A/N: I've been working on this for a while, and thought others might enjoy the attempt. This will be a somewhat long story, and due to my schedule/other activities, updates may not be completely regular, but if I know people are enjoying it, I will continue posting. If you see something that is not quite right (wrong deck for science labs, incorrect Rigelian naming conventions-as I couldn't really find those anywhere), you're welcome to let me know, but please don't let it ruin the story for you. If you don't like it-that's okay, too, but remember I'm really just doing this for fun, so please don't ruin it for me. :-)
I don't own anything related to Star Trek, other than the complete series on DVD and the 2009 movies (which are good but not quite the same …)
The observation lounge of the Rigelian transport vessel K'dina'Th was deserted, which suited Dr. Leonard McCoy just fine, thank you. After the never-ending crowds and bustle of the Rigelian medical conference, he was more than happy to bury himself in a dark corner and sip his drink in peace. There wasn't much to see at warp, given that he had opted not to activate the computer-enhanced viewport before taking his seat, but he knew what a starfield at warp looked like—or didn't look like. The view wasn't the reason that he had sought out the poor, solitary little excuse for a starboard-side lounge.
McCoy slouched further into the padded chair and took another drink of his Vincarian fenna mai tai, or whatever this was supposed to be. It was fruitier and far sweeter than he preferred his alcohol, but the bartender had been a sweet little Terran redhead with an accent from somewhere in Florida or South Carolina, and he had spent half an hour flirting shamelessly before allowing her to talk him into a more expensive drink than his preferred brandy. He took another sip, tasting experimentally before swallowing. Not bad, actually. It grew on you after half a glass or so. He would never have admitted to it in company, of course—the shocking pink color alone was enough earn him a rough and well-deserved ribbing—but right now what did it matter? Neither Jim nor Scotty was here to see it.
He stretched his legs and leaned his head into the back of the chair, studying the arched support beams absently. For the first time in months he felt relaxed, despite the flurry of scheduled activity and medical bickering that he had so recently departed. It was a good feeling, and he spent a few minutes simply reveling. He'd had a rough go of it lately, all told, and despite the honor of the request from the Vulcan Medical Academy he'd been reluctant to leave the Enterprise with it all so recently behind him. In fact, he'd nearly had an open brawl with the captain in sickbay over the matter, until a very angry Christine and a very disapproving Spock had stepped in, reminding them both that there were patients watching and would they please either come to an agreement or take the discussion elsewhere. They had taken themselves to McCoy's office, only to have Kirk inform him in curt command tones that he would be attending the conference, and he had best have his bags packed by 1330 hours the following day, which was when the Enterprise was set to rendezvous with the Vulcan transport that had been dispatched to convey him to said conference. He had stalked about in a temper for the next twenty-four hours, but had been on the transport when it had departed.
Now, in retrospect, it seemed that Jim had been right. McCoy snorted and downed another sip of the tall pink drink. He would never live it down, but he would be the first to admit that in this case he was grateful to have been wrong. Against all intuitive sense, removal from his familiar surroundings and from the constant reminders of the past few months had helped him to regain some sense of equilibrium. He felt in control again, a feeling that had painfully and noticeably eluded him since the word "xenopolycythemia" had leaped off of the data pad at him and turned his world into one crazy, confusing spiral of fear and pain and regret.
Regret. He sighed and rubbed at his forehead. Did he regret his choice to leave Natira and return to the Enterprise, once the Oracle had been overcome and the remnants of the Fabrini people had once again been set on a correct path to their destination? Three weeks ago he would have said honestly that he didn't know. Now, he knew that the answer was no. Natira was a beautiful woman and a part of him did love her, but his life and his friends were aboard the Enterprise. It was where he belonged. He regretted that his decisions, made in the face of uncertainty and the fear of a lonely death, had given her cause to hope that he might be the one to end her own loneliness, but such were the mistakes made by men and women throughout the known universe and probably beyond. It was a strange thing, that the joining of two lonely people so often produced not peace but only an intensified loneliness. He was, in fact, already intimately aware of the dangers inherent in such an attempt—he had a failed marriage and an estranged ex-wife to prove it—and one thing he most definitely did not regret was the fact that his marriage to Natira had escaped such an end.
