Special Author's Note: "Hope for Tomorrow" and "Lower Decks" by Aranel Took
There are now two tie-ins for this story! "Hope for Tomorrow" and "Lower Decks" are unique and original companion stories for "The Resilience of Hope". Written from the perspective of Lieutenant Elena Amell, "Hope for Tomorrow" relates the events from the crash of the Vengeance on San Francisco to the launch of the five-year mission. "Lower Decks" matches each chapter of "The Resilience of Hope" with a very different perspective for everything. There's adventure and romance, lots of interesting stuff that ties in directly with "Resilience of Hope", cameos of recurring characters, and much more!
If you have the time, please take a look at the tie-ins, and leave some kudos & comments love.
Read "Hope for Tomorrow" and "Lower Decks" at AO3 "An Archive of Our Own": archiveofourown DOT org SLASH works SLASH 1070446 AND archiveofourown DOT org SLASH works SLASH 1091007
The Ecstasy Of Chaos
Stardate 2260.361, 1000 hours, Bridge
"I thought you said the system was clean." Jim rubbed his throbbing temples as he bent over Spock's shoulder to stare at the screen of the science console. The bridge was too bright today, the floor and the walls too white. And there were way too many flickering lights around him. He shouldn't have had that third whisky last night. Spock had warned him, too. But damn, it was Christmas. And Bones had been almost mellow. Even though he knew it was impossible, Jim could have sworn he felt the Enterprise move through space this morning, and not in a way that agreed with his stomach.
"The system was not compromised when I ran diagnostics on it after the incident in Doctor McCoy's quarters," Spock said, with the bitchiest expression Jim had seen on his face in months. Not because Spock interpreted the remark as criticism (even though Jim's comment could be taken that way, probably). But no, Spock was simply pissed off that a computer system under his expert care might have been successfully exploited for sabotage. A matter of adding insult to injury.
Spock leaned over the console and tapped a few keys to call up the relevant logs. "However, since then five incidents have been logged concerning the input of non-standard code. In four cases the code has caused replicator malfunctions. An emergency quick scan has confirmed the presence of suspicious code in the system, but it has been impossible to determine the source and the exact nature of the code with standard diagnostic tools."
"Shit." No wonder Spock had such a fine rage going if malware was using the replicator system as a merry-go-round thanks to Christmas hacks gone wrong. "What kind of malfunctions?"
With a stiff index finger his first officer pointed at each replicator log entry listed on the screen. "Gus Stein, the oldest son of Lieutenant Eric Stein, Maintenance, tried to replicate a Terran party favor called 'Christmas cracker'. The attempt resulted in a mixture of plastic and papier mâché that clogged the replicator. Lieutenant Stein shut off the replicator before the mass could catch fire from the overheating energizing coil.
"Ensign Marlena Moreau, Sciences, also tried to create a Christmas cracker. She managed to switch off the safety locks beforehand to facilitate the creation of the required explosive components. The replication process completed without problems. However, the resulting product contained an amount of explosives far beyond the customary contents of similar items. Out of a Christmas party of five, three are still in sickbay with serious injuries. Doctor McCoy will send a report after the next regen treatment has been completed satisfactorily."
Jim tried not to wince and failed. He could see his reaction reflected in Spock's face – an infinitesimal increase in tension around his dark eyes. Oh damn. What a way for a Christmas party to end. He should visit the injured crew members and talk to Bones in person. Jim suppressed a sigh. Bones would be in such a foul mood, and for a good reason, and ...
"Lieutenant Michael Darnell, also Sciences," Spock went on, "attempted to replicate an object of unknown purpose and function called a 'Festivus Pole'."
"What?" Jim needed a moment to process that information. The leap from near-lethal Christmas crackers to bizarre Terran holiday customs was unexpected to put it mildly. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he explained, "Festivus. That's a kind of a secular holiday. A humorous version of Christmas. Dates back to 20th century pop culture. Some people prefer the parody to the real holiday. Not something that would register with you, I guess, but at the Academy it was like The Thing. Ah... the IDIC community pushed it because they claim it's more inclusive – never mind that half the known universe has adopted Christmas-as-is. And it's really just a pole. A metal stick. Instead of a Christmas tree."
Spock politely refrained from stating the obvious ("Utterly illogical."). Instead he continued his report. "Mr. Darnell had to make do with a puddle of liquid aluminum. It melted the front of the replicator, burned an antique rug, and had to be scraped off the cabin floor by hand."
"By Mr. Darnell, I hope."
Spock just raised an eyebrow. Jim sighed. "The fourth incident?"
Spock scrolled down the screen. Four entries were clearly highlighted on the screen. But Spock had spoken of five cases ... But before he could ask Spock about that, the XO went on, "Ensign Hayden Singh tried to produce gingerbread with code he found on the same forum that Doctor McCoy indicated as the source for the customizations he attempted to use."
"And?" Jim wondered why Spock was stalling. If Christmas crackers put people in sickbay, Festivus poles melted replicators, messed-up gingerbread could mean anything from glass splinters in the dough to actual poison. His stomach cramped.
"Ensign Singh produced enough gingerbread ... men to supply the crew and passengers of the Enterprise with baked goods for a week. I suspect that this was the incident to effectively introduce the virus into the system, since regular emergency shut-down procedures failed in this case. Maintenance had to be alerted to manually interrupt the power supply of the machine. Hence, too, the current over-abundance of gingerbread ... men onboard the ship." Spock reached for something on his left. Swiveling around on his chair, he held out a flat, greenish object.
Jim took the cookie. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, he had to bite down on his lip, hard. Somehow he managed to keep a somewhat straight face. Okay, so Spock's reaction was not linked to any health risk connected with the bakery products in question. Jim sniffed and prodded the gingerbread carefully before taking a courageous bite. Chewing slowly, he considered Spock's report.
"Three things," he said after a pause. "One, I noticed not just one but two split infinitives in your syntax. Not a good sign, that. Two, that's a damn good gingerbread Vulcan. Also, if two – or three, really, counting myself and the OP – people independently come up with the same idea, there's a market for it. We should secure a trademark or something."
