It was logical to appreciate a second set of hands, Spock decided, so he did not begrudge himself his gratitude for Kirk’s assistance. Especially considering the Lieutenant had not lied about his skill. Kirk’s knowledge of the shuttlecraft’s systems was extensive, and even through the heat of the day and the pain he tried to mask, he worked hard.
Spock understood now why Captain Garrovick had recommended the lieutenant for this mission. Though perhaps Garrovick would not have risked one of his best officers if he’d known the dangers.
It took many hours to reroute the power for maximum efficiency and safety, far longer than Spock’s rushed repairs from earlier that day. Kirk insisted on stripping and clipping each of the singed wires-- which Spock would have suggested anyway had Kirk not beat him to it-- and they worked in comfortable silence for much of the morning into early afternoon. The midday heat began to sink in around 2300 hours, but they had a little bit more time before it became unbearable. At least, by human standards.
There were perhaps twelve to sixteen hours each day that were inhospitable to humans: during the heat of midday and the freeze of the deepest night. If they should have to spend many more days here, Spock had already arranged a schedule in his mind, one that would ensure his Terran companions received their allotted rest during the least productive hours of the day. He refrained from sharing that schedule with Kirk for now. Though he suspected Kirk knew their situation was dire (and that they may indeed need to spend a great deal of time on this planet), he did not want to cause the man distress and risk distracting him from the task at hand.
Humans’ emotions were fragile, Spock had learned over the years, but he was pleased that Kirk seemed to be able to set them aside when duty called for it.
Sweat dripped down the divot of Kirk’s back as he bent shirtless over the console, pressed against it despite Spock’s warnings about exposed wires. Jim was ‘fiddling’ (in his words) with the connections to the sensor screen, some scheme in his mind that he could widen the scope of the sensors with some creative tinkering.
Meanwhile, Spock put the finishing touches on the auxiliary power, awaiting Kirk’s signal to plug the last cord into the last input. Should the system overload and begin sparking again, it would not do for Kirk to be up against it.
“Are you quite finished, Lieutenant?”
Kirk laughed, the sound reverberating against the transparent aluminum of the shuttle’s forward window. “Are all Vulcans this impatient? Or is it just you?”
Spock had the dignity not to be affronted by that comment. “We are merely efficient, Mister Kirk. Unlike humans, who are prone to excessiveness.”
“I’d hardly call getting maximum output out of our sensors excessive,” Kirk said, stepping back from the console and wiping his hands on his slacks. Spock raised an eyebrow in his direction.
“I am ready with auxiliary power if you have completed your ‘fiddling.’”
Kirk gave him a wry smile. “Take it away, Commander.”
Spock plugged into the powercell and immediately raised himself from the floor, taking a careful step back. The console hummed to life, cracked screens blinking blue before running down system startup functions.
Kirk put his hands on his hips, looking pleased. Spock begrudgingly shared the feeling. The repairs they had just completed would sustain themselves until the power cells ran dry (considering they recharged with solar power, that would take years), and given that the shuttle had not yet exploded, it looked as though it would be safe to use.
“Not bad if I do say so myself,” Kirk said. “Would you like to do the honors?”
Spock tugged his shirt straight and nodded, making his way to his seat.
The first thing he called up was the extra-planetary scan, which would reveal any orbiting bodies-- including starships.
He did not expect to see evidence of the Enterprise or Farragut in the area, so it was difficult to understand and categorize his disappointment when scans revealed clear space surrounding them. Perhaps the hopefulness of his human helper was rubbing off on him.
“There are no starships currently orbiting Alpha Novus V,” he said stiffly. Behind him, Jim sighed.
“Well, it was worth a try.” He paused, then, “Commander...” Spock looked to him, and Jim practically projected concern, frustration, anxiety. It wasn’t in his expression or the way he held himself. No, it was more Spock’s intuition than anything else. “I don’t think they just left us. And I don’t think you think so either.”
