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The comm squawked immediately. "Jim, what in blue blazes is going on up there - and what do you think you're doing on the comm?"

"Not now, Bones," the young man snapped. "Spock's down, and Sulu's in a bad way - get a team up here immediately, I don't care if you have to climb four decks of turboshafts to do it. Bridge out." He flipped a switch. "Engineering. Scotty, can you hear me?"

"I kin that, laddie - what's goin' on up there, our visuals got knocked out in that last hit."

"Three Romulan warbirds, Scotty. We're outmanned and outgunned, and I'm going to need all the power you can reroute to shields and navigation. Sulu, is the helm repairable?"

"Not in the time we have, sir," the pilot grunted, spiraling them out of the way of another phaser blast.

The beam glanced off their shields, jolting them all, but the Enterprise's defenses still held.

"Scotty, get to Auxiliary Control - you're going to have to control the ship from down there. Our helm console isn't salvageable. It's all Sulu can do to get her to maneuver."

"Got it, lad. 'Twill be a minute or so to boot up from the autopilot; recommend evasive action and keep 'em dancing with some well-placed photon torpedos. I doubt they aim to destroy the old girl, sir, so I dinna think ye need to worry about that - more likely they want to escort her back across the border as a prize of war."

Jim smiled briefly at the Engineer's endearing respect for his hastily assumed position, in suggesting a course of action rather than taking charge as second in command (Sulu was Acting First in name only, because the CE refused to leave his precious engines to have consistent Bridge duty). "Make it so, Sulu," he called, knowing that the young pilot and Chekov were well aware of what course of action to lay in, without needing specifics voiced from the command chair.

Another twin phaser blast rocked the ship, and this time the Engineering console exploded, sending shrapnel across the Bridge in a deadly hail of sparking wires and sharp metal. Jim dropped instinctively as durasteel flew over his head, and the whole ship groaned under him as he hit the deck.

"Damage report!" he shouted, coughing electrical smoke out of his lungs.

"Shields down to 44%, sir! Engineering reports a fifteen percent loss of power…Sealing off storage decks and unoccupied crew quarters, rerouting power to shields," Chekov murmured, a soothing mantra over the chaos of what looked like panic rising in the ranks of the communications channels, messages Jim did not have time to field right now. "Fire torpedoes!"

"Torpedoes away. Sir," Sulu turned to look at him, before moving his attention back to the viewscreen as the hits registered on one of the warbirds. "You do realize there's no way we are going to get out of this. Only two of those 'birds are attacking; we'll never outbattle three of them and I doubt we can outrun them in this condition."

Jim brought a fist to his mouth, worrying at his first knuckle. "How long can we hold out without danger of losing life support or vital systems?"

"If they continue playing with us, an hour maybe - but if they take it into their heads to stop playing the grand warrior heroes and just wipe us out, we'd be dead before we could fire back. They may not want to destroy the ship, but there's nothing to prevent them from reducing her to a wreck."

Jim closed his eyes as the ship rocked around him again, feverishly trying to remain calm in the middle of what had to be the most frightening moment in his entire life - both lives.

"Secondary torpedoes locked on starboard warbird's engineering section," Chekov's voice sounded to his right, as if coming down a long tunnel.

The deck rumbled as the missiles launched, and he sank further into the Enterprise's welcoming thrum of peace and unity, one with the ship.

"Direct hit, but they still have functional weaponry," Sulu called. "Give me more power to port thrusters, Chekov!"

Jim blanked out the battle for a moment, trying to draw on the meditation techniques Spock had tried to teach him…sometime, in another life, another past…or another future, rather. He could not win by going up against such superior, stronger odds and retaliating with equal aggression.

And if he did not come up with a plan, his ship and all her crew would die. The ultimate failure of any starship captain. The ultimate no-win situation.

Literally, a real-life Kobayashi Maru.

His eyes flew open, hand coming down on the comm. "Lieutenant Uhura," he barked.

