It was a large group waiting in one of the lounge areas in the Vulcan Science Academy’s hospital section. Everyone waited for Sorel while he finished initial tests on Saavik.
Kirk clamped down on his impatience. Waiting: that’s all he seemed to do anymore. Retirement wasn’t settling well on him, but he made himself think his frustration stemmed from it being early on yet. He missed the action and the challenges of his work. Anyone stepping down from it would. He’d adjust. At least he faced a challenge now and a way to help people. If anyone told him what the hell was going on.
He forced that down too.
The room was taking on a funereal atmosphere. Amanda was seated across the room from him in gray-blue robes that usually brought out her eyes, but today only emphasized her strain. She listened to Hunter, Saavik’s captain from the Aerfen. Sarek stood next to Amanda, listening with half his attention while the other half was divided between watching his wife and son. Spock stood against the wall on Sarek’s left, as unreadable as when this all began. He avoided any of Kirk’s attempts to talk, and spoke only when his professional opinion was needed. McCoy sat in front of him, looking caught between what he wanted to do and what he thought Spock wanted.
At least the room’s dark colors of rich brown walls, light furniture, and black stone flooring helped. It made the room more familiar and with the fourth wall and door gone, they were open off the hallway so they saw what was happening.
Except they weren’t relaxed. He and the others formed a square U around the perimeter of seats. Amanda was at the far end and Kirk directly across on the other, standing with the group from Saavik’s ship. But it wasn’t the room that bore down on their mood. It was their thoughts.
Just like a funeral, people talked in halting bits and only when the silence became unbearable. Amanda had finally asked Hunter how she was since they last met. The captain, like so many people in these situations, ended up sharing stories, especially about her half-Vulcan science officer, but with the tension and the waiting so heavy on them, it felt like they were talking about the dead.
"--so there I am, standing on the bridge with my ship on yellow alert and a Romulan cruiser glaring at me across the Zone. But when your communications officer, even the one on third shift, tells you she’s picked up enemy transmissions about your blood on their hands, you’re at least on yellow alert."
Kirk was enjoying the shop talk, but he wished it was under better circumstances.
"So I’m waiting to see if the Romulans are really preparing an attack when their shields go up. Not a particularly happy thing to see, but our shields were up so they might be reacting to that."
A woman seated three people away on Hunter’s left spoke up. "Can I tell the next part?"
Lauren Warfield, Kirk remembered; black hair, wide blue eyes, and petite -- really petite -- which said something about her abilities to be the Aerfen’s weapons officer. Maybe it was her mouth, which she wielded bluntly like a weapon.
"No," Hunter answered her. "So everyone’s shields are up. And Saavik comes running up to the bridge with all the other command officers. I’m biting my lip and looking very captain-like while I decide what to do."
"I play back the transmission -- again. We only got a snatch of it with drums beating in the background and this chant about ‘blood on our wings’, I don’t remember now. But Saavik snaps up like she’s jabbed by something, and she asks to hear it again. Which we do. I saw she was mulling over something and I told her ‘Out with it’. We went over to the comm station -- she insisted -- and she listens to it by herself for a minute. But I don’t have a minute so I push her. She says it sounds familiar and dashes back to her station before calling me over there. And she shows me what she thinks is the whole transmission. She’s reluctant, so I make her say Yes or No. She picks yes and has me transmit a response."
Hunter took a breath before blowing it out in exasperation. "It was a song! Something the Romulans play around one of their holidays. My answering transmission was the next stanza after the one we heard. Can you believe that, Jim? I almost go into battle over a song! But what are we expected to do? Know the enemies’ dance list for the past few decades? Command thinks so. They put a database together for what they know of the Klingons, the Romulans, and the Gorn. You must have gotten it on Enterprise. Now you know why."
He grinned. "And what happened to you, after you contacted their ship?"
"The Romulans came back, acknowledging my transmission -- their commander and I share our exasperation over some kid playing his holiday songs too loud while writing home -- and we all stood down. And here’s the last thing. My crew ends up liking this song, and they’re bellowing the damned thing around my ship for months!"
Warfield laughed. "Everyone was asking Savage for a clear copy. Was she put out!"
Savage? Kirk thought.