Spock would give Kirk his credit, they seemed to be on the same page. “I do not.” In fact, Spock’s working theory suggested they had never been here at all. Or rather, that they wouldn’t be here for quite some time. It wouldn’t do to tell Kirk as much without evidence, however.
Turning back to the screen, Spock initiated a planetary scan. If there were no starships in the area, the next logical thing to do was to assess the rest of the planet-- resources, lifeforms-- and to see if they could locate the distress signal that brought them here in the first place.
Immediately, it became clear that the distress signal was gone. Whether it had been destroyed in the ion storm or if its degradation had finally caught up to it, or if the signal had never existed… well, Spock did not know, but they could no longer detect it.
They turned their attention to resources, Kirk putting a hand on the back of Spock’s chair and leaning over his shoulder to watch the screen’s map of the planet light up.
“No humanoid or otherwise developed lifeforms registering,” Spock reported, “aside from ourselves. However, several species of large mammals seem to make their home deeper within the forest.” He glanced back at Jim. “You are quite fortunate you did not encounter any when you were injured. It is likely there are predators among them.”
Kirk took a breath. “I’ll take whatever good luck I can get at this point.”
Spock gave him a brusque nod, then returned to his scans. “There seems to be a large source of water within the dormant volcano,” he remarked.
“That’s good. If we can track that down, then we can get water during the night without risking our, erm, extremities . Oh! And look there.” He pointed to a swath of red, registering on the other side of the mountain range. “What is that? A mineral deposit?”
Kirk removed his hand from the back of Spock’s chair and took over the controls, tapping the red region and focusing the scans onto it. He’d practically shoved himself into Spock’s personal space, which caused Spock to lean back in his chair and cast the young man a pointed look, brow raised.
But Kirk didn’t notice, enthralled as he was by the screen he’d commandeered.
“Um… Mister Spock.” Kirk drew back, hands dropping to his sides. “What exactly are we looking at?”
Spock turned his attention back to the screen, eyes narrowed as he read. It took him a few moments to fully absorb it. The sensors were registering every metal he’d ever heard of, plus several unidentified, covering almost three square miles just over the mountains. A sidebar on the screen scrolled through them-- iron, steel, palladium, platinum, copper, silver, gold, pewter, and far too many rows of question marks for comfort. This wasn’t a deposit. It wasn’t a mine. It was unheard of.
The sheer impossibility of so many fully processed metals, many of which could not be native to this planet, existing on a world that had no record of civilization, tightly packed together so near their own location…
He turned to Kirk and their eyes met. Spock irrationally hoped he did not look as confused as he felt.
“I do not know.”
Jim sucked in a breath through his teeth. “Pardon my saying so, sir, but that’s not a good sign.”
“I tend to agree.”
There was a pause, and both of them turned their eyes back to the screen, absorbing it.
Spock did not appreciate not knowing . He should have picked up that much surface metal during his initial scans of the planet from the Enterprise . He supposed it could have been ion interference, but still. Even with an ion storm of the magnitude they had encountered couldn’t cover this up. This revelation was… uncomfortable.
“I will attempt to locate the source of these readings,” he said, standing. “Perhaps I can scale the mountain.”
Kirk stared at him with wide eyes, grabbing Spock’s elbow as Spock attempted to pass him. “Wait, what? In this heat?”
“I am Vulcan and therefore accustomed to heat.”
“But not humidity.”
“It is irrelevant.”
“No it’s not,” Kirk said, more of a snap than anything. Spock shook his hand off, but that didn’t deter the Lieutenant. “Besides, we have more pressing concerns, don’t we? We spent all morning getting the shuttle back up and running. Can’t we take advantage of that?”
Spock narrowed his eyes. “If scans are correct, there are metals over that mountain that will enable us to rebuild the shuttlecraft. Considering rescue is not imminent, that is our greatest chance of leaving this planet.”
Kirk pinched the bridge of his nose, and Spock paused, attempting to understand his priorities.
