1. Aaron Hallet.
According to Mom, Winona Kirk shot a casserole out of Mom's hands when she was bringing her some comfort food after George Kirk had died and Lieutenant Kirk had come home with a baby. Casseroles are a thing in Riverside: new babies and funerals demand them.
Aaron's met Lieutenant Kirk (and that's what everyone calls her, all of Jim and Sam's friends. She's not "Mrs. Kirk" like all the other moms, because she's just nothing like any of the other moms), and he kind of believes it—she's not really…well. Normal.
However, despite Mom's best efforts, Aaron's best friend is Jim Kirk from the first day of kindergarten. Sure, they hang out with Conner, Charlie, Darren and Sean, but Aaron and Jim are bests. And everyone knows that the whole group is Jim's, because Jim is the one who comes up with the crazy plans.
Mom's never been happy about it; Jim isn't ever allowed to sleep over at the Hallet house and Aaron's never slept over at the Kirks'. Jim goes home before dinner, and the only way Aaron's allowed to go somewhere with Jim is if he says he's going with Sean or Conner and Jim comes along. That way Aaron can plead ignorance and say, "He just showed up, Mom!" Sometimes that works. They're twelve; it's been working a lot less lately. Aaron thinks they're getting less cute or something, so Mom's totally catching on more.
Which might be fair, because Jim's full of ideas, but they're all kinda hazardous. Like the time they all decided to try to float down the English River on a mattress that Mrs. Conley was throwing away and almost drowned Matt (who's sort of the wannabe in their group, but his mom is best friends with Charlie's mom, so they all kind of deal with him).
See, the thing about Jim is, he's kind of a dick. He's brutally honest and acts without thinking, doing things like getting into a fight or saying something about what Jenna Dirth is wearing. Teachers are always sending notes home with Jim about how he could live up to his potential if he'd just listen (Aaron knows because he and Jim read them and laugh and throw them into the wind as they walk home from school). He's the first one to speak up in class, and when they're all fumbling around liking each other, Jim's the one who has a date. Aaron swears Jim figured out flirting at the age of seven, and he was "dating" by the time they were nine. Right around the time he drove the car of the cliff. That's one of the things Aaron means; Jim's kind of a dick.
"You're gonna make her cry," he tells Jim. He's been watching Hannah for the past five minutes (Aaron has, not Jim). She's totally getting up the nerve to make the move on Jim. Of course, Jim's dating a freshman at the high school and they're seventh graders in junior high, but whatever.
Brian. Brent? Brody. Jim's dating some guy with a B-name. Aaron tries not to pay too much attention, because Jim doesn't keep them. It's this weird thing where it makes him even more of a catch or something because everyone wants to be the one who makes Jim settle down.
And yeah, Jim's a serial flirt: dude's been dating since first grade when he bestowed kisses on their entire class. The principal hadn't really known what to do with him, but that was before she knew Jim. Now all the school administrators know Jim Kirk.
But the thing is, okay, usually dating is like "dating" where you sit together at lunch and maybe hang out after school and kiss (no tongues—although it's Jim, so you know, that's totally up for debate) but Aaron kind of thinks this one is like real-dating. They went to the movies last week.
"She's making me cry," Jim tells him, all mock-seriousness like Jim's cried a day in his life, flicking a glance towards Hannah from under his lashes. Aaron's decided Jim's either going to be gorgeous or fucking hideous when he grows up. He's right on the cusp: big lips, kinda big head, skinny. The hazel eyes work for him. If Aaron didn't know Jim so well, and he didn't have this hopeless thing for Jenna Dirth? He'd totally date her. Besides, even if Jim's fucking hideous, he's got enough personality to cover.
Aaron steals a nugget from Jim's tray and nods thoughtfully. "In a kind of crying-in-the-soul way," he agrees. "I can see that."
"My soul is weeping like a…a thing that weeps a lot," Jim agrees. "Dude, that's mine." He grabs it back and shoves the whole thing in his mouth. Jim has a problem with sharing. He also has a problem not eating everyone else's food. Jim eats a ton. Because he's an asshole.
Charlie watches Jim glare at Aaron (who releases the fry he'd been stealing) and then open Charlie's pudding cup. Charlie and Aaron exchange grins, because Jim's ridiculous and shameless.
"Warning, warning," Conner mutters from the other end of the table, and Aaron looks over and catches an eyeful of Hannah. She comes over to their table with a smile, sitting next to Jim and settling against him. He glances at her, nods with a slight grin that makes her light up, and then turns back to Charlie's pudding cup.
"Jim, the dance, right? The last dance of the school year, and Bonnie and I didn't know if you'd like, asked anyone?" If Hannah gets any redder she's going to light on fire, Aaron's pretty sure.
"Um, I'm not going," Jim says around a mouthful of pudding.
"Gross," Sean informs him, shaking his head at Jim as he sits down at their table. "You're so disgusting."
"Dude, all over your face— how do you even do that?" Conner asks Jim, throwing him a pile of napkins.
Jim mostly smears it around his face. Aaron thinks there's a chance it's on purpose, but hands him another napkin.
"Why not?" Hannah asks, staying on point. Right. Dance.
"I've got to go to San Francisco, the shuttle leaves next week."
"Shuttle? Shuttle to where?" Aaron demands. "You visiting your mom somewhere?"
"No, um, you know how Kodos got the grant money to establish the colony on Tarsus IV?"
"No, but whatever." Jim's a freak. He watches the news and since his mom's a lieutenant he knows all this Starfleet stuff.
"Dude, all over the news. No? Whatever. Okay, so I'm going."
"You're…moving?" Aaron frowns at him, exchanges looks with the other guys and tries not to feel like he's just been punched in the gut.
"Yeah." Pudding cup finished, Jim goes back to the food in front of him. He so totally doesn't get why this is a big deal, Aaron can see that, and it kind of pisses him off, really.
"To another planet," Conner says, like maybe saying it out loud will get Jim to realize hey, maybe more than a week's notice would've been good.
"Are you coming back?" Charlie demands.
Jim looks at all of them like he's not sure why it's such a big deal. 'Course, Jim's mom leaves all the time so maybe Jim doesn't actually get it.
"No," he says.
Aaron's suddenly not really hungry.
2. Frank Hallie.
The Tarsus IV settlement has been in development on for almost ten years. The planet had to be checked out, and then they had to figure out population, and then the plug almost got pulled because it's about two months away from the nearest base and has an ionic cloud around it that disturbs most transmissions, so it's hard to communicate.
Frank knows most of that because Winona had been a consultant on the board to approve colonization of the rock, and for the past few years he's been looking at holos of the damn place every time she comes home.
The guy in charge of it is named Mikhail Kodos. He's married, no kids, and there'd been a kerfffle over the fact that he was a eugenics theorist about nine years ago, but there'd been inquiries and character testimonies and everyone concluded that he'd done it as a subsection of his political and sociological studies at the Kennedy School of Government.
Frank can relate: people do stupid things when they're young, and Kodos had probably thought it was interesting in a morbidly fascinating way...
Frank met Kodos; they went out to some fancy-pants restaurant in San Francisco and Frank spent the entire thing feeling absolutely invisible. Sam and Ivana Kodos got on like a house on fire (but that kid likes everyone). The real shocker was that as soon as Kodos had realized that Jim was the kid who liked numbers (liked, hah, like Frank hasn't repainted that damn room seven times becuase Jim can't be confined to PADDs or pencils and paper), he'd actually gotten Jim into conversation. Jim'd been ten, a year after driving Frank's car off the quarry, and Kodos, instead of realizing that this kid's kinda crazy, had wanted to know how Jim had managed to in the moment calculate when to leap from the car in order to avoid plummeting to his death.
Jim'd been charmed, and the guy actually kept in touch, sending Jim puzzles he came across, and that's when the lobbying campaign started. Jim was nothing if not fucking persistent. The kid makes slide shows. With footnotes, and so Winona gave in. That was the quietest month they'd had in a long time, Frank remembers. Jim'd just been happy.
"Are you…sure?" he'd asked her as they'd been signing the paperwork that would make Kodos Jim's legal guardian and medical proxy when neither Winona nor Frank was available. Which…well. Frank had his job in Iowa and Winona… It'd be mostly Kodos.
"It'll be good for him," she said. "He wants to go."
And what Jim wants Jim gets, Frank thinks as he helps Jim pull stuff out of the car and head for the shuttle station. Jim's not bringing a lot, but Jim was never one of those kids who collected stuff. Sam is a pack rat: Jim seems like he's always about to run away.
Which…well. He's done it seventeen times and he's only twelve. Of course he started when he was five, so maybe all things considered that's not that big a number. Twice a year, about…
Jim will be gone for at least five years: he'll do high school and everything there and then he'll be an adult and not Frank's problem. Frank'd be lying if the thought didn't make him feel a little relieved. Jim's teenaged years aren't really something he'd been looking forward to.
"You got everything?" he asks, squinting at the people moving briskly around them. Space travel makes Frank nervous—he's never left the planet, has no intention of doing it.
"Yeah, I think so. You gonna go back and get it if I forgot?" Jim asks, and there's a little smile there.
"I might. Depends on what it is. Underwear, yeah." Or he'll run to one of the stores here. It important to have enough underwear: it's one of those things you don't think of until it's way too late, and where's he going to get new underwear on a newly-established colony (okay, Frank more knows this from going on vacations and realizing that, in the middle of the woods, there isn't any underwear to change, but he figures it's kind of the same principle)?
"Underwear's important," Jim agrees, mock-serious, hazel eyes dancing, and Frank holds out his hand.
"Be safe, Jim." He means it as a blessing and a warning: remember that you're breakable might be more appropriate. Sometimes he thinks Jim forgets that. 'Course, Jim survives things like crashing Frank's car off the quarry, so he might not be wrong.
"Yeah. Well, I mean. I make no promises." Jim slings the bag over his shoulder and laughs, shaking Frank's hand.
"That sounds about right," Frank admits, and grins back at him. "Don't forget to let your mother and brother know you're alive."
"I'll try not to get too distracted."
"Don't be a shit." He says it lightly, teasing just a little. It's funny how easy they are right now, when Jim's about to leave Frank's life maybe forever.
"Can't help it," Jim says. "It's genetic."
"Yeah, well. That's probably true." Frank does remember all those years of watching Winona and George tear around the town, and then the planet, and then the galaxy. Everyone in Riverside—hell, the county— does: it's why the whole town's wary of Jim, Frank thinks. Jim's a handful, and no one wants to have to deal with it; happy to let Frank deal. Even their grandparents…although Winona's never really gotten along with Tiberius and Anne.
"James!" Kodos calls, and Jim turns, grinning widely. Kodos has a bright smile, genuinely happy to see Jim, running a hand through his receding red hair and then extending it to Jim.
"James?" Frank repeats, wry. Who the fuck is stupid enough to call Jim "James"? Who thinks that that kid even slightly resembles a James?
"He's formal, what?" Jim shrugs and then he's gone, deftly navigating the crowd, and Frank's got the drive back to Iowa. The nine hour drive, where he's mostly ridiculously relieved that Jim isn't his problem and feeling like a complete dick for thinking that.
"I got pizza for dinner," Sam says when Frank walks in the door. His eyes are red-rimmed, but Frank doesn't say anything, just hands him a beer. Kid's sixteen: he deserves a beer.
"Pizza's good. Anything good on the holo?"
"Probably not," Sam snorts, but they settle on the couch. The house seems…quiet. Even the tension is different—this is the tension of loss, not of "oh shit, what now?"
"You gonna be okay?" Frank asks as they settle on watching baseball.
"Yeah. He wanted to go, you know? And Jim doesn't…well, he wants a lot of stuff, but he doesn't usually fixate on shit he can have—usually it's…you know. Stuff he can't."
Frank makes a face at him, looking over. "What exactly is it that he can't have?"
Sam shifts, chews his crust, and then says, "Dad." Because with Jim, it all comes down to George. "I think…I don't know. I think he just wants but he's got no idea what, so he can't have it."
"Yeah, you're your parents' kid," Frank snorts, taking a long swallow of beer. "Too much for simple man like me."
"Oh shut up, Frank," Sam laughs, and leans against him just enough. He's almost grown up, but he's still only sixteen: still just a kid. Sam's always felt a little bit like family; Frank can look at Sam and feel like he's his kid, even though he had nothing to do with his genes.
"We'll be okay," Frank says after a while.
"Yeah," Sam agrees. "Yeah."
3. Jim Kirk.
Tarsus IV is a planet closer to Mercury in size than Earth, and like Earth it's mostly water. The colony is set up on a continent the size of Ireland, and it gets at hottest 77∘F/25∘C.
The colony is 8,015 people, spread along three sectors and the central compound. Sector 1 is set up for livestock, Sector 2 for orchards and vegetables, and Sector 3 for things like barley and wheat. People live in clusters of a couple hundred along the borders between sectors, dozens of kilometers between each "town." The ocean is to the south, a river to the east, and the island stretches into infinite-seeming forests to the north (which, rumor has it, hosts bear-like things fond of human flesh, but Jim's not buying it until he sees it).
The spread-out layout gives the whole colony a larger feel, which is kind of cool—it feels expansive.
The colony is led by a council of twelve advisors and Kodos, and there are weekly meetings where each one of the clusters (which are being called towns but are ridiculously small to be towns) report on what's going on in their area. Tarsus IV has the requisite small military contingent which acts as the police force.
Jim comes in with the last wave of colonists in May: people have been here since January, and Jim comes in time to see crops beginning to come in.
He's got so much freedom here.
All Ivana and Kodos ask is that he be home for dinner and he can explore everything—and there's so much to just absorb.
Ivana laughs and makes him play piano with her and Kodos makes sure Jim's still keeping up with school work, but he wants it to be practical: knowledge is useless if you can't apply it, so Jim learns about plants and languages and politics and biology.
Kodos likes to look at his math and just laugh a little in wonder. "Your brain," he says, "is a remarkable gift, James. A bit overwhelming, but remarkable."
And maybe it's stupid to love it and want to impress him but Jim's never had so much attention in his life. Positive attention, where for nine months he's happy. Where people aren't full of fucking expectation and waiting for Jim to go completely insane or—
He doesn't have to follow fucked up lesson plans— he gets to make the decisions. Choose what he wants to study, and it's…he doesn't have words for it.
