Spock half-shrugged. "Our safe cruising speed is warp five, and I do not intend to exceed it. The vessel itself seems space worthy--we are not leaking air and the plumbing works. The condition of the rockets--we will discover soon enough. The navigation computers are our most pressing difficulty. Their sole super-cooling unit appears to be a pump from a 2035 Frigidaire."
"Hm. Let me tell you right now, Spock, that if you had any idea of cannibalizing the __Enterprise__'s second back-up computer components--" A flash of surprise on Spock's face was succeeded by thoughtfulness. "--it's strictly against policy and I don't want to hear another word about it."
"You won't," Spock said calmly.
"Who are you sharing the pilot job with?"
"That--has not yet been decided." Kirk looked at him measuringly for a moment.
"You mentioned that the __Ellis__ is a rocket conversable, chemical fueled, didn't you? I think experience serving on a Newton-buster is still required in Engineering and Command specialties. I'll pass the word. Kirk out."
After a brief, appreciative pause, Amanda remarked, "A useful person to have around, isn't he?"
"Well, I would not put it exactly that way--but you are in essence correct," Spock replied, eyes and no doubt mind back on the control panel. He tore himself away for one more instant to ask, "Mother, could you look in on T'Aniyeh? She has not--" he stopped, seemingly uncertain how to complete the sentence. Amanda finished it for him by promising to go.
On the way, she stopped in at the sickbay, temporarily turned into a nursery and child care center for the 'orphans.' The thirteen year old girl lay with her face to the wall, and a "Go away and leave me alone," was the only response Amanda could get out of her. But the eleven year old boy had appointed himself in charge of the others, and was trotting back and forth efficiently with diapers, formula and stuffed animals. At Amanda's praise, however, the boy confided he had done nothing for Ian. "I couldn't get near him. Every time he saw me, he just screamed."
Ian lay half-curled up, hands clenched at sides, in a rigid semblance of relaxation, shaken by occasional spasms of shivering. Amanda felt his forehead; his temperature seemed normal, but he didn't focus on her face. After a moment's thought, she left a message in Anna Gallegos's room asking her, as a child psychologist and a friend, to come in and look at Ian. In a way she hated to do it, knowing that Anna had just lost her only daughter. One can't walk up and offer another child in the place of one that is gone. But Ian did not recognize such niceties.
On her way down, Amanda found time to put the dilithium crystals she was still absently clutching in the ship's safe. She'd have to tell whoever ended up a leader about them, as soon as it was decided who that person was.
She found Tanya crumpled in a chair, hands covering face and pressing against eyes. Her breaths were too harsh for pleasant hearing, though not quite sobs, and she was still in her sweat-soaked coveralls. Gently, Amanda half-coaxed, half-scolded her into showering and changing to fresh clothing. When Amanda tucked her into bed, as she had done for Spock so many years ago, Tanya lay back passively and closed her eyes, but when Amanda kissed her good-night, Tanya sat up again, desperately reaching for Amanda's hand. "Amanda . . ." she pleaded in a dry whisper. With Amanda holding her, the tears finally started trickling down Tanya's cheeks. "I'm sorry," she began. "I can't seem to stop . . . ."
"Sh," Amanda said. "Sh."
She held and rocked Tanya as tears became sobs, sobs full-fledged hysteria. "That's right," she said once. "Is that the best you can do?" At Tanya's momentarily startled pause, Amanda smiled a little, though it never reached her eyes. "You were . . . magnificent," Amanda said slowly. "You almost did it, Tanya. You almost made the difference."
Tanya's racking sobs quieted slightly, as if she were listening. "But . . . I lost," she managed. "We lost . . . ."
"Yes," Amanda said. "Yes." She held Tanya a little tighter, and rocked her until the girl, exhausted, was suddenly asleep. Then Amanda washed Tanya's face with a cool washcloth, tucked her in again, and went softly from the room, leaving Tanya to steep her loss in sleep.
How long had it been since she herself had slept until her body had had enough of it, Amanda wondered vaguely. Last night she had not slept at all, of course. And the last full meal? No matter . . . .
The colonists' meeting must have adjourned. The corridors were busy with people. Most greeted her politely or even cheerfully, so Amanda gathered there were no hard feelings. She collared Luis as they both exited at the same station of the servo-elevator. "How did it go?" she asked directly.
"Oh---" he considered. "Pretty well. We figured that we were all reasonable people, so we decided on an organized anarchy. There's a meeting tomorrow . . . it'll be announced."
Amanda stared at him for a minute, dead-pan. "That should prove interesting," she said. "Well, Luis, it looks like the Feds have been foiled. Your homicide is safe with us."
His eyes slid to her, startled. "I didn't kill anyone." A reflective pause. "I wouldn't have the guts."
"Nonsense. Always remember--you are a Human Being, a member of one of the deadliest and most unpredictable species in the galaxy. You could do murder any time at all."
For the first time in her knowledge of him, he looked at her directly, dark eyes wide. Then he grinned at her, punched her arm gently. "Gowan . . . ."
She paused just outside her cabin to try and think what else needed doing. There was nothing immediately pressing. The meeting tomorrow . . . . In just over a day, they would be stopping at Earth's Moon Base Beta to pick up people, Meg Robinson and her twins, the Frazer children, those three beautiful Afro-Vulcans . . . . Oh, she couldn't think.
She straightened, went inside, skimmed her clothes off quickly. But it was over an hour before she could sleep.
The meeting the next day had a full house. The mood, Amanda decided as she settled into an inconspicuous seat in the back, was on the upswing. People were hanging over the backs of their chairs, talking, calling to each other; the apathy she had noted was gone, though most faces she saw were serious.
A short, stocky man with Vulcanoid features and bright eyes mounted the podium. "Spague here. As most of you remember, I was chosen by lot to be today's moderator. To summarize: yesterday it was decided to wait on the unattached children rather than thrusting them into families willy-nilly. Beck't Kinlee volunteered to take charge meanwhile; anyone interested, see her. We also discovered we have no one with Starship experience except Spock aboard. Today's agenda: preparing for TN247."
He stopped to pat his pockets, looked helplessly at the audience. "Does anyone have an air-glow?" Someone tossed him one; he palmed it neatly. "Right, thanks. It seems we can divide preparation into several time-dependent processes." He used the air-glower to inscribe the luminous lines before him with a round, clean script. "What has to be done before we land. What has to be done the first day on TN's surface. The first week. The first month. The first year. Yes," his air-glow shot a bubble of light, touching a woman in front who had stood up.
"Maya Reynolds. We'll need to check the geological survey before we land. We don't want to imitate __High__ __Hopes__ and land on top of a major fault-line or an active volcano."
"Geology." Spague sketched it, writing swiftly. "Yes."
"Tey Upenadareshu. Weather. I don't think any of us are used to snowstorms, but it would be nice to get out of the heat sometimes."
"Yelina Gagarin. We must all turn farmer for a while I know, and we will need good soil to do it with. Not too many trees to clear, but enough to crack the wind. And good water-table for wells. It would be good maybe also to not be too far to the sea, so there can be pelagic farming later . . . ."
Amanda leaned back, a little smile playing over her reps, and reached for a note-pad. The new colony was off to a rousing start.
Indeed, she thought later, they __were__ starting off well. There had been one poignant note--she remembered Michail, standing up near the end of the meeting with an unself-conscious dignity.
"Michail Vladimir Strewlenski. Our wives and husbands--will they ever be able to come to us?"
Spague had shaken his head wordlessly. No one knew.
But in all, a significant amount of work and decision making had been accomplished. The planet surveys and their data had been fed into the ship's computer before boarding. Volunteers were now engaged in fitting that data into usable form; finding out habitable regions, checking soil analyses, discovering what conditions were required for the supplies they possessed. Walking down the corridor toward her cabin, Amanda repeated to herself, "We might just make it."
Anna Gallegos was waiting outside her door, with Ian, who was struggling silently, draped under one arm. Just as she reached them, a half-breed named San brushed by them, and Ian began to scream. Quickly, Anna flipped a side of the cloak she wore over his face. Amanda gestured them inside. In the sudden quiet and muffled dark, Ian abruptly stopped screaming.
"He reacts the same way at the sight of any male Vulcan," Anna said comprehensively.
Amanda saw, just a little too well. "What did Saluraz do to him?" Never had she cared less about the ethical and legal crime they had committed in stealing Ian.
"Amanda--if you took a six-week old puppy, loved it, trained it, taught it proper
[KC05IL13.TIF] (RBW Note. Amanda on the bridge with someone else on the viewscreen.)
discipline, it would probably grow up to be a good dog and love you back. If you took the same pup, kicked it, starved it, cursed at it every chance you got, the dog would turn feral, revert to savagery. But if you took that puppy, kicked it Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, patted it Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and ignored it completely on Sundays, you'd be growing yourself one neurotic dog. It'd cringe under your hand, rip your throat out without a snarl, and pee on the floor every time you looked at it."
She sighed, stroking Ian's head absently. He was still. "As far as I can tell, that's what happened to Ian. Whether deliberately or through a combination of ignorance, indifference, and difficult living conditions, Saluraz seems to have alternately punished him, propitiated him or simply put him in a corner and forgotten him. Even Delcitch't would have been a change for the better. Amanda, I don't know if we can salvage him."
