When Jim Kirk is born, his mother is accompanied by his grandmother – Ellen – during delivery and his uncle Peter waits with a five-year-old George Samuel Kirk in the hospital waiting room.
George Kirk, Sr., is not present. He is in space on a crucial mission for Starfleet; he has not returned in time for his son's birth.
But if anyone begrudges him this, it doesn't show. Winona Kirk smiles when the nurse hands over her new baby, still damp and pink with the ruddy glow of new life.
“James Tiberius Kirk,” says Winona. “That's your name.”
And in the Iowa twilight James Kirk opens his sleepy eyes, but he isn't looking at his mother. His head is turned, and his eyes are aimed at the window. He looks first and foremost at the stars, clear and luminescent over the dreaming countryside.
“It looks like he's smiling,” Winona tells the doctor, who smiles herself, politely.
And James Kirk drifts to sleep on that, his very first night, with the image of the stars seared inexorably into his eyes.
As he grows older Jim loves the stars, the moon, starships – everything to do with space travel. His mother despairs. She says his 'obsession' is dysfunctional. She even has him see a child therapist. But the man only laughs at her concerns.
“Your boy is one of the most well-adjusted young men I've ever seen,” he tells her. “He loves space. Sure. But he loves earth, too. There's nothing hateful in him. If I were you, I'd encourage his interests. There's not really much else you can do; he seems pretty set on the matter, and it would be a shame to let that sort of curiosity be wasted.”
Winona is doubtful, but at length she relents. She enrolls Jim in the Junior Space Program. She has a tutor start teaching him Vulcan and Andorian. She lets her brother spoil him with gifts of starship models, starbase-posters, alien music.
Anyone might expect the influx to overwhelm a young child, but Jim absorbs it eagerly. He always seems curious for more information. 'How' and 'why' are always at the tip of his tongue.
And she would be more concerned, really, but it's clear that he's just like his father. Because it's true; he does love earth, fiercely and shockingly, with a fervor that shouldn't belong to someone so young. He wants to know about obsolete sailing vessels, wants to learn about the Victorian-era and the French Revolution as if these, too, are things out of alien cultures. In a sense, they are.
His favorite book, by the time of thirteen, is The Sea Wolf.
“It's a dark novel,” she says.
“It's provoking,” is what Jim thinks. And, really, what child talks like that? “The captain... but mostly the fact that the author wrote it, at all. The captain is so vicious, so unrelentingly hard... but not cruel. Not really. It's all survival of the fittest. A lot of Jack London's books are about that idea, survival of the fittest, animalistic instinct triumphing over man, over softness. He romanticizes it. But it can't be what the author believed.”
“And what makes you say that,” she asks, humoring him.
“A little bit because his main character doesn't agree with the captain, so he can clearly sympathize with another view,” Jim explains. “But mostly, it's because if he really believed it, he wouldn't write so much about it.”
Despite Jim's love of the sea and Earth and learning, one thing becomes clear to Winona; one day, he is going to join Starfleet. It's inescapable – a fact, not a possibility. She is afraid for him because she knows the realities of George's job. And she is saddened at the thought that her son, her precious boy, will one day leave her so far behind.
But let it never be said that she will not do right by her children. “Sweetheart,” she asks Jim the year he is to turn fourteen. “How would you like to spend this summer with your aunt and uncle?”
“Jenny and Uncle Sam? But they're moving.”
“I know, sweetheart,” she says. “You can go with them. To Tarsus IV.”
And as he smiles at her, full of joyful disbelief, something in her heart breaks.
Tarsus IV is beautiful, but frankly a bit dull.
The shuttle-ride is a trip in itself, and Jim enjoys the first day on the planet enormously. His first step onto the dry dirt crunches yellow-green grass under his feet, but under the grass the dirt is purple. The evening sky on the horizon is cinnabar gray shot through with streaks of cobalt-blue. There are two moons on Tarsus, one larger than the other, and they wax and wane at different rates.
He enjoys this sight – how could he not? He enjoys the farmwork, even, tilling the earth and planting seeds in the virgin soil with extraordinary patience. “What a kid,” his uncle says on just the second day. “Eager to work! That's a true Iowan farmboy for you.”
The thing is, though – it's just like Earth.
Really, things would be more alien if he had traveled to Japan, or Chile, or Malaysia. Here he is farming, farming, farming, the community is small and closed, and nothing is new.
He wants things to be different. He wants experiences.
Not that he will say as much to his relatives, though – that would be ungracious.
Something new does come, though, in his second week on Tarsus.
“The Rileys want you to babysit,” his aunt tells him absently. Everyone is still unpacking and they're all busy getting the seed planted, so babysitting sounds easy is comparison to the work his aunt will put him toward. Jim is hard-working, but still a teenager, and he runs off at a quick lope for the Rileys before his aunt can change her mind.
The Rileys live on the closest farm; colonists have been given large parcels of land, but are also anxious to stick together, and this has resulted in odd twisting patterns of property.
Jim heads up to the plain, easy-build house (a standard of first-time colonies, and liable to be replaced with a 'proper' wooden home once the place is really established) and finds Mrs. Riley playing with her son, Kevin, out front. She keeps glancing behind herself at the house.
“Oh, good,” she says, seeing him. “Jenny sent you? Can you - “
Blinking, he barely has time to nod before she leaps up and vanishes inside.
Shrugging, Jim stretches himself out on the ground. “Hey, Kevin. How are you?”
Kevin stares at him a moment, then wanders away to start pulling at a weed.
“...Great conversation,” Jim mutters under his breath.
“I'm sorry for the mess,” calls Mrs. Riley from inside, sounding flustered.
A faint, feminine voice responds: “Oh, don't mind me, really...” and their voices grow distant.
Jim plucks up a tall strand of grass and twirls it between his fingers. It's still dew-damp from the previous night, sparkling yellow like sunshine. He licks it experimentally and makes a face. Alien grass tastes weird, apparently.
Faint laughter makes him look up.
“That's one way to explore another world, but not really one I'd recommend,” says an old woman.
Jim grins. “Hey, this is a safe planet. The scientists said so, right?”
“And you're just going to take their word for it?”
“Here you are, Ms. Sato...”
Her eyes crinkling with warmth, the woman turns toward Mrs. Riley and accepts a package. Jim frowns. Something is tugging at his memory.
“It was nice to meet you,” the woman says, and turns to go.
“Wait!” Jim cries. “Sato – not – you're Hoshi Sato?”
“Jim!” Mrs. Riley scolds.
But Hoshi Sato – and it is her, he realizes – just laughs. “You're the Kirk boy, aren't you? Jim?” she asks, and Jim tries not to visibly react at the thought that Hoshi Sato knows who he is.
Hoshi Sato was one of the senior officers on the original Enteprise NX years and years ago. She helped make the Universal Translator. Without her, first-contact experiences would be completely different. Space travel itself would be completely different.
She knows his name.
Hoshi Sato smiles bemusedly, plucking at the strings of her black cardigan, and it occurs to him after a horrible moment that he's gaping. Jim stutters and says. “I'm, I really – it's an honor, Ms. Sato – Admiral – my dad's in Starfleet, and I know – you just - “ he's stuttering like an idiot.
But Sato nods kindly, like she's used to this. She probably is. “That's very nice. Do you need him for anything?” she asks, directing the question at Mrs. Riley.
“No, we're fine now.”
“Then, if you don't mind, why don't you help me carry this package home? It's a bit much for an old woman.”
Jim eagerly agrees.
He trails along after Ms. Sato. She's surprisingly quick for her age, eyes glittering with amusement as she watches him. “Do you speak any other languages, Jim?” she asks.
“Andorian and Vulcan,” he says promptly.
“...Well, a bit,” he amends sheepishly.
She chuckles. “That's still very impressive,” she consoles, which is probably a lie. He can't imagine that Hoshi Sato finds the language skills of anyone impressive. “Did you know there's a Vulcan on Tarsus?”
“A Vulcan? Really?” He pauses a beat. “...Why?”
Ms. Sato stifles a laugh. “Well, he's staying with relatives. Like you.”
“So there's a family of Vulcans?”
“He's half-human,” Ms. Sato explains.
Jim considers this. “I've haven't seen him around.”
“It's a big colony,” she says. “I'm sure you will eventually. Ah, here we are - “
Ms. Sato directs Jim to set the package down on her counter, but before he can leave, she asks, “Would you like to join me for tea, Jim? Maybe we can see how your Vulcan is. You can impress the kid here if you ever run across him.”
Hoshi Sato proves to be an unexpected relief from the tedium of Tarsus. She enthralls Jim with tales of her own days on the Enterprise and in space. She even served as a diplomatic translator for awhile, and some of her stranger stories – not all of which Jim is sure he can even believe – give him a new respect for this particular occupation. “I'm not even going to try teaching you Tellarite,” she tells him. “They tend to assume you understand their culture if you speak the language, which means they can be three times as offended at everything you do. And Tellarites are offended a lot.”
