STAR TREK BEYOND FOREVER prologue part 8

20 11 2016

Miriam was laughing a little too much at something he’d said – – nothing intentionally funny, just something in passing, about how she’d won over his first officer by having him threaten to keelhaul the Vulcan at warp – – as she helped him into his vintage black leather flyer’s jacket from the “Apocalypse” Division of America’s WW III USN.  They were at the front door of Wallace House as Jim was getting ready to leave with Carol.  Watching from down the hall, Carol shook her head at Miriam’s predictability, her flirting.  Jim had exactly the qualities that her younger sister found most attractive. Handsome, manly but just boyish enough, an ambitious Star Fleet officer bound for glory, history, and he was one of a few men Carol had ever been clearly, absolutely taken with.

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“It’s reassuring to know that some people never change.“  Her mother’s voice was breathy, airy, a little affected but steady and self-assured.  Carol turned with a kindly but somewhat tight look at June Wallace, petite with a work-out body.
“That includes all my daughters.”

“I don’t know, mum,” she responded.  “Spinning Earthward from orbit aboard a spacecraft in flames, or being tracked by  a pack of carnivorous Capellan razorbacks with hive-minds, those things have an impact on a girl—”

“I know, dear.  I mean—”

“Oh!” Carol interrupted right away.  “There was also a time, recently, when a sovereign potential ally of our people kidnapped me and kept me bound and gagged for purposes of sale into slavery.  There was that- -“  June stepped up close to Carol, leveled her with a gray-eyed stare.

“My daughter Carol remains one of the strongest ladies I know and she shouldn’t sell her mother short either,” June said.  She slipped an arm around Carol’s shoulder and drew her away from the others, from Jim.  “Carol, I’m only ever going to say this to you once.  Understand?”

Carol lost her resolve a little,  felt her shoulders slump as she realized no point to objecting to her mother’s problems with her Captain and her man.  “Yes, mum.”

“Your Captain may well be as I’ve always said, rather full of himself but… he’s more than earned that and he’s also a genuinely charming son of a gun.  He’s shown me more than enough respect — something my own brainy offspring is sometimes derelict in doing — and he strikes me as the rarest of a rare breed, a man who can naturally lead both green cadets and seasoned officers.  He knows and understands his space politics and he was able to put a smile on my face at the same time — just not quite the kind you wear whenever you talk about him.”

“Jim commands not just any starship. The Enterprise is one of a kind and that’s because of him. Her Captain. But— thank you, mum.”

“Both of you tread carefully, though.  My associates with an immediate ear to the echelon warn me that it’s up in the air as to whether your Captain receive the Soyuz Star-and-Cross for Conspicuous Gallantry or the business end of an Orion sharp-blade squad—”

Carol was about to answer with indignation when Jim interrupted them with a likeable natural swagger, coming up beside Carol.

“We’d better get back to the hotel if we want to get going for that early shuttle from Kelvin-Heathrow.”

Miriam joined them eagerly.  “Why not stay here over night?  I’ll make sure you get there on time.  You’re more than welcome, Jim.”

“I’m sure we are,” said Carol with a frozen half-smile as Jim turned to her mom.

“June, it’s been a memorable night.  A real pleasure finally meeting you.”

“And thank you,  James.  For everything.  Most of all for saving my daughter’s life.”

Jim approached June, nodding his head… and grabbed her upper arms, twirling her ‘round and setting her down with a quick peck to the cheek.  “Any time.  Your daughter’s one in a billion and means the world to me .”

Carol had buried her face in a hand, holding back her laughter at the taken look that overwhelmed the redoubtable June Wallace’s haughty, matronly propriety.

“Carol?

“Yes, mum?”

“He’s a keeper.”

“Told you she’d like me.”

For thirteen days and nights, they rode the whirlwind.  Scotty got away from the Daystrom people crawling every centimeter of Jim’s ship, his engines, and joined the Captain and Blondie, as he and McCoy had nicknamed Carol, bringing along Ensign Chekov, for his “education” on a proper Aberdeen pub crawl.

“This beer, Guinness?” Chekov said more than he asked on finishing his third pint.

“Forget the curry, Pavel,” Jim said. “That’s a meal in itself.” He raised his tumbler of scotch at his navigating whizz.

“You do like it, don’t you?” asked Carol, curious about the young man’s thoughtful, faraway expression. He’s on his way, she thought happily.
“It’s wery much like the soda ve drank as children in Russia. But not so sweet. Bitter.”

“I told ye, laddie. Y’get one “varnink” with your teenage brand of nonsense.”

