Changing of the Guard (2/3)

Date:

0

Title:Changing of the Guard (2/3)
Author: klmeri
Fandom: Star Trek AOS
Pairing: Kirk/Spock/McCoy
Warning: Violence (fighting with weapons)
Summary: For the ISS Enterprise, a prisoner transfer is business as unusual. Having a bond form between the three most dangerous officers on the ship. What is a starship captain to do?
Part: 1


In the captain’s quarters, the soft chiming of an incoming vid call wakes Christopher Pike up from a light sleep. He is out of bed in an instant, for in his many years of experience, unplanned long distance communications generally precede high priority emergencies.

“Computer, lights fifty percent. Accept call,” he says as he strides past the wall partition separating his bedroom from the main cabin. His awareness sharpens when he rounds his desk and sees the person on his computer screen.

If an emergency is imminent, the man doesn’t show it. Although to be fair, Pike thinks, Alexander Marcus never looks distressed or harried, even when outmaneuvered or outnumbered by an enemy. Pike has learned a few useful tricks about playing it cool during a crisis from his long-term sponsor.

“Did you receive my message?” Marcus begins without ceremony.

The tactless question scratches Christopher’s temper, though he contains his reaction to sounding mildly annoyed. “You know that answer, Admiral, or you wouldn’t have woken me up.”

“Well?” demands the admiral. “Why haven’t you responded?”

Pike takes a seat, his annoyance ratcheting up another notch. “Because I haven’t told Kirk yet.” Running fingers through his sleep-disheveled hair, he huffs. “Why the hurry?”

Marcus’s gaze becomes hooded. “How much does Kirk know?”

Pike stills. “About, specifically?”

“Vulcan,” is the flat reply. “Does he know about Vulcan?”

Pike chooses his answer with care. “I believe he does.” Knows that Kirk does, since Christopher made a point to tell him about the betrayal. But Marcus wouldn’t like that.

Following a brief silence, Marcus leans back, scrutinizing Pike more closely than before. “While it may be fortunate to some that Kirk survived, Command can’t afford to admit their incompetence to the Emperor.”

“I assumed that was the problem,” Pike agrees. “It would explain why they’re considering handing him a commendation for valor instead of an execution order.”

“And why they’re willing to overlook his attachment to that Vulcan,” Marcus adds.

“It is what it is,” says Pike, unable to soften the sharpness of his tone. “I won’t hand over Kirk.”

Marcus nods like he knew there could be no other answer. “Tell the brat I said to cool his heels in the meantime. With the Babel Conference coming up, not a soul at Headquarters will look lightly upon shenanigans.”

Only Marcus could use such an old-fashioned term and make it sound like a serious threat. But Christopher’s temper has eased; he feels more amused than anything. “I think you and I have done enough on James’s behalf, don’t you?”

“More than enough,” replies Marcus with a hint of regret. “Send a formal acceptance of the commendation. If we’re lucky, that will be the end of it. And, Captain…” The admiral’s tone flattens. “It would not be advisable to have the Vulcan at the conference. Not with Ambassador Sarek attending.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Which is why I won’t waste my breath by ordering you.” Marcus’s gaze stays intent on Pike for a moment. “Good luck, Christopher,” he says finally, and the computer screen goes dark.

Pike props an elbow on the desk and settles his mouth against his knuckles in thought.

Marcus does indeed understand his point of view—and no doubt shares the same suspicions.

If Spock is a spy for the Vulcan Empire, then the Babel Conference is the perfect opportunity for any spy to pass on intel to someone of appropriate rank or intimate connection. And what better contact than an ambassador from the Vulcan High Council, able to move unfettered between the empires and who also happens to be family?

Command may not want Pike to add strain to an already tenuous relationship with the Vulcans, but from Christopher’s perspective there may not be another opportunity like this one. As an Imperial officer, he is honor-bound to uncover Spock’s motive for joining Starfleet.

But more importantly, Pike fears Kirk may have unwittingly made a move against the empire, a fatal one that could end with both their heads on the chopping block. If his heir has no future, Christopher has no future.

How strange, he muses while absentmindedly clicking off the computer screen, that it would be possible for one person—a child, really—to dictate another person’s actions.

And all for the sake of being of his blood.

