The strain had not entirely caught up with everyone on the bridge. Some of the crewmembers were new to the Alpha shift and hadn’t yet the understanding of their Captain that, for example, Lieutenant Sulu had. Even those serving their first or second shift so close to the Captain, though, realized after about an hour or two that he was getting restless. Something was up. Something was wrong.
Their gazes started drifting towards the empty chair next to Sulu, where their First Officer and navigator was usually sitting – James T. Kirk.
Captain Pike drummed his fingers over his knee, before changing hands – leaning his chin into the restless fingers and starting to fiddle with the recently unoccupied hand, until he swivelled around in his chair and threw Lieutenant Uhura a telling glance. She slowly shook her head.
“I’m sorry, Captain; but the away team still has ten minutes until they’re due to contacting us,” she said with a pleasant voice and Pike nodded tersely. Yes, he knew that – yet, he could not shake the feeling that something was strange. The large castle, which was seen on the viewscreen currently, was sitting utterly still and peaceful; seemingly unaware of the many lifeless hulls of the wrecked ships strewn around it like dominoes.
He should not feel this uneasiness. Kirk was a very capable First Officer – strong and intelligent and fierce. He would watch out for everyone under his care. There wasn’t even a confirmation that something untoward was happening down there. They were simply investigating a planet with a ominous looking castle. They weren’t there to fight, they were merely...
A frantic rustling and the pushing of buttons at his back, made Pike turn around in his chair once more, grey eyes fixing Uhura, who was pressing the device in her ear further into her ear canal with one hand, while the long fingers of the other fiddled with buttons. Her eyebrows were drawn tightly together, until she noticeably blanched under her dark skin and her eyes snapped to Pikes.
“Captain! Distress call from the away team! They request to be beamed up immediately.”
Pike snapped up into a standing position and stormed towards the doors of the lift.
“Hail the transporter room. They’re to be beamed up pronto,” he snapped, unwilling to wait and try to coax out of her what was going on. He had known it. His gut feeling was never wrong.
Pike burst into the transporter room with the authority of a man, who could dominate a space with his mere presence. Steely eyes snapped from Chief Engineer Scott’s drawn face up to the people staggering from the transporter pads. They were all drenched in sweat, pale and shaking. Their eyes large and fearful.
‘Shell-shocked,’ Pike thought, stepping out of the way of medical staff entering the small room and crowding it. It made hard to oversee what was going on, but he wouldn’t be Captain for such a long time, if he wasn’t good at his job and... his stomach tightened with sudden realization and his eyes snapped to and fro around the room, searching, searching...
“Where is Kirk?!” he snapped at last, whirling around to look at Scott, whose face was looking so strained by now, Pike thought it might shatter with the slightest touch.
The Scotsman slowly shook his head and croaked, “He was not present, when I beamed them up, Sir. I don’t know, where he is.”
Pike whirled around and got hold of Lieutenant Geoffries arm, before the shocked man could be dragged out of the room by Nurse Chapel. His fingers dug deeply into the bicep of the man, until he slightly squirmed and he demanded, “Lieutenant, where is your First Officer?”
Geoffries closed his eyes with a pitiful moan and croaked, “He’s down there. God help us, he’s still down there. He saved us all.”
Pike’s insides ran cold and his fingers slackened on Geoffries’ arm, before he croaked, “What happened down there?”
The man started looking haunted and hunched his shoulders for a second, before the militaristic training kicked back in and he straightened his spine.
“There have been so many body parts, sir.”
James woke during the trek through the castle. No, woke was not the right word, for he wasn’t properly asleep. He was, to be more precise, floating in a limbo between the two states, feeling the toes of his boots being dragged over the concrete floor and yet unable to draw his knees towards his body and put his feet correctly to the ground.
His head was lolling from left to right and saliva was dripping out of his mouth, the long glistening strands sometimes falling to the ground and sometimes splashing against the front of his shirt due to the forwards momentum he had.
The hands under his armpits were large, dragging him relentlessly through corridors. He could feel every single one of the many, many thin, cruel digits dig into his flesh even through the tattered fabric and it felt even worse than the hypo that had been jabbed against his neck earlier. The hypo, whose contents were the reason for his helpless state.
They descended some stairs and slowly the grey, roughly hewn stone of the castle gave way to smooth plates of blinding white. James had to close his eyes against the piercing colour – or non-colour – with a pained moan and the thick muscles in his thighs went into a feeble spasm in his valiant attempt to set his body to rights.
“Ah, so you’re awake,” the soft voice of his captor snaked its way into his head. He started tossing it left and right, imagining the foulness of the audio input to lay eggs inside the windings of his brain. The alien snickered and the grip of so many spidery fingers tightened till the point of agony. “So you already start fighting off the serum. Very intriguing. You are a magnificent specimen, I can already tell.”
