Deborah A. Rorabaugh
Based on Characters and Situations Created by:
Based on Characters and Situations Created by:
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson
Copyright Feb 24, 1977,
Country of first publication, United States of America.
All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Captain's log, Local Date, December 23, 1983, old calendar. Doctor McCoy has released all but one of our 'guests from the past' from sickbay. Since it is obvious that but for our intervention, they would have perished, we are trying to orient them in preparation for bringing them with us to our own time.
Kirk finished his log entry and pushed the off button on the control console as he slouched back in his chair. The blue orb of the Earth could be seen on the main view screen. The Vulcan scout ship was still half hidden in the space debris.
Lieutenant Brady, manning Uhura's station, reported: "Captain, geology section has been running sensor scans on Saturn's moons. They confirm that the surface mining there is very recent, within the last five years."
"Thank you, Lieutenant."
"Sir, Engineer Scott would also like to know when you plan to initiate warp-breakaway for our return home," Brady added.
Kirk grinned. "Tell Scotty, if everything looks okay from his end, we'll begin in about eighteen hours. We'll let Alpha shift get a good night's sleep before we run the rapids."
Kirk sat back to watch the view screen.
"Captain, those two Shelmat craft are back," Ensign Mallory announced from the navigation station. The helm seat was vacant.
Kirk straightened up, suddenly attentive. "Put it on the screen, Mister Mallory."
Mallory pressed the necessary controls on the nav-console and the screen changed to show the two U.F.O.s approaching from space. Mallory checked the readings on nav-computer again."They seem to be headed for Earth, sir."
"Two U.F.O.s on positive track, bearing four-two-eight, one-four-one, Green. Speed, Sol zero-decimal-seven and decelerating," SHADO's satellite, S.I.D., announced over the Enterprise's communications speaker.
* * *
Inside the Moonbase Control Sphere, Wingate checked the computer read-out at her station. "Confirmed."
"Moonbase to SHADO Control, confirm two U.F.O.s bearing four-two-eight, one-four-one, green," Harrington reported, relaying the information to SHADO Headquarters.
* * *
"Correction, Captain. Shelmat craft bearing one-three-seven-mark-eight, towards the Moon," Mallory reported.
"Shall I open hailing frequencies, sir?" Brady asked.
Kirk shook his head. "No, we're only supposed to be observing, nothing more."
"U.F.O.s on positive track, bearing four-two-eight, one-four-one, green. Speed: Sol zero-decimal-six. Range: two million miles and closing," S.I.D announced.
* * *
Within Moonbase, Captain Harrington made an additional announcement: "Red alert, red alert. Interceptors immediate launch."
* * *
Mallory went to the science station and peered into the sensor monitor. The main view screen, on tactical display now, showed the two U.F.O.s. as they approached the Moon from two million miles out.
"Captain, the lunar installation has just launched three interceptor craft. They are on an intercept course with the Shelmats. I.P. in three minutes," Mallory announced.
Kirk and his bridge crew watched as, on the main view screen, the three interceptors approached and fired on the two U.F.O.s.
One of the cup-like enemy ships exploded.
Except for the normal background noise, the bridge was silent as, on the screen, the one remaining Shelmat craft changed course once again.
"Captain, the alien vessel is now bearing three-five-two mark seven. Straight towards us," Mallory announced from the science station. She seemed stunned by the observation.
"Evasive action, Mister Mallory!" Kirk ordered as the Shelmat craft came closer. Shaking herself from her surprise, Mallory ran back to the navigation station as Kirk took over the helm.
"Yes, sir!" On impulse power, the young officer rapidly plotted and executed a violent course change, taking them out of visual range of the remaining extra-terrestrial ship.
On the tactical screen, the Shelmat vessel could be seen making a wide arc though the area of near-Earth space the Enterprise had been occupying only moments before. The three Moonbase interceptors were following close behind. The lead interceptor fired again on the Shelmat and it altered its course, away from Earth.
Mallory checked her nav-station monitors. "The surviving Shelmat craft is now on a bearing for Titan. The three interceptors are returning to base."
"Thank you, Mister Mallory," Kirk said. Still seated at the helm, he stared at the tactical display, lost in thought.
"Sir, do you think they saw us?" Brady wondered aloud. Kirk looked over at the woman.
"I don't know," Kirk admitted. "I certainly hope not."
* * *
In the Sick-bay ward, the violent evasive maneuver was felt as a jerk.
"What was that?" Straker wondered aloud.
"I believe we've engaged thrusters for an evasive maneuver," Spock replied. The Vulcan was sitting on the medical bed to Straker's right. A table had been placed between the two beds and a classically fashioned flat chess board was set up on the table top.
"Why?" Straker asked. He was playing the white.
"I assume it was to avoid detection," Spock replied. "We are under strict orders to avoid being detected by the natives."
"Wouldn't my presence here be in violation of those orders?" Straker asked.
"You are hardly in a position to report your findings, sir," Spock replied.
"That's very true," Straker picked up a pawn and moved it. "I'm afraid it's been a long time since I played chess," he told his Vulcan opponent.
Spock played one of his pieces. "You play quite well, Commander."
For just an instant, Straker froze. Then, he moved another of his pawns as though nothing had happened. "Thank you, Mister Spock."
Spock played his bishop, capturing a white rook. "We have been monitoring Earth communications channels since we arrived in this time period, including those belonging to a group calling itself 'SHADO'," Spock explained. "And even when your 'associates' do not actually say it, they do, Commander."
Straker permitted himself a small smile. "Yes, I suppose they do, don't they?" he conceded. "Doctor McCoy told Paul Foster that you people knew something of SHADO, and the aliens we're at war with."
"We have a few historical references to a group called SHADO, but no documentary evidence concerning its purpose. Nor were we aware of extra-terrestrials visiting Earth at this time," Spock informed Straker. "However, we have made a tentative identification of the alien craft that were pursuing your transport module."
The Vulcan played. "We believe they may have originated on Shelmat-two. The intelligent life on that planet appears to have disappeared in approximately this time period. However, the archeological evidence there, and the records we have from Earth, gave no indication the Shelmats had ever visited Earth, although there is some evidence to suggest that they were of Earth stock, originally."
"Stolen from Earth by the Planters, like the Mellantyn were?"
Spock raised one eyebrow in surprise. "Yes, Commander."
"Doctor McCoy thinks I'm a Mellantyn, descended from one of their exploration ship crews,"Straker explained. "Miss Sterreka didn't seem very happy about the possibility. The whole thing's awfully funny, considering."
"Considering what, Commander?" Spock asked. Puzzlement showed ever so faintly in his voice.
Straker shook his head, a wry, amused expression on his face. "Nothing." He paused and then continued more seriously, "You said the aliens come from Shelmat-two? I'm not familiar with a constellation by that name."
"There is no reason you should be, Commander. The star is a K-6 dwarf, about five parsecs from Earth. I believe the name was given the system by a Vulcan scout ship, based on a transliteration of the natives' name for their system," Spock told him. "However, I fail to comprehend why we have no records of their visitations to Earth. Surely the arrival of extra-terrestrials would be of immense importance to a planet in Earth's present developmental stage."
Spock moved his rook. Straker sat back, studying the chess board.
"We're not ready," Straker said after a moment. His expression had turned grim. "We first got indisputable proof of their 'visitations' in Nineteen-sixty-nine. Before that, all we had were reports of sightings, inexplicable disasters, mutilated bodies with organs missing for no apparent reason. We had studies and rumors and speculation, but no hard evidence."
"And when the proof arrived, SHADO was created to deal with the problem?" Spock asked.
Straker nodded. "We did try to make contact with them, to communicate with them. A Soviet cosmonaut announced his government's intention to contact the aliens. He made one radio callback to Earth, saying he'd seen one of their ships. That was the last we heard from him. We located the capsule on far side of the Moon about eight years ago. His body had been plastered all over the inside of it. Most of the major organs were missing."
Straker shuddered at the unbidden images the memory brought forward. He'd been on the team that had found the capsule on the Moon. He still had nightmares about it.
"Commander, I still find it difficult to understand why it has been found to be necessary to keep all these events secret," Spock commented.
"There are a couple major reasons," Straker said. "First, there have been a number of studies conducted dealing with a first contact scenario. They all indicate a strong probability that the event would create a severe polarization of Earth's population, between those who would insist that a technologically superior species would naturally be a peaceable one, and those who would-be equally insistent that any aliens there might be out there would be a deadly threat to Earth.
"The numbers vary between the studies, but the consensus is, if the contact takes place on Earth, even with peaceful, friendly aliens, we can expect ungovernable chaos from the polarization and face a strong possibility that one or more Earth factions would actually attack the visitors,"Straker continued.
"I can see how that would present a problem for Earth's present government systems," Spock commented. "But, aside from the fact that SHADO is at war with them, what evidence exists that Earth is in danger from these people?"
Straker's tone became angry, bitter. "Mister Spock, you've never seen what they do on Earth during their 'visitations'. The aliens use Earth humans as donors in multiple transplant operations for themselves, and as brain-wiped cannon fodder.
"I mean, human beings are bad enough in the way they treat one another and anything else they get their hands on. To have to deal with such... " He paused, searching for the proper word."Barbarity from outside would be beyond comprehension. Can you possibly imagine the reaction if people found out we were being used as a 'stockyard' by creatures who just happen to be more technologically advanced than we are?"
Straker lay back. He was breathing hard, visibly working to regain his emotional control. Morita glanced up from her work at the nurse's station and gave Spock a warning look.
"Right now, Earth is in about the same position the Indians were when the Europeans came calling," Straker said more calmly. "The only thing that's saved us, so far, is that the aliens don't seem to want anybody to know they're here either. Why, we haven't yet figured out."
"Humans do seem to be prone to a certain amount of barbarism," Spock commented quietly."That does not mean that the tendency cannot be overcome, or that a peaceful contact with extra-terrestrials is not possible."
"Overcoming that tendency can be rather difficult, Mister Spock," Straker admitted. "Especially when it may only be our barbarism that keeps us from extinction. The aliens don't seem to understand exactly how bloody-minded and vicious Earth humans can be, or how hard we have to fight to stay civilized. They seem to think that if they can prove to us we can't win, we'll simply give up and let them have their way. They don't understand that we don't work that way."
"So, SHADO fights a war that officially does not exists, that history will never hear of, against technologically superior extra-terrestrials," Spock commented.
"So SHADO fights a war," Straker agreed.
"Which you and your companions are now casualties of," Spock reminded him.
Straker conceded the point with a brief nod. "Every war has casualties."
The SHADO officer inspected the chess board. The white king was in jeopardy, with no way out. He forfeited the game, tipping over his king with one finger. "Thank you, Mister Spock, for a very interesting game."
"Thank you , Commander Straker," Spock responded. The Vulcan stood and began picking up the chess pieces, placing them in their wooden box. Morita noticed they were finished with the game and left her desk to come closer.
"Is Doctor McCoy busy?" Spock asked the nurse as she approached.
"He's in his office working on the crew physical reports," Morita replied. "I'm sure he'll welcome the interruption."
Spock gave her a nod and headed for the chief medical officer's office.
Morita turned her attention back to her patient. "How are you feeling?" she asked.
Straker looked exhausted and his voice was soft. "Okay, I guess. I shouldn't have gotten angry like that. It wasn't his fault." He laid back against his pillows. Morita looked up momentarily to check the readings on the medical panel above Straker's bed, then turned her attention back to her patient. His readings weren't good.
The nurse tucked the bed covers around him. "Try to get some rest."
"Yes, ma'am," Straker said, giving her a faintly troubled smile. She headed back to her station and her computer work.
The door to the corridor slid open and Kirk stepped in.
"Good afternoon, Mister Straker," Kirk greeted as he looked around for his first officer.
"Good afternoon, Captain," Straker responded quietly. "I assume my associates have settled into quarters somewhere?"
Kirk smiled and nodded. "They've been assigned to V.I.P. Suites C and D on Deck-4. You can call them if you'd like." Kirk indicated the computer terminal by the bed.
"Maybe later, thank you. I'm very tired," Straker said. Kirk simply stood for a moment, studying the other man's face. Then he stepped closer, taking a seat on the bed on the far side of the table. The wooden box of chess pieces was still on the table top.
"Who won the game?" Kirk asked after a time.
"Mister Spock," Straker answered. "I don't have time to play much chess any more. It's a game that needs practice if you're going to be any good at it."
"Don't feel bad about losing to Spock, Mister Straker," Kirk said. "There are, maybe, a half a dozen people in the known Galaxy who can beat him consistently."
"How often does he beat you at chess?" Straker wondered.
Kirk grinned. "Not very often. I hate losing," he admitted. Straker nodded quietly. There was a long pause as the two men regarded one another.
"Why are you here, Captain Kirk?" Straker asked abruptly.
"I'm waiting for Mister Spock," Kirk replied. Straker wasn't amused. Kirk sighed, suddenly uncomfortable under Straker's calculating scrutiny.
"We're orbiting Earth in this time period because yesterday morning I received urgent orders from Star Fleet's chief of operations instructing me to be here," Kirk explained.
Kirk considered the question a moment before answering. "Apparently there are records of a ship matching the description of this one being seen in orbit of Earth at this time. So, we're here to make sure it happens."
"Do those records include anything about you picking us up?" Straker asked. His expression had softened a bit.
"Not as far as I know," Kirk admitted. "But, then, I didn't know we were even going to be here until yesterday. I was expecting to get orders sending us on another damned diplomatic courier mission. Instead, I got saddled with a historian who doesn't like what we've found so far."
Kirk paused to gauge Straker's reaction. The wry, unrevealing half-smile was back. Kirk decided Straker was probably a very good poker player. He only revealed what he wanted his opponent to know. "Miss Sterreka told us you weren't very cooperative when she was asking her questions," Kirk said. "She wasn't very happy about it."
"She was asking questions we weren't prepared to answer," Straker admitted. "Her attitude seems a little suspect. I don't know how it is in your time, Captain, but in mine, we expect scientists, even historians, to at least attempt to keep an open mind concerning new evidence in their field."
"And you think Miss Sterreka is having a problem doing that?" Kirk asked.
"From her line of questioning, I'd say she was having a definite problem with that," Straker said. At Kirk's questioning look, he continued, "I don't know what your history says about the problems of the Twentieth Century. What you have may well be incredibly distorted. I don't know. I do know that your so-called historian has no interest in our interpretation of the events we lived through."
Spock came out of McCoy's office and went to stand by the corridor door, waiting for Kirk. "I can see where that would be quite irritating, Mister Straker. I'll mention it to her," Kirk responded. He stood up. "Maybe we can talk some more about it later."
Straker nodded briefly, then laid back against his pillows again and closed his eyes.
Kirk picked up the box of chess pieces and stepped over to where Spock was waiting. He handed the box to the Vulcan and gestured for the officer to accompany him into the corridor.
"There was another battle just a little while ago. Those Moonbase interceptors managed to destroy one of the Shelmat craft that escaped the first time," Kirk reported as he and Spock headed down the corridor. "We had to change our orbit to avoid being seen by them."
"Interesting," Spock commented. "Are you certain we were not seen?"
"No, I'm not certain we weren't seen," Kirk admitted. Spock considered the new information. Kirk looked over at the Vulcan, curious. "Straker told me you won the game."
"Yes," Spock confirmed. "Commander Straker has a remarkably ordered and rational mind."
"Yes, Jim. Commander Straker of SHADO, arguably one of the most powerful, and deliberately least known, of all of this century's military commanders," Spock said.
"You found all that out from one chess game?" Kirk marveled.
They arrived at the deck-seven recreation room and went inside. Two crew members sat at a table in one corner, eating lunch and talking quietly. They looked up briefly as Kirk and Spock entered, nodded a greeting and went back to their conversation.
At another table, Miss Sterreka sat alone, reading from her computer data-padd. She hadn't looked up when the two officers came in and appeared to be ignoring everything but the data stream in front of her.
Kirk chose to overlook her as he went to the food server set into the wall. He keyed in a request for a cup of coffee, deciding against ordering a donut to go with it. McCoy had been chiding him again for not keeping his weight down. He wasn't about to give McCoy any more ammunition than absolutely necessary.
"I did review our information concerning SHADO, and Commander Uhura's recordings of the organization's communications channels," Spock continued. "The orbital monitors picked up a surprising amount of information concerning SHADO's operations over the past several years."
"Oh?" Kirk moved over to one of the tables and took a seat. Spock ordered a Vulcan herbal tea from the food processor. When it arrived, he took the cup and sat down at the table to face Kirk.
"Miss Barry holds the rank of Lieutenant and is a radar technician. That would appear to roughly correspond with one of our senior sensor engineering officers. Mister Foster holds the rank of colonel and is a senior command officer in the organization," Spock reported. "Straker is the commander-in-chief of SHADO operations."
