Kirk sat deathly still, studying the details, an unusual array of technology, that comprised the tight-walled wardroom. An old, threadbare brown cotton blanket hanging from his shoulders, he’d also been given fresh, dry clothes, plain and simple sailor’s work clothes, and a large cup of black coffee. He sipped the stuff casually — it tasted like lukewarm syrup — making it seem like an apparent time traveling suicide mission was part of the job description. He assumed his make-believe indifference was convincing enough ; the mysterious middle-aged man, fit and slim, silver haired, in a sharp-lined period business suit at odds with his heavy weather-proof orange jacket, standing across the ward room showed him little interest. Kirk had met the fella once before though he couldn’t say when exactly, time losing its certainty— no, that afternoon conference in Eleanor’s streamliner. Near Corpus. That afternoon of the night he’d fought with Carol and she’d said aloud, meaningfully at last, that she was in love with him. The night he’d left her, left for her.
The mystery man, accompanied by an intriguing woman in her early fifties who insisted Jim call her by name — strangely, Maria Twelve — was referred to with some respect even by the Admiral and her team as Agent Two-Oh-One. The kindest thing he had said to Jim at that meeting was a flat, “We know just who you are.” “You have much to live up to,” added the woman in a soft not-quite French accent ; Maria Twelve, whom the silver haired Two-Oh-One referred to as Agent Three-Four-Seven, their “Agency” going unnamed, had said it with a clear trace of humor that had made Two-Oh-One frown. The eternal, ever-active gambler, he noted to himself, if it came to picking sides or soliciting an ally, he could work her to work for him. After all, he was Jim Kirk….
Jim Kirk – – as early a a very young teen — would always insist, to the point of hostility, on an unrelenting certainty that He Was Right and anyone who disagreed was, at best, in need of schooling. When he was twelve he’d curse out cops for treating him like a child and it still bothered him, Christopher Pike’s single instance of real indignation, the older man certain that with his actions on Niburu, Jim was wasting unusually powerful command potential, squandering it because he was actually proud about taking self-importance for the stuff of Legend.
With age, however, came experience and experience, well measured, brought an easy, appealing and enduring authority. It was an authority that, at its strongest, generally shorn of obsessive self-regard in deference to his crew’s admiration, largely comprised Spock’s unparalleled professional loyalty and his unlikely emotional relationship with James Kirk, his friend. To Carol, the embrace of all of that blilowy heroism, no matter its misleading ease, allowed her alone to endlessly tease him, the one in a million amongst ordinary men who could orchestrate then order his crew on a skillful bluff to immolate a Klingonii combat fleet on a bloody Quel’mAcht, or “war path”, when their forces dared to target his limping, battle-torn ship and be just as at ease, hours later in private, his gamble won, crisis averted, making a light-hearted but sensual and deeply arousing game of, as Admiral Eleanor later joked, Carol “putting him in his place.” In fact, that aspect of him, that confidence in himself, made her ache; he remembered her telling him that plainly and proving it one of their first nights spent in his cabin.
Jim had once told a complement of his new officers, including Carol Marcus, getting to know them early into their five years over Quartermaster’s beer, the story of how then Captain Pike “conned” him into enlisting in Starfleet, playing up his “bet” that he’d graduate in just three years. He told only Carol, though, and almost a year later, about demotion and having his command of Enterprise taken after Niburu – – a “tarnish” the admiralty kept off the public record in light of subsequent events – – and the significant something Pike taught him then in harsh words. He’d normally share this recurring memory and his resulting concerns with Bones who was more than just his doctor; “you’re a hell of a bartender,” he often told McCoy who got his shorthand. He could even bend Spock’s ear, as it were, though discussing something of complex emotions would mean spending half his time explaining personal basics and winding up expunging his own grief. No doubt Spock considered it intentional on his part; “Socratic,” even. But for reasons Jim didn’t fully understand then, and he usually went out of his way never to appear “weak” before a woman to whom he was attracted, he had wanted to tell Carol…..
