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.”

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