The physically and mentally ill are the first to go.
After that, it’s the elderly. Kodos puts the cut-off age for usefulness at sixty-five years old. Everyone above that age, regardless of health, profession, or income is forced to their knees and shot execution-style (quickly, mercifully, Kodos assures them) in the back of the head.
There’s still not enough food for the settlers there are left.
And so the cut-off age is dropped to forty and brought up to twenty. All those above or below those ages are put to death immediately. There are only three exceptions, chosen based on extraordinary aptitude scores that Kodos is loathe to waste, even as he executes four-year-olds in front of their mothers.
The kids on Tarsus IV call these three exceptions “the lucky ones.”
Within two weeks there are only seven children under the age of twenty on Tarsus IV: the three “lucky ones” – Sam and Jim Kirk, Erika Riley – and the four kids they managed to rescue from the extermination – including Erika’s little brother Kevin, Thomas Leighton, Natalie Eldenwein, and Natalie’s as-yet-unnamed baby niece, whom Erika has aptly named, for the time being, Baby.
Natalie doesn’t know how to take care of a newborn baby. Nobody knows how to take care of a newborn baby. Especially when they’re camping out at some empty, godforsaken outcropping in the desert about two miles out from the settlement and they have nothing but the clothes on their backs and there’s no food and Baby won’t. Shut. Up.
They manage, though. Jim and Erika and Sam get into a pattern of what Sam cheerfully refers to as “the stupidest thing we’ve ever done,” and what Erika refers to as “the stupidest thing we ever will do if you don’t hurry it up”: that is, breaking into Kodos’s private storage house and bringing food to the other kids in quantities too small (they hope) to be noticed.
Between Natalie and Tom, and Sam’s oddly well-developed paternal side, they manage to keep Baby relatively happy and fed. The same can’t necessarily be said of the rest of the children, but they’ll take whatever good news they can get.
Jim is fifteen and Erika is eighteen and Sam is nineteen and Jim is ninety-five percent certain that Sam and Erika are screwing like rabbits behind his back.
Not that Jim wants Sam and Erika to be screwing like rabbits in front of him (eugh.) But, besides for the general ‘gross, my brother uses his penis’ feelings, Jim is really very okay with Sam and Erika being Sam-and-Erika. He likes Erika. She’s sarcastic and a little bit belligerent and a lot a bit brilliant with all things medical. She’s going to be an interspecies neurogeneticist once they get off this rock.
He likes her little brother Kevin too. He’s ten and has these enormous brown eyes that gaze up at Jim like he’s the most incredible thing he’s ever seen. Kevin wants to join Starfleet when he grows up and become a hero just like Jim.
Jim’s never been a big brother, but he looks at Kevin and just knows he’s going to rock at being a big brother-in-law.
He looks at Sam and Erika and knows he’s going to be an awesome uncle, too.
Contrary to their name, the lucky ones end up eating even less than the other children, slipping away from lessons and “meals” with their rations and sharing whatever they have with the rest. When that isn’t enough, they break into the storage houses and “feast” on the dry, crumbling emergency nourishment bars and the precious few gulps of water. Sam bounces Baby on his knee and cheerfully blathers nonsense at her.
They end up forming something of a family.
Sam is the oldest, and the heart of the group. Despite his intelligence, he’s far too easygoing to be much of an academic, and so he spends his time taking care of Baby and keeping everyone sane and relatively positive with his goofy sense of humor.
Erika is the mind. She strategizes and plans and rations, and when anyone has a serious issue – usually these end up involving injury, illness, and/or Baby – it is inevitably Erika they run to. Erika tempers Sam’s optimism, not enough to bring down the group but enough to keep them organized and practical.
Jim isn’t sure where he fits in, exactly. He is Kodos’s favorite, although (or maybe because?) he’s the most outspoken and reckless of the three of them. He’s the quickest on his feet and the most manipulative, and so he generally ends up being the one to steal the food from the storage house and bring it back to the rest of the kids, trying not to flush at the adoring expressions on the their faces.
He doesn’t always return to adoring faces, though.