He moves from the desk back to his bedroom, ordering the ship’s computer to dim the lights once more.

~~~

Pike navigates the maze-like hallway of Science in search of the tiny office at its heart. For being the second largest department on the Enterprise, the accommodations are incongruently small and uncomfortable, but Pike has noted that most of the staff do not appear to mind. Compared to other close-quartered groups on the ship, Science rarely reports altercations or incidents of disobedience, either a more cohesive team as a whole or being able to resolve their conflicts quietly. Pike is curious to find out if the atmosphere will flourish or dissolve, given the recent change in leadership.

When he enters the office, the captain is surprised by the immediate greeting of said leader, his new Science Officer standing in parade rest behind the desk. Had someone warned the Vulcan of his impending arrival, or is it true that a Vulcan’s hearing is acuter than a human’s? Yet another fact Christopher must discover about his recruit.

He forgoes taking a seat by the desk as he would have done in the former science officer’s presence and locks his hands behind his back, following the curve of the opposite wall to where built-in shelving is available to display one’s commendations and personal effects. The shelves in Mr. Spock’s office are bare.

Pike turns back to study the uncluttered desk next and then the emblem of the Terran Empire painted on the wall behind it. Finally, his gaze lights on the Vulcan. “Interesting,” he remarks. “One of the basic amenities of a prisoner is a beard inhibitor. Did we forget to include it in your daily kit?”

In contrast to Pike’s lightly puzzled tone, Spock’s is deceptively neutral. “I chose not to use it,” he tells Pike.

“Hm. I thought the Vulcan Empire prohibits their officers from having facial hair.”

“That is correct.”

“I see,” Pike says more softly. “In any event, Mr. Spock, your determination to break with tradition astounds me.”

Spock raises an eyebrow. “One can value tradition and at the same time appreciate the value of change, Captain.”

Pike strides to the desk, then, and sits down. Spock pauses a moment before he joins Pike in sitting, which coming from any other officer would be a sign of respect. However Christopher has heard that Vulcans as a general rule don’t stand on ceremony with each other as Terrans do.

Spock continues to be a conundrum.

Pike picks the conversation back up as if no time has passed, saying, “Your presence aboard the Enterprise is a change we both must adapt to.” He crosses one leg over the other before balancing an arm across the top of his knee. “If the change becomes overwhelming, I expect you to tell me.”

“Your concern is appreciated.”

Pike smiles thinly. “My concern isn’t for you, Lieutenant-Commander. I have four hundred other officers on this ship, most of whom are very sensitive about having you here. When there is unrest among my crew, my duty is to resolve it by any means necessary, which to be blunt may entail terminating the contract concerning your integration.”

Spock inclines his head ever-so-slightly. “To choose the welfare of the many over the one is logical.”

Pike loses his smile. “Even if it means kicking you out of Starfleet?”

“I highly doubt I would be relieved of my commission, Captain. I am told there are certain… incentives to High Command in allowing me to stay.” Following the polite but pointed counter-argument, Spock adjusts his posture such that his elbows come to rest on his chair’s arms. He steeples his fingers and looks at Pike with the interest of someone anticipating a heated debate.

Pike wavers between being insulted and appalled by his junior officer’s arrogance. Under normal circumstances, he would quietly add the man to his blacklist and try to dispose of him shortly thereafter but as this particular individual poses a special case, Pike’s hands are tied.

And Spock, the bastard, knows it.

Pike adopts a friendly smile again, taking great pleasure in pursuing the only route open to him. “That brings to mind why I’m here, Mr. Spock. The ship’s Chief Medical Officer has made it known he is willing to learn more about your species, medically speaking. Given that Vulcan biology in general is still quite the mystery to us humans, I believe you will agree that you can provide a unique and extremely valuable service to the Terran Empire.”

The Vulcan has frozen in his chair.

“Of course,” Pike continues on, “as an officer of Starfleet, you are entitled to health care and we do want to provide you the most effective treatment possible should injury or sickness befall you during duty. Therefore it is logical to pursue the medical examinations as both parties will benefit from them.” He stands up. “Report to Sickbay at oh-eight-hundred tomorrow. I’ll inform McCoy of the good news.”

“Sir.” Spock peels himself out of his chair when Pike is at the office door, sounding rattled for the first time since their introduction.

Christopher doesn’t allow his officer time to voice the protest, hurrying into the hallway the second the door whooshes open. Some of the scientists in the hallway watch his quick-footed escape curiously, and Pike cannot help but wink at them as he goes.

How apt, he decides, his pace slowing as he reaches the deck’s main corridor, that the more childish methods for handling a challenging subordinate will be what effectively keeps Mr. Spock in line. Unbeknownst to the Vulcan, Pike has had plenty of practice at it already.

It occurs to him then that it would be natural for James to gravitate to a person with similar strategical thinking, and comes to a halt midway along the corridor.

Of course, it’s natural… but if Pike hasn’t noticed until now that Spock’s personality is a complement to Kirk’s, then what else has he missed?

Unsettled, that concern lingers with him for the rest of the day.

~~~

Dr. McCoy has a mixed reaction to the news of Spock becoming his latest research topic, and so Pike expects to hear from the doctor almost immediately after the first scheduled appointment.

It takes two days.

The CMO approaches Pike in the Officer’s Mess looking like he hasn’t slept during those two days. The man doesn’t even stop by the replicators for a cup of coffee which, Pike has picked up from one of Kirk’s meandering conversations, is very much a foreboding sign. When the doctor plops down at Pike’s table uninvited and glares, Pike is prepared enough to stare back without reacting.

McCoy opens the conversation with “Now imagine I’m Mr. Spock, Captain. All I’m gonna do is sit here and glare at you all day long.”

Pike ruthlessly buries an urge to grin. “That rough, was it?”

“By god, he’s the most unfriendly bastard in the galaxy! Jim says he was pouting,” snarls McCoy, “but I have my doubts.”

Oh no, thinks Pike. McCoy is here because he needs a mediator. “Did he not cooperate at all? I’ll reprimand him.”