Amanda sighed. "You're the best we have, Anna. Do--what you can."
Amanda had found herself volunteering for the job of liaison again, and her offer was snapped up before she could back out again. She went up to the bridge later that day, therefore, to check out communications, and found that seat of command crowded with bright young officers in Starfleet colors. Brevetted Lieutenant Chekhov, looking amazingly responsible, was in the hot-seat.
"Hullo, Lady Amanda," he said. "Ken wve do someting for you?"
"No," she said, after an approving appraisal. "I would like to run through the __Ellis__'s communication systems, if I wouldn't be in your way."
"Of course not." He glanced at his panel. "In fact, I tink wve are beink hailed right now."
"I see it." Matching frequency with ease, she soon had on the central viewscreen--someone who could be no other than the infamous Slieez. Lolled back in his chair, bulbous nose tinted a bright green, com in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other, the Vulcan was drunk as a lord. A series of porcine snores, in various keys, issued from a heap of white fur behind him. "Howdy, love, what's hopping? This the LSI?" he asked cheerily.
Slieez was the object lesson Vulcan parents used to warn their children about the evil of drink. Slieez had first tasted demon rum some thirty-seven years ago. He hadn't been seen sober since. His despairing family finally bought him off with the gift of a small trading vessel, with which he eked out a marginal existence for himself, his Tellurite bride, and approximately seven offspring of various sizes and horrifying descriptions.
After assuring him that they were indeed the--uh, LSI, Amanda asked him how they could help him.
"T'other way around, entirely," Slieez said reproachfully. "Have me'own ship, see. Thought I might stop by your place once a half-year or so. Ya ever have any stuff to trade, need the latest news or supplies, I can be there."
Amanda accepted with alacrity, if some puzzlement.
"Not at all," Slieez said graciously, only spoiling the effect with a slight hiccup. "Never liked that T'Uriamne broad. Nosy-parker. And I got kids o'my own, ya see. __Hic__!" As if on the sound, his tiny __Rum__-__Runner__ vanished.
Amanda was on the observation deck the next day when the announcements were aired, giving time and topics of the day's meeting as well as several items of general interest. Among them was the colony's first birth.
"The baby's name is reported to be Tiffany," the announcer said. "She must be a little jewel." She chuckled at her own joke. As a matter of fact, Amanda knew that the mother had named the child Tiffany as signifying something too expensive to afford. So far, she had refused to see the baby.
As she turned to leave the gallery for the meeting, it hit. A sudden stroke of pain, a pull, a call-- There, from somewhere beyond the stars, Sarek--wanted--her-- He--was calling--her--
It took every bit of strength she possessed to turn away, close her eyes and __not__ __answer__ him. For her own sanity, for her own life, she dare not prolong their tie, dare not-- "Please," she found herself praying, "please . . . ."
When the call finally stopped, she couldn't even cry.
Phernic hung on Machena's knee trustfully. "I like it here. I'm glad we came. Aren't you?"
His eyes, features, his whole demeanor was so gentle, she thought. He wouldn't last five minutes with the other royal children. And she--her death would be considerably slower and not nearly as pleasant at the hands of the royal wives.
She had known, when she deserted the inner court of Andorian aristocracy, that she would
never be able to return. To marry, not merely an alien but a __commoner__ . . . . Somewhere deep inside her, she shuddered at the thought of their revenge, should she ever fall into their hands again.
Absently, she answered her son, "I hope so, Phernic. I hope so."
T'Ariel rested chin on hands and sighed deeply, looking at her father. He had not moved at all in the last hour. She had succeeded in getting him involved in the nursery, and that had helped a little. Michail was much better with children than Tava had even been, and had stayed home to raise T'Ariel, Selim, and Michail-J while Tava worked. Caring for the babies had seemed to bring him more to life. But there were still periods when he would just sit, staring into space, thinking of Tava--and want her.
Sarek stood by the side of T'Uriamne's desk, observing her dispassionately. Her eyes glowed, her every movement was graceful and confident. Victory was hers, complete and unchallenged. She stooped in front of him.
"Father," she said, "your assistance in reconstruction is accepted." She paused, but her whole manner went on to complete the sentence traditionally, "accepted with Joy."
"Vulcan faces a most difficult task. It will not be easy," she went on. Her lips parted, she spoke half to herself, as if unable to focus on any one person this day in the face of her over-riding vision. "But it will be done."
Indeed, Sarek thought, Vulcan faced hard times. As the old saying went, with the most ordinary supplies they would have to, "Patch it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."
It was a moment before he remembered that that particular saying was human.
Elaine paced the small cabin frantically, slapping the wall on each turn. "I need a man!" she wailed aloud.
"We aim to oblige," Luis said resignedly, stepping through the doorway. "How I ever get into these things . . . ."
Meg Robinson watched the three together, her elves and Teng, with a smile. "And you say we are the same species?" Teng had asked incredulously. It was rather hard to believe.
Meg knew that she was one of the few people on board who had a real alternative, who could leave the colony any time she wished. But she didn't know that she wanted to. The colony, it seemed to her, was becoming a whole, from polarities as different as Teng and the twins. And Meg found herself wanting to be a part of that whole.
"I don't think I could have you around full-time, punkin," she thought at Teng. "But I __do__ want to be able to have you around."
"Spock," Kirk said ominously, "if, while attempting to make a four fin landing, you total that clunker, half-a-dozen of Starfleet's finest, and yourself, I am going to be __pissed__."
"Duly noted," Spock replied.
"Good luck." His image disappeared.
Calmly, Spock jettisoned the warp drive into a safe orbit around TN and prepared to set down. His crew were all properly strapped in, the passengers beamed down, all systems were go--Cautiously, Spock started dipping the __Ellis__'s nose into atmosphere.
One hour, two sputtering jets and three nosebleeds later, they were down.
Amanda started down the side of the low knoll from which the colonists had watched the descent. Now the real work started. Plans had been drawn up, schedules made. Everyone old enough to walk had a job to do.
Everyone had been given a hand-cutter to begin with. Going to the designated positions around the __Ellis__, four pits were cut with amazing rapidity, from six meters down and over fifty meters long for the two half-shells, to a smaller but far deeper pit for the computers, com and planetary sensors. Then the antigravs came into their most impressive display as the ship, slowly, started taking herself apart. Thousands of metric tons of metal were guided gently into their individual resting places. They stopped after the first four cross-sections, though, to let the work load diversify. The cabins could be taken down, one by one, later that afternoon.
Amanda was helping defrost the tricorns. Kept in suspended animation during the journey,
the animals would be the better for reviving as soon as they were under gravity again--and the colony would all the sooner have fresh milk, riding animals, and wool when necessary. Tricorns were beautiful beasts, as intelligent as a cat and with much the same disposition.
Amanda slapped the lead stallion playfully and chuckled as he heaved to his feet with an indignant snort. The pregnant mares seemed to be none the worse for their long sleep, with not a miscarriage among them, she saw, relieved. The colony numbered among its members a child psychologist, a psychiatrist, a hybridologist, a microbiologist--but not one GP, and even worse, not one vet. Shui was the closest they had.
There were the tricorns, the harpers, the shamar bees to revive and settle, the fields of quadrotriticale, vegetables and fruit to plant, the cabins--houses, she corrected herself--to place, wells to dig, sewer connections to hook up--she listed tasks to herself, only pausing as she came out into the open. She stopped, looked around her for a brief minute. The sky was strange, a soft mottled range of red to blue, but the air was fresh and clean, the sunlight warm on her hair, and the grass distinguishable from Earth's green carpet only by a botanist. "What do you know," Amanda spoke aloud, starting over to the dispensary to see if it was up to a cup of tea. "We did make it."
A week later, unbelievable as it seemed, the major rush was over. The crops were in, the animals awake and lively, most people settled. So--what next?
They would need, eventually, some kind of imports. Which meant, naturally enough, some kind of exports. Colonies usually concentrated on raw materials, food-stuffs, wood, oil, ore, precious gems, but that idea didn't seem to fit in with the concept Amanda was beginning to form of their colony. The children they had worked so hard to save laboring in fields or mines? No, that wasn't the way. Something Beck't has said kept echoing in her mind, about--they were now the only possible transmitter of Vulcan culture to the rest of the Federation.
Well, the problem was not immediate. Before they started worrying about what their children would grow up to do, it seemed more appropriate to worry about how those children would grow. Knowing nothing but the limited boundaries of a colony world, or everything that both their twin heritages had to offer? Some classes had already started up, she knew. She rode into town that afternoon, to offer her services as a teacher at the general meeting. Time they all had in plenty, at least until the harvest was due.
Two youngsters raced past her as she came into sight of the buildings. Riding bareback and barefoot, clinging to their mount's necks, hair slipping free, they had something of the primitive beauty of cave-paintings of pre-reform culture. Vaguely, Amanda's hand itched for a pen.
As she dismounted and led Prookle into the animal barn and storehouse, she came across a small girl looking blankly at a tricorn-horn. Asking, "What's the matter, sweet?" she knelt beside her.
The child replied without hesitation, "I want to make it into a shape," she waved a safety-muted carver aimlessly, "but it isn't big enough for what I want to make it come out as."