No, all had turned out for the best, even and especially this unexpected side trip to Rigel V to report on the paper he had written regarding the effects of RN-6513, the experimental Rigelian erythropoiesis-stimulating agent that he had used during Ambassador Sarek's surgery before the Babel conferences. He snorted and drank again, allowing his mind to wander. Hadn't that been a pretty how-do-you-do? One of the premier Federation ambassadors at death's door in his sickbay, not enough Vulcan blood, and an experimental non-Vulcan drug as his only foreseeable recourse, not to mention any number of quibbling diplomats, an assassin on board, a stabbed captain, and a logically, stubbornly pain-in-the ass Vulcan first officer. They all deserved every second they'd spent in sickbay, just for making his life so miserable for those couple of days. He'd thought that he would have nightmares for weeks about running out of green blood and losing both Sarek and Spock, not to mention Jim thrown in for good measure.
He didn't know why he even bothered worrying over them, anyway. They were all a bunch of idiots.
The soft hiss of the door at the far end of the lounge interrupted his musings, and he looked up, moving automatically to hide the pink beverage from prying eyes. The tall, slim form of a Vulcan entered, and after a moment he recognized Salin, a diplomatic attaché transferring from Rigel V to the newly-formed diplomatic corps on Thankarikos, the most recent Federation addition. He had met the young Vulcan in the spaceport back on Rigel V and exchanged pleasantries, if one could call attempting to small-talk with a Vulcan pleasant. It seemed that the company was gathering at Starbase 6 over the course of the next several weeks, and would eventually then be ferried to Thankarikos by the Potemkin. McCoy wondered how the Enterprise had escaped this one—some days it seemed that they were slowly becoming nothing more than a glorified space yacht for traveling dignitaries—and wished the Potemkin and her crew all the best. Salin seemed a decent enough fellow, but ferrying diplomats never ended in anything but tears, brawls, or an official reprimand. Sometimes all three.
Salin stepped into the room, then stopped when his eyes fell on McCoy. He cast a glance at the empty chairs which were the doctor's only company and nodded smoothly. "Dr. McCoy. My apologies for disturbing you. I shall of course leave you as you were."
The boy was polite, but McCoy recognized Vulcan disappointment when he saw it. He set the mai tai on the floor and motioned Salin into the room. "No need. The place doesn't belong to me."
The Vulcan hesitated. "I have been in search of a quiet place to meditate. The inner walls of this transport seem to be quite thin. I have not found the resulting noise levels within my sleeping quarters to be conducive to attaining an appropriate meditative state."
Thin was putting it kindly, if the sounds of last night's card game two doors down from McCoy's own sleeping quarters were any indication. At least it hadn't been anything more embarrassing. He nodded toward the patch of empty deck near the viewscreen. "Be my guest, if my presence won't disturb you. I work with a Vulcan, I know what a couple of days without meditation will do for you." He chuckled darkly. "And I do know how to keep my mouth shut, even if he would probably tell you otherwise."
Salin hesitated, then chose to ignore what was no doubt a confusing and entirely illogical aside. "I have no wish to impose upon your own solitude."
"As I said. The place doesn't belong to me."
"Indeed." The Vulcan nodded again, then stepped into the dim room and allowed the door to hiss closed behind him. McCoy watched through half-closed lids as Salin settle onto the floor, legs crossed, wrists resting lightly on his knees. The dark eyes closed, and within minutes his breathing had slowed to that measured, unhurried pace that always made McCoy itch to grab for his tricorder, no matter that he knew this was a natural, beneficial state for the Vulcan body. Such complete stillness in a living being gave him the chills. It just wasn't right.
"A human misapprehension, Doctor," he heard Spock's voice intone gravely. "Perhaps an attempt at such meditation would provide even you with a modicum of much-needed logical thought."
