Chapter Seven

Dr. M'Benga is pacing the length of his quarters while Harrison watches him with a raised brow from his end of the comm link on the screen of M'Benga's desk monitor.

This conversation is taking place in M'Benga's private quarters at exactly midnight and has already lasted five minutes.

Five minutes of Dr. M'Benga pacing and pacing and muttering furiously to himself that is.

Harrison's mouth twists into a strict frown but he continues to remain indifferent to M'Benga's apparent sulking. He says, "Might I remark, Doctor, that when you petition my attention so urgently, I begin to wonder if I might need to intervene. So. If you would kindly explain why you called, I can be altruistic and offer a solution."

"It happened." Dr. M'Benga continues to pace furiously. "It happened."

"Yes, it apparently did," Harrison dryly states. "And whatever 'it' is, has you wasting my valuable time."

"You don't understand," Dr. M'Benga exclaims, never ceasing his anxious pacing. "It happened."

"Try elaborating, Doctor," Harrison drawls in a bored manner. "You may find the use of adjectives and pronouns will aid you greatly."

"The thing you said wouldn't happen until you arrived," Dr. M'Benga mutters with a nervous twitch. "Captain Kirk's extrasensory progression! I mean, my God—she shook this entire ship and nearly fried the main circuits."

Harrison's expression turns to stone and his steel eyes flash with something cold and dark. "Explain. Down to the very detail."

Dr. M'Benga rubs the back of his neck. "I don't—I don't have all the facts."

"I'm not asking for facts," Harrison states tersely. "I know what the facts are. I want you to specify. Tell me what you meant when you claimed she agitated the condition of the entire vessel."

"Well," Dr. M'Benga stutters. "It's more a matter of what I felt when it happened, combined with what I happened to overhear. The rumors from some of my staff describe—"

Harrison glares.

Dr. M'Benga's jaw snaps shut and he remains obediently quiet.

"I'm only going to say this once, so listen very carefully," Harrison warns lowly. "If you do not have anything of use for me than I will be forced to write you off as incompetent, and you do not want that." His eyes flash silver.

Dr. M'Benga scrambles to say, "There are physical reports! I can forward them to you. Dr. McCoy is holding Captain Kirk in third ward of medbay. They're running tests—she's not—well she's been reduced in age. Complication of our current mission."

Harrison considers that for two beats of silence. "Dr. McCoy will not find anything of use because he will not know what it is he is looking for. I suggest you maintain a close eye on his progress however, and keep me informed. Of everything." He goes on to say, "And forward those documents to me, as well as the vid feed to Captain Kirk's personal quarters."

"Oh. Yes. Yes, okay," Dr. M'Benga speedily agrees. "I—should I expect to hear back from you?"

Harrison smirks slightly before he kills the connection.

Dr. M'Benga breathes a little easier. "Dear God, that man gives me the creeps."

888

Jim scratches her nose before tugging at the stiff, thin cotton shirt and pants that Dr. Bones basically forced her to wear when they dragged her down to medbay. She sighs in boredom as Gaila (the ship's certified quack) sits at her bedside with a glittery purple pen and a matching notebook. She takes notes on everything that Jim says and that's major annoying. She's been stuck in medbay for the last twelve hours with Bones poking and prodding at her with his gang of medical misfits. It makes her impatient and agitated and she hasn't seen Spock for twice as long and that is just as bad as not knowing what exactly it is wrong with her.

"Jim?"

Jim blinks and pulls her gaze away from her biofunction monitors to look over at her green-skinned companion. Gaila is pretty cool for a therapist but no amount of smiles or polite prodding is ever going to make Jim open up to her.

"What's your favorite poem?" Gaila asks, obviously trying for a different method since she recognizes that Jim is being willfully stubborn.

"I don't know. Anything about woe, destruction, ruin, and decay," Jim drawls sarcastically, just to be difficult.

Gaila makes a note of it regardless, like whatever Jim says is still very telling or the least bit useful. "Do you often think or fantasize about harming yourself or others?"

"Like a psychopath?" Jim mutters and crosses her arms defensively. "Are you penning me down as a psychopath, Dr. Gaila?"

"Why would I, Jim?" Gaila counters easily. "Why do labels matter to you?"

"They don't," Jim denies. "I'm just saying what everyone is thinking."

"So you are adept at reading minds?" Gaila gently teases. "How extraordinary. Tell me—what am I thinking now?"

"How would I know?"

"You read minds. That's how. You seem to have insight on everyone's personal opinion. Isn't that what you said?"

"I don't think you're funny," Jim states dryly.

"No, I don't suppose you would," Gaila cheerfully remarks. "Tell me what you do think about."

Jim sighs loudly. "Look. Stop trying to dig into my brain. We all have weird thoughts, right? I'm not all that special." She gazes at Gaila steadily. "What about you? You ever think about hurting yourself or others?"

"The question does not apply to me currently," Gaila mildly replies. "You are the one experiencing both physical and emotional turmoil. I am beginning to think that separating the two would be unwise."

"Wisdom," Jim echoes blankly. "What do any of us know about it? Wisdom is nothing but universal imitation."

"What makes you say that?" Gaila asks.

"What makes me say anything, really?" Jim simply retorts. "It's easier not to say anything. All that crap you hear about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear it. We all just pretend we do."

"Not everyone pretends," Gaila promises. "I'm not here because of obligation, Jim. I'm here because I care about you as my friend."

"I'm not your friend. Not really. Not as I am now," Jim points out. "I wish everyone would just get that. Just because I'm not who I was doesn't mean that I'm messed up or something. I wish you all would just get that."

Gaila says, "And I wish you would talk to me."

"But I am talking to you," Jim says lowly, utterly frustrated. "I don't know what you want me to say."

"Say why you felt like dying was the right thing to do," Gaila offers.

Jim clamps her mouth shut and digs her nails into the calloused flesh of her palms stubbornly.

"Jim—you were so very close to ending your own life. If Spock or Nyota or Leonard had not been in attendance to witness this pinnacle moment, who knows what would have happened?" Gaila points out. "If you had been successful, then perhaps you would not be here to spite any of us."

Jim glares but she doesn't feel any less guilty or shamed.

"Pain does not dissolve unless you are willing to break it down to its most basic nature," Gaila goes on to say like she's some kind of all-knowing monk or something. "My job is to help you discover a revelation that will jumpstart the healing process. I am someone who helps you derive your own conclusions about what makes you tick. Help me, help you. That's all any of us, as your friends and family and colleagues, want to do."

Jim looks away. "I'm not a broken toy," she whispers.

"I know that," Gaila chirps cheerfully and it grates on Jim's nerve. "But do you?"

Jim shrugs weakly and says nothing.

"Okay. Forget the poem for a moment. Do you think we could talk about your childhood? Maybe what that was like? We can get to the big stuff later," Gaila promises. "I just want to get to know you. Maybe if we can identify some emotional roots in connection with your new found abilities, we'll discover that it might help Dr. McCoy pinpoint what exactly it is he's looking for."

Jim says nothing. It's clear that none of them know what's wrong with her. She's screwed and none of them can help. She's got a deadline to meet soon and this nonsense is wasting her time.

"Were you happy as a kid?" Gaila asks, delicately. "What was your family like?"

"I don't want to talk about that," Jim says as she folds her fingers together. "I just—I don't want to talk about that."

"Okay," Gaila says, accommodatingly. "How about you tell me what you like to do when you find yourself alone?"

Jim smiles vacantly. "I like to think about rainbows and unicorns and cupcakes. And sometimes, if I'm really delirious with my perfect life, I like to pretend I'm Queen of the universe and I ride around on my magical surfboard all across the galaxy just handing out boxes full of puppies to all my loyal servants." She drops her smile. "Are we done here or do I have to keep spinning bullshit until you ultimately tell me something I've heard a hundred times before?"

Gaila calmly scribbles away in her notebook and that just irritates Jim beyond belief. She says, "How many therapists have you seen, Jim?"

Jim stares at her. "Enough," she merely says and crosses her arms. Then she smiles very slowly, almost predatorily. "But if you want—we can pretend you're my first."

"Jim…" Gaila says with an admonishing sigh and stands. She looks like she wants to say something really significant, but instead she cradles her notebook and shakes her head with cheery smile that Jim has a hard time believing. "I'll come back tomorrow. I thank you for your time." She gives a bobbing nod before she makes a gesture to Bones as she leaves.

Bones is at Jim's side in a heartbeat. He starts scanning her with his stupid tricorder and that dumb look of concern on his face.

"What? What is it this time?" Jim complains.

Bones just shakes his head and lowers the tricorder.

Jim sighs and watches him watching her biofunction monitor with a furrowed brow.

Bones turns his gaze and focuses it on her. "How you doin', Kid?" he asks gruffly.

"Peachy. Right as rain. Fit as a fiddle. Content as a kitten. Joyful as the day is long," Jim grits out. "Can I leave?" she asks and looks at him with her best contrite expression. "I'm not going to do anything."

