It was all consuming.
Within him—coursing, tearing, engulfing.
Fighting for control. The urge to dominate unbearable.
But Jim was doing his best.
He’d been fighting his whole life. He was good at it. He’d come up against aliens, monsters, other humanoids, old friends—and emerged victorious. This was just another battle, another enemy to defeat. He wouldn’t stop fighting against it, ever.
Whatever “it” was.
He felt the change in him when it took over. The rage, the anger. It was like he was watching himself from outside, from the passenger seat as it steered his emotions, words, and actions. Like he was a completely different person. One who had the drive to incite violence, instigate, corrupt; to spread and multiply. Possess everyone, the will to rule over all life.
Jim heard its desires.
The brutality, the rage.
Knew exactly what it wanted.
The chaos. The destruction.
So he fought it with everything he had.
Much to its frustration, he’d been able to keep himself mostly isolated. Sent his friends a few cries for help, probably too brief or unnoticeable. But Jim put his faith in them. Especially Spock. They’d figure it out eventually. Hopefully before it was too late.
Because he never yelled at Bones like that.
He never yelled at anyone like that.
And this had been the longest stretch of time he’d ever gone without talking to Spock. Or touching him.
His best friends had to know something was wrong.
They had to.
Jim didn’t know how much longer he’d be able to fight its urges…
“God dammit all to hell!”
Bones shoved his chair away from his lab station. The readings…they had to be wrong.
It was the only explanation.
How else could the data make sense?
The tricorder recordings he’d managed to take in the transporter room and his office showed two completely divergent set of data. One was more or less consistent with human vitals, but the other…
Bones shook his head.
They weren’t readings he’d ever seen before. There was no way that general fluid analysis on Jim’s circulatory system was accurate.
It was impossible.
Running a disgruntled hand through his hair, Bones wished the numbers on his screen made sense. And he really hoped Spock was having more luck.
The only outward signs that the Vulcan was frustrated beyond conception were the two fingers he had pinching the bridge of his nose and the defeated sigh he let escape his lips.
Things were not going well.
His readings were, in a word, bizarre.
Elementary analysis of the planet showed a complete lack of iron; which, for a Class M planet, was implausible. While fascinating in and of itself, Spock knew it didn’t provide a clarifying answer. Further data revealed no nuclear signatures or radiation and a severe depletion of natural resources. That, when taken in conjunction with the visual scans that showed unprecedented damage, confirmed the planet had undergone total annihilation.
No life readings whatsoever.
There was a small signature on the far side of the screen, barely a blip. Could be a statistical anomaly, the result of a faulty reading. Whatever it was indicated that there was a fine layer, no more than a few cells, that covered most of the structures on the planet. Not exactly living organisms, as they registered as merely a small reading of biological life.
What all these individual facts added up to, Spock didn’t know.
He just needed to keep digging, keep analyzing, keep focusing. The answers had to be in here somewhere.
Because he had to help Jim.
“Right-o. I hope ye found somethin’ in yer numbers there, ‘cause I just ran into Jim out in the hall and he was madder than a sober Irishman!”
“Keep your voice down, Scotty. The last thing we need is for him to find out about our secret ‘Lets Figure Out What’s Wrong with Jim’ party.”
“Well, issna like we’re hidin’ this meetin’, laddie…” the engineer huffed.
“Not hi-ding per se, Mr. Scott,” Bones countered. “Just meeting in a normal meeting place without our commanding officer. Totally normal, very normal meeting.”
Scotty snorted. “Nothin’ normal about this.”
His whispered reply petered out in the big room.
The hissing open of the door had them both jumping in their seats. But the familiar blue shirt and pointy ears were not indicative of their brooding friend. Well, brooding in a different way friend.
Spock looked tired, which didn’t happen very often. And he’d been inordinately quiet over the past day of research. Even for a Vulcan. Bones and Scotty could tell this was eating at him, wearing at him; the not having a clear answer meant there was no clear solution for how to handle Jim. Spock would never reveal the instability of his emotions. But seeing the captain is this way…affected Spock more than he cared to admit.
The three men had decided last night to work together to come up with solutions to their current predicament. They knew that what was afflicting Jim was more than just fatigue, stress, an emotional reaction, or a combination of the three. While they could have explained away one flare of a temper or one yelled command, they could not account for the steady rise in hostility in Jim’s words and actions.
He was getting worse.
And they were getting nowhere.
Spock entered the room lacking his usual cool controlled exterior. Bones and Scotty shared a concerned.
“I really hope you’ve got something, Mr. Spock.”
The taller man sat wearily at the table and placed his PADD down next to him.
“There are many things I have, Doctor. The answer is not one of them.”
“Dammit,” Bones breathed.