“Don’t bother,” McCoy says, sitting back suddenly and flapping a hand in dismissal of the offer. “I got plenty of readings—not that I can make heads or tails of ’em.” The man scratches at his stubbled cheek absently. “After a few more sessions, I might be able to produce a decent paper.”

Disaster averted. Relieved, he assures McCoy, “I’ll make certain that Mr. Spock is aware he cannot shirk this particular responsibility.”

“Oh, Spock agreed to come back.”

Pike’s eyebrows shoot up. “Then why are you complaining?”

McCoy explains, “I showed him the log from the Enterprise‘s encounter with that giant amoeba last year. Boyce never had time to analyze the results properly, and damned if I’m not beginning to understand why.” McCoy shakes his head slightly. “Anyway, Spock wants first crack at it.”

Pike is at loss of what to say.

McCoy’s look turns sly. “You did say find a way to convince him. Well, since your science officer and I each have something we want, we came to what you might call a compromise.”

“Well done, McCoy,” Pike manages, not certain why he is uneasy instead of pleased.

But McCoy seems to take the compliment at face value, showing a hint of a genuine smile. “My pleasure.” Then, just like that, the facade of irritation is back. “Captain, I think you failed to mention a few relevant details when you hired me.”

Pike is more curious than offended. “Such as?”

McCoy scowls. “There’s something strange about the Enterprise. One would think being the most decorated warship of the ‘Fleet, this crew would spend time focusing on the things we’re good at: fighting, conquering, and ensuring the Empire’s wealth. Yet as I was combing through Boyce’s old logs, it seems like most of them don’t even make sense. Amoebas in space. Giant green space hands? Spaceships that look like planets!”

Pike nearly pinches the bridge of his nose, not prepared to have this conversation but having known it would occur eventually. “Did you happen to take note of when our strange encounters began?” he asks.

McCoy falls silent.

Pike supplies, “When Commander Kirk came aboard.”

McCoy grimaces all of a sudden. “I wasn’t going to say that.”

“I could tell,” remarks Pike dryly. “I won’t penalize you for speaking the truth, Doctor.”

“Good to know,” mutters the man. Then, “So what is it about Kirk that turned this ship into something different than all the rest? Is he haunted?” he muses. “Cursed? After everything I read, I’m less inclined to discount the crazier possibilities.”

Pike can’t stop himself from pinching his nose at McCoy’s guesses and sighing. “Boyce and I spent many an evening trying to figure out the same thing. Phillip’s favorite theory was that this ship and her crew were never meant to fight the same old fight as her predecessors.” Pike adds with a slight wistfulness, “Maybe we should have been charging into the unknown, clearing the way for others—but because we don’t seek out the frontier, the Powers That Be of the universe have decided to bring it to us.” He bites back a second sigh. “Phillip always was a superstitious man.”

“Well I don’t know about superstition, but statistics generally don’t lie. Our crew’s fatal rate due to unexplained death far outstrips any other Constitution-class starship. If something or someone is bound and determined to come at us, maybe we ought to stop running and start fighting back.”

Pike hadn’t realized how practical-minded McCoy is until that moment. “I’ll consider it, Dr. McCoy.”

The CMO nods, then says, “In the meantime, I can do more research. Couldn’t hurt to see if we’re missing a big clue where the kid is concerned.” Then McCoy’s tone changes to a drawl as he looks past Pike’s shoulder. “Well now, speak of the devil and he shall appear.” The man’s gaze narrows. “Two devils, actually.”

Exactly as described, Jim strides over to their table, Spock close on his heels. He offers Pike and McCoy a sharp grin, “Good morning. What are you two talking about?”

“Why? Were your ears burning?” McCoy rejoins.

Kirk’s grin broadens.

“Mr. Kirk, Dr. McCoy, at ease,” Pike interjects, feeling like if he doesn’t step in a bantering session could start between Kirk and McCoy that will definitely make his own ears catch fire. He adds for good measure, “Mr. Spock.”

Spock’s eyebrow goes up.

Jim stays focused on McCoy, but he says more affably, “No coffee, Bones?”

McCoy slumps down in his seat then and groans loudly. “Excellent point, Jim. Where the hell is my coffee?”

The tickle in Pike’s throat is not a laugh. It simply couldn’t be.

Just in case, Christopher pushes his mug of coffee across the table to the doctor, clears his throat, and stands up. “I should be going. Gentlemen, enjoy your breakfast.”

“See you on the bridge, sir,” Kirk replies, already taking Pike’s spot at the table while McCoy grabs the abandoned mug and drains most of it. “Spock, would you mind grabbing another cup for Bones? One for me too.”

Spock dips his head in acquiescence and proceeds toward the cafeteria’s line of hungry officers next to the replication units.

“No sugar for Jim!” McCoy calls after the Vulcan.

On his way to the exit, Pike pauses to look back when he hears Kirk’s bark of laughter eclipse the general murmur of the crowd. Jim, he sees, has his hands around the mug, and McCoy has his hands on the commander’s wrists, looking pissed as he tries to thwart his companion’s attempt to steal what must be left of Pike’s sweetened coffee. Pike looks beyond the pair to catch Spock also watching Kirk and McCoy, seemingly unaware of the blockade he has created in the middle aisle, forcing others to squeeze past him to proceed to their chosen tables.