“I’m still hungry,” Kevin whimpers, curled up around his stomach while Jim watches helplessly.
“I’m sorry, kiddo,” Sam says quietly, rubbing Kevin’s back. “That’s all the food Jimmy could get without tipping the guards off.”
“It’s not about how much food you steal,” Natalie says, as if she’s ever done it. “It’s where you take it from and how you organize the stuff around it. If I could just get into the storage house—”
“Don’t even think about it,” says Erika sharply.
“It’s definitely possible to break in,” Tom adds. “We could overheat the locking mechanism, make it think it’s working when it isn’t. That will keep it open for just long enough to run in, grab some stuff, clean up, and run out.”
“You’ve been discussing this,” Sam says. His voice isn’t cold, exactly, but it’s significantly less warm than it usually is.
“Well, there’s nothing else to do,” says Tom.
Erika tousles Kevin’s hair and doesn’t reply.
“We could break in,” Natalie says again, holding the sleeping Baby to her chest. "Get as much food as we want."
“You can’t,” Erika says, her eyes like steel.
Tom is probably the one Jim gets on with best, and so Jim is taken aback when his friend turns on him with an expression full of helpless rage. “You just want to feel special as the lucky ones. You don’t want us stepping on your turf.”
“Don’t take it out on him,” Sam replies. “He’s been risking his life sneaking into the storage houses to get food for you.”
“We never asked him to,” says Natalie. Jim feels the sting of the hurt down to his toes, feels the anger rise up in response. His stomach rumbles in agreement. “We could risk our own lives to get food for ourselves.”
“And how will that be any better?” Erika demands. “If Kodos finds you he’ll kill you!”
“If Kodos finds Jim, he’ll kill him!” Tom yells, and his voice cracks on the last word.
“No he won’t,” says Jim confidently. “He’s got a soft spot for me.”
This is where it all goes to hell.
Kodos always takes Jim on the weekly inventory of the storage house, an activity that, for Jim, is more about quelling the noises in his stomach and trying not to look too feverishly at the stacks of food everywhere than about resource management skills. Jim takes the opportunity to scope out the storage house and decide what and how much he can get away with, so that when the time comes he can sneak in and out as quickly as possible. As the food supply gets lower and lower with each passing week, it becomes more and more of a challenge.
Jim has always been up for a challenge.
Kodos is saying something about the ways in which the historical Andorian code of honor differed from how it is today and Jim is entering the storage house code when he realizes that the door is already unlocked.
The lock mechanism burns Jim’s fingers.
Jim vision goes blurry and distant.
“What is it?” Kodos asks.
He almost jumps out of his skin. “Nothing!” he squeaks. “Just – um – I don’t know. I’m not really in the mood for inventory right now.”
“Not in the mood,” Kodos repeats, bemused.
Jim rubs the back of his head, smiling sheepishly. “Yeah?”
Kodos smiles at him indulgently. “You’ve forgotten your code, haven’t you.”
As if Jim would ever forget something like that. He knows his code, and Sam’s, and Kodos’s, and a half dozen of the guards’ too. Jim laughs. “You got me.”
Kodos steps forward to enter his own code and Jim stops him. “It’s okay though – the door’s already open. I think some rats chewed through the wiring over there.”
The governor’s eyes darken. “The last thing we need is a rat infestation.”
Jim nods. “I can check, if you want,” he offers hopefully. “You don’t even have to come in. I mean, you’re so busy, you probably have loads of other things to –”
“My primary obligation is food rationing,” Kodos says. “If there are rats, they must be exterminated at once.” He pulls out his gun and takes it off safety.
Jim’s blood goes cold.
“I didn’t think there was any animal life left!” Jim shouts, hurrying after Kodos into the storage house and praying that, if anyone is inside, they’ve gotten the clue and are hidden away. All of the animal life had been killed and eaten by the inhabitants of Tarsus IV – wild birds, rats, pet dogs, they were all just food at this point.
“I was under the same impression,” Kodos mutters.
