STAR TREK Beyond Forever part 1 chapter 7 “Angles and Dangles”

31 01 2017

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It wasn’t long after their submarine had cut power finding its deaf and blind spot under the carrier Ticonderoga, its only energy routed into the float-and-drift, that the mysterious agents, Robert and Maria, having given up their code-numbers around Jim, approached him and asked – – implored – -him quietly to explain what had happened aboard the large Navy vessel. How he had got away and what had forced his Section Thirty-One handler to set off the explosive that, in effect, changed history…. the degree to which was currently unknown. Roger was typically brusque, saying the information was for the ultra secret historical record, reminding Jim, again, of the small chance of his return to his time and the chance to have more than a say but substance in his legacy. Jim waved him off but nodded his assent.

He’d discovered early– at least as far back as just weeks into his first semester at the Academy — another odd skill, a talent, really, that he felt assured him a Field Command rank. He was perversely adept at delivering a good report, oral reports in particular. It was his smarts, he figured, working hand-in-hand with his winning charm, though McCoy derided him simply as having a “hyperactive prefrontal cortex.” Jim claimed to have little time for self-reflection and aggravated his closest by insisting that as a natural ship’s Captain, they could just mark him as a “crazy-as-hell obsessive,” But he knew exactly why he could win over superiors or politicos through his wordplay; it was how they didn’t react to things and the extent of what they truly wanted to hear — the truth despite themselves. It was the same reason he was a decent poker player, by professional standards, by the time he was fourteen and why he currently was the only sentient life form aboard his ship that could defeat their one and generally unbeatable Grand tri-dimension Chess Master, his Exec and Science Chief. Spock refused to believe his Captain’s explanation about his “tell,” the small slight scratch, Jim claimed to have noticed, that Spock gave his left temple when he knew he was three, and exactly three, moves from “Check,” even after Jim won their second set of the best of three. Carol, who had grown up around men and women jockeying for commands, couldn’t reconcile, beyond the charm, the Kirk she read in his own reports and recordings from his first assignment as Captain, before Niburu, with the dynamic athletic man she came to know and equally desire and laugh with over his sometimes stage-worthy ham-fisted goofiness. “I learn by doing,” was his only reply to her wondering aloud about his conflicting senses of power.

He now felt no desire to work or read or impress these two unusual humans, Robert and Marie. Even if he believed what he’d been told about them, who they were, where they came from, and he did believe it in that they simply had not provided any reasons for doubt and accomplished everything they said they would but with an understandable degree of struggle, they were still just proxies for Admiral Parker who, clearly, he knew, had manipulated him into this predicament. Still, if he wasn’t going to find a way back, there was nothing wrong in keeping his version of events as clean as he could. So he told them, simply, briskly, not stopping to indulge their likely questions.

Jim reiterated that they’d been attacked by Orions disguised in period security armor but Roger waved off his attempt to dig further into those implications – – the thugees’ likely means of disguising themselves with the bodily destructive drug Chlorodine-G, coming up short on their method of time travel other than the hit-and-miss slingshot effect, the possible identity of the leak in their own organization, as much as Jim could call it such – – and so he just hit his points as if he were recording an “all stations normal” end of duty daily report for the Enterprise log….. He spared a look at Maria though, pausing, knowing what she’d read in that pause…. “Quid pro quo,” she had said back in the wardroom in regard to their knowledge of the Orion involvement; that look reminded her he’d hold her to that…..
Toad had chosen the best debarkation point for Kirk; a fairly small hatch with direct access to the sea and just above the waterline even in the quickly settling storm. They’d reach it by the main passageways at a steady, quick but even pace that would draw no attention. The kid’s plan would lead to an out of the way, largely unused spare parts service space and an inner hatch which Toad had blocked with a crate tape-marked, “31.” Inside the crate, Jim would find an era state of the art military deep sea diving suit and gear. Toad claimed his securing the suit was a long story of trades and promises and he’d made a few space age adjustments to the breathing apparatus and oxygen tank that only its original designers could ever notice. They passed crew members, off-duty and those going about their jobs and Toad had served aboard with many of them, working his way, Thirty-One style, into an essentially alien society over several months and exchanged smiles and waves. That’s when their situation aboard the Ticonderoga took a nosedive.

“Attention, attention,” a voice unfamiliar to Kirk buzzed and bleated over the ship’s intercom address speakers and Jim grabbed Toad and yanked him into a shadowed doorway. Before Toad could protest, Jim’s instincts proved themselves sharp as ever. Someone had come by his quarters, likely a flier in Jim’s wing, and had discovered something he’d likely have some concerns about… the bodies of two gunshot-dead MPs whose bodies were slowly turning green….

