I am a cage, in search of a bird.
Jim fought a wave of nausea as Bones manhandled him into a sitting position in the closest biobed; his attention divided between barking orders to the others around and waving a scanner across Jim from head to toe.
“I’m picking up only minor lacerations and contusions,” The doctor said as he looked at the PADD in his other hand. “Hm, except maybe for… Do you hear a ringing sound?”
“No. But... Sorta... Yes.”
“Also, most likely, disorientation. That’d be the explosion. The auditory capacity of your right ear is at 81%.” The lack of comments on Jim’s carelessness and stupidity forced him to truly focus on his friend for the first time. Bones was glancing at his instruments, but also throwing unguarded looks to a point directly behind Jim’s head. A direction Jim himself had avoided gazing at or even thinking about since he had been dragged by the arms across his ship’s infirmary.
"Care to explain to me how you two disappear on a barren rock for weeks and come back with a... That biologically impossible creature sitting in my medbay!?"
"Sure, I can explain,” Jim said, only marginally aware of how his words were coming out in a slur. “But, Bones?” The doctor paused his scanning mid-air and finally gave Jim his full attention. “You're not gonna like it."
Four weeks earlier
Jim hesitantly popped another berry into his mouth and chewed it gingerly. The alien fruit had done wonders for his initial famished state but he supposed, after eating loads of it every day, his stomach didn't seem to agree with it so much anymore.
Sitting next to him on the stone floor and most certainly noticing his discomfort, Spock extended water to him, held in a makeshift cup he'd managed to make with hard leaves. His regulation canteen was full next to his feet, but Jim accepted Spock's offering any way to try and wash down the strong taste.
"I believe it's imperative we make an attempt at hunting tomorrow. You are not getting the sufficient nutrients required to maintain optimal performance."
Jim sighed and returned the cup to Spock, failing to prevent their fingers from brushing lightly in the process.
"We still have some ration packs left."
“But plenty of these weird berries.”
"And while it was fortunate we found abundant edible flora you seem to be eating less, not more."
"I'm not that hungry anymore. We don't have a whole lot to do all day, so not many calories to burn," Jim reasoned, crossing his arms and huddling further into himself for warmth.
"Being acquainted with general human consumption habits, it's far more likely that your lack of appetite is caused by the shortage in the variety of our food supplements than the reduced activity of your metabolism."
Jim watched as Spock threw some more dry leaves stoking the fire in the center of their campsite, and as the flames rose and the air crackled around them something snapped inside of him.
"You know what?" His arms flew to his sides, and suddenly his mouth was working very much independently from his brain. "Don't read my mind then say you know something about me because you're 'acquainted with my species'."
Spock's eyes followed the movement of his hands since his unjustified outburst, to the little dance beside his head of Jim's sarcastic air quotes until settling once again on Jim's own eyes.
"The emotional transference via telepathic touch does not capacitate one to 'read' minds but to simply—"
"I know, Spock." Jim exhaled sharply although with much less exasperation. Get it together, Jim. It’s not his fault. It’s your fault. He sighed and settled back to his previous undignified folded-into-himself position. "It's just annoying that I know that you know what's really bothering me but for someone so straightforward with everything else you always seem to beat around the bush when you argue with me."
"You are offended that I take measures when conversing with you that attempt to avoid causing you offense." Although it didn’t seem intended that way, Spock's sentence came out as a question, so Jim could obviously tell he was confused.
Well, the truth was Jim was also confused. And tired. He was hungry and cold, and probably verging on petulant.
They had been stranded in K/S-I (which it was what they'd been calling the unknown planet; a "rather impractical designation", as Spock had called it, following an old Terran custom Jim learned about as a child, of putting together peoples names, that Jim prompted them to invent out of boredom on day seven) for a little more than a month after their exploration vessel had crash-landed as a result of damage from an unexpected solar storm.
