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Star Trek (reboot) fic: The Continuing Mission

December 18th, 2016 (05:50 pm)
annoyed

feeling: annoyed

Title: The Continuing Mission

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: Written for sendintheklowns. I keep trying to write good Chekov whump, but I’m never sure I actually get there. I’ll have to keep trying, and I’ll get there. Until then, this is what I have to offer. Merry Christmas all the same :) This fills my bites square for hc_bingo. Unbeta’ed.

Summary: Jim knew his mission, even if it wasn’t the mission Starfleet sent him on.



-o-

“So, you going to tell me what this is?”

Jim chewed his lip, hedging for a moment. “You have to understand, Bones, the planet -- down there -- there are plants and animals--”

“It’s a planet, I got it,” McCoy snapped. “That still doesn’t explain this.”

He gestured down at the biobed between them, and Jim couldn’t bring himself to look. “Bites,” he said with a reductive sigh. “They’re bites.”

McCoy’s face contorted in that way it did when he was apoplectic. “Bites?”

“We didn’t even provoke it, but Spock thinks we may have gotten a little too close to a nest or its young or something,” Jim tried to explain, but he faltered as he looked down again. Chekov was unconscious now and pale, sweat glistening on his face as his chest rose and fell rapidly.

McCoy was examining him with more intensity now, his brow creased in consternation as he pulled away the blood stained fabric of Chekov’s uniform. “Was it a mammal? A reptile?”

“Uh, hard to say--”

“We have to know if it was venomous,” McCoy said, reaching for a tool. “And even if it’s not, we need to know what sort of diseases it might have been carrying.”

“Spock took some readings--” Jim started.

McCoy abruptly shook his head. “We have no data about this planet other than what you just picked up down there,” he said. “If he’s already having this kind of reaction--”

He didn’t finish the thought. He didn’t have to.

Jim looked at Chekov, starting to tremble as his eyes moved restlessly under his lids.

“What if I could find the animal?” Jim blurted.

McCoy looked up at him, incredulous. “Find it? I need more than a few scans.”

“Fine, we’ll bring a sample back,” Jim said.

“I need something fresh,” McCoy said. “A live blood draw is best, but saliva would probably do. Maybe if you could find fresh defecation.”

“You want me to collect its shit?” Jim asked.

“As a last resort, yes,” McCoy said. “If you don’t, I can’t promise you anything about Chekov.”

Jim swallowed. Hard. “How is he?”

“Vitals are falling -- and fast,” McCoy said. “I can start him on the standard spread of antibiotics, but without knowing what we’re up against…”

Jim nodded, more resolute now. “A sample it is, then.”

He turned to leave, but McCoy’s voice stopped him. “And hurry, Jim. If you can.”

The request was softer, more plaintive. It lacked Bones’ usual bite.

Inclining his head, Jim tried to smile. He wanted to be reassuring. “I’ll be back before you know it.”

Or, at the very least, before Chekov knew it.

-o-

Spock met him in the corridor, falling into step alongside him as though he’d been waiting for him to come along.

He probably had been, knowing him.

Honesty, Spock had probably already logically deduced what Jim’s next course of action was going to be, and he was either here to talk him out of it or to lend his support.

Or, possibly both. For a logical being, Spock could be crazy like that.

“Bones wants a sample from the animal that bit Chekov,” Jim told him, not slowing his pace toward the transporter room.

“I predicted that such a sample would be needed,” Spock said. “I spent some time devising a list of likely habitats for the creature and amassed the data we collected to create an overview of its habits, appearance and more.”

He held out a data pad and Jim took it, a little surprised. “That’s helpful, thank you.”

“And now I must ask you to reconsider your decision--”

Jim rolled his eyes, but didn’t slow down, even as he sighed. “But you made me a guide for the search!”

“As I explained, I knew what your next course of action would invariably be,” Spock said.

“So why even bother trying to talk me out of it?” Jim asked.

“Because it is the right thing to do,” Spock said.

“Chekov could be dying right now,” Jim told him, turning a corner sharply. “The right thing to do is to prevent that.”

Spock kept pace. “Protecting the crew is important, but need I remind you of our mandate--”

“Hey, in our defense, this thing did harm to us--”

“Because we intruded on its natural habitat,” Spock said. “Even the simple act of beaming down and exploring carries an inherent risk to the environment.”

“So doesn’t that just render the whole thing pointless?” Jim asked. “We do our best, and you know I take it seriously. But when it comes to my crew -- I know my priorities.”

