, read no further! Or better yet, head to my profile and choose an Academy fic to keep your Star Trek feels going until May.
Even after six months, Nyota Uhura is never bored on the bridge of the Enterprise. Like everyone else in Starfleet, she knows too well how rare this opportunity is to serve on one of the remaining ships of the line—though she doesn't question her rightful place here. She's more than earned it.
That the work in communications is always interesting—in fact, sometimes thrilling—is a bonus. She would be happy to serve even if the work were incredibly dull, if like her predecessors in the past she were resigned to spending most of her time as little more than a switchboard operator, answering hails and relaying messages for the captain.
Thankfully that's not how James Kirk sees her role. If anything, he gives her some tasks that probably should be assigned to Spock and his science staff. It's a measure of his trust in her—and Spock's silence on the matter is a measure of his own trust in them both. Nyota knows better than anyone that Spock wouldn't hesitate to point out the irregularity in the assignments otherwise.
Like this one—cobbling together a workable translation of the native Nibiruan language from snippets of recordings.
On the viewscreen, Nibiru hangs in space like a dull red marble, a class M planet but barely. For the past three days the Enterprise has stayed at a distance, monitoring the pre-industrial sentient lifeforms and measuring the steady uptick in seismic activity. Two years ago the Farragut left a long range buoy in orbit to monitor the planet's progress—and to alert Starfleet if it became geologically unstable.
That routine sweep through this quadrant had been the Farragut's last mission before being recalled to Space Dock for a minor computer upgrade—which is why the ship was on hand for the Battle of Vulcan—
Nyota takes a breath and struggles to put a damper on where that train of thought leads her…Gaila's excitement about their assignment to the Farragut, Nyota's fury about the same thing—
The Nibiruan language is a welcome distraction. Thorny, dense, almost painful to hear—but Nyota is slowly untangling the meaning of the fricatives, parsing out the syntax. With the flick of her thumb, she listens again to a series of clicks and hisses and watches the hazy video of a native speaker, his mouth moving out of sync to the words. With another flick of her hand, she adjusts the speed of transmission so that they match.
That's better. Like so many species found throughout the galaxy, the Nibiruans are bipedal and symmetrical, with sense organs located at the top of their body. In the video they appear to have eye-like light receptors, though from the image Nyota can't tell if they also have ear-like sound receptors. She thinks not.
They have to pick up sound waves somehow. Through their limbs? That's the kind of question she leaves for Spock to tackle. Her immediate concern is making sense of what they are saying.
In the image the Nibiruan gestures toward the towering volcano that rises up behind some sort of artificial structure built at the base, a communal dwelling or a temple—a place with a great deal of traffic. The Nibiruan is taller and louder than the others in the image, though Nyota knows that doesn't automatically mean he—if he is a he, if Nibiruans even have gender—is a leader of any kind. He might just be the most talkative.
Whoever he is, he's clearly concerned about the growing cloud of volcanic ash rising in the sky.
A relay flashes on Nyota's station. A message from Sulu, flying a shuttle without running lights over the Nibiruan structure during the current window of darkness.
"Transmitting data load now," he says, and she feels rather than sees Spock at his station turning his face toward her.
"Got it," she says, looking up. To her surprise, an unmistakable flicker of emotion crosses Spock's features—so brief that if she hadn't noticed it before she would have doubted herself.
It's the same expression she sees sometimes when he doesn't know he's being observed—in the mornings when she opens her eyes and he's stretched out beside her, long awake or never asleep, unblinking, or when they sit companionably in her quarters or his, preoccupied with work or reading, his eyes hooded and unfocused on the PADD in his hand.
She's stopped asking him about it, stopped irritating him with her repeated suggestions that if he can't talk to her about how his grief is consuming him from within, then maybe he should seek someone else to talk to—his father, or a Vulcan healer, perhaps?
You need not be concerned, he's told her more than once, but she hears past the harshness of his words to their meaning—Let me grieve in my own way. And so she tries to.
Still, she worries. The incident on Makus III, the irresponsible way he subjected himself to a risky procedure when he became infected with the parasites on Deneva—
"Are you trying to get yourself killed?" she had asked, not hiding her anger.
But he had brushed off her words.
Two months ago she finally confided in Dr. McCoy.
"Naturally I don't know him as well as you do," McCoy had said, his tone as dry and salty as when he had tried to bluff during an Academy poker game, "but my guess is that all the Vulcan survivors are pretty messed up right now. Might always be. Add to his normal grief his guilt about his mother—"
McCoy had let his words drift off and Nyota nodded. Figuring out what Spock was feeling wasn't hard. Knowing what he needed—what to do for him—was the challenge.