"And he may be one of the most important men on Earth today, only we have no evidence, so far, that he was even born on the planet," Kirk muttered. He took a sip of his coffee.
"His intuitive understanding of tactics is excellent, very nearly equal to your own," Spock commented. "It was a quite enjoyable game."
Kirk looked over at Spock in surprise. "How close did he come to beating you?"
Spock permitted himself the faintest of smiles. "The commander was distracted and so was not playing his best, I am sure. However, I do now understand why SHADO's war is so secret."
Kirk gave him a curious look and the Vulcan continued. "Their reasons are quite logical, based on an intelligent evaluation of how violent the population's reaction would likely be to this crisis and the pattern of human history in regards the use of military technology to coerce less technologically advanced cultures."
"Like the Europeans against the American and Australasian native populations?" Kirk asked."Only in this case, the Indians are armed and organized and mad as hell?"
"The Americas was the example the commander used," Spock said. "And, as with the initial contacts with the Americas, the initial incursion is small enough to be controlled, both in the intelligence and military sense."
"I've always wondered what would have happened to Earth history if the Haitians had managed to kill Columbus and his crew on that first voyage," Kirk told his Vulcan friend. "Although Commander Straker doesn't look much like an Indian."
"Doctor McCoy has told Commander Straker that he is of Mellantyn descent," Spock said. "I tend to agree. The Mellantyn are reputed to have psionic potential similar to that found in Vulcans. I believe I detected such potential in the commander. Fortunately for us, he is not married."
"Oh? Why?" Kirk asked, putting down his coffee cup.
"Like the Vulcans and a number of other races, the Mellantyn are reported to be able to mentally link with their bond-mates," Spock explained. "That would, of course, mean that his wife, especially if she were of Mellantyn derivation as well, would have certain knowledge that he is not yet dead."
"Of course. That is one complication we certainly don't need," Kirk mused. "Mellantyn? Spock, wouldn't it be strange, the Enterprise is sent back in time to be seen at a certain place and time by Vulcan observers, only to discover descendants of another interstellar ship, fighting an interplanetary war to defend a planet that has only just begun to explore its own solar system?"
"Stranger things have happened."
"We seem to have a talent for finding them," Kirk noted with a rueful grin.
The recreation room door slid open. Kirk and Spock looked up to see Uhura and Sulu enter, followed by Foster, Barry and Spielberg, and the security guard. The three SHADO people had changed out of the sick-bay pajamas into the one piece dark gray jumpsuits the quartermaster had provided them.
"Good afternoon, Captain, Mister Spock," Uhura greeted. "Sulu and I thought we might give our guests a quick tour of the ship."
Kirk nodded and turned to Foster. As he turned he noted that Sterreka had finally looked up from her reading to watch the group. For just an instant, he thought he saw a flicker of something that looked like hatred. Then, her expression became unreadable again.
"Well, how do you like the Enterprise so far, Mister Foster?" Kirk asked.
Foster paused before answering, "It's a big ship for a crew of only five hundred."
"We've discovered humans need a certain amount of room, and privacy, when a ship and crew is expected to spend five years or more exploring the nether regions of the galaxy," Kirk explained.
"Is that your usual assignment?" Foster asked.
Kirk nodded, picking up his coffee cup and taking a sip. "The Enterprise and her crew have explored more of the Galaxy, so far, than almost anyone else in the Federation."
"Including exploring time and history?" Foster wondered.
Kirk considered the question a moment. "Very rarely does our exploration include time travel. In point of fact, I believe this is only the third time a star ship has deliberately traveled back through time to old Earth." He glanced at Spock, who nodded once in confirmation.
"It's only been done four times altogether, that I know of," Kirk continued. "The first time was an accident that showed us it could be done, and how dangerous it could be."
Sulu had gone to the food processor and ordered coffee for the group. He handed a cup to Foster. Foster took a sip, then turned in surprise to his companions. "It's real."
Kirk grinned. "We also serve the best cup of coffee in Star Fleet. Spock and the quartermaster's department keep trying to see who can get the best price on hundred ton lots of Arabica for us. He also invented the storage system for us so it's always fresh. There's nothing worse than bad coffee."
"Pity we can't get coffee this good on Moonbase," Spielberg muttered to Barry. She smiled and shrugged as she took a seat at the table next to Spock.
"It's the moon dust we have to brew it in," Barry said. "That'd ruin the best coffee in the world."
Sterreka left her chair and stepped over to the group. "I wanted to ask you about your impressions of the ship and crew, Mister Foster."
He shrugged. "I'm impressed. If it's a hoax, it's unbelievably intricate."
"I promise you, it's not a hoax, Mister Foster," Kirk said.
Foster shrugged. "So you say, Captain. If you don't mind, I'll reserve judgment on that, for the time being. You see, I've been in the film business for about four years now. I know how easy it is to create the illusion of reality, at least temporarily."
"You are a stubborn man, Mister Foster," Spock commented.
"So I've been told," Foster said. He looked around the room once again, taking a sip of his coffee. "It is impressive, though. It's almost enough to make me a believer."
"But not quite enough?" Kirk observed.
"Not quite," Foster agreed. "Besides, this is exactly the kind of trick I would expect of the aliens."
"That is exactly the attitude I would expect of a Twentieth century militarist," Sterreka complained. There was an unpleasant whine in her voice. "Anything you don't understand automatically becomes the enemy so you don't have to bother understanding it." Oblivious to the stares at her, she turned on her heel and stalked out of the room.
Kirk sighed and gazed into the distance, a forlorn expression on his face. "Do you think a formal complaint to the Danaen government would do any good?"
* * *
Colonel Freeman was nursing a cup of coffee as he paced the Control Room, watching the monitors. He was tired. It had been a long day, even without the additional worry of the Lunar module's failure to rendezvous, but he didn't want to leave just yet.
He looked around the Control room once again. It was a little after four o'clock, Beta shift, Foster's usual shift. The second watch was already on duty. Colonel Virginia Lake was taking Foster's place this evening.
Lake was dressed in a dark blue jumper with a white silk blouse. The jumper complimented her dark blonde hair. Freeman took a moment to watch her as she skimmed the day's logs at a desk on the upper level. Once, he had hoped they could become romantically involved, but that was now long past. They were simply colleagues.
After a moment, Lake finished reading the reports and came down the steps to join Freeman by the evening duty officer's station. "We haven't found anything yet?" she asked.
"Nothing yet. We managed to get one of those Ufos. But, no sign of the module," he told her.
"It's been less than five hours," the woman commented.
Freeman looked at her, wondering.
Dark blue eyes gazed into his. Despite her obvious worry, she was determined to put the best face on the situation. "Paul was in a module that was lost for sixteen hours and he managed to limp it back the Moon. Craig Collins was missing for eight weeks before he was found."
"Virginia, you know what happened after they got back. We found out they'd both been programmed by the aliens to murder Ed Straker. Collins ended up dead and Paul was damned lucky he didn't," Freeman reminded her.
"Yes, I know that, Alec, but, we can't give up hope. Not yet," she said. "Paul is one of the best command pilots SHADO has."
"Colonel Freeman?" Lieutenant Azzarillo called out from his station. "We've got some additional information concerning those mutilation incidents in France."
Freeman stepped over to the operative. Lake followed close behind him. "Yes?"
Azzarillo handed him a blue file folder. Freeman opened it and glanced at the several pages clipped inside.
"The reports came through just a minute ago. The type of mutilations reported matches the aliens' modus operandi pretty closely. Hearts, livers, kidneys missing," Azzarillo reported. "There are also reports of several missing persons in the area. They're all said to be healthy, athletic individuals, late teens to early twenties. No apparent connection between them, no apparent reason for any of them to disappear."
"Exactly the type of people the aliens seem to take whole," Lake commented. "Young and healthy."
Freeman sighed and shook his head at the havoc the aliens created by their depredations.
"Sir," Azzarillo said softly, looking around to be sure no one else was listening. "One of the missing persons listed is a Lucille Duvall. She's the youngest daughter of Emil Duvall, from the Astro-physical Commission. She was out hiking with her fiance. His body was found mutilated."
"Does Commissioner Duvall know yet?" Lake asked.
"I don't know, sir," Azzarillo admitted.
"Christ," Freeman muttered. "When trouble comes our way, it sure comes in spades."
"Alec, how much trouble do you think this will cause us?" Lake wondered.
"I don't know, but I can just about guarantee it will cause trouble," Freeman said. "First Commander Straker and Paul Foster are missing, probably dead, and now the aliens are picking up relatives of the Commission members. If I were paranoid, I'd suspect somebody was picking on me." Freeman walked away from Lake and Azzarillo, shaking his head. He went over to operative Roberston at the main communications station.
"Have we picked up any unusual air traffic in the area of southern France?"
"No, sir. But, we are on yellow alert on all tracking stations," Roberston reported.
"Inform all stations to maintain yellow alert until further notice," Freeman ordered. "I want the stations in Western Europe put on red alert and a mobile team sent to the area where the bodies were found."
"Aren't you over reacting just a little, Alec?" Lake asked. She kept her voice low so only Freeman could hear.
"Call it a hunch, Virginia, but I think the module's disappearance and those disappearances in France are related," Freeman told her. "I don't know how they fit together, but they do."
Lake nodded her understanding and turned to Roberston. "Assign Captain Green to lead the mobile team."
Freeman nodded. "Yes, if there's anything there at all, she'll find it."
Lake gazed at Freeman thoughtfully. The worry and tiredness in his leathery face made him look older than his fifty-one years.
"Alec, why don't you go home, have some supper," she suggested. "We'll call you if anything big happens."
Freeman stood quietly for a moment, thinking. "Actually, I think I'll stop by Kate's for a little bit. See how she's making out."
"How did she take the news?" Lake wondered. Freeman shook his head, eyebrows drawn together in puzzlement.
"I'm not sure," he admitted. "She didn't seem too worried. She insisted Ed was still alive, but she wouldn't tell me why she thought that."
The Officer's mess had been redecorated for a formal dinner. The mess officer, Sorensen, a dark taciturn woman from one of the Martian colonies, had outdone herself once again, with both the setting and the menu. The table had been laid out with linen table clothes and napkins, polished silver and crystal. The Enterprise's white, blue and gold china service was set out. There were real candles burning on the table. Greenery gave the room a winter holiday feel.
The menu had been selected of strictly Earth items. There were buffalo steaks with mushrooms and onions. It was a taste Kirk and McCoy had acquired on Star base 12. Several different side dishes were being served along with freshly baked bread.
Sorensen had selected a red wine to go with the meat. It was one of her new discoveries, a Cahors from Chateau Picard. It was a well balanced vigorous highly agreeable red, served at cellar temperature. It promised to become very popular.
The music was Spock's selection, renditions of Bach and Mozart, and instrumental Christmas music. Kirk thought he recognized a few pieces by Williams, but he couldn't be sure. Music was not one of Kirk's strong points.
The dinner proceeded smoothly. The conversation was amiable and low key. Foster even complimented the chef.
The party eventually ended up in the officer's observation lounge, also redecorated to what Spock and Sorensen had researched as late Twentieth-Century formal. A dessert buffet had been arranged on a narrow table set up against the wall opposite the view ports. On the table was the ship's silver coffee service, several bottles of liquor with crystal ware. Several dessert trays were filled to overflowing with the various desserts Sorensen had chosen for the occasion.
The cloudy, night dark Earth and the Enterprise's warp nacelles could be seen through the four large view ports of the observation lounge. There was a storm front moving in over western Europe from the Atlantic. The lights of London and Paris and other cities could be seen, flickering though the cloud cover as night fell over New York.
Foster and Spielberg were dressed in light gray tunics with matching pants and soft shoes. One of the young lieutenants from Engineering was entertaining Spielberg with a story. It was probably a space battle, from the figures the girl was forming in the air with her hands.
Spielberg seemed more interested in the girl's almond eyes than her story. Montgomery Scott, wearing his formal kilt, was watching the both of them like a fondly overly protective uncle.
Uhura had taken Barry aside. They were sitting in one of the corners, chatting amiably. Barry was dressed in a brightly colored caftan that complimented her dark coloring. Uhura wore a similar dress, in darker colors. Her bright silver jewelry tinkled as she moved.
Seen together, they could be mistaken for sisters. They had the same coloring and similar build, although Uhura, ten years older than Barry, had thickened a little with age. It was a problem Kirk was familiar with. He too had thickened a bit with age.
Historian Sterreka stood against one wall, as if trying to make herself invisible as she watched the party. However, the scarlet satin sheath she was wearing made it hard to ignore her. Silver chains decorated the sleeves and accentuated her waist. A heavy silver collar completed her ensemble.
Foster was managing to ignore her. He held a goblet of Romulan Ale as he stood by one of the view ports gazing out at Earth.
"The good Lord's made some beautiful planets. But of all of them, this is the one I come home to," McCoy said, quietly moving to stand next to Foster.
The young man did not look at him. "'Who has not felt how sadly sweet the dream of home, the dream of home, steals o'er the heart, too soon to fleet when far o'er the sea or land we roam?'"
"'Sunlight more soft may o'er us fall, to greener shores our bark may come: But far more bright, more dear than all, that dream of home, that dream of home'," McCoy completed the verse.
"Thomas Moore, The Dream of Home," Spock identified the poem.
"You sound surprised, Spock," McCoy chided softly.
"I am frequently surprised by you, Doctor," Spock replied, equally softly. "I did not know you had a fondness for Nineteenth century Irish poets."
Foster ignored them, speaking instead to Kirk, as the older man came to stand beside him."You're not going to let us go home, are you?" Foster continued to gaze out the viewport at the Earth below. "If you're really from the future, our future, you can't afford to let us go. We might change something. And, if you aren't, if this is an alien trick, well, this is something of a coup, Imagine, capturing two senior SHADO officers."
"I'm sorry, Colonel Foster, but you're right," Kirk agreed solemnly. Foster turned to look at the Star Fleet officer as Kirk continued. "We can't let you go back. The facts are, for all intents and purposes, you all died about six hours ago. Now, you can accept the situation or not. But you can't change it."
"Commander Straker seems to be accepting the situation," Spock pointed out.
Foster sighed and took a sip of the ale, letting the harsh liquid burn his throat. "Commander Straker is dying, and I expect even this is preferable to dying on the operating table, or being an invalid for the little time left to him. He's a very proud man. Getting sick like this has been hard on him, hard on all of us. I half suspect he intended to die on Moonbase, or on the flight home."
"Well, he's not going to die at all if I have anything to say about it," McCoy insisted.
"You don't know Commander Straker," the SHADO officer warned, with a sharp laugh.
"He can't be any worse that any Admiralty officer I've treated," McCoy announced, giving Kirk a dark look. "You know the type, know-it-all, refuses to follow doctor's orders." Kirk shrugged and grinned back at him.
Spock raised one eyebrow in the physician's direction. "I would hope you do not frighten the commander too badly with your beads and rattles, Doctor."
From Kirk's bemused expression at the exchange, Foster assumed Spock's remark was on the order of a long standing joke, although Uhura had mentioned that Vulcans did not joke. He gave Kirk a questioning look.
The older man sighed and shrugged. "It's when they stop sniping at one another, I get worried."
Foster turned his attention back to the viewport. A light winked on from behind one of the dead soviet satellites he'd spotted just above and behind the star ship's engines.
"What's that light from?" Foster wondered aloud. He pointed out the light in question to Kirk, who peered out the thick window.
"I believe that's a Vulcan observation ship, Colonel," Kirk told him.
"Vulcan?" Foster glanced over at Spock, who had taken a seat by the viewport to observe Spielberg and Barry. "Are the Vulcans into time travel too?"
Kirk shook his head, taking a sip of his brandy. "No, Colonel, that ship is native to this period. The Vulcans have been observing Earth periodically for the past," he paused to make the mental calculation, "forty years or so. Since Nineteen-forty-three, as a matter of fact."
"What are they doing here?" Foster asked. There was a tinge of suspicion in his voice.
"They're observing, listening in on the planet's audio and visual transmissions. Radio and television, I think you call it," Kirk replied.
"Reconnaissance for an invasion?" Foster asked. The belligerence had returned to his voice and posture. Kirk sipped his brandy and shook his head again. Foster's paranoia was just a little tiresome.
"No, Colonel," Kirk said. "Curiosity brought the Vulcans to watch Earth, and maybe a little concern about the effects of our lack of emotional self-control when our two species meet. Which they have, and they will, in my past and your future."
Foster nodded in the direction of the small light, blinking among the space debris. "If they can get here, they have the technology to help us. Instead, they're just sitting there, watching us fight off an invasion we may not be able to beat?"
"Colonel Foster, the fact that we are here, from your future, means SHADO, and Earth, won against your alien invaders," Kirk explained reasonably. "As a matter of record, this war never even made it into our history books."
Foster's glower told him the younger man was still unconvinced. Kirk sighed softly, wondering if he had ever been that young, or that difficult to convince. Foster was about the same age Kirk had been when he was first given the Enterprise to command.
