"THE PRICE OF PRIDE"
by kelthammer
PG, Khan/Khan
TOS; Mc POV
Disclaimer: Just my imagination trying to explain why Kirk would have failed to check up on Khan.

Its late. I like the lab at this time. Not just because its quiet, or because the shift is barely staffed and we have nothing much on schedule, but I like it here because I happen to be a class-one insomniac. Yes, I know, that's not supposed to exist anymore, we were allegedly cured of it over a hundred years ago, and that its lumped under mythical ailments like brain-fever and wandering uteri...but I just happen to be one of those freak cases, an anomoly of the brain, that keeps me from sleeping a single night through.

Jim and Spock tease me about it on occasion--well, Jim teases. Spock reserves his comments about the effects of sleeplessness upon the human propensity for erratic behavior. But he doesn't mean anything mean by it. They're both stumped as to how I can even function. Damned if I know myself. Two or three hours a night is all I can hope for. I've been this way since I was thirteen years old.

And its not that I'm ashamed of it, but I did get an awful lot of flak about it that wasn't all that nice when I was growing up. People said I had a leg-up advantage over the other kids because I had more time to study, more time to research, or do whatever because I didn't need to sleep as much as they did. I can tell you, its balderdash. I just can't sleep. Oh, I'd love to. When that unknown factor kicked in and I started waking up at 2 or 4am, I was crazy to put an end to this strangeness. I signed myself up for extra schoolwork, extra studies, extra everything...

Funny thing is, I was a real extrovert before I became this way. But when you need so little sleep...you get used to doing things yourself, by yourself, without anyone else around. By the time I was a full-grown adult, I was shocked to see I'd become a loner. Even my psyche profile changed; I'm now better off alone and with my thoughts. I can't really explain it, but Spock swears I have so much chatter in my brain that I don't need any other outside distractions such as simple conversation. Spock's a real joker when he wants to be. To think that in the first year of our mission, he was so uptight about his Human half he was afraid to jape...I'm glad we were able to let him grow this way. Getting annoyed is a small price to pay for helping a Vulcan vent steam.

The computer is chirping its updates. Delicate sounds, really. They take extensive training just to comprehend the basics. Not unlike the old primitive days of naval warfare, when you had a poor man plugged up to the sound systems for hours, listening to echoes off that old-timey radar. You have to have perfect pitch to understand the "voice" of the machine, and a sense of music helps. Sometimes I wonder if Spock or Nyota would appreciate the sounds I soak in on these quiet nights. They're two of the most accomplished musicians on ship--Scotty can match them note for note but he's oddly shy that way. Thinking of Scotty makes me smile; I know he can gather the notes and tones and unnoticed bars in his engines. My little lab pieces probably wouldn't be a challenge.

There are times when I'm up to my neck in a viral epidemic, and people assume I can find the blasted cure in no time because of that irregularity in my brain chemistry. "Get Len to do it. He can go for days without hallucinating." More jokers.

The computer is trying to give me some electronic complaint; it doesn't have enough memory in the "alley"--that's space for the data--so after I hit it a few times to make sure that won't solve it, I use my voice-lock and authorize a loaner of a few thousand U's. That should be enough to process anything, and be up to the challange of a simple blood analysis.

The blasted machine settles down to its soft music and I'm left to sit on my hands, and think again. Its no ordinary blood I'm looking at. It's from Khan.

***

Examining a relic from the past isn't as rare as you might think. Just ask Jim how many times we run into preserved cultural subspecies from our very own planet. But the BOTANY BAY was a little different. For one, its a wonder anyone survived on that ship. Our readings caught such low signs that they couldn't have been human--or so the machines said. Truth was, according to those machines, humans couldn't take such depressed conditions.

Mental note: get those guidelines overhauled.

We were all taken in by Khan's spell...his magnetism, if you want to call it that. Jim had dropped his phaser right off its holster and hadn't even noticed. I was trying to signal him with my eyes; it would look bad if I showed him his error in front of Lt. McGyver. Then of course, Jim could have dropped his entire uniform and grown fur; she wouldn't have noticed anything once her eyes settled on one Khan Noonian Singh.

