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In Our Nature: Book Two

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When he comes to, he's sprawled in a back side seat of something that reminds him of the old away mission shuttles, with the long narrow window along each side and a smooth low ceiling leading down to a cockpit that barely seats two. It's no telling what kind of vessel they used to beam him away; Jim wonders if it was damaged when Third House went up. He has a second of surprise that he isn't even tied down, but then blinks up and sees a man spread leisurely in one of the other back seats, pointing a gun at him.

He's a somewhat rangy man, middle aged and beginning to grey against the sandy color of flat long hair, and he's effortlessly menacing in the lax hold on the weapon. Jim is the milk he's bringing home; where it came from is nothing to throw a party about.

The reality of this, what he didn't have a chance to take in before he was knocked out, threatens to throttle before he makes a grim friend of it. He can bend and warp it into the relief of not having to wonder anymore, once he gets some time alone with it, but he's probably going on the hook and sooner rather than later.

"'lo," he says.

The man takes some signal that Jim isn't about to try anything and the pistol seems to lower a bit. He nods and says, "My name's Sean Creevey."

"I'm not interested." Jim sits up a bit more. "Guess I'm not going to bother fumbling in my holster to see if you took my lucky gun..."

"You mean this thing?" Creevey holds up the pistol that Jill made, and Jim hears a chuckle from the other side of the huge cockpit chair; this was apparently the topic of a laugh while Jim was out. "Funny-looking thing."

"It's pretty fuckin ugly, let's say it," Jim says, and the other two are laughing like it's a friendly taxi talk, "but it's my lucky gun. Any chance of getting it back unloaded?"

With what actually looks like sincere regret, Creevey shakes his head. "Sorry."

"I'm going to ask you until you get really sick of hearing about it."

"We could always shut you up."

"Oh, well. Good luck torturing me for information when I have my mouth stuffed."

For a moment Jim and Creevey and the pilot all look outside and every single star around them has nothing to say. "It's a little early," Creevey tries, "to assume that torture will be necessary."

"Where exactly are you planning on turning me in? Terra? One of the central embassies? And we're at least a couple weeks out. That's plenty of time and space to get something else useful out of me, so if you guys could spare me the hospitality. I know what you're going to do."

Creevey observes him for a moment longer, it's hard to guess what for since Jim returns his glance to a sober contemplation of the rust-colored floor under his boots. His laces are untied, the leather barely kissing at his ankles; they even searched his shoes, of course. Finally Creevey responds to something the guy in the cockpit has to say, and for the next long while he's more or less ignored.

There’s no chronometer he could check to watch for time passing by, but he doesn’t really feel he has much reason to be calculating how long they’ve been sitting in the tiny ship. He can’t say how many minutes or even hours he’s been eavesdropping by detached rote before he hears something interesting: they’ve made contact with whatever ship they’re headed to rendezvous with, and Creevey switches the speaker of his comm off to pick it up to his ear, glancing almost furtively back at Jim, who just cocks him a sardonic look.

“What the fuck?” Creevey hisses. “We just picked him up a week ago, he’s on board with you.”

Creevey exchanges some baffled look with his co-pilot, who may be picking this up on his earpiece, before pacing a few steps backwards to sit against the railing of the small staircase leading into the cockpit, squinting at somebody’s reply on the other side of the transmission.

“I don’t know. How hard can it be to carve up a decent decoy? Where did you get this other guy anyway?”

As he gets his reply, he casts another glance back at Jim, who realizes he’s trying to see if he looks like he can make any sense of this, as if there’s any real indication of what the hell they’re talking about. Jim has a feeling he’ll find out in due time, and for now concentrates on looking disinterested.

“Look, you just sit tight until I get a look at this mess myself. I swear to God, Paul...Yes, I heard. Congratulations on not dying.” Then Creevey slams down the comm piece. “Christ, I just want this job to be over.”

