Leonard swung upright in bed, pistol in hand before he even knew what woke him.
“Put the gun down, Doctor.”
Leonard blinked and tightened his fingers on the grip. When he spoke, his voice was rough with sleep. “Who are you? How did you get in?”
“We are in need of your skills, Doctor. Please lower your weapon. We mean you no harm.”
“You broke into my house at three in the morning. Explain to me why I shouldn't shoot you where you stand.” The sheets slid down Leonard's bare chest and pooled at his middle. He couldn't see them, their features back-lit by his hallway light. Three men, in coats and hats, stood in the shadows of his room.
“There's been an incident. In New Mexico. It requires your... particular expertise,” one of the men offered.
“I'm still not hearin' why you're standing in my bedroom,” Leonard said.
“We will pay you two thousand dollars to travel to New Mexico to examine what we've found.” The man in the centre took a step closer to Leonard's bed. Leonard lifted the sights higher.
“Sounds important,” Leonard said. “Why me?”
“No family, no friends. Excessive knowledge of medical practice and theory. Exceptional military record. We've already filled your shifts at the hospital for the foreseeable future.” The man put his hands in his coat pockets. “You won't be missed.”
And damn if that weren't the truth.
Leonard lowered his arm. “Fine. Get out so I can put some pants on.”
Leonard slept fitfully on the plane ride to New Mexico. The rattle and shake of prop wings shook memories to the surface that he wanted to desperately bury, and they haunted his dreams when he closed his eyes. When the jarring vibration stopped, Leonard uncurled himself from the window seat and propped his hat up on his forehead to look around. The two other people on the plane in the passenger section were quietly collecting their belongings. They were at their destination.
He stood and grabbed the one bag he had packed and climbed down the plane's rickety staircase.
The heat blasted him in the face as soon as he set foot on the tarmac. Squinting against an obnoxiously bright sunrise, Leonard took in his surroundings. They were in the desert.
It was really fucking flat.
Leonard let himself be herded away from the plane and to a waiting automobile. A corporal stood by the door and took his bag after saluting him. He reflexively mimicked the gesture before sliding into the car. Behind them, the other passengers from the plane were being treated similarly, each in individual automobiles.
“Good morning, Doctor.” A man, no, a Major General, sat beside him on the bench.
Leonard immediately snapped to attention, and the general smiled. “At ease, Colonel.”
Leonard slid back into the bench as the automobile lurched forward, kicking up dust around them. The General had a folder in his lap, and Leonard swallowed the feeling of dread rolling in his stomach.
“Take a look at this.” The General dropped the folder in Leonard's lap.
He flipped the folder open and gazed at the pictures it contained. Picking one up, he held it to the light streaming into the automobile.
It depicted what appeared to be a humanoid creature with an abnormally large cranial structure for its respective body size. Leonard frowned and tilted the image. The creature lay on a steel slab with several men in white lab coats gathered around it. One of its legs was bloodied, and huge, dark eyes were set in its massive skull.
“What is this?” Leonard asked, glancing at the General.
“We were hoping you could tell us,” he said. “Does it look like anything familiar?”
“I'd have to look closer at it.” Leonard shook his head. “Is it a cadaver?”
“This one is quite dead, unfortunately,” the General said.
“'This one'?” Leonard shifted through more images. They were taken from different angles around the humanoid, and some showed what looked like a debris field. One image showed a rod with strange markings on it.
“We recovered three bodies in the crash. This one was dead upon retrieval, but the other two...” Leonard looked up to see the General's eyes glinting with excitement. “The other two are alive.”
“They're not human,” Leonard surmised. His heart pounded in his chest. “What of the other two? You said they were alive?”
“Currently. One is in a comatose state and the other has provided no viable means of communication. We've contained them in an airbase for now, until we can determine what they are.” The General leaned back on the bench and held out his hand. “General Boyce.”
“McCoy. Leonard McCoy.” Leonard smirked. “Though I take it you knew that already, General.”
The automobile stopped and Leonard leaned forward in his chair to see a gated checkpoint. General Boyce waved his credentials and the gate lifted with a sharp salute from the guard. The automobile rolled through and came to a stop outside a massive hangar.
“You'll forgive the construction. We've had much to do in very little time,” Boyce said. “It is a work in progress.”
“It's fine,” Leonard said. His door opened and he clambered out of the automobile, holding his hat firmly as the desert wind tried to whip it off. Sand kicked up in the air around him, forcing him to squint against it. “Where exactly are we?”
“Roswell,” General Boyce said.
“Roswell...” Leonard repeated. He took his bag from the silent officer and slung it over his shoulder. Following Boyce, he entered the hangar.
Inside he was met with a flurry of activity. Officers and enlisted walked around each other in the sort of organised chaos that the Army was known for. Military issue tents scattered across the floor in neat lines, and men hurried in and out of them with purpose. Boyce led him through what appeared to be the main street of tent city, straight to the other end of the hanger without so much as a glance at any of the other men.
They pushed through a set of double doors, and into pristine hallway that led to the base proper. Offices and storage rooms lined the halls as they moved. The area could have passed for a hospital wing with the level of cleanliness it exuded.
“Kirk.” Boyce returned a salute delivered by a young captain. The kid grinned. “This is your assignment.”
Leonard balked at his designation, but Kirk seemed nonplussed. He nodded and held out his hand. “Kirk, James Kirk.”
“McCoy. Leonard,” Leonard said. He gripped Kirk's hand firmly.
“I'll be your escort while on base,” Kirk said with a disarming grin. “Can I take your bag?”
“I'm fine, thanks,” Leonard said.
“Let me show you to your room, then.” Kirk inclined his head towards one of the halls.
Boyce took his leave, and Kirk led him to a spacious bunk by military standards. It was at least four by six with a small cot and desk. Leonard dropped his bag on the cot.
“What exactly are they?” Leonard asked. He turned to Kirk.
“Only a few scientists and top officers have seen them,” Kirk said. A sly smile curled his lips. Leonard narrowed his eyes.
“You've seen it. Them.”
“Maybe,” Kirk didn't confirm.
Leonard rubbed his forehead. “I have not had enough alcohol to deal with this. When is my debriefing?”
“After mess,” Kirk said. “Until then, how about a tour of the base?”
Leonard didn't really have a choice in the matter, turned out. Kirk refused to leave his bunk until Leonard followed him. Kirk and Leonard wandered outside, and Kirk led him directly to the planes housed on the airstrip. Leonard paused in front of a machine labeled The Enterprise.
“This isn't the base,” he said.
“This is my baby,” Jim said. His smiled widened as he ducked under one decrepit wing. He crouched under the belly, and Leonard bent to watch him interact with a pair of legs in cargo pants. “How's she look, Scotty?”
The cargo pants ducked down and revealed a stout man with a drunken grin and a wrench in hand. “The steering column is totally banjaxed, but with some tape she'll make do. Who's this, now?”
Leonard had to take a few minutes to decipher what the man had actually said. It was English, he was certain, but the Scottish brogue was so thick on his tongue that Leonard almost missed it. He stared and Jim waved a hand at him. “This is Leonard McCoy. They brought him in to look at the creatures.”
Scotty's eyes went wide. “He's going to- You mean to look at the-”
He couldn't finish his sentences and just stared at Leonard. Leonard shifted uncomfortably. Fortunately, Jim broke the awkward silence.
“This is Scotty. I met him during the War.” Jim clapped Scotty on the shoulder.
“Aye. Stormed the beaches together, we did,” Scotty said, fond reminiscence in his voice.
“Where were you stationed?” Leonard asked.
“Hokkaido,” Jim said. “Did you know Japan gets snow? It's insane. You?”
Leonard started, narrowing his eyes. “How did you-”
Jim gestured to his own breast pocket, and Leonard glanced down at his chest. Ah. His Purple Heart. “Ardennes.”
Jim quieted, going loose with the sort of sympathy that only veterans could understand. He nodded once, sharply, and turned steel blue eyes back to his plane. Jim ran long, slender fingers over her hull, reverently. “Ever been up in one of these, Bones?”
