Chapter One: A Lonely Night in a Cornfield (Sept. 27, 2021)
The ship was destroyed.
He’d had no other choice; Spock of Vulcan knew that. He could not risk a member of the indigenous population of this planet finding his ship, even as severely damaged as it was. Once the ship had been hit by that meteorite, there was no choice but to land it on this small, blue-green planet, third in the system that circled this modest yellow star. He was fortunate that this planet, this Earth as the inhabitants called it, had an atmosphere he could breathe and natives close enough to his own appearance for him to pass—with some minor cosmetic alterations, of course.
Unfortunately, the landing controls had sustained serious damage, and Spock had to land the ship hard—much harder than he would have under ordinary circumstances. To be more precise, he crashed the ship just outside of a small village in a middle province of the country called by its inhabitants the United States of America. In many respects, the landscape resembled that of Spock’s favorite piece of literature from this world, even though the inhabitants were taller than hobbits, and so far as Spock knew, there were no dragons or orcs.
Middle Earth indeed, Spock thought sardonically, once he had emerged from the craft with a laceration on his forehead and resignation in his heart. The middle of nowhere on Earth. He used his portable computer, disguised as the device the humans called an iPad, to scan the ship for damage. It was as he’d feared; the main containment field around the power fuel cells was cracked, and the fuel cells were disenigrating as oxygen mixed with them. Spock felt a quick rush of anger. He had warned the craft’s designers that using fuels cells vulnerable to oxygen corrosion was a bad idea, but they’d insisted that there were sufficient safeguards. Spock could now tell them otherwise—assuming he ever made it home.
Now, however, was not the time for futile arguments with absent designers. Quickly and efficiently, Spock took what possessions he needed from the craft, storing them all in a quite anonymous-looking box with a handle—a box that would only open to Spock’s voice print. Once he had salvaged everything that he logically could, Spock quickly entered the program sequence needed to raise the craft off the ground and send it approximately 45 meters, into the large natural pond nearby. The ship sank swiftly, and Spock knew that once beneath the water, the self-destruct sequences of nano-bots would take the ship apart component by component. Within 24 hours, there would hardly be a molecule sticking to another.
With a sigh, Spock used his personal comp. to pinpoint his current location. As he had planned when he’d brought the ship down, he was in the province called Iowa, a largely rural area of the mid-United States. There was a small town, Riverside, approximately 29 kilometers away. Spock supposed that was as good a destination as any. He would have to obtain lodging and then decide what he was going to do next. Those on the Homeworld would investigate his disappearance, but there would not be a reconnaissance ship for months, perhaps longer, depending on how great a priority one explorer was.
Spock shivered as the night air made its way beneath his clothes. This planet had a wide range of climates; unfortunately, this area was quite cold by the Homeworld’s standards, and it was near the autumn equinox, which made it even colder. Spock picked up his case of supplies, trying valiantly to ignore his pounding head and his chilled body. To his left was a—yes, that was right, a cornfield, a native grain crop. The rows created by farm machinery left a path for him to walk, and the tall plants would keep out some of the wind. The planet’s lunar satellite was full, which provided sufficient light to travel by. Spock headed into the cornfield, planning to walk through it until he came to a road.
He made it through the field before his head wound and the cold combined to knock him unconscious at the very edge of the long rows.
Jim flipped through the channels one more time. Jesus Christ, Direct TV was a joke. 168 fucking channels and still nothing to watch. With a sigh, Jim shut off the television. Might was well re-read a favorite old book, maybe that would relax him enough for sleep. Jim hadn’t been sleeping well lately. It was too quiet here, too lonely.
With a sigh, Jim rose and stared out the window for a moment. When he’d left here three years ago at the ripe old age of 18, he’d had no intention of ever coming back. Jim Kirk had been bound for high adventure and military glory. Ha. What a laugh that turned out to be. Even after he’d left the service, he’d never intended on coming back here, but who would have thought that his dad would drop dead of a heart attack at the age of fifty-two? And then who would have dreamed that his mother would come down with cancer just months later? Too weak to work the land, Winona Kirk had faced the prospect of losing the farm that had been in her family for six generations. Jim hadn’t even hesitated. He’d come back and tied himself to the land, the seasons, and the routine. Winona had died six months ago, but she’d died at home as she wished, and she died knowing that the family’s lands were still theirs. Some mornings, Jim wasn’t sure how thrilled he was about that, but at least he had a roof over his head and food. Lots of people didn’t have either. And he had quiet, a safe place, a place where the screams no longer echoed through his mind. But the flip side of peace was loneliness. Jim was terribly lonely. His nearest neighbors were more than two miles away, and they were an old couple, too old to offer much companionship. Jim didn’t have anything in common with the drunken louts who hung out in one of Riverside’s three bars. Hell, most of them never read anything except maybe the instructions on a package of Trojans—assuming they just didn’t go ahead and give their girlfriends the clap. Jim sighed again. He didn’t have to worry about that. There wasn’t a woman in the county who interested him.
Jim stared out at the peaceful, moonlit landscape. It was the last week of September; the crops would all be harvested in another week or two. Jim had three hundred acres of corn and 150 of soybeans. He kept a few chickens, more for eggs than anything, and he had two horses and a barn full of cats. Next spring, if he was still here, he was toying with the idea of growing organic produce for the restaurants in Iowa City and Des Moines. It was something to think about. It would be less boring than endless rows of corn.
Suddenly, Jim heard it. The barking sounded outside the back door, deep and steady. Jim left the living room and moved through the hallway into the kitchen. He flicked on the back porch light and looked outside.
“What is it, boy?” he asked Scotty, his sheepdog, who was standing on his hind legs with his front legs on the screen door. Scotty barked again and then ran off the porch and came back, barking once more.
