A/N: Hey there, so this is my first collaborative fic done with the lovely Warrior717 featuring our favorite space triumvirate (expect no slashing here, friends), and we both hope that you'll enjoy this merry buddy adventure. :) :) :) Reviews and feedback are much welcome, as always, and indeed greatly encouraged, so knock yourselves out.
Also, this takes place after Into Darkness :) Five-year mission shenanigans and all that.
New: Since we published this, we've made some minor edits to Chapter One to clear some things up a bit more, but nothing that affects the plot.
We want to give a special thank you to Mihali1432 for making this awesome cover art for our story/audiobook. Images were used by: bittbox flickr, resensitized deviantart. The link to his other graphic design work can be found on my profile.
"Damn it, Jim!" McCoy exploded, glaring at the tricorder. He waved it closer to Jim's torso, as if trying to physically force the readings to change, the vein in his temple throbbing stressfully with every intermittent beep that emitted from the device.
"How bad is it?" Jim asked anxiously, the hem of his shirt still tucked between his chin and chest. Spock hovered at his side, scrutinizing the small, circular protuberance above Jim's sternum with a scientific intensity that slightly unnerved Jim. He could feel the disk pressing uncomfortably against his chest with every nervous heartbeat, something that did not belong in his body but was distinctly there, lodged just underneath his skin.
"Bad," McCoy said shortly, lowering the tricorder. He pushed up the sleeves of his black undershirt irritably, the fabric clinging to his slightly damp forearms. The air here was still, the desert heat seeping through the very walls. McCoy and Jim had shed their outer shirts long since, and McCoy, claiming that the sight of Spock still fully dressed despite the heat disturbed him, ordered the first officer to remove his as well, ignoring the Vulcan's mild protests that he was well acclimated to such temperatures.
Jim sighed resignedly, rolling his shirt back down gingerly over his chest before absently running his hand over the tender area, feeling his heartbeat push the small disk against his palm with every pulse. "So what's the verdict, doc?"
McCoy pinched the bridge of his nose, squinting bitterly at the floor. "It's a bomb."
Jim stared, jaw slack. Funny, he'd thought McCoy had just said that there was a bomb in his chest. "Come again?" Maybe he had heard wrong, though the plummeting of his stomach told him otherwise.
McCoy ran a hand up his face, distractedly tugging at his own hair. "Damn it, I knew this was a bad idea!"
"How the hell was I supposed to know we were going to be ambushed by a group of lethal terrorists?" Jim retorted, feeling a sting of unfairness. After all, the doctor hadn't exactly vetoed the mission at the time. None of them had, in the beginning.
It was supposed to be a simple mission, really. There was nothing on their radar that had given them the notion to expect otherwise. For James T. Kirk, however, nothing ever seemed to go as planned, and he probably should have known better than to expect any different. After Starfleet received an unusual distress call from a planet they had previously believed to be abandoned by Klingons, the Enterprise warped into duty to investigate the strange occurrence. The call had only been an isolated event, yet they had substantial reason to believe it was legitimate in its urgency.
The initial plan was relatively clear from the beginning, despite the muck it had swiftly become. Jim had easily and perhaps all too predictably, chosen Commander Spock, Doctor McCoy, and himself to beam down to the planet's surface to investigate. Though the three naturally proceeded with caution, none of them had thought the situation to be threatening by any means, and believed that the investigation would most likely involve very few inhabitants.
A shuttle, filled with essential and emergency medical resources, would remain on standby aboard the Enterprise, and would only be permitted to land by captain's orders upon confirmation that the situation was clear. Unfortunately though, to the consternation of every waiting personnel aboard the ship, that moment never came.
As soon as they beamed onto the surface, blinking into the glaring sunlight, Jim had felt the prickling sensation of hidden eyes lingering on him. When the spots had finally faded from his vision, he had looked around, taking in the wasteland around him, and realized, with a jolt of chilling trepidation, that the scene looked all too familiar for his liking.
The ground was dry and cracked beneath his feet, its rusty surface striped with the dark shadows of the towering ruins scattered across the otherwise barren land. They rose in crumbled spires and unformed mounds, black empty windows like hollow eyes in the sloping walls. It had been a magnificent city once, Jim suspected, though it was no more. He could see a dip where a fountain could have once stood, a scattering of cobbles where a white street used to wind, alleys and passages where children might have once ran and laughed and climbed the spiraling towers. It was a beautiful, though haunting sight, and it was difficult for Jim to envision the Klingon civilization that had once thrived here long ago.
