The Anomaly by fjkemp
Starring: Khan, Spock, Bones, some new faces and random members of the Enterprise crew.
Setting: Begins shortly after the end of Star Trek Into Darkness
Warning: Not appropriate for children. Contains spoilers if you haven't seen the movie (go see the movie!).
Disclaimer: I own my original characters and plot, but I don't own Star Trek and will try not to butcher it too badly :)
Lieutenant Beth Walker stared at the H-221 bacteria samples that had been incubating for the past three days. Blue fur was beginning to grow in two of the lattice trays, but the third tray – the one treated with her synthesis of Centulan cicada venom showed no signs of growth. Finally, a positive result. It was a huge breakthrough – after five days of analysis and an afternoon spent in the sickbay following a particularly nasty cicada bite, Beth should have been thrilled, but she just stared at the plates, not really seeing them.
All of her attention was focused on the man sitting at the adjacent work area. More of a boy than a man, really. Ensign Gary Hobbs was small and fair-haired and barely out of Starfleet Academy. He must have been in his early twenties, almost ten years her junior, and he looked even younger than that. Brilliant of course – he would have to be to win a place on the Enterprise so soon after graduation – but lately his work had been suffering. He couldn't focus. Others had attributed it to homesickness and stress, but Beth knew better. Absent-mindedness was how it usually started.
Coming aboard the Enterprise had been a huge mistake. Beth had realized it too late. She had been desperate to escape her old posting, and flying into unchartered space for five years seemed like the ultimate escape, but she had been onboard the Enterprise for barely three weeks and every time she looked outside at the stars slipping past the windows she felt more trapped than free.
"Er, excuse me, Beth."
She jumped. Hobbs had approached without her realizing and he was now standing behind her, uncomfortably close. She instinctively looked at the door. It was still early. No one else would be using the lab for hours. That was precisely why she worked this shift – it guaranteed the least possible amount of interaction with other officers.
"What is it, Hobbs?" She tried to sound terse, but her voice was too high, too fast. She slipped down from her stool and stepped around it to put distance between them. She didn't want to look at him, but he was technically the only other person on her team, and as much as she wanted to leave the ship she couldn't afford another black mark on her record by refusing to work with her research partner.
Peering through her long honey-colored bangs and fidgeting with the braid draped over her left shoulder, Beth knew she looked nervous, but Ensign Hobbs was downright feverish. His face was covered in a sheen of sweat, despite the chilly temperature in the lab. His smile was almost manic. He didn't know what to do with his hands and they fluttered anxiously at his sides. "I… I… I like working with you…" he stammered, and paused to take a ragged breath.
God, let him pass out before he finishes, Beth prayed. She turned back to her work. "Did you see this result, Ensign?" she asked brightly, pointing to the lattice tray with no sign of bacteria growth. "What do you think it means?"
Hobbs looked at the tray like he'd never seen one before. He looked back at her, setting his jaw, and his mouth became a thin, determined line. Beth took another step back.
Suddenly, the door to the lab slid open with a hiss. Commander Spock, the Vulcan First Officer and the science officer overseeing their research, entered the lab and paused inside the threshold to survey them.
"Ensign Hobbs, are you unwell?" the Commander asked, more out of custom than concern.
Hobbs shook his head, looking briefly at the Vulcan before returning his eyes to Beth.
"I was just showing Hobbs the latest incubator trays, Commander," she said, stepping aside so Spock could also see. "I think the next test should utilize a broader range of mediums for the bacteria, to rule out a reaction with the medium causing a false positive."
"This is a good result, Lieutenant," Spock praised her, "I look forward to reading your report." He turned to Hobbs, "What about your synthetic anti-venom, Ensign?"
Ensign Hobbs gave him another brief glance but ignored the question. Beth cringed, embarrassed for Hobbs and feeling guilty at the same time. It couldn't continue. She would have to ask for isolated lab time, or try to get Hobbs transferred so she could work alone.
"Ensign Hobbs, I think you should report to the sickbay," Spock said, "You are very pale and appear to have lost a considerable amount of weight since we left Earth."
