Jim was bone burning tired. It was almost first sundown and he’d finally finished the northern field. He jumped off the harvester, gratified that Bones was standing on the porch waiting with a plate of food for him. Jim didn’t even bother taking it to the table, just sunk to the steps of the old porch and dug into the vegetable stew and bread. He finished it in moments and accepted a second plate and glass of sweetened water with a grunt of appreciation.
“Cool today,” the doctor said, leaning up against the porch post.
Jim nodded. “Good.” It bode well and made harvesting easier. It wouldn’t stay that way for much longer. “I can get most of the east field done by second sun.”
“The east field will have to wait. The Teacher contacted me. His shuttle overshot to the other side of Sandy Ridge and he’ll need help navigating back to the Settlement.”
Jim startled. Nothing waited for harvest. They were one man down on their tiny homestead, leaving all heavy labor to Jim. The weather was a gift that couldn’t be squandered.
“Surely one of the Settlement kids could…” Jim started, but Bones shook his head. Either they were too young or married off. It had to be Jim.
Bones leaned heavily on his crutch, his face full of understanding. “Can’t be helped, Jim. If you start now, you’ll be home before moon-up.”
Jim chewed silently, tamping down his dismay at being so inconvenienced. One helped one’s neighbor. One did not rebel against the trials one was given. One took up all work joyfully.
Spock stood on the ridge, looking down into a small ravine attempting to collect geological data with his tricorder. His brow furrowed in confusion as he read the data.
“Those won’t work here,” a voice called from behind his left shoulder. He spun around to see a young Human, certain it was his guide from the colony on Luddi IV making his way toward Spock and his damaged shuttle. He shut the tricorder and made his way back from the ridge.
Spock and the man met at the destroyed shuttle’s doors. From this distance, he could ascertain that his rescuer was a bit younger than his own twenty-six years, dressed in plain trousers and a rust-colored cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbows. His felt hat covered sun-bleached hair that fell around his ears and he wore sturdy work boots.
“Red scrambles everything,” the man said, gesturing to Spock’s hip where his tricorder rested. “That’s why you’re getting haywire readings. I bet it sent your shuttle into a tizzy.”
Spock agreed silently. What should have been a standard computer-managed landing very quickly turned into a near-death experience. “Red?”
“The planet, Luddi IV. We call it Red.” The man gestured vaguely at the shady surroundings. “For obvious reasons.”
Upon exiting his shuttle after the crash landing, the landscape recalled that of the Appalachian range of Earth, a place Spock visited on a camping excursion he had taken as a child, although the soil here was tinged with muddy red, as were the leaves of most of the trees. The river that ran through the ravine he was observing sparkled on the edges with a garnet shimmer along the banks. Spock found himself surveying the immense oak-like tree beside him, its bark a brilliant gold licked with red streaks.
“I was aware there were geological anomalies, but I will have to study this further,” Spock conceded aloud. The Human nodded tentatively, as if unsure what Spock meant by his comment.
“I’m Jim,” he said, breaking their brief awkward silence.
“Lieutenant Spock. I have several cases of science equipment that will need to be transported at the earliest convenience.”
Jim glanced over his shoulder where several containers were stacked neatly inside the damaged shuttle and made a low whistle. “I’m afraid we’ll be short on convenient times for a while, Teacher. You’ve come in the middle of Harvest. I’m to take you back to the Mission House and we can see about the equipment. It’s a hard hike back, so it’s best we carry smart.”
Spock nodded, anticipating as much. He lifted the small satchel he had packed for himself and Jim nodded approvingly. They started the walk back together without comment.
It was not an uncomfortable walk. As soon as Jim appeared to recognize Spock’s stamina and strength, they kept up a quick pace and Jim supplied anecdotes and answered questions about Red and the Settlement not found in the database.
