The author is dancing around the room, waving the zine in the air.
Kirk: What's going on?
Author: IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL! AND IT'S ALL MINE!!! MWA-HA-HA-HA!
(Spock waves a piece of paper in the air)
Spock: I would remind you we have a contract explicitly stating that you do not in any way own us.
Author: Yeah, yeah, I know. Can't you guys just let me have this?
Lost In The Woods
The Beast slept.
Nothing disturbed it for there were no disturbances left. Once there had been many, billions of shallow minds that hounded the Beast and nipped at its heels. But the Beast turned and swallowed them all until there was nothing left. The Beast slept, finally at peace with itself and its silent world.
Something moved in the forest.
The Beast woke up.
He was lost.
He was sweating like a pig, gasping with thirst, covered in bruises and he didn’t think his shoes would ever be dry again.
And he was lost.
James Tiberius Kirk stared at the thick, succulent red foliage of the alien jungle that surrounded him. The canopy was so dense that it blocked out the sun. The forest floor was illuminated only by the dim glow of the iridescent moss that hung from the trees like cobwebs. He’d been slogging for miles in what he’d thought was the right direction, using his phaser like a machete to hack through the dense brush. For hours he’d been telling himself that the river was just a few more feet away. For mere minutes he’d been increasingly aware that something was following him.
And for the past few seconds he’d been realizing that he, bona fide hero and soon-to-be Admiral Kirk, was lost, exposed and very, very afraid.
At least I won’t have to wear that stupid uniform. He thought in a sad, desperate attempt at humor as he turned to face whatever it was that was following him.
Three Weeks Ago
Jim stared in horror at the monstrosity lying on the mattress before him. “It’s hideous.”
“It’s an Admiral’s uniform.” McCoy was trying, and failing, to keep a straight face. He was sitting at the desk in the corner of Jim’s bedroom. It was still early and the thick fog rolling in from the San Francisco bay pressed against the window. “It’s supposed to make you look like a decorated man of action.”
“No man of action would be caught dead in this thing.” Jim thought about it for a moment. “Actually, a man of action would be caught dead in this thing because in the field this much gold braid would get you killed. It’s got sequins, Bones!”
“Only a few.” McCoy chewed on the inside of his cheek to stop himself from laughing. “And think how proud Spock will be when he sees you wearing it. Not that he’d ever show it, mind.”
“…Yeah.” Jim looked away.
McCoy sighed. “You still haven’t heard from him?”
“No.” Jim snapped. He didn’t mean to but any reminder of his boyfriend’s mysterious absence over the last month put him in a snapping mood. “I thought Sarek might have but he hasn’t been returning any of my calls. Which means either that he hasn’t heard anything or that he has and it’s bad.”
“Or that he finally got annoyed with you calling him every day of the week.” McCoy pointed out. “In case you haven’t noticed, Sarek is kind of a dick that way. But I’m sure that if he heard from Spock he’d tell you.”
“Not if he thought the information was irrelevant. In case you haven’t noticed, Sarek is kind of a Vulcan that way.” Jim snatched the dreaded Admiral’s uniform off his bed and started shoving it back into its bag.
“Easy there, Admiral. You don’t want to rip your new duds.”
“Stop calling me that!” Jim glared at his friend. “I’m not an Admiral yet.”
“Whoa.” McCoy raised his hands in the air. “Jim, this is a good thing, remember? You’re being promoted to Admiral. You’ll be one of the most powerful men in the Federation.”
“That’s just another way of saying politician. And you know how I feel about politicians.”
“Politicians are high-functioning sociopaths who surround themselves with people too polite to say anything about it, yes, I know your feelings on the subject.” McCoy rolled his eyes.
“No. That’s how I feel about doctors.” Jim threw the bag with the uniform into his closet and kicked the door shut. “Politicians are rabid weasels in suits with too much time on their hands.”
“Well, speaking as a high-functioning sociopath, my medical opinion is that you’re over thinking this. I’ve never seen you so stressed out, Jim. Relax! You’re on vacation.” McCoy waggled his eyebrows. “You could still come with us on the cartography mission to Arula.”
Jim was facing the wall so Bones couldn’t see him wince. The reminder that the Enterprise was no longer his was almost as painful as the reminder that Spock wasn’t by his side. “I don’t think Captain Uhura would appreciate that very much.”
“She should seeing as how it was her idea.” Bones said casually, drawing a circle in the condensation that was forming on the inside of the window.
Jim turned around and stared at him.
Bones saw his face and sighed. “Did you think we all stopped liking you when you got promoted? Believe me, the crew isn’t any happier about your promotion than you are. They already miss you and they’d love to have you back for one last wild ride. Besides, this is your chance to do everything you ever wanted to do onboard the Enterprise but couldn’t because you had to be the responsible grown up.”
Jim’s eyes brightened. “You mean…?”
Bones nodded. “That’s right. Zero gravity food fight.”
Jim was tempted. Actually, he was more than tempted. After a month on Earth he was practically salivating with wanderlust. Every night he dreamt that he and Spock were back on the Enterprise where they belonged and none of this, not his promotion, not Spock’s mysterious mission for his father, had happened. It made waking up every morning to an empty Earth-bound bed that much harder.
“I can’t.” Jim said, the light fading from his eyes. “It wouldn’t be appropriate and besides, I want to be here if…when Spock comes back.” And if he doesn’t, Jim added silently. I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me or trying to make it better.
“Suit yourself.” Bones knew better than to argue when Jim used that tone of voice. “But if you change your mind we’re staying in orbit until Monday.” He rose to his feet.
“You’re leaving?” Jim asked, surprised. He’d been about to pull out a bottle of Saurian brandy he’d been saving.
McCoy offered him an apologetic smile. “Sorry. I have to interview applicants for Chapel’s job.”