Lynne Hoskins, a blonde British woman and the Aerfen’s senior communications officer, was shaking her head. She leaned against the wall behind her best friend Warfield’s chair. "No, if you want a good Savage story, you must tell the one about--"
"The Christmas party!" Lauren pounded the arm of her chair in her enthusiasm.
"Wait a minute," McCoy interrupted. "Do you mean Saavik?"
"Yeah. Anyway, after all we did to try and drag her to it, she shows up for some teeny orphan who actually asked her if she was an elf. She was wearing her field jacket," she explained to Amanda, "it’s red and she’s got the ears." Warfield used the knuckles on her index fingers to put points on her eartips. Sarek looked appalled. "I thought she’d flip, but she kneels down to talk to the kid and the next thing we know, she’s agreeing to come the Institution’s Christmas party! She handed out gifts! Damn, if I knew that’s all it took, I’d have rounded up orphans a long time ago."
She missed it, but Hunter took in the people in the room. None of them was Saavik’s family, and the captain nodded to herself as if a long standing theory was just confirmed.
"No, not that one!" Hoskins complained. "The best Savage story is the Deltan ambassador! He was actually disabled by Deltan standards, if you know what I mean--"
But McCoy was still on the first part. "Our Saavik? The one we’re all waiting to see?"
"Yes! So this Deltan is an alien collector--"
Kirk’s eyes were already wide from the Savage comment, so they didn’t have anywhere to go for this last thing. He knew what the term meant, but that a Deltan could be one of the people who collected sexual experiences with species other than their own... After all, a Deltan’s sensual intensity was overwhelming for other species, how could--Kirk understood Hoskins’ comment now. This ambassador somehow lost the native ability for pheromone communication, freeing him to select from alien races.
Vulcans were high up on alien collectors’ lists since they were so unobtainable. Romulans listed with equally high importance. Saavik, being both, was a tempting target for the jaded sexual predator.
McCoy still couldn’t get past the nickname, which was ironic considering all the names he had called Spock over the years. "Hold on! She lets you call her that?"
Hoskins blew out an exasperated breath over being interrupted yet again. "I don’t know if you could say she lets us--"
"He’s right," Hunter interrupted, targeting both her comm and weapons officer with her best command look. "Remember where you are and show respect."
What kind of ship is Hunter running? Kirk asked himself. A halfway house for maverick officers? He held a ton of esteem for the other captain, but her people made him wonder.
He had been a maverick -- he cringed at the past tense -- and so was Hunter’s first officer, Dannan Stuart, who stared quietly into space from her seat between Warfield and Hunter. But while he and she may be rule breakers, these other women were just... crazy.
Saavik must be the real odd man out amongst this group, he thought. It saddened him; this display from the Aerfen officers was official then, not personal.
Dannan’s round blue eyes flicked up to him, but her introspection didn’t change. She once blamed he and Scotty for her brother, Peter Preston, dying. Something was still chewing at her, but he didn’t think it was that.
That left only one other person in the room: Dr. Aakheltok, the Andorian CMO for Hunter. He paid no attention to anything going on, but his antennae swiveled like he sniffed the air.
"Anyway!" Lauren Warfield said. She was speaking to Amanda who at least appeared to be listening. "This ambassador comes onboard with none of us knowing him or what he’s like, and he hones in on Saavik. And damned if during the banquet, he doesn’t tell us he’s an alien collector--you know what that is?"
Amanda absently nodded.
"Yeah, I guess so. You probably got accused of it -- you both probably did, didn’t you?"
Hunter’s stare bored into her junior officer with considerable heat, and Warfield clearly thought she was once more unjustly accused. McCoy spluttered, and Spock and Sarek puffed up in indignation, while Amanda, in contrast, sparkled with amusement and laid a calming, alien hand on her Vulcan husband’s arm.
"We did," she said evenly, but her face spoke of inner laughter.
Warfield and Hoskins nodded sagely, but Hunter was done with them. "Enough," she ordered.
Crestfallen, Lauren faced Amanda and mouthed broadly, Tell you later. The older woman smiled back.
Kirk grinned at McCoy who shook his head, hard put to not grin himself. Jim Kirk loved Amanda for her beauty, grace, and her intelligence backed by strong common sense. She had a good heart, and he was glad she saw the humor in the situation.
