Stunned, Spock could only stare for a moment at the seat where Jim had been moments before. Behind him, the Bridge went silent, reeling from the realization that their captain, in the form of a terrified six-year-old, had just been abducted onto an alien vessel – one whose very occupants admitted their appearance was frightening or repulsive to other species.
Then their acting captain snapped back toward the viewscreen, hands clenched tightly behind him and posture ramrod-straight. Sulu and Chekov took one look at the Vulcan and then hastily returned to their controls, shooting each other worried looks.
“I hope they’re like Klingons and think today’s a good day to die,” the young helmsman muttered, feeling the back of his head fairly smoldering from the look in Spock’s eyes.
“Gentlemen, origin of that transporter beam?”
“The Bat’hua vessel, sir,” Chekov replied instantly, having already traced it. “Transport complete, life signs strong, ship atmosphere and oxygen levels Earth life-sustainable.” He wasn’t stupid enough to have anything but good news, which probably saved him from a glare which could have taken his head off. "Whatever their intentions, it is not to initially harm him, Keptin."
“Lieutenant, open a direct channel to that ship.” The order was crisp and without expression, which only made them all jumpy waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“Channel open, sir.”
“Bat’hua vessel, return the child which you have transported immediately, if you wish to continue discussions with this ship in good faith.”
“Bat’hua must communicate with truthful/innocent/happy One, people of Enterprise,” was the response, and even the universal translator showed the indicators of some surprise on the part of the aliens. “Spock-Captain gave permission for communication with most truthful/innocent/happy One, yes?”
Spock closed his eyes, mentally acknowledging his error in not taking the time to parse the translation with more care. He had indeed given permission, without knowing the consequences. “Bat’hua, the...most truthful One is a youngling, a child, a small one of our species. He will feel fear, taken alone and by force. Return him to us and we will communicate with you however you wish. Please,” he finally added in hopes the translator would communicate the emotion as well as the meaning, however unVulcan the plea might be.
“Regret/unhappy to cause this trouble/conflict we are,” came the response a moment later. “But communication must be done with truthful/innocent/happy One first, if we are to believe your words.”
“Then allow one of the child’s…guardians, to accompany him,” Spock requested, driven now to negotiation by his own poor choice of wording earlier in the exchange.
“Concept of guardians is unfamiliar/puzzling/unclear, people of Enterprise?”
“His…friends, family, his companions.”
"This also is unfamiliar/unclear to us, Spock-Captain."
Deities of the galaxy give him patience. “Those who…” His hands clenched behind him, but this was not a time to quibble semantics; these beings spoke in emotives and therefore, to use them for clear communication was only logical. He cleared his throat. “Those who love him, Bat’hua vessel.”
The Bridge crew froze en masse, and he felt a flush creep up the back of his neck from the knowledge that they had all heard and were studiously refusing to embarrass him by looking at him for the uncharacteristic display. His ancestors would be duly horrified at his discarding such centuries of doctrine for the sake of a child, or even a mere Starfleet mission.
The response was immediate. “Love is good/happy/beautiful, this we understand, people of Enterprise.”
“Then you must also understand why we demand that no harm come to the child,” Spock responded without skipping a beat.
“Understand now do we. Most truthful One will not be harmed, that is unthinkable/horrifying/abomination. This is sworn on honor of the Bat’hua.”
Spock didn’t back down an inch, though there was some relief to be had in the assurance. “You refuse our word of honor without the presence of the child you have taken by force; you will not think it strange of us to distrust your word in return. Send the child back, or bring one of his guardians to the ship of the Bat’hua.”
“Cannot do, until communication with most truthful One is completed,” was the response, though the universal translator indicated no hostility in the tone. Spock’s lips tightened. “Not long will be, this is sworn on honor of the Bat’hua.”
“Sir, they’ve cut off communications,” Uhura spoke quietly from behind them.
“Get them back, Lieutenant.”
“Sir, I –“
“Get them back, Lieutenant.”
Uhura sighed silently. “Sir, the channel is still open on our end, but they have cut off reception; I can’t change that fact.”
Spock started slightly, as if coming back to himself, and half-turned. “Of course, Lieutenant; my apologies for any implied denigration of your abilities. Mr. Chekov, can you pin-point the human life sign aboard that ship?”
“Aye, sir, I have it, but is moving fast.”
“Mr. Scott,” the Vulcan spoke into the armrest-comm. “Have you finished the transporter cleaning yet?”
“No, sir, is anything wrong? I wouldna have begun it a few days ago except I dinna think we’d need it in the middle of a star-mappin’ expedition?”