 

Jim’s eventually beamed onto a ship after they make contact and throw him into a pair of handcuffs, and quickly figures it’s a connection on the way to some bigger vessel as this one looks a little too domestic. It’s set up a lot like the Ulysses in both the layout and the cozy little touches: the scrapped-up easy chair kicked under the transporter room console, the souvenir magnets lining a metallic swinging door to what has to be the kitchen. He’s a tad wrung into unease to see what looks like a child’s bedroom off to one side when he’s pushed by the beaded curtains in the threshold, but is able to surmise there are no kids on board and the room is probably only there for taking the ship out on a holiday. He tries, hardly for the first time, to picture family life dancing on unfettered through this world: picnics and pool parties and Junior’s first day of school, somehow coexisting with an acceptance of the things that come on the broadcast and the public whippings on street corners. A trite line of mystery, to be sure, but no matter how often the question may have been asked by buzzed history majors back when he was still in San Francisco, he couldn’t remember ever arriving at a satisfying answer.

They lock him up in what ends up being their second washroom; all things considered, this is hardly the worst treatment, since he would have hardly counted on the promise of a toilet and running water—and it’s probably bigger than the half-bath the four of them had in Asheville, he remembers, then decides he doesn’t want to remember anything about that; not Nyota singing scales over the steaming mist while he brushed his teeth and drew her a picture in the fog on the mirror. The four of them. Four. He draws that number across his mind like a talisman and then leaves the other memories alone.

They throw him a pillow and nothing else, slamming the door up tight. There are countless other things he has to try not to think about, but sooner or later, somehow, he does sleep.

 

His leg gives out of its cramped digging into the door when it noisily swings open, pulling Jim out of his long stare of a dream. He doesn’t recognize the muscular woman who’s come to collect him for whatever reason, and wonders how many other residents are around living in the couple other rooms he saw.

“My name’s Helen,” she says, achieving something perfectly in-between friendliness and coldness that still is too musical to be flat, as if she just thought the walls could use a fresh coat of her voice. “You’re invited to come have dinner with us.”

He pushes himself up on his hands, blinking as he wonders if he even cares what kind of game this is. “I’ll eat in here,” he replies.

“You will eat with us or you won’t eat at all. I trust you can find your way to the table.” Leaving him to further mull over this with her playfully old-fashioned wording, she starts down the hall, leaving his door wide open.

He slowly grabs for purchase of the sink top to get off the floor, and some minutes later he finds himself seated in front of a dish ripe for a special occasion: big hunks of meat that smell like steak Diane, a pretty arrangement of roasted root vegetables and long beans drawn around the opposite curve of the plate, and silverware set up with the measured care fitting for a table at some political banquet. Candles flicker from atop a tall candelabrum at the center of the long old-looking wood, illuminating the faces of Sean Creevey and Helen sitting at the ends, and four other strangers seated around the table.

Sitting close together across from him are two light-haired bounty hunters he initially assumed were spouses but after a couple more minutes he supposes might actually be related. Next to them is the man who was piloting the shuttle the day before, and next to Jim is a dark, round-cheeked woman who glides her painted nails idly over her silverware. On the farther side of her plate, as if laid down in the same ritual of setting the table, is her gun, the only object in the room that glints off of Jim’s status as a hostage.

He does eat. Surely he needs all the food he can get despite being unable to feel hungry, but since he sat down he knew for sure this show of generosity was either for the benefit of their own comforts and calculated righteousness or was just a way to watch him squirm uneasily while they gnawed on their meat; he quickly decided that the latter was probably much more true, and then resolved that playing along a little too well was the best he could do for it, since they’re all probably fully expecting he’ll be lucky if he even keeps down what he bites off. When one of the first matters of conversation is the blond woman complaining to Helen that her steak is too done, Jim offers, “Here, mine’s still pink,” and lifts his plate to trade with her, cutting off and biting into a heavy piece with every picture of eagerness after she hands it down.

