Chapter Seven: Voices Near and Far
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters nor profit financially from writing about them. I do, however, profit by having fun!
If he hadn't seen it for himself, Scotty would have scoffed at the idea of a Federation starship this large. But here it is, tethered by access tubes and power lines to the inside of the even more enormous building facility on the far side of Jupiter.
So many work flitters, repair sloops, and tugs are buzzing about that Scotty has no trouble slipping his borrowed shuttle unnoticed into the ship's hangar bay, an area twice the size of the Academy parade grounds near the Presidio. He waits until several uniformed workers pass by before unlocking his shuttle and making his way to one of the hangar exit doors where he listens for footfalls.
Hearing nothing, he slowly enters a dark gray corridor. The lights are low, though Scotty has the distinct impression that the lighting is always low, as if this corridor is seldom traveled—not just now while the ship is in dock but all the time.
Odd for a ship to be so sparsely populated, especially a ship this size.
The corridor is regularly intersected by narrow cut-throughs leading to work stations. The first one Scotty comes to is a simple electrical terminal. The next one is more complex—probably a part of the life support system, though without a proper scanner he can't be sure.
As he walks he debates whether or not he should quietly sneak back to his shuttle and head home. Surely he has enough to report by now.
You'll know it when you see it, Jim Kirk had told him when he sent him here to these coordinates.
But no. There's something off-kilter about this ship—something more than the lack of crew, the forbidding size, the dim lighting—but Scotty isn't yet ready to say what isn't quite right.
He decides to walk further before turning back. At the very end of the corridor he sees a magnetically sealed casement with a digital pad embedded in the wall beside it. Controlled access to the weapons bay? A closer look confirms this. What kind of weapon needs this sort of security? And what kind of crew can't be trusted with it?
Beyond this corridor is a narrow equipment-filled room that stretches as far as Scotty can see. A monitor draws his attention and with a quick glance around to make sure no one has followed him, he sidles to the row of blinking lights and panels.
Phaser modulators, schematics showing power levels, and an auto-correct relay are easy enough to identify, though if Scotty is reading them right, the phasers they control are far more powerful than anything on the Enterprise.
Scooting around the display, he glances over an adjacent one and is startled to see more phaser controls. How many phasers does a single ship need?
As he moves slowly down the room he makes a mental note of the other controls. Not only phasers but photon torpedoes, shield generators, and some unidentified defensive power grids are apparent, the controls slaved to a remote switch, possibly on the bridge.
Which would explain why he hasn't seen more crew, why this ship, vast as it is, is designed to be run by only a handful of people.
A doomsday weapon. That's what this ship is. And the fewer people who know about it, the better—or why would it be constructed in secret?
Scotty shivers despite the heat.
It's unmistakably a Starfleet vessel. The templates for the controls, for the workstations, are familiar to anyone on a Starfleet starship. They are, however, also different enough that Scotty assumes they incorporate alien technology—or else prototypes that haven't been shared yet with the rest of the fleet.
"The captain needs to know—" he mutters, but even as he does, he moves on down the room, looking for something that isn't connected to weapons. Surely there's a science lab, a research kiosk, even a bloody recreation room or a galley somewhere to prove him wrong about the singular purpose of the ship.
Nothing. It's a war machine, pure and simple. Just as Scotty had worried to Jim Kirk when he was ordered to load those blasted mystery torpedoes on the Enterprise.
"This is clearly a military operation," he had complained. "Is that what we are now? Because I thought we were explorers."
If this ship represents the future of Starfleet, the days of exploration are over.
With a snort of disgust, he turns to head back to the hangar bay when the deck begins to vibrate. Placing his hand on the nearest bulkhead, Scotty knows immediately what is happening. The ship is at warp.
So much for getting away now. Wherever the ship is going, he is, too.
Pulling out his communicator, he opens it and considers trying to piggyback a message onto the ship's beacon. At this distance it's unlikely that Keenser's personal receiver can pick him up—and without knowing his destination, Scotty isn't sure what he could ask Keenser to do. Get in touch with the Enterprise? She's either on the way to or from Qo'noS by now, and probably incommunicado. He'll just have to find somewhere to hunker down and hide until the ship drops out of warp.
The regular tattoo of footsteps interrupts his thoughts and Scotty scurries awkwardly behind one of the phaser stations. Two uniformed officers stride by, neither one looking around. After they disappear around a bend, Scotty breathes normally again.
Before he can stand up to scout out a better hiding place, the mechanical hum of the engines stops suddenly. The ship's inertial dampeners mask most of the forward motion, but Scotty knows the sounds and feel of a ship too well not to realize that they have come out of warp and are maneuvering on thrusters.