"You wish, you green-blooded son of a Vulcan," he muttered, careful to keep it under his breath and away from Salin's sensitive Vulcan ears. He picked up his Vincarian mai tai and was about to take another drink when the ship shuddered and the shriek of the alert sirens filled the little lounge. He shot to his feet, slopping the rest of the pink liquid onto the floor, and stumbled toward the control panel set in the wall near the doorway. Near the viewport Salin staggered to his feet as well, shaking off the effects of his meditation even as the vibrating deck panels indicated that they had come rather abruptly out of warp. McCoy punched a few buttons on the control panel and the viewport shimmered from dark to transparent as another blow shook the transport.
A red haze was clearing, shimmering against the transport's aft shields before it dissipated. A small ship darted through the clearing phaser fire, sleek and black, obviously built for speed and stealth. It fired again, and again the red of its phasers splashed against the shields. McCoy crossed the room to press against the viewport, attempting to follow the progress of the attacking ship as it looped around for another run.
"What the . . ."
It fired again, and this time the red glow shivered for long seconds before dissipating. The K'dina'Th's aft shields were weakening. Bad news for the transport, and for them by extension.
"What kind of ship is that?" McCoy demanded, craning for a view of the black underbelly as again the smaller ship veered away.
"I am . . ."
This time, the transport did not so much shudder as lurch. McCoy slammed hard into Salin, and they both went down.
"That was no shield hit!"
"Indeed." Salin pulled himself to his feet and returned his eyes to the viewport, offering McCoy an absent hand up. "And it was not from that ship. We have more than one assailant."
This just kept getting better. McCoy glared at the unidentified attacker. "I've never seen anything like it."
Salin nodded. "I too am unfamiliar with the configuration. It does not exist within the Federation database."
Trust a Vulcan to have any portion of the Federation database memorized. The attacking ship pivoted, and McCoy braced himself just in time. The red of phaser fire lanced by the viewport, and the deck pitched. He managed to stay upright, but barely. The K'dina'Th shuddered again and listed sharply, and then the warning alarms cut off, leaving his ears ringing in the sudden silence. Slowly, the transport drifted back to a more stable horizontal.
For a moment they remained still, straining for another glimpse of the attacker. It did not reappear, however, and a babble of voices broke out in the corridor beyond the lounge door. McCoy pushed away from the viewport and made for the doorway. Salin's voice broke the silence.
"Doctor. Transport regulations are quite clear. In the event of an emergency, all passengers are to remain in place until released for movement about the ship by a member of the crew."
"Stay, then," McCoy growled. "People could be injured. I have no plans to cool my heels here while someone bleeds out on the other side of that wall." He approached the doorway, which didn't open for him—either the automatic controls went offline during an emergency, which would be just plain foolishness, or the system had been damaged. He found the manual control and activated it just as Salin's footsteps approached from behind. He nodded back at the Vulcan and then pushed into the corridor.
The red alert lights were still blinking silently along the walls, casting an eerie glow in the dim lighting. A crowd was gathered around the lift at the end of the corridor. McCoy couldn't make out how many, but even in the poor light he could see that they were guarded by three armored figures with phaser rifles. "Blast!" He stepped back into Salin, trying to guide them both back into the lounge, but before they could step out of view two more armed figures herded a group of passengers out of the mess hall down the corridor. One of the intruders caught sight of them and yelled sharply.
"You there! Stop! Come back this way!"
There was no thought of escape. Returning to the lounge left them no place to run or hide, and the corridor itself ended abruptly two feet beyond the lounge door. McCoy stepped into the hallway and trailed toward the speaker. Salin followed noiselessly, remaining at his shoulder as they joined the group from the mess hall. The tip of the phaser rifle nudged him toward the lift, not rough but insistent, and they moved toward the crowd gathered at the end of the corridor. The lift opened as they approached and the armed guards herded a number of passengers into the open chamber. The doors hissed shut, and an uneasy silence fell as they waited for it to deliver its current complement and return for the next load.