“ Airman James Kirk is ordered to report to the the deck officer, CPO Linville immediately.” As the comm op repeated the order, Jim snapped his eyes on the young man.

Toad nodded, his jaw set. “Plan B.”

The reason Plan B was the alternate choice was only because it was a shorter route for Jim to disembark; the problem was, it nevertheless took longer to traverse – – and for the very reason that he had agreed with Toad to take the normally traveled corridors. Plan B involved ducking into a hallway designed for cargo transfer, yanking up the smallest deck plate and descending into work tunnels , past technical stations and up and over catwalks designed for men in safety gear. In the likelihood they were seen by an engineering team or crew chief, it was not going to be easy explaining their presence – – Lieutenant Kirk, one of the ship’s elite, a jet ace and general hot dog with a gathering reputation accompanied by a non comm nobody, a friendly yokel deck-Top.

But he’d underestimated the kid’s smarts again, Toad having plotted their fall back plan in accordance to crew shifts’ schedules and from just a glance at the night’s assignment docket. As a result, they’d come across only two small groups of workers and the first paid them no attention. The three engineers were gathered ‘round a collection of vertical pipes that had all exploded, arguing over the necessary repairs as their soldering gear rumbled with powerful heat and fire.

As they passed the workers, Kirk mumbled, “I guess last night’s old time Texas chili didn’t sit too well with the crew.”

Toad glanced back at him, kept leading them onward, and looked back again trying not to smile. “That’s another thing they got right about you–” Kirk waited a moment and finally hiked his brows in query. “You really do have a sense of humor.” Toad added, “Y’know, for an officer”

The second group they encountered was at some distance; a work crew knocking off, now in khaki tees and shorts, laughing, they crossed a side hallway way off to the left. The one fella bringing up the tail glanced over, saw Toad and Jim, and when his look lingered, Jim’s senses perked. But as he was about to grab Toad’s shoulder and hurry him forward, Toad threw the engineer a smile and a wave. The crew man half-waved back; a gesture of half-assed comradeship, Jim thought, knowing they needn’t be worried about being recognized.

They jumped from a rusty, rattling metal ladder affixed to a bulkhead onto the landing of what Toad had told him was the next to last deck they’d have to navigate and from there they’d have to move fast but the alternate escape port, one more deck down was “practically right there.” Turning a corner, Jim at first thought they’d hit a dead end- – then he saw the outlines of three man-size circles along a wall and Toad went and pulled one open by a handle that had been wrapped in thick black tape. He peered in. It was a simple metal-sided tube angled downwards, their destination on that lower deck, its floor slats, weakly lit. He glanced back at Toad who nodded at him , urging him ahead. The kid’s conversation, meant to keep Kirk at ease while on the alert, had dried up and Jim had noticed his body language had tightened, each physical act like high tension clockwork. Toad likely was a good get for Thirty-One’s computer stats division and Kirk could attest to his burgeoning skills as a deep cover in the right scenario but clearly, beyond his limited exercises at the Academy, Starfleet’s secret security section had not readied him well enough for this kind of high stakes gaming.

“Sir–”

“Toad, relax,” Kirk said in that steadying tone he’d seen work well when he spoke so to new crew members often receiving their first landing party assignments. “I know we’re under the gun but once we get below there won’t be an opportunity–”

Toad nodded in a clipped fashion and said quickly, “What do you need to know, sir?” Kirk could see in Toad’s eyes, his deference to Kirk was being very quickly replaced by just doing the job.

“The senceiver,” Kirk said but Toad jumped right on him as if he understood the slightly older man’s concern. He assured Jim it would work and that the Nautilus would be there for him. He then fell into a cascade of facts, researcher’s names and numbers that meant nothing to Jim and were clearly Toad’s nervous reaction to the situation; the kid’s terrified of failure, Kirk realized – – was that natural for Toad, an expression of the seriousness of Jim’s mission (of which he needed no reminder), or is this what Thirty-One did to their recruits?

“Toad – -Toad – – Toad – -,” Jim stressed reassuringly. “Don’t worry. Of course I’ll make it work. No, I’m talking about what you said, about how I could use it- – to send a message – – through you – – to someone in the future…. Our future – -”
*************************************************** ****************************************************
“My Gods! Tell me you did not do that!” Gary Mitchell had said, coming up close, breaking off Jim’s report to the agents and causing his former friend to turn and stare at him with a bemused, slow smile .

“You have something to add, Mister Mitchell.?”