The feeling of uneasiness returns like a slap to the face, for in that moment Pike recognizes another similarity in the Vulcan officer. Spock, with his hooded eyes and chillingly calm gaze, is tame only in demeanor. Beneath the surface lies a force far deadlier than anyone might guess.

But this isn’t one of Kirk’s qualities, he realizes. Not Jim, who most often wastes no time disguising his deadlier nature, who in fact wields his temper almost masterfully such that he can make even the oldest enemies think twice before tangling with him.

No, at this moment Spock is like Pike. Hiding something he wants to acknowledge.

Pike’s hands curl into fists.

The Vulcan believes Kirk is his.

“Captain. Captain?”

A voice breaks into the pocket of silence that had engulfed Christopher without him realizing it, bringing back the sounds of a noisy open hall.

He moves his gaze with effort away from Spock to the person calling to him. Amand.

“Captain,” Amand says again, polite enough not to mention the slow reaction.

“What is it?” Pike questions, his voice containing enough of a razor’s edge to make wariness appear in the other man’s eyes.

“Would you have a minute to discuss a change in schedule for ship repairs?”

Pike glances across the cafeteria again to find Spock seated with Kirk and McCoy. He nods. “I’m headed to the Bridge. Walk with me, Commander,” and leaves the dangerously cozy picture presented by the three men uninterrupted.

~~~

Pike stands in front of his chair, facing the image of Admiral Richard Barnett on the main screen. His shift had started out uneventfully enough, with him patiently listening to a discourse on the finer points of cleaning up the ship’s engineering bay from a ‘heap of scrap parts’ (the Chief Engineer’s colorful description) to an engineering marvel the likes of which hasn’t been since the Enterprise left Earth’s spacedock on its maiden voyage (again, per the same engineer). As always, it had been an onerous task to make Montgomery Scott understand that all Pike desires out of their infrequent conversations is confirmation of every system being checked and double-checked and operating as designed. He is not someone who reads the ship’s technical manual in his spare time.

Unfortunately, the welcome interruption turns out to be not as welcome as Christopher hopes.

“Pike,” Barnett is saying, “I need you and your crew en route to the Proxima colony in Alpha Centuri.”

Pike eases backward to sit in the captain’s chair. “The Enterprise is undergoing repairs, Admiral.”

“I’m aware of that,” Barnett replies.

And no doubt feeling pressured such that the man is inclined to ignore the fact, decides Pike. He asks, “What’s going on?”

“A Klingon warship was spotted around Proxima.” The admiral’s nostrils flare as he elaborates with barely concealed disgust, “Starfleet was belatedly informed of the situation by Proxima’s governor.”

That poor fool. He won’t be governor for much longer.

“We have no starships close by, Captain. The Enterprise is the fastest.”

“You’ll send for reinforcements?” he questions calmly.

Barnett’s gaze sharpens. “Two battle cruisers are on the way, but they won’t arrive for another nine hours. You can arrive in five.”

“We’ll do our best, Admiral.”

“See that you do,” Barnett warns him. The image on the viewer fades out.

Christopher doesn’t need to look around him to take in the general reaction to this unexpected assignment. Though they are used to it, his officers don’t like being forced into battle without preparation—barring, of course, one exception. Pike can practically feel the air vibrating with his first officer’s excitement.

He turns his head toward the man. “Kirk, see to it that Engineering ceases all repair activity immediately. Either this ship is in warp in the next thirty minutes or Mr. Scott is in the agonizer booth. His choice.”

“Aye, Captain,” replies Kirk dutifully, revealing his eagerness in the next breath, heedless of the grim expressions around him. “Klingons! This is going to be amazing.” As Kirk leaps to the upper deck, one hand barely skimming the railing, he calls to the Vulcan manning the Science station, “Mr. Spock! Let’s pay a visit to Engineering.”

Pike keeps his gaze forward on the viewscreen and his expression battened down until the lift door closes on the pair. Afterward, his mouth curves, and he allows himself to a moment to indulge in the same kind of eagerness. It feels like forever since he has engaged in a battle that shows off what the Enterprise can do.

“Helmsman,” he says when the silence on the bridge becomes noticeable, “plot a course to Proxima.”

~~~

After arriving at the colony, the Enterprise takes a Klingon vessel unawares and a brief skirmish ensues. Pike makes a reassessment of the operation handed down by Command following their victory and personally leads the way to the transporter room. There he confirms that the coordinates will release the team in the center courtyard of the colony by the governor’s house and then waits patiently while each member arms himself and ascends the transporter pad. There is nothing he can say publically about the Vulcan standing on Kirk’s right, but the person on Kirk’s left is a different story.

“Name and rank,” he demands of the officer.

“Pavel Chekov, sir,” responds the young man who looks like he just left the womb. He puffs up with pride as he states, “Ensign.”

Pike glances at Kirk, nonplussed, before asking, “Ensign, how many ground teams have you been assigned to?”