“What do you recommend, Mister Kirk?”
Kirk lowered his hand and gave Spock a suspicious stare. “You’re asking my opinion?”
“You are clearly in possession of one. I am not averse to considering multiple options.”
Spock watched a bead of sweat roll down Kirk’s temple, catching in the prickle of hair along his chin. He examined the dark circles under Kirk’s eyes, the tense line of his shoulders. Kirk was strained, emotionally and physically. Spock wanted to insist that he rest, but that course of action had not been successful the last time he tried.
“I think we should retrace the shuttle’s trajectory,” Kirk said, “see if we can’t figure out anything based on the flight recordings. It might clue us into what happened during the storm.”
Spock considered that. Surprisingly, Kirk did bring up an interesting point. He remembered registering anomalous particles during their descent-- perhaps he could identify them now.
That metal deposit-- for what else could he call it but that?-- nagged at him, a mystery he felt almost desperate to solve if only because he was sure it would solve their immediate situation as well. But Kirk was right. Even if he did find the source of the metals, he could not transport them without help, without a plan, and-- once they did rebuild their shuttle-- they couldn’t exactly leave without first examining the readings. Patience was wise, and Spock felt a brief twinge of annoyance that the suggestion had come from Kirk.
“Very well. Though I will investigate the source of the metals immediately afterwards. Leaving this planet should be our priority.”
Jim’s expression tightened, but he did not outwardly argue, so Spock returned to his seat and pulled up the shuttle’s records.
The two of them poured over every reading the systems had recorded, Kirk using the pilot’s console at Spock’s left to check on the trajectory, Spock concentrating on the particulars of the ion storm. After some time, Kirk waved Spock over to his screen with a quiet “Commander.”
Considering Spock had been making no progress himself, he stepped away from his work, standing and mirroring Jim’s earlier position by leaning over Jim’s seat.
“Look at this pattern,” Jim said, tracing it with a finger. The path outlined showed the shuttle’s entry into the atmosphere, followed by a swift descent, then an almost serpentine path that wound down toward the place where the shuttle had split in two. Recording ceased at that point.
“It is unusual. Perhaps our erratic entry into Alpha Novus V’s atmosphere has something to do with the strange turbulence we faced before the storm intensified.”
“The particles you couldn’t identify?”
“Any luck on that front?”
Spock shook his head. “Whatever they are, they match nothing in our database. Perhaps if I could access ship’s computers, there would be something with which to compare, but as it stands…” He trailed off, and Kirk gave him an understanding look.
“It’s okay. It’s not like you can just pull the information out of thin air.”
They shared a look, then Kirk twisted his seat around, staring out at the forest.
“We should get back to the cave,” he said, “It’s been a long time since we checked on the captain.”
“You may do so,” Spock said. He knelt at the console and removed the final connecting cord from the auxiliary cell. The shuttle powered down. “I will join you there shortly.”
Kirk brows furrowed. The young man didn’t seem to have changed his mind, even though Spock had already done has he had requested. “Do you think it’s a good idea for us to split up? You saw the scans-- there are some bigger animals--”
“Deep into the forest, yes, but not along the mountain. I will be fine.” Kirk seemed to consider it. “Mister Kirk,” Spock continued, “Return to the captain. I will be fine.” Sometimes, humans were receptive to repetition.
Kirk nodded, spine straightening, recognizing that as the order it had been.
“Yes, sir. I-- um. Good luck.”
With that, Kirk turned and retrieved his homemade crutch from where he’d left it at the mouth of the shuttle. He continued in the direction of the cave, favoring his injured leg. Spock wondered if the young man had pushed himself too far. The bone knitter clearly hadn’t finished the job, nor had the hastily repaired regenerator fully healed Kirk’s hip wound-- but Kirk had not once complained about the pain, so Spock allowed himself to believe that his threshold was simply higher than most humans. Convenient, if worrisome.