It's impossible for her to impart the vast weight of her knowledge, but they refine Jim's two languages and she teaches him how to rolls his words like a native Caitian, gargle sounds from the back of his throat in proper Klingon syllables, and wail like an offended Ferengi. She tells him that Betelgeusians only preen their feathers before eating, not after, and implying they would do otherwise is unspeakably offensive. Caitian men will always cower from spiders for a reason that no one has suitably explained to her, and the females will always eat them. Gravarians won't sleep in the same room as anything colored red because two thousand years ago there was a predator on their planet attracted to this color, and Andorians act civil but have a thousand hidden social rules that make them worse than the Tellarites when it comes to conflict.
The galaxy is a wide place, and Jim wants to hear all about it.
Months pass, and the long spring of Tarsus turns to summer. The pre-packed food supplies are all but gone, which is fine. The crops have begun to mature, which is much better.
There's fresh corn, creamy mashed potatoes, vegetable stew and fresh bread. So much bread that the air is heavy with scent of baking. Jim's aunt sets out heavy strawberry-pies that a man could kill for. The sweetness bursts over his tongue like ice.
The pies start to disappear after a few weeks, though, and Aunt Jenny slaps Jim's hand when he grabs for strawberries in the pantries. There are strict meal-times now all over the colony. It's weird, but adults are often weird and change rules around for no good reason that he can see.
One day he goes to visit Hoshi Sato at her house when the sun hits its zenith and finds her tinkering with piles of shining metal circuits.
“I'm building a communications array,” she explains when he asks. “Just a small one.”
“For the colony?”
Her smile is very thin. “No. I want to try and reach a ship. It won't have a very large reach or bandwidth, but – would you like to help me?”
Jim is thrilled, and she patiently explains the process, moving her aged fingers through the wiring and talking him through the paces when her old muscles aren't quite appropriate for the task. Time fades away during this work.
Ms. Sato talks as they busy themselves.
“You know, Jim, it can be a good thing to ask for help.”
“I know that,” Jim agrees cheerfully. He wonders if Ms. Sato feels silly about asking a kid for help with her project, which is ridiculous. Everyone knows Hoshi Sato is a genius; it's not her fault her hands are old.
Besides, everything is easier with help.
“Sometimes, people are too embarrassed to ask for help,” she continues. “And it doesn't just hurt them but other people, too. Pride is a very dangerous thing. So is greed.”
“You're not greedy at all, Ms. Sato.”
The old woman heaves a sigh.
When night comes and Jim has to leave she tells him, “Don't tell anyway about my project, alright? It's a secret. Just between you and me.”
“Sure, Ms. Sato.”
He goes home and never sees her again.
Word comes the next day and it's announced throughout the colony; Hoshi Sato, hero of Starfleet, has died quietly in her bed. It's a tragedy. Through his tears as he hears the news Jim thinks of her soft voice and kind hands, the scent of tea that suffused her house. She never got to finish her project, he thinks inanely. That seems so sad now.
He wonders, in a distant part of his mind, how anyone had known to find the body.
Hunger gnaws at him. Aunt Jenna says it is now necessary to go through the vegetables, the wheat, the fruit, and inspect all of it for a soft blue mold. It creeps over everything and smells faintly of dust. At the touch of his hands spores puff into the air and float down like purple snow.
Jim looks and looks, but he doesn't find much of anything untouched by the mold.
Jenna and Uncle Sam send him to the Rileys to borrow food but the Rileys were just about to come to them. All the tiny shops around the colony are shut down. So they both decide to appeal to the colony's local government. Someone is in charge, and there's always a store of food, after all. The government has a storage facility somewhere.
The Governor has called a meeting. Attendance is mandatory. Half the colony appeared in the morning and left seeming somewhat reassured. In the afternoon Jim and his family trail into the designated area and sign in with a bored-looking attendant who checks them off of a long list.
No single place in the colony is really ideal for addressing some four-thousand odd people at once, but there are three sites – such as this – which are intended for use in the case of an unexpected, planet-wide disaster. It's standard protocol on new colonies due to the unexpected environmental hazards which can sometimes be found on new worlds. The simple hall can house nearly 3,000 people for a short period, though it would be a tight fit, but right now the main room has been completely emptied for this speech. Everyone is packed together for the address, somewhat confused. There are more efficient ways to communicate in this day and age.
Among the milling crowd Jim sees the Riley family slipping between grumbling men and women. Kevin Riley is being led by his mother, holding tightly to her fingers. He grins when he spots Jim.
Jim has never seen so many people from the colony. There are many who he doesn't recognize – he thinks he even sees the Vulcan that Ms. Sato mentioned, staring at the front of the room with an unreadable expression on his face. Maybe Jim will get a chance to talk with him later.
There are a lot of kids. Old people. He sees some kids hanging onto older siblings without their parents or neighbors. This seems strange, that family members would go to different meetings.
The murmuring around the room grows louder as the doors at the back close. Jim assumes that this means everyone has arrived. In a typical show of bureaucratic confusion, nothing more happens for awhile. People mill around impatiently. “We could be getting work done,” Aunt Jenna mutters, though with everything rotten there is little to do.
Jim frowns. He wonders why there are so many people standing around the crowd, all of them dressed in uniforms. None of these people are facing the stage; instead they're looking out at the assemblage. The crowd is large, though. Maybe they're just here to answer questions. Maybe -
Finally, Governor Kodos himself comes before the assembly. The room falls into an impatient silence. The Governor looks around at them.
“Some of you are doubtlessly wondering why you are here,” he says. “Others know. There are food shortages. Many of you will have spoken with friends and relatives who attended the meeting this morning. You think you know what this is about. You think I am here to reassure you that we have everything under control. That you will all be fed, as they will be fed. That you will be safe, as they will be safe.”
A child cries out and is hushed. People are starting to stir. Jim feels a shiver crawl up his neck. He feels Uncle Sam shift by his side, but doesn't dare look at either his aunt or his uncle.
Looking at them, at their expressions, might make this real.
“The council took a vote,” Kodos tells them now. His voice is soft, compelling. “I urged them – should all of the the people on this colony die, when some might live? When it came down to saving a few people, letting everyone starve... But they disagreed with my ideas. We must save everybody or no one at all, they said. I was overruled.
“The council is dead.”
The people on the edge of the crowd are bringing out phasers.
Jim's heart thumps crazily in his chest.
“The revolution is successful. But survival depends on drastic measures. Your continues existence represents a threat to the well-being of society. Your lives mean a slow death to the more valued members of the colony. Therefore, I have no alternative but to sentence you to death - “
People start to scream. Shots hiss out and the smell of burnt flesh and sulfur mingle with the sweat of fear. Over the pandemonium, Jim barely hears the final words:
“...Your execution is so ordered. Signed Kodos, Governor of Tarsus IV.”
The colonists are screaming and pushing at each other. Jim can't see his aunt and uncle. Someone pushes him to the ground. A boot steps on his hand before continuing on, heedless, and he scrambles up before something worse can happen.
A startled cry makes him turn around.
When he sees Kevin Riley sitting alone amid the frantic, rushing group Jim lunges for him without a second thought. Kevin clutches at his neck like a lifeline, sobbing desperately.
“Come on, come on, we have to go - “
The crowd is smaller now. A phaser set to 'kill' vaporizes a person, but some of the shots are only glancing blows. Others aren't even being shot; colonists are being trampled in the sheer chaos. The scent of blood is heavy in the air.
But people are rushing at the guards on the perimeter. There aren't enough of them, not enough for four-thousand people, even ones clustered together like fish in a barrel. Kirk can see forms slipping past the guards. Most of them are immediately shot down, but the possibility -
It has to be now. Now, while there's enough of a crowd to get lost in.
Most of the people are trying to dodge the weapons, so it's not too hard to approach. Closer to the guards people are fighting back, trying to use sheer numbers to overwhelm Kodos' forces. Jim hunches his shoulders, wrapping his arms around Kevin and running swiftly along the ground. He can do nothing for the others. He doesn't want to be noticed.
Next to him someone screams and vanishes in a brilliant red glow.
Jim takes a fortifying breath and sprints through the thinnest edge of the crowd. Shouts follow as he knocks against the arm of a guard, stumbling to keep his feet and making a line for the exit.
Kevin screams into his ear as they make it out of the room. The noise behind them fades into a dull roar. Ahead, the hall beyond the main chamber is almost perversely clear – except for one guard at the end who whips up a phaser when he sees them.
Jim runs faster, as though somehow he can outpace the shot, as though he can run right through it and defeat the death he knows is coming. But before the guard can fire there's a blur of black, and two forms – not one – go rolling across the floor.
When they come to a halt, the Vulcan boy lands on top.
Jim staggers to a halt, stunned and heaving with shock. The Vulcan pushes himself away from the unconscious guard, grabs the man's phaser, and stands. A line of green blood is running down the side of his face.