Historian Sterreka had been listening and stepped closer to Kirk. "Colonel Foster, I am curious to know why this war never made it into Earth's history books. Surely, it would be cause for celebration, winning a war against insurmountable odds, completely exterminating the population of another world?"
"I don't understand what you mean," Foster replied. "We haven't exterminated anybody. We're just trying to keep from being invaded. Personally, I wouldn't mind if they'd just call us up and ask to talk about how this all started. But, until they do, we're defending ourselves to the best of our abilities."
"In that case, you should be gratified to learn that another Shelmat ship was destroyed by your Moonbase fighters only four hours ago." The room went very quiet as the woman waited for Foster's reaction.
"Shelmat?" Foster wondered aloud. He glanced at Kirk, his curiosity piqued despite his fuming anger.
"We've tentatively identified them as the aliens you're at war with," Kirk told him.
"Why didn't you rescue those pilots, while you were at it?" Foster asked.
Kirk grinned ruefully. "I wasn't supposed to pick you up. My 'altruistic' tendencies got the better of me," he admitted. "As a matter of fact, I'm going to have a lot of explaining to do to upper echelons when we get back home."
There was something in Kirk's expression that made Foster want to believe he was telling the truth. Foster managed a grin over his ale. "I know the feeling," he said, pausing as he remembered his own occasional disregard for orders, and the resultant angry lectures in Straker's office. "Boy, do I know the feeling."
* * *
Straker was sitting up in his bed, reading the material on the library computer screen set on the movable mounting arm beside the bed. On a table nearby was a tray with his dinner, which he hadn't quite gotten around to dealing with. The information he was accessing was too interesting to ignore in favor of soup and bread.
The Beta shift duty nurse was seated at the nurse's station on the opposite side of the empty ward. She had introduced herself as Kira Chee. She looked Amerind, with long black braids pinned around her head and soft brown eyes. She had a light reddish-brown complexion with high, sharply defined cheek-bones. If she wasn't actually native American, she certainly looked the part.
Chee looked up from her work to watch Straker for a moment, then she got up and walked over to him.
"Commander, if you can't eat and read at the same time, I'm going to take the monitor away," she warned. She used the irritatingly soft, rationally patient tone normally reserved for use with small children and anencephalics.
"You sound like my wife," he complained, but he pulled the meal tray closer and took a bite of bread, taking care not to tangle the tubes running from the medication pump. Straker wasn't sure what drugs McCoy was still giving him, but he was feeling better, at least for the time being.
Chee smiled. "What are you reading that's so fascinating, anyway?" She turned the monitor to look at it. On the screen was a picture of a white metallic obelisk on a low platform of the same material. Both the obelisk and the platform were covered with odd, unreadable, symbols. There were flowers placed as offerings at the base of the platform.
"The Preservers, or Planters," Straker said, swallowing the bite and running a finger down the text that scrolled down one side of the screen. "That Mellantyn historian said there were dozens of planets planted with Earth humans, but your computer only lists five confirmed instances, and Beta Persei Two isn't on the list. Neither is Shelmat Two"
"That's because those five worlds are the only ones with actual Preserver artifacts on them," Chee explained. "The others are assumed to have been planted, because that's the only way to explain them. Except for some genetic anomalies that are believed to be artificial markers, all those worlds have populations that are fully, to the nth decimal place, Earth human."
"Danae's the only one we know of to actually have a written history that refers to having been taken and planted elsewhere," she continued. "Even they don't really know by whom."
"You seem very knowledgeable on the subject," Straker commented.
Chee pointed to the obelisk on screen. "I was born on that planet."
"That's listed as Corionor one, first surveyed by the U.S.S. Enterprise, James Kirk, commanding, star date forty-eight-forty-two-point-six," Straker read from the screen. "Planet protected under the Prime Directive." He looked up at her, questioning. "What does that mean, 'protected under the Prime Directive'?"
"The Prime Directive is Star Fleet's first guiding principle. It instructs that all societies, especially those less technologically advanced, must be accorded the right to develop without outside interference," the nurse explained. "In this case, contact with the natives is forbidden, except in the most proscribed, or extraordinary, circumstances."
"Wouldn't Earth in the Twentieth Century come under those provisions, or are we considered an extraordinary circumstance?" Straker asked with a smile.
Chee grinned. "That's probably a fair description. And before you can ask, yes, I'm an extraordinary circumstance, too. Star Fleet periodically checks on protected planets, to study their development and to make sure nobody else is violating Federation law," she explained. "When one of those parties came to check on my world, I took advantage of the event to get aboard their ship. By the time the captain realized what had happened, it was too late, they couldn't send me back. Captain Leyland arranged for my education and sponsored me into Star Fleet Academy. So, here I am."
"Do you regret your decision?"
Chee's brown forehead crinkled. "I love my work, but sometimes, I wish I could let my mother know I'm not dead. That I found my way into the Star God's world, and it's a beautiful and marvelous place, beyond anything my people could possibly imagine."
At her words, Straker's expression became distant, and a little sad.
"Is something wrong, sir?" Chee asked.
"I was just thinking, I'd like to let my wife know what's actually happened, but, that's impossible.I'm supposed to be dead," he told her.
"We can't notify her, but we could look her up in our records," Chee offered.
Straker's expression brightened. "Well, I suppose you must be able to. I've already looked up your captain. He's had something of a checkered career, I must say. Star Fleet Academy's youngest cadet, received a commendation over something called the Kobiyashi Maru simulation. He was Star Fleet's youngest star ship captain, promoted to the Admiralty at thirty-seven. Finally demoted back to star ship captain for disobeying direct orders to stay away from a classified project. Only they couldn't be too nasty to him, since he'd also just saved Earth from certain destruction by a probe looking for humped-back whales," Straker reported his findings.
He briefly wondered what he'd have done with Kirk if he'd been on that Admiralty board. Probably the same thing, given the circumstances. Good officers were hard to come by and a certain amount of insubordination was tolerable, provided the job got done. God knew how often he'd turned a blind eye to his own officers' insubordination just because the officers were so very good at their jobs otherwise.
"The Whale song incident took place four and a half years ago," Chee told him, more than a little pride coloring her voice. "The Enterprise is considered the finest ship in the fleet, and Kirk one of the finest captains of his generation. Tell you what, you eat and I'll help you find out what we have on your family."
"Fair enough," Straker agreed. Chee moved over to sit on the edge of the bed, pulling the computer screen around so they both could see it. Then, she pulled the tray table over to where she could watch him eat.
"First though, I'm curious about this Kobiyashi Maru simulation," Straker said. "Your records say Kirk got a commendation for original thinking in regards to it, but I can't find out anything about the simulation itself."
"Actually, I'm not really sure myself, since I was in medical, not command training," Chee admitted. "I do know Star Fleet doesn't want cadets to have prior knowledge of the scenario."
"Which is?" Straker prompted.
"Well, according to my roommate at the Academy, the Kobiyashi Maru scenario is one which no matter what you do, it can't be won," Chee said. "Even the right decision turns out to be wrong."
"So, what was Kirk's solution that got him a commendation?"
"I don't know. I believe the Captain was the only cadet to successfully complete the mission,"Chee said. "As far as I know, no one else has been successful at it," she said. She turned to the computer screen in front of them.
"First, I think we should look you up," she said, keying in the necessary information. A moment later, a photograph and text appeared on the screen. The photo was of Straker, in his Air Force colonel's uniform, age thirty-two.
Straker recognized the photograph. It was one of the few passable photographs of him. It had been printed in the London Times following his surviving, unscathed, the alien attack that had seriously injured General Henderson and killed every one else with them.
"There you are," she commented, pausing to read the information from the old newspaper article."Cabinet Minister killed, miracle survival of Colonel... London Times, November nineteen, Nineteen-seventy," she read aloud. She pressed a key and two other articles appeared on the screen.
She continued reading. "'Merger rumors denied, Harlington-Straker Film Studios to remain at Borhamwood site.' They quote Edward Straker, CEO, and they mention an early retirement from a brilliant military career. London Times, March five, Nineteen-seventy-three. There's another piece here about a little boy killed in an accident, parents Edward Straker and Mary Straker Rutland. London Times, August fourteen, Nineteen-eighty."
There was a quick gasp from Straker. Chee looked over at him. His expression had gone bleak."I'm sorry, I hadn't realized... ," she murmured.
Straker's voice was very quiet. "That's all right, you didn't know. How could you? It happened three years ago, a stupid accident. He ran in front of an oncoming car, died a few hours later at the hospital." He paused, taking a shuddery breath. Then he said, "There's nothing as bitter as the death of one's child."
"Captain Kirk's son was killed about five years ago, murdered by a Klingon," Chee told him. "I'm told he still has trouble dealing with it, sometimes."
Straker put his head back and closed his eyes. The one thing he didn't want to talk about was his oldest son's death, or his ex-wife's hysterical blaming of him for it all, for his failure to do the impossible.
"Are you all right, sir?" Chee asked, worry creasing her forehead.
Straker opened his eyes and gave her a weak smile of reassurance. "I'm okay. You said we could look up my wife."
"Yes, sir. What was, what is, her name?"
"Elizabeth Kathryn Komack, she goes by Kathryn, or Kate."
"Date of birth?"
"September twelfth, Nineteen-forty-seven, Boston, Massachusetts."
Chee keyed in the information. After a moment, a photograph of a young woman with auburn hair and green eyes appeared on the screen. She was beautiful, in a very classical way, and her eyes indicated a keen intelligence. Several rows of text appeared below the picture.
"Elizabeth Kathryn Komack," Chee read from the screen. "Born Nineteen-forty-seven, obtained a Masters Degree in Business Administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Nineteen-seventy. No spouse listed, one child, Esther Krystin Komack, born November eighteen, Nineteen-seventy-seven, San Francisco, California, North America."
"That's odd," Straker commented at the record's omissions. "We were married six months ago. We have a little boy. He's four months old."
Chee shook her head and shrugged in puzzlement. She wasn't a computer expert and her knowledge of Earth history was sketchy at best. "I could look him up and see what happens," she suggested. "His name, birth date and place of birth?"
"Alexander Paul Straker, August twenty-third, Nineteen-eighty-three, London, England."
Chee keyed in this information. Another picture, this one of a young fair haired man in a stark gray uniform, came on the screen. She read from the text at the bottom: "Alexander Paul Straker, born Nineteen-eighty-three, died Twenty-fifty-five, natural causes. Wife: Anita Marie Bradley, three children, John, Suzette and Edward," Chee read. She scrolled up additional text. "This says he was instrumental in the early colonization of Mars. Grandson Edward Andrew Straker was a senior engineer on the UNSS Icarus, the ship that made first contact with the Alpha Centaurians in Twenty-sixty-eight."
Straker stared at the picture on the screen. The young face was unfamiliar, but Straker could almost detect traces of himself and his wife in the young man's bearing, in his finely honed features.
"So that's what Alexander's going to look like," Straker murmured. "What do your records say about Alexander's parents?"
She keyed in the request and more text scrolled onto the screen. "Parents, Johannes and Elizabeth Straker," she read aloud. Puzzled, she looked back to Straker. "But, that's not right. Is it?"
Straker frowned thoughtfully. "No, but I know what happened."
"But, I thought your given name was Edward."
"Johannen was a family name, but I've never used it. Every once in a while it shows up in records, usually misspelled as Johannes. I've been Ed or Edward ever since I can remember," he explained. He didn't bother to tell her that he'd always hated having to explain 'Johannen'. Personnel officers assumed it was a misspelling of Johannes or even Jonathan. It had been an ongoing battle to keep his name spelled right when he was still on active duty with the Air Force. Finally, he simply gave up. 'Johannen' wasn't even on his driver's license.
"Well, now you know your son will grow up and become an important person in the Martian colonization, and your great-grandson will be part of one of Earth's first contacts with a different race," Chee told him.
"What about Esther, my daughter?" Straker asked.
Chee nodded and tapped in the request. There was a slight pause, then a picture of a middle aged woman came on the screen. She was blonde and slender, wearing a simple suit. "Esther Straker Kimborough, senior administrator of Habitat One," Chee read off. "She was the chief administrator of the first permanent Earth orbiting space station to declare its independence, after successfully fulfilling its financial obligations regarding its construction."
"So, she'll be an important person, too," Straker commented.
"You seem to be blessed with illustrious offspring," Chee remarked. "I'll save this for you."
Chee put a yellow data card into the reader slot and saved the information. When the recording was finished, she took a marker from her pocket and wrote his name on the card. He took the card, then lay back, suddenly exhausted.
It had been a long day. He wondered how Foster and the others were fairing and what more discoveries were in store before the morning.
* * *
Eduard Kevlin tried to concentrate on the vitronic-B board in front of him. He laid his palm on the neuro-plate as he attempted to match the mind-patterns being created on the board by Petra Mallory. "What's wrong with you?" Mallory asked, after Kevlin scored another zero, a total mismatch of patterns.
"I don't know," Kevlin admitted. "I guess maybe I'm worried about those people we beamed aboard. You know, the ones from that burning lunar ship."
"So, what's to worry about them?" Mallory asked reasonably. She brushed her long black hair out of her eyes. On duty, she wore it pinned and braided, Vulcan style, to keep it out of her face. Off duty, and loose, it tended to fly everywhere.
"The captain thinks the Prime Directive's intact because there's no way they could have live through that re-entry," Mallory continued. "I hear they're all having dinner with the captain and Mister Spock, up in the Officer's Mess."
"Well, all except Commander Straker," Dorotea Morita corrected, coming over to join them. She had a plate of egg rolls in one hand and a cup of hot tea in the other. She sat down beside Mallory. "His condition is still pretty serious."
"Commander Straker?" Kevlin asked.
Morita nodded, taking a bite of her egg roll as she balanced her plate on her lap. "Mister Spock says its a title, rather than a rank, and he's the local equivalent of the Star Fleet C-in-C," the nurse informed them. "Answers only to a United Nations Commission, and the President of the U.N."
"Kind of like Admiral Morrow answering to the Federation Council and the Federation president?" Mallory clarified in terms she was more familiar with.
"You got it," Morita agreed. "Lieutenant?" Morita was suddenly worried. Kevlin had actually gone pale and looked like he was ready to faint dead away. "Are you all right?"
After a long moment, Kevlin's eyes focused on the dark haired nurse seated at the game table. Some of the color returned to his cheeks. "Commander Straker?" he murmured to himself.
"What's wrong, Kev?" Mallory asked, also wondering at the transporter officer's reaction. She knew him from the Academy. Kevlin hadn't been the most sensitive, or imaginative, member of his class. It would take something very serious, and very real, to cause this reaction.
Kevlin shook his head. "I need to check something out, first," he said, the game totally forgotten. He didn't want to say anything about his suspicions until he was certain, but he had a strong feeling that they had a very serious problem on their hands, and his name was Straker.
* * *
Inside his quarters, Kevlin pulled an ornately decorated metal box from one of the shelves in the wall above his bed. He gazed at the intricate silver filigree, the letters and words hidden in the design, the enamel-work, that to the initiate, showed a star map. The box was heavier than he remembered as he placed it on the top of his dresser.
Carefully, he undid the hidden latches, letting the lid spring up to reveal a large book filling the box cavity. Reverently, cautiously, he pulled the book out of its protective case, running his hand over the fine gold and silver filigree decorating the cover. He carried the book over to his bed, propping himself against the wall as he settled down to read.
* * *
With nightfall, the storm had broken, bringing with it rain and snow. By morning, Great Britain would be covered with ice.
Alec Freeman drove his black Saab through the entrance gates of one of the new subdivisions north of London. An old farm had been divided up for a development of up-scale housing for newly rich oil and computer company executives.
He stopped the car in front of one of the new houses, a classically designed gray stucco building with a dark tiled roof. A wrought iron street lamp cast a surreal light on the yard.
The lawn had been rolled in only four months before. The hedge was little more than a series of widely spaced twigs against a brick fence wall. The two infant flowering cherry trees planted in the front lawn whipped against their support stakes in the wind.
Freeman turned up his coat collar to the cold and walked up to the front door. He had barely taken his finger away from the doorbell button, when the door opened. He looked down to see a small blonde girl looking up at him with wide gray eyes.
"Hello, Uncle Alec," Esther Krystin Straker greeted. Her mother poked her head out of the study that opened into the right side of the entrance hall.
"Come in, Alec, and close the door. You're letting all the heat out," Elizabeth Kathryn Komack-Straker chided. Freeman stepped into the entrance hall. He shut the door behind him, making sure it closed tightly. Esther disappeared up the stairs.
"I came to see how things were going," Freeman said, going to the door of the study. "We haven't picked up any trace of the module, yet."
"It's only been eight hours, Alec," Komack said. "Too soon to give up." Freeman watched as she went back to work, putting clean sheets on the bed that been set up there.