Spock, tricorder in hand, turned toward the mountain. The slope here was far too steep to climb, hardly a slope at all, so he set off in the opposite direction of the cave, skirting the range’s base, eyes fixed on the jagged, steep slabs of volcanic rock. Somewhere on the other side of this mountain range was the key to their escape from this planet. It wasn’t just a matter of curiosity-- even though Spock could admit that curiosity was a driving force to his urgency. No, it was a matter of survival. He had to find it. For all their sakes.
Jim was glad Spock had told him earlier where to find the nearest spring, as he used far more than their canteens’ fill of water in the hours while Spock went off in search of a way over the mountain. First, Jim had helped Pike drink the last of the water they’d stored, and tried to get the man to eat-- though he refused.
Then, Jim had gone back to the spring to fill the canteens and wash himself, clothes and body. The water was just a trickle down the rocks, and it collected into hardly a puddle’s worth at its base, but it was cool and soothing on his dirt-stained skin. He spent a good long while wringing sand and dirt from his thermal undershirt-- his only shirt, now, then laid it out to dry in that blistering sunlight.
His face, prickled with stubble, was its own source of discomfort, which Jim felt free to fix. Breaking open one of the aloe-like plants that grew near the water, he managed a clumsy shave with the emergency kit’s knife, skin sliced in a few places but nothing detrimental. Next time, he’d polish up a shard of metal to look into. And next time he wouldn’t be in as much of a hurry.
There was something about leaving Pike alone that didn’t sit well with him, just as it hadn’t when he and Spock had been working on the shuttle. Even though the captain only gained consciousness for minutes at a time, those minutes were important. He was still their commanding officer, still the finest commanding officer in Starfleet, in fact, and even in his state Jim felt heartened by his presence. But if Pike slipped away silently while they were gone, Jim would never forgive himself.
With full canteens slung around his shoulders and his damp shirt in his hand, he made his way back to the cave. The pain in his leg slowed him down, as did the unruly swing-step of his crutch. He wondered vaguely if he should just discard it, but he could feel with striking, painful clarity where the bone hadn’t quite healed. If he walked too far on it, he’d risk breaking it again. That was not a pleasant thought.
So he trudged as best he could, relieved when he arrived back at the cave to see Pike conscious, at least, laid out on the bed of leaves at its opening, eyes cloudy and delirious as he took in the colorful world around him. There hadn’t been time yet to fully absorb this place, the startling green of the wide leaves, the chortling of birds far off in the forest, the way the sand almost glowed white in the bright sun. He wondered if, in Pike’s feverish state, he was taking it all in.
When Jim returned to Pike’s side, he tried talking with him a little, told him how the spring had slicked the black rock and made it shine in the sun, how it was pleasantly cool and he’d brought back plenty to drink. Pike didn’t respond but with a mumbled phrase Jim couldn’t hear and a quiet, slow blinking of his eyes.
Something clenching in Jim’s chest, he didn’t try to talk anymore, afraid he’d lose himself to the fear he felt looking at the captain’s red eyes and papery, chapped lips. Instead of conversation, he occupied himself with trying to be useful. As much as he could, at least. He sloshed some water from the canteen against a clean strip of his uniform shirt and dabbed Pike clean, for all the good it did. Between the day’s heat and the fever, the man was all sweat and salt and shakes. The heat stuck Pike’s clothes to his skin, and from time to time he drifted off under Jim’s ministrations.
For fear of exacerbating his injury, Jim didn’t move the man much. When he slept, Jim let him sleep.
After an hour or so, he leaned back against the cave wall, attempting to focus on anything but the hollow sound of Pike’s breath. If he closed his eyes, he could almost pretend he was on Earth. The sounds weren’t so different, really, and the heat and humidity could’ve been any summer day in San Francisco. Or-- well, a particularly muggy summer day, he supposed.