Gary, moving from station to station around the bridge as they waited and waited for the SONAR indicator to come alive with the LaFayette’s departure, had never been long out of earshot. He stiffened a little and Jim knew that behind the strange darkly tinted eyewear his eyes narrowed like they used to in their competitive days when Kirk usually proved himself not only a natural born winner but even a “que sera, sera” loser.

“Captain Mitchell, Mister Kirk.”

But Gary’s straight, serious, almost intimidating and slightly chiselled features sagged a little in recognition when he saw it…. He’d seen it before….. many times…. And he knew what it meant….

Jim’s half-smile had lost its bemusement and had grown wider and ready to take on any and all comers.

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“Jim, it’s a yes or no question. “

Jim locked onto Gary’s stare that seemed to penetrate the unusual black of his glasses’ lenses. He’d lied to himself ; those glasses that revealed nothing, that reflected nothing – – neither what Mitchell gazed at nor what lay deep inside – – had , in fact, unsettled him, unnerved him. As an explorer, he’d seen a wide and vivid array of things and behavior and even natural phenomenon that disturbed his very strong sense of personal reality but whatever he’d witnessed – – the Meletus, Landru’s Red Hour on Beta III, or the fact that he and Spock had discovered that a “monster” that could acid-cut and move through solid rock and human flesh also had a deep, soulful appreciation for the music of Schubert – – the only things capable of really getting under his skin were the oddball decisions, mysteries, made by friends, people he counted on, sometimes even in life and death situations. to do what he never expected of them. His level-headed primary helm officer becoming obsessed with botany, seemingly out of the blue, and just as quickly giving it up when he developed what turned out to be just as passing an interest in old time weaponry like twentieth century hand guns; but Sulu never missed a shift nor was he ever even late and Jim had no qualms from the man’s work alone to leave him in command of his ship or leading a landing part into unknown danger. Jim would never admit such neurotic concern about members of his crew, though he thought by the occasional uncharacteristically cynical glance she threw at him, that Carol had suspected this ; she’d actually asked about it once, what career officers called a “command style,” at an inopportune moment of freewheeling and intense intimacy and he’d replied shortly that, no. he was not what some called a ‘’control freak’’‘ – – he was simply the Captain. And, it went unsaid, one of the things he’d learned as he’d matured as an officer was that a Captain had to expect and deliver a lot of himself; he had to be open to new worlds, new ideas – – that was his very mission – – but it lay in Starfleet’s military and even exploratory beginnings, that the mission was just as dependent on him to maintain the status quo and expect the crew to deliver on the promises of just who they seemed to be, what he as their leader could rightly expect of them. It was a delicate balance that required a Captain to be a visionary, an accountant and, if not a psychiatrist, at least mommy or daddy.

What was it Mitchell had told him less than an hour ago? That if a person was genuinely smart, they could find it in themselves to change? He hadn’t believed it when Gary had said it, at first, about either of them. In his case, as he once told Carol on one of their first nights out together, walking through the arboretum that ringed the upper level aboard station Deep Space Two during a lay-over, speaking with an openness, a sincerity that later surprised him, “Life…. death…. life, it leaves you certain of a few basic truths. About yourself anyway.” In a way, that had been resurrection’s downside. His inside-out survival of direct, prolonged exposure to his ship’s damaged warp core translated as the most basic and, to Jim, most frustrating of McCoy’s prescriptions : bed rest.

And bed rest basically meant boredom.

His days had been broken up a little by Spock’s diligence – – daily reports in person on the ship’s status, vis-a-vis her repairs, that he and Mr. Scott, Scotty with notable irritation and distress, consulted on with the Star Base One and Division Earth Headquarters Engineers and designers, and leaving his Captain with the dozens of the formal requests Uhura, as acting Protocols Officer, received daily from recent Academy grads and many more about to graduate as well as over a dozen well known and experienced Starfleet officers, all seeking consideration for posting to the Enterprise and her new transformative mission. Specifically under a man who could even defy death, Captain James Tiberius Kirk.

Uhura, for her part, took on his request for some recreational reading but rather than raiding the bookshelves in either his quarters or uptown apartment he’d hung onto, she razed Frisco’s notable “vintage district” and brought him an armful of the ancient hardcovers and well-kept paperbacks she knew he enjoyed, as well as a couple of the new “vinyl” music recordings briefly popular when he was a kid, only it was some cool twenty-second century jazz and nova-cool theater music rather than that noise in his library. She’d pulled a thick, very old but nearly pristine hard cover from the stack, laying it on his lap, tapping it with her forefinger.

“I’m told this one’s all you.”

He’d picked it up with care. “An interesting title.”