≫You're happy, right?≪ Sam writes.
≫Will you stop worrying?≪
≫Have you met you?≪ Which is a fair point, all things considered: Jim kind of hasn't given Sam any reasons not to worry…ever.
≫Sam, why is a raven like a writing desk?≪
≫Am I supposed to be interpreting that to mean you're mad as a hatter? Was the hatter even happy? I hated that book, Jim, you shit. I'm not reading it again. ≪
Mom's messages are more along the lines of: ≫I'm beginning to find massive plot holes in this operation. ≪
≫Phantom Menace has nothing on this shit.≪
He doesn't miss Iowa, and he's not bored here, though he misses his friends, a little. There aren't kids his own age in the compound he's living in, but on balance he figures giving up peer interactions for what he's gotten is no big deal.
It's probably Kodos' biggest mistake, giving Jim that freedom. Not because Jim figures things out faster when they go wrong, but because he actually thinks he can do something when disaster hits.
He hasn't heard "no" in a meaningful way in nine months.
By late February it's clear that something's going on with crops, because all of the towns are sending reports and people are actually coming up to the compound to talk about the rotting seeds. There are meetings called and Kodos's hair starts sticking up in all directions and the bags under his eyes grow larger. He spends less time in the evenings with Jim and Ivana.
"I'm sure it's a hiccup," Ivana says, and Jim looks at her.
"Maybe a sneeze."
"A hic-sneeze?" she compromises, eyes dancing. She's lovely, but pale, like a water-color. Her hair is corn-silk blonde and her eyes are a pale pale blue. She burns in the sun and flushes easily, and wears whites and pastels. She swears, but it always makes him stop and stare at her because she says it so casually, and with so little inflection. She likes to make him sing with her and she tinkers at the piano when he's reading; she's just…comfortable to be around.
Sometimes he thinks with a pang about Mom, who walks around in jeans and a leather jacket and couldn't ever be described as pale; whose hands are more likely to reach for a hammer than a piano. Mom isn't comfortable, not like Ivana is. Sometimes…sometimes he feels guilty for thinking that.
4. Jim Kirk.
It's not until June that Jim decides he needs to see how bad things really are. The whole compound is talking about the rotting crops and the virus corrupting everything.
It's really clear that it's not a "crops are failing" situation. The crops have failed, past tense, fact: definitive. They're yellow and brown like they get around October in Iowa, when they should be vivid green and sprawling instead of shriveled and drooping.
"It's bad," a man says bleakly, standing beside Jim. He looks too-thin, which is alarming because Jim didn't realize that it had gotten to that point where people are starving. "Some of the kids…you look okay though. Your parents have food?"
"…I'm further in the compound," Jim says, jerking his chin, curling his fingers into fists and feeling suddenly cold. "I—how long has it…been like this?"
"'Bout three months now. Kodos said he called for help, but so far Starfleet's got no one in the area. Sector 1 says they're losing lotta livestock over this; starvation or infected, can't say." The man nods at Jim's stunned look, then puts a hand on his shoulder heavily. "It'll hit you all soon enough," he said, and then, incomprehensibly, "Sorry."
The obvious solution is to get Starfleet here faster: it doesn't make sense that Kodos called three months ago—in February—and they haven't had a response yet. At most they're a month away from help. Not three months. And the thing is, if Kodos is just trying to sustain them until Starfleet gets to Tarsus for its scheduled check-in…that's next February, seven or so months from now.
But as Jim goes back to the compound, he needs to know how long they'll all last at current rates: it's too big, and it needs to be quantified. He sits in his room on his bed with fingers that shake and eyes that burn. He pulls out his PADD and begins to pull up the reports. He hasn't hacked since he got here. The ionic cloud makes it really hard to access anything not on the planet's intranet, and Kodos gives him enough freedom to keep him occupied and what the hell does Jim care about crop yields? Except now he does, and finds them tucked away neatly.
He stays up until the sun rises—he's got three PADDs and a holo display running, applying pertinent equations (8,015 settlers, crop yields down by 60%, people require 1,800-3,200 calories a day based on gender/age/activity level).
If Starfleet doesn't come until the scheduled check-in…they'll all be dead, assuming that they don't find another food source.
They have a month of survival left if all 8,000 settlers (because with current death rates, they're almost down to settled population) continue to eat at present rates. They're going to lose people to scurvy, rickets, kidney failure, heart failure, overexertion,babies to Vitamin D deficiencies…dehydration, at least, won't be a problem: freaking river full of water right there.
Pregnant women are a problem, needing at least 300-500 more calories a day than the rest of the population. That puts them in the 2,700 range, which is still less than men 18-50, who are in the 3,000 range, but higher than kids, nonpregnant women, the elderly. Really…kids and women should be allowed to live calorically. Younger the better; anyone over the age of 50 is using up resources without equal input back into the colony—which is so so fucked up a thought that he shrinks from it, curls around it.
Jim calculates the odds: they'll all starve to death. There isn't enough animal life on this rock of a planet; they brought the livestock, and most of it's been contaminated or died of starvation already. He can fix this: he's a genius, Kodos keeps assuring him and Jim…he wants to help. To save them—and Kodos has to want to fix this so desperately.
Jim works hard on how to stretch the food, but the thing is…old people are a problem. Old people, people with physical diseases—people who don't function at maximum capacity, or take more than they're capable of giving are burdens on the system.
Their right to full and happy lives, Jim doesn't dispute. It's just mathematically this whole fucking situation is unsustainable. His equations sprawl; calculate rates of survival given differing variables until he knows this situation and all its probable outcomes back and forth. It's comforting just to know it; to have the concrete data in hand to work on those facts. The facts give parameters the solution has to be found within. Knowing the facts…the numbers…even the bleak numbers: it's comforting.
He goes to breakfast thinking that he'll work on the solution once he eats and takes a nap.
That he doesn't suspect the equations will get into the wrong hands is just idiocy on his part.
5. Mikhail Kodos, Governor Tarsus IV.
That he finds it must mean something. That the boy wasn't hiding it: that he wanted it found.
The PADD was right there on James' desk, and his door was wide open; if it had been a secret, James is surely clever enough to have tucked it away.
It is one thing to know that so many are dying, it is quite another to see it laid out in hard, qualitative lines, so exhaustively turned one way or the other. James has worked entirely within the data they have already amassed, but what he has done with it; what he has proven to be their only option, is something that no one has dared yet to say.
It is straightforward and unequivocating. James didn't annotate—didn't write in the margins of his own work the way he is given to annotating the books he reads. He has bell graphs for caloric/nutrition needs and age; projections of crop yields, societal input versus what they take from the colony in terms of needs. And then, deeper down the files, the entire expedition neatly divided up. Color-coded even, in terms of value to the colony.
If there was ever hesitation, seeing the drain children under 7 are causing on the system, the drain of the injured, of pregnant women…to see it.
He copies the files onto his own PADD and heads to the council chamber. Councilor McKenna looks up. Of the original twelve councillors, only four remain: those who are on board, who understand how important this is. The first step was eliminating those who would pose an obstruction: McKenna, Havnevik, Agron and Hansard are good people. He can trust them. They have been allowed to live to serve another day.
"Proceed?" McKenna asks as Kodos walks into the room. She shifts slightly in her chair to look at him.
Kodos nods. "I have a breakdown of the population here," he says, handing her the PADD. "Get it to the General."
"Won't arrive until February." He has ensured this: given them an adequate window of time. "We have seven months, councilors. Seven months to create a perfect world." He smiles, then. Can feel it thrumming under his skin, this warm satisfaction; excitement because he will no longer be burdened with the dregs of the population, those who are less than perfect for the running of this society.
"Start spreading the rumor of plague and begin rounding up and separating the population," he instructs. When Starfleet arrives those who survive will believe entirely that those who died were lost to the fabricated plague.
He can keep Starfleet at bay until the purge is through by falsifying communications; they are limited already by the ionic cloud (the only person who communicates personally at all is James, because he has managed to up the signal of his personal encryption key, but that too is easily counterfeited; rerouting his messages through a server and forging them will be no great thing, but that is worst case scenario. He believes James will understand and support him. He believes this).
When Starfleet checks in, it will all be over.
"What about the boy?" Agron asks. "You want to eliminate those above a certain intelligence. He is certainly over that threshold, and well over."
"James is my son," Kodos says. "He did the breakdown. He is loyal."
He is uncertain as to whether or not it is wise to tell of what he is doing. The boy is very independently-minded. He must be brought into understanding gently. The math indicates that he will understand the basic principle: the necessity and righteousness of this, of starting a planet with the perfect colony, and that to become a success within the Federation they must build upon perfection.
He'll slowly introduce it, and after, when it is finished. After the fact, and James will understand and revel in the success of it all. He will eventually take Kodos' place and lead this world to be a shining example to all others. It will work; it has been so easy thus far.
6. Jim Kirk.
"There's a plague?" Jim asks, frowning, because what?. "Seriously?"
"The crop problem is also compounded by a spore which creates a very catching disease," Kodos agrees. "We will spend the next month rearranging people's living spaces. The infected to the north, so they are downwind of us, and the uninfected to the south. We have to contain it until a treatment is developed." He sighs heavily. "Moving so many people..I never thought of eight thousand in terms of 'a lot' but it is, it really is. We've barely been here a year."
"Can't you call Starfleet?" Jim demands, because…Kodos doesn't really seem all that worked up over this. Maybe it's not as bad as it sounds. Then again, plague.
"We've sent for them, but the policy with colonies is minimal-interaction. The hospital is in contact with them to build a cure, which is fortunate, and if things get worse they will come."
That sounds…stupid, actually. Really, really stupid.
There isn't any math that can be done to make the oncoming plague any less ominous.
He watches from his room as the homes to the south are closely occupied; the inhabitants clustered together on the compound's wall so that they can get food from the storage units along the south wall.
To the north, the houses aren't all occupied: people are spread out over a large space. Maybe so that they can't keep infecting each other with new strains? Jim's not a med student, and there aren't a lot of medical documents he can get into (and he can't make heads or tails out of the work they're doing on finding the cure)
On August 3, Kodos informs Jim and Ivana that he won't be coming home, that he has to visit the infected houses.
The thing is…that seems beyond stupid, and then a little…weird, because he takes three soldiers with him.
So Jim follows him. Because he's been on Tarsus for a year and a few months now, and he wants to know, and things like 'repercussions' don't exist in Jim's world anymore. He grabs a surgical mask because that's all he's seen the people distributing food wear , and Kodos isn't even wearing one.
The meeting house, which used to be a storage facility but was cleared out when the relocation happened, has about five hundred people in it ; they're all crammed in, and Jim slides into the back, and…
There's a speech. He remembers that there's a speech, Kodos standing in front with his arms raised saying things like, "Survival depends on drastic measures. Your continued existence represents a threat to the well-being of society," and "Your lives mean slow death to the more valued members of the colony," "I have no alternative but to sentence you to death."
He realizes what's going to happen before anyone else does: a sickly feeling in his stomach along with the realization that none of these people are sick. That there might not even be a plague.
He gets prodded into a side room with eight other kids and a woman, and there's one soldier, and nine of them and—the soldier's got his phaser up and Jim just lunges. Pure adrenaline and shitty aim but he knocks the soldier down, fumbles after the phaser and flips the switch from red to blue and shoots.
There's a moment of pure silence, and then sound filters back in: sobbing and the screaming of one of the boys, a consistent whine-thunk from other rooms, and Jim turns, fumbles for the door outside and busts it open just as the door into the room from the rest of the house busts open.
"Go," the woman says, shoving Jim's back. "Go on. I'll—"
"What's your name?" Jim asks, because it's important to him, for no reason other than that she's going to die and someone—
"Elandria al-Raddi, I've got—I have a brother in the United African States," she says, and then slams the door shut behind him. For years he'll remember that she smiled at him; he'll remember the exact curve of her lips and her dark, sad eyes.
The whine-thunk of phasers going off and people screaming is muffled, now that they're outside, and Jim shoves the kids in front of him, hissing, "Go! Now!"
"He's killing all those people, isn't he—I mean, aren't they?" one of the boys asks. "Everyone—they're all going to die."
Thomas Leighton is the boy who asked if Kodos was killing everyone: he's sixteen—his parents went missing a few weeks back and now his foster-parents are in the chamber.
Kevin Riley is five, and his parents are in the chamber. He's staring vacantly at nothing, shivering. Jim pulls his black hoodie off and wraps Kevin in it; holds onto him until Tom takes him. He needs something to do: Jim gets that.
Elith Molson, Donovan Rezendes and Angel Suarez are all ten. Asseih Murphy is three. Jack Vaznis, Roberta al-Hiradi are eleven and twelve. Jim's not sure why they were in the chamber; doesn't want to think about it.
Tom looks at Jim over Kevin's shoulder: Jim's holding Asseih, but he can't, not for much longer, because she's getting heavy in his arms. Jim's leading them north, keeping through the orchard where they're less likely to be spotted.
He's leading them through the orchards, heading north towards the sprawling Tarsus forests, heart pounding and his head deliberately blank. One thought: get away.
"We have to stop soon," Tom pants, maybe an hour later. "We can't—we can't keep going."
Jim squints in the pale morning light. "There's a town," he says, pointing at it. It's a worker's town, tiny cluster of five houses, and abandoned when everyone was relocated, but it's tucked neatly into a copse of trees, so it seems…safe. In the way that suddenly nothing seems safe, nothing at all.
They're silent as they go into one house, Donovan and Jack going to cupboards to see if there is any food, Angel and Roberta going to see if there are beds.
"How are we—do we stay here?" Tom asks lowly as all this goes on, sitting at the table with his arms around Kevin, who is sobbing against Tom's neck. Tom doesn't really seem to notice, looking slightly dead in the eyes. Jim thinks he probably seems the same way, and sits down too, shifting Asseih in his lap.
"I—no," Jim says. "I mean—yes? Stay here for a day, I can get you PADDs and a lifesigns detector and…I don't know, maybe food or something."
He thinks he can get the Meals Ready to Eat, and load a PADD with survival tech and get them knives and—
"You're not staying?" Elith asks, frowning at him as she sits, wiping furiously at her eyes. "You're not going to—you're going back?"