But there were no children here now, no silvery laughter in the scorching wind, no clear water in the fountains. Jim blinked the powdery dust from his eyes, which lingered in the air much like the planet's harrowing past, and turned back to the shuttle. McCoy was huddling miserably in the shade of a jutting chunk of wall, peering ill-manneredly around like some sort of peeved, heat-intolerant turtle. "It's hot," he snarled, when Jim looked askance. "Georgia's got nothing on this place."
"I find the temperature most satisfactory," Spock remarked mildly, straightening from where he had been examining the remains of a long-shattered urn. He did look comfortable, Jim supposed, not a drop of sweat on his face, and his pupils undilated by the blinding sunlight. But it wasn't as if Vulcans sweated anyway, and Spock's cool exterior was starting to seriously irk Jim more than he cared to admit.
"Come on, Bones," Jim chided, trying to look as if the heat hadn't been getting to him, too. Iowan summers were practically chilly in comparison. "We've got a job to do."
"There's no one here," McCoy said grumpily. "Not a damn soul, and I don't blame them. I vote we quit now and get the hell out of Dodge while we still can."
"We just got here." Jim tried hard not to sound exasperated. He knew how much McCoy hated the transporter. "Might as well look around a bit."
With a long-suffering sigh, McCoy dragged himself to his feet, scowling. "All right, let's get this over with. Spock, come here, at least let me stand in your shade…."
The three of them wandered through the ravaged city, one of them occasionally pointing out a particular point of interest. Spock and McCoy stopped intermittently to perform a scan or collect a sample, leaving Jim awkwardly dithering behind them. When McCoy narrowly avoided stepping on a large insect-like crustacean, emitting a high-pitched shriek, Spock insisted that they stop and capture the specimen for closer observation. This mostly consisted of McCoy standing on a rock and pointing wildly while Spock scrambled around determinedly.
Jim was watching the spectacle with no small amusement when he heard the sound. It was a quiet clatter, like clacking stones. He looked around curiously and saw nothing but the rough walls of the surrounding buildings, the reddish dust so worn into the grain of the stone itself until he could no longer tell where the dirt ended and where the original color began. By the time he decided it was nothing, he heard the sound again, in a slightly different direction.
He glanced back at his friends, the two of them still absorbed in their quest for the terrified bug-thing. They can handle themselves, he reasoned. It'll just be a second…
The memory of hidden eyes gave him pause for a few seconds. It was nothing, he decided. You're getting to be paranoid like Bones. The planet was abandoned, after all. There was no one here to watch them, and if those invisible eyes belonged to whoever had sent the distress signal, why had they not revealed themselves? He would take a quick look and be back before McCoy and Spock even noticed he was gone. And if something did happen...well, he could take care of himself as well as anyone.
With that firmly in mind, Jim slipped around the corner and padded off in the direction of the peculiar sound. He heard another distant shout from McCoy and an exasperated response from Spock in turn. And there was the noise still, louder this time, almost insistent. Curiosity mounting, he turned the corner, and found himself practically toe-to-toe with a cold-eyed man in light-colored, rather hodgepodge fatigues.
He had reeled back, mouth opening to emit a startled shout, when he had felt a shocking jolt in the center of his back, more of a numbing force than pain, and everything had gone black.
He woke in phases, his consciousness surging and receding on the tides of awareness. Blurry voices and hazy words drifting so mercurially through his mind that he wasn't sure half the time if he had dreamed them. Pieces of sentences ebbed with the rising and falling of a distant, prickling sensation. A tickle on his chest, a strange throbbing in his ears-
"….careful with that..."
His head hurt, but that wasn't all that hurt. His chest ached, something was wrong with...with his...he couldn't breathe, couldn't see-
"….he's in AF rhythm...gotta...back on..."
Something cool and slick against his chest, tingling where it touched his skin. A mumbling voice fading into incoherency...
"….signal...when he wakes..."
A dull jolt that shuddered through his body, his heels smacking against a firm surface.
Another jolt, his back arching up before falling flat, and everything was mercifully dark once more.
He had woken in blackness, a prickling throbbing over his chest that itched every time his shirt brushed against his skin. Jim groaned and rolled over….or tried. His limbs were held down to a hard surface with what felt like thick straps over his wrists and ankles. He had heard sounds of fighting from what sounded like the next room over, the humming of phasers and muffled, cut-off shouts.