I feel like I’m in an episode of Lassie, Jim thought ruefully, but nonetheless he opened the door and stepped out onto the back porch, but not before grabbing his dad’s old .45 and sticking it in his belt. Scotty barked once more and then tore across the back yard to the edge of the cornfield, barking continuously now.
“What’ve you got, boy? A deer? A raccoon?” Jim couldn’t see anything, but Scotty kept standing and barking. Jim hurried across the year. Not until he was almost to the field did he see the dark shape huddled on the ground near Scotty.
“Oh, shit.” Jim ran the last few steps and fell to his knees beside the body, searching for a pulse in the neck. Much to his relief, he found one, but it was fast, and the skin beneath Jim’s fingers was icy. The figure stirred slightly as Jim touched it, raising his head. Through a mass of shaggy black hair, Jim could make out two dark eyes in a very pale face.
“Come on,” he said gently, putting an arm around the other man and helping him to his feet. The figure leaned against Jim as if he could scarcely walk, and Jim could feel him shivering violently.
“It’s okay,” Jim murmured. “Just a few steps to my house, and then I’ll call an ambulance, and…”
“No!” The figure stopped so suddenly that Jim, still supporting his weight, practically fell. Long, ice-cold fingers dug into Jim’ arm.
“No,” the other man said in a low voice. “No doctor. No hospital. Please.”
“Okay,” Jim replied soothingly. “Okay, no doctor, no hospital. Come on. Let’s get you into the house, and I’ll see how badly you’re hurt.” With slow, dragging steps, they made their way across the yard, Scotty trailing them, and up through the back door. Jim was panting by this time; the stranger was a bit taller than Jim but skinny, and yet he was surprisingly heavy to move. Jim managed to propel him into the small downstairs bedroom, just off the living room, that Winona had used for the last month or so because it was close to the bathroom and spared her the stairs. Jim gently lowered his unexpected visitor to the bed. The other man was still shivering, so Jim pulled up the quilt that was folded at the foot of the bed and laid it over the long body. He rose and opened both the floor registers, feeling the warm air began to circulate in the room. Jim returned to the bed and switched on a lamp on the small bedside stand. His new houseguest lay back against the pillows, his face as white as the washed cotton cases. Jim looked at him curiously. At first, he’d wondered if the trespasser was one of the many illegal immigrants who tramped from place to place looking for work, but this guy didn’t have that look about him. He was much paler than any Mexican or Guatemalan Jim had ever seen, and his features were finely cut, almost aristocratic. The almost-shoulder length dark hair curled around his face and ears, but it didn’t hide the large, livid swelling above his right eye.
“Can you hear me?” Jim asked softly. The long eyelashes fluttered slightly, and the man opened his eyes, which were as dark as his hair. He stared at Jim for a moment, and then he nodded.
“I’m going to get some first aid supplies,” Jim explained. “You’ve got a nasty bump on your forehead. Let’s see if we can fix it up. Do you have any other injuries?” His guest shook his head.
“I am…cold,” he whispered. Jim was a bit surprised; it was only about 30 degrees outside, and he’d turned on the heat. But he nodded.
“I’ll bring another blanket,” he promised. He left and went upstairs to fetch some rubbing alcohol and antibiotic ointment, as well as some gauze pads and tape. He stopped in his room to dig a wool blanket out of the cedar chest, and then he came back downstairs, stopping in the kitchen to pull a cold pack out of the freezer. He came back into the room to discover that his visitor had removed his boots and crawled under the bedding, the quilt still on top of everything. Jim laid the supplies on the nightstand and unfolded the blanket, spreading it over the rest of the bedding pile.
“Now,” he said quietly, “let’s look at that contusion.” He reached out, only to have his visitor shrink away.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Jim said gently. “I’m sorry; I should have asked. I just want to see how bad you’re hurt.”
“It is I who am…sorry,” the other man managed to say. “I did not mean to be rude.”
“It’s okay; I’m just going to clean it off.” Jim reached for the gauze and the alcohol, soaking the gauze. “This may sting.” He gently daubed at the abrasion.
“It looks pretty good,” Jim said quietly. “But it’s got some kind of green goop in the wound. Let me get that cleaned.” He wiped away that odd liquid and then put a layer of clean gauze on with tape. Once it was bandaged, Jim gently laid the cold pack across the area.
“Just lie back and relax; that should help the swelling. We’ll check it again in the morning. Can you see all right? How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Three,” the stranger responded in a deep, quiet voice.
“Is your vision blurred” Are you sick to your stomach?”
The other man replied, “No,” still holding the cold pack to his brow.
“Are you warmer?” Jim asked.
“Yes, thank you.” The shivering had diminished a great deal.
“Do you need anything? Jim asked. “Are you hungry, thirsty?”
“I would like a glass of water,” the other man admitted. Jim rose and went to the kitchen for the drink, returning to help the other man sit up and drink. He gently lowered his guest back down on the pillows and looked at him.
“I’m not going to bother you tonight,” he said quietly. “You rest, and in the morning, we can talk about who you are and why you showed up in my corn. Right now, just relax. Whatever’s going on, you’re safe here.” He rose and turned towards the door.
“I…thank you,” came the quiet voice from the bed. “I do not even know your name.”
Jim turned and gave his visitor a slight smile. “Sorry, I wasn’t using my company manners. My name’s Jim Kirk.”
“I am…Spock.” The name slipped out before Spock could think of something more human-sounding, and he silently cursed the cold and the head wound that were making him groggy. Much to his surprise, however, the human didn’t react adversely.
“Like the doctor, huh? Your parents must have thought his books were great. Okay. Sleep well…Spock.”
“Thank you, Jim.” And then the human was gone, and Spock slipped into unconsciousness.