“Sorry?” Leonard ducked under the wing to join them. “What did you call me?”
“Sawbones,” Jim said. “You've flown, right?”
“Not in one of these, no,” Leonard said. “And never will, if I can help it. I've seen how these are built. Pieces of junk.”
Jim shoved him hard, and he stumbled against the wing. Jim's finger jabbed him in the sternum. His voice chilled Leonard. “Do not talk about my plane like that. This girl's saved my life more times than my company. You do not insult her to my face.”
Leonard closed his hand around Jim's, gently. “I'm sorry,” he said, sincerely.
Jim accepted the apology and the anger slid off his face as quickly as it had built. He patted the Enterprise's hull gently. “I'll take you up one day.”
“Nope,” Leonard shot back. He followed Jim around the tail of the plane, watching him.
Jim inspected the plane for surface defects, running his fingers over each scratch and crease in the metal for further wear. Leonard had a feeling that he wasn't actually ever going to see the rest of the base at this rate.
“Kirk, I've got better things to do with my time than watch you go over this plane a third time,” Leonard finally said.
Jim pulled away from the hull and grinned. “Hungry? It's almost time for lunch. We can get you some coffee.”
Apparently he needed coffee. Since the pre-dawn flight from Atlanta had served nothing, and the incredible drive into the desert left him wanting for refreshments, he realised he was starving. “Coffee. Coffee would be great.”
The mess was a cacophony of noise, a striking difference to the sheer silence of the desert landscape. The airbase wasn't operational, in terms of planes landing and taking off, so even the airstrip didn't provide a break from the quiet. Leonard reeled back a step, not expecting the sudden up-tic in volume. Jim pressed a hand lightly to the small of his back and urged him forward, to the food line.
Leonard followed Jim towards the seating, and frowned when Jim dropped his tray onto a table next to a black woman. Jim glanced at him and waved at the table when Leonard hesitated.
“What are you doing?” Leonard asked, his voice low. The woman narrowed her eyes at him but said nothing.
“Sitting?” Jim said. He squinted at Leonard in confusion. “What?”
“She's-” Leonard nodded at her.
Jim glanced between the woman and Leonard, and the anger was back. “She's black. What's it to you?”
Leonard stiffened. “Nothing- It's- Nothing, I just-”
“You're a doctor, right?” Jim bit out. “They're flesh and bone, just like us. They bleed like us. They fought with us against the Nazis. They died with us. And you're going to, what? Not sit with them because of their skin? You're an asshole.”
Leonard's ears burned and he set his jaw. Just to prove Jim wrong, he rounded the table and slammed his tray down in front of the black woman. Plunking himself into his chair, he held out his hand. “I apologise for my rudeness. My name is Leonard McCoy.”
“Uhura,” she said. She took his hand and gave a firm shake. “You're an asshole.”
“I'm sorry,” Leonard said. “I'll try to be better.”
“If you're rude to me again I'll break your kneecaps,” she said. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and waved a fork at him, as if threatening men was nothing out of the ordinary. She wore no badges and no uniform.
“What is your work, here?” Leonard asked, trying to alleviate the horrible tension he'd caused.
“I work linguistics,” Uhura said. “I was a cryptographer during the war. German is painfully easy when you've studied Japanese.”
“I can imagine...” Leonard said, his jaw dropping just a bit. “How many languages do you speak?”
“Over thirty,” Uhura said. She stuffed a fork full of pasta in her mouth and chewed slowly. She swallowed. “Forty.”
“Jesus,” Leonard said. “That's amazing.”
“Isn't it?” Uhura agreed. “If I wasn't a black woman I could have run a POW camp on the lines. But God felt fit to give me breasts.”
“I still think the commanding officers were just too damn scared to let you in charge,” Jim said. They both ignored Leonard's embarrassed flush. “They knew you'd put them out of a job.”
Uhura shrugged daintily. “I never really wanted to lead anyway. Language has always been my one true calling.”
“How did you end up here?” Leonard asked.
“They wanted the best,” Uhura said without blinking. “And I'm the best. This is something humanity's never dealt with before. They need competency and discipline. Why did you think you were brought in, Leonard?”
“I'm just a trauma surgeon,” Leonard said.
“With a background in animal anatomy and a fair bit of experience as a mortician,” Jim supplied. Leonard glared at him. Jim matched his stare. “I can read, Bones. And I hate to say it, but you're my assignment. I don't go into things blind.”
“So why are you here, then?” Leonard pointed his fork at Jim.
Jim pressed his lips into a fine line and said nothing, and when Leonard turned to Uhura, she also remained mysteriously tight-lipped. When she caught him glaring, she shrugged. “It's his story to tell. Don't look at me.”
“Fine,” Leonard said. “Keep your secrets. We're on a secret base, after all.”
“You are so strange,” Jim said. He shook his head and checked his watch. “Ah, finish up. I have to get you to debrief in ten minutes.”
Leonard finished eating and Jim led him through the complex to a small meeting room. The shades were drawn over the window, letting thin slivers of sunlight spilled over the linoleum floor. A rickety card table was set up in the center of the room, and Jim motioned for Leonard to have a seat. Jim plunked into the chair next to him.
People slowly trickled into the room. Leonard reconigsed General Boyce, who took his place at the head of the table. A man in a wheelchair rolled in shortly after to stop just to Boyce's left. A kid with a floptop of curls sat next to Leonard, grinning excitedly. A blonde woman in an RAF uniform entered next, her outfit sharply pressed with heels clicking against the floor. She sat across the table from Leonard and refused to look at either of them.
Kirk suddenly went ramrod tense beside him, and Leonard glanced at the doorway. A Japanese man entered the room and sat down in the chair furthest from anyone. He hunched in on himself slightly and didn't meet any of their eyes. Leonard cast a worried look at Jim, but the kid wasn't giving anything up.
“Welcome to the base,” Boyce said. He flipped through several pages on the clipboard in front of him. “We are currently designating this station 'Area 51' until further notice. It is to be referred to as such, and nobody outside the station is to be made aware of its existence. This is classified a Top Secret posting. Any contact with the outside world will be monitored and censored if necessary. I recommend you do not make it necessary.
“There are fifty miles of desert in every direction. I do not recommend taking a nightly stroll without a ranger that has been trained in surviving the conditions out there. It may be a desert, but it gets damn cold out there during the night. We need to keep communications secret because of the sensitive nature of what we have found.
“At approximately 0300 on July 7th, an unidentified object crash landed in a field to the south of Roswell. The farmer called the authorities and the authorities called us. The origins of this object are currently unknown. The build of the object, also unknown. The creatures found within this object, also unknown.”
“Could it have originated in Soviet Union?” The kid next to Leonard opened his mouth, making Leonard freeze in his seat at the thick Soviet accent obscuring his words.
“I'm afraid the markings are unlike anything we've seen, Chekov,” the man in the wheelchair said. He hid a smile behind his hand and nodded for Boyce to continue.
Leonard bit down hard on the inside of his cheek to keep himself from saying anything. The Soviets had helped them near the end of the war, sure, but he had seen his fair share of friends cut down by Red weapons. He felt he had a right to be a bit wary of the kid next to him spouting off about Soviet Russia.
“You are all here because you are the best in your fields. You are all here because you are friends of the United States of America, and have helped Her through the recent war.” Boyce must have seen Leonard's colour fade. “Here you are all American, and you will treat each other as such.”
Leonard kept his tongue, but only just. His skin crawled where he sat, and he found himself unable to concentrate on the notes provided. Crap. His hands shook.
Kirk kicked Leonard's ankle under the table. Leonard jumped, and realised Boyce was staring at him.
“No sir, sorry sir,” Leonard said.
“I said that you will see the dead creature when we dismiss,” Boyce repeated.
“Yes sir.” Leonard gripped his pen to try and calm himself.
The rest of the debriefing was a blur. Leonard was too focused on keeping his breathing steady to comprehend what Boyce and the other General – Pike- had to say. The rest of it was not aimed at him anyway. Boyce just explained everyone's roles at the base until further instructed.