She was looking at Hunter right now pretty intently. "It was kind of you to beam down, Captain."
"Lieutenant Saavik’s one of my people."
Just as I thought, Kirk said to himself.
"So she is," Amanda commented idly. "Is there anyone onboard who wanted to come down but couldn’t?"
"No. No one else asked. Everyone’s concerned, of course."
"I’m sure they are. Do you think someone didn’t ask but wanted to?"
Hunter frowned and dragged her reply out, obviously confused. "No."
"Any men, for instance? If not on the ship, perhaps somewhere else?"
Everyone looked sharply at Amanda then, except for Sarek who went blank and Spock who stiffened.
Hunter glanced at her crew who gazed back just as baffled. "I don’t think so..."
"Some people are certainly interested in her," Lynne Hoskins commented.
Warfield snorted. "Oh, if that’s what you’re talking about, the line’s pretty long. But I never saw her interested back." She nudged her best friend. "Right?"
Hoskins nodded and asked Amanda, "Why?"
"Only curious," she answered vaguely. "I’m contacting the rest of Saavik’s emergency list. I want to make sure know no one is left off of it."
Dannan Stuart stirred for the first time. "Since we’re opening up about things, I’d like to ask a question."
"So would I." Aakheltok pushed off the wall and addressed Sarek. "How much longer before Sorel talks with us?"
"I do not know," was the answer. "He is not only engaged in Saavik’s tests, but in attending the other Vulcan-Romulan hybrids."
Kirk heard Hunter mutter other hybrids under her breath in disbelief.
Aakheltok wasn’t appeased. "I still don’t understand why it was necessary to bring her here. We were fully capable of treating her on the ship."
"Of course you were," Amanda said diplomatically. "No one questions that. But the hybrid disease is untreatable. We don’t even know its cause. Sorel will be here soon to talk to all of us. Hopefully, we’ll have more answers then."
The Andorian gazed back and forth from her to Sarek. "We don’t have much more time. Our ship is schedule to leave in a few minutes."
Hunter spoke up, her arms folded over her chest. "We’re not going anywhere until we see this doctor."
Overhead, a page was made in Vulcan and the universal translator built into the room interpreted it into a few other languages.
Aakheltok’s eyes settled on McCoy who looked back, shrugged, and spoke one physician to another. "I know how you feel, but nothing else to do right now except sit tight."
"I actually had a different question." Dannan looked at Spock and her indifference turned to accusation. "Why are you here?"
Kirk felt Hunter start, but she made no reprimand this time.
Spock responded coolly. "Is there a reason why I should not be here, Commander?"
"Yeah," she said, just as calmly cold. "That damn letter you sent Saavik, cutting her off, ruining her transfer... and now you come around pretending you’re concerned?"
McCoy stopped Kirk’s explosive reply by making his own. "Just a minute!"
But Stuart wasn’t done. "I just want an answer. The question really goes to the three of you," and she swept McCoy and Kirk into her demand.
Kirk paused to reign in his temper, and Hunter spoke in that beat.
"I got to admit, Jim, I couldn’t believe it either. Especially after the first time Saavik was supposed to come to you and Command canceled it. This last one seemed a sure thing. I was all ready to call you on the mat for stealing my officer, and then I got your cancellation order. Dumbfounded me. And since we’ve always been honest with each other, I didn't appreciate it that you left it up to me to break the news to her."
"I did not send a cancellation order! Saavik sent one to us!"
Stuart plainly thought he was lying, but Hunter was more confused than ever. "Jim, I saw your order."
"And we saw Saavik get that letter." Dannan’s animosity was all the worse for the quiet, contained way she displayed it. Her captain had tempered her well. Too well.
"She’s right, Jim." Hunter gave a worried shake of her head. "Saavik’s Vulcan and she’s hard to read, but we saw how much that letter hit her. She looked like someone with a belly wound."
She was looking at him and Stuart’s back was to Spock, so they didn’t see the subtle, tight line along his jaw. Kirk wondered if they’d recognize it anyway. Amanda and Sarek did, and they watched their son worriedly.
"Too many people saw both sides get these orders," Kirk said. "Neither of us has a reason to lie."