"I—" Until this moment, it hasn't occurred to Jim not to go back. He has to. Now that he knows what's going on, he has to do…something. He just has no idea what . But starting with saving these guys is as good a place—a better place than most. He thinks that this is the first time Kodos has done this, maybe he can…maybe he can save other people. "I have to try to fix this."
"He killed five hundred people today," Tom points out.
"But he missed you guys." Which is kind of strange and suspicious and okay, now that Jim's thinking about it this was either a really incompetent operation or he's insanely lucky. Or it's a trap. Shit.
"I'll take what I can get." He stands up, hands Asseih to Elith. "I'll be back tonight—if you…" he breaks off, not sure how to phrase it without freaking the littlest kids out. "If it's not me? Hide, or run."
It's a long walk back to the compound, and it turns out that Jim is insanely lucky because apparently no one cares about the jailbreak. He has to sneak into the building, the whining sound of phasers echoing in his ears, though he thinks he might at this point just be imagining it; thinking he hears it and tensing, thinking it's coming for him.
He takes a shower when he's locked safely inside his room, locking the bathroom door after him and putting the stolen phaser on top of the discarded pile of clothes carefully. He shot a man today—stunned him.
The shower is hot, and Jim doesn't adjust it, lets it beat his skin red hot before stepping out, changing into clean clothes and drying his hair. He glances abortively towards the mirror but doesn't quite manage to make eye contact with himself.
He should—he could leave. He could go, but this…it's not going to stop. It's a clusterfuck no-win, but...Dad saved eight hundred, and Jim's not going to be content saving only eight.
He pulls on pajamas and then gets his PADD, going back into the bathroom and re-locking the door, sits on the shower floor, and finds the population list for the northern towns; the manifest for the meeting room tonight.
Elandria Al-Raddi was in with her two kids and her husband. The notes column says she had a history of heart disease in her family; her husband didn't have any markers, but he would have undoubtedly put up a fuss. Couples seem like they're being…killed together. It's only 500, but any of the people who were married were killed with their spouses, so he thinks it's safe to infer.
Her kids were in there with her (Jim tries to remember their faces, tries to force his brain, this fucking thing that can create numbers out of nothing and turn them into death and life, to remember two kids' faces and he can't). Her kids were there with her, and when she was separated from them she helped other people's kids get out when she couldn't save her own.
Jim puts the PADD down, closes his eyes, then gets up, going into the bedroom. He takes the food out of his pockets and puts them in his book bag, wipes the PADD and the server histories.
He gets his bookbag and puts stuff on it—stuff he thinks might be useful like how to make a fire pit and make traps for wild animals and what's safe to eat on Tarsus that's indigenous to the planet and might not have been wiped out by the pestilence.
He sleeps, for values of "sleep", doesn't come downstairs and pleads sick when Ivana comes to check on him.
She smoothes a hand over his forehead and cups his cheek and nods. "Do you think you can eat anything?" she asks.
"MRE, maybe, for later, if I get hungry," Jim says, and Ivana brings him one of each; twelve in all.
That night around midnight he puts on all black, slides the phaser into the waistband of his pants at his back, and slides out, down narrow hallways and hugging the shadows (so so grateful that Tarsus has no moon to illuminate the night, just the stars).
7. Tom Leighton.
He didn't think they'd see Kirk again, at least not after last night and the guy kind of ran off into the sunrise.
So the thing is, when Kirk shows up, breathing labored but controlled like he wants to gasp for air but won't let himself…yeah, Tom's surprised.
He's keeping watch, tucked under bushes and at first he wants to run screaming, thinking they've been caught, but he recognizes Kirk.
"Hey, okay?" he asks, looking over Kirk's shoulder for pursuers, reaching out to support him but then stopping at the way Kirk shifts his shoulder back and glances over his shoulder. Tom's stomach plummets, because pursuers are a whole level of hell he can't cope with and they're not really any of them in any kind of shape to run, but he doesn't see any and Kirk wasn't flat-out-running. Kirk's neck cracks and Tom realizes that that was all he was doing—twisting his neck to crack it—and feels kind of like an idiot.
"I brought—" Kirk starts, then shakes his head and begins emptying pockets.
Meals, ready-to-eat, Tom reads. Kirk brought them MREs. Twelve of them.
"Is anyone coming?" Tom asks, curling his fingers around the packaging and trying very hard not to cry because this is more than he thinks most of them have had in months.
Kirk shakes his head. "I don't know."
"So we're going to die."
Kirk looks at him, and his hazel eyes go from tired to pissed in a millisecond. "I got rope if you want to hang yourself," he snaps, pulling the MREs from Tom's hands and heading into the house like Tom's lost the right to hold them or something, and Tom doesn't think he actually has a rope for Tom to kill himself with.
"I—how are we—" Tom says, trailing him.
"We'll figure it out," Kirk says. "This is an M-class planet. We just have to move away from here, you've got to get into the woods. I'm pretty sure that those bears are a myth, but you can hunt in there and I infected all the life-signs detectors so they can't find you—it just diminishes their capacity to recognize lifesigns after the forest line, but yours still works so you'll see them but they won't see you, you know? And, oh, here." He hands one to Donovan, who blinks at him. "Just keep following the river north."
"So we die looking."
"Better die on your feet then curled up in a corner," Kirk says flatly. "Better to die doing something. Not that anyone's dying," he adds, and Tom frowns because yes they are but Kirk's looking past Tom at Kevin, who's standing in the doorway and yeah, okay, reassure the kids.
"You came back," Kevin says. He came back with food— Tom owes Kirk so hard, and he doesn't even know the kid's last name.
"And I brought presents," Kirk agrees. He lowers himself into a chair like an old man (joint pain, he needs to eat more fruit) and Kevin stands beside him, tucks against Kirk's side. "You're going to have to ration them," Kirk tells Tom, rubbing Kevin's back, "maybe eat one a week between all of you, but it should up your caloric intake, give you enough energy to keep going out and foraging or hunting or whatever you're doing. This is like…it. I don't think I can—I can't get more, so whatever you're doing has to be enough."
He can't, not without looking really suspicious and...
"What's going on out there?" Roberta asks.
"The night's total was a little under 500, I don't know what's happening tonight," Kirk says.
"Roberta, you want to start getting these going, maybe break open that MRE?" Tom suggests. Roberta looks at him and then nods, pulling the kids away as Elith takes the MREs carefully. Kirk looks at Tom.
"I have to go," he says, almost regretful. —
Tom nods, and then asks, "What are you—do you have a plan?"
"It's a work in progress."
Tom stares at him. This is...kind of horrifying. "So what do we—"
"You keep you and them alive. Let me worry about…me and everyone else." Kirk stands, cracks his neck and then looks up at the black sky through the window. "I'll try to come back in a month or so. You guys should go north. Go into the forests and don't stop until you hit the ocean. Oh, shit, wait." Kirk leans into his bag and hands Tom a PADD. "I put like…I don't know, survival stuff. And it's got a lifesigns monitor in it, and you can try to get messages past the ionic cloud but it's just not working right now…"
Tom looks at it, pulling up a few files and…god, this could save them.
"They're going to kill him," Roberta says softly, watching Kirk disappear into the night.
"I—" Tom breaks off, because yes, yes they are but he can't say it. "We should get some sleep. Gonna be a long night tomorrow night."
They'll wait out the rest of the day and then leave: he sends everyone to bed and wonders how the fuck to make shelter. He starts canvassing, getting pillowcases and filling them with whatever they can find; whatever they'll be able to carry.
8. Jim Kirk.
His life takes on a very very weird pattern, after that.
It's like nothing has changed, with Ivana and Kodos. He practices Denobulan and swears in Klingon mentally (okay, saying "Spot runs fast" in Klingon is a swear, but some languages were just made to vent anger and Klingon is one of them. Plus he and Sam had learned it under the blankets of Sam's bed, laughing into the wee hours of the morning, and so there's something ridiculously comforting about it).
It hits him that there's too much food on the table. He gets a flash of Tom and Asseih and—shit, just everyone who's out there deciding whether or not they can afford to eat tonight or if this is another night they should go hungry so that the food lasts longer and here he is, sitting down to a meal that he won't be able to finish and feels fucking sick to his stomach.
"I don't feel well," he says, not sitting.
"You have to eat, James," Kodos says, smiling encouragingly, fondly. "We must keep our strength up for our people. We must stay strong for them in these trying times when our crops are failing and disease runs rampant."
If he'd been Frank, Jim would have snarled at him. But Kodos isn't Frank, and he's killing people, and he's right, kind of—not that there's a plague, because that's bullshit. But Jim's no good to anyone dead: Kodos would be lots more use dead. Jim eats just enough, slides the rest into the pockets of the oversized sweatshirt he decided to wear because he can hide in it, and tries to breathe evenly and not stab Kodos with his butter knife.
Nothing changes, like this is all perfectly fine and ordinary. It's alarming what becomes ordinary—the feel of a phaser in his hand and the slight hum of it when he fires it (set to stun, always to stun, no matter how angry he is it's always always always stun because there are lines that you just—that he just can't cross).
He goes out every night, and saves maybe—maybe five a night. On a really good night he saves fifteen and the day after he watches for any sign that Kodos is frustrated.
One night he finds people sliding out of a room and a soldier standing, watching them go with tears streaming down his face before he turns the phaser on himself.
That was the first night that Jim had to throw up. He tries not to: the food shortage is getting really bad now, and he just…he can't eat the excessive amount of food on the table every night. Not without feeling like he's killing people that way.
One night he undresses and looks in the mirror to take stock. He's never been… he can count his ribs. He's going to have to add another layer to hide it.
Lather, rinse, repeat: same shit, different day.
It takes him a week of relentless repetition of the smuggle-people-out/play-nice game before he even thinks to send Mom a message. It never occurs to him to message Sam, who he figures is busy with his own life.
≫You know who I miss? Miranda Reaver.≪
It's vague enough that no one will get it—stupid 21st century references but Miranda was a planet of the dead and Kodos reminds him of Reavers; not human anymore, destroying anything that is. It'll read like a stupid message, but Mom will get it.
Kodos is so busy with his councilors he doesn't really care what Jim's doing as long as he's not out taking walks and he stays inside the building. Ivana's migraines are worse so she's medicating. He thinks she knows what's going on and just—can't cope. So she acts like it's not happening, and stays nice and doped up. They have plenty of medical supplies.
Jim realizes that the people he might have—the people who might have tried to save everyone or stop this on the council? They're all dead. Everyone who could have helped is dead and he's alone. When he looks up their dates of death and sees that a few of them died in April and May he realizes that this all was started four months before things were nearly this bad: Kodos was planning it all along.
Sometimes, when he's going north, he stops in towns. He has to be careful; playing music in his room and a recording of him snoring. His door is locked and that's always respected, which Jim's never been more grateful for. But he stops in towns where people starved to death before the relocation, and once he's over the smell he goes in and where people are laying in their beds, jaws hanging open slightly with skin so thin it looks like it would turn to ash if Jim touched it; seems painted over their bones. Sometimes there are children, at their sides or in their arms. Laid down to die, and sometimes he can tell, by the way that the kids' bodies are more decomposed, that they brought the corpses of the children into bed with them; clung to them as they died and he feels—so so sick.
The time he found a cradle with a baby in it with the pillow still over the baby's head, or the one where there was a tub and three small rotting bodies floating in it—those were bad times. Really really bad.
Jim doesn't believe in ghosts, but if he did he'd think they were here. Ghosts of kids screaming to be remembered, dead because their parents couldn't bear for them to starve to death, or maybe worse didn't want to share the food with them, but Jim can't bear to think about that. It's a far kinder death, maybe. He doesn't know why he comes to these places: looking for survivors or food, ostensibly, but usually there's a good chance that there's neither: that they've already been emptied out by people making their way to the compound or running into the woods by the time Jim gets there (it depends, he knows, on how much of the rumors people have heard, and how much they're willing to take their chances. The belief is that the compound has food—it's more certain than taking chances in the woods).
He just…has to see. Someone has to see, because they don't or they won't—they sit up there in that fucking compound and they just…
9. Tom Leighton.
He's getting better at this hunting business. It's been a month; and they had to stop and they kind of made this lean-to thing. Apparently Elith's parents had made her help them build the house they lived in so she had a good time bossing all of them around while they tried to figure out how exactly to bind things together without rope.
He's heading back with five rabbit-like things in hand , thinking that maybe he'll use one of them to make a stew or something; Asseih's having trouble swallowing. Water, at least, no one's lacking, they make trips every day to get more water from the river and oh, hey, maybe they should try to like, fish, except fishing would make them really exposed because there aren't a lot of trees by the bank, but they're settled about five minutes away, so, it might be worth trying.
He almost doesn't see him, but then Kirk's frowning at his lifesigns detector looking tired. He always looks tired, Tom thinks, though that's an exaggeration; he's only seen him twice, this time makes three. Still, he didn't expect to really see him again at all.
"Kirk," he calls, and Kirk looks up and scans for Tom, then smiles.
"How're you?" Tom asks.
"Oh I'm just...dandy," Kirk says, and grins, because yeah, this is kind of an absurd conversation. "Rabbits?"
"More or less," Tom agrees, eyeing them as Kirk falls into step with him. The silence that falls is a little uneasy—Tom wants desperately to ask what's going on, but maybe Kirk's trying to avoid thinking about it. What Tom wants is for Kirk to say that Starfleet's coming to rescue them and give them hope that'd keep them alive, renew the will to live. He inhales to ask and Kirk glances at him.
"You don't want to know," Kirk informs him preemptively, and the look in his eyes makes Tom want to agree that no, he really doesn't except he can't not know. He's the oldest here and in charge and he just—needs to know. He needs to know.
"Oh, I really do," Tom disagrees flatly , sitting down and wincing at the pull in his back. "How many?"
"A month and three thousand people are dead?" Tom demands incredulously. "What the hell?"
"He's got a eugenics theory. He wiped out the big portions in sweeps, and now he's down to refining the population."
It takes a second for that to all filter in, not least because of how straightforward Kirk says it. Like it's not as sick as it really is, and then Tom realizes that it's— "A breeding program."
"When will—is anyone coming?"
"Communication's knocked out because of the ionic field around the planet. Our in-person next check-in isn't until February. After that it'll take Starfleet a month to get here unless there's a cruiser close, but there's no reason for one to be. The fastest anyone can get here is two weeks."