“Let’s no give up hope just yet, laddies. Now, tell me, what have ye two found?”
The doctor went first, providing a detailed record of his odd tricorder readings. When he highlighted Jim’s circulatory system, Spock looked at him sharply.
“Doctor. Can you repeat that?”
“Uhh. Sure, Spock. While not as good as a blood sample, which could give us a more comprehensive analysis, the partial scan I did picked up an anomaly in Jim’s blood. An unexplained dip in iron levels. Which doesn’t mean much by itself-”
“No, it doesn’t, Doctor. But my readings of the planet revealed there was no iron present, highly unusual for a Class M planet. It is hard to ignore the correlation of our two findings.”
“Sure, but what does it mean?” Scotty inquired.
“It means, Scotty, that something is taking the iron. It doesn’t just disappear by itself.”
“Precisely, Doctor. My readings further indicated that there were thin layers of cells coating the surface of the planet. Their life readings were barely perceptible, which is why they did not appear on our initial scans. It could very well be a single-celled organism that Jim and I picked up when we beamed down to the surface.”
“Sounds dandy, Spock. But how come you’re not yelling and picking fights with everyone, too?”
“I…do not know, Doctor.” Spock leaned back in his chair, huffing in an unusual display of frustration.
Silence descended as each man was lost in the sea of his swirling thoughts. They knew more now, but what did it all add up to?
“So,” Bones mused, rubbing his chin in thought. “We’ve got disappearing iron and semi-alive cell bodies…”
“Which is more than we had yesterday!” Scotty quipped.
“While they do not provide an immediate answer, I believe we are on the right track.”
Bones was relieved to see a shadow of Spock’s usual spark flickering in his gaze. He would never, ever tell the Vulcan, but he was sure glad to hear him talking and acting a bit more like himself. If anyone could figure this weird puzzle out, it would be the pointy-eared science officer.
“Now, gentlemen, I say we begin our queries with a look at environmental disturbances that could cause an iron-imbalance.”
“An excellent idea, Mr. Spock.”
At the Vulcan’s raised eyebrow, Bones chuckled, his first in quite a while.
“Obviously, Doctor. That is why I suggested it.”
Scotty hid his smile behind his hand as he stared down at an academic article on planetary iron stores on his PADD.
Maybe, just maybe, they were getting somewhere.
Three incontrovertible facts had been agreed upon: the iron was an important factor in whatever was going on, it somehow must have occurred on the planet, and Jim was getting worse. Many questions and what ifs elusively remained. But it was a start. They’d decided to split up: Scotty’s job was to keep an eye on their disgruntled captain, while Bones and Spock were headed down to the labs for more tests. The first of which was to determine why Jim was showing symptoms of something while Spock was not.
Exiting out into the hallway, they all agreed to meet up again in two hours’ time to go over their new findings, and hopefully have a clearer idea for how to solve the “Jim” problem.
“And now remember, let’s keep this between us, right gentlemen?” Bones whispered.
But apparently not quietly enough.
“Keep what between you?”
The three men turned in surprise.
“We didna see ye there laddie-”
The captain was standing in the middle of the hallway, arms crossed, eyes burning with barely concealed rage. In such an uncertain state, there was no telling what was about to happen.
“Just what are my three most senior staff officers doing meeting in the command suite?”
“Oh, nothing Jim. Nothing. We were just talking…” Bones trailed off, every lie that popped into his head sounding much too unbelievable.
“Seems there’s quite a few things going on here that I don’t know about.”
Jim’s words were harsh and accusatory. They reminded Spock of a time when the transporter had malfunctioned, of coming face to face with a Jim unburdened by social constraints and morality, dark eyes as unhinged then as they were now. But this was not some manifestation of an evil duplicate, this was his Jim Kirk…but not his Jim Kirk. His mind could understand that, even if his heart could not.
Scotty and Bones instinctively took a step back, but Spock remained rooted in place. The captain closed the distance between him and the group, stopping almost toe to toe with his best friend.
“I bet this was all your doing. Wasn’t it, Mr. Spock?” Jim poked angrily at the taller man’s chest. “You think I don’t see what’s going on here?!”
Spock squared his shoulders and peered coolly back at the captain. He hated the rising level of his friend’s voice, hated the dark malice dancing in his eyes. But he had hated the 49 hours and 12 minutes of distance more. This was as close as he’d been to the captain since beaming down to the planet. He tried to ignore that fact as he stared into Jim’s eyes, not backing down an inch. This version of Jim scared him to his very core but at the very least he was talking to him again.
“Captain, this is not a conversation for the hallway.”
Spock’s measured response seemed only to enrage Jim further. It was as if any and all remnants of the man he knew disappeared in an instant. The fire in his eyes burned Spock with a ferocity that was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. Spock’s heart ached.
