Title: A-Haunting We Will (Boldly) Go
Characters/Pairings: Spock, Kirk, Uhura, McCoy, various (background only Spock/Uhura)
Genre: Gen, H/C, Humor
Word Count: (this chapter) 11,000
Rating: T for themes and movie-level language
Warnings/Spoilers: Various vague spoilers for all AOS movies. Any major TOS spoilers footnoted at the end of specific chapters, but no knowledge of TOS needed to understand anything here. This chapter, specific spoilers for STID, and warning for my personal headcanon for the psychology I see playing out in Beyond, which was the only movie of the three where I actually suddenly felt like I understood these characters at last.
Summary: Five times something haunted the U.S.S. Enterprise, and one time it got kicked off the ship only just in time.
A/N: I've rebooted several TOS episodes here and likely unconsciously thrown in a hodgepodge of other TOS elements because that's where my original heart lies, so anything you recognize likely does not belong to me. This was originally begun with the intention of starting to post on Halloween and, as usual, real life had other plans. New apartment, new cat, two new jobs, etc., etc. My bad.
Funny thing, chemistry.
It had ever-so-briefly fascinated him as a child, before thrill seeking and a reluctant love for the stars that had pursued him all his life had taken over: that science of mixing and mingling, combining and reacting, a study predictable yet variable, intriguing and volatile.
Mix sodium and chlorine, and you always get some form of salt. Combine hydrogen peroxide and yeast, and you get a pretty cool but weird foam eruption. Set fire to powdered ammonium dichromate, and you get something that looks like a creature climbing out of the very pit of hell. Try to combine elements as simple as potassium and water, and you likely won't be around to see the result you get.
But it wasn't until he found himself suddenly responsible for several hundred human lives, that he really realized human chemistry operates on basically the same principle. Combine the right people, and you have magic in a bottle – and try to mix the wrong ones, and you have a disaster in the making. Usually the stronger the personality, the stronger the reaction, both positive and negative.
Case in point.
The Enterprise crew, for all they've been through both recently and not, are a remarkably hardy bunch, no one can deny that. Only cadets who score in the seventy-fifth percentile or higher on their master psych evals at graduation are even considered for a posting aboard this particular vessel, and there's talk of raising that percentage now, given recent events. The fact that he still has the same senior command crew he does, after said events, proves they are either exceptional officers (which he already knew) or that they are slightly psychotic and therefore able to fool the best Starfleet evaluations (which is actually a strong possibility).
His alpha Bridge crew, honed and tried by fire and chaos into a tightly-knit unit of elite (if slightly dysfunctional) officers, are prime examples of said chemistry.
Fortunately, most of them in recent months have found healthy ways to blow off steam, and now that they're preparing to relaunch at last, there's an air of tangible excitement aboard that permeates the atmosphere with an almost holiday feel, equal parts nervous energy and happiness. The senior officers have been back aboard for two weeks, reacclimating to the refurbished ship, and the rest of the officers will arrive tomorrow to begin inspections to their departments as the final construction projects begin. Four weeks from now, the crew will begin arriving from all over the sector, and six weeks from tomorrow evening, they will launch. A five-year mission, in deep space, and just the thought of it both freaks him out and excites him beyond anything he has ever dreamed.
Not that his dreams are anything to write home about, these days.
Though granted, if they have many more afternoons like this one, they might not even make it to launch night without killing each other, or at the least one of the poor underpaid 'Fleet engineers who gets caught in the crossfire.
Only the alpha Bridge crew, and sometimes only Jim, knows when Spock and Uhura are fighting.
And the funny thing is, it's not like either of them speaks a word about it; there's no annoyed glares behind each other's backs, no snide remarks or interruptions, no eye rolling or huffing, nothing anyone could ever dream of calling fraternization affecting their duties – they're much better officers than that. If anything, they get more efficient, more brilliant, more razor-sharp in decision making, so good at their Bridge performances that it's just flat creepy, and Jim has wondered if the control boards at Science and Comms could freeze over because that's how icy the atmosphere can be.
But give it about twelve hours, and then one of them apparently caves to those puppy eyes they both have when they want (or else Vulcan makeup sex has to be something amazing) because alpha shift usually rolls around the next day and the sun's back out, everything's situation normal, good morning Captain, how are you today, etc., etc. Whatever flash-freeze occurs between them, usually melts just as fast, and while it's a little weird he's the absolute last person to capably judge what a healthy relationship looks like, so go them; he'll just be grateful for it. Being the Neutral Zone for his own crew is exhausting.
But while his First Officer and Communications Chief may be able to wage war silently behind him all day on the Bridge without batting an eye or letting on to anyone lower on the command chain, when it comes to the rare times he has a disagreement with said First Officer? The results can be categorized as nothing less than...volatile. If Spock and Uhura are a cold-fusion bomb, then Spock and Jim are a matter/antimatter collision.
And the fallout is explosive.
Normally they do have the sense to wait until behind closed doors to really have it out, because Jim's still the captain, and he's not a total idiot; but recent events have now left them both a little more on edge, a little less reserved. A little more prone to disagreement, a little less tolerant of past disagreements.
A little more traumatized, a lot more aware of the fact that the Starfleet oath actually could mean not coming back from a mission.
Spock returned to full duty six months ago, after the board of inquiry had finished the investigations and all talk of a court-martial had finally been dropped, though Jim only just made the switch from light to full duty a month ago, and that only because Bones couldn't delay the 'Fleet brass any longer. His CMO has said for weeks now that he isn't comfortable returning Jim to full duty when he knows full well he's capable of fooling a psych eval; but with no actual grounds to keep the captain of the Enterprise off duty and with Starfleet breathing down their necks to launch ASAP, back Jim went. And deities of the galaxy only know if Spock was ready, he's been weird ever since Nibiru. Jim doesn't even know anymore.
And it shows, as that little fiasco demonstrated. Thankfully only two technicians and Chekov were present at the time, and the latter wisely decided to leave soon after the pyrotechnics began, hastily dragging the two civilians with him into the nearest turbolift.
The other of which just closed behind his First Officer, who just verbally eviscerated him about half a dozen things that haven't been done in Ops he was supposed to oversee last night and totally forgot about. That might have been a forgivable offense.
Telling Spock to put it in a report and send it to the Admiralty behind his back so maybe they could switch positions aboard, is not so forgivable.
Pike would kill him, rest his soul.
