“We look up at the same stars, and see such different things.” – George R R Martin, A Storm Of Swords
First Officer’s Log, Supplemental, Stardate 2249.42.
Captain Pike intercepted the distress call from Tarsus IV at fourteen hundred Local Fleet Time, which contradicted the history of the regular and positive update bulletins that have been broadcast from the colony for the past six point three two five years.
Upon Captain Pike’s request to verify the broadcast, I executed my orders immediately.
The distress call was crude and employed an archaic Terran system known as Morse code, repeating the three letters of SOS on infinite loop. Captain Pike agreed with my assertion that the probability of the distress call being either a mistake or a prank was low enough that official contact would have to be made with the colony in order to establish the source of the distress signal and ascertain its veracity—or lack thereof.
All subsequent attempts to contact Governor Kodos on Tarsus IV were unsuccessful.
The proper protocol was followed by Captain Pike, with myself as First Officer witnessing. Admiral Marcus of Starfleet Command gave the official order to beam down to the planet at zero six hundred Local Fleet Time. The preparations for an away mission were then made with Captain Pike leading the away team personally.
I shall be accompanying him, with further information to follow in this First Officer’s Log Supplemental.
There were no sufficient Vulcan poetics to describe the emptiness of the colony as it was found on the morning of stardate 2249.43. The fully-completed residential sector was neither ugly nor beautiful but simply remote; a hollow landscape of metal alloys and sensible architecture, with determined vegetation growing alongside the support beams. They did not flower. There were patches of what appeared to be an unclassified fungal growth appearing on the leaves and stems, a pale and mottled white like frost.
Spock’s tricorder readings were inconclusive.
‘Stopping to smell the roses, Spock?’ Captain Pike asked.
A human colloquialism—Captain Pike employed these in the face of severity in order to minimize its impact on the members of an away team for whom morale and confidence were of utmost importance. Though Spock had only served as Captain Pike’s first officer for two months and thirteen days, he had been presented with ample evidence regarding this tactic.
‘Captain,’ Spock replied, ‘these do not resemble any rose species or hybrids on record.’
‘They’re weeds, Spock.’ Captain Pike shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun off an abandoned sheet rooftop. ‘And it seems like they’re about the only thing this place has to offer, at that. Where the hell do you suppose all the colonists are?’
The most appropriate human colloquial phrase, according to a dictionary that Spock had chosen to consult at frequent intervals—in order to facilitate communication between himself and his human captain—would have been ‘ghost town’.
‘It’s a damn ghost town, is what it is,’ Captain Pike added. ‘Any signs of life at all, Commander Spock?’
‘There are none in the immediate vicinity,’ Spock replied.
No birds above; no local fauna of any kind. The wind whistled through open windows and carried with it the faint scent of ash, of burnt metal cracking and peeling, of brackish rainwater pooling in unventilated areas.
‘There were eight thousand colonists here.’ Captain Pike took out his communicator and ordered a full planet scan for human life-signs from the Enterprise in orbit. ‘And if they’re not here, then I want to know why, not to mention what the hell happened to them. Everybody double up and comb this place over—and while you’re at it, try not to touch anything.’
Spock’s partner in survey and canvassing was Ensign Hendorff, a large man whose male-pattern baldness was early onset. He was not moved to poetry of any kind, Terran or otherwise, when faced with the enormity of the colony’s present state.
‘If those sharp ears of yours pick up anything,’ Ensign Hendorff began, though he did not conclude with exact instructions.
‘You will be the first informed, and the captain second, as per protocol,’ Spock replied.
Hendorff snorted, toeing open an unlocked door and flashing the wide beam of a searchlight into the darkened interior. ‘Nerves of steel,’ he muttered.
It was neither a compliment nor an act of insubordination.
There were several among the ranking officers in Starfleet who experienced difficulty working in close proximity with Vulcans. Spock had anticipated a certain amount of resistance to his ambition. His position as pioneer amidst the largely human-centric organization would ultimately pave the way for other interested parties; however, being the first of anything presented its difficulties.
The complications Spock faced were far from insurmountable. The disparate attitudes of his fellow officers were kept largely in check by their acknowledgment of hierarchy, and sideways glances did not keep him from performing his duties. So long as that was the sum of the tensions, there was no need to address it.
‘Just watch my back,’ Hendorff added when Spock chose not to reply.
The door remained open when he stepped through it, casting a bright square of light across the dusty floor. The building was clearly deserted, but Spock found no fault in Hendorff’s investigative methods. Considering the condition of the vegetation outside, it was unlikely that the colonists would have chosen to hide in the scant forest. According to the readings on Spock’s tricorder, the plant life was not edible.
‘Are you anticipating some form of resistance?’ Spock asked.