When Spock was first assigned to the small settlement in the Luddi system, he had read all the literature on the planet. Previously uninhabited Class M planet. Settlement population: 412 beings, 94% Human. Agrarian society. The planet was marked for colonization and secured by Enid Winter-Perez and the first wave of colonists broke ground seventeen years ago. Winter-Perez and her followers called themselves Azzunites, after Pablo Azzuni, moderately infamous for his role in the anti-android movement of 2088. Ten years ago Winter-Perez’s colony opened their borders in response to the OSD, taking eleven survivors. Spock had read everything from Winter-Perez, from her undergraduate essays on post-First Contact ethics to her speech on the “Death of Humanity” she made just before her death two years ago.
“We don’t have tricorders, not that it would matter,” Jim commented, pointing to the fungus that ran along the sides of the trees near the ravine they followed. “That’s what you need to look for, the green creepers, they’ll show you where potable water is. Only when they’re flush and green. The red ones are a slow death.”
After three hours, they broke through the treeline onto fields of dusky red grains.
“This is the Sulu farm,” Jim explained, waving a hand high to a large mechanical harvester. Spock had never seen anything like the noisy machinery slowly making its way across the field. The farmer operating it waved back. “Their property is adjacent to the Mission’s property. We’re not far.”
They continued on a worn path along the fields where Jim answered questions about red grain, its life cycle and uses. As they made it to a small crossroads Spock heard the rustling and thumping of footsteps.
“Jim!” a small girl cried, bursting out of the shoulder-tall grass. “Jim, wait for me!”
“Zippy, what are you doing in the fields?” Jim asked, allowed the young girl to swing off his arms for a moment before depositing her back on the ground. She wore a nearly identical outfit to Jim’s, save her being barefoot and hair in long dark braids.
The young Human girl, no more than 7, furtively glanced up at Spock. “I thought you needed my help.”
“You mean you wanted to see Teacher,” Jim said knowingly. Zippy blushed. “Teacher, this is Zipporah Sulu, your youngest pupil.”
Spock felt at ill ease in the presence of such a young student but nodded in polite acknowledgment. Jim crouched at her level, tugging a braid. “I am thankful for the help, but my tasks have been productive thus far. I would not want to prevent your own achievements today.”
Zippy blushed again, squeaked a small goodbye to Jim and “Teacher” and ran off, this time along the road back to the Sulu home.
“There’s ten Sulu kids,” Jim said as they started walking again. “But only six of them will be in school, so you’re lucky there. The last Teacher had nine Sulus at once.”
Spock squinted up at the narrow home at the end of the lane, imagining ten children raised there. “Are you in school?”
Jim scoffed. “Me? No, I finished before the Federation started the post here. Bones mostly taught me. I mean, Doctor Leonard McCoy, he’s what we have for a--”
“Yes, I’m aware of Dr. McCoy’s work.”
Jim blinked. “Oh, yeah?”
Spock ignored the poorly worded question. “Who lives at the Mission?”
“Just me and Bones, and now you. We had more, but they grew up. Sometimes the kids from the outer homesteads will winter here for school, but I don’t know if they’re sending any this year. Haven’t heard, but we’ll know after Harvest.” Jim smiled, brightening. “You’ll be here for the Harvest Festival. We’ve never had a Teacher come so early and be able to stay for the festival. Should be educational .”
Typical agrarian celebration, Spock assumed. They passed in companionable silence for two more miles until Jim pointed off in the distance between two hills. Spock could barely make out the two story building, it’s white roof gleaming dusky pink in the setting sun.
As they walked through the fields of red grain, the suns were starting to set. “It’s a four hour night,” Jim had warned him. “It takes some getting used to.”
“You were not born here,” Spock inferred.
Jim nodded his head. “I came when I was ten. Took me a while to adjust to something dirtside, and the nights threw me off. Bones called it sun sickness, took me months to get over it.”
“Vulcans only sleep for five hours.”
Jim looked over to him, both impressed and curious. “I’ve never met a Vulcan before.”
“I am half-Vulcan,” he admitted. “My mother is Human.”
Jim did not appear surprised by the unusual admission.
“People here are going to be mistrustful of anything Starfleet,” Jim cautioned. “I wouldn’t take it personally.”
“I do not.”
