Imre ran over to Comm-Science II, talking fast at the same time. "Bimo, take the flight recorder back point seven six. Repeat and augment. It's echoing like a cavern. What are they saying?"
She had it quickly.
"They're kids, Jim! We found them stuffed in a crate! They're unconscious like everyone else except they're drugged."
Imre let out a big breath. "I thought he said that. They're alive."
Saavik needed to remember that. Knowing her children were alive, she could breathe. Just once and not deeply; the grip on her chest wouldn't let her lungs move that far.
That feeling had overwhelmed even her basic intelligence, let alone her logic. She would have felt her bond to the children snap if they were killed. The fact they lived had been right there in her own mind, a fundamental element to her own life, and instead, her first officer had to point out what she was ignoring.
Knocked out, folded and shoved in a box like they were--
Her accelerated heartbeat felt like it repeatedly punched her stomach, but the calming breath lowered her heart to its regular rate.
Still, Saavik never held such tight rein on herself like this since -- Spock's death. She wanted to scream, wanted to curse, wanted to call for whoever did this to be brought to her so she could--
She needed to contain the violence, push down the panic and the rage--
She heard Spock step in a deliberate movement to Tactical. She allowed herself to step back once and then again, until they stood close together. They opened the bond that kept them always touching even more, and it made her able to take another breath. Then she needed to look at him, her husband, her children's father, the only other person who understood the nightmare that had just landed on them.
The person who would be struggling as she was behind the forced calm they showed everyone else. The one who knew what his wife was capable of, so they could help each other not fall into that abyss.
You are no good to the children if you give into this.
Because if she let out the Romulan--
If she let out the Vulcan, the one behind the disciplines--
She could let out Hellguard.
It didn't matter the years -- the decades -- since it ceased to be a day to day struggle against Thieurrull's hold on her. One trigger and her own private Hell reached out and claimed her all over again. If that happened, she'd never get control of it again, not until it was too late.
Because the Hellguard in her soul badly wanted the person who did this to her son and daughters.
No, she must not think of that, not now. She must be focused on what she needed to do now and then fully realize the other layer of horror happening out there.
Spock's controls were stronger than Saavik's, and if the two of them were not so strongly bonded, she would think he didn't struggle like she did.
But he did. Deep under the surface, where no one around them could see, he made the same argument with himself. Without the disciplines---
The Vulcan could hold back the human.
The human could not contain the Vulcan, not the one stripped bare to ancient times who had just seen his children abducted, abused, and helpless.
Is that why their children were brought here? To hinder them and the Enterprise from.... Coridan? What else could it be?
Imre helped. He didn't wait for orders or even a question. He brought up a cargo manifest and launched into his explanation. "Right after we left Vulcan, the crew in Cargo Bay 2 noted that while our total weight was correct, a few containers were less than they should be. Then all hell broke loose and we couldn't bother with it, until your orders about finding the saboteur. I wondered if the weight issue had something to do with it, so I went through the flight recorder. I thought I would find machinery, not -- Setik and the girls. I'm sorry, Captain."
Saavik looked away from Spock and she found:
Every one of her people, furious. It was as if everything she wanted to do and say channeled into each of them. Nachson used every curse he had learned from his childhood on the rough Frontier. Thalla's lighter blue darkened to indigo with rage and her antennae shot forward as if by their motion alone, she would reach out and get who did this. T'allendil turned to Vulcan ice, some of the humans pounded on something, others yelled, and Ssaalz came to Saavik's side, her tail thrashing. The Carreon didn't care now who discovered her connection to her captain.
A few of them, like Nachson, knew Setik, T'Kel, and T'Pren personally; more had at least seen them. All of them took this personally.
Saavik turned in a slow circle and met each set of eyes. "You honor us."
Spock said to her as a reminder to both of them, "The children are safe on the Enterprise."
Doctor McCoy would, most likely, run tests on them since he had found them unconscious. He might find the genetic link to Spock, he might simply wonder about it when he found the Vulcan and human in the children. But:
"Dr. McCoy will not recognize the Romulan elements in them."
Spock nodded. "No one in the Federation has had the opportunity to learn them. However, that will not forestall any treatment they might need."
They left it unsaid that the opportunity came in the next year for the Enterprise when he led the capture of Commander Charvanek for her cloaking device. Just as neither of them had mentioned earlier, when Saavik had brought up the Orion impersonating an Andorian, that Kirk had disguised himself as a Romulan as part of the ploy for the same device.
Imre spoke gently. "Captain? One more thing. We found another opened container, a bigger one. I ran through the flight recorder and found this." He sent it to the viewscreen.