He leans forward in the unfamiliar, squeaky-new chair, and puts his head wearily in his hands. His crew isn't even all aboard yet, and he's already proven half the tabloids are correct. He's not ready to be back here, not by a long shot.
A hand comes out of nowhere and slaps the back of his head. Hard.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!"
He dodges away from the sharply-manicured nails, wincing.
"Look, Lieutenant –"
"Don't even." Her eyes flash brimstone and fire, and he swallows hard, pinches the bridge of his nose. "On the Bridge? What if we'd had the whole crew back here?"
"I know. I know, okay." He shakes his head, hand dropping to his side in a helpless gesture. "I just…reacted. He hit a nerve."
"That's kind of what you two do."
"It is now, at least," he mumbles, suddenly very, very tired. "That's not an excuse, and it won't happen again. I'll…if I have to, I'll turn command over to him for the next couple of weeks. Funny, he probably would make a better captain right now." He sees shock flicker over her face, and shrugs. "He's right, Lieutenant. I may not be ready."
"He was being a dick, Jim. You're both a hot mess, but there's no need to broadcast that to every idiot that's wiring a console up here. Get it together, for the love of God."
He laughs, because it's better than crying, and they've all done plenty of that over the last few weeks – few months – too.
"Would you like to be my new First Officer, Lieutenant?"
"Oh hell no. I would kill you before we reached the Jupiter outpost." She snorts, moving back to the comms board. "Now, if you want this board cleared and recalibrated to the new specs before the technicians arrive tomorrow, I need some quiet."
He huffs, and slides out of the chair. "Uh, can you tell me –"
"Medical, the new wing that's still under construction. You were supposed to be doing inspections there in an hour, remember? My guess is he's trying to get them done early so he can avoid you the rest of the day."
"Nobody likes a smartass, Lieutenant."
"You'd know. Sir."
The presence of half a dozen engineers and medical techs installing equipment and running magnetic drills in the corridor outside ensures an icy truce rather than any continuation of earlier's hostilities, but it also forestalls any attempt at apologies for the blowup. The chill is wearing down his already thin patience by the time the technician they're talking to fumbles through a report so badly that Spock just takes the padd from the poor kid and looks at it himself in not-very-concealed exasperation.
Jim tries admirably hard not to look like he wants to knock both their heads together, just presses his thumb between his eyes to ward off the migraine approaching at warp speed. This ship still has so much that needs done, and the fact that he gets exhausted after only an eight-hour shift when he previously could go twelve or fourteen at a stretch with no difficulty is driving him insane.
Months, long, long months of physical therapy, learning to retrain muscles and internal organs and learning to freaking walk again, and he still can't do what he wants for as long as he wants. Bones no doubt would say that's part of why he's struggling not to take his self-frustration out on his subordinates. Jim has all the spiels totally memorized by now, after the weeks of 'Fleet-mandated counseling.
For all the good it's done, obviously.
Spock is eyebrow-frowning at the padd. "Engineer, this report states that reserve power cells begin generating emergency power to Sickbay when ship's reserves drop to sixty-seven percent."
Jim pauses, hand still at his face, and frowns, then takes the padd to look at it. "That sounds really low to me. Mr. Spock?"
Spock glances at him for the moment without animosity, and that's actually a tiny nod of approval. "It is entirely unacceptable. I expect this number to reach at minimum, eighty-four percent prior to our launch date, Lieutenant."
The poor tech looks wide-eyed between them, as if he cannot believe what he's just heard and if he did hear it, can he please have a transfer to the Gallant post-haste because his superiors are total nut jobs.
Jim grins; he does love watching his First terrify junior officers, it's hysterical. "Problem, Lieutenant?"
"N-n-no, sir. Captain. No problem. Sir."
"Carry on, then." He hands the padd back with a blithe smile and strolls away down the corridor to the next room, which is visible through a duranium skeleton slowly being covered with durasteel sheets. Footsteps behind him make him pause, smiling.
"Is it even possible to have those things kick in at eighty-four percent with the engines still running?"
"Technically, yes. Plausibly, no."
He laughs then, the sound oddly out of place in the harsh environment, and sees a few of the medical techs turn their heads to smile fondly at him before looking back at their monitors. "God, I've missed you," he says without thinking, as he runs his hands absently over a new bio-bed, all brushed duochroma and maroon padding. It's a nice, soothing change from the sterile white of Starfleet's Medical facility, which he's seen far too much of the last year.
The uncomfortable silence alerts him to the fact he just word-vomited on the galaxy's least emotional species, score one for him. He winces, moves across the room to the medical readout wall to avoid having to see the look of disgust he's sure is headed his direction.
"Look, Spock –"
"Captain, I –"
They start speaking simultaneously, and he snaps his mouth closed because he's done quite enough talking today, thank you, then gestures over his shoulder for his First to proceed. There's the silence of hesitation, and then the comm whistles for attention, saving either of them from continuing. It's Scotty, who's down on Earth finishing up a last-minute drill class with their newest Engineering trainees. He has a series of questions about the readouts he's been remotely monitoring, and as that's something Spock's better qualified to answer and that will bore Jim to tears, he wanders off down the hall to the new installations in the Sickbay sub-wings instead.
Bones is going to have a field day with his new Sickbay; there's all kinds of stuff they didn't have before which got installed in this refurbishing, the one good thing that came out of Khan's rampage. Three more science labs, more recreational rooms for the long voyage, Jim himself insisted upon ten more shuttle bays in case of a needed shipwide evacuation, and all this new tech for their primary purpose now in deep space – scientific advancement and exploration, rather than just putzing around the galaxy on whatever milk run the Federation decides their poster child needs to do for them.
He wants to laugh when he sees they have a full-scale cryo-unit, except it feels a little like someone walked over his grave. He shakes off the feeling and flips open the communicator he's taken to wearing on his belt, since the comms system aboard is still under construction and has been patchy as a result.
Bones sounds like he's just been woken up from a nap, or else is just plain grumpy. Their CMO is splitting his time between the ship and Starfleet Academy, volunteering in Medical there since he doesn't have as many shipboard duties as the rest of them just yet, not until his staff arrive and the Medical wing is finished with construction. Judging from the sparks flying in the corridors and the amount of banging and torching going on, that last won't be much longer.
"Bones. Dude, you are going to love your new toys. They just finished the installations last night."
"You woke me up to tell me that? For God's sake, Jim, I'm coming aboard in twelve hours. Why."
