Uhura had noticed the change in Kirk's behavior and body language two days ago when they had received their newest assignment from an Admiral that she herself hadn't recognized, but who Kirk had obviously been familiar with. The Admiral had looked inexplicably apologetic the entire time he had spoken to Kirk, which was a rarity itself. Usually orders came by written message on a PADD.
Kirk had displayed no obvious tension after the video ended, and Uhura had a feeling that if she hadn't been a Communications officer, then she wouldn't have noticed the tensing in his shoulders, or the fact that he could not stop moving, even if it was only a finger twitching. In fact, Uhura suspected that she was one of only three that even noticed that anything had happened. The others were of course Dr. McCoy, since he was Kirk's best friend, and Spock. Being half Vulcan, he really had remarkable observation skills, and it was due to them that Uhura was certain he had noticed.
She didn't have much to go on, but she did know that what was bothering the captain had something to do with their assignment. They were supposed to go down to a nearby planet, whose trial colony from more than a decade ago had failed, and gather soil samples and information so Starfleet could decide if a new colony was going to be formed. Nearly all the people who had lived there when the colony had failed had moved off planet, and the few who remained had remained separate from each other.
She had been pulled aside by the captain yesterday and told that it would be a small away team beaming down to the planet. In the end, it would just be Kirk, herself (so she could get a feel for the layout and plan for easy communications in any future rebuilding) , and three scientists from various fields going down. She was curious, but didn't question him. That didn't mean that her curiosity was gone, but something was seriously bothering the captain, so she decided not to press the matter.
Now, she was waiting with the three scientists in the transporter room. The only person missing was the captain himself. Just when she thought he might not show, he strolled through the doors, seemingly without a care in the world. To her trained eyes however, she could see his tension in the lines around his eyes, his smile that didn't quite reach his eyes, and his constant movement.
"Alright guys, let's head on down. Remember, disturb as little as possible, and don't get lost. The fields on Tarsus IV are large, and the grasses grow higher than your shoulders in some places. Be quick, we're beaming back aboard the Enterprise in three hours, no later." Kirk then gave a quick nod to the man working the controls, and Uhura felt the familiar sensation of being transported from one location to another.
She opened her eyes and found herself in the middle of a field of waist-high grass. She looked at the rest of the group, and saw that they were just as disoriented as she was. Kirk turned to the right to look at the mountains not too far away, and seemed to get his bearings after several moments. He turned his gaze to the scientists.
"Alright. The places you need to test should be several hundred yards forward and to our left. The old town is just across from that. Come on." With that, Kirk set off through the grass. After exchanging hesitant glances, the other four followed him. Uhura glanced to the right at the mountains Kirk had apparently used as landmarks, but found no defining features, causing her to eye the back of the captain's head curiously.
He seemed to be very familiar with their surroundings. Maybe he had studied a map of the terrain beforehand. Given Kirk's record with missions and tests, Uhura wouldn't have put it past him to not have learned the entire history of the planet. Still, he was not acting like himself.
The team waded through the grass that got shorter and further spaced out the longer they walked. About ten minutes later, they arrived at the end of the grass field and saw the location they were assigned to study. To their left, there were several large fields that were overgrown with weeds. Nonetheless, they could still see the furrows and mounds in the earth where crops had been planted long ago.
To their right they could see the old colony's town. The buildings were dilapidated, charred, and clearly abandoned. Over the tops of several caved in roofs, they could see a large, grey stone monument. Uhura removed her gaze from the large stone just in time to catch the end of Kirk's orders to the three scientists. They nodded in response and drifted off to the fields to begin their work. Her captain turned to look at the town, and a strange look flashed across his face before he plastered on a smile.
"Looks like it's just you and me now. Come on, the town square's down this way. We can make our way around from there." With that, Kirk began walking. Uhura's suspicions that something was wrong were confirmed. James T. Kirk never turned down an opportunity to flirt with her, even if he didn't really mean anything by it. Still, she got the feeling he wouldn't appreciate her prying at this moment in time.
She followed Kirk as they walked through the streets, the stone monument getting bigger and bigger as they got closer to it. Uhura took in the abandoned town with a sorrow she couldn't explain. Something terrible had obviously happened here, she thought as she caught sight of a house that had been torched. She found her feet moving slowly towards it until she was standing at the threshold of the old house. She cast her gaze around the inside of the house, filled with the same strange sorrow from earlier, as well as the slightly unnerving feeling that the house wasn't as abandoned as it appeared.
Her eye was caught by a doll lying on the floor by the front door, its dress charred by flame that was now long gone. Tears filled her eyes, and she stepped towards it, her hand reaching out to pick it up. Her fingers were about to brush the fabric when a hand gently grabbed her own. She jumped and spun around to see Kirk looking serious for once. She met his eyes, and she very nearly reeled back from the amount of sorrow contained in them.