By now they were trudging down – or more accurately: his captor was tugging and he was simply dead weight being lugged along – a corridor that looked antiseptic and clean and utterly foreign in the bowels of a medieval castle. Left and right were cells, separated from the corridor with large, translucent panels. The rooms behind were largely unoccupied; only every now and again was the stark white marred with horrifying dark splotches and masses of something that Kirk hoped fervently had not once been people.
“Your crew has fled, while I’ve been occupied with you, you know,” the alien continued in a conversational tone and the First Officer thought with fierce, hateful glee, ‘Good. Then I won’t have to hold back, when I’ll dismantle you. Wouldn’t want them to get scarred for their lives, after all.’
He kept his stubborn silence, though, feeling the effect of the serum slowly ebb away and his coordination coming back.
“That’s no problem, though, because I think I have made a great catch with you, Officer. You are very strong – very, very strong. You’ll be able to handle my... modifications, won’t you?”
There was again a cackling behind him and Kirk’s stomach twisted spasmodically at the mention of ‘modifications’. He had seen the horror cabinet further up – the way hundreds of alien bodies had hung from the ceiling; strung like pigs; partly mechanised and ripped apart and put together in horrifying ways. And the stench...
Kirk refused to think of it. It would only incapacitate him. He had to keep his wit about him. The Officer turned his head and peeked again at the large glasses separating the cells. He could see perfectly clear his bulky form, slumped over and being dragged by what he was dubbing in his head as ‘The Professor’, for the alien was wearing an old fashioned lab coat and a surgical mask over his lower face. The alien was tall and lanky, its hands with the myriads of long, scrawny fingers tucked underneath Kirk’s armpits and the rough bristles on top of its otherwise bald head were of a dark, almost black colour. He reminded the First Officer of a fly.
“You realize...” Kirk began and closed his eyes for a moment against the way his voice was slurred and nearly unrecognizable. He sounded like he had been drinking far too much and yet he ploughed on, “You realize that you have attacked an Officer from Starfleet and that the Enterprise is orbiting the planet at this very moment? It’ll be only minutes until they breach your ... horror cabinet and rip you apart.”
The Professor cackled again. Every time he emitted noises a frantic clacking was accompanying them. James really had no intention to look underneath the mask and see, where it was coming from.
The alien did not answer to his threat; rather he came to a halt and let the human fall to the floor unceremoniously. James moaned, when his forehead connected with the blindingly white ground and blearily gazed around. The large cells had ended and the rest of the corridor was decked out with unassuming doors. The Professor opened one of them. Behind lay another cell, padded in white cushions which reminded James of the very, very old psychiatric wards on earth. His stomach clenched painfully once more. The Professor turned around, grasping him by the scruff of his neck and hauling the resisting body of the human inside. Before Kirk could whirl around and throw himself against the tall, looming alien, the thick door was thrown shut in his face.
A harsh breath escaped his lungs and James raised his hands in order to rub them across his face, willing his muscles and brain back into compliance. He could feel the rough calluses on his fingers, when they scrubbed over the unshaven plane of his jaw.
‘Keep calm... just keep calm and look around for an escape route, Jim,’ he told himself, while dragging deep breaths into his chest. It felt good to be able to feel his ribs expand again with the air rushing into his lungs and the last of his stupor finally slipped out of his limbs. It did not leave him feeling limber and agile, but at least he had his body back under control – more or less.
For someone like him – a man, who was not only priding himself on being a navigator, but also a quite successful engineer – it was essential to be able to be in charge of his body at all times.
It was also helpful to be able to discern the strange metallic, acidic tang in the air that suddenly curled around his nostrils and made his nose twitch and his fingers itch in dumb muscle memory. He smelled something technical, he automatically wanted to break something apart and look how it was working. But where was the smell coming from? Kirk looked around and when he saw it – him? – he almost let out a startled scream. Only his vigorous militaristic training prevented him from making more than a surprised grunt, when he saw the crumpled figure lying in the corner right behind the door, where the Professor obviously had not seen it.
The First Officer could see long limbs sprawled every which way and covered in something long and ratty that looked like one of the Professor’s lab coats – disturbingly so, even, with the huge splotches of something dark and dried.
He could see a mop of dark hair and that was basically it.
“Hey... hey!” Kirk exclaimed and finally scrambled onto hands and knees, pleased to realize that he could move again. He crawled the few feet separating him from the body in a haste that would have made clear to someone watching, how desperately the human hoped he would not occupy his cell with a dead man.
“Are you alright? Do you need medical attention?” Kirk asked, crouching in front of the sprawled figure, his hands uselessly fluttering around the slumped body. In his mind he could hear Bones screeching in alarm not to jostle an obviously injured man – alien? – and he was reluctant to do anything, before he had not located the injury.