"'Passive' isn't exactly your style," Bones points out with a raised brow. "Excuse me if I have a hard time taking your word at face value."

"Cut me some slack," Jim whines. "It's not like I did any of that hocus-pocus stuff on purpose anyway."

Bones shakes his head with a grim frown. "Rules are rules, Jim. You're on a seventy-two hour suicide watch—"

"But I was just—that's not even fair," Jim protests. "You're making it a bigger deal than it is. I'm totally solid now." She goes on to say, "I just needed some sense knocked into me. Which I got. So I'm like—mellow now. Completely Zen. No Jekyll and Hyde business."

"I'd like to believe that," Bones starts.

"And you can," Jim swears. "You can totally—"

"It might've made a difference if I hadn't been there to see what I saw myself," Bones interrupts, ignoring her objections. "But I was there, and I did see."

Jim exhales loudly.

"You tried to take your own life," Bones says quietly and he's looking at her with something indecipherable. "I need you to remember that. There's a weight to it. I don't think you realize."

Jim glowers because she already feels guilty enough as it is. "I know that," she growls.

"Do you?" Bones challenges.

Jim glares at him but he doesn't back down. She sulks and looks away. "Whatever. It's not that big of a deal. Everyone needs to relax," she mutters. It's hard for her to understand why he cares about her—no, not herbut future her so much. Are they—is he the one she's dating? She hopes not. He's cool and all but he isn't—he just isn't. "I made one stupid mistake and you guys are keeping me prisoner. This isn't fair. It's not humane."

"I'm gonna go get you something to eat," Bones says, undeterred. He usually ignores her theatrics. He's probably the only person that can stand to at this point. She's chased away all the others. He walks away and she hears him say, "Never thought I'd ever say this but I'm glad you're here. Maybe you can get her to be less of a moody drama queen. She's all full of angst and unreasonably thorny. Hell, a pissed off viper would be more welcoming than she is."

"Your metaphors are gratuitously imaginative, Doctor," a voice says in response.

"They help me paint an accurate picture," Bones gripes.

Jim huffs and looks over to see Bones sidestepping Spock, who is standing in the doorway of the medbay. She perks up with a grin and waves him over. He comes willingly and when he's near, she says, "I'm going to go insane, I swear. I'll explode. I will. And then all of you will have to clean up bits and pieces of me from off the walls and floors."

Spock lifts a brow but makes no comment.

Jim makes a frustrated sound and bounces impatiently. "Please tell me you've come to rescue me. They're treating me like a freak side show."

"Jim, you are in no imminent danger," Spock corrects and his brow furrows disapprovingly. "Furthermore, I have been informed that the residing medical staff have been very accommodating, despite the fact that you have attempted, on several separate occasions, to bite and scratch at least five different individuals during their efforts to draw blood or confirm your temperature."

Jim's cheeks turn scarlet and she ducks her head because she can't really handle his condemning gaze and the way it makes her stomach twist like she's on some wild theme park ride. "Yeah, well, they're all stupid," she mumbles and tries not to feel childish for it.

"On the contrary, they are highly qualified in their field. Dr. McCoy would not—"

"I don't care!" Jim snaps and balls up her fists. "You don't understand. They're not like Dr. McC—like Bones. They don't care. They just—they look at me like I'm some kind of—and I hate that. I hate it."

Spock says nothing but his gaze grows less reproachful and more considerate. "Perhaps it would be wise to have words with—"

Jim throws a pillow at him and he easily dodges it. "No! I don't need you playing knight to my damsel in distress—so just don't okay? I'm fine. I just don't want them to touch me or anything. I'm fine with Chapel and Bones, but everyone else can fuck off."

Spock ignores her profanity and says, "Very well. If that is your wish."

Jim nods and adds, "Speaking of wishes. Do you think you can spring me out of here? Just for a little bit?"

"Dr. McCoy has informed me that your stay here is paramount to your general health and I am inclined to agree," Spock says, but he softens this fact by going on to say, "You have fifty-nine point forty-six hours until you are released. If you are amenable, I will remain with you during this time."

Jim bites her bottom lip to keep herself from saying something that sounds too eager. She swallows and says, "Won't Nyota mind?" because she doesn't want to cause any problems. She really likes Nyota.

Spock furrows his brow. "She is the one who suggested it," he replies.

"Oh," Jim says, oddly disappointed that he isn't here of his own will. "Whatever, it's fine."

Spock settles in the seat previously occupied by Gaila and stares at her.

Jim's cheeks burn and she fidgets. "We'll need to pass the time. We can't just—just sit here and stare at each other."

"Indeed," Spock agrees evenly, but he seems slightly amused. "I shall resolve to be amicable to anything you may propose."

Jim studies him with a thoughtful frown. She feels like he's teasing her but she can't really be sure. "Uh, well—we can play a game?"

"I am fond of chess," Spock simply remarks.

"Yeah?" Jim considers that. "I haven't really—it's not something I play often. Can't seem to find a worthy opponent outside of myself. And playing against a computer can get pretty tedious after a while. Especially when I can just reprogram it to lose."

Spock looks vaguely amused again. "This surprises me little. You are exceedingly proficient with algorithms and data structures, as well as multidimensional subroutine matrixes," he says.

"That almost sounds like a compliment," Jim says with a slight grin.

"It is only logical to give credit where credit is due."

Jim hums contemplatively. "So. Chess?"

"I will obtain a board," Spock says and moves to do just that. Three strides and he's out of sight.

Jim counts the number of cameras stationed in medbay. As well as the number of steps between biobeds, between wards, from Bones's office, and the exit. She's a very resourceful girl—she likes to be prepared. Preparation is key. This is something she's learned over the years. You have to get to know your environment, and then you have to get to know the people that live in it. Once you have both of those factors, then the limits of what one can and can't do become manageable.

Jim has to gain knowledge of this ship. She has to gain knowledge of this crew. She has a deadline to meet (6 days left now) and in order to do what she needs to do she has to be six steps ahead of everyone. So far, from what she can tell, everyone assigned to this vessel is clever, young and spry, and very capable of what they do.

Jim can't manage all the jobs that they can do but she's heavily skilled at handling people. It's not so much manipulation as it is a careful art of gaming. She's queen on her chessboard and they're all her pawns. She's trying to figure out how she can make them move so she can reach her endgame.

Jim needs to stage a jailbreak, but she needs to not get caught.

She glances around to make sure no one is watching her and she fishes free a PADD she stole from Bones's office. She opens up a new template to introduce a (self-governing) basic probability calculator, which will also act as a targeting output/input tactics preparatory automaton. She taps her fingers on the screen.

WAKE UP, YOU ASS.

Jim waits.

THAT NAME IS UNDESIRABLE.

Jim smirks. She likes it when her cleverbots are sassy.

IT'S A NICKNAME. A.S.S. IT STANDS FOR AUTOMATIC SENTIENT SYSTEM.

IT IS STILL UNDESIRABLE.

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE ADDRESSED THEN?

YOU MISUNDERSTAND. I HAVE NO DESIRE.

WELL, GIVING YOU A NAME HELPS ME WORK WITH YOU.

VERY WELL. SHALL I RESPOND IN KIND?

CALL ME JIM.

WHAT PURPOSE WILL I SERVE FOR YOU TODAY, JIM?

HOW NICE OF YOU TO ASK. I NEED TO COME UP WITH AN ESCAPE PLAN.

UNDERSTOOD. HOW SHALL WE EVALUATE?

SENDING YOU A CODE OF COMMAND AS WE SPEAK.

WE ARE NOT SPEAKING, JIM.

SHUT UP AND PAY ATTENTION, YOU ASS.

Jim presses her hand to the screen and watches as it glows, prickling warmly against her skin, and scans. As soon as she's sure she's mentally in sync with her cleverbot, she begins to think out a code of command.

{command prompt[compartmentalize statistics. maximize ability of deduction. compute the components.][input conscious thought sequence] .end command.}

processing…

processing…

processing…

COMMAND RECEIVED. CEREBRAL COMMINGLING SUCCESSFUL, JIM.

THANKS FOR THE UPDATE, YOU ASS. LET'S GET TO WORK.

If probability = proximity, then action(y +z) has a return value of lexical infinity, and the presumed answer is to retrieve—to retrieve—to retrieve—

Bitch. Whore. Traitor.

::continuity error::emotional compromise::reevaluate::resubmit:

processing…

processing…

processing…

YOUR MIND IS UNFOCUSED, JIM. I CANNOT PROCESS THE UNWORKABLE SPIKE IN YOUR BRAIN ACTIVITY.

YEAH, I KNOW. HANG ON.

{command prompt[delete last line of thought] .evaluate source of distractions. .source found. governor kodos [[delete line of thought sequence as pertains to kodos]] .compartmentalize tarsus iv trauma. .reassess and revaluate later. .time unspecified. [[focus focus focus]] .unfeasible. can't focus [reboot][retry] .end command.}

processing…

processing…

processing…

CEREBRAL ACTIVITY NORMALIZED. ACCLIMATION SUCCESSFUL. SHALL WE BEGIN AGAIN?