“You couldn’t convince her to come back?” Jim asked sympathetically. McCoy’s face turned dark and stormy.
“No. She said Starfleet Command was making her a Commander and giving her a 25% pay raise. Told me the only way she was coming back to the Enterprise was if she could have my job. Did you know she got her medical license last time we had shore leave on Earth? Became a fully qualified doctor and never said a word about it. How is a simple country doctor like me supposed to compete with that? And now I have to go talk to new people. You know how I feel about new people.”
Jim laughed, his own troubles momentarily forgotten, and clapped his friend on the shoulder. “Rabid weasels?”
McCoy nodded emphatically. “Every last one of them.”
The Beast inhaled and its nostrils were filled with the stench of living flesh. The intruder was getting closer, leaving a swath of destruction in its wake. The Beast shuddered with rage. How dare this creature bring ruin and devastation to its perfect, peaceful world! How dare this foul animal blast the trees with its evil device and leave the saplings broken and bleeding on the ground as if they were nothing more than sticks!
And then there was the thing the intruder had brought with it. The Beast did not know what the thing was, only that it was cold and lifeless and that it crushed the fragile seedlings and smothered the grass beneath it. So the Beast ripped it apart and left it sparking on the ground.
The Beast stalked through the jungle.
Jim pressed his back against the wide trunk of a tree and held his phaser out in front of himself. He didn’t dare shoot until he had a target. Sidearm phasers weren’t meant to cut through jungles and his was almost completely drained of energy. Of course he never went anywhere without spare energy packs, but they had been washed away in the river along with the rest of his belongings. Jim estimated he had two, maybe three shots left. He had to make them count.
Something moved in the darkness.
Jim couldn’t see it or hear it, but he could feel it. Somewhere, hidden at the bottom of every human soul, is a big-brained monkey that always knows when something with big sharp teeth is nearby. Right now Jim’s inner monkey was jumping up and down and howling that not only was there something with big sharp teeth but it was right behind him.
But that was impossible. Jim had his back pressed up against a tree that was twice as wide as he was tall. The only thing behind him was solid wood.
A puff of warm air tickled the hair on the back of his neck.
The monkey screamed. The man panicked, toppling to the forest floor in his haste to flee. A blood-curdling roar filled the dense air, shattering the tranquility of the empty jungle. It was only as the last syllable died away that Jim discovered the animalistic sound had burst from his own lips. As the echoes faded Jim raised his head and peered at his surroundings. The jungle was as still and silent as ever, with no perceivable sign of the thing that was stalking him. Jim rose to his feet and walked back to the tree, ignoring his inner monkey as it called him ten different kinds of idiot. Jim examined the tree, searching for the source of the warm air that had spooked him. He found nothing but smooth, papery bark and soft, fragile moss. It was just a normal tree, exactly like all the other trees that enveloped the uninhabited planet of Arula.
Or at least, that’s what it seemed to be. But Jim knew all about how things weren’t always as they seemed. Jim glared suspiciously at the tree. The tree remained impervious.
“…Hello?” Jim called, despising the nervous quaver in his voice. In the dark jungle heat and the eerie moss glow the familiar word sounded alien and strange.
The tree did not respond, and Jim finally allowed himself to relax.
“I must have hit my head in the river and now I’m going crazy.” Jim decided, speaking out loud. “Pull yourself together, Kirk. There’s no animal life on this planet, remember? You’re imagining things. Focus on finding the river. Then you can follow it back to the shuttle and get the fuck out of here. What would Spock say if he were here?” Jim pursed his lips, stuck his nose in the air and raised one of his eyebrows. “I am Spock of Vulcan and I will do whatever I want because you are an illogical human and your behavior is irrational, logical factoid, overly simplified Vulcan philosophy, illogical, fascinating, I am a stupid fart face.”
None of that struck Jim as being helpful. He sighed. Looked like Spock was a lot better at being Spock than Jim was. Too bad for Jim. Maybe Bones would prove more useful.
Jim furrowed his brow and stuck out his jaw stubbornly. “Dammit Jim!” He said. “I’m a doctor not a forest ranger! How the hell should I know which direction to go? Mixed metaphor, half-hearted threat, long suffering sigh.” Turned out Bones wasn’t very helpful either.
Jim craned his neck and peered blindly into the lightless canopy above him. Was it just his imagination again, or was the jungle getting darker? Day lasted 93 hours on Arula, but night lasted two weeks. During the day Arula was a humid, tropical planet but at night the temperatures dropped and the jungle froze. If Jim couldn’t find his way back to the shuttle by then his chances of survival would be slim.
I wish Spock were here.
Jim grimaced at his own thought. “Yeah, well, that’s not gonna happen.” He hissed at himself. “He’s gone and he’s not coming back. Focus, Kirk. Moss grows on the north side of the tree, right? So north is…” Jim looked at the trees. He carefully examined the iridescent moss, comparing the growth on each tree. In the end he was left with only two possibilities. Either north was in every conceivable direction including up and down, or the whole moss growing on the north side of the tree thing was bullshit.
Frustrated, Jim grabbed a handful of the glowing moss that was hanging down from a tree branch as thick as his waist and pulled. Instead of coming apart in his grasp the fragile-looking moss tightened and held. Jim blinked at it and then pulled again, this time putting all his strength into it. The moss still held.
“Huh.” Jim said, looking back up into the dark canopy. “That might work…”
Two Weeks Ago
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Jim’s comm unit was going off in the night. He rolled over in his bed and, without opening his eyes, grabbed the unit and flipped it open.
“Wuh…” He grunted.
Jim was immediately awake. “Spock!” He sat up in bed and clutched the comm unit, his grip shaking in his excitement. “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been worried sick you idiot! When are you coming home?”
There was such a long pause that for a terrible moment Jim feared they’d been disconnected and then, “I am not coming home, Jim.”