She sends a copy of Sulu's data to the science station and opens her own copy. This time the image is of a group of Nibiruans, most of them crouched or kneeling on the ground around an outdoor bonfire. One saffron-robed native—the same one she had seen in the other video?—holds a thin rectangular object in his hand. With his other hand he gestures to the nearby volcano that in the dark is emitting visible sparks and embers. Over and over he makes the same guttural sound, and suddenly the tumblers fall in place in Nyota's mind.
"Captain," she says, and Jim Kirk swivels in his chair and waits for her to continue. "As far as I can tell, the natives are discussing what to do about the increased seismic activity. Apparently they believe they can communicate with the volcano, appease it somehow."
She toggles a switch and Sulu's recording replaces the orbital view on the viewscreen.
"See that thing that tall native is holding? That thing that looks like a piece of parchment?"
"Are those markings on it?"
Spock's hand flutters over a control and the image is magnified.
"They appear to be symbolic representations of the volcano," he says.
He's right. Now that she can see them in more detail, Nyota can make out their meaning. Slanted lines for the volcano itself, and smaller dots around it—the Nibiruans? That would be logical.
She glances up at Spock but his expression is unreadable.
"I believe it is a sacred document of some sort," she ventures. "See how the others are showing a form of deference to it?"
"Yeah, I think you're right," the captain says. "We've been looking for a way to get the natives away from the volcano. That could be our key."
Slapping the arm of his chair, the captain says, "Doctor, meet me and Mr. Spock in the conference room in twenty minutes."
From the intercom comes McCoy's voice.
"You planning something?"
"You've been complaining that you need some R&R," the captain says. "I've found a warm place right up your alley."
X X X
"When this is over," McCoy says, his voice muffled by the gray scarf covering his face, "you and I are going to have a long talk about the meaning of 'right up your alley.'"
"Stop complaining," Kirk says, waving one hand around him to the beach where Sulu dropped them off from the shuttle moments earlier. "It's a beach. It's warm. What more could you want?"
"Very funny," McCoy grouses. Even though Kirk is focused on the immediate task at hand, one part of his attention is aware that in the dim morning light the planet is striking, even beautiful in a stark sort of way. Maybe when this is all over and the seismic activity has been neutralized, the volcano no longer a threat, he can take time to actually stroll on this beach.
Or maybe not. He can imagine that Spock would object, would cite the risk of exposure if the natives should see them.
"The Prime Directive is clear," Spock had said on the shuttle ride here as he began the laborious task of getting into what Kirk dubbed the volcano suit. "The indigenous lifeforms must not see you. If you interfere with their normal development—"
"I know, I know." Kirk cut him off and added, pointing to his long robe, "But in this travel garb we are almost invisible."
Spock lifted one eyebrow—a sign of what Kirk had already come to recognize as Vulcan skepticism—and Kirk hurried on.
"Besides," he said, "we aren't planning to stay long."
"Just long enough to get ourselves killed," McCoy chimed in.
"Long enough to get them out of the kill zone," Kirk amended. "We make sure they see us take the parchment and then we get out of there."
"With them on our tail!"
"That's the idea, Bones. Once they are away from the volcano, Spock can get the ice cube inside without them spotting the shuttle."
Even as he said it Kirk knew it was crazy, was riskier than anything he'd put the crew through before.
That part about the ice cube, for instance. On the surface it sounded fairly easy—send an ion beam emitter into the core of the volcano, essentially sealing the underground rift that is letting superheated magma churn up to the surface. Two days ago Spock had designed the device and Scotty had engineered it—with plenty of requisite grumbling.
"Getting it positioned right is goin' to be a tricky business," Scotty had said, adjusting the handheld remote while Spock calibrated the beam generator. The captain, Sulu, and McCoy stood around the workbench in the engineering lab watching the various pieces slowly being assembled into a device that would be the size of a small suitcase. "All that magnetic fluctuation inside the volcano is playing havoc with the sensors, so beaming it in is out of the question—a position lock would be impossible."
"We could lower it with the shuttle cable," Sulu said, but Scotty made a dismissive sound.
"Aye, but then you have the same problem as before. We don't know precisely where the bottom of the volcano is so we won't know when we reach it."
"Why can't you just set the timer and drop it in?"
