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.

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