It's maddening not to know what they are up to. If he could only see—
Of course! With a stifled yelp, Scotty flips open his communicator and presses his thumbnail to the back panel, prizing it off. Slowly twisting the signal transceiver, he searches for the ship's video feed to tap into. The small screen on the front of his comm flickers with gray and black lines before resolving into an actual image—the same one the bridge crew will be looking at on the forward view screen.
At first Scotty sees nothing unusual—just the dark background of space, distant stars visible. But then to the side he catches sight of the Enterprise, her running lights illuminating the bow and sketching the outline of her distinctive saucer.
As he always does when he sees the Enterprise from a distance, Scotty lets out an appreciative sigh.
Well. All the confusion will be explained now that Kirk is here. Standing up, he prepares to make his way back to the corridor to find the nearest turbolift. He'll head to the bridge and surrender with his apologies. The captain of this monstrosity will undoubtedly be annoyed to find out he has a stowaway, but Scotty is certain that Jim Kirk can talk him out of any serious trouble.
"Just sent him to take a look," he can imagine Kirk saying. "Sorry for the inconvenience, but no harm done."
The deck vibrates again, this time more violently than before, and Scotty has to throw his hands out to keep from falling over. The tiny image on his comm is a blue blur of warp contrails. For a moment he is baffled, but then he realizes: the contrails belong to the Enterprise, and this ship is in pursuit.
Not only in pursuit, but somehow—unbelievably—catching up to the Enterprise while in warp. That shouldn't be possible. Engineer that he is, Scotty knows this. But he also knows that engineering principles are not hidebound, and are, in fact, often surpassed. Witness his own transwarp beaming pad. How many people told him it wasn't possible?
The reason they are out here at all is because of a madman who used it to hop across the galaxy to Klingon space.
The ship gives a lurch that knocks him to his knees.
Stumbling to his feet, his is almost knocked over again as the ship shakes once, twice, and yet again. Behind him, Scotty hears the telltale whine of phaser banks discharging.
Bloody hell! They're firing on the Enterprise!
On his tiny comm screen he confirms the worst. Spinning like a lazy top, the Enterprise shows definite signs of phaser fire on the starboard bow. One of the nacelle struts has scorch marks tracking on the leading edge. As he watches in horror, the Enterprise looms large as the monster ship moves forward.
Going in for the kill. Scotty's head buzzes with the contradiction—one Starfleet ship firing on another.
And not just on any ship, but on his.
With a frantic motion, Scotty stumbles back up the center of the room, searching for the power coupler that is linked to the phasers. Not this, not that! This! He slides to a stop in front of a recessed panel marked with several warning labels and grabs the release bar. At first nothing happens but then slowly, slowly, it starts to open.
In the distance he hears the telltale whoosh and snick of a sealed door opening and shutting—then the sound of running footsteps coming toward him.
Pushing the power coupler door almost closed, he steps behind the station and crouches, listening as the steps come closer.
A few meters away they stop.
Has someone seen the open panel door? Holding his breath, Scotty waits.
He's about to gasp for air when the footsteps start up again and pass by. Scotty catches a glimpse of the top of a crew member's head from the rear just as he finally is forced to take a breath.
One more minute—another snick in the distance as a door is opened and the footsteps fall away—and he hurries back to the panel and yanks it open.
Beneath his feet the deck judders, as if some huge machinery is being deployed.
Reaching up and putting both hands on the control bar, Scotty pulls until the bar snaps down with a satisfying thud. At once the juddering in the deck stops. The whine of the phaser feedback falls silent.
In the tiny image on his comm screen, the Enterprise hangs in space.
Close enough for his communicator to reach without a piggyback signal? He decides to try.
"Enterprise, can you hear me? Guess what I found on the other side of Jupiter!"
On the viewscreen, an oddly familiar face nods. In the captain's chair, Spock struggles not to acknowledge the curious glances from the bridge crew. Even if he had addressed his elder as Selek—the name he adopted when he joined the Vulcan diaspora on New Vulcan—their resemblance is too uncanny not to go unnoticed.
If unremarked upon. The crew might be surprised by what they are seeing, but they are far too professional to comment on it.
That's one reason Spock has opted to have this conversation here on the bridge instead of in the privacy of the ready room. If his elder finds his choice unusual or uncomfortable, he gives no sign.
The odds are high that the elder Spock will have little to say that is helpful—not because he knows too little but because he knows too much. In anyone else, such a wealth of knowledge and experience would be invaluable, a rich resource of wisdom. The elder Spock, however, has stated more than once that this universe must unfold in its own unique way without his interference.
"You are familiar with the concept of Schrödinger's cat?" he said to his younger counterpart the second time they spoke after the destruction of Vulcan.
"A metaphorical construct to explain quantum entanglement," Spock had said promptly. "A cat inside a box is both alive and dead until the act of observation collapses one of those realities."