Everyone stood when the meeting was dismissed, and Kirk's pen rolled off the table. The Japanese reached for it at the same time Kirk did. Their fingers brushed, and Kirk practically threw himself into Leonard in an effort to get away. Leonard's hands went around Kirk's arms to steady him.
The Japanese straightened and held out Kirk's pen, his face stony and cold. Leonard took the pen and nodded, nudging Kirk slightly behind him as the Japanese rounded them and left the room. Leonard looked at Kirk, taking in his pale face. “Are you okay?”
Kirk nodded stiffly and left the room without a word. Leonard had to trot to catch up with him, worry niggling the back of his mind. Kirk walked with unsteady purpose, his legs stiff and unstable, and it wasn't until he stumbled on his own boot that Leonard grabbed his arm.
He tugged Kirk into a small room and shut the door, pressing Kirk against the wall with a hand against his chest. And there, Leonard could feel his shuddering breaths, not nearly deep enough to get oxygen to his brain. The beginnings of an acute combat fatigue recurrence. He gripped Kirk's shoulders.
“Listen to me, kid. You're on American soil. You're out of harm's way. Nobody is shooting at you. Listen to my voice,” Leonard said. “The war is over. You have to breathe. Steady now, breathe for me.”
Kirk's hitching gasps worsened, and his hands clawed at Leonard's sleeves. Kirk's legs went out, and Leonard carefully maneuvered them to the ground. He shifted his grip on Kirk, reaching to cup Kirk's head in both hands. He forced Kirk to look at him. “I will not let anything harm you,” Leonard said. “You're safe. Breathe for me. I need you to breathe.”
“I c-can't-” Kirk choked. His entire body shook with the force of the attack.
“Just mimic me.” Leonard dragged Kirk in and pressed their foreheads together. “In and out. In... and out...”
Kirk's shuddering gasps slowed, and soon he was dragging in great gulps of air. Leonard felt the tension drain out of him, and Kirk slumped against the wall. Leonard loosened his grasp and sat back with a sigh of relief. He wiped a hand over his face and realised he was shaking himself.
“How did you do that?”
Leonard glanced at him. “Do what?”
“You stopped it. Nobody's been able to- Even the doctors here.” Kirk gestured to his chest.
“Yes, well the doctors here don't know their ass end from their nose when it comes to war ailments. Most of them have never seen the front line,” Leonard said, eliciting a smile from Kirk. “That was an acute combat fatigue recurrence. I used to see it a lot on the line. It's the body's displaced internal reaction to fear. You have to minimize external stimuli and give the victim something concrete to focus on. In this case it was my breathing. It helped regulate yours.”
Kirk stared at him. “That's genius.”
“Thanks. At least someone thinks so. The medical community thinks I'm a crackpot.” Leonard leaned back on one arm. He ignored the way his legs were tangled with Kirk's. The cost of pulling him out of that attack. “No one's going to hurt you here.”
“I know,” Kirk said crossly. “I can't help it. Ever since- Since I came back. And I haven't seen a Nip in years-”
“It's not your fault,” Leonard said. He tapped his head. “It's up here. And until we can figure out how the brain works, there's nothing we can do.”
“What you just said makes more sense than two years of doctor visits,” Kirk said.
Leonard stood and offered Kirk a hand up. He hauled Kirk to his feet and steadied him with a hand on his shoulder. “You okay?”
“I will be,” Kirk said. He gave a shy smile, one Leonard hadn't seen before, and damn if it didn't make his heart skip a beat in his chest. Oh. Not good.
“Let's go then. Boyce and Pike will wonder where we went,” Leonard said. Kirk nodded.
Kirk led him into a large room with a blue tent in the centre. He held the tent flap back for Leonard and stayed outside when it fell shut.
“Ah, McCoy, good of you to make it.”
Leonard turned to see Boyce suited up in a surgical apron, with a mask over his face. He held out a mask for Leonard, who took it and slid it over his nose and mouth. Boyce stepped aside to reveal a body laid out on a steel dissection table.
Leonard stepped closer, his hands clasped tightly behind his back to hide their tremor.
The creature was naked, its skin a sallow grey colour and shriveled as if all the moisture had been drained from its body. Long, spiny arms grew out of small shoulders, almost reaching what could be considered the creature's knees. The hands possessed three fingers each, with what appeared to be an opposable thumb protruding from the wrist joint, much like a human's.
Alone, the creature would have been horrifying for its otherworldliness, but a team had already begun dissection of it. One of the eyes was missing, leaving a gaping hole in the face that seemed to expand into the brain cavity. Which was enormous by human standards. Leonard's apprehension was quickly being overrun by curiosity. How could such an insignificant neck support such a massive cranial structure? It defied physics.
“There's no-” Leonard started.
“Penis?” Boyce interjected with a leer. “We know. It was the first thing the enlisted noticed.”
“I was going to say spinal support,” Leonard said dryly. “But yes, it does appear to be missing visible reproductive organs.”
Kirk burst through the tent flaps. “Sir! Shots fired in tent three!”
Boyce ripped his mask and apron off, grabbing his sidearm. “Kirk, stay with him.”
“Yessir.” Kirk grabbed Leonard's elbow and dragged him out of the tent.
“Damn it, Kirk, I'm combat trained,” Leonard said. “Give me a gun.”
Kirk paused just long enough to shove a Colt into his hand before he threw himself at Leonard. They both went down and something lurched over Leonard's shoulder, slamming into the wall just to their right. Leonard rolled onto his feet, aiming, but Kirk got their first.
Kirk unloaded a full clip at a creature standing eight feet tall before them. Leonard's mouth fell open, his finger frozen around the trigger. Eight feet tall and its skin shiny, black, and impervious to Kirk's bullets. Kirk kept his pistol trained on the thing, and took a careful step back towards Leonard.
This creature's arms ended in long, thin fingers, just like the grey's, but instead of blunt tips it possessed sharp claws. Its shoulders heaved, and it took a step towards them. Kirk gave more ground, his heel nudging Leonard's knee.
Gunfire from their left drew the creature's attention, and it let out a horrifying roar before charging off after the source. Kirk grabbed Leonard's arm, hauled him to his feet, and shoved him in front as they took off down the hall. Kirk paused once to slam his fist against a button on the wall. “Code Alpha- Emergency in the Operation Room. I repeat- Code Alpha- Emergency in the Operation Room. All personnel report to designated stations.”
Kirk manhandled him all the way back to his bunk, where he shut and dead-bolted the door. Tossing Leonard into the room, Kirk flipped the cot and created a makeshift barrier that he crouched behind, gun trained on the door. Leonard dropped to his knees beside him. You can leave the war, but the war never leaves you.
And then they waited. Breathless seconds, minutes- While the base around them launched into battle procedure.
“Was that thing in the ship with the greys?” Leonard asked in a psuedo-whisper.
“Yeah. It can't communicate and hasn't been responding to any stimuli before today,” Kirk said. “I wonder what happened that it moved...”
“It's huge,” Leonard said. “It's much bigger than the greys.”
“It was found in what we assume is the cockpit,” Kirk said. “The greys were in capsule-like containers with no inner controls.”
“A transport device?” Leonard guessed.
“That's what we were thinking. But since Tall, Dark, and Ugly hasn't been exactly helpful, we haven't gotten anywhere,” Kirk said.
Something slammed against the door and both of them jumped. Leonard crouched over the edge, the pistol in his hands feeling too small suddenly. Kirk stared at the door unflinchingly, his finger massaging the trigger of his weapon.
“Jim-boy! Boyce told me to come get you. Alpha alert has been cleared-”
The overhead cued with a sharp ping. “Attention personnel. Alpha alert has been cleared. Repeat. Alpha alert has been cleared. Please return to your scheduled tasks.”
Kirk closed his eyes and sighed. They both unloaded their weapons and tucked them away before righting the cot. Kirk opened the door for Scotty while Leonard shoved the mattress back into place.
“Like this place, eh?” Scotty asked, grinning in delight. “Tis' exciting!”
Kirk pinched the bridge of his nose and Leonard sympathised. “Scotty, where is Boyce?”