The mission had been to investigate a distress signal coming from a yet unexplored section of the galaxy. Lt. Uhura had picked up the low frequency, and as he and Spock were informed of this they formed an away team to investigate the situation since the area had too much meteor debris for the Enterprise to navigate.
Their shuttle was close to getting a better reception of the signal when an unexpected coronal mass ejection hit them full force, deviating their course a few light-years away from their original destination. With all systems inoperative due to interference of the solar activity and suddenly caught on a nearby planet's gravitational field, they could do nothing but perform an emergency ejection to try and maybe save their lives.
It was with great sorrow that Jim and Spock found out, after they regained their consciousness following the crash, that Lts. Williams and Bennett, their communications and security officer, had not survived.
It had taken them quite a while to recover, both from the emotional toll of failing fellow crewmembers and also from the injuries they had sustained. Considering the limited medical supplies they managed to retrieve from their crashed aircraft.
But once they were fairly stable and able to investigate, a superficial exploration of their surroundings showed they had managed to land on the surface of a class M planet; not too distinct from most general aspects of Earth.
It was a yet uncatalogued area, however, so the mighty USS Enterprise and it's loyal remaining crew were probably searching for their friends in any section of the quadrant but the one they were currently on.
Their hand-held communicators had been fried by the solar flare and their shuttle's systems needed extensive repair before they could be able to issue a distress signal.
At first inspection, K/S-I seemed uninhabited save for the rather large curious-looking, but thankfully harmless wildlife. Upon arrival, they were forced to trek away from the crash site and into the deep forest for a few hours in search of any geographic feature they could use as shelter and a source of clean water.
Without tricorders or any means to document their findings, they could only commit to memory the observations of the foreign environment both as a scientific curiosity and as a means of survival. They noticed early on that the flora was extremely diversified yet left untouched by the animals and even insects.
The only things getting eaten by the local animals were these tiny little globes that resembled Earth berries, and that they decided were the only things they would consume to avoid poisoning themselves. Hunting came up briefly, but eventually put off to the best of their abilities, as he knew Spock didn’t want to inflict harm on the newly discovered fauna. However, without their rations, it was clear they were not getting enough nutrients solely from the food source they trusted to ingest.
"Ugh, can we just… I don't want you to have to go against your principles because I'm bored with my food."
"It is true the Vulcan custom of avoiding meat consumption derives from the ethic point of view that modern civilization has enough technology to provide adequate nourishment that doesn’t require the compulsory breeding and slaughtering of living creatures."
"I get that it's logical to eat meat if there's no alternative, but we still have alternatives. Even I’m having second thoughts about going on a killing spree, and I enjoy having a little bit of unreplicated steak now and then."
"Was hunting not what allowed our ancestors to thrive when no other means were available?"
"I'm pretty sure our civilization of two can survive a little longer on rations and berries, Spock."
"Jim." His gentle voice forced him to look up from the fire. Incandescent by the flames or perhaps malnutrition, Spock's skin seemed even paler, rendering his 'alienness' more prominent. "Being able to share my professional and personal experiences with you has been the most satisfying aspect of my latest years—"
"Please, Spock. Don't sound like we're gonna die here." Spock gazed into the flames dancing in front of them, adding nothing but silence to their exchange. Jim, however, had long mastered his friend's non-answers. "You don't think we're getting rescued."
"The statistical likelihood—"
"Spock. We are not dying here. You are not dying here. I won’t allow it."
"I have every intention to continue my living experience until I'm no longer able to do so.” Staring at the side of Jim’s face as if waiting for him to look back he continued “That being said, I do not wish for you to simply 'survive' on a day to day basis when the possibility that these circumstances may go on for an indefinite time exist."
Jim finally met Spock’s eyes as the Vulcan made an aborted gesture to move closer to him, but then seemed to think better of it.
A moment of silence stretched on between them until Jim murmured almost timidly, "You would really kill so I could eat?"
"I would die so you could live, Captain."
"How is that logical? And don’t ‘Captain’ me now when I’ve failed two crewmembers already, and yet you keep rescuing me from nearly poisoning myself every breakfast. I’m no one’s Captain out here, Spock."