"Here, sir. I'm in Auxiliary Control, sir, trying to reroute control of the communications console."

"Uhura, I love you," he said, smiling for the first time. "Do it as fast as you can, and then I need you to send out a Priority One distress beacon."

"A…beacon, sir?"

"Yes, a beacon, telling everyone within ten thousand kilometers that this area is going to be a Priority One danger zone for the next few years."

Sulu half-turned, giving him an incredulous look, and Chekov's eyebrows could have given Spock's a run for their money.

He continued, "And can you launch a black-box capsule from down there if you gain control?"

A short paused, and then a quiet "Aye, sir, I can."

"Wait until I give you the word, and then jettison the ship's public logs. Scotty, are you there?"

"O' course, Captain. I take it ye'll be wanting as much speed as I kin give ye?"

"That, and I need you to do something risky."

"Par for the course then. What is it, sir?"

"Can you contain a small capsule of antimatter in a shell that can still be destroyed by a photon torpedo?"

"…I believe so, Captain, though the powers-that-be would have my head if they knew."

"Can you do it safely enough to beam it just off the port bow?"

"Aye, sir!"

"Do it and have it ready in two minutes. Bridge out." He looked up, and saw the other two staring at him. "Mr. Chekov, I need you to plot us a fast course out of this system. I know you have no console with which to work but I trust your computations as much as Mr. Spock's. You have about sixty seconds to plot us a course based on the charts available in the library banks."

Wide-eyed, the young navigator fell to work feverishly on the Science console, scratching out computations on a padd.

"Mr. Sulu, I will need you to lock onto a very small target once it's jettisoned and send a photon torpedo after it, then jump to warp before it detonates. You will have a window of about three seconds in which to do both; are you physically able?"

Sulu nodded solemnly. "Aye, sir. But it would help if I had Chekov to stabilize my flight pattern."

"I can do that," Jim said suddenly. "I'm a decent enough navigator in my own right - and I need Chekov's steady hand on the transporter and shield controls." (1)

Sulu regarded him for a long moment, and then nodded.

The two warbirds swooped past them again in a mockery of a battle, obviously knowing they were in no hurry, and sliced the hull with another phaser blast that rattled the view-window.

"Cut power to port side of the ship," Jim ordered, hauling the cover off the Library console and beginning to expertly hack the mainframe.


"Do it!"

"Aye, sir!"

"And let her drift a few degrees," he called, tongue sticking out of his mouth as he typed furiously.

"Making it look like we're more vulnerable than we are?"

"Exactly," he murmured.

"Scott to Bridge - Cap'n, what happened to the port nacelle?"

"Don't worry about it, Scotty," he bellowed into the comm. "Is the transporter ready?"

"Aye, sir; sending coordinates to Mr. Chekov's station. Ye want him to have control of it?"

"Yes. I need you to be ready to bump us up to full warp power on my mark, Mr. Scott. Ignore the readings from the port nacelle; proceed as if you had full power."

"Aye, sir."

He continued to type doggedly, not missing a beat when one of the warbirds sent an experimental phaser blast straight into the heart of their port bow. "Lieutenant Uhura, are you prepared with the black box capsule?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Good. Send that priority message now, Lieutenant, saying that the warp core of the ship is dangerously close to detonation due to an overload in the warp processor. Warn all ships to immediately reroute away from our location as it's about to become a toxic waste zone."

"Aye, sir!" He heard a faint trace of comprehension in the woman's voice in her efficient response, and a moment later Montgomery Scott's voice came back on, tight with worry.

"Sir, I dinna see any indications down here that the core is overloading, but the computer sensors do definitely say it is…"

"It's okay, Scotty; I know." He grinned at the lines of code scrolling past his flying fingers. "Just make sure we don't actually overload and I'll give you anything you want if and when I get my ship back."

"Ohhhhhh," he heard Chekov's breathy exclamation of awe from behind him. "That is brilliant, sir!"