Jim fingers still clutched the comm unit so tightly it shook but he could no longer feel the cold metal biting into his skin. He could no longer feel anything. “What?”
“I should have contacted you sooner but I had to be certain the line was secure and…and perhaps I wished to delay the inevitable. But it is not fair to you.”
“Stop.” Jim closed his eyes and prayed. “Just tell me where you are, okay? You don’t mean this. We’ll talk about it. Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out.”
“…I am on New Vulcan.”
“Perfect, I’ll be there in the morning. I’m getting dressed now.” Jim threw aside his covers and leapt out of bed. He dashed to his closet and started rifling through his clothes, trying to find a clean pair of underwear.
“Jim, I will be gone within the hour. You cannot get here in time.”
“Gone? Gone where?” Jim refused to believe what he was hearing. This couldn’t be happening. This had to be some sort of nightmare. “Spock, what the hell is going on?!”
“The Vulcans are dying, Jim. The suicide rate is so high among the survivors that we will not last another generation.” Jim could hear the pain in Spock’s voice and it made his own heart ache all the more. “In order to survive drastic steps must be made. This is why I traveled to Romulus a month ago, at the request of my father.”
Jim’s shock cut through the savage pain in his heart. “You’ve been on Romulus for the last month?” At least that explained why he hadn’t heard anything. Spock must have been so deep undercover even the tiniest slip would have gotten him killed. The Romulans had no mercy for spies, or anyone else for that matter.
“Yes. I was able to make contact with an underground movement that seeks to reunify the Vulcan and Romulan races. I smuggled one of their leaders back into the Federation to meet in secret with my father.”
“So you’re done now, the mission is over. Why aren’t you coming home?” Jim knew he sounded desperate, but he was desperate. How could Spock do this to him, to them? Jim sank to the floor, already drowning in despair.
“Jim. This is the only way to save my people. I must return to Romulus to offer whatever assistance I am able as a representative of Vulcan. They need me.”
Jim knew he was right. Of course he was right, he was Spock and Spock was always right. But Jim also knew that Spock loved him. He’d seen it, felt it, tasted it a thousand times or more. How could Spock make this decision, just like that? “I need you.” A single tear slid down his cheek.
“You will be the youngest Admiral in history. They will sing songs about you, write books about you. Even children will know your name. You do not need anyone anymore.”
“Don’t I get to decide what I need?”
“Ashayam…please forgive me…”
“I said no. If you want my forgiveness you’re going to have to ask me for it to my face. I’m not doing this over a comm unit.”
“Jim. That is not possible.”
“If you go to Romulus we might never see each other again. Don’t you care?”
“Of course I care, but—”
“I refuse to accept this.” Jim interrupted him. The despair had vanished and been replaced with a white-hot rage. “I refuse to believe that this is what you want.”
“It does not matter what either of us want, Jim. This is the way things are. We must do what is necessary. For me, that means going to Romulus. For you, that means becoming an Admiral.”
“You’re breaking up with me because it’s necessary?!” Jim shouted at his comm unit. “Fuck you, Spock!”
Spock was saying something but Jim couldn’t listen anymore. He couldn’t bear the sound of Spock’s deep, patient voice anymore but he couldn’t bring himself to close the comm unit and cut him off. This could be the last time he ever heard Spock’s voice. Jim stared at the far wall without comprehension and allowed his torrential emotions to overwhelm him until they finally faded into numbness. Spock spent the next 45 minutes desperately trying to explain himself and convince Jim to forgive him but Jim never said another word. He couldn’t.
“I must go now, Jim.”
Jim turned his head slowly and stared at the comm unit lying on the floor next to him, his eyes wide with horror. Don’t go, he wanted to scream. He wanted to reach through the device and grab Spock and never let him go. He would have begged and pleaded, bribed and threatened, cajoled, consoled and capitulated if he had thought it would convince Spock to stay. But he knew that once Spock had made up his mind nothing Jim said or did would change it.
“I do not know when or if we will be able to speak again.”
This couldn’t be happening. There was still so much Jim wanted to say, so much he had put off saying until the moment was right. And now those moments would never come.
“Wait! Spock!” The words burst from Jim’s lips like startled birds. But it was too late. Spock was gone. And he wasn’t coming back.
Jim sat on the floor until the sun came up, unable to move, unable to think, barely able to even breathe. Losing Spock like this hurt more than anything had hurt in his entire life. When the birds outside his bedroom window began to sing Jim picked up the comm unit again and called the newly appointed Captain Uhura to ask if her offer of one last ride still stood. His old crew welcomed him back with open arms and a ridiculous amount of fan fare considering he’d only been gone for a month. Curiously, as they made their way to Arula, no one asked Jim about Spock or even mentioned their former First Officer in front of him. Even Bones seemed to be leaving well enough alone, though he was keeping a close eye on Jim’s alcohol consumption. Jim didn’t know if they had heard something or if the news was written on his face, and he didn’t ask. The night they reached Arula McCoy asked if Jim had anything he wanted to tell him. Jim changed the subject.
The next morning Spock showed up.
Jim climbed higher and higher, using the hanging mosses like ropes as he scaled the towering tree. The higher he got the less moss grew and the darker his surroundings became. The air was colder up here and thick with pollen. The muscles in his arms screamed in pain and begged for mercy but he forced them to keep going. At one point he made a terrible mistake and looked down. He was half a mile up, so high up that the tree was starting to sway slightly under his weight, and the distant forest floor almost looked like it was spinning around the trunk of his tree.
When Jim finally made it to the top and his head burst through the dense layer of leaves and he finally got a good look at his surroundings all other thoughts in his mind faded away.
