Author's Note: Alright, so this picks up from where 'Far Too Many Spocks' leaves off. It was one of the ones I had to re-write so I don't know how well it holds up, because I don't mind re-writing when it's more like doing a different version, but actually just re-writing the same exact content is harder because it's less exciting. Still, enjoy! (Hopefully).
"Scan the anomaly!"
Of course, they were already scanning the anomaly, but the words escaped Jim's lips almost as soon as Spock's form vanished from his arms. "And the planet." What if it was some strange, hence unknown transporter technology that he'd just witnessed? He didn't know what the hell had just happened, although it seemed more likely that whatever was out there had something to do with his first officer vanishing.
It might also explain why they'd been picking up Spocks left and right through the transporter lately.
His gaze flew towards his captain's chair, but the other Spock was gone, too. He moved over to the nearest com system and opened the line to his quarters. One frantic, short conversation later he managed to establish from Nurse Chapel that the little Spock had disappeared as well.
They were all gone.
"Keptan," he heard Chekov say, sounding shocked. "I am reading Wulcan lifesigns in the anomaly!"
If Jim's heart hadn't already stopped, it would have. The anomaly was out in space. Where there was a decided lack of things like, oh, say, life-support, which meant his first thought was that Spock was dead. But if they were picking up lifesigns, then he couldn't be dead…
"Can we get a transporter lock?" he demanded. The intent silence of people working hard to try and figure out the answer was his only immediate reply.
It would prove to be the question of the hour.
The tension in the conference room was thick enough to cut up and serve buffet-style. Jim was supposedly sitting, even though he kept pressing his hands against the table as if he wanted nothing more than to rush out and do something. The problem was that there wasn't anything he could do outside of the conference room right then. Bones was wearing the frustrated tension of a man who knew how serious the situation was, but also knew that his own set of skills were more or less useless to it. Scotty had the opposite problem – of all the men at the table he was the best equipped to figure out what the hell had just happened, and he clearly felt that pressure keenly.
Chekov had been included due to the fact that he was a genius and made an impressive hobby of understanding transporter systems, so he was very likely to see any possibilities that Scotty missed. He had his shoulders hunched and looked nervous, and the fact that this was his first time being included in such a conference probably didn't help matters much.
"So we know the three of them are out there," Jim said at length, his voice coming out hard. The sensors had been checked and double-checked, and were working fine. Which meant their readings were, however inexplicable, presumably accurate. "But we can't get a lock on any of them?"
"Well, now, ah wouldna say that," Scotty insisted, shaking his head in a more absent-minded gesture than a deliberate denial. "But the interference is a right nightmare. If there's a way, we'll have ta invent it ourselves. Not that we haven't done that before, o' course, but ah cannae make any promises." He looked deeply apologetic about this, as if his inability to guarantee as-yet unmade advances in transporter technology should be a black mark on his record.
Jim considered their options for the nine hundredth time. "If they're alive," he said, "then there must be something to support life in the anomaly. What if someone were to pilot a shuttle into it?" he suggested. 'Someone', of course, being himself. Because even though it definitely wasn't regulation for the captain to go on rescue missions, he quite frankly didn't give a flying fuck at that point, and he wasn't sending anyone else.
Bones caught on right away. "That's nuts, Jim," he said, scowling at him. "You don't even know if a shuttle can make it to whatever part of that thing's got Spock."
"Yeah," he admitted. "But I'm not hearing any better ideas. We should still work on the transporters, of course, but it's been an hour already, and we don't know what's happening to them…" he trailed off, trying to stop himself short of letting his personal life into the discussion. He bit off a curse and his hands twitched atop the table.
The words 'emotionally compromised' darted through his head. But no one around him said it, so that either meant he hadn't gone completely off the deep-end yet, or they were all in denial.
Or maybe a little bit of both.
He tried to avoid thinking about how much he could have used Spock's two cents right then. Instead he clenched a fist against the table top, and reminded himself to exhale. "Alright," he said. "Scotty, I want you and Chekov working on the transporter systems. Do whatever you have to in order to break that inference and get a lock. I'm going to take a shuttle with a signal booster into the anomaly – even if I can't break through, that should help the sensors do it. That means you've got the Enterprise while I'm gone, Mr. Scott, but I recommend you leave Sulu with the conn unless something else happens in the meantime." He stood up from the table, his hands clenching unconsciously, his entire frame radiating tension through the room. His mouth was dry as he swallowed, but at least now he had something other than straws to grasp at. "Bones, make sure sickbay's ready. We don't know what condition they're in."
Scotty and Chekov moved off to follow orders with an 'aye, sir' and a 'yes, Keptan', but of course, the CMO wasn't so accommodating.
"You realize that this is insane, right?" he asked instead, reaching out with one hand to grip Jim's arm and give a shake for emphasis. "Whatever's happening out there, wherever Spock is, you're not gonna help him any by flying into the damn thing and probably getting yourself killed. And then with my luck you do realize that that green-blooded, self-righteous elf is going to reappear right after that happens? At which point he'll separate my head from my damn shoulders for letting you do something this stupid?"
"…Probably," Jim agreed, not feeling the lightness which he forced into his tone. "But look on the bright side, Bones. At least we could have one of those fun joint-funerals."
"I'm all aquiver with anticipation," the doctor deadpanned.
Jim shifted, clasping his shoulder briefly. "Don't worry," he advised. "It's me, and it's a crazy plan, remember? That almost guarantees it'll work."
Bones didn't look convinced. In fact he looked more like he was considering using his position as CMO to declare Jim unfit for duty and have him shackled to the medical bay.
He didn't, though.
Instead he swore under his breath and made his way for the exit, shooting one last, disapproving glance over his shoulder. Jim watched him go, and then called down the Shuttlebay One and had them prepare for launch. He frowned at his own distorted reflection against the console screen after it cleared.
A thought occurred to him, and after a moment, he called up the star charts for the area they were in. It was neutral territory near Tholian space. Their mission had been to perform standard scans and a quick border patrol, essentially to check that the Tholian Assembly hadn't started to stir in the Federation's direction. There were a few odd reports about the area, cases of ships disappearing and bizarre spatial fluctuations.
After a minute, Jim called up classified information on the Narada incident, suspicions growing. They were pretty far from where the first energy storm had appeared. He already knew that. However, if one were to take the star charts and wrap them around like a sphere…
The locations overlapped almost perfectly.
Which could have been a coincidence, but it was a pretty fucking big one if that were the case. Particularly since whatever it was seemed to have a definite selectivity for Spocks, and he knew for a fact that at least one Spock had broken through the fabric of space and time without anybody else's help. After thinking for a moment, he called engineering.
"Mr. Chekov," he addressed.
"Yes, Keptan?" the familiar voice drifted back.
He cleared his throat. "While I'm gone, you might want to look into Spatial Interphase phenomenon," he advised.
There was a pause. Then an exclamation in Russian. Then what might have been 'aye, sir' followed by the sound of running feet, and what was almost definitely Scotty's voice saying 'watch that railing, Pavel'. So he figured the ensign was on the job, and, closing the connection, made his way down to the hangar.
Although if he were being honest, it was less 'made his way' and more 'practically ran'.
Despite that, however, it actually took nearly another hour for the transmitter to be readied, and by the time he finally launched Jim was penning angry letters in his head to the space-time continuum. Most of them went to the general tune of 'if you don't stop it with Spock, I will mess your shit up, and don't think I can't do it either'. He was pretty sure that making threats against existence qualified as a slippery slope, but at that point he didn't particularly care.
Shuttles were remarkably confining, comparatively fragile things when held up against the norms of space flight. Jim plotted his course and stared out at the broad expanse around him as the engines thrummed through the floorboards. On some strange, instinctive level, there was a certain eeriness to being alone in one. Not that he'd ever voice it out loud, and not that he paid much attention to it as he flew towards a seemingly innocuous stretch of black void and distant stars.
The shuttle's less complex sensors didn't have a hope of sorting out what the Enterprise's failed to comprehend, but he still checked them over carefully as he neared the anomaly. It was only the viewscreen which picked up the subtle, slightly green mist, and then only once he'd flown into it. Uhura's voice drifted towards him over the com. It was broken up and distorted, but he managed to pick out the word 'captain' in there somewhere.
"Kirk here," he replied. "You're breaking up, Lieutenant. If you can hear me, I'm fine, but I think I've entered the anomaly."
After a minute he got more mangled gibberish, and with an almost absent-minded gesture closed down the communication link. Seeing green – even green of completely the wrong shade – misted through the area like exploded particles was deeply unsettling.
He cursed into the steady hum of the shuttle, because he could see no signs of anything life-sustaining. Just this unusual cloud in this unusual space.
That was about when the ringing started.
It began in an almost unnoticeable way, the kind of sound you hear immediately after listening to something at too loud a volume. But then it built up, a low whine that had him scowling and checking the shuttle's systems, suddenly alarmed that something was overloading. He whipped his heard around as it grew louder, because if it was that critical then he would be able to see some sign of it, and then the pain exploded like stars within his skull. He let out a surprised cry of anguish and clapped his hands instinctively over his ears, shaking and shuddering in his seat until his eyes rolled up into the back of his head, and he collapsed.
A few moments later, the shuttle lost its only pilot and passenger.
The first thing he became aware of was warmth on his face. Summer warmth, like the few times he'd wandered into one of the fields near his house as a kid and just stretched out on the grass to watch the sky, and accidentally fallen asleep. It pressed down on his eyelids and made him conscious of the tight, hot, heavy feeling of the skin on his face, and the dusty scent which filled his nose.
The second thing he became aware of was the prod of something – hard and rounded, like the toe of a shoe – against his side.
He opened his eyes, blinking past the glare of a sun overhead, and squinted at the small figure who immediately jerked back from his line of vision. Dusty blond hair and a jacket that was distinctly familiar, if not yet grown into. Jim's head reeled as he sat up, one hand grating against hard, rocky earth, and wondered what the hell had just happened. Again.
"Holy shit, I'm dead," a young voice said from not too far away. Jim blinked over at the eleven-year-old standing not far from him. The kid was undeniably familiar. Like, photo-album familiar. Because he looked exactly like he had at that age, right down to the awkward haircut and the near-growth-spurt build. "Does it always feel like crap when you die? I mean afterwards?" he wondered, looking down at his hands and blinking between himself and Jim.
"We're not dead," Jim countered, standing up and brushing the dirt off of his uniform as he took in their surroundings and wondered how he'd managed to wake up in a desert with a younger version of himself. He was pretty sure he wasn't dead, anyway. If he was then the afterlife was decidedly weirder than anticipated.