“Operation room, right where you left him,” Scotty said.
“Is it dead?” Leonard asked.
“No. We've contained it. It went after Cupcake and he was having nothing of it. Took it down with a folding chair, he did. Never seen anythin' like it,” Scotty said.
Boyce met them outside one of the medical tents in the Operation room. He had a new scratch on his arm, but looked no worse for the wear. “Good work, Kirk.”
Kirk saluted Boyce smartly and stood slightly behind Leonard at attention.
“What happened?” Leonard asked.
“One of the men got too close to it and apparently, today it decided it did not like that. It lashed out and the man fired at it. It didn't like that even more, and lost it. The tent was destroyed, as was most of the machinery around it. We have it contained in an empty storage room now, until we can finish a holding cell.” Boyce picked at the shreds of his sleeve. “I have some men working on rearranging the basement of this building into a cage for this thing. It should be done soon.”
“Can I see the records of what your men have already done to the body?” Leonard asked. “The more information I have, the better conclusion I will be able to draw.”
“I'll have Kirk bring the reports to your room.” Boyce waved at Kirk, who saluted and turned on his heel. “Do you want to take another look?”
“Very much so,” Leonard said. Boyce waved at the tent.
Leonard reentered the tent and put on Boyce's discarded apron. A box of plastic gloves sat on one of the small tables and he tugged two out to wear.
A set of sterile tools sat on a tray beside the dissection table. Leonard fixed his mask in place and picked up a scalpel. He started his work.
Without previous analysis of what had been done, Leonard couldn't get far. He performed a cursory check of muscle tissue connectivity, and found it eerily similar to the structure of human tendons. The musculature felt almost identical to human muscle, if a bit more sturdy and stiff.
When he finished his initial prodding, he washed up and returned to his bunk. A glance at the clock told him it was well past dinner time, and the mess was likely closed. As he closed the door to his room, however, he noticed a covered plate on his desk sitting on top of several manila folders.
Leonard shrugged and sat down on the bed to eat as he went over the reports. He was three reports in when he passed out, exhausted.
He was dragged from sleep some time later, by a hand at his shoulder.
“Hey. Bones. Wake up. It's a dream.” Kirk's voice drifted to him through the haze of his dream.
He gasped, terror sliding through him briefly before he could register the words. Kirk's hand tightened at his shoulder. He shook Leonard slightly. “ 's okay,” Leonard said, his voice hoarse. “ 'm up. I'm up.”
“You were yelling,” Kirk said. As if that explained why he was in Leonard's room. “Are you all right?”
“Nightmare,” Leonard said. He wiped a hand over his face and it came away wet. He was shaking and sweating. Great.
“I heard you all the way across the hall,” Kirk said. “Do you want to-”
“No,” Leonard said. “Not really.”
Kirk sat quietly, saying nothing as Leonard panted and tried to get a hold of himself. After a few minutes, Leonard asked, “Did you leave dinner?”
“Yeah. I figured you'd get too caught up in the body. My mom was a scientist, too. She always forgot to eat.” Kirk ran a hand through his sleep-tousled hair, and Leonard realised belatedly that Kirk was in a thin nightshirt and sleep trousers. “You okay? Or do you want me to grab a nurse for some sedatives?”
“Were you sleeping?” Leonard asked.
“Yeah, actually. I'm a really light sleeper, don't worry,” Kirk said. “I wake up if someone drops their hat.”
Leonard finally felt his muscles unclench, and he sank into the cot as if he was melting. “Thanks for waking me.”
“Don't worry about it,” Kirk said. He patted Leonard's thigh lightly. “Get some rest. Big day tomorrow.”
“What happens tomorrow?” Leonard asked. He spread his hand in the warmth Kirk left on his cot.
“You get to meet your team.” Kirk grinned, barely visible in the darkness.
Leonard stumbled his way through mess the next morning, until Kirk put two mugs of coffee in front of him. He gripped them like his life depended on it, and by the dredges of the second cup he felt vaguely human again. Jet lag and a sleepless night did not make a positive impact on his mood.
The caffeine high crashed as soon as he got a look at his team.
“You're a woman,” he said. The blonde in front of him nodded. The four men behind her were staring at the ground as if it held the secrets of the universe.
“Astutely noted, sir,” she said in a crisp voice. “What gave it away? The breasts or the hair?”
Leonard took a shocked step back. He squared his shoulders. “I am your commanding officer-”
“Are you, sir?” she cut in. “I'm sorry. I thought you were going to tell me to go darn your socks.”
Leonard glared at her, and she met him with an even gaze. “What's your name?”
“Scrub down,” Leonard said. She saluted him brusquely and entered the medical tent. Leonard cocked his head at Kirk, who was barely containing his laughter. “Do you know her?”
“I do. She's brilliant, by the way, if you let her do her job.” Kirk nodded at the tent flap. “She was basically the head doctor at her hospital during the war. They lost most of their top medical staff to the draft, and she kept the building from going under. Just listen to her. Treat her as a partner. She knows what she's doing.”
“I'm beginning to really dislike you,” Leonard said.
“I know. Now go play with some entrails.” Kirk clapped him on the shoulder with a grin, showing nothing of the interrupted night he suffered.
Leonard shook him off with a scowl, and brushed through the tent flaps. Chapel was ready for him, holding his gloves and apron. Without a word he donned the apron, washed, and let her assist sliding the gloves over his hands. She moved the light over his shoulder, directly positioning to minimize his shadows and stood at the ready with the surgical tools.
“I'm sorry,” Leonard said after a moment of tense silence. “I shouldn't have judged you before I saw your work.”
“No offence taken, sir. I just want to do my job,” Chapel said.
“I will reprimand you if I find you unprofessional in any way,” Leonard warned.
“I would expect nothing less, sir,” Chapel said. She held up a scalpel. “Shall we?”
Leonard dictated his process to one of the boys in the corner of the tent and the kid wrote everything down in a lined journal. With Chapel's help, he carved away a bit of the flesh covering the skull. A small bone saw gave them access inside the cranial cavity, and Leonard's eyes went wide.
The creature's brain was massive. At least two times the size of the typical male human's, and what had to be yards of connecting blood vessels.
“This doesn't make sense,” Leonard said. Chapel eyed him, lifting an eyebrow. “Look at this circulatory network compared to the size of its chest. There's no way a body that size could support a brain this large without catastrophic failure.”
“Perhaps in an oxygen-rich environment?” Chapel suggested.
Leonard shook his head. “The lung capacity literally is not physically large enough to support this creature's brain. It would have to hyperventilate constantly. And look at its neck.”
“The neck doesn't seem to support a theory of bipedal motion,” Chapel said. “With so little support from the spinal column, the skull would collapse onto the shoulders. Unless...”
“Unless?” Leonard encouraged.
“Unless it came from a lower gravity environment,” Chapel finished. She didn't meet his eyes.
“You mean... The ocean?”
“No, sir, I mean another planet,” Chapel said. A stiff silence followed her words.
“Come again, Nurse?”
“Another planet. Sir, the ship-” She drew her shoulders back and lifted her chin. “The ship is nothing we've ever seen before. It is composed of a metal that does not match any record we've been able to find. It landed in the field in a fireball that fell from the sky. We cannot exclude the possibility that it is not of this planet.”
“What, it came from the moon?” Leonard asked, unable to keep the sarcasm from his voice.
“I didn't say that, sir. I just said- not of this planet.” Chapel handed him a scalpel.
It took them almost a full hour to remove the brain from the skull cavity. The nerve clusters around the base of the organ were so intricately put together that Leonard had to use tweezers at some points to untangle them. He clipped them and, with Chapel's help, lifted the brain and set it to the side of the body on the operating table.
The entire team stared at it.
“It's huge,” one of the men said.
“Thank you, Jenkins. I hadn't thought to use that descriptor,” Leonard said. He ran his hands over the nodes and whorls in the surface. “All these neural connections... I wonder how smart these beings are.”
“Smart enough to fly a ship between planets,” Chapel said.