Pavel’s gaze widens but he answers very seriously, “None, Captain.”

Kirk cuts in right as Pike is about to order the ensign to get the hell off the transporter pad, “Chekov needs the experience.”

Damn. This is not the time or place for them to be arguing about landing party personnel. Why does Kirk never double-check the roster with him, and why hasn’t he learned to look for himself instead of trusting his First to have common sense?

The ensign comments innocently, “I’m ze top marksman of my class, Captain. I am wery good.” He pats the phaser clipped to his belt.

Kirk looks amused, saying oddly, “Chekov.”

Chekov flushes. “I’m ze top marksman now. Ze other one… had an accident.”

Oh wonderful. Reading the unspoken remainder of that story in Chekov’s gleaming eyes, Pike can imagine very well how the boy’s competitor had an ‘accident’. He swallows a sigh. Only Kirk would handpick a baby-faced murderer to take on a sensitive operation.

Pike’s gaze is drawn back to the silent Vulcan. Spock blinks placidly at him.

Kirk shifts on his feet as though he expects the argument from Pike to escalate, but Pike merely turns away after a few tense seconds. At the transporter console, he activates the comm unit.

“Pike to Sickbay.”

“McCoy here,” answers his CMO.

“I need you in Transporter I on the double, Doctor.”

“What’s the emergency, Captain?”

Pike bares his teeth as if smiling. “Effective immediately, you are assigned to the Proxima landing party.” He allows the doctor a brief opportunity to screech “What!” through the speaker, before cutting through the rest of the protest. “You have five minutes.” He ends the call.

Pike faces Kirk again and inspects the man’s shocked expression. “Is there a problem, James?” he asks in a mild tone.

“Boyce never left the ship… sir,” Kirk tacks on politely.

“McCoy isn’t Boyce.”

Jim sobers and begins to step down from the platform, apparently of the opinion they need to sort this matter out in a private conversation. Pike raises a stalling hand; but before he can explain himself, the Vulcan breaks his silence.

“Captain, given that Dr. McCoy is a senior officer, by corporal law the away team will be duty-bound to protect him. Furthermore, the Doctor is not trained in combat, which increases the probability of distraction, thereby lowering the likelihood of a successful mission.”

“Thanks for that vote of confidence, Mr. Spock,” drawls McCoy as he passes through the doorway. He looks more furious than winded, though the man must have run from the medical bay in order to make it by the deadline. McCoy switches his glare from the Vulcan to his captain.

Pike responds by crossing his arms over his chest. “Thank you for joining us, Dr. McCoy.”

“I bet you are thankful,” McCoy retorts sarcastically, his right hand shifting at his side to rest on top of his medkit like there might be a weapon inside it he wants to use on someone, namely Pike. “As much as I hate to say this, I agree with the hobgoblin. What the hell is your reason for making me do this?”

“Aside from my authority as captain of this ship to have my orders followed without question,” chides Pike, “I think you all have overlooked one critical point of the operation.”

Chekov perks up while Kirk narrows his eyes. Spock has returned to his impassive monitoring of the situation.

“Mr. Spock, you said the Bird-of-Prey wasn’t manned by more than a skeleton crew, which means by destroying it we stranded the Klingons who weren’t on that ship on the planet below. Being who and what they are, they must be primed for a fight—” Pike tips his head at Jim. “—and Mr. Kirk is leading this mission. There will be causalities.” His voice hardens. “One of them better not be my first officer. McCoy will see to that.”

He uncrosses his arms and pins Kirk with his gaze. “Try to capture one of the Klingons, preferably the leader. I want to know why these bastards entered our territory.”

Jim offers a nod and a firm “Yes, sir,” returning to his place on the transporter pad.

When all heads turn in McCoy’s direction, the doctor growls lowly, “This is above my pay grade,” but reluctantly takes the empty spot beside Chekov.

Pike doesn’t miss the way Jim tenses when he glances at his newest team member. As Christopher suspected would be the case, Jim is not comfortable having McCoy on the mission. Why? It cannot be a matter of trust because, true to form, Kirk ignored Pike’s cautionary advice and formed a friendship with the doctor. Pike’s spies have reported that the pair is seen frequently around the ship together when neither is on duty, often in the company of the Vulcan as well.

Pike’s gaze is drawn to Spock when, for a split second, the Vulcan moves his head to face forward with a blank expression. It seems Spock too had been scrutinizing Kirk.

For a brief moment, Pike almost regrets sending McCoy along. Is possible that Spock will use this opportunity to remove a potential rival?

Pike tucks away the suspicion. It is not his prerogative to protect Dr. McCoy unless danger to McCoy in some way jeopardizes Kirk. And that part of the mystery Pike has yet to confirm.

He waves the group on, to which Kirk gladly takes over command, calling to the tech, “Energize.”