Spock didn't react to his (admittedly lame) joke. Not with an explanation of how gingerbread Vulcans couldn't be trademarked or how three individuals couldn't be taken as an indicator for the commercial success of bakery products, not even with a curt comment of "That is illogical, Captain". Which only confirmed Jim's suspicion concerning the third thing he had noticed. "And three, what's so terrible about the fifth replicator incident?"
Spock visibly tensed. Oh yeah, Jim thought. Whatever it is, it's bad. Spock was flushing. Whatever emotional reaction the Vulcan was experiencing right now was so strong that his physiological control over facial vasodilation failed. The effect was ... well, probably to be expected with green blood and pale skin. When Spock blushed, he looked as if he was about to puke.
"Okay, just transfer the data to my PADD." Without a word, Spock punched a few keys to share the relevant log entry. Jim returned to the chair and concentrated on his PADD. Seconds later, the screen lit up with the relevant log entry. Uhura. Alright, that already went a long way to explain Spock's discomfort. Up to a point, at least ...
Jim glanced at the auto-generated summary of the code. Millions of lines of coordinates for nearly as many vertices. Whatever it was, it was seriously complex. He prodded the PADD to render a preview image and to run a search for a read-me. Almost a minute passed until the PADD pinged with the requested results. Jim pulled up the preview first.
"Holy f—" he breathed, almost reverently, when he realized what he was looking at. Just to make sure that he wasn't hallucinating, he took a look at the read-me. Nope. It was real. Gingerly, he prodded the screen to rotate the 3D preview and whistled softly. Impressive. He swallowed hard and concentrated on not looking at Spock. Or Uhura. Now that he knew what it was for, the data made sense, the structure of it all, the arrangement of coordinates and vertices. It was awesome code, too. Clean, elegant, sophisticated. And it wasn't just a refined customization for one of the standard sex toys already included in the database. No, this program would replicate a life-size dildo with the authentic look and feel of the original uh... model. Actually, it isn't a mere dildo, or even a vibrator, Jim decided and swallowed dryly. It's a work of art. Extremely erotic art. With extras.
... sent to Nyota Uhura by John Harrison.
Who was – thanks to subspace lag – inconveniently (or perhaps thankfully) light-years beyond any immediate means of communication or retaliation. Up to, but not limited to, questioning his methods of artistry (which was what Jim had in mind – his best guess was a new tricorder prototype) or death by asphyxiation (which just might be what Spock had in mind, never mind his and Uhura's current relationship status).
Somehow Jim managed to clear his throat. "Sulu, you have the conn. Mr. Spock, walk with me." Clutching the PADD to his chest, Jim made his way from the bridge down to the ready room.
Stardate 2260.361, 1030 hours, Deck 2, Ready Room
Jim engaged the privacy lock of his ready room, grateful for the small mercies of captain's prerogatives in daily life. He put the PADD on the table and leaned over it for a moment. Through the Bond he could feel Spock's struggle for control. Beyond the immediate concerns for the safety of the ship, he sensed embarrassed curiosity, sexual uneasiness, a vague sense of failure, and the ever-lurking horror of almost killing the man whose blood had saved Jim's life. Not a good combination.
"C'mere," he told Spock and extended his hands toward his partner, palms raised. Spock hesitated, his discomfort palpable without any telepathy. Jim knew that even for Spock, with all of his Vulcan logic and his background in sciences, it was one thing to analyze alien sex – and quite another to live with it. Especially when that entailed a surprise confrontation with the sexual proclivities of his ex-girlfriend in the form of a rather unique sex toy. "It's illogical to refuse the comfort of your Bondmate," Jim added. "Increased emotional transference will make the explanation easier." And it will calm you down much more effectively than anything I could say, he thought privately, although he knew that he had to say something, too.
When Spock closed the distance between them, pressing hot palms against Jim's hands, their connection deepened instantly to near-meld intensity. The relief of tension in mind and body was so extreme that Jim couldn't suppress a gasp. After the impromptu Christmas party last night, they hadn't melded but simply collapsed into bed – too wired and too tired at the same time. And Jim too drunk, really. After just three whiskies, damn it. Currently Uhura could drink him under the table. Carefully controlled alcohol abuse was an important diplomatic skill for a Starfleet captain. He'd have to send Scotty or Bones or Commander Paul to drink with Klingons at the moment, and he didn't like that at all.
Jim sighed and swayed on his feet, helplessly drawn to his lover. Spock's effect on him was an attraction he compared to gravity or magnetism in his mind ... a force of nature, nothing he could control. "Need to meld tonight," he murmured, resting his forehead against Spock's shoulder for a moment, before he forced his mind back to the matter at hand. He drew back so he could see Spock's face. "Now, that code. First of all, it's perfectly harmless. In terms of viruses, my money is on the gingerbread. Point the second, and I'm kind of going out on a limb here, but I guess that Vulcans don't use sex toys as a rule?" He rubbed his neck, willing away the heat that suffused his face. Damn it, normally he didn't get flustered like that. But of course normally he also didn't have to explain to Spock what was up with his ex-girlfriend's new sex toy.
"Vulcans have near-perfect control over their bodies." Only the slightest pause gave away Spock's discomfiture. "Such devices are ..."
(Unnecessary. Illogical. Perhaps even disgusting. Though of course such a reaction was illogical, too.) "Right." Pretty much the conclusion Jim had arrived at already. He took a deep breath and launched right into a way too awkward explanation. "This, well, I know that you know that Humans can't switch off their sexuality the way you guys do. I guess there are people who don't mind doing without, but most Humans don't particularly enjoy celibacy. Men and women both. That's what this is about. Uhura's been with John how long? Pretty much since the two of you broke up, right?"