Dusk had come to Arula, bathing the planet in the warm soft light of the distant star that pulled the orb through the vacuum of space with its dense mass. Jim stared out across the jungle canopy that stretched as far as his human eyes could see. The lush red leafs caught the light and reflected it back again, glinting in the sunset as a gentle breeze brushed across them. The canopy was periodically interrupted by gargantuan naturally forming monoliths, rising up through the trees like craggy black whales breaching in a sea of twinkling red stars. They reminded Jim of the Stone Forest in the Yunnan Province back on Earth but he knew that unlike the great rock formations of the Far East these were not made of limestone or any other substance known to him. Their strangeness was even more pronounced in the twilight. The waves of light that fell on them vanished, swallowed by the blackness of the rocks, never to be seen again.
But that wasn’t possible, surely. Only black holes were dense enough to swallow light. Surely nothing with that much mass could exist naturally on as lush a planet as Arula. Jim was letting his imagination run away with him. Again.
“Pull yourself together, Kirk.” He ordered himself once more. He carefully shifted his weight on the branch he was standing on, turning his head and searching for the river that would lead him back to his shuttle.
And there it was! A slender band of silver, almost completely obscured by the trees. He might have missed it entirely if the light wasn’t reflecting off the surface and turning the crystal clear water into shimmering flame. Any later in the day and he would have been just as lost up here as he was on the forest floor. Jim traced the path of the river with his eyes, hoping he might be able to see the large clearing he had left the shuttle in. He wasn’t sure how far the vicious rapids had carried him but he estimated it could be anywhere between ten and fifteen—
There was a plume of thick, black smoke rising into the atmosphere.
Jim’s heart stopped. Fortunately it started again a second later, but he was that surprised.
Was that his shuttle? No. It couldn’t be. The smoke seemed to be originating from what he thought was more or less the right spot, but how was that even possible? Starfleet shuttles didn’t just burst into flame. They were designed to survive even the most hazardous of environments. He had piloted that very shuttle through electrical storms, in and out of hostile orbits, even along the cusp of black hole event horizons. What’s more, Jim knew for a fact that Montgomery Scott, the miracle worker himself, had inspected that very shuttle not 48 hours ago. Jim stared in horror at the plume of smoke, knowing it could only mean that someone or something had destroyed his only means of contacting his ship and returning to the Enterprise. His inner monkey was right. No matter what the sensors on the Enterprise said, he was not alone down here.
The tree shuddered so violently Jim almost fell off his branch. He wrapped his arms and legs around the trunk and held on for dear life. He stared down into the dizzying darkness beneath him as the tree shook and swayed. All he could see were bent branches and shreds of glowing moss that were falling down, down, all the way down to the forest floor as whatever it was climbed higher and higher, coming up after him.
Jim had just enough time to scream as something hot and scaly and invisible closed around his torso and pulled him back down into the darkness.
19 Hours Ago
Jim glanced up from the chessboard. He had bullied McCoy into playing a match with him but he was starting to regret it. The doctor’s lack of interest in 3D chess was matched only by his lack of skill. It was taking all of Jim’s tactical know how to keep the game knowing. He half-suspected that Bones was trying to lose.
Uhura—sorry, Captain Uhura—was standing in the doorway of the officer’s lounge with a look on her face like someone had just forced her to eat Klingon gagh.
“What’s wrong?” He asked, startled.
“Nothing’s wrong, exactly.” She said slowly. “Um…Spock’s here.”
He stared at her. The words had sounded like words he knew, but she couldn’t possibly be saying what he thought she was saying.
“Is that a euphemism?” He asked.
Uhura frowned. “No. He just beamed on board and there’s a Romulan woman with him. What’s that about?”
“A Romulan? On the Enterprise?” McCoy’s eyebrows shot up. “What the hell is Spock thinking?” He turned to Jim for an explanation, but Jim wasn’t in an explaining kind of mood.
Instead, he leapt to his feet. “I’m going camping.” Jim announced. Uhura and McCoy stared at him as if he’d just declared his eternal love for toenail fungus.
“We’re in space, Jim.” McCoy reminded him gently. “You can’t go camping. There’s no air.”
“I’m not going camping in space.” Jim scoffed, pushing his way past Uhura and into the hallway. “I’m going to Arula.”
“You can’t!” Uhura argued. She and McCoy had to jog to keep up with Jim as he flew down the hall. “Our teleporters don’t work on Arula!”
“Nonsense. I saw Scotty beam up rock samples last night.”
Uhura groaned. “We can teleport things off of Arula but we can’t teleport things to Arula. There’s too much ionic interference. That’s one of the reasons Starfleet is so interested in the planet. Well, that and the fact that even though the whole planet is covered in plant life there is absolutely no animal life, not even bacteria. And we can’t get a transporter lock on anything down there. Scotty’s been entering the coordinates manually. We were only able to get those rock samples because we could literally see the formation from space. Our sensors won’t be able to pinpoint your location and without exact coordinates we won’t be able to beam you back!”
“Fine.” Jim shrugged. “I’ll take a shuttle.” He turned left and headed for the shuttle bay.
“Or you could stop running away and hear what Spock has to say!” Uhura wasn’t going to give up that easily.
“I know what Spock has to say.” Jim answered grimly. “I have no intention of hearing it.”
How could Spock do this? Didn’t he understand that saying goodbye had nearly destroyed Jim? Didn’t he know that Jim wouldn’t survive a second time?
You’re the one who told him to say it to your face. A nasty little voice in the back of Jim’s mind pointed out. You knew Spock wouldn’t be able to move on until you gave him your blessing. Isn’t that why you refused to forgive him? You wanted him to come after you.
Maybe that was true. All the more reason not to let Spock find him, because when he did that really would be the end of everything they had and everything Jim wanted for the future. He knew he was being childish and petty but he also knew that as long as he kept running Spock would have to keep chasing him. If the chase was all they had left Jim would do everything he could to prolong it.
Scotty was in the shuttle bay when they barged in, up to his elbows in the engine of one of the two shuttles.