Enterprise had been drydocked for repairs at Starbase Twenty-Two, badly damaged, barely making it through a monstrous ion storm after the encounter with the Klingonii fleet and their war games and sunlight time trials. He’d told her that he wanted her to stay with him planetside for the duration in the V.I.P. quarters he’d be given and she’d enthusiastically agreed even knowing they’d likely draw attention and even professional disapproval, outright disdain for their openness. He’d smiled at her worries, not broadly just a little, and the for the first time she joined him in his proclamation of his self-assuredness: “I’m Jim Kirk.” They spent the evening amused by old stories with Spock and Uhura, Bones and Scotty, laughs new to Carol, avoiding the officer’s dining hall in favor of a quiet private restaurant where McCoy maintained a friendly relationship with the Denobulan manager. But as the evening wore on, the wine flowing freely, Carol’s laughter subsided; she’d become aware of Jim’s silence, a moody silence she’d seen him fall to only once or twice before.
Late that night, in bed, stroking his hard chest, she’d asked him what had bothered him since their meal. He knew she had quickly, in a way few did or that he allowed, come to read his small silences as uncertain admissions of guilt, envy, despair. So much at ease around this woman, he grew serious and confessed to her that much of what Christopher Pike and he had argued about regarding his first run at Captaincy, still left him feeling less the humility his mentor expected of him, despite the good humored, very deep and real respect their friends had for him, even informally over dinner, and more of a secret failure. Not always and barely often at all, but for a starship Captain, one of his repute, barely often at all was too much too often. He was still fighting for “the greatness” Pike claimed he saw in him; but he stressed the fact that Pike had been killed, had died essentially in Kirk’s arms, his chosen Number One and also the savagery of the beating he’d laid on the man he held most responsible for his commander’s assassination, an assault that would’ve killed, vengefully, thrillingly, an ordinary, normal unarmed man, and even his self-sacrifice, giving his life to save his ship, his crew, the people of Frisco, which he felt was borne, more from desperation than bravery, heroism…. greatness.
Carol listened closely, nodding as she idly soothed his unease with a forefinger along the side of his neck, his shoulder. And then she interrupted him.
“Jim,” she said quietly but in a way that demanded his attention, “three weeks ago, Enterprise time, you personally outsmarted a dangerously transformed early Earth space probe bent on the genocide of all life that didn’t match its limited idea of perfection.” Before Jim could utter a sound— “Shortly before that you defeated — defeated — an age old alien being that had convinced our ancient Greek ancestors it was a god and they created a mythology for him that still holds sway over imaginations. Jim, your strength of will brought down Apollo.”
“Carol,” he said, looking down and away, his tone low, serious, his voice almost a rumble just familiar enough to upset her coming from a man so certain of himself, at ease and kind. Then he looked up at her, smiling the Jim Kirk smile. “Sounds like you’re one lucky lady—” Her right hand came up, her fingers pressing down on his full lips, the other hand, stroking and playing with his hair, pulling his head back.
“No, Jim. Not the charm. Not now. It’s driving me crazy and not in the way you know I normally love. You’re taking us seriously, personally, so see it through. Now.” She tightened her fingers in his hair, trying to draw him out through some overcooked authority she knew he responded to in a funny way only from her.
“You assuming command?” She recognized his responsive playfulness as a slight intentional distraction and would only let him take it so far.
“You’ll find I’m quite the taskmistress,” she gave back at him. He drew her closer, moving his hand behind her head to draw her into a deep kiss. She turned away. “For starters, you do what I say. Sir.”
Jim understood he’d opened the door. And that he really did want her to lead him through. He stroked her hair.
“Next week it’ll be two years.”
“I know,” she said softly but with the barest touch of anger. Then she understood— “You’re still— You can’t let it go, what he said about you not respecting the Chair.”
“It took me a while to get it, or admit it, but he wasn’t just talking about the center seat.”
“Jim,” Carol sighed with some exasperation. “Chris practically thought of you as his son from what I understand.”
“Well, even surrogate sons can disappoint make believe fathers.”
“He fought for you — hard — to be assigned his Exec. You do understand what that meant? Where he wanted that to lead?”
“Of course I do,” Jim spat. “But…”
“But what? Tell me, Jim. No argument.”
“I’ll sound like a child if I say it aloud. Or a self-involved, desperate fool.”
Jim felt she had something about her, something special, whether she actually did or not. She knew that. He listened to her. That meant she was in a very small, select handful of people. He didn’t necessarily agree with her or do as she told him, not always, but it meant both of them were opening parts of themselves to the other they never had with anyone else. This included, for him, something as small as recognizing her determination in the cool flash in those eyes… made cooler still by the slightest hint of weak-at-the-knees amusement at a corner of her mouth that told him she was sure about him, his strengths and weaknesses.
