Chapter 6

Stardate 2255.2225.

Vulcan System.

The Nerada.

It had taken an hour and approximately twenty minutes for Doctor McCoy to return to their enclosure. Upon doing so, he had crawled into a corner of the cage and not spoken to any of them. His face and one eye were swaddled in bandages and padding, their Romulan captors obviously having neglected to use regeneration treatment on him. Spock could smell fresh blood and exudate. He doubted the eye would be salvageable. Nyota, similarly, did not seem to welcome comfort or even interaction. Upon resuming their places in the cage, Kirk had tried to ask questions about what had taken place during his absence. She had refused to answer, and rebuffed his attempts to initiate contact.

The emotional atmosphere was unpleasant, suffused with guilt and accusation and pain. Spock pulled his clothing tight around his extremities, reluctant to expose himself to the toxic combination any further than necessary. He sat with his back to the Terrans, affording McCoy and Nyota their privacy, even if the they did not realise it in the dark.

His hands grazed lightly up and down the bars of the cage door, fingers tracing the bends he’d managed to inflict. He did not think he was capable of repeating the same feat without the strength born of adrenaline. And even then, it had not been enough.

He bowed his neck until his forehead touched the metal, hair falling down around his face.

He would not be this weak again.

En mass, they were escorted to a transporter room.

They were released from the cages one by one, metal cuffs fitted to their wrists and arms pulled tight behind their backs. Jim protested vociferously, but this new set of guards didn’t even engage him. Obviously after the last disaster, precautions had been established.

As they were marched through the ship in single file, Jim tried to calculate how much time had passed since their arrival. If pressed, he would have taken a guess at three days, but he couldn’t be sure. They’d all slept in fits and starts, making the sleep cycle a useless yardstick. Worse, Jim was the only one who’d eaten a decent meal throughout the whole ordeal. The others had been granted water and little else, and in the harsh overhead lights the toll was suddenly visible.

Nyota’s eyes were shadowed and half-lidded, her usual defiance nowhere to be seen. Her lip was bruised and split from whatever had happened in the cells, and she hadn’t even bothered to protest when they’d cuffed her. Behind her McCoy was shuffling, head bowed and pallor grey. Already he’d bled through the bandaging on his face. Only Spock seemed relatively untouched by the deprivation. He looked about as unwashed as the rest of them, and a rip in the shoulder of his shirt revealed a nasty burn from disruptor fire, but even so he held his spine ramrod straight and kept his face set in impassive lines. For a moment, Jim marvelled at his composure. He must know he was likely walking to his own execution.

Jim felt not a little like that himself. He’d transferred the vial of red matter to his inner jacket pocket, never having gotten the opportunity to get rid of it. It bumped gently against his ribs with every step he took, and he wanted to flinch each time. He wished he’d never taken it. It felt like a lead weight, a hot coal, a bomb strapped to his chest.

There was no way he was getting off the ship still carrying it.

He had to be visibly sweating by the time they reached the transported room. Perhaps luckily, he was almost immediately distracted. To his bemusement, standing there waiting beside the transporter pads, also in cuffs, was yet another Vulcan.

Jim eyed him suspiciously, wondering who he was and why he hadn’t been kept in the cells with them. All they needed was another damn alien thrown into the mess with them. The Vulcan’s dark eyes returned his curious study, slowly travelling the length of him. Whatever he saw didn’t seem to please him. His severe brows drew together at first sight of Jim.

Nero was also present, standing with arms folded over his chest. He exuded impatience and excitement and grim purpose.

Jim rattled his cuffs pointedly upon seeing the Romulan captain. “Hey. You said we could go. What the hell is this?”

Nero barely glanced at him. “I believe I said I’d deposit you somewhere hospitable. Delta Vega meets that standard. Just barely.”

Jim racked his brain trying to remember if he’d ever heard of a planet or space station by that name. Nothing sprang to mind, which only made him worry all the more. What backwater rock where they being stranded on?

“Am I to go with them?” Spock asked, stepping up next to Jim. He cast a single scathing look at the second Vulcan, then seemed to dismiss him from existence.

“For a time,” Nero answered with a narrow smile. “I’ll be putting on a show just for you, Spock. But we’ll be seeing each other again when the festivities are over.”

“Nero, do not do this,” the other Vulcan said suddenly, his voice just about as impassioned as a Vulcan ever got. “This crime is beyond forgiveness. The weight of it will crush your soul.”