"It's pretty amazing stuff, Bones! You even have your own disease control team now."
"You don't get off this comm, I'll have myself a volunteer for patient zero. Don't you have a ship to run?"
"I am, I'm just waiting on Spock to finish talking to Scotty about the flux capacitator readings. Oh hey, look, they finished your oxygen thing."
"It's called a hyperbaric chamber, moron. And they better have finished the zero-G one too, I have test subjects beamin' back with me tomorrow for decompression therapy."
He heaves the heavy hydraulic door outward and then moves inside the small chamber, noting the gleaming walls, shiny new tech panel, the top of the line computer inside which is supposed to control both rooms, set next to each other to conserve space in the therapy wing. "Looks like it. Pretty cool."
"Peachy. Bye, Jim."
He laughs, and shuts the comm, reclips it to his belt. Takes a last look around at his beautiful new ship. Maybe he can do this, after all.
Then his beautiful new ship suddenly jolts under his feet and there's a colossal crash in the corridor, accompanied by a background of what sounds like panicked shouting. The screen he's standing in front of abruptly fritzes at him in an angry shower of orange sparks before it starts to flicker in and out, some random alarm blinking silently in the top left corner.
"What's going on out there, Spock!"
He makes a dash for the door of the chamber, adrenaline fueling his rush with a flare of urgency.
The door slams shut inches from his face, a pneumatic hiss of escaping air telling him the hermetic seal is working just fine, unlike the locking hinges which should have kept it from edging shut on him. And ever since being trapped inside an engineering decontamination chamber almost twelve months ago?
He really, really hasn't been a fan of enclosed spaces.
Like, at all.
Panic is going to have to take a number until he knows what happened to his ship, however. This is a medical therapy chamber, it has to be openable from the inside for patient safety. Except there's no latch on the inside, only…a weirdly shaped hole where the handle probably hasn't been installed yet, because half this freaking ship is still under construction.
Not good. Without Bones around to perform inspections and Spock stretched way too thin to cover for Jim's own inability to perform to his usual way-beyond-normal-human-endurance standard, it looks like Medical's been getting sloppy.
Hoo boy, are heads going to roll over this one, because Bones is going to be triple pissed. Ever since the Warp Core Incident, as they've all so delicately taken to calling it, McCoy has been hovering as if he's a vulture and Jim's a nearly-dead 'possum on an Iowa highway, and it's getting a little old.
Because, come on, he's at least a convalescent 'possum.
He throws his body weight against the door like the not-quite-panicking moron he is, and it doesn't even rock under the impact; then reason forces its way through the haze. Apparently, that part of the construction has been completed to specs, unlike the internal door release.
Sighing, he paces back over to the screen which shows a readout of the room, indicators of the state of the chamber, the door seal, the connected zero-G chamber next door. The screen is fritzing in and out, obviously having been zapped by whatever that power surge was, and he isn't naïve enough to touch it right now; but he can read it well enough between the flashes on and off. He scans the numbers and diagrams carefully.
Makes sure he's read them correctly.
Goes back to panicking.
Takes a breath and lets it out slowly, because he is the goddamn captain of this ship, and he will act like it, even if it kills him.
Okay, even he hears the hysteria in that laugh, so that stops now.
He pulls out that faithful little communicator which is now his only tie to the world beyond, and raises it. "This is the Captain. Commander Spock, do you read me."
There's a crackle of static, then a very faint, garbled response that sounds more annoyed than reassuring. It does temper out about halfway through the response, so he suspects Uhura's working comms magic on the interference up on the Bridge, monitoring the transmissions as she always does everything aboard.
"-sir, we are attempting to -tain the source of the power surge. There have been a - of malfunctions which - through the Medical and Science wings as the result of some undetermined factor we believe originated in Engineering, possibly related to the unusual readings Mr. Scott detected from his remote monitoring on the planet."
"We shouldn't be having any kind of power surge if we're not running Engineering programs other than the automated systems, so that's really alarming. Get him up here and on that, will you? And then you think you can come let me out of this thing?"
There's just a beat of silence, and then Spock's voice again. "What is your location, Captain?"
"Sickbay, the therapy wing. I was inspecting the new hyperbaric chamber for Bones and the door shut on me. Apparently the engineers didn't see fit to install the internal release yet, so." He breaks off when he sees Science blue cover the eight-inch transparent aluminium viewhole which sits at eye level.
He bangs on the door for good measure, mostly to distract himself (and a little just to be annoying, because Spock is taking his sweet time about it, seriously).
"A moment, Captain." The exasperated words are muffled through six inches of duranium, but unmistakable, and he exhales slowly, controlling the panic with an effort. Ten seconds, and his First will have the stupid door open.
Except he doesn't.
And it isn't.
"Today would be great, Spock!"
Silence is not a good sign.
He moves back to the viewer and looks out, only to see his First Officer now halfway across the room, bending over a computer console with three blue-shirted techs, discussing something in animated tones. A young Andorian in Engineering reds comes skidding around the corner from the main wing and drops down below the computer, starts taking the cover off the unit. One of the Medical techs hands her a pair of wire cutters as she gestures to something inside the console, antennae bobbing worriedly.
Okay, not good.
He bangs on the door again. "Guys, I'd really like to get out of here!" He really hopes the high pitch of desperation in his voice can be put down to distortion from the door, because that was just embarrassing.
A few seconds later, Spock's dark eyes and haircut are in his line of vision. "The malfunctions from the power surge have fused the relays which control this door's sealing mechanisms, Captain," he enunciates calmly through the window, and Jim does appreciate the comfort of assurance that someone, at least, knows what is going on.
Except they don't, not really.
"How long before you can get it open?"
"Unknown." Spock knows he sometimes freaks in closed spaces now, has known that since the first night after his complete release from Medical three months back, when he came by that awful 'Fleet-issue apartment one morning and found Jim on the studio balcony, half-frozen but sleeping for the first time in days. "At present, there is no known way to bypass these particular circuits, as they are part of an automated system controlled by the main warp core reactor and therefore unable to be altered due to stability issues with crucial ship's systems. However, repairs on the circuits are being effected as we speak, Captain."
He swallows. "Estimated time of completion?"
"Two hours, sixteen minutes."