Instead of an answer that detailed months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds, Jim got a blank stare that wasn't quite expressionless enough. Jim suppressed a sigh. Probably not even the most logical, amicable break-up in the history of the known universe could be completely painless and straightforward. Plus, Jim was well aware that he was the main reason for their break-up. Awkwardly, he cleared his throat. "Anyway, they've been a couple round about a year now. But most of that time she's been light-years away from him. And I guess they are exclusive – no 'what happens on the ship stays on the ship' arrangement – that is, not an open relationship, no other partners on the side." Jim wasn't surprised that Uhura didn't do casual or poly. He was also kind of impressed with her taste in men (somewhat intimidated, to be honest). However, the idea of five years in space without any intimate companionship beyond his right hand was ... scary. Scary enough that he was wondering if he could make a stopover at Earth happen after the third year of the mission. Because, yeah. He owed Uhura and John big time.
"So this is kind of a really considerate and uh... creative gift," Jim concluded weakly. "To uh... tide her over?" And I'll make sure not to look too closely at message packets Uhura sends in John's direction, he thought. No matter how hot ensuing holos or vids may be.
"I see," Spock said stiffly.
Jim was pretty sure that he didn't. "Women," Jim tried again. He was beginning to feel more than a little out of his xenocultural depths with this version of the birds and the bees talk. Or maybe rather "dildos and vibes" talk? Shouldn't Uhura have taken care of that particular conversation with Spock? She was the xenolinguistical expert and the first girlfriend, after all. How come he had to explain this? He took another deep breath. "Human women enjoy and need sex just as much as men do. And many Humans have fun with sex toys on their own or with their partners." He paused, trying to figure out how to put Spock at ease. "I don't remember if I mentioned that before, but I used one, too – before Arrakis. Just a simple plug to, well, make things easier."
Okay, that was the wrong thing to say. If anything, Spock was even more spooked than before. But Jim could also feel that Spock was trying to understand his emotional responses to the situation and to put them into words. That was never an easy task for the half-Vulcan, but it was more important than ever now, thanks to his constant exposure to Jim's emotions. So Jim just waited as patiently as he could. And he didn't let Spock step back. Another thing he'd learned by now. Emotional transference was very useful to avoid stupid misunderstandings.
"I sensed her sexual requirements," Spock said at last, his voice carefully devoid of expression. "But I failed to reciprocate on the level she desired. As a scientist, I was aware that her needs were perfectly natural for her species. But although it was an illogical reaction, I ... experienced discomfort. Discomfort I was unable and ... unwilling to overcome, even though I knew that was detrimental to our relationship."
If the topic was less serious, Jim would have smiled. He was beginning to really get Spock. Like just now? What Spock did not say was as important – more important even – than what he actually did say out loud. Sure, Spock was weirded out by John's gift for Uhura. Understandably so. But that wasn't what bothered Spock. Jim didn't try to reply right away, giving Spock a chance to reinforce his mental controls. Of course it helped that – thanks to the Bond – Jim knew beyond any doubt at all that Spock was neither unwilling nor unable where he was concerned. Comfortable was another matter, though, and Jim was aware of that, too. And that? That did worry him.
"Spock ..." He captured Spock's wrist. For a brief moment Jim didn't move, just held on, gently. "Sweetheart ..." Jim drew the Vulcan's hand to his face and pressed his fingers to his meld points in a gesture of trust and sincerity. "I've had fourteen years to figure out my sexuality. You've had what? 112 days now? Even perfectly ordinary Humans who never have to question their identity and their preferences need a couple of years to get comfortable in their own skin."
Through the Bond he could feel how Spock's inner balance shifted. Instinctively, Jim followed the ebb and flow of tension in his Bondmate's body. They ended up leaning against each other, breathing together, a natural rhythm established by shared meditation and sex. Better. Much better.
"One more thing," Jim said quietly, "and this is important. I need you to know that there's nothing wrong with you, with how your sexuality works. Not with the Vulcan side of it – not with pon farr and not with what we've done to make it safer for us whenever it happens – and not with the human side – no matter how you want to explore that aspect of yourself. Now that the Bond has settled, if anything makes you uncomfortable, you have to tell me. Or if there's anything you want to try. What we do together, you don't need to be perfect with me, not in Vulcan ways, not in human ways. I want you—" He took a deep breath. "I want us to enjoy ourselves. Whatever feels good, feels good. No logic, no shame. IDIC. Okay?"
Spock straightened and stepped back. "That is an unconventional, but not entirely illogical application of that particular philosophy. I shall endeavor to extrapolate and communicate my preferences accordingly."
Jim suppressed a sigh. The number of syllables per sentence was a pretty good tell with Spock for just how uncomfortable he was in any given situation. Very uncomfortable, in this case. At least he hadn't managed to sneak a "Captain" into his reply. Which would have raised the level of Spock's discomfort on a scale from one to ten to approximately fifteen.
"Alright," Jim said briskly and turned to his PADD. "Back to business. We need to shut down the replicators. Today. The whole system. And we have to be certain that whatever is messing with us gets eradicated before we switch things on again. So far, that code has only produced a gazillion yummy gingerbread men. Tomorrow it may end up replicating rat poison to spice up our soup. We have emergency rations for three months, and we're two weeks away from Zaran. We've got an official confirmation of the schedule already; so if everything goes wrong, I doubt they'll let us starve." He pinched the bridge of his nose again, willing away the headache that still throbbed in his temples and his forehead. "We can't issue a public announcement – people will try to stockpile and burn out the system. But it's Christmas. This will fuck up crew morale well and good."
He licked his lips, trying to find a solution for this dilemma. "Could we at least give the service personnel of the main mess an advance warning, have them prep for a nice dinner at least?" he asked. "Maybe give them three hours? We can get the medics to scan everything, to make sure the food is safe."
Stardate 2260.361, 1600 hours, Deck 3, Main Computer Room
Spock stared at the code displayed on the screen. His control and concentration was still substandard, as had been the case all day. When Jim had asked him if he was okay twelve minutes and twenty seconds ago, he had been tempted to reply with "fine", which was unacceptable in any possible interpretation of the term.
The air of the Main Computer Room was filled with muffled curses (neither Orions nor Humans believed in working silently, an idiosyncrasy that was not beneficial for his ability to concentrate on the task at hand) and the smell of coffee, stale and cold as well as hot and freshly brewed (another, only slightly less unpleasant distraction).