The men are gone in a flash. Pike exits the room alone.

~~~

Calling up the chronometer from his chair’s control panel, Pike frowns and hits the comm button next to his hand. “Bridge to Transporter I.”

“Transporter I here, Captain.”

“Did Kirk make contact yet?”

“He just called in the hourly report but I lost his signal part way through. I thought I adjusted for the interference… but it’s strange, sir. The interference seems to be on our side. A malfunction, maybe. I’m not sure. Diagnostics come up clean.”

“I’ll be there shortly. Pike out.” Pike re-opens the line. “Bridge to Engineering.” He repeats, “Bridge to Engineering, acknowledge.”

“Engineering. Scott here.”

Pike draws a breath. “Mr. Scott, there’s a malfunction with the transporter signal. I need you in the—”

“Capt’n,” the Chief Engineer interrupts, “somehow we’ve blown the conduit capacitor for the warp core but damned if the replacement part hasn’t gone missing!”

Pike loses his patience. “Mr. Scott, that will have to wait. We can’t get a read on Kirk. If the team on Proxima needs a beam-out on short notice—”

“With all due respect, sir,” Scott’s voice increases in volume, the man sounding far more frazzled than his captain, “the thing that moderates the power fluctuations cannae wait for repair unless you want this ship’s warp core to overheat, take out this ship and everybody on it!

Pike’s heart does a funny jig in his chest. “What?”

Scott rushes on, “But we’ve lost the—damn it, ye numpty, get yer head on straight, a core capacitor cannae fit in that wee box!—replacement—LADDIES, hell mend ye, I got our capt’n on the line!—every spare hand’s doun here, sir, lookin’ for it—” A flurry of curses make Scott’s next statement unintelligible.

Pike wants to demand why the situation wasn’t reported to him immediately but Scott comes back clear through the speaker again as if reading his captain’s mind: “The capacitor overload just happened. As long as we stay in orbit, I estimate we got three hours before the core fully overheats and trips the ship’s evacuation protocol. But we will start to lose some of our other systems doun here ‘fore that.”

“Sanson,” Pike calls to his communications officer, “inform the second and third teams in Auxiliary Control they’re to assist the search in Engineering. Mr. Scott, I want an update every twenty minutes until that capacitor is mended.”

“Aye, Capt’n.” Scott ends the call.

Pike abandons his chair and starts to pace the lower bridge deck before he realizes he’ll be utterly useless where he is now. “I’ll be in Transporter I,” he announces as he ascends the stairs and strides to the turbolift.

The transporter tech looks both relieved and scared to see Pike walk in.

“Report, Lieutenant,” the captain orders.

“No luck yet, sir. The computer insists nothing is wrong.”

Pike presses his mouth into a thin line and approaches the console. “What can I do to help?”

“Captain?” the tech says, clearly surprised.

“Tell me what to do,” Pike insists. Otherwise, he will go mad with waiting. If they can bring the communicator signal online again, at least he can hear from Kirk and relieve one of his worries.

“There’s a control box in the closet over there.” The tech points to a door beside the transporter platform.

“Closet?” repeats Pike, confused.

“Compartment storage,” the tech clarifies, looking embarrassed. “Sorry, we call it the closet.”

Pike heads for the door. “What’s in the control box?”

“One of the manual switches could be inverted. If you see a red light in the box, read out the label above it. I can restart the switch from here.”

“Got it.” He steps into the room as the door peels back and the lights automatically come on. Now he recalls what’s in here other than a computer system supporting the transporter. One wall of the long, narrow room houses a few all-purpose space suits as well as a cabinet of handheld scientific equipment and basic survival gear.

Pike moves to the far end of the wall where the cooling fans are humming. There he finds the control box and carefully removes its outer panel. A minute later, Pike sighs out his frustration, staring at the various switches in the box without any true understanding of what he’s looking at. The tech said something about red lights. There are no red lights.

“Lieutenant,” he starts, “I don’t see any—”

A shout of alarm from the outer room breaks through Pike’s speech. He whirls around, sprinting for the open doorway, only to bring himself up short as the tech hits the ground with a thump just beyond the threshold; the man’s head and upper torso are visible but the rest of him remains hidden by the wall. The tech’s mouth gapes open as if caught in mid-scream. It’s his eyes though that stare ahead at Pike without seeing which announce that he is dead. The pool of blood spreading beneath one shoulder is only further evidence of what has happened.

Instinct chokes Pike into silence and has him backing up into the narrow space between the storage cabinet and the row of hanging suits. The person on the other side of the doorway is equally cautious, for his shadow is like an ink stain against the white flooring, motionless for what seems like minutes but that in reality must only be seconds. Then the boots appear in Pike’s peripheral vision, followed by the rest of the man. He sports a Security insignia on his red tunic and a lieutenant’s rankings on his collar but his face remains unknown to Pike. In his hand is a dagger.

There is nowhere to escape but through that one exit.

Pike waits until the man moves farther inside the room before he reveals his hiding spot. “Looking for someone, Lieutenant?”

The man coils with tension like a snake as he pivots to face Pike. Then all at once he rushes forward, not crying out, but his intent quite clear nonetheless. Pike’s only thought is that he wishes he had a weapon in his hand. Without one, he will either have to take the dagger being turned upon him or die fighting.

He dodges the first slash of the dagger, lashing out with his boot for a leg to unbalance his attacker; but impersonator or not, the officer has had defense training in the past and quickly turns aside to evade him. The second slash cuts across Pike’s arm when he blocks a strike at his chest. In return, Pike lands a punch squarely in the man’s side where the kidney should be. The red shirt stumbles backward, which is his undoing because Pike knocks straight into the man with his entire body and sends both of them crashing to the floor. As Pike had hoped, the man loses his grip on his weapon. The dagger flies away from them.