"Because, laddie, if it lands in a pool of molten lava, it's all over."
While his officers debated, Kirk ran through the possibilities. Spock was right, of course, that staying hidden was essential if they weren't going to violate the Prime Directive. Already they'd had two scares when launching shuttles for reconnaissance—and Scotty had complained nonstop since they entered low orbit that the volcanic ash was mucking up the intake valves and sensors.
"You're sure you can't get a clear enough reading to beam it in?" Kirk asked, and Scotty shook his head sadly.
"The sensors are completely dodgy," Scotty said. "We'll have to head straight back to Space Dock for a massive wash as soon as we finish up here."
Scotty's face was so sorrowful that Kirk had to bite back an impulse to laugh.
And then a light went on in his head.
"Mr. Scott," Kirk said, "you are a genius. But why wait?"
"Kill two birds with one stone," the captain said. "If we hide the Enterprise in the ocean—"
"You canna be serious!"
"Jim, are you out of your mind?"
"Captain, while theoretically the Enterprise would suffer no deleterious effects from the Nabiruan ocean, in practice such a maneuver has never been tried."
Kirk looked around at four incredulous faces. Well, three. Scotty, Sulu, and McCoy looked shocked. Spock's expression was unreadable.
"Here's how I see it," Kirk said, dialing back his enthusiasm in an effort to sound reasonable, "hiding in the ocean solves two problems—the probability that we might become visible and the problem with the volcanic ash gumming up the works."
Scotty lifted his hand and opened his mouth, presumably to protest, and Kirk went on. "As for getting the ice cube inside the volcano, we'll use the shuttle cable to lower me into position. I'll carry the ice cube and Sulu can raise me back up as soon as I set it to detonate."
"And all that time the natives are going to be watching the show," McCoy said, crossing his arms. "You can't hover a shuttle over the top of the volcano without someone noticing."
"Yeah, well, I thought about that, too," Kirk says. "If we can lure the natives away from the volcano, we can slip into place unseen."
McCoy uncrossed his arms and threw his hands up.
"And just how to you plan to do that?"
"I'll think of something," Kirk had said, but not until later—when Sulu sent back the pictures of the Nibiruan holding the parchment—had he known what to use as bait.
He would rather have been the one being lowered into the volcano, but Spock had convinced him otherwise.
"We can add heat shielding to a pressurized exo-suit," Spock told him, "but it will weigh over 31 kilos. With my Vulcan physiology, I am better suited for the task."
"Literally," Kirk said, but Spock continued to look at him blankly. "A joke, Spock. You said you were suited, and we were talking about the exo-suit—"
That had been two days ago, and now he and Bones are here, making their way up the beach to the thick forest of red trees, their footfalls hampered by the sand and the dragging hems of their travel robes.
"Uhura, you there?"
"I hear you, Captain."
"What's that phrase again?"
"Maku or'ig," she says through the comm link in his ear. Dimly he hears the whirring of the shuttle, imagines her sitting beside Sulu at the controls while Spock stands over the exit chute ready to drop into the volcano.
"Maku or'ig," he repeats. "And you're sure it's a friendly greeting?"
"That or an invitation to hand-to-hand combat," she purrs, and he grins, knowing he is being chaffed.
"Either way it ought to be exciting," he says, turning around long enough to make sure McCoy is following him.
But McCoy is standing stock still, his hand stretched out toward the trees.
Behind him, Kirk hears a sound like squealing gears and the smell of sulfur and brimstone washes over him. From the corner of his eye he sees it—a creature eight feet long, sharp-toothed and bloated and pale, like some alien nightmare of a boar.
Before he can make a move, he watches as the huge beast opens its cavernous mouth and charges straight at him.
A/N: We're off! Can't wait until May to get some more "Into Darkness"? That's where fanfiction can help! I have a few more chapters planned in this little tale about the mission on Nibiru—let me know how you liked this first one.
I'm an old time Star Trek fan, and when "Star Trek 2009" rebooted the franchise, I discovered the pleasure of reading and writing fanfiction. For the past three years I've dabbled in this fandom writing Academy fics and some stories that carried the crew forward after the Battle of Vulcan. Take a look at my profile for the complete list of my stories if you are in the mood for more Star Trek narratives. Two of the longest—"What We Think We Know" and "People Will Say"—cover much of Spock and Uhura's time at the Academy. Several others such as "Once and Future," "The Prodigal Son," and "The Survivors" are set after the destruction of Vulcan.