Jim was marched with a line of other human draftees into the training barracks. The man who’d thrown up on him on the shuttle was in front of him. A Vulcan carrying a weighted axe type thing prodded them along.
The barracks weren’t that different from human barracks. Beds were pressed end to end and triple-decker—though ‘beds’ was a stretch of the term. They were really metal boards with a sheet, a pillow and a blanket.
The humans all wordlessly found themselves bunks and climbed into them, exhausted from the events of the day. Being forcibly ripped away from your planet really takes it out of you. As does watching your family sob and scream and kick and fight while guards who are so much stronger than they are physically drag you away from them.
The draft was open to all humans with able bodies and sound minds between the ages of sixteen and thirty-five. But in the end, it was still just luck of the draw.
Sam had been spared. Jim had not.
He supposed he should be grateful that his mother would still have one son after all this was over, but he wasn’t quite mature enough for that.
Jim took the bunk above the Throw Up Man and sat down. “This sucks.”
The man snorted. “You’re telling me. You know those damn hobgoblins want me to be a doctor for them?”
“What? And they trust you to do that?”
He gestured to the agonizer at his belt. “Trust don’t have anything to do with it. I make one wrong move and they’ll…” He swallowed.
They had all seen the brutal effects of the agonizer. One of the draftees had resisted immediately, trying to break free. Two guards had caught her, shoved the agonizer against her chest, and made her scream. They held it longer than was strictly necessary, making an example out of her in front of everyone.
She had wet her pants. Tears streamed down her face, her yells echoingly loud as everyone else went silent.
The guards promised there was something much worse in store for anyone who took off or tampered with their agonizer. They called it simply the booth. Given how accurately named the agonizer was, Jim estimated that their language didn’t have a strong enough word for what the booth did.
Or maybe it did and there was simply no translation they thought was good enough. The more he thought about it, the more likely the second option seemed.
“I got a daughter,” the man said. “Back on Earth. I had a daughter.”
Jim closed his eyes and suppressed a wince at the word ‘had.’ He wasn’t ready for that shit yet. “I’m so sorry.”
He shook his head. “Nothin’ to be sorry about. Nothin’ anybody coulda done about it. The only thing left to do is hope I live through this war and get to see her again someday.”
Jim laughed, he couldn’t help it. “I’m sorry, I’m not like—saying you aren’t going to live or anything like that, it’s just… You didn’t strike me as the optimistic type.”
“I’m not,” he huffed. “I’m the spiteful type.”
He grinned and held out his hand. “James Kirk. My friends call me Jim.”
The man looked him over, then shook the proffered hand. “Leonard McCoy.”
“Leonard?! Oh my god, that’s so lame. I’m not calling you Leonard. Don’t you have a nickname or something?”
He glowered. “Not really.”
“Alright, I’ll come up with one for you,” he settled back, content with his new challenge. “You said you were a doctor, right? An old sawbones?”
“Who even says that anymore—“
“I’m ‘onna call you Bones,” he said. “It’s tough, it’s gritty. Ominous. It suits you.” It was a survivor’s name.
Bones rolled his eyes but didn’t say anything. Jim took that as his silent approval.
“You three are being given a ship,” said Halitra-lan T’Pau.
“Please clarify,” T’Pring said.
“In order to inflate the number of our forces, alien draftees are being deployed in great numbers. The top of command will remain purely Vulcan, however. The aliens will remain segregated with their own species to ensure unity and prevent misunderstandings.
“The Vulcan forces are being spread thin. You three have been selected to commandeer a ship manned entirely by what I believe are called humans. They are the species of Zhel-lan Spock’s mother. I believe you to be uniquely qualified in handling them.”
Spock wanted to retort, but. They were being given a ship.
“Are there no Vulcan ships for us to command?” Stonn asked.
“What makes you think you are worthy of a Vulcan ship?” T’Pau countered. “You are not.”
“I see,” Stonn said evenly.
“The cadets must be trained. This is your responsibility. They must be ready to be deployed to the frontlines in one month.”
The shuttle trip had been a long one, and the conditions were crappy and cramped with too-bright lighting. They had only arrived on Vulcan at 0100 hours.