If he closed his eyes, he could pretend he was sitting in the courtyard at Starfleet Academy, propped against a tree as he dozed. Even though the sweet scent that carried itself from these alien flowers didn’t quite smell like crisp, freshly cut grass or the sea lavender that grew in the academy’s garden beds. But he could pretend that, at any moment, he’d hear Gary’s footsteps sure and steady coming toward him on the sidewalk. He’d feel the hard smack of Gary’s shoe against his own, meant to rouse him. Gary would say something about being late for class. If he opened his eyes, he might even see the face of his erstwhile friend, smiling, telling him it had all been one of his nightmares. Gary had always asked after Jim’s nightmares, even though he knew Jim would never tell him. Somehow, Jim found himself smiling, even as his chest tightened against the memories.
Losing himself in that ebb and flow of escapism, it took Jim some time to realize when Pike’s breath changed tempo. In fact, he didn’t notice until he heard the man mumble-- something unintelligible, but clearly aware.
Jim startled, pushed himself up straight and met the captain’s eyes. He was awake, but his gaze was tired. Far away.
Jim scrambled to his side, casting about for the medical scanner. It looked as though they’d left it at their campsite farther into the cave, and Jim wasn’t sure he was able to make the walk right now. Besides, he couldn’t leave Pike alone now that the man had woken up again. Settling onto his knee with his bad leg outstretched, he placed a gentle hand on Pike’s shoulder.
“What was that, Sir?”
Pike’s eyes fell closed, then opened again, glazed and bleary. “I’m sorry,” he said, or maybe repeated, “that this happened to you.”
Jim’s immediate concern softened and he felt himself heave a breath. Taking up the cloth he’d abandoned and wetting it anew, Jim wrung it out on the sand beside him before he brought it to Pike’s gleaming forehead. It took him a moment to collect his thoughts enough to speak. “With all due respect,” he said with a lame, sad smile. “ I’m in good shape compared to you, sir.”
Pike’s lips quirked. “Garrovick ever tell you you’ve got a terrible sense of humor?”
“Not lately, sir.”
Pike hummed and his eyes drifted closed again. “You’re going to have to be strong,” he muttered; Jim had to lean forward to hear. “You and Spock. This... isn’t going to be easy.”
Jim glanced out the cave’s opening, as though expecting Spock to appear and announce that he’d solved all their problems. It had been hours, but it would likely take much longer than that to scale a mountain, and it was unlikely Spock would return with any kind of solution. But Jim counted his small blessings. Pike seemed more lucid now than he had earlier, more clear-headed. Jim needed that.
“May I speak freely, sir?”
“Here I thought you had been.”
Jim set the cloth down beside him, finding himself unable to say the things he needed to say while looking at Pike. The man was dying, and Jim hated himself for turning to a dying man for comfort, but it was Pike’s condition that made him want to air his fears aloud. Something in him would be restless and anxious until he did. “Sir,” he started, one word that settled something hard in his gut. “You say you’re sorry this happened to me, but I’ve been so-- so lucky. Carter, Taigen, Nelson… you. The fact that I’m alive right now is a miracle. I shouldn’t even be here. I should’ve fallen with the rest of them. I--”
“You’re here,” Pike said, tone harder than Jim thought was possible in his current state. “And that’s what matters. You got a second chance. Take it.”
Jim frowned, and he looked down at his hands resting in his lap. “But why me? If Taigen had survived, maybe she could’ve saved you too. Or Yeoman Nelson, he was so--”
Jim nodded, looking back at him.
Pike took in a shaky breath. “Well so are you.” Somehow, even weak, slurring his words with exhaustion, Pike managed to sound firm, sure of himself. “Everyone’s too young to die.”
In that moment, Jim wondered if maybe Pike were talking about himself too. “Just, listen to me, Kirk.”
Sitting straighter, he kept his eyes on Pike’s. “Yes sir.”
“You and Spock are going to have to take care of each other. You hear me? Look out for each other.”
“And you, too,” Jim said, knowing even as he said it that it sounded ridiculous to a dying man. “We’ll look out for you too.”