Although, being trapped in a desert for eternity with an obnoxious kid might qualify as hell. And if that kid happened to be who he thought he was, then he was guaranteed to be obnoxious.
Nervous eyes darted in his direction, and Mini-Jim swallowed, shaking his head a little. "I don't even know… how'd it happen, Dad? Why'd I…" his voice trailed off, and Jim felt a momentary surge of panic at being addressed as 'dad' before he figured out what was going on. Well, to some extent, anyway.
"Calm down," he said. "I'm not your dad, and like I told you, we're not dead."
It was so weird to be talking to another version of, well, him. He could kind of see why Spock had hugely avoided it now.
His words seemed to get his younger self thinking, though, and after a minute there was a small frown on his face as he stared at Jim. "Uniform's wrong," he noted softly, almost under his breath, as if he was comparing Jim to the memory of a photograph. Which he probably was.
Jim could even guess which photo.
"I'm not your father," he said again. "I'm you. From the future. I think. Probably another dimension, too." He was starting to build a theory about what was happening, although it had a lot of holes. But if he had to guess, he'd say that this was Mini-Spock's Mini-Jim.
His younger self blinked at him, and then after a long, considering moment, made a face. "Why the hell did you join Starfleet?!" he demanded.
Which, of course, would naturally be a more pressing issue than 'where are we' or 'how did we get here' or even 'but that should be impossible'. God he'd been weird as a kid. And foul-mouthed, but he already knew that.
"Because it's awesome," he answered, immediately pointing to his sleeve. "You see these? Captain's stripes. I've got my own ship. With a kickass crew and everything."
The kid gave him a skeptical look. "But you're like thirty," he said.
"Nobody makes Captain that young unless it's to get blown up because the original captain's dead."
And there was that odd contradiction of his, hating Starfleet and knowing more about it than anyone not enlisted had any business bothering with. Jim shrugged and moved around the nearest crop of rocks, looking for a likely path that would lead maybe to higher ground. He checked his pockets and found his communicator. It didn't look damaged.
"Yeah, well, that's true," he agreed. "I just did such a good job of not getting blown up that they decided to let me stay captain." He activated the communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise, come in Enterprise."
He got back nothing back static. With a sigh – because he didn't have the first clue where he was, and so it'd been a long shot that he could reach the ship – he set the thing to transmit on as many signals as possible. "Kirk to Spock. Come in Spock."
Not what he was hoping for.
"C'mon, Spock, please tell me you had your motherfucking communicator on you when you disappeared…" he muttered into the device.
"Who's Spock?" his younger self asked.
Jim didn't look at him – 'cause it was kind of freaky to – and instead kept his focus on the device in his hand. "My first officer," he answered vaguely.
"What kind of a name is 'Spock'?"
He frowned, getting nothing but static for another few minutes, and then reluctantly tucked the device back into his pocket.
"An awesome one," he replied. There was a lot of open ground around them, but plenty of it was marred, too, by rocky, dry and mountainous terrain. No signs of water, and only a few colorless, scraggly plants were growing along the base of several large stones. They looked mostly dead. He reminded himself that Vulcans were well-suited to surviving in this kind of climate before deciding on a direction, and then finally looking at his younger self again. He knew he'd be scared even if he wasn't showing it.
"He's half Vulcan," he elaborated, and then gestured towards him. "Come on. If I'm right, he's around here somewhere."
The shuttle was gone, though, so how they would get back to the ship should prove to be an interesting challenge. One thing at a time.
"So, how did we get here?" Mini-Jim finally asked, his shoes scuffing up the dirt as he fell into step alongside him. The air around them was definitely a little hotter than would be comfortable, but it could have been worse.
With a shrug, Jim confessed that he wasn't completely certain. He gave him a brief run-down of the situation – multiple Spocks coming through the transporter, the anomaly, the Spocks vanishing, all of that. He was a smart kid, if nothing else, so he figured he could handle it. And he did.
"Cool," Mini-Jim decided. "Are we gonna go back to our ship?"
Jim gave him a look. "My ship," he corrected. "You don't get anything until you fight a giant claw-machine from the future."
Mini-Jim gave him a look which implied that he was wondering what kind of head trauma he would eventually suffer that would lead to this. "A giant claw-machine from the future?" he asked, his voice heavy with skepticism. "Are you making shit up?"
Most of Jim's focus was on their surroundings, but he did keep one eye on his younger self. After a few minutes the kid stripped off his jacket and slung it over his head to help block the sun. "Too hot," he mumbled to himself, and Jim found that he had to agree. The uneven terrain made it easy to stumble as well, although both of them were fairly adept at keeping their balance – him because of his combat training, and his younger self presumably because of his lower center of gravity. Still, the rocks were proving to be a huge pain in the ass, particularly because they were at the wrong angle to provide any shade, and were tall enough to disguise things from view.
Like the unconscious guy wearing a gold sash. Jim nearly tripped over him as they passed one particularly large boulder.
He managed to pull away from him and avoid touching him, though. Mini-Jim gave him a curious look. "Wow," he said after a silent minute. "He's even older than you."
It didn't take a genius to figure out who the guy was. The resemblance was clear, although if he had to guess he'd say that, inexplicably, this version was a bit shorter than him. Maybe he skipped a growth spurt for some reason? Regardless, the sash and the gaudy, pirate-y uniform heavily implied the man's identity.
So, this was the mass-slaughtering 'puppet' captain from Beardy-Spock's universe. Evil-Jim.
"Careful. He's evil."
Mini-Jim gave him a questioning look.
"The sash gave him away," he clarified helpfully.
"…People who wear sashes are evil?" the kid asked, moving over towards Evil-Jim's head and looking down at his face.
"No," Jim replied, wondering what they ought to do with him. His face was clearly sunburned, and at this rate he'd die of exposure or something if they just left him there. Which he might have deserved, but Jim honestly wasn't big on killing people. It was particularly freaky when they looked just like him. "Beardy-Spock had a sash, and he was pretty clear on the whole 'the Jim from my universe is a bastard' front, so it's a safe bet," he explained.
Mini-Jim seemed to consider this. "He's still passed out," he noted. "Think it's 'cause he's old?"
"He's not old," Jim said with some annoyance, even though the kid probably had a point. If he'd woken up first, and Jim second, then it stood to reason that whatever had dragged them there was more draining for adults. It made him glad that the old man hadn't been aboard the ship.
His younger self just rolled his eyes and then set to prodding the unconscious Evil-Jim with the toe of his shoe.
Jim drew his phaser.
After a few moments, the muscles on Evil-Jim's face twitched, and Mini-Jim moved quickly back. Jim could tell what was going through his mind – he didn't want to seem scared, but at the same time, he wasn't going to take the whole 'this guy's totally evil' warning and toss it out of the window.
He focused most of his attention on his slightly older self, however, watching as the discomfort of his situation began to show in his expression, and his eyes blinked uncomfortably open. The first image which the sash-wearing man was greeted with was Jim, phaser leveled and expression hard. With a groan, he lowered a hand to his face, and then winced as the tender skin was irritated by the gesture. "What is this nightmare?" he demanded, sounding more than a little annoyed as he struggled his way up to his feet, clearly disoriented.
"You're not dreaming," Jim informed him.
"Don't sweat it, though," his younger self added helpfully, drawing Evil-Jim's attention in his direction for the first time. "I thought I was dead. The only one who's on the ball is the sell-out here."
"Hey. I'm you," Jim reminded him. "If I'm a sell-out then that means that you're going to be one."
Mini-Jim made a face. Evil-Jim blinked a few times, and then, quicker than Jim expected, produced a phaser that had been tucked away from sight in the back of his belt. "I want answers," he growled out, leveling the weapon at his most obvious opponent – Jim – as his gaze darted between the two of them. "Who put you up to this? Scott? Giotto?" He backed away from them a little, and Jim wondered if he was unhinged. It would explain a lot. "I'll admit, the uniform's right, and the physical similarities are uncanny," he said. "But the age is all wrong – so what's this game supposed to be? What are you after?"
Jim exchanged a glance with Mini-Jim.
"Are you sure you meant 'evil' and not 'crazy'?" Mini-Jim asked, and damn, but he guessed he'd always been mouthy, even when there was a phaser-toting maniac within earshot.
"It's probably both," he replied, before he answered Evil-Jim's erratic assessment of the situation. "I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm guessing you're missing a Spock?"
Evil-Jim's eyes narrowed. "Spock?" he asked, seeming to waver slightly. "Spock died in a transporter accident. We lost his signal. He's gone."
"He's not," Jim countered. Then he amended. "I mean, he didn't die in the transporter. He wound up on my ship. In another timeline and universe."
There was a still, quiet moment of tension as Evil-Jim seemed to mull this over in his head. His breathing was heavy, and it was clear that lying out in the sun for a long time hadn't suited him. Jim was pretty sure he could take him in a fight. On the other hand, the phaser he was holding looked decidedly meaner than the standard issue Starfleet ones. He had a feeling it didn't come with stun settings.
Eventually, the tension cracked – only slightly – as Evil-Jim let out a barked, stilted laugh.
"Again?" he demanded, shaking his head. "I wasn't even using the transporter! How do you explain that?"
Jim shrugged. "Magic?" he suggested. At Evil-Jim's dark look, he rolled his eyes, and then began the tedious process of describing his perspective and theories on their situation for the second time. Mini-Jim watched them in silence for several minutes, eventually dropping onto the ground cross-legged and tenting himself under his jacket, head cocked to one side. Once the explanation had finished, he spoke up again.
"Why're you so short?" he asked, nodding towards Evil-Jim. "And how come your eyes are a different colour?"
"Don't ask stupid questions," Evil-Jim snapped at him. Then, after a moment, he reluctantly lowered his weapon a little. Jim took the hint and followed suit, although they both kept their phasers close at hand. "So if your little 'theory' is correct and this whole thing isn't just some elaborate game, then Spock should be here." His gaze darted across their surroundings. "We need to find shelter."
"We need to find Spock…s," Jim corrected, tapering off a little awkwardly at the end. Evil-Jim gave him a withering look.
"Spock can look after himself," he said. "Especially on a rock like this. We three? We'll die if we don't think smart, and believe me, I know how to think smart." He smirked a little then, a deeply unpleasant expression on his face. Jim made a mental note to avoid smirking in the future. "If you're anything like the other fools I've seen wearing that uniform, I'm guessing that's not a talent you have."