“As do I,” Spock said. At the door to the transporter room, he drew to an abrupt halt, and Jim came to a stop beside him. “I merely wanted to remind you before you went off and did something reckless.”

Jim cocked his head, thoughtful. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “You’re lecturing me about rules because you’re concerned about me?”

“You, and Mr. Chekov,” Spock said.

“But what about our whole mandate?” Jim asked.

“As I said, our mere presence there earlier already violated its essence--”

The direness of the situation, Jim still had to smile. “That sounds like a bit of a stretch.”

“I have several other persuasive arguments, which I intend to include in my official report,” Spock returned.

Jim nodded, grateful. “I appreciate that,” he said. He held up the data pad. “And I appreciate this, too.”

“I would ask to come with you, but also know that you will reject such help--”

“We already encountered one creature down there--”

“More reason for you not to be alone,” Spock reasoned.

“My ship, my crew, my mission,” Jim told him. “My responsibility.”

Spock probably had an argument for that, too, but he didn’t bother trying it. Even he knew that sometimes emotion trumped logic.

Especially this time.

-o-

Scotty was in the transporter room, fretting.

“I’ve got the same coordinates as before, but I also added a few other options based on Mr. Spock’s calculations,” he said anxiously before Jim had a chance to even give an order.

Making his way to the transporter pad, Jim shrugged. “Anything will be fine, I’m sure.”

“I know you wanted to transport to the lower hemisphere this morning, and I said the atmospheric conditions were too volatile,” Scotty interjected, almost without reason.

“Well, I definitely don’t think we need to go there now,” Jim said.

“But if I’d just better compensated for the interference, you could have gone ahead with the mission as planned,” Scotty told him, wide eyed and earnest.

Striving for patience, Jim attempted to smile. “Not sure how that’s relevant--”

“The southern hemisphere is far less inhabited,” Scotty said. “This whole messy affair -- it probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d just done the extra calculations--”

And there it was.

Sometimes Jim was so fixed on the mission, that he forgot that he wasn’t the only person with feelings. He’d gone over the away mission with the entire senior staff, taking in all considerations about the scope and nature of it. Uhura had indicated that the south was far less densely populated, which would make an initial foray much less likely to be noticed, but Scotty had strongly argued against that.

Safety reason, he’d said. He couldn’t guarantee a clean transporter lock at all times in the south. In the north, on the other hand.

Spock had added how the north would have more vibrant life to explore. And Chekov -- he’d so wanted to go along. More time in the field, he’d said. It would look good as he worked his way up to second lieutenant.

Of course, he couldn’t be promoted unless he survived.

Jim sobered himself quickly. “You gave your input, same as the rest,” he said. “You didn’t cause this.”

“But everyone else said the south was better,” Scotty insisted.

“And no one else has to maintain transporter lock,” Jim said. “If you hadn’t had a lock, we wouldn’t have gotten Chekov back here as fast as we did.”

It was the only consolation Jim could give, and he knew how hollow it would sound. They all knew that they would always give their best, always.

Increasingly, they also knew the tougher truth: that it would not always be enough.

“Come on,” Jim said, tilting his chin toward the control panel. “One to beam down.”

Scotty drew a breath and set his mouth decided. “Yes, sir,” he said, starting to push a few of the buttons. “I’ll have a lock at all times, so if you need anything--”

“I know,” Jim said with a smile.

There was more Scotty wanted to say -- there was more they would all say when this was over -- but he hit the last of the buttons and looked up. “Energizing.”

-o-

Transporting was a weightless feeling, that split second of light and impossibility. It’s nothing more than the blink of an eye, where one world dissolve and another solidifies.

It bothers some people, and in truth, it’s not Jim’s first choice. But, above all else, Jim knows that he has to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. In this sense, the transporter is a luxury that he certainly never passes up.

After all, it only takes the blink of an eye sometimes. Between success and disaster.

That was what had happened with Chekov. Jim had been at point, turning his head just for a moment, when he heard the kid scream. One split second and the entire mission had gone from observation to survival.

Sure, they’d had wild animals on the list of possible encounters, but Spock had said nothing appeared bigger than a small dog in the area. That had sounded pretty safe until Jim tried to kick the thing off Chekov and saw its teeth.

Razor sharp and glinting, coating in blood.

Chekov’s blood.

Spock and the science team had dispatched it with distraction and force, and Jim had been left to mop up Chekov’s blood.