However, there were some aspects of starship culture that were inalienable and had to be accepted without question. Engineering had a secret still. On the Enterprise, Scotty's equipment was currently housed in Doctor McCoy's former quarters. Computing had coffee. At this stage of the mission, the MCR still boasted authentic, non-replicated Earth coffee (even though the captain's yeoman had had to switch to an Arrakis Spice blend already). And the Biology department was involved in secret projects in connection with substances relevant for the production of alcohol and caffeine that Spock kept careful tabs on. That was his responsibility as science officer and XO, after all. Even if his sense of duty and the need to uphold Starfleet rules and regulations did not constitute his strongest motivation in this particular context. Curiosity and, most of all, concern for Jim (who would inevitably consume the end products of both experiments) were more important factors.
Once more Spock focused his attention on the data in front of him and to acknowledge the irrational desire to issue a very human sigh. The replicators had been shut down at 1300 hours sharp. Since then Jim, Lieutenant Gaila, Yeoman Rand and Spock were working on an analysis of the data with advanced diagnostic tools to isolate and examine the malicious code.
Meanwhile, all other computer systems of the Enterprise were being subjected to thorough examinations as well. Lieutenant Chekov and Lieutenant Sulu were running scans on navigations. Lieutenant Romaine and Lieutenant Paul were checking the administrations networks, while Lieutenant Uhura and Lieutenant Milekey were checking the communications systems. Commander Scott and Lieutenant Amell were examining Engineering and Environmentals for the third time in as many days. Lieutenant Marcus and Lieutenant Leslie were subjecting the weapons systems to a thorough inspection.
So far, they had discovered precisely nothing.
The lack of progress was frustrating. Spock recognized and controlled this natural response to the situation with more effort than basic mental discipline should have required. The concern for the ship's safety was even less easily contained. Although Spock had suspected for weeks already that the constant exposure to Jim's emotions and Thorby's trauma affected him more strongly than he had anticipated, he found it difficult to accept that conclusion. Especially how this morning's events – particularly his conversation with Jim in the ready room – disturbed his mental and emotional equilibrium was disconcerting.
His futile longing for intimacy and release before the Bonding had been ... unpleasant. Spock was gratified how easily the Bond allowed him to respond to Jim physically now. Since sexual relations strengthened the Bond, and the strength of the Bond would increase their safety during pon farr, a certain enjoyment of sex was logical as a consequence of purely biological imperatives. As a result, he had expected the effects of the new Bond, if not the Spice-induced intensity of the experience. Similarly, Spock had anticipated that his human Bondmate would have a much stronger sex drive than he did. That was only natural. He had been prepared (if somewhat dubious regarding his abilities in that respect) to engage in whatever activities were necessary to sustain a satisfactory relationship. But physiologically, he was Vulcan. Now that the Bond had settled, he should not experience such sexual desires himself. He should not need Jim so much – and certainly not like that, not before pon farr was upon him. But he did. He craved and feared control and loss of control in equal measure. And outside a meld, he was so ill-equipped to express himself in that regard.
With an effort, Spock put these private concerns aside to be addressed later, at a more appropriate moment, and concentrated on the console once more. The replicator program to produce Vulcanoid gingerbread figures was bloated with irrelevant lines of what Jim called "GNDN" – goes nowhere, does nothing – to the point that the sheer amount of extraneous, random data would break the system. However, while the hack would inevitably destroy the relevant replicator, the gingerbread malware did not contain a virus or any other program with a purpose beyond that. The malicious code that had crashed the life support system of the USS Antares had constituted a very different level of sabotage.
Jim reached the same conclusion three point five seconds later. He leaned back with a groan. "That's the dirtiest code I've ever seen. But it's not what we've been looking for. If there's a virus or a Trojan, it's not in the gingerbread. Damn it." He closed his eyes. Through the Bond, Spock felt Jim poke and prod the problem, turning it over and around, inside out. Lightning and quicksilver. Code like a kitten. Pash-yel asleep under the bed. What an illogical approach. However ...
"Spock, check the Vulcan stuff."
Spock raised an eyebrow. Of course there was a connection – the particular shape of the gingerbread figures. To examine Vulcan items contained in the database was not completely illogical. "Yes, sir."
He called up the relevant entries and executed a diagnostic subroutine he had programmed himself, a tool that was more thorough and precise than even the most advanced software released by Starfleet. It would not take long to ascertain the presence of illicit code. Thirty-seven seconds later he sat motionless. The effort it took not to let himself be affected by Jim's – fury – frustration – fear—
Abruptly, the battering of Jim's emotions against the Bond ceased. "I'm sorry, Spock," Jim whispered.
Spock required another two seconds to reassert control over his mind and emotions before he was able to deliver his report. "Captain, every single item of Vulcan origin is infected. A combination of a virus and a Trojan."
Jim bracketed his forehead between thumb and index finger. Without looking up, he muttered, "Someone look over the Romulan stuff." He inhaled. Exhaled. Spock recognized the breathing technique from their meditation practice. "Actually, anything that's not Terran." Stiffly, Jim got to his feet and went over to the coffee maker. But he didn't pour himself another cup. Instead he leaned on the counter and stared at the wall, jaws set, shoulders tightened into tense lines.
"I shall extend my analysis to encompass all items of Vulcanoid origin," Spock announced calmly. "Lieutenant Gaila, please evaluate Orion products, as well as the standard items from the rest of the Federation. Yeoman Rand, please inspect all non-categorized non-standard items."
To assess the damage didn't take long. As Jim had guessed, the virus had multiplied until malicious code had been inserted in every single non-Terran product in the replicator system. Spock spent another five minutes and thirty seconds verifying the results. But the diagnosis was solid. The facts were clear. There could be no question concerning the necessary consequences. Yet for a whole second, Spock experienced an irrational desire for his analysis to be faulty. A desire that had nothing to do with the safety of the ship, and everything with Jim's state of mind. With a soft inhalation deep into the center of his body, he put all of that aside – his own thoughts and emotions as well as what he recognized as an echo of Jim's mind, flowing into him through the Bond.