Saavik could just make out someone climbing from the crate, but nothing clear about what he looked like. She didn't even know what species he was or even if he was actually male. "You have no footage where we can clearly see him?"
"No, Captain. He knew how to hide from the recorders. It looks like he even used the cargo layout as a maze to avoid them."
"These lapses in our routines are growing far too numerous. Security!"
"Tran here, Captain."
Saavik pictured the Australian's fair skin, brown hair, beard, and blue eyes. "Are you aware of the situation in Cargo Bay 2?"
His gravelly voice dropped under the weight of what he said, "Yes, ma'am. We made a hole and the bastard used it to get us and your kids. Sorry doesn't equal half of it, Captain."
"Lieutenant Commander." Saavik looked around her bridge to spread this message to all of them. "I should have immediately made myself clear. I do not call you for a reprimand. I point out a common flaw that is unfortunately throughout the Contact. The focus must be on what other ‘holes' we have missed that the saboteur could already be using against us. It must end now."
"We've already started, Captain. Everyone who isn't with Dr. Stewart's teams is on this. We'll keep you informed," he signed off.
Everyone else on the bridge echoed his message and Engineering called up a moment later to agree.
T'allendil reported from Science I. "Scan of the ship confirmed we have no extra lifesigns on board. Breakdown by species also equals the correct count."
Saavik lowered herself into her captain's chair which kept Spock right above her. T'allendil had stood when she reported, and Saavik remembered that the other woman had a husband and children herself.
In fact, the Contact could carry civilian families for any crewmember serving for more than six months. Saavik had thought about bringing Setik and the girls with her, even if it was only one or two such missions. She had always decided against it. She had worried they wouldn't be safe.
Where was everyone who was supposed to protect them at home?
That intricate, shielding net Saavik kept around the family. Ruanek, T'Selis, the family -- had they been hurt? Killed? How far did the horror go? Even the children's sehlat, Ko-Kan, would have attacked anyone after her charges, and she'd rather die than lose them.
From nowhere, Saavik had the sudden maternal thought that if the sehlat was killed, it would devastate the children. And if they lost anyone like Ruanek...
She deliberately straightened her back and laid her arms on the chairs as if she didn't want to grip them hard. "Then we have eliminated two possibilities. Dr. Ssaalz, you and the other teams must continue your scans. And we must eliminate two other prospects. I want it confirmed that each crewmember was accounted for when we shipped out from Vulcan. No one was missing who is suddenly back at their post. Second, check flight recorders for Enterprise's away teams. Confirm that no one left with them that did not come over with them."
"Aye, Captain," came the reply from different officers.
The first idea -- that someone had been away from their post and now had returned -- was illogical. Such a crewman would not need to hide themselves in a cargo container, but if Saavik did not eliminate it all, she left something unanswered that might have helped them.
And enemies were often illogical.
Saavik knew no one beamed over on an away team and then didn't go back. The Enterprise would have noted it and be immediately contacting her. So she moved on.
"All other stations: continue your tests on how we were brought here and if the ship is free of any further sabotage."
Another chorus of officers confirming her orders sounded out.
"Mr. Imre. You did well."
He looked like he didn't think so, not when he had brought such bad news.
Saavik got up again and turned around to Spock at the tactical station, then motioned for T'allendil to come closer. "Spock, temporal theories exist that you and your younger self cannot occupy the same point in time. I would be concerned if you had not safely experienced such encounters already."
She abruptly stopped and then attacked the library computer access through her captain's chair. "We are changing course," she ordered as she found what she wanted. She sent the coordinates to the Conn stations.
Kamila Patrik called back, "Course laid in, Captain."
Thalla Sh'shytral confirmed, "Best speed, aye."
Saavik looked again at Spock. His eyes brows lifted. "The Guardian? It is logical."
T'allendil naturally had to look up what they were talking about, so she went back to Science I. Saavik, however, kept talking. "I can return to Vulcan before this began and prevent it from happening. We will not be sent here and the children will -- be where they are meant to be. I can even find this saboteur as he attempts to abduct them."
And then I will--
She didn't allow the Romulan in her to finish that fierce thought.
"Captain!" Sh'shytral called. "We are turning about."
"We're going back to the Enterprise," Patrik echoed. One of her hands fisted like she wanted to pound her station. "We're locked out again!"
Saavik's strides ate the steps between the captain's chair and the forward stations. She reached over their shoulders to attempt wringing control back. Her officers were good, but every pair of eyes helped and she had more experience than they did. But even she couldn't break the hold over her ship. "Go to the battle bridge," she ordered her navigator and helmsman. "Mr. Imre, go with them. Have Security meet you there and be armed. It is most likely that we are being controlled from there. Verify we are not and see if we have control of the ship from those stations."