It had only taken him a second to miss the attack.

It took a lifetime to make it stop.

That split second to get them back to the ship had seem far too long that time.

Jim exhaled, forcing himself to keep the memories at bay. He couldn’t spend his time reliving what had happened. He needed to focus his energy on fixing it.

Which meant, he needed a sample.

Obviously, a poop sample would be easiest in theory, but that would assume that Jim could even find a feces sample much less identify it. No, he would, at the very least, have to find one of the creatures and track it for a while if he was even going to have a chance of this working.

All he’d wanted to do the first time was get in and get out with no interference.

This time? He needed to interfere.

A lot, for Chekov’s sake.

He tapped the pad on, scanning through Spock’s thankfully condensed notes. Dense thicket; heavy canopy; low foliage.

The thing had found them last time, attacking completely unprovoked.

Moving ahead in the woods, Jim took some solace in knowing asking himself, how hard could it be a second time?

-o-

The answer: pretty hard.

Of course, this probably wasn’t an unlikely as Jim wanted to believe it to be. Spock had immediately concluded that the attack was nothing more than a fluke, a combination of bad timing and other factors that were far beyond their control. It was unlikely that the creature had been stalking them -- they had literally spent five minutes on the ground -- and it was clear that Chekov and the rest of the science team had done nothing overt to attract such attention.

Bad timing, Spock had concluded while Jim pressed makeshift bandages to the worst of the bites.

Jim stretched his fingers, tightening his right hand around the phased in his hand. He’d washed them -- briefly. Blood was still caked along the edges of his nailbeds.

This was worse timing.

After twenty minutes, he had seen no sign of the thing, poop or otherwise. Feeling frustrated -- Chekov could be dying up there, for all he knew -- he checked the data pad again before consulted his scanner. There were plenty of lifesigns in the area, but most of them were smaller. He entered a few more calculations to whittle down the scanning criteria.

Finding this damn thing was a fluke the first time.

Orchestrating a second meeting, therefore, couldn’t be impossible.

Then, he saw it.

Nothing more than a blip on the screen before it passed out of range.

Coincidence?

Maybe.

But Jim had an injured navigator and a crew counting on him.

Not to mention no other leads.

Hastily, he set off at a jog and hoped like hell for the best.

-o-

After running for five minutes, he thought maybe it was a futile project. Maybe the blip had been nothing. Maybe he was running in the wrong direction.

The galaxy was full of maybes.

They were part of the job.

The other part of the job, however, was turning maybes into certainties. He’d saved Starfleet. He’d prevented countless deaths. Jim Kirk was an intergalactic hero.

And he couldn’t find a damn creature.

Stopping, he tried to catch his breath, eyes still fixated on the screen.

“Come on, come on,” he muttered. “Where are you?”

He raised his voice, letting his yell echo off the trees. Noninterference be damned. This time, Jim wanted a response. This time, Jim wanted to interfere.

The foliage trembled in response, and he heard several smaller creatures scurrying away. Then, on the screen, he saw the blip again. It lingered for a moment, giving Jim the time he needed for a better lock so he could formulate a precise scanning image to track.

“Gotcha,” he said, letting himself smile. The creature’s signal bobbed on his screen, and as it tried to dart farther away, Jim was already in pursuit. “You’re not getting away this time.”

-o-

He tracked it to a stream, which was flowing rapidly through a clearing in the trees. As he assessed the landscape, he saw something splash upstream, and he caught sight of the creature as it danced out of the water on the other bank.

Jim recognized it immediately. He’d only seen it for a moment before, but the thick brown coat and slinky black tail were identifying characteristics. It was smaller than he remembered, and faster, too. With a hiss back at him, it slipped into the brush on the other side.

And if Jim had had any doubts, the beady black eyes and vicious teeth were the only further confirmation he needed.

Looking at the stream, he debated the best way to cross. It didn’t look too deep, but it would still probably be a waist-deep trip across. Given the speed of the flow, it was possible that the current would be dangerous. It was a risk, and he wasn’t opposed to taking it, but he was keenly aware that if he drowned, there would be no one who could save Chekov in time.

Gathering his thoughts, Jim picked up his communicator. “Kirk to Enterprise.”

There was a pause, before Uhura’s voice came over the line. “Enterprise here.”

“I’ve got a line on the creature,” he said, noting the presence of large rocks down river. They might be wet, but they looked large enough to step on. “Any update from Dr. McCoy?”