“My dear,” she said, “if you never spoke when you sounded childish or foolish, our conversations would be rather one sided.”
Jim pulled a face of mock disbelief and Carol responded taking control by slipping her right leg over his hips, pulling herself up straddling him. Their light, airy blanket slipped down around her waist. She held him down, her hands pressing on his shoulders, fingers spread.
His eyes flickered almost imperceptibly and then he stared hard ahead. At her. She cocked her head expectantly, waiting, and he marvelled deep inside again at how keenly she could read him, his practiced controlled dance of expressions, and faster than he thought possible.
“You’re probably right about why Pike argued for me to be his First. He knew I’d earn the Enterprise again — likely on his terms,” he said.
She couldn’t help the warm suggestion of a smile, a new and fully caring and taken, lover’s smile. He continued, just a little rufeully, “I just wish I could have told him about out-thinking Nomad myself and asserting the human spirit over a would- be god.”
“Chris would have been proud of you, not just for your accomplishments but for being true to yourself. And probably secretly proud of himself that he was so right about you.” She paused and then just said it flatly, simply, in a way that told him she had actually begun to fall deeply for him; “Your dad, the Captain, he’d have been proud, too.” And she knew fathers, Kirk thought darkly, and this second bleak anniversary was likely even harder on her though she didn’t show it. He kissed her and this time she didn’t resist but something had occurred to her and she pulled her head back, angling his mouth to her throat so she could speak… “Though, I think you’d have had a harder time winning Chris over when you report the outcome of our recent jaunty negotiations with the—” she decided upon a word “—leaders of Sigma Iotia.”
Kirk’s mouth twisted as he worked a comeback. “I think what I came up with was entirely reasonable.”
“Well, let’s think that through,” she said, sliding off him and rolling onto her stomach, her posture part hint, part summons. He began rubbing her shoulders, lightly digging the flats of his palms down her back. “You’re a helluva Captain, Mister Kirk, but you have a real future ahead of you as a lady’s masseur,” she’d said on what they still teen-fully called their “first date.” She told him point blank, knowing Admirals as she did, they’d be “affronted,” on the record, by the deal he’d struck with the Earth-poisoned culture of Iotia II’s nineteen twenties, kill-or-be-killed gangland Chicago. “But they’ll find a use for the Federation’s so-called “cut” of the Iotians’ GNP. So, we go back in a year and see if they’ve evolved from “putting the bag” on their sworn enemies, you, your hired merciless killer, Spock-o, your hatchet man, “Saw Bones.” your money in the bank card sharp whiz kid with the funny accent, what’d you call Pavel, “Fizzbin?” And,“ she concluded with an ugh, rolling her eyes, then fixing him with a dirty look, “let’s not forget Hailey Comet, your favorite brainless but leggy gun moll and exotic, erotic dancer extrordinaire.”
“At least you were convincing.”
Carol slapped him harmlessly. “Maybe Chris had a point after all, taking away that ship of yours.”
“The thing about “greatness” where Pike and I differed had less to do with feats of bravery or standing by a tough decision. See, Iotia proved— uh, Carol?
She looked over at him, hoping he wouldn’t stop with his hands. He’d cut himself off and she heard something quizzical in his voice.
“You referring to the late Admiral as “Chris”? You’ve done it half a dozen times. I didn’t think you knew him. Not that well.“
“Sure you did. I told you.” When she looked away, really just a flick of her eyes, it was almost imperceptible. But Jim Kirk was an even better poker player than he was at strip three-dee chess, and that barest of flickers was as much a “tell” as Spock scratching his temple or now the warmth of embarrassment seeping red to her cheeks. “My dad, remember, mentored him from deckhand ofn the Alpha Centauri passenger line through to his first command?”
“But still, Carol, “Chris”? Really?“
She knew he was playing with her but he still was groping. That gave her some advantage… “He became friends with my family. He had none of his own. Not really. Jim, come on — I met him when I wasn’t even fifteen. Chris— uh, Admiral Pike had already been made Captain of the, uh, the—”
“The Oza Butte,” he provided with confidence. He’d brushed aside her advantage with a swash of his buckle.
“All right, Jim. I had a crush on Christopher Pike.” He didn’t reply, just rubbed her muscles still sore from the rigors of snapping and pulling armament shunts during the storm. She looked back at him and said clearly and coolly, all Brit sharpness, “He was young and good-looking, a brave space explorer and soldier who carried dutifully the courage of his convictions. Reminds me now a little of another Starfleet warrior burdened by his “greatness.”“ The last moment had a familiar taste of her brand of facetiousness. “But the current one pleases the womanly me, not the silly girl.” She buried her head back in the thick pillow and stretched her prostrate body for his continued ministrations. “Satisfied?”