The battle bridge was locked down until activated, a safety precaution earlier Starfleet ships did not have. In fact, Imre, Sh'shytral, and Patrik had to pass a Security check to enter the dedicated turbolift to the secondary control room.
When they had stood up, Nachson came running to take the helm next to Saavik at navigation. She called for Engineering, and then announced to them and the bridge, "We will attempt another course change. All stations are to monitor the ship's actions. If the saboteur's programming again alters our coordinates to return here, as I believe it will, some variation must register in our systems. Find it." She paused for her officers to begin monitoring. "Setting course for Vulcan."
"Aye, Captain," Nachson said as he set the helm.
It took only four seconds. The Contact barely started on one course when the override happened, sending them in reverse.
"Stations, report," Saavik ordered as she went through the navigation, but they found the same as her: nothing. The ship had acted as if the second course was laid in as naturally as the first. Everyone except T'allendil sounded frustrated. They failed against someone who shouldn't know their jobs better than all of them.
Saavik ordered Imre and the others back since the battle bridge could no more stop it than the main.
The Vulcan science officer spoke, "The most likely theory is the saboteur is using the standard programming to house his own. We have multiple systems throughout the ship that monitor for commands."
Saavik had not included Spock in these discussions because her people were exceptional; they did not need an outsider telling them how to do their work. However, they had reached a point where it was foolish to ignore his great amount of experience. T'allendil, especially, would recognize the logic in taking advantage of all he knew.
So as soon as his wife asked for his input, he went to Science I. "I agree with the lieutenant. Perhaps these monitoring systems wait for orders as they normally would and call the routines that are required, such as helm and navigation. However, within that host are commands that activate the modified responses, sending what still appears to be a standard command."
Saavik nodded. "And in fact is. We change course from the Enterprise and the hosting monitor program activates the helm and navigation to do a standard change to return." She thought it out further. "It is sophisticated beyond that level as well."
Spock agreed. "It continually observes the Enterprise's course so we may match it."
"Interesting," T'allendil noted. "Could the Enterprise enact a course change? The saboteur has had no opportunity to affect their systems."
"Or," Spock said to her as they fleshed out the theory, "would we then change to match them again?"
Which left them with the same priorities, as Saavik thought while she said out loud, "I do not wish to tamper any further with their timeline. They are set for Babel. Let us be the ones who makes these attempts. We must, after all, return to our own time."
Imre returned with the other two having locked down the battle bridge. Saavik stood up. "We are once again, as Lieutenant Patrik aptly put it, ‘going through it all circuit by circuit, line of code by line of code'. Mr. T'allendil, two teams are to go to the computer access room to directly check the primary and secondary cores. You may join them, if you wish, once we have secured your station here on the bridge. Choose the teams as you see fit."
With Kamila Patrik back at navigation, Saavik could move away to stand at Tactical. Spock came to her there. "Husband," she didn't care about the personal name on the bridge in this instance, "we need to contact the Enterprise. We must get the children, and safely discuss the situation that has both ships here."
Bimojigar's head swayed from them to her board and back. "They did it first, sir. We are being hailed."
Spock shared a look with Saavik. She nodded like he spoke out loud. To her, he had.
"Audio only," she ordered.
The voice that came over the bridge speakers made Spock lean over the station. Saavik stepped closer to him.
"This is Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise. You must know by now that we transported three people from your ship."
Saavik's eyebrows drew together. He doesn't say they are children. Because? Because he is keeping it from being public knowledge amongst the crew.
She heard someone whisper, "Kirk," reverently.
"We obviously need to return them, but due to the way they were found, I want to make sure of their safety before they transport back. They have... mentioned Mr. Spock."
Heads swiveled to look at her husband who calmly appeared as if he heard about his abducted children from his long dead friend every day. Saavik lifted her eyebrows and those heads turned around back to their work.
"If you can find a way to prove that they are in no danger aboard your ship, I will release them." He took a beat. "I'm also well aware that we have a -- situation without them that we need to resolve. If you are who you appear to be, we need to discuss that too. But I repeat -- I will need proof that I can trust you before any of that can happen. If you are Starfleet... if you're really Starfleet, you'll understand."
Saavik lowered her voice. "Bimojigar, tell them we need a moment and to hold. Spock."
He went with her to her -- well, what used to be called the Captain's office and now what was being termed a ready room. As if Starfleet had nothing better to do than change the names of things. Away teams, battle bridges, ready rooms--
She banned the unworthy thought from her mind. She needed to focus; she needed to take the situation and have it hone the best of what she was capable of doing, so she could get her family and her crew home, and home safely.
Her office door shut.