"Oh really?" Dannan asked and looked back over her shoulder to Spock.
Tight lipped, Kirk struggled for control himself. "Yes, really. What I don’t understand is how or why anyone else would?" He chewed on the inside of his bottom lip. "Hunter, who authorized that transfer order? The one I supposedly put through?"
He was just fishing, giving himself time. With Saavik’s first transfer, he was told about its cancellation from a friend: someone else had already been assigned to Enterprise to replace Sulu -- Saavik had to stay put. He never got an official cancellation. His note about this second transfer termination was just as informally done, Saavik saying she no longer wanted it.
But when Hunter started to answer, stopped, and her face lit with dawning comprehension, he knew they finally had something.
"Cartwright!" He was staring at McCoy, and then he glanced from the top of his eyes at Spock. The wheels were turning in all their minds, and he knew the Vulcan was already at a conclusion the rest only glimpsed. "This is starting to make sense. He needed to get one of his people on board. Saavik was about to fill that spot, so he removes her."
"The conspiracy?" McCoy asked in disbelief. "That far back?"
Kirk questioned Spock. "When did you first contact the Klingons about an alliance?"
Spock said nothing, but his expression spoke volumes. At least to Kirk.
"And the Intelligence Division discovers that contact and one of the people they tell is Cartwright. So, just in case, he starts preparing a plan."
"But what about the letter?" Stuart insisted. "Are you saying Cartwright sent that?"
"No," Kirk said slowly. "I don’t think he had the expertise, and it’d take an expert to break into the security around the personal mail systems. Plus set the return path so when anyone checked, it was correct. And I think--" but he wouldn’t ask, "--that the letters mentioned personal details. Things Cartwright didn’t know." He was still watching Spock, not wanting to say this next part. "Could Valeris do it?"
The hesitation was just long enough for him to notice it. "Yes."
Kirk felt the word cut his friend. All the worse because Valeris most likely learned the ability under Spock’s tutelage. "Would she know the details for the letters?"
"Having not seen Saavik’s, I cannot answer for it. But for mine--" Spock sounded so beaten. "Yes."
Kirk stayed put, knowing Spock didn’t want any gesture pointing out his pain. But did he see how Sarek took a step closer, just hovering nearby as a support? Or how Amanda swallowed against tears?
McCoy looked as helpless as Kirk felt. With nothing to say to Spock, he burst out, "But why? If Cartwright’s got that spot reserved for Valeris already, why is doing anything else necessary?"
He waited, but when the Vulcan stayed quiet, he answered. "Because it wasn’t just about getting on Enterprise, it was about getting close to Spock -- close enough to watch his process on the Klingons, close enough that he trusts her to tell her things. Close enough so that we see it and trust her too. Plus, there’s the personal side." He discerned Spock’s slight tensing, but he wasn’t talking about that meaning of the word personal. "Spock was picking the next science officer and Valeris wanted that posting."
"And all that means removing Saavik?" Dannan Stuart was incredulous. "Wasn’t this Valeris close already?"
Spock shook his head. And now even she saw Saavik was not the only one affected by what happened.
Aakheltok made a noise behind them, his antennae straightening, and Kirk’s head snapped up at the sound of approaching footsteps. Sorel.
With him was a Vulcan woman also in brown healer robes. Sorel’s dark hair had fewer grays than Sarek’s, but then he hadn’t lived through such things as his son dying and being reborn. His black eyes took in everyone and addressed them gravely. "I apologize for your wait."
"How is Lieutenant Saavik?" Hunter asked immediately.
"Doing well under the circumstances. My compliments to your doctor."
"I’m not looking for compliments -- although I appreciate the opinion of someone with your reputation." Aakheltok’s antennae swiveled forward. "I want to know about my patient."
Sorel’s eyebrows arched as if surprised. Kirk wondered. He was too young to know the years when Vulcan and Andor were bitter enemies; so was Aakheltok. But Sorel and Sarek grew up in those days; was it surprising to them to see an Andorian concerned for a Vulcan?
Sorel answered, "We are transporting her soon to a private room. She will enter healing sleep for a day to mend the remaining damage from the fall."
