Chapter Four: Another Kobayashi Maru
Disclaimer: I'm just filling in the missing pieces of other people's ideas. No money made here. Drats.
She can't breathe.
That's not quite true. She can. She's just forgotten to.
With a gasp, Nyota meets Sulu's eyes. He looks as shocked as she feels.
When the cable lowering Spock into the volcano snapped, the telemetry from his suit went dark. A broken sensor, or something more…dire? Nyota takes a breath and forces herself not to panic.
No one is sure exactly what is at the bottom of the volcano—though the geology team on the Enterprise had sketched out a likely scenario of basalt islands surrounded by molten rock. If Spock wasn't too far from the bottom when the cable broke, and if he landed on solid rock and not in a pool of lava, and if the environmental suit hasn't already failed—if, if, if. Too many to count. Unlike Spock, she doesn't automatically calculate the odds for things.
If she could quiet herself—if she weren't already so terrified—she might be able to reach across the echo of their telepathic connection and sense whether or not Spock is still alive.
But it's hopeless. Her heart beats so hard that she feels it in her throat. With a frantic flick of her wrist, she sets the audio scanner to its widest frequency. Almost at once she hears Spock's voice, tinny and distant.
"I am—surprisingly—alive. Stand by."
Tears spring to Nyota's eyes.
"We've got to get him back! I'll suit up and go down!"
But even as she says it one part of her brain knows that's not a viable option. The shuttle lists to the side, another engine going offline.
"We have to abandon the shuttle," Sulu says, unhooking his safety belt and getting out of his chair. The enormity of what he is saying takes a moment to make sense.
"We can't just leave him, Sulu!"
"We have no choice! Uhura, I'm sorry."
He's right, of course. They can't help Spock if they can't help themselves. Blinking back tears from the smoke and shock, she says, "Spock, we're going to try to go back to the Enterprise. We'll get you out."
Silence on the other end of the comm, though that in itself doesn't alarm her. Spock rarely feels the need to make rhetorical replies.
Outside, the gray and black clouds are gradually replaced by a view of the ocean—blue and vast, and hopefully a soft landing. Leaning over the console, Sulu adjusts the angle of descent and heads further out to sea.
Stripping her outer garment off and standing in her wet suit, Nyota watches as Sulu's fingers alternately fly over the controls and tug off his jacket.
"Captain," he says loudly into the comm transceiver, "I'm ditching the shuttle. You'll have to make it back to the Enterprise on your own."
From where she stands over the exit chute, Nyota hears the captain say something in reply. Wonderful? She can't quite make it out.
"Uhura, ready for a swim?" Sulu says, and she nods.
"Jim!" McCoy's breath is ragged and breathy. "The beach is that way!"
Time for a moment of truth. Kirk takes a breath and hollers over his shoulder.
"We aren't going to the beach!"
The Nibiruans are so close that Kirk can hear them chattering and shouting. Another spear whizzes past his ear.
"No, no, no, no, no, no!" McCoy shouts.
One of the things Kirk appreciates most about Bones is his speed on the uptake, his ability to comprehend something with the barest of hints. Kirk senses his dawning comprehension of what we aren't going to the beach means.
"I hate this!"
"I know you do!" Kirk calls back.
The terrain inclines slowly up through the dense trees. Dodging a small sinkhole, Kirk scans ahead for a place to leave the parchment. A rock, a tree—somewhere where the natives will see it—and hopefully stop chasing them.
To his right he spots a scraggly tree with fewer leaves than most. Stopping long enough to pinion one part of the scroll on a forked branch, Kirk makes sure the parchment unfurls where the Nibiruans will see it.
Over the pounding of his footsteps and the pounding of his heart in his ears, Kirk hears the sound he's been listening for—the crash of the sea.
Not the gentle wash of waves, but the percussive noise of waves hitting the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.
The cliff directly ahead. The cliff that drops off thirty meters from here to the sea.
Without looking back, Kirk darts the last few meters across the sand and leaps.
And falls, falls, into the cold water. A few seconds later, McCoy hits the water beside him.