"The stallions have bigger ones, and I think they're starting to shed."
"Thank you, Lady Amanda," the girl said politely, before running into the interior of the barn as fast as her short legs could carry her. Amanda watched her go, smiling a little unbelievingly. Many Vulcan children had undeniable artistic gifts at a young age, and that was one area where the cliche 'hybrid vigor' seemed to work, but wasn't she a little young? Of course, Spock had been playing the lytherette before his fourth birthday. She wondered if the phase was general. Most Vulcan children were firmly switched into scientific and practical fields by the time they entered school.
She was early for the meeting, and spent the time wandering in the practice rooms beneath the council chamber. She noted that the grand piano Beck't had insisted on bringing along was being used, vigorously enough. In another room, she heard a teen-age girl, patiently engaged in fitting pre-reform Vulcan poetry to a jazz-blues beat. Her face was completely entranced. In a third room, a boy was dancing second-level tokiel exercises to the lines of a poem by e. e. cummings. Amanda paused to listen. The poem was familiar to her.
we're anything brighter than even the sun (we're everything greater than books might mean) we're every anything more than believe (with a spin leap alive we're alive) we're wonderful one times one
One times one . . . Amanda pressed herself against the wall of the corridor as if to hide. Why did she have to hear it, why? All bright dreams and sunlit futures and hopes opening wide, and then--Oh, God, when will my soul be whole again?
Grimly, patiently, Selver forced the pain away again. It receded, finally, giving a temporary respite. He sighed and curled a little more closely around Linnet. One invention of
[KC05IL14.TIF] (RBW Note. Vulcan female with live long and prosper sign.)
Humankind Selver definitely approved of was the double bed. Vulcan hospital beds were not even remotely comparable. Another was Linnet herself.
He had never been Bonded as a child. No one had ever thought he would live long enough to need it. All the other males of his family for the past twenty-three generations had died __in__ __utero__, or infancy at best. But technology marches on.
And in Vulcan culture, he thought groggily as he sensed the pain returning, one simply doesn't ask whether one should save a life--save it? For a life of weakness, sterile and narrow boundaries, and never-ending pain? But one does, automatically.
Or maybe he had it wrong. He never had been exposed to much of the Tradition, living in a hospital his whole life--
His teeth bit deep into one lip, as the pain washed over him, unexpectedly fast, unexpectedly deep . . . Deliberately he relaxed muscles, concentrated. I am--a Vulcan. There is no pain. There is--no--
"Oh, Linnet," he groaned softly. "Help." Instantly her arms were around him, and with that added contact his mental barriers collapsed. Their minds linked; the pain flooded out, to fill both their bodies with endless, searing agony, and only Linnet's dauntless courage to fight it.
He/she/they thought, or felt, or fumbled their way to awareness. They would both die. Her heartbeat was failing, his nervous system would burn out. Shui had helped him control before; his touch was sure and knowledgeable and infinitely deeper than any mind probe Selver had felt before. But it was only more of the same that had failed throughout Selver's whole life. Control didn't __work__ for him.
Not control, he/she/they thought. But--from both of them, from her courage and his patience, her unstoppable will to life and his implacable fight against death, something new broke through. A wave, from both of them, to carry them along with the tide and a noise like lightning--to bring them, gently, down and separate.
And the pain was gone.
Surin told Sarek in a quiet voice, just out of T'Uriamne's hearing, "The ship will leave tonight. Your decision must be made by then," before going out of the room. Sarek watched him leave moodily. The two had found much in common, surprisingly enough. They were both strong men. But, despite Surin's neuter status--because of an abrupt disbonding, Sarek presumed--his scars, his many memories, Surin was a Vulcan. Sarek didn't know if he could say that about himself any longer.
"T'Uriamne." Eh, he did not wish to hurt her. She was his daughter. And then, a second later, he wondered if a true Vulcan would have thought that. "I find that I cannot accept the council post."
She looked up at him, eyes suddenly darker. Wary? He wondered sometimes if she missed anything. "Father? Will You--be able to accept any post at the moment?"
He had to tell the truth. "I do not know."
Somewhere at the back of those dark eyes, a hope, never expressed, died. A little quieter, a little graver, she returned to her work. "With or without your help, Father, I will make it work."
He believed she would.
Spock was packing his grip, carefully and thoroughly, with some small items he wanted to take up with him to the __Enterprise__. She had radioed ahead. They would be picking him up in an hour. As he packed he remembered.
McCoy, yelling at him some weeks ago. "They can't make that decision! It's __your__ life. You're the one that has to live it, and may God help you if you choose on a whim, or never choose at all!"
Himself, telling Tanya earlier that week, "I can't be Human. I am Vulcan. It is all I know how to be."
Tanya, flashing back, "Did you expect this planet would tell you what to be? Your Mother knew better than that. This doesn't end the problems of the cultural and biological half-breeds. It isolates them. You can't 'pass' any longer, Spock. You're half. So am I. For the first time. I know that . . . ."
Tanya telling him that she had resigned from Starfleet, was staying on the planet's surface. "I have to make up my mind, find out what and who I really am. Maybe I can do it here. Maybe here . . . ."
Spock closed the grip, walked out of the door without looking back. He would return.
[KC05IL15.TIF] (RBW Note. Pictures of Sarek and Amanda in joined circles facing away from each other.)
Teng looked at the painting, a self portrait, doubtfully. "It is wrong!" she snapped.
"So fix it," Shui came back at her.
Teng, silently, started scraping at the palette. If Shui said do it, it would be done. After three abortive visits with families that quite noticeably did not work out, Teng made up her own mind. Shui was the most Vulcan adult aboard. She attached herself to him. He would teach her to grow up Vulcan.
His hand corrected her grip on the brush for the ninth time. "It is a paint brush, not a spear," he advised dryly.
"Yes, Sir." She resolutely stared at the easel until the mist in front of her eyes went away again. She would grow up Vulcan. She would.
Michail glanced out the window one more time. He could not help smiling. Then he saw his friend's troubled face, and instantly wiped the smile off. "Don't worry, Dominic," Michail said gently. "I'm all right. Everything's all right."
At least Dominic didn't start talking again. That made Michail uncomfortable. Dominic was his friend, and he wanted to listen to Dominic, to believe him--but now when he was saying such foolishness. And of course Michail was all right. Everything was fine again.
She was coming.
Luis, as it happened, was the only one who saw it come down. He waited, knowing what it must be. Slowly, he also recognized a certain change in himself.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he had always thought that only T'Rihc's position kept him free on Vulcan. He had never really stopped running, never felt free. Now, finally, he was no longer afraid.
He noted somewhat absently that STahrn, the twenty-two year old, no longer looked quite so supercilious, and that Tita was crying. Sati would be overjoyed; he'd been miserable without his twin . . . . And there, of course, was T'Rihc.
Tentatively, he smiled at her.
Amanda heard the news, grasped the meaning, before her ears had fully assimilated the babble. Some, at least some, of their bondmates had come.
And she was off. Half-running, then striding firmly, away from the stir. If, if he was there, he would find her.
She passed Elaine, running to meet someone, face joyful. She saw Yelina, shoulders bowed and face grey, walk into her lonely house. And then she was out of it. Climbing to stand at the crest of a hill, the wind in her face, looking away. Waiting.
And she turned, and he was there.
Lost: A person, Thelu, thirty-four years old. A race of people, almost entirely. A way of life.
Gained: A planet. Some few children. A new start.
. . . And they that were half became whole, and grew, and their growth was a wondrous thing, and the universe marveled at what they became.
[KC05IL16.TIF] (RBW Note. Drawing of Spock.)
BETA KRAITH I--VD
Captain's Log. Stardate 11206.5. The __Enterprise__ is now in standard orbit around the planet of the time vortex. This is our third contact with the Guardian. The first contact was the first, also, for the Federation and initiated innovations in time studies. The second increased our knowledge of time paradoxes and time lines. The parameters of temporal alteration are still under investigation.
Teams of various field analysts periodically use the Guardian to further codify the Time Laws and clarify certain problems and gaps within xeno-cultural galactic history. For the second time, the __Enterprise__ is conveying an observational field team to the Time Planet. It is to be hoped that, during this assignment, no unexpected problems with disturbed time lines develop. Additional ref: Captain's Log: (a) Stardate 3134.6 through. (b) Stardate 5373.4 through. Fortunately, additional safeguards have now been added to the rules surrounding the use of the Guardian of Forever.
Captain James T. Kirk leaned his head against the back of the command chair and closed his eyes. His body slumped, and he keyed his tense muscles to relax. He had hoped that this time the pain would not be so bad.
Time. Time was to him what emotion was to Spock. Unpredictable. Integral to the universe but capable of sudden erratic deadliness when manipulated by and focused through the enigmatic Guardian.
Memories crept unbidden into his mind and carried it back. Great dark eyes, fey in their intensity gazed at him out of the past. God, she had been so beautiful, so right. But, she was out of time, and so, she had to die. Die to preserve what? What is? What was? What might have been?
What might have been. The second time the __Enterprise__ had come to this anomalous planet, he had almost lost Spock to a time paradox created in ignorance.