“He turned twenty a while ago, Scotty,” Jim said, throwing an arm around his
engineer. “Our boy’s growing up.”

Later, when Carol slipped away to the bartender, ready to quietly put the night on her credit line, the stout woman with red-brown-gray hair shook her head. “This one’s on good, ol’ Monty.”

Carol looked back at the three men knocking back shots of Antarean “stim.” As they chased the alien insta-drunk, Scotty held up his pint glass and pointed toward Carol with barely a glance.

In the Free Republic of Dubai, Jim taught Carol, with her riding experience, to race camels; Jim had never actually ridden one before, either, but had led the Kilian brigade on Dakaaq in a charge on a gulla, like a camel in the way it moved and kicked and spat.  They climbed part of El Capitan ”til rainfall forced a wild, anti-grav descent in freefalll. They danced and drank and Carol had to pull Jim from a Carnivale street party gone fight-berserk in Rio. They dove deep and swam through the Caribbean surrounded by colorful tropical fish, some of them monstrous, transplanted to Earth from distant planets with compatible waters.

Jim assured her, as they sat at an isolated patio bar, overlooking the Atlantic on the coast of Belize as sports fishermen arrived and headed out in high, competitive spirits, that he’d been in contact with Admiral Komack and that the Daystrom people had requested a little extra time to finish up thoroughly which gave them a few extra days for their planned road trip. He told her they’d end up in Riverside so that she could see where he’d grown up and he’d put out word through channels to get his mother’s attention. First, he had other plans….

Jim borrowed a reproduction grav-steady sports car, a Ferrari, from an old friend, a fellow midshipman aboard the USS Cape Canaveral, from Jim’s second year of Command schooling, Walt Waldowski, living in Old Houston. Jim bombed along open roads, taking turns at crazy speeds, testing Carol’s nerves but she just sat straight and stared straight ahead. They slowed at a crossroads where a kilometers long warehouse hovertrain whipped past. Carol asked if she could have a turn at the wheel and Jim, sensing she was picking up a challenge he hadn’t intended, relented to her. Two hours later when they stopped at a service center to refuel and recharge that would have taken a sane driver nearly four hours to reach, Jim slowly turned his head to look at her and found her looking at him with wide, innocent eyes peeking over her sunglasses and a wide smile.

Shortly after, it was at that station somewhere between Old Houston and Corpus that things changed.  Jim received what he called a Command Conference comm as Carol readied the vehicle as two youngish male mechanics asked her about her unique ride jjust to speak to the drop dead blonde stranger with the sweetly shaped legs..

When Jim returned she knew they’d have to at last have that conversation; the bleakness she saw in him at the bar in the Cochrane Arms had returned.  He hadn’t entirely lost his sense of humor but he left her to joke around and he just smiled softly and nodded. It was entirely unlike him in her experience; even when she could sense he was in a dark place, he’d still try to ease her worry for him with a joke of some kind, usually one that was dumb and clever at once, throwing in a malapropism in otherwise legitimately difficult or formal circumstances. When an old pop song, a good twenty years out of favor blasted from the antique juked-radio, she sunk a little into the passenger seat when he didn’t join in with her, at first, energetic, sing-along.

He was short with strangers — waiters, cashiers, even a cop — he’d apologize only to grumble about them once they got driving.  She and Jim had planned to drive the States, maybe into Canada, to Nova Scotia and the ocean, but she complained about growing fatigued – – hoping her reasons weren’t too obviously the excuse she’d intended — and suggested they find some retrograde run-down Tex- Mex roadside motel. For fun. They’d head direct for Riverside the next day or the day after that.

She found The Fat Tuna an hour outside Corpus and it looked and felt a hundred years old, much as its yokel manager.  After they had checked in to their room and Jim threw some water on his face, he excused himself, claiming with what she
found an unconvincing sly grin, to want to find some local beer and Carol went to a surprisingly well-kept poolside to rest in the sun.  Instead she got dragged into a game of hoops with some kids traveling to a new home in Jacksonville and helped their youngest sister on her stroke in the pool.  The young girl recognized Carol as one of the most recent Olympics medal winners for two unrelated events in her own teen years, equestrian show jumping and two hundred meter freestyle swimming (It still made Carol grin at Jim’s outright laughter at the Princess Fisi of Parnussas Two’s confusion when Carol claimed the trick to winning was keeping her horse’s head above the water.)  As Carol and the girl dried off, Carol drawing the open stares of the basketball high schoolers, she picked up her chirping comm from her things.  It was Uhura.