It was his duty to accompany a lower-ranking officer, remaining at an appropriate distance from Hendorff to anticipate any threats that might approach them from behind.
‘Scared and hungry ain’t exactly a great combination,’ Hendorff said, ‘and that’s exactly what I’d be if I was living in this place.’ He looked over his shoulder to Spock—careless, but not worthy of formal reproach—before turning his gaze back toward the front. ‘I guess Vulcans don’t jump at the first thing to say boo.’
‘Our uniforms clearly designate us as members of Starfleet,’ Spock pointed out.
‘Just cross your fingers they aren’t the shoot first, ask questions later type.’
Spock made a mental note to research the significance of crossing his fingers at another, more appropriate time.
A peripheral scan suggested they had found themselves in a schoolhouse or other institution of education, judging by the arrangement of tables and chairs and the screen at the front of the room, which Spock recognized as a six-year-old model for basic projections. There was no equipment, the windows either broken or boarded.
There had been no information included in the distress call beyond the distress itself. Spock had requested and received a manifest from the original colonization attempt, a list of passengers and the initial population count. Humans of all ages had been present; it should have been more difficult for human children to hide than adult members of their species, yet this schoolhouse was as silent as it had been in the streets.
There was an open doorway near the back of the classroom. Hendorff reached it first, then nodded Spock through.
‘Phasers to stun, Ensign,’ Spock said. He stepped across the threshold with muted footsteps.
The short, darkened hallway led to a private medical facility, stocked with only the bare essentials. One of the cabinets had been broken into some time ago, considering the layer of dust within. The door swung on a smashed hinge, no medkits on any of the shelves.
They had been taken. These signs of life were unorthodox but unmistakable.
‘All clear down the hall,’ Hendorff called, voice echoing on metal. Beneath that louder noise, the stale air itself shifted. It could not have been a result of the wind as there were no broken windows in the office.
Spock turned in enough time that the hypodermic needle aimed for his throat simply tore the fabric of his science officer blues at the shoulder, the point raking his skin without the plunger depressing. The unexpected point of impact knocked it from the fingers that clutched it, so tight that the grip had become too brittle to maintain. The hypodermic needle clattered to the ground; the male assailant who had managed to take Spock by surprise froze for less than a quarter of a second while they were face to face.
His hair was long but clean. His eyes were bright. He placed both hands on Spock’s chest and shoved him, hard enough that had Spock been human, he would have fallen. Instead, he merely stumbled backward.
Then, the stranger ran.
‘Ensign Hendorff,’ Spock said, ‘I have encountered a human life-form in this facility. Contact Captain Pike and provide him with this information immediately. I am in pursuit of the subject.’
Hendorff shouted after him, but Spock was already, as they said, on the move.
He chased the sound of the stranger’s footfalls alone, barely loud enough to be heard by Vulcan ears, regulating his breath evenly with his pace. Spock was faster and his legs were longer, but the subject had the advantage of knowledge, and his speed reflected his intimate understanding of every corner and doorway. He did not choose his path randomly. Each direction he took offered an obstacle—a toppled cart; a fallen bookshelf; a door opened into the hallway—that lost Spock precious seconds to overcome.
By the time Spock exited the facility through a back door, the stranger was already more than nine meters into the distance, cresting a hill without once pausing to look back over his shoulder. That was not the mark of one who was inexperienced, who had never been pursued by those quicker and better trained than he.
Spock continued the chase. He gained ten feet, then fifteen more, due to the advantages he was granted on open ground. Yet those advantages would not last, as it became clear the subject was leading him toward a rocky outcropping flanked by sickly forestation, where twists and turns would once again widen the gap.
The probability of the subject escaping was now, however unlikely, seventeen to one.
He moved too quickly to be studied; his hair flashed gold beneath the sun. He wore a leather jacket. He still had not looked over his shoulder even once. These were the observations Spock had, the only evidence he had been given. Spock increased the speed and the length of his strides, dust from the dry ground below rising with every fall of his boots.
The baked, unforgiving earth; the bleached rocks; the dying trees—all were signs of inhospitable terrain. These were not the local statistics that had been listed on Tarsus IV’s official profile. At the time of the colony’s first landing party, it had been classified as an ideal location for Terran settlement.
Something had transpired to alter that ideal. Although the information was not yet sufficient for Spock to draw a reasonable conclusion, he was gathering evidence supporting several distinct possibilities. There was every chance that the individual he was currently trailing would be able to illuminate the blank spaces left in his data. This alone would have provided sufficient motivation for Spock to continue his pursuit.
Where there was one survivor, there should be more. This was not a certainty but an enhanced likelihood based upon personal observation and past precedent. Circumstances on a planet rarely conspired to create an environment that would sustain only a single life.
Spock had discovered one—or rather, one had discovered Spock—which increased the probability that many would follow. It was that simple.