They fight dirty: kicking, punching any part of the exposed body, pressing limbs against the floor to try and snap them. Pike manages to free himself briefly to go for the dagger, but he’s flipped onto his back the moment his fingers skim the handle, the dagger sliding under him. The man slams his fist into Pike’s mouth and wraps his strong hands around the captain’s throat.

Pike hears his own breath rasping in his ears. He tries to wedge a knee in between their bodies but his assailant bears down with his full weight, and so Pike has to switch to pushing him away by the shoulders. Black spots begin to dance at the corners of his vision.

Traitor,” he spits between his teeth, and has no choice but to take a risk. Releasing one of the man’s shoulders, he arches his back with a guttural cry, twisting his arm underneath him to seek out the dagger. His fingers locate the handle after what seems like eternity. The handle’s grooves feel familiar—Starfleet design.

Pike doesn’t think before he lashes out with the weapon, striking upward and angled at the pale skin between the uniform collar and the man’s left ear. The hands around Pike’s throat lose their grip when the blade finds its mark. The man rears back, clapping his hands around the part of the dagger now sticking out of his throat. He makes a desperate gurgle and like a grotesquely posed work of art seems to hang suspended in front of Pike before collapsing to the side. The man continues gasping, the sound like air bubbles popping, until he suddenly goes still.

Pike lies on the floor for a moment, blinking to clear his vision and wipe a hand across his chin to remove the warm droplets of blood on his skin. Then he sits up into a crouch, studying the slack features of his attacker. Eventually, he gets up and drags the dead man by the boots through the doorway into the transporter room.

A pair of crewmen chatting in the outer corridor freeze when Pike steps through. He stares at them a long while before deciding they are simply shocked to see him looking like he just walked out of a nasty bar fight.

“Ensign,” he calls coolly to one of the men, “contact Security.”

The man unfreezes and scrambles for the wall comm on the other side of the hallway, bleating back, “Yes, Captain!”

The lighting of the main corridor doubles in brightness without warning, and Pike almost staggers on his feet. He has to squint against it, shielding his eyes. But his brain isn’t interested in the origins of the light; it keeps reminding him that he hadn’t recognized his attacker. It insists despite that that the man has to be one of his crew—as the assassins always, heartbreakingly, seem to be. Finally the brightness subsides and Pike comes back to his senses, nearly flinching to discover the other officer standing very close to him.

She asks, “Sir, are you all right?”

Pike tucks away feelings of anger and grief, even regret, and responds instead to the ensign by the comm unit proclaiming loudly that Mr. Giotto is on his way. “Let no one but Mr. Giotto into this room. Understood?”

The pair nod obediently, watching him with nervous expressions as he moves down the corridor on his own.

The turbolift takes Pike down to Engineering, where he finds his chief engineer yelling out orders while a sea of men perform some kind of convoluted dance only they can comprehend. When Scott finally notices his arrival, he says, “Capt’n, perfect timing! We found the blessed part stuck behind the—och, your face. What happened to you?”

Pike gives the man a small smile. “Take a guess.”

The man looks him over. “I’d say a bare-fisted fight with a female Gorn but the last Gorn we had aboard was years ago and he was male and had a keen admiration for poetry.” Scott sobers suddenly. “Kirk’s not going to like this.”

The captain grimaces, then. “I’ll clean up.”

“I suggest a trip to Sickbay first. Maybe if your face doesn’t look so busted up, he won’t throw the whole lot of Security out the airlock.”

Pike starts to laugh and winces at the pain that causes.

Scott shuffles closer, seeming mindful of the others around them, and lowers his voice. “The transporter and the capacitor? A coincidence?”

Pike keeps silent, which prompts Scott to shake his head in response.

“Figured that was the way of it,” mutters the engineer. “Crazy fools, whoever they are.”

“What do you mean?” Pike asks sharply.

“Well,” Scott says, “if they’re willing to screw with a part of the ship that could kill us all just to have a chance at killing you, what other lengths will they go to?”

Pike doesn’t want to think about it. Not yet.

It does occur to him, though, as a nurse in Sickbay is sealing the slice across his arm that the timing of the attempt also corresponds to Kirk’s absence. But he says nothing about that to anyone, simply thanks the woman for doing her job and once he is satisfied he will appear healed at first glance, returns to his quarters to shower and don a fresh uniform.

The landing party returns to the ship twelve hours later to a spotless transporter room, dirty, bleeding, but all alive with a grinning Kirk and inscrutable Spock sporting an unconscious Klingon between them. The toes of the Klingon’s boot drag across the platform as Kirk and Spock hand him down to two waiting security officers.

“Welcome back, gentlemen,” Pike says, meaning it.

McCoy stomps down the platform as he jerks agitatedly at one shirt sleeve torn off at the elbow like he cannot believe it does not cover his forearm, declaring as he goes, “Never, ever again!”

Kirk’s eyes cease at the corners in amusement while watching McCoy but the humor is replaced by bemusement when he looks from Pike to Giotto and back again.

“Good work,” Pike inserts before Kirk can ask his first question. “The team will debrief tomorrow. Until then, everyone should get some rest.”

He exits the room after McCoy, his security chief still stuck to him like glue. “The Klingon, Mr. Giotto,” Pike reminds the persistent man once the door is shut behind them.

“Can wait,” finishes Giotto with polite severity. “Would you like me to escort you to your quarters now, Captain?”

Pike knows enough of the Klingon language to make a quartermaster blush. Such a shame, Giotto remarks as they start walking again, that the only Klingon on board is not conscious to hear it.

Because that thought makes him chuckle, Pike forgives Giotto for his sins. In the back of his mind, however, he is counting down the hours until what transpired becomes known. That is when the headache will truly begin.