“Not smart enough to stop a crash,” Jenkins retorted.
“Smart enough to beat out evolution,” Leonard said. He slowly rotated the brain. Looking up, he waved another of his team over. “Put this in the formalin.”
Chapel mopped out the inside of the cranium and bagged the samples. Cleaned, the structure was, again, very similar to a human's. Leonard saw definite ridge patterns where the skull bones had fused together in early maturation. No signs of tension or scraping along the lines, meaning the creatures hadn't forced their skulls into that shape. It was natural. Leonard took the flashlight from Chapel and illuminated each line for signs of trauma that could have led to death. Nothing.
“Perhaps it couldn't survive in our atmosphere,” Chapel suggested.
“Until someone with a degree in the field tells me, I'm assuming this creature follows our rules of physics,” Leonard said. “There are too many variables as is. Don't need to go throwing an entirely new ecosystem into the mix.”
“If you just look at the schematics-”
“Have you?” Leonard snapped at her.
“Yes, matter of fact, I have,” she said. “It's good to know everything you can about an unknown situation. It cuts down on the variables.”
Leonard stared at the skull cavity stubbornly. She had a point, god damn it. But hell if he knew the first thing about anything that wasn't a horse. Kirk's words echoed in his head. He sighed and straightened. “Do you think you could take some time and walk me through what they've found about the ship?”
Her eyes narrowed over her surgical mask. “Why?”
“Because you're right,” Leonard said. “In this situation, it is best if we know as many facts as possible about the creatures.”
Leonard couldn't see it, but he had a hunch she was smiling.
“You have to rest some time,” Kirk said. He shoved his salad across the table at Leonard. “You were in there for six hours. You didn't even piss, dude.”
“You're not going to eat that?” Leonard pointed at the salad. Kirk shook his head and laughed when Leonard dove into it. He hadn't realised how much time had passed until Kirk dragged him bodily from the tent into the mess. And then he realised how hungry he was. “It's fascinating. I've never seen anything like it. If I weren't a reasonable man, I would say it was human, but from the future somehow. Its characteristics are incredibly similar to ours in almost every way. Jenkins is running blood tests, looking for oxygen content and hemoglobin counts, and Chapel is going to see if she can strong-arm some of the mechanics into teaching her about the ship that crashed- What?”
Kirk smiled. “Nothing. Your eyes change colour when you get excited. It's cute.”
Leonard snorted and almost choked on his lettuce and almonds. “Pardon?”
“Nothing.” Kirk waved away his question. “I'm taking you out after lunch. You need some fresh air.”
“They brought me here to do a job, and I would like to do it,” Leonard said. “Seeing as they're paying me.”
“It's not going anywhere,” Kirk said. “And your team needs a chance to run their tests, right? Just a bit, I promise. I'll have you back before evening mess.”
“Fine. Fine.” He had been here for all of two days and the kid was already walking all over him. “Wait. What did I agree to? I'm not getting in your plane.”
“No, something just as great, though.” Kirk grinned.
'Just as great' turned out to be Kirk's Triumph.
“Oh, hell no.” Leonard stepped back from the two-wheeled vehicle of death.
Kirk straddled the bike, helmet in hand. He held out the helmet towards Leonard, pouting like a kicked-puppy. Leonard held out for about ten seconds before stalking forward to snatch the helmet from Kirk. He jammed it on his head and swung a leg over the saddle. Kirk laughed, probably at him, and kicked the engine over.
The first jerk forward made Leonard grab Kirk's shoulders awkwardly. “Jesus!”
“Hang on, Bones,” Kirk called over his shoulder.
Leonard scrambled for a hold and settled on squeezing Kirk around the ribs. Kirk laughed again, the wind whipping the sound right out of him as they picked up speed.
“If we wreck, I'll kill you.” Leonard had to shout to be heard.
“We're not gonna wreck, Bones,” Kirk called back to him. “I won't let you get hurt. Promise!”
Kirk yelled into the wind, and Leonard gripped him tight as they careened down a straight-away. The wind rushing past his ears slowed some time later, and Leonard opened his eyes to Kirk pulling off the highway. He parked the bike in the shade of a rocky outcropping, and swung himself off. Leonard stumbled off with much less finesse, and handed Kirk his helmet.
“Where are we?” Leonard asked.
Kirk touched a finger to his lips with a sly smile. He dropped the helmet on the bike seat and approached the boulder. Leonard stared at him as he started to climb.
“You've got to be kidding me,” Leonard said. “Damn it, man. I'm a doctor, not a rock climber. You can't expect me to follow you up there.”
“Come on, Bones. It's easy.” Kirk called over his shoulder. “There are hand holds everywhere. And this is bouldering, not rock climbing.”
“Oh. Excuse me. Sorry.” Leonard bent and tightened the laces of his boots before approaching the rocks. He inserted a foot into a small crevice and started to climb.
When the rock started to level off, Kirk grabbed his hand and tugged him the rest of the way. They stood on the small boulder, hands shading their eyes, and took in the land.
“Do you hear that?” Kirk asked.
Leonard strained his ears. The silence was so complete that his brain supplied white noise interference so that he didn't lose his sanity. There was nothing. No birds, no critters, no cars. None of the intense background noise of the city, or the constant buzz of insects in the fields. The desert was empty. Quiet.
“Nothing.” Leonard exhaled, astounded.
“Amazing, isn't it?” Kirk asked. He put his hands on his hips. “Even in the fields it wasn't this quiet.”
“Kansas?” Leonard guessed.
“Iowa, actually,” Kirk corrected. “Corn. Everywhere. But there was always something making noise. The locusts, or dogs, or the cows. Here it's just... It's enough to make you want to scream.”
“I was going to suggest meditation,” Leonard said. Kirk chuckled. “It does make you feel real damn small.”
“We're so insignificant in the grand scheme of things,” Kirk said. His voice lowered, sobering. “Look at how big this all is. And it's been here forever. Humanity can't compete with that. And we fight and kill, as if we actually mean something to this giant piece of rock.”
“We fight and kill, but we build and heal too, Jim,” Leonard said quietly. Kirk turned to him, his eyes huge and the colour of the sky. “We fight for greed, but we also fight for love. Don't let the bad apples taint the barrel, Jim. We aren't insignificant. Not by a long shot. You aren't insignificant. You exist. Out of thousands of possible combinations, you are what came out of it, and I think that's pretty damn majestic. This giant piece of rock is impressive. Even with us on it.”
Jim turned his head, the light slanting against his eyes and casting delicate shadows over his cheeks. He bit off a laugh, and put his hand on Leonard's arm. “Okay. It's time to go back.”
The ride back was quiet, but more comfortable. Leonard relaxed into Jim's back as the scenery flew by. Even though they hadn't actually meditated out there, Leonard felt settled in a way he hadn't felt in years. He felt a twinge of disappointment when Jim pulled back into the base.
“Are you okay?” Jim asked when he caught a look at Leonard's face.
“Yeah. I'm good. Just wish we could stay out longer,” Leonard said.
“I know another place,” Jim said. He stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Just east of here. We can go this weekend. If you want.”
“That would be fun,” Leonard said. Jim smiled wide and Leonard's heart definitely did not skip a beat. He returned the loose grin.
Chapel handed him a thick packet of papers when he returned to the Operating room. “I got this off the Scotsman. He helpfully highlighted most of the important bits and you owe me very big for approaching him because that man can talk.”
Leonard smirked and took the packet from her hands. “Thank you, Nurse. Any results from the tests?”
Chapel flipped her clipboard open. “Spectrometry results were somewhat unexpected. The creature's base elements appear to be carbon, just like ours. Blood tests did return a higher concentration of oxygen, as you theorised, and a complete absence of white blood cells. The blood separated into a viscous fluid that resembles plasma but was composed of something completely foreign to any medical text I've ever seen.”
“Set Jenkins up with monitoring the properties of the plasma. I want to know what it's made of,” Leonard said. “Did we ever find out what happened to its leg?”
Chapel scowled and snort in disgust. “One of the Army doctors decided an amputation would afford the most comprehensive look at the inner structure of its muscular and circulatory system. It's in a fridge in the Infirmary.”