Spock’s mouth turned into a thin line, the equivalent of a Vulcan rolling its eyes. "I could argue many rational points, but the most relevant one is that my… commitment as your First Officer compels me to ensure your well-being by any means necessary."
"Right. This is about duty."
"Duty, yes. But also—"
"We're not hunting, Spock. But we are going to go explore this planet. There's gotta be more to this damn poisonous jungle."
Dr. Leonard McCoy paced from side to side as he stared from the Captain to Spock to the child a few meters away from them, and then back at his colleagues, again and again.
"Ok, someone better start making some sense before I have an aneurism!" He looked past them to Dr. Chapel who was currently scanning the girl sitting cross-legged in a biobed.
"Our scannings confirm she has both the Captain’s and the Commander's DNA," Chapel said, smiling at the girl in front of her.
Bones exhaled heavily as if people around him purposely acted with the sole intent of being an annoyance to him.
"What did you say was your name again, sweetheart?" Dr. McCoy inquired.
"41C-3x," was the girl’s reply.
McCoy backed away from the bed shaking his head and murmuring under his breath about 'damned cold-hearted Vulcans'.
"Look here, the pair of you, I'm waiting. Because unless you fell into a black hole or-or a week in that planet amounts to years on a normal class-M planet, and two men, without medical intervention, managed to have a-a-"
McCoy turned to Chapel who immediately provided, "Fifteen".
"A 15-year-old kid, without you aging a single day!"
“Look, it’s a bit complicated..." Jim started. "There was this abandoned underground lab...and then we touched something—”
“Of course you touched something…!”
"Bones," The Captain looked as if he was fighting the urge to run his hands over his face, as was his custom when very tired. "Can we have this conversation... Uh, outside?"
The two of them left but Spock did not move. He had a sudden urge to not leave 41C-3x alone.
"Your apprehension of our tongue has improved at a remarkable rate."
"Where am I?"
"If you are referring to this particular room, it is a medical center intended to treat people when injured or sick. But if you intended your query from a wider perspective, we are in a starship; a vessel designed to travel long distances in deep space. This shall be your new home. At least, as long as you wish it to.”
“What is a ‘home’?”
“A home is a place where one lives. Where one… can form bonds, can find comfort and connection with the people that share that space with them.”
Jim's mood had taken a steep dive in the last few days and it crossed Spock's mind that he had never seen him in such a manner. It was comprehensible though that losing basic levels of comfort like adequate sleep, a nutritious meal, or having access to a hygiene station would dampen most humanoid's mood. On the other hand, he knew his Captain was not easily affected by such things, not only due to their thorough Academy Training, but also his arduous upbringing in rural Iowa. Therefore, Spock suspected the death of their crewmates was the real reason behind Jim's troubled temper.
Knowing Jim, he was not only blaming himself for their unfortunate demise but unknowingly punishing himself for it.
"The crew will never cease its efforts to retrieve us."
"I know," Jim sighed deeply as they were washing their clothes on the riverbank, side by side. "But it's hard not worrying when we know they are looking in the wrong place." He stopped beating his golden tunic against the rocks and looked straight ahead, seemingly lost in the purple horizon. "We need to fix those comms," Jim murmured, more to himself than Spock.
"We will," he heard himself saying, despite all his logical estimations of the contrary.
Because the truth was their scenario was very discouraging considering they didn't have access to any power sources nor the parts necessary to repair their devices. But while their adverse situation was weighing negatively on Jim's humor, after much contemplation Spock decided to indulge a rather human sentiment he had long observed in his years living among his mother's people and only then began to understand its evolutionary purpose: he was choosing to have hope.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Jim’s quiet voice pulled him out of his reverie, and where before he found only worry lines, now his Captain’s features were alight and open, his eyes shining brighter than the dying sun disappearing rapidly behind them. “I'm being a complete ass. You’re right, Spock. We’ll work it out. We always do. Together, right?”