The Ties That Bind
‘What manner of man is this, or what manner of creature is it in the semblance of a man?’ ‘Dracula,’ by Bram Stoker
He shivered involuntarily as he read that passage, memories from long ago sifting through the layers of his mind. He’d first read this book at the age of six, expressly against his mother’s wishes, and it had given him nightmares for weeks. Now, as an adult, he often revisited the work, the beautiful, stirring prose never failing to give him a new appreciation of its messages of good versus evil, the increasing strain runaway technology and a shifting moral compass could place on a society unprepared for rapid change, and most importantly the role powerful friendship could play in the face of an overwhelming, nearly insurmountable situation.
His eyes skimming rapidly over the text, he soon became lost in that Victorian world of the past. The whistle of the intercom above his bed wrenched him firmly back into the present. Sparing a quick glance at the chronometer he noted the time: 21:37. Carefully closing the 300-year-old tome, he raised himself on an elbow, depressing the switch on the comm unit, activating the viewer.
“Kirk here. Go ahead Lieutenant.”
“Sorry to disturb you, sir, but we’re receiving a distress call from the vicinity of the Boradis system. Our outpost there says they’re under attack.”
He was already on his feet, tugging the gold uniform tunic over his head, closing the fastener at the neck. “On my way, Mister Farrell. Page Mister Spock and have him meet me on the bridge.” Scooping up his boots, he made for the door to his quarters, disappearing into the corridor beyond.
“What do we know about the planet, Spock?” Kirk asked, perched on the railing behind the science station.
The Vulcan swiveled in his chair. “It lies on the outskirts of Federation space, situated on the leading edge between the Gorn Hegemony and the Klingon Empire. Uninhabited, it does present some useful minerals, but more importantly represents an ideal location from which to monitor activity both within the Gorn sphere of influence and Klingon space. It could be our first line of defense, and our first warning, should the Gorn or the Klingons show a desire to start hostilities by encroaching into that region of Federation territory. Several months ago, an outpost was established there with the express mission of gleaning intelligence regarding the Gorn’s movements. Recent reports indicate that they have been occupying more and more worlds close to the border within their territory. The purpose of this outpost has been to determine their intentions with regard to this activity; whether it is simply exploration and expansion within the boundaries of their empire, or if they are massing forces in preparation for a large-scale assault on Federation forces.”
“And?” Kirk prompted.
“Results are inconclusive as of yet. If this does represent the preliminary stages of an attack, this may be the first indication of a more widespread attempt to ‘increase the borders’ of their territory, so to speak.”
“Mister Farrell, do we have any additional information?” Kirk asked, climbing to his feet and addressing the communications officer.
“No sir; the message was brief. It stated simply that they were under attack and in need of assistance, but no mention was made of by whom, and contact was lost shortly thereafter.”
“Mister Hadley, ETA to the Boradis system?” he asked, turning to face the beta shift navigator.
“One hour, thirteen minutes at warp four, sir,” Hadley supplied quickly.
“Plot a course for Boradis III, Navigator. Proceed at warp four. Go to yellow alert. Mister Farrell, inform Starfleet Command of this development. Find out if there are any other ships in the area that can offer assistance as well, and page Doctor McCoy, Engineer Scott, Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov as well as Commander Giotto and have them assemble in Briefing Room Three in fifteen minutes. Mister Leslie, you have the con. Let’s go, Spock,” he said, collecting the science officer with a nod and making for the turbolift.
“So that’s the situation we are facing,” Kirk informed them, his gaze sweeping the faces of his senior officers seated at the table. Spock had just finished a detailed explanation of the outpost and its objective. “Evaluations, gentlemen?”
“It sounds like it should be the Gorn,” Sulu said, “but suppose it’s a ruse and it’s really the Klingons who are responsible, given the location of the Boradis system?”
“But what would the Klingons have to gain by doing so?” McCoy demanded. “Besides, if they were responsible wouldn’t the Organians put a stop to it?”