YES, I WOULD LIKE THAT VERY MUCH. GO.

If multiple event probability is undetermined as a whole, then isolate and classify as different characters (a & b are mutually exclusive events), so p(a) and p(b).

GOOD POINT, YOU ASS. LET'S SEE IF WE CAN SPIN THE OVERALL ENDGAME INTO A PRACTICAL EQUATION.

VERY WELL.

When rate of success(swiftness) – infinite factors = vast outcome/consequences + mass antiphon, then (x)=[endgame] will be determined.

HANG ON. THAT DOESN'T SEEM WRITE. NO NOT WRITE. RIGHT. RIGHT. NOT RIGHT.

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

WAIT. JUST LET ME—

{command prompt[delete VAST OUTCOME/CONSEQUENCES][input PANORAMA/KNOWN PARAMETERS] .equate and quantify. .end command.}

processing…

processing…

processing…

SWITCH SUCCESSFUL. WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE?

WHAT DO YOU THINK, YOU ASS?

I AM NOT CAPABLE OF CONSCIOUS THOUGHT IN THE SAME CAPACITY YOU ARE.

GOD, YOU SOUND LIKE SPOCK, I SWEAR. JUST SHOW ME.

When, rate of success(level of dispatch) – infinite factors = panorama/known parameters + mass antiphon, then (x)=[endgame] will be determined.

AWESOME. THAT'S MORE LIKE IT. LET'S FILL IN THE BLANKS NOW.

AWAITING COMMAND.

COMMAND BEING SENT. JUST. HANG ON. FIRST LET'S SEE IF—

[input query: {.enter location. USS ENTERPRISE - MEDBAY THIRD WARD .data received. .enter issue. FAR FROM EARTH .explain. UNKNOWN TERRITORY .explain. VULNERABLE AND SUSCEPTIBLE TO ANY AND EVERYTHING .does not compute. SUPPOSED AGE REGRESSION .enter common factor. REPRESSED PRETERNATURAL ABILITIES .enter consequences. DANGER TO SELF AND OTHERS .coastcoastcoastcoastcoastcoast. WHO/HOW/WHY/WHY/WHO .end sequence.} :end query.]

processing…

processing…

processing…

blank/blank/blank/blank/blank/blank/blank/blank/blank/bla—

REBOOT. DELETE. DELETE. DELETE. NEVER MIND. I GOT SIDETRACKED.

WHAT SHOULD WE ITEMIZE NOW?

EXTERNAL FACTORS. LIKE THIS—

{command prompt[acclimate all data] .enter data. [redefine as algorithm] .define pseudocode. [input: places/things][output: people] .enter ratios in patterns of decreasing order. [crew of enterprise(select friends)(those confirmed) (Spock, Nyota, Bones((interferences, blockades)) with replacement of (Bones + medical staff) and (Spock + Nyota)] .separate the characters. [ensure the smaller of the two (output being: Spock/Nyota) is sufficiently distracted by (output: crew of enterprise + input: malfunction of uss enterprise) by no small or large order] .enter method of distraction. [execute computer virus T103 if activating word "location of JAMES T. KIRK" is uttered][lock down entire medbay ward if DR. MCCOY breaches computer system to submit "APB = JAMES T KIRK" in the next 48hrs] .end command.}

processing…

processing…

processing…

COMMAND RECEIVED. ASSIMILATION OF ALGORITHM INTO THE DATABANKS OF THE USS ENTERPRISE WILL TAKE APPROXIMATELY FOURTEEN HOURS. IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I CAN HELP YOU WITH, JIM?

NOPE. THAT SHOULD DO IT. BE SURE TO WIPE THIS DRIVE WHEN YOU'RE DONE. NO TRACEABLE EVIDENCE. BUT PRESERVE YOURSELF BECAUSE I'LL STILL NEED YOUR SERVICES LATER ON. I'LL SEE YOU THEN, YOU ASS.

I SHALL ANTICIPATE OUR NEXT ALTERCATION.

Jim shuts the device down and shoves it under the covers just as Spock returns with a 3D chessboard. She smiles innocently when he darts his dark eyes fleetingly over her as he sits opposite from her on the biobed with the chessboard between them. "Black or white?" she asks, hoping to distract him from any gathering suspicions.

Spock pulls his gaze downand states, "Black."

"Cool," Jim takes the first move without even asking if it's okay.

Spock doesn't seem to mind in any case. He's studying the board as if he's trying to see beyond it.

The game lasts for six minutes.

Jim thinks she might need to be careful that she doesn't give him any tells. So far, he's in the lead, and it's probably because she's rusty and it's been a while since she's played. She's a quick study, though, so even if she does lose this game, she'll be able to make up for it in the next.

Bones returns with a tray full of food just as Spock utters, "Check."

Jim furrows her brow and settles down on her stomach as she rests her chin in her propped hands and studies the board in efforts to see where she might have went wrong. Without looking at either of them, she says, "You can leave the tray in the chair, Bones."

"I'd rather watch you clear it, thanks," Bones says knowingly and shoves it right in front of her.

Jim wrinkles her nose as she peers down at it. Spaghetti (sans meat), salad, green apple, and a bottle of water. "Least could've got me some dessert," she grumbles as she pokes the apple and watches it teeter over.

"Stop treating my orderlies like a bunch of chew toys and we'll talk," Bones amusedly counters as he occupies the chair Gaila was in. He glances over to Spock with an incomprehensible expression.

Spock lifts an eyebrow in kind.

Jim frowns as she glances between them. She doesn't like it. She feels like they're communicating something to each other. Whatever it is will not bode well for her, she's sure of it. So to put an end to it, she declares, "I'm not eating this."

That gets Bones's attention, and he whips his gaze to her with a scowl. "And why not? It's perfectly fine—none of that synthesized crap either."

"Spaghetti gives me the runs," Jim coolly replies and grins at the exasperated look Bones shoots her.

"Jesus, Kid," Bones mutters. "Only you would think of using diarrhea as an excuse."

"It's not an excuse, Bones. It's a very serious issue that I'd rather not deal with and I'd appreciate it if you were more sympathetic," Jim explains and swings her feet lazily in the air as she rests her chin in her propped hand while she drums her fingers onto the itchy biobed sheets with the other.

Bones just stares at her.

Jim pouts. "Get me something else."

Bones continues to stare at her.

"C'mon," Jim whines. "I don't want this."

Bones doesn't even bat an eye.

Jim scowls before her expression clears. She turns and looks at Spock beseechingly. She has no idea if it's going to work, but she just hopes that future her has some kind of sway with her Vulcan First Officer where it really counts.

Spock maintains eye contact, expression as unreadable as always, but he still says, "Doctor, perhaps your return to the Mess Hall will not be wasted if you determine beforehand what it is that Jim desires to eat."

"I don't believe this," Bones remarks and stares at him like he's an idiot. "You're not actually falling for that, are you Spock?"

"I do not understand how my equilibrium bares any weight on my ability to determine Jim's needs, Doctor," Spock coolly replies, not taking his dark eyes off of Jim and it's enough to make her cheeks turn pink. "Furthermore, it is illogical to force a meal on an individual if their preference lies elsewhere."

"Unbelievable," Bones mutters. "Fourteen years old and she's still got you wrapped around her finger."

Jim's flush deepens and she glares venomously at Bones. "I'm not eating this," she swears and starts to slowly push the tray towards the edge.

Bones jumps up and catches it before it topples over messily. "Alright fine, you goddamn pain in my side," he snaps. "I cannot wait until whatever this is reverses and I can tell you all about yourself."

Jim tosses him her best sarcastic smile. "Fish sticks and chocolate pudding. Don't bother with the tarter sauce. I like mustard. Thanks, you're a peach," she says and dismissively turns her gaze back to the board.

Bones mutters under his breath as he storms out with a thunderous expression that makes a few people scramble out of the way.

"Jim," Spock says, and it's the way that he says it that makes her tense up.

"Should've told him to grab me some jello too," Jim supposes as she starts resetting the board.

"Jim."

"How about you be white this time, and I'll be black?" Jim continues, avidly ignoring his attempts of getting her attention. "You were lucky the first time around but I think that I can beat—"

"T'hy'la," Spock admonishes.

Jim winces and blushes at the same time but she reluctantly lifts her blue eyes to meet his.

"Doctor McCoy and I have differing opinions on various subjects, but you cherish him as a friend," Spock states steadily. "Therefore I believe it behooves you to treat him as such."

Jim frowns and shrugs jerkily. "I don't know him like that—like future me does. You can't blame me for how I behave."

"Indeed," Spock readily agrees. "However, you will find that if you 'give him a chance'—you may come to understand why you elected him as Chief Medical Officer and as your best friend."

"You're my best friend," Jim insists lowly. "I can feel that. It's different with everyone else. I—aren't you? Isn't that—am I wrong?"

Spock's gaze softens and he replies, "Negative, Jim. You are not."

Jim's shoulders relax and it's a little easier to breathe. "Well—good. I—good." She sighs and looks back to the board. "What does that word mean?"

