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.”

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