There's no wonder in that, either. I can still see him, with my slightly-too-clear memory. A big man, bigger than most of us in this day and age of vitamins and clean living that was supposed to be nonexistent back in the 1990's. Dark hair, dark skin that would be even darker once he was exposed to the UVs, and even in the hibersleep, he glowed with the kind of health and vitality you can feel from the other side of a room. Even Scotty was drawn to it, and it would have taken a lot to get his attention off those "beautiful little transistors" he wanted to take apart so badly.

I'm still amazed that Khan thought he could get away with taking over the ship. Even if he had, somebody in the Federation would have stopped him The supermen were enough of a problem that somebody would have had them blown to atoms. But for all of Khan's faults, a low self esteem is not one of them.

*** The centrifuge is slowing. A spun sample of whole blood, a 'crit graph flashes across the computer screen, unusually high levels of red blood cells. Not fatal, but practical if you want to design a man with a large lung capacity, and more red meat on his bones. I wonder what the red bone marrow looks like, and, I lean forward, voice-commanding the computer to pull me a sample of a sample. Red marrow, please, and while you're at it, a touch of yellow...

***

Jim finished up with the Lieutenant; I had to smile at the way he was talking to her. They were about the same age, and he's very aware of that, so of course he gets into his supercaptain mode, but on the other hand, McGyvers knew she'd messed up on the BOTANY BAY. If Jim had been older, she would have felt like a little girl being scolded. I was a little surprised that she kept her head up during the reprimaind. When it was over I teased Jim back down into a good mood, with my "fair psychologist" assessment. Jim's taken his share of psyche courses, so the ribbing got that smile back on his face where it belonged.

There are never enough "perfect" specimens of the human species. In fact, they're so damn rare that medical schools doesn't want to take the donated corpses. A perfect body is an ideal to live up to, and very very seldom do you see a good one. Contrary to what the ladies aboardship think, Jim isn't a perfect specimen...too much catecholamine, too much a propensity for sugar absorption...and don't get me started on Spock. I'm still trying to figure out how a three-valve heart can pump in a higher gravity without collapsing like a popped balloon. The closest thing we have to an Adonis is everlovin' Sulu, and he's got a viral wart on his face. Khan made us all look like we were the cheap imitations, and he was the original. It was as if he'd bypassed generations of breeding and evolution, and here he was, to show us what our people were capable of.

There were a few scars on his skin that were obviously martial. That was it. No other flaws. His ability to heal had removed all but the faintest traces. The cellular activity was quick and neat--a thing of beauty. So, don't blame me for getting knocked for a loop. The last time I'd read such a perfect example of humanity, it turned out to be an alien in disguise.

We'd stood and talked about him while he slept; admiringly, how could you not? Jim's gaze was tinged with the historical aspect, but he's often told me that he respects anyone who lived in a time as savage as the 20th century. After he left to tend to the 'BAY, I returned to the routine samplings; drawing the specimens I'm using now.

When you take a blood sample, even a small one, the brain is aware of it, so, bioreadings spike and ruin your average means; I had followed standard procedure and turned them off before I drew the blood and tissue from Khan. Then there was the short waiting time for the readings to go back down before I turned them on again. It was no wonder Khan was able to get up, get my scalpel off the wall, and get back in bed without my knowing it.

Khan's hand around my neck was an unpleasant bang to reality.

His eyes were the deepst, darkest pools of black I had ever seen in my life. And I'm not kidding. It was like staring down twin whirlpools set to suck me in. I didn't need to be told there was a battle of wills between us. Khan was a man that measured everything by enemy or ally--no neutral ground with him.

It was good for me I'm from such an old-fashioned upbringing. Knowing how to speak good English might be considered quaint and outdated, but it might have saved my life. Khan was obviously surprised to hear me talk in words he could understand, but he was already getting tired. My problem was disarming his suspicions and his scalpel without losing my vital requirements of air and blood. His surprise was almost comical because whatever he did expect, my talking in the old language wasn't it.

I hadn't expected his humor to pop up at my little anatomy lesson on arteries, or my request that he make up his mind--but his humor was one of the last things I could define. I dealt with it by blowing it off; looking back, I think that amused him even more. But he turned over the scalpel with his cute little comment about liking brave men, and he was going down fast. We both knew if he hadn't voluntarily surrendered it, he would have woken up in restraints. Khan remains one of the most intelligent men I've ever encountered, and he had Jim's ability to catch on the instinct of a situation.