"You okay?" the captain says, but McCoy is too busy stripping out of the long traveler's cloak to do anything more than give him an evil look.
Just as well.
The wetsuits are equipped with propulsion and oxygen, and in less than two minutes both McCoy and Kirk are scissoring their way like dolphins, first across the waves, and then dipping under the water and following the homing signal to where the Enterprise is hiding in the murk. In a few more minutes both Kirk and McCoy swim into the starboard airlock and wait for the water to drain.
"You have any idea how ridiculous it is to hide a starship on the bottom of the ocean?"
Scotty's greeting—sharp and indignant. Kirk whips off his swim mask and takes a step forward.
"We've been here since last night," Scotty continues, his tone aggrieved. "The salt water's going to ruin the—"
"Scotty!" Kirk interrupts. "Where's Spock?"
At once Scotty's expression softens.
"Still in the volcano, sir," he says, moving back and falling into step behind the captain.
"Captain on the bridge," Chekov says as the turbolift doors open. Still in his wetsuit, Sulu sits at his familiar place at the helm. Looking around, Kirk sees Uhura, also still in her wetsuit but with her commlink in her ear.
"Lieutenant," he says, "do we have an open channel to Mr. Spock?"
Kirk has known Lt. Uhura since their Academy days—has seen her in every mood imaginable—sick and well, happy and sad. He knows how she furrows her brow when she listens closely to a garbled communication, how she flashes her teeth when she laughs out loud. Too well he knows how her face looks when she is scornful or disgusted—he's embarrassed to have been the source of such looks in the past.
Her face when she teases someone—a lilt to her head, a gentle smile playing about her lips—he knows that, too, enjoying the moments when she pulls his leg or makes a joke at his expense.
And he's watched—not without a stab of jealousy—as she's bestowed such a look of understanding and forgiveness and acceptance on Spock when she thinks no one sees—such a look of ineffable longing and love that Kirk still can't get his head around it, not completely—
But the look on her face now takes his breath away.
She thinks Spock is going to die.
Maybe that special mental connection they seem to share is telling her so—or maybe she's lost faith in Kirk's vaunted defiance of no-win scenarios.
Even from across the bridge Kirk can see that she's shaking.
"The heat's frying his comms, but we still have contact."
Her voice breaks slightly as she speaks and Kirk waits a beat before looking away.
"Spock!" he says, slamming his hand down on the comm button at the helm.
The roar of wind and fire fill the bridge as Spock replies.
"I have activated the device, Captain. When the countdown is complete, the reaction should render the volcano inert."
At Kirk's side, McCoy mutters, "It's going to render him inert."
In one corner of the viewscreen, the schematics of Spock's environmental suit are updated in real time. Kirk doesn't need to look too closely to know that the suit is failing rapidly. Over the comm, he can hear Spock's labored breath.
Turning to Sulu, Kirk says, "Do we have use of the transporters?"
"Not with these magnetic fields," Chekov adds.
"I need to beam Spock back to the ship!"
Chekov lifts one hand and gestures.
"Maybe if we had a direct line of sight—"
Direct line of sight? Place the Enterprise immediately over the mouth of the volcano?
Before Chekov can continue, Scotty blusters.
"Man, you're talking about an active volcano! Sir, if that thing erupts, I cannae guarantee we can withstand the heat!"
"I don't know that we can maintain that kind of altitude," Sulu adds.
The comm crackles and Spock says, "Captain, our shuttle was concealed by the ash cloud. The Enterprise is too large. If utilized in a rescue effort, it would be revealed to the indigenous species."
Without looking at her directly, Kirk feels Uhura react. McCoy blurts out, "Shut up, Spock! We're trying to save you, dammit!"
Without a pause Spock says, "Doctor, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
"Spock, nobody knows the rules better than you but there's got to be an exception!"
Kirk almost shouts in frustration. By contrast, Spock's voice is measured and even.
"None. Such action violates the Prime Directive."
"Spock! We're talking about your life!"
Another hiss of static almost drowns out Spock's next words.
"The rule cannot be broken—"
And then the comm goes dead. Kirk sees Uhura's hand flutter to her throat.
