STAR TREK Beyond Forever part 1 chapter 3 Nautilus

29 12 2016

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Jim hadn’t gone swimming in the Indian Ocean in years— well, ten by his reckoning, nearing the end of his first year at Starfleet Academy. He hadn’t been given leave; an Academy Cadet didn’t get leave time even after a year like his freshman’s — they gave him, instead, an extended layover between his advanced medical and CAT scan in Kyoto, necessary for the new classes he’d been accepted for, and reporting for Corps Group on Djerba in Tunisia. Before the end of his first semester, he’d begun to make a name for himself separate from his dad’s legend; he was knocking Captain Pike’s expectations off the rails and even giving himself a laugh kicking his own bravado’s ass. He’d excelled in his least favorite work, computer research, several of the lab-based sciences, but it had been more than enough to get thrown into the Command school stream. “When they give me the center seat on an Akula or the refit Constitution class, just make sure my exec’s a Vulcan or a Betazed, someone good at pushing buttons,” he’d joke dismissively in the illegal makeshift officer’s club. “That’s all the use I’ll have for ’em.” For Kirk it was going to be a captaincy or nothing.

He asked for Starfleet S-SEALs for Command grades, not for the training traditions so much as the experiences in both planetary and space strategy and combat. Thinking and fighting. The brain and the phaser. Hell, by the time he was free styling low orbital jumps over Djerba to Olafsvik, he’d broken more than a few S-SEAL records completing the program in his Sophomore term, after less than a year and there was already talk amongst starship-assigned officers who served as teaching assistants in practical classroom training — Finney, Garrovick, Bob Wesley — that Kirk was a real “clap rail”, a rare bird who may well, like Alexander Marcus and Bob April, be promoted junior grade while still a cadet and have, on his graduation day, a deep space assignment already lined up, likely as the XO on one of the Big Twelve.

“We’ll all be taking orders from Admiral James T. Kirk,” Wesley joked as they drank in the actual officer’s bar, Bowman’s, in slow tumble geo sync on the way up to Clavius. Jim offered a profane response regarding Bob’s preferences among female cadets to laughs but didn’t say a word about all he wanted being the center seat and more than his father’s twelve minutes. He figured the Universe owed him at least for those twelve and what it didn’t give, he’d take. He could save everyone now as he swam the depths, doing what Admiral Parker convinced him only he could do. He could save Carol… he would save his love….

Was this rapture of the deep he was experiencing? Not in the medical sense — nitrogen narcosis; he’d made enough pressurized EVAs in space and deep sea dives, and that mind-numbing plunge into the thick sentient molasses that comprised U-Bas-Ni-Da, to recognize the shakes, the slurs, the purple-blue in the base of the fingernails… the angry confusion — this wasn’t that. It was the reverie, the disappearance of any dividing line between the stars and the sea, heavens and earth, time and space… Kirk reached out and pulled the steel pins from the weights on his lower arms, rolling up knees to chest and dropping them from his ankles. As the weights drifted away, Jim bobbed up in the water and rolled onto his back— and the rapture of the deep was gone. Above him, on the surface, was the harsh reality of the Ticonderoga, its silhouette stark against white emergency lights as it listed portside and small explosions continued rippling. The dark hulls of the destroyers Maddox and Turner Joy angled toward it. Kirk rolled back over, pulling himself forward with the strength of his arms and frog-kicks. He glanced at the plastic watch stitched into the rubber wrist cuff of the diving suit. It was synced to his air tank and showed he had just about five minutes of air, about half of his start, remaining — maybe more as his survival training made him capable of slowing his breath and making it shallow. That didn’t alter the fact that unless the Nautilus arrived, and soon, he’d likely drown to death in the middle of the vast Indian Ocean in August of nineteen sixty-four. He could try to smuggle himself back aboard one of the American destroyers— but the troubles up there were making that not only difficult, almost impossible; he also felt the need to stay away from it all as much as possible. He’d helped twist the universe and the fabric of reality enough for one day.

Kirk’s Academy grad class, the one on paper anyway, the one he arrived with, matriculating ’58, was the first to study time travel as a practical going concern, akin to the Prime Directive, First Contact protocols and the limits of alien negotiations and the options of combat. Until then, temporals were the the stuff of numbers, equations and likelihoods, complexities that engaged the minds of a Mister Spock or a Carol Marcus but that simply gave Jim a sharp pain between his eyes and that stabbed his temples. Traveling through time in practice, as Captain Archer had discovered, revealed in papers Jim had once been shown, and Chis Pike, too, on his first command, aboard the USS Oza Butte, witnessing the birth of Sol, involved paradoxes wrapped in larger paradoxes and he’d made it another boast about his likely Captaincy: no time travel. What was done was done and he was a young man of the here and now, moving shark-like forward.

Only there was now an American aircraft carrier burning above him on the surface of an Asian sea three hundred years before he was born and he was partly to blame. Not that Jim blamed himself or anything he had done; it was simply his presence that had set a number crunching twenty-four year old special agent from his time, the far future, on his way to making a deadly bad decision that had turned the non-existent Gulf of Tonkin Incident into something tangible— unless this was one a those pre-determinations he remembered from the Academy; that he was meant to do this and had always done it— ? Aw, forget it; he’d only got a passing grade in”Time and Space One-oh-One because he’d guessed right more often than wrong…

And there it was. Emerging from the swirling murk kicked up by the damages to the Ticonderoga, it was the Nautilus. Jim checked the watch and saw he had about two minutes to spare, almost three. Poor, young Toad had cut her fine and short. The submersible was larger than he expected — as long as half a city block you’d find in D.C. or New Berlin. Heavy up at the rounded bow, tapering to its stern lost in the dense waters. Fins along the sides and scattered bumps were likely sensor pods, perhaps even of future origin and could gain attention, Kirk thought. She was running without power, no lights and a still engine but that’s what Jim would have done considering a nuclear sub, the American LaFayette, was on the prowl.

In fact, he had essentially done the same thing just weeks before the ill-fated Captain’s Summit, ordering Scotty to cut power and guiding Sulu on a glide path through an asteroid field studded with debris from a centuries old forgotten war. A pack of Orion automated stalker-killers were hunting them after they’d reconned a shipyard edging into Federation space. “You’ve got a set on you, kiddo,” she’d said after he’d asked her politely to turn her guns on them the moment Sulu glanced back at him with a grin and a nod once they were clear.
The question was, even with its sensitive fins and sensor pods, how was he to attract the Nautilus’ attention with the rain storm and the falling pieces of burning circuitry panels hitting the water off the carrier and turning the Gulf into a sea of strange steam. Jim worked up the nerve and gave the senceiver its due. He concentrated, said softly, “James Kirk to Nautilus. I’m forward of your bow awaiting pre-arranged pick up. Nautilus?” He repeated the message, his breath growing short as his air supply thinned. And he got nothing in reply.
Kirk gathered his strength and swam the distance to the boat that grew closer. He studied the surface for metallurgical indications of a possible entry; seams, rivets, a sealed hatch if he was lucky. He ran a hand up along its hull side, considering just plain knocking, when he jerked his hand from the surface and kicked, pulling himself back and away. Even through the thick rubber and metal mesh of his scuba suit’s gloves, he could tell the difference between man-made manufacture and something organic, something alive.

Kirk had never seen an earth-native whale, the last remaining of the only species left having gone extinct several years before his birth. Attempts to clone the sophisticated creatures were flawed, short-lived. The whale before him rolled open yellow-black eyes twice the size of billiard balls, nested in rows and wrinkles of blubber and it slowly yawned its wide maw, revealing not the sharp teeth of legend but rows of soft, lightly hairy tissue called baleen. It drew in massive amounts of microscopic fish and shrimp and swirling vegetation like kale and kelp that Jim had been barely aware he was swimming though.
The whale paid Kirk no attention as he made his way up its great curved side and, taking hold of one of those dorsal lumps, pulling himself up and over. Treading water, Kirk was surprised to find an identical leviathan hanging close by. The second whale was taking up an unusual position, lowering its massive head and stretching its heavy shape upwards. It held its position with slow, steady waves of its thick, long flippers. It was making sounds. They were repetitive high squeals, each followed by a rumbling basso expulsion. Almost immediately, Jim had reason to believe the sounds were a summoning.
They appeared through the drifting, sinking graveyard of mechanical chunks of Crusader fighters and once nimble helicopters, Hueys, two more whales… then a third…. no, a fourth. They were of the same species, it seemed to Jim, but different sizes, different ages he suspected. A pod, that’s what a group like this was called, possibly all of the family.