“Scotty! Just the man I was hoping to find.” Jim said with forced joviality. Scotty looked up from his work with a guilty expression.
“I didn’t do it!” He told them.
“You didn’t do what?” Uhura frowned. “Scotty, are you doing something illegal to that shuttle?”
Scotty’s look of guilt deepened. “Not technically.”
Uhura crossed her arms and gave him a Look. “What does ‘not technically’ mean?”
“It’s not illegal to build it.” Scotty muttered without meeting her eyes. “It’s just illegal to use it.”
Uhura sighed. “Scotty, step away from the shuttle.”
“But I was only—” Scotty started to argue.
“Is this one working?” Jim interrupted him, heading towards the second shuttle.
“Perfectly.” Scotty nodded. “I inspected it this morning.”
“Come on, Jim.” McCoy tried to stop his friend. “Don’t do this.”
Jim was already pressing the button to open the shuttle door. “Bones, please. I can’t deal with him right now, okay? I just…I just can’t.”
McCoy grabbed his arm before he could climb into the shuttle and forced him to turn. Their eyes met and McCoy must have seen something in Jim’s gaze because, after a tense moment of silence, he nodded and stepped back. “Fine. Go. Just don’t get lost, okay?”
“I won’t.” Jim promised. He gave his friend a grateful half-smile. “Thanks.”
“Don’t thank me.” McCoy growled. “I’m not sure I’m doing you any favors by letting you go.”
“Well, I’m completely sure you aren’t.” Uhura snapped.
“Are you going to stop me?” Jim asked her.
He could tell from her face that she was sorely tempted to try. But in the end she sighed and said, “You still outrank me, Admiral. Technically I can’t stop you even if I want to.”
“Where are you going, Jim?” Scotty asked innocently.
“Camping.” Jim answered, climbing into the shuttle. “Don’t tell Spock where I’ve gone.”
Scotty brightened. “Is Mister Spock coming to visit too?” He asked.
Jim closed the door before anyone could answer.
As Jim moved through the pre-launch procedures and then piloted the shuttle down to the planet below his mind stayed blank. If he actually thought about what he was doing or why he was doing it he’d fall to pieces. Was this how Spock kept such complete control over his emotions all the time, by banishing them completely from his own mind? It didn’t seem sustainable to Jim. His own control shattered like glass when he landed safely in a large clearing next to a wide river on the planet and the shuttle’s comm unit was switched on.
Jim’s heart stuttered and his gullet tried to climb into his mouth at the sound of Spock’s voice. In his haste to escape he had forgotten to turn off the ship’s access to the shuttle communication system.
“Please return to the Enterprise.” Spock continued before Jim could respond. “Your behavior is irrational.”
Jim just shook his head, even though he knew Spock couldn’t see him. He needed to escape. He hadn’t run far enough yet. Jim grabbed the shuttle’s emergency rations pack, just in case, and clipped his phaser to his belt. He left his communicator on the pilot’s seat. He wouldn’t need it, he decided. The only person he wanted to talk to was also the only person he couldn’t stand listening to right now. He stumbled blindly from the shuttle, desperately telling himself over and over that he couldn’t hear Spock plaintively calling out his name through the crackling comm unit. But Spock’s voice carried, following Jim out of the shuttle and into the clearing like a begging dog. Jim needed to get further away; somewhere Spock’s voice couldn’t reach him. Jim fled, not caring where he was going, too consumed with his grief to pay attention to his surroundings.
Which was how he ended up falling into the river.
He plummeted into the freezing waters so suddenly that at first he didn’t realize what had happened and he inhaled, filling his lungs with water that burned and stung. His training took over before panic could set in and he struck out for what he hoped was the surface, though the current was so strong it was somersaulting him over and over and he could not be sure which way was up and which way was down and which way was sideways. The river was dark and he didn’t see the rock until he rammed into it nose-first. He didn’t see anything at all for a while after that.
When he came to he was lying on the riverbank and his pack was gone. All he had left was his phaser and a piercing headache. He had just enough strength left in him to roll over, glance at his surroundings and release a long, stuttering groan punctuated by gasps of pain as his probably-bruised ribs complained sharply about their recent treatment.
Instinctually his hand reached towards his hip where his personal communicator would have been under normal circumstances. It was only when his grasping fingers found nothing but wet clothing and tenderized flesh that he remembered leaving the communicator on the seat in the shuttle.
It seemed that his impromptu camping trip had, in true Kirk fashion, gone terribly wrong. Why was he not surprised?
First things first. Jim carefully eased his body further up the bank, gently flexing his appendages and prodding his sides. Good. He was badly bruised but he didn’t think anything was broken. He allowed himself a good ten minutes to lie in the warm sun and catch his breath. His thoughts were unfocused, slipping from his grasp before they could be fully formed, which told him that he was most likely suffering from a mild concussion.
All in all, it wasn’t the worst situation he’d ever woken up to.
When his head felt clearer he got to his feet and began what he was certain would be the long hike upriver to his shuttle. At first the path was easy. The river was wide and the bank was wider, but soon the bank began to narrow and the trees came closer and closer to the water’s edge. Soon the bank vanished completely and Jim had to push his ways through trees that grew so close so close together there was barely enough space between them to force his aching body through. He ended up getting stuck wedged between trees more than once. Just when he was starting to think that his journey couldn’t possibly get any more difficult he ended up tripping over a root and, once again, toppling nose-first into a rock wall. Jim yelped and stumbled back, gingerly touching the bridge of his nose and thanking his lucky stars he hadn’t broken it yet. He glared balefully at the giant…thing that was obstructing his path.