McCoy took advantage of the delay to study the situation. He still couldn't place or even actually see the intruders, given the red lighting and their flexible armored gear. Even their heads were covered, with something that looked like a fine chain-mail hood from medieval Earth days. He would, however, have been willing to bet that the material was far stronger than your average steel mail. The passengers themselves were understandably agitated—except for the Vulcans in the lot, of course, who radiated an air of careful impassivity. Glances flew among the captives, a desperate attempt to telegraph questions or fears or comfort between companions, but no one attempted to speak. It was, he thought, probably wise, given the phaser rifles and the as-yet unknown motives behind the attack and boarding of the K'dina'Th. The lift hissed open again, and McCoy was directed into the lift along with a tight-packed group of other hostages.
They exited on deck 1 and were herded into a conference room. Two of their captors stood inside the door, directing the hostages toward either the far or the near end of the room. McCoy crossed to his indicated group and turned for another shot at assessing things, now that the lighting was better and that they seemed, at least for the moment, to have reached their destination.
His hostage group was by far the larger of the two. He watched Salin join the far group, and scowled thoughtfully. Much smaller, and comprised entirely of Vulcans and Rigelians. He could see the K'dina'Th's captain off to one side with about half of the crew complement. Hmph. His group, on the other hand, seemed to be a motley catch-all of every other species on the transport. That was disturbing, although he wasn't certain whether to be disturbed for his group or for theirs. He frowned. Why the Vulcans and the Rigelians together? Medically speaking the two species certainly had some similarities. There could be any number of reasons behind the division, though. There was also no guarantee that the real reason, whatever it was, would even make any sense to him when—or if—he finally heard it. McCoy turned his gaze from the opposite end of the conference room to the center, where two of their captors stood deep in discussion. Both of them wore their armored hoods pushed back, and for the first time McCoy had a good look at the species that had taken the transport.
Like their ships, they were not anything that he recognized. Blocky and muscular, they were in general taller than the average human by a good seven to ten inches. Not good news on the resistance front, he thought dryly.They might even give the Vulcans a run for their money. Their coloring was gray, one an ashen pale color and the other a rich blue-silver. The hair was thick and shaggy, almost mane-like, of a coloring with the skin and flowing seamlessly from a high forehead and over short, sharply pointed ears. No, not skin. Hair. Fine, short hair covered the face and neck and hands—any exposed area. The eyes were rounded, human eyes except for the gray irises that matched the hair coloring exactly. Who are these people?
"Do you lead here?"
The transport captain stepped out of his group. A fully-armored intruder moved out from a corner and pointed his phaser rifle. "Back away."
The Rigelian held his ground. "I am Th'd'Nat, captain of this transport. Who leads here?" He returned his gaze to the two unhooded men—at least, McCoy assumed that they were men, though he had little but the timbre of their voices to go on. For all he knew, of course, the deep voices belonged to the women of this species, but it had been his experience that voice pitch related to gender was one of the more constant traits throughout the galaxy. "Is it one of you? This is a Federation vessel, in Federation space. Your actions are a violation of . . ."
The whine of the phaser rifle startled more than just McCoy. Members of both hostage groups jumped, and startled exclamations echoed throughout the conference room. Even a few of the Vulcans rustled. Captain Th'd'Nat crumpled to the deck.
McCoy's blood boiled. There had been no reason to shoot Th'd'Nat. Their captors held all the weapons, he could not possibly pose a threat, no matter what his words. The Rigelian transport doctor started forward and the intruder who had shot the captain swung his rifle around on her. Several more of their captors joined their comrade from around the room, covering the smaller hostage group with their own weapons. The doctor stopped, but held her ground.
"Allow me to go to him."
"Return to your place." The shooter motioned her back with his rifle. The doctor would not be so easily swayed.
"Please! He may be in pain. Allow me to assist him!"
McCoy took advantage of the distraction to slip away from his own group. He had kneeled beside the injured captain and activated his tricorder before any of the intruders noticed him. A ragged string of what he assumed were invectives—the universal translator either could not or would not render them intelligible—rippled through the room, and immediately three of the weapons were brought to bear on him.