The two of them turn on the spot, inspecting frantically every inch of the large room full of nutrition bars and other non-perishables, both searching for the same thing, although for entirely different reasons.
“I don’t see anything,” says Jim, unable to keep the note of relief out of his voice.
Kodos lowers the gun. “I suppose it could’ve been a false—”
There is the tiniest rustle from the corner of the storage house.
In one motion, Kodos turns and shoots at the source of the sound. Jim’s heart stops.
The bullet embeds itself into the wall at the far end of the room.
They both stand there, motionless, as silence falls again.
“Hm,” Kodos murmurs.
Jim’s heart pounds a furious beat in his chest. “Maybe we should just get that inventory done,” he suggests.
Kodos tilts his head. “Maybe we should.”
They are about a third of the way through the weekly inventory when there is another sound. Jim and Kodos stiffen, looking at each other. Kodos takes out his gun again.
Jim sees Tom and Natalie over Kodos’s shoulder crawling behind the crates full of emergency water paks.
Kodos must see something in Jim’s expression because his mouth twists, and he lifts the gun and about to swing around when -
(Kodos and his men use guns instead of phasers even though they’re hopelessly out of date. When Jim had asked, Kodos explained patiently that phasers have three settings – sting, stun, and kill. Guns only have one.)
- Jim grabs his lapels and pulls Kodos down into a desperate, sloppy kiss.
The man makes a surprised noise into Jim’s mouth, but Jim keeps his eyes screwed shut and kisses him like he’ll never kiss anyone again. For all he knows, he won’t, once Kodos finds out what Jim has been doing in his spare time over the past months. He hears movement and feels Kodos stiffen in response, but before the governor can break off and turn around, Jim stands on his toes for better leverage and grips his jacket tighter, ravaging the governor’s mouth with everything he’s got. Finally he hears the low whine of the storage house door; he’s aware, distantly, through the dizziness that may be panic or oxygen deprivation, that Kodos has started kissing back.
They finally break away from each other.
Kodos’s mouth is bruised and wet. Jim is breathing hard, his face heating, unable to look his mentor in the eye.
“Well,” says Kodos.
“I – I’m sorry, sir, I don’t know what came over me, I just – ”
Strong hands suddenly grip Jim’s hips and pull them roughly against Kodos's. The man is smirking. “I knew it.”
“You’ve wanted this since you’ve laid eyes on me, have you, James?” Kodos cards his fingers gently through Jim’s hair, and it might’ve been like an uncle doting on a favorite nephew if not for the way Jim’s skin crawls. “You’ve been leading me on since the beginning. Always such a little tease.”
Jim draws a shuddering breath and makes himself nod, and then Kodos’s mouth is back on his, his hands exploring under Jim’s shirt.
Jim’s mom and dad had been each other’s firsts, and even though Jim kind of hated how horridly romantic that was (and why he even knew that; like he wanted to imagine his parents doing the dirty), he’d always secretly halfway hoped his first time would be with The One, too.
He can feel Kodos hard and warm against him, feel the governor’s hot breath on his neck, feel his fingers at the zipper of his jeans. Jim makes a low, helpless noise and Kodos laughs.
Jim manages to gasp out a, “Sir – I don’t – I’m not –”
Kodos pulls back a bit and smiles, like Jim is really being very cute. “Now, James, to back out at this point would be exceptionally bad form. After all this time, after all the hard work I put into teaching you, keeping you fed and looked after. Ignoring your – ah – ‘rats.’”
The governor’s eyes gleam at Jim’s dumbfounded expression. “You think I don’t know what they’re doing? You think I couldn’t find them soon enough if I so wished? Heaven knows why you waste your sympathies on that pathetic lot – between the two of us, James, you really should know better. I am willing to humor you, of course…but everything comes at a price.”
Jim swallows hard.
“So you see, after everything I’ve done for you, don’t you agree it’s about time I received some form of reimbursement? Answer me, James.”
Jim whispers, “Yes. But –”
“I could, of course, seek recompense from your brother instead...” Kodos muses, and something in Jim goes ice cold – “but I can tell you really do want this, despite your halfhearted objections. Don’t you, my sweet little tease? Answer, James.”