The whale farthest from him, on the edge of the pod, began to glow. The strangeness of it grabbed hold of Jim and for the barest of moments, he imagined it some magical creature from the depths — but he could tell almost immediately that the light actually originated just behind the marine animal, silhouetting it. The light produced a flare effect, alternating red to blue — and there was a pattern to it, a pattern Jim easily recognized. It was Federation Basic Visual, Code Three, that simply identified a spacecraft by name and occasionally registry, destination and purpose. This message was kept bare bones. Kirk quietly recited as he read, “Submersible Nautilus. Nautilus on rendezvous. Signal rendezvous.” It repeated.

Kirk didn’t think about it. He didn’t concentrate particularly more than he would in any other difficult, challenging circumstances. He just spoke in a calm and quiet voice. “Nautilus, this is Kirk. I’m bow, portside. I—”

That’s all he got out— “We see you, Mister Kirk.” The voice was in his ear, so clear, so close, it was like his conscience out of a fable. He’d heard the next generation standard comm at a Sato School presentation and it made the current technology sound like an ancient compact disc player. This senceiver that Carol had played a part in developing defied effective description. “You’ve got just enough oxygen in your body and your gear. We’re bringing you in by soft beam.”
Before Kirk could reply, he was tugged forward, drawn along beyond his control. Even a ship as large and powerful as his Enterprise left a crew, after experiencing a tractor beam, with slight shakes. The soft beam, however, was like a caress. It was used at disaster scenes and the evac of the most severe Starfleet combat wounded, not unlike these Hueys that had intrigued Kirk since arriving “in country.” It didn’t give you the shakes; at worst it provided bed spins, like knocking back a half dozen “instant drunks” such as Romulan ale and having a friend help you home with a warm arm around your shoulders.

Then the pod broke up and with surprising urgency, moving their bulk more quickly than Kirk would have expected and he knew they sensed something beyond him. This was their environment. A massive jagged piece of the retrieval crane from the Ticonderoga’s conning tower hit the water nearby hard, bubbling and steaming, the metal popping, as it twisted and sunk. It was used to pull aboard salvageable wreckage from fighters whose jocks had screwed the pooch and hit the water on a screwy landing, misjudging the slab of tar the dimensions of a football field heaving up, down and sideways. Even torn to shreds by an explosion aboard the Ticonderoga, it was so heavy it would have chopped even a whale in half.

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Jim intuitively balled into a fetal shape in useless defense, finally banging into the curved hull of the Nautilus. Less than a stretched arm away a hatched rolled open and Jim saw and felt hands in heavy rubber scuba gloves reach out. They took strong hold of him and drew him into the inky dark of the sub’s air space. Kirk looked back and saw past the carrier’s burnt up detritus one of the whales. They were all swimming onward through waters that had served as a staging area for centuries of passing, petty human conflict. The leviathan Kirk could see most clearly was propelled by great movements of thick tail fins, its flukes, that seemed to waving farewell to the stranger from outer space.





STAR TREK Beyond Forever part 1 chapter 2 Negative Sea Room

18 12 2016

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It was the loveliest, sweetest and, to him, the most damn near perfect sensation he’d ever known. Soft and gentle and barely there, like the hint of her Elaasian Chanel she’d touched to her body. Then the sensation just that much harder, firm — her lips on his.

“Wake up, sleepyhead.”

That musical voice and it’s delicate yet unwavering tone with the suggestion of cool confidence, sophistication…. a low-key uncompromising certitude…. As he opened his eyes, she slowly pulled away. Those wide eyes that danced when she was happy. That smile. Leaning over him, the smooth bob of her light golden hair that stood out against the deep crisp blue sky on a warm summer day. She went to speak- –

There were several hard raps on his little cabin’s door and they were delivered in a hushed rush. It meant only one thing.

Tonkin, nineteen sixty four— an impossible…. something— a mission- –

“Open up.” Jim recognized Toad’s dull So Cal twang as his head stopped swimming and treaded deep water. There was a stock still sense of foreboding in the Thirty-One’s voice that his casual drawl couldn’t disguise.

“Yeah,” Jim groaned quietly, pulling himself from his cot and throwing on his O.D. tee shirt. His mind spun, color without shape. Carol, where – -? Had she been a dream? A memory? Desire, plain and simple? Realizing, he groaned with a sickly mix of realization and recognition, snapping to with a Captain’s strength, a Captain’s clarity, something he’d decided upon after much struggle…. the only way he could do what he was here to do…. There was no Carol.
There couldn’t be.

There was none of her confusion about his disappearance, none of the fear. There was no anger and disappointment in her sense of abandonment. There was also no curved softness and muscle hardness of her lovely physical self, the light aroma of her skin, the assured authority of her hands on his body. No airy laughter that could turn earthy-full. No seriousness of mind, one of mental rigor and brilliance. The look he caught her stealing of him after breaking tragic news to Chekov about his brother, it had never happened. No, and there was no Carol with him on Idar ….

Carol could no longer be the sole member of the search team from long distant Enterprise to find him on Idar, in the desolate spike-hills, who threw down phaser fire as she lay across his broken body that had been beat down by desperate dilithium prospectors who’d heard about the price on his head, put there by Klingon agents after his finding Harrison on Kronos – – war criminal Kirk’s “murderous rampage” – – and he’d collapsed into a craggy, damp black abyss ringed with off-angle, rocky dagger ‘mites as poisonous Hessish welks dropped from from the walls, slithering and squirming at them with ugly, gaping maws filled with rows of poison-tipped yellow incisors, some of them mutations with two or three fanged mouth-holes. As she burned them down one after another with precision, as they sprung at him, weak and wounded, their corpulent-jelly shapes like three feet of diseased human liver, she also tended Jim’s wounds as best as her abilities and circumstances allowed. She’d maintained a bedside manner he’d appreciate and respond to — assured, no-bullshit professionalism, dark humored with a touch of anger and don’t-talk-back discipline.

“You’re going to get your ass moving Captain, sir! You godsdamned genius level, full of yourself—! Just when I was getting used to your nonsense— You’ve got a hell of a nerve, Jim—” She had snapped off a pitched staccato of phaser shots as she pulled the hypo’s safety free with her teeth. Spat it out.”Stay with me, you, godsdamn smart ass! Jim!”

But the edge in her voice was leaving her, had become reedy, thin at best. Desperate. The no-nonsense disciplinarian choked on her words, The encouraging make believe of those words had even lost their confidence as she weakly prepped and hypo’d a heavy duty pain killer…. “Jim, you died once already….” Those words had turned to mush…. “Once is enough…”

Afterwards she admitted to Jim that Ensign Boone ‘s report didn’t mention how far gone she was when she was first spotted with him, one arm protective-tight across his twisted body, the other locked in place, pointed outward intensely clacking useless phaser-blobs of powerless color. Security had descended with bellicose repelling down the dagger-shaft, Group Chief Hendorf barking orders. Before the team had even hit ground, they were phasering Hesh to ash, most of the fat, flightless wasps burrowing t. When Ensign Boone had pulled her to her feet — with her, at first, grabbing for Jim as Security took him from her — she’d straightened herself, running a hand through her hair as a token of presentability, and said in a cool, steady voice that hitched just a little at first, “Ensign, tell your C.O. I’m ready to make my report.”

Even her courage, that was gone now. It had never been.

All there was was that, that… thing out there, a mysterious monster of a machine from the year twenty-two sixty hanging deep jn the gray-blue of the Tonkin Gulf on Earth of what was then called Vietnam late the night of August third, nineteen sixty-four. There was another round of rapping on his cabin door as he threw cold water on his face from a stainless steel basin passing for a sink. My god, he thought, they packed ’em in tight, had a real sense of humor promoting military state of the art. Hell, he joked to himself, he was the elite of the Elite, a fighter jock, thanks largely to the kid on the other side of his cabin door. Toad knocked insistently, his casual, bouncy sing-song turning into an urgent hiss. ” Jim, we’re pushin’ it here. We gotta talk.’