“There are more that way,” the Vulcan tells Jim, gesturing down the hall he'd run from. “Come with me.”
There are only two possible ways to run. Seeing little other option, Jim follows.
The streets are deserted when they get outside. There are signs posted outside which he doesn't remember seeing when he entered. They have friendly, cheerful writing scrawled over their surfaces: Please excuse sounds of construction.
“There is no construction.”
Jim flinches, then comes to a halt. His legs are burning and his heart is thrumming in his chest. He looks at the Vulcan, who is staring at the signs blankly. “What?”
“There is no ongoing construction in this area.”
“It's a fucking lie,” says Jim. His arms are shaking and Kevin is squeezing the breath from his body. “Because they're killing us? You saw that, didn't you, that they're killing us?”
“...Yes,” says the Vulcan softly.
He looks so confused that the anger burns out of Jim in an instant. He hefts Kevin to one arm and reaches up to scrub away a sudden rush of wetness from his eyes. “We have to go,” he says. “We can't stay here.”
“My aunt - “
Jim tries not to think about his own family. “They might get out. They might - “
“They're dead,” the Vulcan explains.
Jim doesn't know how to respond to this. “...We need to go,” he repeats. He reaches out and tugs the Vulcan's hand.
Silently, they stumble away until night has covered their trail.
Jim resents the hunger that pangs at his belly. When he and the Vulcan finally take refuge in an empty house - “I saw the family who lived here,” says the alien, “at the meeting - “ he sits down on the floor and sets Kevin on his lap while he cries.
He is dimly aware of the Vulcan moving around the house, opening cupboards and drawers and doors. Items are being laid out in the kitchen. Somewhere beyond the soreness in his arms and legs and the terror that blots out everything else Jim is inappropriately curious about this.
More than anything, he is tired.
The tears dry up quicker than one might expect. Kevin has fallen asleep and Jim picks him up, moving him to one of the small couches in the house's sitting-room. He joins the Vulcan in the kitchen.
He realizes he doesn't even know what to call this person. “You have a name?”
“I am Spock,” comes the immediate reply. The Vulcan's eyes are dry. His eyes flicker up to Jim.
He is very small, Jim thinks. Vulcan's are supposed to be tough but this kid is small. Jim slowly steps closer, looking down at the items – the supplies – being laid out. His heart skips a beat as he sees Spock has found food.
“Oh. I – I'm Jim. Jim Kirk. That's Kevin.”
Spock nods and continues searching.
Jim joins him, but soon becomes confused. Spock's movements are robotic and also meaningless. He puts a wrinkled apple on the table. A spoon. A dishrag. He stares at the dishrag. He puts another dishrag on top of it. He stares at the second dishrag. He puts the second dishrag away.
Jim pauses and waits expectantly, but Spock doesn't seem to notice him. He inhales slowly. “Do you know what you're doing?”
Spock's hand twitches over the supplies. “Clarify.”
His fingers are trembling a little.
Vulcans might not grieve like humans, Jim thinks. That doesn't mean they don't grieve.
That doesn't mean they don't feel fear.
“Can you sit with Kevin?” Jim asks, changing what he had been about to say. “I don't think I can stand still right now, but he might be frightened to wake up alone.”
It seems to take a moment for the words to sink in. “Of course,” Spock agrees. He wanders slowly out of the kitchen. Jim holds his breath until the Vulcan his gone, then sighs.
He starts to search for a bag.
They only risk sleeping in the house for a few hours – Jim talks to Spock and they agree that Kodos' people might search the houses nearby, probably to strip them of food even if everyone is mistaken for dead.
Another possibility is that the houses will be searched by the horrified survivors once they realize what has happened.
They exit with a pathetic bag of food, a small container of water, two knives – Spock informs Jim that he has other methods of 'conflict resolution, but there are more uses to knives than fighting – and a long blanket. Jim has no doubt they will regret not taking dozens of other small items. There's nothing to be done about it now.
Food has to be rationed and Kevin wails when he realizes that breakfast consists of a few scant bits of bread. Everything in danger of rotting will be eaten first. Of course, Jim doubts any of the supplies will last long enough for rot to be a concern. They don't have much.
Spock declines to eat for some reason and Jim doesn't push. It's still dark outside when they leave.
The wind nips at them, and in the distance Jim imagines he can hear the sounds of boots cracking over the same barren fields he and Spock are traversing. He asks Spock if the Vulcan's sharper ears can pick up anything.
“There is no one here,” Spock says. “Not yet.”
Spock insists on carrying Kevin - “Vulcans are three times stronger than humans,” he says, though Jim looks at those stick-thin arms and can't quite believe it. The weight of the bag over his shoulder is enough of a burden, anyway.
After about an hour, Spock goes stock-still and says, “There are voices.”
Jim stops, too, and even Kevin looks wide-eyed in the moonlight. Around their feet the purple-blue husks of dead plants twitch in the breeze. Jim doesn't hear anything. Spock tilts his head slowly.
“They are searching for survivors,” Spock says. “And for people who disagree with what has happened – people on the living-list who rebelled.” He pauses a beat. “They do not expect to find many. But they are searching.”
Spock gestures. “That way.”
“Then follow me.”
They run now. And Jim thinks, this is real. Someone is chasing them. Not them, specifically. But someone will kill them if they are found.
It's getting hard to breathe again.
They stop again around midday when people are most likely to be looking and most likely to see a clumped pair of shapes shifting in the distance. Jim thinks he recognizes the shed they find, tiny and luridly pink. It's hot inside, and bugs prick over his skin and nip at him for blood.
“We could eat bugs,” he says gloomily.
“There no large insects on this planet,” Spock says. “None which would provide adequate nutrition. And there are no more complex animals, as I am sure you have been told.”
It is what was meant to make Tarsus an ideal farming colony. Jim closes his eyes and leans back against the shed wall.
Kevin's legs are cramped from being carried and he's walking around, not talking much. He seems frightened and not himself. Jim is torn between comforting him and encouraging this attitude. Keeping Kevin quiet is probably a good idea right now. An alarmed, screaming kid is the last thing they need right now -
“Eat something,” Jim says, when he sees Spock sitting quietly and staring out one of the shed's dusty windows. “We don't have much, but - “
“I am a Vulcan,” comes the stolid response.
He's not sure if this is supposed to mean something. “Okay. What, do Vulcans not need food?”
“Not as much as humans. I can do without for several weeks; I have already been fasting for the benefit of my family.”
Jim frowns. “You might as well eat while we have it.”
Spock shakes his head. “I will not. You need it more. And the child.”
They are all children. Spock, with his soft pointed ears and flushed green skin, is certainly a child. Jim knows better than to say this.
“So if you don't need to eat much, why would you be on the kill list? Even if you're a kid - ”
“Because I am half-Vulcan. By the Governor's standards, this would make me genetically inferior.”
“...and your family?” Jim asks, wanting to know more about this strange creature he's traveling with.
“I assume that they were considered to have potentially flawed genetics because they were related to my mother, who was foolish enough to destroy her line through intermarriage and interspecies reproduction.”
Jim translates this. “They were - “ he stops. He doesn't quite want to say it.
“Killed because of me,” Spock concludes.
...Jim isn't sure why he thought talking about family would be a good idea in the first place.
They stay in the shed and dare to hope that maybe the search will end.
“The colony is in a state of crisis,” Spock reasons. “Governor Kodos - “
“I don't want to think about Governor Kodos,” Jim says.
Spock lowers his head, and Jim relents. “You're right,” he says, more quietly. “The others – the other colonists can't let this stand. Right? They won't – they won't just let him keep control. They might not even allow the searches to continue. In fact we might not even be in any danger at all. He might have been – overthrown, or something, already. I can't imagine...”
Kodos said that it all comes down to numbers and Jim imagines four-thousand people who now have the security of meals every day, the knowledge that they will be fed and safe.
He lets his sentence trail off, and neither he nor Spock suggest going back.
Kevin doesn't scream anymore despite the hunger, which is a horrible thing to realize. Jim never would have thought he could have missed a kid's tantrums.
He wonders if it's worth walking outside and searching the closest houses for more food. Spock does not like this idea.
“We can wait here for awhile.”
“For how long?” Jim wonders. “Until we starve?” Water can be found, but food is going to be a serious problem. “No. I'll go, alright, and maybe if I'm careful I can try to figure out what's going on. A lot of the houses have radios.”
“If we attract attention - “
“I'll be careful. You trust me, right?”
The question slips out, but even as he asks it Jim finds that the answer is important to him. He turns and looks at Spock.
Spock blinks slowly. “...Yes,” he replies. He seems a little uncertain – or perhaps just surprised. “I...”
“Good,” Jim interrupts. For some reason his heart is beating faster. He's well aware of how badly this could go; he has no intention of being the reason Spock or Kevin get hurt.
Spock stays to watch Kevin, hushing the child. Jim insists on leaving the lone phaser but takes a few knives with him and feels Spock's troubled gaze on his back as he goes through the door.