Mini-Jim snickered. Jim shot him a betrayed look. "Hey," he said. "Blue-eyes, remember, I'm future-you. He's evil-you."
The kid raised his hands defensively after he pulled himself up from the ground. "Hey, if I'm from another universe, then I'm not either of you," he pointed out, and Jim was given a sudden insight as to why so many people had called him a 'smartass' over the years.
Evil-Jim had an equally displeased expression on his face. "Now I think I know why so many people have tried to beat me to death over the years," he expressed.
There was an awkward pause.
Jim took a moment to muse that, yes, there were in fact universes more fucked up than his own. Apparently without Nero's help, even.
Mini-Jim looked vaguely disconcerted. "…Okay," he said, turning to Jim. "Got it. You're future-me. I think I can live with that, even if you don't have a cool sash or anything."
"Great," Jim approved with just a hint of sarcasm, deciding that now probably wasn't the time to think of the incidents in his life where someone had, in fact, tried to beat him to death. He doubted they were as numerous as the ones in Evil-Jim's life, anyway. At least his brain hadn't made the jump straight from 'obnoxious kid' to 'try and kill'.
Evil-Jim gave them both a derisive snort and then started walking, casting the sky above them an annoyed glance. The direction he moved in was the rock-lined path ahead, but he was careful never to completely put his back to them, and there was an alertness to his motions that reminded Jim of a really jumpy animal.
Jim considered just letting him go on his own way. But frankly he didn't have a better direction to head in, and if they found shelter that would probably be good for the kid. And for himself, if he was being honest. The sun was going to get higher in the sky before it got any lower. As much of an ass as he apparently was, Evil-Jim did make a good point when he mentioned that, if their situations were the same, the Spocks wouldn't be in as dire a situation as they were. So he moved to follow after him, and Mini-Jim went beside him, sticking a little closer than he had before.
After a minute it became apparent that the kid's arms were tired as he gave up on trying to hold his jacket and just let it drape over him, covering most of his face and making Jim wonder how he could see until he realized that he was just looking down, watching their feet instead of the path. He figured it out when he nearly walked into an outcropping of rock, and Jim only just managed to pull him out of the way in time.
He sighed. This was like a very creative nightmare.
"Say," Evil-Jim asked him after several minutes of walking over rocks and presumably searching for some kind of suitable out-cropping or cave. "Exactly how old are you?"
It was clear he was addressing Jim and not Mini-Jim, so the kid didn't even bother answering.
"Twenty-seven," Jim replied.
Evil-Jim let out a low whistle. "Captain at twenty-seven?" he asked. "You must've killed a lot of people to get that far that quickly."
Jim bristled at first, his mind immediately turning to how many had died in order for him to get his promotion, regardless of the fact that it hadn't been at his hand. Then he scowled. "I kill people when they try to kill me. Not for any other reason," he said.
"How'd you know he was a captain?" Mini-Jim asked, seemingly unbothered by discussions of murder and self-defense. Then again, he was eleven. His concept of what it was to kill a man probably hadn't fallen into full-swing yet. Jim tried to remember back to when he was that young, but apart from a general sense of activities and a few choice, vivid recollections, it was pretty sketchy.
Evil-Jim gestured towards Jim's shirt. "I recognize his uniform," he explained. "The last time this damn multi-universe insanity fell on me I found myself on another Enterprise, dressed in those clothes. Any idiot with an eye for hierarchy could tell the bands on the arms mark rank."
Mini-Jim glanced at his captain's stripes in an interested sort of way. Jim mused that, in a cutthroat universe, a person probably got pretty quick at figuring out how to tell who was in charge.
They fell into a more or less uncomfortable silence after that, Jim wondering what to make of this somewhat feral, mass-murdering, and yet clearly intelligent version of himself as they plodded along the terrain. Every now and then he tried his communicator again. There were no objections, although it eventually prodded his younger self to ask a few more questions about Spock. Right about the same time the heat and thirst were clearly getting to the kid, too, causing him to stumble more frequently.
"You flew a shuttle into a weird anomaly thing for him," Mini-Jim said. "Even I know that's kind of crazy. Cool, too, though," he added, and Jim caught his arm to keep him from falling over as he wobbled on a particularly uneven step.
"Yeah, well," he replied. "Spock's important."
Evil-Jim shot him a glance.
"The arrogant bastard would certainly think so himself," he contributed harshly.
"Arrogant?" the kid asked him, shifting his jacket to glance up from beneath it. In a sense of fairness and honesty, Jim made a so-so gesture with his hand. Mini-Jim seemed to find that amusing. He laughed a little, the sound unsettlingly dry.
"He'd say he was being 'accurate', and he pretty much is – but yeah. He's not a bastard, though. He just sometimes unintentionally acts like one."
Mini-Jim snickered some more.
"Sounds like my kind of guy," he noted.
"He is," both Jim and Evil-Jim said in unison. They glanced at each other in uncomfortable surprise, and Mini-Jim's laughs tapered off into an awkward cough. Uneasy silence reigned for several minutes.
Then the whining started.
"I'm thirsty, dammit," Mini-Jim said. "What if this rock's just one big old dirtball with nothing else on it? We're gonna to die of exposure. This sucks."
He continued in that vein for a while, his voice carrying over the rocks as they slowly evened out into more open terrain. Jim felt vaguely annoyed. At the same time, however, similar thoughts were going through his own head, and he couldn't really blame a kid for having less self-restraint than he did. There was something inherently cathartic about bitching.
Apparently Evil-Jim wasn't quite so diplomatic.
"Quiet," he finally snapped at Mini-Jim after the complaining had dragged on, whipping around and glaring at him as the sweat shone across his frame. "Don't think because you're me or because you're a child that I'd have any qualms with cutting out your tongue, boy." On that note he ducked down and whipped back up a moment later, a knife drawn from his boot in one hand.
Jim's phaser was leveled at his head before he'd even straightened completely. "Back off," he warned. Cutting out tongues? Seriously? This whole 'pirate' thing was getting ridiculous.
Evil-Jim eyed him for a moment, knife glinting in the sunlight, clearly comparing about how quickly he could draw his own phaser against how quickly Jim could shoot him in the face.
The numbers he was coming up with probably weren't good.
After a moment, he spread his free hand open in a mock placating gesture, and then leaned down and deliberately tucked his weapon back into his boot.
The end result probably got what he'd intended either way, since Mini-Jim went conspicuously silent for quite a while.
Time seemed to crawl along, the terrain opening further, but still remaining unyielding and harsh around them. They did manage to shift into an area that afforded them some shade, however, as a few hours passed and their movement conspired with the progress of the sun to afford them that much relief. And then, finally, Evil-Jim made a vaguely triumphant sound, and disappeared into the rocks ahead of them.
Jim glanced at his younger self, who looked as bedraggled and frustrated as he felt, before following after him. It immediately became clear where Evil-Jim had vanished to – beyond a large, craggy expanse of stone and dirt to one side of their path was a broad opening in an even larger rock face, the base of a cliff which stretched above them. It was wide enough for three people to walk into it side by side, and tall enough that he only had to duck a little bit to avoid smacking his skull against it. Evil-Jim had already proceeded inside, examining the structure and moving with determined steps. Jim thought he could tell what had him excited, even more than the natural shelter – there was the distant trickle of water to be heard, unless his ears were playing tricks on him.
Mini-Jim let out a heartfelt exhalation of air and immediately followed Evil-Jim further inside, slumping against the craggy wall a ways in and eventually lowering himself into a sitting position on the floor. "Finally," he said, and Jim guessed that for all his bravado, the impromptu adventure was taking a mean toll on him. He moved inside the entryway as well, ducking low and feeling a distinctive rush of relief once he was out of the sunlight. As he did, he wondered how far the opening went. There was a downward slope to the ground and 'ceiling', which was shaped like a 'V' as the rocks of the cave leaned in on one another.
Evil-Jim vanished into the gloom, and Jim's eyes needed a second to adjust to seeing without the glare of open sunlight, so he took a moment to try the communicator again.
He was almost shocked out of his skin when he got an answer this time. Particularly because it didn't actually come from the communicator.
"Captain!" a small, serious voice exclaimed, and there was the sound of hurried footsteps from around the opening, and he felt a crushing relief grab hold of his chest. Because even if this wasn't his Spock it was a Spock, and if one of them were here, then the others would be, too.
Mini-Spock all but dashed into the cave, his shoes tapping distinctively against the rocks, and he stopped just short of Jim. Jim who suffered none of the restraint typical of Vulcans, and so immediately lowered himself to one knee and clasped the boy's shoulders, taking in his poorly-suppressed relief and somewhat dusty appearance. He didn't look as bad-off as Mini-Jim, but his shoulders were shaking ever-so-slightly under his grasp.
"Spock," he said, as Mini-Jim watched them with open curiosity. "Are you alright?"
"I believe I am unharmed," the little half-Vulcan replied, exhaling slowly. "I was examining the meditation lamp in your quarters when I experienced an unpleasant physical sensation and lost consciousness. I awoke here," he explained. "But this location is unfamiliar to me."
"That's okay," Jim assured him. "It's unfamiliar to me, too."
Mini-Spock tilted a head at him questioningly. "Then how did you come to be here?" he asked reasonably. "Were you abducted as well?"
To that, Jim could only shrug, because the specifics were still eluding him. He didn't really feel like going through the process of recounting the whole thing again, though, and so after a moment he glanced at Mini-Jim, and Spock's attention followed suit. His eyes widened marginally as he noted the undeniable physical similarities between the man before him and the boy next to the rock wall.
Mini-Jim gave him a half-hearted wave. "I didn't know Starfleet hired first officers who were that short," he quipped. Jim rolled his eyes.
"This isn't my Spock," he said. "This is your Spock."
His younger self seemed to consider that for a moment.
Mini-Spock blinked. "You seem predisposed towards possessive terminology," he noted.
Jim just smiled and patted him on the head. Of course he wasn't – it was perfectly normal to specify individuals from the respective universes as 'belonging' to their various representatives. But it was kind of cute that it seemed to make Mini-Spock self-conscious. "Why don't you explain things to him while I see what Evil-Us is up to?" he suggested to Mini-Jim.
The kid seemed to consider it for a moment, taking in his future first officer with obvious curiosity, and then shrugged. "Sure," he said, waving a hand to indicate that Spock should come over and sit next to him.
Spock hesitated, his gaze flitting between the two Jims.
"Go on," Jim advised. "He doesn't bite."