Jim went and pulled back his cot’s mattress. He grabbed the old, unmarked police thirty-eight Toad had confoundingly slipped him shortly after he boarded a few weeks ago. Toad, whom he’d known all of eighteen hours and had assumed him to be just the eager dumb recruit he seemed, had made a comment, unsettling at the time, that he figured Jim could always use something extra in case of losing his service forty-five with what the crew was rumoring to be their carrier’s “covert activity” – – in case of having to open up on a threat or are prevented from going hand to hand.

Toad’s harsh whisper, left no more room for playing the kid’s fiddle. “Sir! Quit horsin’ ’round. Lemme in. Now!” The moment Jim had slivered open the door, Toad pushed his way in and past. As Jim slipped the door shut, Toad held his hands up, palms open as a passing signal of civility. “Everything okay?” he asked, seriously concerned. without seeing the humor in it.

Kirk, however, nearly laughed out loud at the absurdity. “Why wouldn’t it be?” Now Toad was sharing Jim’s grin and Jim settled by nature back into being a commander.

“Time?”

“About an hour, more or less— well, seventy-four minutes if you’re counting. And we are. Hey, any a that hard stuff left in that flask?” As Jim pulled the silver from a back pocket, Toad found two plastic cups and, held them out for Kirk to pour. Falling back with his warmish straight vodka on the cot, his back against the bulkhead, Toad said, “Now, we can afford for you to take forty minutes to pull your shit together, work out, meditate, whatever—” The young Thirty-One j.g., warming to the former starship Commander’s deadpan, none the less had responsibilities and, as Jim read him, the edginess in his energy was just this side of panic. “Might as well finish ‘er up,” Toad’s lightness a pretense, too, as he took up the flask, poured another shot— Jim waved him off as the kid went to top him up. Kirk could see from the younger man’s growing grin, Toad could guess at the question he knew was coming from his charge.

“Toad, how’d you know the ETA of my transport so precisely? You called her, what, the Nautalis?” Lord almighty. Kirk frowned at the name; “Seventy-four minutes- -?” A mystery gave him a bellyache. “A mission like this plays by its own ear, no pre-arrangements. Too many variables. And if the Nautlis coded you on a mission this important—” he was thinking aloud but, reading Toad’s reactions, knowing Toad knew exactly what Kirk was after. “They’d need to go narrow beam. Even given the era.”

Toad nodded then shrugged it off. “Too risky, yeah. It would still have to get to me and only me somehow.” ( “My, gods… I’m mind gaming with James T. Kirk,” his enthusiasm an easy read for Jim. )

“I’d think a cloak ’round ’em would make ‘er easier, stealth, they were calling it. But it was drawing board stuff at the time. If the Nautilis became compromised—” Toad watched Jim’s mind take one of its storied leaps… “No. That must mean…” Kirk knew the implications and they were actually personal. “You’re seriously telling me you’re wearing a senceiver?”

Toad had become an absolutely smug bastard. “We don’t say you’re wearing a senceiver. You are one.”

Kirk was up and pacing, staring hard inside. “Carol was in on the early development team,” (there is no Carol… there is no Carol)…. “The Science Council threw everything, all her hard work, out the airlock after they’d abandoned the proposal, the technology, as too research heavy, the investments too prohibitive.”
“Well,” the Thirty-One operator said, considering the implications, realizing there were none — just the deadly grim reality of Kirk’s mission — “Doctor Marcus was completely honest with ya, as far as she knew. That is, as far as things went. There were the regs. Yknow, nondisclosures. And Sciences did put Ludwig on ice for a while. That’s what they were calling the senceiver early on, ‘Ludwig’—”

Jim had had enough of this nonsense and cut Toad off with a wave. A short little wave, but tight, and geared to take charge. Jim registered the Lieutenant’s deferral — he was still the Captain, even if he’d had to relent to Eleanor’s disavowal of him from Fleet for the record and public shaming with the press… and, even then not for two hundred and ninety-seven years, now, his time. “So, Section Thirty-One and Science Council patrons go to bed together for mutual advantage. My guess, considering Carol’s rare talents, is that all of her most advanced work that was sent to Daystrom and the Cochrane testing grounds on Alpha Centauri for supervised R and D was actually handed over to Section Thirty-One privatized science labs where it could be quietly weaponized.”
“I’ll give ya this much,” Toad reverted to his casual swabbo friendliness. “Your Nightingale Woman believed in taking on the impossible.”

“Yes.” Jim’s tone became airless, heavy. “Yes, she does……

“Well?” Her smile sweet, the cocking of her head entirely mocking in its innocence, she prompted, “It’s your move.”

Jim was down to a baggy pair of black swimming trunks—oh! And the tags on a silver string that he’d kept from the Groom Lake fly-and-fire tests as a Cadet. As he studied the game pieces on the tri-boards carved-from-Boar Eels’ tusks, into the exotic hydro-Avian stalkers and fishers of Canopus, where she found it for him at a lake-market, he put on the one smile that he knew effectively swung her up in his arms. “Don’t tell me. You’re distracted by my muscular, manly physique?” He made an intentionally silly look of seduction toward her as his fingers took up a Rook advanced it to level two— no! Three. More daring. That’s what the citizens of the Federation expected from him dammit! She flicked a look at him, cool and pretend-testy, the icy, beautiful blonde Brit making her indifference, her imperial haughtiness, convincing and, to him, strangely compelling. If it weren’t for the telltale little crease hinting sly humor dimpling the right corner of her lovely mouth….

“No fear, Mister Genius level,” she replied to his smiling come hither, studying the complex multi-dimensional chessboard on the low Japanese table between them in his cabin — she was so damn fetching in that Royal Blue-Black Klingon kimono of his and the deep red vee-neck Fleet issue tee large enough to touch her thighs — and confidently moved up a Knight, cutting off Jim’s Rook’s value. “I’ll go to town on you after I’ve beaten you a few more times.” The phoney innocence of her bearing was replaced by a hint of genuine carnality.
His ship was dead reckoning close to Aldeberan awaiting rendezvous with the deep space survey cruiser USS Mare Ingenii. Crewed by midshipmen and cadets before their first assignments, Captain Cregg had sent irritated word they’d be late by half a star day due to shaky warp fields the kids were inexperienced with. While the milk runs and long mapping patrols were driving him mad, as he recovered from broken ribs, a punctured lung and the welts of the Hesh stings, Jim at least could spend private time alone with her. “You’re in deep, my friend,” Bones had told him, retaping his bandages, “You actually have two “she””s you’ll give yourself over to now.”

Earlier in Jim’s risque variation on her favorite distraction since childhood — he’d literally lost his shirt to her, first match; “Strip three-dimensional chess? Our resident Grand Master who, I remind you, is also your First Officer, wouldn’t approve let alone be amused,” she had observed. “Aw, the guy’s a spoilsport. Check mate. I just won your bra.” — he’d mentioned some subspace chatter spreading amongst the Line grade starship Captains to the effect that Section Thirty-One, Starfleet’s covert espionage and combat agency in which her father played a key, fateful role leading to his death, had only cloaked itself in the intervening years since the Harrison/Khan nightmare and was, in fact, working its will through the Science Council’s development initiative so that the Federation, in spite of its better Angels,had begun embracing an imperative of interstellar “aggressive defense”, opposing the Klingons ever-increasing ‘sense of Galactic Manifest Destinys. Such chicanery no longer left Carol baffled; a parent’s betrayal saw to that.

She’d come to realize that while Alexander Marcus’ support and pride in her show-off years was genuine, every solicitation of her scientific gifts, first as a Grad school Cadet and then as an officer, was now tainted, Khan’s crew encased in their cryo-tubes proving the only thing he’d never swung past her. To her, Section Thirty-One’s machinations were personal, with her dad’s sycophantic ally and newly appointed replacement, Admiral Eleanor Parker, repainting his legacy into something less shameful. Carol told Jim that, technically it was all above board, that the Science Council could do whatever it chose with research they had initiated, that they were not liable in any way, even on the floor of the UFP itself. The only proviso, likely, was that to avoid conflict of interest, or at least its appearance, Thirty-One, as a Special Section of Starfleet, would have to employ privatized labs and scientists to take the research to prototype. None of this really surprised her, just disappointed her, as she’d figured it as inevitable when Sitar of Vulcan, head of the Council, had invited her to dinner to sever her team’s connections with the senceiver project months before her dad had shut her out of his new torpedo design advancement and coincidentally the day she and her small team of creative bio-techs made their breakthrough with “Ludwig.”

