STAR TREK Beyond Forever – part 1 chapter 9 Emergency Deep

27 02 2017

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He could feel the strain of turning the heavy iron wheel, hand over hand, pulsing through his upper body. His biceps bunched and forearms felt afire, the muscles along his sides stretched to their limits. But the strain was enlivening.

The obstacle course he and Maria had traversed through the half-built lower deck of the Nautilus had been, for Jim, and given their circumstances and a ticking clock in his head, like a combination of his final space-sea-earth-air-land challenge in the specialized program of the Frisco SFA’s Caommand School and his crackerjack improvisation that diverted invaders, Kollosian insectoids, the most difficult way imaginable during the Enterprise’s emergency evac of the subterranean Earth Embassy on Dinarii less than a month into their five years.

The difficulty of reaching the Nautilus’ wet bay had provided the kick in the ass he’d needed. He had, at first, slipped, as he often did – – no matter the mission’s importance – – too easily into quick, professional efficiency or, as Bones liked to rib him, not enough buckle in his swash, whenever the Captain became taken more with the “how” and not the “why”, and occasionally even the “who” – – the moment he’d seen the source of that flicking red light through the dark water and had led the three others back out onto the sub’s bridge.

His thinking became almost encyclopedic: the Klingon Imperial fleet’s workhorse, the D-7 battleship, fired it’s photon torpedoes in abrupt, explosive bursts from launchers protected on its underside, back near the distinctive batwing nacelles. Jim, who had encountered the Klingons’ war-ready heavy cruisers in cease fires gone sideways and outright incursions intentionally inviting a response more than any other Starfleet Captain,, had always imagined the D-7′s weapons, when fired and exploding in a nearly blinding rush, as sounding like the largest old time artillery cannon imaginable despite the soundless void of space. In the holo’scans of the new K’t’inga’s weapons drills obtained by standard Starfleet intelligence, he’d seen the foreboding improvements developed for the more sophisticated warship. The forward torpedo tube at the the ship’s bow – – a large, circular opening beneath the command center and bridge proper – – slowly lit to a fiery solid red glow that indicated the arming and loading of the dangerously sensitive projectiles that when finally fired after two or three seconds of deadly exact aim-setting, were said to be bursting with so much destructive energy, the torpedoes expelled its excesses in jumpy, spinning powerful beams of hot red light.

Jim had figured that the K’m’anta,, shaped and structured much like the K’t’inga class – – only more “muscular” – – likely had a similar weapons system. Thirty-One’s Ordnance specialists had even ventured that the ship fired explosives of identical yield. Jim’s suspicions were proven right by holo’ images of K’m’anta’s first test launch he’d watched at that meeting in Admiral Parker’s Silverstream back in twenty-third century Corpus. And he’d had actually experienced a K’m’anta attack just the afternoon the day before flying intercept in his Crusader jet – though the time-traveling warship had remained submerged, unseen. Actually seeing the monstrous vessel hanging there, though, deep beneath the surface of Earth’s South China Sea, had a revelatory force. It was from that primary torpedo tube, located like that of the K’ti’nga class – – at the bulbous bow – – that the flashing of light, blood red, that he’d at first suspected were the LaFayette’s running lights., actually originated. But several questions were quickly arising…

Entering the bridge, Roger had guided Jim, with Maria, to a metal cabinet near the port leading back down the sub’s main corridor. Mithchell had immediately begun barking orders to the crew, specific things that needed to be done without revealing any reasons why. Gary clapped the helmsman on the shoulder, a tough nut in his thirties who, in a very brief conversation with Jim, had revealed he’d served aboard the Navy submarine Remora during the Korean War, before jumping ship in Pusan after drowning a local teenage prostitute. Just like Toad had warned him – – the cream of the twentieth century crop.

“Eddie, go below and help O’Donnell and Lasko ready the torpedoes. Oh, and both sets of countermeasures. Prime ‘em ‘till they’re gonna pop.’

The moment the helmsman had left his position, Gary slid into his place flipping switches ready and resetting the Nav chart for the Red Glare. Jim couldn’t help but notice, even with barely a passing glance, that Mitch, who’d largely been playing cool, as ice Section Thirty-One secret agent since Jim had come aboard, immediately looked the kid he’d been close to what seemed a thousand years ago. Hikaru Sulu could likely fly circles around him, given the directions of their respective careers in ‘Fleet, but that didn’t change the fact that, clear as day,, Gary Mitchell was a natural born navigating helmer.

Maria and Roger had been strapping on orange life jackets and he’d thrown one over Jim’s shoulder. Jim had made a token attempt to fit the thing into place, with its short belts and hooks and snaps, and then had tossed it aside. He glanced at Gary again, went to call out and say… something, and stopped – – What was there to say?

“Mr. Kirk,” Roger had said, moving around Jim in the confined and fully alive bridge space by the main port. “Good luck. It was very rewarding working with you.” Agent Two-Oh-One glanced at his partner, and said, in a conclusive tone, “Everything we’d heard about you was true.”

Jim had looked at him with some confusion which the mystery man brushed away with a shake of his patrician head.

“You’re a good man, Mr. Kirk Good luck..” He offered a hand and they shook with the certainty of equals, then the older man slipped past past two young crewmen arriving on the conn and was gone.

Jim threw a look at Maria and saw she was having trouble fitting the last strap on her jacket into place, around her narrow waist and half-way behind her. He stepped forward and turned her around and leaning in close, he straightened the life jacket and gave the waist strap a jerk. He immediately saw the problem and pulled the strap loose. As she twisted to watch, he nodded toward the entryway and asked “Where’s he going?”

“Roger? Our cabin. There are duties that need to be attended to and completed before – – “

Jim abruptly took hold of Maria’s shoulders and, moving beside and a little behind her, led and steered her through the hard-working, quickly moving crew that Jim had to admit, to himself, Gary had beaten into basic competence. They paused by the entrance and Jim quickly fixed the problem with her jacket, straightening a bent fastener and clipping the belt into place. He’d started to apologize for interrupting her answer to his question but could interpret the seriousness that made her pleasant features a hard mask and understood that she knew there was no exaggeration to his assessment of how little time they had. He just gave her life jacket belt a final tug and simply asked, “Ready?”

“Let’s go.” She took hold of his bicep and started forward, leading him. “I have something for you. A surprise.”

Kirk fell in line with her – –

“Jim!” Gary Mitchell had practically barked his name, clearly to get his attention. Jim turned to find – – –

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Mitchell was as he’d seen him just a few moments earlier, hunched over the maintenance board that controlled the vessel’s drive and navigation plot. His speed and efficiency wasn’t exactly a surprise;; even if they’d just been cadets on a simulator’s heavy cruiser bridge, and once in actual high atmosphere orbit during an off-the-books race against three other Black Hawk class shuttles, Mitch’s adaptability on the job was both a honed skill and a rare natural talent. Jim also suspected, though, by certain giveaways in his body language, even the way he was sitting, that the Nautilus’ helm likely housed,, undetectable to twentieth century eyes, one of the Agents’ helpful digital secrets.

But there was no suggestion he had wanted or had even called for Kirk’s attention. In fact, his body was turned slightly away from Jim as he fixed the helm ready for the quick changes in velocity and course the Red Glare would require and , at the same time, was checking over some clipped reports, held by the two young crew members who’d arrived as Roger left.

Kirk, still on the move with Maria, turned away from the bridge, assuming he’d misheard Mitchell’s voice that had likely risen as he’d issued commands.

“Knock ‘em back to Klinz’hoa,” Gary said, finishing his encouragement to Jim. And Jim, certain that – – without question – – that was indeed Mitchell’s voice, crisp and clear and banging around inside his head, not his mind playing tricks on him, not a fantasy or daydream, not, he had assumed, and had hoped, not a first glimmer of some form of time travel sickness that resulted in bad craziness…. it could be the sensceiver… couldn’t it?

He glanced back, but the bridge and its entry were darkened by shadows, and he thought about it…. The senceiver, it should have dissolved hours ago. Still, he tried to find it in himself, whatever it was he’d naturally done to communicate with the Nautilus from the depths, running out of oxygen.

That’s the plan, he said, in answer to Mitchell’s encouragement; clearly, easily, without actually speaking a word.

He hung off the edge of silence, waiting for Mitchell’s voice to pull him from the darkness….

Nothing.

Following Maria, they moved past the intersection of three sets of metal stairs. On their left, the stairs led up to the familiar Officer’s Sit Room, and those on the right, to what Jim took to be a barely used small Operations center. But Maria led him straight down the thin metal steps before them, continuing down the main corridor that led to the submarine’s wet bay.

And Jim heard him again – – Mitchell – – and knew, somehow, he wouldn’t hear anything more from his old friend.

“Remember what I told you, Jim.”

Jim hadn’t told Maria about that – – she’d quietly expressed enough concern about his physical and mental well-being. Besides, in spite of the aggravating narrowness of the corridor, they were moving at too brisk, a clip to bother.

Reaching the exposed engines section had slowed them but only a little.. They had had to climb up and over the largest block, as well as the next, avoiding the moving parts, one a large high speed cooling fan with. a blade that would cut bone as effectively as a Kling d’k tagh.

Climbing down the side of that second generator, Jim’s mind, in his unique fashion – – which was equally a weakness as a strength, Carol never had ceased in pointing out, in her lover’s way- – became focussed on considering every angle of what specifically he’d seen happening at the K’m’anta’s torpedo launch tube and the strange light, flickering and flashing, even strobing, in the darkness when logic suggested if the Kling were about to fire their weapons then the torpedo tube should have slowly but inevitably, lit up to a steady, solid glow. Being an unprecedented collaboration of this scale, between the Klingons’ sense of pure will and their intoxication of absolute power, and the hedonist Orion Oligarchs’t technological genius in the arts of warp field science at the service of pure politics, the time-traveling warship-doomsday machine, the K’m’anta, wasn’t likely designed to flash a display of spastic light followed by fire ejection of chunks of burnt and broken plastiform and smashed and smoldering bits and pieces of Yodsud Nu-Steel as part of its normal operating procedure. The weapons systems were damaged, or had been, and the two best explanations each required a different plan of attack on his part.

Logic, logic, logic, Parker picked the wrong guy for that, Jim thought as he had started squeezing through a series of back-up generators, constructed almost impossibly tight, following Maria – – logic’s gonna be the death a me….

“Unlikely,” Spock says, stepping down from his station, and taking his place at Jim’s side near the Captain’s chair. ”To the degree I can say I know you, I suspect that you will meet your end as it must for all mortal men; in your own way at a time likely not of your choosing – – and, in your case, it will be, I suspect, both highly original and completely irrational.”

“See what having a human girlfriend does even to a Vulcan, Spock? My comm officer’s turned you into the life of the party. Besides, you forget already? I’m surprised at you.”

He lets Spock think about this, waits for that tell-tale twitch of his eyebrow that tells Jim he has no answer- –

“I died once already,” Jim says. “And as far as I know, in this life there’s just one per customer.”

Jim expects the familiar small frown and shake of Spock’’s head, and is pleased, instead, by the barest touch of a smile that the “emotionless” Vulcan lets slip on those very rare occasions he appreciates one of his Captain’s jokes or Nyota Uhura’s loud, infectious laugh.

On the bridge of that imaginary Enterprise whipping around his mind on subconscious warp drive, Bones leaning against the other side of his chair, Carol hard at work at her “new sciences” and technology station far right and a little behind him, casting concerned watchful glances his way that she didn’t know he occasionally caught. And there was Mister Spock, or his imagined Spock, helping him sort his thoughts on the K’m’anta’s actual status through a Vulcanian equivalent of Socratic questioning.

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Spock suggests that if this were some one of a kind result of an alliance between the Klingons and the Orions – – no coincidence there, Jim realizes, with the Orrions suing for inclusion in the Federation at the same time, and using Jim’s actions against Klimt on Gethesemeni as a bargaining point – – and as this is clearly, in terms of Starfleer Intelligence lingo, a “One-One-One” event, or absolute highest priority on the part of their adversary,, then it was only, yes, logical, that the K’m’anta would likely have been designed and constructed with a fully integrated automated, computer controlled, all-systems back up. You mean, even if the entire crew is dead, Jim thinks and is interrupted by Spock who explains, Yes, it can run engines and weapons independently quite easily and those are the only systems of any use, presumably, to accomplishing their goals. Jim leans forward in the center seat, So, that light show in the torpedo tube – -? The Spock in him suggests that if automated, even with a most sophisticated A.I., it may scan and identify the Nautilus, the Lafayette and the US Navy vessels on the surface, but its weapons may simply be programmed to fire at any craft within a certain circumference and the torpedo tube was simply too badly damaged to fire. Jim gives Spock – – or, himself – – that much; the K’m’anta is trying to fire weapons, not as a result of a Klingon Commander’s orders to his Weapons Master, but simply because it was built that way and the Nautilus and the American sub aren’t vapor now because the warship is too badly damaged to repair itself robotically.

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On the other hand, thinks Jim and his imaginary Spock nearly rolls his eyes, when they torpedoed and vaporized that sampan the previous afternoon, it synchronized with events in terms of established history, more or less in that the NVA lost a vessel in combat, a sampan or a torpedo boat. I am working from the assumption, his Spock clarified – – a little petulantly – – that if a vessel as sophisticated as this time-traveling warship does have a fully aware back-up, such as those satellites we encountered when we attempted orbit of Canton , then yesterday’s attack would have been as easy to program as setting your proverbial alarm clock. Ah, but Spock, when they targeted my air group after we strafed them, well, let’s just say whoever fired that particle noisemaker, had something a little more physically hostile than artificially intelligent behind it. Don’t tell me, his Spock almost groans, you had…. a feeling. So much for logic, Kirk thinks, but there’s one other thing that’s gonna get your goat, Spock. My goat? Kirk smiles a bit, in his thoughts, at the look on Spock’s face whenever such confusion arises. Captain, I can assure you, I do not own a- – There’s the matter of how I’m gonna get aboard that thing. That damaged and patched up breach near where the neck connects with the secondary hull, that’s not the work of A.I. controlled robots. It’s so sloppy, looks so rushed – -it has got to be the work of what passes for Klingon engineers, bad ones, or, I’d bet it was assigned to a squad of inexperienced warriors stuck in EVA suits and let loose on a repair job they barely have the ability to do. Believe me, Spock, there is a cadre of Niv Mang on that ship in charge of an entire division of warriors and some of those warriors are likely trained in the science of advanced tech, their computer-controlled time travel guidance systems, and they’re likely in charge of the squads of plain old Klingon soldiers and military school grads who are stuck maintaining the engines, those time travel pylons and the forward torpedo tubes which, as I speak are being manically repaired and tested and as soon as its back to capacity and stops shooting their trash, they are going to rise from the Gulf of Tonkin and create hell on Earth. It also means, I may be walking into a lion’s den but as long as they’re vulnerable, busy patching their doomsday machine back together, I’ll be able to hit them hard.

Captain, his Spock says, at wit’s end – – for Spock, I fail to understand why it gives you such pleasure in engaging me in what is essentially a debate, or even an argument, when it is fully clear you have already made your decision As Jim finally emerges, just behind Maria from the tight maze comprised by the auxiliaries, he tells his imaginary Spock, with a smile, You know me, Spock. I have very low self-esteem.

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Maria had signaled him over to the hatch that opened to the sub-level which he pulled open with more effort than he’d thought necessary. And dropping below, he had nearly passed out, losing himself to that other place where there was a Carol and where, this time, he’d longed to stay. He’d felt Maria’s hand on a shoulder, preventing him from collapsing and he’d decided, despite the fact that she had clearly see-through him, to feign something between ignorance and indifference. He’d hadn’t continued struggling with the deception long though, discovering the half-finished deck and coming up with an improvised passage to reach the Nautilus’ wet bay.

And when he’d swung over the ballast pumps below, grabbing wet and slippery concrete pipes and thick, rubberized cables, he had finally felt a rush. The Rush. That wordless, adrenalized blast of what was more than physical energy; he could feel it jetting through his blood. And when the rush met his tough as nails, rigorously dependable sense of brusque and efficient command, that’s when he knew who Jim Kirk was.

Turning the heavy iron wheel on the door to the wet bay, Jim’s arm’s were about to lose their usefulness, turning to rubber, when he heard a loud metallic sound. The wheel had caught onto something inside the door and he could no longer move it – – then, through the fire in his arms, he felt the door spring slightly open. He took a breath, summoning a resource of strength, and pulled back on the wheel . Once the entrance was just wide enough, Maria slipped past him and into the bay.

She said, with a quick look back at him as he followed, “Shut it behind you. It will lock itself back up.”

Jim realized, as he did what she’d told him and hurried to catch up to her, that she was clearly ready with a plan. As she crossed the width of the low-ceilinged, largely barren space, Jim noted a large square area marked off on the slick, wet deck with thick black tape before joining Maria by a bulkhead layered and studded with electronics, switches and dials that Jim recognized right away. They were low-level, basic working parts common to twenty-third century high atmosphere/amphibious shuttlecraft, Flying Frogs, but were simple enough to pass, like much of the Nautilus, as experimental technology believably created in 1964 by some forward thinking marine specialist or engineering genius. Even if any of the hired crew found some kind of access to the seemingly fortified mission staging area, they’d likely buy into it; they were, after all, soldiers, either literally former American military or dilettantes, with heads full of some politically extremist nonsense of the era, An abundance of something they used to call “nationalism” – – backwards, childish tribal thinking that had nearly destroyed the Earth and its inhabitants.

Necessary from Thirty-One’s mission design to work the submarine, they were aboard, as far as they knew, as volunteers helping to cause some kind of “incident” in some rotten little jungle country where a handful of American military men had already been killed. It would be an incident that Gary Mitchell, that mysterious “foreign” couple, and likely a kid nicknamed “Toad,” had used to covertly recruit them, assuring their crew they’d be a vital link in a complex chain of events that would lead to a bloodless coup d’etat back home, in the States, and the installation of an Air Force General, whose name, LeMay, Jim thought familiar from his voracious study of Earth’s aeronautic history, as a the new American Ruler for a New American Society committed to ending the Cold War efficiently, with brutal efficiency. Or so Toad had led him to believe and Gary’s style of command had convinced Jim the ruse would hold – – but only to a point.

Maria worked the controls on one on the panels, frowned, and looked up toward the dark ceiling where a rigging of fluorescent lights were flashing and winking. As she moved over to the next panel, she said to Jim, “Your gear’s in that locker,” pointing to a line of tall gray metal boxes standing in a shallow alcove, one of them half-open. And Jim understood right away that she meant, plain and simple, “move your ass and get ready to go.”

As Jim approached the locker, the temperamental generator settled and the lights frizzing overhead snapped steady into an icy blue glow. Maria looked up and seemed satisfied, then turned to the next panel over and the frown returned as Jim dug through the pile of materiel he’d asked be kept ready for him back when he’d plotted his strategy while Thirty-One worked the larger “game plan.” Back on the fast approach to Gateway. Back on board Cat Dunbar’s Akula, the last time he may ever stand on a starship’s bridge….

He pulled out something familiar first; a sleek steel gray deep water body suit, Starfleet issue, as well as a protective chest plate that likely hooked and secured itself into place when fitted properly, and a light but strongly made up-and-over wet-jacket lined inside with a half dozen deep pockets. Thirty-One’s quartermaster had been thorough and, Jim couldn’t help but notice, a little imaginative. He next found an old, antique-looking speargun but made with modern – his time – working parts for the trigger, the safety and the loader. There was a notably heavy flashlight, both a belted holster and a period service weapon, a forty-five caliber, Jim guessed, and, in the same bundle, studded with bullets and period grenades, a heavy leather and plasticloth bandolier. There was also a twenty-third century phaser pistol, a civilian’s weapon, not Starfleet issue, with an extra power bar strapped to the handle.

“A man could have a wild night on Argeleus with all this stuff,” Jim said, a little loud, to get Maria’s attention. Uncoiling and pulling taut a length of rubberized rope – – which he recognized immediately was actually a strip of celecriate, produced by the sentient plant life on Hibiscus VII, and technically, unbreakable – – Jim let one end of the rope loose and it snapped almost like a whip, in Maria’s direction as she approached.

Maria came up beside him as Jim pulled a deep sea helmet which he pushed into her arms. He ducked half into the locker and, twisting it from the floor, swung out a heavy air tank. He pushed and slid it over to a rickety dolly he’d found behind the lockers and had stacked with his supplies. He rapped the tank with a knuckle, saying, “Ii’m going to need some help with this thing. Just let me get the wetsuit on – -”

“You won’t need the air tank,” she said with confident authority “or this thing,” she added tossing the helmet back in the locker.”

Jim twisted on his features something that barely passed as a smile. “Look, Agent three-four-seven, it’s kind of you to notice I’m in my physical prime but no matter how close Mitchell gets to the K’m’anta, it’s not going to be close enough for me to just take a deep breath- -”

She ignored him, pulling a small black device – – the one she and Roger had been toying with – – the shape of the increasingly obsolete Starfleet “phaser one,” from her jumpsuit’s thigh-pocket and pointing it across the bay and down toward the deck, pressed a softbutton. And the space Jim had noticed was marked off with electrical tape, split open evenly with a release of steam, and as each side rolled back, the open area below filled with sea water.