That comment earned him a slightly alarmed look from the young half-Vulcan. "I was unaware that such a risk even existed," he said.
Mini-Jim laughed even as Jim himself grinned.
"It's just a figure of speech," he explained, and then with a gentle push, directed him over to his kid-self. Who had absolutely zero qualms about then reaching over and all but dragging Spock into sitting next to him. It must have been willing, though, because Jim knew full well that Spock could have stopped him if he wanted to.
He tuned out their conversation as Mini-Jim began to lay down what was going on, and instead turned his attention towards proceeding deeper into the cave. His eyes had adjusted to the gloom, and after several minutes of searching he found Evil-Jim lingering below ground level, just beyond a fairly steep drop towards the blocked end of the main segment. A trickle of moisture ran down from a crack along the top of the rocky opening – the source of the softly running water he'd heard.
It was a shame that he didn't have any canisters with him. Or a tricorder to make sure that the stuff really was water and not some alien equivalent that would melt his insides. Evil-Jim seemed to be thinking along similar lines.
"We should feed it to the boy first," he suggested, and in all honesty with the wicked smile that curved his lips Jim couldn't tell if he was joking or not.
Rather than commenting on that assessment he extended a hand towards the trickle nearest to him, not bothering to make his way down into the half-buried section which his other self occupied, where he could see the faintly glittering outline of a pool. He then pressed the dampened fingers tentatively to his tongue.
Water, it seemed.
He gave it a few minutes, but his body made no protest except to try the limits of his restraint in not drinking more. Eventually satisfied, he glanced down at Evil-Jim, who was watching him keenly, and shrugged. "Seems safe," he confirmed. There were probably all kinds of parasites in it or something equally unpleasant that Bones would give him grief for when he somehow managed to get back, but he could live with that.
With only the slightest signs of hesitancy, Evil-Jim then bent low and cupped a hand into the pool near him as Jim watched from above. He sampled the water carefully, turning it over in his mouth before, eventually, swallowing. Then he looked back up.
"Get the brat," he advised. "He'll be worse off than either of us. You can drop him down to me."
Jim was a little surprised at the distinct change from 'I'll cut his tongue out' to 'he better get a drink'. He honestly didn't know what to make of it, so instead he set it aside for later evaluation. "We found one of the Spocks," he said. Although technically Mini-Spock had found them. Evil-Jim narrowed his eyes slightly.
"The boy?" he asked, as if he were psychic. At Jim's inquiring look, he actually elaborated. "If it were the other two they'd probably be back here by now," he reasoned.
"Yeah, it's the little guy," Jim confirmed after a minute. "I'll bring both of them."
Evil-Jim's response was a non-committal shrug. He then bent low and took another drink, and Jim's throat clenched in momentary envy before he moved away to where Mini-Jim and Mini-Spock were conversing in quiet tones.
"…son of a whore," he heard Spock say, entirely without inflection. Mini-Jim grinned and nodded.
"Right," he said. "Only you've gotta work on your tone. It's like 'you bastard son of a whore!', you know? That's how you cuss. Like ya mean it."
Jim stared at the two of them incredulously for a moment. Then he planted his face in his hands, noting the intent expression on Mini-Spock's face as he took in this new 'cultural information'.
"Further inflection would be considered an emotional display," the little half-Vulcan explained.
Mini-Jim frowned and tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Oh yeah," he said. "I guess so. Okay, how about you try it really intense instead of mad? You know, like 'bastard son of a whore'," he suggested, dropping his voice to a child-like approximation of 'sinister'. Mini-Spock seemed to consider this, and Jim decided to intervene before his younger self succeeded in dooming the future of his universe to having a Spock that actually knew how to swear.
"Hey, kids," he said, breaking in a little awkwardly and clapping one hand against the side of his leg. "There's some running water at the back of the cave."
Mini-Jim was standing up as soon as the word 'water' passed his lips, although Spock just blinked at them both before politely standing himself.
"I was aware of that," he admitted. "I discovered it upon my initial explorations of the immediate vicinity." Then he tilted his head slightly. "I neglected to recall that humans require more frequent hydration than Vulcans." He seemed a little embarrassed about that. Mini-Jim gave him a solid clap on the shoulder, though, which caused his eyes to widen at the unexpected contact, completely changing his expression even as subtle as it was.
"Don't sweat it," the kid said. "One time I over-fed my fish and they all died. Shit happens."
"That is unfortunate," Mini-Spock noted as they followed Jim towards the back wall of their temporary shelter.
"Yeah. It kinda convinced Mom I wasn't ready for a dog, too, which really sucks."
"I had a dog," Evil-Jim contributed as they drew near, and Jim unceremoniously slung his hands underneath Mini-Jim's arms and lowered him down to his less-friendly self. "Vicious thing," he mused with much more fondness than that kind of description would usually be given.
Spock quirked a tiny eyebrow down at him. "Fascinating," he declared, much to Jim's amusement. Evil-Jim gave him an odd look. After a minute, his gaze shifted from the child to the captain standing next to him.
"Should I assume that your Spock is married to that word as well?" he asked in an almost mocking tone of voice.
"Pretty much," he confirmed, grinning over at Mini-Spock, whose ears had darkened in momentary embarrassment. "It's a good word."
"Do I get a word?" Mini-Jim asked, moving away from the pool at last. Evil-Jim grabbed him up again, earning a slightly surprised yelp before he lifted him and Jim managed to take him and set him down next to Spock. The two grown Jims glanced at one another.
"No," Evil-Jim said.
Mini-Jim frowned. He looked like he might protest, but he was distracted by Spock taking the fabric of his t-shirt sleeve between two fingers and giving it a light tug.
"You may use 'fascinating' as well," he offered. "There is no monopoly on word selection."
Jim watched them out of the corner of his eye as he lowered himself down to get his own drink, dropping with ease to land alongside his alter-ego. It looked like the opening had been created by a mixture of erosion and surrounding instability. It wasn't very big, the pool not much wider that his chest, and it was clear that eventually the rest of the rock would be worn down and then not even that much would be stopped up.
He bent to quench his thirst, appreciating the cool and the dark against his skin. It was gritty and not exactly a glass of ice tea, but it did the job.
"Give me your communicator," Evil-Jim said suddenly from over his shoulder, earning himself a surprised glance. He elaborated. "I can reconfigure it to broadcast on a larger range. If this is a planet we've got no guarantee that the other Spocks are anywhere near us. Just the boy," he reasoned.
Jim considered him. He didn't trust him – not because he had the same issues which Spock did, thankfully, but because he had it on a fairly good source that the guy was pretty damn evil. He'd reportedly done things that Jim himself would never do, so his ability to predict him was completely shot right off the bat.
After a minute, he unhooked the communicator from his belt, and tossed it over. Evil-Jim caught it in one hand.
"That was easier than I thought it was going to be," he said. "Is everyone in your universe so trusting?"
"I don't trust you," Jim replied. "But I'm pretty sure you want to find your Spock."
It seemed to be a universally consistent trait of his. Even the kid versions were getting along, and so far as Jim knew Mini-Spock was socially awkward and Mini-Jim was a pain in the ass. Although he was starting to think that maybe neither of them had been as bad as they believed.
Evil-Jim gave him a look. Then he seemed to decide that it wasn't really consequential. He shrugged dismissively and pulled himself back up out of the little opening. Jim followed not long after, feeling substantially better as he did. There was something to be said for shade and water. He moved towards the opening of their little discovery, passing the kids as he did. They were sitting together again, and he thought he heard Mini-Jim say very quietly 'yeah, I kinda want my mom too', but when he glanced over they were both silent.
He squinted out into the glare of the bright daylight, the heat hitting his face as he left the cover of the rock formation, and after a minute cast his gaze skyward. If it were night he could try and see if any of the constellations were even remotely familiar, but even that would be a long shot given all the possibilities out there. There were a few planets he already knew of that were viable contenders for where they could be. The moon not far from the yellow sun overhead nixed one of them. The fact that there was just the single sun nixed another. It could be Vulcan II, although if it was then it was part of the colony planet he'd never been to, since the texture and colour of the earth was completely different. Still, it looked to be an entire world, and if it were populated then someone would find them sooner or later. Particularly if they kept broadcasting signals.
How they'd gotten there from the edge of Tholian space was still up for anyone to guess.
After a few minutes of examining the skyline and divining no new insights to their location, he turned and headed back underneath the cover of the cave. It would be easy if he could just continue searching and then come back again later. But he didn't trust Evil-Jim alone with a couple of kids, even though his other self had proven to be somewhat less rampantly homicidal than he'd feared up to this point. The man was diligently dissecting his communicator, and Jim had a guess as to what he'd do to it, although how he'd amplify the signal without any additional components was a bit of a mystery.
That mystery was solved when Evil-Jim pulled the knife from his boot and with careless ease, before Jim could even be alarmed at the weapon's return, sliced open the flesh at the base of his wrist. Jim's eyes widened in surprise as he used the tip to flick a small microchip out from under his skin, not even wincing at his self-mutilation, and then proceeded to suck the blood off of it. He glanced over.
"Imperial tracking device," he explained, mockingly. "There's another one at the base of my skull that I'm not supposed to know about. If I trusted you with a knife at my neck, I might get you to take it out for me. But I don't."
Jim could only blink at that for a second and watch him carefully dissect the tiny chip for parts. He glanced back over towards the kids, but the two of them weren't paying attention. They seemed to be more interested in each other than anything else at the moment. Mini-Jim had extended his index finger and was drawing shapes along the dusty ground, much to Spock's avid fascination and occasional contribution. It looked as though they had settled on letting the taller people handle things for now.
A shifting in the shadows at the cave entrance caught Jim's eye, and with another glance at his current 'group' and their distracted attentions, he moved over towards it and glanced out.
The colour of the sky was changing.
He stared incredulously up at it, because the sun's position was cresting very slowly towards midday, not evening or early morning, and so the alteration was definitely unexpected. Along the horizon streams of pink were bleeding into the cloudless blue atmosphere, but for no apparent reason.
Some kind of planetary trait, then. Jim tried to think of worlds with odd, colour-changing atmospheres, and came up blank. There were a couple of possibilities, yet neither one fit well enough – Midgar VII was known to go through Aurora Borealis-type displays for half the year, but it was a small, densely populated world which wouldn't have this broad expanse of desert terrain. It was also home to several orbiting space stations that would have been visible, even in broad daylight. The only other planet he could think of with similarly colourful displays was comprised almost entirely of water.
The sky shimmered.
