Jim Kirk gasped awake to find his face wet with tears and his body encased in suffocating darkness. Before panic could properly set in, cracks of light formed around him, and a strong shove tossed him out into a dazzling brilliance that flashed and shrieked with alarms. He struck a curved, hard, unyielding floor and the impact almost knocked him unconscious.
He choked and dragged in his breaths and tried to make sense of his surroundings. He wore a bodysuit of coppery-red, finely woven metal and was lying on the floor of a spherical room. Cabling and components lined the entire interior, and the top was ringed with running lights, some white and some flashing in yellow and blue. He rolled onto his back and saw dozens of finger-thick, graphite-colored snakechains dangling, limp and useless, out of a gaping, silvery pod with a black, padded interior. A gleaming white arm suspended the pod from a high point on the arcing wall, where it terminated into a black shutter hatch.
He felt weak and limp and hopelessly confused. The last thing he could remember was the shuttle crash. No, that wasn’t the last thing. He remembered Uhura asking him what his name was. (Maybe that was just a crazy dream his mind had conjured up, like an inside joke?) He remembered--
His mind seized on Spock's voice. When he made to reply, his throat felt like he hadn't used it for months. “Spock,” he choked out, looking around. Then he saw them--behind him, Spock and Scotty had cut an opening into the flickering chamber. The room lunged around him, and he struggled to his feet, grabbing at some of the wall cabling to steady himself. “Please tell me what the hell’s going on.”
“We will explain on the way back to the Enterprise.”
Scotty looped one of Jim’s arms around his neck and they guided him through their cut door. The ship was clouded with steam and smoke and it sounded like every alarm possible was going off.
Spock took the lead and flipped open his communicator. “Lieutenant, we have the captain and are on our way back to the shuttle. Our ETA is five minutes.”
Scotty, meanwhile, gave Jim the shortest possible version of events. "They were using you to run their ship. Sort of like if the bridge crew was just one person."
Jim attempted to focus on Scotty, but focusing wasn't a high priority for his mind just then. "What? How--how could that even work?"
"I imagine it's got something to do with this." Scotty glanced at the coppery suit for emphasis. Jim looked down at it, which turned out to be a mistake as he lost his balance and pitched forward. Spock helped Scotty get him standing again.
Uhura’s response finally came through, distorted and barely audible. “Make it quick, Spock. Gaila says this star’s acting up. We’re ready to lift off as soon as you’re back.”
“It’s gonna form a prominence any minute now,” Jim said, and wondered how he could know that. Scotty and Spock exchanged a glance, and moved as fast as Jim’s condition would let them.
The second Scotty closed the hatch Uhura blasted off from the precarious ledge they were perched on. Jim collapsed into a seat and stared out the viewscreen, dizzy and light-headed. They were within what looked like a large, open hangar with numerous levels whose only contents were strange, alien shuttles that looked too damaged to fly. Their blue-black, curving, swept-back forms seemed familiar to him, though he couldn't place them with an actual memory. It was a rough ride away from the ship, dodging debris at every turn; Uhura had some choice things to say about his former captors on more than one occasion.
When they cleared the bulk of the dying vessel--it was night black, with a vertical bow and flared stern, and easily twice again the size of the Enterprise--the smaller component of a binary star system dominated their view. Even with the viewscreens polarized the blue dwarf was hard to look at for long. The enormous ship became smaller and smaller against the blazing backdrop as they pulled away.
A polite alert told them a stellar event was beginning. A ribbon slowly looped out of the star’s surface and arced over the ship.
Jim stared out the window, watching the vessel break apart under the forces of the prominence. He thought he should feel vindicated (that ship had been not much more than an elaborate prison), yet where satisfaction should have been he was empty.
Having no pity upon our withering...
Next to him, Gaila asked, “Captain?”
He hadn’t intended to say it out loud. “Nothing.” He cleared his throat. “Did their shuttles get clear?”
“Yes, Captain--all of them. We kept our distance.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw Gaila giving him a look. He didn’t dare meet her eyes, not just then.
“Good. They’re probably twitchy right now.” He ran his hands through his hair and turned to Spock, who was helping Uhura fly the shuttle. “Okay. How long was I in there.”
“You have been missing for three months.”