"Katie, you know what the odds are that Paul could have pulled them through," Freeman said. She didn't seem to understand the seriousness of what he was trying to tell her.
"I do understand, Alec," she said, straightening up from her work. "I really do. But I'm telling you, as sure as I'm standing here, my husband is not dead and I will not let you bury him."
"I wish I had your faith, Katie," Freeman said. He watched a flicker of worry cross her finely boned face.
"There's coffee in the kitchen," she said. "I'll be done here in a few minutes."
The kitchen was at the back of the house, between the formal dining room and a large family room. There was a roaring fire in the granite fire place in the family room. Derek, Kathryn's older brother, was putting the final touches on the Christmas tree. The baby, Alexander, was asleep in his carrier.
"Hello, Alec," Derek greeted. "There's coffee on the counter and I'm sure you know where they hide the stronger stuff."
"I think I'll stick to coffee tonight," Freeman said, pouring out a cup for himself.
"Any news on Ed and the others?" Derek asked.
"No," Freeman admitted. "But, considering the circumstances, we're not holding out much hope. I just hope Katie'll be able to handle it when we give up looking for them. She's still insisting Ed's alive."
"Alec, have you considered the possibility that she's right?" Derek asked.
"That doesn't make any sense," Freeman complained.
"Since when does love have to make sense?" Derek asked. The tall man folded himself onto the sofa in front of the fire place. Freeman settled into one of the overstuffed chairs.
"I'll tell you a story about my mother, Kathryn's and mine," Derek said. "You know I was born in Paris before the war. Pop was a photojournalist. When the Nazi's came, Pop joined the resistance. Eventually, he got caught by the Gestapo, was arrested. Mama insisted he was alive, demanded the other members of his resistance group mount a rescue. Of course they refused. No one ever left those interrogation cells alive. After two days, she stopped demanding, announced it was too late, he was dead."
"What happened then?" Freeman wondered.
"Mama and I left France with some help. She ended up marrying the man who helped us escape. That was Nick, Kathryn's father." Derek said. There was a distant look on his heavily tanned face. "When I went back to Paris after college, I checked out the Nazi records concerning that Gestapo prison. My father died two days after his arrest."
"You're saying your mother knew exactly when he died?" Freeman said.
"I'm saying that sometimes the heart knows things the mind can't explain," Derek said. "If my sister says her husband is alive, I wouldn't start planning his funeral just yet."
"Well, what do you think, Spock, Bones?" Kirk asked as the turbo-lift doors closed on their dinner guests. Kirk, Spock and McCoy were left standing in the lift foyer of the officer's mess deck.
"They're certainly hard to convince," McCoy observed, turning to go back to the dining room for one last cup of coffee.
"Spock?" Kirk prompted.
"As Doctor McCoy has indicated, they are hard to convince," Spock stated, following McCoy and Kirk into the dining room. The clean-up crew had already finished. The room was as pristine and spotless as it had been before the dinner begun.
"What? Heaven help us, Spock actually agreeing with me?" McCoy sputtered mockingly as he poured himself a cup of coffee. He held the silver urn up with a questioning glance at Kirk. Kirk smiled and held out his own cup for a refill. McCoy obliged.
"Doctor, the truth is hardly a point for dispute," Spock stated. "Colonel Foster and Lieutenants Barry and Spielberg are natives of a technologically sophisticated and justifiably paranoid society. They have little to gain by believing us, and much to lose if their fears are correct and we are allied with their enemy."
"Will they ever believe us?" Kirk wondered. "How will they adapt if they don't?"
Spock's expression became even more solemn than usual. "They will eventually come to accept what has happened, if only to avoid madness when it becomes evident that they can never return to their own time and place. How long that will take, we have no way of predicting."
"I kind of feel sorry for them," Kirk mused. "I almost wish I hadn't brought them aboard."
"Jim, given the type of man you are, you could hardly stand by and watch them die," McCoy said softly.
"I don't think Miss Sterreka would agree with you," Kirk reminded him.
"I doubt Miss Sterreka has ever been in a position to make that type of decision," Spock pointed out.
Kirk grinned. "I think you're right. She doesn't have a clear understanding of the actual provisions of the Prime Directive, that's certain."
"Jim, are you worried you might have trouble with upper echelons over this little situation?" McCoy wondered.
Kirk shook his head and sipped his coffee. "Not really. If this were our own time, there wouldn't be any problem at all. For all intents and purposes, this planet has interplanetary travel and is on the verge on interstellar travel. They have FTL technology. If this were our own time, this would-be the perfect opportunity for a first contact between the Federation and this planet. They could be full members of the Federation in twenty years or so, if they wanted."
"However, this is not our own time," Spock reminded him.
"I'm well aware of that, Spock," Kirk said. "But, I can't help feeling there's a lot more going on here than we were told. I don't like being sent into situations blind. You never know where the traps are."
"I suspect Miss Sterreka has a great deal of information she is not sharing with us concerning this situation," Spock stated. "She supposedly had ample opportunity to study the Vulcan scout records before coming aboard yesterday. I was not given that opportunity."
"Irritated by the security requirements?" Kirk wondered with a smile.
Spock straightened up as if stretching his back. "Like you, I am concerned at having been sent into this situation blind. I must assume Miss Sterreka has strong instructions not to reveal her foreknowledge or to interfere with our reactions to the events we see unfolding."
"Well, she certainly objects to the fact that I had our guests brought aboard," Kirk commented. "I don't think Foster impressed her much with drinking as much Romulan ale as he did, either."
"I did warn him," McCoy told him. "But you know youngsters, they just can't believe anything they haven't seen for themselves."
"Thirty-three isn't exactly a youngster, Bones," Kirk replied. "Foster's almost the same age I was when they first gave me the Enterprise." He gazed at his old friends, a touch of worry in his face. "Was I that stubborn and single-minded at that age?"
"Only when it served your purpose," McCoy replied, setting his coffee cup on the table and heading for door. "For that matter, you're still stubborn and single-minded when it suits your purpose." The door closed behind him.
* * *
On Deck four, the turbo-lift doors opened onto the corridor linking the V.I.P. suites. Foster, Barry, Spielberg and Sterreka left the car, followed by their assigned security guard in white body armor.
Foster still held a crystal goblet half-filled with bright blue Romulan Ale. He staggered a little as he stepped into the corridor. With a sigh, Barry put her arm around Foster's waist, putting his free arm over her shoulders as she and Spielberg guided him down the corridor to their suite.
"I can walk, thank you," Foster informed Barry in drunken seriousness, his speech slightly slurred.
The guard grinned and shook his head, wondering how much Foster had to drink at the officers' party, and whether any of the Enterprise's senior officers were drunk as well. Both Scott and McCoy were known to imbibe heavily on occasion, and even Kirk was reputed to indulge once in a while.
The Danaen, Sterreka appeared disgusted at the sight of the drunken SHADO officer.
"Come on, Paul. It's time we got you to bed," Barry said, maintaining their course down the corridor.
Foster turned to Sterreka, a vacuous grin on his face. "Not alone, I hope," he said, raising his goblet to her.
Sterreka was appalled. "I think that might be best, Colonel," she informed him coldly before she stalked away down the corridor towards her assigned cabin.
"Maybe some other time?" Foster called after her.
Barry was more than slightly annoyed. "Paul, behave yourself," she muttered.
The door to V.I.P. suite D opened at their approach and Barry steered Foster through the doorway.
"I am behaving quite well, thank you," Foster announced seriously as the door closed behind them. Tolliver, the guard, shook his head in mild amusement as he settled into his watch position beside the door.
The guard would not have been amused if he had been able to see through the closed door behind him. Upon entering the suite's sitting room, Foster straightened up, shrugging off Barry's help. The vacuous expression had vanished, to be replaced by cold sober calculation.
"I didn't think you could get that drunk that quick," Barry observed, taking a chair by the desk.
"It was a trick, I'll tell you," Foster admitted, setting the goblet on the work desk. "Alec would love that stuff, whatever it is. It has the kick of a mule."
"Doctor McCoy called it Romulan Ale. According to Ensign Murchison, it's not exactly what we'd call a legally imported liquor," Spielberg told him. "Apparently, the Romulans aren't exactly allies of this Federation Kirk says they're from."
Foster gave Spielberg a momentary look of appraisal, then grabbed the chair from the communications station. He brought it over to the desk beside Barry. He sat, turning to face Spielberg, who had taken a seat at the small table on the opposite wall.
"What now, Colonel?" Spielberg asked.
"We've got to find a way out of here, where-ever here is," Foster replied, thinking aloud. "Among other things, we have a duty to report what we've seen."
"But Paul, we don't know how to get out of here. We don't even know how we got here in the first place," Barry reminded him. "We don't even really know where here is."
Foster sat back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest as he cast his mind back to the abortive module flight. "I remember the module was starting to overheat. I was trying to ease upon the controls. I seem to remember some sort of a weird whining noise and feeling dizzy. That's when I must have blacked out."
"That's about what I remember, sir," Spielberg confirmed. "But, that doesn't help us much."
"No, it doesn't," Foster agreed grimly. "But, we've got to do something. You heard Kirk, he's not going to let us go. And I'm not so sure I really want to live the rest of my life as somebody's historical artifact in the Twenty-third century, do you?"
"Now that you put it that way, no sir."
"What we need is more information," Foster said. "And maybe, somebody to show us a way out."
"What about Commander Straker, sir?"
"What about him?" Foster asked. His voice went flat, without inflection.
"We have to get him out, too, don't we?"
"Those weren't his instructions."
Spielberg was appalled by Foster's apparent callousness. "Colonel, you can't be serious."
"Lieutenant, Commander Straker gave those instructions, knowing full well we would at least try to make a break for it," Foster informed the younger man. Spielberg still looked horrified.
"I don't like it either, Charlie," Foster finally admitted, steel blue eyes softening a little. "But, those were his orders."
"Paul, what are the odds we'll be able to come back for him?" Barry asked.
Foster shrugged, uncertain as to what to say. He knew that Barry and Straker had been friends for a long time, since the early days of SHADO.
"What were the odds we'd get the two of you out of Sky-diver when it went down on that ledge three years ago?" Foster finally asked. It was a rhetorical question.
Barry, Foster and Straker had been aboard one of SHADO's undersea hunter-sub jet-launchers, when it was attacked by a Ufo. The sub went down on a ledge and one crewman was killed. Despite his own dislike of submarines, Straker had insisted that the crew get out first.
Later they discovered that Barry had gotten trapped inside one of the escape tubes wedged against the sand of the ledge. Disregarding the risk to himself, Straker managed to get her out of the escape tube and back into the sub. Then, the electrical system failed totally. They were both trapped in a wrecked submarine with increasingly toxic air, and no way for a rescue party to get to them.
Finally, the rescue team made the decision to plant shaped explosive charges on the ledge and to blast the damaged sub loose from the rock. It was hoped that would free the torpedo tubes so rescue divers could get inside.
The odds were appallingly. The damaged sub might have split apart, killing the two of them instantly. But, it was the only chance they had.
They won, that time.
"We'll do everything we can, Nina," Foster promised.
* * *
The lights were dark in Sick-bay, except for a work light at the nurse's station, and the medical monitor lights above Straker's bed. Quietly, McCoy entered the ward and went over to the nurse's station.
"How's he been?" McCoy asked softly.
"He fell asleep a little while ago," Chee told him, nodding in the general direction of her sleeping patient, cloaked in the darkness. "I got him to eat a little. We looked his family up in the computer records."
"Yeah. His little boy died about three years ago," McCoy said. The Vulcans had a saying: 'I grieve with thee'. It was hard for McCoy to imagine losing a child, even though he had friends who had, including Kirk. His own daughter was grown and married and had three school age children.
"I told him the captain had lost his son, too," Chee said. "I think it helped a little, knowing it happens even in our time. We're not all that different, you know. I saved the data on a card for him."
McCoy nodded and went over to Straker's bed to check on his patient. Straker's vital signs seemed stable. McCoy looked up as the corridor door opened.
Lieutenant Kevlin walked in, clutching a large, ornate book against his chest. The young officer looked over at Straker. His worried expression was detectable even in the dim light.
"Lieutenant Kevlin, what brings you here?" McCoy asked, curious.
Kevlin kept his eyes on the pale sleeping form in the sick-bay bed. "I thought I might talk to Commander Straker about something."
"It's a little late at night for that. Why don't you try tomorrow, when he's awake?" McCoy suggested.
Kevlin's face fell. "Yes, sir. I'll come back in the morning, before I go on shift," he agreed softly, turning to leave the ward. Suddenly, he looked back at McCoy. "Sir, he will be all right, won't he?"
"Oh, sure," the Enterprise medical officer assured him. "I may have to operate, but he'll be all right." The dim light glinted off the filigree of the book cover, catching McCoy's eye. "What've you got there, Lieutenant?"
"The Book of Rokan," Kevlin replied, startled by the question. "My people's holy book. I wanted Commander Straker to see it."
"I thought outsiders were forbidden to see the Book of Rokan," McCoy said, keeping his voice low. Straker stirred in his sleep and McCoy beckoned Kevlin to come with him, away from the bed.
"They are," Kevlin agreed, following McCoy to the nurse's station. "But, Commander Straker of SHADO isn't an outsider. He's..." Kevlin paused, at a loss at how to explain. "Well, he's part of it. That's what I wanted to speak with him about."
"Well, you can talk to him in the morning," McCoy told him. The physician spoke quietly to Chee, "I'm going to bed. Call me if there's any change in his condition."
"Yes, Doctor," the Amerind nurse acknowledged as McCoy gestured Kevlin to accompany him out of the sick-bay ward.
* * *
Tolliver started when the door to V.I.P. suite D opened and Paul Foster stepped out into the corridor. The guard noted briefly that Foster had changed his clothes and now wore a white knit roll-neck shirt and black slacks. The SHADO officer staggered a bit as he stepped closer to Tolliver. The smell of the ale was still strong about him.
"I wanted to apologize to Miss Sterreka for my behavior earlier," Foster enunciated carefully.
"Sir, maybe you'd better just sleep this one off," Tolliver suggested, taking Foster's arm to guide the dark haired man back into his room.
The door to the suite opened again, and Spielberg stepped out. The young Enterprise crew-man turned to face the SHADO officer, irritation beginning to bubble to the surface of his consciousness.
Suddenly, Foster clipped him across the back of the neck. Tolliver dropped, unconscious, into Foster's arms. The security man was totally unaware of Foster and Spielberg dragging him into Suite D, laying him on one of the beds. He didn't feel Barry tying him up with strips torn from one of the bed covers.
Barry took Tolliver's phaser and handed it to Foster. "I assume this is a weapon," she said, referring to the object.
Foster inspected the item carefully, especially noting the switches on its upper surface. "Well, it certainly looks like one," he commented. "It has an off switch and three force settings."
Foster handed the weapon to Spielberg, who looked it over before tucking it into his belt.
"Now what, sir?" the young man asked.
"Now, we find somebody to help us out of here," Foster explained reasonably.
"I don't think we're going to get to many volunteers, sir," Spielberg pointed out.
Foster looked surprised. "Who said anything about asking for volunteers?" he asked as he led the way out of the suite, into the corridor beyond.
Suite A was only three doors down. Stopping at the door, Spielberg and Barry flattened themselves against the walls on either side as Foster rapped his knuckles against the beige enameled door.
"Miss Sterreka, I wanted to apologize for my behavior earlier. Can we talk?" Foster called.
The door opened and Foster saw Sterreka standing in the doorway. She was dressed in a filmy nightdress that, in other circumstances, might have evoked intense interest on the part of the SHADO officer.
"Mister Foster, I don't believe we have anything to talk about," Sterreka informed him.
Before she could finish speaking, Foster had grabbed her arm, pulling her into the corridor. The door to her suite closed behind her as Foster twirled her around, holding one of her arms behind her back and placing his free arm across her throat.
Spielberg stepped forward, pointing the phaser at her.
"We're leaving," Foster informed her softly. "And you're going to help us." Sterreka began struggling in his arms and Foster tightened his grip.
"You can't believe you can get away with this!" Sterreka managed to choke out despite the pressure on her throat.
"Watch us," Foster spat out as he began to move down the corridor, towards the turbo-lift, dragging her with him. He motioned with his head for Spielberg and Barry to follow them.
Sterreka still struggled in Foster's arms. "You're hurting my arm!"
"Keep that up and I'll break it," Foster promised grimly, maintaining his hold on her.
Sterreka was appalled by his attitude. "You're a barbarian!"
"Of course I'm a barbarian," Foster responded angrily. "This is the Twentieth Century and we're in the middle of an interplanetary war! What do you expect?"
Suddenly, Sterreka stopped struggling, letting Foster pull her along.
As they approached the turbo-lift, the doors suddenly opened. Lieutenant Kevlin, holding his book protectively to his chest, stepped out of the turbo-lift, into the corridor, followed by the Gamma shift security man sent to relieve Tolliver.