Smoothly, he rose to his feet and walked over to where Jim stood next to the coffee maker, a mug of cooling liquid forgotten in his hands. Spock stopped at an appropriate distance – two feet in front of Jim – adjusted his posture and clasped his hands behind his back. "The analysis is complete, Captain. The system is irrevocably compromised."
"Thank you, Mr. Spock," Jim said. For seven seconds he stared blankly into his coffee. "Very well," he went on. His voice sounded weary, and his exhalation could almost be classified as a sigh. "Mr. Spock, please prepare a report on the system compromise to be sent to Earth with the next subspace message packet. As per Starfleet safety regulations, perform a clean install of the replicator system with no custom entries and modifications. Switch off the option for custom replication. And I want the last clean back-up of all custom items and custom alterations for standard products."
Jim turned around and slammed his coffee mug down on the counter. He hadn't taken more than a sip. Hot liquid spilled over. Jim hissed and grabbed a paper napkin to wipe the sticky fluid from his hand. "I'm sorry to add to your already busy schedules," he said, surprisingly calm and controlled. "But we'll have to go over all customizations before they can be added to the system again. I figure the best way to do that is to split things up between the three of us, and then have Mr. Spock check our results. Yeoman Rand, I know the timing sucks, but I want us ready to start working on this project tomorrow. Please set everything up accordingly, with secure PADD access for the four of us."
"Yes, sir." Rand and Gaila nodded. If they had any objections to the additional amount of work or the demanding schedule, they didn't show it, Spock noticed with approval.
"Thank you," Jim said with a tight smile. "We'll also need to implement new replicating procedures." He frowned. "I suggest a two-step process. Have people submit any custom programs to an IT team to vet the code. Then pipe it down to Replications to have it entered in the system. Thoughts?"
Spock nodded, concentrating on the technical solution of the problems. His concerns regarding Jim's workload could be addressed at a later point. "That is an effective resolution. As nearly all departments depend on timely custom replication, I suggest a team of three per shift to ensure a fast deployment of code. Lieutenant Gaila can draft a roster tomorrow. Additionally, documentation for the application and approval of custom replications needs to be developed. Yeoman Rand can prepare a preliminary form tomorrow."
Jim nodded. "Sounds good. Lieutenant Gaila, Yeoman Rand, can you get that done tomorrow in time for Beta shift?"
"Of course, sir," Gaila replied.
"Sure thing, Captain," Rand said. Then she hesitated for a moment before she added, her voice carefully neutral, "I really don't mean to be presumptuous, sir, but considering ... well, wouldn't it be better if I split up the custom alterations we need to review among Lieutenant Gaila's teams?"
Spock appreciated the tacit reference to Jim's already numerous duties as captain. Even without the pilots' training Jim had taken over since the battle of Lysatia, his responsibilities left little free time. Since Thorby's adoption those few hours were often filled with additional appointments, and frequently stressful situations.
"That would be an efficient way to test the skills of the relevant crew members," Spock suggested, although he did not anticipate convincing Jim of the logic of his argument. Jim had no problems with delegating work. But he was a firm believer in employing whoever was best at the task in question. Unfortunately, all too often Jim himself was among the ten persons on board best suited for any given mission.
As expected, Jim shook his head. "Good point, Spock, but nope. Not happening. Look, it's Christmas. There are kids not getting their gifts because of this mess, parties not happening. When we announce the policy changes once the system is up and running again, people will be all kinds of pissed. And we can't tell them that it was sabotage. If that gets out, we'll have a witch hunt on our hands. Everyone will be a suspect. You know how such things can end."
Spock identified the cold sensation that seeped into him from Jim's mind. Fear. Yet Jim only allowed an appropriate measure of frustration to color his voice. Startled, Spock realized that Jim's emotional control was far beyond what most Vulcans assumed Humans capable of.
Jim took a deep breath and went on, "But even if we manage to keep the exact circumstances of this mess under wraps, if we can sell it as a reasonable disciplinary measure after too many people fucking up the replicators, the whole thing won't be a boost for crew morale. That's why I want the current customizations back in the system as quickly as possible. The four of us are hands down the best computer specialists on board, so we'll get the job done quicker than anyone else. And the least I can do as captain is show everyone that I'm not above putting in some grunt work in support of all our creature comforts."
Gaila winced, and even Rand – who, Spock had been advised, was not regarded as emotionally perceptive among the crew – nodded reluctantly. Unobtrusively, Jim reached out and pressed his right palm against Spock's. Instantly, Spock sensed Jim's state of mind. Not quite thoughts, but more than mere feelings. This is how ships go down far from home, this is how it begins, the stories without survivors, in which we're our own worst enemies ... That must not happen. Must. Not. Happen. Think of the children ...
"Captain, in that case I believe we are done here now," Spock said calmly. "I will contact you when the other departments report in regarding the status of their systems. Yeoman Rand will outline a statement for you to issue when the replicators go back online. I will send the draft directly to your PADD."
Jim snorted, but he did not seem in the mood to put up much of a fight. "Want me out of your hair, do you?"
"Alpha shift has ended three hours and forty-five minutes ago," Spock admonished his Bondmate. "Doctor McCoy has been quite insistent that outside of dire emergencies you are supposed to consume your evening meal on time. Since a solution for our current predicament has been devised, I surmise that Doctor McCoy would not be pleased if I failed to ensure—"
Jim lifted his hands in mock surrender. "Understood, Spock. I'll go and eat and take a nap like a good little captain. Comm me if anything comes up. Rand, Gaila – I'm so sorry this crap spoiled the holiday for you." He grabbed his PADD. Rolling tense shoulders, he walked to the door and was gone.
Spock remained behind, staring at the door, unable to suppress a frown. When he turned back to the computer screens, he noticed Yeoman Rand's carefully blank expression and Lieutenant Gaila's grin. He recalled Nyota's advice that sometimes inappropriate comments while on duty were appropriate means to strengthen the sense of community among the crew.