“Not necessarily, Doctor,” Scotty speculated. “If it’s a covert operation, the actual perpetrator in question, the Klingons could argue the point, deny any involvement.”
“Precisely, Mister Scott, but there may be another benefit as well,” Spock supplied. “If we become embroiled in a conflict with the Gorn over territory, it may allow the Klingons to surreptitiously attempt to expand their borders elsewhere into neutral space. Under the Organian Peace Treaty, much like Sherman’s Planet, disputed worlds in as yet unclaimed territory will be awarded to one side or the other based upon which government can be shown to best aid in the development of that world.”
“And there are many such areas,” Chekov added. “They might be interested in a world thousands of parsecs from here. If they can distract us, they might be able to lay claim to the planet in question before the Federation.”
“Commander, you’ve been quiet,” Kirk said, addressing Giotto.
“It’s more likely to be the Gorn, Captain,” the security chief replied. “The increased activity we’ve seen along their border with Federation space suggests they are planning a raid into our space, or at least a response to our placing an outpost on Boradis III, just as they were disgruntled with the facility on Cestus III. Whether it’s just that, or something more, remains to be seen.
“The Gorn aren’t really known for their philanthropic or world-building skills, making it unlikely that the recent activity is due to scientific curiosity. This may be an intentional attempt on their part to assess our reaction to their encroachment into Federation territory. We can’t count on the Metrons to intervene again, especially since neither side has trespassed into their sphere of influence. If it is the Gorn, given their warlike tendencies, we need to act swiftly, and decisively; otherwise, this may serve as an invitation to them to press the boundaries between our two regimes.”
“Agreed,” Kirk conceded. The intercom on the table sparked to life at that moment. “Kirk here; go ahead Mister Farrell.”
“Sir, Starfleet advises us to proceed at best possible speed and render assistance. The Potemkin is eighteen hours away, and has been dispatched to offer whatever aid we may require.”
“Thank you, Mister Farrell. ETA to Boradis III?”
A moment as Farrell could be heard consulting the navigator. “Thirty-five minutes at present speed, sir.”
Kirk looked askance at Scotty, who nodded slightly. “Increase speed to warp five. Keep monitoring all frequencies for any additional transmissions; I don’t like going in blind.”
Kirk snapped off the comm unit. “Well, there you have it, gentlemen. Mister Sulu and Mister Chekov, I want you manning the helm and navigation.” He turned to the security chief. “Commander, put together a security team and assemble in the transporter room in fifteen minutes. Scotty, Spock – let’s get to the bridge and find out what the hell’s going on down there,” he declared resolutely, striding from the room, the others hurrying to keep pace, McCoy bringing up the rear.
“Captain, a ssship is approaching,” the tactical officer reported.
“Helm, make sssure you keep the planet between usss and them. We are not to be detected.”
“Lieutenant, put me in touch with our ssship on the sssurface; pinpoint burssst, and ssscrambled.”
“Channel isss open, Captain,” the communication’s officer informed him.
“A Federation ssship isss en route. Power down all sssystems. Passive scansss only. If a forccce arrivesss on the sssurface, your mission isss to capture the persssonnel and return them here for quessstioning. Hopefully they will be of hardier ssstock than our previousss captivesss and we’ll be able to exxxtract sssome ussseful information from them before they exxxpire.”
Spock was manning the scanners as they approached the planet in question. “No signs of a ship in the vicinity, sir, but warp trails indicate there was activity in the area within the hour.”
“Could a ship be hiding behind the planet itself?”
“That is always a possibility, Captain,” the Vulcan Science Officer supplied.
“Mister Farrell, any word from the surface?”
“Negative, Captain. I’ve been hailing on all frequencies, but there’s been no response from the outpost.”
“Any other subspace chatter in the area?”
“Negative, sir. If there’s a ship behind Boradis III, they’re maintaining radio silence.”
“Mister Spock, readings of the outpost?”
“Scans show it has been severely damaged; there are no life-form readings.”