As they approached, a man hobbled out of the residence, leaning on a crutch. Jim grabbed his hat and started to wave it.
“Bones crushed he leg in a harvest accident,” Jim shared. “He’s homebound for the next few weeks. It’s making him cranky, so don’t take it personally Although, to be honest,” Jim rubbed the back of his neck when he replaced his hat, “he’s always a little cranky.”
“I will still not ‘take it personally.’” Jim grinned.
When they reached the path, Jim made a wide formal gesture toward the man leaning heavily against a garden fence. “Teacher, this is Dr. McCoy. Bones, meet Teacher.”
The doctor, known to be in his late 30s, looked older. His eyes, a few shades darker than Jim’s brilliant blue, peered out over sun worn brow that hadn’t seen a sterile laboratory in years.
“Lieutenant Spock, welcome to Red. We’re mighty glad you landed in one piece.”
“Landed may be an incorrect term,” Spock admitted. Jim snickered. “However, most of the equipment is undamaged.”
“Good fortune,” the doctor said. “Jim, let’s help our guest get settled in the bunkhouse.”
Jim made a strange face. “But, we’ve got-”
“You’ll have to fetch the sheets from the upstairs cupboard,” McCoy interrupted, barring no argument. Jim's face fell, but he ambled up the stairs into the Mission house.
McCoy looked over Spock for a long moment.
“You’re younger than the others,” he observed. Spock didn’t comment. “When they said they were sending a Vulcan, I expected someone a bit…”
He could see why Jim was so concerned he would take the doctor’s words ‘personally.’ “Yes?”
“Less like you are.” McCoy started to hobble toward the porch stairs, passing Spock and making his way to a small garden. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps you’ll outlast your predecessor. This way, Lieutenant.”
McCoy escorted him to another white wooden building, a simple one story with pane windows and a large covered porch with a lean-to, a single bench and several dusty barrels.
“The boys used to live here,” McCoy said. “Should be comfortable enough for you, your own space for your equipment and such.”
It was more than was promised in the installation agreement with Starfleet, and Spock said so.
“If one has, one gives, joyfully,” McCoy said, quoting something Spock was unfamiliar with. He opened the door (no locks, mechanical or otherwise, Spock noted) to show him a large servicable area with two bunk beds, chairs, a table and a simple chest of drawers. The doctor pointed to the heater in the corner. “Fueled by redrock, so you’ll want to keep a supply of it. Nights are short but cold.”
Jim appeared in the doorway, arms full of linens and a pillow. “You’ll be okay, out here?” He took three long strides and dropped the linens onto the bottom of the far bunk bed. “There’s a shower in the lean-to, but all the water is hand pumped out here.”
“It is more than sufficient,” Spock decided, already planning where his lab equipment would be.
Jim grinned, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“Supper,” McCoy announced, and hobbled his way back through the vegetable garden to the Mission house, leaving Jim and Spock to trail behind him. Jim pointed out what was planted, what would be harvested this season and Spock shared a bit of his own knowledge of herbs and Terran vegetables he had learned from his mother, who had kept a small garden on Vulcan.
Gardening and harvesting maintained their conversation through dinner, which was a simple meal of nutty purple bread and cheese (“tastes just like mozzarella, but it’s pink, so I can’t wrap my mind around it”). Throughout, McCoy was quiet, contemplatively so. When their meal was done, McCoy let Jim clear the table as Spock and he sat out on the front porch, cooler breezes starting to pick up. The doctor started to whittle something, surgeon's fingers deftly forming shape out of wood.
“After harvest we can spare the people to help bring your equipment back to the Mission house. Until then, it’s just us and our simple life.”
Spock nodded. “I will attempt not trouble you beyond what was outlined in the agreement.”
“I hope so.”
That night, when Spock had loaded the stove with redrock and dressed in his regulation sleepwear, which was woefully inadequate for the sharply bitter night. He slipped into his bottom bunk and looked up to see a something scratched into the wood of the bunk above. He reached out, tracing the words in the darkness.
Jim was here.