"Well," the American admiral said, seated behind a broad desk. "You've been thawed out for eighteen hours, and you've already killed one of my better officers. And your damned doctor." He tapped the surface of the desk. "Your reputation doesn't exaggerate, Mr. Singh."
John's lung tissue was nearly healed now, but he didn't say anything. He sat with the posture drilled into him by an army of English tutors and stared straight ahead, neither seeking nor avoiding eye contact. The best way to maintain a hastily proffered lie was to avoid unnecessary flourishes, and he was already doubtful that this one would survive scrutiny.
"Earth's governments slaughtered the Augments," the admiral said. "Non-therapeutic genetic manipulation is to this day something you can throw whole laboratories into prison for. But once the Augments were gone, all of the power structures fell into chaos. Humanity decimated itself. They needed you more than they ever knew." He sat back in his chair and eyed John thoughtfully. His name was Marcus. Or at least the desk belonged to someone named Marcus.
"Do you feel vindicated?" Marcus asked. "Or are you disappointed?"
John asked, "For how long?"
"How long has it been? What year is this?"
Marcus hesitated. "It's stardate 2258.6."
John kept his voice even as he said, "I'm afraid I don't know what that means."
Marcus shrugged. "The estimate I got based on the ship we found you on was two hundred and fifty years, give or take a decade. That pretty much lines up with the end of that war and the beginning of the next one, as far as we know."
John's lips parted, but he didn't say anything. "Did they even call you Augments back then?" Marcus asked. "Or is that a modern thing?"
"Some did," John said.
Marcus tapped at his desk some more. John lifted his chin slightly to see what he was doing; he was manipulating another of the seemingly ubiquitous panes of touch-sensitive glass. They seemed to be computer monitors and keyboards smashed together and rolled flat. "I would have liked to have read up on you more, but there isn't a lot left to read. The war you started is barely a memory now. The one after that destroyed most of the records."
Khan had not started any wars. But he had been determined to finish the ones started by his counterparts, and by now John supposed no one knew the difference or cared. "Do you intend to have me stand trial?" he asked.
"God." Marcus rubbed his eyes. "You talk like my ex-wife. That... English boarding school voice."
John's jaw twitched.
"Drove me up the goddamned wall. No, Mr. Singh, you're not going to be tried. Even if we wanted to, there isn't enough surviving evidence against you."
"Then I don't believe I understand your purpose in seeking me out." John narrowed his eyes a little. "If you have such a poor impression of me."
Marcus smiled without humor. "There are going to be a lot of things you don't understand."
That wasn't particularly true, of course, but John kept his thoughts to himself. He understood that these people had no idea who Khan Singh was beyond a name on a timeline of what was now, apparently, distant history; they would be equally capable of choosing Alexander the Great from a crowd. They only knew that Khan was among them because their freighter's on board records mentioned him as the owner. John himself thought a few obvious details should have eliminated him as a suspect on sight, but that didn't seem to be the case. To the contrary, in fact. That didn't speak well of anyone.
He also understood, though no one had said it in so many words, that while he may well be in an army base, it was not underground. He still didn't know where he was, but if it wasn't earth, then he didn't have enough information yet to make pinpointing his location useful. The guns everyone carried were real enough, and they emitted something that looked and somewhat behaved like light but felt like an electric pulse; he didn't know what that made them, but he knew that he didn't want to be shot with one again. He would have rather liked one to open up and examine, but no one was going to willingly hand him a weapon any time soon.
Two of Marcus's security took him to a detention cell. It was sealed with an honest-to-god force field. The guards looked at him expectantly when they activated it; after a moment to make his irritated dignity clear, he obligingly tapped it with his hand. It didn't hurt him, but it held as well as glass. "Didn't have those where you came from, did they?" one asked.
John looked at him coldly. "No," he said, and turned his back on them to go sit down on the bunk.
"Oh, someone's mad," the other said. John ignored him. "Well, you know what, asshole? We're mad, too. The admiral may intend to let you get away with murder, but that doesn't mean the rest of us do, so watch the attitude. McChesney was the best security officer on this station."
John sighed and glanced at him sidelong. "Who?"
The guard stared at him, turning red, and then reached over to jab at the cell's lock plate. His companion grabbed his arm. "Whoa, easy." he said. "He's doing it on purpose. Let's just... leave him alone."
John studied them quietly. He'd have to wait for one to leave. Unlikely now.
Khan also hated it when John killed without good reason. He disliked it when John killed at all -- he'd done the equivalent of grabbing John's arm more times than John could remember -- but John could usually make a defensible case for it after the fact. Even when he couldn't, Khan would forgive him eventually. It never seemed certain at the time, but it retrospect it always had been.
"You're emotionally unstable," he said once, with blunt words but a gentle voice. "I understand that. I want to help you."