Spock's brow furrows and the question is clear.

"T'hy'la," Jim says, testing the word out and feeling a certain something when she does. She can't really quantify it. "You said it to me before. Is it like—is it some kind of command?"

Spock stares unblinkingly at her and Jim swears he looks marginally uncomfortable. "It is not a command," he merely replies.

Jim waits for him to add something but he doesn't. She gives him a look. "Well what is it? What does it mean?"

Spock appears to be weighing conflicting answers. Finally, he says, "The human concept of 'friend' is most nearly duplicated in Vulcan thought by the term, which can also mean 'brother' and 'lover'."

Jim blinks and is amazed that she doesn't blush this time around. She's not jumping to any conclusions, but for some reason, it just kind of clicks for her. She feels like she belongs to the word and it's as natural as breathing. And she wonders, for the slightest second, if maybe Spock has some hidden feelings for future her that the both of them ignore since they're clearly seeing other people. If so, then wow, what a mess.

Unresolved feelings are so dumb, Jim thinks as she tugs at the stiff collar of her shirt.

Spock is watching her closely.

Jim keeps a straight face and asks, "Do you ever—call Nyota that?"

Spock slowly lifts an eyebrow, as if he cannot begin to comprehend why Jim would as such a question. "I do not," he says.

"Oh," Jim breathes and feels unreasonably pleased. She hopes it doesn't show but she just feels so transparent whenever he's around. "Um. Well thanks—do you, uh—you can go first since you won last time," she says, a little shyly.

Spock responds by moving his first chess piece, and he appears to be determined to win this round as well.

Jim moves her rook and says, "I've been reading."

"May I inquire as to the subject area?"

"Well," Jim says and watches as he takes one of her pawns. "Stephen King's 'Carrie' to start. You ever—do you know it?"

"I am unfamiliar," Spock says and watches her next move closely. "Please explain."

Jim swings her feet with a shrug. "It's like—I don't know. There's this girl and she's—she's like bullied all the time. And her mom is batshit crazy. Like absurdly religious to the point that it's mortifyingly sickening. And um, she start's discovering she has these—these like powers." She pauses and blinks at the chessboard as she recalls the climatic confrontation at the prom in the book. "It basically proves Murphy's Law, you know, that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. They pushed her so far that she pushed back in the worst way."

Spock considers her words. "Do you fear that you are similar to this character?"

Jim laughs and even to her own ears it sounds painfully raw. "We're both females, sure. We're similar in that way," she deflects.

"You are aware that this is not what I meant," Spock cleverly retorts before he takes another one of her pawns.

Jim shifts her knight and eyes her queen thoughtfully before she eyes his. "I don't know what you want me to say. It's not—she was doomed from the start." She shrugs and avoids his eyes. "Carrie wasn't dangerous. The world made her that way. She was gentle and—they forced her hand. She had to retaliate. I don't know. Sometimes I think—" She stops abruptly and frowns deeply.

"You think what?" Spock says.

"Nothing," Jim mumbles. "Sometimes I think nothing."

"This is untrue," Spock notes. "You are struggling with a concept."

Jim grins up at him, and it's not really a grin—more like baring her teeth defensively. "Is this the part where I open up my heart and soul to you because I like you better than others?" she questions meanly. She hates that her shoulders are shaking. "If I didn't want to talk to Gaila about how fucked I am, why would I want to talk to you?"

Spock says nothing. His dark eyes are quiet with understanding and she hates that because she doesn't hate it.

Jim glares down at the board because she can't bring herself to glare at him. This isn't good. If she can't keep her resolve, then she needs to keep her distance from Spock. She shoves at the board and feels a twisted satisfaction at the way the pieces jolt and clatter onto the floor. "This game is stupid. I don't want to play it," she mutters and swallows down an apology that's trying to force its way up.

Spock keeps his silence, and somehow that just makes it as worse as any reaction at all.

It makes Jim feel small and foolish and childish and she needs to get him out of here before she screws up all her plans just because she wants to be good for a Vulcan she barely knows.

Bones returns with a new tray of food and he eyes the mess of the chess with a raised brow. He sets the tray before Jim and glances between them. "What's this? She giving you grief now? That's surprising," he decides. "If she doesn't behave for you then I'm not sure what to bribe her with."

Jim blushes but she's furious too because if he can see what she already knows then that's just—that wont do at all. She balls up her fist, her eyes flash electric blue, and the tray goes flying across the room.

The biofunction monitor spikes wildly with results.

Bones curses lowly and manages to duck out of the way in time and he glares at her for it before he focuses on the biofunction monitor. He looks smug all of a sudden. "Well, I'd wondered how long it would take before you did anything like that again," he admits.

Jim's expression clears as her blue eyes glow and just to spite him and everyone on this godforsaken ship, she breaks the biofunction monitors with a dramatic flare of sparks and webbing cracks to the glass screens. She blinks until her eyes return to normal and her blood stops singing. Completely insincere, she says, "Oops."

"I'm gonna strangle you, you little brat," Bones growls as some of his staff runs and uses some extinguishers to put out the small flames licking around the hissing mechanisms.

"Threats are unnecessary, Doctor," Spock remarks, but somehow it sounds like a threat itself.

Bones scowls at him. "Did you not see what she just did? She's out of control. She needs a good throttling!"

"The damages are hardly an inconvenience. They will be well replaced," Spock coolly replies. "Physical retaliation, however, is unacceptable. Perhaps it is your methods of approach that forces her to respond in kind."

"I can't believe this," Bones says and he looks ready to choke Spock. "I don't come onto the bridge and judge how you do your damn job, so I would appreciate the same courtesy, you pointy-eared bastard."

"Is that meant as a derogatory reference, Doctor?" Spock questions sharply as he stands to his full height.

"Oh I've got plenty more of them if you're willing to hear," Bones snidely replies.

Jim sighs and rolls her eyes. She picks up one of her pillows and throws it at the side of Bones's head.

Bones winces and whips his glare at her.

Jim just throws another pillow at Spock.

Spock catches it before it makes impact of course. He turns his gaze to Jim and he frowns.

"Are you being serious right now? You're both idiots," Jim decides. She opens her mouth to add something else but she ends up making a disgusted sound and marches off to one of the private bathrooms.

She doesn't come out until both of them are gone.

888

Jim is moved to a different biobed three hours later.

Bones brings her a puppy as a form of a truce. He dumps the beagle onto her lap with a scowl and says, "I dare you to be cruel that."

Jim gives him an amused frown as she scratches the small canine behind one of its floppy ears. "What's his name?" she asks.

Bones's shoulders relax partiality but he still looks at her like he's expecting her to levitate the tiny creature and sick it on every one of his orderlies. He says, "Max. You named him."

Jim hums and smiles when Max whimpers and licks at her cheeks. "Is he mine?"

"Technically," Bones supposes. "I believe the way it works is that you and Scotty have joint custody, even though you're supposed to give him back to his original owner: Admiral Archer."

Jim shrugs. Those names don't really mean anything to her.

Bones sighs. "Scotty says he's keeping him for 'scientific purposes' but I'm calling his bluff because he seemed mighty bereft when I came to collect the little furball from engineering."

"Max," Jim corrects and continues to stroke said puppy. "His name is Max. Not furball. When you get your own pet, you can name it whatever you want."

Bones huffs. He glances to the biofunction monitor screen discreetly but it still grates Jim's nerves. He says, "You should eat."

"I know."

"You have to eat."

"I know."

"Damn it, Jim—"

"I'm not hungry," Jim calmly interjects and lets Max press his wet nose against the back of her left hand before he strokes his warm tongue over her skin. She notes with amusement that he's scent-marking her.

"If you have it your way," Bones starts lowly, sounding like he's speaking between clenched teeth. "You'll never be hungry. I know you, Kid. You don't eat when you're unhappy."

Jim tenses and she's sure that her eyes are unfailingly cold as she regards him. "Don't you have something else to do? Besides wasting my time?"

"You'll eat or I'll stick a tube down your throat."

Jim's eyes flash with electric blue. "I'd like to see you try, Doctor."

Bones grimaces but he doesn't back down. "I'm not scared of you, little girl."

Jim smirks meanly. "I don't really care. Now leave me alone."

To her surprise, Bones does, but she's not stupid enough to think he wont be back within the next fifteen minutes to fuss and gripe at her again.

Truth is, Jim thinks bitterly, is that he's totally right. She doesn't eat when she's unhappy. She's gotten into the habit of associating a good meal with a cheerful disposition. When she's anything but, she let's her stomach stay empty. It's more of a—it's a personal quirk. Starving herself helps her disconnect from some of her more stormy emotions. It's hard to explain but the husk that is James T. Kirk has always been convoluted ever since Tarsus—maybe even ever since birth.

Jim cradles Max in her lap and takes a peek at the PADD she has stashed under the covers. It's almost time for her to stage her great escape. She just has to do one thing.

Dr. Chapel makes her rounds to each biobed occupied by a patient (as she tends to do every nineteen minutes) and she pauses unsurely when Jim waves her over. It's only a minute pause but she approaches Jim with a very unconvincing smile.