"February," Tom says, because that seems to be when Kirk thinks someone's actually going to show. "That's…what, it's September so that's six months."
"You're talking about doing this for half a year."
Tom sits, trying to put this all together, to process and make some sense of it in a way that will make him okay with it. He wanted to know but he really really doesn't, in hindsight, want to know at all.
"What's your last name, even?" Tom asks.
"Kirk." Kirk says it like maybe Tom's slow.
"Then…what's your first name?"
"Jim. My name's Jim." Jim Kirk, Kodos' foster-son, right, Tom should have put that together a while ago.
"Can you do this for half a year?" he asks after a long pause. "Whatever it is you're doing, this… Robin Hood act you've got going on? They're going to catch you—they always catch them." He knows this mostly from shows and movies but still, Jim's a kid and he's a one-man smuggling machine and he's going to get caught because there are adults and there are a lot of them.
"You're fucking depressing," Jim tells him as they get to the lean-to and the kids start peering out. "Seriously. Shut up."
Tom does, because Jim looks pretty bad, and not physically—sure he's on the too-thin side, but they all are. He just looks...wrecked. On the brink of it being too much and he's just a kid.
Jim's with the kids by the time Tom checks back in, smiling at Asseih and Donovan and listening to Angel complain about the weather and letting Jack lean against him. Tom kind of thinks, watching, that maybe Jim should be doing this; being with the kids, because he's better at acting like everything's totally going to be fine and Tom's pretty sure that he's more transparent than glass.
When Jim leaves two hours before sunrise Asseih cries herself to sleep, and Tom feels hopeless, which he doesn't think was Jim's intention. He thinks...he thinks maybe Jim had a bad night the night before: maybe he hasn't been able to save anybody. He's not really sure how he feels about the fact that they're Jim's cheer-up detour.
10. Jim Kirk.
Jim should be grateful, really, that no one suspects him, but mostly he's—well. He'd have killed him first. Jim doesn't know why Kodos hasn't killed him.
Jim's read the theory. About how women consume less in calories and if you keep them below a certain IQ they're less likely (well, anyone is, regardless of gender) to be serious threats. About how you only need a handful of men to start breeding the population after the cleanse is complete. Which is fucked up, really, because the idea that anyone's going to stay here, that it's not going to get pulled down around Kodos' ears when Starfleet does check in in February. This whole thing is pointless.
But the thing is, Jim's name is on that list. Jim's name is on the top of that list. Jim is never going to be able to look at a stud bull the same way again.
Of course, that assumes he's getting off this fucking planet, and—
He's not. He's going to collapse someday and just not be able to get back up, or he'll get shot. He's…he's made his peace with it, as long as he dies doing something. Shit, he'd rather die like that then live and be part of this—be more of a part of it, because he recognizes those algorithms and they're his, he's doing this.
But the thing is. Jim's sneaking out every night. Sneaking out and smuggling food to the pockets of people (never a group bigger than 12—all spread out, that way they're harder to track), or trying to spot the soldiers to estimate when the hell they're going out: when it's going to happen.
It goes on and on and on—he shaves his head because one night when he runs his hand through it he comes away with this huge gross clump of hair.
"James, what have you done?" Ivana asks. She's getting more and more vapid. Or maybe…maybe Jim tempts death, and Ivana checks out. Or maybe she's drugged, Jim doesn't—he wouldn't put it past Kodos, but she's not going to get killed because Kodos is crazy but he loves her, and he'll keep her alive and so Jim's making the decision not to investigate. If she wanted to save herself she would have.
"I figured it was kind of stupid to wear it long," he says, and runs a hand over the bristles a little self-consciously. It's risky because now he can't hide behind the hair. But the hair was a give-away. He could eat more: he could. He could eat everything offered and stop squirreling it away and giving it away but he can't, he really can't. He wants to throw up every time he tries, and as long as he's still functioning, and it can be managed he's fine. He's fine.
"Play me something," she says, sitting on the piano bench. "Sing me something in Andorian."
She smiles at him, and he sits, sings in Andorian, and plays mediocre piano and thinks he's a fucking hypocrite for staying here and not trying to kill Kodos.
Kodos comes in and smiles at them like they're a real family. Like this isn't a fucking sham.
He's showing no wear: his mustache and goatee are still vibrant red, and so is his hair. Hell, Jim's about to go gray, but not Kodos. It's like once this began, he totally relaxed again. No more bags under his eyes, he's just...fine.
Ivana reaches over and squeezes his knee, and Jim glances at her, stomach tightening.
She can't have missed that his leg is too thin, but she doesn't say anything, and he doesn't care why she doesn't; it makes him so grateful to her that he could cry for a second.
Every so often, someone gets mad at him for saving them. Tonight it's a twenty-something year old guy who looks completely defeated, and now betrayed on top of that.
"What's the point?" the guy asks, scrubbing at his face after Jim tells them they have to run. Now. "Kid…you can't win."
Jim looks at him and glares, pointing with his phaser at the stunned guard. "Look, you can wait around for her to wake up, and then you won't have to worry about the point, which, asshole, is to fucking live."
"You gonna storm the keep?"
"You're not stopping it, you're just…managing the damage," the guy snarls, stepping towards Jim.
And Jim punches him in the face.
"Come with me," he says flatly to the rest of them as the guy writhes on the ground, clutching his bleeding nose.
They come. Jim doesn't turn around to see if the guy on the ground follows.
It's September and they're almost half of their original population. Jim can't save them all—he can't stop the soldiers from walking into a cluster of homes and shooting everyone with phasers set to 'disintegrate'. He can't stop people from being stupid and going back to their homes, and being discovered.
Little battles. He's biding his time. Starfleet has to notice that no one has sent any communication. Someone has to come for these people—he has to believe that. Jim's buying them time, but not a lot. Not enough.
Maybe he'll skip his nap, try to figure out how to boost the signal again. Mom's not responding to his messages, which means either she's out of range or he's not boosting the signal enough, or...or it's jammed. But he can't figure it out, and if it's just that he's not doing enough, that he can fix. The other two...he's not sure he can do. It's not like he can hijack a shuttle or something; he's pretty sure they'd catch him, because those are even more heavily guarded than the dwindling grain stores.
11. Pawramudd Akar
He'd been the pilot on the medical shuttle that had hurtled her and the baby to safety.
That's how Pawramudd gets pulled out of his bed and hauled into the transportation room to deal with a pissed off Winona Kirk because apparently their Kelvin-survivor-bond is supposed to have magical powers. He doesn't even know how she got onto the Jimmy Carter. They aren't really close to any planets right now.
He's helmsman on the Jimmy Carter; he manages to get Captain Orkney to listen to her and put in a tentative course to Tarsus because Winona Kirk on a mission is rare enough that everyone kind of takes notice.
Then Orkney makes her sit down and explain.
"Something's fucked on Tarsus," Kirk says to him, and Pawramudd's having flashbacks to thirteen years ago and being scared as fuck of her, and that she'd been right all the time and he nods.
"Fucked how?" Orkney asks, frowning and shifting her weight.
"My kid's there," Kirk says. "I get a message a month ago that doesn't sound like him at all."
He looks at her. "Jim?" he asks, tentative.
She looks up, and she's still got ridiculous blue eyes and she's pretty, and that she's a badass bitch is always such a surprise because she looks so sweet. "Yes."
He nods. "What are you assuming?" Orkney asks.
Orkney nods again and goes back to the bridge to get on the comm link, and manages to get the Samaritan, a hospital ship, to meet up with them.
"You said a month ago," Pawramudd says quietly, curious, when they're alone.
"I was on the other end of the quadrant," Kirk snaps.
She spends the next four hours yelling at Starfleet personnel from Admirals to a few people whose titles no one's really sure about, and Pawramudd stays because...what else is he going to do?
"Lieutenants Kirk and Akar to the bridge," the captain calls.
"We must be close," Pawramudd says, and Kirk nods.
They are, Tarsus IV in the viewing screen. "Scanners indicate a strange amount of sonic energy," Haulu, the science officer, reports. "Lifesigns scanners indicate that there are two thousand people in the compound and…two thousand more much further north. That's not protocol for a settling colony," he says, frowning at them all. Pawramudd looks at the dots; they're too scattered to be another break-away colony. It doesn't make sense.
"Well, Kirk?" the captain asks, swiveling in her chair to look at Kirk, who's looking at the planet like she's goiing to fucking kick its ass.
Pawramudd would hate to be that planet.
"Assume it's hostile."
It is. They beam down and are immediately shot at, and Kirk throws a goddamn grenade and then takes of at a dead run while everyone else is trying to find their footing.
It doesn't take long to figure out what's happened here, especially not when people start coming up to them.. It takes all of thirty minutes to figure out what happened, and some stupid ensign lets it slip and then they've got sobbing people on their hands: apparently the party line was that there was a plague, but none of the medics can find any evidence of it. People were slaughtered here, and within forty-five minutes of their arrival, Starfleet has a population of 4,000 people in grieving shock.
12. Jim Kirk.
He's picking at blisters on his palms as he gets back into the compound. He's got them up and down his arms from getting into the grain stores, from using his forearms to prop away wiring.
He goes to his room—when he gets this far, he's home free; he feels like he can relax and that no one is going to find him out. It's like his paranoia lessens, once his room is in sight.
There's a rumbling explosion, and Jim stills, hand on the doorknob, craning to see down the hall.
What was that?
"What have you done?" Kodos demands, coming from the other direction. "What have you done?"
"What?" Jim demands, taking a quick step away, stomach dropping.
Kodos grabs his hand, stares at the blisters like he knows exactly where Jim got them, and then at Jim. "I didn't want to believe it," he says, eyes flashing, face redder than his hair. He looks like he's on fire. "But it's been you all along."
Jim doesn't know how to respond to that, mostly because he feels relieved. Thank fuck. It's over.
"You were like a son to me!" he snarls, taking a swing at Jim, who really did used to be better at avoiding angry people than this. Well, that's a lie, because Sam was never angry like this. Annoyed, going after Jim hollering because Jim…
Concentration is really fucking hard, Jim realizes when he looks up to find he's on the ground with Kodos hovering over him, ears ringing .
"Don't you understand?" he shouts, hunching over Jim. Jim's hands are flat on the floor, and it's in him to get up. His whole body screams to stay down. Whimpers, pleads, protests as he forces himself away from the floor, back into Kodos' face.
"It's fucking unsustainable!" Jim yells back at him Which is probably not the important part, but you'd think an eugenics theorist would know that genocide is unsustainable; that eventually the people will turn or you'll lose control of your "allies" or become too beholden to them—genocide as a means to power isn't fucking sustainable—never mind Starfleet was due to come back in February and would swarm the place with new people.—motherfuck Jim needs to start paying attention, because he can feel the blood streaming from his nose and his lip is split and Kodos is still swinging, and Jim feebly tries to get his arms up to protect his face.
"They'd never have known—"
Jim laughs, because what? It's the wrong thing to do—he should be fucking punch back, getting Kodos' hands away from his neck but he can't, scrabbles a half-second too-late as the pressure increases and Jim's knees buckle, his vision graying out, Kodos' hands the only things holding him up against the wall and Jim begins struggling even more when his vision blacks out.
And then Kodos just—collapses against Jim, hard, knocking them both into the wall, and Jim kicks Kodos off, struggling up because he knows those footsteps.
"Mom," Jim manages around his bruised throat. God, he's not sure he can actually stand, but— "Mom."
He can't get his feet underneath him. Not—not yet. He needs a second to cough and choke and cry, and she drags the body away and sits next to him, putting the phaser back in its holster and pulling him in a little. He collapses further, fingers clenching at the fabric of her pants (not regulation—she's not in uniform).
She sits quietly, stroking his head and the fuzz of hair as he sobs into her lap. After a while he finishes crying himself out, manages to stop.
He has to—they don't know where everyone is.
He gets up, and she presses his phaser into his palm—doesn't try to stop him, just arms him. He's pretty sure there's something significant there. Or maybe not. He's so tired, and now he's got adrenaline but he's going to crash really hard, really soon. His hand wraps around the phaser and shakes. But it feels…it feels reassuring.
"Shoot anyone who comes at you who isn't Starfleet," she tells him, pulling him along with her down the hallways, and he realizes that the phaser's light is unfamiliar and red, not the cool blue he's gotten used to.
"Is that your policy?" he demands, following her and flipping the phaser to 'stun' because jesus fuck, Mom . He gets that she's freaked for him but killing everyone isn't the answer. There are lines he won't cross, not even now. "Because I've got a lot of civilians here, Mom."
"You've got," she says, frowning at him like she doesn't get what he's saying here, and he'd explain that yeah, he saved their lives so they're his responsibility but he's pulled up short because in the absolute ruins of the courtyard are a few thousand people, the majority of whom are colonists—the rest are Starfleet personnel, and that's great, but how the fuck did they find them all, he destroyed the lifesigns—
And then he remembers right, Starfleet's here to help, and they would have had their own lifesign indictators, and he has no idea how long he was up in that hall crying, so they totally could have gathered everyone. With beaming tech it'd only take a few seconds.
Some people are crying, hugging people they thought were dead, and some people are in shock and some people are screaming and fighting—like Tom.
It takes Jim a second to recognize him, and then he can see that the kids are the ones who look the most terrified.
"Tom," Jim says hoarsely, and then again louder. Tom turns to look at him, stops fighting with the Starfleet personnel. "It's over. We made it. It's okay."
"We—" Tom begins, and then looks at the adults, then the kids, and just…collapses and cries. And that sets off a chain reaction that freaks all the other kids out and Jim could just hit Tom, because at least Jim had the decency to have a breakdown where no one could fucking see him. God, he's such an asshole.
"Jim," Mom says almost impatiently, because yeah, fine, she wants to get him checked out by doctors and then onto the ship and headed for Earth and out of here because he's her only priority, but he's got responsibilities and they don't stop just because Starfleet shows up.
"Yeah, in a sec," he says, climbing over debris (what the hell did she do, blow everything to motherfucking shit?). "Asseih. Hey. Kevin. Hey, look at me."
They're moving away—they're all afraid of the advancing officers—all who look nothing but kind and pitying, and they turn to look at Jim, and they'd head towards him, he's sure, if there weren't more officers in the background behind him.