Well he blew us off for a while, which really ticked me off. I was asking him perfectly harmless questions about the genetic programs he had been a part of (all existing records have been dust for centuries). For some reason he got more satisfaction out of evading my questions than answering. It drove me half up the wall but after I gave him his three shots, I blandly commented his eyes needed a rest from all that reading strain.

I could tell he didn't like that, but he'd trapped himself with the rules of the game. He pretended to give in with good grace, as if he was already planning on taking a catnap. I had a feeling that in 12 hours he'd have convinced himself it had been his idea all along. Marla was paying a lot of visits to his room, and he was to hers. Spock was making disturbed noises to Jim about security, but he didn't seem to understand what we, as humans, were dealing with. If a Pre-Reform Vulcan popped up in full uniform and started talking about Order and Control, I guarantee Spock would let his own feelings get selective.

We wanted to give Khan his fair chance. We wanted him to show us that that part of our history was not so laden with death and misery and savagry and all those other things we were told we'd outgrown. He blew it, and we almost got ourselves killed by trusting him too much, but our desire to integrate him was incredibly strong.

Truth to tell, his overweening arrogant confidence was so strong it made us feel overly confident about being able to control of him. Its a lot like having a precocious child in your midst; there's a part of you that ignores what's going on. Our problem was we had our faith in superior technology, while Khan had faith in his superiority.

***

The computer quirps like a tribble--a sound that does not indicate a question, but rather, an "open answer." I drag myself out of my thoughts long enough to study the new bars. Ever typical, my mind is already running ahead of the present, back into the first decades of my life and the hot swamplands of my home. That happens whenever I'm beginning to get disturbed. Don't think I'm trying to live in denial over something; my home holds some of the most horrific memories of my life.

I follow standard procedure and command the computer to run its full spectrum again--and I'll give that command one more time, so there'll be three separately-commanded tests for these samples. Just a way of narrowing the possibilities down. I was doing this very same thing with an ensign's lung specs when Khan came in to visit me.

***

I was tired; the day had been miserably long even before the sensors found the 'BAY. I don't know how long Khan had been standing behind me, watching me watch the lines of krypta graph down the screen, and I don't even know how much he comprehended; even Spock doesn't have the training to grasp the cellular variables.

"Do you live your entire life in here, Doctor?"

Needless to say, I jumped nearly a mile. Its a wonder I didn't hit my head against the ceiling. When I came down again, Khan was standing there with his hands behind his back, smiling at my performance.

"Do you make a habit of sneaking up on people?"

"I wasn't aware you were so absorbed." An easy lie; he nodded at the screen. "Tissue samples, I see?"

"Um." My hands prickled ice from the delayed stress reaction. I thumbed the switch and re-scrolled four thousand lines. "Part of my job."

"What are you doing?"

It was safe enough to tell him. "One of the crew wants to go home for maternal duty. I have to examine nearly every cell she possesses or Starfleet won't give her a pension."

"Maternal duty?" He cocked his head to one side.

"If you accrue enough service points, you can go home and raise a family on the Fleet's nickle. Fleet just wants to minimize the threat of anything going wrong; we're exposed to all kinds of strange things in space. Radiation's just the least of them."

"Interesting." And he meant it. I saw his dark eyes study the screen as if they had grown in importance. "You look old enough to have a family. Is that what you did?"

Nobody asks me that. So few ask me, that I have a deep suspicion my private file warns all my CO's to never broach the subject of my failed relationship with my wife and daughter.

"No, I'm the old standby," It comes out rough and angrier than I want it to; old pains. "I joined the service to get away from my family."

"Not that you wanted to." Khan noticed my body language, and the way I wasn't directly looking at him. "A family man, aren't you. Not sure you belong here but yet here you are all the same."

"I'm not sure what I'm doing here, no matter where I am." I try to make it sound like a joke, but more truth leaks out than I intend it to. I'm more tired than I thought. I re-scroll the lung specs to the very beginning and pretend to read them.

Khan sits on the edge of my desk; his intention all along. "Why are you here on the ship, doctor? Because you hate a mystery?" He doesn't wait for an answer. "My first impressions of you haven't changed; perhaps you don't understand your place here, but you've made it your place. I respect that. So few people have that drive." His eyes crinkle slightly as he smiles, projecting confidence.