"Spock!" Kirk shouts. Turning to Uhura, he says, "Try to get him back online!"
The lieutenant leaps to her station and scrambles to find a signal. From his place at navigation, Chekov intones, "90 seconds to detonation."
Of all the qualities Jim Kirk prides himself on, his ability to react quickly is the one he's found most useful through the years—yet here he is, unable to do a thing, with no place to turn.
A no-win scenario he can't beat.
"If Spock were here and I were there, what would he do?"
He says it to no one in particular, but it is Bones who answers him.
"He'd let you die."
X X X
When the cable snaps, Spock automatically calculates the odds of surviving the fall.
Or he starts to. The bottom of the volcano rushes up so quickly that he only has time to stumble his way onto a large rock outcropping, landing so hard that he tumbles over immediately and skitters on his back almost ten meters before coming to rest near the edge, the molten lava so close he feels the heat through his visor. Indeed, his breath is so rapid that for a moment Spock's helmet is fogged.
Gingerly he gets to his feet and says, "I am—surprisingly—alive. Stand by."
This complicates matters, of course. His means of escape are severely limited. Even if another cable can be lowered down to him, he won't have time to activate the particle emitter in time.
All around him large flares of lava spew into the air like geysers, the heat and light painful despite the protection of the environmental suit. The noise, too, is disconcerting, almost as if the volcano were alive.
A fanciful notion. That he should resort to it now is surprising.
With a conscious effort Spock surveys the surrounding area for a suitable place to set up the particle emitter—or as the captain has dubbed it, the Ice Cube. Another fanciful notion, so very human.
A little frisson of regret makes him shiver despite the heat. Why hasn't he sufficiently appreciated the complexity of his mother's language until now?
As he always does when he thinks of his mother, Spock has to work hard not to see her as he last did—when she disappeared before him into the crumbling cataclysm of Vulcan. Focusing on the task at hand, he sets aside that image, narrowing his gaze instead on the rock surfaces around him, searching for one that isn't in danger of being swamped by the rising lava.
90 seconds. He has to find high enough ground to last 90 more seconds so the particle emitter can be set to detonate.
Carefully he steps out onto the rock, the ice cube in his hand. If he can get to it, he sees a rock shelf that is partially sheltered from the lava spraying from the tectonic breach.
Coming to a place where the lava has cut a rivulet in the rock, he prepares to jump. The ground rumbles and shifts beneath his feet. A massive wave of lava leaps up and falls down nearby, forcing Spock to shield his vision.
And suddenly he knows. He is going to die here.
This isn't the first time Spock has faced death. Twice before he's believed that he was going to die, was convinced that his own actions would end his life.
The first time was when he was teaching at the Academy, before he had accepted a post as Captain Pike's first officer on the Enterprise. As an adjunct professor in both the language and computer science departments, he had overseen the development of a language acquisition program that attracted some international attention. At the academic conference to present it, he had confronted members of Earth United, a xenophobic terrorist organization.
The group had chosen a crowded ballroom as the site of a bomb attack—a ballroom where Spock and Captain Pike were in attendance. Although the terrorists were quickly disarmed, the bomb had been triggered and Spock carried it out of the ballroom and into a utility area down the hall, almost getting himself blown up in the process.
He hadn't questioned his actions then, just as he hadn't later when he aimed the Vulcan Jellyfish at Nero's ship, knowing that the explosion would kill him—and trusting it would also stop the Narada.
He'd been sad both times—why not admit it? He knew what he was losing—a career, the opportunity to be useful and serve in Starfleet; a relationship with Nyota, and perhaps a future and family with her.
But even more, he'd been resolute, unwavering.
He's just as resolute now, just as sad.
Unlike those other times, he's also relieved.
Part if him welcomes death—even, as Nyota suspects, seeks it. A terrible admission, but true. The weight of his grief since the destruction of Vulcan, since his inability to save his mother, has been a constant, unremitting pain, almost physical in intensity.
And a deeper secret, one he has never shared with anyone—is the reverberation of guilt he feels that is not quite his own.