Pike’s mouth twisted and he closed his eyes, purposely this time. “For as long as I last, at least. But the ships aren’t coming for me. They aren’t coming for you. You’re going to have to get off this rock yourselves.”
“What makes you say that?” Of course, Jim agreed, but he was curious. Had Pike come to the same conclusion he and Spock had? Given the facts, he must have, but for practical Captain Pike to consider something as outrageous as time travel--
“Starfleet doesn’t exist out here,” Pike said. “You know that as well as I do.”
There was a long pause. Jim picked the cloth up again, and pressed it to Pike’s hairline. “I’ll keep an eye on the commander,” he promised.
Pike seemed to relax. “And listen to him. He’s an excellent officer. You’ll have to challenge him sometimes but--” Pike paused, coughed, wincing as the movement pulled at the tender skin of his wound. Jim’s hand on his shoulder tightened. When Pike regained his breath, he seemed to have dropped the thread of his thoughts. It took him a second to reclaim it. “He-- Spock , I mean…” Breathing in a sigh, Pike slowed down, taking the sentence one word at a time. “Logic isn’t always the best course. I think he’s going to need you to balance him out.”
Jim could’ve laughed at that had he been in a better emotional state. Already today he’d challenged Spock more times than he’d ever challenged any commanding officer. Maybe because the rules seemed farther away here. Or, maybe, because ideologically he just didn’t get the guy. “That won’t be a problem, sir.”
Pike’s chest rose and fell in a quick breath, a weak chuckle. “I thought not.”
Jim tried not to feel both disappointed and triumphant when Spock returned empty handed, but was unsuccessful. Part of him wanted desperately to say “I told you we should wait.” Thankfully he restrained himself.
The mountains were steep for miles in all directions, according to Spock, sheer rock faces from some long-ago quake. Spock had even returned to the shuttle and scanned the range, concluding that the only way over the mountain may not be over it at all, but under. Unless they felt like taking a dangerous-- and almost certainly fruitless-- months’ long journey around it, of course.
He suggested they explore the caves, to find a way through, though thankfully he did not insist they begin now. By the time he returned, it was nearly planet’s evening, and Jim, despite having a long rest and distracting himself with whittling (deciding to try his hand at a primitive spear), hadn’t forgotten Spock’s promise to confirm their theory by nightfall.
Spock had sat on the opposite side of the cave’s opening while he relayed this information to Jim, eyes occasionally falling to the quietly sleeping form of the captain.
Jim observed the Vulcan as he spoke. The green tint of his skin looked warm in the orange of the day’s dying light. He didn’t look tired exactly, but Jim had seen him before all this, when he was all hard shoulders and angled features and stern confidence. This Spock seemed… different.
They sat in silence for a time before Spock spoke again.
“You shaved,” he said tonelessly, and Jim gave him a small smile.
“Believe me, Mister Spock, you should give it a try. It makes you feel more human.”
Spock raised an eyebrow as Jim realized his mistake.
“I trust you understand that I am disinclined to feel more human.”
Jim chuckled, then pulled the knife from his boot. He held it out, handle first toward Spock. “More Vulcan, then. At least, more alive.”
Spock considered it for a moment, then stood, making his way toward Jim and taking the blade. “Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“I recommend using the aloe-- or whatever it is. Can we just call it aloe?”
“It is not precisely correct, but acceptable for ease of communication.”
“Well whatever it is, it's a miracle. I’m telling you, we should take some of it back home when we leave. Market it as shaving cream.”
Spock’s lip quirked, a new expression, one that caused a genuine smile to bloom on Jim’s own face. He suspected that was as close as the Vulcan could come to a smile.
“Of all the interesting discoveries we are making, I hardly think that would be the most useful to bring back to Starfleet.” Spock responded.
“It is practical, Mister Spock.”
“Perhaps I will test it before we package it for sale,” Spock said wryly and Jim laughed, loudly this time.
“Okay, that was definitely a joke. I thought you weren’t capable.” he said, knowing the staunch commander would never admit to such a thing. It had felt like a joke, though. Jim was infinitely grateful for it.