Leonard pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Does anyone around here know how to properly handle a corpse?”
“I do, sir.” A warm baritone answered.
Leonard lifted his eyes. A broad-shouldered Negro man entered the room, wearing a white lab coat.
“Hello. I assume you are Doctor Leonard McCoy,” the man said. The barest trace of an accent spiced his words. “I am Geoff M'Benga. I pulled the bodies from the wreckage.”
Leonard narrowed his eyes. “The same M'Benga that wrote the article that talked about compound fractures indicating the direction of per-pubescent marrow growth?”
“The same,” M'Benga said. He smiled and held out his hand.
“You are...” Leonard cut himself off and shook M'Benga's hand. M'Benga's grip was firm and sure. Not what I expected.
“Negro? Yes. Would you like to see the living one?” M'Benga waved towards the second tent in the Operation room. He led Leonard and Chapel to the second tent and held back the flaps for them to enter.
This creature looked remarkably similar to the one Leonard was working on. It rested in a long cylinder, the padding at its back glowing gently. Leonard stepped closer to it. The cylinder looked to be made of silver, or steel. A metal that shone in the harsh lighting. He touched it, and his hand came in contact with some sort of glass.
“As far as we can tell, it is under some sort of stasis,” M'Benga said. He moved beside Leonard. “All methods of detecting life have determined that it is still alive in there. I've seen its chest moving, and minuscule muscle twitches, but we haven't been able to crack the capsule.”
“You said you pulled them out of the wreckage?” Leonard asked.
“Yes. The grey one was already dead at the time, but the large black one... Was very much alive.” M'Benga nodded towards one of the tent walls. “I helped sedate it when it started to destroy things. I think I finally managed to get the correct dosage.”
“What do you think they are?” Leonard asked. He folded his arms over his chest and waited patiently.
M'Benga was hesitant with his answer. “They do not display characteristics of any known creature on Earth. There are metallic isotopes in the wreckage that cannot be accounted for on our periodic table. I don't like to assume something so outlandish, but it appears these beings originated somewhere not of this world.”
“You both can't honestly think it's an alien.”
“Sometimes the most obvious choice is the correct one,” M'Benga said. “We can't fit it into our current knowledge of biology and physics. Unless we're missing something vital, they can't have originated on Earth. We don't have the environment for them.”
“You expect me to approach my superior officers and tell them that these creatures came from outer space? Where? The moon?”
“The universe is infinite,” M'Benga said. “It could be anywhere. Solar system or further. We have no way of knowing. We just don't have the scientific knowledge. They are far more advanced than us. Have you seen the large one?”
“Only when it tried to take my head off,” Leonard said. He stuck his hands into his pockets. “Did they finish the holding cell?”
M'Benga nodded. “The basement has been retrofit as a cage, to keep the creature under control. We've been attempting to determine what it eats and excrements, but so far we've had no luck. It won't let us get close.”
“Let me take a look,” Leonard said. M'Benga nodded.
Leonard followed M'Benga and Jim through the rest of the Operation room and down a flight of stairs. A blast door at the bottom of the stairs opened into a concrete-encased room, cool because of the earth surrounding it. Their footsteps echoed in against barren walls, and M'Benga stopped in front of a row of iron bars. He gestured to the bars, pressing his lips into a fine line.
Leonard stepped beside him and looked into the cage. The creature sat on the concrete of its cell, bipedal legs folded under it. Its hands splayed out on the ground beside its thighs, and its back hunched.
“Why is it so different than the other two?” Leonard asked. The face held no features, covered by what looked to be a mask of some sort. Light glinted off its surface.
“Maybe it's a different species.” M'Benga shrugged. “We have millions of different species on our planet. There's a chance that their... planet could have developed two sentient life forms. Or they could be different genus of the same species.”
Leonard took a step closer. He itched to get a better look at it, to see how it moved and functioned. And if it could communicate. He took another step.
The creature moved, too quick for Leonard's eye to track, and something shoved him hard in the sternum. Leonard's breath punched out of him, and he realised it was Jim's elbow, pushing him back a half step. Jim's arm was up, blocking one of the creature's claws from slashing Leonard's face.
Jim threw his arm down, letting the creature's claw slide down his arm as he stepped back and nudged Leonard further away.
“Watch the reach,” Jim said. He pressed a firm hand against Leonard's chest and pressed him back even more.
Leonard let himself be moved, and watched as the creature returned to his prone, meditation state in the center of the cell floor.
Leonard and Jim turned to see a man standing further along the hall. He possessed a dark complexion, fine, high cheekbones, and rich, dark hair.
“Mr Singh, I didn't expect to see you down here,” M'Benga said.
The man turned to face them, his hands clasped behind his back. He moved towards them, broad shoulders moving smoothly under his uniform. He smiled at them and extended a hand. “Doctor M'Benga. Have you made any progress in how our guests are being treated?”
“None.” M'Benga took Singh's hand with a firm pump. “They've classified this one as a threat. And after the way he destroyed the tents, I'm inclined to agree with them. Gentlemen, this is Khan Singh. He's been helping me monitor the creatures' living conditions and treatment.”
Singh shook Leonard's hand, his lips quirking up. “You are a medical doctor, no?”
“Yes. They called me in to look at the creatures. I have a background in animal sciences and mortuary technique. I also served.” Leonard straightened his shoulders. “McCoy, Leonard McCoy.”
“I too, served,” Singh said. “Not on the front lines, but in a different way.”
“We all did our part,” Leonard said. “Front lines or not, we worked together.”
“That is true,” Singh said. He gestured to the creature, now silent. “It is built for combat. Do you think this is why the Army is so interested?”
“It does display evolutionary inclinations towards predatory status,” M'Benga said. “But that is hardly grounds for declaring it built for combat. One could argue humanity is predisposed to violence by the size of their brain, but-”
“But they are, Doctor,” Singh said. “Have you not seen the destruction humans cause? I know you have, Doctor.”
Leonard stared at him, confused. “I don't follow.”
“You've seen first hand the destruction of men,” Singh said. “They care not for women or children. Only about power. You favour your right leg and you were in the service. An injury, perhaps? Your dialect is very rich in Southern American English. I would guess Georgia. You served on the European front, yes? Surely you understand what came to pass in Ardennes.”
“Anyone with access to my files could tell that,” Leonard said. He took another step back and nudged into Jim's shoulder. Jim stood firm, a solid presence at his back.
“Then you've seen first hand the horrors that men inflict on one another,” Singh said.
“Do you have a point?” Jim cut in.
“Merely pointing out the hazards of assuming creatures are not specifically attuned to violence,” Singh said. “But, you are correct. There is work to be done. I will take my leave.”
He gave a curt bow and made his way upstairs.
“What does he do here?” Leonard asked.
“He was here before the creatures,” Jim said. “I think he works at the base. He was here before I got here.”
“As far as I know, he is stationed here,” M'Benga said.
“There's something off with that guy,” Jim said. He cast his eyes to the door Singh had exited. “I don't think I've ever seen him sleep. Or eat. Nobody knows what he does around here. Ever since the creatures were brought in, he's been hanging around the Operation room. I don't think he has medical training.”
Leonard stared at the creature. It wasn't moving, its shoulders barely lifting with breath. “Do you think he knows what they are?”
“No,” Jim said. “But I think he knows more than he lets on. And there have been strange messages coming into the base, and going out that nobody will acknowledge.”
“I'm sure if someone else were able to pick up these messages, your superiors would be willing to believe you,” M'Benga said. He held no mockery in his tone, just statement of fact.
Jim said nothing, and ignored Leonard when he tried to catch his eyes.
“Doctor, if I can be of any assistance, please let me know,” M'Benga said. “I'm afraid I must take my leave. The Generals requested an update.”
“I will, thanks.” Leonard watched him go, and turned to Jim.
“Are you hungry?” Jim asked before he could get a word out.
“Uh. Yes, actually,” Leonard said. “It's about dinner time, I reckon.”