"Wait," Jim says to the officers, and then looks at the kids. "Hey. Hey—shut up. Watch." And then Jim turns to the officers and very deliberately hugs them. Each one.
He can barely stand, and they're more catching him, stiffening with surprise and then rubbing his back, and he stops looking at them after the sixth one because they're crying like Jim's breaking their heart.
He hugs all seventeen of them, and then looks at the kids, who—well, it worked, because they're sort of…inching towards them. He doesn't know how else to prove that these are the good guys—he's not sure…he's not sure that just the words are enough.
"It's okay," Jim says to the kids, and he's the guy who saved them, and who the hell are they going to trust if not him? "They're the good guys."
He's shivering as they walk to the shuttles and then to the ships; shock. He knows he walks with Mom, but after that he kind of zones out. It's over, and done, and he's really just so so fucking tired.
"How'd you—?" he begins, looking at Mom sideways.
"I called you Rodney McKay about a month ago and you didn't respond in all caps. Something was up."
That's…kind of par for the course. Of course that was what brought her. How could it have been anything else? A message he didn't respond to tips her off to bring in the cavalry: right.
He sleeps on the Jimmy Carter, and as soon as they're able to they're being beamed to Earth Spacedock; beaming from ship to base to ship until they're in range for the dock, and then hustled into a shuttle headed for Earth. Mom's hand is warm on his back, guiding him. It takes all of twelve hours, and when they're above Earth Sam calls the comm Jim hasn't realized he's holding. Actually, Sam's been calling, the log is full of his missed calls. Jim just happens to be awake and aware enough to take this one.
"Yeah," he manages tiredly, pressing his head into the window.
"Jim!" Sam shouts, and Jim grimaces against the sharpness of his voice. "Jim! Oh my god, Jim—"
"'M okay," Jim says. He's going for reassuring; he's pretty sure this is what epic failure looks (sounds) like (no, epic failure is thousands dead—no. Bad line of thought).
"You are not," Sam snaps back, annoyed and familiar and Jim chokes just a little on that because god, Sam.
"Yeah, there's that," Jim agrees. He needs…he needs to cry or laugh or scream but he's just…he's just so tired.
"Let me talk to Mom, Jim," Sam demands.
Jim hands it over, and the light comes on indicating they're about to land at the Earth Spacedock.
Jim walks under his own power off the shuttle and into the bay area. There's a woman with a tricorder who tries to get close but then catches a look of Mom and, well. Jim flinches when a few people run by, and then there's one person.
"Hey, Jimmy," Sam murmurs, and then guides them down to the floor right in the middle of the station, cradling Jim against his body and Sam is so warm, and solid—he's solid. He can feel Sam's hand running over the knobs of his spine and the bumps of his ribs even through the layers of clothes and Jim sobs even though he doesn't want to; is terrified that he won't stop this time. So he chokes on it, naps a little; tries to work up the strength to get up. Looks up from his awkward angle at Sam's familiar face and re-memorizes him after a year of being away. Seventeen's a good look on Sam.
He looks for Mom, and Sam says, apparently reading his mind or something, "She had to go kick ass. I told her not to worry about it, we're good."
Jim wants to say that he's not, actually, good, but if she's kicking ass then that can only mean good things for him and Sam won't leave. He nods.
He stands with an effort, and then says, flatly, "I'm hungry." It's—it might be true. His body gave up trying to signal hunger to him a while ago, but it's the right thing to say.
"That revelation right there?" Sam says, wry and sarcastic, hands warm on Jim's shoulders as they stand. "That's rocking my world."
"Shut up," Jim says, and barks a rusty, surprised laugh when he gets a good look at him. "Dude," Jim says, pained and trying not to laugh more but it's so so stupid. "Your fly is open."
Sam makes a face at him and zips up, and then has to lift him up like he's a kid to get him to an EMT, who says no food, not even close; not until Jim's been checked over by a specialist.
They get him onto a medical shuttle and take him to Starfleet Medical: San Francisco. There are blood tests and Sam waving papers and Jim's so exhausted he can't even track the movement—it makes him too dizzy. They all must be here, he knows, clogging up the IICU and regular ICU and the Pediatric ICU, but he's in a private room and thinks that they're not his responsibility anymore.
Sam glances around with a frown, but looks at Jim.
"Go to sleep," he says.
"I can't," Jim says, shaking his head. "I ca—"
"Jim. There's no one left to save," Sam says, squeezing his hand.
Sam means that they've all been rescued: Jim's brain thinks that means he's the only survivor.
He sleeps until Frank walks in, wakes him up with a start and Jim is convinced that he's Kodos coming for him.
Jim's hand closes on the lamp and hurls it at Frank—it's Frank, just Frank, who stares at him—completely bewildered—and then Sam's shoving him out, pushing Jim back down. Jim stares at the lamp, shattered, and feels completely fucking confused. He didn't—he hadn't meant—
He can't fucking breathe.
"Calm down. Jim. Jim!"
Jim shakes his head—he can't clear it. It feels like he's being choked again, hands grasping around his throat and pressing pressing pressing pressing—
"Here," Sam says, and shoves a PADD into his hands, closes Jim's fingers around the stylus. "Jim, come on. Come on, you're fine. Breathe, come on, please just—"
It takes a second to focus on what it is, but when he does he's so surprised that it knocks the panic right out of him.
There's a millennium problem up, variables and values spread out simply in front of him.
Jim chokes a little, because god, yes. This. Finite solutions with theoretical applications. It can't be twisted or—it's theoretical. There's no chance for practical application: not yet, anyway. It's safe.
He settles a little bit further down, draws his knees up, and begins to work in earnest, and blocks everything else around him in favor of it.
Sam explains, quietly, that Mom had to go kick some ass and that's fine—Jim feels better knowing she's out there looking for anyone they missed because if he can't be…at least it's her.
He comms her and she picks up. "Yeah, baby?"
"Some people swam the river," Jim says. "And—didn't make it. But the bodies—"
"I got it," she says. "You eating? Listening to your brother?"
"You're coming back in two days, right?" Jim says, and maybe he's not okay with her being gone, not like he thought.
"Yeah, Jimmy. Two days." She sounds hoarse, and Jim nods even though she can't see it.
"Okay," he says. "Okay."
He hands the comm back to Sam, who pockets it, watching Jim carefully.
"I'm okay," Jim says, and maybe it's a lie but it's less of a lie than it's been lately.
He drinks some water, picks at oatmeal. It makes him want to throw up, though, so he doesn't keep eating it. Sam gets him another cup of water.
There are conversations held around him—eventually the doctor comes in to talk to them about treating Jim—about how he's at risk for kidney failure, but how they're more worried about his brain. They take Sam out of the room to tell Sam about it like Jim's not aware of just how bad he is.
Like somehow if Jim hears it it'll be exacerbated: self-fulfilling prophecy of mental breakdowns or something. These people have clearly never met Mom: Jim's got good genes for being psychotic. Mom's at least functional.
Jim could totally be a functional psychotic.
Okay, he can't do this problem. He's out of practice. Time to start lower—he flips through problems until he finds Kirrria's theory. He'll work his way back up.
He's going to be fine. And if he can't be fine, he'll be functional.
He jerks awake an hour later and hacks into the hospital to monitor everyone; he doesn't know all of their names, but hell, they were all admitted at the same time, so they're not hard to find.
Three people die in the first three hours; they were too far gone and the shock of the last five hours was too much. It makes him feel cold, like a failure.
He keeps checking back.
13. Miko Kasab, MD.
Fourteen years ago, Winona Kirk was her patient after the Black Hawk was attacked and limped back into space. Kirk had almost died, been comatose for months.
Thirteen years go, she'd had both Winona and James Tiberius Kirk as patients when she did the final check-up for release after the disaster of the Kelvin. She's the one who did James's exhaustive allergy work-up; his allergies are worse than his mother's—possibly exposure to radiation after the Kelvin, possibly just really terrible genetics.
Over the course of the last thirteen years, she's had Winona Kirk as a patient a few more times, and she's always had to be coaxed back from the brink of death. Miko gets stuck with her because everyone else is absolutely terrified of her. She should have been immediately assigned to Jim's case. She's not, and that's fine until she sees Retinox 5 flash on the screen as a treatment. He's deathly allergic to that shit, and it's in everything. That his doctor misses it in his chart is just stupidity.
She gets there in time, yells back and forth with the administration and Uri Haradi (who is such a pompous jerk), and finally gets him as her patient.
She doesn't get into the room until late, and the kid on the bed is…
His eyes are sunken and his skin is pulled tightly over his face. He's not nearly as bad as the other kids she's seen today; he had access to food, she thinks, but not a lot of it.
The room is 30∘C, and he looks comfortable enough, but his collarbones cut out of his chest and the hospital gown hangs limply from his frame even as he's sitting calmly in the bed, looking at a PADD, tapping his stylus against the mattress.
There's an empty cup on the tray beside him, but the oatmeal hasn't been noticeably eaten. She doesn't know if it's because he hasn't noticed it or because he's not eating.
"I'm Sam," the boy next to him says. He doesn't stand, but he does look at her. "I'm his brother." His hand is wrapped around James', thumb stroking along the ridges of bone.
She remembers that George had sat just like that when Winona had been in a bed like this, and then wonders where the hell Winona is.
"Are you his legal guardian?" she asks, frowning at her PADD. He was two when Winona was first in here, so he's probably 17 now.
He hands her a paper. "I'm his medical proxy. Our stepdad…Jim's not hot being around people right now. We figured the less stress the better, and Mom's…" he waves a hand and then shakes his head. "So I'll be here."
She nods, frowning, because what? She left her thirteen-year-old with the seventeen-year-old?
"I'm Miko Kasab, I'll be James's—"
"Jim." Sam's the one to correct her, not Jim, and from Sam's look that's unusual. She'll have to get Vaila Bird on this case. She's an excellent trauma psychiatrist, and Jim Kirk is going to need excellent.
"Jim's," she corrects herself, "doctor. We're going to start you on intravenous drip to rehydrate you," she says, addressing Jim. He has blue eyes like his father—bluer. It's weird that she remembers that. It's even more weird because his chart says 'hazel'. She makes a note—it could be a protein break-down problem or a pigmentation fluctuation, which they would have to watch. Then again, it could just be environmental and trauma-related. "We have a mix that won't interfere with your allergies to take care of vitamin deficiencies, and we're going to have you eat every two hours to get your stomach used to eating again."
"I ate," Jim tells her. She looks at him, then at the chart. "I ate more than they did," he amends.
"Jim, you still look like shit," Sam snorts, and Jim looks at him, then shrugs one sharp shoulder.
"We're not judging how much you ate compared to everyone else," she says, gentle. "We're focused on you right now."
She turns to Sam, and he nods towards the door, coming outside the room with her. She's not sure how much Jim should hear right now: won't know until Bird gets down here to do an evaluation.
"He's right," she says quietly. "Comparatively he was in much better shape nutrition-wise than the others. With him we're more worried about exhaustion—he's presenting more like the type of anorexic who eats the bare minimum and loading up on nutrients when they do eat rather than a starvation sufferer who simply lacks food altogether. The psychiatrist will work with him to see how much of that is the case and how much of it has to do with the fact that maybe he just had access to more food that was better for him than the others.
"It's not uncommon for people in these situations to overestimate the conditions of their bodies, and overexert. He has joint damage, and a few stress fractures, but…he's more at risk for psychological issues than physical."
"Like what? Jim's…Jim's not…" he breaks off and shakes his head, thinking better of whatever it was he was going to say, folds his arms over his chest, hunches his shoulders forward. "Like what? Suicidal?"
"We don't know. It's possible that he might be, or he might become suicidal; we're going to watch him for it carefully." She pauses, and then says, trying to be as gentle as possible, "Are you worried about something else?"
He looks at her and then shakes his head. "No. I was just going to say he wasn't crazy, 'cause I'm always telling people that at home. He's not, he's just…Jimmy." He scrubs his face with a hand and then folds his arms against his chest again. "Um, what else?"
"He's going to need to have his relationship with food assessed. We might find that he eats and hoards; we might find he refuses to eat flat out; he might be fine after the initial period of having access to so much food that he's overwhelmed by it. We won't know until he's healthy enough to eat.
"He could have an anxiety disorder, it's very likely that he's going to have a severe case of post traumatic stress disorder. Doctor Bird will be the psychiatrist for Jim's case, she'll be in later to talk specifics for you."
"He's just—" Sam breaks off, shakes his head. "He's Jim."
George said that too. "It's her." Like it meant something, or everything.
Maybe it does.
"We're not just treating his malnutrition in terms of the obvious signs of starvation, Sam. We're treating him for an irregular heartbeat, and massive vitamin deficiency. He's highly anemic with low blood pressure. He shouldn't have been able to walk at all, when you saw him, and compounding all of this is his sleep deprivation. It's going to be very slow going—this could be months."
Sam nods. "Months," he repeats. "Okay."
14. Winona Kirk.
"He's in bad shape," Sam says. He sounds wrecked. She rubs her forehead as the shuttle door opens up and she walks off into the unloading area of Earth's Spacedock.
She's hidden Ivana Kodos, now Helen Karidian. Checked her into a detox program for the depressants she was on. She knew Ivana a few years ago; she might have been a debutante and a coward but she wasn't a war criminal. Winona's never really had a problem being judge, jury and executioner, but she's willing to be merciful with the wife: she just married badly.
It didn't hurt that the first thing Ivana said when she saw Winona was, "Jim's all right, isn't he? God, I'm so—I didn't—I tried."
Winona believes her; and at the end of the day it doesn't really matter what she does right now. If she finds out Ivana was complicit or hurt Jim, it's not like she can't just come back and kill the bitch.
"How bad?" she asks Sam.
"I don't know. Bad? I don't—Frank's been really awesome: he will be really awesome and stuff but…"
Good parents would rush home, but she thinks most parents don't walk off of shuttles after hiding the widows of genocidal maniacs to find admirals waiting nervously. She raises an eyebrow. What fresh hell is this?
"Sam? I've got shit I have to sort out, call me if things get worse, if not I'll see you in three days. Tell Jim: three days."
"You said two," he says, flatly. "Jim is counting on two, Mom."
"Three more will have to do it, Sam," she says firmly, because she's an asshole but this, whatever it is, is bad. Admirals don't usually seek her out.