The subject stumbled as he reached the outcropping, shaking loose rock down the shallow slope of the hill. It skittered into the silence, swallowed by the shadows. He was smaller than Spock, with shorter legs, and from a distance he also appeared younger. He would eventually be overtaken, although the single-mindedness of his flight had given him yet another burst of speed.
He was committing himself impressively to the chase. Spock would not congratulate him when he reached him, but it was important to note the specifics of his physical condition in the event that there might be an impending confrontation.
His subject slowed, bending over at the top of the hill as if to catch his breath.
It was this brief pause that allowed Spock to overtake him. He moved swiftly, eliminating the last of the distance between them to grab the young male around his skinny upper arm.
The human turned, lashing out with his free arm, which Spock caught around the wrist. His grip held, despite the ensuing struggle.
‘Cease your resistance,’ Spock said. ‘If you are a colonist of Tarsus IV, then I am not your enemy.’
His captive was red-faced, breathing hard and sweating. He appeared to have experienced a growth spurt recently; this would have explained why his face was too slim for its features, as though all the fullness of his cheeks had been sapped too suddenly for compensation. His eyes narrowed not on Spock’s face but on the blue of his torn uniform and the holstered phaser clipped to his belt.
The subject’s voice was hoarse and it was yet unclear whether he was suffering from a deficit in language, or whether the question had been truncated for maximum efficiency.
‘I would have thought that was in evidence,’ Spock said. ‘That I am an officer of Starfleet is the most logical assumption when presented with the particulars of my appearance.’
Beyond the outcropping, there was a steep incline that led to a sickly green lake. Judging by the size of the basin, the water level had been receding over a period of years. Its surface was coated in algae that did not resemble the fungus growing on the sparse vegetation. Given the opportunity, Spock would have to examine it with his tricorder in order to discern whether its origins were similar.
Spock returned his focus to the subject—now literally—at hand. The young male’s chest rose and fell and his gaze refused to waver, eyes blinking minimally in order to maintain a clear, unbroken line of sight. His free arm was a matter of concern and would require continuous and close surveillance, as the individual’s resourcefulness could not be disregarded. In response to Spock’s close proximity, the subject had chosen to appear limp, which Spock recognized as a common tactic amongst wildlife when faced with a predator interested in the hunt. However, there remained tension in his posture and in his muscles that suggested he would take any perceived opportunity to flee, or at least attempt an escape.
‘Should you require my full credentials,’ Spock continued, ‘I will list them now, as you are correct in deeming it necessary that I present myself officially so that you may confirm I am who I claim to be. I am Commander Spock, First Officer of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, serving under Captain Christopher Pike. During our exploration in this quadrant, I became aware of a distress frequency broadcast from this planet, and our superiors gave orders to investigate its source. We shall report our findings to Starfleet Command once those findings are complete.’
The rest was evident. Spock’s tricorder hung from one shoulder to the opposite hip; he had not chosen to unclip his standard-issue phaser from his side, where its setting remained on stun; his communicator was affixed to his belt and the Starfleet insignia was immediately visible on his chest, as were the stripes of rank on his sleeves.
Spock waited. The young male studied him. His uneven pattern of breath began to steady but his wariness had not abated. His recognition of Starfleet and what it represented to him were factors with an outcome that was not immediately obvious.
Spock had never been as troubled by silence as some—Ensign Hendorff among them. Communication when required was not the same as communication as an indulgence. Comfort was not reason enough for indulgence in ‘little talk’.
‘Regular broadcasts to Starfleet have provided details of this colony that are not corroborated by what Captain Pike’s away team has encountered upon beaming down to the planet’s surface,’ Spock said. The subject’s pulse was muted by the leather between Spock’s fingers and his skin, but it pounded against Spock’s palm nonetheless. ‘It is this landing party’s duty to determine what has transpired here and to locate and assist all surviving colonists.’
The subject tossed his head to remove the hair from his eyes. Spock made no sudden movements and preserved a near-meditative stillness that would not disrupt the young male’s sense of stability or place him on the offensive rather. There was only the wind, rifling their hair and causing the loose strip of fabric at Spock’s shoulder to twist in the breeze.
At last, the subject’s focus shifted to the communicator on Spock’s belt.
‘It is also my duty as first officer to contact my captain and inform him of my discoveries. He will not be able to act in the best interest of both his crew and the locals without consulting all available information. I will now execute that duty.’ Spock reached for his communicator, blue eyes tracking his every motion.
He would have completed that simple task were it not for the sudden commotion from across the flat grounds. Spock recognized Hendorff’s shout and was not surprised by the subject’s response—which was to attempt to wrestle himself free, pulling at his own wrist with enough blind strength that he risked dislocating it.