“It’s very old. Nearly three hundred years. It’s about what they called ‘the space race,” she explained, rolling her eyes a little. “You know, the earliest manned missions, the military test pilots they tossed into low orbit like cannonballs.”

Uhura had smiled a bit at the look that had crept into her Captain’s features – – the flash of light in his eyes, the hint of a knowing smile. “They were the Mercury Seven, Nyota”

He’d read the book quickly and, some time later, picked it up again but between the pleasurable reading and the assignment reviews and even the welcome distraction of McCoy’s much too light eventual exercise regimen, his mind wandered. And as much as he fought it, those wanderings took him to the place anyone would explore given a brush with death. And hell, he’d had more than a laugh-it-off brushing like the slipshod job he’d given uncle Frank’s front porch when he was sixteen; this had been the Mona Lisa – – no getting his feet warm, he’d jumped into the deep end and was pulled out less by his own force of will, as Admiral Parker, an early visitor, had insisted he maintain, but rather through the efforts and bravery of Spock, Uhura, Bones, and even Carol Marcus whom, he was informed by McCoy, had been his fervent assistant. And of course, there had been the blood that Parker suggested they pretend didn’t exist, the genetically altered blood of a long ago eugenics experiment gone wrong, that had unleashed a tyrant and war criminal whose name Kirk recognized only after recovering and skimming through Earth history.

Those questions, as well as his answers, that he mulled in his too-comfortable hospital bed were, he supposed, no more original than those of any other survivor of any other trauma. The questions were simply too big, carried, too much weight for any of the cleverness or smart-ass he could normally get away with as wildly original answers, whether it had been with high school teachers at Dewey or College professors at Hawkeye or Starfleet Officers at the Academy or any of the girls he’d told were different than all the others. The one that recurred most often, the one he could linger over watching ambulance shuttles take off and land from the emergency flight section on the hospital roof outside his window, was the one that now intersected with Gary Mitchell’s remark about personal change. He’d pushed it away at first, fought it off, refused to even acknowledge it. As much a challenging idea as it was an unanswerable question, it was so burdened with cliche, Jim had to take it on if only to relieve himself of its inherent misery.
He’d been given a second shot. The perfect opportunity for change…. to change his life, himself…. What was he prepared to do to make his life happier, fuller?

The only problem was…. Jim was already happy and he couldn’t imagine a fuller life. He was the Captain of a starship and, he knew, a very good one and had become even better, and the galaxy was his to explore. Of course, Admiral Pike’s death was a gut punch and he still carried the pain but even Christopher would have told him that that was the life they had chosen. Sure, he wanted to reconcile with his mother who’d drifted even farther from him after he’d first been given command of the Enterprise. And despite all the women, he’d yet to have a meaningful, committed and long-lasting relationship ; he’d felt close a few times – – with Ruth, with Areel, with Janet – – but that was something that would happen when it happened. Besides, he still had a ship to worry about. He supposed he had changed some after Pike, a man he respected and even admired, had demoted him and taken his command, pointing out sharply that he’d failed to understand even the basic responsibility, the selflessness necessary to lead men and women into the unknown.
But the man who’d charged through a chamber overflowing with a cascading, lethal mix of matter and anti-matter was in Jim’s mind basically the same as the kid who sent his Uncle Frank’s recreated vintage “hot rod” plummeting down Sutchey’s chasm and who,, a year later, stood firm at the disastrous colony on Tarsus IV just as the man he was named after told him to with a confident smile as one of Kodos’ militarized robots and two silent, well-armed police-controllers led Grandpa James to “the tubes.”

But the man with the old-style US Navy Captain’s bars clipped to his shirt, staring at him through unnerving glasses with impenetrable black lenses, waiting for Jim to answer as to whether he’d senceivered his Thirty-One contact a message for the twenty-third century, that wasn’t Gary. Not the Gary Mitchell Jim knew – – had known. Gary Mitchell had changed.

“Well … Jim?”

“I’m sorry, Gary,” Jim said, forcing a smile. “What was the question?”

“Knock off your bullshit, Jim- – !”

“Gentlemen, please- -” Maria interrupted but Jim held up an assuring hand to her.

“Yes or no?” Jim asked Gary. “Yes–”

Gary blew out a frustrated, angry breath deeply held, shaking his head, but Jim jumped on his response.

“However– However, you do realize your question is moot. Toad’s dead.”

“Speaking of which – -,” Roger began.

“What’s the big concern, Gary?” Jim asked, genuinely intrigued and also aware of his own tone of voice, and its deceptive pleasant melodiousness; a most assured tone. It was what Carol teasingly called “his too-good-to-be-true Captain’s voice.”

