This story is a sequel to my previous Khan/Marla fic "The Wrathful and the Sullen." It also picks up (literally) right where Star Trek Into Darkness ends. So, this story is going to be as much about the Enterprise crew as it is Khan and Marla. Hope you enjoy! And as always, comments/critiques welcome!
"Where should we go?" Kirk asked distantly, his eyes on the endless field of stars that filled the viewscreen.
"As a mission of this duration has never been attempted," Spock began with the closest thing to excitement he had ever displayed, "I defer to your good judgment, captain."
Spock had just given him permission to run wild in space and it made Kirk smile. Inside he was rearing to go, burning to deflower those uncharted territories of space. Spock slipped away to take up his science station. All the while, Dr. McCoy wandered through the bridge towards where the first officer sat.
Kirk nestled into the captain's chair. "Mr. Sulu, take us out."
When the commands were punched in at the helm and the Enterprise broke into warp, Kirk relished in the sensation of the subtle vibration through his fingertips as he clutched the chair.
"Heading, sir?" Sulu peered over the gold shoulder of his uniform.
Kirk still grinned. He was absolutely loving the feeling of not needing to be anywhere with the best ship in the fleet. "Lay in a course for…" He squinted his eyes thoughtfully, then pointed at the left side of the viewscreen, "… thataway."
Sulu mirrored the grin and nodded. "Yes, sir!"
"Mr. Chekov," the captain looked to the head of curls that sat beside Sulu. "Pull up a map of the quadrant we'll be entering at this heading and give me an ETA of when we'll be approaching the edge of chartered space."
"Aye, keptin!" peeped the young Russian.
The viewscreen filled with the glittering image of star systems within Federation space, the quadrants neatly labeled and each sector clearly separated. On the outer edges, however, was the darkness—the unknown and the untouched vastness of space that was waiting to be explored. A few minutes at warp and Kirk could already smell the freedom.
"Captain," Uhura's voice interrupted the excited bustle of the bridge. "Incoming transmission from Star Command."
"Captain Kirk!" He recognized the friendly voice.
"Commodore Ralston," Kirk greeted the voice cheerfully.
"I gather your five-year mission is well underway?"
"Yes, sir, it is."
"Good, good! Uh…" The chipper tone died quickly. "Captain, it pains me to have to tell you this… The Enterprise is ordered to take something of a little detour… You've been assigned a small task that needs to be completed satisfactorily before you reach deep space."
"Small task? Like an errand?" Kirk didn't mean to sound as insulted as he felt. This was a flagship, not a transport-for-hire.
"I suppose I could have worded that better," the commodore murmured. "It's a simple but highly important job. The Enterprise is the best equipped for major cargo as well as its top-notch security. There are other factors involved in your ship being chosen for this as well. Such as your route taking you in the general direction that this cargo needs to go, and…"
"With all due respect, commodore, could you please get to the point?" Kirk didn't like the uneasy feeling that was beginning to flop around in his stomach.
"Star Command wants the Enterprise to be the transport vessel for the seventy-three augments currently in custody at Starbase 2."
The bridge became deadly quiet. It even seemed as though the computers stopped beeping for a moment as Kirk could feel the eyes of his bridge crew turning his way.
"Can I ask why they're being moved in the first place?" And not buried in the center of some planet where they belong? he silently added. But Starfleet, in cooperation with the Federation, has made a point of keeping the identity of the augments anonymous.
"It's no secret. As you may recall, John Harrison and his crew were sentenced to suspended animation indefinitely. The science division has deemed their genetic makeup far too invaluable to be destroyed and it's for that reason that they want them taken from the starbase they've been kept at and moved to Regula I where they can be properly studied. Regula I is our leading research facility in biology and genetics."
Kirk had never been keen on the council's decision to keep the augments on ice, and the idea of moving them around had his grip tightening on the arms of the captain's chair. "So why the Enterprise?" he asked with a tone flat enough to make any Vulcan proud.
"As I said, your vessel is the most qualified and equipped for such cargo. And I thought with your personal connection to the prisoners, it could offer you some closure on the matter."
"To be honest, sir—and I think I speak for the rest of my crew—the farther Harrison is from this ship the better."
There was a pause. "Are you saying you refuse?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"You do, incidentally. But I strongly suggest you accept. It will take you three days off course, tops, then you can recommence your mission uninterrupted. You should understand one of the reasons we chose you was, admittedly, out of convenience. The Enterprise is not only the closest ship, but the best one for the job. Will you do it?"
His first instinct was to reply with an emphatic Hell no! But he knew this wasn't his decision to make alone.
"Just… give me a moment, commodore…"
When he turned, he saw Spock standing close to his right, his face as stoic as ever and his hands clasped at his back. Kirk waited until his first officer peered downward to him.
"What d'you think?" Kirk asked quietly. "Are you as uncomfortable as I am about this?"
"I sure as hell am!" McCoy's rough voice burst out from his left.
"The decision," Spock glanced to the doctor before favoring the captain again, "one way or the other has no effect on my level of comfort, physically or emotionally, and is therefore irrelevant…"
Kirk glared at him. "You could be more helpful."
"However," the Vulcan continued with a subtle shift in his tone, "logically, if the Enterprise is most suited for the task, then it would follow that we should accept."
"There's no big emergency here," McCoy interrupted. "Those people are snug in their ice cubes and don't need us to haul 'em around. Any ship can do the job."
"Such cargo," Spock said crisply, "requires a careful and well-armed escort. The superior coding of their DNA makes them a virtual treasure-trove of knowledge and power. Should the wrong people get a hold of them, the dangers could be exponentially worse than the single danger we faced in Khan himself."
"So let them escort the bastard and his crew in a fleet!" McCoy threw an arm out for emphasis. "We're explorers, we have a new mission that's supposed to be taking us 'thataway'—wherever the hell that is..."
Kirk looked quizzically up at the disgruntled doctor. "Suddenly you're in favor of deep space?"
"With babysitting Khan as an alternative?" McCoy scoffed and folded his arms. "You bet your ass I am. Jim, all the reasons to do this are outnumbered by the reasons not to."
"Your arguments, doctor, are built on your unrestrained emotions," Spock observed. "And though I am by no means eager to have the augments on board this ship again, may I make a presupposition, captain? If I am correct in my judgment of your character, you will always consider any other captain inadequate to accomplish the very task that you had refused in the first place."
Kirk wanted to punch him right in the face—but he was right. The only thing that Kirk hated more than the idea of escorting a sleeping Khan was the idea of someone else—someone less reliable—doing it. He took a deep breath and collected himself before giving his final answer.
"Alright, commodore… I accept."
Bones let out a defeated huff and stomped away. It was then that Kirk caught a glimpse of Carol Marcus on the far end of the bridge, her eyes fixed on him and her face three shades paler.
"Mr. Sulu… Set course for Starbase 2."