Jim blinked, frowned, and then folded his arms. He leaned against the nearest out-cropping and waited to see if he'd imagined that.
After a minute, the sky shimmered again, a silvery stream sparking away from the sun.
"Fuck," he said emphatically, because in his experience colourful light displays in space usually meant that some nasty shit was about to happen to something. It was the stuff of artists' dreams and Starfleet captains' nightmares. As if on cue, then, the ground beneath his feet began to shudder. It wasn't like the standard tremors of seismic activity, either. It was a jarring, bone-rattling, teeth-clattering shake, as if someone had put the planet into a martini mixer. The strangest part was that nothing actually seemed to be moving. The little stray stones by his feet remained stationary, the brittle plants along the rocks and boulders didn't quiver, the only thing that seemed to be affected was him.
The air around him became strangely tight and asphyxiating, heavy and nearly impossible to draw in no matter how deeply he gasped. Jim pressed a hand against his throat and swallowed hard as stars blurred in his vision. Damn. Maybe there'd been something wrong with the water after all?
And then, like someone letting all of the air out of a balloon, the sensation passed and the world seemed to somehow sigh. Jim inhaled deeply against it. It was the only thing he had time to do before shock stole his breath again as everything around him was suddenly painted by a green brush, so to speak, and in the blink of an eye the barren desert of rocks and dry earth was replaced by a broad expanse of tall, sweet-smelling pines and thickly forested undergrowth. It rolled out as the world shimmered along its outlines, and when it had passed and his bones had stopped shaking, all he could do was just stare around at the changes for several long, utterly baffled minutes.
He closed his eyes and opened them again, just to make sure he wasn't, you know, hallucinating or anything.
Then he realized that the cave and its occupants were gone, and he swore, turning around and looking past the trees and fallen, moss-covered logs that seemed like they'd been there for decades instead of seconds as he tried to see if they'd popped up somewhere else. But they hadn't.
"Spock?" he called. "Kid? Evil-Me?"
Nothing answered him except the distant sound of bird calls. There was a flutter of movement over his head, but when he looked up, he couldn't actually see the animal that caused it.
The effect was kind of eerie.
Jim decided to add 'semi-omnipotent being is fucking with us again' to the list of possible explanations for what was going on. He took stock of himself, noting that he still had everything he'd had a few seconds ago and cursing the fact that Evil-Jim had disappeared with his communicator to god-knows-where.
It took him a moment to notice the leafy fern jabbing into his side. Probably because, as of a short while ago, it hadn't existed. He moved away from the frond and through the awkward, rough underbrush, occasionally calling out just on the off-chance there was someone around to hear him.
The reflection of something manmade, shining briefly in a streak of sunlight that penetrated the canopy of trees, caught his attention. He paused and then turned towards it, noting a dull, rounded shape from the midst of several trees. His throat closed off with an uncomfortable feeling of unease, slightly cold tendrils running down his spine as he made his way closer, crushing branches underfoot and recognizing the object. It looked a lot like the coffins most space-faring vessels were equipped with for 'burials'. For those people who wanted to be jettisoned out into the cold vacuum of space when they died.
This was some seriously messed up shit. He found himself simultaneously compelled to investigate further and repulsed by the fact that it was a coffin. For several minutes he deliberated under the thick overhang of a tree, breathing in the now-moist air and the scent of needles and moss.
Curiosity and practicality won out. Whoever they were might have been sent off with something, and as rude as it was, if they had anything useful on them then Jim needed it more than they did. He strode forward, running his hands carefully along the sides to find the seals that had closed it shut, and unlocked them. There was a soft whine and click as the top of the coffin was released.
Pushing back his unease Jim carefully rested his hands against it, and then shoved.
There was a shout. The sound of familiar, and yet different voices filling the air, and he whipped his head up as he heard Bones and Scotty, and… himself? The words were indistinct, but the tone was there – his own voice edged with desperation, Bones' familiar, grim words of reason and Scotty's oddly defeated timbre. It was on the tip of his tongue to call back to the unexpected noise, to wonder where it was coming from, but instead all he could feel was a deep, dark dread, as if someone had pulled the entire universe out from underneath him.
He looked back towards the coffin.
It was smooth and black and utterly unoccupied, and he rested on hand against the side of it. As his fingers relaxed against the dark surface, however, a spark seemed to ignite from the touch. It felt like fire, and it carried with it that awful, strangled sensation of heavy air and the world closing in on him. He dropped to his knees this time, and for an instant almost thought he heard another voice. The old man's voice, as if it were right by his ear, although he couldn't tell what it was saying. Black spots filled his vision, swallowed up by the black coffin.
The world sighed once more.
Jim gulped in great, heaving breaths when he found himself able to again, and realized that he must have fallen over at some point. He was looking dazedly up into a pair of inscrutable dark eyes.
They would have been more relieving to see if there wasn't a beard beneath them. But it was still a good thing. Probably.
"He is alive," Beardy-Spock said, and there was a slight shifting of dirt, and then he noted that Evil-Jim was looking down at him as well. And that he was back outside of the cave.
"Hey," he said, and added 'this is all some very crazy dream' to the ever-growing list of possibilities. "Where'd you come from?" Gingerly, he sat up, and realized that the evil-er version of his first officer had actually taken the time to kneel next to him to ascertain his status.
"The locator in my wrist was activated by the captain's modified communicator," he explained. "I was able to surmise that you were in the vicinity, and uncovered your location. You had fainted."
Jim glared at him, not missing the derogatory note in his statement. "I didn't faint," he protested.
"He's right," Evil-Jim supported. "I saw him vanish into the ether. I thought he'd gone for good until he re-appeared."
Beardy-Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "Fascinating," he declared.
On that wholly unprecedented note, Jim glanced around, wondering where the kids had gotten to and hoping no one's tongue had been cut out while he was… standing next to an empty coffin in a forest. Weird. After a second he spied them inside of the cave, warily observing the proceedings and seemingly unharmed. When he looked at them Mini-Spock seemed to relax marginally, and Mini-Jim made a dramatic show of wiping his forehead.
Clearly, they'd prefer it if he didn't leave them alone with their more sinister selves in the future.
"Well?" Evil-Jim asked him, impatiently grasping his arm in one hand and yanking him to his feet. "What happened?"
Looking down, Jim noted that he'd been divested of his phaser while he was indisposed.
Evil-Jim smirked at him, because now they both knew he was out-armed and out-numbered. Unless the kids counted. Which they didn't.
"I think I was on another planet," Jim said. "Or maybe a different part of this planet. It was a forest." He glanced upwards, noting the hot but otherwise normal blue sky overhead. "The sky changed colour, and there was some kind of stellar anomaly. Like a ribbon overhead," he explained, and then went on to more or less describe what had gone on. He couldn't see the harm in it, since he was fairly certain that they were all still working towards the same goal. So even if he might be inclined towards it, his other self didn't have a reason to turn on him.
His explanation then led to Beardy-Spock asking him how he'd come to be there in the first place, as the pirate-y version of his first officer had more or less just woken up on the rock after vanishing from the bridge. So Jim explained that, too, causing the half-Vulcan's eyes to narrow in consideration.
Evil-Jim glanced at him out of the corner of his eye.
"What are you thinking, Spock?" he asked, his tone coloured with a mixture of expectancy and suspicion.
"As I have told you many times before, Captain, my thoughts are not freely shared," Beardy-Spock tossed back, causing the man to sneer at him. He raised an eyebrow. "Do not succumb to your human fears. I will find a solution to our dilemma, as I always do."
There was just a hint of patronization to his tone, and there was a ton of it in his word-choice.
Jim wondered if it was possible to cut the sexual tension between himself and his Spock with a knife, too, when they were trading heated glances like that. Although theirs were generally less… homicidal.
"Watch yourself, Spock," Evil-Jim warned. "You're no more armed than the children, and my patience runs roughly the same for your annoying habits."
Beardy-Spock replied with a skeptical look. "I see that you are still of the erroneous opinion that your ability to draw a weapon is in any way faster than my ability to break your neck," he noted.
Jim glanced between them, and then over at the kids.
"Where the fuck is my Spock?" he demanded unhappily.
The pirate-universe pair looked towards him at that.
"Presumably he is in the vicinity," Beardy-Spock reasoned. "The variables of our situation remain largely unknown. It would be advisable to locate him, given that he is possibly a component to the resolution of this predicament."
Somehow he managed to make 'predicament' sound like the most offensive word ever conceived by mankind. But Jim was totally onboard with the 'locate him' part of that, since it was pretty much the whole point of his being there in the first place.
"It would be quicker if we split up," he reasoned. "The kids can stay here, and we could return after a while to check in with each other again." Assuming, of course, that nobody tried to kill anybody. He was guessing though that the unknown variables of their situation were acting as the largest deterrent to that. Nobody knew what the consequences of one of them dying could be. Their very presence there was hinged on mystery.
Evil-Jim gave a derisive snort. "I say we wait here," he countered. "So far two out of three have just found us. Our luck will hold."
"Illogical," Beardy-Spock countered. "Not that I would expect you to display substantially different reasoning, but given that the first instance was luck and the second was successful communication, indulging in such assumptions would be folly."
"Watch your tone, Spock," Evil-Jim replied, glaring at his first officer. "Your Vulcan roots are showing again."
To Jim's surprise, this actually seemed to quiet Beardy-Spock down for a moment. If someone had said something like that to his own Spock, he probably would have thanked them. Patronizingly.
It made him wonder about what kind of political and cultural differences existed in this other universe. But he didn't devote a lot of his curiosity to it, even though he was curious. There were more important things to focus on, after all.
Evil-Jim and Beardy-Spock stared off for a moment. Then, after several uncomfortable seconds had ticked by and Jim had folded his arms and noticed that the kids were whispering quietly to each other, Evil-Jim let out a small huff of breath, and waved a hand dismissively.
"Fine," he said. "We'll look for him. But not you," he added, turning his gaze towards Jim, and he noticed for a surreal moment the odd intelligence behind a face so like his own.
He stiffened, frowning. "Why not me?" he demanded.
"Most likely because you are liable to faint or disappear at an inopportune moment," Beardy-Spock replied for his captain, tilting his head slightly. "Although we have no reason to believe that the phenomenon is actually limited to you simply because you have been the only one affected thus far."
"Of course we do," Evil-Jim countered. "He's the one who flew into the anomaly."
Jim's frown deepened. "I'm not sitting around here while you two look for Spock. I mean Spock-Spock. My Spock. I need to find him."