I knew that look. My wife used to inflict me with it. It was a projection of sexuality, promising, and all the more tempting because you never knew if she was going to go through with that promise. She could drive any man in the room crazy, and I guess it was my strange luck that we wound up with each other. Khan's body language was different yet the same; he knew he was irrestitible. That self-confidence he wore like a second skin was part of his charm.

Sexuality is a confusing thing, even among other humans. A lot of it has to do with charisma. Khan was obviously 800% male, but he would use his charisma to get what he wanted. I thought it would be interesting when he butted heads with Jim, who can play the game as well as anybody. Actually, my money was on Jim. Jim does have a grain of humility in his being, and if there had ever been any in Khan, it died of loneliness years ago.

"If you must know, I'm at home here." I tolerate his questioning; I wouldn't let even Spock go in this direction, because Spock...Spock doesn't have to ask. He knows me on an instinctive level. Just as I know him. Khan's looking for something, but I'm not sure what. I do know that he's recruiting people for his camp, and now that Marla's there, I'm the next target. Khan, I realized almost instantly, is nothing without an audience of worhippers.

"You kept asking me about the genocides of my time," he tilted his head to one side again, a distracting maneuver which was probably why he used it. "Is there something about my time, doctor, that you wanted to know about?"

Oh, but it was clever, and an invitation to talk to him, hoping that I would. He knew I was on fire with curiosity. He'd never been conscious when I showed Jim the biospecs; how his muscle structure was long and dense, how his skeletel structure had been enforced by gravity-training, his lung capacity, synaptic reflexes...I wasn't kidding when I told Jim he could lift us both up with one hand. It was an amazing thing; a work of art in muscle and bone and blood and nerve fiber. I couldn't help but stare.

An invitation he knew I couldn't refuse.

So I spoke of what I had been a part of, all those years ago in my early teens.

***

I pull out the readings. My guts knot up at what I see, and I stick the third, verifying data wafer in the computer. WIthout hope, I ask the computer to repeat its last maneuver.

*** Khan was the end results of a lot of experiments. A lot of failure. A lot of pain. Not far from where I lived as a boy, a mass grave was exhumed on the lip of the swamp. I guess the idiots figured nobody would ever find the truth, and the soil would devour all traces. Well, that wouldn't have been true even in 1990. Devouring microbes only exist in the shallow soil layers. Everything else is fairly sterile red clay. When the Ice Floe broke off in 2003 and the oceans stopped fluctuating in temperature, it was the beginning of Georgia's Entry into what we Red-Doggers call "The Swamp Age." The swamp simply covered up the old field and sealed everything like a thermos. A time capsule of death waiting to be re-discovered...or stumbled onto by a poor Yankee trying to punt through a gator channel.

The 212 corpses they had uncovered was still intact. I should know. I was one of the interns assigned the forensics detail.

We had to lie on our sides and use manual tools, archaeology trowels, gloves, and masks that couldn't hide the odors. Men, women and children without any concession to their race, age, or physical condition had been killed with nerve gas--the bodies that lay shriveled inside their muddy clothing were mummies, and their expressions were full of their last seconds of life.

Except for the kids. They had been killed in their sleep. We did find that out. I thought at first it would help me sleep at night. It didn't. If you think congenital insomnia is bad, try letting a few awful thoughts creep into your psyche.

A lot of us were throwing up--if not at the beginning of the day, then later once we hit saturation point. I couldn't even eat, so I just held out until the evening when we could stop. I got a lot of grief from the other workers because I wasn't getting sick, but then, I wasn't setting myself up for it. Ginger and mint kept me going until it was safe to digest. The sheer hopelessness of the crime drove me like a whip was behind my back. I learned to block out everything; the hot sun, the smell of drained, dry red-dog, the way the blades of sawgrass could slice the skin open to the bone, and the birds screaming overhead. You'd hear the media on their visits--but they did their on-spot journalism from a distance. I could avoid them as long as I was deep in the digs. But my hatred of crowds were already growing from the experience, and three years later, at the ripe old age of sixteen, I would marry a woman who had no clue as to why I needed to be away from the teeming throng of humanity.

I learned that the odor of decomposing tissue can actually stimulate the appetite. And that the fat in the bodies can congeal into a toxic shortening.