“I am capable of many things,” Spock said, “humor is not one of them.”
“Sure, sure,” Jim replied, sharing a look with Spock that clearly conveyed that he knew better, and that Spock knew he knew better. “Well, you’d better get a move on. It’s going to start getting dark here soon, and I need your help moving Captain Pike deeper into the cave.”
Spock glanced at Pike at the mention of his name, something Jim could almost read in the depths of his eyes.
“Are you worried?” Jim asked after Spock was silent for a little too long. He was starting to think that, maybe, Vulcans lied about how much they actually felt. There was a sadness in the slope of Spock’s back, in the lines at the corners of his eyes. Or maybe Jim just wanted there to be.
“I do not feel worry,” Spock said, as expected, and stood without any preamble. “I will return presently.”
“Take your time,” Jim said, shifting to make himself more comfortable, though the pebbles on the ground dug into him. “I’ll hold down the fort.”
Spock nodded and grabbed the tricorder, setting off in the direction of the spring without another word. Jim sighed and looked back to Pike, a hard rock of worry settling in his own gut.
He sat and watched the slow sunset, unable to do much with the stiffness of his leg, and without the knife to continue carving his spear. He marveled again at the alien beauty of this place. In the sunset, light shone through large leaves as though setting them aflame, and colored the white bark of the trees.
He noticed the leaves beginning to fold accordion-like at their center, pulling themselves inward toward their bases like the sails of a ship folding against the mast. As he watched the almost imperceptible movement, he was reminded of Earth flowers that bloomed only in daylight-- water lilies and bloodroot came to mind. It was a slow process, but he suspected that by nightfall the leaves would be fully closed, likely to protect themselves from the cold. A startling display of the planet’s evolution, Jim thought. The sight was as soothing as it was terrifying-- a reminder of how far he was from home.
Luckily, Spock did not take long, maybe a little more than a half-hour, and Jim was not alone with his thoughts for more time than was bearable.
As Spock approached, Jim didn’t notice a single shaving nick on the man’s smooth face, which almost annoyed him. If only because he wanted Spock to prove he had the potential to make a mistake.
But he complimented him on his handiwork all the same with a certainly inappropriate “Looking good, Commander,” which Spock did not dignify with a response. No matter that it was true.
Touching base on the state of the Captain and the remainder of time they had before nightfall, they began preparations, dragging Pike on the stretcher deep into the cave where they’d camped the night before. Then, they prepared the site, setting up another campfire, stockpiling enough wood to last the forty hours it would take before dawn would begin to heat the planet once again. These, though, were the last of the branches that had been felled by the shuttle crash, so that was another item on tomorrow’s to-do list. Jim didn’t even want to think about the logistics of cutting down these trees with nothing more than a laser cutter and a hunting knife.
Eventually, night did arrive, though twilight here lasted longer than felt possible.
Spock had gone to the mouth of the cave the moment the sun set, and that’s where Jim found him now. Jim had left Pike for just a moment and limped his way over, abandoning his crutch for the short walk, too impatient to wait for Spock’s return.
The Vulcan stood a dark shadow against the blue backdrop of evening, head tilted upwards and hands clasped behind his back. He still looked composed, in spite of everything, still so very... Starfleet. He was an excellent officer, clearly, to retain that level of calm. Jim drew up beside him, following his gaze. They were silent for a long time.
One by one, they watched the stars appear, blinking into existence in the darkness. The leaves on the surrounding trees had collapsed entirely now, leaving dark, shadowy, spiked spires against the backdrop of space, speckled with light, awe-inspiring. And lonely.
Jim watched Spock as covertly as he could while noting the play of starlight along the piths of his cheeks. Given everything that had been happening since they crashed on Alpha Novus V, it had been easy for Jim to forget-- or at least, not notice-- how handsome the Vulcan was. But now in the quiet night with the cool air hanging thick around them, Jim observed him. Strong and calm, the perfectly precise angles of his face held in perfectly precise control. And yet, he looked somehow less alien in comparison to the world around them. Jim allowed the Vulcan silence for a time, content to observe, but eventually curiosity won out.