‘Though he would be better served by the development of his subtlety, Ensign Hendorff is not a threat to those whom he has been tasked to protect,’ Spock said. ‘I shall remain between the two of you. He will not fire upon a superior officer.’
There was a snort from behind him. This vocalization appeared to have a direct correlation with Spock’s statement, although now was neither the time nor the place for him to discern which element specifically had inspired the colonist’s disbelief.
Spock turned, as he had said he would, using his own body as a shield between the subject and the approaching Ensign Hendorff. The latter was not in poor physical condition; however, the extra weight he bore and his self-proclaimed dislike of calisthenics put him below Starfleet average when it came to running speed. As a result, Hendorff was clutching at a stitch in his side as he mounted the hill toward them.
‘Jesus,’ Hendorff said. This was not a statement meant to address Spock, a fact he had learned through experience. ‘Hasn’t Pike told you about running off like that?’
‘Captain Pike has not previously demonstrated any difficulty in maintaining speed equal to my own,’ Spock replied. ‘If he had, I find it unlikely that he would choose to reproach me for performing my duties with maximum haste and efficiency.’
Hendorff had no proper retort prepared for this statement. He punctuated their conversation with a wheeze, doubling over before attempting to straighten. His cheeks were pink, but his distraction was not likely to prevent him from noticing the factors of their current situation.
Spock remained aware of the presence of the colonist at his back. He had temporarily ceased his struggles, appeased by the presence of Hendorff as one he could examine from a safe distance. The advantages of staying in place were currently outweighing his initial instinct to flee.
‘You went tearing off so fast I didn’t even have time to tell you—we found kids in the school. Just a few, not enough for a whole colony. If there’s more, they have to be split up all over the city.’
From behind Spock, the small human gave another ill-timed snort.
‘Think that’s funny, do you?’ Hendorff asked.
He craned his head around Spock, seeking out the additional audience member, the element that did not belong in their conversation.
‘I, too, have located a member of the colony,’ Spock said.
By way of introduction, that would be provisionally sufficient.
‘Yeah, I noticed,’ Hendorff said. ‘It’s not like you to go running off on a wild goose chase, Commander.’
‘I’m a person,’ the colonist said from behind Spock’s back. ‘Not a goose.’
‘There are no documented species of waterfowl either native or imported to the colony,’ Spock added.
‘Yeah,’ the human said. ‘If there were, we would’ve eaten them.’
‘Commander Spock, we went over the wild goose chase metaphor last week, and I know you remember it, considering you remember everything else.’ Hendorff had not lowered his phaser; this was regulation, but it did nothing to assuage the colonist’s mistrust. ‘I also know you know I’m not talking about waterfowl, I’m talking about this kid.’ Hendorff paused, his countenance briefly relaxing. ‘Hey, kid,’ he added. ‘We, uh, aren’t here to hurt you. Answering a distress call. We’re here to help.’
‘Our motive has already been established.’ Spock paused. Though he drew his next conclusion from that which had not been stated outright, he could nevertheless be confident in the accuracy of the hypothesis he was forming. ‘It would seem that the colony on Tarsus IV has suffered from a lack of resources, specifically edible ones. It is likely that the fungus I have observed on the native vegetation was a prime factor in a colony-wide famine.’
‘You have a theory already.’ Hendorff wiped a line of sweat off the crease in his brow. ‘Of course you have a theory already.’
‘A working hypothesis, Ensign,’ Spock replied. ‘One that has to account to a number of key investigations in order to remain viable. For example: if the colony here has suffered from so grave a threat, why is it that its Governor Kodos at no point requested any aid from Starfleet, and sent no indication of this difficulty at all?’
These were inquiries into which the young colonist himself could have offered insight—yet Spock had not concluded his debriefing of Hendorff before the subject exerted a wild and unfocused surge of youthful strength, lashing out at Spock’s shin with a kick, wrenching his wrist free of Spock’s grasp. He stumbled, then righted himself, finding new equilibrium in a wary crouch.
Hendorff started toward him, phaser raised.
Spock held up his hand.
‘Your actions are inexplicable,’ Spock informed the colonist.
‘Inexplicable? Look, the kid’s got a weapon,’ Hendorff said. ‘And in my book, when somebody’s got a weapon, they’re officially classified as a threat.’
Spock had noticed, the subject’s hand inching toward what was in all likelihood a concealed blade, making his intentions clear. Spock held his ground and met the young colonist’s eyes.
With exacting, deliberate movements, even and steady, Spock bent his knees and lowered himself closer to the grimy rock. The colonist did not blink. Neither did Spock. The atmosphere was not without its merciless elements but Spock’s second eyelid allowed him to sustain unbroken eye contact.
‘This colony,’ the colonist said finally, his voice breaking like gravel into dust, ‘has no governor.’