Jim couldn’t read Mitchell’s eyes, but the tight frown that cut across his mouth as the muscles in his jawline worked…. as different as this Mitchell was, that spring coiled mind still had its tell tales.

“Kirk,” Roger said sharply, his business-calm giving way to a hint of peevishness, “just tell us how your contact was killed and how the Ticonderoga was damaged and how badly. Maria and I will have to confer and once we can confirm your report – -”

“Confirm – – What are you talking about? How – – ?” Jim shot a look at Maria who merely gave a look he recognized as make-believe “all is normal” calm as Roger ignored his confusion and continued laying out a revised mission schedule.

“Whether the LaFayette is twenty thousand leagues from here, certain we’ve made it to the Indian Ocean, or directly a’bow and ready to fire their torpedoes, we’re sending you out.”

Jim nodded. And he just laid it out. “When I slid out the maintenance drop, there were three of them waiting. like the two who attacked in my cabin aboard the Navy carrier.”

“Orions? Chemically altered to pass as humans?” Maria asked, though Jim recognized she was actually drawing a conclusion. And he realized he was reaching for something possibly not even there but by her tone, by the way she’d named the beings hunting him even through time, he felt she was going to help him understand what she knew about them – – and their intentions and plans for Carol three hundred years away. Jim proceeded and risked not providing small details hoping to ignite helpful conversation.

“Yeah. In heavy combat gear, military police. Two of ‘em came at me right me with the clear intention of, well, beating the hell outta me….”

 

Whether he’d caught sight of a shadow stirring or it had been the pure adrenalized instinct he’d learned to trust since he was a boy, but the moment Jim had dropped from the maintenance crawl space, he ‘d sprung up from the deck and, in the same move, roundhoused a kick that hit one of the disguised Orions in the chest, knocking him stumbling back against a bulkhead. Almost instantly, a second phony military guardsman was on Kirk, a bicep bulging with thick muscular strength clamping around Jim’s neck, throttling, as the giant stabbed punches into his side.

He managed to bark out, “Toad!” just as a warning; the kid had been close behind him in the mechanics tube. Kirk’s giant shoved him forward into the arms of the Orion Jim had kicked, then spun on the tube’s entry as Toad slipped out. Jim caught sight, a blur, of Toad drawing his gun as the giant sprang at him – – but that was all he saw. His new Orion playmate caught him in a crush-hug that almost immediately squeezed all the air out from his lungs in tightly controlled mean anger; worthy payback for the roundhouse, Jim thought with bleak internal comic timing, as he quickly, improbably, worked his response of attack and escape.

He twisted and bucked against the paralyzing, unrelenting pressure of the Orion’s likely intent to render him useless when he felt it. Hard and sharp against his side in a way that Jim knew it was metal. A gun! The handle of the service weapon necessary to sell their put-on American military uniforms.

He shoved his left arm up, against the Orion’s monstrous strength in a hasty diversion. At the same time, he worked his right hand down and took blind hold on the pistol’s butt, twisting it back, his fingers clasping the hand-hold, one of them finding the trigger. Even as he’d flexed that finger, though, Jim knew, from the carving, the cold perfect smoothness, this was no period-proper U.S. Navy service weapon … .

For all their advanced, sophisticated engineering skills in spaceship design and tricky warp drive manipulations which, Jim knew, was partly behind the Federation’s desire to come to some form of agreement with them, as well as his own current situation in an increasingly murky-purposed mission, the Orions had long favored their own incarnation of Starfleet’s largely retired hand laser to the more complex phaser gun. The phaser was designed to serve as much as a tool as a weapon and, when used as a weapon, it was as effective in its recommended “stun” setting as when altered to “kill.” For the Orions, notably those of the so-called “Thugee” caste-cult, their personal laser pistols and rifles were an extension of the killer who wielded the weapon – – brutal, fierce, cruel, savage by Earth standards and entirely in charge.

… . gold-white light flared between Jim and his attacker, crackles of high intensity radiation throwing off hot-bright chunks of the Orion as Jim fell back, away. He’d left the laser gun stuck in the Thugee’s belt, twisted up awkwardly, one of the Orion’s meaty hands holding tightly where he’d tried to grab it away, a sausage of a finger jammed against the trigger, The beam of intense super-heated light burned a hole clean through his gut and as he struggled to stay upright, carved him from torso to chin; the laser cauterized the cut but its effect caused his solid body to split and flop apart. His exposed innards, a butchered mess of inhuman organs spilled out of him in a cascade of thick green blood.

Then Jim heard the gun shot.