Stonn marched into the barracks with a bullhorn at 0600 hours.
“ATTENTION CADETS,” his voice blared out. “YOU WILL REPORT TO THE PLACE OF TRAINING WITHIN FIVE LIRT’KLAR, EQUIVALENT TO 7.05 OF YOUR TERRAN MINUTES. TARDINESS WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. THE PUNISHMENT IS AGONIZATION.”
He turned on his heel and strode out. “I already hate that guy,” Bones muttered.
“I betcha he’s our drill sergeant,” Jim said. “Don’t we get to eat first?”
“Are they… are they trying to starve us or something? ‘Cause hungry soldiers are a lot less effective than well-fed soldiers. And it doesn’t make sense to draft us just to kill us. Though I guess we are going to—“
“Kid,” Bones interrupted. “They aren’t gonna starve us. I’m sure it’s just a boot camp thing, makin’ us do our first day exercises without breakfast. They’ll feed us later. Don’t worry.”
“Right. Yeah. Of course.”
The training grounds were just outside the complex, and it soon became clear why there was no fence or wall or guards trying to keep them from escaping. The only thing around for miles and miles was the hot red sand of the desert. Running away wouldn’t get you very far. You could see everything around for miles, and would be easily spotted if you tried. Though Jim suspected the heat would kill you before the guards could. It wafted up from the ground and beat down on them from the sky. It was hotter than any Earth climate Jim had ever been in, though he admittedly didn’t make a habit of frequenting deserts.
The sun was unrelenting and he was already sweating. It had been winter on Earth. They hadn’t been given uniforms or any other clothing to wear. He was stuck in thick, warm fabrics fit for an Iowa snowstorm.
He shucked his shirt off, running back to the barracks real quick and tossing it on his bunk. Off came the socks and undershirt too, and he rolled up his jeans to the knee to get the heat-trapping fabric away from his skin. He jogged back out to the training grounds, one of the last to leave and get there.
The human cadets stood in groups of six by ten, seven of them, with nine people left over forming one and a half rows on the end. Jim went over and joined them.
Three Vulcans stood at the forefront of these groups, facing them. They were clad in the military uniforms of the Vulcan Empire as part of the Imperial Defense Force. Shimmering gold sashes were tied around their hips with elegant daggers strapped to them. All three wore gold-colored vests with the symbol of the Empire pinned over the right side of their chests—a red planet with one of those axe things running through it. Loose, baggy black pants and fur-covered leather sandals completed the look.
They were warriors.
They had no agonizers.
Only three of them and what, 430 humans? Superior strength or no, they could overwhelm them by sheer numbers.
But then more would come running out of the complex and they all had those laser guns that were nothing like anything Earth had ever seen before. Guns that could incinerate you completely with a single shot. There was no recovering from that. There was no fighting against that.
“I am Khart-lan Stonn. Universal translators would render this rank as Captain. You will not address me as such. All names will be regarded in the Vulcan manner, including your own.
“This is Zhel-lan T’Pring, Chief Strategist, and Zhel-lan Spock, Diplomatic Advisor. We are to be the command team of the ISS Enterprise. You shall be the crew. We have one month to prepare you for war. Those who do not become prepared for war within that time will likely be killed during it. You will not have our sympathy for this lapse on your part.”
“Lovely character, this guy,” Jim whispered to the cadet next to him, a dark-haired woman whose gaze stayed stalwartly ahead.
“For your first training exercise we will assess your abilities,” T’Pring said. “Run to that mountain as efficiently as possible.”
She pointed to a mountain behind her, beyond at least five miles of scorching desert. The humans immediately started protesting.
Her expression sharpened. “Insubordination will not be tolerated. All who refuse this order will be placed in the booth.”
That quieted them down.
The Vulcans seemed to be looking at them expectantly. The humans remained equally expectant, awaiting further instruction.
“Begin,” Spock said, sensing what they were waiting for. The cadets took off, slowly, saving their strength for the long run.
Running on sand is hard. It blew around and got kicked up into the eyes of whoever was behind you. It shifted under the feet and dusted their legs with stinging heat. It wasn’t long before the entire mob was covered in a fine coat of red.