“Our discovery, such as it was, was hardly a revelation, just proof it could be a new mass-produced technology for the lowest bidder.”

“What was it, the breakthrough?” he’d asked.

“Oh, you know. Just a speck of dust,” she answered with a casual shrug..

“Huh?” Jim managed after no further explanation seemed forthcoming.

The mote of dust was, actually, the smallest working computer circuit ever created. With all the dimension of a wisp of what’s-it, it none the less had the output power of Uhura’s entire main board. The microchip was encased in a harmless organic liquid and short-hypo’d in the arm, no different than the way they got inoculations as children. Once in the system, a medi-nanite guided the mote that served a practical, non-detectable purpose as a mock-corpuscle, and it nestled and burrowed at the carotid artery by the brain stem and released a sense depressor, like a kind of low yield narcotic, that opened one’s self as a receiver from a sender. Kirk had balked; he couldn’t get behind that kind of weirdness but Carol assured him that the first trials on one hundred test subjects just before she left the project had scored an unprecedented eighty-three percent positive. Receivers trying to send was a different story; she’d only known that to reach twelve percent on a good day. Doing that took a unique kind of mental discipline.

“Actually,” she said, nearly with a a short laugh. “You’d make an ideal fit. In many ways.”

“How so?” He slid his other Rook around and behind that Knight, taking one of her many pawns he’d ignored the whole game.

“Just before I walked away, I left some project notes including the best and worst people, well, kinds of people, for inclusion in the next test run. For one thing—” she absently slid her Knight off the Rook and back across Level three— “They needed to be an independent thinker and, my dashing Captain, you’re pretty much the most free-spirited man I’ve ever known let alone become—” Kirk stared at her expectantly, making his features as still as he could — a handsome mask. “Someone I could almost tolerate.”

“And for another?” he asked and, as she answered, deliberately elevated his remaining Bishop right in striking range of that Knight.

“You’re a free thinker but one who understands discipline, responsibility, the chain of command and you balance those two influences with, well seeming ease.” She looked at him. “And a degree of charm.” She scooped away his single Bishop with her Knight, never taking her eyes off him…. and couldn’t fight the proud-with-herself smile that started forming….

Jim slid his now free Rook across Level Three to where he’d maneuvered her Knight and casually took the piece. Carol went to make her next move but, stopping abruptly, she’d studied every inch of the tri-boards quickly, expertly.
“What the hell did you just do?”

Now Jim played all innocent. “My dear, beautiful woman, sometimes you overthink yourself. I just put you in check mate. That’s all.”

She leaned back on her elbows, stared at the chess pieces slowly shaking her head. “You son-of-a-b—”

“Uh, hey,” Jim interrupted, holding out his arms, pointing back at himself with his thumbs. “Genius,” he reminded her.

She blew out a stream of frustration, slipped the kimono from her shoulders and started to pull off the tee shirt. “You want this, I suppose. Well, let me tell you, kiddo, I’m way ahead on points and I’m not leaving til I can hang your bathing togs on the bulkhead behind my bunk.

“Carol, stop. Hold out your hand. Your left hand.”

She gave him a curious little look then did as he asked. She was wearing a family heirloom, a light gold wristwatch from the late twenty-first century made to look like it came from an even earlier time, the mid-twentieth. Jim took care undoing the clasp and slipped it from her slim wrist. He finally looked over at her. She was actually almost blushing……

“She told me when she was briefly there for the live test phase, there were some unexpected positives. Something about a fishing village in Finland?”

Toad shook his head. “I’m not privy to much on Thirty-One’s Alpha Level tech., just took the hint from the leaders in my Division. They don’t encourage questions. But, yeah. It’s actually a town in Norway. Finse. Apparently everyone scores a near perfect positive every time. Men, women, kids.”

“What about kids? In general.”

“Almost always high scores. Up until puberty, I think. I understand guys like you also adapt well to the tech, and quickly.”

“Guys like me? Starship Captains.”

“No, those results are uneven. Friend told me they always get tossed. I’m talking high intensity thrill-seekers and athletes. Y’know, your basic rock climbing, deep sea diving, low orbit jumping crazies.”

“Hmm. Jokers who can deal with time travel. Return ticket not included. ” Jim’s lowered tone, his immobile features, his narrow stare brought Toad leaning forward but Jim waved him off.

“Look, I didn’t mean to sound like a—” Toad began apologetically for his unwillingness to be more forthcoming.

“Easy, Toad. But there is one thing I’d be grateful for you to explain.”

“Of course. If I can. For sure. What is it?”

“I was just curious as to why you spiked my drink with your, uh, your Ludwig. Unless Russian blend vodka of the era distilled in Old Ho Chi Mihn normally tasted like rubbing alcohol strained through Admiral Archer’s medicine cabinet . You did just stick a senceiver in me?”

Toad rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms and, pulling his hands away, let out a short, quick expulsion of the breath he was holding. “Uh, I could apologize. Or I could deny it, lay some routine on you. But I won’t. I was told — directly by Admiral Ellie herself — to make sure you were senceivered. Just for the op.”

“Why?”

“You think someone in my position expects an Admiral to explain herself ? Maybe she’s hoping whatever you report can be used in whatever political game she’s playing. “Y’see, every- -” He broke off- – but barely for half a moment before jumping right in, the brevity of the pause suggesting to Jim the young agent was playing straight up. “Every sensciever comm message gets recorded – – I could explain how if I had an M Two handy and about three hours to spare – – then it’s, cataloged and stored in an orbital dyna-matrix at some secret Daystrom facility.”

Jim shrugged Toad’s anxiety away. “Don’t make a difference now, Agent Thirty-One. My time’s running out.”

“What you gotta understand is everyone below a certain green sheet grade in my Section is a ghost. It’s even gone worse since Admiral Marcus. We’re all ghosts of ghosts now and I’m barely even that, being green. I’m disposable.”

“Must be some grunt to get assigned the highest priority assignment since, well, ever. Maintaining the future of humanity — if Admiral Eleanor’s to be believed. A dicey scenario given she’s barely told me a damn thing.”

“I just do as I’m told. Makes my life easier. Don’t get me wrong, I know something about your previous experiences with Section Thirty-One but for what it’s worth, me and everyone I work close with are as loyal to the oath as you get. As I know you are. We’re fierce Starfleet. Naturals.”

“I don’t doubt it, Toad. Not for a minute.” Despite himself, Jim found himself liking the young espionage agent..

To think, about an hour ago he’d nearly chucked Toad over the side of the ship.

Jim had, in a brief struggle, knocked him from the wing of the derelict and was surprised to see him twist defensively mid-air, landing on his side to protect his head from the hard deck. He immediately sprung to his feet, taking on the classic offense/defense-ready position taught in Starfleet Academy’s required Basic Hand-to-Hand. That, the fact he knew Carol’s song, and that he’d been finding ways to make Jim’s life alone tolerable since he boarded at Pearl provided the only answer to his identity. He approached the j.g., deliberately leaving himself open to attack to see what the kid had going. Toad’s swings were by-the-book proficient bu unrelenting and smartly placed. Jim dodged them in a way to frustrate his opponent but Toad maintained an even strain and Jim soon had had enough and delivered a fast, sharp jab to Toad’s mid-section, winding him. Jim grabbed hold of Toad, spun him and yanked one of his arms up high between his shoulder blades.

“You’re Thirty-One? Section Thirty-One.”

“Of course I am. What else could I be?” Toad gasped painfully.

Kirk looked around. The rain was loud enough against the hard top, like a tattoo going mad. He saw a line of boxy maintenance sheds for quick, last minute jet engine repair. He frogmarched Toad across the deck, shoving him into the work room of one of them, releasing him. Toad spun on Jim with no sense of threat just a look of annoyance, frustration, as if he wanted to get a move on.

“I know for a fact, sir, that Admiral Eleanor herself or one of her most trusted associates told you you’d have help waiting for you this side. How else do you get into a Navy on the edge of war. Get assigned to a line Carrier at what certain highly placed officials know is going to be the thick of it? How do you get assigned to an A squadron as a fighter pilot so fast and without question?”