He whirled and saw Toad splayed out with his Orion attacker crouched over him at a strange, unnatural angle. Jim drew his semiautomatic, keeping it low, at his hip and aimed at the Orion in his U.S. military get-up, but the assailant remained eerily frozen save for a slight, irregular sway.

“Toad…. ?”

There was no response – – of any kind, not even a groan. But Jim was already feeling, fearing, knew the worst. As he approached, the Orion was staring at him … . in a way. The stare was skewed; one eye, the left, flecked with tiny blobs of congealing green was focused on Jim tight, but the right one … . its cornea was skipping in place like it had come loose.

As Jim rounded Toad’s boots, the mystery solved itself. However it had happened, Toad had shot the Orion. A head shot. At close range. The entry hole was visible in front along the hairline, like Toad had managed to poke his gun’s muzzle just under the Orion’s military helmet’s rim but likely, from the result, pointed downwards. The rounded back of the helmet, what was left of it, was mixed with what was left of the back of his skull that had been blasted open. It reminded Kirk of a broken eggshell and whatever Romance had lingered in him about certain brands of ancient weaponry was fading fast as he couldn’t help but look at the twisted, fatty, fleshy green mess that had been the Orion’s brain.
Toad’s gun hand was still in the air, the weapon aimed blankly, at nothing, the hand shaking even as his arm wavered as if the gun weighed a ton and Jim, pushing the brain-dead thing hunched over him off, into a pile, dropped by the kid, pulled the gun from his hand and laid his arm across his chest as Toad had kept it aloft trying to pull a phantom trigger. His upper body was twisted, his face turned partly down. Jim rolled Toad up and finally got a good, close look at the younger man and saw how grim his condition really was.

Toad’s half-open mouth, his chin, his throat and the front of his uniform were drenched in blood. Red blood. Human blood. Toad’s blood. Jim’s mind blanked for a flash at the violence ; it whited out and for less than just a single second that felt like it stretched forever, he thought absently, with a barest kind of vague interest, “Oh, so that’s the damage that an Orion jikara blade can do to a human body.”

The razor sharp weapon was once, long ago, a symbol of Orion passage into manhood among the various castes who would band together to form the religious order-turned-Death cult that Starfleet’s human xeno-anthros had half-jokingly labelled the “Thugee” (it stuck). It was given from father to sons upon their first hired kill – – originally of a horned ruminant akin to a bull or steer on Earth, but larger and carnivorous, feral, and later of another citizen suspected of treachery against his kin chosen by the boy’s mother, until it finally had less to do with ritual and had become standard business, providing soldiers for the rising “criminal” Orion Syndicate. Now the blade was simply de rigeur Orion fashion, for males and females; worn attached to a belt as a decoration or accessory, rounded dull at both ends. But in a trained Thugee’s grip, the extremely thin blade of sheer diamachite would spring from its housing in a flash of defiant silver light as it had clearly done with Toad. Up under his collar bone… . slicing as it slid a direct line through his throat, turning his esophagus into a useless whistle and exploding up into his mouth, bisecting his tongue.

But the damn kid was still alive. His eyes flickered open… Damn.

Jim touched the jikara – – very gently, with his fingertips – – and though Toad didn’t react, his wounds did with a spasmodic surge of blood from his neck. Kirk tore a strip of cloth from the kid’s uniform, staunched the crazy rush, but he shot a look up at a charge of commotion from the far end of the corridor – –

The third Orion Kirk had seen upon hitting the deck, the one who’d hung back from the fight, possibly the ranking officer but more likely his attackers’ aide, whom Jim had figured was charged with dissuading any actual crew members, humans, from the others’ handling of, ostensibly, one of the Ticonderoga’s fighter jocks – – that one was turning into the mouth of the corridor, leading four other tall, barrel chested figures in military police garb. In a run. Right at Kirk and the desperately wounded Toad. One of them pointed at Jim and shouted something that sure as shit wasn’t old time American english – – or any other human language.

Kirk moved around Toad and struggled to hoist him up from under the arms, speaking rapidly, “Toad, I’m nearly outta time for the Nautilus. I’ll get you as close as I can to the aid station along this deck. Sickbay’s too–”

Toad’s hand jerked down on Kirk’s forearm and he shook his head in a strenuous effort to state a definitive “No!”. With his other hand, Toad pulled from a pocket his damn plastic key ring on a rusty silver chain attached to his work belt. He’d absently played with the plastic ring since Kirk had come aboard with orders he later learned had been computer-orchestrated by Toad himself. But in those weeks before Toad made himself known to Jim, he’d been a bug in Jim’s ear, jumping into conversations with Kirk on his return from even a practice run, eager to discuss his Crusader’s fly-ability and always playing with the plastic key ring. A nervous habit, Jim had assumed. Now his forefinger stroked the plastic and then he pressed down his thumb.