Kirk worked his fingers harder against her flesh as he asked with leery innocence, “A crush, huh? So, you and Chris, you never…”
“Jim!” she exclaimed, twisting to face him. “The man was a respected officer in the field, my father’s student, and he was, what, easily twenty years older than me!” Then she left that hanging and Jim wasn’t surprised when she added quietly and awkwardly, “But— This one time, ugh…” He shifted around but didn’t stop, sensually stroking her back, her curves. He didn’t need to say anything; he knew she wanted to tell him the moment he raised his curiosity. “I made a pass at him at one of my parents’ cocktail parties for commanders of note from the field.”
“Always the secret tigress,” he noted with a feral grin. “ Well, what happened? Spare no detail.”
“I was seventeen by then. And between the prestigious science scholarships offered me, my silver at the Olympics leading to the brief but notorious arty holo’ modelling for Cassini I gained some celebrity for to annoy my parents, I was pretty full of myself. You understand? I was one in a million Carol. And a seventeen year old’s crush, well…” She shook her head and pulling herself up and resting against him, ran a hand through her thick blonde bob. “Boy oh boy, was it a pass.”
He passed over her drink. “Feeling that bad, even after ten years?”
“Oh yeah. But he was quite the gentleman, how he turned me down… the lousy son of a bitch.”
Carol turned to him, her face lit with that sweet smile with the perfect teeth, and she was lit with something more… literally alight, the blonde hair halo-aglow.
“Wake up sleepy head,” she said playfully.
Jim’s face, brow creased with confusion, was warm with the same strange light. Sunlight, from Earth’s sun.
He was laid out in the deeply sunk hammock, wearing a ratty black tee stencilled across the front with a logo — Riverside High, Class of ‘49 — in the backyard of what he saw now — a ranch-styled, old fashioned house, a house that belonged, in Jim’s imagination, on Earth in the mid or late twentieth century, except a battered BSC Earth-Luna shuttle had lifted off and buzzed past low overhead. Paving stones were laid around a kidney shaped pure blue swimming pool. A dog he’d never owned, a large bull of a mastiff, was charging madly around the yard. An alabaster hand with long fingers, nails painted immaculate cerulean — and a silver wedding ring reflecting the light — picked the nearly empty beer can, to him an antique, not much different than Egyptian pottery — from his chest where he held it in a loose, precarious grasp.
Carol knocked back what was left in the can and, shifting in front of the bright sun, became a silhouette. “You want to get drunk and fool around?”
A grin grew across his face when he heard a noise that didn’t belong in that idyllic backyard. Clearly Carol didn’t hear it; she was just watching him. But it was so out of place, a hard rhythmic clicking — footfalls — clacking on metal. And then an older man’s vaguely familiar gravelly voice, to his right. The voice said, “It doesn’t matter what century you’re from—” and something somewhere groaned and creaked deep and long, a machine awaking, struggling against unseen, powerful forces.
He spun around with shapeless fear and stared at Carol, the sun’s shadow thinning to light as she leaned toward him and whispered with concern, “Jimmy?”
“… we human beings have a generally ridiculous belief our best intentions can determine our reality,” Agent Two-Oh-One said in his gravel-voice, completing the thought. The click-clatter came from Agent Three-Four-Seven, Maria Twelve, ascending the short catwalk of metal stairs to join them with a steaming pot of coffee. She was dressed handsomely, like her partner, in period clothes, though Jim questioned her choice of knee-hemmed skirt and heels aboard an experimental submersible built for the possibility of combat.
Jim was back in the Nautilus wardroom, not that he’d ever actually left. That is, he’d just traveled from Starbase Twenty-Two on Canaris to some peaceful suburb that was neither here nor there to the depths of a battlefield deep in an Earth ocean, from memory to fantasy to back where he began by way of some self-reflection but as a damn good starship Captain he could work any number of ideas through his head while parsing several conversations. He’d gotten Two-Oh-One talking, careful to limit himself to basic procedural details of the mission but with practiced smarts that allowed him to try and find deeper meanings between the lines.