"Precisely," the elder Spock said. "Just so for us as well. Your future is open to multiple possibilities as long as I do not observe it. You must be free to make your own choices without any consideration to what my own decisions were—or are."
"I am not a cat," Spock said, a hint of a smile in his eyes. The elder Spock lifted one brow.
"I have already given you too much direction as it is," he said, shaking his head. "My suggestion that you remain in Starfleet was motivated by my emotional state at that time—though I do believe that your personal well being is best served there. Be that as it may, however, I will refrain from such advice in the future."
And so he had. In fact, they have only spoken twice since then, both times during large gatherings where they were unable to share more than a few words together.
So Spock is not surprised when at first he seems to deflect his query about Khan, when his elder reminds him—unnecessarily—of his insistence that Spock walk his path alone…that he remain the unobserved cat.
But then the older man goes on and gives such a dire warning that Spock feels the tension in the air ratchet up.
"Khan Noonien Singh will not hesitate to kill every single one of you."
Even now Jim Kirk and Khan are somewhere on the large warship after a harrowing space jump through a debris field. Since Kirk first told him his plan, Spock's intuition has been like a steady, growing alarm in the back of his mind. Now the alarm is almost deafening.
"Did you defeat him?"
The image on the view screen buckles slightly with interference before showing the elder Spock nodding ruefully.
"At great cost, yes."
Already he has given more information than Spock expected, yet he has to ask the most important question.
For the rest of his life Spock will remember the remainder of this conversation as a pivotal moment in defining who he is, who he becomes. At the time, however, he is too concerned about the safety of the ship and crew to fully understand the importance of what the elder Spock tells him.
It sounds at first like a popular speculative fiction tale—a group of super humans frozen for hundreds of years and set adrift in a sleeper ship accidentally awakened by a Jim Kirk as impulsive as his own. Khan their leader, charming and arrogant in equal measure—and ultimately mutinous, marooned on a distant backwater planet where he and his fellow Augments can live out their remarkable lives without being a danger to anyone else.
Or so Captain Kirk had reasoned.
The backwater planet—Ceti Alpha Five—beautiful but harsh, was knocked out of orbit by the explosion of a sister planet, becoming a wasteland that would have killed anyone other than an enhanced human being.
Then remarkably the tale takes a turn—another Starfleet crew stumbling across the survivors who commandeer their ship and steal a device so powerful that it can completely wipe out life on a planet and remake it to preset specifications. Called Genesis, it is the brainchild of Dr. Carol Marcus.
When the elder Spock mentions her name, Spock is startled. Behind him sitting at the communications console, Nyota lets out a gasp.
Is it possible that the universe is attempting to weave itself together into a familiar tapestry?
The elder Spock seems to note their surprise. He pauses briefly and then continues.
"In our attempts to aid the crew of the other ship and regain the Genesis device, the Enterprise was badly damaged. The warp core was offline and thrusters were working at 30% of optimal efficiency.
"Fortunately for us, as brilliant as he was, Khan was not the strategist the captain was. We took the Enterprise into a nebula where our sensors were inoperative—and Khan brought the stolen ship, the Reliant, in after us.
"Soon enough we were able to double back and disable the Reliant with our phaser fire, but not before Khan activated the Genesis device he had aboard, knowing that the Enterprise would also be destroyed when it detonated."
He pauses again as if looking into a distant scene, which, Spock thinks, he probably is.
"Without warp capability, the Enterprise could not escape. Everyone aboard would die."
Suddenly without knowing how he knows, Spock is certain where this story will lead—how the elder Spock sacrificed himself to repair the reactor and restore warp drive before the ship could be consumed in the Genesis explosion.
"I was the only one who could effect the necessary repairs," the older man says quietly, thoughtfully. "But doing so took my life."
For a moment the only sounds are the ambient noises of the bridge—clicks and whirs and chirps of monitors and relays.
"I hope you never have to make the same choice," he says. From the corner of his eye, Spock sees Nyota shift in her chair.
"I have already said too much," the older man says, looking directly at Spock, "or I would explain how restoring my life cost us all so much more than anyone could have imagined. For now, what you need to know is that you cannot beat Khan through your strength alone. He believes that no one is stronger, and he may be right. But he also believes that no one is smarter, and there you can prevail. He can be tricked, sold a ruse, lied to, and he will not see it coming."
"I cannot lie," Spock says promptly, faintly horrified at the older man's words.
"Then redefine what it means to lie," the elder Spock says. "Because you cannot beat him except through your own cunning, Spock. Unless you are willing to try, your ship and everyone on it is already lost."
A/N: Thanks so much for reading and reviewing. You help me improve every time you let me know you are still on board.