Beth nodded in agreement, trying not to look relieved. "Yes, Hobbs, you should get yourself checked out. Maybe take some time off."
Hobbs just stared, dumbly mimicking her nod.
"Ensign?" Spock enquired.
Hobbs snapped out of his stupor. "Get out!" he suddenly shouted at Spock. "Leave us alone!"
Beth jumped, but Spock just raised a single dark eyebrow and looked from Hobbs to Beth and back to Hobbs again.
"Go, Gary," Beth said softly to him, touching his shoulder and feeling him shudder when she did. The look he gave her was hurt and confused.
"Okay," he finally said, and he turned and walked out of the lab without a backward glance at the samples and equipment left out at his work area. Beth went to put them away, and Spock followed, his eyebrows knitted together with something like to worry.
"Hobbs will be fine," Beth assured him quickly. "He's been working very hard, putting in extra time."
"And yet he has little to show for his work," Spock observed.
Beth shrugged. "But he has wonderful insights on synthetic serums. I think he would be invaluable to Dr. McCoy's team that brought the crystalline spiders back from Centula."
Spock's dark eyes glinted. "It is curious that you praise Ensign Hobbs but no longer wish to work with him."
"I'm just thinking of his future, Commander."
"As am I, Lieutenant. Ensign Hobbs may not be suited to life onboard a starship. He is already displaying signs of instability; to take him on a five year mission is a risk."
"No sir, I'm sure he just needs to adjust."
Spock ignored the comment. "As the officer working closest with Hobbs I would like a report of your observations of his behavior since we left Earth."
"You want me to rat on my partner?"
"A partner you no longer want to work with."
Beth looked at her feet. She wanted Hobbs to be on another team for his own good, not hers. She couldn't let him get kicked off the Enterprise. He would never get assigned to another starship; it could ruin his career.
"Unless you have… personal reasons to be biased in your report?" The Commander suggested delicately. Beth shook her head. He continued. "There is a medical outpost in sector thirty-five-K. It is the last Starfleet space station before we leave Federation space and we are planning to stop in two days to participate in a series of conferences and deliver a fleet of medevac shuttles. It will be our last opportunity to transfer crew members off the Enterprise."
Beth nodded. "I understand, Commander."
"Can I rely on you for an accurate account of Ensign Hobbs's behavior?"
She looked up at the Vulcan, wondering if he could read the emotions on her face. She tried to sound cool but her voice was betraying her again. "I would actually like to request to be transferred off the Enterprise when we reach the space station."
There. Done. It was for the best.
Spock tilted his head to one side, narrowing his eyes, trying to compute her request. "Explain, Lieutenant."
"I believe that I am not suited to life onboard a starship," Beth said, repeating his words. "I think I should return to Centula and continue the cataloging we started there."
"Lieutenant Walker, I do not agree that manning an under-equipped research station on an abandoned planet is a logical use of your training or talents."
"Thank you, Commander, but…"
"You are assigned to the Enterprise because we require a specific number of science officers. You cannot commit to such a mission and then change your mind because you would rather be doing something else."
"No, it isn't that," she said quickly.
The Vulcan stepped forward and Beth fought the urge to back away from him and even turned up her face to look him in the eyes. He was a Vulcan, she reminded herself. He was different.
Spock continued, apparently oblivious to her internal struggle. "When the Joint Leadership committee reviewed your application, it was I who convinced the other members to consider you. Many were concerned that you had not remained in a position for longer than six months. They suspected you might be unstable. 'Flighty' was the word one committee member used. But I believed your broad range of experience made you an ideal candidate for this type of exploratory mission. Some were concerned that you have been with Starfleet for eight years and are still a junior-grade Lieutenant. I thought you just needed… the right opportunity. Your work is excellent, Walker, your hypotheses inspired, your conclusions logical and insightful. You could be recommended for promotion within the year if you continue in this manner."