Time and its corollary the 'Alternate'? The other path, the alternate action, the parallel of being. The ultimate heady lure of the Guardian was that it made all the 'what ifs' possible. A minute change in 'what is' and 'what might have been' could become the here and now. Manipulate the time lines and anything could be made to happen. They were the key to the doors of 'once upon a time'.
Kirk forced the memory surge of nostalgic sadness back down to the level he could live with. Maybe this time they'd be lucky. Kirk grinned briefly at his mental use of the word Spock so deplored. The word was apt. To really know so little about time and yet survive. What else, but luck? The Guardian was like a phaser in the hands of an ignorant but gifted child. Understand time and we would fully know our own selfness. Kirk decided.
Hopefully, this cultural trip through the Guardian will be as routine as such an event could be.
Sulu broke into the Captain's reverie. "Sir, transporter room reports ready and planet officials are prepared to receive the landing party."
"Scotty, you have the conn; have Spock meet me in the transporter room."
"Aye, sir." Scotty settled into the command chair, spoke into the intercom, and leaned back with a sigh. He half wished that he had been included in a visit into someone's past. There had been the most beautiful green Orion slave girl he had met on his last leave. Her past must be something to behold, he thought dreamily . . . .
When Kirk and Spock entered the transporter room, they were greeted with a sense of expectancy that was quite palpable. Like the last time, two of the xeno-anthropologists were human. But two were not. One was a tall Vulcan male whose black, banged hair was graying at the temples. Kirk was so busy regarding, hopefully unobviously, the fourth member of the party that he almost forgot not only the Vulcan's name, S'tarm, but to exchange polite greetings, which would have been a major breach of protocol for an adopted son of Vulcan.
With the amenities over and, while Spock and S'tarm exchanged greetings, Kirk turned his full attention to the fourth anthropologist. Towering over even the Vulcans was an eight-and-one-half-foot male Gorn. Kirk had very uneasy memories of this particular species. Negotiations between the Gorn planets and the Federation were still in relatively early stages. So much so that seeing a Gorn this deep into Federation territory was still something of a shock. Kirk had not even been
aware that the Gorns had passed their war-like stage far enough to have anything so prosaic as anthropologists. And this particular example did nothing to change Kirk's mind. He was in full warrior dress, and was equipped with a translator, and some sort of what Kirk hoped was a recording device. He also wore a two foot long dagger which Kirk hoped was only ceremonial. Unlike the other members of the party who were either chattering or tense with excitement, the Gorn stood stiffly apart.
"I give you greetings, honored sir of the Sixth Caste," Kirk said while trying not to get a crick in his neck. He had spent all the previous "evening" studying what tapes there were in the library banks on the Gorn society, as well as all the bio data on this Particular Gorn.
"Greetingssss, Captain Kkirk. Shonor and svictory to syour houssseshold, and to syou its shonored srepresssentative," hissed the translator. The Gorns had evolved from obviously reptilian sources, and their speech, even translated, retained an overlay of snake-like sibilants. Kirk remembered how this had once aroused an instinctual revulsion in him, and that to combat it, he had had McCoy douse him with some auto-hyp tapes. With his new telepathic awareness, Kirk had been afraid that, unconsciously, he might project some of his discomfort to the Gorn.
Kirk knew Spock had now come up behind him so he stepped aside. Spock extended the Vulcan greeting "Peace and Long Life." The Gorn bent his head with what was a strange sort of majesty regarding the First Officer with a basilisk stare, and finally the translator hissed, "Syou are of sno simportanccce. Syou do not srule thisss ssship."
There was a sudden and total silence in the transporter room. Spock stiffened very slightly; the human equivalent would have been a well-chosen expletive. Tonelessly, he said, "Captain, should we not commence beam-down? The landing party is now 1.438 standard minutes late." The unseen tension broke and the four xeno-anthropologists, the Captain, and Spock mounted the circular transporter grids. With the customary bluish sparkle, they vanished.
About one standard hour later, after a pleasant reception at the Historical Research Center which stood like an anachronism among the surrounding miles of the ruins of the dead city of Oyya, the landing party arrived before what was one of the universally acknowledged wonders in all the galaxy, The Guardian of Forever. Even the enigmatic Gorn seemed impressed, though what passed for expression on his lizard-like visage was not at all clear. The two human historians were almost beside themselves, and even the Vulcan, S'tarm, had a very un-Vulcan glow in his black eyes. Kirk and Spock tried hard to act with the non-chalance of seasoned travellers, but the excitement of travel through the Guardian was almost impossible to resist.
Since before humans or Vulcans had begun to measure time or record history, The Guardian had been playing toccata and fugue on the time-strings of the universe. It lay like a badly made ring on what might have been, at one time, its side. Its thick surface, made of a material not yet analyzable, was terribly pitted with what, in deep space, would have looked like meteor craters. No one knew what had caused this scarring unless it was the barrage of incalculable energy that surely must accompany unlimited access to the stronghold of Time itself. Within the uneven hole at the Guardian's center could be seen the half-forgotten annals of a thousand, thousand civilizations, playing again, and again in a frenetic symphony. No one, not even members of the Vulcan Legion of Sciences, had been able to discover any sort of mechanism which could or even would produce verbal symbols, yet, with a deep voice that sounded a thousand tongues and none at all, it spoke.
With a voice that Kirk tried to keep steady, he said, "Guardian of Forever?" The seconds ticked by, and the total absence of sound was almost painful.
Suddenly, the unforgettable 'voice' boomed from everywhere and nowhere, "A QUESTION?"
"We, who are here, wish to journey into that-which-was."
"TO WHICH WHERENESS DO YOU WISH TO JOURNEY AND FROM WHAT WHERENESS DO YOU COME?"
In the pause that followed, Kirk looked at the group of anthropologists. He knew that before they had left the __Enterprise__, the particular past had been definitely chosen as well as which one of them was to go with him and Spock.
S'tarm said, "Captain, we wish to view the Great Nest Wars of the so-called Wasp colonies on Janus IV in the Ptmoacm System." Kirk sucked in his breath as if it was the last one he would ever get. With the swift-flash of thoughts, what he knew about this system ran through his head. In the first place, the Ptmoacm System was in spatial territory claimed by the Tholians, who regarded the Federation as an irritant in the galaxy, at best. Secondly, what was 'known' about the Nest Wars On Janus IV was compounded of half superstition, half legend. It was only in the last solar year that the fabled Wasp Creatures had been proven to actually exist. True, absolutely nothing reliable was known about them, but really! In that moment, Kirk decided that xeno-anthropologists were a little rabid, if not actually nuts.
S'tarm's voice continued, "As usual, Captain, we cast lots, a most unreliable way of calculating probabilities. Nevertheless, it seems that I won and am to accompany you."
Suddenly, the Gorn who had been so quiet and seemingly removed from all these proceedings, stepped forward. The translator hissed out its words, "Myself, Warrior, Sixth Caste, is sfar sbetter to sprovide accompaniment supon thissss journey of Sgreat Simporatanace." As he spoke these words, the Gorn took up a defiant position directly in front of The Guardian. In the noisy silence that followed, it seemed that no one was ready to challenge his assumption. S'tarm bowed a fraction of an inch, and stepped back.
[KC05IL17.TIF] (RBW Note. Illustration of __Enterprise__ crew standing in front of the Guardian of Forever.)
Kirk quickly spoke, "We come from the elsewhere of the United Federation of Planets, and wish to journey to another elsewhere--that of the Wasp Colonies of Janus IV in the Ptmoacm System." Kirk paused. Spock supplied the rest of the necessary information, "Guardian, we require the year Mnoz A.F."
Abruptly, the Guardian's gate assumed a purple hue. Within the wash of dark color could be discerned uncountable insectoid forms. "Guardian," Spock spoke again, "We require the not-see. Our body forms are different, and we must invoke the Seventh Law." Kirk turned to regard Spock. Yes, he had forgotten. The Vulcans had slowly and painstakingly discovered some of the 'rules' by which the Guardian operated, and this was one of them. If the time-traveler knew what to ask for, he could beg a 'cloak of invisibility' from the Guardian. The Vulcans had even surmised that the Guardian could alter bodily shapes so that the time-traveler would not be conspicuous in a civilization whose inhabitants did not resemble the physical shape of the traveler.
"SO IT HAS BEEN ASKED, AND SO IT SHALL BE FOR THE ALLOTTED TIME."
Together, Spock, Kirk, and the Gorn jumped through the portal of the Guardian.
What Kirk, Spock, and the Gorn learned of one of the most truly alien societies known was to be classified for One Standard Century by Starfleet Command.
When the three time-travelers were literally spewn forth from the gaping time-mouth of the Guardian, they found the scene terribly changed from the one which they had left.
The two human historians were bent over an ominously still form. In their hands were glittering daggers. At first, they were unaware of the mostly silent return of the time-travelers. Kirk, Spock, and the Gorn, whose name Kirk had not yet earned the right of knowing, were able to approach the triad tableau to within a couple of feet. With a mushy feeling in his guts, Kirk realized that the prostrate body was the Vulcan S'tarm, and the two humans above him were laughing.
Like someone who realizes that an enemy is already upon him, one of the humans, Ian Korvek, turned swiftly, knife raised. Like an unheard echo, the other human, Nina Wilson, whirled toward the approaching group with knife outthrust. Both knives were wet with green, Vulcan, blood.