“You would know,” the Romulan snapped.

“I know the guilt of so many deaths, yes. Do not do this to them, or yourself.”

Nero was across the room in a second, thrusting his face into the Vulcan’s, spittle flying as he hissed furiously, “I will feel no guilt in avenging my people. Only relief, that the man who destroyed my whole world - who took my wife, my child - finally knows the pain of such loss himself.”

“Your people still live in this reality!” the Vulcan protested. “You yourself have become a leader to them, a figurehead. Do not squander such a precious second chance -”

Nero sneered, turning on his heel and sweeping away. “Enough. You will not change my mind with emotional drivel. Recall yourself, Vulcan.”

Jim followed the exchange with interest, but found that little of it made any sense to him. From the corner of his eye he also kept watch on Spock, wondering if he’d give away any reaction. He remained as blank as ever.

“Get them ready,” Nero instructed over his shoulder.

Immediately, one of the guards clamped his hands on Jim’s shoulders and shoved him towards the transporter. He cringed as the red matter bounced against him with the rough treatment. For a short, merciful moment he’d almost forgotten about it.

Nyota, McCoy and three Romulan soldiers took up position on the transporter pads first. They shimmered out of existence, then Jim, Spock and the unknown Vulcan were prodded into position, along with another three Romulans. Jim started to wonder vaguely what effect transported energy had on a sample of red matter.

“Oh, and Kirk?”

Jim looked up.

“I’ve given my men instructions to leave you and your people down there when they return. But you should know, the signal from your implants has been blocked while you were aboard my ship. I’m afraid that won’t be the case once you depart.”

Jim’s heart sank. It hadn’t even occurred to him to worry about his pending conscription, nor whatever consequences now awaited him for supposedly skipping out on it.

“Perhaps it’s for the best,” Nero mused. “Should Starfleet arrive quickly enough - and I suspect they will - you may just survive long enough to give an accounting of what you heard here today.”

Motes of light were already beginning to gather in Jim’s vision when the Romulan added, “When they ask why I did it, tell them it was... justice.”

They materialised in the middle of an ice field. Jim gasped, his breath snatched from him by the sudden cold. His heart pounded in shock and he clenched his hands behind his back, shivering violently. The Romulans were clad safely in fur coats and thermals, bundled up against the bite of the wind, but he and they others had been given no protection beyond what they were already wearing.

The joke finally dawned on him that no matter what he said about letting them go without a grudge, Nero had no intention of them actually surviving.

One of the soldiers checked a navigation device, then set off north-west. They followed behind in a line, a Romulan interspaced between each of them to prevent trouble. The cold promptly seeped into Jim’s bones. His feet ached with it, his fingers burned. Ripped jeans and a leather jacket were doing precisely nothing to conserve precious body heat. Ahead of him, McCoy stumbled, sinking onto his knees in the snow. He was cuffed and kicked and shoved until he got back up and they could continue.

Jim felt the temptation to collapse himself by the time they finally came to the cave opening. It was a crevice in an ice wall, opening up inside to a rock lined cavern. They shuffled in, basking in the relief of even this paltry shelter. Without the wind and driving snow, Jim estimated the temperature was only painful, as opposed to completely lethal.

They were pointed to the back corner of the cave and told to sit. Two of the soldiers positioned themselves near the entrance, squinting up into the sky. The other four roamed the cavern restlessly.

“Hey,” Jim called to one of them, driven to impertinence. “What’s this about? I thought we could go?”

“First, you watch,” the Romulan answered. For the first time he spoke without the aid of the universal translator obviously fitted in Nero’s ship, the Standard words sounding clumsy in his mouth.

“Watch what?” Jim asked incredulously, but the soldier had already turned away.

Annoyed, he moved to join the others, lowering himself to the ground awkwardly without the use of his arms for balance. He managed to arrange himself cross-legged, wincing as frigid moisture soaked into his jeans. It occurred to him fleetingly to worry about frostbite, but it didn’t really seem his biggest concern as of the moment. Anyway, hypothermia was far more likely. He slumped back against the surface of a frost-limned rock, trying not to let his bare hands touch anything.

Instinctively, they had gathered in a tight circle, although it wasn’t really doing much to conserve body heat. On one side of him was Nyota, shuddering with cold. Her lips had turned an ashy grey colour and he could hear the sound of her teeth clicking together. He supposed that was a good thing. He’d read somewhere that you were only fucked once you stopped shivering.