"Touching," Evil-Jim mocked. "I can see you have the self-preservation instincts of a candid journalist."
Beardy-Spock looked vaguely amused.
His other self kept going. "I'm going to speak slowly for your benefit, because apparently the key difference between our two universes is that everyone in yours is substantially less intelligent. You're not going to damn us all by running along a Cliffside and potentially falling unconscious and dropping off of it, because we don't know if that will rip apart this wretchedly unstable game we've been caught in, and frankly I don't care how attached you are to your Spock. No. You're staying here, and the only choice you have is whether you stay here because you've suddenly decided to be a sensible man, or whether you stay here because Mr. Spock has rendered you unconscious."
Jim took a wary step back, and Evil-Jim tapped his chin.
"In fact, knowing you – as I certainly do in many ways, I'm sure – I don't think you should even be afforded that choice. Take him down, Spock," he said, and his last sentence was spoken with the undeniable authority of a direct order.
Jim ducked the first grasp Beardy-Spock made for him, moving low and darting to one side. He managed to hook a leg behind his and almost tripped him, but his balance was a little better than he gave it credit for, and then a sharp blow came down across the back of his shoulders and sent him unavoidably to the dirt. Before he could rise several iron-strong fingers closed around his neck and shoulder, and his last thought as he lost himself to the familiar dark spots of unconsciousness was that it kind of sucked that Spock could beat him in a fight.
There was the black of unconsciousness. The black of a smooth ship's coffin. The black of Spock's hair. The black of space, broken only by the distant pinpricks of all that lay within its vast reaches. Jim opened his eyes to glittering darkness.
A dream? He'd dreamed of floating in space before. It was like dreaming of flying, of passing on his own power through the window of his cabin.
But this wasn't space. He stared out at it, weightless and adrift, taking in the distant spots of light and being reminded with chilling clarity of the Narada. He was inside some kind of machine, then. A big, dark, glittering machine, stretching around him like a city at night. Jim turned his head, trying to take in more of the disconcerting scene around him, and as he moved became aware of the confines of an environmental suit around him.
There was also another figure. Clad also in a suit, and drifting not far from where he was, facing away from him. Again, the cold tendrils of dread traced down his spine. He tried to manipulate the suit's systems, to propel himself towards the figure. After a few minutes he succeeded. It was a little awkward, though – the design was different from what he was familiar with.
Slowly, he passed through the weightless world around him, moving with the forced awkwardness that always came in navigating such space. As he did he became increasingly aware of the odd, oppressive hum that filled the air around him. Like the strange heartbeat of some vast, mechanical beast. It pulled and itched against the back of his mind, cold and far from pleasant. With every second that passed it became increasingly oppressive. Bleak.
He started to hold his breath until he came up level with the other figure. One suited arm moved back towards him, clasping against his own as he neared, but the helmet remained facing away from him.
"Spock?" he asked, returning that grasp and taking the figure's shoulders in hand. He moved so that they were facing one another…
…and was greeted by nothing.
An empty suit.
The hand clasped to his arm was now just an equally empty glove, but he knew it hadn't been before. He clutched at material which bent and folded beneath his grasp, and alone in this strange machine, began to sink into the cold.
It was almost a relief when he felt the breath being crushed from the suit around him, felt the universe stop, and then relax. Exhale. The shadows and the glitter of distant, alien mechanical lights melted away into the yellow glow of sunlight as it soaked into the rocks around him. With a frustrated groan, Jim pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead, and waited for his disorientation to pass.
"He's back," he heard his own younger voice say, before a small hand clasped his shoulder and shook.
"Captain Kirk," Mini-Spock said from the opposite side of him. "Are you fully cognitive?"
He blinked his way back to full awareness. Two inquisitive faces looked down at him, one blatantly relieved and the other still slightly concerned. Apparently Spock had always been a worrier.
"What is the square root of pi?" the small half-Vulcan asked.
Jim grinned at him as he sat up. "One point seven, seven, two-five," he answered easily. "But I've got that one memorized. Next time just try a more random math question."
Mini-Spock tilted his head a little. "That is not precise," he said. "The square root of pi is more accurately one point seven, seven, two, four, five, three, eight, five, zero, nine, zero, five, five, one, six, zero, two, seven, two, nine, eight, one, six, seven, four, eight, three, three, one, four," he supplied very matter-of-factly.
Mini-Jim looked at him appraisingly, and then let out a long whistle. "Did they cart you off to some genius school or something?" he asked.
Spock looked at him, eyes widening a little, and the tips of his ears darkening just a bit. "No," he said. "Most educational facilities operate under the assumption that my human genetics will hinder my mental processing skills. I attend a standard level institute."
Huh. Spock went to Vulcan public school? That probably made it even more impressive that he'd gotten approval to join the Academy of Science, then.
Mini-Jim snorted. "They sound like jerks," he said. "It's better that you don't go to their stupid schools anyway. All they do is try and turn you into a robot."
"I was not aware that was even physically possible. How would they transfer consciousness to a non-organic form?"
Before his younger self could come up with a creative explanation for that, Jim decided to intervene. "It's a figure of speech," he supplied helpfully, picking himself up off the ground and dusting off his clothes. At some point he'd been dragged back inside the opening of the cave. Evil-Jim and Beardy-Spock looked to be gone. The sun had slung itself lower, past the midday mark, but how much physical time had actually passed was up for debate, since he had no idea how long this planet… place… world's days were to begin with.
The kids went quiet as he lay a hand against the rock opening and leaned his head out, careful not to crack his skull.
"So. Where'd you go?" Mini-Jim asked him after a minute.
"…Nowhere pleasant," Jim answered before he turned back around, and concluded that, no, he wasn't going to just stay here, thanks. He was going to go look for Spock.
Two pairs of eyes were watching him carefully. Mini-Jim smirked. "Try not to fall off of a cliff," he advised, before sprawling down beside the rock wall, using his jacket to cushion his seat. Mini-Spock glanced between them.
"It would be inadvisable for you to leave," he said. "There is the possibility that unfriendly wildlife exists in this region. You would be acting irresponsibly to subject both yourself and us to the possibility of unguarded attack from such a front."
Or, in other words, 'don't go, what if a mountain lion comes to eat us?'.
"I don't think there are any animals around here," Jim said reasonably. "There are no signs of them. Some planets don't have creatures that big."
"Don't worry," Mini-Jim declared, giving Spock's leg beside him a reassuring pat. "I take judo classes after school. I'm pretty sure I could beat up a bear or something," he said with absolute bravado. Spock gave him a disbelieving look.
"I am almost positive that you could not," he replied honestly.
Mini-Jim sighed. "That's just because you haven't seen me do it yet," he reasoned.
"I have no desire to witness your mauling. In the event of an animal attack, retreat would be the more advisable course of action," Mini-Spock insisted, looking genuinely concerned that his new friend might try and fight some kind of large predatory mammal.
"But I could totally pull it off!"
Jim shook his head at the two of them. "Nobody's fighting any animals because there aren't any animals," he said, folding his arms across his chest and musing that it was still a pain in the ass to try and be an authority figure. And nine times freakier when he was doing it to a couple of kids, and not his crew. "I'm going to go look for Spock. You guys stay here."
He ran a hand across his waist for a moment, conscious of his missing phaser and communicator. Damn Evil-Jim. He'd have to find a way to steal his weapon back.
"See if you can find food, too," Mini-Jim requested, not the least bit surprised by his older self's actions. Not that he should be.
Jim nodded. His own hunger had been put off by a mixture of adrenaline, fear, and the nausea caused by… whatever it was that occasionally sucked him up and spat him out. "I'll see what I can do," he promised, and then set off into the changed shadows of the afternoon light. He had no idea what direction Beardy-Spock or Evil-Jim had gone in, which was kind of a hindrance, but he decided to climb up one of the more difficult-looking routes, figuring that they might have avoided it. The terrain was steep and rough, winding slowly up the Cliffside over the cave. But, since it took him higher, it might afford him a better view of their surroundings.
It did occur to him that he was putting himself in exactly the kind of situation he'd been warned against. In deference to the fact that he didn't really want to splatter himself all over a bunch of rocks he kept as far from any awkward drops as he could, and made sure to glance up at the sky with a fair amount of frequency.
Not that it made things easy going. It didn't take him long to work up a sweat, pulling himself over awkward patches of terrain and more than a few times having to back-track as he came to dead ends or completely impassable areas. His hands and feet suffered against the unyielding rocks, and after he tore open the skin of his palms for the second time on a jagged corner, he stripped off his black second shirt, ripped it in half, and used it as a barrier between his hands and the rocks where he could. For a long while he continued on in this fashion, moving upwards and outwards from the cave and the kids. Where he could he took a moment to scan the area, searching for flashes of blue or black, or any signs of his other self.
Nothing crossed his eye, but there was still a lot of ground left invisible to him.
He was on a ledge when it happened. The sun had sunk lower, so the pink colour rising from the edge of the sky didn't seem so out of place. Jim stopped anyway. He moved closer to the nearest outcropping, further from where he could fall and injure himself, and for several moments simply waited.
Just when he was going to give it up as something unrelated to what had happened to him, though, a coiling ribbon of silvery light streaked across the sky, and the world began to shake.
Ready for it this time, Jim crouched low, gritting his teeth against the unpleasant sensation and holding his breath. The air crushed in around him. Spots danced across his vision as the terrain flashed and flickered, and the dusty, pale earth around him was reshaped into an unyielding expanse of red-brown desert, hotter than before. He gasped in a breath that burned within his chest and set fire to his lungs, dropping one hand against the ground to try and regain his balance.
This time, though, when he looked up, he thought he knew where he was.
He shuddered, a feeling like having stepped on someone's grave running through him as he looked around at the sculpted mountains and the bright, cloudless sky. A harsh glow dusted this world which, previously, he had only seen before from pictures and the dizzying altitude of a giant mining rig. It couldn't be Vulcan. And yet, it looked very much like it, and with all the unknown variables of the situation, he had no idea what was possible.
A large, cultivated rock jutted out of the mountains alongside him, its top flattened and only somewhat blocked by weathered-looking walls. A ring. An arena. Several rock bridges led towards it, one beginning not far from where he'd more or less appeared. Distant figures moved across the area, betraying its purpose as they clashed with large, unfamiliar weapons. One a flash of blue, the other gold. There was a sense of urgency in the air.