The group began to thin out as they settled into different paces. The heat was like a blanket. It was like moving through water. Breathing felt like they were underwater too, there was so little air. It was thin on Vulcan, and it would only get thinner once they reached the mountain.
The movement of 400 humans running across the desert kicked up a dust cloud high into the sky. Their feet made a pounding beat rivalled only by the thunder of Jim’s blood pumping in his head. The dust got in his eyes, in his nose, down his throat when he had to open his mouth to pant. The sand was scratchy and he kept doubling over to cough and choke on it.
Jim was somewhere near the head of the group when he caught sight of a flash of gold out of the corner of his eye. It was that Vulcan, Spock. He was running the course too.
Jim looked ahead and sure enough, there were two more flashes of gold about a thousand feet up, a hundred feet farther than even the fastest human, running in unison.
Looks like one of them couldn’t keep up.
Well, Jim was damned if he was going to be outpaced by even the weakest Vulcan. He forced himself to speed up even further, putting more distance between them.
Spock noticed the change, had noticed Jim’s glances back at him, and recognized a challenge when he saw it. He, too, sped up.
Soon he was right at the human’s side, matching him step for step, although struggling a bit to do so. He had never been particularly athletic. He was a diplomat and a scholar, first and foremost. His half-human heritage made him physically weaker than other Vulcans, and he had never put a great deal of effort into remedying that.
The human was an exceptionally colorful one, even by the standards of his species. He had bright golden hair and eyes to match, his skin flushed the most attractive shade of pink. He was all soft lines and thick muscles and honeyed eyes that caught Spock’s and issued a dare.
They were in tandem, neck and neck, close enough to trip each other if they just reached out. Soon, somehow without either of them noticing, their race to outdo one another soothed itself and they were in sync and keeping it that way, pushing each other on but determined to stick together.
Jim rationalized this easily. This was to assess their abilities, correct? Well that assessment could go both ways then. He needed to know the limits of what these three Vulcans could do. Maybe he couldn’t keep up with the other two, but apparently neither could Spock.
And this would show everybody behind them that a human could do anything a Vulcan could do. That they could keep up, in more ways than one. It wasn’t hopeless.
They reached the base of the mountain at the same second, and Jim doubled over, panting hard to catch his breath. Spock was having trouble with it too, but in a more dignified, less noticeable manner.
T’Pring and Stonn were already there, along with three exceptionally fast humans. T’Pring was marking things down on a padd, watching the humans run. She and Stonn had only a light sheen of sweat on their skin and they weren’t panting at all, as if they had just had a very light workout rather than run five plus miles in hundred degree heat.
Jim collapsed onto the ground and waited for the others to trickle in. It took a full half hour. Five people collapsed from the heat and had to have medics called to carry them out. There were eight asthma attacks. Jim knew it was only a matter of time before they started to feel the effects of sunstroke. Dizziness and nausea were on their way for at least half the group; some were already throwing up. They would be lucky if none of them died of it.
There was no water. No one had brought any. The Vulcans didn’t seem to mind or even notice, but Jim felt like his throat was on fire from the sand and the heat and the panting. He could already feel the burns on every inch of exposed skin. His muscles cried out in pain like they had just been subjected to the agonizer.
He saw Bones yelling at the Vulcans as a group and decided to walk over and intervene before the guy got himself killed.
“—need water after this level of physical exertion! People will die without it. They will. You’re gonna start seein’ the effects of sunstroke pretty soon here too. That can be fatal to humans. We aren’t meant for this level of heat!”
T’Pring cocked her head. “Your kind is far weaker than we anticipated.”
Bones rolled his eyes. “Yeah, us flimsy humans, completely reliant on food and water and air to breathe, how weak of us.”
“Yeah, we need food,” Jim chimed in.
“Fascinating,” Spock said. “You seem comfortable making demands of us. It is as if you do not fear us.”
“I don’t,” he said simply.
“Your bravado will get you nowhere,” Stonn said. But Spock and T’Pring knew it wasn’t bravado. He truly did not fear them. He had seen what they could do, what their technology could do. He had seen his planet fall before their Empire in under a week. He had seen his race subjugated and taken from their homes and forced into a war that was not their own.
And he looked them in the eyes, unafraid.