The skies of Tarsus are different from those of Earth, but stars are stars and some skills remain transferable. Jim has taken classes in the Junior Space Program for Years, and now he uses his knowledge of astronomy to orient himself to the lone shed among the barren, rot-covered fields as he searches for aid.
The musty smell of fungus clogs his nostrils, but Jim keeps walking until he comes across the first farmhouse. From here he can see another two houses far off on the horizon, but with luck this will be his first, last and only stop.
Then he steps inside and feels his hope fade away.
The first room is in shambles. Someone has rifled through everything. Drawers and cupboards yawn open; cushions are torn and strewn over the floor; glass frames, tossed aside and hastily discarded, are broken against the floor. The half-completed outline of a hand-knit sweater lies in tangles on the ground.
He knows immediately that there will be nothing worth finding here, and a cursory search proves him right. The experience serves no purpose except to leave him feeling vaguely ill. The distant impressions of a private home, a private life ended early are something he does not want to think about.
Jim leaves as soon as it seems reasonable, already turning grimly toward the next house on the horizon. He doesn't hold much hope.
The second house is much the same as the first. The third holds a surprise, though. It's just as chaotic and empty of anything usable, but there are also signs of a struggle. A window is broken and spots of blood dot the floor.
Jim leaves this house quickly, fingering his knife and listening for signs that anyone might be nearby. He only hears silence and the buzzing of insects.
He can't go back. Not empty-handed, not with six-year-old Kevin crying for food and Spock still refusing to eat because of their limited supplies. He takes a breath, re-adjusts his grip around the handle of the blade, and keeps walking.
He's skirting the edge of a muddy, ruined field when a patch of moldy vines shudders off to his right. A dark form comes pitching toward him from the darkness.
He sees the shaking, wavering arm that grasps a phaser and raises his hands. He is still holding a knife clenched tight in his right fist, looking for an opening as the figure moves closer.
It's a man. Jim thinks he can almost recognize him – but maybe this is only his imagination. The man's face is filled with stubble, his hair lanky and unwashed. His overlong clothes are covered with blue fuzz, like Jim's own. The phaser is small but his arm is shaking, like the effort of holding it is too strenuous.
“I'm sorry,” he says.
Jim watches him warily.
“I have to, you know? We all have to. Kodos said so.”
“Kodos isn't here,” Jim says. He's surprised to find his voice is raspy and dry. He coughs and mold floats into the air. The man flinches. “Kodos – Kodos will never know if you let me live, alright? He'll never know. And it won't hurt anyone at all. They'll – they're already getting their rations, right? What does it matter if I live, if I find my own food?”
The man shifts from foot to foot.
“What does it matter if I live?” Jim asks again.
“I'm sorry,” the man says.
It clearly takes the man by surprise. He lets out a shout and shoots, but the phaser-fire flares well over Jim's head. Jim tackles him around the waist and pulls the man to the ground.
The man is larger but Jim can feel slender bones jutting against his skin. Kodos' men are not well-fed, either. He fumbles for his knife, then jerks as a foot lashes out against his knee. The man shoves him away, swearing, and starts to scrabble off the ground.
It's enough of a distraction for Jim to find his knife and jab it into the man's gut.
There's a horrible scream, quick and gasping, and then the man falls. He writhes on the grass, flailing his hands toward Jim. A fist cuffs the teen on the jaw; it doesn't hurt much. Alarmed, Jim grabs for the knife. It takes three tries for his frantic hands to find a hold; when he pulls, he widens the wound so it splits the man's stomach and a bloom of red comes spilling out.
The man falls to the ground and lies there, twitching feebly.
Once when Jim was nine Sam brought a sparrow into the house while their parents were out. It had a twisted wing and a strange, bloody hole half-way through its neck. The thing hadn't even twitched – it had just stared at him and Sam with wide, wild black eyes. It was resigned to death, resigned to whatever they might do to it.
Sam had spent half an hour trying to staunch its bleeding before Jim had bashed it over the head with a hammer.
This man is not a sparrow. He struggles even in the face of death, uselessly, pathetically. Blood stains the ground, pooling under his body in a widening circle. The man groans and flings out a hand in Jim's direction.
Jim hefts the knife in his hand.
(A man is not a sparrow).
But then the thrashing slows. The man's breathing becomes quick and labored. He lets out a weak sound of protest - “Huh, huh - “ and then exhales softly, sagging against the ground. His body goes still.
It takes an age for Jim to move, approaching like he expects the death to be a ruse. But blood is still draining slowly into the dirt. The man's chest does not move. He is not breathing.
Jim sits down heavily, leaning over and resting his head against the ground.
He waits until the world has stopped spinning before he sits back up, forcibly reminding himself of why he is here in the first place. Jim has a goal. A duty. He can't afford to be horrified right now. If there's one person searching for survivors, there might be more. He needs to be quick.
Shuffling forward, Jim reaches out and rummages through the guard's pockets. He ignores the smell of blood heavy in the air, carefully tugging away fabric and lifting sleeves with the tips of his fingers. He determinedly does not look at the open wound on the stomach, does not raise his head to peer back into the man's staring eyes. When Jim stands he comes away with a flask of water and two packs of military-grade rations, and he wonders at them. Wonders at what Kodos is doing.
Was this man part of some army?
The sound of shouts in the distance recalls him. Jim scrambles to his feet, but pauses at a crackle of sound from the direction of the man's coat. He bends down hesitantly and retrieves a communicator, flipping it open.
“Section four to section six,” a voice says. “Where are you?”
Jim slowly takes a step back.
Communicator in hand, he runs.
The shed is small. When Jim returns Spock looks up from his place on the floor, freezes, and then stands abruptly. He steps over Kevin's sleeping body and pushes Jim back outside, closing the door behind them.
“What?” Jim asks, feeling his pulse race. He glances around rapidly, but he can't detect any signs of danger from around them. “Is – did something happen to Kevin? Are you alright?”
“You are injured,” says Spock flatly.
Jim jerks, startled. Then he looks down at himself and realizes that the front of his shirt is stained with blood. It flecks his sleeves – there's even a stain on his thigh, and he doesn't know how that one got there. Maybe he rubbed his hands on his legs without noticing. He licks his lips.
“I – no. No, I'm not. I'm fine. I'm fine.”
Spock stares at him.
“There was just a little trouble.”
“That seems like a considerable understatement.”
Jim has the bloody knife jammed in his pocket. He has the ration packs and the communicator. These things tell a story which would be better communicated through words, but when he opens his mouth his lips won't form the sounds.
Instead he says, “Don't – let Kevin see. Alright?”
Spock looks at him for a moment and says nothing at all. Then he abruptly turns around and disappears back inside.
Jim stands there, trembling as the cold starts to hit him. The blood on his sleeves has started to stiffen. He stares blankly at the door and tries to figure out what to do.
Suddenly the entrance opens again, and Spock emerges holding their only blanket. He throws it over Jim's shoulders. “Quietly,” he says.
Jim ducks inside to the sound of wood clattering under his feet and the burn of Spock's hand on his shoulder. When he sinks to the floor with the Vulcan, he leans against Spock's shoulder, closes his eyes, and pretends he is back in Iowa where there's a soft blue sky, one sun, and enough food to feed everyone.
The communicator that Jim took from the unknown man is kept open, and at all times they listen to the voices of Kodos' people. Nothing they hear is good.
Much of it is incomprehensible. “Eight to nine, begin procedures,” a voice will say, or, “Beta plan proceeding according to schedule; initiate next phase.” But these militant, official-sounding declarations come rarely, usually from the same three or four voices. More often the comm is filled with the back-and-forth chatter of people on the field.
“I'm at the Doran farm,” someone will say, coughing slightly through the rasp of a sore throat. “Everything clear here. They had a fucking cat, against colony law, but it was dead of starvation when I arrived...”
“McDougal farm is clear,” another person says. “Found three cans of food.”
Once a woman's voice rings out sharply: “I think someone's living on the Alanan property. Or has been here recently. Please confirm the Alanans for the kill-list?”
“Alanans confirmed for kill-list.”
“I'll stake out the place for the night then, in case anyone swings by.”
It's all very neat and clinical. Professional, almost. Jim hates it but he knows they can't afford to lose the information it could provide.
“Are they going to find us, too?”
Kevin's small voice breaks Jim from his thoughts. Jim looks around to where the kid is huddled by the wall, staring wide-eyed at the communicator. Jim smiles wearily.
“No, of course not.”
“And were they to approach our position, we would have forewarning due to this device,” Spock reasons.
Kevin blinks, and Jim clarifies, “We'd hear them coming first, okay? You don't have to be afraid.”
It sounds like a lie to his own ears. In the other corner Spock unfolds his legs – he has been trying, unsuccessfully, to meditate – and shifts closer to the boy. “This situation cannot last forever,” the Vulcan says. “Nothing lasts forever.”
They might die, of course, before Kodos does. Jim elects not to say this.
