The day the wounded arrive is the day she remembers why she's decided to leave Starfleet.
It starts slow. Just two of them - human, bleeding heavily, unconscious. Silver incandescence solidifying on the sickbay floor. She almost trips over them. They're holding each other. Hands clutching clothes, legs intertwined. She can't see their faces. Maybe that's just as well.
Over the shriek of the red alert Chapel shouts for Doctor McCoy, for Nurse Tokura. But as they come running, there's another transport behind her. This time it's an Andorian, blue fluid pooling on the floor as soon as his form stabilises. He's conscious and groaning - reaching up, fingers grasping the edge of the edge of the biobed, eyes desperate.
The eyes. They're the last of her clear memories.
Because before Doctor McCoy can even finish his rant to the bridge about what the hell is going on, and why hasn't he been warned about casualties, and who are these folks anyway 'cos they sure as hell aren't Starfleet, there are three more. Shimmering bundles appearing in corners, under biobeds, curled in foetal positions, silent.
They don't even have time to assess their condition before she hears the shouting from the corridor. And when she sticks her head through the doors – well, that's when the thinking has to stop. Action is all that matters now. She can't even count the bodies. And this is worse. Because the arrival of the children has started. And so has the screaming.
"Vessel is the colony ship SS Demeter. In transport orbit around Deneb III. Ship's manifest... logged as 140 colonists, 40 crew."
When Kirk kills the bridge klaxon he can hear reports flooding in from every deck. "What the hell's going on over there?"
"Unclear at the present time, Captain. Life signs are clustered around every transporter station."
"It's chaos, sir. The distress call is on an automatic loop. I am unable to open a channel to the Demeter bridge."
"Keep trying, Lieutenant."
The comms unit in the arm of his chair whistles. "Bridge."
"Jim, you've got to stop this." The call from sickbay sounds panicked. He can't remember ever hearing Bones sound panicked, not in his own sickbay. "They're still coming. Dozens of them. We can't possibly..." the voice is suddenly muffled. "Yeah, I'll be right there. Use the respirator! Jim, you've got to raise the shields. We're not designed to... Oh goddammit! Five more. Raise the blasted shields, Jim. We'll send medical teams over to them. We need triage." And he's gone.
Kirk looks over to his science officer. "Analysis, Mister Spock."
"Insufficient data for full analysis. However, judging by the type and extent of injuries now being reported, it would seem weapons are continuing to be deployed by an unknown force and this is a still developing scenario. I submit that it is not possible to implement Doctor McCoy's triage suggestion on the colony ship at the current time."
"Agreed." He thumbs the comms button. "Sorry, Bones. I'm not raising the shields. These people need our help. They're dying over there."
The voice is shouted, across a distance. "They're dying over here too, Jim. We need help."
"Hang in there, Doctor. Uhura. Open a channel - ship wide comms."
"Go ahead, Captain."
"Attention all hands. This is a medical emergency. We have become a hospital ship. An unknown number of civilian casualties have transferred from the colony ship to the Enterprise. All personnel with level 2 medical training are to report to deck five. Immediately. Repeat, this is a medical emergency."
He's on his feet, heading for the turbo lift, almost before his finger has left the switch.
"Mister Spock, you're with me. Mister Sulu, you have the con. Keep her within transport range. And keep sensors on long range scan for any sign of approaching vessels."
"Aye, aye, Captain."
When ancient seafaring ships fought battles the decks would become slippery with blood. They used to scatter sand to give the sailors traction as they fought to reload the cannons. Starships don't carry sand. But right now, on deck 5, that looks like an oversight.
Why is he thinking about sand? Because otherwise he'd have to think about the little girl at his feet. She's about five, reaching up, trying to stand, trying to say something he can't hear above the cacophony echoing round the corridor. The bass notes are the groans of the wounded, with a treble of screams and a percussion of shouted orders from medics and crew.
He bends down. He still can't hear her as she whispers in his ear. Is that a word? A sigh? But then she's sliding down in a dead faint, so slowly it's not hard to catch her. She's so light he can barely feel her in his arms as he steps over the nearest prone casualty and carries her into sickbay. Where he stands transfixed at the door. This isn't sickbay, or not a sickbay he recognises.
Every surface is covered in bodies. Not just the biobeds, nor the counters swept clear of medical instruments, but the floor - a shifting sea of muted fabrics and sprawled limbs and seeping fluid. And in the middle of it all is McCoy, crouching over a woman dressed in the sombre brown coveralls of a colonist. She's barely able to lift her head from the floor, eyes wild. And then she's pointing, finger shaking, mouth stretched in a soundless scream. Pointing at him? No, pointing at the man in red behind him.
The finger jabs again. And now she's making sounds. The words are hissed not spoken. "Starfleet scum. Redshirts." And she's screaming, screaming abuse until the hiss of the hypospray hushes her to silence.
"Don't keep telling me what we don't know, Spock. What DO we know?"
If the Enterprise's First Officer is offended by the frustration in his Captain's voice he does not let it show. The Captain's first instinct is to action. That they are here, in the briefing room, rather than already beaming aboard the colony ship is a tribute to the persuasive power of Vulcan logic.
"Deneb III colony was established some 27 months ago. Starfleet appointed Commander Rawlson as Commander in chief. He brought with him a specially selected team of Starfleet specialists and civilian engineers. Conditions on Deneb are known to be...challenging. Therefore-"
"Wait a minute," Kirk interrupts. "Did you say Rawlson?"
"Correct, Captain. Paul Rawlson. Are you familiar with the Commander?"