Spock glanced at Jim, as though he’d been surprised by the sound of his voice. Then, he turned his eyes back to the sky.
“I memorized the layout of this and surrounding star systems after receiving the Farragut ’s request for aid,” Spock said lowly. “As I do whenever we travel to unfamiliar locations. Moreover, I know the the placement of each constellation from the surface of each planet in the Federation, and many outside our borders.”
Jim felt himself smiling in spite of the seriousness of Spock’s tone. “I didn’t ask for your resumé,” he said. Spock didn’t acknowledge the joke.
“My point, Mister Kirk, is that I know the stars as intimately as I know my own mind. And these stars are incorrect.”
“Incorrect?” Jim’s smile fell from his face and he suddenly felt a chill that had little to do with the cool air around them. If Spock was saying what he thought he was saying…
“Pi Solaria Beta is three degrees south of its proper location,” Spock said, raising his hand and pointing toward one dot among millions. “And DV 115 should not be visible anymore, yet you can clearly see it in supernova.”
Jim followed the line of Spock’s finger toward one of the brighter spots in the sky.
“What does it mean?”
Spock returned his hands to the small of his back, and Jim watched the glimmer of those incorrect stars in Spock’s eyes, something heavy in his gut.
“It seems we were correct in our hypothesis. By my estimation, the stardate is “-2072904”
Jim’s heart nearly stopped. “Excuse me?”
“By Earth’s measurement, it would be the year 250 A.D.”
“I know that .” Jim said, grabbing Spock’s shoulder and whipping him around. He wanted Spock to look him in the eye, to tell him that year again, because flashes of fear sparked in him at the words and he felt his heart clench as though it wanted nothing more than to give out.
“I thought-- because of the shuttle… about 150 years. You’re telling me--”
“Somehow,” Spock said, interrupting Jim’s halted speech. “We have traveled more than two-thousand years into the past, yes.”
Jim swallowed. All day, he’d been absorbing the idea of time travel, trying to imagine that it was possible, but to know now that they were so far beyond the reach of their own world…
“That’s well before Starfleet.”
“Humans don’t even have space travel .”
“You are correct.”
“What are we going to do?”
Maybe Spock heard the desperation in Jim’s voice, or maybe (in spite of his Vulcan composure) he felt a little desperation himself.
“We will survive,” Spock said, breaking Jim’s hold on his shoulder and turning away from the glittering sky. “And we will find a way to return.”
Jim wanted to believe that, and maybe part of him did. The calm surety of the Vulcan’s voice was encouraging, even if Jim was sure it was fabricated.
From somewhere in the dark distance, a guttural, rumbling howl echoed, bear-like, wolf-like, unlike anything Jim had ever heard. The sound was chased by another, answering from across the oasis. It sent a chill down his spine-- an instinctual fear borne of being prey in a predators’ world-- and he shot his eyes toward Spock.
Unfazed by the lonely call of those distant creatures, Spock nodded toward the cave’s interior.
“We should return to Captain Pike. Perhaps tonight we may formulate a plan.”
Jim nodded, casting one last glance to the sky above them, to the forest before them where unknown dangers lurked. His heart was hard with worry.
Two-thousand years in the past. No wonder they couldn’t reach Starfleet. Anyone. They really were alone out here. And ‘out here’ could very well kill them.
As they turned back to the cave, Jim’s eyes fell on the distress signal Spock had set up outside the cave the day before-- a spike set into the sand with one steadily blinking red light, silently transmitting the Federation equivalent of ‘help us.’
And it struck Jim that two-thousand years from now, the Farragut would hear that cry for help.
The realization made his stomach drop.
It had been them all along. They had been their own rescue mission, and now…
Now they might fail in saving themselves.