It was at the end of the third day, and my folks had just found out what I was doing. They'd first called my teacher up to ream her out, that their boy shouldn't be subjected to that kind of thing. Then Hazel, bless her heart, had her turn. I don't know what she said, but my parents never said a word after that.

The swamp-fed lake was beautiful under the sunset. When we were done we'd sit on that low, loamy beach among the tree roots and just take in creation, to quote a digging partner. We needed it badly. And on the fifth day, we found the first of the children. That was tough; I didn't know if I had it in me to do this for a living, but at the same time, I couldn't explain that I felt compelled to. How can you talk about a mystic feeling when the stench of murder is all over you?

Hazel understood. "We do this to show people how medicine is done right," my teacher said. Then she passed me the bottle of whiskey. That was the first night I ever got drunk. To this day, I have never been more than slightly inebriated. Try dealing with a hangover, no soberalls, and rotting corpses on a blistering hot, muggy day in the swamp. Oh, yeah--and taking turns driving the alligators off. As my mother's grand-daddy summed it up: "It cured that dog from sucking eggs."

***

Khan listened without a word, but he was frowning. You could feel the deep thoughts boiling off his brow like a wave. When I was finished he gave it another five seconds of silence and stood with a sigh, dropping his arms to his sides.

"You've just answered a question I've been pondering for a long time, doctor." He idly strolled from wall to wall, hands still behind his back. Making sure he was nonthreatening, I suppose. "I knew Thompson's work in human biology; we moved in the same circles. But even Colonel Green didn't care for him. Something rather disturbing about his inability to be...forthright with his allies." Khan's smile is not pleasant. "I'm sure you know something of the Nazi party."

"Some. Enough to know I'd'a been sent to the gas chambers in a heartbeat."

"Actually, you wouldn't have." He shocked me. At my expression he waggled his finger at me and turned to a scolding professor. "Now, if you truly must learn history, doctor, do not bother yourself with the mainstream information. Go deep; learn about the small things, the obscure details." Those dark eyes glittered, holding me like a snake holds a bird. I don't think I could have moved if my life depended on it. Up until this point, I'd only thought I'd understood Khan's power of magnetism. For the first time, I wondered if Jim could handle this man.

"Perhaps you would have been gassed or shot, if they only looked at your skin color, but Germany led the world in paper documents. It would not have been difficult for them to find out you were a surgeon, and that would have made you desirable for their laboratories. The majority of the lab techicians, surgeons and researchers were the kin of the victims."

I must have looked as white as I felt. Brown haze buzzed around the corners of my vision. Khan lifted his hand up. "An unpleasant fact of history is, the quashed rebellions are never heard of, and the worst enemy is your closest friend. Many physicians performed for the Nazis against their own people. That is not to say they did not want to; far from it. But if a bullet is aimed at the heart of a loved one..." He lifted his shoulders in a shrug.

"And did that happen with Thompson?" I managed to talk, and was glad I wasn't croaking.

Khan frowned again. "I doubt that was his technique..." The dark eyes suddenly turned sympathetic. "Drugs were more his style. He had the most bizarre notions about how to garner followers." His voice implied that outside coercion was for unrefined people--unlike himself.

"That I know of." Know? Hell, my mother's people were his slaves. The one perk was they got to dig the hole for his grave after Green executed him for traitorous activities. And after the dust had settled they snuck out, dug the bastard up, and re-planted him in the swamp to make sure nobody ever found him and saved his tissue for some unholy cloning experiment. Grandma had it on good authority they dipped him in turtle blood and threw him to the alligators, just to make sure.

"I have to admire you," I admitted. "Mostly because there were no mass murders, executions or whatnot under your sphere of power."

Khan was smiling slightly; he was sure of the answer. "No, I had no need to dispose of my enemies. I didn't have what you would call enemies."

Laying it on a little thick, I thought. "Most people have enemies," I pointed out. "Sharon Devlin once said, if you ain't a threat, you ain't worth much."

He liked that. His smile was a genuine grin of white, wide teeth and nuclear-force charisma. "Human nature depends upon conflict, does it not? Without it we would all be "not worth much." Conflict is the very force of the Universe."

I went back to the original subject. "So how did you do it? Your other compatriots were responsible for some of the worst murders on the planet."