"Not especially, it's an old trick," he muttered, yet warmed by the praise. They all clutched their consoles as another sweep sent two more phaser blasts into their drifting ship. "Cut power to starboard side by 40%, Sulu," he called, typing feverishly. "We need to make it look good."

"Aye, sir. Captain, Mr. Scott and Lieutenant Uhura report all ready for your orders."

"Give me thirty more seconds, the readings when we warp out need to look correct to simulate a detonation…wish I could type as fast as Spock," he muttered. "Speaking of - how is he?" he asked worriedly, looking up.

Chekov quickly bent down to examine the inert form. "Out cold, breathing slow but steady," he reported uneasily. "Should I -"

"Done!" he shouted, slamming the Enter button harder than necessary and then vaulting back to his chair. "Stations, everyone!"

"Transporter and shields ready, sir," Chekov reported.

"Course laid in, sir."

"Excellent, Mr. Sulu. Lieutenant Uhura, begin broadcasting an immediate SOS, warning the quadrant that our warp core is overloading and a breach is imminent. Chekov, eject all the escape pods from the starboard side of the ship…now!"

"Pods away, sir."

"Transmission commencing, sir."

"Sir, one of the warbirds has wheeled back in pursuit of the pods," Sulu reported.

Jim was now at the battered science station, preparing to stabilize their escape flight path. "Mr. Chekov, on my mark. Mr. Sulu, bring the ship around so that the starboard side is facing the warbirds. Be ready to bring up power to maximum on my mark and fire on the coordinates of that canister."

"Ready, sir."

"Lieutenant Uhura, eject the black-box capsule. And…now, Mr. Chekov - beam that canister to Mr. Sulu's coordinates."

"Shields dropping…transport commencing. Transport complete!"

"Full power, Mr. Scott!" he shouted into the console, and the instant he felt the tell-tale rumble of the engines powering up, he continued. "Fire, Mr. Sulu! Aft shields to maximum and engage warp drive!"

He felt the ship groan as it woke up suddenly, still a bit painful, and then a heart-stopping lurch as the world twisted around them in a distortion of starfield and a blinding explosion -

- and then they were at warp, sailing safely through the stars on the course laid in for them.

"…Captain," Chekov reported slowly, turning to him with an enormous grin, "there are no Romulan wessels in pursuit."

Jim stared at him for a moment, shock flooding his system as the adrenaline rush faded, and staggered slowly to his feet. "Are you sure?" he asked nervously.

"Quite sure, sir," the young Russian reassured him, beaming. "We are well away, with no pursuit."

"I doubt they survived an antimatter explosion undamaged, even if it was a tiny one," Sulu agreed. "If nothing else, they won't be able to follow, and they may not have been far enough away to survive. Nicely done."

Jim staggered up the steps and collapsed into the command chair, punching the comm. "Mr. Scott, you are a marvel," he said with a tired grin. "And you as well, Lieutenant Uhura."

"Oh, aye sir," the Scot replied wisely. "Now, laddie, ye want to tell me why you're on this instead of our dear acting cap'n?"

"Spock!" he gasped, having forgotten in the excitement. "Scotty, I need you to try to fix the turbolift to the Bridge - Spock and Sulu are both in bad shape." Indeed, the young helmsman was looking pretty grey by this point, hunched over his still-sparking console. "And see if you can find out where Medical is and light a fire under them, will you?"

"Aye, sir. I'll get on it at once."

"Jim, are you all right?" Uhura's gentle voice cut in, forgoing the title he'd appropriated for the last few minutes.

"I'm…okay," he said, a bit shakily. "Really - it's my crew I'm worried about."

"Sickbay reports minimal casualties simply because most of the crew were in Rec Rooms twelve and thirteen for the party - one of the most protected areas of the ship," she replied reassuringly. "It could have been much, much worse. Hold on a moment, Bridge." A short pause, and then she returned. "Doctor McCoy said he's got a team nearly there; ETA five minutes. There was a malfunction in the magnetic seal of a hatchway and they had to take a long route around it."