Jim moved towards them. His mouth was dry, and even though he should have been able to make out more details as he drew closer, the figures remained indistinct. Hazy. As if he was seeing them through an intense wave of heat and disorientation, the world thrown off-balance, like a drugged hallucination. The closer he came the warmer he felt, too, until it was as if his blood had been lit on fire, and he had to stop himself from staggering backwards and fleeing the ring and its combatants.
It took a small eternity to cross the bridge. By the time he had, the combatant dressed in blue had wrapped something around his opponent's neck, and was steadily choking the life from him.
Jim couldn't help feeling somewhat sympathetic.
His feet crossed the circle of the ring, passing the stone walls and shifting the fine, somewhat glittering grains of sand beneath his feet. It was strange how clear those details could seem when the people were still little more than vague outlines of colour and shape. He stumbled, hit by another wave of heat and then intense, deep-burning anguish. It bit into him with all the ferocity of a physical beast, hard and harsh as indistinct words were spoken by a familiar voice – that sounded like Bones! – and a rock of solid cold sank into his chest and drained all of the fire from him, dragging him down, down into the impossible depths of despair.
It was terrible. As if Spock had died, and suddenly he found himself faced with the grim knowledge that he would never see him again, never speak to him again, never feel his hand against his shoulder or see his contemplative look across a chessboard… never touch, never taste, never know… never love…
He looked up again, but the figures had vanished. He was alone in the circle.
His eyes widened. Spock! That was Spock's voice! His head whipped around to where the other stone bridge connected to the arena, and there he was, as clear and real as the sand beneath his feet, looking like he'd just run across the entire way across.
"Spock!" he called back. But to his astonishment, his first officer wasn't even looking towards him. His gaze was focused, instead, on the center of the ring, where the fighters had been standing. After a second he moved again, and Jim rose unsteadily to his feet.
"No!" the half-Vulcan exclaimed, his motions swift and violent as he swung towards something unseen. "Stop this! Kroykah! Enough!"
Jim lunged forward, his disorientation fading in the clarity of finally locating his first officer, and wrapped his arms around his waist as he slashed the empty air with determined strikes, as if trying to fight an invisible, unmoving opponent.
"Do not kill him!"
His mouth was right beside his ear, the back muscles against his chest tense, a sharp elbow accidentally clipping his side. "There's nothing there!" he insisted urgently.
To his immense relief, Spock actually seemed to stop and notice that he existed. Somewhat. There was an odd, distant look to his eyes, and Jim was certain that he was seeing something more than Jim himself was. That he couldn't quite make him out, with the way his gaze seemed to slide around him, narrowing as one hand closed against the arm around his midsection. Warm fingers flexed curiously against him.
The air around him began to stifle, to crush him, and he cursed its timing as he held on tightly, willing his first officer to not fade out of his grip again. For an instant, then, as his lungs were robbed of their breath, Spock's gaze cleared, and he turned. Looking right at him, closing his hands onto his shoulders.
Then the world fell away, and the warm weight of touch against him was gone. He could breathe again.
He was alone on the cliff again.
Just to be certain he rose to his feet, but the world around him was still and stark and quiet. Spock was gone.
"Dammit!" he swore, clenching his fists and swiping one of his boots against the ground in frustration, kicking up a small cloud of dirt. His exclamation seemed to hang hollowly around himself. Just what was this? What was happening? What did he keep seeing?
Where was Spock? Was he going through the same thing as Jim, vanishing and reappearing in these strange places?
His thoughts were distracted by a resounding boom which suddenly echoed through the air. Reflexively he moved back, plastering himself against unyielding rock and looking upward, where the sound had come like a clap of thunder. Streamers of light, silver, gold, pink, blue, purple, and white all suddenly streaked across the sky like the rainbow in an oil slick.
Jim braced himself, because if one weird sky anomaly meant he got sucked into some crazy other place, then he didn't even want to bet on what that many would do.
A minute ticked by. Then another. The ground didn't shake, the air didn't stifle, in fact nothing much happened apart from the continuing light-show overhead. Eventually he moved away from the discomfort of the rocks against his back, and watched the display. If he didn't know any better he'd say it was just some kind of atmospheric anomaly. Pretty lights. Maybe a seasonal thing for this world.
But he knew better. So instead all his mind could conjure up was a resounding 'what the fuck?'
Jim got excited for all of a few seconds before he turned around and realized it was Beardy-Spock who had spoken up. The half-Vulcan was gazing up at the sky, although his eyes darted briefly in Jim's direction after a moment.
"You should not have regained consciousness so swiftly," he noted, the statement clearly intended to be a question.
He guessed it probably had something to do with his disappearing act waking him up early from the neck-pinch. But rather than admit that, he smirked, and shrugged.
"I'm just full of surprises," he replied instead.
Beardy-Spock cocked an eyebrow at him. "Indeed," he said, sounding singularly unimpressed, as if being full of surprises was kind of like being full of shit. Then he went back to staring skyward. "That is distinctly concerning with regards to this location's stability."
Jim was inclined to agree. So he did.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when Beardy-Spock closed an iron grip around his forearm. Only because this Spock had made it a point not to touch him, apart from that one near-strangling that never really went anywhere.
"We will return to our agreed upon base," he said in a tone which implied that he expected Jim to argue, and that such arguing would get his shoulder dislocated. And then wouldn't that be unfortunate?
"You know, I think you find it kind of cathartic to order me around," Jim noted, trying to ignore the headache that was building up between his temples.
"There is nothing about your presence which would qualify as positive stimulus," Beardy-Spock shot back without missing a beat, his grip uncomfortable and awkward as he essentially yanked Jim along beside him.
It didn't take him long to get fed up with that treatment. "Okay, okay, fine," he said. "Let go of my arm. I'll behave myself."
Beardy-Spock glanced at him, and then after a second, with clear reluctance, released his grasp.
Interesting fact – despite possessing greater physical strength than humans, Vulcans were pretty shitty at running. You'd think with their strong musculature that they'd be good at it, but something about their legs and strides were built differently, and they were actually no better than most humans at it. And, in fact, nowhere near as good as particularly fit and physically adept members of the species.
So he could have run off, and he would have if he'd felt inclined to be contrary – which he did. Except that it was probably a good idea to go and check on their other selves. So instead he settled for pointing out that Beardy-Spock was an asshole and walking alongside him, shelving the whole 'running' idea in case he needed it later.
Beardy-Spock informed him that insolence was a good way to get killed.
Jim reminded him that concern for his well-being was the whole reason he was getting dragged along in the first place.
Beardy-Spock made certain to clarify that he was in absolutely no way concerned for Jim's well-being out of any attachment to Jim himself, and that once he was certain killing him wouldn't adversely affect their situation, Jim could expect to be killed.
It was a cheerfully tense conversation to pass the time with as they both wondered if the sky was going to doing anything else spectacularly weird or perhaps deadly while they were under it.
By the time they got back to the cave the light show hadn't let up – if anything, it had gotten worse – and Evil-Jim had returned as well. He was in the process of glowering at the kids, who had moved further back, with Mini-Jim folding his arms and Mini-Spock looking tense. Beardy-Spock gave the area a cursory glance.
"I take it you were unable to locate him?" he surmised.
Evil-Jim shrugged. "If I didn't know that we supposedly come in matching pairs, I wouldn't have guessed that there was another soul on this rock," he replied with callous ease, shooting a glare at the sky. "So. You're the genius, Mr. Spock. Care to start sharing some theories about what's going on, or are you going to leave me to make my own?"
Beardy-Spock seemed to consider that for a moment.
"I am unclear as to my own connection to this anomaly," he said. "However, it seems obvious that we are somehow locked in a segment of interphase space. That segment must also be attached to this… place." It was obvious that his own lack of details was annoying to him, in that subtle, Spock way. "However, from what is known of interphase anomalies, we should not still be alive or sane after this length of time. It appears to be some sort of similar, yet previously unknown, phenomenon."
Mini-Jim made a little, sarcastic victory gesture with his hand. "Hooray for the mysteries of space," he said unhappily.
"Any thoughts on how we can get out of it?" Jim asked.
Thick silence answered that question.
Meanwhile, his own mind was working on the problem – particularly since he had information that the others didn't. Like the fact that there had been a temporal anomaly in somewhat circuitous connection with this section of interphase space that had prominently featured a Spock. Which made him momentarily glad, not for the first time, that Nero was very dead and blown up and sucked into a black hole, because otherwise they might have been pulling different versions of him out of the transporter. And quite frankly, if Jim hadn't shot them, Spock would have.
So. Somehow this weird thing had developed an attachment to Spock, presumably due to the fact that the old man had broken through it when Goodbye-Romulus had happened in his future. And then Jim had flown into it, which explained the attachment to Jim. Kind of. He didn't have a better explanation for that, to be honest, so it was what he'd go with. That was all stuff he'd more or less guessed at already, though. It was his own situation right now which was giving him pause. Maybe it was because he was the one who'd actually flown into the anomaly, but the places he went to… that last one had been Vulcan.
Vulcan, with two figures fighting. One in blue and one in gold. And then his Spock had shown up – was he experiencing the same thing? Was that why he was so difficult to find, because he kept vanishing?
The sky cracked again, and all of them – even the Spocks – instinctively ducked away from the loud boom of noise.
This time, the tremors started shortly afterwards again. It was an even more surreal experience to undergo when he was surrounded by people, their bodies still and unmoving as his own was shaken.
"Crap," he heard Mini-Jim say, and then the kid rushed forward and closed a hand around his wrist. Still and solid against his own shaking. He didn't even try to breathe, couldn't consider if this was a good thing or a bad thing since he might run into Spock again. It was definitely an unpleasant thing. He looked down into his own younger face for an instant. Long enough to see it vanish, feel the touch fade away from him as the world sparked and changed its face.
It took him a minute to figure out why this place looked so familiar to him.
There were trees, and rocks, neither the barren desert of Vulcan nor the lush terrain of the first place he'd visited. The weather above stormed, but it was a normal thunderstorm – the kind he'd experienced on Earth. Wind whipped through the trees and blessedly moist air filled his lungs as he greedily sucked in his breaths and took in the familiar structure of an outpost facility.
It wasn't covered in snow. But it was identical to the one on Delta Vega – the planet's southern facility? He stared at the structure, slightly worn and silent before him.
Shelter from the storm at least. Rain was beginning to whip around his head.
"Spock?" he called, keeping an eye out as a gust of wind swept around him. It was still a lot better than the last time he'd been here. Nothing was chasing him, anyway, and even if it was pretty cold, it wasn't 'danger of frostbite' cold.