The figure was still slumped, not reacting in any way to the new occupant of the cell. Kirk’s dark blond eyebrows drew together and his voice became sharp, snapping through the air, making clear that he was used to people obeying him.
“My name is James Kirk and I am the First Officer of the USS Enterprise. If you can hear me, make yourself known – no harm will come to you, I promise.” He dimly wondered, where he was taking that promise, when he couldn’t even safely say that he could look for himself, but Kirk had a protective streak a mile wide – or so Pike had told him – and he was willing to do his best.
The figure remained slumped. From his position the human could see one naked leg with a dirty foot and a limp hand, just peeking out from beneath the rubbery fabric of the coat.
His lips slowly started to thin out and hazel eyes sparked with intense fire. Kirk refused his hands from shivering as he slowly reached up and gently tugged the collar of the dirty coat away. It had been concealing the face of the man and made it only so much harder to identify what was going on. His heart was racing in his chest, when he revealed the elegant curve and pointed tip of an ear.
‘So he’s not human. Romulan? Vulcan, maybe?’ he thought, drawing the coat further down and out of the way. The face of the alien was smashed against the padded wall – the stench of metal and acid starting to get thicker in the air. Kirk usually adored the scent. When he was on the Enterprise and could hide away with Chief Engineer Scott deep down in her bowels and joke with the man over ‘Goldshirts’ and ‘Redshirts’ and idiot thinks mechanics joked about. This time, however... after seeing the horror of the Professors works up their in the castle... the bodies dangling from the rafters... it made his stomach curl unpleasantly.
If the alien was still alive, he had to be in immense pain. The neck was twisted at an uncomfortable angle and it had to be hard getting air.
The First Officer grimly straightened his shoulders and curled his hands shortly into tight fists, so they popped loud in the stuffy, still air of the cell. It could not be helped – he did not know the extent of the man’s injuries, but it was unwise to leave him longer than necessary in this position. He reached out once more and took hold of slumped shoulders, very gingerly drawing the unconscious – he hoped he was unconscious – body away from the wall. He was surprisingly heavy; the limps sticking out from under the coat looked long, yes, but lanky and Kirk wasn’t exactly weak, but it was an effort nonetheless to turn the alien around.
At first he got sight of a profile with one regal, if slightly too long nose and one slanted, coal black eyebrow. Then he turned him entirely around and got a look at the other side of the face – and could not contain his instinctive reaction of madly scrambling backwards this time. A loud hiss escaped him, his eyes opened wide and his lungs emitting a high, whistling sound, as he stared at the left corner of the mouth – the skin ripped away up to the cheekbone, leaving a jagged hole in its wake and revealing, shockingly enough, metal underneath. He could see loose wires and rusted plates and the exact shape of the jaw as well as a row of pearl white teeth embedded in it. A yellow substance, in some places dried to something brown and gooey, was dripping down the clear line of a jaw and had burned the skin in its wake. The stench wafting up from the slumped figure made it clear enough that this was battery acid of some kind.
Kirk was so occupied with staring at the wound that he nearly screamed, when his eyes finally travelled over the rest of the face and he realized that previously closed eyes had sprung open. The right one was of a brown colour – tinged with muddy blue that made it clear more fluids had run amok inside the body. The other eye was sickly yellow – like sulphur. The man – alien – creature – blinked. Slowly. With one eye – the lid of the other one only twitched feebly.
A soft whirring started up and before the human could fully process what was happening, the thing started pulling its extremities towards his body and arranged them in a jerky, clunky fashion that made it clear the joints hadn’t been properly used for a while – or the acids had been leaking on them and corroding the metal inside them. When Kirk opened his mouth, he was horrified and delighted in the same amount and it was not entirely a question, when he said, “You are an android.”
The contraption opened its mouth – the engineer saw the green of a tongue and marvelled at how lovingly accurate this replica was to a Vulcan – but only broken clunking was emerging instead of an answer. Kirk wanted to investigate and prod and poke – Scotty would have taken out a screwdriver and demanded to get a look inside, he was sure – but something held him back. Something in those odd-coloured eyes made his breath hitch and his palms clammy and kept him were he was sitting right on his ass.
Besides, this was no time to indulge in his passions. He had no knowledge of how the android was programmed and if it was dangerous. A look around the padded cell made it clear that he would have nothing to hide from an onslaught and he had no weapons on his person. The Professor had made sure of that.
“Hey!” he said again, scrambling on his feet and trying not to sway too obviously. The android slightly turned his head, the mechanical whirring accompanied by creaking and clattering now. It ceased, however, immediately as soon as the mechanism rotating the neck stopped.