Jim grins a little smugly and says, "I'm not going to bite you. I would've been did that."

Chapel shoots her a look before she snaps her gaze down to the puppy on her lap. "How can I help you, Jim?" she asks distractedly as she makes a few ridiculous faces at the beagle.

"I was wondering about a favor," Jim says and keeps her expression blank when Chapel glances up at her with suspicion. "They say there was a man from before. The one who rescued us from the planet? Who is he?"

Chapel relaxes and straightens. "Lieutenant Commander Hikaru Sulu. He's your—he's the ship's helmsman."

"Cool," Jim simply says. "Could I—that is…" She ducks her head before looking up at Chapel from under her thick lashes. She really needs to sell this. "Do you think he'd come by so I can thank him? I mean, it's not—I don't expect him to or anything. I just—I should thank him, shouldn't I?"

Chapel melts and she smiles softly. "Of course, Jim. Of course he would—" She pauses to laugh. "I wish you could hear how ridiculous you sound."

Jim shrugs weakly and grins self-consciously.

"I'll see if I can pull him away from whatever little project he's mixed up in," Chapel promises. "You just sit tight."

Jim nods and watches the curvy doctor wander off to her personal office, which sits sandwiched between Bones's and some other guy (Mengie? Magna? M'Bingo?). She picks up Max and gently deposits him on the floor.

Max cocks his head and looks up at her with his tongue lolling out of his mouth and a wagging tail.

"Don't look at me like that," Jim says, shaking her finger down at him and he eagerly watches the motion with bemusement. "I'm doing what I have to do, so don't judge me."

Max just gives a whining keen before he wanders off with his nose low to the ground as if in search of something

Jim just watches him go and doesn't think about anything in particular.

Chapel sweeps up to her with a triumphant grin that suits her comely face and says, "He'll be down in a few."

Jim grins and settles down on the edge of her bed. When Chapel looks like she might linger, Jim says, "So are you and I dating?"

"Excuse me?" Chapel blurts with wide eyes.

"I heard I'm dating someone. Only Spock won't tell me who this someone is," Jim explains and takes delight in the way it makes Chapel look anxious and confused.

"He didn't say that—" Chapel stops abruptly and suddenly she looks very amused. "Oh this is priceless. I have to tell Nyota. She probably already knows, in which case, I'm going to have to kick her for not letting me in on it."

Jim's grin fizzles down into a frown. She doesn't find anything amusing about it at all. She says, "Can I touch your ears?"

Chapel stops her ramblings and blink. "What?"

"You're very pretty," Jim continues in a soft purr. "You sure we're not dating?"

Chapel flushes and clears her throat. "I—there's something that I—just you—right," she stammers and excuses herself to Bones's office.

Jim smirks and crosses her arms before she turns to look for Max. She finds him nosing around one of those hazardous disposable wastebaskets. She picks him up and carries him back to her biobed and settles on the edge.

Lt. Commander Hikaru Sulu makes his way into medbay. He's wearing the command gold, but his body is painted with streaks of purple soil, as well as his forehead and bits of his hair. He rubs the back of his neck with lavender dirt-caked fingers and an easy (but tired) grin as he stops before her. "Captain," he murmurs.

Jim frowns and studies him. He's not what she expected. She'd thought he'd be more—cocky. She heard Starfleet pilots usually were.

Sulu isn't though. He looks as meek and nonchalant as they come. He waits patiently for her response.

"You—uh, no one else has called me Captain. You're the first," Jim admits and cradles Max close as he wiggles happily in her arms.

The corner of Sulu's mouth kicks up a bit more and his eyes twinkle like he knows some kind of secret that Jim is yet to find out. "Well, that's what you are. I can call you Jim if that makes this whole thing easy. Mind if I sit?"

Jim blinks. Definitely not what she expected at all. "No. Knock yourself out," she mumbles.

Sulu snags a steel chair crammed in a corner and he drags it over. The legs screech unpleasantly against the linoleum and Jim winces. He tosses her an apologetic smile before he twirls it skillfully and straddles it backwards. He uncaps the top to his metal canteen and drinks it down.

Jim is unreasonably interested in him. Not like—not like how she is with Spock. But like in a way she is when she meets someone who feels kindred to her almost. Like long lost friends. Which is why she has to ask, "Are we dating?"

Sulu chokes and yanks his canteen away as he pounds a fist into his chest. "Chotto matte kudasai," he rasps delicately and Jim must have stupefied him so much that he clearly doesn't realize he just said that in Japanese. Then, surprisingly, he starts laughing, even though he's beet red, and he chokes out, "Just when I think I got a handle on you, you always kick me into a twister."

Jim snorts and tries to hide her smile into the top of Max's head.

Max ducks away and turns to lick her chin before clamoring out of her lap, onto the floor, before nosing his way around Sulu's ankles.

Sulu smiles in kind as his laughter dies down into soft chuckles. "Hey, Maximus," he calls and Max barks. "I've been wondering where you were."

"Apparently with someone named Scotty. We have joint custody or something," Jim explains and shrugs.

Sulu pats Max on his head affectionately before drawing his attention back to Jim with a grin. "To answer your question—no, we're not dating."

"I got that from the way you laughed," Jim says and smiles. "So tell me who I am dating."

Sulu huffs out a short laugh as he rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. "Sorry, no can do. If no one's told you by this point, then I'm pretty sure there's a reason for it."

"A dumb reason. Not like it'll alter anything," Jim says with a sigh. She folds her hands together. "Thank you for saving me—and Nyota and Spock."

Sulu shakes his head modestly. "It wasn't just me. I only carried out my part very well." He waits a second before he adds, "Once upon a time you did something of the same for me."

"Did I?" Jim asks and she wonders about it. She almost asks, but then she remembers that there is a point to all of this and she swallows the question down. Instead she asks, "Do you like this ship?"

Sulu blinks slowly but he nods.

Jim fishes for the hidden PADD and offers it to him. "I can't wrap my head around how everything works these days. I was trying to find the blueprints for the ship but I couldn't figure out how to go about it. I'm curious."

Sulu takes the PADD and taps the screen. His fingers dance across the touchscreen with the kind of speed that Jim can barely manage herself. He does it with such natural confidence that Jim almost becomes envious. In the next minute, he pulls up a virtual display of the ship. "The documentation is private. It's got some heavy seals on it—only about a few others have the original blueprints, including the technological framework. Pasha has—I mean, Chekov, has a pass to them because Scotty gave them to him. He won't mind if we rifle through his."

Jim grins slowly. "So where are we right now?"

Sulu uses his pointer finger and thumb to zoom and says, "Deck Seven—or 'G' if we're going by alpha order."

"Cool," Jim says, schooling her expression very carefully. "Where's the infamous Captain's chair?"

Sulu grins and manipulates the virtual display before zooming in on the bridge.

Jim eyes the small chair, as well as the other stations before she lifts her fingers and pokes the miniature chair, unsurprised when her finger just fazes through the hologram. She pulls back and says, "Can I—"

"Yeah, here," Sulu relinquishes the PADD into her custody.

Jim greedily eyes the detailed graphic, manipulating it in the way Sulu just was and going to and fro from deck to deck, asking Sulu about every single one.

Sulu tells her, none the wiser about her real motives.

Jim kills the hologram when she notices Bones exiting his office with his tricorder. She shoves the PADD under the blankets and presses a finger to her lips as she winks at Sulu.

Sulu snorts but he jerks his chin in acknowledgement.

"Mr. Sulu, what brings you to my territory?" Bones asks as he goes about scanning Jim's chest, ignoring the way she bares her teeth at him in a mean grin.

"I was personally requested," Sulu explains. "Apparently our beloved Captain wanted to shake hands with the man who flew her out of that flytrap of a planet."

Bones is immediately suspicious. He stares down at Jim, who pretends not to notice. "Did she now? And she didn't try to maul you or run you off by unsavory means?"

Jim quietly rolls her eyes as she snaps her fingers and hits her thighs.

Max hops up into her lap and presents her with his stomach, which she rubs.

"Uh, no, I can't say that she has," Sulu says with a thoughtful frown. He looks to Jim. "I thought that was just a rumor."

"I have rumors about me?" Jim says, almost delightedly.

"You're the captain. Of course you do. You're like a celebrity to us," Sulu teases before standing. "I have to get going. I had some—well I don't know what it is yet, but we'll call it an experiment for now. I need to go check on it. You two have a good night."

Jim waves.

Bones grunts before he levels Jim with a searching stare. He says, "What are you up to?"

Jim meets his eyes with as much innocence as she can muster. "I don't know what you're talking about, old man. You're way too paranoid."

"No. I'm way to enlightened when it comes to you," Bones corrects before he lowers his tricorder (finally). "You ready to eat? I got no problem sticking you with a needle if you want to skip dinner."

"Since you mentioned it, I am hungry," Jim says. "How about spaghetti? I have a craving."