"What?" Winona asks, nodding to the ensign who hands her her new orders. She'll contact whomever they're from and tell them to fuck off later.
"He was the only person in the compound who can give us actionable intelligence." Tishan falls into step. His white hair is a little mussed around his antennae, like he came here as soon as he heard she was going to be on the next shuttle. She glances at her watch: it's 0332.
She shuts the door to the conference room and looks at him.
"The wife's dead, Kodos is dead, we've got the doctor and we've got the military personnel—the ones who survived—" he says pointedly, lifting an eyebrow. His skin looks strangely green in the light of the space dock; her own skin looks jaundiced as she looks down at it.
It's always so gratifying when people believe her when she's lying: she's the one who said Ivana was dead.
"If they don't like my methods they should have listened when I said my kid was in trouble, two months ago," she says flatly.
"There's talk about charging him with complicity."
She's aware that she's not balanced, and that sometimes it shows on her face when she's ready to snap. She thinks this time around she's fucking justified. "Who?"
"It won't go anywhere—I mean, he's thirteen, you can't expect a thirteen-year-old to be—" Tishan hastens to say, antennae twitching almost nervously. Which means it's gaining momentum, and she shouldn't have been gone for two days—she thought it'd be safe to be gone that long. "But there are rumblings, and I wanted you to be aware. Maybe stay in San Francisco? I know you're not under our jurisdiction, even though you are still officially ours, so consider it friendly advice and a personal favor."
It pays to work for the intelligence service sometimes. "I want the name, Tishan."
"You can't kill her."
She pays a visit to Admiral Norx, and then Admiral Archer, and then the president.
Jimmy never even gets subpoenaed to testify in trials. Later, when he's angry and raging against the world, he gets pissed at her that she took the option away from him. She doesn't care.
15. Sam Kirk.
"How is he?"
Sam jerks awake, and blinks into the dim glow; three days later, at least she kept this promise. God, Jim'd been so pissed in that weirdly quiet way he's getting pissed. "Mom."
"How is he?" she repeats, sliding the door shut and coming around the bed.
"Alive. He keeps hacking the hospital database to check on everyone else, but I can't make him stop it," Sam says as she wraps her arms around him. He holds on tight; he knows she had to go do whatever it was she was doing. He's used to it, but fuck, he's glad she's here and it's not all on him.
"Sounds about right."
"They're treating him for—," he breaks off as she picks up the MediPADD and reads it.
"They're sending him to a shrink?" she asks. "How's he taking that?"
"So far so good. Bird's cool, she's not like, shoving at him. I don't know if she's even read all his aptitude tests, even though they're in his file." That's always been the problem; Jim doesn't react well to being told that he's not living up to his potential, and inevitably a shrink brings it up and Jim storms out and refuses to go back. Not that Sam thinks Jim shouldn't be forced to go back: Jim's almost died more times than Sam can count, not that Jim would ever think of it as being suicidal. No, usually it's stupid shit like jumping off of roofs with "wings" on—kid stuff that Sam never did, but Jim doesn't really get limits. Kid needs to see someone.
"What happened?" he asks as she sits down and holds Jim's hand, bracing her forearms against the bed and watching him sleep. Sam knows the feeling; he can't quite look away.
"Kodos killed 4,092 people," she says.
"He's dead, right?" Sam demands after it sinks in, because motherfucker, they sent Jim there and let him go and he'd been so excited and if it'd been…if it had just been like, plague or famine or some shit Sam would get it, but it wasn't. "Was the starvation—I mean, was it biochemical?"
"No, that was legitimate, and the ion cloud did limit communications. He forged a few; Jim's. That's how I knew. He just took advantage of a bad situation. He's dead."
Jim wakes up and Mom bullies him into eating, coaxes him into it when bullying won't work and she's always been so fucking good with Jim it makes Sam mad at her all over again because she leaves them; leaves him and Frank with Jim every year and they aren't equipped to handle Jim. Not like she can.
When she's not making him eat, he's doing math. Endlessly, and it makes Sam smile in relief because that's normal. Weird, but normal.
16. Jim Kirk.
At first it's the eating. Every two hours, whether he wants to or not. And he's tired, and he screams at the nurse, at Sam, at the doctor. Screams and cries and won't let anyone touch him and freaks himself out.
There are sedatives, and then he's talking to a very nice woman with brown skin and clear green eyes who raises her eyebrows at him, makes him talk. Dr. Bird is relentless—he talks about Tarsus because otherwise she wants to know about his childhood: about how he was born with survivor's guilt. About the personality tests he's taken since he was two that say he's too smart; has an obsessive personality; has a tendency towards antisocial personality disorder; has a deep need to control things; is a natural leader.
It's a trade he's making in his head, and he's not sure if she knows it or not. He's not really sure if she'd ask him about the rest of it, but most of them do—the shrinks who have come and gone (quickly) over the years.
He talks a lot about the other kids—he feels…responsible. Everything was destroyed at the compound: the council and generals apparently lit fire so that the worst of the evidence would be burned—not that it matters. They started with 8,015 people, 3,923 people remain.
Today he's in her office, looking out the window and listening to her talk about his survivor's guilt. He slipped up early on and told her about his equations; about Kodos finding them.
"Did you do the math to determine the way to get the most people to survive," she asks, "or did you have a eugenics theory?"
"No," Jim allows, but he's not going to give in on this. "Doesn't mean I didn't draw him a map."
He did the math because numbers make him feel safer, even when they're saying something horrible. Kodos made them do something horrible.
The skin on his hands doesn't look like paper anymore: he can't see the bone, covered now with a layer of fat and muscle. They shook—when he came in in October? They were shaking constantly. Strain or something.
They don't shake anymore, but three months is enough time, he thinks.
"He took something of yours and he used it," she says softly. "He perverted something that made you feel safe. It's okay to be mad about that."
She makes him sound like a fucking battered spouse—the tone of her voice reminds him of those PSAs that are always running.
He shifts in the chair and cracks his neck. He doesn't know if Ivana got out or not. He doesn't know if he wants her to have or not.
"I didn't do enough," he snaps. "I should have—I didn't do enough."
She doesn't, at least, try to tell him he's only 13. That he did all he could. He likes that about her, that even though she frames him in ways he wouldn't frame himself, she never patronizes him.
He doesn't know when he started to feel better. He knows when he started to look it—Sam stopped acting like Jim was going to break around the end of December. Mom didn't really change, but she did start letting him watch movies around then, so maybe that was something. It took him two fucking months to get there, but he did.
It's not that he's stopped waiting for the bottom to fall out it's that…he's healthy enough to handle it when it does.
They let him go at the very end of January.
17. Frank Hallie.
His first thought (after the initial moments of abject horror) when he finds out what's happened, is Great, now he'll be worse. He's not proud of it and he feels fucking guilty for it, but…he's not wrong. After the lamp-throwing-incident Frank went back home: he came around when Sam needed him, but beyond that…
The Jim who comes back looks much older, has blue eyes, and just a fuzz of blond hair. Winona shrugs when he mentions all of it and says Jim's decided to keep his hair short.
The shrink, Dr. Bird, comes to the house—all the way to Iowa from San Francisco. Jim won't leave the house most days, so she comes to him. She's a nice woman. Frank almost feels bad for how much abuse Jim hurls at her.
He hears Jim shout sometimes when he's home on the weekends and Bird visits (every Sunday at 2:00)—breaking the quiet, steady monotone he's been using. They get set up in the study, and Frank can hear them in the kitchen, Jim yelling, "What fucking choice—8 out of 500!" and "It was his fucking golden opportunity!" and once, sobbing and wrecked so far that Frank wanted to get out and away from it because even by proxy it hurt too much, "I did the math."
And Winona killed the sonovabitch (they're so far past the point where that's even an issue in their marriage, and at least this one he feels like the asshole deserved it) but Frank wants to—math's Jim's thing. Math is, incomprehensibly, Jim's safest space. And the bastard tainted that.
Bird sits at his kitchen table and tells him and Winona Jim has survivor's guilt, post traumatic stress disorder; an unhealthy relationship with food. That it's especially hard to treat the survivors of Tarsus IV because there is no record of what happened. That the only person who seems to know what happened and made it out is currently sitting in the living room watching Sarah Connor snarl at Miles Dyson about creating something true. Jim's snickering at John Connor's exasperation.
Terminator's pretty violent, but it was the first time Jim expressed interest in…anything, and Winona had nodded, so what the hell can Frank say? They're marathoning—Sam's in there with him, and Sam reads Jim pretty well, so if he starts to get freaked Sam will shut it off. He thinks.
"It's not that we need the record on Tarsus," Dr. Bird says before she leaves, standing in the doorway and speaking in a low voice. "It's just that without it we're not on equal footing with him, and sometimes he seems to feel I'm denying or questioning the validity of his experiences. So around the dinner table or just in general if you can indicate to him in little ways that you're conscious of what happened…"
"How?" Frank demands. He doesn't want to bring it up—hell, he'd be repressing the shit out of it. Really, he's not sure Jim isn't.
"Not overtly, but if he makes a comment or alludes to it, don't pretend to misunderstand. He might want to talk about it suddenly—in the middle of the night. Might have sudden memory. Try not to be patronizing—it's okay to be awkward, just be awkward verbally or tactilely—" she pauses, and looks over his shoulder at the boys. "He was starved for touch that was reassuring. It's…possible that for at least four months he had little to no human contact which wasn't him being there for someone else. A hug—a pat on the back or a high-five, even. They're little things, but they'll mean a great deal to him—to us as a species."
Frank nods. All he knows is that it used to be you couldn't eat anything with Jim around—he'd pick off your plate if you let him. Now he doesn't. Waits until everyone's eaten, watches, and then reaches for the high-protein supplemental drink. Bypasses steak, chicken, potatoes, carrots…anything. Frank's trying to make his favorites—hell, he sent out for take out, which they do maybe once a year— got fresh ice cream in January. He's got no idea what he's supposed to do.
"The food thing?" he asks, because apparently Winona's not going to, and he kinda thinks this one's important. Winona's got this thing about Bird that Frank doesn't really understand: she tolerates her, listens when Bird speaks, but you'd think the woman was a goddamn mute the way Winona acts around Bird.
"He'll readjust in time," Bird tells him. "He identifies that food—the drinks—as his, because they're ordered specifically for him and none of you will drink it or have indicated that you'd like to." Of course they haven't; those things are thick and faux-chocolate. "He might also feel like if he's just drinking those he's getting what he needs nutritionally and there's more food for you. If you make an abundance then it might help him stop thinking in terms of there being a shortage. If he's up to going out, bring him to a grocery store where he can see that there isn't a shortage of food here. It's one thing for him to know it intellectually, and another to believe it."
So Frank starts cooking like he'd cook for five, and there are leftovers and Sam groaning about how he can't eat anymore, he really can't. It's a waste, and he's spending more on food than he's used to and now shopping trips are a family excursion, but the first time Jim laughs at Sam—not brittle, not like he's been gone over a year and been through hell—and finishes what's in front of him? It's worth it.
Takes a month or so, but eventually Jim starts eating food at meals. Not enough, not really, so Winona doesn't take him off the drinks—doctors aren't opposed to it, and it's good for Jim to have something that he doesn't have to glance at the rest of them before eating (not that Jim knows he's doing it—if Frank wasn't looking for it he wouldn't see it, he doesn't think).
Jim runs. He never used to, at least not more than any other kid runs—around the fields playing tag.
He runs now like he's training. Exercises with weights. Come summer Frank's pretty sure he'll be swimming.
It's no use keeping him in the house: doctors suggested he try that the first week. Jim'd made Sam cry with the way he did math like he was possessed—the way he kept looking out the windows frantically—like he thought someone was out there. Winona had said it was someone he thought he'd missed; someone he had to save. Said maybe she should have kept Jim on Tarsus longer so he could see everyone get evacuated and then shrugged.
"What the fuck," Sam says, watching Jim run in the snow.
"He's getting ready," Winona says from where she's sitting at the table, looking over her orders for shipping out. Frank wonders if she's going to stay longer or leave again. Three months at the hospital, then the two months here…she's been inactive for a while, turning down summons and orders to stay and manage Jim.
"For what? It's Riverside," Sam protests, and Frank smiles at him slightly, squeezes his shoulder. Sam's a good kid: worried about his brother, and who can blame him?
"Whatever comes next," Winona replies blithely, and Frank looks at her and remembers all over again that she's got a life that's so different from his that she lives out there. That she can look at what Jim's doing and recognize it for what it is and be totally fine with it; not worried at all.
Dealing with the town is…a challenge. They're all fascinated, but when it's a family excursion they don't come close. Mostly because Winona's fuck-off vibe is lethal. But Jim's having a bad day because Winona's gone and Sam won't leave Jim if he doesn't have to, so Frank's doing grocery shopping among the wolves. Well, their friends, but he's feeling kind of hunted.
"How is he?" Kyle Hallet asks. Kyle's kid, Aaron, was Jim's best friend, before all this. Frank looks up from the list Sam had made. Apparently they're going to be enticing Jim with chocolate this week: brownies feature heavily.
"Jim? He's getting better."
Kyle chuckles, which is a little strange until Frank realizes he's nervous. "Aaron's asking about when Jim'll be all right to see people," he says, and his tone is striving for casual but failing hard.
"He's been home two months, Kyle."
"That's what I said to Aaron, but the kid'd never forgive me if I didn't ask. How're you doing?"
Frank looks at him. "I got a kid who's pretty fucking damaged in the house."
"Yeah, and that's just what you needed, huh?"
Frank smiles a little—it's not funny, it's inappropriate, but he can't help it. "He's too screwed up right now to be a handful. We'll give it six months. Hell, it might even be a relief to have him drive one of my cars over the cliff."
The town is…well. Doing what they always do: keeping their distance from Jim but using Frank for the gossip. He thinks they're wishing that Jim had his own version of what George had been for Winona. He thinks they're worried that Jim's alone, and the person his George could be one of their kids.
Sam's visiting his grandparents after school, just to check in, but Tiberius and Anne haven't been over to the house except the one time, right when Jim'd gotten home.
Sam'd looked at Jim and said, "Hey, Jimmy, look. Pop and Grams are here."