“I want to go home,” says Kevin.
“I know,” Jim agrees.
“I can't sleep.”
“At home mom would give me chicken and carrots and maybe blueberry pie,” says Kevin. “And that nice grape juice she makes in summer. And she would tell me a story. She knows lots of stories.”
“Well, we don't have pie,” says Jim. They don't have food, really. “I can tell you a story though.”
Kevin looks at him blankly. “You told me a story once at my house and it was pretty bad,” he says.
Spock arches an eyebrow and Jim smiles a bit. “I bet I can do better than that,” he says. “I can think of something, just – just give me a minute.”
Pausing, Jim looks over at Spock. The Vulcan is watching both of them quietly, and Jim gestures impatiently. “Well? Come on.”
Spock hesitates. Jim beckons pointedly until Spock slowly moves closer. When the Vulcan is in reach Jim reaches out and wraps his arm around the alien's skinny shoulder, leaning back against the wall.
“...So one time there was a man and a woman...”
“Were they a king and a queen?” Kevin interrupts immediately.
“Nope,” Jim answers without thinking.
“Well why not?”
“Because you don't have to be a king or queen to be important. Anyway, these people lived on a world with two horrible monsters.”
“Were they hungry?”
Jim doesn't want to think about food. “Nope.”
“I bet they were hungry,” Kevin insists.
“They had plenty of food. Loads of it. Except for the monsters.”
Kevin looks suddenly like he might cry. “But if the monsters didn't have food, than maybe that's why they were so mean?”
Jim pauses. “...Okay. The monsters had lots of food, too. Everyone had lots of food. The skies rained bread every day and it never got - “ his throat closes. “It never went bad. Okay?”
“Okay,” Kevin mutters.
“...So. The two monsters are always fighting. But one day they get into an argument about which one is better. So they decided to find the two people, put them in a cage, and make them decide.”
“I wouldn't like either of them,” says Kevin.
“The people didn't like them either. They were afraid. And each monster said that if the man and woman decided the other monster was best, it would kill both of them.”
Spock looks faintly perturbed; Jim wonders if they make up stories like this on Vulcan, and feels inexplicably guilty.
“So the man and woman said the monsters needed to prove which one was better. The first monster roared and started destroying all the oceans in the world, to prove his power; the second one ripped up trees and destroyed whole mountains. But the people said this wasn't enough. So the monsters fought, and this made an earthquake so big that the cage broke and the people were able to run away.”
“They can't run,” says Kevin.
“Sure they can.”
“The monsters will come back.”
“That is true,” Spock says suddenly, surprising both of them. “If they caught the couple once, they could logically do so again. A more permanent solution is necessary – especially because the world is now decimated, making survival on their own a most difficult prospect.”
Jim stiffens. “There are no permanent solutions,” he says. “And they'll survive just fine.”
“But that's not an ending.”
“It's my ending,” Jim snaps. “You wanted a story – there's your story, alright?”
Kevin scrunches up his face miserably.
At once, the anger falls away from Jim. “I just – I'm sorry. I'm sorry.”
Kevin curls up against him quietly, too exhausted for tears.
Spock says nothing, but he doesn't move either. The three of them stay there, huddled together, for the rest of the night.
They're woken by phaser-fire.
They cling to other, the three of them crouched low against the dirty wooden floor like startled rabbits – not moving, not twitching, stinking of muck and grass and piss. Jim is breathing so quick he might be crying – he can't really tell. He keeps petting Kevin's hair, making soft little shushing sounds and hoping he won't be the one to give them all away. Not if they haven't been found already.
Even Spock clings to them like a burr, curling one pointy arm around Jim and the other around little Kevin. The kid sits half on their laps, and Jim focuses on the too-controlled inhalations coming from Spock in an effort to keep himself from shattering.
The smell of burning eggs wafts in, faint and menacing. It makes Jim think of writhing fish, of flailing limbs and screams. He wants to vomit. He hears laughter outside. “You see them?” someone shouts. Jim's heart feels ready to burst, and then he realizes he's feeling a Vulcan-quick heart fluttering soft and alien-swift against his arm.
“...Not here,” says a voice at last. “We got the one, at least. Keep your torch on.”
“We could burn the field,” someone says. “It's worthless, anyway.”
“It will terrify the fucking civvies. Leave it. Doesn't hurt anyone. Not like anyone can live here, anyway.”
Then there's nothing. Jim waits. He thinks he can hear footsteps, whispers, snickering – maybe it's all in his head. Maybe there was no one at all. Maybe there has never been anyone...
Kevin cries softly against his chest, and Spock buries his head against Jim's shoulder. Jim takes a breath, exhales, and keeps listening.
Jim and Spock whisper in Vulcan so Kevin can't understand the things they say. He does not need to hear them sighing The food is running low and Spock, you'll watch him if I die first, won't you?
Even here, Spock takes the time to correct his pronunciation. It's one of few things that can still Jim laugh.
When they speak in Vulcan Spock calls him t'hy'la, not Jim, and touches his wrists with tentative hands. But he does not say what this means, and his eyes are so tired that Jim can never ask.
It has been at least two weeks, and Jim says, “Please eat something.”
Spock just shakes his head. “I will live.”
“Will you?” Jim demands, half-hysterically. But Spock seem to take the question seriously, because he nods. His skin is sallow, his eyes beginning to sink into the folds of his skin. His lips are cracked and puffed with a lack of moisture, because he refuses to drink much either. But he licks them and speaks anyway. “An adult Vulcan can live many Terran weeks without food, provided there is plentiful water and not much activity - “
“Except there isn't much water,” Jim says. “And we're running for our lives, and not really sleeping, and, oh yeah, you're not an adult, Spock.”
Spock just looks at him. “We have no food,” he points out.
And, between them, Kevin starts to cry.
Jim hugs the kid to him automatically and is sure he doesn't imagine the flicker of regret in Spock's eyes. “We can't keep this up,” he says.
“Neither can anything drastically change if we are survive. We are outnumbered. We have no supplies and no means to summon help, leave the settlement, or move against Kodos. Our choices are limited.”
“Then we have to make options,” Jim says fiercely. Spock's eyes bore into his, reflecting the unmoving starlight watching over Tarsus. “We've found food before – or – or someone will help us, someone - “
“Jimmy?” asks Kevin quietly.
“I want my mom,” he says plaintively. “Not you.”
Spock releases a soft sound against the wind. Jim isn't sure he's supposed to hear it.
He closes his eyes. “Yeah, me too, Kevin.”
The normal Vulcan body-temperature is slightly below that of a human, and Vulcans are accustomed to the heat of the desert. It's taken some cajoling to convince Spock that sharing warmth is necessary, but by now Kevin sleeps on one side of Jim – resting tucked snugly in one of his arms – and Spock lies on the other, with his head curled against Jim's shoulder. The bones of his arms and thigh jut into Jim's skin like hollow quills poking through pillows. His ribs are a pebbling canvas, and Jim can run his hands over the Vulcan's stomach and count every line.
At night he lies on his back and feels both of them, human and Vulcan, shake and tremble against him. Cold air blows through the cracks of the shed and bites at their skin.
They bend from the wind like they are dying from it.
“Hoshi Sato,” says Jim. “We need to go to Hoshi Sato's house.”
Spock's eyes glitter almost black in the night. He accepts this directive without questioning it. It's little Kevin who asks him, “Why?”
“Because we need help.”
Hoshi Sato's duties on the colony included upkeep of some of the more modern technology, like the emergency communications and broadcasting systems. Jim is still not certain why no one from Starfleet has come to assist the colony. He has to assume no one knows about the situation here.
Spock tilts his head. “You think we can find help there? Hoshi Sato is dead.”
“She was building something. A communications system. It might still be there.”
“Her house is far away. It would be dangerous. The patrols - “
“It would be dangerous to stay,” Jim says. “For all of us.”
Spock – thin, so thin even at the beginning – looks between Jim and Kevin. Not even considering himself, Jim somehow knows. What a group they make. “...Perhaps,” he admits.
“We have the communicator,” Jim says.
“Body found at the Avoy farm,” says a soft voice in the silence. They all look at the item in question. “Retrieval in progress for burning.”
“We do not know what many of the terms mean. The pattern of patrols.”
“We can learn.”
“...Yes,” Spock admits.
“Of course,” says Spock. As though Jim is a fool for asking.
“Has anyone seen the governor?”
“No one sees the governor.”
“Same orders, green unit. The advising council will tell us if anything changes.”
“Do they see the governor?”
“Hell only knows.”
Kevin wakes up crying from nightmares one night and Spock quiets him with nothing more than a touch to the head.
“Telepathy,” he explains at Jim's look. “It – I should not use it like this, in truth. But he is young. And in this situation...”
“I think Kevin would forgive you,” Jim says. Kevin's brow is relaxing, his child-face sagging with the peace that only accompanies sleep. Unconsciously he reaches out, throwing his arm in the general direction of Spock's hands.