Jim thought on it— Toad’s point was pure crystal and inarguable. From the protective metal walls, the rain dancing across the roof sounded like bacon popping as it crisped on the stove Sunday morning. He flashed on the occasional and irregular week-end brunch aboard the Enterprise with Nyota and Bones wrestling control from the ship’s dietitian and Mess Officer, Lieutenant Choy, then trying to out do each others’ old family favorites. Family… “My crew is my family, Kirk. Is there anything you would not do for your family…?”

“Uh, look, someone could walk in on us,” Toad impressed on Jim.

Kirk frowned and with a frustrated sigh ordered, “My quarters.”

Toad nodded and immediately led them out the shed.

In Kirk’s cabin, Toad could answer few of Jim’s questions, not from secrecy, as one might expect of an espionage trained Starfleet agent assigned Section Thirty-One but because he was essentially an analyst better with stats than political troubles troubles though he’d shown skill in role playing on field jobs. Like most of Starfleet, he knew almost nothing of whatever really had knocked Jim down – – and didn’t ask – – but his obvious admiration of the man made him not even consider it within the realm of possibility. But then here he was aboard an American warship on the eve of an official outbreak of a useless war that was. none the less, a vital historical event, with that same remarkable young Officer who essentially had a death sentence hanging ’round his neck. Toad, was there to facilitate Jim’s next step on a mission that Toad knew would likely kill him.

Jim knew he’d impressed the kid by reputation alone but had earned his respect as well by taking him seriously with questions Toad could answer about the next step demanded by the mission. “So our rendezvous, that’lll be my staging area for the target?”

“The sub’s the Nautalis. She’s period convincing though I’m told she’s got a few unique special features. Our new allies are running things from there for the Admiral—”

“I met them when I last reconned with Parker in Texas.”

Toad nodded, studying Kirk, seeing the weariness. “Get some rest, sir. You’ll need to be on top of things. I can use the time to double-check ship’s status and figure out Nautalis’ likely approach vect—’

Jim had gone and stretched out on his cot.

“I’ll be back in about twenty minutes…

Later, his suspicions regarding Toad’s orders vis-a-vis the senceiver and his plans for facilitating his disembarking the Ticonderoga for this sub, the Nautalis, settled to his temporary satisfaction, Jim sorted to the few belongs he’d brought aboard ship, discarding most, wrapping the others in pages from a Navy newspaper and stuffing them in his small canvass carry bag.

“Toad, let me ask you something-”

“How does a punk like me draw this one?” Toad asked in response to Jim’s query before he could ask it.

“Yeah.”

“Partly because, after two years of carefully chosen assignments, outta the office, I proved a pretty good deep cover.”

Kirk pointed at him, casually. “That’s why you didn’t just come up to me and say, ‘Hi, I’m from the future just like you,” when I came aboard?”

“Had to get a sense of who you are— beyond the growing legend. Mainly though, I was chosen specially because I think in numbers. English is just the language I have no choice using. I know time travel equations like commuters know the shuttle schedule out of Tycho. I guess it’s… well, numbers never disappoint you. They are just what they seem to be.”

That hung there a moment, against the low rumble of the Ticonderoga herself, a sound not entirely dissimilar to the thrum the systems on his ship made at sub light glide. And the eternal moaning of the sea, like the lonely cries of all it had swallowed. Toad jumped to his feet.

“Damn, we”re down to twenty-five minutes. And knowing her skipper, they’re running ahead of schedule. You….” Toad paused, struggled lightly with possibilities… “Get yourself in the place you gotta be while I check who’s working the bridge and I’ll run through our course one more time—that reminds me….”

He dug a folded paper from his back pocket, handing it to Kirk who opened it to find a crudely outlined shape of the carrier,with a few details, bulkheads drawn in, a winding line of red. “I’ve seen you walking the ship, figured you were memorizing the lay out. Study this. It’s how I’m going to get you where you can hit the water best for the Nautilis. Then destroy it. Burn it, tear it up and flush it. Just—”

Kirk was already studying the blueprint, ordering distractedly., “Get a move on, Lieutenant.”

Toad hesitated as if to speak, turned and started for the door.

“Toad,” Kirk said, bringing the Thirty-One agent to a stop. “You said you pulled this detail mainly for your math and science…?” He could see the the conflict over his response jumping around in eyes magnified some by the old fashioned spectacles growing popular again in their century

“When I found out who they were sending on this… terrible mission. Like I said, I didn’t believe for a second what they were accusing you of. Not the way they said it happened anyway.’

Kirk started to respond but let it go.

“The idea of sacrificing, hell, maybe their best officer — certainly the best Captain of the main line — makes no sense to me, tactical or otherwise. And though I’ll regret having to be one of the instruments of your sacrifice, it’s a great honor to have worked with you, Sir. Captain Kirk.”

“Thanks, Lieutenant,” Kirk replied simply and jerked a thumb toward the door. Toad’s body language noticeably relaxed leaving Jim aware the young officer had likely wanted to get that off his chest since greeting him while doing a quick fix of his Crusader’s shorted lightboard after his first flight out.

“Right,” Toad muttered, fumbling his way out of the cabin. He stopped and turned back to the living legend, the casual banter of their’s as they befriended one another an ingratiation. It was a look Kirk recognized from everyone, it had seemed, since his defeat of Khan sent him though the other side and back again, saving the Earth from a powerful mad man and, perhaps war with a hostile empire as he defied what couldn’t be defied. Speaking in an almost tremulous whisper that unnerved Jim, Toad said, “Captain, if its ever discovered what I’m about to tell you, I’m blackballed from Thirty-One.”

“Toad?’

“One of the hot dogs on the Nautilus, Parker’s agents or the Captain – – he’s one of us – – will explain the workings of your senceiver— but basically it’s like talking to yourself without speaking. You run the receiver’s code you’ve been given through your head ’til you hear a tone, like a dog and a high-pitched— uh, hell. Here.” Toad pulled out another folded slip of paper, this one with hand scribbled five digit codes that Jim read over several times. “What they won’t tell you about it is highly classified. Understand?”

Jim nodded .

Toad’s vocal stresses had become tentative, yet a warning as well. “The code at the bottom there?” He reached past the Captain, laid a finger on a set of numbers but this one was followed by a short string of letters. “Run this one through your head and it will actually record onto the Ludwig inside of mine and be sent to that matrix at Daystom on Alfa Caranae Two.”

“A fail safe.”

“Presuming, as we must that you’re not returning home, I can download the message — readable only highest-rated — and dispatch it privately to…” He hesitated. “Whomever you want it sent to”

“Whomever I want,” Jim repeated slowly, in a way that suggested his suspicions.

“I can’t promise anything. Except to say…. there’s a pretty good chance it’ll work. In which case you can tell…. her… whatever you have to.”

“Toad, thanks but—” Jim shook his head. Sort of.

“Captain, remember, we likely got one shot at this. Time’s nearly up and once we get ‘er in gear, things could turn hairy fast.” He saw Jim frown as if a little taken aback.

“American military slang of the era.” Kirk tiredly shook his head. He clearly understood Toad’s meaning. All that military history he’d read for years and all those ancient pre-holo’ movies she’d had him watching.

“Thanks, Lieutenant,” Jim said and Toad could hear both the gratitude and, clearly, the rejection.

Toad nodded his understanding and said off handed as he left, “I’ll be back pretty damn soon. Have your gear ready in your pack.’ As he closed the door behind him, he casually made something more than a suggestion. “Pack your service weapon but I want you to have the cop’s revolver I gave you handy.”
Kirk was about to object but Toad closed the door and was gone.

Kirk drew the thirty-eight from his waistband and tossed the pistol by his gray-blue shoulder bag on the foot of his cot. He gave the blueprint a once over, nothing more. He’d been aboard and poking around long enough to have committed the aircraft carrier’s lay-out to almost instant recall. The codes with the sender/receiver’s initials, he couldn’t trust to memory so he tore them off and stuck them in a pocket. Only he and Toad would understand them. He took the blueprint and drew his Navy zippo with the Ticonderoga’s logo engraved on it,, lighting it up. He dropped the burning paper in the basin and, staring a moment more, doused it. He screwed up the remains in an unreadable wet ball and dropped them in the plastic waste paper basket by the useless, tiny table meant to pass as a writing desk. He looked up and saw himself reflected back in the porthole, a dead-eyed golem who just looked like Jim Kirk.