He closes his eyes for a moment, and then re-opens them. "I need you to cut it down to one hour, Commander," he says, deadly serious, and Spock's eyebrows inch toward each other in what is obviously thinning patience. Fine, let him think Jim's being a wuss, he's not fit for command because he can't handle being trapped in a small space, he's just throwing his weight around and being a diva, whatever. He can be pissed later.
"Captain, I do not see the necessity –"
"Do I have to make everything an order with you, Spock? God. Maybe I'm not the only one incapable of doing my job right now."
He knows anger will shove the panic out of his voice, and it does.
The tactic works, at least. His First steps back from the window, stiff as ice and just as cold. "I will see to the repairs. Sir," he replies coolly, and snaps into an about-face so sharp it's a wonder Jim can't hear the sound through the door too.
Once the window's clear, he turns his back to the door for a second and then slowly sinks down to the floor, knees drawn up and doing his best to recall a breathing exercise from a recent therapy session that is totally not helping right now, and that was a total waste of 'Fleet time and resources, obviously. Then he pulls out the communicator one more time, and prays the comms are still working on the Bridge after the surge.
It takes a moment, but Uhura finally answers him. "Bridge, Uhura here. Go ahead, Captain."
"Lieutenant, listen carefully. We have a situation developing down in Medical."
"I'm aware, I've been monitoring the messages from there and Engineering." She sounds puzzled. "Was someone hurt in the power surge?"
"Not to my knowledge. But I was inspecting the new decompression chamber in Sickbay when the surge went through. Fried the circuits controlling the door seal."
"You're trapped in there?"
"Well that sucks." Her sympathy is genuine at least, though she's obviously amused. "Is Spock working on getting you out and he's not going fast enough? Or are you just calling me because you're bored. Because I –"
"Listen to me, Nyota. Comm Bones, and get him up here with a team, preferably one who already knows my medical history from the old Enterprise. Do it now."
He may not be in Communications but he can tell when she's snapped into full Officer Mode, even without visual. She'll make one scary captain someday if she ever wants a chair. "Jim, what's going on."
He glances up at the flickering control panel, and closes his eyes again. "The repairs might not get done in time."
"In time for what. Look, I'm comm-ing Spock, okay?"
"Don't you dare, Lieutenant! That is a direct order, and one I am willing to place you on report for disobeying, is that clear?" It's the first time he's ever used that tone with one of his XOs, and he can tell it's completely shocked her speechless. Great, another one of his people he's alienated today; he's two for two.
"What." She's seriously pissed, or scared; he can't tell.
"I'm sorry. But the power surge must have knocked out the pressure controls. The chamber's starting to decompressurize, it's already down to 92%. Based on the square footage and my weight, which isn't even what it used to be…"
"You have less than an hour before that room empties of oxygen, and thirty minutes before you risk a ruptured lung - and you're an unknown risk for cardiopulmonary issues as it is right now, aren't you. Jesus, Jim. You have to tell him!"
"Look, if it does end up being too late, I don't want him looking through another window at this, do you?"
He understands enough colloquial Vulcan to know what that word means, and it makes him grin just a little, because he's pretty sure every dignified Vulcan elder would be duly horrified to hear it used in that context.
"Hold on, I'm comm-ing McCoy. Stay on this line and if that sensor drops into the red zone before you hear back from me, comm me again." Her tone tells him she'll have Bones on a transporter pad so fast he might not even have pants on, but based on how hard he's finding it to breathe (though that could be panic, not oxygen saturation), it might very well not be fast enough.
He had no idea he'd be this scared, the second time around. Funny, how that works.
Maybe this is just karma, because he isn't supposed to be here after all; he just got a little extra time – something most people don't. He should be grateful for that, grateful for the few months he got to spend living a second life. He should just be glad, just be thankful for the extra time.
Instead, he's just terrified.
He sets the communicator down, because the last thing he wants is to drag anyone else into this nightmare, and just tries to focus on slow and steady breathing, though that really isn't going to buy him any significant time.
The occasional spark shoots out of the fritzing display screen, but it still shows a steadily decompressurizing chamber so that means the controls deep inside are either functional or just conducting live power straight from wherever the surge came from. When he gets up to try to salvage something from them, he gets a hefty dose of voltage, high enough to fling him back across the room and into the wall, leaving a burning streak of numbness across his arm and ringing in his ears.
Live conduction it is.
So, that's out.
This chamber is right next to the zero-G chamber, but it doesn't look like they're connected by so much as a ventilation shaft, which makes sense since both chambers are supposed to be airtight. He has no tools to work with, and while there are a few components in his communicator he's used before in hacking situations, none of them in any combination will override a hermetic seal.
He tries activating the computer with his voice recognition, and only gets a series of gibberish that is clear indication something's not right inside; the programming is totally fried.
He doesn't like to give up, but this does look like a fairly unwinnable scenario.
He's getting a little dizzy now. Obviously the oxygen's running thin, but he takes a few seconds to watch out of the door's viewing window as the techs outside scurry around like so many blue-shirted ants, trying to facilitate his escape. Spock is seated at the primary computer, brows drawn and typing with the speed of an absolute machine, so at least the fact that he's pissed isn't slowing him down any.
It's oddly reassuring, and he exhales a sigh of relief as he slides back down to a sitting position on one side of the door.
It doesn't look like they're going to make it anywhere close to an hour, though, because half of that has already passed. Another ten minutes crawls by, broken and unsteady, and he's drowsing his way through another murky dream which would be utterly terrifying if he had the energy to actually think about why nothing seems quite real when there's a sudden commotion in the outer room that jolts him back to wakefulness, even muffled as the sound is.
He further snaps back when an abrupt pounding on the door rattles his teeth, almost drowning out the shouting match going on outside.
But that sounds like…
"Jim! Get your ass up and over here or so help me God I will make you sorry!"
Bones. Wait, that means –
Ah. Uhura disobeyed his orders and called in the cavalry. He is so demoting her if he gets out of here. Which actually isn't likely, but it's the thought that counts. Sighing, he hauls himself to unsteady feet, catches the wall as it tilts to try and neatly deposit him back on the floor again, then once everything settles moves into view of the window on the door.
Bones has that weird half-constipated look on his face that means he's about ten seconds from freaking the hell out, and he's still banging on the door like that's going to do anything except exacerbate the headache and seriously, dude. Enough.
"Jim, how long have you been in there? What does the screen say the current oxygen saturation is?"
"H'lo to you too."