John swallowed thickly. The world was lucky he wasn't Khan Noonien Singh. He wasn't even his second in command, or his third. His primary duty to Khan (and to Britain before him) was standing just behind him and to the side, looking severe and encouraging others to keep a healthy distance. And here he was pretending to be him. He wasn't going to be able to keep that ruse going forever; he had to get himself and everyone else out of here, but he didn't know where "here" was or how one was supposed to leave it. He wasn't even entirely sure he would know the reanimation sequence on the sleeper pods; Khan himself had taken point on that. John could do anything given a few minutes to figure it out, but an escape would put him under a time limit. There were more than eighty people to wake, and John had needed nearly a day to shake off the effects of a two hundred and fifty year sleep.
He often had good luck running blindly into unknown dangers. But this was not a kind of unknown he had ever dealt with before. He needed more information. So he decided to wait.
It was six hours before he was summoned again. John guessed that they'd expected him to sleep during that time, but sleep was one thing he'd had no lack of. What he needed, desperately, was to eat something, but he wasn't about to say so. The requirements of his metabolism was one of the major flaws of his genetic make-up and he didn't want to advertise it. They couldn't be intending to starve him after all this, anyway.
Sure enough, the room his guards escorted him to had a table with three chairs, one of which was set with a tray of what John assumed was food. It smelled like food. Marcus came in after them and gestured to the tray. "It's been a while since your last meal."
John couldn't actually tell what any of the food was, and it didn't look like nearly enough, but he nodded and seated himself. Marcus was accompanied by a woman with a severe haircut and a writing tablet, and they seated themselves across from him. He didn't particularly like the scrutiny while he was eating, but he was past the point of caring much.
"This is Lieutenant Commander T'Pon," Marcus said. "She'll be assisting me in briefing you."
John swallowed a bright red cube of... something."Lieutenant commander?" he asked. "You're navy?"
They glanced at each other. "Not exactly," Marcus said. "We're with Starfleet. It adopts naval ranks."
"Starfleet," John said. He sighed and ate another cube.
"You're one of the survivors recovered from the DY-100 class freighter S.S. Botany Bay?" T'Pon asked.
John nodded. Then he frowned. "Survivors?"
"Khan Noonien Singh?" she continued. "You are the commander of the vessel?"
"I suppose you could say that."
T'Pon cocked her head. "Please clarify."
There was something deeply strange about her, but not half as strange as the food he was eating. "We aren't a military organization. The ship just belongs to me."
"Earth's historical records describe you as a warlord who ruled one fourth of the planet's population and commanded fully half of its military. You held onto power longer than any of your contemporaries through superior use of said military. By what justification would you describe yourselves as not being a military organization?"
John sighed. "The power of our military was not relevant at the time we launched. The crew of the Botany Bay is civilian. ...I'm captain only in the sense that it's my ship." Khan himself would be handling this much better. John was never one for interviews. "Can you please tell me what you mean by survivors?"
T'Pon's expression, or lack thereof, did not waver. "You are one of the seventy-three people on board the ship whose cryogenic chamber remained functional."
"Seventy-three?" John stared at her, food forgotten. "There were more than eighty people on the ship."
"That is correct. Eleven of the chambers suffered power failures."
"Eleven? What... which eleven?"
T'Pon looked to Marcus, who only snorted. "It's not like you people bothered with nameplates."
John looked down at the food tray and said nothing. Eleven of them were dead. Eleven. There was no one on that ship whose death he would not mourn intensely. And if Khan was one of them... John would truly be stranded. Orphaned. He was frozen between panic and grief.
"I understand that this transition is difficult for you," T'Pon said. "You have my sympathy."
"Your sympathy. Well." John took a deep breath to compose himself and sat up straight. "Thank you."
"There is no cause to thank me," T'Pon said.
Marcus cleared his throat. "That's actually more or less why you're here," he said. "T'Pon's planet was destroyed two months ago."
"We suffered massive losses in an attack that none of us ever anticipated," he continued. "We're trying to rebuild the fleet as swiftly as possible, and we want to focus on specializing the functions of new ship designs."
John was listening to him with the part of his brain that listened to everything, but he was not paying attention to him. He was staring at T'Pon and the details he had dismissed in his initial impression of her. Her complexion wasn't like anything he'd seen before; even her scent seemed... not right. She raised an unaturally upswept eyebrow at him and tilted her head questioningly, revealing an ear that had previously been covered by her hair.
He leaped from his chair before his conscious mind had a chance to catch up with the rest of him, knocking the tray of food to the floor in his panicked dash to reach the door. The guards grabbed him and he fought them off without malice, focused solely on clawing his way out of the room. "Whoa, whoa!" Marcus said. "Son, calm down!"