The Andorian physician looked confused. "You ordered she not go into healing sleep."
Sorel nodded. "To avoid the risk of it removing the cause of Phase I. We completed the tests and will run more for comparison after she is awake."
"Is she asleep now?" Stuart asked.
"No, however because of her physical condition including Phase I, she does lapse into unconsciousness. Amanda, you asked to see her?"
She nodded, and Kirk heard Hoskins make a displeased sound. Sorel heard it as well and paused, looking over the Aerfen crew. "We will bring her here shortly, but we can allow five minutes at most."
At their evident relief, Kirk knew the Vulcan healer had diagnosed them all correctly. But that meant Saavik was coming here. Again he looked at Spock. Confusion and conflict warred over his expression, and he did what he always did in such situations. He went unmovably Vulcan.
Sorel explained, "We are only waiting for a room to be prepared in the wing where the other hybrids are."
McCoy cleared his throat. "Sorel, what can you tell us about this disease?"
The healer’s unreadable onyx eyes showed nothing, but his voice warmed. "Leonard, Sarek sent me your message from Earth. Your offer of service honors us. Let me introduce Healer Tu'ong, one of our leading geneticists."
Tu'ong nodded. "For reasons regarding the disease’s cause. Some theories speculate it is embedded into the hybrids’ genes."
"Like a time bomb?"
She nodded again.
"Put there by who?" Aakheltok asked.
"We are unsure. Possibly the Romulans."
"All our information is collated in these reports." Sorel handed one to McCoy and the other to Aakheltok. "In summary, you will see Phase I includes the symptoms you already know. After it, the patient enters a period of good health for 5 to 10 days. Phase II then begins."
Kirk saw McCoy’s expression of shock and hurried to read over his shoulder. "Phase II symptoms: aggression, loss of emotional control, increased sexual drive--"
Alarms went off stridently in Kirk’s head. His eyes jerked to McCoy who nodded, and he caught what he missed had before: the understated telltales in Sarek and Spock in discussing this stage of the disease. Now he knew why Amanda asked if any men were in Saavik’s life.
He almost shouted, "You said Phase II was non-lethal."
"It is," Sorel replied.
"Phase II is not lethal," Sorel stressed and shut his mouth firmly.
Meaning it might look like pon farr, but it’s not.
"What happens next?" Stuart asked. She and the others were crowded around the Andorian, doing what Kirk was doing.
Hunter looked back at him, and he knew she understood. Starfleet captains were told discreetly: if a Vulcan is acting on certain symptoms and demanding to go home, get them home! And keep your mouth shut. But gauging by her crew’s expressions, they didn’t know about pon farr, which was surprising in Aakheltok’s case. Chief medical officers knew as much as starship captains, unless Vulcans kept it silent from Andorian doctors? Or did Aakheltok not see it -- or did see it, but kept his reaction quiet?
"The disease goes into remission for thirteen months, and then the patient enters Phase III." Sorel’s expression tightened minutely. "Phase III is fatal. The patient’s body no longer processes nutrients from ingested food. The same is true for liquids. The patient eventually dies from starvation and dehydration."
Silence fell over them. Hunter’s communicator shattered it by signaling for attention, the soft chime sounding shrill in the tension. She whispered hurried instructions to her ship, and snapped the communicator closed. She glanced at her people. "Not yet."
Kirk felt that disassociation with the outside world so common in these situations. Surprising to remember it was daylight outside this dark colored room, and sad to know a ship didn’t wait in orbit for him, wouldn’t call him with a reminder that challenges waited out there.
But if he was Hunter and not staying with a fallen crewmember, his frustration would pound in his veins and he’d envy the people facing the challenge here. The way Hunter looked at him now.
McCoy asked, "How long for Phase III?"
"It varies," Tu’ong said. "Typically, one month."
Kirk spoke. "And five died already?"
"Six," Sorel corrected. "We lost one this morning."
Behind him, Amanda closed her eyes.
"But you can cure this, right?" Hoskins looked back and forth between the two Vulcan healers.
"We believe so," he said. "Clearly, we are unsuccessful so far."
Another pall fell over them into which Dannan Stuart asked uncertainly, "You said Saavik will be all right between the phases. Can she come back to the ship?"