Jim glanced at Maria who turned to look at him, her attractive features still locked in seriousness.

“When we left the bridge, James,” she said, turning that palm-sized remote up to a section of the wet bay’s ceiling still layered in shadows despite the lights she’d repaired, “I told you I had a surprise ready for you.” She pressed a second button that produced a short, very highly pitched stab of sound.

Jim jumped back, just a little skittish, when a wide net made of metal dropped from above and landed in the open square of water. He looked up as a cacophony of more metal on metal, creaking and squeaking in a way that suggested wheels rolling, interrupted by an irregular SNAP that suggested something wasn’t properly aligned and failing to catch. The sound itself seemed to stir, then thin the shadows.

When the thing finally emerged, Jim said nothing at first. He simply watched the machine being lowered by chains hooked to its sides that had previously kept it suspended in that protective net. As it settled in the water, in the square that had opened on the deck, Maria climbed out onto it and removed one of the hooks. “Get the ones up front,” she told Jim who did as she asked again, without question. “Mind yourself, there,” she offered, pointing at the transparent “windshield’ that sloped at a fairly steep angle.

Reaching across the pane, he freed up the heavy hook farthest from him and finally said, “I guess it wasn’t easy, even for you and Roger, uh, Two-Oh-One, to bring a Starfleet engineering Work Bee back in time three hundred years.”

They both stepped back across the vehicle’s surface and Jim made a short jump back onto the Nautilus’ wet bay deck, turning to offer Maria a hand. She took hold and he kept her safe with his other arm around her back as she joined him. She nodded thanks and said, in reply to his remark, “You have no idea.”

She crossed over to a near work table – – “We’ve made some modifications to it that you may find useful” – – and grabbed a pair of large, thick rubber gloves, and a handful of what Jim could see were a stack of Starfleet data cards. As she threw her preparations together she said with almost unsettling calm, without looking at him , “ You’re of no good use just standing there, James. Get that wetsuit on then climb aboard and strap yourself in.”

Jim started quickly pulling off the baggy old sailor’s sweater someone had given him to warm up earlier, and he grabbed the wet suit that shifted hues – – silver, gray, metallic blue – – depending on the quality of light hitting it, and the distinct golden-yellow marker at the shoulders and ran down one’s sides serving as remote internal body scanner. He thought, sitting on a bench by the lockers, pulling off his combat boots, last time he wore one of these things, Nibiru? Gods knew that when he and Carol had gone swimming in the Caribbean, they’d worn barely anything at all.

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Jim stood for a moment by the Work Bee looking at it, its lines and curves; a pilot should know his ride before taking her out, and he could already see one of the Agents’ modifications – – they had either replaced or added onto the engine block, the addition spilling out and seemingly growing over the rear of the “ship” that would give ‘er a real kick. But for the most part, it looked like any other of its model and classification: basically, a single-occupant, yellow box, made of dichromium and plastiform with two empty “pockets” up front which could be fitted with robotic arms depending on the operator’s assignment. It was a utility vehicle common in every spaceport, starbase and dry-dock repair facility throughout the Federation, used to transport cargo containers as well as performing standard, uncomplicated construction work and repairs on space vehicles.

This one even had, emblazoned on its starboard side, the official logo that the Corps of Engineers had designed for the model, a cartoon bee with muscular human arms and a broad smile, above the vehicle’s identification plate with its long registry number and, in bold script, Property of Starbase 1 – Earth Orbit. Some wag had hand-painted the Earth-based Fleet Engineers’ unofficial slogan beside the I.D.,, “Best Care Anywhere.” Jim, who’d never had reason to operate one of the machine-vehicles himself but figured it would be self-explanatary, climbed onto one of its flared sidelong fins and hopped into the cockpit behind the open plastiglass window that comprised the front of the Bee.

Two more modifications were immediately noticeable. For years, he’d put up with Mr. Scott relaying complaints from his staff about how stiff and sore they got working the damn Bees because the ops chair may just as well have been made out of hardwood or Nefudian coldstone – – his standard retort had become well-known aboard ship, “You’re engineers? So build a pillow.” The chair in this Work Bee felt as though it were built specifically for his body and he immediately felt the pain in his muscles, his arms and back and shoulders, relax. There were no forward controls; rather, the Bee’s various functions had been rerouted and were operated through buttons and switches.

The other visible change to the vehicle was in back. In reworking the engine and its half dozen small motors, they’d created a small empty space on the other side of the ops chair. Glancing back, Jim saw a suitcase-sized metal box and presumed it held the remaining materiel he’d listed for the mission.

After he had got the wetsuit on, and the short, pocket laden jacket, Maria had helped rig him with the readied gear and weapons from the locker. She had thrown the bandolier over his shoulder and as he buckled it across his chest, clipped the heavy flashlight onto the weapons belt at his hip and gave it an attention-drawing tap.

“You’ll likely find this handy. Just make sure that when you are done, destroy it. Along with this…” She stuck the small phaser in one of the empty place holders stitched into the bandolier.

Jim looked at her as if he had missed something. “The flashlight? I understand the phaser – -”

She had picked up the speargun with a frown, studying it for a moment as she answered, “If you leave the flashlight behind and it fell into the possession of someone who could actually figure it out, it would just as easily set of a chain reaction of cause and effect that would alter if not destroy human civilization just as thoroughly as an invasion of Klingons.”

Jim had nodded, understanding – – the flashlight, like his ride, had been brought back from their time and was powered off a tiny chip of a battery that would run, theoretically, forever – – and Maria held up the odd deadly weapon, the spear gun, that Jim could imagine using in sports fishing, with a shrug. He’d gestured to the Work Bee and she tossed it in back.

Now that Jim was settled into the Bee, getting a feel for it, Maria passed him the last remaining items, a period shotgun that he waved off but she found a space for t in a space between JIm’s chair and the starboard bulkhead and a machete that Jim took with interest, moving it in his hand, finding the right grip.

“That is for nautical purposes, not a weapon,” Maria scolded him.

“Anchors aweigh,” Jim replied to her confusion, adding, “What about my explosives? The Bee-Zee Tee?”

“Behind you, in that case. They call it a foot locker?”

“So do we,” he assured her. “In Starfleet I mean.”

“The plastique is very carefully packaged and protected. But the foot- -? Foot locker isn’t sealed or locked.”

“No sudden turns. Right.”

“Here,” she said, stretching from where she was crouched down on one knee on the deck and into the fore section of the Work Bee. “Other changes we made. Pay attention now.”

Jim set aside the machete as Maria pointed to the end of the left armrest. “That toggle, there…” Jim bent forward and gently thumbed the small, rubber control stick.

“You noticed, the robotic repair arms – – we didn’t bother with those,” Maria said, indicating, with a small gesture, the the toggle where Jim’s hand rested. Jim looked at her, then down at the stick and nudged it – – just barely – – forward.

Two gouts of thick, roiling flame burst from the two indentations on either side of the Bee. They disappeared when Jim jerked the knob back with his thumb, leaving an acrid odor hanging in the wet bay’s heavy, damp air.

“Here and here,” Maria continued as if the flames were nothing, reaching across Jim to the opposite containment wall where two red snaps had been fitted over a panel that held a fat lit button. “This will take any attacker by surprise. We didn’t even use explosive bolts.” She flipped both snaps with one hand and in the same move, tapped the button.

Along the full length of the Bee’s stubby body, on both sides, a covering sprung open, allowing a heavy gun to roll out and lock in position. “Hmmm,” Jim sounded, impressed. “Where’s the trig – – There’s the trigger.” It was another simple and small piece of a rubberized stick, atop a movable metal brace handily down by his right side.

“The guns look period,” Maria told him, and Jim couldn’t help notice a glimmer of pride shining behind her by-the-book professionalism.“But they fire short phased bursts of Radonix. With a two-two-five D.P.L.”

“That’s some kick.”

“It will do the job.”

Jim nodded, suddenly aware, from simply her tone of voice, that her appealing, playful – – just short of seductive – – lightness of spirit, she’d displayed toward him specifically since he’d come aboard, had been a tool of sorts, a means by which she could help him – – and, likely, herself – – deal with the enormity of what they’d found themselves in the middle of and what they had to now do. He decided it pointless to call her on it.

Rather, the thought flickered in his mind how differently Carol would have handled running this op, With her unique upbringing, she routinely, as part of both her daily assignments aboard ship and when he found her the right choice to take on a mission – – how they’d dealt with that… the arguments, the near break-up before they were really a couple, his being called out in that year’s Gogol war games, for the role she had played, for what he’d still defend as his correct decisions…. that all felt like a different lifetime – – she approached every and any assignment with the full, phaser-focused intelligence and cool confidence of a scientist with a soldier’s sense of duty, strategic thinking and rough-it-out-toughness.

Maria stood and one hand went searching through, first, the narrow pocket from under her arm and down her right side, then the left, from which she pulled out something hidden by her fingers over her palm.

“Now, I understand any opposition to this, from what you suspect are side-effects of taking that senceiver internally, but, trust me. These will help you immeasurably – -”

She opened her fist, revealing a small, round metal container that she flipped open with her thumbnail. Inside it were two small off-white, oblong pills. Tipping them onto her palm, she held them close to Jim, saying, almost as if he’d already agreed to taking them, “Take them one at a time. And don’t swallow them. Let them rest on your tongue or tucked inside a cheek and let each dissolve.”

Jim looked at her askance.

“I- – Uh, I don’t – -, “ he started, prompting her immediate interruption, spoken firmly, clearly, and with complete assurance.

“The first tab will increase your brain’s activity. You will be able to process unfamiliar ideas in a flash of understanding. It will allow you to concentrate to a degree greater than you thought possible, no matter the high pressure of any emergency situation, and it will give you a greater sense of physical space. No matter how complex the layout of the K’m’anta., you won’t get lost.”

Staring at her for the only moment he could afford to read her, he picked the tablet from her hand and slipped it into his mouth.

“You will feel it take effect the instant it dissolves and begins to move through your system.”

“What’s the other one?”

“Take it. Quickly.”

He grabbed it and tossed it in his mouth. Maria waited a moment, watching him, until she was certain the pill was well on its way.

“That,” she said, “is a counteragent. It prevents the amassed effects of that first one you just ingested from driving you completely insane.”

Jim coughed and coughed forcibly – – too late. Maria grabbed him by the shoulder to steady him and addressed him with a strength and forthrightness, he’d never expected her capable of these past nine hours.

“It also has the added benefit of temporarily increasing your muscular density so you’ll become stronger and you will be capable of moving notably faster. It will affect most of your internal organs, almost entirely without consequence – -”

“Almost?,” he blurted.

“The exception is your lung capacity. With one deep but otherwise normal breath, in an atmosphere-free environment, under water for instance, you won’t need to take another breath for a little more than forty minutes.”

Jim gave her a dubious look as he shook his head with a partial smile that suggested he wasn’t gong to buy into that one.

She remained positive but in a way that assured him she was on the level. “I have experienced it myself. And I’ve observed a few who made it last for nearly an hour.”

“Damn,” he muttered.

‘I swear it’s true – -’

‘No,’ Jim said quickly, shaking his head a little, squeezing his eyes shut and opening them a few times, “I think that first one’s started to work. Oh yeah….. Wow.”

Finally Maria smiled, more from relief than any genuine amusement, Jim suspected. “Let’s strap you in, James, and wait for the alert from your friend, Mitchell.”

Moments later, Jim felt a shake shimmer through the deck, even through the Bee, and wasn’t surprised when, almost immediately, he could tell that the Nautilus had gone into an abrupt, deep dive. For all the details the agents, and their otherwise ignorant, local contract metal workers, had managed to implement into their salvaged sub’s hull, it had been a rushed job and, despite some tricky engineering that had limited its effects, Jim could feel the pressure change in his ears, his temples, behind his eyes.

Mitchell’s voice crackled over the intercom, “All hands. All hands. Emergency stations. We’ll be picking up speed that will come as a bit of a surprise.”

Covering his tracks, Jim thought; if he lets them in on some of the surprises, they’ll become a team, his team, overcoming adversity together, rather than questioning what it was they were actually doing. It’ll work as long as Gary still has that ability to maintain an easy working relationship with a crew, rather than resorting to a scientific or political bluff. Jim never had a problem with Gary at the poker table.

Jim had assumed that Gary had something prepared in the event that his crew of extremists and criminals caught onto the fact that they were being played. Last thing they needed in the middle of the coming escape maneuver and, not too long later, their playacting to convince the crew to abandon ship due to an imaginary disaster, was an angry, armed mutiny.

“We’re leveling out from the dive,” Maria observed.

“He’s going to bank any minute now – – uh, thataway,” Kirk replied, gesturing generally portside.

“Based on this maneuver he’s planned, how much time until we drop you?”

Jim bobbled his head a little, calculating – – then made his best guess. “Less than ten minutes.”

He quickly laid out for her what would happen, although he was aware it was less to reassure Maria than it was more a ritualized process for gearing himself for the task ahead. He explained how Mitchell, in adapting and implementing a bush league Starfleet cadet’s exercise to a md-twentieth century deep sea wartime situation, likely had waited for the LaFayette to disappear as it rounded the far side of the K’m’anta, on what could be its final pass, and then cut the Nautilus’ idling suspension that had kept them hidden just beneath the bulk of the Ticonderoga aircraft carrier. The sub, as they’d just sensed, would have dropped through the water in a perilous dive before engaging a course straight forward at a depth Mitchell had probably calculated would be just beyond the edge of the LaFayette’s sonar range. They were likely now setting a course from their straightaway into a wide elliptical turn to keep its high speed steady.

“Gary’s got a good mind when it comes to calculations and he’ll have it figured, the moment when you and I have finished prep and are ready to go and the Lafayette is close to where he needs them, in the vicinity of the Klingon ship.”

Jim paused a moment. Maria’s expression, her stare, suggested her thinking was far away. She spared him a brief glance.

“I’m listening. Please, continue.”

Jim frowned but went ahead. “When the moment’s close to right, he’ll come out of the turn, kick in all that extra power in that maze of auxiliaries we worked through to get here – – “

She nodded at his smarts

“- – and between their unusual speed and some wild, random radio signals, they’ll get the attention of the LaFayette skipper like a slap to his face. From there, you and me’ll have to play it by ear. and the moment Gary sees that the American boat’s going to give chase but he’s still close enough to the Klingons that I won’t practically kill myself before I can get aboard my target, whether the Klings’ notorious rapid-fire cobra cannons are firing or not. After that, I’m a ghost.”……

Maria took barely one quick moment considering this, then looked at him and said, quickly, clearly, “Jim, we’re nearly done here, so listen to me. There’s something I have been debating – – actually, arguing – – with Agent Three-Four-Seven about precisely we ought to tell you about – – things. Because whatever we say may not help you at all, or it may be entirely wrong – – “

“Maria?” Jim broke in. “Time.”

“I – – I’m sorr – – Three-Four-Seven and I are remarkably smarter than, well, all of you, but we are still human beings and all of this is, quite frankly, as outside of our own experience as much as it is yours – -”

“Maria!” Jim exclaimed. “A little clarity would be helpful. And quickly.”

A klaxon sounded, very loud, short blasts of electronically produced noise as the overhead lights Maria had steadied rolled over blue to red. Gary Mitchell’s voice rung out and echoed, bouncing off the damp surface of the wet bay….

“Captain to launch, stand by. We are opening ‘er up and initiating phase one on ten. Your mark.”

Maria pulled herself up a little, scrambling in a crouch, to a small, shell-shaped container sticking noticeably out the top of a mess of pipes and dials around a rusty barrel that Jim guessed was part of the pool’s cleaning source and filtration system.

She flipped the shell-top open and pulled out a headset, definitely not ‘64 issue, and after fixing it in place, snapped a series of heavy switches. A fat plastic button began flashing rapidly and she pressed on it hard with her forefinger, and the wild flashing stopped instantly to a sold steady green Adjusting the headset’s microphone close to her mouth, Maria called out, “Mark!”

A few seconds rushed by, and Jim felt the small vessel around him bob in the pool, rocking with the surging water and then he had the distinct impression of being jerked downward by an invisible hand that relented as quickly as it had kicked in. He looked over the side of the Work Bee, possible because he had yet to shut and seal the forward cockpit window screen.

Below, through the churning sea water, what he had thought was the Nautilus’ belly deck, separating its insides from its ocean environs, was still sliding back in halves and revealed a dark space beneath; a ballast tank, now filling with water, that served, he immediately realized as an aquatic variation of a spacecraft’s air lock.

“Launch bay?” Gary’s voice screeched through pops of static over the small metal speaker hanging over the lockers. “Two-0h-One, status!”

Maria steadied the uncooperative microphone again, moving back to Jim in the Bee.

“Lock for launch is ready, Conn,” she said clearly, steadily. Then, glancing at Jim, she added, “But I’ve got a red line on-station. Give me a few minutes to lock it down!”

Jim looked her quizzically, just a little confused. Maria shook her head at him.

“I can give you….’ The intercom went dead for a moment and quickly snapped back on with a howl of feedback. “No more than one hundred and fifty-seconds,” Gary told them, a hint of aggravation, Jim recognized, in his tone. “On my mark. At two and one half minute, we drop Echo-Victor-Alpha regardless.”

“Understood,” Maria called back over the microphone.

“Mark!”

Maria pulled off the headset and leaned in close to Jim. She had to raise her voice over the klaxon cries and the water cascading to fill the lock below. “James” she said, her features tight, “I have to ask you several questions and you must answer honestly, and directly to the point. Can you do that? It’s important.”

Jim nodded shortly. He’d slipped successfully so deeply into a mission-driven mindset, for a moment he felt as if she’d thrown a bucket’s worth of icy cold water in his face.

“When you experience this aphasia that’s been overcoming you since traveling back to this time – – “

Jim shot her a pained, frustrated look, flicking up his hands which, it became clear, she’d misunderstood, changing tack, slightly – –

“When have your black-outs that you say aren’t actually black outs – – “

He held up a hand to stop her, and cut in saying, “I know what aphasia is and it’s not that either,” and then faltered, “It’s – – I – – “

“You go someplace,” Maria said with authority. Knocked back, Jim just barely nodded. Didn’t even try to to speak

“Somewhere that doesn’t just feel real; you are fully cognizant that it is real,” she said, “As real as everything around us.” She said this, Jim sensed, with the intense confidence of someone who’s had to struggle to find an answer to a mind-bender of a question. “Where do you go?”

Jim started to answer – – caught himself. And then it hit him…. what difference would it make – – now – – in denying this mysterious, very human woman from some distant world nobody’d ever heard of and that appeared on no star chart or stellar map going back more than two hundred years, who seemed to have insight regarding what he thought was his own unique, possibly self-created, psychosis, and felt strongly enough about it to raise the subject just as he was about to undertake what even he had to now reluctantly had to admit may indeed be a suicide mission….. aw, what the hell was a glimpse into his soul worth anyway?

“I’m on Earth. In this time frame more or less, maybe a few years later,” he told her.. “After all of this. I mean, I was here, too – – when I’m there.”

“Here? Here where?”

“This country. This Vietnam. The American war here. And I meet her here. The end of this year. November, Nineteen-Sixty Four. November twentieth, Nineteen Sixty Four.” Another thought rushed through him at the speed of relevance – – “But when I’m there, I wasn’t any part of Tonkin – – of what I’m about to do.”

“What were you doing in this other Vietnam?”

“I – – I think I was some kind of pilot. It’s a little fuz – – But when I go there, this war is in my past, and hers. We’re married and living in Florida, I think. But I’m still some kind of pilot in the United States of America Air Force.”

“Who is her – – uh, who is she, the woman you’re married to?” Jim hesitated but she’d asked with such delicate urgency, as if his relationship with the woman over “there” was some cocktail stir-stick in a miniature house made of hundreds of them that she was constructing and if placed incorrectly…

He started to reply, thinking how to explain what Carol, his a hundred percent real Carol, meant to him – –

“Is it this woman you know from our time?” Carol, is it? Her name is Carol Marcus?”

An emergency bell started ringing crazily somewhere, joining the still blaring klaxon in a nearly overwhelming capacity and the looks between Jim and Maria made it clear to them both that their time was close over.

“Yes, it’s her. It’s Carol,” Jim started. I think – – I mean – -”

She jumped on his disquiet. “You mean what? Quickly!”

Jim’s thoughts tumbled over one another; it felt as though he was trying to describe the details of a half-remembered dream. It came out in a rush that was largely coherent

“Uh, she looks like Carol – – I mean she is Carol, physically. Her height and weight, her body, her physicality,…” Those legs, her décolletage in that tight V-necked, black casual uniform sweater she liked to wear off-duty without the normally required blue stretch-shirt underneath – – and he realized something he hadn’t exactly noticed when he was “there.” “She’s beautiful, and she’s put together beautifully, she’s strong – – but her body somewhat lacks… her musculature is different. She sounds like Carol – – it’s her voice – – but she doesn’t have the same accent. She smells of vanilla and lavender, like my Carol. She’s, uh – – We’ve been… intimate – – and she’s Carol. What are you thinking – -”

Maria waved him off, and proceeded in a similar rush but her tone was confident and strong and not to be questioned.