Jim nodded tightly and led the way to the mess. Leonard followed the tight line of his shoulders through the base, unable to figure out how to ease the sudden tension between them. They were in line for food when Leonard finally said, “What messages?”
Jim stiffened, and refused to meet Leonard's eyes. “Sometimes in the early morning, I catch nonsense messages going out over the radio frequencies.”
“How early? Six? Seven?” Leonard asked.
“Three.” Jim picked up his tray, laden with food, and stepped out of line towards the bench-tables.
“Three?” Leonard gaped after him. He grabbed up his own tray and weaved through the scattered groups of people to catch up with Jim. “In the morning? What the hell are you doing up at three?”
Jim glared at him. “Sometimes I can't sleep. When I can't sleep, I have to keep busy. Otherwise I'll go insane.”
They sat, and Leonard watched Jim stuff a forkful of salad into his mouth. “I can help with that, you know.”
“With what?” Jim asked.
“Your sleeping.” Leonard leaned over the table and lowered his voice. “I'm a doctor, Jim. It's what I do. I can help you. I seen guys who couldn't sleep before. It might take a bit of fiddling, but I can help you.”
Jim waved him away. “It's fine. I've been dealing with it. You have bigger things to worry about.”
Leonard shoved his water glass at Jim when he coughed, and Jim took a swig from it gratefully. “Fine. It's your stubborn ass. Just think about it.”
“I will. Thanks.” Jim made a face. “Does this dressing taste funny to you?”
“It tastes different than the one yesterday,” Leonard said. “I can't really... Why?”
Jim gripped the edge of the table, a flush blooming high in his cheeks. He panted harshly and shoved the tray away from him in a sharp motion that had Leonard on his feet.
“Jim? Damn it Jim, what is it?”
“I-I think-” Jim managed. He gasped, tipping in his chair.
Leonard went over the table, sending dishes and food skittering. He grabbed Jim around the shoulders and eased him against his chest. This close, he could feel Jim shake against him, and see the too-fast flutter of his heart thrumming at the pulse point in his throat.
“Doctor! What happened?” Uhura was over his shoulder, filling his line of vision.
“What was in the salad?” Leonard asked. He dragged Jim off the chair and kicked a few others away to clear a space on the floor.
“It was-” Uhura talked to him while he lay Jim flat on the concrete floor. “Just lettuce, cheese, carrots. Um, vinegar and peanut oil-”
“Get me 30ccs of epinephrine,” Leonard said. Jim's hand fumbled for his. Through a gap in the crowd gathering around them, Leonard caught sight of Singh staring at them, unmoving. “If you don't have that, get me adrenaline- I need a thick needle.” Nobody moved. “Today!”
Jim latched onto his sleeve, twisting the fabric painfully against his skin. Leonard stripped out of his jacket, tugging it from Jim's fingers, and folded it. Lifting Jim's head gently, he tucked the rolled jacket under Jim's neck. Jim's eyes were wide, panicky and fixed on him. Leonard pressed his hand to Jim's forehead to keep his chin elevated. “Calm down, kid. I gotcha. Keep breathing for me.”
'Breathing' was a loose term. Jim dragged in weak, whistling breaths through his closing windpipe, and Leonard gripped his hand tight to his chest. He squeezed Jim's hand fiercely, steeling his lurching heart against Jim choking on his breath. “Hush now. I gotcha. Calm down. Just breathe for me. Thatta boy. Just-”
Someone shoved a needle at him, and he grabbed it. He checked the dosage in one swift motion and jammed the business end into the meat of Jim’s thigh. Ignoring the soft gasps around him, and Jim’s desperate whine, Leonard plunged contents of the needle into Jim’s muscle.
Jim shuddered against him, and Leonard soothed him, running the back of his knuckles over Jim’s flushed cheeks. Uhura crouched in front of them, wide eyes on Jim.
“Anaphylaxis,” Leonard said to her questioning eyes. “Severe allergic reaction. I’ve only seen it a few times, but almost every time was a result of a peanut allergy. It causes the throat to swell, constricting airflow to the lungs.”
Uhura’s eyes flashed and she stood, taking sharp strides towards the kitchens where everyone was trying to get a look at what was happening. Leonard didn’t have time to yell at them. He picked one of the sturdiest men he could see in the crowd gathered around them.
“You.” He pointed. “Help me with him.”
The man jumped forward at the order, and with his help, Leonard heaved Jim onto his feet. Jim was conscious enough to understand what was happening, and he trudged along with them as best he could. They stumbled through the base until they reached the Infirmary, where Leonard dropped Jim onto an empty bed.
“Thanks,” Leonard said as the man turned to go.
“Is he going to be all right?”
“Yeah. He’ll be fine once it’s out of his system,” Leonard said. He bent over the bed, arranging Jim’s limbs into a more comfortable position.
Leonard glanced up to see Chapel enter the room, tying an apron around her waist. She patted the man on the arm with a smile, and he smiled back cautiously. He left the room as Chapel touched the back of her hand to Jim’s forehead and cheeks.
“Are we keeping him overnight?” Chapel asked.
“No. He’ll be fine in a few hours. Just monitor him for now,” Leonard said. He rubbed a hand over his face. He tugged over a chair to sit, but hadn’t made it before Uhura entered the Infirmary. She eyed him and moved straight for him.
“Do you have an office here?” she asked.
Leonard nodded and escorted her into a small alcove off of the main room. Uhura shut the door behind them and spun.
“I don’t think that was an accident,” she said.
“The kitchen staff didn’t have peanut oil in the salad dressing,” Uhura said. “The recipe they use doesn’t use any sort of nut. For peanut oil to have gotten into the salad dressing tonight… There are too many coincidences around Jim Kirk, and I don’t think this was an accident.”
“This has happened before?” Leonard asked.
“Not to this extreme, but files have gone missing, important files, that Kirk was looking into. He gave me a recording of an encoded radio message that I haven’t been able to crack yet…” Uhura waved her hand helplessly. “I think there’s something going on here that we don’t know about, and Kirk won’t stop looking into it. Someone doesn’t want him to find out.”
“That’s a lot to assume,” Leonard said carefully. “Without evidence.”
“Whoever is running the operation is too clever to leave evidence.” Uhura frowned, her arms tight across her chest. “Kirk is getting close to something, and someone doesn’t want him to uncover it. Someone willing to kill him for it.”
Leonard cast his eyes at the door, behind which Jim lay helpless. “How sure are you?”
Uhura closed her eyes. She drew in a deep breath and said, “Kirk’s the only one who will even look at me like I’m a partner, an equal. I’d risk my career for him.” She opened her eyes and nailed Leonard with a fierce look. “I’m sure of it.”
“Because, if I report this as attempted murder, the entire base goes into lock-down.” Leonard pushed a hand through his hair. “And I can’t do it without evidence. That’s a serious charge.”
“We have to protect him,” Uhura said. Her voice pitched desperately. “You don’t understand-”
“I think I do,” Leonard said quietly. He steadily held Uhura’s eyes until she bit her lower lip and nodded.
“Just…” She took a moment to compose herself. “Keep an eye on him, Leonard.”
Leonard closed the distance between them and rested a hand on her arm. She gave him a tight smile and nodded. She left his office, and Leonard followed her into the main room of the Infirmary. Leaving him with Jim, she walked out.
He kicked the chair into its final position by Jim’s bed and sank into it, dropping his head into his hand. Massaging his temples, he sighed. A warm hand came down on his thigh.
Leonard lowered his hand and saw Jim at the edge of the cot. His arm was stretched across the space between them. Leonard covered Jim’s hand with his own, uncaring that Chapel was at the foot of the bed. “How do you feel?”
“Like someone hit me with a tank,” Jim said. His voice was still rough. His fingers squeezed Leonard’s leg. “You saved me.”
“ ‘course I did,” Leonard said. “ ‘s what I do, kid.”
Jim smiled, the expression wan on his pale face. “Thanks.”
Leonard pressed a hand to Jim’s hair, Uhura’s words rolling in his mind. “ ‘s what I do, kid. I’ll keep you safe. Rest now.”