As far as dinner table gossip goes, the scandal they’re discussing is pretty mundane: the pilot—his name is Kay, or possibly he just goes by the letter ‘K’—has a cousin who’s gotten caught out for getting pregnant from some one-off affair several years after convincing the husband the daughter was his own. Jim keeps waiting for the segue into some kind of conversation that might feel more typical to the gun-for-hire clique or whatever he might have imagined they would be. Either they’re such good friends they have plenty else to talk about, which seems unlikely, or they can’t completely rely on the assumption that Jim’s never making it out with whatever information they shouldn’t discuss outside of the party, which seems ludicrously optimistic for him.

By the time the blond man and woman have, with a brief but eerie synchronicity, put their silverware down after their last bites and then aerated their glasses of wine, Helen is telling a filthy joke that makes the woman with the gun finally crack a satisfied smile, and Kay picks up after that with a real story told with all the obvious lies that make it into a good joke. Jim tunes out somewhere around the bigoted levity about Vulcan’s apocalypse, but does pay attention to the fact that the blondies used to run some kind of con operation that involved diverting slave shipments, until Mazel’s law made it not just unlawful theft but that intimidating euphemism of “politically undesirable” to get caught with any unlicensed servants; the implication was that you could get in much deeper trouble these days for freeing a slave than for stealing one, and to hell with the risk of them not knowing the difference.

When Helen finally addresses him he's startled, cut off balance right back into being sick to his stomach just at the acknowledgment.

“Mr. Kirk, we’re not being very good hosts if you haven’t been offered any of the wine.”

The blond guy starts to pick up the bottle, but Jim swerves his hand in every semblance of gracious refusal. “Thanks,” he says, “but I don’t drink when I’m alone.”

The affront stills them, barely. The bottle is set a little too slowly back down, and Helen fixes him with a concentrated stare. He meets it with a wall of a smile, and finally she says, “How about a good yarn from you, then?”

“Oh.” He gives his best mockery of some humble laugh. “I’m sure I don’t have any stories that would impress any of you.”

“I’d like to hear something from the turncoat,” Kay adds in, nodding. “Even if it’s just a joke. Surely the napes have their own fare of jokes we’ve never heard.”

One of the candle flames snaps up, briefly licking a reflection in the gun sitting two plates over, catching Jim’s vision. He clears his throat and says the first thing that comes to mind. “Well. There’s one, but it’s really more of a...folk tale.”

"Fine,” the blond man says, with a hint of teeth so white Jim has the disorienting sensation of a camera’s flash going off.

“Okay...” For a second his mind has gone so terrifyingly blank that he feels lodged in the middle of two looming useless thoughts he won’t be able to scramble out of, but he recovers, sitting up to throw his cloth napkin down on the table. “So this nobleman...or whatever he is. Let’s just say he’s a king. He goes out one day to peruse the local market galleries; he’s a man who gets out of his palanquin every once in a while, which is why he always has a close trusted bodyguard with him. Only on this day, he’s only known his bodyguard for one hundred days, because his other guard was recently killed protecting him.”

He waits for someone to get immediately bored and derail from him, feels drowning in the silence, but continues.

“Now, it was always well known that the previous guard was a very good friend to him, as well as to the queen, and in fact, he had known both of them for the same amount of time, down to the day. There’s...something in the story about how that symmetry was always very sacred to them; he would make toasts like...‘To my wife and my guard, both of whom I have loved for a hundred long years.’”

“A hundred years?” Helen interjected.

Jim stammered, “They're like...comparable to a race of demi-gods in the mythology.”

“Ah,” the blond man says, returning to the table from getting up for something and planting a kiss at the temple of his bookend.

