Stardate 2259 - Year One Post Vulcan-that-was
On the large, slightly ovoid world of Vega, the morning sun inches over the horizon. It makes a feeble attempt to burn through the many layers of cloud, but it is too early for its rays to strike the heaving oceans and transform them from steely grey to dappled blue and green. The sea is high and the weather windy. White spray leaps from the top of each crest to sting and hiss across the uneven peaks, like sand across a desert and just as painful.
The Vegans have a legend among their kind. It speaks of beings that live in the ocean. Unlike the human mermaid mythos, these water angels sing no siren song to call souls into the dark embrace of death. Far from it. They are said to flock towards the drowning, providing buoyancy, succour and support. The Vegans swear that in the water, no one dies alone.
Of course, whilst Commander Spock appreciates the contextual significance of myth, he does not believe in fairy tales.
He treads water, his breath comes harsh in his ears, filled with the echoes of his own skull created by the insulating membrane worn like a wetsuit against his skin. Above him, the medevac shuttle gains eighty clicks in altitude, hovering above him at a distance of approximately one hundred and two point seven klicks. It lessens the spray around him to be out of their downdraft and increases visibility to the point where he can see Starfleet officers clinging desperately to the wreckage of their escape pod.
His face is a perfect mask of concentration, but water is not his element. He is bred for the desert, was born in the desert, became the desert. Spock is all air and heat and dust. He has never seen so much water in one place before. His disciplined mind automatically acknowledges that the press of it around his body is distinctly unsettling, its pull on his limbs almost frightening. The emotions slide into place like pieces in a puzzle. They are labelled. Recognised. Controlled. They do not intrude.
He strikes out strongly in the swell, his lean body cutting through the waves just like it did in the training pool. He raises his face now and takes a breath, but only when even his efficient Vulcan lungs demand it. Every pause lessens his forward momentum by a measurable degree. The victims wear only standard issue uniforms. They are not designed to capture body heat during prolonged periods of immersion. Based on their projected time of splashdown, he had calculated a forty eight point six percent chance that humans would have already have succumbed to hypothermia by the time EPAS had arrived.
He slaps his hand closed over the ignition point on a flare. It ignites brightly against the stormy water, hurts his sensitive eyes. Ahead through the chaotic noise and towering waves he catches a glimpse of a human arm raised in acknowledgement. This sight elicits another emotional response from him. Satisfaction, his brain proclaims abstractly. They are still alive.
Spock slows as he approaches the jagged durasteel edge of their makeshift life raft. The swell pushes him up, holds him several feet higher than his goal so that he looks down upon them with a bird's eye view. One of the huddled bodies raises a hand in welcome, five fingers spread in a desperate yet triumphant expression of humanity. Spock raises his own in return, hardly noticing when his fingers part down the middle, approximating a greeting of similar meaning. Health and long life, he thinks, then realises he'd been in the water too long and his thought processes are suffering.
"EPAS!" he shouts over the gale as he hauls himself up onto the shifting wreckage. "What is your number?"
The human who is conscious reaches out and grips his forearm in a mutually-steadying clasp. "Only three."
Spock reaches out to tag both the speaker and his unconscious companions for beaming. The transponders blink steadily, signalling their functionality. It is possible the unconscious crewmembers are actually dead, but such assessment does not fall within his jurisdiction. Certainly, this one looks very much alive, despite the crimson blood cascading down his young face.
"Did we win?" the human bellows, coughing up seawater as they are broadsided by yet another wave.
"Irrelevant," Spock snaps, working with his phaser to cut the unconscious men free of the jury-rigged lashing. The binding is a rushed job, but it is surprisingly secure. Spock finds himself impressed by the human's apparent presence of mind. He has certainly met enough of his mother's people to realise that such functionality under extreme stress is uncommon.
"Bullshit!" the man shouts. "Those are my friends up there, fighting and dying!"
Spock raises his head, eyes narrow against the biting spray. The human, a lowly ensign by the stripes on his cuffs, is facing him with determination, blue eyes flashing with passion even in the low morning light. It is clear that Spock has overlooked the issue of emotional distress. His experience with non-Vulcan culture is still limited. If he was prone to apologies, he might have offered one, instead he merely positions the unconscious two for transportation.
"Hey, EPAS, I asked you a question!" the ensign presses, his grip surprisingly strong on Spock's upper arm.
Spock shoots him a measured glance and decides this man is capable of processing the truth. Besides, he has neither the stomach or the time for prevarication. "Federation forces are in full retreat from theLaurentian System," he admits. "Only EPAS remains."
The human's face contorts in a disturbing mixture of shock and anger. Spock looks away, focuses on the tasks at hand. He knows that the main transporter unit will be used for the survivors, taking them directly to the orbiting starship. He will be beamed to the cramped auxiliary unit in the shuttle. He crouches. He has no desire to underestimate his height.
"This is Point Two," Spock articulates clearly, depressing the patch on this collar that holds his sensitive micro-communicator.
The accompanying earpiece crackles and comes to life inside his membrane hood.
One, this is niner niner six, over.
"I have three to beam up, repeat, three to beam up ... energise!"
The stinging spray and heaving ocean disappear in a tingling blur of whirling light and then Spock is back on the shuttle. The crash of a wave hangs suspended around him for a split second as the field disintegrates, then hits the pad with a wet slap. Strong hands grip his numb arms, hauling him off his haunches and over to the tinymedbay . Spock attempts to assist in the removal of his membrane suit but his shaking hands are more of a hindrance than anything else. He is all at once too heavy. It is as if his body, long parched from his childhood, has soaked up as much of Vega as it could during its brief exposure. He is weighed down, crushed by the cold and the wet. He staggers.
"Quit making my job harder, damn you!" an irascible voice exclaims. "Blasted suicidal, green-blooded hobgoblin! Didn't you hear Pike?"
Spock glances up at the crazy-eyed face that has been thrust demandingly into his field of view. "M-m-manual extrac-tions are con-con-conducted at the discretion of the s-s-senior officer on the sc-scene, Doctor m-m-McCoy," he manages between chattering teeth. In truth, he had not realised how dangerously low his body temperature had fallen.
"You moron!" McCoy grouses, giving him a cursory towelling and then stuffing him into a thermal bag. "You pull something like that again and you can bet your pointy ears that Pike is going to m-m-manually extract something of yours!"
Spock says nothing, simply allows his eyes close. He is overwhelmed by the combined pleasure and pain in his limbs as his circulation begins to reassert itself. His ability to control and suppress is inhibited by his physical state. Not even the sting of McCoy's hypo can rouse him to full awareness. He feels the pull of gravity as the medevac shuttle's inertial dampeners fail to compensate for their pilot's enthusiastic exit from the scene. He half-hears McCoy curse under his breath, followed by the heavy tread of boots.
"What are you trying to do, Uhura?" the doctor demands, his voice getting further and further away, "give me a heart attack? Did you pass your pilot's license or just bat your pretty eyelashes and hope to heaven you'd never actually have to fly one of these things?"
A shudder rocks the shuttle and Spock's head lolls from side to side with it. Uhura's tart reply is lost in the static that fills his ears. He licks his chapped lips and tastes salt, tart like the smell of human blood. Momentary nausea assails him, but he is already slipping into a healing trance, the wreckage of the starship Enterprise sinking into Vega's wild seas, into the waiting arms of water angels.
In the moment before unconsciousness, Spock's lips twitch in a fleeting smile, but there is no one there to see it.