Korvek yelled, "Captain, watch out! Help us and we can defeat them!" Kirk looked around confusedly. Defeat whom? Then, with horror, Kirk watched Korvek and Wilson literally hurl themselves, one upon Spock, one upon the unpredictable Gorn. Spock subdued the woman with a nerve-pinch, but the Gorn Warrior drew his two-foot dagger, and ignoring the superficial cuts Korvek was able to inflict upon his thick reptilian hide, thrust his knife all the way through the human anthropologist. With a supremely indifferent shrug, the tall Gorn threw the already dead human from him.
If he lived to be a Vulcan 100, Kirk would never get used to the speed with which utter chaos could throw its mantle over supposedly 'civilized' beings. He and Spock exchanged glances. Without words, both knew that once again, the unfaithful time lines had somehow changed. Together, they faced the now enraged Gorn who was stalking them in a low crouch with knife in hand.
Then, like the ancient proverbial cavalry, a security squad from the __Enterprise__, headed by Lieutenant Sulu, materialized in a shower of transporter energy. Before Kirk could say anything, Sulu had marched forward and divided the squad between the Gorn and Mr. Spock. With the certainty of the righteous, Sulu poked the tip of the phaser into Spock's breastbone, and said, "Vulcan, you are under arrest for the crime of espionage against the Federation." The Gorn had decided on discretion and stood more or less quietly under the ominous glare of four phasers held in the all too steady hands of human __Enterprise__ crewmen.
"What the hell . . . ."
"That is enough, Kirk, you have been stupid, but unpredictable human luck seems to have saved your hide. Gentlemen, there is no need for violence. I will accompany you without dispute." With these words, Spock marched off surrounded by __Enterprise__ security. Similarly guarded, the Gorn followed.
Kirk had a queasy feeling somewhere in his stomach. When the time lines had changed before, no one had known Mr. Spock, but there had been no incidents like this. As the security team marched their prisoners away, Kirk bent over the terribly still body of S'tarm, already half-covered with the dust of centuries that continuously blew across the Time Planet. He had hoped against hope, but it was obvious that the Vulcan was very dead. Relations had been slowly deteriorating between Vulcan and the Federation for some time, and Kirk did not even want to think what the outright murder of one of the Vulcans would do to the already uneasy situation. As Kirk stood up, he saw that security men attached to the Research Center were in the process of carrying Korvek's body away and helping Nina Wilson to her feet. "Bring a stretcher for the body of the Vulcan. He must be taken Home." Nina Wilson walked slightly unsteadily to stand beside him.
"Captain," she said slowly, eyeing him with a strange look, "I realize that some disorientation follows time-travel, but, even so, surely you know that would be totally impossible. You are extremely lucky to be alive as it is." With these incomprehensible words, she began to walk slowly back toward the Research Center.
Kirk had the odd feeling that he had just entered, by mistake, some shadow place that operated by rules he did not understand; either that or the whole world was crazy, and he was the only sane man left. Only his past experiences with the strange anomalies that torn time-lines could cause prevented him from hysterically attempting to reach Spock's mind then and there.
Carefully, Kirk took six slow, steadying breaths of the hot air, performed a simple Vulcan mental exercise that calmed his mind and body, and began to follow Nina Wilson back to the Research Center and what he was sure would be a nightmare awaiting him.
. . . The Battle of Actium. In how many other ways can a man be destroyed? Women's Lib. It has its points, but how can women not realize how they have always controlled? Always, power is greater when it is unrecognized. Forever, it flows subtly beneath the mind's screen of beliefs to be used, managed, and ultimately, finally, to conquer unless it is recognized. And, even then, the singing use of desire-that-is, to create a nexus of that-which-might-be within that-which-is . . . is so unstable. The lines of probability always form a terrible macrame, a tightly woven net of 'possibilities' somehow forced upon the cradles of tomorrow. What-if becomes an irresistible question-problem-answer.
Ah, philosophy is such a poor bed mate . . . Trying to think of something New in the universe is . . . a poor substitute for reality. Always, unsatisfied, I have roamed over all of What-is. Experience says there is nothing more. God, my soul cries that somewhere, sometime, there is a philosophy that will bring me Home . . . Home. Is the concept even valid?
Somewhere, there must be thoughts that unify the mind and the body. Gestalt must be a viable concept! Someplaceness . . . Oh, please . . . .
With a great effort, Sherrith dragged her mind back from those shadowy, dreary thought-places; and with concentrated disgust, she eyed her rapidly emptying highball glass. It had been a long time since she had treated herself to such a muddy wallow in the Slough of Despond. Yes, her regard for Bunyon had been growing healthier through the years.
Somehow, tonight, Sherrith could not seem to find the usual mental solace that this, her very own isolated cabin in the Blueridge Mountains, had always been able to give her. About a mile away from the cabin was Table Rock. Table Rock. That was the name she had given to the huge, flat rocky clearing whose nature-smoothed floor had, according to legend, been used by the Indians for their forbidden ceremonies, centuries before Columbus decided to see whether the world was flat and carried on the back of a turtle or round like the stupid Greeks had surmised. When she stayed at the cabin, Sherrith made it a point to walk among the giant trees to the Table Rock clearing at least once a day. She had always been strangely affected by what she called the 'atmosphere', for want of a better term, around the ancient clearing. On previous visits, she had developed the habit of sitting cross-legged in the very center of the huge, nature-polished stone and indulging in what she had always termed to herself 'some fancy flying'. Hours could pass before she knew it. She would spend them lost in the past her imagination wove so readily. Sherrith would hear the timeless drums beating out their now lost messages that summoned the tribes to a ceremony old when Plato was gathering the rumors of lost Atlantis. Her body would sway to the blood-pounding beat of countless moccasined feet that rhythmically echoed to the irresistible lure of the drums. A couple of times, Sherrith thought she could actually see the shadowy forms of proud warriors long dead, swaying, to effortlessly form intricate geometric patterns upon the glistening rock surface.
She would 'awaken' drenched in sweat from these what ever they were--flights of a very vivid imagination, visions--she had never somehow dared probe herself deeply enough to find the cause of these experiences. Instinctively, she feared that any attempt to impose the so-called 'lights of reason' on these whatevers would destroy them. Throughout her life, she had found herself unusually sensitive to atmospheres.
With surprise, she found that she was seriously considering getting totally smashed, in spite of the fact that her hangovers always lasted two or three days, during which time, she always did a perfect imitation of a rampaging bear. The thought that this would be hardest on Sheila, her so-called secretary, cheered her considerably.
What was wrong with her, anyway? She now had everything she had always thought would make her happiest. Fame. Fortune. Her own private, very snooty secretary from London, no less, the capital of the country whose citizens had been masters of the Hoity-Toity for centuries. Why did her life suddenly seem like it would make a desert look like a flower garden by comparison? Nonsense! Of course she was happy! She blinked her eyes a couple of times. Alcohol sometimes had the annoying effect on her of making objects double or even triple at the most unexpected moments.
What had she been doing before her mind had so rudely interrupted? Well, she thought, as she gulped down the last of her drink, and tried unsuccessfully to rise from the couch, eventually it will come to me. With a hiccough which she realized was an alarming symptom, she gave in to the inevitable and fell back with a rather conspicuous lack of grace onto the cushions. Suppressing a giggle, she gleefully thought that no one would recognize that famous lil' ole' auth'ress, me, if they could see me now. Somewhat irrationally, she wished all those toad-eaters at last night's party could see her just as she was now, "Sli'tly, only sli'tly, drunk as a skunk!" She had finished the thought aloud. After a few moments of mental debate, she realized this. Somewhere, the thought that talking to one's self was not considered exactly a symptom of genius tried unsuccessfully to gain her mental attention.
"Toad-eaters," she continued while trying to focus her fast glazing eyes on the hypnotic flames from the huge fireplace she had been so proud of. "They pro'ly wud think that toad-eatin' is a dish from a Frnsh menu. Delbrutly ob . . . ob . . . obscure," she finished carefully.
Now she remembered what she had been doing, pasting the latest review of her last book into
her album of press notices. That had been the opinion of the reviewer, that she deliberately wrote novels that no one would understand. Rather than admit that they did not understand, the critics had acclaimed her as the latest literary genius, or so this particular reviewer had decided after due and, no doubt, fruitless consideration of her books. It had always been this way, ever since she could remember, she thought morosely.
She continued to gaze into the twisting fire, her mind beginning remorselessly to play back memories which became oddly illustrated in the flames. The faces of the men she had known and thought she loved appeared in the fire like the briefly seen pages of a closing book. Causes and reasons are so often never discovered or, at best, only partially glimpsed like images through shifting water. The maxim that all men wanted only one thing from a woman was so close to true as not to matter, she mused cynically. She wondered about all the physical love that had always paled so disappointingly quickly. Several fire-faces stood out as minds. To these, she had been attracted as the proverbial moth to the flame. And like those stupid creatures, she had always been burned by the very thing which should have warmed and fed. And now that she was suddenly famous, a love that would satisfy both her mind and her body had been placed a million more miles out of reach. Hell, either she fixed herself another drink or she would dissolve into totally maudlin tears. The Great Me, Sherrith MacRaith, as frustrated as the traditional spinster or the poorest ghetto child.