The scowl Bones gives her is so worth it. But for all his complaining about what a brat she is, he still marches off to get it, and not without leaving Chapel to chaperone her because he learned his lesson the first time around when she ran off.

Jim doesn't mind. She get's Chapel to tell her about all the visits she's made to medbay and Chapel rewards her with some very colorful stories. It's not until Chapel brings up a particular incident does something stand out. "Wait, say that again—I was gone for how long?"

"An hour. Leonard called it. Oh, but he was just so broken up about it," Chapel mindlessly rambles. "I never seen him so—"

"But I'd just come in about a food allergy," Jim points out with a severe frown. "Why would I die for a hour and then come back."

"One of God's mysteries, I suppose," Chapel reasons with an uncertain grin. "Listen, why don't we talk about something else? This is a bit gloomy."

"Yeah. Sure," Jim says distractedly. She's too busy wrapping her head around the fact that she was dead for an entire hour and somehow miraculously came back. There's something about it that nags at her. It's right there and yet she can get ahold of it at all.

Bones reappears with a tray full of food. "If you hawk this at me or pull any of your little tantrums, I'm sedating you," he warns as he gives it to her.

Jim gives him a toothy smile and accepts it graciously. She picks up the fork and makes a show of twirling a good amount of spaghetti on the teeth before shoving it in her mouth. She chews and makes ridiculous noises as she rubs her own stomach.

Bones snorts but he looks entirely too relieved to see her eat.

Jim says nothing when Bones and Chapel stand there and watch her take every bite of food. She clears the tray and hands it back. She flinches on minimally when Bones stabs her with a hypospray with what he claims is 'extra supplements' and he seems surprised that she doesn't react more than that. She excuses herself to go to the bathroom, and once there she locks the door and goes straight for the liquid soap dispenser.

She exhales slowly and shakes her hands as she gets to her knees before it. She closes her eyes and counts to five before she leans forward, stabs her finger into the sensor button and opens her mouth to swallow down the pink liquid soap. She gags a few times but she manages to swallow down a handful before she pushes away and rinses her mouth out to rid herself from the horrible taste. By the time she makes it back to her biobed, the medbay lights are dimmed low for bedtime and her stomach is sloshing uncomfortably.

Jim holds it down long enough for the medical staff to thin out into the swing shift crew, and when Bones and Chapel leave for the night, she kicks the covers off of her and kindly pukes all over the floor.

The two orderlies working scramble over to her immediately and try to help.

Jim groans and pretends to be delirious with her sickness as they help her to her feet. "Can you take me to the bathroom—I can't—I'm gonna—" She hiccups and gags dramatically.

The two orderlies carry her to the bathroom.

The woman moves to get a hand towel and wet it.

The man guides her to the toilet.

Jim fakes like she's dropping to her knees, but at the last minute she shoves him into the woman and they both go toppling onto the floor. She quickly exits the bathroom and quickly punches in a code that will keep them locked inside until someone manually pries open the door. She times herself as she replicates a black uniform for herself and changes into it. She then snags the stolen PADD from the bed and tucks it under an arm as she whistles for Max, who has been sleeping under the biobed the whole time.

Max darts over and bounces around her ankles with an eager yip.

Jim shushes him as they exit the medbay. She maneuvers her way down the corridor, shoving on a black ball cap hat so that it rides low enough that it doesn't draw attention. She keeps her head low as she stabs the call button for the turbolift. When it arrives, she climbs on with Max in tow, and says, "Lift to Hanger Bay Complex."

"Lift to Hanger Bay Complex," the computer chimes in tandem and the lift activates.

The Hanger Bay Complex is completely dead of any officers, which is exactly the reason why Jim chose it as her shelter for the night. She strides across the vast space and counts the shuttles before she picks the one she'll sleep in for the night. She climbs aboard and scavenges the utility compartments for a pillow and a blanket before she settles down on the floor to sleep.

Max curls up against her stomach.

888

Ping. Ping. Ping.

Jim wakes with a smile and stretches with content yawn before she grabs the stolen PADD and reads the notifications.

It looks like they've noticed she's gone missing and are trying to locate her.

Tough luck for them. Now they've got their hands full with some nasty little digital bugs that's going to make the ship's CPU mainframe go berserk with all sorts of nifty glitches.

Jim grins evilly and proudly as she thinks about it. All it ever takes is a good cybernetic infection. "Morning, you ass," she says.

"Good morning, Jim," the cleverbot responds. "Would you like a full appraisal?"

"Yes, please," Jim says as she sits up, startling Max in the process. She gives him an apologetic pat on the head and he settles down once more.

"The virus T103 has been triggered," the cleverbot reports. "Enterprise digital productivity is comprehensively restricted. All power grids are working to full capacity to provide electrical service, but all other functionality has been rendered inept."

"That's what I like to hear," Jim quips. "How's sickbay looking?"

"Standard. The subroutine has yet to activate," the cleverbot replies. "Would you like me to go ahead with the protocol?"

"Nah. Leave it. Let Bones have the honors," Jim says. "Give me a virtual display of the ship, and I want real time."

"Very well," the cleverbot complies.

Jim eyes the hologram of the ship and she zooms in on the bridge before she shuffles down to the engineering room. "Hey, you ass. What's the place with the most amount of activity?"

"Calculating," the cleverbot chimes. "Deck five where the main computer memory banks shows a fluctuating quantity of mobility."

Jim hums because that isn't surprising—what with the virus she'd introduced into the system. "What about the least amount?"

"Calculating," the cleverbot chimes. "Nanotech workshop ineffectuality indicates significant dormancy."

"Then that's where we're gonna go. I have theory about how to reach this 'God of Stars'," Jim says before she shuts the PADD off and stands. She swipes her hat from off the floor and tugs it on her head. She carefully exits the shuttle and keeps a watchful eye out.

The turbolifts have been suspended due to the virus, but Jim is only one level down from where she needs to get to so she finds some stairs and she climbs them until she maneuvers her way down the right corridor. She makes it to the nanotech workshop and it is blessedly empty.

She sits down at station littered with microchips and magnifying glasses. She kicks up her feet and turns on the PADD.

"How may I assist you, Jim?"

"Set up some proximity sensors. I don't want anyone sneaking up on me," Jim replies.

"Very well," says the cleverbot. "Proximity detectors armed at the ready."

"Awesome," Jim says as she swings lazily back and forth. "Now. Pull up as many results as you can in reference to cult religion. Confirm."

"Processing request," says the cleverbot. "Searching all available databanks on a universal scale."

"I'll wait," Jim says and does just that. It takes six minutes before the PADD pings.

"Confirmed," says the cleverbot. "Now displaying 700,000,000 results."

Jim uses her fingers to maneuver through the different templates of information. She frowns. "Too much."

"What shall we do?" responds the cleverbot.

"Reduce. Reassess. Recite." Jim wiggles her mouth thoughtfully. "Minimize the results by predominant focal points. Your trigger words are 'Witch Doctor' and 'God of Stars' and 'Death'. Confirm."

"Processing request," says the cleverbot. "Minimizing results." Then, "Confirmed. Now displaying 458,729 results with one correlating result entitled 'God of Lies'. This might interest you."

"Right you are," Jim verifies as she opens that template. She reads through it quickly before she grins. "Damn. I think you found exactly what I was looking for. Good job, you ass."

"My function is to serve, Jim," the cleverbot states flatly.

Jim snorts before she reads through the entire article. At the end of it, she asks, "Does this ship have any swimming pools?"

"Calculating," says the cleverbot. "There are six in the pool complex located on deck twenty."

"Perfect." Jim drops her feet to the floor and stands. "You up for a swim, Max?"

Max barks bemusedly.

Jim smiles sadly in return. She shoves the PADD under her armpit before she carefully maneuvers her way three levels down while keeping her head low and making herself as small as possible. She hopes this whole 'staying hidden in plain sight' thing works for her because she's going to be totally pissed if she gets caught.

She doesn't get caught.

Jim makes it to the pool complex and hacks her way inside with the help of her cleverbot. She says, "Lock it down. I don't want to be disturbed while I carry out this masochist plan of mine."

"Understood. Locking pool complex," says the cleverbot.

"Awesome. Now. I think I should address my devoted crew, don't you?" Jim kicks off her boots and tugs off her socks before she rolls up her sleeves to the elbow and her pants to the knee. She makes her way to the deep end (25ft) and sits on the edge, putting her feet in the chilled water.

"Jim, I have synchronized with the bridge view screen. Would you like to begin?" asks the cleverbot.

"I want to do a ship-wide address, you ass," Jim says and holds the PADD up higher so there is a clear view of her face. "And be sure to get my good side."

"Very well. Synchronizing to all vid screens ship-wide," says the cleverbot. "Confirmed. You are live in thirteen minutes and sixty seconds."

"Awesome," Jim replies flatly. She swings her feet lazily in the water and focuses on the low lighting and the smell of chlorine.

Max sniffs and noses his way along the edge of the entire pool, oblivious to the state of things.

888

It would appear that James Tiberius Kirk had a rebellious nature that would never be brought to heel, no matter the age.