“Yes, sir,” she said, hesitating just for a moment. “Ensign Chekov has gotten worse. His condition is… “rapidly deteriorating.” He requests that you hurry.”

Requests was the polite way of saying it. Rapidly deteriorating had to be an understatement from a man who loved hyperbole. “He’s had no luck with synthesizing an antidote?”

“Spock is leading a science team in an in depth analysis of the sensor data collected from the away mission and any biological particles Dr. McCoy recovered from the wound. They’re making progress, but it’s slow,” Uhura reported. “Unless we get a fresh sample….”

“We won’t have a solution in time,” Jim concluded grimly, checking his own tricorder again to make sure the animal hadn’t moved out of range.

Uhura drew an audible breath. “Captain--”

Jim was already shaking his head. “Tell Scotty to keep that transporter lock on me,” he said.

“You have the animal, then?” Uhura asked, sounding hopeful.

“I will soon,” Jim said. “Kirk out.”

Putting the communicator away, he took a deep breath, eyes on the rocks again. He blew out the breath again, nodding his head.

“I will soon.”

-o-

Crossing wasn’t exactly the hardest thing Jim had ever done in his Starfleet career, but, to be fair, that was a pretty steep comparison. He’d done some pretty extraordinary things as a Starfleet officer. There was no way that crossing wet rocks over a fast stream on a nowhere planet was going to really register in the grander scheme of things.

This wasn’t about the grander scheme, though.

This was about here and now, crossing the water, finding the creature and saving Chekov’s life.

And not drowning in the process.

He moved slowly -- he didn’t want to fall -- but quickly -- rapidly deteriorating was ringing in his ears -- and after nearly slipping, he made the final leap and tumbled safely to the shore on the other side.

Sitting up, he realized he was in one piece with a smile. Reaching for his tricorder, he was eager to start tracking the animal again.

That was when he saw a blur of movement and a flash of fur.

There was a hiss and a squeal as it came straight at him.

Jim wouldn’t have to track the creature after all.

Since it had found him.

-o-

Logically, Jim could probably conclude that the animal was intelligent. After all, it had noticed Jim’s presence and probably realized that it was being tracked. Crossing the stream had probably been its last effort to get away, and when Jim had followed, it had perceived him as a threat and attacked.

You could even argue that it was self defense.

What else would the reasonable response be? If an intelligent creature was being stalked by an unknown being? Hell, there was a time in Jim’s life where his first response would be to come out with his teeth bared, too.

He was wiser than that, now.

In theory.

It didn’t feel particularly wise as the teeth sank into his sink, catching him first on the arm and the shoulder, then the chest. Flailing, Jim flung it free, but it was back on him in an instant, gnashing its teeth as it attacked his calf and his thigh and the small of his back before he managed to get to his feet again.

The creature wasn’t just quick, it was strong. The limber body was made for climbing, and it used its sharp claws to pull its way all the up the length of Jim’s torse. He could feel its horrid, rancid breath as it sank its teeth into the exposed flesh of Jim’s neck.

Screaming, Jim grabbed the thing by the fur and pulled -- hard. Hard enough to wrench the thing free, taking a chunk of his own flesh with it before he threw it -- hard -- to the rocky shore nearby.

He could feel the hot blood flooding down his neck, and he could feel the rapidly thump of his heart as the breath in his chest felt suddenly tight. His vision tunneled for a moment, and he could feel his pulse thrumming in his ears as his head went light.

Venom it was then.

Jim blinked rapidly, watching as the creature staggered, trying to get back to its feet. He’d injured it, then. Startled it at the very least.

Otherwise he’d probably be dead.

Chekov had survived the attack because he’d had other people there to help.

Jim, in an effort to minimize the risk of exposing others to risk, would probably die for being alone. All he had was a split second to make his decision.

A split second to protect the mission.

A split second to save his life.

A split second to save Chekov.

If he had one move left, he knew what it had to be.

Numbly, he pulled his phaser, working hard to retain enough feeling in his fingers to lift it, aim and--

The creature was on its feet again, narrowed beady eyes looking right at him.

It bared its teeth, and moved to come in for the kill.

And Jim fired.

The wide dispersal made the weapon less potent but easier to aim, and at any rate, it was enough. The force hit the creature, which went limp on impact, flopping lifelessly to the ground.

Exhaling heavily, Jim looked at the creature.

Lying there, it didn’t look so vicious.