“James, don’t go back there. Do whatever it requires to do so but do not return to that place – – uh, reality – -”

“How am I supposed to do that? I told you – -”

“I don’t know! I’m s – – As I said, this is something outside of our experience or knowledge. It may well be out of anyone’s experience.”

Jim slammed his head back against the chair’s rest, looking upwards and shutting his eyes tight.

Maria took a fraction of a moment, putting her thoughts in some kind of order and continued, the edge in her voice a little less sharp. “James, Two-Oh-One, Roger, and I were sent here by our – -” She took an instant of thought and decision-making. “Our instructors to deal with a time travel scenario that- – humankind may not survive. That’s all. The rest, the complexities, we were not prepared for…. You must find a way, even if its just a force of will, to return home. To your time. This Carol, she needs you. Badly. There are a lot of people you care for who need you. History needs you.”

Jim snapped his head up, turning to look at her. He began thinking about the obvious, how it had been right in his face, so much so that he’d put the thought aside after he was brought aboard the Nautilus, but he let her continue.

“Roger and I would take you back with us, using our means of travel though normally there’s a degree of psychic training,,” Maria mused – – Agent Three-Four-Seven Jim reminded himself; he could see  in her eyes, the mental calculations afoot. “Besides, we believe you do have to complete your mission which, as I’m sure you’ve realized, means that there is no way we can return for you. Assuming you live. And you must live, James- -”

“You more than suggested to me that you can travel time very precisely . At will. But you’re jumping to different dimensions as well. Aren’t you? Other realities. My other reality?” Jim had kept his emotions under control – – but finally let them loose. “Goddamnit! You’re the cause of this! You and your goddamn partner!! Why me?! What do you have to gain by fucking up my existence – – “

“No, James! No!” Maria stated, almost imploring, almost angry; it cracked the cool demeanor she’d been cloaked in. “Roger and I are just players in all of this. As you are. Only, I’ am certain, your role is likely far more significant.”

Mitchell’s voice cut through the ringing of the emergency bell and the relentless rhythm of the blaring klaxons. “Two-Oh-One, launch Echo-Victor-Alpha. T minus thirty seconds. Enable.”

On the cue of “enable” a third sound tore through the klaxon and the bell. It was an electronic BUZZ-SNAP, one after another, one marking every second.

Jim grabbed the headset hanging loosely around Maria’s neck, jerking the microphone close.

“Mitch!! Stand down. Now! Got a problem down here!”

For barely a beat, there was silence…. then Mitchell spoke with deadly seriousness. “Can’t do that Jim, stand down. Outta time.”

“Goddamnit, Mitch. Stop the count, you sonofabitch!”

All Jim could hear was BUZZ-SNAP BUZZ-SNAP BUZZ-SNAP….

“Uh, launch bay, come in, come in!” And Jim could recognize Gary’s put on playacting voice he’d used on certain female cadets and Academy instructors, no matter the year or century.

“Yeah?” Jim replied into the microphone.

“Two-Oh-One, I’m going to have to re-start the thirty second count.”

Maria grabbed Jim’s arm and when he looked over at her, she spoke so quietly, it was as if she had simply mouthed the words, “The Cause?”

Jim nodded to her, understanding she was confirming what he needed most to know in the tiny fraction of time the Universe was sparing them.

“Two-Oh-One, lock launch Echo-Victor-Alpha off the audio countdown which I will re-set in seventy seconds. Mark.”

The countdown cut off on the next BUZZ – –

“You came here as had been arranged, yes?” She asked the question quickly but it was less purely a question than a confirmation.

“Yes,” Jim answered with a puzzled frown, unsure of her reason for asking something he believed she knew; perhaps she needed details to confirm what she claimed to see as the cause of the mission at hand. “The U.S.S. Akula got me to the planet the Federation Science Council codenamed “Gateway,”” – – he refrained from mentioning the name was his suggestion, taken from his logs detailing his discovery and subsequent events there – – “It’s the source of – -”

“Massive temporal disruptions and displacements originating from the organic machine that identifies itself as – – “

“The Guardian of Forever,” Jim interrupted, annoyance on the edge of anger lighting up his eyes, as he gestured for her to get to the point.

“Not long after you went through its portal, James, the Guardian was essentially destroyed by Klingons.”

“What?”

Maria seemed confused, arranged her thoughts as she replied, and Jim decided she was either putting an elaborate lie together or else, she and Roger really were out of their depth.

“What we heard and saw when we were last in the year twenty-two sixty-three, monitoring the effects of any changes to our timeline from your – – our – – activities, was unclear. There was considerable confusion in your organization – – Starfleet – – or this Section Thirty-One, but they seemed certain that those Orion kill-ships that attacked the Akula on your way to Gateway, regrouped and laid a swath of destruction to hide the approach of a Klingoni triad. Even then it was uncertain whether it was an authorized attack by their government or, what you call, a Klingon jihadi sect. In either case, its complexity – – “

“You said the Guardian was essentially dest – – What’s that mean, “essentially”?”

“Segments of the time portal on the surface were left standing, generating power erratically. It communicates periodically but not in any known language. Your Federation sent a science team that included your friend. The Vulcan. And they discovered that, for lack of a better term, the Guardian’s identity is deep underground; so deep it may somehow be an element of the planet’s core.”

“But,” Jim started, his voice low, “does it, I mean, what were the results of this assault?”

She didn’t miss a beat, answering, clarifying quickly and straight to the point. “Time and what we think of as quantum space has been fractured into who knows how many different realities. Maybe an infinite number of realities, and there are suggestions that these realities are all porous, capable of “bleeding” into one another. Roger discussed this in an audience with Sitar no less,”

Jim discovered he’d lost the ability to breathe. He shook his head, trying to wrap it around her words which, to him, were so insubstantial, his mind found it was just wrapping itself around itself. Something like that snake eating its own tail, he passingly remembered Carol telling him…. Ouroboros.

“Well, what do we do?” Jim asked, “There has got to be a way to set things right. Do you, me, everyone – – everything – – live the rest of our lives with no sense of, of anything?”

“Maybe not,” she ventured, her stare boring into him, as if what she was about to explore was something she’d given serious, final and inarguable thought to. “James, you were the last being to pass through the Guardian with purpose.”

“I’m – -,” he replied, practically swallowing the word. “I’m the goddamn – – You’re telling me I’m the goddamn cause of this, this…. all of this?!”

“I think,” she answered, nodding her head just a little but definitively, “that the word “source” is more meaningful than cause. In either case, James Kirk, at the moment – – however long this moment may last – – you are the most important being alive in the Universe.”

BUZZ-SNAP BUZZ-SNAP….

Twenty-eight goddamn seconds left, Jim realized. Maria clearly did, as well,

“No time left, James. But – – ,” she said, her left hand fishing out something from a jumpsuit pocket that ran along her thigh. “You want a single simple reason why you must find a way, some way, any way to return to your time and place? And if, if you are in fact the source of the…. substance …. of these realities, there has got to be a way.”

“Of course. You said something before about – -”

She jumped on his words and past them. “If we can assume where we are, now, is our history, then, conceivably, the future is our future – -”

“Yeah, sure. But – “

“And somewhere in our future, your future, James, in the Earth year twenty-two sixty-three, the year you travelled back in time on a mission to help halt a coming war, your starship is leading the Starfleet into a battle with the warships of the Klingon Empire in the vicinity of what you call the Silver Arm. Your Enterprise needs you, there, on the bridge and in command. And that woman, the one you care so much about, your real Carol Marcus – – ?”

“What about Carol?! You said before she needed me. There’s a specific reason she needs me, is what you’re not saying.”

“She has made, or is making, a terrible decision, thinking that it will somehow get you back to where you belong. She is figuring out the time travel that was involved in your disappearance. That is all I should – -”

“Tell me,” Jim said, his voice turned into steel. “What decision?”

BUZZ-SNAP….

Maria pursed her lips, frowned as she looked down. “The details of her options- – of the plan she had conceived are unclear and – -”

“Tell me,” he said with a nearly unrestrained hostility.

She looked at him, clear-eyed and spoke with matter-of-fact straightforwardness. “She will become, or is the property of the Orion called Afa Kllimt – -”

“Karr,” Jim said, every nerve in his body bursting into fire.

“She is his slave. He uses her for her weapons and technology knowledge in the coming war, playing side against side…. He uses her…. for whatever he wants.”

“Because of me,” he mumbled, more to himself than to Maria, knowing somewhere in the back of his mind that that made little rational sense, but as those fiery nerves were becoming an inferno, it provided him his fuel.

BUZZ-SNAP BUZZ-SNAP BUZZ-SNAP

“James,” she said, some her natural-seeming softness returning to her tone of voice. And he looked back up at her. “Please remain perfectly still. This will be over very quickly and painlessly.”

“Huh?”

Maria’s right hand flew up so fast it was just a blur to him, and took a hard, strong grip of the back of Jim’s neck. Jim’s surprised and aggressive instinctive response to strike back with equally efficient ferocity was held fast and in place very steadily. Maria’s other hand drew from that pocket along her thigh, a short silver, metallic stick. Jim’s eyes shot down as she pushed the end of the stick up to his nose. He saw a flash of thin silver spring from the end of the stick and felt whatever it was fly up through his nasal cavity and then there was a light tingling in his brain.

“You said you recorded a message for Toad’s senceiver, yes? For someone back home? What he may not have told you, that message naturally imprinted on the one still in your head.”

Less than a second later, his mind cleared as if by a silent gust of wind . Her hand with the silver stick pulled away and a tiny red light was flickering at the top of the stick. Maria shook the stick and tapped it on her open palm and a small clear tube ejected from the bottom of the stick. She held it up between thumb and forefinger for Jim.

“You can’t actually see it of course. Good thing I got to it when I did; it was about to come apart. When I go back, I can try and make sure she gets it before she can even imagine making that decision.”

Jim wasn’t sure he’d heard her correctly but he said, “No. Give it to my Vulcan friend. Spock.” His mind suddenly snapped back. “It’s for her. But coming from Spock means she’ll know it’s something real.”

He suddenly shook his head with a pinch of pain in his ears; either it was the deep sea pressure again, a soft high-pitched ringing in his head, or maybe the result of Maria’s assault. But no – – he was hearing it. And Maria heard it as well, cocking her head. It was a muffled, distant high-pitched ringing that quickly became a higher pitched whistle – –

“Torpedo?” Maria asked.

“Yeah,” Jim replied, listening closer still, with peaked concentration. “But not from the Navy – – That’s Klingon! Four Two One Naq Jej.”

– – and resolving into a mechanical scream that doppled past and away.

A few silent seconds passed. And then Jim heard something he’d never heard before. It was like a sickly but powerful electronic ululation – – cut short. No, he’d never heard it before but he was dead sure he knew what it was…..

“My gods….,” he said, almost a murmur beneath his breathing, “They’ve vaporized one of the American ships on the surface.”

Star_Trek_the_Motion_Picture_004.jpg

She looked at him in a way that wasn’t disbelief; it was as if he were speaking another language. “That can’t be.. That never happened. There would have been some effect on the future’

“I think we just saw reality fracture again.”

The Nautilus shook abruptly, at first like a shove and rocking back afterwards.

Knowing worry crossed Jim’s features and he barked at Maria, “Hang on!”. As she went to ask him why, what was happening, the Nautilus began shaking violently, the various pieces of the sub and the sub itself. Maria grabbed for the only and closest edged surface, wrapping her fingers and holding tight to the edge of the open pool and with another tremendous shake, almost a convulsion, the Nautilus rocked sideways in a way that suggested how easily it could be hammered into a full, round-and-about roll.

Jim knew it was the delayed, watery effect of the torpedo’s passage and it destructive power that, he was certain had just phased a massive sea-worthy battleship out of existence. At a slight let up in the surging ocean around them, Jim reached down on his right and grabbed a lever protruding from the bottom of the Bee. He yanked it hard.

At the front of the small, tight cockpit, the wide window and viewer lowered into place and Jim ordered Maria, “Launch me! Launch me now!”

maxresdefault.jpg.

She rushed to that clam-shaped control box, nearly slipping on the wet deck with another lurch from above. She punched a fat square button, and whipped around, back to Jim.

As the Bee’s frontpiece sealed itself around the cockpit’s edge, Jim shot a look back at Maria whose earlier serious frown was now on the verge of a kind of confused despair. “Light that candle…. ,” Jim muttered, gearing himself, “Light that candle – – “ And a thought sprung into his thinking. He nodded his head at her, locking fast her attention on him, and spoke loudly, almost having to shout over the cacophony of the klaxon, emergency alarms, ship’s instruments and open service panels signaling madly for attention, and the final BUZZ-SNAP that was punctuated by a long electronic honk, like the one Jim had heard watching a jet hockey game with Carol close beside him, hugging him close, on icy Nefud. The memory fell away as he called to Maria, “You can tell Parker when you see her, I’m in charge here on out. Of the whole show. She’s done!”

“Who?!” she yelled back, her voice just audible enough as she approached in a slight crouch, for a lower sense of gravity against the settling shakes of the submarine.

Assuming she hadn’t heard him, he raised his voice as he felt that invisible hand grab and pull the Work Bee down again, only this time it didn’t let go.

“I said, tell Parker, y’kow, Admiral Parker, that I’m reliving her of duty, the minute I turn back up!”

“Admiral Parker?,” she asked, going down on one knee, looking at Jim as the vehicle was pulled lower and lower. “Who is Admiral…. Parker?”

Jim could tell by the blank confusion splashed across her face it was genuine. She had no idea who he was talking about.

He watched her stand as she became a distorted human shape, the result of the ocean’s water in the lock sloshing across the plastiglass comprising the front of the Work Bee. And then she was gone, swallowed by a darkness that rolled across view. A moment barely passed floating in the dark of the lock space while Jim ran a quick check of his status across a small panel of read-outs, then closed his eyes and took a deep breath, when there was a blast of light and a surge of oversized carbonized bubbles beneath and around his small ship. Explosive bolts, Jim realized, his hands grabbing the arm rests tight.

The Work Bee was launched from the belly of the Nautilus and he could instantly sense by the shake and a barreling rush of .a hard-lined shape over him, how fast the Nautilus was moving. And then he heard it again….

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That high electronic whistling scream…. close…. and closer, much louder than before. And, he saw, a flash of prismatic red, throwing off twisting beams of light. Jim’s grip on the armrests tightened even more as that spinning hot redness became a smear as it whipped by so close, he felt as though it was pulling him in – – Maybe I’m in its wake, Jim thought wildly, all logic gone, when a terrifying and magnificent flash of light, white light bleeding red, filled the Work Bee for just an instant, and a tremor passed through him and all around it felt like something had punched a hole in the surrounding deep water that had quickly sucked itself back together and the Bee shook and spun…. shook harder as it spun faster…. and he heard something else…. a voice, familiar and friendly and calm against the chaos…

“Hey! Where’ve you been hiding? Looks like you could use a drink.”





Art Gallery 1

14 02 2017

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A collection of some of my best “digital art” – – photo manipulations, paintings.  These selections either come closest (or in 2 cases) to achieving the legitimate, traditional “painterly” quality I strive for with such work.

Titles listed below…..

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Hail, Caesar!

10 02 2017




STAR TREK Beyond Forever – part 1 chapter 8 K’m’anta

7 02 2017

Her long fingers moved across the markings on the panel beside the wide tabletop. The emblem of the United Federation of Planets in silver, blue and black – – the outlines of olive leaves, human symbols of peace, the stylized humanoid profiles, facing away from one another to the beyond with a star map between them, emboldened circles around Earth, New Vulcan, Betazed, Andor, Alpha Centauri, Rigel Prime – – had coalesced in light over the table, rotating slowly.

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“Starfleet identification,” the computer said in a dispassionate female voice. “Voiceprint.”

“Parker, Eleanor V.,” she had replied and, not waiting for verification, added, “Computer, override. There is to be no record of this session.”

“Affirmed.”

That had grabbed Jim’s attention. His C.O. – – in fact, the ranking officer of Starfleet Command specifically in charge of all starship operations, including combat, at which she had demonstrated, once and again, a unique ability – – had just offered him, not ordered him, the risk and challenge of a mission that, while explaining it in the broadest strokes for it to barely even qualify as “a mission,” had likewise assured him its importance likely meant the continued survival and success of the United Federation of Planets as a largely humanity-driven force of peaceful co-existence and exploration between wildly different worlds and cultures. Failure of said mission, their own most sophisticated militarists, statisticians, and astrophysics specialists concluded, would likely mean not only the dissolution of the Federation but very possibly, the end of the human exploration of space and, potentially, Earth becoming just another conquered world under the Klingon Empire which, for almost thirty years exactly, had made unprecedented, and economy enriching, technological leaps forward in their spacecraft design and construction, built primarily as warships, that had baffled Starfleet intelligence. Intel had kept that unsettling conclusion quiet from the Fleet’s service personnel, and had lead, in part – – large part, along with mad Nero’s destruction of Vulcan – – to the genesis of Section Thirty-One, modelled by Admiral Alexander Marcus and two other, notably anonymous, high ranking Federation officials, all now long dead, loosely upon old Earth’s American Central Intelligence Agency and other clandestine services.

Jim’s mind was swimming, in the implications of what he had just agreed to, shaking the Admiral’s hand, as well as in the depths of another glass of the too-smooth, private stock scotch. Later, he would realize that her flat, threatening statement about being removed permanently from the Captaincy of his ship, and even disavowed by Starfleet, had been at least partly meant to throw him off his game – – she knew him well enough – – but then she had gone on to overwhelm him with details from Thirty-One, with whom – – not for whom, she emphasized – – he’d be working. As a civilian contract agent. Before gesturing for him to follow her to the holo-ops table in a half-enclosed corner of her den, she’d said “Thirty-One will be required to report only and directly to me.”

Despite the scotch, he had seen her meaning clearly in a flicker of light in her eyes, heard it in the cold crispness in her tone of voice. If the Federation’s leadership, and its President herself, the recently elected aging Vulcan, T’Pol, well-regarded by even Starfleet for her service with Jonathan Archer himself aboard the NX Class Enterprise, were left out of the decision-making process, they’d be freed of any responsibility regarding these events and that left the power over the Federation’s future, if Jim had understood her clearly, ultimately in the hands of Eleanor Parker.

The fact that she had told the Starfleet computer tie-in to shut down its basic recording and preservation system, left the words “plausible deniability” hanging unspoken in the Admiral’s private den and if it turned out she was more than simply pushing the outside of the privileges-of-command envelope, if she were dealing him half truths or outright lies about this mission he’d agreed to, for purposes of securing her unwarranted control, if not carefully assembling the pieces for an unprecedented, history-busting rogue action, like some sort of admirals’ mutiny or coup d’etat to ensure Alexander Marcus’ pre-emptive war on Kronos…. Well, Jim had no doubt who’d wind up hanging from that “highest yahdahm” his old friend Cat Dunbar had only half-joked about.

“Computer, go to M-One functions.”

The bars of light on the black computer panel turned from red to blue and the rotating hologram of the UFP seal flared and faded. Jim stirred his tumbler, staring into the scotch, as the Admiral ran her fingers over the computer’s control board, manually calling up data that was flashing first across the ops table’s screens and then as jittery, dancing-floating holograms. Jim paid them little attention, lost in the questions he knew he should have asked before agreeing to Eleanor’s terms. But before even a mention of this covert, voluntary assignment was made in any way, she’d raised the subject he had assumed was the point of this “friendly drink” in the first place. And she clearly had no interest in his explanations or arguments; she told him plainly about how Jim’s killing the Orion Pasha, Klimt, a key member of their world’s Oligarchy, had, mincing no words, “screwed her sideways.”

As she laid it out, Jim felt the urge that came by his nature, to correct her, to make a stand, to fight for what he knew was the truth – – but he felt that compulsion slip away without any struggle, and that awareness, that feeling, strangely, made it slip away even faster. Admiral Parker spoke quickly – – not hurriedly – – just with a confidence that famously allowed little coherent rebuttal. She had told him that no matter how proud she may, or may not, have been of him personally for more than simply his bravery but for his tactical thinking, the fact was he had killed one of the leaders of a sector of star systems that served an important purpose in the Federation’s ongoing negotiations with the Orions. Without details, she told him that she didn’t expect the Federation to welcome the Orions into membership with open arms; the Orions had made it clear they weren’t exactly interested in that. The negotiations were about something more complex than simple membership and the orchestrator of this complexity had been the Pasha Klimt. To the ruling Orion power brokers, the leaders of the wealthiest and eldest family clans and the fearsome, monstrous gang bosses of their endorsed criminal Syndicate with their private “armies” of hired and cultish killers, James T. Kirk was a murderer, a political assassin and, by their warped, to Earthers, customs and laws and societal norms, his taking of Klimt’s “prize and property,” a usurper and pretender to Klimt’s power.

“Property?” Jim finally interrupted, almost sputtering. “By property, you mean Lieutenant Commander Marcus.”