Sam’s smile flashes in Jim’s mind, the smile he gives Erika, the smile Dad is giving Mom in the photographs. “Yes,” Jim chokes out.
Kodos smiles fondly and strokes Jim’s cheek. Jim forces himself to not flinch away. “You were always one of my quickest learners. You owe this to me, James. You understand that, don’t you? Answer.”
He doesn’t reply – can’t bring himself to reply – and Kodos pulls Jim’s hair, baring his throat and dragging out a gasp of pain. “You don’t have to say yes, James. You just have to not say no.”
Jim twists his fingers in Kodos’s jacket, shuts his eyes tight, and tries to think of nothing at all.
Jim swears Tom and Natalie to secrecy that night. They agree immediately, ashamed enough already by how badly the whole thing could have gone.
"That was really brave, JT," Tom says afterwards. "Was Kodos mad that you kissed him?"
"No," says Jim. "He wasn't mad."
"You belong to me," Kodos tells him lovingly. "My little slut. You want this so badly, don't you? Answer me, James."
"Yes, sir," says Jim.
Kodos smiles. "Then beg for it."
Jim bites his lip hard enough to draw blood and gets on his knees.
The sun is setting outside, and Sam is watching Jim throw a handball against the wall in a constant, repetitive rhythm. It bounces off the wall, then the floor, then back to Jim. Wall, floor, back to Jim. Wall, floor, back to Jim.
“I don’t know why everyone makes such a big deal about their first time,” Jim says out of the blue.
Sam blinks. “First time doing what?”
“Having sex,” says Jim, an unsaid but very noticeable duh in his voice.
And nope, Sam is not having the sex talk with Jim. He’s not. He’s nooot…
“Why wouldn’t someone’s first time having sex be important?” he finds himself asking, even as he’s kicking himself for getting into this at all. Still, someone's going to have to introduce Jimmy to the idea of sex, and Sam is sure as hell going to make sure it's someone who loves him. “We make a big deal out of all of our firsts.”
Jim shrugs. He’s turned away from Sam, keeping the handball going with perfect consistency. Wall, floor, Jim. Wall, floor, Jim. “Not the first times we breathe, or eat, or drip snot. Sex is just a thing people do, it’s just – you know – a couple people getting off. It’s not like it’s this huge event. It's not like it matters.”
“Jesus, Jimmy,” Sam says, taken aback. “Do you actually believe all that?”
He thinks he hear Jim mutter, “I have to,” but he can’t be sure.
Jim has always been good at figuring out what people like. It’s his talent, his crowning glory, as it were.
So Jim figures out very quickly that Kodos likes him quiet and submissive, ideally gagged or bound or both. He likes to gag Jim with whatever’s handy – ties, belts, the barrel of a gun once – and take Jim on his knees or against a wall or bent over something… his bed, his chair, his desk, the man’s not picky.
What the man is, though, is angry – frequently, overpoweringly, until all he can think of is destruction of all threats to his careful control. Unless it has an outlet.
That’s where Jim fits in. He is the outlet.
The ragtag group of kids stealing food and resisting arrest known as the Children’s Rebellion (Sam, Jim thinks. Erika. Kevin. Tom. Natalie. Baby) is the primary threat to Kodos’s control, and therefore the primary feature in the governor’s fits of temper. Jim knows without a doubt that his continued survival is due only to the fact that Kodos is unaware of Jim’s activities as one of the group’s leaders.
Jim makes sure to be in the governor’s office the night after Tom and Natalie burn down the settlement’s main watchtower. He is there when the news reaches Kodos (Sam, Jim thinks) and he is there for the resulting explosion (Erika. Kevin) and tries not to flinch when that rage eventually directs itself at him (Tom, Natalie, Baby).
“They deserve to be taught a lesson,” Kodos hisses, his fists clenching and unclenching as he looms over Jim. “They deserve to be punished.”