Then Spock kicked down the door, phaser in hand, looking so much like the hero from the sort of juvenile action films Jim used to watch as a kid that he had to fight back a hysterical guffaw at the sight of the Vulcan silhouetted against the bright light from the corridor. Like some kind of caped crusader.
"I guess this makes me the princess," he croaked, a grin twitching at his lips.
"Captain!" Spock rushed forward instantly, reaching for the leather cuffs that kept Jim flat on the operating table. Behind him in the corridor, Jim saw a figure fly backwards out of sight with a surprised grunt and heard a slightly crazed voice shouting from a distance, "Take that, you muscle-bound Neanderthal!"
"Is that Bones?" he asked, amusement battling with concern for his friend.
"The doctor is, surprisingly, a good shot," Spock murmured offhandedly, still fumbling with the restraints.
"Well, he ought to be," Jim replied, not without a touch of pride. "I taught him everything he knows, after all."
Spock gave him an inquiring look, pulling a strap loose as he did so.
"What, did you think I'd bring Bones down here with us without knowing how to defend himself, doctor or not?"
Spock didn't answer, but he had a contemplative expression that might have been a new level of grudging respect for McCoy as he concentrated on his work again.
With a small noise of satisfaction, he succeeded in undoing the cuffs on Jim's ankles and moved over to begin on the wrists. He jostled a boxy machine on a mobile cart with his leg as he moved, sending it rattling away a short distance. It was a defibrillator, Jim noticed distantly- an older model with paddles that he hadn't seen other than in basic training at the Academy.
The restraints on Jim's wrists fell away and he pushed himself up to a sitting position with a pained groan, popping his neck with a jerking shrug.
"That's better," he grunted, rolling his shoulders again. He glanced up at his first officer, then froze, startled. His eyes widened as he looked over Spock's shoulder and saw the man positioned in the doorway, leveling a phaser rifle with an unmistakable intent. But it wasn't that alone that caused Jim's heart to nearly skip a beat, but that the rifle was aimed directly at-
"Spock!" Jim was launching off the table before his mind had quite caught up, catching Spock around the waist and knocking him down as the man fired. They both toppled over onto the floor, Jim rolling off Spock's chest with a breathless grunt. The shot went through the space where Spock had been standing a mere second ago, hitting the defibrillator with an ominous sparking sound and a great deal of smoke.
There was a muffled curse and a scuffle at the door as the terrorist raised his rifle again, but before he could fire, Spock grabbed his phaser and spun around on his back in one swift motion, shooting the man in the chest with an almost casual ease. Their assailant grunted and fell forward with a thump, his rifle clattering across the floor.
Spock rose smoothly to his feet a moment later, sliding his phaser back into his belt. "Thank you, Captain."
"Don't mention it," Jim wheezed, pulling himself up by the edge of the operation table and taking stock of his physical condition automatically. There was a tender spot on his elbow where he had landed on the floor, and his chest hurt, a sort of pulsing pain that prodded oddly at his sternum. He passed a hand over his torso absently and winced at the sudden stab of pain a few inches beneath his collarbone. He looked down at himself, surprised. "What the-"
Spock's hand was moving before Jim's brain could register it, gripping the bottom of his shirt and pulling it up to his shoulders in one fluid movement.
"Whoa, there, what-"
"Jim," Spock said with a terrifying calmness, his eyes fixed steadily on Jim's bare chest. "What is that?"
Jim cringed self-consciously, brushing Spock's hand aside so he could peer down at his own chest. "Oh, shit."
There was a short, jagged incision right above his sternum, the new skin gleaming white where it was obvious a dermal regenerator had recently passed over it. Just under and slightly to the left of the scar was a shallow bump. It was roughly the size and shape of a poker chip, protruding barely enough from under Jim's skin for him to tell that something was very wrong.
It was then that McCoy appeared, panting and covered in sweat. He raised his phaser grimly, a still slightly maniacal gleam in his eyes. "The suckers," he huffed. "Never saw me coming."
"Yeah, who'd look twice at a middle-aged couch slouch like you, Bones?" Jim joked lightly, a trigger reflex after all these years. He opened his mouth again, intending to inform McCoy of the dangers of a growing paunch, when Spock efficiently stepped in.
"Doctor, the captain appears to have a foreign implant."
