He should’ve known -- but how could he have? That kid who’s interning with McCoy, the one who wears thick-framed glasses not because he needs them but because he likes the retro look, is always talking about how he has “a bad feeling about this.” Sulu has long suspected that it’s a ploy for attention, a way to get McCoy to notice him by pulling the amateur vintage sci-fi movie version of McCoy’s inspired rants on all the ways this could go wrong. Who could know this time he would be right?
So was McCoy, who had predicted before they ever left the Enterprise that it wasn’t going to be as easy as it looked.
“Goddamn it,” the chief medical officer is saying now as he kicks a piece of wreckage across the dust of the moon. “With our luck they were wrong about the population of this fucking place too and we’ll be attacked by flesh-eating dust spores in about thirty seconds.”
Glasses Boy -- his name is Benson, Sulu thinks; if not, it works as well as anything -- is wide-eyed behind his black frames and plain glass lenses. Sulu thinks he looks like he’s going a little green around the gills, but maybe that’s just a side effect of the slash across his forehead from the crash. A lot of the landing team got sick on the way down, sicker than they had been just from the flight itself.
McCoy had been a little unsteady himself, but he’d been out of his seat before they’d even stopped sliding, scanner in one hand, hyposprays in the other, checking everyone. Sulu had flinched away from McCoy’s attentions, insisting he was fine, but in the end he’d settled down, grumbling under his breath as McCoy snapped, “Just sit the fuck still, flyboy.” The abrasion high on his left cheek would heal just fine on its own, and Sulu doesn’t mind that McCoy refused to use any of his first aid supplies on it. They might need the medicine later, for more serious things, and Sulu likes the idea of getting a little extra sympathy out of Jim when they get back to the Enterprise.
He refuses to entertain the thought that they might not get back.
Right now he’s too busy trying to figure out what caused the crash. There were no warning signs, nothing indicating the shuttle was malfunctioning. It must have been an outside force, but Sulu hadn’t seen anything. He curses himself for flying without the scanners on. It was just a short jaunt from the Enterprise down to a tiny, harmless moon. It was no big deal. He was restless, needed a challenge, needed to feel like he was flying.
“Way to go, Top Gun,” the Jim in his head snarks. He tells imaginary Jim to shut up and focuses on reading the signs left on the shuttle scraps that surround them. The things are made to crumple on impact, to take most of the shock on themselves instead of breaking their passenger’s bones with the force of a crash landing.
That’s great, except for the part where it’s impossible for Sulu to find what, if anything, hit them.
“A hundred ways to die and a thousand crazy mysteries.”
Sulu isn’t sure if it’s imaginary Jim or imaginary McCoy he’s hearing this time. They’ve been friends so long they tend to sound alike. Like an old married couple. Right now, he wishes they would shut up unless they’re going to help him out. As long as he’s making futile wishes, it’d be nice if he had someone from engineering to take a look, back him up on the idea that this streak right here, the one that barely breached the hull, looks like it might have been the culprit. There’s no recognizable residue, though. Nothing like what he would expect to see from space debris or the little pieces of an asteroid.
If it’s just a natural crack in the material, not only are they all screwed, but engineering’s going to have a lot to answer for if they get back.
When they get back. Dammit.
“Can you fix it?” It’s Benson, looking small and nervous and sick, a sharp and vulnerable change from his pseudo-hipster, pseudo-emo, “everything sucks” teenage dirtbag impression of McCoy’s “get out of my way before I hypo you” aura. Sulu feels sorry for him at the moment. In fact, right now, he almost likes the kid.
Almost. He’d like him more if he had something useful to contribute.
“I don’t know yet,” he says, fighting to keep his voice even instead of snapping. “Have you been able to raise the comm?”
Benson flushes a little. “Not yet. We think the atmosphere is blocking the signal. It’s not the same as what they thought from the ship. Dr. McCoy thinks what they thought was the surface was actually a bounceback from the cloud cover. It’s… thicker than we thought. Not like a normal atmosphere.”
Sulu looks at the shuttle again in dismay. The thought has barely formed in his head before Benson says, “Maybe that’s what caused the crash? The atmosphere?”
It wouldn’t be the first time space had taken them by surprise and bitten them in the ass, but it doesn’t make Sulu feel any less naïve that he hadn’t anticipated it, that he’d taken it for granted. He’d been too long in cruise control, just desperate for a change, craving some excitement. He’d forgotten just how exciting space could be when you let your guard down -- as exciting as a rattlesnake who’d been poked too many times with a pointy stick, and he’s sure that one is McCoy’s expression, though Jim picked it up long before Sulu met them.
He stands up and stretches, arching his back to pop the kinks out, and then stays there, bent over backwards, just staring up at that odd, traitorous atmosphere. He can’t see anything past the colorful, swirling clouds, but in his head, he can picture the exact map of the stars beyond it, can imagine which ones Jim can see from the window in his room, where he’s probably sitting, waiting for Sulu to fly them back home. How long will it take him to notice that they’ve been gone too long to explain scientific curiosity? How long will it take Uhura to figure out they should’ve checked in by now?
He can picture the light stretching between himself and the Enterprise, an arching bridge of dust and debris and starlight that he could just step into, could just walk on, right up to the airlock, right up to the window and knock on it, scare them all to death.
Except he knows that’s ridiculous, knows he’d better hope they can get a message out, hope Scotty can beam them through this atmosphere of clouds-with-teeth that chewed them up and spit them out on the moon’s surface.
He’s surprised when a hand claps over his shoulder, even more surprised when he turns and sees McCoy standing beside him, looking up at the same sky Sulu had been staring at. He can see Benson on McCoy’s other side, a faint hint of envy overlying his nervousness and nausea.
“Don’t worry about it, kid,” McCoy says gruffly. “He probably knew something was wrong before we did. He won’t let you stay down here for long.” Sulu wants to believe -- if McCoy can be optimistic, surely he can -- but then McCoy laughs and says, “And if he does, well, when we get back, we’ll both kick his ass.”
One more clap on his shoulder, and McCoy stalks off, barking at Benson to come help him set up shelter, just in case. Sulu stays where he is a moment longer, staring up at the sky, and lets himself wish on a star he can’t see.