"Damn!" she said aloud, and with the illogic peculiar to writers, was immediately sidetracked by the conclusion that this expletive was singularly unoriginal. Several years ago, like everyone else, she concluded sadly, she had gone through a period of so-called rebellion. With great insight, she had decided that everything the world took so for granted was stupid, not to mention wrong. Sherrith's response had been to confine her speech to all those words the rest of society considered not exactly Emily Postian. Just to prove to herself that originality was not beyond her, she had actually researched the subject. Unfortunately, what was considered cursing in Elizabethan England did not even raise an eyebrow among the turkeys of 20th Century USA. After a month or so of total failure to shock anyone not a professor of English Literature, she ended her period of rebellion, humiliatingly, without anyone noticing she had rebelled at all.
For the second time, Sherrith tried to get up from the couch. This time she was somewhat more sober, and so she managed a creditable pose, but her eyes were still on the now dying tongues of flame.
Since she had been a child, the stories told in the fire had been a source of endless fascination. Suddenly, an unknown face appeared, constructed of flaming braids. Her body stiffened. Always she had written about that which she knew well. No possible combination of permutations of past events could have possibly created this visage. The bone structure beneath the blue-fire-yellow flesh reminded her helplessly of the towering crags that dwarfed her cabin. Her eyes locked with the reflecting black-burning flames. Almost, unconsciously she forced sensory data out of the twisting vision before her. Hooded eyes, burning, Burning, b-u-r-n-i-n-g . . . . Her very soul, whose existence she had always doubted until now, clutched her insides within an iron glove. If she did not break the powerful pain of that gaze, she knew somewhere impossibly deep in her being, she would curl up on the rug like an embryo. But she would never uncurl in birth.
With a breath that sounded like it blew across the fires of Hell itself, she broke that terrible contact. As she staggered the several steps to her bar, like the faint clicks of a lock being picked, that Face assumed form and detail in her aftervision. With a shock that ran over her body like a cold shower after a sunbath, she realized that that Face had had slanted eyebrows. Eyebrows that ran from nose-bridge to temple in an uninterrupted oblique angle like the emphasis of cornice over an optical pediment. And, oh my God, parting his banged black hair were pointed ears. Pointed ears! Right . . . . Well, if drunks could see traditional pink elephants, she could see a satyr . . . a devil . . . Pan . . . ? "I'll never get drunk again . . . before tomorrow . . . ." she decided with what she knew was illogical logic. Speaking of logic, Sherrith had studied the situation from syllogisms on, and with sudden great insight decided that humans were near hopeless.
Even though her eyes were supposedly on the bar, overlaid was the Wheering Joy of that Face. With a jolt that made her quiver like an electric shock, she backed up her mental reel and tried to pin down those alien words. "Whering . . . whiring . . . wheeling . . . ah, Alas." Alas! She must be worse off than she thought if she was reduced to 'alas'.
But she leaned gratefully on the bar's solid surface. She blinked several times in vain attempt to erase that awesome face from her mind. It was so vivid, it was like a scrim between her and the reality of objects around her. She noticed a pain in her jaws. She had been clinching her teeth. They would be sore tomorrow. With her jaw dropped she swung her head so that one end of the swing brought her eyes level with the picture window that glimmered to the left of the bar. Her brain recorded what her eves saw before she could stop the half-begun turn of her body.
Sherrith jerked her body back around so quickly that she almost overbalanced. The alcohol remaining in her system did not help her one bit. Image overlaid image in a sickening montage until she was finally able to focus on the massive shapes that rose like the primeval creations they were. Behind the mountains, the afterglow of day dissolved detail into silhouette. Leaning heavily on the doorframe, Sherrith realized that the blue flames she had thought she had seen were real. Like a giant blue firefly, they weaved in and out around Table Rock.
Once, a couple of years before, Sherrith had even considered having herself researched by one of the reputable and ever growing larger groups of Parapsychic Study Teams. Since she had been an avid SF fan from practically infancy, she was somewhat familiar with many of the ideas used so often concerning time lines, parallel universes and the like. But fiction is fiction, and what had happened to her was not some author's literary catharsis, and because she had never fancied being certified fit for the funny farm, she had never tried making some psychiatrist's day complete.
"I refuse to let it happen again!" she said aloud to herself as she reluctantly tore her eyes from the mystifying blue lights around Table Rock and meticulously fixed herself a double highball. Glass in hand, helplessly, like metal to magnet, Sherrith turned back to the window. For no reason at all since the fire was still burning brightly and the night fairly warm, she began to shiver. As a child, whenever she had entered a room in which her parents had been arguing, though they disagreed rarely, she had always burst into tears at the raging emotions all around her in the very air. Her parents had never been able to figure out how she always knew when they had had a fight. None of the other children could ever tell. She had been in her teens before she was able to school herself to close off the anger and hate that she sensed in people around her.
Now she was feeling raging, boiling emotions again for the first time in years. Sherrith shook her head in the faint hope that the age-old gesture would somehow clear her head. She was not too surprised when it did not do a thing for her except make her a little dizzy. The next therapy that she tried was a long swig of a drink that was almost all alcohol. After Sherrith had coughed and sputtered for a full minute, she looked out the window again, vainly hoping that the lights would have vanished. Nope, still there. Dreamily watching the blue glowings interrupted by the intervening trees, she decided logic was her best bet, so she said, "Hallucination, are you listening? Would you please allow me to enjoy my sanity a little longer and go away. Pink elephants aren't supposed to last this long; you can't break the rules, you know."
Suddenly, she heard an unmistakable sound, the crackling-tearing-rending that occurs only when a great tree has been severed and is falling to its death. The sounds carried clear and razor-sharp in the crystal mountain air as if the tree were falling right in her front yard. But they were coming from the area around Table Rock, where the blue lights were.
A quicksilver rush of uncontrollable anger whipped through Sherrith's body. All the unrecognized love she had built up for the Table Rock clearing coalesced in a sudden rush for the door. She ran out in her lounging caftan without flashlight or the little automatic that her publisher had insisted on her keeping at the cabin.
How dare they . . . how dare they . . . kill one of my trees. I'll have them up on charges. I'll bring such a lawsuit that they'll wish they were IT&T. If it's one of the really big trees, I'll sue them for the __Mona__-__Lisa__. What are they doin' up there anyway? Hunting's not allowed, and I own all this land, now that I think about it.
These and similar bloodthirsty thoughts filled her mind to the exclusion of all else. Subconsciously, her feet picked the areas of rotting leaves and mulch that lay thick under the huge trees, and avoided crackly branches and loose dirt slides that might announce her approaching presence to whom or whatever was creating havoc around Table Rock.
Sherrith had covered about a quarter mile at a dead run, and lacked about that far again to reach the clearing when she stopped so suddenly that she overbalanced and had to grasp desperately at a low hanging branch to keep from falling on her face.
Standing rigid, Sherrith vaguely realized her body had stiffened. Like a marionette, she took another step forward, disjointed and jerking like she had suddenly acquired a muscle disease. Somewhere, far away, Sherrith realized that if the Last Judgment were to occur within the next minute and her salvation depended on moving, she would be totally unable to do anything. She literally could not move.
It was in the very air. Deep within the subconscious where human motivation and true knowledge is supposed to originate, Sherrith knew with a certainty rarely experienced by most humans, that if she took even one more step, non-existence would engulf her soul. The tremors that had briefly stopped as she had run from the cabin now began again. Sherrith did not know had she knew, but in her guts, she realized that death stalked her like one of the cougars that were supposed to still roam the hills.
Well, this was just ridiculous! That favorite old descriptive phrase 'petrified with fear' came unbidden into her mind. Then whatever had held her in its invisible vise was gone with as little warning as it had come down on her--none. This time there were no convenient branches. She landed with a complete and total lack of elegance, face-first in the leaves and dirt that were still squishy from the last rain, and they entered her nose and mouth at an unfortunate speed.
"Dablmnnptooey," she coughed out imaginatively. Then she decided she could do a great deal better, and managed creditably, "A pox, hopefully very deadly, on those turkeys unto the tenth generation at least!" She finally managed a very squeaky laugh that even a small mouse would have been ashamed to lay claim to as she got ungracefully to her feet.
Something had changed around her, in the very air itself. After a few seconds of stocktaking, Sherrith realized that those strange blue lights had quit their uneven flashing, and the forest was unnaturally quiet. Why had 'quiet' come to her? Running her somewhat bedraggled memory back over the last couple of centuries that had just passed in the previous 120 seconds, she knew that her subconscious had been hearing a high pitched whine that had set her unconscious teeth on edge. The alien, yes, that was a good word, alien, sounds were somehow connected to the lights. A light/a whining sound. Oh, she was really clever tonight. Lights that hum in the forest in the middle of the night where there should be no one within a two mile radius. If she kept trying maybe she could come up with something really weird.
[KC05IL18.TIF] (RBW Note. Drawing of Klingon ship firing at earth like planet.)
Sherrith took a couple of unsteady steps that brought her to the edge of the Table Rock clearing. __The__ __edge__! Impossible! The clearing was, at least, another quarter mile away! How could . . . ? What had . . . ? At that moment, the moon cleared the tops of the surrounding peaks, and revealed a sight that literally pulled the breath out of her lungs in an audible whoosh.