“And don’t you mean “Carol”?” He hadn’t responded, knew she had more. “Of course, she has nothing to fear. Nor do you. We’re not about to hand her over to clan Klimt – – despite Afa-Klimt Karr ‘s insistence and threats.”

“Karr?”

“Klimt’s first son. He’s been running their clan under that old, degenerate fool’s name since coming of age, about three or four Earth years ago. Your killing Klimt gave him exactly what he wanted. It made you his convenient personal nemesis – -“

“And Carol?”

“She’s Karr’s as far as the Orions go. And, as a result, he thinks the Federation is as at least partly under his thumb. But I’m not taking chances with her. I’m transferring her off the Enterprise. Get her off the frontier to an Earth assignment. Maybe a supervisory role at the Academy.”

Kirk went to say something, his thinking active in his eyes. Eleanor stopped him with a raised hand even before he opened his mouth.

“Jim, we’re on emergency time here. With more variables at play than I can count. But an outbreak of hostility is a certainty. You really want Carol out on our command ship, the head of our spear? I’ve spoken to Karr and he speaks for the Orion armed forces Regulars and whatever element of their Syndicate he holds sway over and he assures me his “slave” is in the mix. Now you can tell her about the waiting Academy position when your leave’s winding down. Or I can if it’ll make the transition easier – – “

“Daystrom,” Jim had said, thinking aloud, working it out for himself. “A few months ago – – I didn’t tell Carol about this – – I received a personal communique from Deborah Daystrom asking if I’d be willing to lend them my weaps,” he said, massaging the facts; in fact, Ms. Daystrom clearly had assumed arrangements had already been made with Carol, presumably after talking it over with Starfleet Admiralty….. “Carol’d sent Richard Daystrom himself an outline of some project she was developing and it lined up with something they’d nearly given up on.“

“What did you say? To Deborah?”

Jim had steeled himself, knew he wouldn’t like whatever was coming. “I told them I’d say “no,” if it were just up to me.” He smiled at her but it held no camaraderie, only dark-humored knowingness. “What did you tell them, Admiral?”

She smiled back, barely – – more a twitch. But it was sprinkled with frost. In his few private meetings with the Admiral, primarily discussing the ongoing Organia-influenced Terra-Kronos negotiations which they’d agreed verged on whatever passed as Klingonii farce though differed on how to proceed, he’d come to understand that frosty twitch of her lips, the way she tilted her head back a little so she looked down at him; it meant she took his smart ass-ery as an allowable defense mechanism – – and even found it, to a small degree, funny… but only so far.

“Deb Daystrom and I travel in a few of the same social circles, so I gave her my two cents, plain and simple. I told her Doctor Marcus is on a very short list of my best science officers working in deep space and, even without knowing a thing about her
private research, I suspect she will prove to be Starfleet’s brightest and most important mind when it comes to the looming problem of advancing our integration of weapons and warp to stay ahead of our current adversaries. Otherwise, I told her she should talk to Lieutenant Marcus’ C.O..”

Jim felt it again, more than a sense but less than a certainty of where she was going with this. More than that, though, he felt another twist of that vague but very real anger he’d been struggling against since Carol’s kidnapping and his one man rescue of her, his battle with the Orions. And the more he fought that internal anger, the more he’d wanted to hold her, protect her and, even more than that, he’d wanted to deal those green bastards another killing strike. And, despite himself and the better angels of his nature, he was aware that he had no desire to shake himself from that desire. But what the Admiral was suggesting…..

Carol had become a generally popular figure aboard what had been his ship and that went further than the occasional Captain’s glare he’d had to aim lately at a few young, new crewmen who’d let their eyes linger over her a little too long in Five-Forward, the Enterprise’s ersatz “Officer’s Club” (with “All Enlisted Welcome” hand-painted under the authorized signage in what was clearly McCoy’s style). Occasionally, it was to her amusement, those lingering stares and even moreso, his glare, Jim had noticed. By Carol’s own admission, the degree which she could be well-liked was only partly a result of her own sense of self and, just as much, the influence of her politically charitable mother that had always kept her open and receptive to others. And likely it was her father’s military instincts and bearing that had trained her to keep those same people, particularly those she worked with, at arm’s length. As a result she had, from time to time, gathered an only partly justified reputation for stand-offishness, and, less fairly, as a privileged icy blonde princess and daddy’s girl, though from the crowd at the Starfleet bar on Gesthemeni, she now was as equally and unkindly regarded by some as “the traitor’s daughter,” viewed with nearly slanderous complicity in her late father’s actions. On the Enterprise, though, she had found among its diverse crew, genuine friendship, the kind close enough to call “family.”

She had assembled a fine advanced weapons specialty division from the sciences, from engineering, from security and from command strains and had earned their devotion through what Jim recognized as a very clear command style, posing imaginative challenges to both difficult practical problems and confounding though workable theoretical situations and encouraged her people to come up with even more imaginative solutions. It went beyond the always breakneck work schedule, though.

Despite what Jim perceived as their obvious personality differences, Carol and Nyota had very quickly become the best of friends, notoriously at their first chance leading a “girl’s night” off the Enterprise on a hard drinking, clubbing and dancing crawl in rare friendly alien ports that allowed for recognizable R and R. Bones still playfully flirted with “blondie”, even after Jim had come clean with him about his feelings for her, though she treated McCoy like an older brother whose advice she sought and whose hide he knew she’d be there to pull from the fire. She and Scotty both claimed to be able to drink the other under the table while each mocked the other’s latest theories regarding firing weapons at warp, a paper they were preparing together for Starfleet Sciences’ upcoming new Lilian Sloane Prize for deep space missions. Her broad intellectual interests, background, and the fact that she had first gained notoriety appearing on a children’s holo ‘cast that featured competitions of kids who were just “too damn smart,” in Jim’s words, answering trivia questions and arguing in various debate-styles in alien languages, made her an all around “Miss Smarty-Pants” – – again, her Captain’s estimation – – and seemingly always had an off-the-cuff answer for Sulu’s most pressing question in regard to his latest weekly hobby that would turn into an eventually forgotten obsession. She pulled Ensign Chekov’s leg like the best of them, at his youthful expense and over his idiosyncratic “Basic,” though she saw his unique potential as a strategist and had incorporated him as her “Number One” in both weapons test operations and drills, and, without missing a beat, in those increasingly common occurrences when the Captain had ordered battle readiness.

And while she hadn’t cracked Mister Spock – – few did, as Jim could attest – – she had made amends for the way she had cheated her way aboard the Enterprise under the Exec’s nose during the Harrison incident through her intellectual curiosity and rigour, her relentless work ethic, and the simple respect she clearly had for him as a Starfleet officer and and a scientist. After some time, quickly by Spock’s standard, he had returned, well, not the “feeling” so much as an acknowledgement of her “sufficient” approach to all sciences. When her solution to foiling a planned interplanetary bio-chemical missile attack by the thoroughly corrupted forces of the planet Ekos against the peaceful inhabitants of sister world Zeon, the First Officer considered her findings and recommended actions, nodded slowly, his brow creasing slightly, and said, “Most ingenious, Doctor,” and proceeded to bring it to the Captain. Jim had later learnt from Uhura that Carol had come to her after leaving the M Four-Three Alpha system and had almost, not quite but nearly, gushed like a school girl over Spock’s simple compliment. Jim had taken up Carol’s side, saying “Well, my god, Uhura. Coming from Spock? That’s practically an open mouth kiss…. Does he do that?” Nyota had cut him off right there.

It just wasn’t right that she should lose all of that and all of them over…. what?

He shook his head in quiet surprise and snapped to; Admiral Parker was grasping his shoulder with, to him, unprecedented familiarity.

“Jim, the Daystrom Group maintains the highest level of private security and I was also planning to assign two of my best people within her shouting distance for the foreseeable future. And Carol will be doing what she does best and what she loves. It’s the best possible solution until – – Well…“ She paused, and nearly unnoticeably changed tack. “This research she’s doing, what can you tell me about it?”

Jim shrugged and shook his head, dismissing his superior officer with a distracted wave of his hand holding his drink.

“Look, Admiral, you’re throwing around “certain outbreaks of hostility” and “spearheads” and I can’t help but think it’s got to do with a lot more than some ambitious Orion kid with a hard-on for blonde human women with great legs.”

Eleanor began to respond – – but, this time, Jim spoke over her, confidently. “Now, I’m sure you’re right; the Orions are probably involved in whatever hostilities you’re avoiding with me but they’ve always got a way of playing one side against the other so that they can emerge with at least the illusion of victory. But I’m making a pretty well-experienced guess that if you are considering the coming of an all-out, very unpleasant war, you’re talking about the Klingons.”

“Well, yes,” she replied, failing a little to keep the uncertainty out of her voice. “But it’s complicated and we’re getting ahead of oursel – -“

“So, I’m left thinking that if you’ll be sending the Enterprise to settle things, maybe once and for all, why the hell are you threatening to remove her Captain who, time after time, has proven himself to be, quite frankly, the best goddamn leader in the Fleet?”

“It’s not just a threat, Jim,” she had said. It was like iron. But she softened slightly as she continued while still keeping her tone unapproachable. “Jim, I personally chose Detmuller from JAG to run Starfleet’s play in this Klimt mess. I knew he’d get under your skin. I was hoping it would be enough to call upon that…” She thought a moment; a careful woman of precision who could use that precision like a weapon. “That heartfelt, damn the torpedoes eloquence of yours. I’d thought- – I had genuinely believed it would be enough for at least Harmon and Donnaghy to come back and give me some usable artillery to throw at Karr and his allies. And what did you do instead? You punched Detmuller in the face and broke his nose in three places.”

Jim shook his head as he knocked back the remainder of the scotch in his tumbler, and, sneering, muttered, “Seriously? You’re disavowing me from Starfleet and taking away the one thing that means…. anything, in terms of my accomplishments, my starship, because I decked one of your lousy shitbirds?”

“No,” the Admiral replied in patronizing, tolerant motherly ease. “You’ve left me and yourself no choice. Detmuller and the admiralty conferred and it was agreed, the following: That whatever arguments the Orions are, by Federation law, allowed to present to Council, as a human being born in space but rightfully claiming birthright citizenship as a Terran, well, there are no extradition agreements between Earth and Orion One. However, as a Starfleet officer acting personally rather than in the line of duty, technically, things get sticky. Starfleet, as you should know, treats all allied legal systems with equanimity- -“

“The Orions aren’t our allies. They are trade partners at best, slim best. And they throw a good orgy, I’ll give ‘em that. They’re dangerous aggressors at worst. They’re pains in the ass. My god – -“ Jim’s face fell with the realization…. “Don’t tell me this is about The Arm. It is, isn’t it? This is about the goddamn Silver Arm! You’re throwing me overboard for a piece of real estate?”

“Jim, don’t.” And he had seen it, heard it – – that this seemed hard for her. “You know what the Arm means. Hell, it may very well be our future.”

He had shaken his head in frustration, knowing she was right. He’d continued throwing everything he had at her – – arguments, defences, strategies – – and she had been well readied to counter each as they came. He threatened to take it all public, that he believed Ad Astra, Starfleet’s journal of record, had writers who could make their name off a story like this. And her response was a hard truth – – if the details went wide, Jim would rightfully face court-martial which even were he to buck the odds and win, he’d still be ruined, unwanted by Starfleet and having only the protections of any other Federation civilian. And Carol Marcus? She was strong, but strong enough for him to put her through that? The attention she would attract, again, after her father’s downfall, would likely see the always secretive Daystrom sever contact and she’d lose the steel wall protections of his security service. She’d be vulnerable to the curious, the unscrupulous, errant mercenary seekers. Orions. Intel had confirmed rumors from Orion space that Karr was financially nurturing proven Thugee, specialists in infiltration, of planets, spacecraft, security breakers, kidnappers. Slavers. Likewise, known to Karr and in opposition to him in a familial and culturally showy power struggle, several of his male kin had taken out bounties on both or either possession of Carol and Kirk’s skinned face and scalp hanging from the tip of a jikara. If any of them, Karr or kin, were to take Carol and present her bound and in some humiliating semblance of Starfleet wear, on her knees, addressing an Orion Pasha as “Master” across intergalactic holo’casts, the Orions in accordance with their ancient sense of tribalism and, more fiendishly, a cunning reading of contemporary galactic powers believed they would be a force no longer to be simply “exploited” but, rather, worthy equals or adversaries.

“Give me back the Enterprise and I can solve all our problems with clan Klimt. And their whole rotten system,” Jim said in all seriousness, knocking back what was left in his tumbler. He shook off the sentiment as she replied, “Don’t tell me that, Jim. I don’t want to hear it.” The moment stretched uncomfortably until she added, “But I understand. I really do.”

Jim himself picked up the bottle of MacCutcheon’s this time and poured himself a stiff, very fat finger without offering the Admiral one to share. He knocked it back in one quick, virtuoso swig and, staring at Eleanor, he said, “Well, Ellie, looks like doing my heroic best stuck you with the worst. Seems like I’d be doing you and the galaxy a favour if I was, uh, disappeared? That’s what your Section Thirty-one calls it, I think. Or something like that.”

“Jim,” the Admiral said in a way that demanded he match her laser stare. “Despite your reassuring sense of inappropriate humor….you’re not all that off the mark. As you are no longer a Starfleet officer, I can’t order you to do anything. What I can do is ask you to do something. Offer you something. Something that is more important than I don’t think you might imagine but that you are uniquely suited and ready for.”

Jim listened closely as she continued.

She offered him the mission.

 

 

“Here it comes now.”

There was a short hiss punctuated by a soft electronic pop and Kirk looked up from the tumbler he swirled in his hand to the holo-ops table top as he ran through his thoughts about their discussion and his decision to take on an assignment, what Eleanor had basically described as a search and destroy mission, that even the Admiral admitted seemed threadbare of necessary details but had assured him they were forthcoming.

A holo’containment bubble two meters in diameter floated over the table, visible only in the occasional electrostatic pulse of diffuse soft blue power discharges generating its integrity. Jim watched as a prismatic ripple of light filled the bubble. There were several strange squawks and tuneless echoing whistles over the table’s speakers that he recognized as the so-called “sound of space” which faded to near-nothingness as the holo’image resolved itself into a starfield from the point of view of whatever carried it, at first Jim presumed a vessel, moving forward very quickly. Too quickly, in fact, for even the experienced space traveller to get a fix and determine where the image was recorded. And he wasn’t helped any by the low resolution and generally poor picture quality though that directed his growing suspicions as to its source.

Admiral Parker glanced at him and said quietly but clearly, “Computer, remove containment bubble.”

And Jim found himself, in a sense, in outer space. It was simply because the Admiral had freed the three dimensional recording, spilling it out to fill the den, and with her making a few adjustments at the main board, the picture had corrected itself in relation to the room and its occupants. It even had improved that pesky image resolution in the process; not enough to help Kirk determine where he was looking, in the manner of a map, but it did confirm at least one guess he was prepared to make so it seemed he maintained his cocky command sense of insight.

“I’d have thought Section Thirty-One got to play with all the best toys.” He flicked his eyes up and around the room, indicating the recording that had swallowed them. “These DUMBOs were falling out of favour back when my mom and dad were Academy cadets.”

Eleanor nodded slightly with a tight smile. She wasn’t surprised by his historical knowledge of deep space survey gear, or his use of tech-wonk slang of the outmoded sensor-recorders, Duotronic Mobile Observers, that were built into pieces broken off of asteroids and launched in clusters from a starship’s torpedoes tubes in the early days of star mapping and espionage, often for purposes of first contact preparation. Nevertheless, she was impressed enough to ask for the giveaway but the smart ass had her down and answered before she asked the question.

“The phase variance gives it away. Slips out of sync the faster the DUMBO moves and this one’s feeling the pull of a nearby body. See that smear down here?” He stood and, walking through the image, pointed to a tiny, easy-to-miss distortion. “A state of the art system, like the Cooper-Hawk, and you’d see that’s a nebula, maybe, or a dissipated gas giant.”

Kirk shifted, following the DUMBO’s viewpoint as it turned sharply and shortly and fast-dropped in order to avoid a hurtling, fiery hot stray asteroid throwing off pieces of charred black rock. For a quickly passing moment, he remembered his first experience with holo’data presented in this way and how one of his study group, a Cadet named Styles, had fallen over when the map room seemed to twist upside down. Then Kirk nodded at something he saw and as things started to make at least a touch of sense.

“This mission, it’s taking me to Klinyx?”

She followed his stare and found the slightly misshapen greenish – dull gold planet coming out of eclipse over her right shoulder with its tell-tale constant flashes of red lightning in its upper atmosphere. Eleanor worked the computer’s main board and the room itself seemed to arc around to place the planet in the centre of the ops table. Jim instinctively reached out, unnecessarily he knew, to grab hold of a chair to maintain his balance. Maybe shouldn’t have been so quick to smirk at Howard Styles’ piker’s response way back when…. had heard at the Captain’s Summit he was now Ex-o on the U.S.S. Faisal, the Antares-class starship kept in Earth orbit at the Federation Council’s disposal.

“How do know with such certainty that this is Klinyx?

Steady again, Jim crossed about half the room, behind the planet-image, and reached up, pointing at a something more substantial than a simple point of light.

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“Kronos,” he said matter-of-factly. “I noticed this distortion off it, like a cloud, when the DUMBO passed. That’s the Praxis graveyard. I saw it on scanners and up close when we went after Khan.” He punctuated his explanation with a forefinger circling the desolate stretch where the remains of the once massive energy producing facility had been overworked and poorly managed leading to the devastation of the Kronos moon. When his finger brushed against the three-dimensional representation, Jim was startled by an onslaught of readouts, a rush of alien alpha-numerics in fuzzy green and white, that seemed familiar without being recognizable.

“This intel didn’t come from Thirty-One. It came from the late Pasha Klimt. Almost half a year ago,” Eleanor said matter-of-factly,  before he could ask.

Kirk snapped around but before he could ask for any helpful details, she tapped at the computer board. “Bring up five-by-one. Delta-Delta-Delta,” she said softly and the top-of-the-line computer, now reduced to not much more than an automated and mute adding machine, adjusted the DUMBO’s point of view to its direct line of sight…. in a fast orbit of Klinyx which now took up most of the room.

“Tell me about Klinyx,” the Admiral ordered in a softly hectoring fashion that caused Jim to grind his teeth, having forgotten that irritating aspect of her superior sense of more than her rank but her strong ego. Spock had politely but with a rare look of discomfort had referred to her attitude as being “needlessly pedagogical.”

Jim let out a short breath and replied quickly with what he expected she wanted. “It’s the second outermost planet of the Kronos system. Although it’s technically class M, it is almost uninhabitable by human standards although the Klingons have established a city-sized outpost there – – called Kho Kuut, I believe – – that is essentially a land base for the Klinyx orbital shipyards which the Klingons have no problem proudly maintaining as their worst kept military secret due to its rather hard to believe productivity – -” He paused, studying the planet surface and outlying space; the drone recorder was now moving too fast for its structure to maintain much longer and its shaking suggested it was bouncing crazily off Klinyx’s atmosphere and the land base’s tachy-shield, the image breaking up into static and assembling into shape again and again.

“They’re building the K ’ t ’ Ingas here, in these yards,” he said, “But space chatter suggests they’re still only in dry run condition… a good five years before they’re a threat….” He was speaking in a quiet, distracted voice, straining to make out the sprawl of the shipyards ahead; great lattices of steel hanging in space in all directions, no make-believe sense of up or down. Sections of unfinished warships held between the metal frames as Klingon engineers in armoured EVA gear, and in work pods that made Jim think of a praying mantis, jetted around them – – two or three of the obsolete D-7 heavy cruisers and what seemed an entire wing of new D-4 platoon-carrying attack fighters – – supervising gangly, ancient repair robots reprogrammed, inadequately Jim guessed, for high care construction. And then – – STATIC – – and he saw it for maybe all of three seconds. Or he had thought he had seen something. It was no doubt what she wanted him to see. Had to be. The image flared blindingly and went black.

Jim hadn’t asked for playback; he knew the Admiral was bringing that last image up on line already. Instead, he observed, down playing his confidence and expertise, “They took out DUMBO with heavy duty auto-phaser cannons. High level security weapons. Shipyard’s within their capital system. They’ve got something they aren’t ready to show off just yet.”

“You tell me,” she said, though that touch of superiority in her bearing had cracked just enough that he could sense she had indeed brought him here for something more than beheading that Orion son of a bitch. She needed him, for this mission. And whatever he carried inside of him. He was, after all, still Jim Goddamn Kirk.

The image of the section of ship works that had caught his attention filled the room, frozen. It was largely a messy smear of work platforms, canopies and metal moors around what looked like a group of typical Klingon battle cruisers.

As Eleanor worked the manual computer panel, she said, “Computer, isolate two-by-four at nine-by-seven. Augment and enhance.”

The image shimmered and, as it zoomed in on a crossing of green tracer lines, snapped into half-perfect, somewhat wobbly focus. But it was enough to draw Jim close, to walk slowly toward it as it hovered slightly above him at an off-kilter angle, surrounded by three of the Klingons’ normally impressive and intimidating new class of high speed, heavy cruisers with their green and gray plated shields bristling with weapons. But the three K ‘ t ‘ Inga class warships, though of largely similar size, shape and destructive power, seemed like shadows compared to what they were guarding over, compared to…. it.

