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Inexplicably, after a few more minutes of weapons fire from the Enterprise, the aliens began to withdraw.
Kirk jumped out of the command seat and asked hopefully, "Sulu, have they broken off the attack on Kitty Hawk as well?"
After studying his readouts for a moment, Sulu turned and flashed a broad grin. "Yes, sir!"
"Aliens are moving off in the general direction of a nearby asteroid field at the extreme range of our sensors." Riley made a few adjustments and added, "All alien ships are joining the group, sir. It's a general retreat." The young Irishman then smiled and relaxed for the first time since the battle began.
"Great, but why? They had the Kitty Hawk dead to rights." Kirk was puzzled and deep in thought.
Unnoticed by the others, Spock was now struggling with mental impressions leftover from his meld with the alien. The battle seemed to intensify those impressions, but whatever the reason, he now understood a great deal about the aliens and their motivation. In the heat of the battle, those impressions were jumbled and disorganized. With the absence of combat and the gathering of the aliens, their collective thoughts were now making an impression on Spock.
Taking the few steps needed, Spock approached Kirk with a sense of urgency. "Captain, I believe I have information pertinent to our current situation."
Still thinking, Kirk turned to face his friend, "What is it, Spock?"
"The aliens are not attacking the Kitty Hawk to destroy the ship or gain access to the technology. They want their man back."
Astounded by the revelation, Kirk was momentarily stunned, but recovered quickly. "Uhura, contact DeSalle. I need to speak with him. Navigator, rendezvous with the Kitty Hawk, best possible speed." Then Kirk softened his tone a bit and addressed Spock. "Care to explain?"
In a rushed, almost excited manner, the Vulcan became caught up in his revelation. "The aliens are connected mentally and are fiercely loyal. They are also very dependent on each other and a few are considered indispensable, including our captive. While he is here, his absence creates a perceived weakness in his culture. It is very much like a hive mentality and the weakness drives the others to get him back, at any cost."
A very confused Kirk asked the obvious, "At the cost of losing so many others? Doesn't that just make the loss worse?"
Continuing, Spock sorted out the impressions and he spoke carefully and slowly. "Our captive is part of the elite, a sort of royalty. Those doing the actual fighting are essentially... drones or workers, very similar to ants or bees on Earth and totally expendable."
Pondering what he has heard, Kirk, nods in understanding and becomes intrigued. "And they don't know he's on theEnterprise, so they concentrate on disabling the Kitty Hawk to get him back."
"Precisely," Spock continued, "While their original intention was to steal our technology..."
"... their sole purpose now is simply a rescue mission." Kirk paused, gathering his thoughts, then continued, focused. "We have a bargaining chip. Would the aliens agree to a cessation of hostilities to retrieve their man?"
"Unquestionably," Spock replied.
"Captain?" Uhura had been waiting and now relayed her report. "Mr. DeSalle is ready."
"Commander, what is your status? I need an honest and realistic evaluation."
DeSalle sounded apologetic. "Damage is extensive but repairs are underway. Commander Weston estimates six to eight hours needed. Shields and screens experiencing a power drain due to loss of the port engine and damage to a number of systems, including computers. Worse yet, we're reduced to sub light speed; sorry, sir. Also, we have sustained a number of casualties, but no deaths, so far. Dr. M'Benga reports most injuries are minor, but many are the result of radiation poisoning."
Kirk then spoke in a firm voice. "Unless circumstances change dramatically, we may need to abandon the Kitty Hawk."
"Understood, sir," DeSalle was quiet and subdued.
"Make all preparations right away. On my signal, all crew members will transfer back to the Enterprise by simultaneous transporter use on both ships. Coordinate with your engineering staff. Be prepared to transfer upon receiving my signal."
DeSalle was now re-energized, "Yes, sir; we will be ready."
"Uhura, relay those same orders ship wide. Be sure Mr. Scott understands the transporter orders. We won't have much time and I don't want to leave anyone behind." Kirk was about to continue his conversation with Spock, when the intercom crackled.
"Are you about done shaking up the ship?" McCoy sounded particularly agitated and unpleasant.
Ignoring the surgeon's sour tone, Kirk tabbed the intercom. "For the moment, Doctor. What's your status?"
"I'm seeing a lot of radiation sickness. Have we 'sprung a leak' somewhere?"
Concern flashed over Kirk's face as he motioned to Spock. The Vulcan returned to the science station in haste and Kirk continued. "We're checking on it now. Bridge out."
By the time Kirk finished his conversation, Spock was already getting answers.
While Spock worked, Kirk turned his attention back to the aliens. "Status of the aliens?"
Sulu studied his viewer closely. "Aliens still in the immediate area. They seem to be... conferring."
"Waiting for Kitty Hawk's shields to collapse," Riley conjectured.
"Reinforcements," Uhura countered.
"Captain?" If it were possible for a Vulcan to sound discouraged, Spock related his findings. "Radiation is coming from the alien weapons. Although they read as standard phasers, they are infused with high levels of broad spectrum radiation."
"If the phasers don't penetrate the shields, the radiation acts as a slow poison. Since the aliens are unaffected, they can use the radiation as a weapon and not worry about harm to themselves." Kirk was angry and it showed. "That's the straw that broke the camel's back."
A very confused Spock was about to respond to Kirk's comment when the captain spoke. "Uhura, open a channel to the aliens."
"Aye, sir." In a moment she responded, "Audio only, sir; channel open."
Speaking slowly and distinctly, Kirk began. "This is Captain James T. Kirk aboard the starship Enterprise, representing the United Federation of Planets. I wish to discuss a means of resolving our current conflict."