"What?" McCoy dropped the phaser immediately and hurried forward, stepping over the prone man in the doorway gingerly and elbowing Spock aside in his haste to reach Jim. He reached out and gently probed at the disk, even that slight movement sending an uncomfortable surge up Jim's spine. "Does that hurt?"
"No," Jim forced through gritted teeth. "Not really."
McCoy leaned back, rummaging in the medkit strapped at his waist. "Hold on, I'll need to scan-"
"Bones, it can wait," Jim said impatiently. "What the hell happened out there?!" He gestured at the corridor, where he could still see the legs of the man that McCoy had sent flying.
The doctor readily ignored him, fishing out his tricorder and passing it obsessively over Jim's torso. Jim tried to ignore the erratic beeping from the device, looking instead to his first officer for answers.
"You were kidnapped, Jim," Spock supplied helpfully.
"Yes, thank you, Spock-"
"That damn bug," McCoy grumbled, without looking up. "After we caught the wretched thing, we turned around and you were gone. Spock tracked down your communicator signal like some sort of bloodhound, and we followed you here."
"We've been trying to contact her since you disappeared." McCoy's grim expression told Jim everything he needed to know about how well that had gone. That, or he was simply frowning at the results on his tricorder screen, which wasn't a much better conclusion.
"The hostiles must possess a jamming device here," Spock said. "Our best course of action would be to locate it and attempt to reverse its effects before more time passes."
Jim's head snapped up in sudden realization. "More time? How long has it been?"
"We've been on this damn planet for, what, two days now, I think?" McCoy hedged, glancing questioningly at Spock.
"You have been missing for twenty-six hours and thirty-four minutes, Jim," Spock said. "Locating you became substantially more….challenging when your signal disappeared. We can only assume that the terrorists destroyed your communicator upon realizing that the locator was still fully functional."
Now it was McCoy's turn to jerk in shock. "What? Who said anything about terrorists?"
Spock furrowed his brows quizzically at McCoy, as if perfectly surprised that the doctor hadn't come to the same natural conclusion as he had. "Of course, Doctor. Judging by the non-standard issue of the hostiles' technology and armament, as well as their...extreme methods of avoiding further questioning, one can only assume that they were not dispatched by any legitimate government. That, paired with the fact that they kidnapped the captain-" his voice had delved into a dryer tone that would have been considered sarcastic from anyone else, "-naturally, we can safely conclude that these must be vigilante's intent on damaging the Federation." Idiot, his eyebrow said.
Jim, struggling to filter through that particularly thick onslaught of technicality, felt a sudden need to backtrack a couple of steps. A lot of steps, really. "Hold up, what? What extreme methods?"
Spock and McCoy exchanged a solemn look, the latter seemingly attempting to prompt the former into answering through increasingly non-subtle visual cues. When Spock did nothing more than look at him patiently, McCoy turned back to Jim, a muscle in his jaw tensing as he responded, "Some of them got away, Jim. They must have had a shuttle stashed away somewhere. We didn't even see it until it shot over our heads. The ones they left behind are out there-" he jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the hallway. "They were alive when I stunned them, I swear, but when I checked afterwards..." he trailed off, shaking his head in disgust. "What kind of resolve does a man have to have to kill himself like that?"
"Whatever it is, I'm willing to bet they have a lot of it," Jim said grimly. "If they were against Starfleet, they'd never let themselves be captured. Not if they thought they'd be interrogated."
There was a short pause. Jim suddenly had a very bad feeling about whatever had been shoved inside his chest. "But what would a group of terrorists have against Starfleet?"
"No organization exists that does not have at least a few enemies," Spock said mildly. "Especially an organization holding as much intergalactic influence as Starfleet."
Jim rolled his eyes. "If you don't know, just say so."
"Do you know?" McCoy asked suddenly, eyeing Jim with sudden interest. "They had you here for almost a whole day- did they say anything?"
Jim frowned, struggling to recall the hazy bits of memory. It was like trying to remember a forgotten dream, a blurry half-dissolved recollection that refused to be completely grasped. "It's….kind of weird," he said slowly, squinting in concentration. "They said a few things, I think, but nothing that made sense." His eyes drifted over to the defibrillator on the cart, still feebly coughing smoke, and remembered the cool slickness against his chest, the hard jolt shuddering through his body. "They might have used that, I think I remember…."
Two pairs of eyes turned to regard the damaged machine. There was a short pause before McCoy boiled over. "So you're saying they used that piece of old-generation crap on you?"
