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The shuttleport at Riverside was only any decent size because of the shipyards that had been built to put Federation ships together. Before that - and Jim even remembered that before - there had been a joke of a 'port. One gate, one shuttle every six hours, to either New York, or to the International Station at Seattle.

Now, you got one every three hours to and from San Francisco, carrying all sorts of Starfleet personnel.

So, y'know, Jim had seen aliens before. Of course he had. Half the Engineering Corps working for Starfleet at the moment seemed to be alien. And wherever large numbers of people regularly gathered, so did the Ferengi, plying their trade.

He'd just...well, he'd never seen a Vulcan before. Let alone four of them at once.

Okay, yeah, it was sad. Here he was, working in a shuttleport that mainly catered to Starfleet staff and Academy cadets on the engineering, medical and technical tracks, and he'd never seen a Vulcan before. Hell, Vulcans practically made the Federation.

But then, Vulcans didn't come to Riverside. As far as Jim knew, if they visited Earth at all, they stayed in San Francisco.

He was also pretty sure he was the only one staring. Nobody else was giving the Vulcan group a second glance. And they didn't need to: a guide in an immaculate Lieutenant Commander's uniform was taking them (at a very sedate pace) through the 'port buildings, and a dark-skinned woman in cadet reds was rattling translation every now and again.

But Jim had never seen a Vulcan.

So he stared.

He'd thought - obviously stupidly - that they'd be...well. More alien. Okay, so he knew most species in, involved with, and around the Federation were humanoid, but come on. The Ferengi - hello? Ears, anyone? The Cardassians - Jim was unhappy that he'd seen one of them. Ick. The Orions - awesome species, but they were green. The Klingons - well, they barely passed for humanoid anyway.

But the Vulcans...

They were all, invariably, tall and standing ramrod straight. They were all male, with identical bowl haircuts, and completely stone-like expressions. Three of them wore long, heavy-looking dark robes, but that didn't quite brush the floor. The fourth was wearing more human clothing, but also lacking in any colour, flair or expression at all. The most alien thing about any of them, as far as Jim could see, was the stern eyebrows and the pointy ears.

It was kind of...disappointing.

Jim didn't know what he'd expected. He'd seen pictures of Vulcans. His Mom had told him about Vulcans. She even had a photo, somewhere, of her and his dad (way before they were even dating) with a Vulcan 'acquaintance' of his father's. (She never used 'friend', and Jim didn't know why.) But...faced with the reality of the Vulcan appearance, and Jim felt kind of...let down.

And then one of them looked at him.

Jim wasn't even doing anything. He just worked at the bar - one of three that adorned the inside of the shuttleport. And at ten in the morning, there were no customers, so he was just lounging and cleaning the top.

But one of them must have realised he was staring, and was staring right back.


Jim wasn't an easily intimidated kind of guy. Too much cocky swagger for that. And usually, he just got aggressive when other men tried staring him down.

But the Vulcan...wasn't so much staring at him as...analysing him. Like he was trying to figure something out.

And then, just as suddenly, the analysis was deemed complete, and he turned his head back toward Lieutenant Commander Whoever-The-Fuck.

Jim kept staring.

That Vulcan was obviously younger than the rest. Jim knew shit about Vulcan lifespans or aging processes, but if they were a group of humans, it was comparable to the twenty-year-old grandson following his grandfather and his grandfather's war veteran buddies around. He was obviously younger. And he was the one wearing remotely human clothing. And...Jim didn't know whether it made a damn bit of difference, but he was paler than the other Vulcans too. Not like, a white guy versus a black guy paler, but...a white guy versus a Chinese guy, paler. Distinct enough to look slightly out of place.

And he was the only one not giving the guide his complete attention at all times.

Jim wondered whether he was the Vulcan version of a cadet. It would explain the age gap...and the lack of attention span (in Vulcan terms. Jim knew enough to know they were kind of freaky intelligent and dedicated like that.)

He watched them get led away to the exit for the shipyards, and wondered what they were doing here.

And more to the point, why he cared.

The house was empty when Jim got home.

It usually was - either that, or Mom had gone to bed without waiting up for him at all. Sometimes he didn't mind. Most times, he did. Most times, he felt like his Mom was still seeing her husband when she looked at him. And after the whole fiasco that was her relationship with Frank...well. Him and his Mom just hadn't been the same.

Sam, Jim's older brother, called it abuse. Jim didn't quite agree, but he sure as hell knew it wasn't average. Frank was abuse. Mom was...Mom. Still in mourning for her husband, and kind of...maybe wishing she could have exchanged the baby for the man. Lose Jim, instead of George.

Sometimes Jim couldn't blame her for that. And most times he could.

Fact was, Mom couldn't bear to look at him. Mom looked at him and saw George. And Jim hated that. Hated that he was meant to be a man he never knew. Hated that he would always be the disappointment because he wasn't George Kirk. He couldn't be. And he didn't want to be, either. He wanted to be him, wanted to be allowed to live his own life.

But he'd get home, and see his Mom looking at pictures of her dead husband again, and he'd feel...guilty.

Jim hated that feeling.

Like he should be doing better by his Mom when he didn't know how. Like he should be bending over backwards for her. Like he should be making her life easier. Like he should be a better son. Like he should be emulating his father. Like...like...like...

Like he shouldn't be unhappy to be here with her, when his father couldn't be.

Jim wasn't the perfect kid, or even all that great at meaningful, serious relationships. But he sure as hell knew that that wasn't fair.

So when the house was dark and empty, and the stray cat meowed at him from the fence cos Mom hadn't shooed it away from the house for the night, Jim was resigned to the fact...but still pretty damn bitter about it.

He flicked on the news feed, then flicked it off again when nothing interesting appeared in the first thirty seconds. He could, he supposed, go out for a drink, but would it be a waste of hard-earned cash? And Jim was working for his money, for the first time in forever. He wasn't going to stay in Iowa his whole life and become a drunk asshole like Frank. Whether Mom liked it or not, Jim was going places.

Like, right now, the bar.

The bar was semi-full, mostly with kids Jim's age in cadet reds.

Jim didn't like cadets. They were, on the whole, very snotty and uptight people, with an education as wide as Jim's attitude problem, and fucking potato farms on their shoulders about being second in that midterm instead of first in the class. Sure, a female cadet always looked sexy (the combination of the little skirt and the physical exercise they all had to do at the Academy made for lovely legs on view all the time) and sometimes, when drunk enough, would be happy to be pulled and taken back to Jim's for some more.

But most of the time? Nope.

Still, there clearly wasn't a massive year outing to the shipyards. That usually happened at the end of their semesters, and Jim was pretty sure they were in the middle of one. From the little drinking going on, and the fervent discussion of (surprise, surprise) the presence of Vulcans at the shipyards, Jim guessed that they were engineers or medics.

"Usual, Jimmy?"

"Sure," he nodded at the barman, and the guy on the stool next to him glared at him blearily.

"You're not a cadet," he said.


"Good," he said. "Don't sign up. They'll send you into space in a bucket and then expect you to act fine with the fact that one freaking hull crack, and your brain's scrambled eggs all over the ozone layer."

He was obviously drunk, and his thick southern drawl made it awkward to understand him. Jim just nodded vaguely and wondered why his drink wasn't getting here faster so he could leave.

"Hey," the guy said.


"I may throw up on you."

"Erm..." Jim said, and waved to the bartender to hurry up.

Then the southerner puked on his sneakers.


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