That didn’t give him much confidence in Spock, who sat on his other side. Their knees pressed together, and Jim couldn’t detect a single tremor from the Vulcan. He studied him from the corner of his eye, noting the green flush that spread across his cheeks and the tips of his ears. He didn’t have his usual statue-like posture either, slumping forward with shoulders hunched. His eyes were half-lidded, unfocused in a way Jim wasn’t used to. In fact, both Vulcans had gone still and glassy-eyed.

“They’re built for desert conditions,” McCoy rasped tiredly, noting Jim’s concern. It was the first thing he’d said to any of them since being shot. “Bodies designed for losing heat, not keeping it. Doubt they’ll cope too well out here.”

With difficulty, Jim managed to elbow the Vulcan in the ribs.

Spock blinked slowly and turned to look at him.

“Just checking you were still in there somewhere.”

“I will endure this. There is no cause for worry on my behalf.”

“I wasn’t worried. This is all your damn fault, the least you can do is not check out early!”

The Vulcan gave him a sour look, but made an effort to straighten his back and shoulders.

It became quickly apparent that they were waiting for something, some signal or other. The Romulans rotated their positions at the entrance to the cave, but whichever of them moved to stand there always kept their eyes fixed skywards. Maybe an hour passed, then two. Jim wasn’t entirely sure there’d be anyone left to witness whatever Nero’s theatrics turned out to be if it didn’t happen soon. Spock was all but slumped against him, heavier than expected. The older Vulcan had closed his eyes and withdrawn into himself, and if it hadn’t been for the occasional small wisp of misted breath, Jim would have written him off already. On his other side, McCoy and Nyota huddled close together, neither of them speaking or reacting very much to anything. Even his own thoughts were starting to feel lethargic, Jim noticed.

He was staring dazedly at Nyota’s left boot when one of the Romulans grabbed his shoulder and hauled him upright. Legs numb and stiff, his knees promptly gave out beneath him, nearly depositing him ass-first back into the snow. The soldier shook him impatiently.

“Up, Terran. It’s starting.”

“Wha-” He was yanked unceremoniously towards the mouth of the cave, the others receiving the same treatment. The older Vulcan had to be woken from his near-trance, and the Romulans weren’t gentle about doing so.

Jim winced as he was exposed to the open air again, but at least the wind had died down since earlier. He peered about, but couldn’t see anything at all except yet more white ice fields.

“What are we supposed to be watching?”

The Romulan standing beside him raised a hand and pointed. Everyone followed the line of sight to the disk of orange that had risen above the horizon in the time they’d sat waiting.

“Captain Nero is ready to show the galaxy what he does to those who oppose the Romulan uprising.”

“Is that why he told you he was doing this?” the older Vulcan muttered.

A soldier cuffed him.

They fell quiet, shivering and staring up at the sky. Minutes ticked by, and Jim wondered what exactly they were waiting for. He shifted from foot to foot, restless and angry and cold.

Then he noticed it.

For a few seconds Jim couldn’t quite process what he was looking at. The pale orange orb of the planet was growing darker, a wound marring the surface. In the clear, crisp atmosphere he could see cracks spreading, whole chunks breaking apart. It crumbled inwards, like the planet was hollow.

Jim shook his head, not understanding. Behind him, the older Vulcan let out a low sort of moan.

As they watched, dumbfounded, the entire planet disintegrated. It imploded, disappearing from the sky without a trace, not even floating debris or a dust cloud to mark its passing. That almost made it worse. Jim felt vaguely like he’d been tricked, like there’d never been a world full of people there in the first place.

He looked round at the others. McCoy and Nyota had the same expressions of detached, uncomprehending surprise he no doubt wore. Spock was riveted, his dark eyes wide and searching the empty sky. Next to him, the older Vulcan looked like he’d just taken a blow. His mouth was open, and unshed tears glittered in the light. Jim looked hastily away.

No one spoke. There wasn’t really anything to say. Even the Romulans seemed uncertain about how to react.

Jim tried to remember what the population of Vulcan had been. Off the top of his head he thought it was around six billion. He couldn’t bring himself to react to that many deaths. It was too high a number, a statistic beyond emotional impact. He wondered clinically if there’d been time for any to escape, or if he was now standing next to two members of an extinct species.

On the tail of that thought came the recollection of the vial of red matter in his jacket pocket.