If Jim had shifted his intonation, his stress on a different combination of words, he’d have conveyed his appraisal of what he’d assumed was likely his target on this mission that went without record, as one of his typical bad jokes in worse circumstances….. “That is not a simulation, is it.”

“No,” she had answered simply, adding what was certainly no mere afterthought, “It’s the K “ Manta.

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The two of them bolted from the bridge….

Maria’s speed and dexterity surprised him. It had helped that after returning from her cabin back to the Nautilus bridge, and, according to her, in a way Jim largely assumed was an impossible put-on but couldn’t entirely discount, after a quick trip to an apartment in New York, she had changed clothes. In place of the era-exact clingy sweater, pencil skirt and heels, she was more suited to the unexpected change in mission specifics, wearing a heavy cloth jumpsuit and a pair of what Jim was half-sure were called “sneakers.”

She led Jim in a rush down the cramped main passageway that lead through the center of the submersible and into the engine room where they had to hump over a generator engine block to reach a hatch to the lower level. Jim hoisted the hatch door open and, not bothering with the coiled chain link`ladder-of-sorts, hooked to the wall, dropped through.

When he landed on the deck, pulling himself straight from a crouch, Jim staggered. It had hit him .again, that sickly feeling; an uneasy queasiness. Or maybe a queasy uneasiness, he joked to himself in that way that made Bones grumble epithets when it came to his Captain’s humor in regards to his health. His sense of direction a little skewed, he went to follow Maria and bumped into the bulkhead. She was there and on him before he could trip back over himself, grabbing his right arm as her other hand went around his back.

“This is more than you missing a good meal or two,” she said. “What is it?”

“Whatever it was, it’s passed. C’mon, let’s go.” He slipped from her grip and strode steadily forward. Despite the narrowness of the corridor, the tall, slim woman slipped in beside him and he realized there was no point in ignoring her expectant stare.

“I think it may be that thing Toad stuck in my head.”

“The senceiver? We were told it would dissolve away in a few hours. Long enough to complete the mission,” she said with just the barest skepticism. “There were supposed to be no after-effects.”

“Yeah,” he said, slowing. as a stray patch of overhead light seeping down from the main deck threw strange shadows ahead. “They said they’d used my most recent full physical and concocted this one just for me, So the kid told me. Off my electrolyte balance, blood pressure, a scan of my engrams – – They must have missed something…” He stopped abruptly. The floor plating on the corridor ahead was only half there. The rest was a spider’s web of metal supports half-finished, stopping in mid-air and temporary walkways of unsecured wooden boards.

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“You and Chuckles up there, when you contracted the construction of this hulk in bits and pieces you seem to have put all your efforts topside – – the bridge, whatever’s in your cabin – -”

“The wet bay is up to your standards, James. Don’t worry,” she said calmly, indicating their destination. Maria was already slipping past him and, finding poorly fitted metal protrusions, used them as steadying handholds as she began inching her way with grace along the curved wall that would have joined the deck floor grates. “Just follow me and be careful.”

Jim shook his head as the irony struck him; he was known for having a sense of humor in difficult situations, short of genuine tragedy and life-threatening dangers to his people. Spock had come to acknowledge his Captain’s sensibility, with a most Vulcan frown, as a necessary aspect of his command style personally beyond Spock himself. And even Carol, with her familial sense of leadership responsibility, hadn’t quite known to make of him during her first few weeks aboard the Enterprise. As a result, while this might in fact be, depending on the truth of what he’d been led to believe, the most important and impossible mission a Starfleet officer had ever been tasked with, he couldn’t help but find a degree of absurdity in what it boiled down to. He was heading out to single-handedly destroy the most sophisticated machine ever in human experience, a space vessel that was essentially a weapon larger than the old aircraft carrier that had brought him to these waters and he was getting there in something, in his era, was not far off from a child’s wind up bathtub toy. A child’s toy with pieces missing. But, as he’d discovered before forcing his quick exit from the Nautilus bridge , what it lacked in practicality, it had made up for in imagination.

He now took quick stock of his circumstances and glancing down at the open and uninviting ballast tanks that took up most of the space below, discounted his dancer’s grace that had once impressed Carol – – and, being honest, so many of the women he’d charmed – – and left Maria to skillfully almost crawl the bulkhead. Then he saw something poking through the darkness above him about a meter away. Several things – – curved pipes, likely for the shipboard water supply that, the darkness be damned, seemed to reach the next solid patch of deck plating underfoot. Jim jumped – – and grabbed hold easily of the nearest pipe and swung – – with more effort than he’d thought he’d have to expend – – to the next….

Earlier, Kirk’s frustration had started to turn angry. Pointless, he knew, as his anger was aimed specifically at the triangular red blob of light flickering on the Nautilus’ sonarscope., and that damned light hadn’t moved for too damned long. It had to be the the K’m”anta. A winking marker centered at the bottom of the screen was a fixed point representing the Nautilus while a code of letters and numbers – – US003 – -was the LaFayette, sharp, tiny green arrows indicating its North-West drift. But that triangle was stuck there, frozen….

Jim was considering the possibility that the US Navy submarine had incurred some actual damage with the two torpedoes it had fired. The early intel Admiral Parker had shown him that had indicated the K’m’anta could operate in practically every environment imaginable hadn’t surprised him; he’d commanded the Enterprise, at a measure of daring risk, into the depths of the great sea of Nibiru and kept her down there, against his Chief Engineer’s best instincts, in hiding, for almost half a day and, more recently, after the ship had been drawn into an area of so-called “dark space,” they’d emerged and navigated through thousands of kilometers of strangeness that McCoy had identified as being not that different from protoplasm. However, despite its impressive construction, matching its strength to its adaptability, the K’m’anta still could have had a rough trip traveling back in time; in fact, Kirk thought that likely knowing the questionable method they’d used and because their intel had made it clear the Klingons’ operation was meant to be enacted from a low Earth orbit, using the three D-4 assault-troop heavy fighters allegedly docked in the K’m’anta’s football field-sized underside flight deck in the vessel’s rear engine’s section, to disrupt events in Earth’s history at a notable turn. On top of that, he’d seen it had been damaged from his Crusader group’s strafing runs the previous day.

It was a feasible scenario: the Klingon prototype, traveling back in time via a barely tested and unpredictable experimental technology damaged by something as simple as being grazed by an asteroid or a chunk of ice no larger than a tennis ball that had been pulled into its chrono-filghtpath, emerges in Earth orbit, presumably in its target year but with systems compromised; they manage a crash landing in the Pacific Ocean and submerge, willfully or not, avoiding detection and effecting repairs as best they can – – repairs undone by the Crusaders from the Ticonderoga and leaving them vulnerable when the United States Navy submarine had fired its standard torpedoes that had detonated against the K’m’anta’s hull, crippling it, forcing it to a dead stop and setting off a cascade of systems failures to the already weak and failing engines, weapons, electrics, life support that would climax…. in a catastrophic…. core implosion…. at any minute…. any minute…. any…..

The triangle of light, shimmering and almost imperceptibly jumpy, remained solid. And still. Unmoving….

As if it were waiting….

Waiting for him.

A hand gripped Jim’s shoulder and he looked up to find Gary Mitchell staring down at him through the damn black glasses. Instinct told Jim, finally, that Mitchell had obviously, somehow suffered some damage to his sight – – likely pulling some stunt gone wrong or some careless act of bravery – – and, notably proud, would avoid discussing it. Well, Jim had thought, if this mission’s actually not suicide, as he’d figured and Gary could pull off his contribution, they’d have time yet to work a few things through. “You want a better look?”

Gary hadn’t asked it as a question. He was looking off, across the confined bridge space, where Agent Two-Oh-One, Roger, was joining Three-Four-Seven, Maria Twelve, who was working an old tumbler lock in the bulkhead beside the unused, and bolted, utility station where he’d rested just moments ago.

“I’ll join you as soon as I batten down the hatches,” Mitchell said with a hint of that old jokey sarcasm that Jim recognized as he pulled himself away from the sonar to make his way across the bridge.

“Mister Kiminsky, resume at sonar,” Gary said with, Jim noticed, easy authority. “Pilot Rawlings, maintain course, down bubble eighteen degrees. Convince zero-zero-three we’re her shadow.”

Maria had held the door at the utility station open and followed Jim in, locking and auto-bolting the door behind them. Jim had expected finding not much more than a closet for technical gear. Instead, he’d discovered himself in a dark alcove, the only light coming off the board of what he recognized as a vaguely familiar variant of a computer from his time, fthree hundred years, just about, from the here and now. It was as if he’d stumbled across a forgotten, out-of -place data post if not aboard his Enterprise, then a predecessor.

“I think you’re going to have to do a whole lot more than simply scuttling this thing,” Jim said to her in a quiet voice, not even looking at Maria Twelve with his attention on the details of the “utility storage” itself.

Her reply was typically soft of voice, but straightforward and cold in tone. “In five hours, James, presuming Mister Mitchell’s efficiency with this crew, the Nautilus will no longer exist. Nor will it ever have existed.”

Jim finally looked at her; her abruptly cryptic sense concerned him and she could clearly recognize that. She said nothing else.

“I have a good image.” Roger stood straight from the computer’s main panel built into the bulkhead. In Starfleet terms, it was a “single station” – – no chair, just a console with a monitor, generally set up for a specific task and tied into the relevant systems of a starship. The serious “Agent” had been staring into a viewer that had risen from the panel as Jim and Maria had entered. Spock had used…. would use something similar for research at the Enterprise’s library computer. And Chekov’s new and increasingly useful security and weapons station on the bridge had a “marksman”‘s personal scope that Pavel and Carol had nicknamed, “Bulls’ Eye” Roger looked at Kirk and nodded down to the viewer on the panel. “The devil’s in the details, yes?”

Jim moved to the computer as Roger made room in the cramped space. He adjusted his stance to compensate for the slow arcing feel of the deck underfoot; the Nautilus was adjusting it’s position in relation to the movement of the LaFayette which, Jim would bet period-appropriate money on, was moving in a little closer to the massive, motionless object on their limited sensing devices, possibly even intending to provoke it further. He leaned over the viewer, pressing his brow against the screen’s upper frame.

At first- – everything was black, a black smear. Jim’s right hand had instinctively moved along the viewer’s smooth metal cowl, searching for a focus control, when the screen itself, on its own, snapped a sharp grid over Jim’s field of view. He realized that the scanner’s system was adjusting itself to his vision particulars…. then the grid had faded….. and there it was. The Klingonii experimental time-jumping prototype warship, the K’m’anta, crisp and clear. As Roger had indicated, it was some image.

Jim’s first thought seeing it, strangely, he realized much later, had been of nuclear American submarine, U.S.S. LaFayette’s skipper. If that gentleman could see what Jim had been looking at, he wouldn’t be nosing so damn close to the overwhelmingly large mystery hanging suspended so far beneath the water’s surface with its rapidly flashing emergency running lights at it’s heavy hanging nacelles and at every angle of its sharply cut weapons stations aligned along the powerful looking secondary hull. That skipper would have immediately come about and ordered the fastest course possible, or impossible, back to Honolulu. That was, if he didn’t pitch over face first with a massive coronary.

It loomed from the darkness of the Gulf’s early morning deepest murk, beams of weak, very early morning sunlight wavering through the water across glimpses of its heavily plated body and the more artfully created command section, the rounded, so-called – – by jaded starship Captains – – “skull,” with its array of domed officers’ stations and communications towers, attached at the far end of the long neck, away from the nearly toxic, distinctly radioactive air circulating back in the engines’ section of the secondary hull, or “the body.” Jim heard Roger shift around beside him, intending to grab his attention but he just stared at the K’m’anta, noting which decks were showing electrical lamp light in the “skull”’s portholes and running the play he’d devised really just a few weeks ago, by his body’s time clock, after telling Carol he’d be back in an hour or two, aboard the U.S.S, Akula as Captain Cat Dunbar warped ‘er to the shatter point, in running combat with those goddamned missile-hurling high-speed kill-ships that came out of nowhere but near enough to the valued Silver Arm for Jim to take a good guess. He caught sight of a heavily patched up area of the command skull that had been an air lock, the metal hull plates around it bent and twisted but firm. He considered the problem potential and mentally crossed it off his mental list as a possible secondary entry point.

Roger made that odd throat clearing sound Jim still noticed when he was about to say something he considered important. “They’ve made a few notable changes since that last piece of intel we watched together in Texas. With Admiral Parker. When we met you.”

“Yeah,” Jim murmured. It was hard to miss, hanging there, the command “skull” staring down at them; the Klingons had added a physical deflector shield of a sort around the bulbous bow of the warship and its distinctive shape was of little surprise to Kirk. “Yeah,” he repeated, more confidently. “That arrowhead plate up front. The test with that damn portal that Orion bastard, Karr, had his specialists design for the Kling taught them something. Just not enough.”

He’d pointed out the likelihood of this redesign necessity early, just after his introduction to these mysterious “Agents” in Parker’s high security Silverstream, going so far even then to lay odds on the conical deflector as the Klingons’ quickest answer to the damage almost impossible to avoid in the beyond-ultra-high speeds their means of Orion-designed time travel likely required. At that gathering he had surprised Eleanor, guessing correctly the content of the Section Thirty-One data-holo before the Admiral ran it for them. And then he went beyond the limitations his new role as her “hired gun’ would normally allow. He’d pointed out to her, and the mysterious strangers, “Agent Two-Oh-One” and “Agent Three-Four-Seven” agreed, “ a “simple” time jump, say ten minutes into the past – – staying there just long enough to confirm success – – and back again, would have been as effective a shakedown for both the vessel and the strange portal, as one could best call it, as traveling back a thousand years and, from his own experience, would make no immediate difference. “The Kling barely qualify as imaginative thinkers but as they’ve got some Orion brains in their, shall we say, employ – – ?”, he’d ventured. He still remembered Admiral Parker’s response, its unintended absurdity. She had shook her head tightly, completely dismissive of what she took from his implications – – that a simple and straightforward all-out, very short war, as unpleasant as it would be and seemingly in violation of what the Federation and its Starfleet stood for, was the most temporarily efficient solution to the galactic power playing humanity may not be prepared for, and she had said with a self-assured nod, and not a touch of the comedy Kirk had taken nonetheless, “Our Orions are better than their Orions.”

The very notion of time travel as the Klingons’ mission-intent for the K’m”anta, in fact, hadn’t even been given much serious consideration by Parker and her extremely small, she claimed, circle of intimates and for what was, at the time, good reason. That was until that meeting she’d had with Jim to remove him from command and disavow him from Starfleet for his “criminally self-indulgent actions“ at the Captains’ Summit on Gethsemeni during the Governor’s Ball… for rescuing Carol from Orion slavery. But it had been at that meeting that Jim and Eleanor Parker had had a sharing of minds that he had first taken as an encouragement. Now, he had realized, instead, if it was not quite a death sentence, it was exile to Elba for reasons he couldn’t yet fathom…..

“How long do you make her? Admiral Parker had asked that Sunday afternoon. “Bow to stern.”

There was little in the images collected by the DUMBO, feeding the hologram that filled Parker’s den, that offered any sense of scale. The two nearest K’t’inga class warships were each, separately, encased in spider-type dry docks, with only their command sections, their “skulls,” exposed for a clear view, poking out of an assemblage of metallic workers’ beams and massive robot-arms. But there was a third vessel, also of the new warship line, hanging far off in the frozen distance of the holo’image, almost indiscernible It was likely stationed on a patrol, a guardian for the prototype. Jim had walked up to the three dimensional shape carved from light, determining that it would serve his purposes and asked Parker, “Admiral, can you enhance, uh…”

He almost immediately threw away his mental calculations and gestured with his hands and arms a rectangular space around the distant Klingon warship.

“I see where you’re going,” she replied, her attention already on the computer’s main board, uttering soft vocal commands to the device as her fingers worked. The warship, which appeared as not much more than an oddly shaped, green-white pinprick of light, enlarged and took more recognizable form and dimension as the Admiral’s fingers plucked it from its frozen place and drew it the distance forward and placed it alongside the K’m’anta, the computer adding color and texture based on data already gathered.

As she superimposed the K’t’inga over the K’m’anta, outlining the warship in blue, the prototype in red, concentrating on fitting their forward sections together exactly, Jim mused aloud, “If the subspace chatter can be believed, this new warship’s about ten meters longer than our refit-Constitution class.”

“Fifteen, to be precise.” Jim glanced over at her and she added, adjusting something on her panel, “Thirty-One got their hands on a copy of the schematics.”

“Well, this K’m’anta, you called it? Looks to be only about another ten meters in length. Not much of a difference. Show me the whole enchilada.”

“It’s just coming up,” she replied, having already set the program, knowing he’d ask to give it a good look.

Jim watched as the K’t’inga class vessel’s image faded to half-strength and slid away some, leaving the K’m’anta to twist upright, rotating as its missing spaces filled with enhancements and details provided by the computer.

“Thirty-One’s work on this is outstanding,” she said, not disguising her pride. “They think they got it within fifteen per cent, worst case.” She rolled a small input on the board – –

And a holographic gyroscope formed around the prototype, fast-running data floating around it. The image of the vessel turned and swivelled, allowing for a full study from every angle. Kirk took a moment, studying the layout, halting a flash of specific data with his forefinger, moving in closer to the image of the ship – – but only a moment, as he had suspected she expected. Then he said with a touch of deadpan, “It’s a real Klingon piece a work, that’s for sure.”

“And?” Admiral Parker answered back and he had known she was just about done tolerating his humor, just as he had even earlier begun withholding the obvious question burning in his brain through the scotch the moment he had first seen the DUMBO’s image of the K’m’anta; a point Parker had been professionally ignoring ‘til the moment he would call her on it.

“And? Well, it’s only a little larger than the K’t’inga class, in length and across its widest point in the secondary hull, its engines section. And, like the K’t’inga, its got the same oversized – – I believe they refer to their ships’ nacelles simply as warp pods, as far as the literal translation goes. The Klingons must have a version of Section Thirty-One – -” After a moment’s hesitation, she nodded with a shrug. “Their new, heavy style of warp pods were clearly taken from the schematics of our refitted Constitution class. Probably from the Enterprise herself- – I mean, look at those radon dispersal vents indenting the corner line – -,” he explained, reaching through the gyroscope and pulling the K’m’anta’s port-side propulsor into plain view.

“All right, Jim – – so you know starships. That’s one of the reasons you’re here. But what’s your point? I assume there is one.”

Jim fought back the sharp, smartass, knowing grin; she’d just thrown a lousy, lazy, careless pass – – a sideways admission of ignorance about this Klingon prototype and she needed him – – that he was going to intercept and take ‘er all the way.

“As a matter of fact, there is, Eleanor. As much as these two vessels look basically alike, and are largely structured the same, basic way, their new warship and this monster of a prototype – – by the way, you are sure it’s a prototype? They’re not secretly cranking out parts, running them off the off the assembly lines in those rumored factory planets on the far distant side of their would-be Empire and putting together a fleet of these things?”

“It’s a prototype, Kirk. I have assurances from the best authorities.”

“If it seriously comes to a shooting war in space, I wouldn’t want the Fightin’ Fifth to drop from warp, say, in the Shadow of Klinz’hoa only to find a combat wing of these K’m’antas stretched across to the Khu Ket.”

“It’s a prototype.”

“Well then, this prototype and their K’t’inga warships, for all their similarities, are different animals entirely.”

Her frown grew more severe, bringing out the well-earned lines deep in her brow, at the corners of her mouth and eyes, and she poured them each another generous shot of liquor. “How so?,” she had asked and, so, cemented Jim’s certainty she was, in her skillful, professional passive-aggressive manner, either forcing him to put the pieces of his mission together himself, possibly as a means of fostering a sense of inclusion, or more likely, angling him to provide her with substance for that one vital piece of information she hadn’t even alluded to yet.

Jim had picked up the tumbler and swirled it, and had stared into the deep, rich oaken amber hue of the old scotch for just a moment…. barely even a moment. But in that barest fraction of time, his thoughts swirled as deeply and thickly as the drink….

She’d convinced him to take on a mission that, she claimed, held the future – -hell, the very existence of the Federation in the balance, a mission of such an unlikely and challenging nature that the admiralty, in its private parlance, had given such assignments the innocuous code description “edge-work,” meaning it had, with all their best possible people and pieces at play, a fifty-fifty chance of resulting in anything remotely considered a success; if it worked, at best they’d maintain the status quo, failure would be failure to an utterly incalculable degree. And all he’d been told, thus far, of what he’d agreed to do had been that it would be a search and destroy operation, the target an impregnable piece of space travel technology deep in territory controlled by adversaries who considered him a “political criminal” and had put a large price on his head. And, on top of that, he still had Orion assassins to worry about and deal with. All of it had left Jim assuring himself, “I’ve got ‘em all exactly where they want me.”

But none of that meant he was going to be a cog, not even a vital one, in somebody else’s engine not even Starfleet’s.