~~~

Gamma shift is underway when the axe falls. The man who bursts into the senior officers’ lounge stares at his captain like he has never seen Pike before.

“Tell me what happened,” Kirk demands.

Pike puts the brandy he had been nursing aside and folds his hands on the bar’s countertop. “What did the Klingon say?”

“He didn’t make it to the interrogation room.” Jim crosses the lounge with a business-like stride but stops just short of Pike, the look on his face forcing Pike to remember what it is like to feel nervous. “Killed his escorts then killed himself.”

Pike swallows. “Damn.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jim tells him flatly. “Spock took the information what we needed before we beamed up. What happened?

Pike wishes he could stop what’s coming. “Then what was the point of bringing the Klingon aboard?”

“You said you wanted one.” Kirk sets a fist against the bar suddenly and leans toward him, asking for the third time and far more menacingly than before, “Captain, what happened?”

Christopher knows there are times to be flippant with Kirk and times, like now, to be straightforward. “Someone attempted to kill me. He failed.”

Kirk’s jaw works for a second. “Who?”

Pike taps a fingertip against the counter. “He was dressed as one of Giotto’s men.”

“Who?” Kirk repeats too softly, visibly making an effort to control the need to lash out.

“But we identified him as a lab assistant from Science,” Pike concludes.

Kirk’s silent fury is as frightening as it is gratifying—until the question comes that Pike has been dreading all along: “Where was your security?”

Pike answers truthfully. “I didn’t have any.”

Jim had known that already; Pike can see it now, in the livid anger reddening Kirk’s face. He braces himself.

“I told you to keep a couple of my men with you when I am not around.”

“Kirk…”

I told you,” emphasizes Jim. “We agreed, sir. I go on missions if and only if you take the protection!”

As Jim’s voice rises toward the end, Pike disguises a flinch with a grimace. “Kirk, remember who you’re talking to.”

Jim says nothing for a moment, seething through the pause of silence. Then, “I’m not out of line.”

“Aren’t you?” Christopher counters sharply. “I’m the captain. I decide what protection I need and when I need it.”

“I’m not out of line,” Kirk repeats. “You made me a promise.”

Ah hell, the boy is an expert at applying the knife where it will hurt most. Pike knows all too well what it feels like to have promises broken by someone he trusted.

When Pike does not offer a counter-argument, Jim moves back from him one step at a time, rage receding from his face only to be replaced by betrayal. Christopher catches the man’s arm before he can turn fully away.

Christopher says, shame roughening his voice, “I made a mistake.”

Kirk stills.

“I made a mistake,” Pike admits again, softer, as Jim meets his eyes.

“Okay,” Jim replies after a long while.

Christopher huffs, almost exasperated by the easy forgiveness. “Would you believe me if I said I won’t do it again?”

Amusement flickers through Kirk’s eyes. “No.”

Pike chokes before asking seriously, “Then what do you want to do, James?”

“I’ll think about it.” Jim threatens him with a hint of a smile, “I might assign you a personal bodyguard.”

He closes his eyes. Since he kicked the first pebble, he can’t complain—too much—about the avalanche that comes afterward.

“You’re going to hate it,” Jim goes on, sounding calmer now, “but what’s a first officer supposed to do when his captain won’t stay out of trouble?”

Pike pushes the man away. “Get out of here,” he growls.

Kirk gives him a mock bow before walking toward the door. But the man pauses there as the door opens, returning his gaze to his captain. “I meant it about the guard.”

Pike knows that. “Talk to Giotto. I’m sure he has a recommendation.” Maybe that will get Giotto off his ass too.

After a moment of consideration, Kirks nods his agreement. When he vanishes into the hall, Pike retrieves his brandy and downs all of it in one fiery go.

He wishes he believed that Kirk will be satisfied with the guard assignment but the truth of the matter is that whoever is behind the attempt on his life is now on borrowed time. Kirk never gives up a kill.

That is why Pike, being a man of the same mold, both understands his son and fears for him.

More to come. Your patience is appreciated! I am already into the final chapter and hope to have this story wrapped up soon.

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About KLMeri

Owner of SpaceTrio. Co-mod of McSpirk Holiday Fest. Fanfiction author of stories about Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.

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