“…I’m s—sorry?  Nyota…  Uh, Nyota, what are you talking about?” She listened for — she didn’t know how long…. time stretched and snapped like a ship slip-punching into warp… “No… Dammit, no! ….. oh gods,,,,”

Hours later, they were sharing a rack of sloppy ribs recommended well by the locals, with warm corn bread, Jim washing his back with ice cold beer at a ramshackle saloon near the motel.  They’d attracted attention the moment they’d walked in, partly because they were not only strangers, and notably attractive strangers, Jim, consciously or not, had the bearing of celebrity.  If folk didn’t know him by name, they none the less knew a hero when they saw one from somewhere.  He made some small talk once his name circulated the room – – “Wait, you’re that James T. Kirk, the one who saved the Earth?” “Yeah, twice, in fact. Once before I was even Captain. Second time, I died in the process and came back to life- -.” Carol saw he wasn’t quite joking, that he was almost talking to himself and nudged him sharply in the side— and he signed a few autographs but his moodiness kept people at arm’s length and they were wont to leave a man to himself.

He was distracted, watching the Austin NFL team play on an old-style three-dee holo ‘caster, drinking more cans of beer and, giving him his space, she chatted with some locals.  Despite the prevailing, long-standing shared world view, regionalism everywhere, in all the Earth’s nooks and crannies, was still common and Carol’s accent sounded as offworldly to some of the locals as those born on Beta Centauri.  They found it appealingly funny that she called their jukebox “cowboy music.”

She tapped Jim on the shoulder and with a twinkling smile, nodded to the dance floor.  He pulled himself up with resignation that first dismayed  her… but then she saw a genuine smile escape him as he swung her ‘round to the music.  As one of the juke songs ended, an old piano with a young bearded player tinkled to life and one of the servers, a girl who couldn’t have been eighteen yet, joined the pianist, standing by him to applause from locals who clearly took her as a favorite…

“I was dancin’ with my darlin’ to the Tennessee waltz, When an old friend I happened to see I introduced her to my loved one, and while they were dancin, my friend stole my true one from me….

Carol buried her forehead against Jim’s chest and he tilted her face up, leaning in to kiss her mouth.  She pulled away.

“I remember the night and the Tennesee waltz, Now I know just how much I have lost….

“Honey, what is it?” he asked.

“You.”

“You have me.”

“I—,”  she cut herself, buried her face against him again.

“What?  What do you want?”

“Shut up and dance with me.”

“Yes, I lost my little darling the night they were playing the beautiful Tennessee waltz…”

She relented to him and he drew up her look, kissing her a long time, long, wet with her murmuring his name again and again so that she thought she might need to sob… and explaining to herself that, if it came – – her tears – – she’d just have to explain herself later that night.

In their motel room, she and Jim lost themselves to almost teenage impulses, having to water down the sharp peach liqueur Jim bummed from the manager and their hands and mouths were all over each other.  Jim pealed away her fashionable baggy, cotton tennis shorts, his fingers finding and feeling the fitted lace of her lingerie and one of her hands moved up between his thighs, taking authoritative hold of him.  But if their bodies were alive like a couple of kids making newly passionate discoveries, their actual words were decidedly complicated, adult.

She asked him about how he’d really beaten Spock’s version of the Kobyashi Maru — the stuff of Cadet legend already — and how she thought that that had, in fact, cemented their abiding respect and friendship.  He asked her something more complex still – – if she were alone with Khan, out cold in his cryo tube, and could get away clean, would she pull the plug?  Her face clouded but she found herself  answering more quickly than she thought possible.  “It’s strange you ask me that – – good gods, you really know me—”  Jim’s communicator beeped and he checked the call signal.

“Sorry, Carol.  I have to take this.”

“No, Jim.  Please?”  But Kirk had already answered and was putting the room between him and Carol…

“No.  No, not tonight…  Because I can’t… ” he said to the other end, an indistinct electronic mumble of a voice. “Because I said so…. Is that so? That’s not what I was told this aftern- – I want to talk to her…. Now!”

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That’s all she got before he was out of earshot and she was pulling her clothes together and pouring more of the stiff Scnapps as she went and sat on the bed.  Jim returned and grabbed his leather coat, despite the night heat.

“Carol, I’ll have to take the car and bomb back to Houston.  I”ll be back two hours tops, on-pilot. I need the keys, uh, the starter to the car.”

Carol frowned and grabbed her handbag from the night stand.  As she dug through the bag, she pulled the ring of starters and asked pointedly, “Why are you lying to me?’

Jim reached for the ring as if she’d said something inconsequential, like asking about the weather or driving carefully at night.  “What are you talking about?  It’s just ship’s business.”

