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….

star-trek1-movie-screencaps.com-244.jpg

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.”

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