"Pardon my unfamiliarity, Doctor," Spock interjected, "but what reason could they have for utilizing outdated equipment?"
McCoy shrugged dismissively. "Could be they're trying to make a point. There's lots of manic knuckleheads running around these days spouting 'the old way's the better way' and all that."
Jim raised his eyebrows, intrigued. "Really. But why argue for inferior technology when clearly the new is better?"
"I'm a doctor, kid, not a philosopher. Who knows why the hell they think that? Maybe that's their beef with Starfleet, us being the leading-edge in developmental technology and whatnot. Or they might just prefer the old-school techniques. You'd be surprised at how many doctors still use variations of this stuff, really….But that," McCoy jerked his chin disdainfully at the defibrillator, "that specific model is practically Stone Age material."
"Doctor, to propose that the device dates back to the Stone Age is a gross overstate-"
"Don't you have a ship to contact?" McCoy interrupted impatiently.
Spock bent his head dutifully, fiddling with his communicator with a concentrated tilt of his head.
"What I'd like to know," McCoy continued, frowning contemplatively, "is why it needed to be used in the first place. Back then, it was the go-to method for stabilizing an irregular cardiac rhythm, but why-"
"Irregular rhythm?" Jim interrupted.
"Yea. Some can be fatal, and unless they're shocked back into a normal heart rhythm in time...regardless, the method was never fail proof." McCoy looked curiously at him. "What, do you remember something?"
There was something nagging at the edge of Jim's mind, pulling insistently, but when he tried to grasp it, it slid away into obscurity. Something...a hazy voice...something about rhythm...
Jim shook his head after a short pause. "No. No, it's probably nothing."
McCoy eyed him suspiciously, looking ready to question him again, but Spock cut in opportunely.
"Communications are still down," he informed them, "though I believe that we will be able to reestablish contact with the ship once the jamming device depletes its energy cells."
"And how long would that take?" McCoy demanded.
Spock's brow creased slightly in concentration, no doubt running multiple calculations simultaneously in his mind. "I would not put it at less than one hour."
"Then we've got time," McCoy said briskly, gesturing at Jim. "Pull your shirt up- you're gonna need a thorough scan."
It had been fifteen minutes now since Spock's estimate, and the three of them were still here, standing in the same dismal room he had woken in. Eventually things had calmed down as much as could be expected in this situation, once the shock of discovering the bomb had worn off.
"I knew it was a bad idea," McCoy repeated, shaking his head.
"Doctor, the bomb?" Spock prompted impatiently. He was probably, Jim realized ruefully, the only completely sane voice left in the room. Jim felt strangely detached himself, even in the current predicament, though he supposed it was only reasonable. It wasn't as if he was needed, really. A captain could always be replaced, just as his own father and Pike had been. And death, it seemed, had always been just around the corner for him. After all, he'd died once already...
The cold surface of the tricorder sliding against his chest made him flinch, his thoughts dispersing instantly.
"As far as I can tell, it's running directly off your heart," McCoy was saying, eyes glued to his tricorder. "And for whatever reason, it's not functioning. Gotta admit, it's all pretty clever."
"Not functioning," Jim repeated somewhat questionably. "So we've got some time to figure this out, then."
McCoy waved a hand impatiently. "Sure, the safety's on, so to speak. And it means we're not in any danger of the device self-destructing…..at least not yet," McCoy added darkly, seemingly unable to resist the pessimistic conclusion.
"The doctor is correct. It is likely that the terrorists programmed a failsafe into the device as a means to ensure eventual detonation, should their initial plan not succeed," Spock confirmed.
"In this case, they could have planned to do it remotely," McCoy added speculatively.
Jim stared at him, mind racing. "So what you're saying is we don't know when this fail safe will be activated, or how, for that matter."
McCoy frowned, adding, "And since we don't want to end up blowing the crew up sky high when the Enterprise does come for us, we have no choice but to remove the damn thing ourselves-"
"How do you propose that we do this, Doctor?" Spock interrupted.
The older man sighed, raising a hand to rub at his temple in concentration. "The only reason this thing is still running is because it's hooked up to Jim's ticker. There's no way to get it out until it's disabled, but there's no way we can do that without-"
"Stopping my heart," Jim realized suddenly, looking between McCoy and Spock with a foreboding lurch in his stomach. "You'd have to stop my heart."