Jim took a deep pull off his tumbler – – “Hey, easy, Jim!” the Admiral warned, “That stuff’s not yesterday’s glow water.” – – and felt the scotch kick him in the ass as he crossed with purpose to the faded image of the K’t’inga class warship and slid it with an open palm into the center of the holographic starscape whereupon it restored its color and detail. Jim explained that despite its intimidating aesthetics, the new class of battleship was largely a strong example of what he’d come to believe, through experience, as the Klingon culture’s “inherent intellectual limitations.” Despite a deserved reputation as driven combatants with a cruel, cold but efficient sense of power, Jim had figured out their adversary’s playbook after only a handful of encounters in space and in planetary conflict. Putting aside the specifics of Klingonii history and their alien belief systems, their weakness was the weakness of militarism as inarguable dogma; following orders, doing as one’s told, committing to authority with the assumption that authority’s representatives primarily have one’s well-being foremost in mind or, more importantly, society’s as a whole. In terms of their technology, such thinking boiled down to a straightforward “whatever works…” mindset. The new K’t’inga class, Jim told Parker, appeared to his eyes, as basically an upgraded refit of their D-7 Heavy Cruiser, a fleet of vessels that had served as the workhorses of their Empire for nearly as long as humans became aware of the Klingons’ existence. They’d stripped the D-7 down, chopped and channeled its basic components, plated its surface skin with heavy, elaborately designed armor that doubled as phaser cannon and torpedo launching emplacements in addition to it main guns a’midship in the engineering body and its primary photon tube at the bow of the “skull.” Its design both did away with the D-7′s pretenses of serving Klingon sciences and deep space exploration, and, it also was as pure a physical representation imaginable of the Klingons’ guiding principles: speed, stealth, and unstoppable, aggressive destructive power.

That’s why the K’m’anta posed a problem for Admiral Parker, Jim had realized.

He pushed the K’t’inga aside and, gesturing to the hulking prototype starship, excused himself from stating the obvious but pointed out that it was just as powerfully armed as the K’t’inga class battle cruiser but far more armored, heavily so, likely for reasons other than what Jim guessed its deflector screens would be designed for in flight. In fact, it reminded Jim of the aero-amphibious “tanks” developed on Earth at the end of the Last War, some time in the mid-twenty-first century, that had caught his attention in history class at the Academy Command School; strange, monstrous automated killing machines and troop carriers that looked like a cross between a rhino and an armadillo done up in the gear of an Arthurian knight.

The long neck of the K’m’anta appeared shorter than that of other Klingon warships but only because it was built up in thick layers of tyro-steel, notably so where it joined the engineering hull. And it was at that connection that the K’m’anta varied most significantly from standard Klingon design. There were two large rounded pylons, each the size of a Starfleet shuttle up on end, atop the ship’s “body” on either side of that thickish neck. The pylons had been heavily plated over and were studded with industrial output jacks but, here and there, work unfinished, they revealed insides of coiled heavy golden wire. Studying them up close, he’d asked the Admiral if they were the results of Thirty-One’s guesswork but she assured him they were sourced directly from in the DUMBO’s scan-data.. She added that she agreed with and was proceeding from her Agency team’s suggestion that the towering pylons were part of a new engine drive system, possibly even a Klingon attempt at transwarp.

Jim shook his head, pointing out the oversized half-bubble warp core that covered almost a third of the prototype’s underside. If Klingon engineers had discovered, or if Orion confederates had sold them, some new intermix formula that could somehow harness power impossibly vast, say the full energy output of a dilithium-based star, that core was large enough to make the hypothetical instant-leap to warp nine and have room to spare. No, Jim was certain those two large pylons had some other explanation; however, he kept it to himself that he knew they knew the importance of the pylons were at the heart of the mission. If agreeing to their “edge-work” was the price he’d pay for saving Carol Marcus from a life of Orion captivity he’d pay it again and again, but he figured Eleanor Parker, Admiral of the Fleet, could meet him half-way. And, deep into his cups, he’d enjoy it too, making her.

“In simplest terms, Admiral Eleanor, if the K’t’inga is gonna be the Klingon fleet’s running back, this K’m’anta thing, here, is their linebacker. Look at it–” He swiped a hand at the image of the prototype, his gesture slicing through the holo’ that rippled and distorted and quickly re-assumed shape. “It’s built to take a pounding. A hard one. Problem is–“

“The Klingons don’t play a defensive game.”

Jim touched his nose with a forefinger and pointed at her with a slight, knowing smirk. He had to struggle through the vintage scotch but he had always been a fairly good drinker,; that would make the struggle a fair fight even if his thoughts were coming a little faster than his mouth was working and he was also thinking and orating on the fly….

“But your bigger problem, Admiral, is that – – that that means what you’ve been keeping from me this whole time. I’m not here …. ‘cause you want- – that is, you didn’t, for lack of a better word, just fire me for killing that sick bastard Klimt. You’re hiring me to tell you just what you’re up against. Your secret agent spy school blew this one and because I’m pretty damn good at knocking the Kling back to Kronos, you want me to tell you what this thing, this K’m’anta thing is because whatever it is it has got you and likely alla Thirty-One scared to death.”

“Scared?,” she answered with what seemed like surprise but Jim could tell from the flicker of her steady steel eyes, and how she glanced away, that her reaction took some effort.

“Eleanor, please,” Jim tsk-tsk’d. Open palmed, he slid the K’m’anta holo’ between them, causing it enhancements and add-ons to disappear and leaving just the image of the spacecraft as it had appeared in its construction dock. “Look at this thing. Its unfinished and, likely, untested. And you said you’re certain it’s a prototype? It’s one of a kind. That leaves plenty of time to determine how to take it out – – even if this war you see coming is intended to weaken our fleet. That means we both know what this thing is? Don’t we?” He had shifted his look from the K’m’anta to the Admiral. ”Don’t we?”

They had spent the just about the next hour, or however long it took to empty the bottle of MacCutcheon’s, surrounded by the holographic stars and distant nebulae within view through the atmospheric glow of Klinyx discussing, arguing specifics, details. But the tension in the den had thinned once she had admitted just what terrified her, what Jim had already figured: that the K’m’anta was a single use, single purpose creation. As much a weapon as a starship. The Admiral had gone so far to call it a “doomsday device;” a conclusion Jim couldn’t quite accept. “And I had come to think deep space command had cured you of certain idealized misconceptions about strategic thinking. Don’t tell me you don’t believe this may well be a no-win situation.”

She’d clearly intended the observation to be taken at least as a touch of tough-minded humor, but there had been a deadly despair there hat Jim could hardly miss.

“Well,” he answered after a moment. “I don’t. I’m just thinking this through with logic. A bad habit I’ve picked up somewhere in my travels – – “ He stopped abruptly then charged ahead in an entirely different direction. “You’re giving the Enterprise to Spock after I’m – – gone.” He’d spoken the words as a statement of fact.

“Jim, Mister Spock is a unique and vital asset to Starfleet. He’ll be taken care of, as will your entire crew. And I will personally see to Carol’s well-being. Just as we discussed.”

Jim had sunk back into the heavy leather-cushioned old desk chair, slouching and sipping his scotch; goddamn me, he thought, with genuine anger aimed inward, as the realization sunk in deep that since he first saw the DUMBO’s image of the K’m’anta,, meeting the Admiral’s strategic challenges almost as a test of his personal worth, he hadn’t thought of Carol. At all. And he was supposed to meet her in New York, at the hotel bar- – in less than three hours. And there was still that thing he wanted to pick up for her. As a surprise. Hell, what am I going to say to her —

“Jim,” Admiral Parker said, surprisingly soft of voice. Jim had shaken himself, almost physically, from the distress he’d locked into and looking back at her, for a fleeting moment, he was convinced she was capable of reading his mind. She almost smiled at him a little, sadly. He closed his eyes, rubbing his eyelids with the thumb and forefinger of hiss right hand, He had been looking through a liquor haze. “I think its time we finish for today.,”

She was already standing when he had opened his eyes. She had moved around the ops table to the computer and disengaged the holo’ setup returning the den to its normal appearance. Jim concurrently had twisted his head a bit and found his dress hat over on the floor by the Eames chair.

Parker shifted her tone, her body language to small talk, the everyday, as she walked with him to the the door.

“I have a meeting in the next hour that is of absolutely no importance – – the Tellarites’ new D and T man- – uh, boar. And then we have dinner plans. I assume you’ll be joining Carol this evening . Starting off in the morning on your whirlwind?”

Jim nodded shortly. “Yeah,” was all he managed expressing, at an utter loss. She was actually chit-chatting after a meeting introduced with dire warnings about his future and both Carol’s, his lover’s, career and safety as a result of his actions saving her from would-be allies on Gesthmeni, a meeting in which she asked him to undertake an almost impossible mission with little likelihood of coming out alive. And it wasn’t a put on for some purpose of distraction; just her way of decompressing, he suspected. He was only now feeling it himself, the extent to which this had been no ordinary strategy session. Thunder rolled away again in the distance, northwards now, Jim sensed, and the rain had started falling again after fading away some time ago.

He’d been pulling on his formal uniform jacket that he couldn’t even remember shrugging off, adjusting it when she asked, without changing her tone, if he’d committed to memory the private and secure contact code she’d provided him earlier and he repeated it back exactly as his answer. She’d also reminded him to send her their travel plans as soon as Carol had inevitably prepared the itinerary Parker expected of her. “The girl’s smart as a whip, mind you, but the impulse control her father carved into that hyperactive brain did a pretty thorough job on her spontaneity.”

Jim’s back stiffened a bit at that. He bit off his immediate sharp reply and simply said, concentrating on fitting the jacket’s fastener, “Well, she’s not exactly the woman…. you knew. And she prefers not to talk about- – him.”

“Of course,” the Admiral said through her faint smile. “I’m sure. Here – – “ She’d reached behind her and pulled something off her belt and handed it to him: a plain black communicator, smaller than Starfleet duty issue, still in its manufacturer’s electro-seal. “Its unregistered and emits a VPS. No one’s going to know about our intel drops, no one who’s not authorized.”

Jim slipped the communicator into a pocket and pulled his cap out from where it was tucked under his other arm.

“Shall I call a taxi for you? Or I can have Lana drive you right to Command Transit. You will still be assumed to properly have all Officer’s privileges until, well,” she hesitated. But just barely. “Until I give you the mission go-ahead.”

Jim shook his head. “I’ve made arrangements.”

As he had lowered his hands after brushing back his hair with his fingers and fixing the dress grays cap in place, Eleanor reached out and took hold of his left shoulder. “Jim, I need to know something.”

He looked at her uncertainly but she clearly read that look as openness.

“What’s the flaw in my logic? About the K’m’anta. We agree its a weapon of singular purpose,” she that with presumed certainty; less so when she had added, “With Earth as the Federation’s capital its likely target? It seems obvious to me.”

Kirk had then apologized for the overcooked dismissiveness he’d expressed if only because her thinking, in fact, made a lot of sense. It could very well be bang on in terms of their mutual general notion of their intentions for the K’m’anta. He went ahead and had reaffirmed her ideas and the possible scenario she had offered partly as a basis to make his disagreement clear to her and partly to give himself a moment to put into words his “logical” deduction which, at that point, existed as not much more than the random flashes and collisions in his mind of colors, numbers, and increasingly complicated shapes that comprised what he had once dismissed as simple intuition.

He had agreed with her on the current state of Starfleet which had not only been kept from the public but most of its own personnel remained in the dark as well. They still had maintained and were further developing superior technology, including faster starships, like Cat Dunbar’s U.S.S. Akula, that could push it to the warp barrier of nine point nine-five-five-five and keep it there for longer and farther jumps; and increasingly powerful and even more precise phaser fire power and other space-combat ordnance, including smaller, more physically manageable photon torpedoes with larger yields which he knew had been one of Carol’s projects prior to the Enterprise. And the Academy ‘continued its unequaled tradition of graduating cadets into service who were continually better trained, quicker thinking and even more professional than each preceding class, and for whom courage was a rarely talked about part of the job. “Starfleet Academy’s best come prepared with the Right Stuff,” he’d summarized to the Admiral.

But in reality, Starfleet was still recovering from the events of the previous five Earth years – – recovering from the mad Romulan from another time and place, Nero, who had destroyed not only a planet with an ancient, sophisticated society vital to the Federation’s workings, and his friend Spock’s world, but also a full one third of Starfleet’s most ready and active vessels….. From the superhuman, historically important and genocidal war criminal, Khan Noonien Singh, who had assassinated, in a single attack, three ‘Fleet Admirals, including his mentor Chris Pike, and the notable, highly respected and valued Captains of the starships Antietam and Endeavor, and subsequently brought down mass destruction and a still untallied death count, likely in the tens of thousands, upon Starfleet’s Earthbound Central Command and the entire city of San Fransisco… From just a year ago, on Tau Primus, the messy results of the dissident takeover of the Federation embassy there, including public executions of the ambassador and her diplomatic team negotiating rights for a Starbase to be built in orbit, and the still unexplained destruction of the starship sent for a rescue – – and which had occurred while Kirk was virtually on the opposite side of the galaxy, commanding the Enterprise from the Auxiliary Control section of the derelict U.S.S. Constellation against a massive space-going alien…. mechanical thing that he’d compared to a “doomsday machine” and which Spock simply listed in his science logs as a “planet-killer” after the best their advanced weapons specialist, Carol Marcus, could come up with was throwing up her hands in frustration once she’d determined that it likely originated from outside their galaxy. It had destroyed eleven planets comprising two solar systems and two Starfleet personnel transport ships, each with one hundred and fifty aboard, and had disabled almost to the point of utter uselessness Matt Decker’s Constellation, en route as the first responding starship. If, between the efforts, primarily, of himself and Spock, Carol, Scotty and reliable old Deck, the mysterious monster that seemed to exist to feed itself upon the source of any form of power, would have decimated the most heavily populated sectors of Federation space. Kirk’s “doomsday machine” alone may well be the last announcement of Starfleet’s and, ultimately, the Federation it served, precarious existences.

“Have I got you right so far?” Jim had asked her.

“Mmm-hmm,” was the extent of her casual assurance he had received.  While he had worked his perception of Fleet status through, Eleanor had moved with purpose to the bar and had fished something from an ice bucket filled with cork screws and swizzle sticks from Officers’ Clubs clear across to Starbase Eleven. From a small tubular container, she shook out two tiny diamond-shaped emerald green pills and popped them in her mouth. Jim recognized the latest pharma-cure-all,, a remedy that people he knew swore by, providing a sort of instant sobriety, or close enough anyway, due to the excessive consumption of real, straight alcohol of Earthly origins. Jim shook his head when she offered them to him.

“My doctor doesn’t like me taking pills without his prescriptive say-so.”

“I’m looking for new personal medicine man. Heard McCoy’s one of the three or four best we’ve got. A bit of a hardass, though?”

“Admiral, Bones is the best there is. He’s out of earshot, so I can say these things. But your personal M.D.? Not a chance.”

“So,” she said firmly, wasting no more time. “There are clearly things we agree on regarding the current situation. I must assume my flaw in logic, as you see it, is in their strategy, the scenario I laid out.”

Jim bobbed his head noncommittally, thinking how best to answer. “Yes.” He held up a hand, warding her off. “But I spoke a bit out of turn. It’s not a flaw in your logic so much as it is the benefit of my personal experiences.”

He had then proceeded to tell her that he agreed with her that the Klingons would initiate things, likely with actions that went beyond being simply provocative, actions that would demand a response in kind. They wouldn’t just fire on a starship patrolling a disputed border this time, as a show of colors, or an unclaimed sector of largely open space; the Klingons would more likely destroy that starship, she’d claimed, without explanation or apology. But Jim did her one better, or more disturbing;; it wouldn’t be a starship – – in fact, the target would likely carry no weapons other than obsolete lasers – – say, a scientific research explorer with a crew of harmless eggheads or, making their intentions crystal clear, a civilian passenger transport, filled to capacity with traveling workers, aliens from across the Federation conducting business, tourists and their families…. a lot of families on those low warp or impulse-driven ferries.

Within an hour, he’d said, so sure of himself he was adding more details to her scenario, she’d have ordered and engaged one of the Admiralty’s full-out aggressive stratagems, likely Warp Attack Plan “R” which, he knew, she’d had more than a hand in shaping. Jim didn’t know the specifics of the Board’s every call, but starship Captains, one and all, knew “R” – – it was the second most extreme use of, in the rarest of extremely rare circumstances, that no less than the Founders of the Federation had allowed for, full and unrestricted employment of the military combat potential of Starfleet and its associated armed forces.

And, at first, they would quite likely be entirely triumphant, proving victorious in one staging after another and for the simple reasons he had discussed with her; Starfleet’s unalterable mandate was for exploration, knowledge and keeping the peace but they were as ready for immediate combat, if not more so, they would hope, than the reliably combative Klingon Empire. But for all their strengths, the Admirals at Command and the starship Captains regularly engaging the adversary in deep space, would soon come to the awful realization that they may be winning battles but somehow they were close to losing the war.

The reasons for this were two-fold and obvious to experienced hands such as the both of them, thinkers and fighters. Firstly, there were, again as they had discussed, the disasters endured and attacks that had caught them unready since his last year at the Academy. But there was also the confounding, inarguable reality that the Klingons existed within a self-perpetuating, self-mythologizing war culture. They lived – – and died – – by belief in war. This was more, far more, than the dogmatic militarism Jim regarded as elementary to their weakness of imagination and inventive free thinking. War was the engine of their economy and their technology. They taught the necessity and strength of war as a guiding principle to their children in school. The current government, a Chancellery of sorts that had existed for over seventy years, had long ago forbade all of their native population and beings on conquered worlds, any expression, or even private belief in, any form of religion, or the fostering of ancient myths and fables – – it was common lore the Klingons had no “devil” – – because they had shaped and would continue determining their own destiny and it would be achieved through war.

So, even as strongly as Jim believed that their enemy had bought into its own fairy tales of miltary and knife-weilding-gun-slinging prowess, he did admit to the Admiral that their belief system left them perpetually prepared.

And at the first sign of Starfleet weakness – – a minor skirmish gone wrong, a newly promoted Weaps mishearing an order to stand down – – leading to their first barely notable loss of territory…. the Klingons would launch the K’m’anta, with a crew of proven fighters and engineers, on a direct heading for Earth.

Jim embellished the Admiral’s scenario again, suggesting it would likely warp under the protection of an armada of K’t’inga class cruisers that would engage the Starfleet Divisional “Wings” Eleanor would have waiting for them at the outermost edge of the Sol system. Once that conflict erupted, the K’m’anta could likely make it onward, easily destroying automated defenses, and achieving Earth orbit.

“And then what?” Jim asked, at last answering to the flaw in her thinking. “They perform their ritualistic, uh – – What do they call it? The Klingon variation on that old Earth fighter pilot’s last resort, Kamikaze… kavitas?”

“Providing they don’t miscalculate and take an ocean plunge, they could do some damage,” Admiral Parker suggested with little conviction, knowing his reply.

“That…. bastard, Khan? He took out Starfleet Command, the Academy and almost half the city but we were back up to speed in less than a year. And the Vengeance was almost three times the size of this Klingon thing.”

She made another try. “Even if our defense force cuts the K’m’anta to ribbons, if it’s crewed with their best, they only have to get their bridge for operations, the engines for propulsion – – even if it’s only impulse – – and their- – ,” she hesitated just slightly, for emphasis. “Their cargo into low Earth orbit, even the upper reaches of the troposphere, and we’ll have lost…. not just the war. Everything.”

“That cargo bay, it’s packed with canisters of some incurable Klingon virus we’ve never even heard of?” Jim clearly wasn’t convinced

“Something like Andorian Cetracoliosis. It thrives and multiplies in nitrogen- oxygen but we had their doctors to help us out of its plague potential. Still we lost, fifty-five hundred in the Benelux.”

“Believe me, our doctors would like the challenge of finding a cure for the common Klingon cold.”

Admiral Parker shook her head, trying to clarify what she saw clearly. “It doesn’t have to be a disease, Jim. Thirty-one ‘s heard subspace rumblings. Very reliable rumblings. What passes for a Klingon scientist – – their Einstein, I guess – – might have cracked the code on stable Trilithium. More likely, one their well-paid transwarp Orion geniuses.”

Jim could see from her look that he hadn’t hidden his surprise all that well. “That would punch a hole the size of Australia half-way through the planet,” he replied. “It would set Earth back to some kind of Dark Ages for the foreseeable future but we’d get through it. Starfleet already has auxiliaries . You’d move to Alpha Cent–” Jim had broken off, and swung back on point. “Eleanor, you’ve essentially hit on it, the flaw in your thinking, the benefit of my experience.”

“Enlighten me.”

“The Narada. A Romulan ship from the future, some other future – – Nero claimed it was a mining ship but, hell, I was aboard that monstrosity. It made the Vengeance and K’m’anta look like moon shuttles. It was going to destroy Earth like it destroyed Vulcan with a weapon our Einsteins still can’t get a grip on. But I stopped it and got rid of it. Me and Spock and the crew of the best damn ship in the fleet. And you’re convincing me to take on some kinda suicide mission largely because you’ve got one over me, the protection of someone I particularly care about – – the K’m’anta is not what you’re making it out to be. It’s not the end of the wuh… world…” Jim slowly stopped talking as his thoughts caught up with his mouth… and an idea, or an explanation, fought for air against the ebbing tide of hard liquor….