"There is no point in using the word 'impossible' to describe something that has clearly happened," Spock quoted, addressing the closed door, Jim's stubborn, tired smile fixed in his mind.
For one-point-three-five seconds the two women looked at each other. Then Gaila giggled and Rand snorted.
"He's that, isn't he?" Gaila said with a soft smile. "Our Captain."
"Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all," Rand declaimed. With an appreciative sigh and a glance at Gaila, she added, "Douglas Adams. I have a thing for classical literature."
Spock noticed how a measure of emotional and physical tension that had placed a not insignificant amount of strain on his mind drained away. Nyota, it seemed, had been right.
"My mother shared your appreciation, Yeoman Rand," Spock said. "It is beneficial to know ..." He was uncertain how to continue.
"The stars know our sadness," Gaila whispered, her voice strangely gentle and solemn, "the moons see our wounds, the sun shines upon our strength, and the stories go on when we are gone. Thus it is written in the Book of Tears."
Stardate 2260.361, 2200 hours, Deck 5, Captain's Office
"... The replicators are working again now, and we'll do our best to add all approved customizations to the system as soon as possible. So in a few days, everything should be back to normal," Jim said briskly. "Happy holidays. Kirk out." He clicked off the comm and leaned back against his office chair. For a moment he closed his eyes. That was not how he'd imagined the first Christmas celebrations of their five-year mission. At the back of his mind, he felt Spock's concern. Torn between amusement and irritation, he blinked his eyes open again and held his hand out to Spock.
Only when he felt the hot touch of Spock's palm, he broke the silence. "Don't worry. I've eaten – in sickbay, with Bones and Jo and Thorby. Good thing the sickbay replicators are a self-contained system. I've taken a nap. And all of my reports are finished." He indicated the PADDs stacked neatly on his desk. He hadn't wanted to go out and mingle before the replicator issue was resolved.
Spock straightened, clasping his hands behind his back. "I did not intend to appear unduly solicitous, sir." His dark eyes were still too wide, too worried. Some days compartmentalizing between private life and ship's business was not that easy, even for a Vulcan.
"It's okay, Spock. Rough day, for all of us." Jim rose to his feet and walked over to the replicator. Time to try if the clean install was working as advertised. He punched in the code for two cups of chai tea. Instant chai kind of sucked, but he needed a break before he could drag himself down to the festivities.
"Thorby loves our Christmas gift." Jim leaned against Spock for a moment, enjoying his warmth and the faintly spicy scent of his skin. "I do, too, by the way." They had replicated a multilingual children's edition of Surak's Tales for the kid, with illustrations by Amanda Grayson. The watercolor paintings were exquisite, even replicated. "Jo is currently in two minds where her gift is concerned," Jim went on, making sure there would be no awkward silence. They had given her "Colony of Catan", the Starfleet version of an old Terran board game. "She forced us to play after dinner," Jim explained. "Bones won. He hoarded dilithium like nobody's business."
For a moment, they sat in silence, sipping substandard chai. "We should do that for one of our bridge nights, I think." The "bridge nights" (or "stress management seminars" as they were called with a wink and a nudge) were a semi-regular, informal meet-up for all bridge shift officers. A team building measure, approved by Starfleet brass no less. Basically, a counter event to the knitting circle. But with more beer. And wow, would the knitters be mad when they realized that Nyota's rooibos customizations had been wiped from the system along with all other modifications. "Though Scotty would probably start a betting pool right away and then I'd lose half my income to you ..."
"A ship-wide chess tournament might also be an appropriate measure to improve crew morale," Spock suggested.
"I might win against you," Jim murmured, thoughtfully. "But what good would come of that? Chekov or Keenser would wipe the hull with me ..."
"Commander Paul has contacted me with another suggestion regarding crew morale," Spock went on, "It seems that circumstances have engendered spontaneous festivities. A family friendly celebration is taking place on deck eight. The V'tosh ka'tur have presented a circus show, and the Enterprise band has put on a spontaneous concert and 'sing along'. Commander Paul suggests that we put in an appearance in order to 'cuddle the children and charm the mothers; red suit and beard optional'. Hyperbole, I hope. At this hour, younger children should be asleep in their quarters, and adolescents hardly require cuddling from their captain. Though I do not doubt your ability to dazzle anyone present, male or female, regardless of their age."
Jim marveled how Spock managed to deliver that message with a straight face. "If Commander Paul thinks it will help, I'm happy to dress up as Santa," he muttered. Then he tilted his head. "And for the record, I could imagine any number of adolescents who'd love to be cuddled by the first officer. However, I am afraid we'll have to disappoint them." Pairing index and middle finger of his right hand, he reached out and gently stroked Spock's hand. "You're mine."
"Indeed." Spock put down his cup.
"We've been invited to another party, too." With a low voice, Jim added enticingly, "Adults only. Christmas clubbing on deck 21. Music, booze, and dancing."
"Doctor McCoy— Leonard contacted me about that matter as well," Spock said. "Apparently I am not supposed to chain you to the Christmas tree but am obligated to share you with the rest of the ship."
Again with that awful straight face. This time, Jim couldn't suppress a chuckle. "To think there was a time when I actually fell for that 'Southern gentleman' ruse of his." He shook his head. "Oh, Bones also informed me that the command team is not welcome at the secret orgy featuring more or less illicit substances that's taking place at an undisclosed location tonight. Thankfully he also implied someone more or less responsible would be there to keep an eye on things." Jim made a face. "You know, that's what I kind of hate about getting the chair so soon. I'm missing out on essential ship's culture." Then he plonked his mug on the table decisively.
"Alright, enough with the moping," Jim said. "We have places to go and things to do."
After the shit that had gone down with the replicators that day, there was no way the command team could stay away from what was apparently turning into the party of the year on the Enterprise. Jim knew how to read between the lines of Commander Paul's and Bones's messages. Glancing at Spock, he realized that Spock did, too. His lover might not always be comfortable with the antics of Humans, but he had a much better grasp of human psychology and culture than he customarily let on.