If Nero was to be believed, a single drop of the stuff had just sucked a planet right out of the sky in a matter of minutes, and Jim was blithely carrying it against his person. He closed his eyes as the true depths of his own stupidity hit home. He didn’t think he could move, abruptly terrified of jostling it too roughly and it being the last thing he ever did.

The older Vulcan was the first to turn away, trudging back into the cave without a word. The Romulans didn’t bother stopping him, still contemplating the sky. After a few seconds Spock backed away as well, not following the other Vulcan but distancing himself from everyone else. Jim wondered bleakly if Spock had memories of growing up somewhere on that planet, if he’d had parents still up there. He didn’t look at him, afraid he’d find the answers on his face. He ducked his head, not knowing what else to say or do.

Somewhere behind him, there was a quick chink of metal, a soft crunch, and then the dull thud of something heavy landing in snow.

It was an almost unremarkable series of sounds. Jim frowned, turning to glance back over his shoulder. He certainly wasn’t expecting to see Spock free of his restraints, one of the Romulan soldiers dead at his feet with his neck twisted at a violent angle. No one reacted at first, not until Spock was already running. He headed straight for Jim, shouldering past a second Romulan on the way. Jim was so startled by the sight that he flinched backwards, bracing for a blow.

Spock reached him, grabbed his shoulders to spin him round, then reached down and took hold of the cuffs restraining him. Jim let out a shout of alarm as the Vulcan wrenched them apart, steeling himself for the pain of broken wrists. It never came. The chain snapped instead.

“Help me,” was all Spock said, and then his back was slammed up against Jim’s and there were five pissed off Romulans rushing to surround them.

And really, it wasn’t like Jim had much of a choice, at that point.

The first of them rushed him. Moving on autopilot, he brought up his foot and kicked, leaning back against the Vulcan for extra leverage. His boot struck the Romulan hard enough to make him crumple. Recovering his stance, he brought his first down across his opponent’s temple, twice. The Romulan slumped unconscious into the snow.

Jim straightened, mouth stretching into a grin despite himself, the wild thrill of violence taking hold of him like it always did. It felt good, to take control again.

Spock jostled him as he dealt with his own attackers, but Jim didn’t have attention or time to spare on helping him yet. Another Romulan was already charging headlong at him. He was just bracing for impact when Nyota stuck her leg straight into the guard’s path. He tripped over her with such force that he took her down as well, both of them tumbling together into the icy powder.

Separating from Spock, Jim darted towards them. The Romulan was still trying to untangle himself when Jim’s kick smashed into his jaw. Nyota freed herself as he collapsed backwards, doing her best to wriggle quickly away with her hands still trapped behind her back. Kneeling down on the Romulan’s chest, Jim twisted a hand into his coat collar. The thick cuff was a heavy weight around his wrist, so he used it to his advantage, lashing it down across the guard’s face. Blood splashed.


He raised his head at Nyota’s urgent warning, just in time to see one of the other Romulan’s taking aim with a disruptor pistol. He’d been wondering what had taken them so long. Immediately, he threw himself to one side, rolling away. Bursts of disruptor beam brought up sprays of snow in his wake. He kept moving, skidding and slipping and losing ground.

The next shot would have hit him, he was sure, but McCoy of all people came to his rescue. The doctor had largely gone unnoticed in the fray, injured and assumed out of the count already. He proved everyone wrong when he crashed into the Romulan shoulder-first.

They went down, the pistol landing on the ground. Shoving McCoy off him, the Romulan scrambled forward trying to get it back, but Jim was already racing for it. He stamped on the grasping hand and swiped it up. For a second he fumbled with the settings, then gave a mental shrug. He took aim and fired. A smoking hole appeared in the Romulan’s chest. He gurgled and fell.

Jim was already turning away.

The guard that Nyota had tripped was regaining his feet, reaching for his own gun. Jim shot him too before he could draw it, hissing in a breath as the metal of the disruptor grew hot from energy use. His blood was rushing in his ears, and he bared his teeth in something like a grin. It was a feral expression.

He spun round, scanning the area. Nyota and McCoy were safe. His gaze landed on the older Vulcan, who had stood by and witnessed the whole thing from the safety of the cave. His dark eyes flicked between the dead bodies and the pistol in Jim’s hands, wide with judgement.

Sneering at the pacifism, Jim turned away.

Spock was fending off the last two guards, his movements almost a blur. Jim wasted vital seconds just gaping, amazed at the sheer speed. They couldn’t seem to land a blow, even working as a team. Spock blocked every attempt smoothly. Frankly, Jim wondered why they hadn’t just shot him.

