Ouch—I have lost myself again;
Lost myself, and I am nowhere to be found
Yeah I think that I might break
Lost myself again and I feel unsafe…
—"Breathe Me", Sia
River, Spock and McCoy stumbled all the way down to the mess hall, where the doctor claimed there was good lighting and he'd be able to bandage River's foot in a relatively sterile environment. It was still three hours until the rest of the Enterprise's crew would be let off duty for the rest of the "evening", so they had ample time before the crew would begin filing in for dinner. As for the poor, forgotten teenage Ensign lying in the hall with a bloodied lip, McCoy had hauled him to his feet and advised Chekov to wait in sickbay until he could return and make sure he still had all of his teeth.
"I'm still not certain this is advisable," Spock remarked as he helped Doctor McCoy lift River onto the counter in the mess hall's kitchen. The girl had been dead quiet since agreeing to cooperate with them. "For most, the sight of blood is usually not conducive to one's appetite."
"You got a better idea, Mister Spock?" McCoy grunted, placing his medkit beside her on the counter and flipping open the lid. "We need a clean place with good light and running water. And, oh yeah—no people for her to flip out on. Besides us, of course."
"We could bandage her in your quarters, Doctor," Spock suggested, quirking one eyebrow.
"Or yours," McCoy shot back. "But then I guess you'd have to live with bloodstains all over the carpet of that undoubtedly neat, orderly room of yours. Get that towel over there and soak it in warm water," he instructed. "How did this happen, anyway?" The doctor grumbled, examining River's cut.
Spock glanced over his shoulder as he twisted the hot water tap on the kitchen sink. "I'm not certain as to exactly how it happened, as I wasn't present at the time, but I believe she shattered a glass vase in her room and accidentally stepped on one of the pieces. Is that correct, River?"
River stared ahead blankly in silence.
"Shouldn't someone have been watching her? Aren't you the one who's supposed to be looking out for her, Commander?" McCoy demanded, accepting the warmed towel from Spock. Bending down, he gently dabbed a corner of the towel around the edges of River's cut, cleaning the dried blood off her foot. Spock saw her wince in pain and bite down on her bottom lip to keep herself from crying out.
"I have other duties on this ship besides the care of River Tam," Spock responded coolly, keeping his eyes trained on the girl's pained face, alert in case of another outburst. "I cannot keep her under constant supervision any more than I can predict her…" He paused, searching for an appropriate term. "Mood swings," he finished.
River glanced up sharply and fixed him with a hard, dark glare, and Spock froze. Her gaze was full of an anger and pain that he was unable to articulate, roiling just beneath the shadowy surface. "You don't know," she began slowly, her voice wavering with barely-contained emotion, "What it's like… to be…" She seemed to lose her words and glanced down, as if she'd dropped them on the floor, casting around in herself trying to find them again, eyes flicking back and forth. The doctor was occupied with retrieving an antiseptic solution from his medkit, removing a small, brightly coloured plastic bottle and twisting open the lid.
"I don't know what, Miss Tam?" Spock coaxed placidly. His tone contained a certain ironic level of casual disaffection that, under the circumstances, almost might have been mistaken for amusement. Meanwhile, Bones was busily wetting a cotton ball in the disinfectant solution.
"I have to warn you, sweetheart, this is going to sting," Bones informed her mildly. Ignoring him, River kept her attention on the half-Vulcan's face and dragged her voice out from wherever it had gotten lost inside her.
"You talk like you know everything there is in this 'verse to know, but you don't. You don't know what it's like to be lost, to be broken and…." Her words were a restrained sob, cut off abruptly by her own yelp of pain as the doctor dabbed at her foot with the cotton ball. She jerked instinctively, but not hard enough to wrench her foot out of McCoy's grasp.
"Whoa—it's okay," he soothed. "It's alright. You're going to be fine."