Spock's eyes crinkled ever so slightly at the corners. "So I've been told. Doctor's orders."
Stardate 2260.361, 2230 hours, Deck 8, Christmas Party, the family-friendly version
When they entered the rec area of deck eight, the first thing Jim saw was a Christmas tree built out of huge, colorful LEGO bricks, with LED lights stuck to the outer nobs. On top of the crazy tree-like structure a tiny replica of the Enterprise flashed blue and red lights.
Jim hesitated a moment before he entered the rec area and surveyed the room. The silly Christmas tree, the people ...
There were almost five-hundred people on board of the ship. Jim still didn't know all the names and all the faces, but he'd made damn sure that he knew all of the kids – names, faces, voices. He'd know them blind. With the addition of Jo, Thorby, T'Mir, and Solok, there were forty-five children on the Enterprise. He'd already felt the responsibility for the lives of his normal crew keenly. But children upped the ante to nightmare levels. Jim had agreed with Pike and Starfleet Command that allowing families on board was a good message to send – to Starfleet, the Federation, and any new species they'd encounter on their five-year mission. Nothing said "we come in peace" more clearly than the presence of kids. He also knew for a fact just how tough kids could be, given the circumstances of his own birth, and his survival of the Tarsus disaster. Still, facing the children of the Enterprise was never easy for him.
A couple of kids were sitting on the floor in front of the Christmas tree, playing board games. Nine-year-old Natsumi Marsden seemed to be winning, while the scowl on little Benjamin Gunn's dark face didn't look like a very merry Christmas. The quaint Terran Christmas music had lured some of the teenagers and tweens to the dance floor. The younger kids, including Jo and her friend Gus, were engaged in one of those silly party dances with lots of jumping and hand waving and giggling. The teenagers were more into body contact. Ludwika Jerusalem and Augustyn Satie were so wrapped up into each other they might have been alone on the whole ship. Jim grinned and cast a quick glance at Spock who was just a step behind him. Young love ... Families and friends were sitting at the tables all around the room. Some of the smaller children were already asleep on a parent's lap. At a corner table Jim spied Bones next to Carolyn Paul. Commander Paul was there, too, engaged in earnest conversation with Thorby.
Jim wasn't particularly fond of Christmas. He had few good memories of it, and those recollections mostly felt like disintegrating holos, flickering and fading with age, the ghost of Christmas past, spent with his mother and his brother when he was still a small child. Most holidays he recalled he'd spent alone, often drunk. Sometimes drugged. Last Christmas he'd celebrated in the hospital, with Bones and Jo and both Spocks. Close to complete recovery, but still far from getting his ship back ... He shook his head, trying to dispel the sudden dizziness. To be here, now, on the Enterprise, with Spock at his side—
"Uncle Jim!" Jo bounded up to him and grabbed his hand. "Come on, my friends want to say hi!"
Helplessly, Jim raised his hands in the universal gesture of defeat and glanced at Spock. A slight softening of the Vulcan's stern features, accompanied by a mellow feeling in Jim's mind, betrayed Spock – his first officer and husband was smiling.
Jim let himself be towed off. The kids stopped their crazy ring-around-the-LEGO-tree. Greeting him with applause and shouts of "Merry Christmas, Captain, sir!", they crowded him eagerly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Spock walking over to Bones. Commander Paul was already pulling out a chair for him, and Thorby's small face lit up at Spock's approach. Carolyn Paul, who had volunteered as Thorby's and Jo's babysitter for the night, waved to Jim, and even Bones looked less grim.
Stardate 2260.361, 2400 hours, Deck 21, Christmas Party, the adults-only version
The music battered Jim's body, and the bass vibrated deep in his bones. Strobe lights flashed to highlight smiling faces in bursts of white and blue. Then the shadows closed in on them once more, and they were sucked into a writhing vortex of rhythm. Without Spock's presence behind him, it would have been too much, the pressure of people all around him, congealing into an amorphous mass of moving bodies, of intimate glimpses of limbs and lips. Sweat and artificial Christmas scents mingled into a mind-numbing perfume.
Four round tables had been turned into makeshift stages. Empty boxes labelled "Starfleet Emergency Rations" were piled up around them. On top of the tables, Gaila and Gwaloth and the (male) Andorian twins from Maintenance were swaying sinfully, dressed mostly in Santa hats.
"Holy hell," Jim muttered, when they were pushed closer to the middle of the rec area. Mentally he calculated the current course of the Enterprise, the subspace lag for transmissions to and from Earth, and the speed of PR fallouts in order to determine when he'd need to have a statement ready. Though at present he had no idea what he could possibly say about ... that.
That: On a fifth table, in the center of the room, the long lost love child of a Festivus pole and a neo-minimalist Christmas tree made of scrap metal was proudly displayed, liberally decorated with lingerie and sex toys. Clearly, someone – probably Gaila – had taken the idea of Christmas as a feast of love a little too literally. And of course no one had bothered to correct her. Or to tone down the trimmings of the tree to a state not guaranteed to cause a minor scandal. With a wicked, unrepentant grin, Gaila waved and blew them a kiss.
Suddenly, Bones appeared in front of him. Either he had managed to put the kids to bed in record time or he'd left Carolyn in charge of those details. Whatever; he was here now, grinning like a maniac, and balancing three steaming glasses in his hands, obviously hell-bent on getting the party on. To Jim's surprise, Spock grabbed a glass right away. It took a lot to get a Vulcan inebriated, but apparently Spock was willing to give it a try tonight. Jim blew out the flames dancing on the surface of his drink, cautiously took a sip and promptly coughed. Red Saurian brandy, served hot and laced with Spice. Okay, with that stuff even Spock had a pretty good chance to get drunk as a skunk.
"Holy hell," Jim gasped.
"This revelry appears to affect your vocabulary." Spock almost touched Jim's ear with his lips in an effort to make himself heard without shouting. "Fascinating."