Then again, Jim was bleeding and rapidly losing consciousness. He had to steady himself, and he took a single step before his knees gave out and he hit the ground. Dazed, he took another lurch forward, grappling for his collection equipment. This time, however, his dead fingers couldn’t comply, and it was all he could do to keep his eyes open as he fell to the ground, face against the thick fur.

With effort, he reached for his communicator, feeling his awareness start to dwindle as he opened a line.

It was only after Spock’s voice echoed in his ears that Jim realized he’d forgotten to speak.

“Captain? Captain, are you there?”

Swallowing over his thick tongue, Jim winced. “Spock,” he croaked.

“Captain,” Spock said, intent. “Are you all right?”

“Never...better,” Jim said, letting his eyes slip close. Blood was dripping down his back now, soaking through his clothes. “Tell McCoy…I got his sample.”

He tipped his head drowsily toward the animal, reaching up an uncoordinated hand until a handful of fur was tightly in his grasp.

“Tell Scotty,” he said, words starting to slur. “One...and a half...to beam up.”

-o-

He was barely conscious when he rematerialized, and try as he might, he couldn’t even pick himself up off the platform. There was no need for that, fortunately, and he was swarmed within seconds, Scotty and Spock.

“Captain,” Spock said, and Jim could hardly hear him.

“But what’s this?” Scotty asked over him.

Jim wanted to explain. He wanted to tell that that noninterference wouldn’t work this time; he wanted to tell them that he’d done his best, and that this was it. He wanted to tell them that Chekov’s life was worth it.

He wanted to.

But he couldn’t.

In fact, he could barely breathe, and it was going to be a tossup as to what killed him first: blood loss or venom.

Still, he needed them to understand.

Spock met his gaze and cocked his head. “This is not the most efficient way to bring a sample,” he said as Scotty scrambled to set up a containment field. “But I do believe it will be quite effective.”

And that was all Jim needed to hear.

-o-

Jim could still remember, that was the thing. He could remember how Spock wanted to analyze the unusual mineral deposits in the soil. He’d called it spectacular. Uhura had warned them about staying high in the atmosphere to avoid any potential detection, even from low grade surface sensors. Sulu had offered to fly a shuttlecraft, but Scotty had insisted that the transporter would be fine in the southern hemisphere.

McCoy had been relieved that his services would not be needed on the away mission, and Chekov had told him quite animatedly about his love of insects when he asked to join the away team. Insects, Jim had thought. What sort of reason was entomology?


What sort of reason was any of it? Why did any of them do what they do? Would the ends justify the means? Or were the means all they needed to prove for the end they wanted?

These were questions Jim knew, but rarely asked. He made most of his decisions in a split second, the good, the bad and everything in between. That was what it meant to be captain. To decide in a second what you had to live with for the rest of your life.

It was easy to take that for granted when you chose right.

A lot harder to deal with when you chose wrong.

It was harder.

And, in many ways, not so hard at all.

-o-

He woke with a gasp.

Heart pounding, he blinked, badly disoriented. His breath caught, and everything felt fuzzy.

Sickbay, Jim realized vaguely.

He was in sickbay.

Which meant--

The creature.

The planet.

The blood.

Chekov.

“Captain!” came the familiar, Russian accent. “You’re awake.”

Startled, Jim looked over and realized that he wasn’t alone. There, in the next bed, was Chekov. Bandaged, pale and propped up on a pillow.

And most decidedly alive.

He was also grinning stupidly. “We were so worried about you!”

Gingerly, Jim tried to sit up. He found it possible, but incredibly painful. His entire body hurt, and he felt stiff and sore. Unsurprisingly, he felt like he’d been attacked by a wild animal.

And lived.

Barely.

Shaking his head, he only got up on his elbows. “Me?” he said, working hard to even his voice out. “Last I remembered, we were worried about you.”

There was a scoff, and McCoy strode into view. “We were worried about both of you,” he said dourly, crossing his arms over his chest and shaking his head. “Chekov’s body had nearly shut down from the venom, but you? You couldn’t let him one up you. You let that damn thing nearly sever your carotid artery. You nearly bled out.”

“Huh,” Jim said dimly.

McCoy rolled his eyes. “That’s all you can say?”

“Well,” Jim says, wetting his lips with a wince. “Chekov’s okay, right?”

The eyeroll was even more dramatic this time. “He’s showing a full sign of recovery, which is impressive,” McCoy said with a pointed look at the ensign. “Despite the fact that his internal organs had essentially shut down, I think we were able to administer an antidote before the damage became permanent.”