When Jim was a boy, even before he really knew what the word meant, he knew he had a strong and easy sense of intuition. As he grew older he recognized it enough to rely on it; winning over a girl out on a date, knowing which play to call on the field that could lead to either glory or humiliation. But it wasn’t until his last year at Riverside High that he gathered what it was that gave him that edge and it wasn’t just intuition; it was experience too, learning from experience, and it was something else there was no precise word for. A pretty young teacher, Twentieth Century Lit – – who couldn’t have been much older than Jim, he now realized, with thick blonde hair she kept back from her sweet face with a school girl’s pony tail had pointed it out to him, his unique style – – that’s what she had called it, his style – – his style of smarts. She’d told him once, after he’d angled her to talk after class about his award nominated paper on the novel “Catch-22,” from nineteen sixty-one, compared with the popular writing of the contemporary satirist, the deadpan Vulcan T’Chala, with the intentions of offering her the opportunity to relieve him of his teenage virginity – – which, in fact, was long gone – – that she’d run him inside out and knew him better than he did himself. She said it was interesting that he was always asking, rapid-fire, questions that sometimes were seemingly unrelated to one another, sometimes unrelated to the very subject at hand and that he’d suddenly pull the right answer, or sometimes the answer that best suited his circumstance, as if from nowhere.. She’d told him that was an unusual but common quality among many natural leaders; very well-read she’d mentioned names, a couple of which were new to him, or he wasn’t sure of at the time – – Isaac Newton, a cowboy lawman Wyatt Earp, the influential social voice at a time of strife, Miss Edith Keeler, the Brit – – Churchill, Indira Ghandi, the speed-of-sound breaker, pilot Chuck Yeagher, the American president Kennedy, the visual artists Pollack and Kubrick, the Vulcan forefather and believer in life elsewhere who charted the course of his world from savagery, Sitar, son of Salak. As a tease for his come on, and also, sinking into him right away, sincere belief in his future, she’d given him a light kiss on the open mouth and said, “You’re better than you think you are, Mister Kirk. Get used to it.” As a ship’s Captain, he never really thought about the workings of his inner life very much but he recognized when he seemed to pull a rabbit from a hat that it wasn’t wasn’t a trick, there was no magic involved – – just the originality of his damn brain at work. Gods, what was her name, that young, pretty blonde….

“Jim,” Eleanor said and though he knew he’d only disappeared inside himself for a passing moment, Eleanor had read an expression that had come over him that even he could not fully explain. “You okay?”

“That thing you mentioned near the start of this – – this briefing,” he said, trying his best, as he spoke suddenly and quickly, not to stumble over his own thoughts and words as a result of the booze being burned away by the burst of his natural adrenaline, “About the Klingons these last thirty years, the Covered Wagon theory – – their, uh – – the unprecedented burst of technological advancement in a short period – – from the basic as you can get D-1 A class heavy cruisers to the K’t’inga and K’m’anta. It’s Orville Wright and Buzz Aldrin – -“

“Yes, what about it – – ?” intentionally making a small show of checking her wrist’s chrono-tat.

“Thirty years – – What else happened thirty years ago well, almost exactly thirty years. Twenty-nine?”

“I’ll have to check my diary. Jim, I have to go and Carol— Lieutenant Commander Marcus – – What hotel are you at tonight in NYC?”

“Twenty-nine years ago, Admiral? Eleanor.”

“What else happened thirty- -twenty-nine years ago,” she replied, speaking quickly, done with him for now he could tell. “Other than what’s just a theory that the Klingons, likely with Orion science, hit a technological streak, y’mean? I dunno. I was gearing up to start my final semester at the Academy. I was admitted a year early and I wasn’t even sixteen yet – – Special circumstances – -“

“My dad died almost thirty years ago a few months from now. And I was born in outer space instead of Riverside like my parents were aiming for. Admiral, d’you ever read Chris’s thing he wrote? Chris Pike, his dissertation about the Kelvin, and what my dad did, and Nero?”

“Yes, of course. What – -?”

“You ever read the – – what he originally wrote? The first draft? He gave me one of the only copies he still had hidden away just after he first trusted me with the Enterprise. His first draft that his professors at the Academy showed to no less than Admiral April? There were pages the Admiral told him to cut for reasons of galactic security. About those years after my dad did what he did, when that huge, bizarre death ship seemed to vanish. Long before the destruction of Vulcan – – where Nero and his men were – – who took possession of the Narada for years and years ? Eleanor – – “ And he had grinned in that crooked way that more than hinted at the pleasure he took in his confidence….”The K’m’anta’s not just a warship. It’s not only a weapon and a warship in one scary package…. It’s a time machine.”

Eleanor leaned in close and put a hand on his shoulder. “Jim, you’re hitting warp speed. How about you lay down. Just for a while?”

Jim smoothly pulled away, letting out a short, pent up breath. “I got a girl waiting’ for me in an old hotel in New York. A beautiful woman with short, thick, soft blonde hair and wide mismatched eyes I could fall into and happily drown and legs that don’t quit. And a brain that’s faster than mine and yet she laughs at nearly all my jokes. Nearly. And for her own damn good, I’m gonna have to break her heart.” He moved around her and out of.f the den that lead to the hallway which let out to vestibule and the front door.

Eleanor followed him, stopping just out of the den. “Jim, a time machine? Thirty-one considered something like that. It was third or fourth on their list of possibles the first time they saw what the DUMBO gave us.”

“You’ve known that this whole time. Had me put on a show for you – – Gave my ego a breath of fresh air so I’d commit to – – whatever this really is?”

“Jim,” she said letting out a long pent up breath of her own and he privately marveled at her handle on all that McCutcheon’[s. ”Jim Kirk, you’re nobody’s fool. And it is what it is. And there’s only one problem with your typical flash of your usually on-target insight when it comes to an adversary’s motives this time. It’s a very simple problem – – Not that it’s something you should have known already. It’s just, well…” Letting that dangle as she’d approached him and had opened the front door, the Admiral had made a slight, silent gesture; a small nod that gave him permission to leave. He lingered for a moment, waiting….

“The Klingons don’t believe in time travel.”

“Bullshit.”

“I’m sorry, Jim?”

“You’re seriously going to try and convince me that the Klingons – – all of them – – you’re saying none of them believe in time tra – -? That’s like saying they don’t believe in – – in communicators. They don’t believe in transporters – – !“

“You put it like that, your point is – – “

“Hell, I’ve done it three times so far in a very short career. And, like me, you’re one of the few people who knows a number of lives were all subtly changed in ways most people will never realize as a result of time travel – – “

“As well as some pretty out there quantum happenst – -”

“It’s provable, going back in time, despite the paradoxes which – – in my experiences – – always seem to work themselves out. I don’t know – – I’m not a quantum specialist. But it’s a fact. It is something you can prove. Factually. Uh, objectively.”

“Yes, Jim. You’re right.”

“I am?”

“A hundred percent.”

“Of course I am. I think time travel became a real thing the moment – – Hell, the nanosecond Cochrane broke the warp barrier. Every school kid on Earth, anyway, understands that’s the time-space continuum. That’s basic. Or, in their case – – What was the name of their Cochrane? Kazak? Kojak – -?”

“Kajizik.”

“Damn Kling names all start sounding the same.”

“Those Earth kids, as well as alien children all across our space, they go to Zefram Cochrane public schools – – I went to Cochrane High in Butte – – and our school kids learn about Cochrane breaking the barrier and all the great things he did when hitting Warp One opened his mind to all the possibilities that led to our noble experiment, the United Federation of Planets. You know what happened to Kajizik?”

“I don’t remember – -”

“Nobody does. Shortly after he had privately published the account of his discovery, allegedly more of a math text than glory-houndin’ autobiography, he disappeared. His name was stricken from all public, military, and secret science records. Every photo of him, every painting, every holo’film was said to have gone up in a fire that destroyed his Clan’s estate and left behind dangerous traces of atomic waste. Today, if you ask a Klingoni from one of their indoctrination grade school , their K’m’rad’Siik, all the way up through their military Academies, who Kajizik was, they’ll have no idea who you’re talking about. You ask them not who discovered Warp space, but how was it discovered, they answer, as one, “tlhIngan maH !” We are Klingons.”

“Never wanted to be a Klingon when I grew up.”

“My point is, Jim – – Well, as you know, having made your feelings clear, there was an attempt within Starfleet – – after Vengeance and Harrison – – to shut down Thirty-One. I understood that desire – – without agreeing with it. Once I assumed Alex’s position as Commander, Starfleet – – temporarily I’d thought – – Thirty-One division fell under my direct control. I had them continue developing new cutting – edge defensive technologies but suggested a greater emphasis on the study of the cultures, the politics and social weaknesses of our obvious and potential adversaries in the our exploration of deep space and the expansion of the UFP. The Romulan star empire, the Gorn systems, the so-called First Federation, and now, thanks largely to you, the Orion Oligarchy And, of course, first and foremost Alex Marcus’s personal bete noir, that he just happened to be so very, very right about., the Klingoni- – “

“Wait a minute, Eleanor- – Admiral. Alexander Marcus was many things but- – “

“Save your heroic display of indignation for that ingrate daughter of his, James.”

“How ‘bout you spare me the schooling and make your damn point then. And by the way, next time you talk about Carol Marcus with disrespect, I’ll deck ya. Eleanor – – you taking away my Starfleet Grade ‘n all., I got nothing to lose. Now, I have no intention of making her wait for me alone at the Arms’ Algonquin bar and you’re already five minutes late for your meeting and if there’s one thing a Tellar Boar hates more than an Earther female with authority is one wh- – “

“Is one who keeps a Boar waiting, as if she were actually in charge. My point is this: in addition to some espionage work that – – well, it left me astounded, their sophistication and eye for detail, I’ll get you a precis of their actionable intel – – the research they found most useful in understanding the Kling, for strategizing an effective defense, was actually a very well-read , award-winning unclassified study that really ignited the popular imagination with a reborn interest in xenology, a micro-book I believe you are very familiar with – -”

Jim fought the exasperation, failed, let it out with a long breath…. “ ‘Iw vo’ Qul.”

“Despite its broad appeal,” the Admiral said with a cynical frown and a measure of weary humor, “every worthwhile specialist in the field, even the Vulcans, felt it the most insightful, and incisive, study of the Klingon way. Their culture, their history – – their actual history. You know what I mean? The way they have – – literally – – no choice but to assume what they are told is truth? That kind of history? Jim?”

Jim looked at her ruefully and, now more than ever, ready to leave. Ready to be with her, with Carol, aware more than ever before of one of his life’s recurring lessons – – that the things most important to him, the people, everything, could be taken from him so goddamn incredibly fast. No matter how ready for the fight he was.

“Yeah, sure. I understand, I oughtta- -” he answered, with a casual shrug and a nod, doing his best to seem disaffected. “I spent the summer after my second semester at Riverside High proofing it for her.”

Of course, with its sociological bent, his mom’s xenological break through tape-book, “ ‘Iw vo Qul,”. didn’t touch at all on time travel. But he had understood what Parker was alluding to with her references to Klingon history. Winona Kirk had written with unprecedented clarity, and without having ever been a hundred parsecs in the vicinity of Kronos, or even an actual Klingon, how the events of near about the last one hundred years — that history, essential to her thesis – – had affected how the Klingon thought. She’d made plain both a day to day common mindset and also terms of their sense of selves in a decidedly cruel universe and the way that thinking found practical expression… unquestioning obedience to authority, unquestioning belief in the dogma of behavioral codes and irrational racial, or species-based, pride – – which heightened disgust for their enemies’ differences – – a benefit from authority’s special insight, the unquestioning subsuming of ego, personality, any demonstration of individuality, into their world’s sense of purpose and its destiny… as determined by authority.

Of course the Klingons knew time travel was possible, but that didn’t mean they had to “believe” in it. Not the powers in control of their populations; it simply didn’t “fit.” Of course, out of their questionably honorable and noble tradition, they made their belief clearly understood as a desire to always keep moving forward, to never look back. The past was the past; it was what had been done and progressed from. And despite their suppression of any and all religious beliefs, or mythological leanings (save those given formal stamps of approval) that sense of forward thinking more than suggested a society driven by “destiny.” Destiny made Manifest.

But that left something unanswered, something basic that he’d finally raised on the mad passage to Gateway…. What had caused the powerfully elite technocrats who had, more or less, over the past one hundred Earth years – – by Winona Kirk’s Pulitzer-winning calculations – – ruled with a “kill first, don’t bother to ask questions later” brand of totalitarianism, to alter one of their basic political tenants? Why did they take on a complex time travel scheme as a means of presumably launching a war with Earth and the Federation? And why the Vietnam war, and specifically, the entry of the forces of the then “United States” in a disreputable, disputable and disorienting event?

Lingering over those thoughts, and others… thinking about his mother, whom he hadn’t talked to in months… all these things that kept flickering in the back of his mind, lazily, behind his mission specifics in the here and now – – “Damn… I really wanted her to meet Carol…. they might have even been friendly…. and I’d told Carol I’d arrange getting us all together, that I’d get a hold of mom, and Maddie and even Sam whom Carol had met briefly once during a brief layover at Deneva, somehow, that we’d meet in Riverside” – – Jim had abruptly felt his insides lurch a little, the muscles in his legs bunching up into muscular hardness as his body maintained its balance…..star-trek2-movie-screencaps.com-11303 (1).jpg

The deck of the Nautilus had angled up as the sub slowly adjusted its bearing in relation to the La Fayette once again.

Jim could see why through the computer station’s viewer in the utility room just off the Nautilus bridge. With every pass around the strange monster-thing, the Navy submarine altered course, moving closer and closer.

He’d heard a light rap at the utility room’s door, a rhythmic knocking that Jim took to be a signal, and he saw, peripherally, Maria quickly open it, allowing Gary Mitchell in and closing the door immediately behind him. Mitch and the Agents slipped immediately into a strategical appraisal laced with anxious urgency and masked, nearly, with professional cool. Jim ignored them, and their voices became background sound, a buzz that nonetheless punched through his concentration on the K’m’anta and registered in his thinking – – “time factor” and details related to the responsibilities each would assume in the planned “engine breach” intended to get the crew off the boat, somewhere safe and nowhere near where they might see the otherworldly battleship from three hundred years in the future.

Jim’s concentration remained fixed on the private viewer’s screen that allowed for a sharp image of the K’m’anta and flickering data that those pods he’d seen along the sub’s hull while he was drawn to the Nautilus, gathered and filtered. His attention had just buoyed. When the Nautilus had adjusted attitude to match the LaFayette’s course change, he’d gotten his first, good close, practical look at the Klingon vessel’s vast and imposing underside. All of the dimensional blueprints and stolen test flight holos hadn’t quite imparted the mammoth spread of the intermix chamber’s distension, nor the complexity, the intricacy of the practical shields, designed and laid out in a pattern he suspected was meaningful in some way that even the specialists in Thirty-One likely hadn’t bothered with. He remembered his parting words with Eleanor after that first meeting, when all the implications came down on him at once – – less of the mission he’d been offered than her simple certainty in what he thought she took special pleasure in stating…. “You’ll never step on a starship bridge again.” The light rain was, he sensed, going to break open and become a downfall. But he moved out into it anyway, glancing back as she was closing the door behind her He’d called to her, a thought in passing, a looking across the neighborhood and seeing he was alone. “Why K’m’anta?”

“What do you mean?”

“The name, I’m guessing they named it K’m’anta for a reason. Name of a ship – – It can be important, Especially a prototype. Especially a prototype built as the turning point in their grand delusion of conquering all of the Federated worlds.”

She’d shrugged, suggesting it may just be a technical term regarding the vessel’s classification, like K’t’inga, and told him she’d put a translator in Thirty-One on it . But she also told him flatly that he had much more pressing and important immediate concerns and then she’d closed the door, and he walked along the Presidio in the rain.

“Jim? What do you think?” He glanced up from the viewer at Gary Mitchell’s question. Studying the K’m’anta, he’d lost track of their discussion but from what he had heard, he could piece together Mitch’s plans for dropping Jim as close as possible to the target even as he ran a course away from what would be an imminent explosion – – and a doozy at that; Mitchell had never shown much imagination but in this instance, with his assignment, being a practical sonofabitch was likely beneficial. None the less, and for no immediately apparent reason, Jim had felt it necessary to make any possible personal connection with his old friend and offered, what he expected Gary to know, was some hard won advice from more than his share of dangerous interstellar stand-offs and out-and-out combat.

“If you’re going to go all out with the Rockets Red Glare, you’re going to have to adapt to circumstances, time and place. And from what Toad told me, you’re not crewed up with the cream of the twentieth century crop,” Jim said; he’d picked up Gary’s fundamental source for readying the Nautilus’ get-up-and-go stratagem the moment he’d opened his mouth – – Rockets Red Glare was every freshman cadet’s first somewhat complicated simulator maneuver as a pilot at helm – – everyone had to do it at least once – – and it helped instructors keep the kids with some talent in mind for duty training.

“We’re set, Jim,” Gary had answered, his assuring tone a bit of a surprise as Kirk had half-expected him to take offense as he had earlier. Jim nodded and had glanced a Roger.

“You got any surprises up your sleeve in terms of weaponry?”

Roger nodded in a way that wasn’t quite convincing, more a bobbing of his head. He had gone on, explaining, “If the Klingons fire on us, yes. The American Navy sub, I don’t think that would be smart. For obvious reasons.”

“Yeah,” Jim replied. The others had immediately broken into a discussion regarding their unforseen problems, notably all the problems the shape of the American Navy nuclear submarine. Even if the K’m’anta was lifeless, Kirk was still ordered to destroy it, preferably, necessarily with the LaFayette neither in the kill zone nor even visual range of the mystery-thing’s destruction. The LaFayette also was likely equipped with exterior mounted cameras, for stills and some basic motion pictures. Jim had known he could have jumped into their cool, dispassionate argument, could have told them, from experience, that they had little to worry about in that regard, in regard to the quality of any recorded image… but he’d turned his attention back to the computer’s viewer. And the K’m’anta.

He’d been stuck working against another problem, one he had felt uncertain to raise with the others – – namely the details and, in fact, the possibility of his surviving what was, indeed, looking more and more like a suicide mission the closer he came to actually getting underway.

He’d chosen two possible entry points on the K’m’anta. One was a hexagonal air lock that, according to the holo’prints Thirty-One secured from one of their Orions, an engineer, opened into a likely unoccupied storage room; the other, a hastily repaired breach at the join of the ship’s “neck” to the secondary section, likely a result of a rough descent and crash landing into the sea after the unpredictable tumult of time travel. Of course those choices were, essentially, best case, and purely theoretical, scenarios; there were so many unanswered questions and possibilities…. Were the Klingons on board alive or dead? Perhaps there were a limited number of survivors. If so, what condition were they in? By nature Jim would likely feel some compunction to aid the badly injured, by training and the specifics of his mission, he’d destroy the K’m’anta and any living thing aboard it with barely a spare thought. What if the crew had survived, even in part, but their vessel was beyond repair? He had had a hard enough time imagining himself living a life on the Earth of the latter half of the twentieth century and had imagined it was, in a word, unlikely the a crew of likely all-male warrior-alien”spacemen” would either. Hell his future might be as simple and stupid as being spotted and killed in some manner as he attempted entry to his target.

He’d run those questions so many times now, they were like a mantra or a repetitive pop song. Now that he was ready to light that candle, his greater concern was his escape before the Klingon warship exploded, imploded and vaporized.

Assuming he made it aboard, that air lock in particular would put him in relatively easy striking distance of one of what the Thirty One engineers had translated from stolen M-Glyphs as a “power station.” This set-up was different than the designs of any Klingon vessel that Starfleet Intelligence had ever gotten a hold of before. The K’m’anta was powered by an “energy lattice” that covered every centimeter of the weapons and engineering section, crackling alive within the bulkheads. There were, if Thirty-One’s engineering group was reading the holo’prints correctly, nine “power stations” positioned and fixed throughout that section of the ship which were each designed to be run by three operators to keep the unusual and unstable high power generated via those two pylons outboard and atop, in balance with the standard matter-anti-matter mix in that wide bulbous warp chamber spread across the rear underside of the broad hull …. the energy lattice, the power stations, the two unusual pylons that were likely connected in some way to the artificially created vortex that had allowed the K’m’anta to pass through time – – there was an unspoken suspicion among some of the Thirty Ones Jim had encountered on the rushed passage to Gateway that while the K’m’anta was pure Klingon in terms of intentions and strategy, it’s guts and its brain bore all the latest Orion breakthroughs in ultra-high speed, heavily weaponized space vehicles. But that had come as little surprise to Jim And it had, disconcertingly seemed of little interest to Admiral Parker from the start.