"He has been inside for forty-one minutes, seventeen seconds, Doctor. We have been unable since the surge to ascertain any environmental readings of the room remotely, which is why I was unaware of its current state until a moment ago." Yeah, Spock is seriously pissed off now, not just the usual I want to strangle these humans sometimes especially this one. "Given his current body weight and the typical rate of decompression –"
"I know! Shut up, you're not helping!"
"How close are you to getting that bypass coded?" Uhura interjects, and Jim squints behind her to the…holy crap, eleven techs, Spock must have just drafted a couple people from Comms to code for him now too.
A brief shake of the head tells him what he needs to know, and he closes his eyes, forehead against the cold door.
"Jim, you stay up here, and open your eyes!"
He raises one finger to the glass, and hears a giggle from behind his First that sounds suspiciously like a sob, though he knows Uhura will deny it forever and ever.
"Did you try to remotely access the mainframe and stop the decomp at least?"
"I tried that from the Bridge and had Charlene try from Engineering before even coming down here," Uhura says curtly. "The whole board is shorted out, Engineering was fried something serious in that power surge. We're getting indicators of a steady decrease; Charlene says it looks like the surge locked the controls into one of the presets for a decompression treatment and then blew out the safety protocols."
"Okay…Standard decompression treatment rate means we have about ten minutes left before he's in serious danger of a ruptured lung. If I can get him out in the next eight minutes, I can compensate for the decompression sickness without serious damage to his health, although he's gonna have a whopping case of the bends probably," Bones finally says, looking up from the medical padd screen, eyes pinched. "But after that, it's only a matter of time, and I'm not playin' roulette with his physiology. I need options, people, and I need 'em now. Spock?"
Spock looks totally and 100% freaked, and this is why Jim didn't want him watching, because it sucks.
"I do not have one, Doctor."
Bones looks about five seconds from imploding, so Jim bangs on the door to get their attention, because that's not really fair. "Guys, seriously, it's nobody's fault," he calls, though he's not sure the words are understandable because of the slurring.
"Is there a ventilation shaft? I might be small enough to fit."
"Negative, Lieutenant. This room and the one beyond are purposely constructed to be airtight and ventilation is done via computer controls and a size C-4 ceiling ventilation system, standardized at seven-point-two-five centimeters in diameter."
"Okay, enough talking. I'm gettin' a torch."
"Doctor, the door and walls of that chamber are made from six inches of reinforced duranium to withstand the pressures of being so close to the apex of the saucer section; it would take well over ninety minutes to cut through them even with a high-powered tachyon laser, which is no doubt why the captain never made that suggestion to begin with. Even the detonation of a photon charge against the door or junction of a wall plate would not so much as breach the first layer of shielding on the duranium, and because the new design of this chamber utilizes a compression seal rather than a magnetic seal on the door, the use of extreme heat is inapplicable to open it."
"Then give me another damn option, Spock, because I am not watching him die again!"
He doesn't hear Spock's answer, because his ears are starting to ring weirdly again, and he stumbles back a little, shaking his head like a puppy trying to clear them. The air feels heavy, sitting in his lungs like strangely silent, odorless smoke. The door is cold, ice-cold, deathly cold against his forehead, jolting away the grey haze with a chilled, eerie warning that if he sits down he probably isn't going to get back up again.
He's got a bad feeling that in another five minutes, he won't really have a choice in the matter.
The walls are about to take another lazy loop-da-loop around his head when suddenly there's a mad scramble in the hall and Montgomery Scott barrels into the room, red-faced and out of breath and followed by what have to be a dozen of their brand-new engineering staff, who…are supposed to be down on the planet receiving last-minute training, and geez but none of them even look old enough to be cadets, much less actual Academy graduates.
Is he getting old, or just jaded?
"No, there's naught to be done down there, the circuits are fused so deep in the nacelle it'll be a day and a half before we can run a bypass that way," Scott gasps out before Spock can even voice the inquiry, and gestures wildly with whatever he's holding as he continues. "It'll have t'be the drastic measures, then."
"Mr. Scott." Spock's look darkens as Scott unceremoniously pushes past him toward the computer banks. "We already discussed the possibility of detonating a photon charge to rupture the door's seal, and given the structural specification of the materials used the force will not be effective."
"Of course not, y'bloody fool – it's six inches of reinforced duranium, an' the window as well!"
Jim sees the wide-eyed young techs clustered at the other side of the room all staring like a bunch of petrified owls at their superiors. Likely they're wondering if this is what they can expect from a typical day aboard ship, if this is what she's like when they haven't even recalled the crew or finished construction.
Jim wishes he could tell them otherwise, but, well. Murphy's Law, thy name is Enterprise.
Spock follows Scotty out of eyesight of the door's viewer, still going on about something Jim can't hear because the door is muffling the sounds, or else the ringing in his ears is getting worse…which actually, it is, it's kind of swallowing up everything in a muffled blanket of aching nothingness that is scarily familiar and he is so terrified that it's going to pull him under, he fights it with everything he has.
Funny, how an hour ago he wasn't sure he even wanted to go on this five-year mission, and now he wants it more than anything else in the world.
Everything feels a little underwater now, which probably isn't a good sign. The room spins in a slow, lazy circle, and a reddish haze settles in to permanently frame his vision.
Bones looks up in time to see him slide away from the window, and he hears yelling going on outside that makes him want to get back up but nope, not happening, not today. His legs have other plans, and that stupid viewer is just too far away. Would be nice if they'd quit pounding on the freaking door like it's doing any good, though.
The blur over his eyes is pulsating in time with his heartbeat, strangely loud and slow and almost painful, a tight band around his chest making it hard to breathe and harder to think. It's only after the sixth or seventh annoying little chirp that he realizes his communicator is going off like it's possessed and yeah, he probably should at least try to get that.
It's all he can do just to press the button down to open the channel, they're going to have to just be happy with that.
"Captain. Captain, do you read me." It's a little stupid how painful it is, the idea that he's never going to see this crew again. He should be used to it, by now, but it still hurts.
He feels kind of bad for Uhura, because it would pretty much suck being the one trying to talk to a dead guy, but she's an officer to the last and doggedly keeps at him, trying him two more times even though he can't find the breath to move or answer.
It's on the third time, though, that she breaks off mid-sentence, a tinge of frustrated urgency flashing through her voice like a firestorm.
"Captain, if you can hear me, get down and cover your head, do you copy?"