“Where are you?” he thought. “Your time to show’s nearly gone.” It had been short timing him, cheating him, since the night he’d swung Pasha Klimt’s razor sword in a blur at the thuggish Orion leader himself and knew immediately there’d be hell to pay.”Godamnit”, he cried out in his head. “This is the only time I’ve ever expected anything from you, and I want you here now. Son of a bitch, I need you.”

He was calling angrily„ almost helplessly„ on the magic.

Of course, he didn’t use that word specifically and it never would of occurred to him to actually say it aloud. In fact, it never would have occurred to him — whatever it was — to really think about it all. just like those test jet pilots and early astronauts from three centuries before him that he so enjoyed reading about in that vintage antique hardcover book, and how they didn’t literally think of having “the right stuff.” All Jim knew for sure was the worse things got, the faster he could yank the rabbit from the proverbial hat.

The Magic, like “the right stuff,” wasn’t just simple, understandable bravery, though such bravery was the easiest way to describe it. Experience stirred it up and drove it and he’d gone farther faster than any other human being. Ever. To the extent he’d voyaged right through the shadowy undiscovered country and came back again even stronger.. There were the crazy desires of boyhood swallowing the sprawl and throb of the entire untamed Earth, the red-hot smarts of those roller coaster years and the smartassery as well. The Magic was the magic courtesy of anyone who knew failure well. But most of all, The Magic was precisely Unknowable . Ineffable, Not the Magic of sawing some some woman in half or smashing a stranger’s time piece into unusable, irreparable detritus. It wasn’t that kind of showmanship. It was the Magic that compelled people, general strangers of all ages, to follow him beyond the farthest star and do just about anything, no matter the danger or the hopelessness — men, women or aliens with only the barest skeletal understanding of human nature.

But the Magic, if that’s what you chose to cal it, had vanished without making a sound. I ,just wasn’t godamn there any longer. He could blame someone else for it – – Klimt and his sickly, bloated sense of pleasure and power, Admiral Ellie’s manipulations that had made him give his best to her, Spock and his logic, Carol and her… Carol – – Kirk’s hand balled into a tight fist, flew up and cracked the small port window. He left a diagonal crack down his reflection. Then his heart beat heavy and very fast, nearly shaking his whole body.

A heavy thud he ought to have heard but for the damage to the port was actually a scuffle— the heady slap of flesh on flesh— the hard, dull impact of bodies against his door then the mad clatter as the bodies rolled along the bulkhead in the corridor outside his quarters. One seemed to carry his weight like an unrelenting beast, a Klingon war hog; the other thrashed as if manic energy alone would overwhelm his animal-enemy. As Jim rushed the door, he brushed past the small, weighty night stand in an explosion of glass as he sent flying a pitcher of water. Another panicky cry cut through through, similar to the first, both jabbering in a cruel guttural militarism, a jarring stop-start cadence, too much a quick babble to get a bead on but he realized they weren’t speaking anything he re knew. The third voice was clearly Basic, American English, familiar not from just the language alone but from its normally indolent So Cal drawl. But it was now alive with a palpable, desperate panic.
Toad was naerly screaming.

“No, Jim! No, don’t- – They’re- -!” He was cut off by what Kirk knew was a hard slap across the face and a blow to his gut knocking the air from him, forcing a short, deep moan.

As he had only started to open the door, Toad fell back through it, his attacker landing on top of him. He was Tiiconderoga Military Police wearing wide steel bars on his collar, marked CV-14 – 1964. He was large, all muscle, his monstrous hands virtual vices with meaty fingers tight around Toad’s throat. “Jim!—,” he gasped, “Go!” — as he tried squirming free. Kirk, though, was already on them, fists locked together to cub the patrolman, when a second M.P. rushed him, charging in from his look-out position a little down the corridor from Kirk’s cabin. Rangier than his chief, he grabbed the Captain, spinning him around and shoving Kirk back. The Navy man took up a classic attack, throwing roundhouses then skilled kicks in the tight space. Kirk took a few, looking for weakness. He then ducked, dodged and balanced himself firmly with a widely spaced stance and delivered a flurry of punches to the officer’s face,. The last blow staggered the second M.P. back. Jim had seen that his attacker fought two dimensionally and didn’t see Kirk slip the twist of a foot behind one of his own and pitching sideways, smashing his forehead against the sharp rim of the solid steel wash basin. A loud, sharp crack sounded and quickly dulled- –

“Toad—!” Jim started, turning to help young Thirty-One agent but he froze at what he saw and fell silent. Toad, armed with the heavy revolver from the foot of Kirk’s cot, whipped up the gun just as the Navy military officer pushed himself erect and managed a couple of steps toward the Kid. Toad squeezed off two, seemingly without even aiming. The first shot hit the policeman’s left shoulder, spinning him back. Barely a moment later, the man steadied himself and Toad fired a through-and-through. The Navy Man’s face twisted a little in confusion, he managed almost one step forward and fell on his face.

Toad was immediately on a knee, searching the attacker’s body, his uniform. “My god, Toad,” Jim finally uttered, wrapping his head around the killing. “What have you done?” Toad grabbed Jim’s small canvas kit and stuck in his finds: several I.D.s, an exotic switch in a custom-made fastener strapped around a leg above the ankle.. Jim assumed its exoticism period Vietnamese or older and Toad jerked free the M.P’s forty-five regular from his holster. As he added the items to the bag, he gave the Captain a revised update that Jim didn’t really hear, shaking his head.

“I received word from the Nautilis. It’s been shadowed by the Lafayette, nuclear sub – – American, and just under ten minutes ago, their skipper changed course on a no-nonsense Go for us. Time for you to skip this birdfarm.” Toad noticed something behind Jim and shoved the canvas bag into Kirk’s grasp as his awareness cleared, crystalized, but he could do nothing; it all happened incredibly fast. Jim’s attacking Patrolman had hauled himself from the steel basin, all shakes.

“Excuse me, sir,” Toad mumbled with purpose. He slipped by Jim and in a single, unbroken motion, came up close to the M.P., who pulled his head from the basin only to have the small young man in thick glasses jerk his head back further and shove Kirk’s thirty-eight into the man’s mouth, taking a single shot. Jim jumped a little on the spot. Unlike how it happened in the old holo’ movies she so adored, this gunshot report made no explosive boom. It was a short and small, flat crack that lasted just a heartbeat.

Toad headed for the door, ordering Jim, “C’mon, sir. We’re down to minutes.” When he saw the Captain was staring at him, then the body of the M.P. Toad had shot first, he bent by the first M.P. he’d shot dead and tore open the man’s outer uniform shirt, sending buttons flying.

“Kid,” Jim said sharply. These two may just be anonymous soldiers to us, but the impact of what you just did-”

“What? The timeline?” Toad jumped ahead in Jim’s thinking. “Consider it unaffected in this case.” He then ripped the undershirt. The man’s face, throat and upper body down to his chest were Caucasian, his mid-section mottled shit brown and ’round his hips, splotches Jim felt he should recognize. Toad was tugging the body’s trousers and further down still, his skin tone was jade down along both pair of legs and his privates. Deep, deep green…

Toad came up close to Jim, uttering, “Captain Kirk. Time to go.”





Back to the Future II

8 12 2016




Back to the Future

8 12 2016




Who Framed Roger Rabbit

8 12 2016




STAR TREK Beyond Forever Part 1 Chapter 1 C r u s a d e r s

3 12 2016

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Jesus Christ!” proclaimed the helm amidst the exclamations of confusion and panic.  Ordinarily, there was the simple, casual buzz of technical back talk and friendly, mumbled jokes throughout the bridge.

“Keep ‘er steady! ”called the Exec.  “Captain, do we come about or angle on?”

Captain Herrick, USS Maddox, moved amongst his busy crew.  “Contact the Ticonderoga.  Get their Crusaders returned to deck.  We’re pulling back.”

James T. Kirk brought up the rear right of the four ship delta vee of state-of-the-art one-man Crusaders.  The  clandestine nature of his larger mission required he maintain as an anonymous role as possible but his personal nature ran its own course.

“Christ A’mighty!” called one of the squad, Bandit Three.  “Torpedo didn’t just junk that swift, it vaporized it!”