Jim heaved out a shaky breath of relief, feeling tension leech from his body slowly. "Thank you, Lieutenant."

"Always, sir. Uhura out."

Jim stood on unsteady legs and moved forward to examine the nearly-dead helm console, then knelt beside their unconscious acting captain. "Damage reports?" he asked mechanically, ripping a strip off the bottom of his shirt to press against the sluggishly-bleeding gash at Spock's temple.

"All reports in, sir; other than the Bridge and some systems in Engineering, no severe damage except to shields and a minor hull breach in shuttle bay three," Chekov reports, spinning in his chair with a celebratory grin. "No casualties except Meester Spock and Lieutenant Sulu, and apparently a broken arm in Engineering when Lieutenant Riley fell off a catwalk - most of the crew were at the party and so were out of the line of fire. The Bridge took the worst of it, as the autopilot was the main system running here when the attack caused overloads."

"Speaking of, it's a bit strange that those warbirds knew exactly when we'd be most vulnerable," Sulu mused aloud.

"Not necessarily," Jim replied, staggering back to his feet with the aid of his armrest. "We were obviously on autopilot, basically drifting through the star system; it could have been coincidence that they chose that moment to attack, or more probably they've been shadowing the Enterprise for a while and took advantage of the opportunity. We just didn't detect them until tonight because until tonight, we were manually finishing the cartography instead of using a computer script that flagged the star distortion."

The other two nodded. "It's not been any big secret in Starfleet that Spock's been acting captain for a few months," Sulu added thoughtfully. "Not since that tabloid scandal, anyway - I'm actually surprised we haven't been taken on by more idiots trying to prove something." The young man's face paled slightly, as adrenaline obviously was fading under the onslaught of relief. "Sir, make sure you call a relief team up here to take over these consoles," he reminded gently. "The autopilot's probably fried and the next navigator's going to have to be able to do computations manually until repairs are made."

"Right." Jim should have thought of that. "Hang in there, Mr. Sulu."

"Aye, sir."

The communications console chirped before he could ask for reinforcements to be called, however. "Sir…Starfleet Command is on the comm, demanding to know, and I quote, 'what does Captain Spock think he's playing at'," Uhura's voice broke in ruefully.

"Ergh." Jim's face scrunched up in disgust, making Chekov hide a laugh; he at that point looked very much like the young man he was rather than the competent captain he had just acted. "Put 'em on, I guess, Lieutenant."

"You're a brave man, Jim," Sulu remarked blandly, moments before the viewscreen lit up with the image of Admiral Cartwright.

"What in the name of -"

"I can explain, sir," Jim interrupted weakly.

"Where is Captain Spock?"

"He was injured in the first attack by the Romulans we just escaped from, Admiral," the young man replied quietly, indicating the motionless form at the side of the command dais. "He has yet to regain consciousness and our medical teams are struggling to reach the Bridge due to systemic turbolift failure."

The admiral looked dubiously at the three occupants of the Bridge. "I take it the report you just filed of a warp core breach was highly exaggerated?" he asked dryly.

"Technically, sir. The computer did recognize the breach and act accordingly to record it in the ship's logs as legitimate," Jim replied. "I just…sort of…helped it along, a little." He swallowed nervously. "Ish. I am a decent computer hacker, you know, Admiral." He hadn't meant it as a slam against the Academy for his hearing regarding what he'd done to win against the Kobayashi Maru, and he winced when he realized how it sounded. "No offense, sir," he added lamely.

Chekov privately thought Cartwright looked a bit like he'd swallowed a pinecone. "Kirk, I take it you appropriated command of the Enterprise during the recent crisis?"

Jim rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "Ummm…yes, sir. There was no one else; with only three occupants of the Bridge, the lifts down and Spock unconscious -"

"I was not asking for justification," the man responded sharply. Jim nodded, wisely holding his tongue. "What of the renegade Romulans?" Cartwright continued, frowning.