This regrettable fact, although slightly intriguing in its complex intricacies, is one that Spock has now familiarized with in great capacity. Though he may never understand her ultimate motivation for most circumstances, he can appreciate that she is exceedingly skilled at conveying a message to those of whom she considers an adversary.

Take now, for instance—he stands in the main computer room with Mr. Scott, Mr. Chekov and all the best minds trained for the utmost minutiae of subspace computer science, and yet none of them (including himself) can decode Jim's rather systematic and mixt alphanumeric contagion. It remains unchallenged as it wreaks havoc on the Enterprise's internal sequencing and control unit, and in turn, it's positronic matrix.

Spock has come to anticipate with the Enterprise's new designs, which heavily relied on interactive voice commands, that such an attack could render them defenseless. Though that concern had been minor in light of the fact that they had one such as Jim within proximity to neutralize such an attack. It makes very little difference at present if said attack is from Jim.

Spock will have to communicate to Jim, once they are able to locate her, that flagrant gestures such as these are decidedly unwarranted. He slides his fingers across the screen of his PADD as he tries to root out the source of the virus, as well as the basic algorithm it derives from. He pulls up Jim's previous encryptions in an effort to identify any correlating factors that may be of use.

"The malware is amazing!" Chekov chirps, as he often does when he is appreciating a welcomed challenge. He is standing on the other side of the transparent view screen wall. His fingers are moving quickly as he enhances a maximized map of the integrated circuits of the Enterprise. The infected areas are colored a cautionary yellow while the virus itself is a merciless red. "Like the spider nest with the little baby hatchlings!"

Spock's brow furrows. "Mr. Chekov, though I can confirm the infective agent is unique in nature," he begins. "I cannot, however, ascertain your precise meaning."

"Ah, please don't mind the laddie, Commander. He's just drawing comparisons to the Black Widow's nest," Mr. Scott clarifies from where he's wedged into the gut of the CPU mainframe. He's juggling wires with a pair of protective goggles. These goggles make him look not unlike an insect himself.

If Jim were present, Spock would have called attention to this fact and she would have found it humorous before accusing him of having a sense of humor, which he would rightly deny. His frown draws deeper but he compartmentalizes the sentiment of 'yearning' and presses it aside to focus on the task at hand. He states, "I still fail to derive the logic in the comparisons."

"There's nothing to compare," Mr. Scott decides and grimaces as a decapitated wire sparks threateningly and he curses. "Just a bunch of talk on his part."

"No!" Mr. Chekov argues with a severe frown. "I am not talking the nonsense! Is true! Commander—the black widow consume male after mating. They feed on them as source of nutrients!"

"Mr. Chekov, are you suggesting that the corruptive code is—copulating with our processors?" Spock queries in efforts to understand.

"Well, not in the way you may think, but this is similar to what I have noted," Mr. Chekov reasons. He gestures for Spock to approach and Spock comes willingly. He points to one of the infected areas and continues, "I have noticed that the virus performs in something of same manner. It targets the area of intent before sticking like glue and webbing like nest. Where it then grows, multiplies, and spreads to other compartments."

Spock processes this information with fixed contemplation. "Mr. Chekov, you have raised a valid point. I urge you to continue with this applicable data."

Mr. Chekov smiles widely and proudly before he looks sternly at Mr. Scott. "See! I told you!"

"Ack, get on you," Mr. Scott replies and ignores them both as he shouts, "Keenser! If you're not over here with that sonic screwdriver in the next bloody second, I will find an airlock vent and dispatch you! And I'll make sure it's very wee!"

"This is ridiculous," Dr. McCoy complains, announcing himself as he ventures into the area. Though his complaints never offer any real merit, it does not stop him from sharing them nonetheless.

Spock has come to understand this. "I would debate that the current situation does not deserve nor invite derision or mockery, but I gather you will merely use another unseemly term," he remarks.

Dr. McCoy bristles, as expected, and snaps, "Can it, Spock! The last thing I need is grammar lessons from you." He turns his gaze towards the scrambling officers pressing and hitting their fingers against the peripheral devices. "How is it that a fourteen year old girl can do so much damage to one ship? And not just any ship, mind you—but the best one we've got in the Fleet!"

Spock is overcome with unwarranted pride at the thought, simply because this is Jim, his mate, t'hy'la—he sorts the feeling and supersedes it with logic. "Though you are right, Doctor," he states and does not cow under Dr. McCoy's glare. "It is unfeasible for a Terran female of fourteen years to manage such destruction. However, I will remind you that this is not 'some girl'. It is Jim."

Dr. McCoy's eyes darken at the remainder and he does not argue. "Yeah, well—it just makes this whole thing even more frustrating. I knew that damn brat was up to something. I should have stayed and kept my eye on her. She's so damn crafty, and very good at playing people."

Spock takes a moment to silently agree. He had expressed his willingness to remain with Jim during the duration of her stay in the convalescent ward, however, as her mood turned, he felt it best if he excused himself until a time better suited to her willingness to receive company. That had been an error of judgment.

"Maybe I should put out an APB," Dr. McCoy murmurs. "We need to find her."

"You're concern is noted, Doctor," Spock replies. "However, it will be impossible to—" Something occurs to him.

Dr. McCoy notes the uncharacteristic pause and his eyes flash with an indecipherable something.

Spock would not be so bold as to call it concern because the Doctor did not share such a sentiment for him.

Nevertheless, Dr. McCoy says, "What? What is it? You'll have to forgive me if I'm unsettled when you stop right in the middle of a lecture without someone cutting you off. What are you thinking?"

"Something you previously stated," Spock explains as his mind unfurls with new information. He pulls up a recent log of keystrokes, as well as voice activators. "Mr. Chekov, what is the approximate time the virus intermingled with the system?"

Mr. Chekov sticks the tip of his tongue into the corner of his mouth as he quickly orchestrates his hands over the interactive transparent screen with intent. "At exactly 0600 hours this morning, Commander."

"What other activity occurred at this time?"

Dr. McCoy offers, "Chapel would have started her shift in medbay. She was the first to find a few of our staff locked in the bathroom. It's possible she had someone try to locate Jim."

It becomes evident to Spock what galvanized the digitally vicious payload. "Jim has opted to utilize her own name as a triggering sequence. Mr. Chekov—root out where the source was initiated and see if you can determine the original algorithm."

"Aye, sir," Mr. Chekov chimes agreeably and get to work. "Almost—pochti—got it!"

Suddenly every vid screen whirrs to life and is filled with Jim's youthful countenance.

"There you are, brat," Dr. McCoy murmurs, but there is underlying relief in his gravelly tone.

Spock quickly studies Jim for any sign of injury, and when he finds none, he observes the background in an attempt to determine her location.

Jim smiles unseeingly at them all. "Good morning ship's company. I am so very sorry for all this trouble. Honestly, I didn't want it to have to come to this but, well, I have a deadline to meet and I can't have any of you getting in the way of that. Bones—I can't see you but stop scowling at me like that."

Dr. McCoy stiffens and his scowl falters before he huffs in amusement. "Kid, knows me too well."

"Indeed," Spock offhandedly agrees.

"Now, where was I?" Jim says and taps her chin. "Oh right. The whole turning the ship upside down thing. Yeah, sorry about that. The virus really isn't all that harmful. It's just to keep you out of my hair so I can do what I need to do. Since I wrote it in, it can be easily unmade, but only I know how. Though it wouldn't surprise me if my swarthy First Officer figured it out." Here, she adds a wink.

Spock finds that it marginally amuses him, but it does not deter him from deducing her whereabouts.

"Also, to the two orderlies who I locked in the bathroom—David and Kathryn—you have my sincerest apologies and I hope you don't hold it against future me when I get back to normal and whatever," Jim goes on to say. "But anyway, I know I've been a difficult person to be around and, you know, but um, I am really sorry. I—I'm only doing what I think is right. And—sometimes you just gotta go it alone. So this is me doing that. Hopefully I'll—" She stops suddenly and an array of emotions make war on her facial features. "Yeah. So. Kirk out."

The vid screens go blank.

Spock is justifiably concerned.

"Does anyone else feel like she's about to do something really foolish?" Nyota declares as she marches into the area with Mr. Sulu in tow. The two of them had made attempts to locate Jim themselves.

"This is Jim we're talking about," Dr. McCoy states wryly. "Of course she is. My concern is what."

"Yesterday she kept asking about the schematics of the ship," Mr. Sulu confesses. "I don't know if that helps."

"And what's this deadline she has to meet?" Nyota wonders aloud. "God, I wish I could just remember what happened to us on that planet."

"Indeed," Spock concurs. His mind turns and he says, "I believe I know her location."

They all turn and stare at him expectantly.

"The pool complex," Spock clarifies.

Dr. McCoy says, "Well what are we waiting for? Let's go grab the brat and shake some sense into her."

"I agree," Nyota says. "We've got to do some major damage control. When word gets back to Starfleet—" She shakes her head. "It wont be good."