Kirk ran a hand over his chin. “Can we tell who’s responsible?”
“Not without further evaluation at the scene.”
“Then let’s get to the bottom of this. Spock, you’re with me. Scotty, you’re in command. Whoever did this might still be in the area, so be ready. I want deflector shields raised as soon as we arrive on the surface. Engineer, you will do whatever is necessary to protect the ship. Those of us on the surface are expendable, the Enterprise is not. Do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly, sir,” Scott replied grimly.
Kirk headed for the turbolift, Spock falling into step at his shoulder. “What about me? I’m coming with you,” McCoy interjected, placing himself in Kirk’s path.
“Not necessary, Bones; Spock said no one was left alive.”
“And what if the sensors are wrong; the readings too faint to be detected? You might need me down there.”
“Very well, Doctor,” Kirk conceded grudgingly. “Scotty, take good care of my ship. Gentlemen,” he said, gesturing to the turbolift, “Let’s go find out what happened down there.”
They materialized amid clouds of acrid smoke. The base lay in ruins all around them. Giotto could be heard in the background, ordering his men to set up a perimeter. Kirk flipped open his communicator.
“Scott here, Captain.”
“The base has been completely destroyed. We’re looking for survivors now,” he said, heading for what was left of the main building, Spock and McCoy a few steps behind him, the Vulcan’s tricorder whirring loudly. “Status report, Scotty.”
“Still no evidence of other vessels in the area, sir. Shields are up an’ we’re maintainin’ Red Alert status.”
“Good. We’ll assess things here and notify you when we’re ready to beam up.”
“Aye, sir. Scott out.”
Kirk closed the device to find Spock at his elbow. “Something?” he asked, a hand shading his eyes from the bright glare of the sun.
“Yes. It seems Commander Giotto was correct. The pattern of destruction is consistent with Gorn weaponry and tactics.”
“And Spock got it right aboard the ship – no life form readings in the area,” McCoy added grimly, approaching the two of them.
“Then where the hell are they?” Kirk wondered aloud. “No enemy forces here on the surface, no ship in orbit. It’s atypical of them not to stand their ground; to disappear without a fight.”
“Is it possible they’re hoping to keep the Metrons from intervening again, while still protecting their interests?” McCoy speculated.
“In all probability this was meant to send a clear message to the Federation that the Gorn will simply not allow what they perceive to be aggressive behavior along their border,” Spock supplied.
“That’s unacceptable,” Kirk declared adamantly. “Unlike the outpost at Cestus III, there were no weapons at this facility. There was no evidence whatsoever that our intentions were hostile, and this planet lies well within Federation territory. Suppose there had been a colony here – the casualties could have been much higher. We’ve got to respond; an attack of this nature cannot be tolerated.”
At that moment Giotto loped up to the three men, slightly winded. “No evidence of enemy personnel in the area, Captain, but it’s got Gorn written all over it.”
“No wounded, either,” Kirk informed the Head of Security. “They were quite thorough. Spock, Bones, make a recording of this; it can be used as evidence when the Federation Council confronts the Gorn Hegemony. Commander, recall your security team. Prepare to beam up in five minutes, gentlemen.”
Spock and McCoy stepped away, tricorders trained on the destruction before them. Giotto was speaking into his communicator, and Spock had turned, a puzzled expression on his face, mouth open to speak, when all hell broke loose. A little ship appeared out of nowhere, disruptors mounted on her hull expertly picking off the two security guards making their way back to rejoin the others.
“Cover!” Kirk shouted, as the remaining members of the landing party scattered, secreting themselves behind large bits of rubble. Kirk’s communicator began to beep incessantly. “Kirk here.”
“Scotty, sir. A Gorn ship has just emerged from behind the planet. She is demandin’ our surrender, or she’ll open fire.”
“Reveal yourselvesss,” a loudspeaker on the small scout ship hovering above the landing party declared. “Failure to do ssso will resssult in your deathsss.” None of the Enterprise men moved.