“What the hell was that?  Green flame and lightning?!” asked a panicky Bandit Two.

“Take it easy,” Jim ordered reassuringly.  “Just the sunlight off a misfire.  Roll and strafe then make top speed for the Ticonderoga.”

“Hold it, Bandit Four!  Bandit One, here—” barked the commander at point!

But Jim had already rolled and  was strafing a tumultuous stretch of gray-blue,  and the space below in which she lurked.  Bandit Three was right behind him.

On the Maddox, the deck officer asked the Captain a clarification for the official log.  Herrick replied, “List them as Unknown Hostiles for now.  We’ll classify those torpedoes when—”

“Sir, incoming!  Same projectiles as before!”

At the front of the bridge, Herrick, his first mate and the deck officer held fast to the forward rail.

The torpedo raced at the Maddox, intense, building speed.  Like it were a surfboard riding the spume in the burning noon day sun, the gunmetal gray glowed preternatural red, tendrils of green lightning dancing off it at it rose.

“Counter measures… Now.  Launch the buoy,” said the Captain running numbers in his head.

The Maddox finished its damaged pivot and was plowing forward.  From his Crusader, now leading its squad, Jim saw a flash of green as the torpedo detonated as it barely grazed USS Maddox.  Thinking more aloud than addressing the men, he murmured into his open channel, “Herrick had her turned just before the missile was fully armed, hit by the wake—“  Then he caught sight of the squad’s commander.  “Bandit One, Bandit One!”
The last to strafe the open patch of target,  Bandit One stalled as he climbed.  An explosive burst opened up from the target below, breaching the water’s surface,  and a light guided missile found a hard line on Bandit One.

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Jim rolled and pitched forward.  He came in behind the missile and called out, “Break right, Bandit One. Go left.”  The Commander banked abruptly and Jim recognized the rapidly winking call light on the missile’s fins as they split apart.  He also recognized the meaning of the unique shape of those fins in a way none of his squad’s hot dogs could : sharp, curved blades meant to be wielded by skilled hands.  Jim opened up on it with a full spread of his arsenal.  The missile imploded, the rippling wave of green energy washed Bandit One, crushing the Crusader’s stabilizer.

“Can you make it back to Ticonderoga, Bandit Commander, or you gonna eject for pick-up?”

“Just get me aboard, Jim,“  Commander Stockdale breathed out loud….

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They popped the cockpit canopy with heavy wrenches,  two of the Ticonderoga’s flight hands, while a third, a kid they called “Toad,” helped unstrap Kirk from the seat as he pulled off his helmet and sprung himself to the ladder that lead down to the lurching  deck.  The Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam was normally a restful blue-gray of junks and sampans; today, the second of August, sixty-four, it was churning as it had so many times in a thousand years, with combat and invasion staging.  As Jim strode the length of their needle-nosed supersonic Crusaders, the most advanced in all of America’s Navy and Air Force of the era, donning his aviator shades, Toad loped alongside him.  Toad was a bit of a naif from some place in southern California – – Modesto – – who pretended at being harder than he was.  He had taped his heavy black framed glasses together at the nose.

“Man, oh, man, sir!  See them bricks go off?”

“Yeah, Toad, I was there.”

“Never seen anything like it, like green lightning.  And the howling!  Y’ever hear a torpedo make a sound like that?!”

“How’s the Maddox holding up?”  Jim asked the dumb kid.

“They’re saying that the torpedo barely clipped her before igniting.  Herrick turned her into it or something,   Still,  they took a punch to the bulkheads just above the waterline.”

“How’s Commander Stockdale?’ Jim said, regarding his squad’s chief.

“They’re taking him below for a check,” answered Toad.  “Wants you guys showered and ready for the dust-up before lunch.  You guys were only out there twenty minutes tops.”

“Yeah,”  Jim smiled.  “My kind a war.  No fun at all.”  He stopped and looked back at the fighter planes,  remembering — or was it projecting — taking his first flight in one of these when he was fifteen.  It was under guard and on loan from the museum for the State summer fair.  Only a few of the locals were firing at him that time — and he got the worst from Uncle Frank.

“Man, oh man, sir!  The way you piloted your bird, there, the speed and the roll, them gookers ain’t gonna be writing that in their rags tomorrow.  You’re just too damn good.”

Jim had been privately shocked then just hated those derogatory racial terms since arriving a few weeks ago in this time and place – – felt even more sick when he occasionally had to say them himself to seem of their time and place.  Time and place, the elder, other Spock, the Spock whom Jim knew of being from “another time and place” had talked of, indeed, was proof of, how the slightest change or going left instead of right could change things.  And also how some things did not change.  Commander Stockdale, for instance, Jim knew he survived Tonkin and all of Nam – – twentieth century war trivia, an interest maybe genetically inherited from his dad or old Tiberius.   Jim was also struck — again — that he’d have a whole life, either short or long, stuck here in this time and place, thinking about avoiding such things; no turns for him, left or right, just stuck on the narrow straight-ahead.  And avoiding memories – – his projections – – of Carol Marcus.  Carol,  with the the legs and the wide eyes and that smile and the mind that sometimes seemed to move at warp nine in every direction at once, challenging him, making him laugh at himself, but always made good workable common sense—

“Yeah, you got me, kid.” Kirk said as the water crashed up and over the deck where flight hands were securing his fighter jet.  “Too damn good.”

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Kirk pulled off the heavy flight suit, showered and grabbed a chicken sandwich from the boys in the Mess, all in time to slip into a seat at back of the pilots’ Muster and have Stockdale eat their dust.  To be fair, the Commander had acknowledged Jim’s bravery and skill in combat for the gathered brass from Admiral Sharp’s Seventh Fleet.  But that’s where the details ended and history began.  Their wing group had knocked out the NVN patrol boats, destroying one, but their torpedoes – – how the hell could ratty patrol boats, Swattows,  fire, let alone carry torpedoes; they were gunboats – – were clearly not of the unusual make that had vaporized a few ARVN swifts, smacked the Maddox or, as a missile variant, put the moves on Stockdale.  An engineering official announced they’d determine the nature of the new weapons if they could find any pieces – – they wouldn’t, Jim knew – – and an apparent civilian in an old fashioned suit, likely what’d they call ‘em then?  CIA? — added derisively that if the Russians were supplying the North with “space age” arms, “his people” would know about it.  As the meeting broke up, Stockdale, on learning from Herrick’s yeoman that they’d be joined shortly by the carrier USS Constellation and the destroyer C. Turner Joy and remain just this side of a four mile range from surrounding islands, put aside the standard strategy session for his pilots and with Kirk and the other two wingmen, buzzed low over their previous target on the open ocean.  Kirk, of course, kept it to himself that what the silence portended could be read several ways — none good.

He slept off the remaining afternoon and evening.  Jet lag and your first jump to warp were nothing like the empty dislocation of time travel and the “chrono-planet,” coded Gateway, it’s unnerving distant power, the Guardian of Forever’s nonjudgmental omnipotence, couldn’t help but render a thinking person small and, at his worst, his loneliest, already made Jim feel that his important mission was meaningless. He cold showered again in the oppressive, thunderous Asian heat, grabbed another sandwich — this one decent enough steak on a crusty hard roll, and went out on the deck.  He lit up the Cuban the deck chief had given him when he first arrived and drew in the strange smooth smoke;  it reminded him of the strange, leathery plants the rodent-things on Dimoros insisted Jim, Spock, Bones and Sulu light up with them to less pleasant effect.   Orders for lights out would come soon enough but would be meaningless.  The NVA were playing with “victory” crackers onshore, most likely smoke signals of a sort that avoided monitoring of transmissions, Jim thought, and the thing adrift deep below their ships, his target, didn’t require a piddly heat signature like a cigar to zero a target.

That…. “thing” out there was more than his mission’s target, it was her mockery.  Eleanor’s mark on him, a dagger in his heart, the killer of his soul.  She’d read him like the cheap techno espionage potboilers from the twenty-second century he enjoyed for an escape.  But there was no escape from here.  Eleanor had really had his number and bent him over; she knew him and had blackmailed him first by stroking his ego.  She’d assured him he was the best man for a mission to keep humanity and democratic ideals alive in their time even if it meant giving up his own and likely even his life in doing the impossible.  “You’re Jim Kirk,” she reminded him, quoting Pike.  In fact, she’d stressed it was the very abduction of his lover that had proved how time and space worked in favor of those who knew themselves as better than the rest;  she had called him, in his defeat of both Khan and even her great benefactor – – and friend – – Carol’s father, a kind of futurist demigod with an innate understanding of fate, his life, his death, his life.