Spock shook his head. “Estimated time until one pad can be operational?”
“Well, Mr. Spock, it would depend on what ye wanted to transport. Right now I could probably get a crate of cargo through, reroutin’ and boostin’ the power through auxiliary, without trouble, but I wouldn’ want to send a couple of live candidates through without checkin’ it first.”
“Odds of a successful humanoid transport, Mr. Scott?”
“Mmm, about eighty-five percent in favor, sir, but that’s assumin’ there’ll be no power fluctuations or ought else during transport.”
“Prepare to route power through one pad, drawing from non-essential systems if you must. Send a test canister through and prepare for a live transport, ETA ten minutes. Spock out.”
Chekov was already turned around by the time the Vulcan straightened, real fear in the young Russian’s eyes. “Meester Spock, you cannot transport through such an unsafe transport beam; those odds are still much too low for a margin of safety!”
Spock’s eyes flashed dangerously, sending the young navigator back to his chair with one look. “Would you prefer I abandon our currently six-year-old captain to the mercy of these beings who, by their own admission, have an appearance so repulsive that they have before terrified other races with visual contact?”
“Sir, even if you do get through, you won’t have any kind of a Security team for backup, because we can't risk more lives in a beam with that low of a success factor and it breaks all rules of First Contact,” Sulu added. In response to Spock’s opening his mouth to reply, he folded his arms defiantly and didn’t back down. “Captain, it’s my duty as Acting First Officer to point out how many regulations you’re breaking here, and you know that as well as I do.”
"Technically, Mr. Sulu, our First Contact has already been broken by the presence of the captain on that ship."
"Sir, with all respect, right now you are the captain. And you shouldn't be taking a risk this high." Sulu's look refused to waver under a Vulcan glare. "I get that we're all responsible for the kid, but we're also responsible for you, sir. I'm just saying."
“Mr. Spock, the Bat’hua said it would not be long and Jim would not be harmed; could you not give them a few minutes to prove that promise?” Uhura remonstrated softly, knowing that if the captain were himself and present he would be pitching a fit to top all childhood tantrums about the risk his First was about to take.
Spock only looked at her, and she was forced to glance away. “I will not leave a child barely of schooling age alone in what may or may not be a hostile Contact, after being removed forcibly from his home, Lieutenant; nor will I ask someone without Vulcan physiology to risk such a transport. Mr. Sulu, alert Sickbay to stand by, and take the conn.” And with that, he was gone, disappearing into the turbolift.
The comm chirped. “Mr. Spock, the test may have worked fine but I canna guarantee that this transporter will get an actual person out in one piece, much less bring one back again!”
They all winced at the reply. “Mr. Scott, yours is not to question your orders but to carry them out. That will be all.”
Chekov turned worried eyes back to the viewscreen and the small ship dancing in the stars before them. “The Keptin will kill him when he grows up, da?”
“Da, Pavel,” Sulu echoed, praying to any deity within earshot that he wouldn’t inherit this chair in the next ten minutes. “If he’s still alive to be killed.”
Spock had before transported through undesirably risky transport beams, but he had never had quite so rough a landing as this one. He was spared one moment to think wryly of McCoy, who would have been positively hysterical over the lengthy and unpleasant process, before he vomited most violently all over the floor of the small room in which he had materialized.
The dizziness passed in moments, but the cramping nausea remained for longer than he had time to compartmentalize; he merely rose to his feet, one hand braced on the wall, and reached for his communicator.
“My congratulations on a job as well done as could be under the circumstances, Mr. Scott.”
“Spock so help me God when you get back here I’m a-gonna hypo you into next week!” a familiar screech caused him to pull the communicator away from his face with a wince and a quirk of the lips.
“Doctor, this is not the time for your overblown sense of the dramatic. Mr. Scott, connect me to the Bridge.”
“Overblown sense of the dr-“
“Chekov here, sir! Meester Spock, you are alive!”
“Obviously,” he replied dryly. “Ensign, the position of the captain’s location in relation to mine?”
“Same level, sir, about five hundred meters ahead. No change in his vital signs.”
“Keep me informed if the status of the captain changes. Spock out.”
He was only growing more nauseated rather than less, but that was a reflex easily controlled by Vulcan pain management. It was the work of a few seconds to bring himself firmly into control and move down the corridor.
It was a simplistic ship, obviously built for long-term exploration and comfort rather than for possible combat and minimalistic living as Federation starships were. The corridor was nearly brushing the top of his head, and so he deduced the Bat’hua were a shorter race than he. What was puzzling was the thick yellowish slime which occasionally splashed the walls and decking, squashing unpleasantly beneath his feet and emitting an odor not dissimilar to rotting vegetation. His tricorder analyzed it and came up with no satisfactory results; the substance was unidentifiable. Truly, then, a complete First Contact, and one which he had already done a spectacular job of damaging for the Federation.