“So anyway, he’s been grieving a long while for his friend, never going out for a long time because he doesn't have the protection. But he and his queen have finally decided it’s time to move on, and they appoint this new guard who seems good and honorable enough, even if he couldn’t ever replace the other guard.” Jim feels like a court jester who’s been commanded on a whim to stop and take off all his clothes. He’s always liked this story, and he’s now desperately regretting that he hadn’t thought of one of the many bizarre jokes Gaila used to tell when she got drunk. “And in a dark turn of events, a group of bandits far outnumbering the royal party end up attacking them when they’re out at the market, just robbing and killing whoever they can get to, and then disbanding in many different directions to draw out any survivors who pursue them. The king survives, but both his wife and his new guard are murdered in the attack, and he sees that the man who kills his new protector takes off northward, while the one who cut the throat of the queen goes south...With no hesitation, the king pursues the bandit going north. He manages to track him down and slay him; some of the other king’s men went after his wife’s murderer, but that man was never found.”

Several eyebrows may be cocking around the table, but Jim doesn’t really care to look.

With a slight nod, he continues: “So of course when the king meets with his counsel, there is one man who can’t help asking: ‘Why is it that when you could have tried to avenge the death of your queen, whom you have loved for a hundred long years, you chose instead to avenge the death of a man you had only known for a hundred days?’

“...And the king said: ‘I had to avenge the guard because I now can never love him for a hundred years.’”

Glad to be done with it, Jim sits back slowly. The woman next to him has lit a cigarette, and she lets out a long puff of smoke with an air of curious consideration.

After a pause, Kay says, “I don't get it.”

Creevey snaps his fingers at him. "I forgot to ask you, did you win the bet off that son of a bitch you met at the flea market?"

The conversation derails back into grey noise for Jim, and in the midst of it Helen stands up to show him back to his locked room. He should feel glad to get away, but everywhere is getting heavy and tiring, and he is understanding too palpably now the truth of what he’d intimated before. He is completely and utterly alone, and he may never not be alone again.

 

They don’t attempt that pretense again. There are still a couple surprises. When he’s led off to what looks like a rarely used office, the walls around him are dim in the fluorescent light and rusted in what looks like long licks of blood; he’s looking for the sharp objects, or one of those neurological agony devices he saw aboard the Enterprise during that first week and still shudders at the thought of now, or maybe a branding phaser they’re planning on threatening to take to his testicles.

The bucket of water sits in the middle of the room in front of the one chair. Archaic. Straightforward. Certainly not the only thing they have planned.

Helen asks him where the colony is.

He tells her, “I’ve forgotten already.”

She doesn’t bother with Creevey’s decorations about all of this not being necessary, if only you would comply, as if he’s got any reason to sell the only thing left that’s worth anything to him on the promise of some utterly temporary comfort. She just waves Kay forward from the corner.

He’s a big guy, and Jim is a rag doll slapped to the bottom of the bucket.

He starts to feel the fuzzy sting hitting him in the eyes and nose, quite a bit sooner than he even begins to feel his lungs yelling. That startle makes him lose his concentration, but it doesn’t matter: at his first cough, he’s being lifted up again, quickly enough for him to realize the primary purpose here isn’t about the threat of drowning.

He restrains himself from asking what the hell they put in there.

Then he notices it, the sandy brightly colored particles floating in phlegmy bubbles collected on the surface. It has to be that blue shit they had back at the colony, and Jim feels like telling them he’s heard on good authority that it’s not good for any kind of torture, but then almost all at once the slightest blur quakes into the edges of his vision.

Shouldn’t tell them anyway, he’s thinking. The drug shipments might be traceable to somewhere close to the colony and better to keep them in the dark...

Something in his brain like a first kernel of popcorn popping...

“They call it ‘siren’ over on Elami IV,” Helen is saying, and her voice already sounds clouded out a bit. “Have you heard of it? They call it that because of the noise...Well. You'll know what I mean.”

He shrugs, puts on a cringing laugh. “You gotta be kidding me with this."

"It can't be that bad, right?" Her smile barely swerves up in his blurring perception. “We’ll see, Kirk.”