Billions died because of me, because I failed, his counterpart from the other timeline told him once, and though Spock had said it was illogical to regret what could not be changed, they both felt that regret keenly.
He isn't that other Spock—and yet he is, too. Or he would have been, could have been. Fairly or not, logically or not, he feels as if he has failed Vulcan.
Billions died because of me, he sometimes finds himself thinking when his thoughts are unguarded.
Kneeling down, he opens the case of the particle emitter and removes the keypad. As he inputs the trigger code, he allows himself the pleasure of memory—a quiet meal in his parents' kitchen when he was a child, his pride of accomplishment when his ka'athyra instructor told him he had surpassed her skill, his discovery of an equation for subspace transmissions that is now standard on spacegoing vessels, the legacy of the students he has taught and encouraged in his time at the Academy. The small part he has had in James Kirk's captaincy…the captain's grudging acceptance that logic has a place in decision making…
The particle emitter begins to whir and glow.
The captain's voice over the commlink.
"I have activated the device, Captain. When the countdown is complete, the reaction should render the volcano inert."
Over the open comm link he hears the bridge crew discussing a possible rescue—Dr. McCoy predictably acerbic, Scott and Sulu correctly concerned about the safety of the Enterprise.
The captain, as always, trying to bargain his way out of difficulty.
"Captain, our shuttle was concealed by the ash cloud. The Enterprise is too large. If utilized in a rescue effort, it would be revealed to the indigenous species."
"Shut up, Spock! We're trying to save you, dammit!" Dr. McCoy says.
Spock has never won an argument with the doctor using logic. However, he tries once more.
"Doctor, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
The captain appeals for an exception to the Prime Directive. Spock reminds him there isn't one.
"The rule cannot be broken—"
The hollow echo in his ear signals the breakdown of the comm and he stops speaking.
At last the moment is at hand, and now that it is, he allows himself another indulgence—a flash memory of all the times he shared with Nyota—every image of her compressed like a textured collage, their first sexual encounter superimposed by their last, the feel of his finger tracing a coil of her hair illuminated by the trill of her laughter; the way she finds the electricity between them ticklish and arousing, the way she leans up to kiss him at unexpected times and the way he leans into her like someone pulled by a magnet, like a shipboard explorer hugging the coastline of a brave new world.
The way he doesn't censor what he says to her when they are alone—the freedom her acceptance implies, the responsibility it places on him to share with her.
The heat is making him dizzy and he closes his eyes, the better to see. His arms lift of their own accord, steadying him, and he pictures Nyota as he likes to remember her best—one morning several years ago when he spotted her walking across the commons of Starfleet Academy, her cadet uniform glowing red in spite of the weak winter light, her gait airy and fleet, her face lighting up when she saw him.
Faintly he feels a vibration—not from the ground this time, and for one frantic moment he is alarmed that Jim Kirk might be trying some grand rescue attempt with the transporter. If he is—if he has taken the Enterprise from the ocean in daylight, if he is flying so low that the transporters can pluck him from the volcano—then he's not only violating the Prime Directive, he's defying it.
As his first officer, Spock will call him up on charges—question his command decision—write a report and appear before a tribunal and testify that the captain has sacrificed a civilization to save an unwilling individual, risk isolating himself from the rest of the crew and straining their loyalty, perhaps pushing Nyota beyond the place where she can understand or forgive him if the captain loses the Enterprise—
But the tingle is not the transporter after all but the environmental suit fan finally failing, and with a deep breath, Spock lifts his face and stretches out his arms, prepared to become part of the mindless matter of the universe, trying to feel the peace that has eluded him since he watched his world crumple and disappear into the void, trying to feel it before his own vision fades to black.
A/N: Since I first wrote this story, I've seen the movie. A great ride from start to finish, though the Niburu adventure remains one of my favorite sections. I'd love to hear your responses to both the film and this "missing pieces" story.
If you are interested, Spock almost getting himself blown up by xenophobic terrorists is in my fic "The Interview." It's part of the story cycle I've written about Spock at the Academy and beyond.