He would be quite pleased – and while it was an emotion, it nonetheless existed, and to deny an object’s existence was not logical – to have Captain James T. Kirk back in his command where he belonged.
His boots trod again in a viscous pool of slime, and he raised an eyebrow at the sticky, somewhat luminescent substance. The indications were clear that those who had before attempted contact with the Bat’hua, then, did not react well to alien life-forms which evidently secreted such substances. From the way his roiling stomach was reacting to the smell, much less the appearance, Spock could understand why. It was an unfortunate physical reflex, though able to be controlled.
Then a sound from up ahead brought him to an abrupt halt. It was not, as he had been braced to hear, a scream of fear, a child’s cry for help or comfort, or a noise of pain.
It was giggling. Bright, bubbling, childish laughter, and clearly recognizable as belonging to one 'Captain Sunshine.’
He came around the corner considerably less tense than he had been moments before (entirely due to the lingering effects of a rough transport, of course, nothing more), and paused at the sight before him.
Six-year-old James Tiberius Kirk was standing on a small table in what appeared to be a council room. Surrounding him on each side, and on eye level due to the child’s elevation, were four…beings. Each resembled nothing so close as an oversized rubber sphere covered in an extremely runny abundance of yellowish, foul-smelling mucus. Two beady eyes perched somewhere within the oozing folds on each Bat’hua, though this was disconcerting in the fact that the orbs moved about freely in the viscous liquid, and not always in pairs.
Five eyes rolled his direction when he entered (the other three were still on their giggling human companion), only to enlarge to three times their size, he supposed in indication of surprise.
Jim saw him over the head of the shortest Bat’hua and beamed at him, waving. “Spock! Look! We been talking! These are the coolest aliens ever, an’ they wanna be friends with us!”
Spock’s eyebrows brushed his bangs. “Indeed?”
The subcutaneous universal translator (he was thoroughly grateful McCoy had thought to insert one in the child’s arm along with his emergency transponder after the catwalk incident) activated itself as one of the beings rolled – rolled? How? – over toward him. Spock studied it with interest, as well as the trail of slime it left in its wake. One eye slid completely around its spherical body before squishing slightly back into place beside its fellow. “You are Spock-Captain,” it said, though how it was speaking Spock had no idea; perhaps a mouth hidden under the many mounds of mucus. These were interesting beings indeed, which the Medical team would enjoy learning more about, and their voices were oddly lyrical and pleasant, which had certainly not shown in the mechanical tones of the universal translator.
“I am,” he replied. “I apologize for the intrusion, but we refuse to permit the child to face the unknown alone.”
“Most truthful/innocent/happy One is fortunate to have such kind/love/protect Guardian,” the Bat’hua responded, flattening itself with a sucking noise about four inches in what Spock presumed was its version of a bow of respect.
“I thank you,” he responded formally.
“Most truthful One is named Jim-child?”
“Jim,” he replied. “’Child’ is a designation of…rank, as mine is ‘Captain.'”
“I am Rhi-Captain,” the being said with another flattening squish. “My family-group/crew/friends mean no harm to Jim-child.”
An interesting trio of words, that the translator chose to group. That in itself, indicated they meant no harm, and likely had far more in common than the Enterprise had first presumed.
“I believe you,” Spock replied honestly.
“Spock!” The child in question took a flying leap off the table and slid on his sneakers through three inches of slime like a miniature surfer, sending yellow mucus spouting up behind him. “They wanna be friends with us an’ travel in starships and discover things and explore planets an –“ Jim impacted the Vulcan’s legs with a thud, falling on his backside into a puddle, where he just sat and beamed up at a dismayed and now slime-covered Acting Captain. “They’re bouncy!” he exclaimed, pointing a goo-covered finger at Rhi.
“…Bouncy?” Spock asked blankly, with the portion of his mind not occupied with attempting to figure out how to remove the mucus from his person without offending their hosts. It obviously was impossible, and so would have to remain until their retreat, a diplomatic sacrifice.
“Look!” Jim scrambled to his feet and, taking a running start, flung himself full-body at the nearest sphere of slime. Spock watched, mystified, as the little one bounced off the alien as if it were a giant rubber ball, flying six feet across the room before impacting another of the beings, who had moved to ensure he did not harm himself in falling. The little boy scrambled upright, giggling, and the two spherical beings jiggled in a way which indicated they were also amused. “See?”