(Sam, Jim thinks.) “Please, sir,” he says quietly, gazing up at him through his lashes (Erika, Kevin), even as the words burn in his mouth (Tom, Natalie, Baby). “Punish me instead.”
As always, Kodos indulges him.
At the same time, Kodos never initiates anything. It is Jim who understands when Kodos’s anger reaches dangerous levels. It is Jim who knows what he likes, what he wants. It is Jim who comes to him with blindfolds and handcuffs and whips and…offers to distract him from the small but flourishing Children’s Rebellion, from the small but noticeable amounts of food missing from the storage house.
As the Children’s Rebellion’s steps grow steadily more significant, so must Jim’s. His repertoire grows quickly to include increasingly outrageous toys, techniques, and suggestions. Jim is nothing if not creative.
It is Jim who says everything Kodos wants to hear, so that he won’t look to hear it from someone else (from Sam).
Jim has no one to hate but himself.
He’s keeping watch with Tom on the outcropping that night. The sky is speckled with an endless expanse of stars, and Jim leans back on his hands and marvels.
“Man, I love space,” Jim breathes. “Those stars have been around for millions of years and will be around for millions more. Our entire lifetimes are like…like sneezes to them. They get how little our drama matters. How little we matter.”
“Yeah?” says Tom. “The stars always made me feel kind of lonely.”
They make Jim feel kind of lonely, too, but he’s learned that not being cared about enough is infinitely better than the opposite.
It is weeks before Jim voices what he fears more than Kodos, more than starvation, more than death: “I think Sam knows. About.” He can’t say ‘us.’ There is no ‘us.’ There’s only sex. And that’s fine, Jim’s fine with that. “About our, um. Arrangement.”
Kodos pauses, studies Jim, says carefully, “Surely your brother will understand that our arrangement was your idea.”
Jim’s not sure he will. Jim’s not sure he wants him to understand.
“We should show him, James,” Kodos whispers, his voice thick and hungry. “Show him how you bargain and beg for me. Show him what a slut his little brother is.”
Jim tries to forget the ropes slashing into his wrists; tries to forget the hunger and the blood and the dozens of tiny burnmarks on his back; closes his eyes and thinks of the stars.
“Who do you belong to, boy?” Kodos whispers into his hair.
(Sam. Erika. Kevin. Tom. Natalie. Baby.)
“You, sir,” says Jim.
Jim is desperate for Sam to find out.
Jim is terrified that Sam will find out.
The Children’s Rebellion kills a guard.
Jim enters Kodos’s office and thinks I’m going to die.
Jim bites down on the gag and thinks I’m going to die.
Jim doesn’t die.
He doesn’t know how to feel about that.
Eventually, Sam finds out.
In the end, Sam finds out about Kodos when Kodos finds out about Baby. Because it turns out they can’t keep a starving, crying newborn baby a secret from the guards forever.
They march the Children’s Rebellion (Sam, Erika, Kevin, Tom, Natalie, Baby) into Kodos’s anteroom under the eyes of no less than a dozen settlement guards. Jim watches them from his position on the right-hand side of Kodos’s chair with a sinking feeling of dread deep in his stomach.
“All hail the mighty Children’s Rebellion,” Kodos sneers, gazing at the pathetic group before him.
To Jim’s horror, Kevin (he wants to go to Starfleet, flits frantically through Jim’s mind, he wants to be a hero) steps forward. “All hail Kodos the Executioner!” (wants to be a hero like Jim) “May he rot in hell where he belongs!”
Kodos is staring hard at Kevin, his eyes darkening, his hand clenching, and for Jim, it isn’t even a choice anymore.
Jim sinks to his knees in front of Kodos, his head bowed submissively. “Sir, please. He’s only ten years old. They’re all only kids. Let me take their punishments. You can do whatever you want to me. I belong to you. Show them that I belong to you. Please.”
The anteroom is silent.
Kodos’s eyes are gleaming in approval, and Jim can see the governor already growing hard, anticipating what he could do to Jim in front of his brother. Jim swallows and tries to think of nothing at all.