Thick, dark tears squeezed their way out of the corners of the girl's eyes and slid heavily down the sides of her cheeks. "No, I won't," River whispered, and Spock was forced to look away. Quietly the doctor consoled her as he finished cleaning and bandaging her cut, low, meaningless words muttered in a soothing tone. River Tam did not seem to be in particular need of logic at the moment, and so Spock stood off to the side, hands clasped behind his back, observing silently, awkwardly, useless.
McCoy advised River to avoid putting weight on her injured foot for the next week or so while it healed, to avoid reopening the wound. Until then, she'd need assistance walking—and, the doctor added, in the future she might consider wearing a nice, practical pair of shoes to prevent further injuries such as this one.
Spock and River ate their dinners early in the mess hall to avoid the evening rush and save him the hassle of bringing her meal to her quarters. The two sat opposite each other in silence at Spock's preferred table. Doctor McCoy had vanished, informing them that he had work to do and had to go check on Chekov.
Spock ate, empty quiet of the mess hall magnifying the sound of his fork clinking against his plate. River picked at her food morosely with the plastic fork he'd given her. Instead of consuming the impeccably nutritious items on her plate Spock had replicated for her, River seemed preoccupied with staring, unblinkingly, at him for a good fifteen minutes as he ate, during which she did not utter a sound, and he, in turn, did a very good job of ignoring her.
"Your ears are pointed."
This blunt observation caught him mid-bite. Spock finished chewing, swallowed, took a polite sip of ice water, and fixed her with an impenetrable stare to counter her vaguely discomforting, unreadable one. He might have arched an eyebrow at her, were he not highly accustomed to these sorts of remarks from his years of being one of the few Vulcans at Starfleet Academy, later becoming the only Vulcan aboard the Enterprise.
"Did this detail," he said slowly, "only just come to your attention?"
River blinked. "No."
She frowned, scrutinizing him. "You sit too straight. Your ears are pointed. Your face is made of stone and I can't read past it. What's wrong with you?"
The forkful of mashed potatoes froze in midair and hovered halfway to Spock's mouth. "Excuse me?" He said quietly.
"What's. Wrong. With. You?" River sounded out for him.
Setting his fork down on his tray, he responded in his calmest, smoothest tone. "I am of half Vulcan heritage. My father is a full-blooded Vulcan. Does that answer your question, Miss Tam?"
"And just what in the 'verse is a Vulcan, Mister Spock?" She asked, angling her head towards him so a few stray locks of lank hair fell over her face. Spock wondered idly if she was playing some sort of juvenile game with him, but he responded calmly just the same.
"We are—or were—the people of the planet Vulcan. We come from a culture and a civilization much older than that of the people of the planet Earth, where I assume your ancestry lies. We believe in approaching situations with rationality and logic rather than instinct and emotion."
River goggled at him a moment longer before breaking into a sudden silly grin, taking him by surprise. She giggled, shaking her head back and forth, leaned forward and dropped her voice to a low whisper, as if she were divulging someone else's embarrassing secret. "There ain't no such thing as aliens," she admonished.
Stiffening, Spock frowned deeply, more out of bemusement than offense at the archaic racial epithet. For a moment he found himself at a sudden loss for words. What could be said to someone who denied a fundamental truth? How was he to correct a girl who was so devoid of her basic mental faculties that she believed the Homo sapiens species was still alone in the universe? Spock thought for a moment, then, looking up, locked eyes with her, and leaned forward in a stiff parody of her conspiratorial manner. "I assure you," he said quietly, "there are."
Her smile lingered, as if he were playing a joke on her and she expected him to deliver the punch line at any moment, then slowly faded into a look of confusion. "But that's… You're…" She searched his face, staring at him in bewilderment. "No!" She gasped. "We looked for you. We looked and looked and looked. We poked in dark corners—our voices went where our boats couldn't. Millions of voices, all reaching out, and we said…"
She swallowed, and her eyes flicked to the window beside their table, where a mist of stars floated in the aether, and her eyes widened, her mouth gaping with some distant breathtaking memory (or delusion.) Her next words were a faint singsong. "And we said, 'We are here!' Millions of voices, all crying out, We are here! We are here! Are we alone, are we alone? We are alive, and we are living, and we are destroying, and we are building, and we are here…" She shook her head again and barked out a strange little laugh of amusement and sorrow, of disbelief. "No one ever answered."