Jim'd still been oddly quiet, then, and Anne had rushed over to hug him and he'd flinched, and then Winona had stepped in and sent Sam and Jim off to go do something while he'd looked at them both and then gone to find Winona.
"He's so quiet—" Anne had been flustered for words.
"Kid survived a genocide, the fuck you expect?" Winona had asked, tilting her head and staring at them with eyebrows raised.
They haven't come over since, ostensibly for Jim's own well-being, but Frank doubts it.
It's not for Jim. It's for them. Jim looks like George and he's fucked up like Winona (and he loves her, he does, but he's not an idiot), and Anne and Tiberius are happier to leave things at a safe distance.
As soon as Jim gets home, Frank started getting these calls from husbands and wives and brothers and sisters from all over the damn galaxy; the loved ones of Tarsus survivors. It was always the same:
"He saved my kid."
"My brother—he just keeps talking about this kid, Jim?"
"I don't know if Jim's up to it, but we're at Starfleet Medical: San Francisco—could he come and see Asseih? She won't respond and one of the other boys here says that Jim used to get her to smile?"
It wasn't a thing when Jim was still in bed or not answering comms, but he's better and it's March and now Jim looks at him curiously after Frank hangs up, and Frank says, awkward,
"That was Starfleet Medical…apparently there are some kids still there who remember you. Said if you felt up for a visit you'd be welcome to."
"I want to," Jim says, and Frank thinks, right, of course, he probably wants to be welcomed like a hero: do his ego good. "I want to go."
Winona looks at Jim for a long time after he tells her, and then nods. "If you feel up to it."
She's shipping out—she says for two months, apparently there's a civil war breaking out somewhere and so she's ditching him with Jim (and Sam, technically, but Sam's never felt like a burden).
The three of them had a fight about it last night with Sam shouting that Winona had to stay and Jim saying that he's fucking find and Sam should stop treating him like a baby. Jim won that one: but then, Jim wins a lot these days.
So they head to San Francisco and see Winona off, and then head to Starfleet Medical. It's a tour of a hero, and Sam says he can't take it and sits in the lobby, stubborn and angry.
Full-grown adults—people who should've been watching out for this kid, hug him and cry—thank him for saving them. For all he did for them. And Jim just…shoulders it. Keeps walking. Smiles.
"Hi, sweetheart," Jim murmurs to a four-year-old girl. "Happy to be home?"
There are a few other kids who cluster around him tightly—the little girl is Asseih. Pretty little thing with dark skin and big eyes.
Jim smiles and looks at drawings and meets family members; stands up straight and shakes hands, listens intently to status updates—and Frank realizes that it's not that Jim's just being polite and glazing over, he knows their statuses, like he's been following them for all these months.
Of course he has, Frank doesn't know why he's confused.
No one seems to notice Jim doesn't eat a damn thing while he's there except a spoonful of chocolate pudding, teasingly, to make Asseih eat. She looks at him, then at the pudding cup, and wraps her small fingers around it.
"Mine," she says firmly, and Jim laughs, touches her cheek.
"Yeah, okay," he agrees, and then moves on.
There's food readily available; baskets of pastries or fruits that Jim turns down too fast when it's offered; deflects onto someone else.
"Ready to go?" he asks after it's been five hours and Jim's starting to look a little weary.
"No, I gotta—" he hitches his thumb upwards, and Frank trails him to the other ward, where a kid Sam's age grins.
"Tom," Jim replies, and hugs Tom back when the boy wraps his arms around Jim.
"How're you doing?" Tom asks seriously, pulling back only a little to look at Jim critically.
"I'm home," Jim says, lips twitch. "So one up. You're a fucking asshole, though."
"I don't think I could take home," Tom replies. "I mean—god, no. Did you go down and see the kids? Wait—why am I an asshole?"
"That was a really fucking embarrassing interview, Tom. Really."
Frank has no idea what they're talking about, but Tom flushes slightly.
"Look, I told the truth," Tom insists. "And, I don't know, a lot of people around here were trying to like, twist shit around and you know how—I just. If someone was going to tell it I kinda felt like it should be one of us, and not some politician or pundit or something."
Jim looks at him for a while. "Yeah," he agrees, finally. "I guess."
"So the kids look good? I mean—" he cuts himself off, seeing something in Jim's face, and then shrugs. "I can't um…I get wicked flashbacks when I go see them, so I don't do it a lot. Asseih really imprinted on you, though—look."
He's tugging Jim into his room and showing him a wall of child's drawings, and Frank watches the way Jim's lips twitch as he's tugged along. "All you. I feel a little bit offended, since I was the one in the depths of the woods foraging for food."
"It's the blond hair, it makes me seem heroic," Jim says, and Christ he sounds like Winona there.
"Yeah, that's it," Tom agrees. "You gonna…testify? I got a thingy, somewhere, but my aunt got me out of going, 'cause…that's just like, nothing I want to deal with, you know?"
"Yeah, no," Jim agrees. "They haven't subpoenaed me, so I figure what the hell."
Tom looks at him for a long time, then nods. "Yeah. Okay. Well, there are a few other people here from Tarsus, and when I say 'a few' I mean the rest of the ward. Come on."
Frank stays at the nurses' station and watches the hours tick by, and realizes they're going to have to get a hotel room to stay the night, because no way is he driving back to San Francisco.
He heads down to the lobby to find Sam's already booked two rooms and is eating pizza.
"Did someone do an interview?" Frank asks Sam, who looks at him in surprise and then says,
"Some kid, Tom Leighton, he did this big interview. Talked Jim up a lot. It was back when there was all that speculation about who knew what a month or two ago. He kind of avoided the big deal stuff, the…the horror of it, you know? But he did talk up Jim a lot.
"Want?" Sam asks, offering Frank the box of pizza while he thinks about that, and how it changes how much he thought everyone knew. They sit and eat until the receptionist says that he's sorry, but they have to go because visiting hours are over.
Frank starts to go, but Sam puts a hand on his arm and goes instead.
They come back down twenty minutes later, and Jim looks exhausted, with Sam pretty much steering him along. They don't talk on the ride over, and Frank goes to bed in his crappy hotel room and the boys go to bed in theirs, and in the morning they drive back home, Jim asleep in the backseat and Sam tight and unhappy in the front. Frank puts on the radio and drives, and tries t o remember when this wasn't his life.
It goes to shit in April.
The trip to the hospital was a sure-as-shit mistake: Jim's vibrating now. Restless.
Sam goes to take his entrance interview at Meyer's Institute and Jim…
Goes back to being that kid that Frank'd been sure he was gonna be when he was 12, before he left.
Sam leaves and Jim acts like Tarsus and these last months never happened. Sam's only gone for two weeks, and Frank's trying to be supportive, or something.
It sucks, he knows, that for he and Jim to get along Jim had to get wrecked, but at the same time it was kind of nice, to have kid who was…less hostile.
It hadn't hurt that he was just quieter.
They have a knock-out drag-down fight one night when Frank just asks him what he wants for dinner and Jim says that he doesn't know and Frank points out that he never knows but maybe he should figure it out so Frank can cook something.
Jim slams out of the house, and he's gone for twenty-eight hours before Frank calls the cops and Winona. She's off…doing whatever she does, he's tired of asking, but Jim's her kid.
"I've got him," she says.
"What?" he demands.
"He came to San Francisco," she says, like this isn't a big deal. "Let him be."
"Let him be? He's fucking off his gourd!"
"No—look, he's…" except he doesn't know how to say it. Doesn't know how to say "I'm not George and I'm not your father and I can't pretend that any of this is cool, and maybe when we were all kids and joking about you being psychotic WE WEREN'T JOKING." She's leaving him alone the way she'd want to be left alone. Frank just—he doesn't know how much more of this he can take.
Jim comes back four days after that, humming to himself.
There's a bitemark on the back of his neck, and when he heads up the stairs and shucks off his shirt Frank can see bruises in the shape of fingers and hands all over him.
"Jim!" he shouts up the stairs. "Jesus fuck, what the hell?"
"I just had to get out of here," Jim says, giving him a 'what're you, slow?' look.
Jim just snorts and slams his door behind him.
Frank wants to call Winona and ask what the fuck is going on; is she letting Jim go to whore houses? When she says she has him, does she mean she has an apartment in San Francisco (because if she does, it's the first he's hearing about it and they file taxes jointly so that's shit he should know)? Or did she let him go to…clubs or something and what the everloving fuck is going on, here?
And after that he's out all hours of the night, he's drinking, comes home smelling like pot, and stops seeing Bird and skips his check-up, and the best part is Winona goes off-planet about a week into this horror. Sam, when he comes back, can't do anything about it.
"I'm fine," Jim says flatly to Sam when Sam tries to say something.
Sam got into the Institute—he'll leave at the end of June. Frank's not looking forward to it. Not even—not at all.
"You're like—Jim, they can help you!" Sam shouts, and Jim laughs as a horn beeps in the drive.
"Yeah, but I like Tara's method of 'helping' better." He grins, and slides out of the house, leaving Frank and Sam staring after him.
"Maybe it's a phase?" Sam suggests.
"Maybe the last few months were the phase," Frank says wearily. "And now we're back to business as usual."
Frank's right, kind of. He's turned into everything Frank always dreaded he'd be. Sam looks at Frank when Frank tries to suggest calling Winona when June rolls around—some fucking crisis she's got to go manage off-planet, because this is what happens when you marry a superhero.
"Why?" Sam says, soft and sad. "She won't—can't?—I don't know. It is what it is. You can if you want but…" he trails off and shakes his head, finishes packing and leaves.
Kirks are always leaving Frank, he thinks as he takes another long pull of his beer. Maybe he was an idiot for thinking he had any of them at all.
18. Aaron Hallet.
At first Aaron honestly doesn't recognize him. He's across the lobby, first off, at the lockers, but more than that it's been a year and a half. Jim's hair's shorter and his face seems to have decided to go in the direction of "gorgeous" instead of "fucking hideous".
He's just standing there, on the landing above the lobby of the school, tracking the pattern of movement, one hand so tight around the book bag's strap that Aaron can see even from across the lobby that it's white knuckled.
"Jim!" he calls, hitting Conner's shoulder. Conner turns and looks across, in the middle of getting shit out of his locker. Jim looks at him for a second, and then Steven walks over to Jim and grins a little meanly as he leans against the wall beside Jim, flicking dark hair out of his face and saying something.
And Jim gives Steven all his attention, bracing a hand against the wall by Steven's head, leaning in before grinning, shaking his head and rolling his eyes and it's almost normal as Steven walks away, but it's not because, well, Steven's not one of those kids they've ever hung around with. Steven's mean and his family is psychotic (his brother wanders around at night with a meat cleaver in her hand for no apparent reason) and if Jim's a flirt then Steven's a whore.
Whatever, Jim's been gone a year and everyone knows what happened on Tarsus; it was all over the news, and everyone knows about the "Nine People Who Saw The Speech And Lived" (no seriously, that's how they're writing it. Apparently some kid named Tom Leighton went to the press and gave an interview and now Jim's an infamous survivor, even though the details are really really sketchy).
Aaron shrugs off his hesitation and goes over to Jim, who twitches a small smile at him. He's got blue eyes, and that's weird, because, you know, eyes don't change color. Maybe they're contacts. Still. It's kinda unnerving.
"Dude, hey," Aaron says, and that's the fucking lamest opener ever, because he hasn't seen him in over a year, but at the same time—it's kind of obvious that Jim's been seeing people like Steven, but couldn't make time for his old best friend. Aaron doesn't want to be his "old" best friend.
"What was that?" Aaron asks, jerking his head after Steven's back, trying for casual, like they can just pick up where they left off.
"Dude is a fucker," Jim informs him, like somehow it's a revelation.
Aaron grins, and then hugs him, one armed. "Missed you, you asshole."
"Yeah," Jim says. "Well, it wasn't a picnic for me. So, homeroom, you can tell me if you ever got Jenna."
They head off, and it's like things are normal; like Jim never really left.
That lasts a week or so? Then he's just angry in general and like he can't stop it showing. He goes on this whole big thing at their algebra teacher—about how she's wrong, can't she see that that the whole fucking theory if fallacious?
She makes the mistake of asking him to prove it. Turns out he can.
"Did you…know Jim could do that?" Charlie asks Aaron, leaning over to whisper.
"Uh, no," Aaron says flatly, because what the everloving fuck is that about? Jim's always done well without studying in math, but Jim's never…like, what?
He tests out of geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus. They give him independent study.
Jim just shrugs when Aaron wants to know what the fuck is going on.
It gets a little weirder. He finds Jim and Steven in a music room after school—Aaron was just walking by on his way to practice, and the door was open and hello, there's Jim pressing Steven back against the desk, a hand possessive in his hair and kissing him hard, grinding their hips together. Steven's hands are under Jim's shirt, and shit, Aaron looks away fast because some things you just don't need to see.
Aaron does wait around for Steven though, and grabs him when he comes out of the building. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Aaron demands. He wants to punch Steven. Can't he see Jim's messed up?
"Fucking, mostly," Steven replies, giving him a look like Aaron's the weird one. "It's Jim."
"He just got back from, you know—"
"Tarsus?" Steven asks. "Yeah, I know. So?"
Aaron stares at him.
"It's fucking Jim," Steven says in exasperation, sketching something that could be Jim (or a palm tree) in the air. "You have met him, haven't you?"
Aaron's not sure what that means—he never really gets it.
Jim sits with them at lunch, he joins the track team, but—
It's different. He's cagey, and they don't talk like they used to. Don't hang out as much.
He doesn't eat, either, and Aaron has no idea what to do to help him. They all got those lectures on 'how to spot an eating disorder' and so Aaron kinda thinks Jim might have one but—Jim just totally doesn't want help.
Aaron kinda stops trying so hard.
19. Jim Kirk.
Frank hits him—he's drunk, Jim's pissed, it was bound to happen at some point—and Jim is…done.
He gets his GED, and doesn't go back to school.
He just can't get out. The last time he got out things went pretty shitty and so he figures…fuck, as bad as it is here, out there it'd be worse, and it's better when Frank moves out of the house (it makes him laugh, how fast Mom divorces the asshole).
Of course, when Frank leaves it's like no one lives here, because he takes almost everything; apparently most of it was his.