Beth didn't know what to say. She trusted Commander Spock, and liked him very much, perhaps too much for her own good. She had joined Starfleet to do something good with her life, maybe even something important. Spock's words almost made her believe it was still possible. "Can I work on my own for a while?" she asked, knowing she had no right to request it. "Or maybe choose my next team?" There were two other female science officers working in Toxicology, maybe if she worked with them…
The communicator attached to Spock's belt chirped. He flipped it open. "Spock here."
"You'd better come down to sickbay, Commander," came the gravelly voice of Dr. McCoy.
"Is it Hobbs?" Beth whispered, feeling sick. If he'd done something stupid…
Spock lifted the communicator to his pointy left ear, switching it to private mode. Beth didn't hear the other end of the conversation, but a few moments later Spock's eyebrows raised in surprise. "I'll come now," he said, and turned back to Beth. "I won't accept your resignation, Lieutenant. We will discuss it more tonight when you start your shift."
"Aye, Commander," Beth said.
"And I want your report on Hobbs."
Moments later, in sickbay, Spock looked down at young Ensign Hobbs lying unconscious on a gurney. Hobbs looked more like a sleeping child than a Starfleet officer.
"He damn near ripped my head off when I took a saliva swab," Dr. McCoy said, coming up from behind Spock and rubbing a swollen lump on his cheek. "When we put him in restraints he started screaming like a wild animal."
"Hobbs has been increasingly unpredictable," Spock concurred.
"You don't say. We had to sedate him just to get a blood sample."
A medical tablet lay on the gurney beside Hobbs. McCoy picked it up and started to scan the screen.
"What are your conclusions?" Spock asked.
"Well, give me a minute, I'm a doctor, not a psychic." After a few moments the doctor looked up at Spock. "What kind of experiments are you running down in toxicology?"
"Hobbs has more testosterone in his system than a dozen teenage boys. It's off the charts. His oxytocin levels are just about the lowest I've ever seen."
Spock frowned at the doctor.
"It's responsible for that warm and fuzzy feeling you get after… ." McCoy rolled his eyes. "Look who I'm talking to."
"I know what oxytocin is, Doctor. It is also associated with feelings of empathy and generosity. Are you implying the Ensign's hormones are being affected by his work?"
"Possibly. What about the rest of your team? Any unusual behavior?"
Spock thought for a moment. "Lieutenant Walker works with Hobbs. She asked to resign from her post today."
"Walker?" McCoy gave a dry laugh. "I told you she was flighty."
"She seemed emotional, but not unstable. Perhaps Hobbs has been upsetting her."
"Perhaps, but we should test her as well, and any other crew using your lab, in case it's environmental. I know I've seen blood work like this before," McCoy said thoughtfully, and he suddenly clamped a hand on Spock's shoulder. "Khan!"
Spock's heart involuntarily sped up at the mention of the name and he suppressed a reflexive urge to grab McCoy's hand and twist it violently behind his back. Surprised by his own reaction, Spock took a moment to calm himself as the doctor went to the computer and retrieved Khan's medical records.
"Testosterone levels and oxytocin are on par with Hobbs," McCoy said. He smirked at Spock, "Super aggression, zero empathy. You starting an army or something?"
Spock was unsure if McCoy expected an answer, but the doctor continued. "This is different. Hobbs' dopamine and norepinephrine levels are through the roof but Khan's were non-existent."
"They are neuro-transmitters associated with memory, reinforcement and reward-seeking behavior."
"And love. Pleasure. Several narcotics increase these levels. They are highly addictive and could partially explain Hobbs's pattern of behavior."
Spock considered it. "Your hypothesis is logical."
"Well, thank you very much, but the toxicology report on Hobbs's blood shows no sign of any known drug in his system."
"Then perhaps it is unknown." The Ensign had a talent for synthesizing serums. Spock wondered if he had been developing a new narcotic in the toxicology lab. It would explain why he'd made so little progress on his assigned work.
"You'd better hope not. Do you know what an untraceable drug can do in an enclosed community like a starship crew?"
Spock nodded, but he couldn't understand why a bright young Ensign would lay waste to his career and his own mind with drugs. Still, it was the most logical answer. He would have to find out the truth before the Enterprise reached the space station in sector thirty-five-K, or the Enterprise's entire mission could be compromised.