Spielberg opened fire on Kevlin, who dropped to the floor in a stunned heap. The guard leapt back into the turbo-lift, out of Spielberg's line of fire.
"Doors Emergency Close!" he shouted. The turbo-lift doors snapped shut as Spielberg managed to get off a single shot into the car.
The security man hit a button by the intercom grill. "Security Emergency, deck four, turbo-shaft three."
Security Chief Chekov's voice came over the intercom speaker. "Chekov here, what is the emergency?"
"Sir, this is Hanson. Someone just opened fire on Lieutenant Kevlin and me, on level four, near the V.I.P. Suites. Kevlin is down. I believe they have a hostage, sir," Hanson reported, catching his breath.
On the bridge, Chekov was seated in the command chair. "Understood," he responded, then pressed a series of buttons on the command console. "Security, emergency containment D-deck. We have a possible hostage situation, take all necessary precautions," he ordered, his Russian accent barely discernible.
He hit another series of buttons on the console. "Bridge to Captain Kirk."
Kirk responded, traces of sleep in his voice: "Kirk here."
"Captain, we have a security emergency on D-deck, near the V.I.P. suites. I've ordered emergency containment," the Russian officer reported.
Kirk sat up in his bed, suddenly fully awake. He spoke to the intercom by his bed. "Very good, Mister Chekov, carry on. I'll be on the Bridge in a few minutes."
"Yes, sir, Bridge out."
"Blast them!" Kirk muttered to himself as he turned off the intercom. He crawled out of his warm bed and started to dress.
* * *
A shrill alarm rang through the level-4 corridor. Foster still held onto Sterreka, who now seemed like a dead weight in his arms.
"That'll be a security alarm," Barry reasoned. Like the well-trained operative she was, her voice was calm. Only her eyes indicated how worried she was.
"Is there another way off this floor?" Foster demanded of Sterreka.
"I don't know. I'm not a Star Fleet officer," the Danaen woman told him sullenly.
"Now what, sir?" Spielberg asked.
Foster's expression turned calculating as he looked down at Sterreka. "We have a hostage, maybe we can negotiate something."
"Star Fleet does not negotiate with hostage-takers!" Sterreka announced.
"Good policy," Foster agreed. SHADO had a similar policy of non-negotiation with hostage-takers. "But you're not a Star Fleet officer, are you?" he pointed out, knowing that a conscientious military commander would not willingly put a civilian at risk, no matter what policy dictated. He'd seen Straker struggle with the problem more than once.
Foster felt certain that Kirk would, in fact, negotiate. What happened after that was anybody's guess.
* * *
An angry and tired James Kirk entered the night darkened bridge of his ship.
"What's going on, Mister Chekov?" Kirk asked, stepping down to the command deck to stand beside the command chair. Chekov started to get out of the chair, but Kirk waved him to sit back down.
"Ensign Hanson was going to level-4 to relieve Tolliver," Chekov reported, settling back in the command chair. "When he arrived, someone opened fire on him and Lieutenant Kevlin. Kevlin is reported to be down and the perpetrators may have at least one hostage. I have ordered a security containment of the area. They're locked in the corridor. A security team has taken position inside the one of the turbo-lift cars and is awaiting instructions, sir."
"Very good, Mister Chekov. With security containment in effect, we should be able to flood just the corridor with Melanex gas, right?" Kirk asked, thinking aloud.
"Yes, sir," Chekov confirmed. "The alternative is to try to rush them."
"Which would put the hostages at risk." A hostage situation was one thing every self-respecting officer with diplomatic experience dreaded. Star Fleet policy was clear, but there was a civilian at risk on that deck. "We know they're armed and if they've taken hostages, they're desperate, too."
Kirk paused a moment, considering the options Chekov had pointed out. "Flood the corridor, Mister Chekov. Then lock them in the brig."
"Yes, sir," Chekov acknowledged, pressing a button on the command console. "Security, prepare to flood level-4 corridor with security gas."
* * *
Foster headed for one of the intercoms set into the corridor wall, dragging Sterreka with him. Abruptly, the woman shifted her weight, throwing the SHADO officer off-balance. She broke away from him, striking him across the face before taking off down the hallway. Startled, Foster started after her, Barry and Spielberg at his heels.
A cloudiness appeared in the air. The air seemed to grow thick around them as they collapsed to the floor, unconsciousness over-taking them.
After a few seconds, the turbo-lift doors opened and an armed team of armored security personnel, wearing gas masks, entered the corridor.
* * *
"Sir, we have them," Suzuki, the security team leader announced into her communicator. "Miss Sterreka appears unharmed. We are securing and moving Foster, Barry and Spielberg to the security holding area. Lieutenant Kevlin was stunned and needs medical attention, Ensign Korchek is taking him to sick-bay."
"Very good, Lieutenant," Kirk acknowledged, turning off the intercom on the command chair. He turned to head back to the turbo-lift.
"What now, sir?" Chekov asked.
Kirk shrugged and grinned back at the younger man. "I'm going back to bed. Please make sure Colonel Foster doesn't escape and take over the ship."
"Yes, sir," Chekov murmured, settling back into the command chair as Kirk entered the turbo-lift. The doors closed behind him.
Thorvess of Andor was the physician on duty when security brought both Kevlin and Sterreka into sickbay. Sterreka was conscious and complaining bitterly over her treatment by both Foster and Enterprise security. Kevlin was still unconscious. After a quick check, Thorvess released Sterreka to return to her assigned quarters. Kevlin was admitted for observation, book still clutched in his arms.
Thorvess was naturally surprised when he looked up a few minutes later, after registering Kevlin's admission into the computer system, to discover that Sterreka had not yet left.
He found her standing next to Straker's bed, staring down at the man. Thorvess was not good at interpreting human facial expressions. The grimace on her face meant little to him. But he did note that she started when he moved to stand next to her and her skin temperature was higher than normal, indicating some type of arousal.
"Is there a problem?" the Andorian asked.
"I was curious," Sterreka said, "as to Straker's condition."
Thorvess inspected the readings on the board above the bed. "I would describe his condition as good."
"He's in no danger?" she insisted.
"No, Doctor McCoy's treatment appears to be successful."
"I thought Mellantyn aortic stenosis required surgery?"
"Doctor McCoy is an excellent surgeon. I am told it is a rare, but not especially difficult, procedure."
"I see," she commented as she moved to the end of Kevlin's bed. "I wasn't aware there were any Rokanni aboard the Enterprise."
"Mister Kevlin came aboard just before we embarked on this mission. Our transporter officer was severely injured when we were attacked by the L'Jharok'ha," Thorvess explained, following her."How do you know he is Rokanni?"
"I recognize the book in his hands," she stated. "If he were at home, that indiscretion would cost him dearly. The Rokanni take their history, and their privacy, very seriously."
"Then, perhaps it is fortunate for him he is aboard the Enterprise," Thorvess commented softly.
"Perhaps," Sterreka said. She turned on her heel and walked away.
* * *
A single light showed through the upstairs window to the nursery. Kate Komack-Straker rocked back and forth in the oak rocking chair, holding her small son. He had woken up, screaming, but he hadn't wanted to nurse. He fussed himself back to sleep.
She looked down at him. He was fair haired, like his father. His eyes hadn't changed color yet, but they would, no doubt, be blue-gray.
She suddenly felt afraid. What if Ed didn't come home? Just because she could feel him in the back of her mind didn't mean he would be coming back to her. She knew, without knowing how she knew, that Ed was safe, for the moment. She would know if he died, or was hurt. That was both the blessing and the curse of her family, and Ed's as well. Another time and place, they would both be called witch.
Alexander stirred in his sleep.
The tears started to come and she couldn't stop them. She loved him so much, loved him enough not to stand in his way when it came to his work, even before SHADO. She had loved him from the first day they had met, at her uncle's office at Paterson Air Force Base. He hadn't noticed her then, not until his first marriage failed and he needed a comfort Alec Freeman couldn't give him.
"Oh, dear God," she breathed. "Bring him back."
* * *
Alec Freeman found he couldn't sleep. Finally, after more than an hour of tossing and turning, he got up and turned on his television. Maybe he could bore himself to sleep. A Harlington-Straker film was on, the first one the studio had finished after Straker had taken it over for SHADO's cover. Luckily, it was nearly over. The film was awful.
The credits rolled past. Straker's name appeared at the executive producer. Komack's name was right below Straker's. Freeman found his thoughts wandering. Could Kate possibly be right, could Ed and the others still be alive, lost in space somewhere?
He fervently hoped they would be found. He wasn't sure how he would be able to console Ed Straker's widow.
* * *
The next morning, McCoy walked into sick-bay to discover Lieutenant Kevlin in one of the intensive care beds. Nurse Morita merely smiled and shrugged at McCoy's curious look at her and handed him a computer padd. McCoy glanced at it, noted the information and handed it back to her.
Looking around the ward once more, he observed the two breakfast trays, one virtually untouched. McCoy wondered briefly if Straker's lack of appetite was his normal reaction to stress, or a result of the exhaustion caused by his disease. That was something he would have to investigate. Starving would do Straker no good at all.
McCoy stepped closer to Kevlin, who was still clutching his book to his chest as though were the most valuable artifact in his universe. The physician inferred from Kevlin's belligerent glare that the book just might be that valuable to the young man.
"Kevlin, couldn't you wait till morning, like I told you?" McCoy asked lightly. The medical notes on the young man had indicated Kevlin's condition was hardly serious enough to warrant his presence in sick-bay.
"Sorry, sir. I didn't have much choice," Kevlin explained sheepishly, relaxing a little. "I took a phaser stun last night, then security flooded the corridor with sleep gas. Doctor Thorvess thought a night in sick-bay was in order."
McCoy nodded in understanding. The Andorian physician tended to err on the side of conservatism when it came to medical problems in humans. He had volunteered for duty on the Enterprise just so he could gain some experience treating 'juicy aliens', like humans, before returning home to his diplomatic medical practice on Andor.
"Who stunned you?" McCoy wondered aloud.
Straker answered for him. "My people tried to escape last night. I guess things got a little out of hand and now they're in the brig." Straker's voice was soft and breathy.
"Why aren't I surprised?" McCoy replied with a bemused shake of his head as he stepped over to where Straker lay. He began to scan the SHADO officer, frowning at the readings he was getting.
Straker's vital readings were low, too low. He was pale, his expression faintly worried. McCoy took Straker's wrist, checking for the radial pulse and skin temperature. Straker's hand was like ice, his pulse nearly non-existent.
McCoy shook his head and sighed. The drugs to dissolve the calcium build-up in Straker's aortic valve weren't working nearly as well as he had hoped. In fact, Straker's heart problem had worsened considerably over night. McCoy reminded himself to speak with the Gamma shift nurse about when Straker's condition had started to deteriorate. He should have been called.
"How're you feeling?" McCoy asked.
"Lousy," Straker replied. "Bad news, isn't it?"
"Not all of it," McCoy responded, making an attempt to accentuate the positive. "The hyper-immune syndrome seems to be under control and shouldn't bother you anymore, so long as you stay away from the antibiotics you're allergic to. But your heart function hasn't improved."
He turned to his alpha shift nurse. "Morita, go get the O.R. ready."
"Yes, doctor," Morita acknowledged. She left the intensive care ward via the normally locked corridor to the surgical suite.
"Normally, with the type of heart condition you have, even as serious as it is, I'd use a remote laser probe to burn the scarring away. That's practically an out-patient procedure."
"However, with the Mellantyn syndrome, open heart surgery is still recommended in order to dissolve the calcium deposits inside the tissues," McCoy explained. "The laser probe just isn't versatile enough for that."
Straker gave him a crooked grin. He wasn't surprised by the news. "I was afraid you were going to say something like that. When?"
"As soon as possible."
"And if I don't have the surgery?"
McCoy simply looked at him, expression grim. Straker sighed, dropping his head back on the pillow.
"Well, I'll say this, if this is an hallucination, it's very convincing," Straker commented after a moment.
"I've decided that this is either some sort of elaborate hallucination, created by the aliens, or, you're telling the truth, or at least, part of it," Straker explained.
"At least you haven't decided you're demented," McCoy replied, smiling a little at the sudden change of subject.
"No, I'm reasonably certain I'm not demented," Straker told him. "Of course, how can I really be sure when I'm in the middle of it?"
"I know the feeling," McCoy replied. He did know the feeling. He had vague horrifying memories of the delusions created when he accidentally over-dosed on cordrazine, over twenty years before.He could still remember the utter conviction he felt at the time that his friends were murdering fiends, the overwhelming fear the drug had created.
Straker looked up at him, a little confused by McCoy's sudden distantly worried expression. He lay back, exhausted, realizing that for the first time since he'd been brought aboard, he was actually frightened.
"Okay, when do we start?" Straker asked, overriding his fear with a control that would have impressed a Vulcan.
Morita appeared in the doorway to the O.R. access corridor. "We're ready, Doctor."
"Now seems a good time," McCoy answered Straker's question.
* * *
Foster, Barry and Spielberg sat on the narrow bed-bench inside one of the detention cells in the security area. A shimmering energy screen blocked the arched opening to the corridor, and an armed security officer stood guard beside the detention screen control panel.
The three SHADO people looked up at the sound of footsteps in the corridor. Captain Kirk stopped in front of the security barrier and peered in at them. Their expressions were disheartened and Foster's cheek was showing a bruise where Sterreka had struck him.
"Colonel Foster," Kirk began, letting his voice go cold. "That was a very stupid stunt you tried last night."
Foster was not convinced. He glared out at Kirk without speaking.
"I do understand it was your duty to try, however," Kirk continued. "And I would undoubtedly do the same if our positions were reversed. But, you just don't seem to understand what's happened here. You all died at twelve-thirty-seven yesterday afternoon. Your lunar transport module burned up on re-entry due to pilot error. Your ship was breaking up as we brought you aboard."
"And if we are dead," Barry responded quietly, "And if you're really from the future, you can't very well allow us to wander around Earth, can you?"
"I am sorry," Kirk told them sincerely. "I'm also afraid we're going to have to keep you here until we return home."
"Home to the Twenty-third Century," Foster spat bitterly. "Where we will be historical artifacts for somebody's museum?"
"It won't be like that, I assure you," Kirk replied. "You're all intelligent and adaptable, otherwise, you wouldn't be with SHADO. You'll be surprised at how well those attributes, and your other skills, will fit in," Kirk smiled, trying to convince them of his earnestness. "In fact, the Federation's foremost authority on Cetacean biology is a refugee from just about this time period."
They didn't believe him and he couldn't blame them. They were trapped, and traps demanded escape. Unfortunately, that was the one thing Kirk couldn't afford for them to do.
* * *
"Has Major Graham come through with that analysis I asked for about the possibility of the aliens over-riding our radar scans come through yet?" Freeman asked.
"Yes, sir, it just came through," Robertson reported. "I put it on the commander's desk."
"Thanks," Freeman acknowledged, turning to head for the commander's office.
"Sir?" Ford called quietly. Freeman stopped at looked back at the younger man. "I was wondering, how's Colonel Komack taking it?"
Freeman shrugged, a bemused expression on his leathery face. "She insists Ed isn't dead. In fact, when I stopped by last night, she said she was pretty sure he'd be home for Christmas dinner and wanted to be sure I'd be there."
"It sounds a little like denial, sir, if you don't mind my saying so," Ford said.
"I don't know, Keith," Freeman admitted. "But, its just possible she's right."
* * *
McCoy took a moment to explain the upcoming procedure to his patient. First, a fairly strong sedative would be administered, to take the edge off the natural anxiety the promise of surgery engendered in even knowledgeable patients. McCoy didn't bother to say there was nothing to worry about. He knew Straker knew better.
Following the sedative taking effect would come the transfer from the ward to the operating room through the sterile corridor. Then, the electro-sleep-anesthesia would send minuscule power trickles into the sleep centers of the brain, bringing unconsciousness and paralysis and blocking any possible pain before it registered in the brain.
This would be followed by the setting up of a cryogen field, holding the body in a force field that replicated the effects of dropping the body's temperature to just above freezing, where the body's oxygen demand dropped to nearly zero.
Straker had been prepped for the surgery with the speed found in a surgical unit whose members were a well-tuned team.
The cryogen field glowed faintly blue around Straker's pale hair as McCoy began the operation, working through the sterile field assembly across the SHADO commander's chest. Quickly, McCoy opened the chest, spreading the ribs apart to give access to the unbeating heart underneath. With a sureness that belied the rarity of this type of surgery, McCoy laid open the left ventricle to gain access to the valve leading to the aorta.
"There it is," McCoy murmured to Morita and Thorvess. Thorvess had volunteered to assist, realizing he wasn't likely to ever see another operation of this type.