"It's not good to disturb the ghosts." Kirk said, casting a sad glance around the old house. "They only hold bad memories of a time that has long since passed. It's fine to look, just try not to touch." Kirk's voice was quiet, almost as if he was trying to keep from waking someone up. Uhura remembered her feeling from earlier, where she had felt that the house might not be fully abandoned after all. She cast an uneasy glance at the rest of the house as she allowed Kirk to lead her back to the street. She followed behind him for several moments before she couldn't stay silent any longer.
"Kirk," she began, forgoing his title for the moment, "What happened here? I've been getting this feeling of sadness ever since we arrived, and it's obvious something bad happened here that caused the colony to fail more than ten years ago." Kirk stopped walking and took a moment before he turned back to look at her.
"The sadness you're feeling is the sorrow left over from the survivors of a massacre that happened here twelve years ago." He ignored her shocked expression and continued on. "A disease wiped out all the crops in the colony, creating a famine that took hundreds of lives. A tyrant called Governor Kodos took control and made two lists of people to 'help' people survive: those who were weak and unworthy, and those who deserved to survive. His militia took care of the rest.
"The massacre lasted for months, with no communications able to be transmitted. Starfleet had no idea something was wrong until the massacre had already happened. They were able to put a stop to Kodos, but by that point, over seventy-five percent of the colony had died. There were only several hundred survivors, and only nine of them could identify Kodos on sight. They're called the Tarsus Nine. The monument in the center of town is there to honor the dead."
Uhura felt tears streaming down her face as she heard the horrific tale. She finally understood the sorrow she had both felt and seen since entering the village. Kirk's comments about ghosts also made more sense now. Kirk didn't say anything, and didn't seem to judge her as he waited for her to finish mourning the lives that had been lost. After a while, she felt well enough to compose herself again, and she asked a question that had been on her mind for a while.
"How come nobody knows about this?" she asked softly. Kirk's eyes flashed with slight anger that she knew wasn't directed at her as he shook his head.
"Starfleet knew they screwed up. They pulled dozens of strings to make sure their failure to help was kept on the down low. In other words, this was one of the biggest cover ups in history. It's one of the few things about Starfleet that I absolutely can't stand." Uhura eyed him curiously.
"If that's the case, then won't they get mad at you for telling me? Will you get in trouble?" she asked in concern. Despite their past disagreements, neither of them hated each other. Kirk was kind of like the brother or troublesome cousin she never had. Kirk's face darkened at the question.
"They might get mad, but they wouldn't dare tell me to keep my mouth shut." With that cryptic response delivered, Kirk turned and continued walking. Uhura wanted to ask more questions, but Kirk was obviously done answering them. She followed him, and they finally made it to the town square.
The huge grey monument stood in the very center, on top of what was once a platform- more of a round stage, really- used for public speeches. It was rectangular in shape, and reached about twenty feet high. Carved into the stone were names about an inch high written in cursive. Winding around the base of the pillar were the words: The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living. Uhura thought it was sadly poetic. She looked up and up and up at the tall monument, and felt queasy as she realized exactly how many names were carved into the stone.
She looked away, and her gaze was drawn to a nearby street that looked less charred than the rest, though it looked more battered. She glanced at her captain, and realized that he too was staring at the street. His eyes were glazed as he slowly made his way down the street. He stopped in front of the third house on the left, and merely stood at the fallen gate, looking at a word that was written on the weather stained boards. As Uhura came up next to him, her breath caught, and her gaze flew to the man beside her. There, written neatly in black lettering was the word Kirk.
"Jim?" she asked softly, almost dreading hearing any of the possible explanations. He didn't respond for several moments, and she realized that he hadn't even heard her. She reached a hand out and lightly rested it on his shoulder. He started, and turned to look at her. Seeing her questions in her expression, he heaved a sigh.
"My father's brother lived here with his wife and two kids." He said quietly, gently pushing open the gate and walking towards the front door. Uhura hesitated, then followed behind him. "I was sent to live here when I was thirteen. Of course, after the massacre, I had nobody left to stay with here. I went back to Earth when I was fourteen. I wasn't here for long, but this house was more of a home to me than any place on Earth ever was."
He offered no further explanation, and Uhura didn't pry. She was actually surprised he'd shared as much as he had, because although he was friendly and open with what he thought about things, he was very closed off when it came to his past and himself. Based on their current surroundings, she couldn't really blame him. They stepped through the front door, and Uhura was shocked at its gutted appearance.
It was like someone had thrown things around the room haphazardly, and then taken a phaser to the walls - one that was set to kill. With the story Kirk had told her outside, it wasn't that hard to guess that her suspicions were actually what had happened. She glanced at Kirk, and noticed that he was staring at a spot in the center of the living room. When he began to speak, his voice was wavery, and a little weaker than normal.