He groaned. “The last thing I can remember really well is the shuttle accident.” He froze. “Shit, Spock, did anyone else--”
Relief made him sag in his chair. “They found me before you did?”
“It would appear that is the case. When we arrived at the crash site, there was evidence of another ship nearby, and though you were missing, none of the crew had seen anyone approach the remains of the crash. It was some weeks before we could determine a way to trace their warp signature. The design of their ships is quite unique. By then, they had moved on to another system, and proved difficult to track.” Spock looked over at him, and Jim knew a polite request to provide more information if he felt up to it when he saw one.
He had to work to dredge up the memories. Everything in his head was a tangled mess, like he’d unpacked from an interplanet move by emptying his boxes into one gigantic pile in the middle of the floor. “Their Pilot died. They were in the middle of an important mission. Something about surveying stars.”
“That’d explain why the ship was tough as nails,” Scotty supplied. Jim blinked at him. “You shoulda seen the kind of abuse it took, Captain. A half-dozen warships pounding on it, and it still held together long enough to make eight warp jumps and safely evacuate the crew. What I wouldn’t give for just five minutes to examine their shield generators.”
Spock gave Scotty a look which conveyed his rapidly dwindling patience, and the engineer held up his hands in self-defense. “Hey I think they owe us now, I mean they stole our captain and plugged him into their ship like he was some kind of peripheral device!”
Jim tried to ignore their exchange as he concentrated on sifting through what he knew and what he thought he knew. They refocused on him when he started talking again. “I think they didn’t have another Pilot on board, so the systems engineers decided to convince the captain they had a suitable...alternative.”
Uhura and Scotty looked disgusted, Gaila’s eyes blazed with righteous fury, while Spock seemed intrigued. “Do you think the captain knew you were not their Pilot by choice?”
“I think she figured it out eventually.”
Spock nodded, and fell silent for a brief spell. Then he said, “This complicates the diplomatic aspect of our presence here. We may wish to relay our reports to Starfleet Command, and see if they would prefer to hold off on initiating contact with them.”
“I like that idea. Especially if they’re in the middle of hostilities with...” Jim winced, trying to remember, then sighed and gave up. “Whoever those other ships were.”
The shuttle chirped, and Uhura said, “Lieutenant Uhura to Enterprise. We have the captain on board. Requesting permission to land.”
Sulu’s voice held a note of relief. “Good to hear back from you, Lieutenant. Permission granted for Bay 4.”
Once the shuttle had landed, he found the ability to get out of his chair was beyond him, and Spock had to help him up. His legs felt weak and useless, and he was cold everywhere, and couldn’t stop shivering.
“This is probably a problem,” he said to no one in particular. Scotty and Spock both helped him off the shuttle.
McCoy was there to greet them with a gurney, but Jim didn’t make it that far. Things stopped making sense, including walking, and his breath felt frigid and painful in his chest. Everyone was talking and he couldn’t understand them. He thought someone said his name (McCoy, it was McCoy).
The hangar tipped sideways and dissolved into confusion.
When he woke up, he was in medbay, and nearby Dr. M’Benga was chatting with Kevin in front of a data panel. The fine-mesh metal suit he’d been wearing was gone, replaced by a plain set of regulation black shirt and pants. His skin felt sensitive, and the soft material irritated him more than it should have.
The instruments set into the bed informed them he’d woken up, and they joined him. Kevin had a tablet while M’Benga was carrying an injector.
“What’s in that,” Jim asked, eyes on M’Benga. His voice sounded hoarse.
“Just something to help stabilize you.” M’Benga held it up. “Want me to have McCoy give it?”
Jim managed a laugh and shook his head. Though he braced himself, it didn’t hurt all that much; certainly, he’d had much worse. With that unpleasantness over with, he looked at the two of them in turn. “So. Any permanent damage?”
“Fortunately no,” Kevin said, and offered him the tablet. Jim took it, glad he was at least strong enough for that, and glanced over the highlights of the various tests while Kevin continued. “Whatever technology they have, it’s astonishingly advanced. I’m sure that suit had a few thousand microfilament connections all through your nervous system, and it didn’t leave a mark on your CNS when we took it off. Really amazing stuff.”