But Spock just turns away, plainly troubled. “It is a violation, to go into someone's mind without permission.”
“We're all doing things we wouldn't normally do. I don't think your teachers on Vulcan were trying to prepare you for this situation, Spock. I hope not, anyway.”
Spock doesn't answer.
“I could use a bit of that telepathy myself,” he tries to coach.
Spock shifts, glancing at him guardedly. “...Humans rarely invite...”
“I trust you. More than anyone.” It's true, he realizes. Spock and Kevin are all he has. All that's left.
Spock searches for the truth of this statement in his eyes, than slowly shifts around and raises a hand to Jim's face. The touch is very light, a slow stroke over the side of Jim's face. But for a moment, Jim thinks he can feel something – a vast, curious presence, fractured and sad. He wants to clutch it close, to take it in himself and protect it from everything dark in the world...
And then his limbs are growing loose, and he slips sideways into sleep before the thought can finish.
They try eating the grass, at one point. Jim tries first from sheer desperation. He is almost used to the sickening smell by now, but the rot of the fungus has touched everything. When he brings it to his mouth his whole body shakes with the rejection, the heavy wet smack of it against the back of his throat. He dry-heaves against the ground. There is nothing to bring up.
Spock has a different physiology so he takes the risk, too. His shoulders twitch delicately at the taste. “This would kill us,” the Vulcan says. He wonders how many people have tried to eat this rot and have regretted it.
Death lingers on Jim's tongue for days.
Spock meditates at Jim's feet like he's an anchor of some sort, sometimes kneeling so Jim's toes are brushing against his knees. There's not much to do in the shed, except worry and feel hungry, so Jim likes to watch him. It's kind of restful, seeing Spock's breathing even out, the tension easing from his limbs in slow measures.
Spock tries to teach Kevin to meditate one day, which doesn't do anything but make the kid fall asleep. But this is a useful trick, too. They ease him along the ground until he's huffing his sleepy breaths more-or-less comfortably against the wooden floor, feet twitching.
And Jim has waited for this. Kevin is resting and the communicators are mostly silent, a pairing which does not occur often. He asks Spock, “Do you know how I got that communicator?”
The Vulcan tilts his head back, looking at him. “I have suspicions,” he says quietly.
“I killed a man. I don't know if I had to. I stabbed him the first time and he went down, you know? He was hurt. He might have stayed down, Spock. I won't know because I killed him.”
“If you had not killed him, he would have alerted others to your existence. If you had not killed him you also would not have retrieved his communicator. We would have no hope - ”
“But I had no way of knowing those things. I can't justify a decision because it accidentally turned out better for me. For us. I killed him – don't Vulcans have, have taboos against that sort of thing?”
“Most races have taboos against killing, Jim,” Spock replies mildly. “Vulcans have a philosophy of complete non-violence. But we recognize the necessity of survival, even though our own people do not fight to exist. And we have a saying, a justification for when people act in ways that would normally seem contrary to logic or even morals: 'the cause was sufficient'. Your response was more than justified by your circumstances. You are not typically prone to violence; in fact despite this crisis you are seeking to protect others. I cannot see how anyone could find these actions reprehensible, Jim.”
The Vulcan tilts his head.
“I'm really, really glad I'm not alone here,” Jim says. “I wish you weren't here. On this planet. But I'm so glad we're together.”
Jim has gone beyond hunger. He feels thin and stretched and weightless. Spock brings back water from the nearby pond but it only stretches out the emptiness in his belly. Sometimes he coughs up stomach acid and water. His head throbs.
Kevin is worse. He doesn't try to talk anymore, but just sits or lays around and wants to be held. Jim is happy to oblige him; it's an easy enough thing to do. Jim tries to focus on the communicator codes with Spock but he can't understand the patterns, the logic. Everything is slipping away.
“The human body can endure much,” Spock says. “But not complete starvation, and certainly not so abruptly – you cannot survive like this for much longer.”
“We don't have a choice,” Jim says. “If we can get help - “
“Yes,” Spock says slowly.
“It's the only way.”
“There must be another option.”
“There isn't. Spock. Just, just listen, okay? If we can figure out the patterns, if we can get to Hoshi Sato's house safely, maybe...”
“I understand, Jim. Please do not speak. Save your energy.”
Jim sighs, but says nothing more.
He thinks Spock has conceded. So it's something of a surprise, hours later, to wake up with a crick in his neck to realize that he's alone with Kevin.
He hopes that Spock's just out on a water-run. A 'bathroom' break.
As the long minutes pass, and minutes turn into an hour, he realizes Spock has done something stupid.
He never for an instant thinks that Spock isn't coming back. When Kevin wakes up he smiles tightly and says that Spock is meditating. Outside. Because he's Vulcan, of course, and Vulcans do that, and no Kevin cannot see him because Vulcans needs privacy sometimes.
But Jim keeps an ear open to the communicator, though it's hard. He keeps slipping off to sleep, his body's way of compensating, it seems, for the lack of food he's been giving it. Another night has passed before he's rewarded:
“There's a kid stealing food in Sector 3. Delaney grounds, they called it in. He slipped away from me, I saw him heading toward Sector 2. Calling in reinforcements for termination.”
“Termination? Confirm: Are you sure it wasn't some dumb kid upset at the restrictions? We could give a more mild punishment - “
“It was a fucking Vulcan. He was on the kill-list, for sure.”
A pause. Jim can hear his heart roaring in his ears. “Confirmed,” a crisp voice declares. “We're sending reinforcements your way.”
Other confirmations come through.
“Sector 2, Sector 2, confirmed, I - “
Jim jerks upright, staring at the communicator.
“Sector 2? Sector 2, confirm sighting of escapee?”
That's what they call kill-list survivors. 'Escapees'. Jim closes his eyes.
There's no response.
Slowly, Jim lets himself hope.
There's chaos over the communication line as someone finally reaches 'Sector 2' and finds the unconscious body of a guard. Jim doesn't breathe easy until several hours later, when the search is finally called off.
Still, though, Spock is nowhere to be found.
He tries to distract Kevin when the boy wakes up, although Kevin keeps pushing him away like an irritated cat. Maybe it's Jim who needs the distraction.
They both nearly scream when the door is thrown open.
“Spock! What happened?”
Blood, is the first thing Jim's alarmed mind hones in on. There's a long scar arching down the left side of Spock's face. Dried green blood has splattered liberally around his nose, blown around by wind and sweat and sheer gravity. He looks exhausted. The second thing Jim notices – hardly significant, in comparison to the possibility of a hurt Spock – is -
“Food!” Kevin shouts.
Spock has a bag strapped to his back and another hefted over his shoulder. He drops both of these carefully on the ground as Kevin dives forward eagerly.
“Are you alright?” Jim asks.
“A home-owner attacked me with a knife,” says Spock distantly. He sinks to the ground so they are both sitting on the shed's floor. “This my only injury. It is not significant.”
“We'll clean it. You shouldn't chance infection...”
“There are people living normally,” Spock says flatly. He is staring somewhere over Jim's shoulder. “ - Almost normally. There are guards. Patrols. People are frightened, but they are not rebelling. Four thousand people, Jim, and they are not rebelling. Kodos cannot have that many soldiers. They are not even properly trained. That is easy to determine. If anyone would just act - “
“But they won't,” Jim says. “They're getting fed, aren't they?”
“This is good,” says Kevin, biting into a piece of bread. He hasn't even finished yet, but he asks, “Can I have more, Jimmy?”
Jim flicks a glance down at him. “You don't want to get sick,” he says. “We'll save it for later, okay?”
Kevin's face twists, but compared to the previous hunger this meager eating is still a feast. “...Okay.”
Lowering his voice, Jim adds, “This is a lot.”
“I took the food from several houses.” Grimly, Spock adds, “I am certain they can do without for a day.”
“I'm not disagreeing,” Jim says. “Eat.”
“I brought the food for you - “
“And I'm not eating until you do,” says Jim. “Not again. Never again.” He rifles through a bag and finds an apple. An actual apple. It's a bit soft and mealy, he can already tell, but to his Iowa-bred noise it's perfectly fine despite this. “Go on.”
Spock looks from him to the fruit. Slowly, he reaches out. He just cradles it in his hand for awhile, a little wondering.
On impulse, Jim reaches out and hugs him tightly around the shoulders. Spock stiffens, then relaxes slowly. He leans into Jim's grasp as they sit together, content for perhaps the first time in weeks.
Kevin eats messily and noisily across from Jim. He is crying as he eats, his tears fat and shining. For a moment they shine like blood. It is only the light, Jim tells himself, and he blinks until the color fades.
On an impulse he twists his neck and presses a clumsy kiss to the Vulcan's forehead, like his mother used to give him on Earth. It's different to be on the giving end, but he makes the kiss linger, feeling the tactile sense of skin-on-skin. Spock blinks up at him when he pulls away.