"My aunt was standing over there when Kodos's men broke in. I was watching from the window, having run home from the town square to warn her. I didn't make it in time. I was hiding in the bushes when they took her life. I didn't stick around. My cousins were in the backyard, and I had just enough time to grab them and run. I heard the phasers, and my uncle never came out of the house. We hid in the fields for two days, not daring to try and find food or water. While we were out there, we found more kids hiding from the militia. They were all younger than I was, and wanted to stay with us."
With some difficulty, Kirk seemed to shake himself free of his memories, and looked up at Uhura. She had teared up again, but none of them escaped. Kirk cast another glance around the space, then motioned for her to follow him back to the street. After leaving the house, the outside seemed too bright and cheery, even with all the destruction around them. Kirk closed the gate gently, and looked once more at the home his family had once inhabited, then turned away. Uhura followed his lead, and they ended up back at the monument in the town square.
"So, what do you think? Can communication centers be set up here for future colonies easily? Any problems?" Kirk asked her, reminding Uhura of the whole purpose of their trip down to the surface. She cast her gaze around, and saw many easy locations for them, and could easily picture the required technology and structures being built here.
"Yes, they would be very easy to build." she turned to Kirk, who looked uneasy, and like he was hurting and trying to hide it. She tried to look at the place through his eyes. While most people saw this planet as an opportunity, Starfleet saw it as a way to cover up their mistakes and relieve their guilt. She could only imagine that the survivors of the massacre saw a graveyard that was about to be desecrated.
"But I don't think they should be built." She hadn't realized what she was saying until she had already said it. Kirk's eyes shot to hers. Despite her own surprise at her words, she met his gaze steadily. "This place shouldn't be covered up by another. It deserves to be here, to remind anyone who finds it or remembers it what it stands for. This is one big grave, and building something over it would be the same as desecrating it. It's not right."
Kirk looked at her with a surprise that soon turned into gratitude. If she wasn't mistaken, there was also a little bit of pride in his expression. He glanced at the sun, and began walking back towards the fields, motioning for her to come along as well. Uhura checked the time, and realized that they had already been in the town for several hours. It felt like a lot less time than that had passed. They kept walking, and soon caught sight of the other members of the team heading towards them in the fields.
"So, what did you guys find?" Kirk's voice held no trace of his earlier sadness, and had Uhura not seen it for herself back in the town, she wouldn't have known anything had been wrong. The rest of the team obviously saw nothing wrong, and one of the men stepped forward.
"We discovered that the ground here is completely -"
"Infertile." Uhura cut the man off. "Completely infertile and incapable of supporting crops." At the strange look the three scientists gave her, she raised an eyebrow at the man in a perfect imitation of Spock. He studied her for a moment, then moved his eyes back towards the town behind them. After a moment of silence, he turned back to them.
"Of course. It was one of the reasons the original colony failed in the first place, after all. They were unable to grow enough food. We should report to Starfleet that the problem still hasn't improved in the last decade, and that starting a new colony here would be unwise." Kirk looked at the man with an unreadable expression, before nodding his assent.
"Alright. Good work. Let's get back to the ship." They all nodded, and began double checking their things. When they were ready to go, they hailed the Enterprise and beamed back aboard the ship. Uhura was about to step off the landing pad when a hand caught her arm. She turned to see the Captain looking at her intently.
"Thank you, Uhura. For what you did back there. You didn't have to, and I know that if news got out about this, it could put your career on the line. So thank you for doing that." Uhura smiled slightly at him, vaguely noting that everyone but the transport operator had left the room.
"You're welcome. It wasn't just for you though." she said, looking at him seriously. "It was for everyone whose lives were either destroyed or taken on that planet. I saw that monument down there. The people who cared for them put that there, and removing the reminders of what happened would not only insult the dead, but the living as well. Keeping that reminder there is worth my career. I would only lose my job if it's discovered. They lost their lives." Kirk studied her for a moment, then smiled.
"You're a good person, Uhura, and a good officer." There was a brief moment of silence. "We should probably get back to the Bridge to make that report to Starfleet. I bet they'll be wondering what we thought of the place." Uhura nodded her assent, and as they walked towards the lift cast her thoughts back to the planet they had just left behind.
The ghosts of the dead would finally have their peace, able to be left alone apart from those who really cared and remembered them. The monument would remain where it was, and perhaps another decade in the future - or even several - others would come to Tarsus IV. Perhaps they would find the monument amidst the ruins of a time long past. Perhaps they would realize what had happened, or maybe one of them would have been there or remembered the stories.
In the bright light of a ship floating above a planet haunted by the ghosts of the past, Uhura smiled.