"The scarring doesn't look as bad as the scanners indicated," McCoy pointed out. "I don't think we'll need a prosthetic valve. The rest of his heart seems to be in good shape for a man his age, despite the enlargement. The coronary arteries are clear. You know, cardio-vascular disease was one of the primary killers in this era."
McCoy looked over at Morita. "Get me the triple-aught laser scalpel and the ionic micro-disruptor."
Kevlin was sitting up in bed, under the watchful eye of Nurse Tsolkov, when Spock entered the ward.
Spock nodded a greeting to the white uniformed nurse sitting at the nurse's station. Then he walked over to where Kevlin sat. The transporter officer had his large ornately-bound book on his lap. He appeared very worried, and Spock noted the lieutenant's eyes kept glancing over at the empty bed that had been assigned to Commander Straker.
"Lieutenant Kevlin, I had a message that you wanted to speak with me?" Spock asked softly, hands folded behind his back as he observed the young man curiously.
"Yes, sir, I did, I mean, I do need to speak with you," Kevlin confirmed nervously. "About Commander Straker."
Spock waited for Kevlin to continue. After a moment, the young officer did so. "Sir, this is the Book of Rokan." He indicated the heavy book in his hands. "This is the history of the Rokanni people, my people. We are forbidden to show this to outsiders. But, I have to, sir."
He paused as he opened the book to a pre-marked page. "Sir, when I was growing up, I thought this was like the story of Moses, or Noah, a great tale, but impossible to substantiate," Kevlin explained, holding the open book out to Spock.
Spock took it. On the open page was a photograph of Straker, age forty-five or so, wearing the uniform of a United States Air Force general.
"Mister Spock, that is Commander Straker of SHADO," Kevlin said, voice cracking with worry and nervousness. "According to the Book of Rokan, SHADO defended the planet Earth against an invasion of the Rokanni. Our planet was dying, and certain portions of the Rokan government saw no way out except to conquer the Home World.
"According to legend, Straker was leader of SHADO, and at the point of his total victory over the Rokanni, he permitted the survivors to emigrate peaceably to Earth. He didn't have to, but he saved my people from certain extinction," Kevlin said.
Spock accepted Kevlin's interpretation of the data in the book. "When is Commander Straker supposed to have done this?" the Vulcan asked.
"This evening, sir. Christmas Eve."
"I see," Spock commented. "And, where is Commander Straker now?"
Kevlin's expression went bleak. "Doctor McCoy has him in surgery, sir."
As he spoke, the sickbay lights flickered and died. After a moment, the emergency lights came on, painting the room an eery green.
"What's going on, sir?" Kevlin asked. He was unable to keep the fear out of his voice.
"It would appear we have a power system failure in sickbay," Spock said, handing Kevlin back his book.
"What would cause that?" Kevlin insisted.
"I don't know," Spock was forced to admit as he keyed a command into the computer padd beside Kevlin's bed.
"That's very odd," Spock commented as diagrams scrolled down the monitor screen.
"What is, Mister Spock?"
"According to the computer, we have a main power trunk failure in sickbay," Spock replied, heading to the nurse's station to notify engineering.
* * *
"What the hell?" McCoy muttered as the main lights went out and the battery powered emergency lights flickered on. The cryogen field flickered and disappeared.
"We're going to lose him," Morita said, checking the vital signs on the monitor before her.
"No, we're not," McCoy contradicted. "Go get the emergency intubation kit, intubate and bag him while I finish here."
She did as she was ordered. Within a minute, Thorvess reported a strong heart rhythm and the oxygen readings had improved to near normal. With a grunt of satisfaction, McCoy finished closing the surgical wounds.
* * *
The lights flickered back on sickbay, immediately followed Lieutenant Follett, one of Scott's assistants. "Is everything all right in here?"
"In here, yes," Spock replied. "However, Doctor McCoy was in surgery."
"And I don't mind telling you, it's not easy doing open heart surgery during a power failure,"McCoy groused, walking into the room. He was wiping his hands on a towel. "What the devil was going on?"
"The main power relay to sickbay burned out," Follett answered. "So did the secondary. We haven't figured out why, yet."
"A damned annoying time for it to decide to do that," McCoy complained. "I could have lost my patient."
"How is Commander Straker?" Spock asked. The rest of the surgical team had arrived, accompanying the gurney with Straker's body.
"He'll be fine. The lights went out just as we were finishing up. Lucky for him, the damage wasn't as bad as expected and the operation went faster than predicted," McCoy explained.
Spock noticed the yellow data card with Straker's name on it on top of the computer screen next to Straker's bed. Curiously, Spock picked it up and looked at it.
"I understand that Nurse Chee was helping him last night, to look up his family in our computers," Kevlin explained.
"The commander's family?" Spock asked. "We have been unable to locate anything on his family in our records."
Kevlin shrugged. "Nurse Chee and the commander must have found something, otherwise, why would they have saved it?"
"Interesting," Spock murmured mostly to himself as he headed for McCoy's office, with Straker's data card. McCoy followed the Vulcan in.
"I know that look, Spock, what's going on?" McCoy demanded. Spock took a seat at McCoy's desk.
"I'm not certain, Doctor, but I find it suspicious that the power in sickbay failed just as you were finishing the surgery on our guest." Spock placed the data card into the reader. After a time, a look of muted alarm crossed the Vulcan's normally calm face, as he looked at one particular photograph on the computer screen in front of him.
"What's wrong, Spock," McCoy demanded. Spock turned the screen so McCoy could look at it. McCoy swore softly.
On the screen was a picture of a jovial looking group of humans, some in white coveralls and a few in military uniforms. That, in itself, was hardly alarming. What was disturbing, however, was the two faces that should not have been there, but were. Two faces that Spock and McCoy both recognized.
Spock reached over and pushed a button on the intercom grill on McCoy's desk. "Spock to bridge."
"Bridge, Kirk here."
"Captain, we must delay our return trip through time."
Kirk was seated in his commander chair. Uhura, Sulu and Mallory were all at their stations, preparing for the maneuver that would take them all back to their own time.
"Spock, we're ready to begin in about five minutes," Kirk reminded his first officer with a touch of surprise. "What's wrong?"
"Captain, please inform Mister Scott that there will be a delay. I will explain the reasons when you get to Doctor McCoy's office." Spock stated over the intercom.
"I'll be right there," Kirk told him. He thumbed off the switch on the command console while turning to Uhura. "Uhura, please let Scotty know we're staying here for a little while longer."
"Yes, sir," the communications officer acknowledged, turning to her station to relay the orders.
"Mister Sulu, you have the conn," Kirk instructed as he left the command chair, heading for the turbo-lift and sick-bay. As the turbo-lift doors closed behind Kirk, Sulu settled into the command chair of the Enterprise.
* * *
Spock and McCoy both looked up from the screen as Kirk walked in.
"Okay, Spock, Bones, what's wrong?" Kirk asked, noting the meditative folding of Spock's hands.
"Captain, we have a problem."
"Now what?" Kirk demanded, irritation bubbling to the surface. He was tired and Foster's stunt the night before had done little for his temper.
Spock turned computer monitor on McCoy's desk so that Kirk could see the screen. "Certain information came to my attention a little while ago," Spock explained. "I rechecked that information with our computer records."
"All right, so what's wrong?" Kirk asked.
"Commander Straker is not yet dead. We must return him, and his companions, to Earth," Spock continued.
"That's impossible, Spock," Kirk insisted with more than a touch of annoyance. "We know they couldn't have possibly survived without our intervention."
"True," Spock agreed. "Nevertheless, it would appear that they must have. Our records list no progeny, for any of our 'guests'. That search was based on the names given in their identification cards."
"However, last night, Nurse Chee was able to locate Commander Straker's two surviving children, Esther Krystin and Alexander Paul, Straker," Spock related. "When I checked the records as to the parents of those children, I found their father listed as Johannen Edward Straker. That individual will head the Mars development project in Nineteen-eighty-seven. That project will develop the DSY-100 class interplanetary colonization ships."
"Are you sure it's the same man?" Kirk asked, knowing what the answer had to be.
"Yes, Jim," the Vulcan confirmed. He pointed out the picture on the computer screen. "This is a photograph of the ground control crew for the first Martian colonization mission, clearly identifying one General Johannen E. Straker, United States Air Force. And, although he is not identified by name, I would say this other gentleman was Paul Foster."
Kirk peered closely at the photograph on the screen. There was little doubt that the man in the blue general's uniform was Straker. There was also little doubt that the smiling, dark haired man standing next to him was Paul Foster, only a few years older than he was now.
"Spock, as usual, you're absolutely correct. We do have a problem," Kirk agreed.
"There are a further complications, however," Spock informed them, a touch of concern in his face. "Someone has been tampering with our records of this period, erasing important cross-references concerning Commander Straker and his companions."
"Who would do that?" Kirk wondered aloud. "Who would want to?"
"Unknown, Captain," Spock replied. "However, I believe it is a safe assumption that it is the same person, or persons, who sabotaged the power relay to sickbay during this morning's surgery."
"You're sure it was sabotage?" Kirk asked.
"I asked Mister Scott to check the damage personally," Spock stated. "He found traces of an incendiary device with a timing mechanism. As near as can be determined, the device was programed to create a power failure forty-five minutes into the surgical procedure. Fortunately for Commander Straker, Doctor McCoy works much more quickly than most surgeons."
"Any evidence as to who did it?"
"Aside from the SHADO people, we only have two other new people on board," Spock pointed out. "Mister Kevlin was in sickbay at the time. Miss Sterreka's whereabouts have not yet been determined."
"I know Sterreka wasn't happy about having him onboard, but do you think she's capable of murder?" Kirk asked.
"Jim, anybody is capable of murder if the motive is strong enough," McCoy said.
"Captain, there is something else. We must return them to their own time and place, however, we cannot simply beam them down to Earth in the spot they might have crashed, had the module not burned up."
"Why not?" McCoy asked. "Aside from them knowing too much about us."
"Because, this evening, according to the Rokanni holy book, the Rokanni people, from what we term the Shelmat system, were saved from certain extinction, by one Commander Straker of SHADO. While demanding their unconditional surrender to Earth, he also permitted them to emigrate back to Earth, where, as it happens, they still live," Spock explained. "Commander Straker was on Earth's Moon at the time of the Rokanni surrender."
Kirk shook his head, a rueful smile on his face. "Spock, you have an unerring capacity for complicating things that should be simple." He turned to McCoy. "By the way, how is your patient?"
McCoy grinned and leaned against his desk. "As well as can be expected, considering he just came out of open-heart surgery during a power failure. In a couple weeks were won't be any sign there was ever anything wrong with him, besides his shoulder. I won't be able to do anything about that." McCoy frowned at a sudden thought. "Spock, you said Nurse Chee was helping Straker last night on the computer?"
"Yes, Doctor," Spock stated. "The computer access record indicates the commander was accessing materials through our records system, using her access codes."
"That's funny," McCoy murmured.
"What's funny about it, Bones?" Kirk asked.
"Chee's almost illiterate on the computer. She can barely manage the record-keeping her job requires," McCoy told him.
"If she's that bad, why did you specifically request she transfer to the Enterprise last year?" Kirk asked.
"Because she's the best hands-on nurse I've seen in ages," McCoy explained. "Besides, she's getting better with the damn machines."
"Obviously, since she and Straker were able to locate information even Spock hadn't been able to," Kirk muttered.
"Captain, I think it more likely they were able to locate the information simply because Commander Straker knew what he was looking for," Spock told them. "Nurse Chee had the access codes necessary to get into the other records he was interested in. I have reviewed the items the commander looked at last night. They are a most interesting collection."
"Such as?" Kirk prompted.
"Such as the known and suspected Preserver planets, including Danae. He also did a review of the personnel records of certain senior members of the Enterprise crew, most particularly, Captain James T. Kirk," Spock reported. "Interestingly enough, he did not attempt to access any of the engineering files and he failed in his attempt to locate information concerning the Kobiyashi Maru scenario, although the logic behind his attempts to access the information is quite enlightening."
"He was looking me up?" Kirk wondered aloud. "I wonder why."
"Maybe to find out what sort of man Star Fleet gives a star ship to?" McCoy speculated.
"The first thing Khan did was review the technology so he could take over," Kirk mused. "Foster tried to get hold of the same information so he could escape, but Straker looked up me?"
Captain's log, local Date: December 24, 1983, old calendar. Mister Spock has uncovered information that leads us to believe we must return the people we rescued from the burning lunar module to Earth's Moon. How this is to be accomplished without doing damage to Earth history, we don't yet know.
Straker regained consciousness in his bed in the sick-bay ward. He was mildly surprised to discover he wasn't nauseous and that his chest hurt a lot less than he'd expected it to.
He watched silently as Nurse Morita checked the readings on the scanner and on the panel above the bed. He noted that Lieutenant Kevlin was no longer there and assumed the young Enterprise officer had been released from sick-bay.
McCoy walked in from the examination room, accompanied by Doctor Thorvess. They stepped closer to Straker, who watched the blue skinned alien with open curiosity. McCoy had a wide grin on his face. "How're you feeling now?"
"Pretty good, considering," Straker admitted, rubbing the area of his breastbone. "My chest hurts a little."
"That should pass in a couple of days, after the bones and the muscles finish mending," Thorvess explained, soft voice sibilant.
Morita finished her scans and smiled over at McCoy. "All readings are nearly normal, Doctor."
"Excellent," McCoy said, grinning broadly and bouncing on the balls of his feet. "And we may have some more good news for you. The captain and Mister Spock are trying to figure out a way to get you back home."
"I thought we were supposed to be dead," Straker reminded the physician.
"That's true," McCoy admitted, refusing to be put off. "But, apparently, the father of your two children, Johannen Edward Straker, is supposed to save the Rokanni people from extinction and head an important space project in the near future."
"Well, I obviously can't do those things if I'm dead, can I?" Straker commented with a rueful smile. "The Rokanni people wouldn't happen to come from Shelmat, would they?" he asked, more thoughtfully.
"That's my understanding," McCoy replied. Thorvess excused himself to return to his quarters to rest.
Straker watched after the tall alien as he exited the room. "Doctor McCoy, my people, Earth, Nineteen eighty-three, is at war with the Rokanni, or Shelmats, or whatever you want to call them," Straker said seriously. "We've been at war for over fourteen years. What possible reason do I have for wanting to save them?"
"What reason did we have for saving you?" McCoy asked.
"I don't know, Doctor," Straker admitted calmly. "Considering the circumstances, it wasn't a logical decision."
"Hell, now you sound like Spock," McCoy retorted in annoyance.
"Doctor McCoy, you're a physician, dedicated to saving lives," Straker pointed out. "Even SHADO's physicians have tried to save the lives of the few aliens we've captured alive. They weren't successful, but they did try. However, I am a soldier. My job is, and has been, to neutralize the threat the aliens pose to Earth. Bluntly stated, my job is to kill them. So, the question remains, what possible reason to I have for saving what remains of them?"
"Because they're dying."
"Because they're human beings, just like you, who only want a chance to live," McCoy argued.
"Doctor, you've told me I'm not entirely human," Straker reminded him. There was grim amusement in his expression.
McCoy let his annoyance show. He hated it when patients argued with him, even though it was a sign they were getting better. "The Mellantyn, like the Rokanni, like a dozen other races in the galaxy, are all perfectly human, all descended from the same Earth stock, all planted from the same seed," McCoy insisted.
"Some of that seed came up as noxious weeds, Doctor. Not a promising harvest for your Planters, is it?"
"No, it isn't," McCoy forced himself to admit. "The human race has a lot of traits, a lot of history, we're none too proud of. Do you really want to be responsible for another page in Earth's history showing how wretched humans can be, instead of how noble we can be?"
Behind them, Spock entered the ward, carrying a bundle of clothes. Quietly he approached McCoy and Straker, listening to their discussion.
"Doctor, I am responsible for the defense of Earth against those 'aliens', no matter what they're called," Straker told McCoy angrily. "And frankly I don't care if they're dying. It'll make my job that much easier. And, if I choose to believe they are dying, if I choose to offer the olive branch to them, it will be on my terms, not yours. Future history be damned."
"Commander, the decision is, of course, yours to make," Spock said, stopping at the end of the sick-bay bed. Straker started at the sound of the Vulcan's voice, and a little of his anger seemed to dissipate.
"I sound like a barbarian, don't I?" Straker commented. "I'm able to accept assistance from people with green blood and blue skin and antennae, but I can't see my way to talking peace with humans who happen to come from another planet."
"Our history, apparently, includes the Rokan people accepting your terms for their surrender,"Spock informed him. "However, we cannot force you to make the decision to contact them. If you do not, they will die. I do not know what ramifications that might hold for future history."
"And if I say I will not contact them, what then?" Straker asked. "Will you try to coerce me into making the decision you want me to make?"
Spock shook his head. "I would not, Commander, even if I could."