"If she chose to return to work--"
Lauren Warfield snorted. "You don’t know Saavik, do you?"
Thankfully, Sorel took that well. "Just so."
"So she comes back to us after Phase I?" Stuart asked. "When she enters the second stage, I’m sure Dr. Aakheltok can take care of her."
"We prefer she stays on Vulcan until after Phase II, due to the nature of the symptoms. After which--"
Hunter interrupted. "She comes back to us." It was not a question.
Tu’ong glanced over to Sorel. He nodded. "If Saavik wishes."
In the next instant, his head moved in reaction to some sound. "They’re bringing her now. Remember we asked you to refrain from loud noises or too many speaking at one time. Also, due to our women’s more sensitive sense of smell, no one was to wear perfume, cologne, or other strong scents. In her current condition, the fumes and the noise are aggravating to her system."
Tu’ong’s nose suddenly twitched, and she looked sharply in Amanda’s direction. "You are wearing a fragrance."
"Barely. I forgot your instructions this morning, and washed it off as soon as I remembered."
The Vulcan woman hesitated, breathing deeply, before nodding to Sorel. "It is faint. I was not conscious of it until you repeated the direction."
He dimmed the lights while Kirk shook his head to himself in admiration. Amanda never forgot the instructions. She just ensured that no matter what, Saavik would know she was here.
Kirk got a brief glimpse of her as Sorel brought her in. Her eyes were closed as she lay almost too still on the gurney. She was dressed in light gray hospital fatigues, a sheet pulled up to her waist. None of the injuries showed any longer and her color was only slightly pale, but she looked fragile and extremely vulnerable. Or did he think that because he knew of the disease striking her?
The Aerfen officers gathered tightly around the gurney. With all that had happened, he missed how wrong he was earlier. They felt very personally about this. Saavik was one of them.
Stuart was right in front of him. He heard her call softly, "Hey."
Saavik’s eyes fluttered, and she blinked in the light. Through a gap between their shoulders, he saw her eyes roll dizzily before focusing on Stuart. Her breathing eased as she took in the quiet hellos from the rest of the crew, Hunter reaching out to pat one covered foot.
He was surprised. He didn’t expect to feel so shut out, but he stood outside their circle and felt there was no place for anyone but them. He combated this sense by remembering how very much Saavik had wanted back on Enterprise, and how very much they had wanted her back.
He glanced sharply at the others. McCoy’s fists were balled up like he held himself back from pushing in. And Spock -- Spock wore a plain look of shock. But from seeing Saavik like this or from seeing her at all?
On noticing her captain, she struggled as if trying to rise.
"Belay that!" Hunter ordered.
Warfield leaned on the gurney at one bottom corner. "You’ll be fine, you know."
"You’ve come through worse," Hoskins said, but Aakheltok was speaking on top of her while Stuart asked if she needed anything. Saavik’s eyes crinkled as if wincing, and Hunter held a hand out, signaling quiet.
"They said you can come back when you’re well in a few weeks," Stuart finally said. Her throat was working against a lump, which Saavik saw and look concerned over.
"Stay strong until then," Hoskins said.
"Yeah, don’t let us down," Warfield added.
Hunter’s communicator chirped again. She looked around her group. "We have to answer this one."
Aakheltok leaned over from the end. "Do you need anything?"
Saavik gave her head a tiny shake. Kirk saw her hands clench the gurney. Even that slight shake aggravated her vertigo.
Hunter came around to stand at her left arm. "This is an order." She put a hand on one shoulder. "Come back."
Saavik blinked slowly in response.
The five officers pulled reluctantly away, Stuart last. Saavik watched them leave until they were out of sight. Then her eyes closed slowly.
Sorel looked at those remaining, wondering if anyone else had something to say. Kirk wanted to go to the gurney and Amanda was already on her feet, but they were all held back by one thing. What would Spock’s reaction be?
Saavik’s nostrils abruptly flared, picking up Amanda’s perfume. Her head lolled to that side as she forced her eyes open. And saw Spock instead.
Whatever remaining idea Kirk had about Saavik sending that letter was blown away. Her eyes screamed raw pain bleeding into grief, and then, betrayal.
Her eyes shut and she fell back, unconscious.