“We're going to be fine, okay?” Jim asks. He tastes alien blood in his mouth and licks his lips. Spock's eyes follow the motion. “We're going to make it. I promise. I promise.”
Spock speaks softly in Vulcan during the night when he doesn't meditate. Or maybe this is another form of meditation. Jim wouldn't know. Sometimes it sounds a bit like scattered poetry, like dried leaves breaking in the rain.
One night Kevin is sleeping and Spock pauses for awhile during his murmuring. Jim breathes in deeply, absorbing the scent of dust and dead things, and he says,
They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;
They rightly do inherit Heaven's graces,
And husband nature's riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer's flower is to the summer sweetheart
Though to itself it only live and die;
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity;
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds:
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.*
Spock stares hard at the ceiling for a few long minutes. Silence stretches between them. Then, when Jim says nothing more, Spock begins quietly humming under his breath.
With even a little food, concentrating suddenly becomes fantastically easy. The codes the guards use are reasoned out, and Spock and Jim discuss how and when they can make a break for Hoshi Sato's house.
The matter of Kevin Riley also needs to be discussed.
“We can't just leave him, Spock,” Jim says.
“This place has not yet been detected,” Spock says. “If we leave Kevin with food, he will be safer here than with us.”
“We can't make that assumption. If a patrol does come by he wouldn't have any chance of escape.”
“If we are caught at Hoshi Sato's house - “
“If you're assuming we're going to be caught we shouldn't even go,” Jim says. “We can't assume failure. This is going to work because it has to work, alright? Because if it doesn't, we're all dead either way. So what does it matter if we bring him?”
Spock looks at him for a long moment. Kevin is shaking on the floor, listening but not really understanding. He understands enough, though.
He understands he might be alone soon.
“...Very well,” says Spock softly. “Together, then.”
They pack up what little they have into the bags Spock brought recently and leave early the next day. It's still dark outside, and Jim listens to the communicator and keeps Kevin close while Spock, with his better hearing, carefully scouts ahead.
Jim shushes Kevin whenever the child tries to talk. It's slow going. They hide among rotten crops for four hours around the middle of the day, based on what they have deduced is the regular sequence of patrols, but they have no real way of knowing where the guards are. Their conclusions could be entirely wrong.
Kevin needs to be carried in the evening. They've been sitting in the shed a long time, and starving for longer; none of them are strong.
“It's okay,” Jim tells him, and fishes out a piece of jerky from one of the supply-bags to placate Kevin. “We'll be fine, alright? It's not much further.”
“Can we go home, after this?”
They don't reach the house until early the next day, taking a winding path and avoiding inhabited areas. Spock tries to insist on going ahead alone to check on the house. “My senses are more acute than your own,” he says. It is not meant to be an insult, and it isn't, but it rankles anyway.
“I'll go,” Jim insists.
“Someone must stay with Kevin.”
“Jim - “
“It is not logical for you to be the one to leave.”
“If there is someone in there, you're not going through that. You're not - “ Jim looks at the long scar healing over Spock's face. “...I can take care of myself, okay?”
“I am perfectly capable of defending myself.”
“Yeah. But you, you shouldn't have to. You shouldn't have to do what I did.”
He seems to finally understand. “...As you wish,” he concedes, not very gracefully. “ - Hurry. Or I will follow, regardless of the circumstances.”
Jim grins ruefully. “I would expect nothing else, Spock.”
It's like entering a crypt, but this itself is nothing new; the whole colony is a place of death. Jim has spent many days in this house, but always in the presence of Hoshi Sato herself. His memories are saturated with the scents of jasmine tea and warm bread, the low cadence of Andorian being taught in her patient voice. Now Hoshi Sato is dead. Jim has to make sure that he doesn't follow after her.
Spock has declined the knife so Jim has it with him again. He checks all of rooms carefully, one by one. Everything is as he remembers. Somehow this seems wrong, too. Helpful, certainly – but the fact that Hoshi was killed (and he is certain, so certain she was killed) and no one could even bother to destroy her research somehow fills him with rage.
The incompetent guards on this planet can't even silence a person properly. It's almost an insult to Hoshi, to be killed by them.
There's a horrible, strange smell permeating the whole house. Maybe Hoshi left food in her cupboards, now wasted and rotten. But the place is safe so he retrieves Spock and Kevin, bringing them inside and showing them the dust-covered project Hoshi sacrificed her life constructing.
Spock is dubious.
“I am uncertain of our ability to complete this device, Jim,” he says.
“I helped her make it,” Jim says, sounding more sure than he feels. “It can't be that hard.”
It is, in fact, that hard. His anxiety builds slowly and steadily as he examines the gleaming silver and bronze coils, the mysterious plates. Some of it he vaguely recognizes. There are pieces strewn out around the half-finished construct, but maybe some are missing. He has no way of knowing.
If he ever gets off this planet, Jim promises to himself that he will take a dozen engineering classes and make sure he can never be in this position again.
Spock examines the relay with quiet attention, clasping his hands carefully. “I have worked with communications devices in my classes,” he says. “And my father has shown me how the emergency systems function – I might be able to extrapolate the workings of this device.”
“We can't lose anything by trying.”
Spock nods, and they set to work.
Kevin quickly grows bored and wanders away, pulling himself up the short stairs to the second floor. Jim watches for a second to make sure he doesn't fall, then puts it from his mind.
“You said you know how to make a call?” Jim asks. Actually working the device – and using it in such a way that no one else on the colony will detect the signal – is perhaps the most important part of this.
“If it works correctly, yes.”
“That might be hoping for a bit much - “
They're cut off by a scream.
At once Jim bolts up the stairs, Spock right on his heels. “Kevin? Kevin?”
There's a broken sob.
Kevin is alone – this is the first thing Jim registers. He rounds the corner into what used to be Hoshi Sato's bedroom, looking around wildly for some source of danger – a guard, a weapon, something. Nothing leaps out of him. Spock follows more slowly.
The stench is horrible.
Kevin is shaking, holding himself tightly around his stomach and staring into the closet. Jim hadn't noticed the closet, but now he looks inside. Against the shadows of the unlit space and the heaps of fallen clothing it takes a moment for his eyes to properly focus.
The corpse in the closet is twisted and broken. It is tinged purple with a particularly dark variant of the mold, because everything is touched by the mold, and it smiles at them with bright white teeth bared open by virtue of missing skin around the lips. Among the bloated and rotted flesh the body's black-gray hair still seems long and lustrous. It's easy to see the unnatural twist of the corpse's neck, the strange tilt to the body that no one could survive.
She should have been shot, Jim thinks. They could have done that much for her.
“You do not need to see this, Kevin,” Spock says calmly. He meets Jim's eye. When the child doesn't move he bends down, picks up Kevin, and steps out of the room.
There are many different Earth traditions for saying farewell to the dead, and Jim doesn't know what one Hoshi Sato would prefer. He is certain she would not want this, for her body to rot away in the skeletal remnants of her house. He is even more certain she would not want Jim, Spock and Kevin to be caught outside or to waste precious hours trying to figure it out.
Jim takes a blanket from the queen-sized bed and lays it carefully over her corpse. Then he closes the closet door and goes back downstairs.
It takes them three days to finish repairing the relay.
Jim's fingers ache with the knowledge that this might not work. Kevin wants to leave. If they are to live in a house, he says, it should be his house. The Riley house. He wants to see his mother again, his father. He still doesn't understand. Jim can see Spock side-eyeing Kevin when these tantrums arise, and knows that the Vulcan can't quite fathom this lack of understanding through his logical mind. That hurts, too.
Spock is the one to send out the signal. A Starfleet emergency channel, he says. He does not explain how he knows how to contact Starfleet, but Jim trusts that he does.
There's a small hand-held transceiver to speak through, presented to Jim with reverent care. Spock nods, and Jim takes a breath.
“This is James T. Kirk from the farming colony Tarsus IV, broadcasting to emergency channels,” he says carefully. They've considered what to say over and over, and Jim can't mess this up. He can't. “Starfleet, please respond.”
Spock fiddles with the relay as they wait for a response. Their breathing seems abominably loud in the small cabin. Jim closes his eyes and feels tears burning at his eyes.
“This is James T. Kirk,” he rasps, and he can't cry, because then Kevin will cry, and then - “from the farming colony Tarsus IV - “
“This is Lieutenant Praxton of the USS Intercessor,” says a crisp voice. Jim jolts in surprise, staring down at the little machine in shock. “Please specify the nature of your emergency.”
For a moment, Jim can only stare dumbly at the relay.
He apparently waits too long. “Our records state that James Kirk, of Tarsus IV, is a minor,” the voice continues. “Why are you using this channel?”
Jim shakes himself. “There – there are food shortages,” he says. His fragile facade of strength has fallen apart. “The colony needs immediate help - “
“We've been alerted to food shortages on Tarsus IV,” the man on the other end responds. “Supply ships are en-route and should be there within a few months.”