And therein laid the ugly, hideous flip side of her blackmailer’s coin;  it was a threat to Carol herself.  Even if Kirk took the “cowardly” way,  resigning til he could popularize his personal myths further as he wanted, he’d spend a marked life looking over his shoulder.  The Orions, notably Klimt’s Clansmen and his eldest son, Karr, had laid claim to Carol; strange, Eleanor suggested, even criminal, but adhering strictly to their taboos was well within the Federation Charter, their pending membership, a non-issue.  Dangerous cultural law insisted she was their slave, specifically Karr’s,  and now considered property stolen by a vengeful killer.  It was an impediment to a developing a positive, strong and advantageous relationship with them, the Orion Oligarchy and their hungry Syndicate, that would hem the Klingon Empire in and provide a new avenue for the growing influence of the secret Federation intelligence group, Section Thirty-One, throughout known space to solve mysteries Star Fleet wasn’t technologically or psychologically geared for.  Yeah, she was a student of Alexander Marcus for sure and another reason for Carol to despise her.  “This isn’t personal, Jim, but you’ve refused to acknowledge the bigger picture the minute you killed Klimt.  Carol, too.  And I thought her smarter than that.  But you seek true redemption—”  Kirk nearly spat at her use of that word — “and take on this mission, you set things right, and I’ll make sure no harm or humiliation comes her way.  I owe her father that much.  And her unique scientific intellect is an asset.  My asset.”  He nodded, hating himself, and she laid out the broad strokes.  She told him she’d provide details over the next few weeks; he’d only have Carol to get around to maintain his clandestine comings and goings.  But all it amounted to were more lies and more self-hatred and Carol, he knew, despite his best (or worst) efforts, saw through hm until they had argued in that Texas motel room and he broke her down so she said the words… knowing he’d never hear them from her again.  The dagger in his chest.  Another way to torture himself, now through the echoes of time.

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He leaned against the Ticonderoga’s portside rail and pulled the plastic envelope from his breast pocket as ocean spray rained lightly down on him, a harbinger of the storm that gathered at sea night after night.  He pulled her small photo, a two-dee black and white repro of the original colored holo — Carol, smiling at something off, when they were drinking on a Hong Kong pier between flights what seemed — Jesus — like four nights ago.  He tried to imagine all of time and space on a single one dimensional map, everything everywhere in every dimension impossibly occurring all at once and at the same time, the same pace and he wondered where the Enterprise was, where all of them were….

Spock, his distant but righteously devoted brother, still had demons to fight but Uhura was there for him, and the one mild meld he and Spock had shared, a  mission’s necessity on Homunculus,  revealed Spock’s understanding of Jim wasn’t just lightly critical and, at times unintentionally funny;  it was deep enough for Spock to know now how much others cared for him.  The meld, Jim suspected, wouldn’t allow Spock to locate him in time and space but he’d likely have a deep feeling if and when Jim’s light had gone out of this universe.  His other brother-in-arms, Bones, a make-believe cynic, who loved women and booze and the old jazz standards his step mom and “aunt,” Starr, had introduced him to in her prime as a singer, he’d hold out foolish hope the longest, convincing himself the wunderkind Captain was always just about to stride onto the bridge.  “Bones!”  he’d say.  “You miss me?”  But it was Carol, always staring at him, into him, through him when he needed that, even now in black and white, whose love he’d ache in losing, in breaking her heart when he’d assured her again and again he’d never be far from her- – then the picture shifted, like she had come to life and she was staring right at him.  No, it was the shadow of a chummy passerby.

“Wow, sir!  Who’s she?” gasped Toad.   “Holy Moly, she’s got be your girl.  A guy like you, ‘course you’d get a girl looks like that.”

“That right, Toad?” Jim asked shortly, going to pocket the picture.

“Didn’t mean anything by that.  Jeeze!  C’mon, can I see ‘er again?  Please….?  Give a lonely non-comm a break.”Jim took a moment, nodded, and not having looked at it long enough anyway, drew the photograph out again.

“She a magazine model or something, a pin-up girl?” asked Toad, almost starstruck.  “She’s gotta be in pictures.”

“That’s real kind of you to say, Toad.  She’d appreciate it.  Really.”  His tone lowered without his realizing it…  “It’s one of her big hurdles always tripping her up, always seeing the good in people, ignoring the rest.”

Toad puffed his chest out  a little, adding, “Well, that’s the ladies for you.  Y’know, she looks a lot like this new movie star from England.  I saw ‘er in something when we put in at Liverpool before you got this assignment.  Please don’t tell me your girl’s a movie star from England,  Juile— Uh, something.”

“No, Carol’s not a movie star.  But she is from England as it happens.”

“Please don’t tell me she’s got the accent.”

“Well coming from England, it’s part of the package.”

“She has the accent.”

“She has the accent.”

Toad grabbed his heart, feigning a hit from Cupid’s arrow.  “The accent slays me,  Jim.  You’re killing me here,  man.”

“You should hear when she sings.  I catch her doing it now and then.   She has a good voice, just easily embarrassed.”  Kirk was talking now as if Toad wasn’t there, despite his growing familiarity toward Jim- –  had  he called him by his first name?- –   Jim was talking to Carol in the photo.  “A very creative mind, she’s got.  She’s taken this popular love sonnet by a poet named uh… Torbolde, Phineas Torbolde — don’t worry you’ve never heard of him, lives far away — and she and a girlfriend who’s got a real big voice, they turned this poem into a song.  A jazz sort of thing, I guess you’d call it.”

“What’s the name of it?  So when I hear it on the radio I can turn to my wife and say, ‘Guy I knew in the service, he married that drop dead good looking singer with the Limey accent.”

“Nightingale Woman.  That’s what it’s called.”

“Nightingale Woman, I like that.  Torbolde?”  Toad studied Jim as if from mid-distance a moment, then pulled a silver flask from his back pocket.  “Here.  Hard stuff.  Pinta Old Harper.”  As Jim went to object, Toad held up a hand.  “It’s disease free.  Made sure it was clean myself.”

“I’ll get you back the flask,” Jim assured him, in no mood to talk much anymore.

“Keep it.  I bought like a hundred of ‘em before we shipped out from Da Nang for ten cents apiece.”  Toad winked conspiratorially at Jim with an imitation Clark Gable smile.

“Sell ‘em to newbie seamen and flyboys for a dollar each.  Nice profit, huh?”

“That’s what we’re fightin’ for, son.” Jim said with comical nobility.  Toad laughed, headed off along the deck as the generator wound down and the lamps stringing the hull slowly died.

“All hands, all hands,” called a voice over the P.A. “Lights out.  Extinguish all smoking lamps for six hours.”

Kirk took a final drag on the cigar and tossed the stub overboard.  He stared at Carol’s photo, now that he was alone, and uttered so softly, “Dammit.”  He sealed the photo in the thin plastic and as he pocketed it, he heard something…  Singing.  From the direction Toad took,  And it was definitely Toad’s So Cal nasal.  “Toad?’”  Jim recognized the lyrics… it was out of his dreams….

“Our love has wings, slender, feathered things, with grace in upturned curve— and tapered tip…”  And it was  impossible for Toad to know.  It was her song.  Carol’s song, even her tune.  He was — goddamnit — singing her song!

“Nightingale Woman,” James growled under his breath.  “How— no…  Toad…. Toad!”  Jim ran along the slick deck now wet with rain and into Toad’s darkness.  “Toad!  T—!”

Jim skidded to a stop, looked up to find Toad sitting on the wing of a jet, an obsolete model class up on blocks.  He was staring at the night skies, the stars, through the falling rain as the storm built.

“Toad… how could you know that— that song?”

“You’re a tough nut to crack Captain Kirk.  Surprised you didn’t recognize me right away.  But I did only meet you once. I guess we’re both a couple of artists.  When it comes to spycraft, we’re too damn good.”

“Yeah,”  Kirk nodded with grim satisfaction.  “Too damn good.”