Then it occurred to him that Nero had no doubt expressly forbid it, wanting the Vulcan back in one piece to do with as he pleased.

One of the Romulans finally noticed the state of his fellows from over Spock’s shoulder. His eyes widened as he realised that reinforcements weren’t coming and he fell back in panic. Obviously deciding that self-preservation trumped a superior’s orders, he pulled out his pistol and took aim at the Vulcan.

Jim shot him in the head.

His body hadn’t even hit the floor before Spock took down his partner. A vicious blow to the Romulan’s throat left him gagging, then a sweep of one foot put him on his back. Spock slammed down on top of him, raising his fist and bringing it down with a crack into the guard’s face. He hauled back and hit him again, and again, and again. After the fifth or sixth blow, the Romulan had stopped moving. Spock didn’t seem to notice. His hands grasped the side of his head and slammed it down into the ground. There was a sickening crunch. One of the Romulan’s legs gave a final spasm.

Lowering his gun, Jim edged up behind them. “Hey. Stop, it’s done.”

The Vulcan didn’t seem to hear him, continuing to slam his fist into the dead Romulan’s face.

“Hey! Spock!”

At last, breathing hard, Spock let himself slump back into the snow. His eyes raised to Jim’s face, black with barely controlled emotion. Blood had sprayed up into his face, his unkempt hair.

He didn’t look much like a Vulcan anymore, Jim thought to himself, unsettled.

They freed Nyota, McCoy and the older Vulcan with keys looted from one of the Romulans. Jim was careful in his movements as he worked. In the heat of violence he’d forgotten all about the red matter he carried, but now the fear was back full force, and he was frankly astonished he hadn’t blown them all to hell.

Nor was that his only concern.

Stepping over a Romulan, Jim stooped to pick up a second disruptor pistol, examining it briefly to check the setting was on high. He glanced over his shoulder to ensure McCoy and Nyota were positioned safely behind him, then raised both guns and pointed them at each of the two Vulcans.

Everyone froze.

“What are you doing?” Spock demanded.

Jim didn’t waver. “Before anyone takes another step, I want to know exactly what the deal is between you two and the Romulans.” The situation was already beyond fucked; Jim didn’t see how they could afford to ignore whatever dodgy business the Vulcans were involved in.

The older of the two took a step towards him. “Jim -”

“Any closer and I swear I’ll shoot you dead.” He said it with more conviction than he felt - but then again, he’d just killed three, what was one more?

Spock’s expression was glacial. “I have told you already. I have no connection to -”

“You think I don’t know you’re lying?” Jim interrupted incredulously. “He called you by name. We’re out in the ass end of the galaxy because he thought we were your friends. A planet just fucking blew up because that’s where you’re from!”

“Vulcan’s do not lie.”

“I swear to god, Spock -”

“Enough.” They both looked at the older Vulcan, who was gazing pointedly at Spock. “You know the truth of what happened. Why do you keep it from them?”

Spock sneered. “I have no reason to tell them anything. Do you really believe they would trust either one of us more for knowing?”

“Maintaining secrecy now is illogical.”

Jim flicked one of the weapons. “What he said. Start talking.”

“We do not have time for this,” Spock pointed out. “Nero will be expecting our return soon. And no doubt Starfleet will be arriving too, drawn by the... the destruction, if nothing else.”

He was right, Jim was well aware. Already he felt like a countdown had begun somewhere. But it was a risk they’d have to take. Jim had seen what the Vulcan was capable of now, and that was not someone he wanted at his back without establishing some kind of rudimentary trust. He needed to know exactly what kind of situation he’d landed into.

“So talk fast,” he advised.

They sounded like crazy people, in Jim’s humble opinion. Other universes, destroyed planets, black holes, second selves. He listened to the whole spiel with a healthy dose of scepticism. In fact, the only thing that prevented him dismissing the story outright was that, in a strange way, it did fill in the missing pieces of Nero’s crazed speeches.

At one point, the older Vulcan offered to show him events first hand, as proof of their veracity. He even reached out to touch Jim’s face, seeming both stunned and hurt when he jerked away in horror at the prospect.

Jim didn’t need some alien from another reality messing with his head.

“So what you’re telling me,” he summed up eventually, voice dripping disbelief, “is that your reality was some utopian version of this one, where Starfleet were little more than happy-go-lucky explorers and all the races got along in blissful cooperation.”