She held fast to the keys and said coldly, evenly.  “And what ship is that?”

“Carol- -”

She snapped at him now;  “Jim, you don’t have a ship!”

He stood over her, looked down on her, hands on his hips.  She wouldn’t, couldn’t be intimidated like that.  “I spoke to Nyota this afternoon.   She assumed I knew every officer and most NCOs were ordered to report and return to the Enterprise within forty-eight hours.  We’re launching two days after that.  With Mister Spock in temporary command.”

He held out a hand.  “Would you give me the keys, please?’

“Look, I know you too well to think you’re delusional but you’re not telling me the truth I deserve to hear.  So, I think if we can just talk this—”

“Goddamnit, Carol!  Can you for once get past your goddamn sense of high born entitlement and just do what I say?  Just give me the goddamn car keys!”

If he were any other man, she might have felt a twinge of fear – – there was real anger in his voice… but it wasn’t aimed at her – – he was so clearly broken up inside …. for him of all people to speak to her of all the women he knew like that- –

“Is that so?” she asked, holding up the keys.  “Is this a conversation you’re going to refuse having with me later, like you have all leave, or is that this sense of entitlement that’s got such a bug up you?”

Jim swiped the keys away from her.  “Oh, we’ll talk.  We’ll talk about Daystrom.”

“I beg your pardon? she replied a little astonished.

“Can you imagine how I felt when the CEO of the Daystrom Institute contacts me and thanks me for being so accommodating in indefinitely providing the services of my vitally necessary weapons specialist with classified research of her own devising.  Of course, I lied to them, told them it would be no problem at all.  Apparently it isn’t. I mean, what does my starship – – the one, y’know, out there, out exploring beyond known space — really need with an unequaled advanced technology specialist?”

Carol got up and got up close to him.

“Several differences, sir, between my… well, all right, my lies, and yours.  First, I wasn’t making any decision or planning any move until we were well into our post-mission refit- – a refit based on my designs, working with Mister Spock, Scotty, Leonard and, yes, you. That’s almost three years from now.  Also, I’m not sure what the hell I’m researching.  It’s so… germinal.  Just a dream.  And, finally, if it is worth pursuing, guess whose was the only real opinion that mattered to me.  Hmm?  Any ideas?”

Jim threw up a hand, angrily dismissive.  He turned and headed for the door.

“I won’t be gone long.”

She called out to his back, “How’d you know I’ll still be here when you return?”

He slowly faced her and they said it in unison as usual but somehow, for the moment, anyway, the humor wasn’t there.  “Because I’m Jim Kirk.”

They managed rueful almost-smiles.  She added, “Will you tell me why when you come back?  Why they took your ship again.”  She shook her head, “Maybe you weren’t meant to be a starship Captain but then I don’t know what the hell you would possibly do. You’re the best I’ve ever known.”

“Carol,” he said.  And hesitated. Carol had read, back in private grade school, about the so-called “face dancers” of Rigel Kentaurus IV, or “Gorshin,” as its discoverer, Captain Garth of Izar, had strangely named it. The “face dancers” were distinctly humanoid, their skin rainbow-hued, whose emotional states, in constant flux, were reflected in the almost hysterical movement of facial muscles; in fact, Carol remembered in a flash, Jim’s mother was the Starfleet anthro-officer who performed first contact years later – – it was Commander Winona Morrison-Kirk’s report Carol had read. Jim, ordinarily, and now, was no “face dancer”; in his most emotional state he’d likely speak honestly while keeping himself light and he might – – might – – in warranted circumstances, cry as he told her he’d done at the dying Chris Pike’s side. But everything was generally projected inward, dealt with, and expressed as action. But despite all this, despite the fact that his stare at her was practically frozen in place, she absolutely knew how deeply he meant what he was about to say.

“They took the Enterprise from me because I love you.”

Carol looked away, covered her face with her hand a moment, fathoming this bizarre sentiment and knew there was only one response, only one thing she wanted to say – – the one thing she’d never told him cleanly and simply without anything sardonic or self-deprecating, no caveats.

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“I love you Jim.  Come back to me because I love you.”

Jim approached Carol, taking her hands in his and kissing them.  “I’ll tell you everything.”  He eased her body back so that she was lying on the bed. “You have my word.”  He took hold of one of her ankles, her bare foot, and traced over the anklet he’d gifted her.  “Goddess.”  He lowered her foot, gently crossing one leg over her knee to her small giddy sigh.  Then he walked to the door and out the cheap motel room without looking back.  Carol watched him go.

She wouldn’t see him again for two hundred and ninety-seven years.

 

 

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