 

His best guess is nine days, but he’s seemingly way beyond a ball-park estimation. They get him high, bring him down long enough to make him eat a couple crackers and then ask him the questions again, and it’s back into the dust. Helen gives up on the more elaborate means of force and makes him sip or lick up some of the drug on his own, though this only works a couple times, because after they start up on the heavier doses he quickly realizes he’d rather take a grinding beating than get another one.

It doesn’t break down inhibitions more effectively than any other form of torture, but it is definitely sufficient enough for a psychological belting. Back home, experimental drug use was only a sort of occult thing, but when he was a bored farming brat in Riverside there was one weekend when somebody’s rail-thin cousin had come visiting with something from a supplier whose chemist friend had pared down the source to something harmless but hard to get right. Hallucinogens that made the sounds of an old film on the screen splash colorful bursts into his vision (he remembers there was a species trying to get into the Federation at the time, mentioned that night because they were all synesthesiacs). Jim can imagine a heightened form of that drug being overwhelming enough, and not even much different from the fever dust, in the way the room pops and floats out to him in images like a high-strung and too-clear dream.

What’s torturous is the extremes, the tandems between one type of hallucination and another; the way no matter how many times it happens, his mind can be lured into the safety of a soft fantasy before he’s thrown under the wave into the most vicious crawls of nightmare.

Those same old candles in Gaila’s room, the ones she’d get out from a box under the bed and light when all the other lights were out, only tonight Nyota crawls in next to him, blows out all the candles and they do a little bit of soaring, trying not to make a sound because someone is in the next bed, of course; a half-groan is escaping her mouth which he covers with his hand, heart hammering high and tense now, they shouldn’t, can’t, they wouldn't. The body is stirring awake in the next bed and as the head is turning up it has black hair, sharp points of ears.

The jolt comes: black ocean cracks through the windows like the dormitory’s underwater and he feels the scream of suffocation in his lungs as the room fills and fills and fills up, tries to hold her up to swim to a surface with him. He somehow does not drown but feels her go limp against his grasp; and then like the room was rising in an elevator the water line sinks and flows out. She lies in his arms, soaked, and he sees the sharp bruise from a rope around her neck. Looks up and startles, whimpering up against the headboard at Bones’ and Scotty’s open and calmly deceased masks, their bodies dripping and swinging from the nooses tied to those old rafters.

Desires, fears, then back again. Some pastoral beauty and then blood. He comes out of the terrifying wave like a drowning man meeting the right side of a lifeboat, taking it into a frantic grasp, oh please, oh please; after a while the pleasant notions and places are such a terrible serenity that he wants to sob at their arrival as much as at their leaving. He can feel his better memories sinking into that feeling for good, forever tainted. Later he doesn’t even remember much, just as with a dream, but he remembers his mother’s hand careful and reassuring at his forehead, that time he was seven and woke up with the flu. He thinks, if I can just cling on hard enough this time, if I can hold it in my mind just right...

And the noise. The ringing in his head is perpetual but usually it’s actually right when he tips over into coming down that it starts to really punch, laying down the law on his head as he’s just starting to put his thoughts straight. God knows how long this part of it is; it could be minutes that feel like hours, the way a shrill note is blaring right next to his ear but comes from nothing, is nothing but in his mind and will not stop. Usually at this point the mental stress knocks him clear out into black woozy sleep. He wakes up foggy and the whole cycle begins again.

“Where’s the colony?”

His hands are trembling hard in his lap. “I don’t remember.” At this point he’s thrown the knowledge so far back he almost thinks he wouldn’t remember if he did try.

“Why don’t you just tell us the rendezvous point?” is the next question; they’re trying to serve him up some idea that if he at least gets them to the Nyrok vessel, they’ll go for the colony from there and let him and his friends go. After a point, Jim wonders if there’s a chance this operation is just mom-and-pop enough for that to work, but then in the midst of his attempt to make sympathetic reason-with-me arguments for why Jim shouldn’t be so insistent to defend the inhabitants of the colony, the patriotic colors begin to show.