Theoretically, once he’d made it to that power station – – and if Roger and Maria provided him the small brick of Bee-Zee-Tee he’d assured Eleanor Parker was the best plastic explosive for the operation, the rest was just crossing the i’s and dotting the t’s. He just had to find a clear flat or even slightly curved surface on which he could affix the explosive and spear it with a small stick of ketamite. The ketamite was a manufactured substance but its source was arboreal, the wood from a single astonishingly monstrous tree with a system of roots that sprouted into virtual forests, taking up a small northern equatorial continent on Runymede. The wood had the strange capacity of bursting into flame for any number of random reasons – – temperature changes, heavy rainfall of all things. Simply, it made for a natural fuse. Eleanor had suggested that he break a stick of it into the smallest pieces possible and plunge that fistful into the Bee-Zee-Tee to assure instant destruction; hence, the suicide in “suicide mission,” Jim had mused at the time.

But as he had organized and ran various game plans in those last days with Carol, hating himself for even letting his thoughts wander to the job when he knew he’d see her soon, too soon, for the last time, and, after the curling smoke of “Ole Know-t-All,” as the Federation researchers had taken to calling The Gaurdian had cleared and he’d arrived in an alley, almost inexplicably in 1964 Seattle, Washington, in the weeks it took him to follow the proverbial, breadcrumbs that somehow got him to Pearl and the USS Ticonderoga and in his time aboard her almost enjoying tearing up the skies over South East Asia on training runs and recons in that antique jet fighter, pretending as much as was possible, or wise, that none of it was real, he’d come to realize, slyly alluding to the idea with Toad who hadn’t caught on, that this wasn’t a suicide mission at all. Or it didn’t have to be. If he were judicious with the ketamite and depending on the variables, such as the need to defend himself, he could break off a piece of the fuse that would give him, say, sixty seconds to make it to the nearest possible escape route off the ship or, worst case, some place he could take cover… because there was little about Bee-Zee -Tee that wasn’t going to make at least sixty-six seconds of his life about as close to an eternity in Hell as a human could imagine possible.

The explosion would occur in two stages. The instant the ketamite ignited into flame and the flame had barely brushed the Bee-Zee-Tee, it would burst into a fireball over one hundred meters in diameter and produce heat so intense, it would melt metal and turn anything else in range instantly to cinder and ash. That first blast would likely set off smaller explosions and the ship’s hidden energy lattice would carry the fire throughout the K’m’anta’s guts that would culminate in the detonation of the other eight power stations in a devastating chain reaction. Once the explosions settled, leaving fires everywhere and a thick cloud of smoke, stage two, which had originally been an unexpected side effect in the creation of the Bee-Tee–Zee, would begin and it was unstoppable.

That hanging smoke would go through a metamorphosis, first becoming a poison that enlarged the trachea, producing pressure that shut down and crushed the lungs of any oxygen-breathing life form. But it didn’t end there. The smoke would continue to transform and quickly become vapor and as it thinned, the vapor grew hot. And hotter. The Bee-Tee-Zee vapor would, in less than fifteen minutes, reach a temperature greater than the lava from the deep sea mountain ranges jutting across the volcanic ocean floors of Obsidia. And in twenty minutes, it would be as if the K’m’anta had never existed.

Staring at the vessel through the computer’s viewer, Jim ran the course of his escape. Breaking the ketamite to a length longer than Parker had ordered but not so much that would allow any of the enemy the opportunity to defuse it. Depending on circumstances, he’d make for the way he got aboard or one of the alternatives he’d considered. And if he’d didn’t make it off, he’d find cover behind a thick bulkhead outside the primary blast perimeter. The detonation would likely provide any any number of significant cracks in the hull and it would probably be simple to get away. But he’d have to swim hard, though, as he had no idea how the vessel would react to the Earth’s sea water as it vaporized unfamiliar elements of the Klingon starship’s construction and the large inferior grade dilithium crystals used to power its warp field. He may also have to deal with any Klingon soldiers who’d managed to abandon ship.

That accomplished – – well, he hadn’t bought into that suicide mission nonsense from the beginning of this mission. Except…. except….

Even surviving the K’m’anta’s destruction and its erasure from existence may prove it hadn’t been a matter of suicide, it was, in fact, just a very long, very slow death beyond his control.

He’d be alone, somewhere in the northern reaches of the South China Sea, three hundred years before he ever existed. It was highly unlikely that the Nautilus would return if Gary could work the Rockets’ Red Glare. Mitchell and the Agents would then have to play whatever scenario Mitch had figured would get the hired contemporary crew off the sub and then the sub itself would have to be thoroughly scuttled in a way that allowed Mitch, Maria and Roger their disappearing act – – whatever it may be. The Agents also likely had one of their mysterious gadgets that could perform their magic and pass for a timely transistor radio, one that could get a read on the target’s destruction; they had no need of visual confirmation…. The nearest of the Vietnamese islands, part of a chain that marked a five mile boundary from the mainland of the North and meant, mainly, for the American Navy, would be, by Jim’s careful calculation, a six or seven mile swim. Not impossible – – if he were back in 2262, on extended leave somewhere warm or outright hot,, on Xunan, maybe, where the unending ocean off the almost silver beach felt like a perpetual massage, he’d swim those seven miles after a deeper than deep sleep following a night of energetic, athletic, aggressively crazy and defiantly shameless lovemaking,with a slice of kink, going all-out to pleasure his Weapons Chief, his Goddess, with her short, blonde bobbed hair that curled at the cut, her wide eyes just slightly mismatched in color suggesting her mysterious soul and the wider smile that lit him up, a body that was all perfect soft curves and rock hard fitness and those legs he’d die for, her ankles a masterly stroke of a true artist’s brush and a laugh that could eat him alive.

But the reality, that he’d be in the Gulf of Tonkin the afternoon of August the fourth in the year nineteen sixty-four, hours from the official outbreak of a historically important war,, a significant event that he’d have to keep in place, no interference.. He’d find himself alone with an oxygen tank he suspected the agents had altered to give him a full hour – – which he could stretch another ten minutes from standard Starfleet survival training and the even more complex exercises he’d learned at the S-SEAL special division in Command school at the Academy.

Those experiences, his Command training, somehow led him to another idea for salvation that he found difficult to entirely dismiss. He could play the part of exactly what he was, in a way – – a crew member of the carrier Ticonderoga gone overboard during the chaos set off by Toad’s explosive. That would take a lot of dancing, more than even he was used to. Regardless of whomever had contacted the Orions about his presence aboard – – he’d assumed they were time traveling compatriots of the K’m’anta’s crew – – he would already have had the attention of U.S. Navy Command and they likely could make a guess that he was somehow involved with the believed “sabotage” on the Ticonderoga. No matter which vessel he could get taken aboard, his name, his file and copies of his I.D. photo was likely in the hands of Warrant Officers across the seventh fleet. Still, even if he were arrested, he’d likely. eventually, find himself on dry land where more options could be worked to his advantage, particularly if that magic of his found some purchase on a mission that was dangerously slipping beyond him.

No…. No, there was only one other possibility that could secure his safety from an eventual ignoble demise in the South China Sea and even promised a way home, to his time, and his place. Unfortunately, even he had to admit to himself it was, at the very best, a long shot and what was worse, for him, it was something entirely outside of his control. The starship, his starship, the U.S.S. Enterprise could possibly – – possibly – – emerge from the glaring reflection of the sun off the Tonkin water from seemingly out of nowhere, from the future…. his crew, his friends, his family, really, devoted to finding him, and likely defying Starfleet and, specifically, the order of the CNC, Admiral Eleanor Parker herself, and following the dead set orders of two of their obsessive Commanders, the only two genuine geniuses in his life…. his first mate and half-alien brother and beside him, his personal scientific Cassandra and the Mistress of his heart, his body, his soul. They’ll be standing on opposite sides of his command chair, knowing that’s where he belongs. She’d likely have not allowed anyone sit there til he came back. Bones would be in sickbay, ordering his people around to make sure they were prepared whatever state he arrived in while he scanned South East Asia for signs of duerillium, a metal found only on Andor within the Federation and used in medical practice; he’d rebuilt three of his ribs with it after she had saved him on Idar. Nyota would be listening to both the North Vietnamese military’s and the U.S. Navy’s transmissions and, if it helped hinder both sides from even thinking they saw some U.F.O. and interfere with their rescue, she’d broadcast an untraceable, very high-pitched noisy futz that would temporarily cause all communications within five hundred square miles to go deaf. Scotty would signal Sulu when his engines were ready for a full impulse atmospheric descent, and Sulu, with Chekov’s energetic, bright confidence, would skim the ship across the sea for an emergency transport and split second getaway-ascent…. then they’d barrel roll to Sol and slingshot around ‘er and he’d be home in time to take ‘em all, the whole damn crew, to a big, big dinner and all-night drink up at Russert’s Bar and Texas Steakhouse on Wacker in Dubuque.

“Jim,” stop being silly,” he could imagine Carol telling him. “Just think straight and clear, forget the nonsense, and think in that way of yours. You’ll come home that way, to the Enterprise. To me. And I think you know why there is no other option for you…. Don’t you? Well…..”

He could imagine her staring at him, waiting with a hint of impatience that he knew just how to milk, ‘til she smiled and it was the same smile from when they first met on that shuttle and she had very happily and easily sat beside him at his invitation….

“Jim, you’re going to do only what you can do and then you’re coming home because – -”

And in his head, he heard his voice join in with hers, saying, firmly, strongly, “I’m James T. Goddamn Kirk- – “

“Jim?”

Jim glanced up from the hooded viewer.

Mitchell. He was looking down at Jim hunched over the screen and so Kirk shifted and had stretched his back but still leaned close by the viewer. Jim flicked a look past Gary and saw Roger and Maria, more or less where they had been, passing a curious small black device back and forth, each making adjustments to it.

Good gods, Jim had thought, Carol Marcus really had his number; all those occasions she had either laughed or had grown angry with his unbreakable tendency, when not occupied by actions to be taken, his losing himself in his thoughts. Sometimes extremely lost. Mitchell hadn’t moved away from him and the Agents were still talking details of their getaway plans. He’d been so lost, any sense of time was frozen. But time had kicked in as it always did and he knew damn well what Mitchell was waiting for him to ask.

“Time to go?”

Gary had nodded slowly. “You make it sound like it’s just another job. Another day at the office. But then again, I know you. Better than you think. And I’ve also read nearly every mission report you’ve ever logged, so I half-think that you probably really do think of of it as any other assignment – -”

“Isn’t it? I mean, except for the suicide part.”

Gary screwed on a smile as Jim stretched his neck and rolled back his head, asking as he groaned, “How long before you light it up? The Red Glare?”

“Less than an hour,” he said, then checked his era-appropriate wristwatch, adding, “Forty-nine minutes to be exact. It’s very strange. The Klingons seem stuck on the idea of running whatever you want to call their intent – – their assault, maybe? – – they’re fixed on sticking to the recorded official history of these events. Despite the fact that that history was discounted centuries ago. Even by the people that originally recorded it.”

“And that I’ve already messed up by giving history an actual event to record,” Jim replied with an indifferent amusement that took even him by surprise.

“Well, according to Martin and Lewis there,” Gary said, glancing back at the Agents,”Toad’s fireworks? The aftereffects, historically, turn out to be negligible at worst. And no fatalities, human that is. The not-so-little green men were zapped into nonexistence .

“They must have discovered the two dead thugees in my cabin?” Jim asked and was shrugged off in response.

“They say they couldn’t find a thing about them, not in any report or record, even, they claim, the Central Intelligence files- – don’t ask me how they found out.”

“I wasn’t planning to,” Jim said, flicking a look over at them as well. “ And I shouldn’t really trust them. I’m just gambling they’re as legitimately helpful as they seem. They’ve given me no reason not to.” He turned back to Gary with a slightly puzzled frown. “Martin and Lewis? I don’t- -”

“They’re – -,” Gary started. Then he waved it off. Jim, understanding, proceeded in his command style, speaking aloud as he was – – informedly – – thinking his ideas through..

“The Klingons being stuck, as you put it, on the historical rec – – Gary,” Jim said, as he thoughtfully determined another path to follow. “Have you ever heard of the Heg pow, or poe?” Jim made no attempt at the proper Klingoni pronunciation – – Hegh poH – -and stayed with a phonetically Basic approximation.

Gary shook his head but listened with great attention. Section Thirty-One had drawn from him more incisive thoughts, as well as a honed ability to obfuscate, deceive, and even how to easily cheat and win playing poker, but he knew, as he always had, Jim Kirk suspected, that the Iowa farmboy was out of his league and totally his own man with what was distinctly his own way. Jim had pushed on, almost ignoring Mitchell’s response, trying to keep pace with his ideas as he organized them into talking points.

“Heg Poe, it’s the current ruling government’s idea of higher thinking. Klingon philosophy, if you want to call it that – – without laughing – – but dig just a little deeper and its really just a sociological version of a very basic approach to space combat . The literal translation of Heg Poe is kill time or killing time. Meaning – – “

“Meaning,” Gary said interrupting and seamlessly continuing Jiim’s argument, like back when they were bird dogging the ladies of Alpha Omega, Jim remembered with an inner sly grin, the off-Academy elite sorority of Cadets who’d gone to the same group of equally elite girls’ boarding schools on Earth, “that with a little patience and viigilance, a good kill comes to those that wait?”

“That’s one way of putting it but it’s all a lotta bullshit, this idea that you attain a higher sense of purpose when you destroy an enemy – – not as soon as you can – – but at the exact perfect moment. And that higher sense of purpose? That’s knowing one’s place in serving their “empire”.”

“Not meaning to seem the racist, the Ugly Federationalist, but I prefer the human take on that idea.”

“Which is what?,” Jim asked, with a slight smile. Maybe Mitch hadn’t changed all that much from the surfin’ bird.

“Que sera, sera…”

Jim nodded, his smirk growing, as he offered another, more likely possibility that was in his mind all along about the Klingon’s precise choices in this unique – – for them – – way of essentially trying to win a war launched at the Federation and Starfleet, not simply without a battle but before the war even began.

“The most… logical… explanation,” he said, almost tripping over his choice of words, changing his tack, “Look, you Thirty-Ones believe the Kling have never attempted time travel? Supposing you’re right, then they’re probably thinking just like they’re told to from childhood – – strategically. Time travel’s a mystery for them. They’d never admit it but they’re likely scared to death of screwing the pooch and somehow erasing their empire from existence.”

Mitchell swallowed a chuckle but couldn’t his smile.

“If you’re anticipating a punchline, they’re isn’t one.”

“No, no. I uh- – I was just thinking, like mother, like son,” Gary said with his unreadable icy smile. Jim stared at him askance but as he began asking what the hell Gary had meant by that, Mitchell was holding up a hand and assumed his usual matter-of-fact bearing that, Jim knew for a fact, had never fooled Hot Lips Dehner. “It figures Parker didn’t tell you. If it weren’t for advancement protocols and the pull she inherited from Mad Man Marcus, Starfleet couldn’t have been forced to promote a worse commandant.”

“What’s your point, Mitch? Why’d you mention my mom?”

“Parker brought Ms. Winona Morrison, married name Winona Kirk – – which she still gets plenty of mileage out of, by the way – – into this very early, when pretty much all we had was the name K’m’anta slipped to us by an Orion, one of their Plutarchs – – fat, devious son of a bitch, name of Klimt, I think.”

Jim tried not to show any reaction to the name, realized he was trying, then just sounded the curse in his head – – or was this apparently unintended revelation just another coincidence? “Ain’t no such thing as a bad coincidence, kid,” he remembered Grandpa Jim telling him more than once during his brief, albeit horrific, summer on Tarses. And later that same year, during school break, he’d helped Winona by proofreading her goddamn Klingon book.

“This Orion had shown us he was reliable more than a few times, like with what happened on Cathar, and that situation with the Kling jihadiis. He even gave us a few clues that put all of us here, told us there was scuttlebutt floating ‘round the high families of Orion Prime about a Fed red-level diplomatic sciences pack that had gone missing en rote to Earth from Gateway and that it connected with a contract in the works for the Klingons who wanted Orion space specialists to sort out a few warp field problems with a new starship they were calling, at that time, the Qav qutluch, the ultimate or final weapon. Klimt also told us that the contract was said to include a provision for poH leng – – or, time travel – -”

“Well, we’re here and it’s now. My mother Gary- -?”

Jim could clearly see that Mitchell was regretting mentioning it; but he wasn’t going to let the Thirty-One Mitch had clearly become, with his glee so evident when it came to deep cover talk, off easy. Gary took in a deep breath and blew it out as he replied, “Jim, when Thirty-One gets an assignment, we talk to just about everyone who knows more than we do. Your mom’s book is still an important study of Klingon culture, and her work with other beings, species, races is pretty staggering. She’s also got a good brain when it comes to figuring out how to relate to other cultures and with the Klingons, and even moreso the Roms, her advice is pretty unrelenting. strong – – even merciless – – stuff. A couple of us were given her logs and recommendations to go over before she came to talk to us. And Winiona Kirk is a lady of no compromises. “ He paused a moment, and said again,” Like mother, like son,” as if it explained itself.

Jim shook his head lightly, saying, “My mother is not an agent for Section Thirty-One. Come on!”

“If it’ll make this mission go any easier for you, she’s an extremely low level interest, much lower than you, Jim. You’re deep in the shit,” Gary said almost tiredly. “She’s what we call a contract agent. Hell, when she came to our Q and A arranged by Admiral Screw Loose, she had no idea who or what we even were. Parker didn’t lie. She just told Missus Kirk we were a new specialized branch of Starfleet security, a think tank.” He added, as if it would help an old friend, “It’s not an unusual means of information sharing, and that’s really what Thirty-One’s about, Jim. Information. As a very effective weapon against our enemies. And the longer we’re in space, boldly pushing the frontier, the more enemies we get. Your mom, she’s a real ace, Jim.”

At Jim’s look, fed up, exasperated, Gary went to say more but Kirk shook his head to visible Mitchell’s relief. “You’ve got your enemies, Mister Mitchell. My enemy’s time,” Jim said, steering their discussion to the task at hand. “Gary, listen, if you think you can light the Rockets’ Red Glare underwater with mostly twentieth century tech, maybe you should consider manning the helm yours- – “

“Jim. Jim,” Gary interrupted, his voice going low but notably strong. “I’ve been thinking about this from the moment I heard you’d taken this mission. We’ve left a lot unsaid because, frankly, I wanted to see if you measured up the reports and logs I’d read. I figured you would and I’m not disappointed. Jim, I’ve left too much unsaid- -”

“Gary, we don’t have that kind of time. You want me to forgive you for dropping out and playing dead, you’re forgiven. Look, we just knew each other for a pretty short time at the Academy, a long time ago- -”

“No!” Gary practically whispered it as a hiss, stepping closer to Kirk. “Time… Time means nothing, Jim. Not to any of us. And especially not to me.”

Jim started to pull back and away from Gary but Mitchell clamped a hand on his shoulder and pressed in even closer, leaning in toward Kirk’s ear, and, in a way that that the Agents couldn’t overhear, he said, “I can get us back home, Jim. It will cause me certain- -” He struggled for the right word and continued, weakly, “- – difficulties. Physically, mentally, but I’ll be buying the next round at Hammerhead’s.”

Gary Mitchell had then reached to his dark glasses – – Jim instinctively took a half, uncertain step back – –

And a small red soft-button on the computer board by the view screen apparatus started flashing rapidly accompanied by a subdued but insistent beeping, an alarm, and an asexual electronic computerized voice spouting out strings of numbers that meant nothing to Jim.

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He brushed by Gary, pushing him a little out of the way, and bent back over viewer, aware that Roger and Maria had crowded in. Jim flicked the quickest of glances at Roger, saw he’d tilted his head back a little, his mouth moving without saying anything and Jim quickly realized he was making sense of the nonsense the the computer was reciting. But Jim’s concentration was fixed on the screen.

A slightly fuzzed black shape was moving past his line of sight. The American nuclear boat, LaFayette. It was closer to the Nautilus now; it must have altered course while on the other side of the K’m’anta, Jim had thought, and perhaps that had caused the computer to go on edge. A proximity alert. As the Lafayette banked for a farther pass on their mystery shape, Jim had noticed a smear of red doppled along its surface, at an angle, tilted away from the viewer that only revealed a wash of color from what had to be a nav light atop the sub in the vicinity of its conning tower and bridge section. But Jim was certain there hadn’t been any running lights visible and working anywhere on the LaFayette.. And he was proven right.

As the LaFayette cleared his eye line, he got another good , clear look at the K’m’anta…. And the source of that blood red red light clearly wasn’t coming off any navigation beacons on the American sub….

Jim had, straightening from the scanner screen, grabbed Maria’s shoulder as he moved fast for the heavy locked utility room door., pulling her with him…

Roger snapped at him, “Mister Kirk.- -”

Jim ignored him. He stood by Maria, urging her on without words as she found the tiny disk in one of her pockets and pressed it against the door that sprung open immediately without any locks and punch codes to slow them. Jim pulled the thick door wider and finally looked back at Roger and Gary Mitchell, and said, “Gary, scramble this crew of yours. Now. Roger, gear up your bag of tricks. We’re out of time.”

 





Sanjuro

1 02 2017