One spot was just as good as another. If there were no tree roots or rocks nearby, so much the better, but Kirk had dug through plenty of those.
He hung his ratty, sweat-stained shirt on a branch, and began to dig. After months of endless grave detail, he no longer felt the shovel dig into his hands. The skin on his palms was like hard saddle leather. He had not a single ounce of surplus fat on his body, and his muscles were stringy iron. Who needs a fitness center or surgical sculpting when you’re digging holes for the dead, months on end?
Hours later he finally stopped, and walked back to where he’d left his shirt. A pocket held a bottle of water and a piece of Bajoran bread. He wasn’t hungry, but he knew he had to eat something.
A transporter whine plus the prickle of static electricity on his skin told Kirk someone was beaming close by. He ignored it while finishing his meager meal and then tried to ignore the footsteps approaching him.
“Excuse me, maybe you could help, I’m looking for…” Kirk turned to the voice. The stranger stopped walking, stopped talking, and stared. He crouched a bit, and focused on the tired eyes beneath the straggled bangs. “Jim? Jim Kirk?”
“Yeah, it’s me, Bones. What do you want?”
“Ye GODS Man, what has happened to you?”
Kirk shrugged, shoved the last bite of bread into his mouth, and donned his shirt. McCoy heard a crunching sound as Kirk chewed. “Ah, shit, not another one!” Kirk spit a small chunk into his hand.
McCoy snatched it away before Kirk could dispose of it. “What is that?” He frowned and turned it over. “A TOOTH?”
“Not the first. Probably won’t be the last.”
McCoy grabbed Kirk’s upper arm and was shocked by the thinness and the rock muscle. “I’m taking you back to the Federation Outpost.”
“Screw it, Bones. I don’t leave until the next rotation cycle, and that’s three days from today.”
“You have finally lost your mind, then?”
Kirk gave a weary wave of his hand. “Oh, save it. I’ve been digging graves all day, and I need to help haul the bodies over here. Shut up, or keep bitching, but get the Hell out of my way.”
“Jim, wait! What is going on?”
“The people here are DEAD, Bones. And I can’t do anything about it, so I help bury the dead. Whoops, get out of my way!” Kirk took a couple of steps and leaned over. In seconds, he vomited up the bread, the water, and not a small amount of blood.
“I insist, you’re coming with me. You’re sick, Man.”
“Oh, more than you’ll ever know.”
“Come on, Jim. Please. I could order you!”
Kirk chuckled mirthlessly. “Yeah, right. Starfleet and the Federation don’t mean shit around here, Doctor McCoy. Go find somebody that you can impress with your authority. I’ve got work to do.”
McCoy keyed his communicator, then linked arms with Kirk. “Two to beam up.”
Both men dissolved in the transporter shimmer.
# # #
Kirk woke up on a cot in the tiny dispensary of the Federation Outpost. Bone was transferring information from the medical tricorder to a datapadd, and mumbling about “Stone Age manual entry of data.” Kirk started to chuckle, until he noticed all the tubes and wires attached to his body.
“What is all this crap strangling me?”
“Just shut UP. I’m already primed to backhand you for the lousy shape you’re in.”
Kirk flopped back on the pillow. “Bones, you just don’t know...”
McCoy moved so their noses were almost touching. “I know when a man’s trying to kill himself.”
Kirk clenched his jaws and made a grinding sound. McCoy held the tricorder probe over Kirk’s face and winced at the display. “You’ve got enough force in those muscles to rival the output of a warp core. I’ve only seen TMJ readings like this in textbooks.”
Kirk turned his face away.
“Okay, answer me this: how long have you been vomiting blood?”
Kirk still wouldn’t turn back, just threw the words over his shoulder. “Med scanner diagnosed acid reflux. I take the medication when I do my rotation back here at the outpost.”
McCoy ran the tricorder probe over Kirk’s belly. “It’s a helluva lot more than that, Jim. You’ve got Barrett’s disease, another six month tops before you’ll need an esophagus transplant.”
“That will have to wait. I don’t know when Starfleet plans to transfer me out of here.”
McCoy pulled a chair next to the cot. “Jim…we have to talk. That’s why I’m here.”
Kirk flipped over and drilled McCoy with his eyes. “Spock?”
“I’m sorry, no, I have no word on Spock.”
Kirk flipped back and faced the wall. “Then go away, leave me alone.”
“This outpost is being closed. The Constellation will be here in less than 24 hours to take us directly to Command Headquarters in San Francisco.”
Kirk tried to sit up, and was held back by the tubes and wires. “Screw this shit,” he grumbled, as he ripped them from his body. He crouched on the edge of the bed and scowled at McCoy. “What’s going on?”
“I have no idea. There will be sealed orders for you on the Constellation.”
“What about Bajor?”
“Again, I don’t know.”
“Bones, it’s indescribable down there. Millions are dead, millions more are dying, and the Cardassians are just getting warmed up. Whoever coined the term ‘killing fields’ could have had Bajor in mind: unbelievable amounts of slaughter, rotting bodies, ditches running in blood. And we’re doing NOTHING.” Kirk had grabbed McCoy’s shirtfront at the beginning of his tirade, and he let go with a jerk. “How can I whine about my piddly-ass problems when the entire civilization of Bajor is being annihilated? It makes Tarsus look like the proverbial Sunday school picnic!”
He lay back on the bed and turned to the wall again.
“I’m sorry, Jim, I really don’t know what to say, what I can say.” He rose from the chair. “I’ll let you know when it’s time to leave, so we can meet the Constellation.”
Kirk waited until McCoy left the room, and he dipped deeply into his mind and thought: “Spock! Spock!” He received a microscopic spark in answer.
He exhaled, and mentally reached along the silvery filaments of the bond. “Spock!” The spark blinked, and maybe grew a tiny bit brighter. He kept reaching, reaching, reaching, as he drifted towards sleep. Just before he dropped into slumber, a whisper wafted to him from the spark, and nudged his brain.