The thing is, Creevey is convinced that the situation on Earth is beginning to swerve towards civil abolitionism conflict so drastically that resources that are needed to fight aliens will be wasted on Terra’s internal wars.

“You see...,” he presses, in the middle of a somewhat tangential point, but Jim isn’t exactly opposed to the delay. “It doesn’t really matter how much any of us might disagree with slavery, if the people who are hell-bent on ending it don’t seem to care where it leaves Earth in the bigger wars. The slaves will go down with the rest of them; do you really think a man is better off dead than enslaved?”

Jim is in the middle of a shivering spell, and his insistence sounds stripped bare to a childlike, uncomprehending protest: “It's not up to me.”

The crazy part is, Jim is learning more from these talks between interrogations than he has within the past year about how much is actually changing. He knew that he and the others were seen as dangerous for their little kick to the system, but he didn’t know just how many movements had picked up on Terra, how many underground networks and Knot-like communities were picking up through the power of whispers. Creevey is telling these things to illustrate the backlash: the number of slaves getting up the nerve to attack their owners in order to get the chance to run, how many patrol people are getting killed trying to arrest aliens who physically overpower them, but Jim takes away a different kind of point.

Apparently for several months, this Stallion Corporation intentionally neglected to enforce inspections on the security of their luggage cars, knowing full well that refugees would frequently hop them on the way to protection zones. The big mistake on the part of the Empress was having someone publicly executed for this, as it only confirmed for many servants that that particular underground route to freedom wasn't just a rumor, and how they might be surprised by how many Terrans might be willing to turn a blind eye.

And of course, blacklisted alien sympathizers remained outside of the protection of the law, which meant that more and more families of human victims were at least losing a bit of their human pride. Where censorship once meant jail time and rarely death for an occasional reckless slip of the tongue, it was the case now that if they tried to silence all anti-Empire proclamations, they would have to kill entire cities. Jim thinks back to Moreau’s theory about divisive policies, the fact that they apparently haven’t found a way to reverse Mazel’s whole mess without giving up their biggest weapon against organized resistance. It makes him wonder if that really could have been some eerily prophetic action taken by one of Commander Spock’s people after all, to deny the planet any chance of finding a middle ground before it’s too late to resist all the civil rebellion. After all, you couldn’t really expect a purely calculating Vulcan to have any sentimentality about a few Terrans being brutally exiled just for trying to give a hand to an alien; and it has been, apparently, a chillingly good plan.

Creevey has an awful lot of bad news, but it’s all closer to good news to Jim, despite all his attempts to make Jim meet them halfway. He keeps Creevey talking for what feels like close to an hour—it’s not that hard, the guy doesn’t look forward to getting back to hurting anyone—but finally it’s Jim’s patience that runs out, once the reasoning has taken a much duller turn for the defensive on Creevey’s end.

“I don’t care if you have a family that you’re afraid for, I really don’t,” Jim says. “At least I sure as hell don’t care about that more than I care about the other families I know, that you’re trying to destroy. You chose this line of work, you chose to devote your entire profession to hunting down people who help other people, you have no excuse to think that I am somehow responsible for the fact that your home world might be falling apart. Trying to tell me you do this job to protect your people, not because it’s a good paycheck? Go home and protect your people, then. Because I’m not hurting anybody, but if you think for a second, that if I get the chance to get out of here and I have to hurt you to do it, that I will hesitate? Fucking joke’s on you, because I have run out of a whole lot of green goodness in the last couple years.”

They stare each other down, Creevey sighing tightly.

“So if you’ve got nothing else to say,” Jim says, “I think I’m late for a really lovely date with my subconscious.”