After a lengthy pause, Kirk was about to repeat himself when the audio channel crackled and a voice was heard. Tinny and loaded with static, the voice was difficult to understand. Kirk turned to Spock and shrugged, prompting the Vulcan to raise an eyebrow.
Kirk asked quietly, "Can you clean that up, Uhura?"
"Trying, sir; universal translator is having difficulty with it."
Spock explained, "They communicate primarily through telepathy and other non-verbal means. Speech may be... difficult for them."
In a moment, the alien repeated. This time it was a bit easier to understand, though monotone and stilted. "What... do you... propose?"
Kirk didn't waste any time. "Send one of your ships to my location; shields down and weapons off-line."
"To be... destroyed?" The alien's voice sounded annoyed.
"As a sign of good faith," Kirk countered.
"And... in return?"
"We will also drop our shields and return our prisoner to you."
The alien sounded skeptical. "You did not say anything about your weapons."
Kirk motioned to Sulu, "We are powering down now, also as a sign of good faith."
"Why... do you... do this?"
"We've only recently learned how important your man was to you. Also, we did not know this space... belonged to you. Our ships entered it only to explore. We have no hostile intentions." Kirk paused then added, "We will leave once we have returned your man. Perhaps at a later time, we can discuss our differences."
"Unnecessary. We will... consider your... proposal." The channel was closed abruptly.
"Do you think they will do it, Captain?" Riley sounded hopeful.
"No reason for them not to, Lieutenant," Spock commented.
"Exactly." Kirk then continued, "We'll let Command and the Diplomatic Corps sort this out later. Right now, we need to resolve the radiation problem and our repairs."
"Aliens re-establishing communication, sir," Uhura announced.
"Here we go. Open a channel, Lieutenant."
"Kirk... we agree... provided... there are... no tricks."
"No tricks, we wish only to avoid any more deaths on both sides."
"Very well... Captain. If you... deceive us... we have more ships... on the way. You will... regret it."
"Understood, Kirk out." The Captain then turned to Spock. "Make all preparations and handle the transfer personally."
"Yes, Captain." Spock turned and entered the turbolift with a few quick steps.
Gathering his thoughts for a moment, Kirk decided, "Unless the aliens withdraw, which I doubt will happen, we are going to abandon the Kitty Hawk."
"But Captain, are you sure--"
Cutting off Riley's argument before it began, Kirk explained, "The Kitty Hawk needs to complete repairs in order to survive and that is time we do not have. Also, the radiation problem has only hastened our need to leave this area. Mr. Scott was right, our engines were not leaking radiation. The aliens have covered both ships with radiation and it's getting worse. The Kitty Hawk is in no position to keep up, far less defend herself against mass attacks. Add to that, her shields will be non-existent soon. The alien may be bluffing about more ships on the way, but I can't take the chance as the rescue fleet is still a long way off. My primary duty is to save the Enterprise, our combined crews and be sure that Kitty Hawk does not fall into hostile alien hands."
A somewhat disappointed Riley responded, "Understood, sir."
"Uhura, contact DeSalle and inform him of the plan to return the captive. Under no circumstances are they to engage the aliens." Kirk then turned, "Navigator, plot an interception course with the rescue fleet."
"Course laid in, sir," Riley replied.
"Ready when you are, sir," Sulu added.
By now, the crews of both Federation ships knew of the plan. All understood the necessity of abandoning the Kitty Hawk, even if they didn't like the idea. No one disliked that possibility more than the Kitty Hawk survivors and none of them more than Commander Weston. However, looking at the ship's status board, she did understand Kirk's reasoning. There was no way the ship could be repaired without many hours of work and the aliens would not allow that. Whatever plan Kirk had for a solution she could only guess, but hoped it would work. If only 'her' Kitty Hawk could be saved.
"Alien approaching, Captain," Sulu noted quietly.
"Riley?" Kirk did not vocalize the obvious question.
"They are observing the conditions, sir."
"Notify Mr. Spock, Uhura."
In the main transporter room of the Enterprise, Spock was busy as security delivered the prisoner. The alien was quiet and cooperative as if he knew the plan. Even though Spock hadn't sensed it, he speculated that the alien had been contacted telepathically. Activating the intercom the Vulcan announced, "Ready to transport the alien, Captain."
"Transport as soon as you have a positive fix, Spock." Then quietly, Kirk added, "Stand by to transfer the Kitty Hawk crew, just in case."
On the bridge of the Enterprise, Kirk watched the main viewer intently.
"Alien ship coming into transporter range Captain... now," Riley said.
As the solitary alien ship approached, Sulu kept a close watch on their other ones. If the transfer went well and the aliens did not resume the fight, then there was hope for the Kitty Hawk. If not, the captain was prepared. Although 'better safe than sorry' was not part of Starfleet training, he used it, often.
Just as he finished that thought, the ship's intercom jumped to life. "Spock to bridge, transport of alien prisoner complete."
"Alien fleet is moving towards us, Captain," Sulu announced.
"So much for a peaceful solution; commence emergency transport now!" Kirk barked the order.
"Nearest alien is powering up weapons and raising shields," Sulu began, followed by, "All alien ships doing the same."
Kirk tensed, "Confirm emergency transfer as soon as possible, Uhura."
On the Kitty Hawk, the last group was standing on the main transporter platform. This was the command crew and DeSalle stood at the controls as Weston rushed in, out of breath, smiling, "Port engine will go critical in about five minutes."
DeSalle nodded with approval then motioned Weston to the platform.
Weston shook her head, "If it's all the same to you, sir, I'd like to be the last person off. After all, Captain Kirk said this is my ship."
Conceding the point, DeSalle quickly moved to the platform. Weston set the controls, then activated the transporter. Too late, everyone realized what she was up to.
"One more thing to do," she said apologetically.