Like the uneven humps of gnarled creatures that had just that second stopped moving, the stumps of the great trees that had been there only yesterday were revealed, creating an uneven pattern of moonlight-spattered light and dark all the way to the larger mass that could only be Table Rock.
"Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" was absolutely all she could think of to say. She had personally known and loved each of these arboreal monoliths. How well she had understood why so many old religions had been totemistic. On one or two special occasions, she had been sure she heard the gentle whispering of dryad voices singing in the leaves. Sherrith felt like weeping. Irrationally, she thought of Niobe and her dead children.
As she reached the first amputated stump, she bent over to run her fingers over its surface, unconsciously expecting to feel the serrations that even the finest wood saw would have left. Instead, the top of the stump was smooth as glass, as polished as wood that is already petrified. Checking every stump and finding them all the same, she reached the great rock at last. Sherrith was so glad to find the rock still there that she did not, at first, realize that it no longer looked as it had yesterday. Originally, the edge of the ceremonial rock had hung out over the gentle slope below. Now a great chunk of that edge had been sheared away so that the rock was more triangular than square. Somehow knowing what she would find, she crouched down to run her fingers along the new edge. Like the stumps, it was glass-smooth. As she rose and turned, she noticed a long shadow that ran from the middle of the sheared edge to the opposite corner of the rock. When she stepped on that 'shadow', she learned rather abruptly that a long, shallow trough had been scooped out of the once unblemished surface. Where she stood, the trough was about a foot deep, but she found that it became shallower toward the opposite corner. Like everything else, the sides of the trough were as smooth and rounded as if a laser beam had raked across the surface.
What had made her think of a laser, she wondered. Suddenly, she was strangely sure that who or whatever had been up there had been using some form of unbelievably powerful energy. Sherrith did not know how she knew this, but she did, just as she knew that whatever had done this was not a new secret weapon developed by the government.
Suddenly, her certainty faded. There __were__ rumors of a top secret government underground installation supposedly located underneath one of these mountains. Could the government have been testing a new weapon? Impossible! They wouldn't test something like this were they not only might be seen, but also where someone could be hurt.
Then, she had a crazy desire to run as far and as fast as she could, straight up if necessary. Anything to get away from this haunted clearing. The shock of seeing all her trees gone had momentarily driven out everything else. Now, she was again sensing boiling emotions that hovered everywhere like invisible fog.
__A__ __battle__! There had been a battle here. She glanced up the slope to see the upper trunk and foliage of one of the huge trees. That must be the one she had heard falling. In the shadow-shifting light, for a moment, the tree looked like a body lying with its arms up in helpless surrender to death. Then the most obvious anomaly of all hit her like a punch in the throat. Where were all of the trunks and tops of the trees that had been cut down? The tree above her was the only one.
Sherrith shut her eyes tightly as if that would make the whole horrible problem-experience vanish, and murmured, "I absolutely refuse to think any more. No! NO!"
Her feet did not seem to touch the ground once as she ran back to her cabin whose door was gaping wide open like she had left it. Briefly, she berated herself with the thought that she could have been robbed down to the walls themselves, but somehow, she could not seem to mentally focus on anything. Her mind felt like it had been wrapped in aluminum foil and she felt the beginnings of what she knew would be the great-grandmother of all headaches.
Not being exactly the housekeeping type, she left her stale unfinished highball on the mantel, and her scrapbook on the floor by the dying fire, where she thought later that it must have been an Act of God that kept it, and the whole cabin, from catching fire. Sherrith barely got her shoes off before she fell into bed, muddy clothes and all. Her last conscious thought was that if her bruised mind did not get itself in gear by the next day, she would definitely consider making the bed her permanent residence.
Captain's Personal Log, Stardate 11210.2. Computer Coded Under Voice Lock; Keyed Captain James T. Kirk and Commander Spock.
The __Enterprise__ has concluded its mission to the Time Planet (cf. Starfleet Orders 130N-468B). Unknown to Commander Spock, SSsmeycssS, Gorn Warrior Sixth Caste, and myself, while we were traveling in the past via the Guardian of Forever, somehow a time-line was either altered or completely severed. We returned to find the Vulcan S'tarm murdered, and unexplained assaults were made upon Commander Spock and the Gorn.
[KC05IL19.TIF] (RBW Note. Drawing of Spock's face in semi-profile.)
At present, Commander Spock and SSsmeycssS are being held under guard in the maximum security cells of the __Enterprise__. Also, paralleling our previous visit to this planet, I have acquired a First Officer whom I have never met before. However, unlike the last time alteration, this First Officer is a human from Earth named Armand Deleuth.
I have just received orders from Starfleet Command and the Admiralty Council to conduct an immediate trial with Mr. Spock and the Gorn named as co-defendants. The charge is espionage. The penalty upon conviction is death. Time is the crux of the matter, and, at present, I have none to consult the Library Banks to determine the precise causes for this extraordinary situation.
All that I have been able to learn from bio data is that a Vulcan named Spock does, or rather did exist in this time-line. This Spock was also half human and also chose the Vulcan Way. Four solar years ago, he was made Nreefw (loosely, Major General) of all Vulcan just after his human mother was killed in an off-world riot.
However, six solar months ago, he was reported missing after his Flagship was attacked by the __Enterprise__, and is presumed dead.
Apparently, Starfleet believes my brother Spock to be the missing General.
I am now on my way to the brig to confer with Spock, to learn what he had discovered, and hopefully, find a way out of this time-maze.
A.N. As was to be expected, my Idlomputt does not even exist in this time-line, and from the way my head is beginning to feel, I am going to need Spock's help badly, very soon. JTK
All the way to the brig, Kirk received congratulations from various crewmembers on what was apparently being regarded as his personal and strategic coup. When he arrived at the energ-lock barring the cells, Kirk found his alternate First Officer Deleuth already interrogating Spock. Kirk had realized that he must act as if everything were normal if he were to save Spock and the Gorn, but what he saw when he entered Spock's cell tested his resolve severely. Fleetingly, he thought that this was going to be as difficult a part as playing his savage counterpart had been in the 'mirror' universe.
Commander Deleuth had Spock 'pinned.' This had once been a form of control for homicidal mental patients on Rehab Planets before the Penal Reform Laws had been passed. Now it had been outlawed, and Kirk had to turn away to hide the revulsion that had twisted his face before he could suppress it. He thanked the Powers-that-be for the Vulcan training he had had, or he would have already flattened Deleuth with his fists. Fortunately, Deleuth was facing Spock and did not see Kirk's reaction behind him.
If he carried this off, Kirk thought he might just take up the ancient trade of Thespius. "How's it going?" He managed a very creditable casual tone. "Learned anything important yet, Armand?" His alternate First Officer turned around, his face twisted into an animal snarl.
"Not a damned thing, Captain. We're going to need the Mental Neuralizer. We've got to break his mind. These devil Vulcans can stand physical torture, but once we tear out his mental barriers, he'll be screaming to talk. I recommend we get Dr. M'Benga down here. He's done this sort of thing before. Captain, between us, I promise you that you'll have all the proof you need for the trial within two standard hours, at most."
Kirk had to put his hands behind him, they were shaking so badly with the almost uncontrollable need to meet around Deleuth's throat. In a mild tone that many of Kirk's past enemies would have found alarming, he said, "Armand, I want a chance at him before you bring in the neuralizer."
"Yes, sir. Glad to, sir. With your hatred of Vulcans, we might not even need anything else." He called for the guards to null the energ-lock, turned back and gave Kirk a knowing smirk, and left the brig. Kirk decided he like Armand's snarls better. Fortunately, in this __Enterprise__, the brig's energy barrier affected audio waves as well as physical mass, making it virtually impossible for the security guards to overhear any conversation inside the cell. For this reason, newer starships had never been able to place any hidden transmitters within the security cells. There had been times in the recent past when Kirk had thought this a great inconvenience. Now that problem might be all that stood between Spock and death.
"Spock . . . Spock . . . ." Kirk had not dared look directly at Spock until now for fear of betraying his true feelings. His Science Officer hung about 1 1/2 feet above Kirk's head. Spock's arms hung limply at his sides. He was held in the air by an intersecting pattern of energy beams similar to common anti-gravs, but these beams were attuned to the pain center of the brain so that as they passed through the body, they produced sensations similar to those which would result from ancient spears or lances continually piercing the body, without the dubious hope of oblivion that death would bring. Spock's face was yellowish gray and his lips had an ominous green tinge to them. If he had been a diagnos'bed, the K-3 indicator would have been hovering at the top of the register. Automatically, Kirk had reached for the off control that would release Spock.
"No . . . Captain . . . no." Spock's voice blew across the cell like the dry winds of Vulcan. "It . . . would . . . be . . . illogical to free . . . me . . . at . . . this . . . time."
"Spock," Kirk's voice was anguished, "I can't stand . . . ."