Ooookay. Weird. Why the –
Some defiant self-defensive part of his brain that is still fighting to not die somehow recognizes the words for what they are only just in time, and he manages an undignified flop onto his side, arms shielding his face, as the computer screen across the room suddenly explodes in a spray of razor-sharp transparisteel shards that blast in every direction like so many small throwing-knives.
Well that escalated quickly.
At this point, the red haze over his vision could also be blood, because hello, knife shower; and his ears are ringing from more than just lack of oxygen now, and he honestly can't tell if the room is spinning from that or if he's actually moving, because he would swear everything feels way too heavy and there's shapes looming at him out of the blur and it's too hard to breathe and he would love to pass out but there's that nagging half-remembered terror in the back of his mind that if he does, he might not wake back up and so he fights it, struggling until the floor stops moving and is cold and hard against his back again, extra-terra firma.
Then suddenly, from out of that limbo of floating dissociation, there's a jolt of air so cold and clean it makes his whole body seize up, and his lungs spasm with the surprise of being able to actually expand, which apparently makes them decide that hey, he doesn't need both of them, one is more than enough and he should cough the other one up instead.
"There we go. Thank God for anti-seizure medication…Jesus, Jim, take it easy. You just got to be a drama queen, don't you."
"Doctor, your levity is inappropriate, and your efforts better spent on seeing to the captain's well-being."
"Shut up and hold his head while I get this gash bandaged. And you got no right to be callin' me out on how I'm acting. I'm not the one doing his dead level best to make the man doubt himself every time he turns around."
"Doctor, that is n –"
"Okay, I got the bleeding sealed, at least the worst of it. Now get him in that compression suit."
What has to be an oxygen mask is placed over his nose and mouth, bringing a steady stream of increasing clarity and with it, the increasingly painful knowledge that he's going to have one hell of a case of the bends, even with the compression suit he's being manhandled into by Bones and his First Officer.
And apparently Bones is taking the opportunity to go for the metaphorical jugular while they're at it, like the tactician very few people know he is. Jim knows, which is why he's avoided Starfleet Medical like a plague planet ever since being put back on duty. He winces as one arm is sealed into the compression suit, a flash of pain worse than any charley horse crawling up the arm into his cramping shoulder. The sharp press of a hypospray into his neck dulls the agony slightly, and he turns his head, opening his eyes again.
"You with me now? Not gonna be fun for the next few hours, Jim, you know the drill." He'd been scuba diving once at the Academy years ago and ended up with a case of the bends after going too deep against instructions. The hyperesthesia is already starting, everything seeming way too loud, way too bright. "You're lucky to be alive."
"I'm aware," he rasps, looking around the room. He's still in Sickbay, just outside the door of the zero-G chamber. "What…" His eyes fall on the group of clustered technicians from Engineering, still gathered across the room, wide-eyed with shock, unmistakable fear, and what looks suspiciously like awe. "Oh, for - seriously?"
"Not like we could just boot them out, Jim, that's cold. They were worried."
"Get me up."
"Are you insane, man?"
"I said, get me up. Spock?"
He only just now notices Spock is in some weird armored EV suit with the helmet and gloves discarded on the floor, but the bulky accoutrements don't prevent his First from giving him a look that clearly says you are a moron, sir and helping him to his feet. They must make a weird looking pair, both in relatively experimental Starfleet gear, but the relieved looks on his new crewmen's faces when he makes it to his feet and manages to stay there by sheer willpower and stubbornness (and a Vulcan hand under his arm) make it worth the fact that he wants to curl up in a fetal position and just cry like said fetus. If fetuses cried.
Whatever, this day sucks.
"Gentlemen, this wasn't the itinerary I had planned for your first evening aboard," he says, managing a ghostly smile, and receives a set of incredulous looks and WTFs in return. "Lesson number one: safety protocols aboard this ship are paramount, because lives depend upon them. I should have engaged a magnetic lock to keep the door open while I was inside that room. Lesson two: for God's sake, finish a job before moving on, will you? If I find out which idiot didn't install the release handle inside that thing, I swear he will be working Waste Recycling for the first year of the voyage, if he survives Mr. Scott's disciplinary action, the technical details of which I frankly don't care about at the moment. Any questions?"
A chorus of no, sirs and nervous laughs answers him, and he smiles tiredly, hoping they can't tell he's starting to get dizzy again. "Dismissed, then. Report to the quartermaster if you'd like to spend the night aboard, otherwise report to Mr. Scott for beamdown coordinates."
Barely has the last young ensign crossed the threshold than his legs buckle under him, and two blue-shirted arms catch him on both sides, easing him back down to the floor, which doesn't feel any more stable sitting than it did standing. Yay, vertigo along with everything else. He's thankful Uhura and Scotty had had the sense to go back to their departments once he was out, knowing he wouldn't want them seeing him like this; they know him well. Too well, maybe, by now.
"Hey, 'least I'm already in Sickbay," he says, half-seriously. "Not far to walk, Bones."
"You're lucky you can even sit upright, Jim, the way you're just giving us the whole spectrum of symptoms except the real serious ones. Five more minutes and I don't think we'd be having this conversation."
He swallows hard, because a faint feeling in the back of his mind, the part that's still terrified, knows McCoy's right. "I still don't know what happened, anyway."
Bones glances up at Spock, who shifts uneasily. He's still got a hand on Jim's arm, which is a little weird, and also a little disquieting, because he could totally be downloading all that emotional crap and Jim would really like to not be broadcasting his fear of dying all over the place, thank you very much.
"Apparently, Captain, Engineer Scott was aware of a detail in the blueprints for this section which we were not; namely, that the zero-G chamber and the decompression chamber share the same computer console between them, in order to save funds during construction. Therefore, there was no six-inch wall of durasteel between the chambers in that intervening space; merely, the space occupied by a computer bank and console."
"Uh, yeah, I saw those blueprints myself…a computer that's top of the line and the first of its kind to be installed in a starship. It took two years for the Daystrom Corporation just to construct the prototype and cost the 'Fleet like my whole year's salary." His eyes widen, horrified. "You didn't!"
Bones cringes, both hands pressing at his eyeballs. "I can't talk about it."
"Oh my God."
"It was an equitable trade."
"Oh my God, Spock, do you have any idea what you just cost the 'Fleet?"
"There was no acceptable alternative, as we were left with mere minutes before your death, Captain. Neither Engineer Scott nor I were willing to accept that alternative."