In spite of the haze of body heat that entrapped them, Jim shuddered. His heart pounding, he stared at the fiery liquor in his glass. To drink even one glass of that stuff was probably not the best idea he'd ever had. He could only hope that he'd remember not to have another shot when he was finished with this one. On the other hand, it was Christmas, and it had been one hell of a day ... Jim raised his glass to Bones in a silent thank-you.
"Merry Christmas," Bones mouthed. With a smirk, he winked at them and turned away to dance closer to a beautiful blonde – Doctor Chapel, Jim realized with a start, in high heels and a tiny black leather something that looked positively poured over her curves. Delicious. But a starship captain who also happened to be Bonded to his Vulcan first officer shouldn't drool over pretty doctors. He swallowed hard and forced himself to turn away. However, that strategy proved to be less helpful than anticipated. Instead of Bones getting handsy with Chapel, he was now faced with Scotty making out with Elena Amell. And what was that thing sticking out from her hair? He narrowed his eyes and waited for the next salvo of strobe lights. Mistletoe. The Assistant Chief Engineer had a sprig of mistletoe in her hair.
Christmas-crazy, he thought. They are all Christmas-crazy. And there's no hypo for that ... Nothing to do but ride it out ...
Leaning back against Spock with a sigh, Jim allowed himself to sink into the rhythm that thrummed in his veins. Tension melted away as they were swept up by the tidal powers of people swaying and swirling all around them. An ensign in a blue Santa hat danced up to them to relieve them of their empty glasses, pressing new ones into their hands. Spock slid his arm around him, drawing him into a tight embrace. Alcohol and arousal kindled a fire in Jim's stomach, and through the Bond he sensed ... He twisted around to look at Spock. In dizzying bursts, the flashing lights illuminated eyes black with desire, unsmiling lips tense and tight with unspoken need.
Fuck. Jim could have kicked himself. He should have known better than to drag a touch-telepath into this claustrophobic chaos of overstimulated minds. Spock's controls must be crumbling under the onslaught of emotions unleashed around them. But before he could formulate a plan of escape, Spock caught his hand. "I knew what to expect, Jim. I ..."
... want this ... need this ...
Loss of control. Feared and craved with shocking intensity. From one moment to the next, Jim was hard. He couldn't help it – he pressed against Spock, only to find him equally aroused. In public. And obviously not giving a damn, because he only pulled Jim closer. Groaning at the cruel friction, Jim realized he shouldn't be surprised. Spock didn't do anything half-way. He buried his face against Spock's shoulder to muffle a moan. His surroundings blurred into an abstract seascape of lights and shadows. The music faded away. Within seconds, he was only aware of Spock. Of his arms around him, his hands on his ass, of his erection rubbing against him, hot and hard even through the fabric of their uniform pants.
"Fuck," Jim groaned. "Fuck ..."
In his mind, he sensed that Spock was beyond words, already too close, much too close to climax. The knowledge that Spock used what little was left of his control to hold off his orgasm because he wanted Jim inside his body was almost enough to send him over the edge. Stumbling ahead, he pushed Spock backwards, in the general direction of the turbolifts. Each step was almost too much, more pain than pleasure. He felt sweat form on his forehead that had nothing to do with the exertion of dancing or the ambient temperature.
When they finally tumbled onto their bed, naked, Jim wasn't entirely sure how they had made it there, and where they had lost their clothes en route. He gripped himself firmly at the base, hoping that pure willpower could make him last longer at this point. With a shuddering breath, he laid his other hand over Spock, palm flat and cool on Vulcan-hot skin.
"Are you sure you want this?" Jim asked. He barely recognized his own voice, hoarse with lust.
Instead of an answer, Spock spread his legs wide in a physical invitation and arched his hips up, pressing his penis against Jim's hand. Spock had no words to express his desires, but the Bond left no doubt about just what he wanted, what he needed.
"Okay." Jim grabbed the bottle of lube from the shelf above the bed. Although he ached for Spock, he took his time and didn't allow a meld yet. Slow, slow, slow, down, down, down, he chanted in his mind. Gently he slipped a lubed finger into Spock's body. The transference via the Bond was almost too much. Almost. Perfect Vulcan muscle control allowed him to add a second and a third finger almost too easily. The prostate was more pronounced than in a human body. The slightest touch sent Spock into spasms. The echo of the sensation in his mind nearly had Jim screaming with pleasure.
Jim couldn't wait another second. He drew up Spock's knees, spreading him open before him, and sank into his body. For a heartbeat he feared he'd come at the very first slick slide. So hot, so tight. Hotter and tighter than any human body. Gently drawing back and easing inside again was the sweetest agony he'd ever experienced in his life. With one hand he steadied himself, with the other he grasped Spock's erection. More than uncoordinated, jerky strokes were beyond him, though.
Then hot fingertips found his meld points. Spock's passion burst into his mind like a supernova, and all finesse failed him. He pounded himself into his lover's body, while Spock dragged his hand harder over his penis, desperate for more friction. A slight shift in position, and Spock shouted slurred words in Golic Vulcan, helpless, out of control in his lust. The feedback loop of the Bond gave Jim no time to catch his breath before the pressure in his balls built to the limit. In a surge of painful pleasure he spent himself deep inside the heat of Spock's body and mind.
For long moments they floated in the aftermath, shivering, trembling, with no knowledge of any boundaries between their bodies or their minds. To withdraw from Spock's body was torture for both of them. Once they had separated, they still clung to each other, arms and legs tangled together, minds deeply melded. When Jim could see clearly again, he focused on Spock's eyes –dazed, dark and dreamy ... and glistening with tears. Still beyond words, Jim pushed himself up on his elbows. Carefully, Jim kissed the corners of Spock's eyes and licked away the tears trailing down his temples.
"When the immense drugged universe explodes
In a cascade of unendurable colour
And leaves us gasping naked,
This is no more than the ecstasy of chaos:
Hold fast, with both hands, to that royal love
Which alone, as we know certainly, restores
Fragmentation into true being."
– Robert Graves, Poems 1965-1968, Ecstasy of Chaos
"There is no point in using the word 'impossible' to describe something that has clearly happened" and "Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all" are quotes from Douglas Adams, "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency".
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