Earth – the Royal Palace
At the hesitant knock at the door, Prince James (“Jim”) Tiberius Kirk looked up irritably from the situation report he had been rereading for the fifth time.
When he caught sight of the messenger whose skimpy clothing clearly identified him as a slave peeking nervously around the door, he quickly tried to quell his irritation and beckoned the man with a gesture to approach. The slave did so slowly, gracelessly dropped to his knees and bowed down deeply until his forehead touched the floor. He then straightened up again, though his eyes remained fixed on the floor in front of him, and held out the message padd for Kirk to take. From the man’s trembling it was evident that he was expecting the worst possible reception for what was likely to be more bad news. How could it be anything else with the way the war had been going lately? And while Kirk was not the kind of person to take out his frustration on hapless slaves, the man’s fear was not unwarranted, considering the way slaves were usually treated. When he had bowed Kirk had seen that his back bore whip marks in different stages of healing. It was also obvious that he was half–starved.
Kirk briefly wondered what the man might have done, as he did not have the look of a hardened criminal about him. He seemed far too young and innocent for that. While enslavement used to be the standard punishment for a wide range of offences, this had changed considerably during the war. Most offences were now dealt with more “leniently” by enrolling the perpetrators in Starfleet, as the Federation forces desperately needed to man their vessels in order to hold off the Vulcan barbarians. Despite the dubious leniency of having them risk their lives at the frontlines, most of those enrolled by force didn’t cause too much trouble in the fleet. After all, losing the war and living under the brutal and oppressive rule the Vulcans were rumoured to impose on their colonies was a fate too grim to contemplate even for the most diehard criminals. Besides, they were usually grateful for getting the chance to regain their standing in society after having served their sentence (at most ten years) instead of being condemned to the hopelessness of a lifetime of slavery.
After more than two decades of war, enslavement was thus reserved for the most heinous of crimes or for repeat offenders who were deemed incorrigible. There was therefore widespread agreement that slaves deserved to be treated abysmally and had only themselves to blame. While Kirk agreed that forced military service and enslavement were far more effective both as a punishment and as a deterrent than letting criminals languish in prison and use up the state’s meagre resources, unlike most of society he did not agree with making slaves’ lives as miserable as possible. Surely there had to be a better way to make them pay their debt to society than completely break them and have them constantly cower in fear?
Kirk shook himself out of his reverie. He should be concentrating on the war, not pitying a slave who probably deserved his fate. He quickly looked down at the padd. In the last few months electronic communication had become increasingly insecure. Their best computer experts had not yet been able to identify the source of the breach, but it was obvious that the Vulcans were able to intercept their messages, and the only secure way of communication, subspace messages, had such a limited capacity that is was strictly reserved for communication with the ships at the frontlines. On Earth, people therefore resorted as much as possible to having confidential documents delivered in person. From the password screen it was obvious that this message came from the War Council. He carefully input the prearranged code for the current date, and the screen changed from the password request to the familiar Starfleet logo.
Scanning the opening paragraphs, he quickly sat up in excitement, the slave still kneeling at his feet completely forgotten. They were finally doing something! After his older brother George had died in an accident during his first year at Starfleet Academy, Jim had never been allowed to become an active member of Starfleet. However, when his impressive aptitude for strategic planning became obvious, his mother the Queen had allowed him to claim the royal family’s seat on the War Council. For a while, he had felt that he was finally living up to the responsibilities that had been thrust upon him since birth and contributing to the war effort. Unfortunately, this contribution had been severely curtailed by the fact that Federation headquarters had come under almost constant attack in recent months and as heir to the throne Kirk was considered too valuable to risk his life by going there. The additional problem of not having any secure way of quickly exchanging confidential information meant that Kirk had very little input in urgent decisions, a situation he absolutely hated as being left out of the loop made him feel useless. He was glad to read now that the War Council (minus himself) had apparently decided to carry out a plan he had suggested some time ago, even if it was borne out of desperation rather than a belief it could actually succeed.
In the last six months the Vulcans had become increasingly aggressive, and only last week they had launched yet another all–out attack on the Federation headquarters in San Francisco. Most of the by now rather decimated Federation fleet was required just to hold them off and not be completely overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the attackers. There was no hope whatsoever of winning a battle, let alone the war. Unlike the Federation forces, the enemy numbers apparently never dwindled, so it seemed only a matter of time until the Federation wouldn’t be able to hold them off any longer. As the Federation forces couldn’t beat the enemy by superior strength, their only chance lay in stealth. They had therefore, however reluctantly, decided to withdraw three small but fast cruisers from the forces defending headquarters and send this strike force under the leadership of Admiral Christopher Pike to fly a surprise attack against the Vulkan headquarters in Shikar.