"Jim, you . . . must. If I can . . ." Spock's voice trailed off, but Kirk mentally finished the sentence. In any other circumstances, this would have been an excellent example of subtle Vulcan humor which Kirk was just learning to appreciate fully. Now, Kirk blinked to rid his eyes of the suspicious hint of tears. He had suddenly realized that despite the tenuous mental link that existed between them, he had felt none of the shattering pain Spock must be enduring. "Spock, if you won't let me release you, at least let me help you bear it." In that instant, Kirk knew in his soul what Spock really meant to him.
"No, S'chames." Spock's tone was final though his voice was dangerously soft, hinting of a rapidly fading strength. "You are becoming affected by what I believe, is called a martyr-complex." The comment had the effect it was meant to, Kirk felt like cold water had been poured over his raging emotions. "You must use your somewhat erratic talents in logic now as never before, if we are to repair the broken time-line. I have learned that this Federation believes that the Vulcans brought the insanity-inducing creatures to the Denebia Colony; therefore, you hold the Vulcans responsible for the deaths of your brother and his wife as well as the permanent insanity in which condition the creatures left your nephew. Captain, you must get me to the Sick Bay where we would have access to the computer banks. Since the Federation wishes me to live long enough to be convicted, you must appear to have injured me sufficiently for removal from this cell."
"How, Spock? Are you going to induce the Vulcan Mtl'r (full relaxation)?"
"Partially, Captain. But there must be visible evidence of 'my serious health problem.' You must strike me, perhaps several times, in the face. This is a chance to exercise your well-known propensity for fisticuffs, and it will be the first time in Vulcan history that a Ward has been commanded to hit his Liege." In spite of everything, Kirk realized that Spock, so very Vulcan, was enjoying the paradox.
Kirk shut his eyes, balled his fists, and hit.
"S'chames, please watch what you are doing." The first blow had missed Spock entirely, the second had rebounded off his collarbone. Sucking in a deep breath, Kirk hit Spock three times squarely in the face. By the time Kirk had called the guard, and the energ-lock had been pulled, Spock looked like he was dead. He had induced Mtl'r and the evidence of Kirk's blows was appearing in the form of green-purple bruises.
Two standard hours later Spock and Kirk were deep in concentration over library tapes covering the recent history of this alternate Federation. They had a very short time in which to learn much before McCoy returned from the unnecessary crew health rounds Kirk had sent him on.
According to the computer banks, this Federation was anti-everything not __homo__ __sapiens__. Though called a Federation, it was closer to an Empire. Whenever it had encountered alien races, this Federation had conquered rather than absorb. Its Equality of Planets Declaration was an empty form, a sop for the pride of subdued species.
Vulcan had been under siege for almost 75 years. Like an island alone in a turbulent sea, it had resisted the combined might of the Federation. Every unexpected problem of the Federation had been blamed on Vulcan, which supposedly had a network of spies that continuously labored for the downfall of the Federation. Vulcan and Vulcans had become the boogie men that human mothers used to frighten their children. The Nreefw Spock was himself almost a legend. Starfleet had been relieved at his 'death', and was now almost gleeful at his 'capture'. The Admiralty hoped that his public execution would deal a telling, if not mortal, blow to Vulcan resistance. It was horribly obvious that unless the severed time-line were repaired, Spock and the Gorn warrior were as good as dead. Kirk's latest missives from Starfleet reflected extreme hate and shock at finding a Gorn this deep into Federation territory. Apparently, this Federation and the Gorn Planets were still waging violent war.
As the last tape clicked off, Kirk and Spock locked glances. Slowly, Spock's hands moved to the neck of his rather tattered tunic-top. He reached inside and deliberately revealed a lf'nm, that small surrogate of the Culling Flame. Kirk's breath hissed inside him. With every fiber of muscle and marrow of bone, he had tried to control the growing ache in his mind and the corresponding reality-disorientation. He had been fairly successful, but the extra strain was beginning to tell. Spock had known. Now Spock touched the lf'nm to his brother's temple. As with the larger Idlomputt this gesture attuned Kirk's brain pattern to the peace of the smaller flame. With a swift gesture Spock unfastened the chain upon which the lf'nm hung, and clasped the tiny peace-flame around his Captain's neck. Like the land from which fog has lifted, Kirk's mind coalesced into a protected whole, momentarily free from the subtle fragmentation that his, as yet young, telepathic control could not prevent. Suddenly, the only possible course of action became clear to Kirk. He had not realized until now how much other minds and their turgid emotions had eroded his relatively new mental barriers, and subsequently his judgment and control.
Now, several facts emerged from the temporal morass. Someone or something had breached the heavy security of the Time Planet. This was the only explanation viable, because no one had broken any of the time-rules. The answer had to lie somewhere in the past.
Kirk did not know how anyone had gotten past the ring of automatic phaser fortresses that ringed the equator of the Time Planet. Ever since the Enterprise's discovery of the Time Planet there had been an unspoken agreement among the great powers of the galaxy. Even though a supposedly unbreachable security system was set up by the Federation, each power-group knew of the implications of any one meddling in the past of any of the others. Nevertheless, now the logical facts stood out like diamonds on black velvet. One or more of the galaxy's so-called super-powers had decided
to try to destroy the Federation through its vulnerable past.
Spock's fingers flew over the keys of the Sick Bay computer lead-in. Within seconds, the dead computer-voice spoke, "Ready." Kirk keyed in the information onto voice lock, and signalled, "Proceed."
"If your information is correct, probability indications are that disruptive factors have been introduced during the pre-stardate years 1974-1978 A.D. Permutative averages suggest the United States of America as location."
"Further area locus points needed," said Spock.
"O.N. Blueridge Mountain region, approximately 50.7 square miles. Centrex temporal focus, coordinates as follows." Spock wrote quickly on an illumen-slate. With more coordinates from the computer read out, they could achieve a one standard mile probability location for the where and when of the induced time change. Kirk paced the small area and surmised, "It has to be another Klingon-Romulan alliance. Singly, neither could have breached the Time Planet's security; together they just might have been able to succeed. Ever since we foiled their sabotage attempt during the Federation Centennial, I've been expecting some sort of retaliation.
"Yes, Captain. Now, all of the relevant facts fit together unusually well. I would suggest the temporal break-away theory we have used before."
Kirk flipped on the intercom and rapped out some orders that caused Commander Deleuth to head for the Sick Bay at a dead run.
When he entered ignoring McCoy's protests, Deleuth found Spock unconscious, his life-readings unusually indecipherable even for a Vulcan, and Kirk paring his nails with a Vulcan ceremonial knife while smiling in a way which Deleuth had always found to be indicative of someone's impending demise.
"Deleuth," Kirk said, without looking up, "prepare to beam down to the Time Planet's Historical Research Center with the Gorn Warrior. I have just received coded orders from the Admiralty Council to proceed to Earth Command Central. It seems that they wish to deal with this traitorous Vulcan themselves. So, unfortunately, I must keep him alive. You are to guard the Gorn. Whatever the Council decides for the Vulcan will also be the fate of the Warrior. You are to see that he is kept isolated until punishment is decreed. The Gorn is an insolent piece of trash, but you must restrain yourself and keep him alive to be properly executed." As Kirk had expected, Deleuth's eyes lit up with an unholy fire as he saluted smartly and exited through the whoosh of the automatic Sick Bay doors. Spock's eyes opened; he and Kirk locked glances for an eternity of sixty seconds. They knew that the futures of both Vulcan and the Federation now rode with the __Enterprise__.
The next morning, over her unheard of fourth cup of coffee, Sherrith was wondering morosely if it had been a good idea to go to sleep at all. As usual, many of her uncomfortable dreams were rapidly fading in the light of morning, but she remembered enough fragments to put her in a thoroughly unreasonable mood. Red planets. Satyrs with pointy ears. Hobgoblins hurling lightning bolts at each other which turned into trees that sailed off through deep space. Fine. Just fine . . . for a nut case, which she had come to the conclusion she was rapidly turning into. She was not even sure she could stop Jekyll-Hyding long enough to call the authorities about her much abused Table Rock clearing.
Sherrith abruptly decided she would leave the problem in the dubiously capable hands of the forestry people and let __them__ go nuts. Her fantasies of last night seemed absurd. No, were absurd.
The day passed in a strange haze. At times, Sherrith had the odd notion that she was somehow outside herself, watching her own actions with detached amusement. This produced a curious sort of double vision, like a double exposed photographic negative. She was conscious of the prosaic objects around her in the lovingly decorated cabin, but once, out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw a totally familiar-unfamiliar kind of hollowed out, deeply carved stand within whose depths burned a twisting flame. At another time, she heard sighing bells that sang of a hot, dry wind that carved giant monoliths which reigned over an endless, red plain.
By the time night finally came, Sherrith was totally exhausted, and she knew for a fact that if her head fell off from the throbbing pain in it, she would not even have the strength necessary to look for it. It would just have to lie under the piano or the sofa, wherever it fell.
Sherrith had never gone to bed at eight o'clock before in her adult life, but tonight was going to be a first. All day, she had meant to go up to the clearing, but her curiosity had died along with her head. She had even forgotten about Forestry revenge. Tonight, she did manage to get on a floozy negligee--a visible if flimsy indulgence her recent literary flame had allowed her--before, like the previous night, she literally fell into bed.
She had fallen into an uneasy sleep, and so did not see the blue lights begin to flicker around the clearing.
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