Chekov beamed at the doctor. “I told you, I feel fine.”

“And I told you,” McCoy said with a glare. “Anyone who requires CPR in my sickbay will stay here until I am fully satisfied.”

Chekov’s shoulders fell. “But I feel fine.”

“Then you’ll feel fine, lying in that bed,” McCoy ordered. He turned his glare to Jim. “As will you.”

Normally, Jim would protest, but he felt terrible. “What about the creature?”

“It’s fine, best as I can tell,” McCoy said. “Mr. Scott worked with Spock to set up a temporary containment field in the brig. It’s still running around down there until you figure out what you want to do with it.”

That was a thought. The creature had survived this whole ordeal, just like he had. Just like Chekov. Jim wasn’t a vindictive person, not when push came to shove, and for all that he had fought like hell to capture that thing, he held no ill will against it.

It was just doing what it had to do.

Jim could relate to that.

Sighing, he let himself lay back down on the bed. “I think maybe that’s a decision that can wait,” he said. “Just for a little bit.”

McCoy chuffed, dimming the lights above Jim’s bed. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Just a little bit.”

-o-

Jim took his time recovering, for once. It wasn’t like him, and Bones was besides himself at Jim’s apparent amiability. He didn’t fight; he didn’t complain; for once, he followed orders like he wasn’t born to be a captain after all.

When he was discharged from McCoy’s care, he knew he had a host of other things to worry about, but there was still one thing he had to do. One loose end to finish off the mission.

Taking the creature home.

He had considered other options, of course. He had considered terminating it, in a safe, humane way. He had considered relocation, to a sanctuary on a Starfleet planet or lab. After all, they had already violate the mission parameters by taking the creature off the planet, and it could be argued that the creature was intelligent, which made its reintroduction back into his natural habitat potential dangerous.

Still, Jim couldn’t fault the thing, and for all the things the galaxy put him through, it always put him back where he belonged, with the crew on the Enterprise.

It was Jim’s turn to return the favor.

“I appreciate your permission to let me join you,” Chekov said as they tread carefully through the brush. Spock had created a better picture of the creature’s habitat, outlining an ideal location to not initiate contact with others of the species.

“Honestly, I’m a little surprised you wanted to,” Jim said, putting the cage on the ground. Inside, the creature was tense, crouched in a corner apprehensively.

“This job, there are inherent risks,” Chekov said with a shrug. The scars were still visible on his hands and neck, fading with ongoing treatment. “I joined Starfleet for new life, new civilization.”

Jim scoffed. “You wanted to sink your teeth into adventure,” he said. “Bet you didn’t think it would sink its teeth into you.”

Chekov grinned back. “For a second, I was afraid.”

“Just for a second?” Jim asked.

“Then I remembered, you were there,” Chekov told him. “You were all there.”

Jim nodded, and looked back at the creature. “So,” he said. “You ready to do this?”

“Ready,” Chekov confirmed.

Cautiously, Jim edged Chekov back. With one hand on his phaser, he directed the cage away from him before releasing the door mechanism. It swooshed open, and the creature darted out quickly. It scrambled, turning toward them and flashing its teeth with a hair-raising hiss. Jim was tempted to fire, but for a split second, none of them moved.

Then, without another hiss, the creature turned quickly and scampered away into the brush, disappearing from view as suddenly as it had rushed in just a week before.

“And that’s that,” Jim said, reaching down to collect the cage.

Chekov rocked back on his heels, thoughtful. “Seems somewhat anticlimactic, doesn’t it?”

Jim chuckled. “I think I’ll take anticlimactic,” he said. “Every now and then.”

Chekov nodded, smiling in return as Jim reached for his communicator. Starfleet had good intentions -- they all had good intentions -- and he knew by now that the rules really did exist for a reason. Noninterference was smarter, safer.

But it wasn’t always realistic.

Their presence in the universe was interference, almost inherently. The Enterprise, by the virtue of their mission, had to make an impact for better and for worse. There was only so much Jim could to do minimize that.

Only so much he was willing to do.

Starfleet be damned, the mission wasn’t just to explore new life and new civilization.

The mission was to get his crew back in one piece.

He knew which part got them this far.

And he sure as hell knew which part would get them -- all of them -- home.

“Kirk to Enterprise,” he said, calmly and collected this time. He took a step closer to Chekov. “Two to beam out.”