They had been hoping against all odds that whatever reserves the Vulcans had at that location would at least be caught off guard. What they had found instead exceeded all their expectations: It seemed that their analysts had been wrong, and the Vulcans didn’t have unlimited reserves after all. They had apparently been just as desperate as the Federation to finish the war once and for all and had sent their whole fleet against Earth, leaving their headquarters all but unprotected. When a lucky shot from the Farragut had taken out the station powering the city’s defensive weaponry, their three small but heavily armed cruisers could have reduced the whole of Shikar to rubble. As the city not only housed the armed forces’ headquarters but also almost a third of the planet’s civilian population, the Vulcans had seen no other choice but to concede defeat.
At this point Jim looked up from the padd in confusion. Why should this news require the secrecy of a personal message? Why hadn’t there been a planetwide broadcast that the war was over? He looked around the room in contemplation. When his wandering gaze fell on the slave still kneeling in front of him, he scowled. The man’s obvious fear of mistreatment was grating on Kirk’s nerves. He was not a monster! And shouldn’t messages of this kind be delivered by trustworthy slaves – or whatever passed for trustworthy among convicted criminals –, not quivering messes like this one? He had never seen the logic in entrusting slaves with such an important task in the first place and had voiced his objections in the War Council loudly and repeatedly. However, Admiral Nogura had argued that since most people considered slaves beneath their notice, their anonymity was the best chance of passing messages undetected, and that the fear of punishment combined with the rare chance of a reward (he had gone as far as suggesting offering pardons for what was otherwise an irrevocable sentence – after all, desperate times called for desperate measures) would be a sufficient incentive for any slave, and the rest of the War Council had agreed with his reasoning.
Kirk quickly continued reading.
The Council fears that the Vulcans will not feel bound by a peace treaty they only agreed to under duress once they realize how decimated the Federation forces really are. Based on what we know of their traditions and their idea of honour, the best way to secure lasting peace seems to be to arrange a marriage between the heirs of their royal family and ours.
Kirk almost laughed out loud at the irony of the situation. He had always said that he’d do whatever it took to help end the war, but this was certainly not what he had had in mind. Apparently, the War Council had decided to hold off on announcing the ceasefire until both families had agreed to this arrangement. They had already started negotiations with the Vulcans, and if Kirk was agreeable, they should be able to sign both the peace treaty and the marriage contract by the end of the week. When he reached the postscript, Kirk snorted in a mixture of amusement and disgust.
The slave is a former doctor who has experience treating Vulcans. Consider him my wedding present.
So much for actually asking for Jim’s agreement … Unfortunately, the admiral was correct that Kirk didn’t really have a choice in the matter as his mother the Queen would never allow him to object if there was even the slightest chance of peace. He examined the slave with renewed interest. Having to marry one of the barbarians would be bad enough, there was no need to allow her to bring a whole entourage to the palace. And since most human doctors would never stoop to treating a Vulcan, having one on hand who couldn’t refuse might indeed come in handy. And yet, why had a doctor ended up a slave?
He addressed the man suddenly: “What’s your name?”
The man’s eyes met his for a moment in alarm – being noticed was hardly ever positive for a slave – before he looked down at the floor again. “McCoy, master.”
At this, the guard standing next to the door barked “Show some respect, slave! You will address Prince James as “Your highness”, as befits his station!”
McCoy, who had apparently not noticed anybody besides Kirk upon entering, whirled around at this unexpected voice and caught sight of a uniformed palace guard who had raised his baton threateningly, ready to use it at the slightest signal from the Prince. Only then did the man’s words seem to register, and McCoy, blanching noticeably, immediately turned back to Kirk, bowing even more deeply than before – obviously he had not been aware who he was speaking to. “Forgive me, your highness”, he stammered.
Kirk waved the guards comments and McCoy’s apology away impatiently and continued “Why were you sentenced to slavery, McCoy?”
The slave visibly flinched and became even more fidgety than before, something Kirk hadn’t thought possible. It was obvious McCoy didn’t want to answer, although he clearly didn’t have a choice and it wouldn’t take Jim long to get or confirm the information from other sources. Still, the slave remained silent until the guard grew impatient and hit him hard across the back with his baton and gruffly ordered him to “hurry up and answer”. A flash of annoyance at the guard’s overzealousness crossed the Prince’s face, but McCoy obviously thought it was directed at him. The man finally gave up his internal struggle and answered with a resigned sigh: “Treason, your highness.”