It was a skyscraper made of stone. It towered above him, reaching so high into the sky that no matter how far back he craned his neck he could not see the top of it. It was cool to the touch when he placed his hand on it and the texture was unusual, almost rubbery. But when he pulled out his phaser and used the metal end to scrape the rock it crumbled like sandstone. It was black like obsidian but it lacked the gloss of the volcanic rock. Jim had no idea what it was made of, but he knew it was huge. Part of the monolith was submerged in the river and the rest of its width was hidden in the trees. Jim knew that if he wanted to keep walking upriver he would have to get around the rock somehow. There was no chance of him being able to climb over it. He briefly entertained the idea of getting back in the river and swimming around the rock, but one glance at the white crests on the water told him that would be an exceedingly foolish thing to do, and Jim felt he’d fulfilled his quota of exceedingly foolish things to do for the day. He decided to follow the rock wall into the jungle and hope it wouldn’t take too long to make it back to the river.
It wasn’t as difficult as he had expected it to be. There was at least ten feet of space between the base of the stone tower and the trees so Jim had plenty of space to walk. And walk he did. He walked and walked and walked. He walked until he thought he couldn’t walk anymore and then he kept on walking. Finally there was a curve in the rock wall and Jim thought he would surely find the river again soon. But then there was another curve, and another, and another and still no sign of the river. Jim was just starting to suspect that the rock wall was somehow making a fool of him when he thought he heard the welcome sound of running water. He stepped away from the rock and into the dense thicket of trees. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the light. The path along the rock wall had been filled with sunlight, but a few steps into the jungle and all was darkness. Gradually he began to notice the soft glow coming from the hanging moss, but there was still no sign of the river. Jim sighed. He must have been imagining things. He turned to go back to the rock wall, but it wasn’t there anymore. Jim couldn’t understand it. He’d barely taken three steps away from the wall but after walking through the dark jungle for ten minutes and still not finding the rock or the river he was beginning to suspect that his concussion wasn’t as mild as he had initially believed. Was he suffering from some kind of sporadic short-term memory loss that left him thinking he had only walked three paces when in actuality he had walked god-knows-how-far?
Still. He couldn’t have gone that far off course. Jim kept walking, telling himself that he’d find the river again any second now, all the while ignoring the terrible certainty that was growing in the back of his mind.
He was lost.
And he was pretty sure there was something following him.
The Beast snarled and hissed at the tiny creature clutched in its fist. It was nothing, just a squishy biped with intermittent patches of fur. It struggled and flailed, trying to escape, but its efforts were weak and useless. The creature’s mind was a different story. Full of bright lights and sharp corners, it stung the Beast like nettles. No matter how the Beast tried to cringe and hide the mind followed, stinging and burning and yapping, “Look at me! Look at me! Look what I can do!” The Beast gripped the creature’s body for purchase and bore down on its mind. No more stinging. No more burning. No more incessant yapping. The Beast wouldhave peace and quiet once more.
Jim couldn’t see anything, but he could feel it—whatever ‘it’ was. It was crushing him. He couldn’t breathe and either the glowing moss was getting dimmer or his vision was starting to fade. He had to escape, at least enough so he could get air into his lungs. His left arm was pressed against his side, his hand plastered over his hip right on top of his phaser.
He still had two shots left.
Jim grit his teeth and directed all his energy to grabbing the phaser. But his attacker was holding him too tightly and even though he now had the phaser in his hand he couldn’t move his arm or pull the trigger.
Spots were beginning to crowd the edges of his vision, static inkblots that told him he didn’t have much time left.
Jim poured every ounce of strength he had left into turning his hand palm-side up, so that the muzzle of the phaser was shoved half an inch deep into the invisible flesh of his assailant.
Please let me kill this bastard before it kills me.
Jim pulled the trigger.
The Beast screamed and dropped him, falling backwards and clutching its bleeding appendage. There was a small hole shot clean through the center of its padded spade-like paw. Physical pain was not a sensation the Beast was accustomed to and it went wild, thrashing blindly from tree to tree as if searching for a way out. But of course there wasn’t one. There never was.
Jim rolled over, gasping for breath and tears of pain streaming down his face. He glanced down at his left hand and instantly regretted it. What remained couldn’t even be called a hand anymore. At best, it could be called pulp. Phasers weren’t meant to be used at such close range. Jim supposed he was lucky the blast hadn’t cut through his arm entirely and damaged his side.
Jim could hear his attacker nearby. He wasn’t out of the woods yet. He rolled over onto his stomach and began to drag himself forward with his right arm and shoulder. The phaser had fallen on a pillow of moss just a few feet away.
Gotta get it. Gotta get it. Gotta get the phaser.
The Beast heard him.
Jim’s eyes widened in horror as the moss and the phaser were flattened by the invisible weight of his attacker. His one and only weapon, gone.
Jim suddenly realized for the first time that he was probably going to die here.
Commander Charvanek of the Romulan Empire was not impressed by the starship Enterprise. The ship did not even possess a rudimentary cloaking device and the crew was far too informal with one another in her humble opinion. Mere moments ago she had witnessed the lowly doctor accuse the Captain of being a ‘cruel, unfeeling mongoose of a woman’ and the Captain had not even had him executed on the spot. Were these truly the people who kept even the Tal’Shiar guessing at each and every turn? Perhaps they had secrets they were keeping from her. After all, she had not been allowed to wander the ship unaccompanied, which she approved of. For all these Federation droolers knew she was a Romulan spy here to steal all their secrets. If one of them had come onto her ship she would have thrown them into the brig immediately, regardless of their reason for being there or who had brought them. Captain Uhura had decided not to go that far. Charvanek thought that was a mistake but hey, who was she to judge?