Just when it had seemed that the day couldn't possibly get any worse.
McCoy ignored the order, forcing himself to focus on data scrolling across his tricorder. "This man could be seriously injured!" That, of course, was obvious to the point of stupidity, but there seemed little else to say. From the corner of his eye he saw the muzzles of the phaser rifles inch closer.
"You will desist and back away! Now!"
He turned his back on the speaker and ran the tricorder back over Th'd'Nat's chest. The readings were faint, but definitely active. The captain wasn't dead yet. "Look, if you allow us to assist him, the Federation government may . . ."
The distinctive whine cut through his words, and McCoy braced himself for the inevitable. He had always known that someday his mouth and his refusal to play by the rules would get him killed. He had been lucky up to this point to have Jim Kirk at his back when he went too far, but the captain couldn't always be there. It seemed that this might be the day he had finally talked himself into a corner that he couldn't escape.
The whine cut off abruptly, and he looked around. The unhooded blue-silver intruder had stepped forward and laid his hand on the rifle. The would-be shooter fixed his comrade with an expression that McCoy might have called both incredulous and angry, if the face had been that of a human, but offered no argument. The silver hand pressed on the rifle until the muzzle pointed toward the deck, and McCoy noted absently that the fingernails were blunt, with coal black beds. "Hold." The blue-silver eyes fixed on McCoy. "You are human."
McCoy bit back a response that would certainly have gotten him shot. "I am."
"You are, however, familiar with copper-based species?"
Copper-based. It was medical, then. Or at least, biological. But why? What did these people want with Vulcans and Rigelians? "Familiar enough."
The eyes regarded him, unblinking, and McCoy fought to not look away. The shining silver gaze gave him the creeps. After a long moment the soft voice continued. "Are you Dr. Leonard McCoy?"
Shock jarred him to his feet. The phaser rifles came up with him, and he raised both of his hands in a calming gesture. The blue-silver eyes never looked away.
"Are you . . ."
"I am. And who might you be?"
His question was, predictably, ignored. The second unhooded intruder approached, emitting a low whining sigh that McCoy took to indicate impatience. McCoy's interrogator raised a curt hand and his ashen-colored comrade halted, muttering beneath his breath. He exchanged a dark glance with the armed guards and settled his stance, arms clasped behind him. The whining sigh did not abate. The blue-silver one ignored them, turning his attention to a tricorder-like device in one hand. McCoy hovered uncertainly, wondering just who was in charge of who here. He had at first thought the silver-colored one to be the commander, but now he was not so sure. The others followed his orders, but resentfully, as if they felt he had no right to issue them. A moan at his feet drew his attention back to the Rigelian captain. Whatever their captors' internal arguments, McCoy's duty was to the man at his feet.
He started to kneel again, but the soft voice halted his movement. "Are you the Dr. Leonard McCoy who wrote a paper entitled," the blue-silver eyes skimmed over the hand-held device, "Use of the Rigelian Experimental Erythropoiesis-Stimulating Agent RN-6513 in a Vulcan-Human Hybrid for Transfer to a Vulcan Male during Open Heart Surgery?"
What was this? How did these people know about him, and what did they want? McCoy exchanged an uneasy glance with the Rigelian doctor, who still hovered halfway between the Vulcan/Rigelian hostage group and the still form of Captain Th'd'Nat. His interrogator issued an impatient whine of his own, and McCoy snapped his eyes back to their captors. "That's me. And who are you, again?"
Once again, McCoy's questions were ignored. His interrogator turned away and spoke to the nearest guard. "Begin transport. Take this one, as well." He motioned toward McCoy and started back to the center of the conference room.
"Wait just one cotton-pickin' minute!" McCoy started after him, but was brought up short by the point of a phaser rifle. He turned his ire on the armed guard. "I don't know who you people think you are or what you think you're doing, but . . ."