The facility doors didn't open automatically. He had to wrench the handles to get them to move, and once he was inside it closed them a solid, hollow thunk behind him. Lights activated automatically. The place smelled of disuse and only the customary maintenance, and there was a coating of dust on a lot of the systems which didn't have automatic cleaners.
His footsteps echoed.
He called for Spock again, and added his voice to the sound of his movements. The outpost looked like it was used largely for monitoring and some storage, probably from back when it was in active operation at cracking lithium. There were several secure storing cells to deter thieves. Most of them were empty and deactivated to conserve energy. One, however, was turned on – but didn't have anything inside of it.
There was an eerie, haunted quality in that. Jim walked over, because really, where else was he going to head? And everything in these places seemed to direct him towards certain things. Really freaky-ass things. The forcefield hummed rhythmically in front of him as he stared into the secure cell. It looked like had been hastily converted into a temporary prison of sorts. An unoccupied prison.
The quiet which had settled around him was still and uneasy.
It was broken with a sudden, violent burst from the forcefield, as if something had struck against it from the inside. Jim jerked back and away as his line of sight was momentarily assaulted by a vague outline, a distorted figure throwing itself towards him, its face sketchy but for the distinct impression of uncanny silver eyes.
"Holy shit!" he exclaimed with feeling, and again he heard familiar voices – himself, and Spock – but couldn't find their source. Ghost-like shapes shimmered around him for an instant, beyond the cell even as the forcefield continued to spit and hiss violently. He stared at them, backing away even more, and for one instant passed into the line of one's sight.
It was Spock – or a Spock, anyway. A ghostly, faint outline that was indistinct but for the vaguest shapes, and he could have been wrong. But he didn't think he was.
A phantom hand reached out for him, coinciding with another violent outburst from the forcefield. Fingers closed around his forearm.
He felt them as solidly as if they were real.
Then slowly, very slowly, the visible factor came into play as well. Details – the texture of skin, the shape of eyes, hair, mouth, the fabric of clothing – all seeped into his awareness as if his eyes had been suffering from some bizarrely person-specific damage that was only now being healed.
"Spock," he said, momentarily overwhelmed with relief until he realized that this wasn't his Spock. It was close, but this Spock was a little too old, and just… different. The odd uniform was probably a large part of that. He was clearly armed, and around them other figures took shape – a man behind the forcefield, with strange, silvery eyes. Another version of himself, physically a little closer to Evil-Jim in age and build, trying to talk the other man out of injuring himself. A blonde woman, and a security officer he didn't recognize.
None of them seemed to take any notice of him. No one except Spock, who was looking at him with his brows furrowed, his expression tight.
"I am not… here?" Spock asked him, seemingly at random.
"I don't know where we are," Jim admitted.
"This is not real," this new version of his first officer suddenly decided, his tone resolute. "I believe I have miscalculated. It is imperative that you do not remain, Jim, or it will remember-"
Spock was cut off, then, and for an instant Jim wasn't standing in some far-removed outpost on Delta Vega. He was in something else, something dark and shadowy and indistinct, and the Spock who was holding onto him wasn't dressed in a strange uniform and wearing a relatively young face.
He was old, tired, and familiar, clad in Vulcan robes and suddenly heavy with the weight of years.
For an instant.
Then he was gone.
Jim expected that he would return to that strange planet, to where the younger versions of himself and Spock and the evil-er versions were. So when he sank away, it surprised him. But then the surprise faded from his mind, and he wondered why he would feel it as thoughts of deserts and alternate selves drifted away, lulled by a fuzzy, indistinct sense of time and the universe, and who he was.
Who was he?
Oh, yes, Kirk. He was James Tiberius Kirk. Jim. Jim, who was retired, who lived a quiet life in a quiet cabin, free from the stresses and demands of Starfleet. He had his troubles behind him and his comforts ahead. He was busy – he liked to keep busy, horse-back riding, looking after the cabin, spending time with his wife.
Yes, of course. His wife. Antonia – he'd always liked that name. A beautiful name for a beautiful woman. She was the light of his life, bright and graceful, smart enough to keep up with his conversations and always laugh at his jokes.
He felt a jarring, lurching sensation, like he'd missed a step inside of himself.
Jim, do not allow it to-
The voice called to him before it was cut off, and for a moment he was distinctly, deeply alarmed. Until he forgot it again. There was no voice to hear, because he was alone in the woods. Chopping wood.
The axe felt heavy in his hands as he swung it downwards, meeting the block with a satisfying clunk and splitting it cleanly down the center. With a grin he picked up another block and split it, too, clearing the halves away into the woodpile and enjoying the feel of his muscles straining with each blow. He was in good shape for his age. At this rate he might just re-enlist, shock the hell out of command and start over again at Ensign, just for kicks. He'd like to see the look on the face of any 'superior' officer who was supposed to order him around…
…Except, of course, that he'd had his fill of Starfleet and space travel. Now he was happily retired, and fully intended to enjoy every minute of it.
By chopping wood.
Living the simple life, just like when he was a kid and his father took him camping.
Jim paused by the wood block, frowning and raising a hand to his head as his thoughts spun for a moment. Disoriented.
"Jim!" a laughing voice called to him, snapping his focus back to the present. The woods and the distant mountains, the clear blue skies and fresh, wilderness air.
Antonia made her way towards him, her long hair loose, her grin broad as she crushed leaves and twigs and pine needles under her steps. She'd always been just his type – tall, dark hair, warm brown eyes and sharp, angular features. "You've been at that all day," she pointed out, folding her arms and giving him a playfully chastising look. "Come on – let's have lunch already. I've got the basket ready and everything. We can make a picnic of it." One of her hands extended towards him, pulling him in for a quick kiss.
Her lips felt cold.
"Have you been outside for long?" he asked with a grin.
She gave him a confused look, tugging him into step alongside her. Back to the cottage to collect their lunch. "No. Why?" she asked.
"Your lips are cold," he answered, pressing the back of his hand to the side of her cheek. Her skin felt cool, too. Or… not. He frowned a little, momentarily perplexed. She wasn't actually cold – no cooler than he was, really. She just wasn't any warmer than that.
And why would she be?
"You're probably just over-heated from all that exertion," she assured him, smiling at his touch. Revealing a pretty mouth full of pretty, white teeth.
It was just a smile. But it itched at the back of his mind, and he squinted, wondering what was wrong.
Nothing was wrong. He was just tired. Old age actually catching up to him – that was why he'd needed to retire. Wanted to retire. This was the good life, this was everything he'd never been able to have when he was captain, and weighed down with the demands of duty.
This was his beach to walk on.
He held Antonia's hand, the woods and picnic and cabin forgotten, and trailed alongside her barefoot in the sand. The cool sea air spilled over them, the day beautiful as the ocean lapped against the shore, and a distant gull cried. He laughed, and brushed a stray lock of her long hair from his face as the wind caught it and blew it towards him.
"Don't you love it here?" she asked him.
He did. He loved the beach, the scent of the sea and the broad, wide stretch of sand and stone.
His steps paused, and he shifted his gaze from the waters to the beach. There was something… something about the sand. Something that made him unhappy…
"You're awfully distracted today, Jim," Antonia noted with a hint of disapproval.
Just a hint. It always came through in hints and clues. You had to look for it, but it was there. Even when it wasn't – sometimes the absence could say as much as the presence. It was easy to misunderstand, but if you didn't, if you saw it, it was like striking gold. Gold as the riches that pirates sought. He really did love a good adventure…
All of his adventures were past him.
He shook his head. Of course they were past him! He was an old man, settled down now. He'd seen the stars and visited countless worlds, he'd traveled through space, through time, his best years were behind him.
Just ahead of him.
No. Yes, wait, they were, because now he could finally have his quiet years. Time free of the Khans and Klingons and looming alien threats he'd had to deal with until he was sick of it all. There were no more Neros waiting for him now.
…Wait. Who was Nero?
"Jim," Antonia said suddenly, standing in front of him, her hands on his face. "Have I ever told you that you think too much?"
"Who is…" he began to ask, but the name had already left him. And how would Antonia know anyway? That was from his old life. His other life. Another version of himself. Another Jim…
He clasped Antonia's wrists, scowling at her familiar, yet unfamiliar face. He didn't have a wife, and he wasn't enjoying his retirement. He was just at the beginning of his captaincy. And there was something… someone… he was supposed to find.
"What did you do to me?" he asked.
Antonia's expression was one of fondness and confusion. "Jim…" she began, and if she asked him what was wrong he thought he might snap, so instead he gave her wrists a firm shake. This wasn't him. He didn't long for beaches or wood cabins, and he wasn't in love with a pretty woman who laughed at all of his jokes.
"What are you?"
His tone brooked no further evasion. The sleepy, foggy feeling clawed at his mind again, trying to distract him. He grit his teeth and pushed the heel of his palm against his forehead, fighting it. "Fuck! Stop doing that!" he demanded.
"Just relax," Antonia said, her tone pleading. "Just relax, Jim, and everything will be fine. It's bliss – I promise you."
This was supposed to be bliss?
This was boredom. Tedium. Mediocrity with a side helping of confusion and frustration.
"Because you're fighting it, Jim!" she insisted, as if she had been reading his thoughts. Which she must have been. Someone else was permitted to read his thoughts. It definitely wasn't Antonia, although there were some similarities. It was… it was…
"What did you do with him?" he demanded of the woman, letting go of his head long enough to glare at her. "Where's…"
It was like running into a wall inside of his head. Get the hell out! he thought angrily.
Something pounded, as if a similar war were being waged on the other side of that wall.
"Just let go!" Antonia said.
It was usually a bad idea to try and order him around. He'd never taken well to it. His natural rebelliousness worked with him to shirk off every ounce of that suggestion, and something in the air around him seemed to snap like a cord.
The wall crumbled, and suddenly, now, it seemed absolutely ridiculous that he wouldn't remember Spock, that he would ever mistake himself for another Kirk.
Found you! he thought with almost triumphant relief, even if he'd only found Spock within his own mind.
Jim! Spock's voice echoed back at him, sounding as though it had carried across a long, long ways. There was a frantic quality to it. Where are you?
He didn't know.
That was frustrating. It also might be nice if he could actually complete a thought sometime this century. Or dispel the sudden dizziness that had taken over his senses.
His legs seemed to have trouble holding him up for the moment. He stumbled against the perfect, golden sands, keeping pointedly clear of Antonia. With a few awkward steps, however, the world changed again. The placid beach was swallowed up in darkness.
Quiet, still, cool darkness.