“Toad!,” Kirk stressed in a shout, flicking a glance back. The Orions, thankfully, weren’t used to combat in such bulky gear and it slowed them. He looked back down at Toad – –
The plastic key ring started to glow sharp red….. then winked off and on in a rapid, distinct rhythm. Jim recognized that rhythm. He’d seen Tri-lights used in combat scenarios at the Academy’s Command school, had used one of the little jewels himself almost two years ago on Cestus III repelling the Gorn incursion. But those produced large, almost sloppy explosions which Toad must have known would sink a twentieth century sea vessel, even one as impressive as the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga. Damn Section Thirty-One and their advanced research opportunities…. for all he knew Carol’s concepts and skills could have been used to modify a photon grenade as a precision weapon…. hell, he didn’t really know how deeply her dad had his hooks in her mind – – or, for that matter, how much she wanted to make him proud of – –

Then Toad managed to croak what sounded like a word.

“Run.”

Jim Kirk ran like a son of a bitch.

 

“Uh, look, I didn’t mean that,” Gary told Jim. “What I said about Toad.”

Jim looked up at Mitchell, settling his head back against the bulkhead of the utility station niche on the Nautilus bridge. His thoughts on the report he’d delivered to the agents had run through his mind in a flash but he’d nearly got a little lost. Toad was on this mission partly by choice and largely by the orders of others; his life – – his death – – was in no way Jim’s responsibility. But the kid had admired him and a Captain took the loss of a junior personally no matter if Toad hadn’t technically been under his command. Roger had received the report indifferently, with an attitude of simply doing his job. He’d asked about the size of the explosion, the damage that resulted and the likeliness of deaths – – other than the Orions and the Section Thirty-One contact and would their bodies have left remains.

To Jim’s surprise, Gary had jumped in and assured Agent Two-oh-One that the modified Thirty-One Tri-Light would have vaporized any living thing in the corridor Jim had described and that he’d done the smart thing barricading himself behind steel in the supply room where Toad had stashed the reserve aqua rig. Jim added that by the time he had slipped away and jumped overboard, the energy released by the blast had not only buckled several decks but had set off a rapidly spreading electrical fire through all the ship’s systems which had likely been the cause for the most severe damage. Roger, with a curt nod, turned to Maria who gave him an agreeable look and they had then simply left the bridge, with the silver haired agent telling Mitchell that once things had “checked out,” that they’d have to send Kirk on his way. Jim had moved to join them but Maria turned and placed the flat of her hand on his chest, shaking her head. “No, James. Captain Mitchell, usual rules.” “Yes, ma’am,” Gary replied certainly, “You’ll be undisturbed.” Before Jim could speak – – “James, if you were in our unique situation, you’d understand.”

“I’m not and I don’t.”

“Did you know him?” Jim asked Mitchell.

“Toad? In passing, maybe, on Portmeirion – – an uninhabitable planetoid in the Eridani system. Thirty-One had contract engineers hollow it out–”

“Let me guess. Beneath its poisonous surface, you’ve got Thirty-One’s version of what they called in this backward era, The Pentagon?”

Gary shrugged, almost smiled. “Something like that. Look, Jim, it’s not that I don’t feel for the kid. I’m not …” Mitchell seemed to search for the right word, causing Jim to lean forward, drawn in by the man’s uncharacteristic care with expression. “…. inhuman. But working for Section Thirty-One, you don’t make friends. It’s very different than serving on a starship.”

Maybe that was really always the difference between you and me, Kirk thought, still grasping in his mind for some explanation as to why Gary signed on to an early iteration of the clandestine organization the way he had. He simply nodded then asked, “Gary, why were you so bothered about me trying to use my senceiver hook up with Toad to send a message home?”

Gary shrugged and shook his head. “Well, like you said, Jim, it doesn’t really matter now with what happened.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Like I said,” Mitchell replied, intentionally flipping his emphasis, “I’m Captain aboard this vessel. I ask the questions.”

Jim stood. And took a small step closing the space between them to striking distance.

“Take off the glasses.”

Mitchell turned away a bit, then back with an open smirk. “What’re you going to do, Jim? Huh? Fight me? You want to fight me? What? You still think you’re the seventeen year old shitkicker? Word around Starfleet is you finally grew up ; it took death to do it but – -”
Jim held up a hand and barely, with decided cool, shook his head.

“I want to see you. Your eyes always gave you away. That’s why I always beat you at poker. I’ll be able to tell if you’ve changed like you said or, as I suspect, you’re running some typical Gary Mitchell nonsense.”