“Amazing, but not harmless,” M’Benga said, giving Kevin a dry look. He reached over and tugged the shirt back from one of Jim’s wrists. Jim winced and yanked his arm away; the skin underneath was mottled with a an angry rash.
Kevin sighed. “Sorry about that. We tried to be as careful as possible.”
Jim held his wrist until it stopped throbbing. M’Benga explained, “Your skin’s a little irritated from the removal. That shot had some antihistamines in it to calm things down. Other than that, we didn't find any tissue damage. There is evidence of recent bone fractures we don't have on record. Whatever caused those, they must’ve taken care of it.” M'Benga's expression turned sympathetic.
Jim swallowed against the inherent implication. He decided that it was okay to tell himself it had been the shuttle crash. He started to feel the shot coming on, and laid back on the bed. “What about--” He tapped his head.
Kevin reached over to swipe at the tablet. A new set of tests filled the screen. “We haven't found any injury, though things are a little chaotic. You’ve got elevated activity levels in a few places. We’ll have to see if that persists, but it’s not hurting you right now.”
“Your brain’s handling information faster.” Kevin shrugged. “I’ve got three of my best researchers and their staff going over all of this. As soon as they have more for me you’ll be the first to know.”
M’Benga had gone back to the data panel on the wall. Over his shoulder, he said, “And I’ll send Leonard in *after* he wakes up.”
Jim’s laugh was more of a cough. “Did you have to sedate him?”
“No, I just let Spock talk him into it.”
That’d do it. “If he tries to give you any shit about not waking him up let me know.”
“Oh, I plan to say you ordered me not to wake him.”
They left him to his devices, which M’Benga warned him would consist of sleeping in short order. (It turned out his idea of stabilization involved Jim not being conscious; Jim wasn’t sure this made him any improvement over McCoy as a medical professional.)
He’d convinced Kevin to leave him the tablet, and used it to pull up a view from outside the ship. Spock had taken them to their next objective, a small M-class planet in a system formed around a blue hypergiant, with the Enterprise orbiting one of the planet’s moons. He zoomed in on the star as far as the Enterprise’s sensors could go--nowhere near the detail the Dancer had been capable of--and stared at it for a very long time.
Someone came to stand next to him, and he glanced up to find Uhura.
“Lieutenant,” he said, and managed a tired smile.
Her answering smile was equally tired. “Captain.”
“Thanks for getting me out of there.”
“You’re welcome. But it wasn’t all me, sir.”
“I know.” Though his memories from before she’d put him on the bridge of the Enterprise were spotty at best, he could remember enough. “You just had the thankless task of trying to wake me up.”
“I think Lieutenant Gaila would argue spending three days trying to develop an encryption algorithm you couldn’t break in under two minutes was also pretty thankless.”
He blinked. “Wow. Really? Three days?”
“She says she should be able to publish a couple of papers on it.”
He started to say something about how much he was going to enjoy making it up to her, and stopped himself just in time. Uhura raised her eyebrows at him, and he gave her his best ‘nice try’ smile, then sobered.
“I don’t remember any of it really well, so if I said anything, ah, I'm sorry.”
“You didn’t. Well, nothing I wasn’t expecting.”
He thought back on what he did remember. “Why couldn’t you just tell me who I was?”
“Spock was worried that trying to force the reality on you might conflict with whatever they’d done. Since we didn’t really know what that was, helping you figure it out for yourself seemed safer.”
She gave him a faint smile. “You didn’t hear that from me.”
“I’ve already forgotten.” He felt his eyes start to shut of their own accord. The shot was taking its toll, and Uhura left him to his rest.
He laid back on the bed and let his eyes close, and saw the long, gleaming, black form of the Dancer silhouetted against a star. If he let himself go, he thought he could even feel his connection to the ship again. The pull of a gravity well against her orbit; the heartbeats of dozens of stars in the back of his mind; the murmur of the crew going about their daily tasks.
He wondered if he would never be just Jim Kirk again. He also wondered if tomorrow he would start to have a much harsher, uglier idea of what had been done to him. For now, though, with who-knew-what medications waging a war in his system against exhaustion and the fallout of three months spent in some sort of stasis pod, it was hard for him to think straight. He decided to not bother, and laid on the bed, letting memories bubble to the surface until he fell well and truly asleep.