He did see, although how exactly Jim had found this fact out without offending any of the Bat'hua in the short time he had been aboard alone, was a diplomatic miracle. One he would not argue with.
Rhi looked with one eye at the laughing child, and with the other back at Spock. “Your Jim-child is wise beyond years, Spock-Captain,” the being said. “Only the most innocent/truthful/happy will be so open regarding feelings/opinions of Bat’hua. Jim-child is not afraid/sick/unhappy of our appearance. Normal, is this, for your people?”
Spock did not bother to indicate that humans were not his people; it was only half-true, and it entirely defeated the purpose of this very conversation. “We wish to believe it is,” he replied with deep sincerity. “While it is foolish to ignore differences in appearance or communication: to use those differences, to combine them, into a working together of both parties is the goal of our Federation. You may unfortunately encounter some beings who are, as you have indicated, initially repulsed by your presence – but most are, I believe, like Jim in their acceptance of new species.” He himself found no fault in their appearance; he had certainly seen worse - but the smell was not aiding his nausea, which was already threatening to overwhelm his controls, and he knew the interview would need to conclude soon to keep his word on that matter.
“Very few so young/small/protected would be so in our world/family-group/people,” Rhi answered, a trail of mucus drooping from their sides in what appeared to be dejection. “Jim-child much happy/pleasure/sunshine has brought us this day.”
“I tol’ you, Rhi, Captain Sunshine is a superhero, he saves the day all the time,” the child informed them complacently, squishing his way over to them and shyly clutching one arm around Spock’s right leg.
“Will you be agreeable now, to negotiating communications with my ship and our Federation, Rhi-Captain?” Spock asked, placing a gentle hand on the little one’s head and ignoring the slight dampness of slime residue.
The being jiggled emphatically. “Pleased/honored we are to do so, Spock-Captain.”
“Then may we take our leave, and return to our ship to put the communications in place? Our linguistics expert would prefer to speak with you initially, so that our translation devices may be tuned so as to facilitate better conversation.”
“Affirmative/yes, Spock-Captain, that is most agreeable/pleasing/exciting.” One eye remained on the Vulcan’s face, while the other traveled down the being’s body to place itself on eye level with the child beside him. “Jim-child, grateful we are for your presence and acceptance.”
“Of course,” the little one murmured shyly, hiding his eyes in Spock’s trouser leg before peeking again at the being before him. “’S no reason to not be friends, just ‘cause you look an’ smell different, is it Spock?”
He looked down, lips quirking slightly. “Certainly not, Jim.”
“Sorry/regret/apology we are for taking Jim-child without full understanding,” the Bat’hua said regretfully. "See now the meaning of guardian, we do."
“’S okay,” Jim chirped cheerfully, smiling. “I like you!”
Spock refrained from indulging in the human emotion of nostalgia; part of James Kirk’s success as a diplomat was that he’d never yet met an alien race he didn’t get along with and couldn’t charm on sight, even when others would be repulsed.
“Return you to your ship, we will now, Spock-Captain,” Rhi said, indicating a device held by one of the spherical beings; obviously a portable transport beam controller. “Quite safe it is alone, on the honor of the Bat’hua, but in respect we will return you to your own transport room for added safety/comfort/security.”
Spock reached down and picked up the child just in case, holding him close. He knew the dangers of a tandem transport with Federation technology but obviously in this area these beings were superior. This would be a fruitful alliance, another score for the Enterprise’s flawless diplomatic record. Jim wrapped one slime-coated arm around his neck, and he breathed through his mouth to control the wave of nausea which assailed him at the closeness of the smell.
“Until we meet again, Spock-Captain, Jim-child,” Rhi said solemnly, both eyes respectfully in place on their faces.
Spock nodded, bowing his head in return. “I anticipate the meeting.”
A moment later, he felt the tingle of an alien transporter signature, and within seconds had re-materialized on the pad of the Enterprise’s main transporter room.
“Good Lord, what on earth did you get into over there?” he dimly heard a Southern drawl exclaim nasally through what had to be a held nose, which fact he was unable to verify due to the sudden irregular spinning in which the entire room seemed to be participating. He let a squirming Jim down only just in time, the child’s sneakers hitting the deck only instants before he lost his balance and did the same on hands and knees, unable to control the severe cramping nausea which wrenched at his stomach – why were his controls not functioning?
McCoy’s complaining turned in a nanosecond to horrified concern, and he vaguely heard Jim’s frightened voice adding to the mix seconds before a particularly violent dry heave caused him to slide into complete unconsciousness.