Gary Mitchell maintained his unsettling stare then said, “What is it, Mister Morgan?’

Jim broke his stare and saw an older sailor, heavy set with thinning gray-brown hair and thick eyeglasses, thicker mustache, moving past his fellows and the various bridge stations. He began answering as he approached, stopping behind and to Mitchell’s side. “Something’s screwy with the sonar. Feedback or something. Unless we got the only iceberg in the Pacific headed our way.”

“Let’s take a look,” Mitchell said, ignoring Kirk and clapping the old salt on the shoulder as he lead the way back to the main stations.

“This is some fine fancy experimental gear those two stuck you with,” Mister Morgan grumbled, nodding toward the entry hatch as Roger and Maria returned. “ ‘Cept that when it works, none a my men can figger it out.”

Jim moved to meet the agents at the center of the pincer shape of the bridge, the only open area of the command deck. He kept his tone low but asked bluntly, “So did you decide whether I’m telling the truth or am I a liar?”

Roger frowned and replied with short surprise. “That’s not what this is about – -”

“Agent” Mitchell called from the high-backed sonar screen. “You’ll want to take a look at this.”

Roger waved back, gestured between Maria and Jim as he moved away and she turned to speak to Jim closely.

“James, your truthfulness is not in question. Why would it be?”

“Then what – – ?”

“We were confirming that what happened aboard the Ticonderoga didn’t have any significant effects on this branch of the space-time continuum.”

Jim did his best, knowing it wasn’t quite good enough, to hide his confusion and asked simply, “Well, did it?”

She smiled with a calm sense of confidence. “The damage incurred was officially attributed to enemy firepower and a suspected, unidentified saboteur which gave greater credence to the so-called “Gulf of Tonkin incident.” This had an impact of enforcing American willingness to go to war but those effects are too abstract to be cataloged. More importantly, there were no deaths reported. We found nothing on the two bodies in your quarters aboard her. I suspect they were quietly and quickly disposed of.”

“I see,” Jim said, mulling it through. “And exactly how did you confirm all th–” It occurred to him fleetingly, but Jim’s tone lowered more deeply as he came up closer to the woman. “I realize you have plans to leave this crew somewhere and then scuttle the sub, but please don’t tell me you’ve got some sort of library computer aboard – -”

Maria attempted to respond but Jim talked over and past her firmly.

“Look, you and Agent Friendly over there may be crazier than I already know you are but you wouldn’t have risked bringing that kind of advanced technology into a strictly nuts-and-bolts war zone! On a mission that’s driven by maintaining historical integrity.”

“Of course not James. We stretched ourselves a little with this bridge but our computer is locked safely away in our office. In New York City. That’s where Roger and I have been for the past – -” … . she checked her wristwatch. “Fifteen minutes.”

Jim just stared at her. “Bullshit.”

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“Captain!” the young sonar operator exclaimed. Jim twisted around and saw Mitchell and Agent Two-oh-One, Roger, hunched over the sonar ops’ shoulders, their faces dancing with green and red tracer lines off the scope. “It’s the LaFayette. She’s firing !”

“Torpedoes in the water!” called a voice from across the bridge. “Bearing one-two-nine!”

Jim and Maria pushed their way to the sonar rig as Mitchelll looked up, called out, “Maneuvering, right flank. Forty-five degrees down bubble. Cavitate! Cavitate!”

“Young man, out of the way,” Roger said sternly, very much Agent Two-oh-One again, slipping into the ops’ chair.

“Damage control,” Mitchelll said to one of the men who immediately came forward. “Mister Hootkins, post a member of your team in every section. Go!”

“Steady, Captain Mitchell,” Two-oh-One said, easing back from the scope but his voice turned to ice. “They’re not firing on us.”

Jim studied the sonar display, akin to. in the twenty-third century, a common little kid’s play set of one of his Enterprise’s rudimentary sensors. An elliptical white smudge, off center, must have been the US Navy sub searching for the Nautilus. He tapped his finger against the large red flickering triangle closing on the LaFayette.

“Looks like your mission just became very simple, Kirk,” Agent Two-oh-One said in a long, slow breath. “That monstrous time warping prototype of a Klingon warship you’ve been sent to destroy before it can destroy planet Earth? We don’t have to go searching for it.”

Kirk straightened, looked at Mitchell – – his eyes unreadable, his mouth carved in grim certainty; at the silver haired agent who’s stare remained fixed on the scope. He felt Agent Three-Four-Seven’s long fingers, her soft, smooth palm on his shoulder.

“Yeah, well,” Jim said.. “I get all the luck.”

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