"One's first tactic is to surround oneself with allies, not enemies." Khan shrugged. "And very few people wished to go up against my people. We had proven our superiority. Not many desire to begin a fight that is obviously lost."

It was frightening, but I could sense he was telling the truth. The psychology of that era was very much that of the man with the biggest show of nerve. There was no other way to commit so many atrocities under the world's permission.

I was still trying to fathom all this, and act normal at the same time, when he turned my own tricks on me; he changed the subject so fast I was completely thrown off balance.

"Are you certain your talents are not wasted here?" His eyes were frank and deep. His tone of voice implied he knew I was going to ruin on this ship, and like a good salesman, he was about to offer me my salvation. "I have an ability, doctor. I know good men when I see them."

And good women? I wonder. Khan's visits to Marla weren't exactly a secret. MacGyvers was so solitary, she could have brought in a potted plant and the ship would have been ripped with gossip. I just tap my stylus against the desk like this is all boring me. In a way it is. I'm tired to the bone, and I'm wanting to do nothing more than go get a drink and go to bed. Khan's presence is telling me I'd better stay on my toes, because he's a very dangerous man. I don't forget scalpels against my carotid very well. He's all charm now, but there was a time when he would have cut me open and stuffed me in a closet.

Daddy always said, if a man thinks about killing you, he might have that same thought later. He should have known. He fought in the Orion Borders.

"I'm flattered at your regard," I use my driest voice. Even Spock knows that voice. "But if you're recruiting, there's a proverb from my home you might be aware of."

"A proverb?" Khan tilts his head, big arms folded across his chest. There's a wary interest in those eyes now.

"If two men are in agreement, one is worthless." I give it my best sardonic smile. "My folks don't follow orders all that well, Khan. But we try to keep to our word. When it comes down to it, I have an oath, and it supercedes everything else, even the Commander I follow."

Khan's eyes notice again, the stripes on my sleeve, and study the life sciences on my chest. I watch him take in the medical papers on the wall. It clicks in his eyes; he realizes that I wouldn't follow him, that his salesman skills aren't up to this. I'm calmly uninterested in him.

The next few seconds tick like a metronome the size of a cathedral as he ponders his next move. I can see he doesn't believe me; no one would refuse him, so I'm either crazy or in denial. He'll wait and see which is which.

"A man of your word," he ponders that, rolls the words over his tongue with a smile. "I like that, too." His smile is strange, and familiar in a disturbing way. I can't place it.

So far he's liked me because I'm supposedly brave, and because I'm standing up to him. And I'm still confused as to what he wants from me, and he knows that gives him the real advantage.

Just then, it crosses my mind to wonder what would happen if I match his game with mine. Played along with him, just to follow this strangeness through. But it was too strange. Khan was still fishing around, trying to figure out who I was, and how I could be persuaded. Oh, he had every confidence he'd find the perfect soft spot--that calculation on his face was just like Jim's at the edge of a card game or Klingon maneuver.

Like I said, I did think about it. But that calls for an ability of projection I don't care to have. I know that if I absolutely had to, I would find it in me to use another person. If there was no choice, no choice at all.

But I couldn't. Mea had done that to me enough in my marriage, and truthfully, I see Jim do it too much when he's trying to get an edge that will help the ship out. Jim calls it "command prostitution," and while he never likes it, he never hesitates to do it. Its later, when the drinks are a little heavier than he planned, that he talks about how it makes him feel stale and cheap inside. God forbid I ever put myself in that situation.

It's not until after he's gone, and I've got my Sickbay back, that I remember where I'd seen that odd little smile on his face. When he was explaining the tactics of "persuation and coercion" for his followers.

***

Strange how you can be confronted by a fear when you least expect it to. It wasn't until the third year that I found myself commiting that "command prostitution" with Natira. That's something that never showed up in any of my reports. If Jim and Spock knew what I did, they have the great good sense not to say anything or act like they know. I don't think they do, though. They're horrible liars when they're trying to spare my feelings.

The saddest thing is, I would have stayed with Natira anyway. And even though I'm fully intending to return to her at the end of this mission, I'll always feel cheapened by the bargain I pushed her into. I knew she didn't want to have them killed, even if they had trespassed and broken inviolable law. I saw the pain in her eyes when her old retainer died for speaking to us. She hates death the same way I do, and her people are very few.