Kirk’s educated guess regarding the two Agents’ bribes and salvage work to refit their Nautilus from leftovers at a Navy wrecking yard was largely correct. He was more curious about her crew; a nuclear submarine of the era was manned by one hundred and fifty but even the smaller chopped and channeled explorer craft would require at least fifty men and Kirk doubted Admiral Eleanor Parker nor her Federation Council support would authorize fifty even well-trained Thirty-One adventurers to all go back three hundred years.
With a glint of pride, Two-Oh-One explained personally overseeing a small group of Thirty-Ones, anthropologists with starbase security backgrounds, who traveled back to a time earlier that year in the same manner as Jim would, and, dropping the right names and the right money in the right bars in the American south mainly, had tapped into a percolating Right Wing anger. They were disgraced military for the most part, dishonorable discharges who went on to careers as cops or criminals or both, and who believed with fierce conviction that their country and leaders had grown soft in every way that mattered. The clandestine Thirty-Ones expertly whipped up support for a coup d’etat of Two-Oh-One’s devising with a renowned air force general waiting to take control of military and international affairs. The signal for the coup would be an “incident” in the waters off Vietnam where a new America would begin to quickly crush the Communist Menace. They’d need fifty men for an experimental sub bound for some unknown nowhere called “the Gulf of Tonkin”—
“James, would you like some more coffee?” asked Maria Twelve.
He nodded appreciatively and as she poured, he mumbled, “Oh, so that’s what this is.”
She bobbed her head with a curious little smile, sympathetic. Jim had, in the past two years of exploration, encountered one or two strange new life forms that could assume mock-human shape and behavior but they inevitably failed to get it quite right. Two-Oh-One, with his indifference to Kirk, nevertheless forced a small cough before he told Jim something he deemed important, aggravated he couldn’t clear the natural gravel in his voice. Maria Twelve had shown a mild interest in him and his exploits since meeting in Eleanor’s streamliner outside Corpus, demonstrating a well-educated formal kindness that seemed comfortable to her when she addressed him by his proper name; she must also have had a cold, turning her head away with tiny, girlish high-pitched sneezes. They quarreled. Not often, just enough for Kirk to notice, and it was usually over the small stuff like the godawful coffee. But they didn’t resolve those arguments by one causing intense psychic distress to the other; no crackling tendrils of cold blue energy leaped from fingers, eyes or mouths.
Yeah, they were human beings. He just found the story of their origins and goals privately imparted to him by one of Eleanor’s people, which they seemed to believe in full — no small feat with the famously suspicious and cynical Admiral — to be a little too hard get a hold of, fairy dust. Then again, if he’d told the submarine’s bosun’s mate that either a couple of months ago or three hundred years in the future – – depending on one’s point of view – – Jim would find almost otherworldly pleasure performing a strictly prohibited low atmospheric orbital “pipe jump” while the most wonderful woman he’d known lay waiting for him, sunning herself on a private stretch of Moroccan beach figuring out inverse phase particle ratios while sipping a vodka from the planet Andor… well, at least he’d had the benefit of dealing with unknowns more bizarre than these two unusual travelers.
They were certainly part of the suspicions he was working through, about the mission, but he suspected they simply played their own role in a larger gambit. Those suspicions led most obviously to Eleanor Parker whom he now thought of since their last few encounters and veiled ultimatums as something akin alternately to a spurned lover and the cheerleaders from his high school and college football days. Ultimately, she had, even before Khan and Jim’s crossing and return, his manly act of sacrifice, used from her position of power his unique, atypical story as a touchstone for Starfleet, including enlistment, as if he were the stuff of modern myth. Her remarks back in her den about turning himself into a demi-god of human fate having once already risen from the dead was more than her playing him; Eleanor saw him presented as her Apollo. That was one reason why he knew as difficult as the mission might be, it was no no-win scenario. It wasn’t suicide.
When he was experiencing the reverie of the deep and swimming with the ponderous yet seemingly wise giant whales, he hadn’t been thinking of anything except for perhaps survival should the Nautilus arrive late or not at all. He’d almost emptied his thoughts, clearing his mind in a way that he suspected he owed to watching the Vulcan Spock became in their most dangerous circumstances. Now that he was within the comfort of a leaking old wholesale submarine with a hinkey nuclear testbed and drinking coffee that even a horta couldn’t, and wouldn’t, ingest in the company of two allegedly superior human beings from a planet that didn’t seem to exist who had earlier argued over a taxi cab bill one of them had been stuck with paying back in L.A., that clear mind of Jim’s was filling and alive with questions, guesses for answers and a swirl of mysteries that were leading him back to the most obvious explanations.