“Under no circumstances are you to surrender, Mister Scott. Defend yourselves, but get the ship to safety if need be,” Kirk shouted into his communicator.
A blue beam lanced out of the small ship, striking the section of wall behind which Giotto was hiding. The security chief screamed as large bits of debris rained down on him, a massive chunk of stone pinning him by his left leg. Spock and McCoy were instantly on the move to aid the injured man.
“All right, don’t shoot!” Kirk shouted, jumping from behind the pillar that had been sheltering him. “We surrender.” Kirk spared a glance behind him. “Bones, Spock, how is Giotto?” he asked, gaze traveling between his men and the enemy ship before them. His communicator was still open. The captain could only hope the Enterprise was monitoring the events that were currently unfolding.
“He’s in a bad way, Captain. He needs immediate attention or we’ll lose him,” this from McCoy.
The alien scout ship landed a dozen meters before them, weapons still trained on the
remaining members of the landing party. A hatch on the side opened, five Gorn crewmen pouring out of the breach, disruptors leveled at the four men. “Throw down your weaponsss,” one of them hissed.
“All right,” Kirk said, one arm raised, palm open as he tossed his phaser on the ground in front of him. Behind him, he heard the clink of Spock and McCoy’s weapons hitting the ground as well.
“And your communication devicesss,” the same alien, obviously in command of the small band of troops, demanded next. Kirk carefully dropped his, the wire mesh grid remaining open. Two metallic thuds in the background confirmed his friends had done the same.
“Crewman Kulassa, collect their weaponsss,” the leader instructed, one member of the alien team rushing forward to comply.
“And now, you will come with usss,” their leader said, waving them toward the scout ship with his disruptor. McCoy and Spock bent to roll the heavy stone off Giotto’s leg.
“Not him,” the tall lizard hissed.
“This man needs prompt medical attention,” McCoy argued, blue eyes flashing with indignation, he and Spock standing their ground.
“Move away, or thisss one will die.” A disruptor was leveled at Kirk. Exchanging glances with one another, Spock and McCoy came to stand beside their captain.
“We’re not leaving without Giotto,” Kirk stated resolutely.
“It isss dishonorable for a warrior not to die in battle,” the green-skinned alien stated simply, training his weapon on Giotto. The security chief, who had been motionless, reached for his phaser in a blur of activity. Kirk fought to race to the downed man, restrained by McCoy and Spock. The commander disappeared in a hail of blue energy.
“And now, you will board the ssship,” the leader reiterated, other members of his crew grabbing the remaining three men and shoving them roughly toward the open hatch.
“That’s it, Mister Scott. The transmission just ended abruptly, and they don’t answer my hails,” Farrell informed the acting captain.
“That tears it. Were they taken captive or did they manage to escape?” Scott remarked grimly. His thoughts were interrupted by Sulu.
“Mister Scott, the Gorn ship is opening fire,” the helmsman announced forcefully, his voice tense.
“Evasive maneuvers. Mister Chekov, prepare to launch photon torpedoes. They might be faster than us, but if memory serves their weapons were inferior to ours. Aim for her engines and shield systems, Ensign. If possible, I want her disabled, not destroyed. Then we’ll have proof positive that they were the ones who encroached into our territory.”
The Enterprise shuddered beneath them as she received a glancing blow from the enemy’s weapons.
“Damage report,” Scotty snapped.
“Shields are holding,” Sulu supplied.
“Photon torpedoes locked on target,” the Russian navigator interjected.
Three balls of red energy could be seen impacting the small craft. She rocked under the force of the blows.
“Chekov, man the scanners. Mister Sulu, take over weapons control.”
Chekov bounded up the stairs to the science station, activating the hooded viewer. “Their shields are at forty percent, Mister Scott. Their warp drive is damaged but still functional.”
“Incoming,” Sulu informed them as the other ship spewed forth another blast of energy.