"Now look here, neither was I, you green-blooded –"
"Easy, Bones, we know." He pats the poor guy's arm commiseratingly; besides the emotional stress of the last few minutes, the man did just sort of lose a child. A million-credit child. "Anyway, how are my lungs not painting the inside of that room, if you recompressurized it so suddenly by blowing up that thing? Because I remember one hell of an explosion."
"We engaged the highest possible gravity simulation in the adjoining zero-G chamber, to reproduce an environment that was as close as physically sustainable to the conditions in the compression chamber. While not identical, we were of the hope that the difference would be negligible enough that partial recompression into a similar environment due to intense gravitational strain would enable your extraction without serious injury to your physiology."
"Holy…setting off a detonation in that high a gravity simulation? You could have blown a hole in the hull! Brought the room down on yourself! That shrapnel could have torn right through your suit, because you couldn't have used a delayed charge, it wouldn't have been precise enough - are you insane?"
"Yes," Bones says sourly. "Just because the idiot was born on a high-gravity planet, somehow he thinks that makes him the most qualified to play hero."
"My reflexes and higher bone density, Doctor, made me the only logical choice to withstand such a high gravity environment long enough to retrieve the captain from his predicament. None of you would have been able to do so without assistance and time which we did not have."
"Alls I'm saying is, it's a little weird how quick you were to march into hell for him, given how you two have been going at it like a divorcing couple the last few weeks. I've been takin' bets on when plates are gonna start flyin' down in Officers' Mess."
Spock's pale face flushes a light green either from annoyance or embarrassment, and Jim's too tired to try and determine which.
He's too tired of walking on eggshells around his staff, trying to figure out this weirdness which is the bizarre reverence they're treating him with post-resurrection, tired of grieving for yet another future unrealized with no time to grieve, Christopher Pike having been long memorialized by the time he woke up. Tired of walking the halls of this familiar but unfamiliar ship, trying to not see the ghosts lurking in every corridor, of crewmen long and not long gone.
Tired of wondering whether or not he actually is capable of taking command of another crew, and leaving the safety of colonized space for such a long period of time, all alone in the void and dependent on no decisions but his own, which up until now have been doubted even by the best of his command staff and himself.
"Jim, I need to get you on a bio-bed so I can monitor your oxygen levels."
"Nope, 'M good here."
"Well, too bad. Make yourself useful, Spock."
"I hate you. Both of you." He chokes on a curse as he's hauled upright again, tries to get his eyes to stop rolling back in his head away from the blinding lights. "I'm gonna be sick, Bones."
"That's just the vertigo, and you can't afford to lose those fluids. Close your eyes until we get you settled. You remember your name, where we are, what stardate it is?"
"I remember I wanted to promote Chapel and transfer you to the Excelsior. And Admiral Barrett will probably send me with you when she finds out we destroyed the 'Fleet's only installed M-5 computer model."
"Don't remind me." Bones's hand tightens on his arm as his knees suddenly lock up on him, nearly dropping him like deadweight. "Severe joint pain's pretty standard after decompression. You hurting?"
"What do you think." He grits out between a locked jaw, stumbling forward another step.
"Don't you sass me, Jim, I'm on your side here. There we go."
Eyes on the floor, he exhales shakily. "How much farther?"
"Here, Captain." Ah. Home sweet home, his own personal recovery cubicle in Sickbay, so called because of the amount of time he's spent in it over the last couple of years. Scotty even laser-engraved his name on the end of the bio-bed as a prank while he was unconscious once, and no one ever bothered to buff it out because, well. Why bother.
Bones has the panels and monitors over his head all whirring within seconds, taking readings from the pressurized suit he's still squashed inside, and then he dims the lights and mutes the sensors, chuckling softly when Jim gives him heavily padded jazz hands in lieu of thumbs up at the cessation of sensory perception.
"I'm going to go update Scotty and the Bridge. You got five minutes, Commander, and that's only because if you don't fix this? You deal with me."
Eyes closed to clear his thoughts, Jim hears that last shot fired at point-blank range over his head, and he cringes inwardly, not daring to open his eyes for a moment afterwards. Bones's footsteps fade in the direction of his office, and then there's a thud and a muttered curse a moment later as the sliding door obviously does not yet move on the track correctly. Someone in Engineering's about to get a comm that will be talked about below decks for weeks.
Dead silence, broken only by the soft chirping of the sole sensor monitoring his oxygen intake.
Here we go.
He sighs, opens his eyes. Spock is standing almost at attention beside his bio-bed, and there's just no way he's dealing with this.
"Look, if we're going to have another of these conversations, you've got to sit down."
His First looks pointedly around the empty cubicle.
"So go get a chair, or sit on the bed. I don't freaking bite. God, are you trying to piss me off lately? Because I know I can be an asshole, but I really don't think I've done anything to deserve that, not recently anyway. I thought we were past this."
To his surprise, Spock sits abruptly on the edge of the bed and looks down at his hands, clasped in front of him. They look weirdly thin, sticking ungloved out of the bulky EV suit. "You have done nothing."
"Okay, so you're just being a dick for no reason, then. Awesome. Good talk." He closes his eyes with a grimace as the room starts to spin again, pulse pounding in his ears like heavy bass music.
"That is not – I am not intentionally…engaging in such behavior." Now that's just freaky; he's literally never heard the guy stutter before.
"So…" He pinches the bridge of his nose for a second as the room tilts in a slow, nauseating circle, "...what exactly is going on then?"
"I do not know."
"I am not being untruthful," his First Officer repeats earnestly, and Jim blinks in surprise, because it looks like he's dead serious – he really doesn't. "I do not know, Captain. I am at a loss to explain the sudden friction between us."
"Uh, the friction is due to the fact that every time I turn around you're telling me why I'm unfit to captain a five-year mission in deep space, and I already freaking know that, so why the hell would I want the one person whose support I actually need, reminding me. I have no clue what your problem is."
Spock's eyes widen slightly, obviously before Vulcan control can suppress the reaction.
"What, you really think I'm arrogant enough to think this is going to be a cakewalk? I'm terrified, Spock. I still can't walk into Engineering without pausing outside to pull myself together, and the idea that half the crew I set out with the first time are still out there, dead and lost somewhere in the void of space? I didn't even write the condolence letters, Spock, because I couldn't hold a freaking stylus for two months and no one in the psych ward would let me see the list of the dead anyway."