The foremost and most frustrating mystery of his personal mission was the nature of the mission itself, that what he had taken on meant the end of his life and that no amount of a eugenic Ubermensch’s potent blood could revert it this time. But Jim was certain this wasn’t true, this suicide business, and not just because it was believed by all of command he had no way out. There were plenty. Between what poor, old Toad told him up front, maybe hoping to make friends with a possible legend, to reading between Maria Twelve’s words to, most basically, his continual study of intell regarding the target, continually updated schematics, the accomplished, natural strategist in him saw about a dozen ways of succeeding in this mission and emerging skin intact. Granted, more than half of those ideas were over-complicated as to be worse than unworkable and more farfetched fantasy. But three or four were so basic, obvious, the designers of the target would have never bothered with safe guards.
Jim was beginning to think that if Eleanor genuinely did believe this assignment was an honest no-win, beyond an opportunity to use him as an exploitable myth, she was combat-experienced enough to reach the same conclusions he had, which meant that the “suicide” element may come after he’d destroyed the target. That meant something he hadn’t accounted for or understood — he was, after all, smack dab in the middle of a war zone three hundred years in the past — there was the matter of traveling home through time which was a dicey proposition no matter what method one used and which were all out of reach in nineteen sixty-four. Getting home meant returning the way he got there and the best minds in the Federation had yet to figure that out.
His clear thinking had got him righted on something more basic, though, and it was the thing that wouldn’t allow this mission to be his last. He’d hoped that the perceived peace of the deep water would relieve him of the violence, chaos, terror of his final desperate moments on the Ticonderoga, and the ugly, awful death — murder, really — of that poor, dedicated kid from Thirty-One. He realized, instead, that the terrible violence would never leave him, that it’d be part of who he was. And that made him think of Carol. And Spock. And McCoy, the Enterprise and his five year voyage and just what kind of starship Captain he could now be. But mostly he thought of Carol and that she meant it when she said she was in love with him and how memories of her, and what he assumed were harmless fantasies about them together in that pristine, timeless summertime backyard were so wrapped now with who he had become. The very idea he’d harbored to proceed at all with what seemed like a death sentence in hero’s drag by pretending she didn’t exist, that there was no Doctor Carol Marcus in his life did her a rotten disservice. He was doing this for her. And he’d return and find her, time itself be damned.
Kirk made to stand up, to assert himself over the mysterious, strange “Agents,” and take control of the mission but his damn fate—
And he dropped back in the chair. Intending to show no weakness in front of the others, he shifted, trying to seem as though he was getting comfortable. He knew that wouldn’t fly but casually flicked a glance between Two-Oh-One and Maria Twelve. They shared looks of concern and Two-Oh-One frowned, cold, suspicious.
“Mister Kirk, do you feel unwell?”
Jim was pressing his temples between thumb and forefinger but looked back up. He’d recovered from whatever it was, not feeling dizzy but unsteady half-way to standing and a wave of severe nausea that lasted all of three seconds. He started to respond with a half-truth when Maria Twelve interjected, “When was the last time you properly ate something, James?”
He started to answer, realizing he was falling into her motherly interest, when she added, “Despite the awful coffee, there’s a serviceable galley aboard.” She had already picked up the old intercom speaker which looked like what they called back then, Jim recalled, a telephone.
“Galley? Wardroom,” she said into the mouthpiece, not needing to identify herself; she was the the only woman aboard. She intuitively ordered him steak and fried eggs and Two-Oh-One put her concern, and his own, in perspective.
“You eat something, Mister Kirk, and you’ll keep your strength up. We need you at your best.”
Kirk frowned at the son of a bitch’s sense of superiority but knew what he was saying was essentially correct. Jim sensed that passing, sickly moment had little to do with subsisting on terrible vodka and worse coffee the past twenty-four hours. it wasn’t from the abrupt deep dive and oxygen deprivation. It was a worrying after effect of ingesting the experimental senceiver.
“Now, we have sometime more than an hour before you have to reach the target. That’s as close as we can get to a shaky historical record of events. I advise you rest, look over the last of our research data we just gathered—”
“We drew as close as we dared to it on approach here for rendezvous,” Maria Twelve explained.
“She’s that close, the target? Jim asked, surprised. “What’s her condition?”
