Title: Mark of the Beast (7/9)
Fandom: Star Trek AOS
Summary: The Enterprise falls into yet another ill-timed scheme. A terrible choice must be made—and honored.
Previous Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
Or read at AO3
There is a mention of a race encountered in a TOS episode “Errand of Mercy.” We will assume, for the purpose of this story, that those events take place in AOS ‘verse sooner or later.
Jim is detained by the appearance of the Basilisk in his path to Bones and Spock. The slightly transparent form asks Jim, without speaking, “Should I finish this game, Captain, or is your word honorable?”
Sucking in a breath, Jim nods his head and reluctantly looks away from his lovers. Spock has McCoy—the man is safe. They’ll both be safe, Jim reminds himself. He turns on his heel and follows the gliding image of man from the courtyard.
They do not enter the Palace. Rather, the Basilisk leads the Captain through the twists and turns of the Garden Maze until they come to a dead-end of tall, broken-branched hedges. Through the sliver of a parting between them is an old mortared wall.
“Close your eyes and step forward.”
Jim’s mind balks at those words. “Into the wall?”
“Shall we end the charade now? I have no more time for hesitancy, James Tiberius.”
Jim closes his eyes, thinks of the bloodied side of Bones’ face and begins to walk forward. He pulls from the reserves of an iron will to keep his eyes from opening (he hates being blind). His body walks through what feels like mist.
He does so and opens his eyes. The room is shabby, walls covered in half-rotten tapestry and stagnant dark water puddling uneven patches of stone floor. Jim almost brings his arm up to cover his nose, for the air has the rank smell of decay.
“Your servants are a little slack on the job, Your Excellency. You may want to acquire better hired help.”
There is a man’s sharp laugh from behind him. Jim spins around, looks, and stumbles back in horror.
“Does this please you?” says George Kirk. Jim will wonder later if the Basilisk had copied his father’s voice too.
“No!” His temper soars. “That’s not your face! Use someone else’s—anyone else’s!” (Jim’s heart is in his throat.)
The elder Kirk slides away and reforms into the visage the Captain has come to associate with the Basilisk—cold, ageless like polished marble. Jim drags stiff fingers through his hair and gets down to business. “What is it that you want from me? My soul?”
The Basilisk stares ahead and begins to walk slowly through the room, hands tucked into the sleeves of a long ornate robe. “I need more than your soul.”
“What else is there?”
Jim slowly follows the drifting ruler. They both stop at a tall pedestal on which a glass ball rests. Jim thinks there might be something flittering about inside. He cannot be sure but is unwilling to approach it.
“I need all which composes James Tiberius Kirk. I need…” The Basilisk’s voice deepens from his usual cadence. (There is a frightening hunger in it.) “…a new host.”
Kirk’s mouth thins into a grim line. “Why?”
The Basilisk says, “You are like what I once was—ambitious; one which knows power and accepts it into himself.”
Jim hates the thought of being anything like this monster. “I wouldn’t say we are alike in the least. I don’t manipulate people.”
“You wield control over others. You are Captain.” His emphasis tightens the muscles in Jim’s back.
“I make necessary command decisions. I take responsibility for the power I use—and I try my best to do what’s right in the name of what—and who—I represent.” Jim approaches the Basilisk from the opposite side, circling. “As far as I can tell, you only take.“
That stops the Captain. “Feed?”
“Yes.” The Basilisk tilts his head (perhaps eyeing Jim in a way that a man eyes his dinner). “On the energy of the soul.”
Jim crosses his arms. “Either you explain everything, or we can end this talk right now.”
The voice of the Basilisk (where does it come from?) stays silent. Then, “As you wish. You will understand soon enough, regardless.”
“When a… being dies, that which is its essence releases from the body. The ‘soul’ as you Terrans term it. It is a state of energy that resides within you—is you. Upon death, the soul supersedes into a more potent form of energy.” The Basilisk’s mouth gapes as if he laughs. “Sadly, a state which many infant races are not capable of sustaining.”
Jim stares. “The Organians.” Suddenly, he does wish for that race of people; at least, they were peaceful in their dealings with the Captain (and Klingons).
“Beings of pure energy, though once much like the rest of our galaxy.” The Basilisk smiles, then, and Jim decides that all this bastard is missing is the razor-sharp teeth of a predator. “You may refer to me as the… antipathy of the Organians.”
“So you lack a soul of your own? Wow, somehow that does not surprise me.”
The Basilisk’s voice drifts through Jim’s mind, amused. “You will not offend me, Captain. I am what I am. I do what I must to survive.”
All this lacks, Jim decides, is a fascinated inquisitive Vulcan. If Kirk gets the chance (sadly, he doesn’t think that he will), he shall have to recall this conversation verbatim to satisfy Spock’s curiosity. “Why do you need me as a… host?”
“What you see before you is an illusion. My true form is unpleasant, given its age.”
No shit. Tell me something I haven’t already guessed. “Don’t worry, I’d rather you didn’t prove it.”
The Basilisk ignores his flippant remark. “Like the Organians, I project an appearance that you can comprehend, if I must, to mask my true self. I can create many illusions if my reserve is sufficient. However, I cannot sustain this body. My… habits wear it down.”
Suddenly that servant’s words make sense. “‘The Mark of the Third,'” Jim repeats aloud.