"I see," Straker commented. Spock did not try to explain that his own statement was quite literally true. His research indicated the Mellantyn had mental and psionic capabilities that compared favorably with Vulcans. Not only would it be extremely distasteful for Spock to even try to force Straker to alter his position, such an attempt would be doomed to failure, leaving both of them damaged, perhaps irreparably.
"Commander Straker, I came to ask your assistance in planning how best to return you to your Moonbase without undue complications for you or your companions," Spock said. "You have been missing for twenty-four hours."
"Why return us to Moonbase?" Straker asked "Why not Earth? It'd be easier."
"The information we have indicates you were at SHADO's Moonbase, December twenty-fourth, Nineteen-eighty-three," Spock explained quite reasonably.
"So that's where we're going to end up, whether we like it or not," Straker observed, with a touch of amusement. "The lunar module was completely destroyed, correct?"
"If we could convince Moonbase that Paul limped the module back to the Moon, in a trajectory they have might dismissed as a meteorite, and if the module exploded right after we escaped from it..." Straker said, thinking aloud. He had accepted the problem as a challenge. "That might do the trick. Especially if you can manage some convincing special effects. But Paul's the one you need to be talking to. He'll have a better idea of the timing, trajectory requirements and fuel situation."
Spock turned to McCoy, who had been standing beside the bed, listening. "Doctor, is Commander Straker fit to be released from sick-bay?"
"Well, I'd rather he stay here for a while longer, like a week or so," McCoy admitted. "But, since he has to be someplace..." He shrugged, turning to Straker. "I want you to take it easy for the next couple days, nothing too strenuous, okay? You just had open heart surgery."
Spock laid the bundle on the bed. "Your clothes, Commander."
* * *
"Just can't stay out of trouble, can you guys? You're on a star ship for all of twelve hours and you land in the brig," Straker observed with bemused humor as he stood outside the detention cell holding Foster, Barry and Spielberg.
At the sound of Straker's voice, Foster glanced out of the cell at him. The younger man looked away from the detention barrier with a disgruntled snort. Then he suddenly looked back more intently at his senior officer. Barry and Spielberg simply stared through the energy barrier at Straker, in open astonishment. Straker looked perfectly healthy, if a little tired. He was wearing his street clothes, a pale blue roll-neck sweater and dark gray slacks.
"Ed, are you all right?" Barry asked.
Straker grinned. "I'm fine, Nina," he said. He turned to address Foster. "Captain Kirk has agreed to drop the charges against you, in return for certain technical assistance."
"And why should we cooperate with them?" Foster demanded, coming to stand just inside the screen.
"You do want to go home, don't you?" Straker asked calmly.
"Of course, but Kirk's been pretty insistent there's no way we can go home," Foster informed his commander angrily. "I burned up the module, remember? Pilot error. All hands killed."
Straker nodded agreement. "Nevertheless, it would appear that I did not die yesterday."
"Why didn't they figure that out earlier?" Barry asked.
"Apparently, it's because the information deals with me, specifically, and was filed under my birth name, which doesn't happen to be exactly the same as the one on my driver's license," Straker admitted with a rueful grin. "Because we were all together in the module, it's assumed we all survived together."
"That sounds reasonable enough, but why should we believe them?" Foster asked. The belligerence hadn't left his voice.
"I don't think we have a choice," Straker admitted quite calmly. "They will return me, no matter what. Their history states that I have, or will, do certain things and they want to make sure I have the opportunity."
"Commander, what are you supposed to do?" Barry wondered.
Straker did not answer her question. Instead, he gestured to the security officer standing beside the controls to the detention screen. The officer took an electronic key from his pocket, inserted into its slot in the screen control, and pressed the security combination. The power screen disappeared.
"Captain Kirk and some of his officers are waiting for us in their briefing room," Straker informed his people. He waited for them to leave the cell. Foster stepped up close to face Straker. Foster was a little taller than the older man. Straker was forced to look up at him.
"They've gotten to you," Foster insisted angrily. "Brainwashed you or something."
"No, I don't think so," Straker replied softly, refusing to be intimidated, either by Foster's tone or his trick of standing close. With that, Straker turned to leave the detention area.
Foster stared after him a moment, then hurried to follow him. The security officer moved in to walk next to Straker. Barry and Spielberg fell in behind Foster, as a second guard fell in to follow them to the briefing room.
* * *
Kirk, Spock, Scott, and Sterreka were already seated at the briefing room table when the doors opened to admit Straker, Foster, Barry and Spielberg. The two security men took positions outside the briefing room door as the doors closed.
"Commander Straker, Colonel Foster," Captain Kirk greeted in friendly tones.
"Captain," Straker returned the greeting in equally friendly tones.
Kirk motioned for them to take seats at the table. Barry and Spielberg sat at the far end of the long table, as Straker stepped over to where Spock sat at the computer station. Straker gestured for Foster to join him.
"Paul, the only ones who know the module was destroyed on reentry are here, on this ship, and possibly, the aliens," Straker began, explaining the situation. "According to communications, SHADO has no idea what happened. They're still looking for us."
"Pity, you can't just drop us on Earth," Foster told Kirk, accepting, for the time being, that Straker had chosen to cooperate. "The module should have hit the lower atmosphere over the mid-Atlantic and we could probably have made it to Jamaica. Ditched in the ocean, swam ashore. We could claim it took twenty-four hours or so to find a phone."
"Unfortunately, the information we have indicates Commander Straker was at SHADO's Moonbase on this date," Spock reported.
Foster sighed. "That makes it a little tougher. Have you got a schematic on the Earth-Moon system?"
At a request into the computer, a tactical display of the Earth-Moon system appeared on the large view-screen on the far wall. Foster stepped over to look at it more closely.
"Can you show me Moonbase's position?" the SHADO officer asked. A blue dot appeared on the Moon schematic.
"Now, the module was coming down over the mid-Atlantic, heading due west over the equator," Foster explained. "If, instead, I overcompensated and we bounced off the atmosphere, we could have ended up in almost any west-wardly heading."
"The last time we had a module bounce off the atmosphere and head back to the Moon, it took sixteen hours for them to arrive," Straker reminded him. "But we've been missing for more than twenty-four hours."
Foster shrugged. "Well, if we were really low on fuel when we regained control, I'd try a coasting low fuel orbit, like the Apollo missions used, to get back to the Moon. The Apollo's took about four days. Taking twenty-four or more hours shouldn't be too hard with the module. We'd have enough air and water. There're food rations aboard, even."
"If we came in low and slow, it's possible we would remain in the Moon's radar shadow," Straker said, thinking aloud. "And, if our trajectory landed us outside Moonbase's ground alert perimeter, the computers there might not flag us either, at least not immediately."
"That is, assuming we had a lunar Module to land in," Foster reminded them, looking at Kirk.
"Getting you to the Moon's surface isn't the problem, we can handle that," Kirk told them. "It's making it look like you came off the module that's the problem."
Chief Engineer Scott added his thoughts. "If you landed hard, out of sight of your Moonbase, and then the ship exploded after you'd all gotten out, that would work, wouldn't it?"
"A close to ground explosion leaves a lot of debris," Foster pointed out.
The Scots engineer nodded in agreement. "Aye, but the sensor readings we have on your ship indicate it was mostly steel and titanium with a carbon composite heat shield. I can probably duplicate the materials, enough for a debris field, at least. How likely are your people to do an analysis of the materials?"
"Not very likely," Straker said.
"The Moonbase seismometers will need to register two events, a small one for the hard landing and a larger one for the explosion," Barry added to the discussion. "At least five minutes apart, so we'd have time to escape."
Kirk turned to his chief engineer, "Scotty, can we do it?"
"Aye, Captain," Scott agreed with a grin, the problem's solution already in hand. "Give me an hour to fabricate the debris and the explosive packs to fool those seismometers."
"Where are you going to put us down?" Straker asked quietly.
"From an analysis of possible trajectories, here." Spock answered. As the Vulcan spoke, a yellow dot appeared on the tactical display, a short distance from Moonbase. "About ten kilometers from your Moonbase, on the far side of this ridge."
Foster nodded as he looked at screen. "Yeah, except for the ridge, it's pretty even terrain. A good landing spot, if I were really landing."
"I'm glad you agree, Colonel," Kirk commented. He turned to Scott, "Well, Mister Scott, it's time for one of your miracles."
"Aye, Captain, one virtual Lunar module, coming up," The engineer announced as he left the briefing room.
* * *
On the bridge, Mallory rechecked the sensor readings. She reached for the switch to the intercom."Captain, we've picked up four Shelmat craft approaching Earth."
* * *
"They don't give up, do they?" Kirk commented to Straker, thumbing off the intercom on the table top.
"They are very persistent," Straker admitted. Kirk stood and straightened his uniform jacket.
"We have a little while before Scott's ready," Kirk announced. "Why don't we go see what's happening?"
* * *
The tactical situation on the view screen seemed very similar to the previous two times, with two glaring exceptions. Space Intruder Detector and Moonbase had not responded to the alien threat.
"Why hasn't SHADO responded?" Kirk asked, settling into his center seat.
"Unknown, Captain," Mallory replied, relinquishing the science station to Spock. The Vulcan did a quick scan.
"The Shelmat craft have retuned their deflector screens. They are now invisible to SHADO's sub-space tracking system," Spock announced.
"Damn," Foster muttered, mostly to himself.
"It was only a matter of time before they figured it out, Colonel," Barry commented.
"And we're here and we can't do a bloody thing about it," Foster said bitterly. Kirk didn't bother to comment. Straker stepped down to stand beside Kirk's chair.
"Captain Kirk, what's that fifth ship on the diagram up there?" Straker asked.
"A Vulcan scout ship, observing Earth," Kirk answered. Foster stepped down to stand with his commanding officer.
"Apparently the Vulcans have been observing Earth to decide when and if they're going to make contact with us barbaric humans," Foster explained.
"Can they defend themselves?" Straker asked.
"The Vulcan scouts were unarmed," Spock answered. "They also had standing orders to self-destruct if in immanent danger of detection."
"Somehow, I don't think their orders had this situation in mind," Straker remarked.
Mallory spoke up. "Captain, the Shelmat craft are bearing one-seven-four mark four. Speed: point five of light." She looked up at the screen. "Sir, their course brings them very close to us and to the Vulcan scout."
"Within attack range?" Kirk demanded.
"No," Mallory said, then she stopped and rechecked the information on her board. "Correction, Captain, the three of the craft have altered course straight towards us. The fourth is aiming for the Vulcan scout."
"Damn," Kirk muttered.
"Captain," Spock said from the science station. "These Shelmat craft are more heavily armed than the previous ships. They could conceivably do damage to us."
"And if we make any move to defend the scout, that crew will know we know and they'll self-destruct," Kirk said.
"Those are their orders," Spock agreed.
"A no-win scenario," Straker observed.
"I don't believe in the no-win scenario," Kirk groused.
Straker smiled. "Neither do I." He turned to Spock. "Does the scout know the aliens are on their way?"
"Unknown," Spock admitted.
"Have they been monitoring SHADO's communications?"
"Good," Straker turned to Nina Barry. "Lieutenant, what's SID's newest command code frequency?"
"Sir?" Barry stared at him in disbelief.
"You can't do that!" Foster protested.
"What have you got in mind?" Kirk demanded.
"You don't dare engage them." Straker pointed out. "SHADO can, if we give them back their eyes."
"You can't," Foster repeated. "What if this is a hoax? You intend on giving away SID's command codes?"
"I consider the risk acceptable," Straker responded, voice cold.
"Well, I don't," Foster announced. "And I say you're not giving away the command codes."
"I'll keep that in mind, Colonel, when you become commander in chief of SHADO." Straker turned back the Barry: "Lieutenant, the command frequency."
Barry gave Foster an apologetic look as she moved over to Uhura and the communications station. Straker stepped up the join them. Barry quietly gave the information to Uhura.
"It's in the same modality as the transmissions we've already picked up from the satellite?" Uhura asked. Barry nodded. Uhura's fingered played across the communications console, then she nodded to Kirk and Straker. "We're ready to transmit."
Kirk frowned, considering his options.
"I don't think you have a choice, Captain," Straker reminded him.
Kirk grimaced and nodded. He turned to Mallory: "Lieutenant, raise shields. Stand-by to adjust our deflector frequencies."
Straker turned back to Uhura. "Ready?"
"SID, prepare to receive instruction, authorization alpha-alpha-seven-seven-one-niner-eight-bravo-zenith."
The satellite responded. "Authorization correct. Awaiting instruction."
"Load program delta-six. Run."
"Program delta-six installed. Reinitializing utronic frequencies. Done," the satellite reported. Straker nodded to Uhura, who pressed a key on her console, shutting down the connection.
Immediately, SID announced: "Red Alert, Red Alert, Four U.F.O.s on positive track, bearing four-two-eight, one-four-two-green. Speed, sol zero decimal five. Range, one million miles, closing."
* * *
On Moonbase, Wingate stared at the radar screen in front of her. "I don't see them."
"Try adjusting the utronic frequencies," Harrington instructed. She turned to the microphone at her own console. "Red Alert, Red Alert, interceptors, immediate launch!"
Once again, the interceptors launched, speeding away from the Moon on their deadly mission.
In the command sphere, Wingate announced. "I have them, captain. Confirm, four Ufos, bearing four-two-eight, one four two-green."
"Trajectory termination?" Harrington demanded.
"Indeterminable," Wingate said, frowning at the information on her screen. "Their course doesn't intersect Earth at all. Unless they alter course soon, they're going into orbit."
"Is there anything in orbit that might interest them?"
* * *
On the bridge, Mallory's fingers flew across her console, readjusting the deflector frequencies.
* * *
On Moonbase, Wingate stared at her screen once again. "That's odd."
"What?" Harrington demanded.
"I thought we picked up something big in orbit, but I can't find it now."
"Really big, and it was right in line with the Ufo's course."
* * *
On Earth, Captain Naomi Green contacted SHADO Control from her operations center inside the mobile transport truck.
"Control, we've found several more bodies, including some mutilated animals, but no sign yet of the Ufo."
Freeman, at SHADO Control responded to her message. "Remember, they're probably underwater."
"Yes, sir," she agreed. "There's one lake in the area big enough for one to hide in. However, I haven't have any luck yet convincing the local authorities to let me depth charge it. It's a resort trout lake. They don't want us to hurt the fish."
"Screw the fish, Lieutenant," Freeman instructed.
"Yes, sir," Green agreed. She turned to her assistant. "Let's go kill some fish." There was a decidedly nasty something in her grin.
* * *
It took only two charges to force the alien to the surface. The lake water boiled as the ship lifted off. The closest mobile launched a anti-aircraft missile at the escaping craft. The missile missed its target and exploded in the lake, sending sprays of water into the air.
"Green to SHADO Control. The alien has lifted off," Green announced into her command headset.
* * *
In SHADO Control, Ford checked the readout on the screen in front of him. "Colonel Freeman, Sky-1 won't make contact," he announced.
"It'll be up to the interceptors then," Freeman commented.
"Colonel Freeman, is my daughter on board that ship?" A heavily accented voice asked. Freeman turned to see Emil Duvall standing next to General Henderson.
"We don't know if she is or not," Freeman admitted. "It is possible she could have gotten away and we just haven't found her, yet."
"Your people have been searching the area where she disappeared for the past twelve hours," Duvall reminded the SHADO officer. "What are the chances?"
Freeman just shook his head. Duvall's shoulder's sagged. "It is Christmas Eve tonight. Tonight I have to tell my wife that our youngest daughter is gone, vanished, dead."
"Duvall," Henderson said. "Why don't you hold off telling her for a while? It's just possible the aliens didn't get her. It's just possible she got away and she's too scared to come out and be found."
"Maybe," Duvall admitted. "Maybe I will go to church tonight and pray for a miracle."
"Captain, the interceptors will reach I.P. in three minutes," Mallory announced. The tactical screen confirmed her observation, the paths of the interceptors converging on the four Shelmat craft. One more path appeared on the screen, coming away from the Earth.
"Sir, a Shelmat craft has lifted off from Earth," Mallory said.
"From where?" Straker asked. Mallory checked her board.
"Launch origination, central France."
Straker gave Foster a quizzical look. The younger man shrugged and shook his head.
After a few moments Mallory looked up from her board. "The interceptors have fired, three Shelmat craft have been destroyed." Echoing her statement, three of the blips on the screen disappeared. The fourth blip veered away, back the way it came. The three interceptors changed course, towards the craft that had lifted off from Earth.
"The Shelmat ship has opened fire," Mallory announced. "One interceptor has been hit." On the screen, a blip disappeared. "The interceptor has been destroyed."
One the speaker, SID's voice: "Interceptor three has been destroyed."
Spielberg bowed his head. Barry put her arm around his shoulder. "That was Joe Wilcox," Spielberg said.
Straker said nothing, but there was a troubled expression on his face.
"Captain, three more interceptors have launched from the Moon." Three more dots appeared on the screen.