Maintaining cool resolve, Maria reported, “However badly you hurt them from you jet aircraft — scoring topside, the port nacelle was still giving them some trouble — target vessel read as essentially operational.”
Jim frowned as he considered this then looked up at her with a smile meant to be read as phoney-brave and he didn’t care who saw through him.
“Let’s light this candle.”
She hinted a smile in return and nodded her understanding.
“Very good, Mister Kirk,” Two-Oh-One said. There was something in his voice that grabbed Jim’s attention. Two-Oh-One was practically squeezing each word but he had little talent for drama and Kirk knew what he was about to say.
“Target status understood? You need to tell us what happened during your departure from the carrier. Why is the Ticonderoga in flames when that never happened and I’m under the impression that the young Section Thirty-One Agent who made sure you got aboard the Nautilus didn’t himself survive.”
“Toad was horrifically executed by a professional assassin’s jikara but, with his dying breath, he blew up our attackers and a section of the carrier’s deck three with a a photon grenade,” Jim said flatly. He saw a tincture of uncertainly in the chillingly arrogant man.
“A jikara? That’s an Orion dagger.”
“Well, coincidentally, Toad was killed by an Orion,” Kirk came back at Two-Oh-One with a deadly sharpness.
Maria Twelve stood and as she approached Two-Oh-One, he shook his head just slightly. Jim caught the gesture and his voice seemingly turned darkly light, sickly comic.
“So before I tell you exactly what happened up there, how about you tell me how a cadre of Orion Syndicate thugee turned up on a locked down twentieth century battleship disguised as US Navy military police with the very clear intention of beating me to death or taking me alive. You can tell Eleanor I only undertook this impossible mission under the assumption I’d be taking on only an elite squadron of Klingon soldiers trained for time travel and the crew of their experimental extremely powerful new war ship that brought ‘em here. Now, what’s the Orion involvement? Don’t tell me it’s more of that bullshit, their laying claim to Carol Marcus as their slave – -!”
Maria turned away from Jim to her partner and though she spoke in a low voice, it was clear and meant for Kirk to hear.
“We must tell him. Everything.”
“How about we start with everything and go from there?” Kirk stated in a way that stood no argument.
Two-Oh-One looked across at Kirk, the two men locking stares.
“Robert,” she said, the French-ish accent more pronounced, “He doesn’t just deserve to know. It’s a quid pro quo. With the Orions involved in an alliance with… them, he needs to know.”
“Alliance? Hell,” Jim practically sneered. “What’s worse, it means we’ve got an old fashioned mole digging our dirt. How many of our people knew I’d be flying guns on the Ticonder…” Jim’s attention shifted away immediately. Perhaps as the commander of a ship in its own foreign waters, so to speak, he heard it before even the two physically evolved otherworldly human agents.
“We’ve had suspicions, James, about a security leak since we arrived.”
Jim’s stare narrowed and crawled across the far bulkhead. Whatever it was, whatever he heard — a high-pitched whir muffled by the sea — grew steadily louder.
“Captain—?” asked Two-Oh-One, or Robert. Then he heard it too, whatever it was growing louder; it was racing through the water toward them. “What is that?” Maria heard it as well, instinctively coming up near Jim.
Kirk threw them a warning glare. “Find something steady and hang on tight.” He spun behind the glass covered, steel plated Ops table and braced himself against it. Maria joined him in a rush.
“It’s the American Navy, the submarine U.S.S. Neville,” she asked as if seeking confirmation. He nodded just once, firmly.
“Hang on,”Kirk told her and loud enough for Robert, the Agent crouching behind one of the ward room’s three heavy chairs. He looked up as a scratchy, mechanical pipe call whistled over the intercom. And then there followed an authoritative voice echoing through the sub’s corridors and work stations. Calm and cool if all business, it may have been the COB but Jim knew a Captain’s tone of voice.
The Captain of the Nautilus ordered smoothly, “All hands, all hands. Incoming explosive. Standard torpedoes. Damage control stand ready.” For a flash, the danger disappeared for Jim – – replaced by mind-spinning disbelief. That voice…. he was sure. He recognized the easy-going working of words, mid west Fairfield, Ohio transplanted to San Diego. But that was impossible. Last he’d heard, Gary Mitchell was hopelessly AWOL and likely dead—
Then the torpedoes exploded close to the bow, port side, a dull, warped cascade in reverse, and the world went sideways.