The bridge crew fought to stay in their seats as the Enterprise bucked and danced under the alien weapon’s power. “Direct hit, Mister Scott. Our number two shield now at sixty-five percent, others holding. No appreciable damage,” Chekov supplied.
“Fire, Mister Sulu!”
Once again, the alien ship shimmied under the impact of the Enterprise’s weapons.
“Got him, sair,” Chekov reported, face bathed in the blue glow of the scanner. “Shields gone, warp drive damaged to the point that it is non-functional.”
“Sir, they’re no longer targeting us, but have locked weapons on another ship,” this from Sulu, his voice rife with confusion.
“Confirmed, sair. A small vessel has just attained escape velocity from the planet and is headed for the Gorn ship.”
“Mister Scott,” Farrell interrupted, “We’re being hailed.”
“Put it on screen,” Scott said.
A scaly, green face slowly wavered into view.
“This is Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott, commanding the starship Enterprise. Yer shields are gone and yer engines inoperative. Do ye wish to discuss terms of yer surrender?” the third-in-command asked before the other could speak.
“On the contrary, it isss you who will sssurrender to usss.”
“Not likely,” Scott replied sardonically.
“Our vessel may be damaged at the moment, but we have taken three of your officersss hossstage. They are in the ssscout ssship currently en route to usss.”
“I dinna believe ye,” Scott announced with conviction, but his eyes traveled to Chekov.
“Confirmed, Mister Scott,” the navigator whispered in a voice that would not carry over the open mike, “Reading two humans and a Vulcan aboard the ship.”
“We have our weaponsss locked on her. If you fire on usss or make any threatening movesss, we will dessstroy her.”
“How do we know they’re really on board, and that ye haven’t killed them already?”
“Obssserve.” The alien captain gestured over his shoulder, and the image on the screen dissolved into the interior of the scout ship. The three senior Enterprise officers were seated together, disruptors trained on them. “You will allow the ssship to dock with usss unmolesssted, or they will be killed.”
“How do we know ye won’t kill them anyway?” Scott asked angrily.
A low, gruff chuckle rumbled from the throat of the alien captain. “You don’t. But they will cccertainly be killed if you intervene.” And with that, the screen went dark.
“What do we do now, Mister Scott?” Chekov asked.
“The only thing we can do, lad – we wait.”
Once the ship docked, the three were hustled off immediately, Kirk quickly separated from the others. Spock and McCoy soon found themselves in the alien ship’s brig, a dark, dingy little room with a sloping ceiling and a low metal bench attached to the back wall, the only appointment in the austere cell. A thick, orange fluid dripped intermittently from a small rift in an overhead pipe, pooling in a viscous puddle on the grimy floor below. Seated next to Spock, McCoy surveyed the room with trepidation, finding the dark stains peppered about the floor and walls most disturbing. Even worse was the cloying scent of decay that permeated the stale air. He shuddered involuntarily, glancing at Spock. What he saw he found even more disquieting. Usually when Jim was in danger, Spock was like a caged tiger, pacing, plotting, smoke practically pouring out of his ears as the Vulcan worked to find a solution, a way to get to and protect his captain. But now Spock was sitting stock-still, withdrawn, eyes unfocused.
“Spock?” McCoy asked hesitantly, drawing the Vulcan back from wherever it was he had gone. The brown eyes that met his as Spock turned to face him in the dim light were…twisted with pain? “You okay?” McCoy was definitely on edge now, even more so than before.
“I am merely attempting to assess the situation,” Spock supplied, rather unconvincingly to McCoy’s mind.
“What’s there to assess? We’ve been taken captive, Jim’s been herded off God-knows-where, and we have no way to help him, let alone find him on this flying tin can. If you ask me, it doesn’t get any plainer than that.”
“I am endeavoring to contemplate our alternatives, Doctor,” the Vulcan informed him.
“What alternatives? Unless you’ve got a phaser hidden up your sleeve, seems to me we’re stuck here for the long haul, and these creatures can put a world of hurt on Jim if they want to. For some reason, they don’t seem to be as slow or lumbering as I remember. Their reflexes definitely aren’t on par with ours, but this time their reactions are quick enough to pose a real danger when combined with their superior strength.”