 

The scratched-up idea of morning is met with the realization that he’s not in the same ship he was on the last time his mind was lining somewhere up to sober. Most of the faces that blot into his increasingly vague impressions of what’s going on are new to him. Creevey and Helen still seem to be somewhere around, unless his mind only cooked that up at some point. Some of the questions change; the people on this vessel, which seems large and has more officially separated lines of a few brig rooms, are a lot more interested in what he knows about the commander. Which of course is nothing, and the way they indirectly kick at this subject is strange, as if they might actually know enough to be able to catch him in a lie if they ask just the right questions.

In his opinion, it’s impossible he ever does resort to begging during those last couple rounds of the dust being kicked into his eyes or snuck into the morsels of food they’re giving him. He doesn’t think that clutching at the pants of the next person standing over him to plead that there is no point, come on, to do it to him again is exactly how it happens; it doesn’t suit him to remember that he might have dissolved into a whimpering mess after a particularly bad trip dropped him all too slowly back to where there was nothing but thirst like lacerations in his throat and the papery emaciated feel of his own body, and of course that sound, that sound, that sound—in his clarity he notices a sting at his ears like he’s been scratching at them—but he cannot say with any certainty that he does not begin to absolutely lose it.

Maybe it’s a mercy he doesn’t remember much.

In and out of his senses. There’s a clear, clearer moment when he thinks it’s over for now, and observes with disinterest that they’re moving him next door, to a different brig room. Probably just housekeeping, but when the heavy door is budged open there’s a bucket of water only a few steps ahead and he has no idea what kind of stage is being set up here.

His gaze is glued in exhaustion to a few feet in front of him, but he hears a shift and a bolt of movement off to his right. His eyes only manage to follow it for enough of the effort of focusing to see that it’s him: the man looks shocked to a total stand-still, burning in sudden attention like no memory Jim has of his mask of thoughtful observation. The white hands are perched tightly around the bars hammered in around him, and Jim has to wonder at the sudden squeezing fist of recognition in his chest, because of course it’s not. He’s not.

“Hiya, Spock,” Jim mumbles, shoving that feeling away, dropping his head back down. “I see you shaved your goat off. I guess it didn’t do much for incognito. Heh?”

He’s interrupted by the rude shove to his back that smarts him right to the floor, and doesn’t pick up completely on what’s being barked at him. He blinks, disoriented.

“Which one!?” one of the brassy big guys is demanding.

Jim blinks, trying to rise back off all fours. “What...?”

“Which one?” Helen snaps, and she shoves a kick into his stomach, hard. Through the swarm of pain and his wrenching for air, Jim thinks Spock is saying something to them, but he doesn’t really know.

The shouts louder now: “Which one, Kirk? Which one is Spock?”

He’s still groping to make sure the next thing out of his mouth isn’t some mindless biting response to the pain when the profile of another man in the cell on the left bruises into his sight. His head rolls up—his neck is too stiff to move, the motion hurts along his spine—to give a groveling glance up from his place on the floor, until his vision clears.

Spock is also in the next cell, and here he has the growth of a beard beneath a cold shadow of curiosity in his eyes. He looks back at Jim with clinical interest.

For one second, Jim meets the fact of this sight, dumbfounded and almost looking back to the other cell. But he interrupts himself, thoughts catching up with a sound that is a sob cradled pathetically by a low limping laugh. He covers his eyes with the heels of his hands. “Oh, shit,” he starts groaning to no one. “This stuff is messing me up...”

Somebody’s handling him roughly again; Helen wants to try some other thing and there’s a stir of argument as he’s yanked across the floor in painful skids against the skin of his arms. “No,” he moans, voice drowned, unable to protest that he's obviously plenty fucked up, no need to keep up with more of it, can't they see that, can't they stop—?

In the background an old friend is also trying to tell them not to, reasonably, urgently; this is the last thing he thinks he hears before he's pulled up by the hair and then his head is submerged again.