For the most part she’d been confined to sickbay. Not because she was in need of medical treatment in any way (as her biology was far superior to humans’ and not so prone to injury and disease) but because she was not allowed to go anywhere without Spock and Spock had not left sickbay since he had learned of Admiral Kirk’s escape. Ever since he had been attempting to do the impossible, achieve contact with Kirk by way of a latent telepathic bond the two shared. At first Charvanek had been skeptical, such a thing was unheard of, but she had agreed to watch over Spock and divert any interruptions. As the hours dragged on and on she realized why Spock had chosen sickbay as the physical location for his telepathic journey. His face grew haggard with the strain and his blood pressure dropped dangerously low. The human doctor named McCoy had been enraged (“That dim-witted green-blooded short-sighted unfeeling irresponsible hobgoblin!”) when Charvanek explained to him what was happening but fortunately he had been distracted by the arrival of a spitting mad Captain Uhura. That had been two hours ago and they were still fighting. Charvanek could not tear her eyes away. It was incredible. She’d never seen two people argue for this long without someone getting stabbed.
“He should be up here, working things out, not wandering off god-knows-where on a god-damned camping trip!” Captain Uhura shouted.
“Maybe he needs some time! Maybe he needs some space! Maybe it’s none of your business!” Doctor McCoy snarled back. He spun around and advanced on Spock. “And you! What’s the big idea, you break his heart then you pop back out of nowhere? And who is this random woman you’ve brought with you, huh? Your Romulan bride? Is that how you’re gonna unite the races?”
“Certainly not.” Spock answered firmly, but his eyes remained fixated on the floor as if he weren’t really paying attention to what was going on around him.
“Besides, he is not my type.” Charvanek added, attempting to divert the doctor’s attention. Couldn’t the humans see that Spock was busy?
“Oh?” Captain Uhura snapped. She seemed to have taken offense, though Charvanek could not fathom the reason. “And what exactly is your type?”
“Heterosexual.” Charvanek answered.
Captain Uhura’s ruffled feathers slowly began to settle. “Fair enough.”
“I assure you, Doctor McCoy, I have only the best interests of my people at heart.” Charvanek smiled politely at the red-faced human. “Change takes time on Romulus, and a lot of patience. Unfortunately, since our entire solar system will be destroyed within the next century, time is a luxury we do not have. It is unfortunate that our situation is causing your friend so much pain, but we need Spock to guide the way. We cannot do it without him. I am reminded of a story my father once told—”
Suddenly Spock’s head snapped up. “I have found him.”
Charvanek spun around in her chair. “You are shitting me right now.” There was no way Spock had found the missing Admiral through a telepathic connection! That kind of stuff only happened in fairy tales! True, Romulans had never developed their telepathic abilities the way Vulcans did but surely their sister race wasn’t evolved to the point where touch was no longer necessary!
“He is on the planet.” Spock’s eyes were glazed over. He was staring at something none of them could see. “He is in danger.”
“You can tell that from this distance?” Charvanek gasped, her pulse racing with awestruck amazement. “Are you a wizard?”
“James Tiberius Kirk is always in danger. You don’t need to be a wizard to figure that out.” McCoy snapped, already grabbing his medical tricorder. “Spock, do you have exact coordinates?”
Spock rattled off a set of coordinates that Captain Uhura relayed to the crewmembers in the transporter room. Then she nodded at McCoy. “Stand by for emergency transport to sickbay.” She announced.
They held their breath and waited.
Victory was close at hand. The Beast grasped the intruder with both of its huge shovel-like paws and growled. The turbulent mind of its prey burned a brilliant white-hot but the Beast ignored the sting. It was nothing more than the dying throes of a wounded animal. Soon it would pass and the Beast would feed again. The Beast finally unleashed its hunger, infinite and ancient. It ate the human’s rancid fear. It devoured the human’s caustic determination. It feasted on pain and grief and terrible rage and still the Beast could not find satisfaction. The human gradually lost consciousness and still the Beast fed, burrowing deeper and deeper into the feeble sentience trapped beneath its paws.
The voice came from nowhere and for the first time in its existence the Beast knew true fear. Suddenly there was a presence standing between the Beast and its prey. It was a mind unlike any other the Beast had encountered since the great black monoliths trapped it in this mortal dimension. It was like an ocean, deep and vast and filled with mysteries.
YOU WILL NOT TAKE HIM.
The ocean raged and the Beast cowered before the storm. The powerful other-mind pursued the Beast, driving it away. The Beast tried to turn and fight but no matter how it moved its body or twisted its thoughts the other-mind was there, pushing the Beast back and protecting the human lying motionless on the forest floor. The Beast fought harder, battering the defenses of the other-mind. For a moment the defenses seemed to give way and the Beast struck triumphantly, but it was a trap. The shields snapped back up and the Beast found itself completely surrounded by the other-mind. The Beast fought harder, desperation making it vicious.
The battle raged for an eon. The battle raged for a few seconds.
And then it was over.
At first the Beast was confused. It stumbled through the jungle, seeking blindly for its enemies but they were nowhere to be found. The Beast paused. Had it won? Cautiously, in case the other-mind was planning another trap, the Beast allowed its consciousness to spread on the wind, searching the entire planet for any trace of sentient life. It found nothing.
Finally. Peace. Quiet. Solitude.
Victorious, the Beast went back to sleep.
Spock was at Jim’s side even before his atoms had fully materialized on the biobed in sickbay. McCoy was half a step behind him, already shouting.
“Chap—son of a bitch—SOMEONE get me a dermal regenerator!” The doctor roared as he wrapped a tourniquet around Jim’s mutilated forearm. A nearby nurse ran to do his bidding.
Spock caressed his lover’s temple with his finger. “Jim…” The name fell from his lips like a prayer. Jim’s eyes flickered but he no longer had the strength to open them.
You came. Jim thought.
Yes. Spock answered simply, trying to convey in that one word how much Jim meant to him and how close they had come to truly losing one another forever.
Never again. Jim promised as Bones stuck a hypospray in his neck. Jim felt himself start to drift off but he struggled against the siren song of chemically induced sleep.
Rest, t’hy’la. Spock soothed him. I will be here when you wake up.
Later, Jim woke up.