"What are we going to do when Jim becomes herself again? What if she ends up like you two?" Mr. Sulu questions. "What if she doesn't remember what happened?"

"I suggest we tell her but we keep just one thing out," Dr. McCoy remarks with a significant look that Spock is unable to quantify.

"The powers she displayed," Nyota supplies knowingly.

"I must confess that I am worrying about that as well," Mr. Chekov states as he joins the group with Mr. Scott. "Is the same as with Mitchell and Dehner, yes?"

"No way of really knowing," Dr. McCoy admits. "Dehner and Mitchell conveniently always skipped out on their physicals, and who knows if their files are legit. There's no trusting it. I've run every test I can think of on Jim so far but I'm not seeing a thing that explains what happened."

"So maybe we should tell her," Mr. Sulu reasons. "Maybe keeping it a secret is the worse thing to do."

"Aye. You've a valid point there, but we cannae guarantee that telling her is the best thing either," Mr. Scott supposes. "Outside of our little group, no one knows, and no one should know."

Spock does not approve. "Vulcans cannot lie," he says, mainly addressing Dr. McCoy solely. "Furthermore, I do not think it would be wise to withhold such a pinnacle detail from her if it could potentially put her at risk."

"I'm not asking you to lie," Dr. McCoy snidely replies. "I'm just asking you to give me time to figure out what exactly it was that made her like that. I want to see if what happened to you all on that planet has something to do with it, or if the source of it occurred way before that. Let's just all watch her and see if she exhibits those abilities again, and if not, then we're in the clear."

"There are risks. It does have the potential to affect her career," Nyota points out. "I'd rather Dr. McCoy try to find answers than any of those white coats at Starfleet. They'd probably put her in a glass cell and treat her like a lab rat. I don't know about any of you but I won't stand idly by and let that happen. Jim is our friend and we should protect her at all costs. If we have to bend the truth a little about the situation until we get those answers, then I vote 'yes'."

Everyone nods in agreement but Spock is still uncertain by this course of action. Though, given that both Nyota and Dr. McCoy have raised valid points, perhaps he can concede to this one thing if only to keep Jim from harms way.

Perhaps.

888

Jim exhales as she stands on the edge of the diving board and stares down into the clear water below. Her heart is racing. This is crazy and it has the potential of failing epically, but honestly, she doesn't see any other way to do it.

If this 'God of Stars' is as great as she presumes he could be, then she has nothing to worry about. She continues to peer below and tries not to think about anything that will make her back out.

Jim spreads her arms and holds her hands out, spreading her fingers. She says, "So this is kind of weird and I don't really dig religion or anything but I can't really say what's waiting for me on the other side and—" She pauses to sigh again as she stares straight ahead. "I don't want to risk any bad mojo or anything. I'm not proud of all the things I've done in my life. I wish I was better. I always wish I was better. And I don't—I can't help that I fucked up. But I've been trying to do better and I know I can't save everyone but I'll try to give back everything I took. So to the 'God of Stars' or 'God of Lies' or whoever the hell you are—just, you know—don't be an asshole, okay? Don't let this be for nothing."

Silence greets her speech but she had expected that.

"Okay," Jim sighs and closes her eyes. She takes a step forward and lets herself fall. The chilled water of the pool encases her. She holds her breath as she begins to sink slowly to the bottom. The ceiling lights twinkle blurrily overhead when she blinks up at that them. There is a deafening silence that surrounds her as her feet touch the bottom of the pool and her ears pop uncomfortably from the pressure.

Air escapes in bubbles as Jim tries to hold her breath for as long as she can. The urge to inhale bites into her lungs and into her gut almost as sharply as a knife. It feels like something squeezing around her heart and as she floats, she can't help but to think that drowning is actually quite peaceful in its own way.

Jim inhales sharply when she can't stand it any longer and nothing but chlorine-infused water sinks into her mouth and into her lungs. She chokes and coughs, and is greeted by the sight of her own blood. It floats around her head before drifting up. Darkness eats away at the edge of her vision, and before she completely succumbs to it, she closes her eyes and silently hopes that if this doesn't work out, maybe, just maybe, she'll be reunited with her father.

The thought alone makes it easier for her to give herself over to death.

"Oh, ma petite chouchou," a voice tsks disapprovingly.

Jim squints as her body rises through mist and fog and up into the sunlight until she's standing on an endless cloud bank, feeling virtually weightless and having returned to her normal age.

She remembers everything.

Is this what death feels like?

A chuckle. "No, no, ma petite chouchou—if you were dead, you would surely know," a voice says through the mist. "Actually, I had to bargain with Death in order to arrange this little tête-à-tête. I imagined his intention was to scold you for going to such lengths to communicate with me."

Jim squints, but the burning light of the sun makes it impossible for her to see. "You being who exactly?" she asks, cupping a hand over her eyes.

There is another chuckle. "My, my. This is déjà vu all over again, is it not?"

Jim frowns and narrows her eyes, glancing to and fro trying to find a body to place with the voice.

There is a distinct sound of fingers snapping and the light dims substantially. "Now," the voice sighs. "Isn't that better?"

Jim blinks, dropping her hand, able to see for the first time. It is better. As the mist clears, she's able to make out the tall and lean man with auburn hair and dark blue eyes and a mischievous grin. "Okay—why are you naked?" she asks, taking a step back as he steps in closer. She glances down. "Why am I naked?" She puts and arm over her bare breasts while her other hand cups her privates. "Am I in hell? I went to hell didn't I?"

"Déjà vu indeed," the man says with humor. "This is neither heaven or hell."

"Oh wonderful," Jim mutters bitterly. "Purgatory then."

The man chuckles again, snapping his fingers once more, and suddenly she's in a flowing silver silk gown while he's in, what looks to be, a pure silk, black sherwani. "I am to understand you have a request for me?"

Jim fists the sides of her strapless silver silk gown and twists her head down to look at herself. "What the—how did you do that?" she asks looking up, and then blinking when she doesn't see him anymore. She twists around but he's nowhere in sight.

"There is no doing. There just is," the man explains, popping up out of nowhere and settling to Jim's immediate left.

Jim swallows down a startled yelp. She slowly turns a glare his way. "Please don't do that."

The man chuckles. "A thousand apologies. Please," he bows, hand outstretched as he cups hers and kisses the back of her hand. "My name is Q. Or God of Stars if you prefer."

"God of Lies is more like it. I heard you're a menace," Jim airily states, pulling her hand out of his grasp. "I'm starting to think that's tru—"

"We have met before, you do realize," Q rudely interjects with a cheery smile. "But I suppose you wouldn't realize since I am the very reason you do not."

Jim frowns. "Stop speaking in riddles. Are you willing to help me or not?"

"I am fond of you," Q merely replies. "Tell me your plight."

"I made a promise to the Great Mother," Jim begins to explain. "That I would free her from the captivity her last converts placed her in."

Q stares at her blankly. "I know of whom you speak. She is no Great Mother, nor is she a deity of any class. This monster consumes the heart of children to maintain its immortality. I do not tolerate such acts. It can rot where it lays."

"I couldn't agree more but a deal is a deal. I'll return to my younger form and be stuck that way if I don't fulfill my end of the bargain," Jim says. "I shouldn't have to tell you how really fucking inconvenient that is."

Q hums sympathetically. He begins to slowly circle her. "What you ask comes at a price. Are you willing to settle the debt?"

"Yes," Jim readily says.

Q smiles. "You are a funny little thing, ma petite chouchou," he comments. "Twenty years old and you still are as innocent as a child. So this is what I will do—I will relinquish the monster from its captivity and place her somewhere of my choosing. But to balance the scales, I'll restore the civilization it claimed to its former glory. All I ask of you is that you see to them. Do not let them fall to the destruction and ruin from time's past. Deal?"

Jim feels like there's a catch. But she has a deadline to meet so she says, "Deal."

"Excellent," Q quips. "I'll send you back and—"

"Wait," Jim rushes to say. "What did you mean before? When you said that we know each other."

Q's eyes twinkle mischievously. "There's a time and a place for such things. The day that I restore your memories of me is the very day that you will greet Death like an old friend. That day is soon at hand. I see dark magic at work in you, but this is all a part of the grand stage Fate is setting for you. There is a halo of importance hovering over your soul. You have work to do, James. Much work. You will restore the balance."

"What balance?" Jim asks in confusion.

Q smiles. "Genesis 17:16—'…and I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.' Cannot the same be said of you? When a good man goes to war, demons flee. What happens when a good woman goes to war?"

Jim tries to decode his words. "What does that mea—"

"Farewell, ma petite chouchou," Q interjects. "Be safe. Be sensible. There are many who hold a lot of love for you. Utilize their loyalty. It will be a great help to you. "

Jim watches as Q disappears in a gleam of translucent stardust. The clouds spread under her feet and she's falling into a vacuum of light and space and time.

It's like being born again.


Author's Note: Most of ya'll don't never review, like, come on, and writing this stuff isn't easy. I deserve a little more than a one-word comments. Give me something to think about! Thanks for reading in any case.