She wanted to be persuaded to spare their lives. And, operating on my own ability to sense guilt, I persuaded her. We'd barely known each other for six hours, and I was already manipulating her. It was something Jim couldn't brass his way out of, for a wonder. And that didn't put him in a very good mood. But the possibility of their dying is one of the worst fears I have; you could say I was manipulated by my own emotions, as much as I was manipulating hers.

Doesn't make me feel any better, though.

Another reason not to sleep at night.

***

I woke up from the gas feeling truly terrible, and even worse when I took in all the others. Uhura was sitting by the table, looking quietly terrified, but I knew better than most; she was faking that. She projects her negative emotions and can really make you think she's softer than she is. It comes in handy.

Khan's men and women were all around him, and none of them were saying a damn word. That was the worst part of it; they trusted him so deeply they never even spoke. They were like robots without color or personality.

I couldn't see Jim anywhere; that was the worst sign of all.

Khan's rage at being stonewalled was not a good indication of the Supermen at their best. In that room, we could see that Khan had NEVER been defied before. He had been more than a superman, he had been a prince, and no one goes up against royalty, do they. He wasn't just throwing a temper tantrum; he was losing it.

I'm aware why Khan made a point of trying to kill Jim in my compression tank. He wanted to make sure I could see it on the screen. I guess he thought he was being clever. It sure wasn't subtle. I wouldn't join him, and he knew how much it would hurt me to see Jim die from his own blood gases.

And maybe I wouldn't have caved in when they killed Jim. When they moved to Spock, maybe I would have held fast. I don't know. If they killed Scotty...these people were my friends, and my family. Would I have helped his cause in the hopes it would save the others? Just pretended to obey him, and commit only just enough work to make him happy? I can see how easy it would be. I would join him for the right reasons, and before long, my reasons would become Khan's, and I would be another victim betraying my own people because I can't prioritize my people with my loved ones. If I were lucky, maybe they would have killed me in the beginning. That's a messed up way to think, and an arrogant one; to think I'd live ten minutes longer than anyone else.

***

Khan's anger at being beaten beaten was nothing compared to his anger at being defied. It was all part of his mindset; you either win or lose by your superiority, not from luck or particular skill or even a fluke law of physics. We were supposed to acknowledge his superiority, and bow to it. After he was "conquered" by Jim, he was calm and stoic; a wolf beaten by a competitor. But until he was beaten, he was at his most dangerous. As long as I live, I will have horrific memories of Khan's visit among us, and he didn't even kill anyone on the ship! The things he pulled out of my psyche were monsters I'm usually too busy to face. But now that they've been dug out, they're impossible to put back under the ground. Cover up the bodies, break down the holding dam and flood the swamp again; it doesn't matter. Some things never stay dead.

*** The tests are stark and cold. I don't know how long I stare at them, feeling a little sick. DNA chains don't lie. RNA doesn't lie. In the lab I feel like a gigantic chain of events, stretching across the Universe, has snapped back an incredible backlash upon Khan and his people, because their creators dared go against the decent laws of genetic augmentation.

The lab goes away in my mind. I'm thirteen years old again, standing in front of the mass grave in Georgia. The reek of death is in my nose, my throat, coating my skin. The hot sun beats down on my head, and turns the red-dog clay into a bakeoven through the soles of my thin shoes. Heat shimmers green waves at the edge of the jungle, and carrion birds are scent-spotting the clearing for handouts. That moment in my life will never go away; to think I took that job in hopes that if I worked hard enough, I would be able to sleep.

I have my head in my hands, staring at the soft gray haze of nothing, when the door opens behind me.

"Doctor," Scotty's baritone, and that soft way he has when he's uncertain about something. "Ye have been absent from the other officers for nearly two days."

"I'm on my weekend," I remind him.

Scotty doesn't answer; he's finally learned not to do that. I can delay him for hours if I keep leading him off on bizarre tangents.

I finally nod at the computer screen. "Khan's people. The tissue biopsies."

Scotty looks at them, but he's not a physician. "I dinnae ken the readings."

"Did you ever think to wonder why Khan liked to have Marla with him, when there were plenty of superior-bred women for him?"

Scotty tilts his head to one side, thinking. "I confess I did not consider," His brouge is soft and mellow; he's had a few in him for the night. "I presume ye have a conclusion?"