Kirk frowns. "I'm not sure. There's something..." He looks down at his hands clasped tight and white in front of him on the briefing room table. "It'll come to me. Carry on... What about the colony ship?"
Spock glances back at the padd notes he does not need. It is unlike the captain to forget a name. But the last few weeks have been...difficult.
"Colony ship SS Demeter was diverted here by the Federation when the latest Romulan incursion made their original destination untenable. It seems to have been a somewhat hasty decision. The ship's communication log shows several attempts by Commander Rawlson to dissuade the Demeter from approaching Deneb III. It would appear they were not ready to receive visitors. After some twenty-six weeks in transit, however, the colonists were apparently unwilling to take no for an answer."
"So who's on board the ship now?"
"We can detect no life signs. Unfortunately there are fifteen bodies on board, most in the area of the transporter stations. Those colonists and crew who are conscious report they lost control of the bridge and were attacked within minutes of attaining orbit but their reports are confused. Those who survived abandoned ship via emergency transport. I submit it is an indication of extreme panic that they would attempt such a risky manoeuvre. Seventy-two are now aboard the Enterprise. The remainder chose to beam down to the planet surface. Their condition is unknown but it would appear they were followed. Whoever, or whatever, attacked them is no longer on board. We have been unable to contact Commander Rawlson or any of his team."
"So before they went dark, what reports were we getting from Deneb III?"
Spock flicks back through the log records. "Some grumbles about supplies. No reports of significant problems. However, the last few transmissions have been incomplete and contained corrupted data. And they were overdue for inspection as you know."
Kirk nods. The Enterprise had been scheduled to visit the fledgling colony some four months earlier. They had been delayed.
No-one at Starfleet Command had expected the skirmishes with the Bandi rebels to develop into a full blown diplomatic crisis. Or that once the crisis was underway and hostilities declared rebel tactics would include the distinctly unoriginal approach of taking hostages. Included among those taken captive, for several weeks, was the Enterprise's Captain.
Starfleet Command has an excuse. They are half a galaxy away and their officers pilot desks not starships. That no-one on board the Enterprise had predicted that outcome, given the known tensions in the Bandi system, continues to trigger an inner disturbance in the usually ordered thinking of the ship's First Officer; a circular pattern of repetitive reflection which a non-Vulcan might have termed guilt, but which he prefers to think of as a continuing re-evaluation of faulty logic.
It could have been worse. As far as Spock can ascertain, a prolonged period in solitary confinement on rough rations has done little to dent the Captain's habitual self-assurance. Only yesterday he brushed off McCoy's attempt to run his psyche evaluation with a joke about recommending a spell of R and R at Bandi expense to Starfleet as a sure-fire remedy for any harried starship captain with a few pounds to lose.
Yet the Vulcan remains uneasy. It is his experience that the Captain does not fare well when faced with prolonged periods for introspection.
Spock looks up at the expectant faces around the table and realises he has paused too long.
"As I was saying, conditions on Deneb III are sub-optimal for a colony. The average temperature of the northern continent is 229 degrees kelvin making it uninhabitable under current Federation criteria. While the southern archipelago is reportedly rich in minerals, poor quality soils will need substantial intervention before they can sustain agriculture. In addition the climate is subject to erratic weather patterns. The team selected to accompany Commander Rawlson are experts in their field. Olson - medical. Chang - terraformer. Pettigrew - hostile permaculture..."
As he lists Starfleet personnel, the assembled officers in the briefing room react with approval. These are names they recognise; the authors of papers that are required reading at the Academy.
Yet Spock is aware he does not have his Captain's full attention. Kirk sits quietly, head slightly bowed towards the screen in front of him. There is a smear of blood on his left sleeve. Spock sees Kirk notice it, sees him rotate the offending gold cuff so it rests out of sight against the table. And Spock notices something else. The tip of Kirk's right index finger is tapping his thumb under the table. The movement is tiny. Almost a tic and almost imperceptible to anyone except a Vulcan First Officer who prides himself on taking note of everything that might indicate his Captain's current state of mind.
Suddenly Spock is quite sure he does not want the command team to notice their Captain's distraction. He has reached the end of his list of known facts. At this point it is customary for Kirk to ask for thoughts from his senior officers. This is the Captain's modus operandi; to take soundings from the group, to gather as many disparate opinions as exist, and then to make his decision. As a command approach it is popular with his officers. But Kirk is staring at his screen. Spock clears his throat and says
"Your thoughts, gentlemen."
McCoy, blood-stained and weary, is the first to react to this break in Enterprise custom and practice. He seems about to object but then looks across the table at his CO. For all his reputation for swear first, think later, Spock has found the ship's doctor to be surprisingly astute at picking up signals, particularly when those signals' point source is Jim Kirk. With a swift glance across the table at the bowed head in command gold the doctor makes a decision and swivels his chair to address the Vulcan.
"I'll give you my thoughts, Spock, for what they're worth - there was a psychopath on the loose over there. Possibly a whole damn army of psychopaths. The injuries we're treating aren't collateral damage. We're not talking about a few civilians caught in the cross fire here. Those people were targeted. Some of 'em have been tortured."
Security chief Giotto sits up at that. "Tortured? Who by?" Kirk too, lifts his head.
McCoy purses his lips. "Well, that's what I can't figure." He stops, reluctant to say what must be said. There is almost apology in the look he gives his CO. "You heard that woman. And she's not the only one screaming blue murder any time anyone from security or engineering shows up. The evidence is right there in front of us. Whoever's done this they're wearing Starfleet uniforms."