Over the pounding in his ears he hears Sam’s sharp intake of breath behind him, the moment of realization, and against his own will, Jim’s eyes seek out his brother, whose
Whose face is grey, his eyes wide, and then he’s
He’s screaming, launching himself at Kodos and
And before Jim knows what he’s doing he’s on his feet, his arms outstretched between Sam and Kodos, unsure whether it’s his brother he’s defending from the governor or the other way around.
He doesn’t have the opportunity to find out though because two of Kodos’s guards catch Sam by the arms, holding him back six feet away from the governor, where he stands with an expression more murderous than Jim has ever seen on his kindhearted, easygoing big brother.
“Sam,” Jim says, pleading. The panic is rising in his throat, choking him, blinding him. He needs Sam to understand. “It wasn’t him, Sam, I swear. It was me. Every single time, it was me. Please. It was me!”
Sam is shaking all over with suppressed fury, and Jim can’t tell if it’s because he doesn’t understand or because he does. “He’s just a kid!” he shouts at Kodos. His voice breaks on the last word.
“Sam, relax! It’s okay!”
“I suggest you heed your brother’s advice,” Kodos says mildly. “If you yield now I will consider reducing the consequences for your insubordination.”
“Yeah, you like that, don’t you?” Sam spits. “When people yield to you.”
“It’s okay, Sam!” Jim says, desperately willing his brother to understand why Jim had to do it, willing his brother to stop drawing Kodos’s attention to himself. “It’s just sex! I don’t mind.”
But Sam isn’t even looking at him. He’s staring at Kodos, struggling against his captors; fists curled, teeth bared, his face twisted up in what is either fury or agony. “He doesn’t mind. You monster—”
“I’m warning you, Samuel,” Kodos says calmly, “if you can’t control yourself, I will be forced to remove the threat you pose. You are bringing your own doom upon yourself.”
“Sam,” Jim begs.
“Bringing it upon myself?” Sam says incredulously. “I guess that’s what you told Jimmy too. ‘Don’t look at me, you brought this upon yourself!’ You’re nothing but a filthy rotten bast—”
Kodos waves a hand absently. “Do it.”
The guard shoots Sam in the heart.
Jim’s world goes silent and staticky.
Red droplets on the floor.
A body buckling, the thump of flesh on wood.
Sam’s eyes finding Jim’s, like a prayer. Like a confession. Like an apology.
Sam’s chest heaving.
And then not.
Erika’s mouth open in a scream.
Sam’s unmoving chest. His wide, empty blue eyes.
There is nothing but Sam.
There is no Sam.
Sound and movement return in a rush. Jim knows, distantly, that he’s fallen to his knees. That the kids are shouting and crying behind him. There are guards grabbing his arms, hauling him back to his feet. None of it matters.
“Tie them up on the platform in the courtyard where everyone can see,” Kodos says to the guards.
Then he turns, lifts Jim’s chin gently, fondly. “Unfortunately, your brother’s little outburst has made the both of you no longer suitable for my purposes. So you see, if you cannot be made an asset to me, you will at least be made an example to the others.” He cards his fingers through Jim’s hair, his touch lingering, affectionate. “You understand, don’t you, James? You were always the smartest of them all.”
Jim hears nothing, feels nothing. SamSamSAM—
“Take them away.”
Jim doesn’t die.
He doesn’t know how to feel about that.
Jim is able to sit up in his bio-bed a week later, and he is both “healing up very nicely, Mr. Kirk” and dead in all the ways that matter.
Tom is motionless in the bed next to him. They say he’ll wake up soon, but there’s very little they can do for the left half of his face.
Baby will live, they say. Kevin will live. Natalie will live.
They never mention Erika. Not once.
Jim never cries. Not once.
His mother is trembling when she tries to tell him that “Sam – he’s – he’s – oh God, Jimmy –”
Jim hears nothing, feels nothing.
“I know, Mom,” Jim says, wishing Sam had taken him along, wherever he is now. “I was there.”
Jim was there, unlike someone else. But there’s no point in saying it out loud, so he just stares, unseeing, out the window and lets his mom cry enough for both of them.