Jim liberates 20,000 credits from Frank's accounts; the asshole hit him, and he's always been an asshole. Jim calls it compensation for having to grow up with him. The law would call it stealing, but Jim covers his tracks, and whatever. He doesn't care. He just—he doesn't care.
One day, while he's going through the boxes left in the bare house, he finds a box full of holos of Dad and Mom and Sam in the days before Jim, and Jim figures what the hell.
He sits on his bed and watches them, and—shit. Shit. It's been fifteen years and Jim never knew the guy and Dad would have died even if Mom hadn't been pregnant but that doesn't stop him from feeling guilty. He's also pissed off that he never got to watch these; that he never really knew anything about Dad except for the little details Sam tossed his way casually. Like they didn't mean—like they didn't mean everything.
Dad is laughing, taking the footage of Mom teaching Sam how to swim, Sam glaring up at her like a drowned rat and the image shaking because Dad can't stop cracking up.
There are others, ones taken of Mom and Dad's wedding, both of them in jeans and t-shirts, looking rumpled and kind of smug and like they have the world in front of them, the justice of the peace long-suffering and Grandma Anne crying.
Jim feels…jittery, like he should stop watching because Mom never talks about it and Sam never talks about it and maybe it's supposed to be kept buried but he can't help it: now he's seen what everyone was like before and he just feels…lost. Like there's something he was supposed to do or somewhere he was supposed to go and he didn't get there, anxious and weirdly guilty.
He kept files, on Tarsus. He backed everything up on a chip and tucked it behind the chip in his PADD. All the details, and he's kept them because…because Kodos was dead and everyone who was going to survive did and maybe he wanted to forget, a little.
He puts it in an envelop and sends the chip to the Federation Public Television, and drinks a hell of a lot as the shit storm whips into a frenzy as all the details and numbers and methods come to light, from the forging of transmissions to the hoarding of food stores.
Jim ignores calls for interviews and hosts riotous parties and tries to get to the point where he doesn't care at all.
He manages to lose track of vast spans of time: he looks at the date on his PADD and realizes he lost the entire months of July and August.
It's never really enough, though, and he's sixteen before he knows it. Sixteen and drunk and strung out on pills like candy and alcohol like paint stripper and designer drugs to shoot up when the average ones just won't do.
He drags a lot of people down with him.
Steven's the first one he almost kills, but Jim gets him to the emergency room and then calls Steven's parents.
They check Steven into rehab and Jim never sees him again. He does it a few more times; once he makes a girl check herself in because she tried to hang herself from his curtains.
He's not sure how to live his life, not really, but he sure as shit knows how to keep people alive.
Sure as shit doesn't know how to die.
Tom goes to university to study botony, which Jim figures makes some kind of sense.
Roberta is doing fine; she does the interview circuit and tries to describe Kodos' face when he gave that speech, the one that said they were all going to die. She's going to write a book, apparently.
The rest of them Jim keeps track of; Kevin, Elith, Donovan, Angel, Jack and Asseih. They're spread across the Federation but he—them he feels most responsible for. The first ones he got out: the people he saved when he had no clue what he was doing, armed with a fucking hypo of all things.
It's like if they're doing okay he's…okay, or something.
He's good at numbers; even fucked up on scripts and injects he can still work the stock market, and there's Dad's insurance policy to draw from and the money Sam sends him, and so Jim starts a scholarship fund for them. Makes him feel like he didn't abandon them or something. Sets it up and leaves it alone and yep, that's his good deed for the year.
He doesn't have any idea why he's like this. Seems obvious: should be obvious. Fucked up kid; emotionally absent mother; piss-poor excuse for a father-figure, real father martyred, abandoned…
And then there's the genocide.
Doesn't mean that sometimes he wakes up and stares at his reflection and presses his forehead against the cool mirror and sobs because he doesn't get it.
It fucking— he doesn't make sense. He knows exactly why he's like this. He understands: he doesn't comprehend.
In ten years, Jim Kirk will be a household name and no one will remember that he was even on Tarsus. He'll have saved thousands of lives, made first contact with hundreds of planets, and have received a truly embarrassing amount of medals of honor.
Now he's lying on the bathroom floor, trying to remember if he took the blue pills or the green ones and which ones don't mix with the vodka he has clutched in his hand.
"You're an alcoholic at sixteen," Aaron says, like it hasn't been a year since he's even spoken to Jim. "You need help."
Jim watches Vivian watch I Love Lucy. Pretty Woman's the movie of the month. He takes a pull, and it burns as it goes down; he's got no idea what the fuck he's drinking.
He has no idea how the fuck Aaron even got into his house—then again, he doesn't think he's locked the door once.
Looks at Aaron and laughs, head falling back. Too loud, but what the fuck.
"I don't need any of this," Jim says, and then laughs again. "Until I need more." It's a song, he thinks; a lyric to one of those twangy songs about hard times and beer.
He holds up the bottle and peers through it, at the room distorted. Edward is being a dick and ignoring Vivian.
"Jim, you need help—"
"Fuck off," he says.
They all do, eventually.
He fucks most of them out of his life, moves on to the next person; they want to save him until they realize what that would mean, or realize he can't be saved.
He gets arrested, let out, arrested, let out, arrested, let out.
For values of 'let out' being that he can hack the jail. He gets bored. Fucks up because he's bored, gets arrested because it breaks up the monotony, busts out because what the fuck, he can't be contained.
Frank has this vendetta and Jim gets arrested over and over again for stuff he's done and hasn't done and some shit he did years ago, when he was like, ten. Or nine—that's the car. Frank sues him for damaged property; the judge throws it out. Accuses Jim of stealing the 20k—but Jim's an excellent thief, and it gets thrown out because Frank can't prove a goddamn thing.
Later, Jim will realize that Judge Brenner and Chief Kiablick had a real soft spot for him because a lot of that shit should have put him away for at least a year or so, but the two of them kept on letting him crash and burn on his own.
When Jim's eighteen, Sam gets married. He sends Jim an invitation, which Jim props up on the counter. He's not going, he's not sure he can—he's pissed at Sam for getting his life together and he's just…he doesn't want to go. Too much fucking effort to go play nice with people he doesn't actually care about. And Sam left, so. Whatever.
Sam's marrying Aurelan Rose Kensington, and a month before the wedding Jim wakes up with a massive hangover and The Ultimate HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy beside his head. He looks around; he must have passed out in the bar again, because he's in the back room. Still, it's not like people just randomly leave him books.
Well, there was that one time someone left him a pamphlet, but that doesn't really count as the same thing.
He takes the book with him as he heads back home, head throbbing. He needs a hypo, Jesus Christ.
He flips through the book when he gets home and finds a hand-written note in the back: To Jim, with love, Aurie.
Sam's number is programmed into Jim's comm. So…Sam, and possibly Aurie, dropped by last night when Jim was passed out. Excellent.
Jim drinks his beer and sits down on the bare floor of the living room and reads the book, cover to cover, curious.
He sends Sam a message when he's done, because this shit's fucking hilarious:
≫there's an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they've worked out.≪
He has a bad moment a month after Sam's wedding where he wakes up and stares at the math he'd been working on and realized that none of it made sense to him.
He gets scared and pissed off and throws everyone out of his house because that—the math, that's supposed to be the one thing; the stable thing. Not the thing that he just…
That can't be the thing he loses.
He can either sober up or slit his wrists, and Jim is constitutionally incapable of giving anyone the vindication of him living up to expectation: flaming the fuck out.
He throws all the hypos and pills out; cleans the house out of all of it and lays on the floor of his bedroom and detoxes. It's the worst five days of his goddamn life.
On the second day he comms her. "Mom."
She comes and there are bruises around her face but she sits with him, coaxes him through it.
He rips his fingernails go down to bloody stumps when he tries to scratch motherfucking theories into the walls; when he's…sober, clean, whatever, he looks around the house and can't remember doing it. Can't remember moving from room to room and using expanses of walls as paper; can't remember why the fuck he didn't just pick up the PADD and use that, unless Mom hid the PADDs from him.
Most of it doesn't make sense; the ends of theorems or proofs, stopping and starting and running together frantically.
Some of it does make sense; the stuff he did later. He writes a paper on the theories and publishes it under a false name; he's kind of incredulous that he can do that.
Mom leaves a month after he comes clean, muttering about some bullshit in the Illyri system.
He's not completely sober: he's still drinking. But he does pick up some hours at the Shipyard Bar, just to have something to do. He takes the bike after his shift is over and go see the Enterprise get finished up. She's the newest flagship built in the George Kirk Memorial Shipyard, and Jim's living under her shadow.
There's got to be significance there somewhere, he should ask Sam's wife—she's a lit professor. Not that Jim's met her—they're on a planet called Miranda and Jim knows he's gotta be the one to make that first move— but he hacked her records; had to make sure she was good enough for Sam, and Sam likes to send Jim little random notes throughout his day. Jim doesn't respond, but he likes getting them. Feeling like maybe he's part of Sam's life or something.
He gets curious when he's twenty and reads Christopher Pike's dissertation on the USS Kelvin's final hours.
He listens to the recordings—
"Sweetheart can you hear me?"
"I can hear you."
"I love you so much. I love you—"
—Because he's a masochist, and then gets drunk. Really drunk. And he can hear it in his dreams, that shriek of metal right before the connection died and he just—
He loses a few months, there, before he can even crawl out of that hole, but he sticks to alcohol, this time, and maybe that means he's growing up or something. It ocurrs to him that he hasn't checked up on the Tarsus survivors in a while—not all of them, he can't keep track of all of them (lies, he does, but he's not invested in them like he is in the first eight he rescued).
Donovan is seventeen and in rehab; got addicted to his depression meds. Jack just enlisted in Starfleet after graduating high school, and Roberta is enrolled in school for early childhood education. Tom's done with his studies and is living on Planet Q, and is engaged to Martha Allen.
Kevin lives with his grandmother and sees a shrink weekly, but he's doing all right, gets good grades. Elith is seventeen and graduated; she's heading for the Kennedy School of Government. Good for her, maybe she'll be president one day.
Angel he has to dig for, only because her family moved and she changed her name to Francesca, which he can't blame her for. No one wants Tarsus to be the thing that defines them. She's fine: getting good grades, happy.
Asseih is ten and fine, but she was only three when it all went down. Her he'd like to visit sometime; he'd like to see her—see what someone who doesn't carry this with them looks like.
It's like the math; facts are important. It doesn't change anything, not really, but he feels better for knowing it.
Better for knowing that they're…okay. Alive.
He's twenty one, and Uhura is fine. The way she laughs—that's why he wants her.
The fight, well. Jim's always had a fucking big mouth.
Typical Thursday, is what he's saying, and fine, he got beat up and he struck out but now this guy wants to talk and Jim's so not in the mood for this shit. Especially not from Christopher fucking Pike, who Jim's been trying kinda hard not to hate for writing that damn thing.
"I couldn't believe it when the bartender told me who you were."
"Yeah, and who am I, Captain Pike?" Fuck, his nose is like, crusting up with blood. He can't decide if the napkins wedged are really doing anything at this point, but whatever.
"Your father's son."
Not a surprise, not really, but still…most people try to be subtle about slipping good old Dad into the conversation. Not Pike.
"Can I get another one?" Jim lifts his glass; he's so not drunk enough for this conversation.
"For my dissertation I was assigned to the USS Kelvin," Pike says, like he's imparting fucking wisdom here—shit Jim doesn't know. "Something I admired about your dad: he didn't believe in no-win scenarios."
"Sure learned his lesson."
"Well, that depends on how you define winning, you're here, aren't you?"
"Thanks," Jim says when his glass is topped up, and then gives Pike a look. Clearly he's here. In all his glory. Bloody, drunk, but alive. That last one is pretty fucking impressive, actually.
He thinks Cupcake gave him tinnitus. Or one of his buddies. How many of them were there?
"You know that instinct, to leap without looking, that was his instinct too, and in my opinion something Starfleet's lost." Pike sounds like a cop or a social worker.
Maybe a little bit like Dr. Bird, and wow, Jim hasn't thought about her in years.
"Why are you talking to me, man?"
"Cause I looked up your file while you were drooling on the floor. Your aptitude tests are off the charts, so what is it? You like being the only genius-level repeat offender in the Midwest?"
"Maybe I love it."
"Look, so your dad dies, you can settle for a less-than-ordinary life. Or do you feel like you were meant for something better? Something special?"
Jim's kind of tempted to check his arms. Maybe he's hallucinating; maybe he's got a concussion. No one in real life thinks this kind of corny shit works.
Of course, he was pretty sure no one in real life was this corny, but.
"Enlist in Starfleet."
"Enlist—" Jim's laughing before he can stop it—not that he tries all that hard. "You must be way down on your recruiting quota for the month."
"If you're half the man your father was, Jim, Starfleet could use you. You could be an officer in four years; you can have your own ship in eight. You understand what the Federation is, don't you? It's important. It's a peace-keeping and humanitarian armada—"
"We done?" Jim asks, because Pike sure likes to hear himself talk.
"I'm done." He actuallypays for Jim's drink. That's kind of adorable, in a patronizing kind of way. Is he bribing Jim with a cheap drink, is that what this is? "Riverside Shipyard. Shuttle for new recruits leaves tomorrow, 0800."
Jim waves him off with drink in hand, and Pike pauses, hesitates like Jim's not playing along with his script and now he's going to throw in a hail mary pass to try to catch him or something. Oh, great.
"Your father was captain of a starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives including your mother's. And yours. I dare you to do better."
Jim looks at him, holds his gaze, and then laughs. Laughs and laughs until he can't breathe for laughing, and Pike walks out like he thinks he still has a chance, like he did something here.
"Kid, you're an asshole," Rexhame, the closing bartender, comments. "You crashing in the back or gonna try to head home?"
"Yeah. Least I'm not an idiot," Jim replies, and then stands up with a wince. "I'll head home, I'm fine to drive."
He's really not, but makes it there in one piece, drags himself upstairs and falls into bed with a grunt of pain because jesus fuck, he thinks some of his ribs are cracked.
Fucking Starfleet. Jim's gotta get out; he's clean enough to get that, at least. He's got to get out but he's not going to go up into fucking Starfleet so he can die.
He laughs a little and lays down.
In the morning he locks up the house, hops on the bike and rides the nine hours to San Francisco. Figures it's as good a place as any to start over.