“Mutiny! That’s what this is! So much for friendship. You would dare try and take this ship from me? Your vile whispers, sowing discontent and discord! How dare you?!” Jim forcefully shoved at Spock’s chest, pushing him a few steps. Bones and Scotty stepped back as well, eyes glued on the captain.
A slight trickle of blood appeared at the base of Jim’s nose.
“How dare any of you?! What do you know of leadership, Mr. Scott?” Jim pointed accusingly at the engineer. “Down there with your engines and power circuits and switches. You know nothing, you drunk Scotsman. I’ve fired you once and I can do it again. And you!” Jim’s hand swiveled to Bones. “An inept country doctor. Too far out of your depth up amongst the stars. How many have died on your watch, Dr. McCoy? How many have you been unable to save?”
Both men were pale, withering under Jim’s scorching attacks. They knew the words were not his, knew that something more was going on to make him say these things. But were they his true thoughts, brought out by some inhibition, like the sickness they’d picked up over a year ago? Or were they the cruel creations of some other nameless evil?
“And Mr. Spock. My best friend. I never thought the day would come when you’d try and subvert command from me. But I guess you’ve always wanted that power. Craved it. I’m just an obstacle standing in your way. Isn’t that right?”
The hatred in Jim’s eyes pushed painfully on Spock’s chest until it was difficult to breathe.
“Captain, this is neither the time nor the place. You do not really mean-”
“You have no idea what I mean! Yes, you may know me better than anyone. I can see it in your face that this…this anger of mine is tormenting you. How sweet that you care. I thought Vulcans didn’t feel, Mr. Spock. But that’s right! You’re only half-Vulcan. An unloved half-breed who has never fit in anywhere. Worthless. Spineless. After all we’ve been through and you still can’t even admit how you feel about me.”
It was a completely different person standing before the three Starfleet officers. This man might look like Jim and sound like Jim, but it wasn’t him at all. Every word carefully selected to wound them as deeply as possible, to bristle their own responding anger and send them spiraling into violence and self-destruction.
Jim’s eyes bored into Spock’s, a dark smile on his face.
“But I know exactly how I feel about you, Mr. Spock. And there is no one I hate more.”
Spock didn’t see the punch coming. He had no cause to expect it because Jim had never done a thing like that.
It didn’t make it hurt any less, though.
The captain’s knuckles painfully connected with his left cheek. At the touch, a hurricane of feeling overwhelmed Spock’s senses and had him reeling as much as the blow. He could sense Jim’s battle, his weariness, his struggle to survive. There was a malice tainting him, tormenting him. It was slowly poisoning his mind and his body to carry out its will. Jim, the real Jim, was reaching out desperately for help. Now it was clear more than ever that there was something inside him, something controlling him. The revelation shook the crumbling foundations of Spock’s composure.
And then the connection was severed. Spock was falling backwards, Jim’s knuckles no longer bruising his face. Stumbling roughly into Scotty and Bones, the Vulcan managed to knock all three of them to the ground. They landed unceremoniously tangled in a pile of limbs.
The memory of feeling Jim’s torment lingered in Spock’s mind. A brand seared into his brain that he could never wash away. He shook his head quickly, searching for some clarity or rationality. He had to think. Objectively. Rationally. Think about what he should do. Giving in to the rising torrent of emotions inside of him was not an option; even if Jim’s words stung like lashes and clawed devastatingly at his heart. He focused on the pain blossoming in his cheek to ground him.
Brown eyes rose to look up into the face of his attacker. His friend. The man he trusted more than any other. The one whom he loved more than any other.
Bones and Scotty looked up as well, surprise morphing with their newfound fury.
No one moved. Jim’s rage rolled off of him in waves, his knuckles red, his nose still bleeding. For a moment they thought Jim was going to start a fight with them all.
But he didn’t.
The next ten seconds were the longest ten seconds of Spock’s life.
It was deathly silent in the hallway as they all watched, transfixed.
Jim seemed to be fighting…himself. An unseen battle waged against an unseen enemy. One instant he was the frenzied monster, the next he was a shade of normal. His left hand seized his right, gripping the wrist fiercely and pulling it to his chest. Terrified eyes, wide and bloodshot, set in a mercurial face. Anger replaced by exhausted resistance, and then quickly morphing back. Sweat beading on his forehead.
The three men could do nothing but stare at the odd display. They could make no rational sense of it, had no practical explanation for what they were witnessing.
Bones’ brain supplied the one concept most similar: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Suddenly, all color drained from Jim’s face. His limbs began to shake and his breathing became erratic. He looked forlornly at Spock, tired eyes whispering a pleading request.
With a resounding crash, Jim’s knees gave out and he slammed to the floor, unconscious.