"Khan's people are barely viable as a population. The fertility schemes are impossibly low. They're dying, Scotty. They might create one more generation or two, but they're not going to survive." I can't tell Scotty because its confidential, but Joachaim was Khan's son. He's even less viable than his father. The boy has almost no hope of carrying on his share of the genes.

And I add, although it sticks in my throat like glue, "Khan knew. He had to have known. That's why he was trying, in his own bad way, to recruit followers. Our genes might be less strong, less well-designed, but..." I can't finish. It's just too depressing.

"He needed us t'breed with," Scott finishes for me.

"If he had told us..." I'm shaking my head now, thinking of those depthless dark eyes. "We could have helped him. That stupid, worthless Superman Pride. It had to be his way or no way; he would have perpetuated a lie and a myth among his own people to make them think they were the superior ones...that they were doing us a favor by breeding with us."

"And why he tried to recruit us a'." Scotty stares at the data onscreen. He doesn't say anything for a long time, and I'm grateful.

"History is full of such moments," Scotty says at last, commenting from the objectivity of distance.

"It's still going on, in its own way." My head is hurting now. "My ancestors were slaves, Scotty. Time and time again. Scots slaves bred to their English masters to improve them. Georgia...that was a prison colony, did you know that?" I don't wait for him to answer that. "Hardly anybody claims to be descended from the old colony, but you could buy a wife, or a child and own them for the rest of their lives. And when the slave trade began, you had plantation slaves bred to plantation masters to improve them. And during the Eugenics Wars, Khan's buddy Thompson let his people run amuck in the South. And who knows how long it was going on before any of that. There are still emotional scars from those atrocities; denial never heals anything. It just buries it to ferment, gets worse."

The waste makes me clench up. Lives wasted. All of them. The survivors of the sleep are going down to a planet and set up their own empire...and have about two hours of fame before they die out. Marla isn't enough to keep their race going. Khan would have had a chance if he'd had more recruits.

"How do we survive, ye wonder." Scotty murmurs. In his mind he's placing the importance of all of us--our ancestors, our descendants, and our enemies in the entire scheme of things. Scotty's mind is like that--elegant and finely worked as aragonite crystals. "Sa' mony times, our entire survival hinged upon the conscience of one or few...and sa' mony tried t'replace us wi' the Supermen."

"Like those "New Humans" you hear rumors about once in a while." I shake my head, then feel cold inside. So-called new powers--developing telepathy, trance states, altered awareness--you name it. My daughter had been recruited by that cult but she'd gotten out by the skin of her teeth. "Are they any different from the Supermen?"

"Time will tell on that one," Scotty rests his hand on my shoulder. "Och."

***

I submit my report--I have to, now that I know the truth. If I had withheld the data, I'd have been guilty of withholding, and that's a Federation Crime. Jim doesn't acknowledge it for weeks--I'd almost blocked the memory out when he comes out with it.

"If they're dying, as you say, then perhaps the only thing we can do is leave them alone." He stares at the little brandy snifter as he said it; I turn the heat up to go with the brandy.

"Leave them alone?" I echo, not understanding what he was getting at. I can be really slow on the uptake sometimes.

"Yes, leave them in peace." He takes another drink like bracing for a punch.

I hate the phrasing--makes it sound like Khan's people are already dead and mourned.

"I'm sorry I even submitted that report," I mutter.

Jim leans back in his chair, eyes tired out and flat. "If you hadn't, somebody would have thought about trying to bring the Supermen back, Bones. Your report is proof humans can't handle evolutionary tampering. We'll have to do it the hard way."

"The hard way," I mutter again, thinking of that awful, hot summer in the swamp with 212 murder victims. They had been genetically viable...just not of a type considered fashionable to the current regime's aesthetic tastes.

"Yes, it seems like our lot in life, to go slowly forward." Jim has mostly recovered from switching his essence with Sargon's. He downs his last drink and gets to his feet. The tiny red lights off his computer scatter finger-prints of light on his face, like bright red blood. And seeing that, I begin to shiver so hard that I wonder if I can ever get warm tonight. Jim thinks its a carryover from when Thalassa mentally neat me up. I listen to him trying to talk me down, like he's twenty klicks away, and all I can see are the dead faces of children, anesthetized without knowing they would never sleep again.

END

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