The door wasn't opening. He struck it with a fist, leaving a dent in the metal. "Let me out of here," he said.
"Khan? Khan! It's okay! She's... god, she's just a Vulcan. Calm the hell down!"
"He originates from a civilization that predates first contact," T'Pon said. She didn't sound upset in the slightest. "Admiral, why wasn't he informed?"
Marcus sighed. "Khan, if you don't get a hold of yourself in the next ten seconds, I'm going to have security stun you and take you back to your cell. Are you listening to me?"
John leaned against the door and gasped as he breathed. "Yes," he said, eyes tightly shut.
"They're... Vulcans are very similar to humans. It's really not a big deal."
"There are aliens on this base," John barely understood his own fear, but he was utterly consumed by it and wanted the source of it gone. "There are aliens."
"Admiral," T'Pon said, "You are not following procedures for first contact negotiation."
"I'm not trained in first contact negotiation! Khan, for the love of god--"
"I..." John swallowed. "It's... please just... let me out of this room. It's too small."
A tense handful of seconds passed, and Marcus sighed. "Take him back," he said. "We'll do this later."
It was a small blessing to have not been shot again, but all the same it took John a very long time to calm down. He exuded calm as well as he could, sitting on the bunk and staring at the opposite wall as he'd been doing before, but his body was tense and his guards seemed very uneasy.
Eleven of the crew were dead. He didn't know which eleven and therefore didn't know where to start grieving. He told himself that this shock had compounded the next one in a clumsy attempt to shield his pride, but they were very separate issues and his mind bounced between them uncontrollably. He shouldn't be shocked that there were aliens. He and the others had even discussed the possibility that their ship would be found by aliens, and how exciting that would be.
John was excited, all right. He was fighting the compulsion to claw at his own skin.
Khan had coached him in a number of mental self-soothing techniques, but without Khan's help he wasn't finding them very effective. He had never felt anything like this before. But after an hour or so his body dialed back the adrenaline automatically, and he was left feeling exhausted and sad. He had to get over this. Seventy-two was an unacceptably low number, but it represented people who needed him to keep his head. Odds were good that Khan was among them, and Khan would know what to do. If he could just find Khan, then... well, things wouldn't be all right, but they would be considerably better.
There was a muted conversation going on somewhere outside of his cell, approaching it. "We can't leave you alone with him," a guard said. "He's killed two people already, and he's really jumpy right now."
"I understand," T'Pon said. "Thank you, Lieutenant."
John grit his teeth hard as the force field was deactivated, and the alien woman and his two guards entered the cell. The field was turned back on and the guards took places on either side of it. T'Pon stepped up in front of John. If the room he'd been in before had seemed suddenly too small, then this one was downright claustrophobic. He found himself leaning back and away from her without consciously intending to.
"Mr. Singh," she said. "I understand your discomfort. I will be brief."
He breathed out slowly. "All right."
"I want to apologize on behalf of Starfleet for the lack of sensitivity shown in your introduction to the existence of a race alien to your own. Normally we take great care in such matters. You should have been informed of the presence of non-humans on this station before you were forced to encounter any."
John swallowed. He wasn't sure what he should say, so he just nodded.
"Your reaction was not an uncommon one. If you feel that your dignity has been compromised, please accept my personal apology. I had no intention of putting you in that position."
He nodded again. He didn't feel that this situation was technically an improvement on the last one, but he found that the shock had mostly worn off. "You... T'Pon, yes?"
"That is correct."
"...You're from an exoplanet?"
"In relation to Sol, yes. But my current residence is on earth, in the California region."
"Because... your planet was destroyed."
"This, and because Starfleet is based out of San Francisco. It was a convenient relocation, if... unanticipated."
John couldn't relax enough to attempt eye contact with her, but he lifted his chin in order to approximate it. "...You have my sympathy."
She nodded. "Do you require anything?"
John looked around the cell briefly, at the guards and at the invisible wall holding him in the room. "If I may ask... what are you going to do with me?"
"My understanding is that Admiral Marcus believes that you will be an asset in restoring the fleet and preparing us for any similar disaster in the future."
"And... why does he believe this?"
"I am not privy to the Admiral's own opinion," she said. "But my estimation is that he sees you as an unconventional intellect, and history suggests that you are a brilliant and bold tactician. Laws prohibit us from further experimentation with prenatal genetic modification, but as your birth predates this law you would not be in violation of it. It's a unique opportunity."
John sighed. "And the others?"
"No decision regarding the other seventy-two survivors has yet been made."
"I see." He swallowed. "Thank you for taking the time to speak with me."
T'Pon nodded, and she and the guards left him in the cell without another word. John sat alone on his bunk with his hands fisted on his thighs. He was at an utter loss.
What would Khan do if he were here?
What would Khan do?