The first thing he knew, even before he had opened his eyes, was that Spock was still standing next to him just as he had promised. The second thing he realized was that he couldn’t feel his left arm. His eyes flew open as panic surged within him. Almost too afraid to look but unable not to his eyes were drawn downwards. When he saw his left arm lying motionless in a regenerative field he almost wept with relief. He was going to be fine.
He glanced at his surroundings. He was in a private room in sickbay, filled with white light and the gentle beeping of medical equipment. Spock was standing at attention beside the bed and Jim knew from experience that he had been standing that way the entire time. Any other person would have found themselves a chair, but not Spock.
“Jim.” Spock had noticed his return to the waking world.
Jim couldn’t have stopped himself for all the starships in the fleet. He raised his uninjured arm and grabbed the collar of Spock’s robes, dragging the Vulcan’s mouth down to meet his in a bruising kiss. At first Spock hesitated, perhaps concerned that he would do Jim further injury, but Jim pressed harder, coaxing Spock further and further. Finally Spock surrendered and wrapped his long-fingered hand around the back of Jim’s head, deepening the kiss. The rest of the universe vanished and for a moment it was just the two of them, still breathing and still together. Jim knew in that moment that he would do whatever it took to keep it that way. When he could no longer ignore the protestations from his bruised ribs and oxygen-deprived lungs Jim allowed his grip on Spock’s robes to loosen and the two men slowly drifted apart, lingering over every point of contact.
“Have you forgiven me?” Spock asked hopefully.
“Of course not.” Jim let his head fall back on the pillow. “I’m furious that you decided to go to Romulus without even discussing it with me. But it’ll take us weeks to get there. I’ll have plenty of time to think of a suitable punishment.”
Spock was silent for so long Jim almost hoped he wouldn’t argue. No such luck. “Jim—”
“Don’t say it.”
“You cannot come with me.”
“Of course I can.”
“You are an Admiral now.” Spock ignored his interruptions. “Your place is with Starfleet. It is your best destiny.”
“You’re my best destiny.” Jim reached out and grabbed Spock’s hand, pulling it to his chest. “As far as I’m concerned you’re my only destiny.” He placed a chaste kiss on each of Spock’s long, slender fingers. “If it’s a choice between my career and you, I pick you.” He peeked up through his eyelashes and added, “Unless you don’t want me anymore.”
It was cheating and a part of Jim felt terrible about saying it, but it was a small part. Spock’s fingers twisted around Jim’s and held him tight.
“I always want you.” Spock’s voice was husky, and though his face was locked in its Vulcan mask his brown eyes spoke volumes. Spock was in anguish. “But I cannot ask you to sacrifice everything you have worked for.”
“It isn’t a sacrifice. It’s our next big adventure.” Jim argued. But he could see that Spock still wasn’t convinced. Desperation surged within him and he clasped Spock’s hand as if that single touch would be enough to keep them together. “I’m still Jim Kirk even without my uniform. But I don’t know what I am without you.”
Spock could feel the truth of Jim’s words through their hands and it was more than he could bear. “Neither do I.” He confessed in a voice so quiet it was almost silent. Jim shifted his aching body to the far side of the wide biobed and patted the now-empty space. Spock raised an eyebrow at the suggested impropriety but something in Jim’s face changed his mind and he sat on the edge of the bed. Jim gently pushed Spock back until he was lying on the pillows and then rested his head on Spock’s shoulder.
“We’ll figure it out.” He promised. “Trust me.”
“Always.” Spock sighed.
They lay together in silence for a long time, their bodies entwined as they listened to each other’s heart beats and tried not to dwell on the enormity of what they had almost lost. They were together now and they would continue to be together in the future and that was all that mattered.
There was a knock on the door and McCoy entered before either of them could answer. Jim groaned. Bones had that look on his face that meant Jim was about to get screamed at.
But instead of launching into one of his now-familiar tirades about basic safety precautions and not going off on your own on strange planets, he crossed his arms and glared at Jim. “Are you going with him to Romulus?” He growled, nodding towards Spock.
“Yes.” Jim answered. “How did you find out about that?” He looked up at Spock. “I thought it was supposed to be a big secret?”
“Yeah, the Romulan Commander he brought with him didn’t get that memo. She’s been going around telling everyone all about how Spock’s gonna unite the races and save the galaxy with his magic super-telepathy. Uhura’s gonna call a staff meeting about it later to make sure no one, you know, tells anyone else.” McCoy rolled his eyes. “And just so we’re all on the same page, I’m coming with you.”
Jim and Spock both sat up and stared at him.
“No.” Spock said.
“Not a chance in hell.” Jim snapped.
“Well…” McCoy drawled, clearly enjoying their reactions. “I already told Uhura that I was quitting and she already called Chapel and Chapel is already on her way here to take over my job. So…this is happening and neither of you get a say in it.”
“Bones!” Jim tried to argue anyway. “Do you have any idea how dangerous this mission is going to be?”
“Why do you think I’m coming?” McCoy scoffed. “If I let you two morons go off without me to take care of you you’ll both be dead within a week. So I’m going too. End of conversation. Jim, do need a pain killer? I’ll go get you a pain killer.” McCoy looked insultingly pleased with himself as he turned and left the room. Jim and Spock stared after him, a thousand possibilities running through their minds, each more horrific than the last.
“Spock.” Jim said.
“We have to find some way of getting out of this alive.”
“We can’t let Bones die because of something we dragged him into.”
“We’d never hear the end of it.”
“How the hell are we going to pull this off?”
“I would assume,” Spock answered slowly, looking at Jim with a warmth in his eyes that lit a fire in Jim’s soul. “We will figure it out as we go along.”
A sly grin spread over Jim’s face as he looked back at his friend, lover and partner in crime. “You know,” he said suggestively. “We are already in a bed…”
Spock’s answer was another kiss.