"No signs of pursuit, and I would doubt they escaped even a controlled antimatter explosion undamaged. I take it the Romulan Command Central will disavow all knowledge of their actions?"

"Naturally; we might as well not even bother entering the diplomatic discussions." The admiral sighed. "Kirk, you are more trouble than you're worth, sometimes."

"So I've been told, sir," the young man replied with wry humor. "In fact, by Mr. Spock quite recently."

Cartwright actually chuckled. "I do expect you to return command to its proper channels, no matter how lucky you were during the recent skirmish. Is that understood?"

"Quite, sir." Jim nodded vehemently. He was in no hurry to reassume responsibility for so many people's lives, not for a while yet. He'd never been so scared in his whole life - or so excited, and both of those ideas frightened him more than he would ever admit.

Pounding on the turbolift doors drew their attention, and the admiral sighed, waving a hand at the viewscreen dismissively. "We will sort out details later," he said. "Kirk, tell Acting Captain Spock I will need a full report from you both in twenty-four hours."

"Aye, sir." Jim bobbed his head tiredly, adrenaline loss leaving him limp. "Is there anything else, sir?"

"Not at this time," the man answered resignedly. "Begin repairs on the Enterprise and await further orders. Cartwright out."

"Chyort!" Chekov was yelling through the stuck lift doors. "I am opening them manually, give me a moment!"

"That went well," Sulu observed cheerfully as the screen turned back to its usual starry 'scape. "Admiralty's not out for blood, no one died, and…hey, you okay, Jim?"

He nodded, swallowing hard, and wondered if he was getting a migraine; his vision was tunneling into a murky grey at the edges. "Fine. Ship's status, Mr. Sulu?"

Sulu gave him a funny look, but answered readily, "Mr. Scott just sent his estimates up. He believes forty-eight hours of repair work should get us in good enough condition to safely make it to the next starbase at full speed. He'd prefer three days if we have them to spare."

"He can have them, unless Spock says otherwise," Jim murmured, rubbing his eyes with both hands.

Behind them, the doors to the lift creaked open slowly with a pneumatic groan, and a quad of blue-garbed Medical personnel swarmed the Bridge and their fallen Acting Captain, whose eyes were now beginning to move behind their closed lids.

Chapel ran a scan over the Vulcan's head, biting her lip worriedly, but then glanced up with a look of relief. "No fracture; just a severe concussion," she reported thankfully. "He did have a shock to the nervous system, likely electrical in nature, but there is no lasting damage. If he is able to enter a healing trance he should be functional within eight hours, probably less."

Jim exhaled loudly in relief. Nausea, curling hot and thick in his stomach, faded slightly. "That's good news," he breathed. "And Kevin?"

"Lieutenant Riley is an idiot and didn't turn on his anti-grav belt during battle conditions," she snapped in a no-nonsense tone that made Jim smile; it was more than faintly reminiscent of Bones's ranting. "Dr. McCoy is having a little chat with him at the moment regarding safety procedures."

"I'm fine, Anya," he heard Sulu protesting vehemently to his designated nurse, who was about to stab him with a pain reliever before applying a burn gel to his hands.

"What about you, Mr. Kirk?"

Jim grinned as the nurse ignored Sulu's protests and deftly whipped the hypo into position, depressing it before the helmsman even had time to yelp.

"Yeow! Have you been taking lessons from Dr. McCoy?"

"Mr. Kirk. Jim, are you all right?"

He vaguely registered someone speaking to him, and turned slowly to see Chapel looking at him with a worried expression.

"What?" he asked weakly.

"Sir, your readings are all over the charts, and this is telling me you're now eighteen years old," she said matter-of-factly. "That's a huge jump in age and your body is probably burning up every bit of fuel you had in it - are you feeling all right?"

"I'm great!" He flashed Chapel his best disarm-and-charm grin, and promptly fainted.