With good reason; when he finally had, the setback hadn't been pretty.
"The only person on the Board who was ever on my side in anything, is dead, and there's at least four Admirals who'd love nothing more than to see me die for keeps in a Klingon firefight our first month out so they get rid of their problem child with little to no paperwork involved."
He chokes on the next sentence but doggedly continues, because there has not been, and never will be, time for grieving; what's done, is done, and can't be undone – they know this, better than anyone in their respective worlds.
"Chris will never be able to help us out of a jam again, I am totally on my own for this thing, and the last decisions I made in that chair up there? Got half my crew killed by a psychopathic human. Just a human, Spock! And now they want to send us into unexplored space?"
Either Bones's last hypo had the Really Good Drugs in it, or he's just been holding this back waaaaay too long, because he did not mean to say that much. The blood pressure monitor over his head beeps warningly at him, and he exhales slowly, staring at the thermal blanket Bones had thrown over him more for comfort than warmth before leaving earlier.
"I am so scared it's not even funny, Spock. And if my own staff – my second in command -doesn't think I can do this, well…I might as well have never woken up."
He glances up just in time to see his supposedly unemotional First Officer turn the same color as the white EV suit he's wearing, and it's then that the power cell goes on over his head, and he realizes what's been happening.
"Wait, are you…you're being an asshole because you legit don't want to go out there again, do you?"
"Your conclusions are erroneous, Captain. And furthermore –"
"I wondered why you haven't stepped foot on the Bridge unless I've dragged you there. Why you've driven every department head out of their mind with a ridiculous number of security checks on every detail of ship's systems. Why it was you, not Scotty, that got the launch delayed another month."
"That is simply a pre-launch precaution."
"That is paranoia, Spock. And I get it, because you know how many times I've already had Scotty run through the safety protocols for the warp core alignment? Paranoia in an officer isn't necessarily a bad thing, but denial is. Dude, I'm a fricking head case, but I can at least admit that."
A huff of air which is the closest he'll ever get to hearing a Vulcan laugh, and Spock finally looks up. And for the first time, in what seems like a very long time, it's like looking into a mirror instead of a stranger's eyes.
"You do know, I can't apologize to you for what I did, right?" he asks quietly. "And I will do the same thing again, if I have to."
"I am aware. It is my intention to ensure the situation does not arise again; therefore the argument is a moot point."
"Uh, good. But this mission? This five years in uncharted space, totally on our own, responsible for that many lives and cut loose for actual exploration and diplomatic negotiations, not just milk runs anymore? I can't do this without you, Spock. Hell, I'm not sure I can do it with you. And if you don't have any faith in me? In us? We're dead before we launch. And that scares me more than the launch itself does."
Spock is silent, looking down at the thermal blanket as if it holds all the answers to their screwed up lives. Finally he speaks, though his eyes remain downcast.
"My faith in you has never wavered, Captain."
"Well, that's indication in itself that you're a head case too, but go on?"
His gentle attempt at humor is met with no reaction, which is concerning, but the room's starting to spin again and it's all he can do to keep his eyes from rolling back in his head. He senses more than sees Spock start to move, and knows with that weird accuracy that scares everyone on board that he's going to comm Bones and tattle on him, so he reaches out half-blindly and manages to snag one arm of the bulky EV suit before its owner fully slides off the bed.
"Captain, you are in need of attention."
"That's twice in the last five minutes you've evaded my questions, Spock. What are you afraid of telling me?"
He feels the sudden stillness of the arm underneath him, and realizes he just probably hit the magnetic fastener right on the head – and really, that should have been his first conclusion, but he can't really be blamed for not assigning an emotion to the least emotional crewman aboard, can he?
"Fear is an emotion, Captain. One which –"
"Fear is a response to a stimulus, you idiot." He leans back, rubbing his temples wearily. "You can't prevent its occurrence with your freaky Vulcan Way any more than you can prevent the reflex of jerking your hand back from a plasma burn. That's a psycho-medical fact, ask Bones. Or any of the other shrinks they sicced on me in the last six months, I'm basically an expert on like everything by now."
Spock's WTF look would be hilarious if he wasn't in so much pain right now.
"Is that what this is all about? Seriously? You're pissed at me, because you're scared? You delayed my launch by a month, because you're afraid of what might happen again?"
Spock's fumble for a response is both indignant and inelegant, and he just stares at the guy for a minute, blinking.
"Dude, you could have just said that, you know, instead of stalling the Engineering overhauls for another two weeks in drydock. You think you're the only one waking up at night dreaming about the warp core chamber?"
"Vulcans do not dream."
He raises an eyebrow. "Tell that to the person whose cabin isn't connected to yours by a lavatory, Spock. Ask Uhura why she suddenly requested you start spending the night in her cabin instead of yours a few months after we launched last time."
Spock's look of dawning Surak please kill me where I stand would be hilarious in other circumstances.
"Look. Whatever this is, it stops, here and now. I will not have the command chain of this ship at anything other than their combined best when we launch, and that starts with us. All that mess from Nibiru, and all that baggage still hanging around from afterward, it's got to go, or we're going to get someone killed. We get it together, or we get out. Understood?"
Spock looks at him strangely for a moment.
"I'm not asking you to promise me five years, Spock. I can't make that promise myself. Hell, knowing our luck, we could go up in a fireball in the first twelve months, I could totally go off the rails and you could go running back to New Vulcan to make babies with Uhura, who knows. I just…I need to know you're behind me now. That's all I'm asking for."
"I will give you no cause to doubt the fact again, Captain."
"Thank you." Two words, but they lift a sword he suspects neither had really been aware was hanging over them, undealt-with since before the whole mess with Khan had even begun brewing. "Now, I still say we're both a little nuts."
"There is evidence to support that hypothesis."
His laughter sets off a bio-bed alarm in the CMO's inner office, they can hear the siren all the way out here. It's followed post-haste by a startled crash and outburst of very creative metaphors involving various Starfleet personnel both on the ship and not.
"Touchy," he observes succinctly, glancing up at the monitors.
"Indeed. This will prove most efficacious in keeping patients within Sickbay for the intended duration of their stay. I suspect the modification was installed at Doctor McCoy's specific request."
"It was one time. One."
"One disappearance which resulted in the entire ship being put on a Gold Alert before you were finally located, unconscious in a Jefferies tube forty meters from your quarters."
"You know you'd miss it."
"There is also evidence to support that hypothesis."