Chapel’s eyes were on him the entire time but she said nothing, and Leonard was grateful for that. He didn’t like the way his chest went tight at the image of Jim unconscious in the hospital bed, and he didn’t want to press the issue. That path led to pain. He knew this intimately.
She moved around the room, organising bottles and supplies to her liking, and Leonard kept half his attention on her actions. Jim had been right about her. She knew what she was doing, and he was willing to let her take charge of the Infirmary supplies.
He didn’t know how long he sat there, but Chapel came over to him and gently touched his shoulder. “Sir? I think it’s safe to release him now. His vitals have been stable for almost an hour now.”
Leonard shook himself and nodded. He pushed himself to his feet and stretched, feeling the crawling urge to undo all his sitting. Jim was sitting up on the cot watching him. “All right?”
“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” Leonard extended a hand to Jim. Jim took it and let himself be levered to his feet.
“I’m fine. Thanks to you.” Jim stared at him.
“Jim.” Leonard lowered his voice. “Is there anyone you know that would purposefully want to see you harmed?”
“Half the regulars at the local dive?” Jim laughed. His hand tightened around Leonard’s. “Can we get out of here? I hate hospitals.”
Leonard opened his mouth to protest, but the hard look in Jim’s eye stopped him. He nodded, and let Jim lead him back to his own quarters. Jim closed the door behind them and flicked the lock. Heaving a deep breath, he turned to Leonard.
“How much did Uhura tell you?” Jim asked.
“Just that you gave her a message to decode, and she hasn’t gotten anywhere in it. She’s worried for you, Jim.” Leonard tilted his head. “What the Sam hell is going on here?”
Jim pressed his lips together. “I think there’s another section of this base, one that nobody knows about. And I think Singh is involved with it somehow.”
“Why would a secret base have another secret section?” Leonard asked.
“Why would the government have secrets at all?” Jim asked, spreading his hands wide. “For the purpose of ‘protecting’ us. The weapons deterrent. I don’t know why there would be another section here, but the bits we’ve decoded wouldn’t make sense otherwise.”
“And someone is willing to harm you for that much?” Leonard asked.
“There are a lot of secrets worth killing for, you should know that.” Jim sank onto Leonard’s bed, shoulders slumped. “I didn’t think I’d have to be on my guard here, though.”
Leonard leaned against the wall and folded his arms over his chest. “I can make a report.”
“No,” Jim said instantly. His head snapped up. “No reports. This does not get out of this room. I don’t know how high this goes on the chain of command, and if they want to keep it secret…”
“The Army can make people disappear,” Leonard said quietly. He rubbed his temple and sighed. “Damn it, Jim.”
“I don’t want you involved,” Jim said. “It’s too dangerous.”
Leonard snorted. “You’re kidding, right?”
The look on Jim’s face was anything but humourous. “I mean it.”
“You realise we were in a war, right?” Leonard said. He straightened and took a step closer to Jim. “Where we faced certain death every day? Hell, I looked Death in the eyes. Routinely.”
“You’re on American soil, you shouldn’t have to worry about this,” Jim said like the stubborn ass he was. “I already made Uhura more of a target than she already is-”
Leonard crouched, getting in Jim’s face so swiftly he jerked back. “I promised Uhura that I would protect you. If someone is after you, I want to help you. I’m aware of how dangerous it could be. I wouldn’t have joined the Army if I was interested in living long.”
“Shut up, Jim. I’m trying to explain this to you.” Leonard cut him off. “You don’t get to decide what is too dangerous for me. I didn’t get laid out in Ardennes to come home and have you order me around.”
Jim narrowed his eyes. “You were-”
“I almost died at Ardennes,” Leonard said. He swallowed hard against fear rising in his throat. “I can decide for myself what is worth the danger. I know it well.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Jim said, his voice soft. “I’m sorry. I just don’t want you hurt.”
“You’ll hurt me more by sidelining me,” Leonard said. “I want you here tonight.”
Jim’s eyes went wide, and he opened his mouth but Leonard got there first.
“We stay together, and we stay sharp. You can sleep on the floor,” Leonard said. “Drag your mattress in here and don’t argue with me.”
Jim smiled, a brief, fragile thing, but it lit up the room. “Sure thing, Bones.”
Forced habits died hard, and Leonard dropped off even with the sound of Jim breathing off the edge of his bed. Soft noises of distress dragged him from slumber, though, and he rolled onto his stomach to slap at Jim. He got a fistful of blankets and pawed at them, until Jim came awake with a gasp.
Jim lay on the floor, panting, and groaned. “Thanks.”
Leonard mumbled acknowledgement and went right back to sleep. His dreams were blissfully free of terror, and when he woke in the morning, he was surprisingly refreshed. He rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. He hadn’t slept that well in months.
Pushing up from his pillow, he glanced down at Jim. The kid had kicked all his blankets off in the night, and curled as small as he could on the floor around his pillow. As if clutching it could protect him from the nightmares. Leonard understood the instinct to his core.
He stood carefully and rearranged Jim’s sheets, covering him again. Once Jim was sufficiently tucked in, Leonard tugged his duffel from under the bed and stripped efficiently.
Jim shifted and grunted, and he squinted up at Leonard. Leonard caught his movement and nodded at him. “Oh good, you’re awake. How do you feel?”
“Pretty great, actually,” Jim said. He sat up and scrubbed a hand through his hair. He yawned hugely. “I think… I actually slept.”
“Hopefully,” Leonard said.
“No. I don’t- I don’t sleep,” Jim said. His hand fumbled in the air, searching to describe what he couldn’t verbalise. “Not in any meaningful way.”
“I slept pretty well too,” Leonard said. “Maybe we just had too much excitement yesterday.”
“Maybe,” Jim said. He didn’t sound convinced, and Leonard didn’t want to think too much about it.
He tugged his britches up and snapped the fly. “Do I get more lab time today? I’d like to work on the body more.”
“That can be arranged,” Jim said. He climbed out of the nest of blankets Leonard had arranged and straightened his sleep shirt. “Coffee first.”
Leonard cast a glance at Jim’s shadow on the tent flap.
“He’s still there, Doctor,” Chapel said. Leonard scowled. As if she hadn’t caught him looking every few minutes. “I don’t think he’s going anywhere, considering he’s assigned to you.”
“Yes, well. You never know when he’s going to take off on that death trap of his,” Leonard said.
“Surely not while he’s on duty,” Chapel pointed out with a smile. She held out a clipboard for Leonard. He took it from her with more force than strictly necessary, and she just kept smirking.
“Watch yourself, nurse, or you’ll be on entrail duty,” Leonard threatened.
“Ooh, I shiver in apprehension,” Chapel said as she walked away. Leonard scowled, but didn’t get a chance to retort before Jenkins burst through the tent flaps.
“Sir! The brain is gone.”
“Excuse me?” Leonard narrowed his eyes at Jenkins.
“The brain we removed from the cadaver. It’s gone.”
“Explain to me exactly how a five pound brain just gets up and walks away,” Leonard said. He closed his eyes and carefully kept his temper.
“It was locked in one of the laboratory rooms and when I unlocked the door a few minutes ago it was gone.” Jenkins inhaled and exhaled sharply. “The second eye is also gone.”
“Someone is stealing body parts?” Leonard asked, just to clarify.
“I don’t know, sir. All I know is that the brain and the eye are gone.”
Jim pushed through the tent flap and caught Leonard’s eye. “What’s going on?”
“Do you know who has access to the labs?” Leonard asked. “We locked the door yesterday and now the creature’s brain has apparently wandered off.”
“And eye,” Jenkins added helpfully.
“Please shut up,” Leonard instructed. Jenkins fell silent and stepped out of the way of Leonard’s wrath. “Who do I contact?”
“I think the Generals should probably know about this first, so that if they want to initiate a criminal investigation they have time to,” Jim said.
Leonard and Jim whirled on the tent flaps as Uhura ripped them open, panting. “There’s a ship landing.”
Jim narrowed his eyes. “The airstrip’s shut-”
“No.” Uhura cut him off. “An alien ship.”