During winter, maybe. They've been alerted and food will come by winter when nothing will be left at all and absolutely no one will remain to receive supplies. The air isn't reaching Jim's lungs. Through a haze of hot outrage, he hears, “That all, kid?”
“Four thousand people are dead,” he hears himself say.
“ - What?”
Spock pulls the transceiver from his hand. Jim lets it go numbly. “This is Spock, son of Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan. I am invoking diplomatic immunity. Please forward this call to the Vulcan embassy on a Priority One channel.”
“What are you – what four thousand people?”
The sound of hushed voices comes over the line, rising and falling. “What are – can't – yes, according to the records – Vulcans will – fine, fine.” More clearly: “One moment, Mr. Spock.”
It only takes a moment for another voice to come over the line. This voice is so flat it startles Jim, but Spock doesn't seem fazed. It seems strange; he wonders if this is how full-Vulcans typically sound.
(Maybe, possibly, living on this planet of despair has just changed all of them.)
“Please state the nature of your call.”
“This is Spock, son of Sarek. Forward this call to the Ambassador at once.”
“Ambassador Sarek is in a meeting.”
“Pull him from his meeting.”
“The meeting is urgent.”
“This is urgent.”
“He will not desire to be pulled from his meeting.”
“He will not desire to learn that his only son is dead because you are a fool. Pull him from the meeting.”
There is a short pause. “ - One moment.”
It takes longer than a moment, Jim reaches out and encircles a hand around Spock's wrist. He feels the quick humming-bird flutter of the Vulcan's pulse dancing under his fingers, vital and alive. He taps a rhythm out and breathes.
“Spock, you should not use this channel - “
“Aunt Tera and Uncle Lorn are dead,” Spock says calmly. This is the first time, Jim realizes, that he has heard these names. “Governor Kodos has ordered the deaths of four-thousand of the colonists on Tarsus IV, myself included. There is a widespread famine. I am aware of your distaste for Starfleet but under the circumstances, immediate intervention would be appropriate.”
Jim can hear harsh breathing over the line. “ - What is your condition?”
“Adequate,” says Spock, which is a lie, a lie, a lie. “I am uncertain how many survived the initial slaughter. I would recommend haste.”
“I will alert the Federation Council immediately.”
“We must end communications; we risk detection by using this device.”
“Understood.” A pause. “...Try to come to no more trouble.”
“That is certainly the goal,” says Spock mildly. “Peace and long life, Father.” He ends the transmission without waiting for a reply.
Vulcans, Jim thinks, are clearly not prone to social niceties. He bites his lip. “He sounds worried.”
“My father does not worry,” Spock says. “But he will rouse the Federation Council and retrieve appropriate aid for this colony.”
Jim exhales. “Aid. Ships, you mean.”
“To bring food. And take us away.”
“...Take us away.”
For a moment, he stares between Spock and Kevin and revels in a slow surge of giddy relief. Everything is going to be fine. All they have to do is wait. Within a few days Starfleet will be here, and then -
The communicator, the same one stolen from Kodos' guard, crackles to life.
“All men report,” says the voice that will haunt their dreams. “Someone on the planet has betrayed us. We have been contacted by off-planet forces and an invasion is due to begin. The traitors are located at the house of the late Hoshi Sato. Repeat, secure the domicile of Hoshi Sato - “
“Get up,” Jim says blankly. He looks over at Kevin, who's sitting on the floor and grinning at the communications relay. Jim scrambles to his feet, lunging for the child, who's so alarmed he falls backward. “Get up, get up, they're coming - !”
“Jim!” Spock snaps. “Calm yourself. They will not be here immediately. We must think rationally - “
Jim yanks up Kevin under the armpits so roughly that the child screeches into his ear. “Grab the food,” he orders Spock. “The knife. My knife. Grab – grab - “
He looks despairingly at the communications relay they have spent so many days repairing. Grimly, Spock twists his head around, surveys the machine briefly, and then reaches out and crushes a particularly delicate piece between his fist.
With a few well-placed blows the technology is reduced to scraps. There are freely-bleeding cuts on Spock's hands from the sharp metal. He doesn't seem to notice. “They never found our previous location,” he tells Jim.”
“It's too far.”
“But we can be certain that no one has been utilizing the area. It is a logical place to wait until the relief-ships arrive.”
Jim hopes that the ships will arrive before they can make such a long walk; but after an internal struggle he nods. Spock grabs the bags, hefts them over his shoulder, and moves toward the door.
They set off half-running.
It takes more than two day to return to the shed. They hide at every hint of a patrol, listening carefully to the communicator the whole way. Kodos' voice rings out over the channels until Jim wants to smash the instrument to pieces. “Find them!” he demands. “Find who did this – find who betrayed us – find who betrayed all of you - “
The sight of the shed on the horizon is a welcome relief. They have survived in the shed for weeks; they will survive a few more days, Jim is sure, until the ships can arrive. His legs wobble with the effort of supporting his own weight. His stomach feels stretched and empty. Each step lands like a stick of bone falling toward the ground, pulled more by the tug of gravity than the support of muscle. He keeps going.
With the shed in sight, they slow down. Jim sets Kevin on the ground so all three of them are dragging themselves along. Jim is in the front and is the first one to open the door when they reach the shed.
He is the first one the guards shoot.
Jim wakes and smells fungus.
It is nothing new, but he knows he is alive for at least a few more seconds. He takes a breath and gags on the scent, then opens his eyes.
The first thing he sees are shiny boots gleaming next to his face. He's on the floor of a small wooden room. When he looks up into the eyes of a scowling guard the man lashes out and kicks him in the jaw.
The shock of the pain is worse than the hurt itself. He hears laughter from more than one direction.
“Took him long enough,” sighs a slow, ponderous voice. “We've started on the Vulcan without you.” A pause. “ - Won't you open your eyes and see, Jimmy?”
Something sticky is gluing his left eye shut, put it peels open with difficult despite the pounding in his skull. It takes a moment for Jim's mind to catch up with his eyes.
Spock is curled up on the ground at the feet of three men. Jim sees green and registers blood too late. He is covered with blood – blood splashed liberally over his arms, his face, the thin curve of his chest. His head is turned toward Jim and his eyes are shut. His mouth gapes open soundlessly.
He is not moving.
“No,” says Jim.
“We know that you contacted Starfleet,” says Kodos.
He doesn't look like Jim remembers. Standing at the front of the room, posed over a desk with a burgundy curtain behind him, Kodos manages to look professional even in these grim circumstances. He maintains a rumpled suit that has seen better days. The man retains his light auburn hair and mustache, the carefully sculpted beard that somehow hasn't lost any shape during the past weeks of adversity. But his face shows lines of hardship. During the assembly his dark eyes had been full of steel; now they hold a different brightness. Jim recognizes it as a look that he has glimpsed in Spock and Kevin, something he suspects lives in himself now; desperation.
When Jim was very desperate, he killed.
“No,” he repeats.
“What we do not know,” Kodos says, as though Jim has not spoken at all, “is who you spoke with after Starfleet. We would appreciate this information. For the good of the colony, Mr. Kirk.”
This actually makes Jim laugh. It bubbles up in his chest, clawing through his throat and bursting forth like something deranged. No one moves as he starts to pull himself forward on shaky hands. His stomach is tight with starvation. His arms are rail-thin. He drags himself toward Spock.
He wonders where Kevin is.
“This is all we need from you,” Kodos says. “Then everything can be over. Wouldn't you like that?”
“It's not hard,” Kodos tells him. “It's a simple question.”
“Where's Kevin?” Jim asks.
Kodos isn't very good at smiling. It's not a convincing look, and he doesn't seem happy at all. “All you have to do, Mr. Kirk...”
“Governor?” A voice says. “We're getting reports of ships.”
“Ships, Sir – Starfleet. Starfleet ships are approaching Tarsus. What are your orders?”
There's silence in the room. Even Jim, moved by some strange power, is torn from his grief and turns his head toward Kodos. The man looks around the room. His eyes dart from side to side, scheming, weighing chances.
Suddenly he turns to the side and nods.
Four of the eight guards suddenly bring their phasers to bear. They fire across the room to the mingled shouts of their fellows, and the burnt clap of ozone makes Jim scream. Kodos is holding a phaser, too. As Jim watches two of the remaining guards fall to the governor.
The last two seem confused by this. “Sir, no - !” one protests, and he dies in a burst of light. The last one, more intelligent, starts to fire back. Kodos ducks and the shot goes wide. It alights on a curtain that starts to flicker with a hungry fire.
Many shots miss, and the flames spread – but Kodos is a better shot in the end. The fourth man dies too.
The room fills with smoke. Grey smog crackles and rolls over the ceiling, burning through the air until it starts to trickle down to the floor. Jim wheezes as he tastes ash on his tongue. The darkness starts to encroach again. He struggles to keep his eyes on Kodos, but he can't tell if the shimmer of orange in the corner of his eye is hair or fire or hell.
He thinks he hears screaming right before everything fades away.