“Yes, every third turn of one hundred of your Earth years, I must acquire a new host.” The Basilisk reaches out and Jim steels himself from stepping back. “I have chosen you, James Tiberius. I find your form pleasing. I can taste a hint of your soul; it is delicious.”
“And you don’t find it easy to just body-snatch me like one of your Lessers?”
“By mutual contract, I do not feed on the Lessers. They serve my will as I deem necessary and in return I do not consume them.”
Jim’s waiting for the “at least not until the Lesser becomes useless.” He doubts that the Basilisk is wasteful with potential meals. Doesn’t matter. The Lessers are still prisoners to a monster.
“So you only eat the souls of the ‘servants’ until they waste away,” he says in disgust. “Do you cut out their tongues too?”
“So harsh. What need have I to physically harm such pathetic animals? No, Captain—” The creature rests his right hand over the glass ball as he speaks, “—a majority of this planet’s native inhabitants are born mute. I believe that they were once—what is your word?—ah yes, empaths, and only required the necessity of mind-speech.”
Jim swallows. “You’re—”
“An out-worlder? Originally, but this has been my home for many years. I almost—forget, sometimes.”
God, this thing—it’s a plague. Jim feels a torrent of questions run through his mind as he processes the implications of the Basilisk’s words.
Does it descend upon a planet of harmless people and consume them into oblivion? How many years—millennia—before it finishes feeding? How long has the Basilisk been here?
How long before it moves on?
“I need you… Jim. There has been no candidate for my transform until now. I must have you—all that you are.”
“And if I refuse?”
“You will not refuse. You have seen my power; you understand, as only the ruthless of your kind can. Should you deny my request…” The glass ball under the Basilisk’s hand swirls with blackness. “First, I will consume your party—your lovers—and then I will lure the rest of your crew to the surface.” Jim feels an iciness settling into his limbs. “I shall feed upon them until they are but each a faint memory of himself—that of a face—and joins the collective of what remains.”
Jim wants to rage at the blatant ill-will of the Basilisk’s callous words, but his mouth is dry and his legs won’t move, as if lead weights bear them down.
“Do you accept, Jim?”
He closes his eyes and sways. He pictures Spock standing in the doorway to the Captain’s quarters, saying, “Permission to enter?” Bones, grinning, as he comes out of the Captain’s bathroom rubbing at his wet hair and wearing Jim’s gold command shirt.
Both Spock and Bones—Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoy—standing in front of Jim as a gaggle of women at a Federation ball attempt to commandeer the Captain for too many dances. (He loves that memory, in particular how the evening ended in a tangle of sheets and limbs.)
Kissing McCoy senseless in the CMO’s office.
Touching fingertips with Spock secretly in the lift.
Sweet sensation; electric shocks.
All of it, a thousand wonderful memories and little regret.
When Jim returns to the world again, the Captain is resigned to the triumph in the Basilisk’s eyes.
So it is that the end circles back to the beginning. Spock and Leonard find Jim inside the Center Court facing the dais with hollow eyes. When they shake his body—catch him and pull him into their arms—the look shatters into disquieting adoration. Jim touches Spock’s face and rubs his cheek across the Vulcan’s. He hooks his arm around Leonard’s neck and touches their foreheads together.
What’s wrong, Jim? Are you hurt? What did he do to you? Jim? Say something!—
A hundred rapid-fire questions and the only answer that Jim can give them is a sad laugh and the words, “It’s over. He’ll let us return to the Enterprise now.”
Leonard pulls back. “What did you do, Jim?”
“Nothing, Bones.” Jim does not say not yet.
“I don’t believe you.”
Jim looks to Spock, who adds, “Nor I, Jim. The Basilisk would not free us without achieving his goal.”
The Captain stays quiet; his arms drop to his sides and he walks away, knowing that Leonard and Spock will follow. He leads them unerringly back to the section of the Palace in which they reside as guests. First, Kirk stops in the gathering room of the security officers. He tells the startled faces to pack what they brought. Moving on, the three walk into the Captain’s rooms.
It’s then that Kirk tells them, “We leave at dawn.”
“Like Hell!” McCoy steps up to Kirk (doesn’t touch him). “Look at my face, Jim. Is that the result of nothing? You are telling us that this… thing that harms people as easily as it breathes is letting us go?” Leonard snaps, “Bullshit!“
The Captain’s words have no heat to them. “Nothing I say will change your mind. What will it take to convince you, Bones? When we set foot on the transporter?”
“When Lieutenant Reeves functions better than a shell of a man! Or did you conveniently forgotten the Basilisk’s victims?“
Jim’s eyes grow dark. “It can’t be helped.”
“Not even Karla’s stabbing?”
“Yuise is dead.”
McCoy stops. “What?”
“She’s dead, Bones. She’s been dead since the night of the Basilisk’s entertainment,” Jim tells them bitterly.
“He told you that?”
Spock interrupts. “Captain, what else did the Basilisk apprise you of?”
“And what did he do to Reeves?” Leonard wants to know.
Jim looks away, his hand sliding into his pocket. (His fingers touch the cool glass of a small bottle.) “Not much. I will explain later, once we get out of here.” His voice is quiet as he says, “That’s an order, gentlemen.”
Leonard’s jaw is working and Spock remains unmoved. So Jim does the only thing that he can, to save them all—he walks away.