“For the most part,” the Vulcan hedged.

“And then you blew up a planet, and ended up here.”

“Through no fault of my own, I was too late to save Romulus, yes. However, Nero believes -”

“Oh trust me, I’m getting the picture as to what Nero believes.” Jim shook his head, looking across at Spock. The real Spock. The younger Spock, at least. “You believe all this?”

“I have seen it in a mindmeld,” he admitted reluctantly. “He is telling the truth about how he and Nero arrived here. Beyond that I cannot say.”

Helplessly, Jim looked back towards McCoy and Nyota, wondering if they were buying it any more than he was.

They weren’t listening. McCoy was doubled over quietly vomiting into a snow drift, while Nyota rested her hand on his shoulder.

“We really should begin moving,” the Vulcan said. “Doctor McCoy needs treatment for his injury or he is liable to contract infection.”

Jim scowled, finally lowering both guns. “Okay, first condition. Can you just... stop talking about us like you know us? It’s creepy.”

The Vulcan averted his gaze.

“Right. Good. Thank you.” Shaking his head, Jim turned to towards the younger of the two. He flipped one of the pistols, holding it out in offering and raising his eyebrow in a decent imitation of the Vulcan’s typical quirk. After a few seconds’ hesitation, Spock reached out and closed a blood stained hand around the weapon.

“You’re really not so bad to have in a fight,” Jim commented, impressed despite himself.

The Vulcan inclined his head. “I have learned to defend myself well.”

Jim’s gaze flickered to the pulped mess of the Romulan’s face. “No kidding...”

Spock regarded him blandly, sliding the gun into the belt of his trousers as though he used such weapons daily. Jim snorted, supposing he should be glad of the competence.

“Alright, strip them down,” he ordered, raising his voice to be heard by all of them. “Anything we could use. Coats, guns, food if they have it on them.” He doubted they would, but it couldn’t hurt to hope. He walked a few paces and squatted down, rifling through the clothes of the Romulan he’d shot in the head. He saw Nyota do the same after a few seconds’ hesitation.

“This one still lives,” Spock announced.

Jim glanced back over his shoulder. The Vulcan was standing over the first guard, who Jim had only had time to knock unconscious.

“So just -”

Before he could finish speaking, Spock readied his weapon and placidly shot the Romulan twice in the chest.

Jim blinked a couple of times. “...Or that works too.”

From behind Spock, the... other Spock was glaring. “That was unnecessary. He was no threat to you in his condition. Is life of so little value in this universe?”

“I happen to regard my own life as infinitely more valuable than his,” Spock answered calmly, “and would not wish to endanger it by leaving a live enemy at my back. Surely that is logical?”

“You could have left him restrained.”

“In which case he would have died anyway, either of exposure to the elements or Nero’s wrath. Arguably, my action was merciful.”

The older Vulcan couldn’t seem to form a retort to that, so Spock dismissed him and resumed divesting the Romulan’s body of the thick fur coat.

Jim had almost forgotten what it was to be warm, but the coat nearly got him there. As he’d suspected, the soldiers had carried no food on them, but they’d each taken a gun. Nyota had even discovered a wicked looking knife on one of them and taken that for herself as well. Spock’s older self, while spurning to accept a weapon, had commandeered the navigation device and promptly marched them out into the ice fields again, abandoning the bodies behind them for discovery.

“Where exactly are we going?” Nyota asked, having to shout over the wind now that they’d left the shelter of the cave. The fur lining around her face muffled her even further.

“There was a Starfleet outpost positioned not far from here in my universe,” the older Vulcan called back. “We must hope it exists here as well.”

Jim grabbed at his shoulder, bringing them all to a halt. “Woah, Starfleet? Look, maybe you’re not aware, but we’re all considered deserters of Starfleet conscription. Wasn’t exactly planning to hand myself in on a platter.”

“Jim,” Nyota snapped. “I’d rather be arrested than die out here. And some of us aren’t far off that second option.” She cast a pointed sidelong look towards McCoy, who was swaying where he stood, uninterested in the conversation one way or another.

Neither option sounded particularly feasible to Jim, but he was clearly outvoted. One by one they waded past him, following the Vulcan as he resumed his purposeful march. Jim growled in frustration, his breath misting before his face.

“We may be able to explain what transpired,” Spock suggested, when Jim caught up to him, though he didn’t seem to be brimming with optimism over the prospect.

Jim didn’t respond, too busy trying to think of yet another escape plan.

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