“Stay where you are. Don’t move again,” Kirk demanded, cold sweat prickling the nape of his neck, while he silently prayed the android would take an order that had not been given by its creator. (And somehow it stung Kirk’s pride to know that the Professor had managed to build this thing. It was fairly trashed now, but the knowing look of engineer’s eyes could discern that the Vulcan android must have been stunning once.)
The whirring held on for a few more seconds, pupils dilating and contracting in ways that made it obvious the system tried to get him into focus, until the whirring ceased and the contraption lay once more motionless against the floor – like a puppet with its strings cut loose. It looked almost... sad.
The First Officer bit his lip and wiped his moist hands against his trousers; he watched the android a few more seconds, making sure he had shut off, before he started turning around on his own axis and looked for any weakness in the white padding surrounding him.
“Come on, guys... I don’t want a knew mechanical spleen or something,” he whispered into the room to no one in particular. He knew that the Enterprise – that Pike – was at the moment gnawing at the problem as to how to get their First Officer back. Until then Kirk had to keep on his toes and try to make a sense out of what was happening around him.
He strode into one corner of the cell and ripped at the padding. Maybe he would find something underneath. Every now and again he turned, looking over his shoulder to the Vulcan android. It was creepy, knowing he was still there – the broken eyes open and lifeless.
Kirk shuddered and his movements became more frenzied.
The man could not have said how much time had gone by, but he was drenched in sweat and had ripped the padding of the corner away in a generous radius, revealing nothing out of the ordinary underneath, when the door opened again with a bang.
Kirk whirled around, his face frozen in an expression somewhere between relief – in his belief that his crewmates were coming and getting him out of this horror cabinet – and alarm. The alarm prevailed, when he saw the Professor standing there, in one multi-fingered hand a strange gun and in the other a clump of something wet and green, which he threw into the room with the word “Eat.”
The clump landed with a sickening splash on the padding and Kirk did not move towards it, just staring at the alien, while beady black eyes looked about and took in the destruction in one corner of the room.
“Oh my,” the Professor only said, but the accompanying clicking this time was much longer and sounded quite agitated. “This is rude. Very rude indeed. I might just have to – oh. What is that? Here you are!” He interrupted himself, when his eyes had landed on the motionless android. The bristles on his head, previously sticking up haphazardly in every which direction, started moving and laying back sleek against his bald, brown head.
“I had began to wonder, where you had wandered off to, you know. Come – I need you to assist me. The operation room won’t fix itself. And those laughable attempts at infiltrating my domain are starting to wear down my patience,” he said, gesturing with the now free hand towards the motionless puppet. Kirk listened intently. The Professor was, he had noticed very early on, a talker. He babbled and prattled with the air of someone who had spent too much time alone and the human knew that it could only benefit him.
This, for example, told him that the alien was a) obviously operating alone and b) struggling with the rescue attempts of the Enterprise. The first information was kind of soothing. The second... not so much. The Enterprise was the Flagship of the Federation; she was equipped with the best machinery around. When even Scotty had problems getting someone down and past the Professor's shields, then it would probably be quite a while, until they could get down and get him. The thought made him nauseous.
The android did not budge. The room was still devoid of the sounds indicating his gears moving. The Professor became impatient and stamped one foot on the ground.
“I’ve no time for your stubbornness! Quit pouting and come with me, Spock. Now!” he hissed and another few seconds went by, until the whirring started up again and Kirk cringed as he saw the android laboriously handling his limbs; dragging himself on his hands and knees, before slowly stemming up into a standing position. The dirty lab coat hung from his tall, lanky frame; the clothes beneath of a dark colour, hanging loosely off his person.
The Professor stepped aside in order to let his whirring and clanking contraption step through the doorway, but did not spare it another glance. Rather, his eyes were fixed on Kirk and he gestured towards the lump on the floor.
“Eat. You need nutrition. You need strength,” he urged him, sounding eager like a kid. The human’s stomach roiled and he straightened his shoulders, looking regal and haughty and like the man that had told his crewmates to flee while he distracted this soulless monster.
“Whatever for?” he asked with a sneer. There was another bout of clicking and crunching beneath the surgical mask the Professor wore right before he said, “For my modifications, of course. Now excuse me. I’ll have to get to work.”
The door was closed softly and the First Officer could hear the Professor call, “Spock! Get up to the nursery. You look horrid. Have you tried choking on a piece of the coat again?”
The voice tapered off with the increasing distance between the cell and the Professor and Kirk let himself fall down into a crouching position. He looked around, staring at the scraps of padding around him and the glob of something in the middle of the floor and somehow he missed the presence of the lifeless machinery now. At least this Spock had been some kind of company – and really, as an engineer Kirk liked the company of machines just fine.
Only a large spot of dirty brown, where the acid of the broken batteries had eaten into the padding, was a reminder of the android.