The muzzle of the rifle jammed into his chest, pushing him back toward the clustered Rigelians and Vulcans. To his right, the Rigelian doctor was also being herded back into the group. She cast a despairing glance around her guard toward Captain Th'd'Nat, who had ceased to stir against the steel deck plating, and a flush of anger coursed again through McCoy's veins. What gave these people the right? A hard shove that would no doubt leave a muzzle-shaped bruised sent him stumbling into a pair of Vulcans and a Rigelian engineer, and to his left sounded the familiar hum of a transporter beam. He barely had time to turn his head before a full third of the group shimmered away.
Across the room a shouted protest broke out, and the sound of phaser fire. McCoy looked toward the source of the chaos, but there was no time for him to do more than witness the beginning of some sort of struggle before the familiar prickle of the transporter washed across his own skin. The conference room blurred and vanished, replaced by metal walls and ceiling and floor, a small bare cell tight-packed with more than a dozen prisoners. A glowing double ring around the open end of the cell left little doubt that a force field was operational, and the inevitable test by one of the Rigelian engineers confirmed it. A babble of voices sounded from just beyond their field of vision, clipped and focused.
" . . . shields are fully . . ."
" . . . to warp as soon as all parties are . . ."
"Have you confirmed that . . ."
" . . . signal from UyaVeth. Transport the remaining members of the boarding party."
Apparently, their cell was set off to one side of the bridge. Given the size of the attacking ships it was no surprise. With so little room every available space would need to be utilized. The transporter sounded again, and then a firm voice above the rest.
"Is everyone aboard?"
"Aye, Captain. Kolreth and Karan report all hands aboard as well."
"Is the detonation sequence underway?"
Detonation sequence? Several Rigelian voices rose at once around the cell. McCoy sent a startled glance toward Salin, who had appeared beside him near the force field. The young Vulcan returned his gaze impassively, and McCoy felt a flush of irritation. It was just his luck to get stuck in a holding cell with a bunch of Vulcans. Where were Kirk or Scotty or Sulu when you needed them?
"Aye, Captain." A new voice, from a different direction. "Lanath reports no difficulty with integration into the containment field."
Containment field. Crap. This was sounding worse and worse. Salin's voice was low. "A detonation within the antimatter containment field would result in the disintegration of the entire transport. There would be no possibility of survivors." McCoy nodded, and swallowed back a snarl of helpless horror and rage. Even he could have figured out the consequences of a bomb in the ship's warp reactor.
"Excellent. Set course and retreat at maximum warp."
The ship hummed for a brief instant and then leaped into warp, the inertial dampeners failing to cushion the transition as smoothly as those of the Enterprise. McCoy's stomach rolled, and he swallowed back a wave of nausea. They had been in warp for less than a minute when the news came.
"Captain, Lanath reports success. The transport has been destroyed."
"Thank you, Calen. Continue speed and heading."
One of the Rigelians screamed a string of curses and flung himself at the force field. It sizzled and knocked him back into the tight-packed mass of bodies. Several of the other Rigelians seized him as he struggled up and tried again for the force field. McCoy turned away from the sight, forcing away the overwhelming horror. Two hundred passengers, fifty crewmen and women. Of those, roughly half of the crew had been Rigelian, and from what he had seen probably fifty of the passengers were either Vulcan or Rigelian. Accounting for crew not present in the conference room, that could be nearly two hundred deaths.
Nearly two hundred dead, and the rest caged and on their way to who knew where. His mind reeled. Unaccountably, Spock's voice flitted through his head. "You find it easier to understand the death of one than the death of a million."
Shut up, Spock, shut up. I understand these two hundred well enough.McCoy forced away the nausea and rage and grief, and turned to see about the Rigelian crewman. Force fields had been known to leave some fairly nasty burns. He knelt beside the collapsed crewman and reached for his scanner, only to find it still clutched in his right hand from his aborted attempt to save Captain Th'd'Nat. He rested his fist against his forehead for a long minute, taking deep breaths, then turned his attention to the trembling Rigelian. As data began to scroll across his scanner, he turned his mind across the light years to the Enterprise and her crew—his friends. Jim, I hope you track us down soon. This can only keep getting worse.