Silence descended upon them. Spock sat and tried to gather his swirling, disjointed thoughts, attempting to piece together some sense out of what the girl was telling him. Her story sounded so passionate and convincing, reminiscent of the period of Earth's history after the invention of radio technology, characterized by the deep yearning for First Contact that most sentient races experienced; SETI, the space race, Roswell and other desperate fantasies. Was it possible that she came from a world unaware of the existence of species other than humans? No, it was absurd. Even the most obscure Earth colony would know of Starfleet and its purpose, the invention of father-than-light travel, the other species in the galaxy that had made contact with humans, which now numbered in the hundreds… Spock shook himself mentally. He was supposed to be watching her to ensure she wasn't posing a threat to herself or the crew, not indulging in her silliness. River Tam's tale was another product of her disturbed mind, nothing more.
Nevertheless, he supposed it could do little harm to humour her…
"In that case, this would, hypothetically, make our meeting an occasion of first contact, would it not?" The corner of Spock's mouth twitched. Slowly, he raised his right hand and parted his fingers in the traditional Vulcan greeting.
"River Tam, we come in peace."
River's eyelids fluttered. Spock ignored her astonished expression and returned to his meal.
It had been so long since Scotty's hands were covered in actual grease. Water-based plasma coil lubricant, sure—but it had been a good while since he'd touched real grease. A person'shands weren't likely to get very dirty, working on a pretty, elegant lassie like the Enterprise—and Scotty loved her, that was for sure—but already his hands were slick with the stuff as he poked around in the engine of the little vessel the Enterprise has tractored in after beaming aboard its sole occupant, trying to figure out how she worked. The smell of it—dark and rich and dirty—was making him a little giddy. She was a quaint old girl, held together with mismatched parts but otherwise well taken care of, aside from the fact that her fuel cells had been blown and most of her circuitry shorted. What had caused this, Scotty wasn't yet sure.
Captain Kirk strode into the cargo bay just as Scotty had finished looking her over and was toweling the grease off his hands with a spare rag. "Well, what can you tell me about the ship, Scotty?" Kirk asked, getting straight to the point.
"Lovingly held together with spit an' duct tape, Cap'n," he replied cheerfully. "Prolly an escape shuttle, by my guess. Certainly not meant for long distance flights, that's for sure. Oh, an' get this," he smirked. "She runs on contained nuclear power."
"Nuclear?" Kirk repeated incredulously.
"Oh, I know, right?" Scotty grinned. "She woulda been a top of the line, state-of-the-art kinda lassie about two hundred years ago. Junk now, though, I'm sorry to say. Fuel cells and circuitry completely shot. Looks like some sort of massive power surge did her in. I could get her back workin' again, o'course, though there inn'it much point."
Kirk crossed his arms over his chest. "This just keeps getting weirder and weirder. Do you have any idea where she comes from, Scotty?"
Scotty grinned again, polishing the last of the grease off his hands. "Not a bloody clue, Cap'n."
Author's note: Summer! I'm almost - almost - finished with school and I finally get to relax and maybe get a little more writing done. On Wednesday I'm going on holiday with my family, though, so I can't promise anything for the next ten days or so.
As always, tons of love to my readers and reviewers - if you guys are still out there and haven't forgotten about this story by now, in any case. Thanks to everyone who reviewed chapter four; DXRULES103, Snowspell, RJ Lewis, FireShifter, Vulcanvamp, villainous, fafinette, MoonyMoonsault, PlayKate, Fair Trade Organic, Sulimeth, Pheonixfire979, Alison the Eccentric, and Buffy Sparrow. Also - special thanks to FireShifter for giving me a kick in the butt and reminding me to update.
If you've got comments, suggestions, or criticisms, as usual, I'd love to hear it. Also, I'll be placing this story in the "Crossovers" section once it's finished. 'Till then, you can tell your Firefly friends who love River and Star Trek that they might dig this. ;)