“It is possible that during our initial confrontation with them, the Metrons intervened to even the stakes so to speak. By slowing their movements, it placed the Gorn captain and Jim on an equal footing, forcing the two combatants to excel based on their individual assets – brute force versus intellectual ingenuity,” Spock speculated.
“Be that as it may, it’s only gonna make things worse for Jim. I can’t imagine the Gorn captain invited him to his quarters for afternoon tea.”
“They are a warlike race; therefore one can only surmise they separated the captain from us in an attempt to glean useful intelligence from him.” A look of grim determination molded itself to the stony Vulcan mask.
“You mean they’re gonna torture him to get him to talk,” McCoy stated matter-of-factly.
“I believe I just said that, Doctor.”
“And that doesn’t bother you? You announced that like you were merely giving the number of clicks to the nearest planet. You’re in command here. Do something!” he demanded hotly.
“I am ‘doing something,’” Spock answered cryptically, a shadow passing over his features.
McCoy was undaunted. “What? It looks to me like you’re just sitting here,” he pressed, but the Vulcan remained strangely silent, as if his focus was now within, rather than on their current predicament, flashes of…something…crossing the expressionless visage now and then.
Kirk found himself whisked along the narrow corridors of the little ship, two heavily-muscled guards flanking him, their movements somewhat quicker than he remembered from his previous encounter with the Gorn. Unfortunately, their physical prowess was another matter. Calculated attempts at breaking free, more with the intention of gauging their strength, had told him it was just as he remembered. Like before, he was no match for them physically.
He was now walking sedately between the two, his mind racing. The engines were quiet, the alien ship not moving. But she didn’t seem to be under attack, either. No klaxons were sounding, no lights flashing indicating a heightened alert status, no damage control crews racing through the corridors. She wasn’t being rocked by weapons fire, either, or engaging in the aerial ballet that marked evasive maneuvers. Had his ship been destroyed? Or damaged to the point that Scotty had retreated?
He was brought out of these dark thoughts as burly arms shoved him roughly through a doorway. He landed on his knees, barely able to catch himself before his face smashed into the floor. He was hauled to his feet by a set of strong hands, flung into a high-backed, lattice-work metal chair.
He glanced up into the face of his captor. The unevenly textured green skin was thick, leathery; had a slight sheen to it. The silver, multi-faceted eyes, similar to a Terran insect, seemed to bore into his very soul. As during his earlier contact with this race, he found himself fighting down feelings of disgust, of the instinctive loathing and fear most humans had of all things reptilian, struggling to remind himself that these were sentient, intelligent beings capable of traveling the stars. A wave of queasiness swept over him as the being bent close, fetid breath kissing his cheek.
“Ssso, Captain; of all the ssstarships to anssswer the dissstress call, thanksss be to Kujanga the all-powerful, it wasss yoursss.”
“Do I know you?” He looked like the Gorn captain Kirk had battled at the behest of the Metrons, but then again so did the other two guards.
“Not yet. But I will sssoon remedy that. The captain you fought on that desssolate world fashioned by the Metronsss wasss my brother. He wasss put to death asss sssoon asss they returned him, for failing to defeat ssssuch an inferior, weak ssspecimen. Thisss brought much ssshame to my family. And now, I find myssself in a posssition to remedy that sssituation; to ressstore my family’sss honor.”
He stepped back, signaling to the two guards who quickly stepped in, binding the captain’s arms and legs tightly to the chair.
“If I’m so weak and inferior, then why do you need to tie me up?” Kirk realized goading the large lizard was probably not in his best interest, but he was rapidly running out of options.
A throaty hiss, what passed for laughter in their race, rumbled out through scaly lips. “Becaussse I wisssh to make thisss asss unpleasssant, asss terrifying for you asss possible.”
Kirk swallowed grimly. He had no doubt the creature would make good on its promise.