"They have opened fire on the Shelmat ship," Mallory stated. "The Shelmat has been hit." She hit a square on the console and the screen switched to show the battle against the black sky. As they watched, the U.F.O. exploded.
"Scan for survivors," Kirk ordered. Spock moved to the science station, bending over the monitor.
"No survivors, Captain," the Vulcan said, then stopped. "Correction, we are picking up two life signs. Very slow, very weak, in life pods. Cylindrical. Length: two point two-five meters, diameter: point seven-five meters."
"Not very big." Kirk observed. He hit a button on the communications panel on his chair. "Transporter room, lock onto the life pods we're tracking and beam them aboard."
"Yes, sir," Kevlin's voice came over the speaker. There was no hesitation this time, Kirk noted.
He turned to Uhura. "Have a medical team standing by." Kirk left his seat and headed for the lift. "Let's go see what we picked up this time."
Spock joined him as the doors slid open. Straker and Foster were right behind them.
"Transporter room one," Kirk instructed as the door closed.
* * *
Kevlin was waiting with the medical team as Kirk, Spock, Straker and Foster walked in. McCoy straightened up from his study of the two cylinders as soon as he saw them enter.
"Well, Bones?" Kirk asked.
"Until we get them out of these canisters, all I can tell you is one is female, and they're both in severe hypothermia."
"From being in space?" Kirk asked.
McCoy shook his head. "I don't think so."
"They're in hypothermia for ease of transport, Captain," Straker said. At McCoy's questioning look, Straker continued. "Lower metabolism, lower biological demands. SHADO has dealt with this situation before, and those canisters look very familiar. It's an aluminum-carbon composite, isn't it?"
Spock took a hand scanner and scanned one of the canisters. "Essentially correct. No sign of a locking or hatch mechanism. We shall have to transport them out of the canisters."
Kelvin inspected his transporter board. "No problem, sir. I can transport both of them directly to sickbay as soon as I initialize the sickbay emergency pad."
"Go ahead," Kirk ordered. As Kevlin's fingers flew over his console, McCoy collected his people and left for sickbay. After a moment Kelvin announced: "Transport complete."
"Shall we go see what we got?" Kirk asked Straker, heading out the door. Straker laid a hand on his sleeve and Kirk stopped.
"How did he get them out of the canisters without even touching them?" Straker asked.
Kirk shrugged. "I believe it was a Twentieth Century author who said any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic," he said, heading down the corridor towards sickbay.
"Clarke's third law," Straker said, following him.
McCoy was standing between two beds in sick bay. On one bed lay a young woman of about twenty. On the other lay a slender man who looked even younger. The monitors above the beds indicated readings within the normal range, except for one. One of the lines on the young man was near zero. McCoy was frowning at his hand scanner.
"Well, Bones?" Kirk asked. McCoy shook his head.
"The woman will be fine," McCoy said. "The boy's severely brain damaged. Only his autonomic systems are intact. His higher functions have been completely wiped."
"By what?" Kirk asked.
McCoy shook his head. "Some sort of surgery, it looks like."
"He was being prepared to be reprogrammed by the aliens," Straker said. "Like I said, we have seen this before. You said the woman would be all right?"
McCoy nodded. "She's been heavily sedated, but there's no sign of damage. She should be awake in a few minutes."
Straker stepped closer to the bed, the one he'd been in only an hour before. "Oh dear God," he muttered in sudden horror.
"Ed, what's wrong?" Foster demanded.
"I know her," Straker replied.
"Who is it?" Kirk asked.
"Her name is Lucille Duvall," Straker said. He looked back at Foster. "She's Commissioner Duvall's youngest daughter."
"No," Foster breathed. "Oh no."
"Who is Duvall?" Kirk asked. Spock headed to the computer at the nurse's station.
"Emil Duvall is a member of the United Nations Commission on Astronomy and Astrophysics," Straker explained. He glanced over at Foster. "Why are they picking on commission members?"
"Without Duvall's support..." Foster said him. He didn't need to finish. Straker understood only too well. Without Duvall's support, SHADO would have serious problems getting financing cleared through the International Astro-physical Commission.
"Captain," Spock called from the nurse's station. Kirk went over to him, Straker and Foster following. "I cannot confirm or disconfirm any information on Lucille Duvall, daughter of Emil Duvall."
"Explain, Spock," Kirk ordered.
"The cross references and files have been corrupted. However, from the extent of the errors, I would surmise she, too, must be returned to Earth."
"Spock, this is the second set of files that we've found compromised. What's going on?"
"Sabotage, Captain," Spock answered. "I suggest we locate and question Miss Sterreka."
"What about Kevlin?" Kirk asked. "You did mention him earlier."
"True. Lieutenant Kevlin is Rokanni," Spock said.
"SHADO is at war with the Rokanni, Spock," Kirk reminded him. "Maybe he knows something." He flipped the switch on the desk intercom. "Security, Kirk here. Locate and detain Miss Sterreka. Kirk out." He hit another button. "Transporter room, Mister Kevlin, would you report to sick-bay please." Kirk waited for a response. There was none.
"Mister Kevlin, please respond."
Kirk stabbed another intercom panel button. "Security alert, Transporter Room one. Locate Lieutenant Kevlin."
"Captain," Chekov's voice came over the speaker only a moment later. "It appears that Miss Sterreka and Mister Kevlin are no longer on the ship. The transporter logs have been wiped."
"And what does that mean?" Foster demanded.
"That means they're not on this ship and we don't know where they've gone," Kirk said. He was angry with himself for not seeing it earlier. He had a saboteur onboard, maybe more than one, and had not taken steps to neutralize the problem.
"With all this technology, you can't find them?" Foster asked.
"That's exactly what I mean," Kirk said. "They could be anywhere within half a million miles of this ship."
"Are there spacesuits missing?" Straker asked.
Kirk hit the intercom. "Chekov, are there any spacesuits missing?"
"That limits it a little, doesn't it?" Straker asked. "They're either on Earth or inside one of the lunar installations."
"Earth is an awfully big place to hide," McCoy pointed out.
"Not if their objective is to damage SHADO," Straker said. "That limits the search quite a bit."
"Commander," Foster said. "The aliens want you dead."
"We're supposed to be on Moonbase, right?" Foster asked. He looked over at Kirk. "That's where Kirk was going to set us down. That's where they are."
Kirk nodded. "It makes sense, assuming that's what they're after." He gave Straker a thoughtful look. "Assuming that's what they're after, how do you think they intend on going about it?"
"I assume your security people haven't found any weapons missing," Straker said.
"Chekov would have told me if there were," Kirk said.
"Then they're using something already on Moonbase," Straker said.
"But that could be anything," Foster protested.
Straker shook his head. "If you were going to destroy Moonbase, Paul, obliterate it, how would you do it?"
"How badly do you want it obliterated?" Foster asked.
"Unlike our aliens, they won't be worried about keeping it quiet," Straker said. "Or making it look like an accident."
"Detonate an interceptor warhead."
"Exactly," Straker agreed. "Not only would you wipe out Moonbase, but the explosion would be seen from Earth. That would lead to an investigation of how American nuclear technology got to the Moon in violation of half a dozen treaties and, since the U.S. government certainly won't take the blame for us, the exposure and probable dismantlement of SHADO."
"We have to find them," Foster said.
"Yes, we do," Kirk agreed. "Can you give us the plans to your base so I can send a security team down and find them?"
"I could," Straker said. "But I won't. If you're going to send a team, that team will include Colonel Foster and myself."
There was something very cold and implacable in Straker's expression. Again, Kirk was reminded of Admiral Nogura.
"And if I refuse to risk letting you go down there?" Kirk asked, knowing the answer.
"Can you afford the risk of not letting us handle it, Captain?"
* * *
Lieutenant Kevlin woke in a dark place. He tried to move and discovered his hands were tied and the gravity was much too light. He shook his head to get rid of the fuzziness in his brain and discovered his head ached and there was a metallic taste in his mouth as if he had been hit by a phaser.
He tried to think back to what happened just before he blacked out. Sterreka, the historian, had walked into the transporter room and had started asking questions about the canisters on the transporter platform, the settings he had used to beam the survivors to sickbay. He had started telling her, then turned away to finish his adjustments on the control console.
Then, there was darkness.
He heard movement somewhere near and realized he still had his eyes closed. He opened them to discover the darkness was not quite as complete as he had assumed. The room was lit by red lamps set at intervals into rough stone. The floor was stone as well, but it was finished more smoothly than the walls.
A dozen metal racks stood around the chamber, like the racks that held the photon torpedo casings in the Enterprise's weapons storage bays. Instead of the black photon casings, these racks held white cylinders with markings he couldn't quite make out, except one. That symbol was an old-style radiation hazard warning. The cylinders contained radioactive material.
"You're awake," a woman's voice said. He peered up at the historian. Her expression was pleased, but there was something ugly in it as well.
"What's going on? Where are we?" Kevlin asked.
"Underneath SHADO's Moonbase," Sterreka answered.
"We're not supposed to be here," Kevlin protested. "You know the danger of contacting anyone from this time. What do you think you're doing?" He tried to keep his voice low, but a touch of panic crept in despite his efforts.
"I am remedying an historical blunder, so that our people can take their rightful place as rulers of this world," Sterreka said.
"What do you mean?" he said. Then it dawned on him. "You're Rokan, too."
"How perceptive," she sneered.
"But why are you doing this? It doesn't make sense. If you destroy this base, our people won't be allowed to come home and they'll die. You know that. That's what the Book says."
"Yes, that's what the Book says," Sterreka spat angrily. "That's what the frightened old men say. But Earthers are weak and stupid. Even here and now they depend on the Danaen to defend them against us. Without their defenders they will fall and we will rule. Despite everything the Planters have done to us, we will rule the Home World. I brought you here because I thought you would understand. I thought you would want to be part of Rokan's glorious triumph."
"It'll be a little hard to appreciate when we're dead," Kevlin said.
"I overestimated your loyalty to our people," Sterreka said. "I should have realized what a weakling you were when I saw the Book in your hands last night. No true Rokanni would ever reveal even the existence of the Book to outsiders."
"What good is hiding the truth?" Kevlin asked.
Sterreka walked away from him, turning her attention to one of the missile cylinders. She opened a small maintenance panel on one of them and began to probe the electronics with a small device Kevlin didn't recognize.
"What good is hiding the truth?" Kevlin repeated, trying to buy time. "Our people were dying because the world the Planters set us on was unsuitable for colonization and the Shui government decided that allowing Earth to be terrorized was the solution. Only, it wasn't."
"They failed because they let that coward, Su'un, handle the invasion," the woman said.
"Su'un saved our people," Kevlin argued.
* * *
Kirk opened the transporter room weapons locker and handed Straker and Foster hand phasers before clipping one to his own belt.
"I have them locked on stun," he explained.
"You don't trust us, Captain?" Straker asked.
Kirk shook his head ever so slightly. "No."
He beckoned to Chekov, Hanson and Korchek. "Under no circumstances are we to make contact with the natives. We're going in to get Sterreka and Kevlin and we're getting out."
"Understood, Captain," Chekov acknowledged for his team.
Spock and Scott were standing at the transporter controls. "Spock, I need to know what that woman was hiding from us, what she wiped from our library."
"Already working on it, Captain."
"All right, gentlemen, let's go," Kirk ordered. Foster and Straker stood back and watched as the Enterprise people stepped onto the raised platform and positioned themselves over circular floor lights. Kirk gestured for them to stand on the two remaining lights.
"Captain, I'm beaming you into a corridor just beyond the target area. Sensors detect fairly high levels of positron radiation in the weapons bay," Scott said. "I won't be able to beam you directly out of there."
"Understood, Mister Scott," Kirk said. "Energize."
* * *
Kevlin struggled against the cords tying his hands. Sterreka was ignoring him, continuing her work on the interceptor missile. One of the knots gave way and he was free. He lay still, trying to decide what to do. He couldn't call the ship, he had no communicator. Sterreka was armed, he could see a Klingon style disruptor hanging from her belt and he assumed it was set to kill. He didn't want to attack her and risk her firing into one of the missiles, setting it off.
She moved to a different rack and began to work on a second warhead.
* * *
The transporter room dissolved away and reshaped itself into a cold, rough hewn corridor carved out of lunar rock. The rock was coated with a thin layer of epoxy to keep it airtight. Ahead of them was a heavy door with a hand-print pad beside it and an electronic key pad.
"You didn't mention it was locked," Kirk commented to Straker. His breath steamed in the cold.
"I didn't mention the security cameras either," Straker said. He pointed out a caged video camera set high on one wall, watching the door.
By pure luck, Scott had beamed them into the corridor just out of range of the camera.
Straker turned to Foster. "Paul?" Foster nodded and pulled out his pocketknife. He gestured for someone to give him a boost up. Korchek obliged while Foster tapped the end of his knife into the clear lens cover. It shattered, but stayed in place, obscuring the camera's view.
"We really have to do something about those lens covers," Straker commented, going to the door.
"It's on the maintenance list," Foster said. "It's just that this plastic gets brittle when exposed to the cold. I figure we have about ten minutes before somebody comes down here to check."
"Right," Straker agreed. He placed his right hand against the hand-print reader and keyed a code into the lock control pad with his left. After a moment, the hand-print screen went green and the door swung open.
Korchek and Hanson went through first, crouching, one to either side of the entrance. Chekov and Foster followed them in, looking around the room. Kirk and Straker were the last in as Hanson and Korchek moved around the perimeter of the room.
"Miss Sterreka, we know you're in here and we know what you want to do," Kirk called. "You also know we can't let you do it."
"Captain, she's over here," Kevlin yelled. A disruptor shot went over Kirk's head. Korchek and Hanson ran to tackle her, only she had moved. The racks made the room into a maze.
"You can't hold us off forever," Kirk said. Foster and Chekov had moved further into the room, checking the storage lockers along one wall. Another disruptor shot hit the wall, just missing Foster. The acrid smell of burning epoxy filled the air.
"I don't have to, Kirk," Sterreka shouted. Kirk and Straker both oriented on the voice. The men quietly moved to the opposite ends on one rack and into the space beyond. She was there, disruptor in hand.
She saw Straker first and aimed. Kevlin moved and her shot caught him in the back. His weight knocked Straker to the floor beyond the rack, out of firing range. Kirk didn't miss and Sterreka collapsed into a heap on the hard cold floor.
Straker pulled himself out from under Kevlin. The young man's uniform was scorched and burnt. There was a burned, raw wound in the center of his back and pieces of blackened bone could be seen.
Kevlin moved his head and gasped for breath. "Did you stop her?"
"Yes," Straker said.
"Su'un was a good man," Kevlin gasped in pain. "You'll like him, I think." The young man's face lost expression and the light went out of his eyes. Straker checked for a pulse at his throat. There was none.
"Are you okay?" Foster asked as Straker climbed to his feet. Straker nodded. He was pale and Foster noted a slight tremble in the nod.
"We need to figure out exactly what she did and undo it," Straker said.
"We don't have much time," Foster pointed out.
"Then we'd better hurry," Straker stated, going to the nearest rack and quickly inspecting the missile casings. One service plate was loose on one missile. Straker pushed it aside to see a small device attached to the control board.
"I found one," Straker announced. Chekov stepped over to look at it.
"It's a timer of some sort," Chekov said. "It's Klingon, set to go off in five minutes."
"Do you know how to remove it?"
"This model is tamper resistant," Chekov said. "I remember reading that any attempt to remove it will detonate the device it's attached to."
"Can we use that transporter gizzy to get it out of here?" Foster asked.
"We would have to move it into the corridor for transport and moving it may also detonate it," the Enterprise security officer explained.
"Wonderful," Foster groused. "We can't defuse it and we can't move it."
"Yes, we can," Straker contradicted. "Paul, get me a long screwdriver or a crowbar." He went to the front of the missile and removed the shroud covering the warhead itself.
"Everyone else get back and start looking around to see if she got to another one," Straker ordered as Foster handed him a long screwdriver from one of the lockers.
"What the hell are you doing?" Foster yelled as Straker took the screwdriver and drove it into the warhead mechanism, twisting it into the delicate materials surrounding the nuclear charge.
"It's an American warhead, Paul. Permissive Actions links and fail-safes," Straker said. "It cannot detonate without the explosive lenses being perfectly symmetrical." He pulled the screwdriver out and put the shroud back into place. "Now all it will do is make a mess when it goes off."
"I found another one," Korchek announced. Straker followed the same procedure on that warhead, disabling it.
"Any others?" Straker asked.
"Negative, we've checked all of them," Foster announced.
"We have less than two minutes to get out of here," Kirk announced. Korchek hefted Kevlin's body over his shoulder. Chekov and Hanson held Sterreka between them as they left the missile storage room, locking the door behind them.
Two muted explosions rocked the corridor as Kirk opened his communicator.
"Scotty, eight to beam up."
"No Captain," Foster said. He had his phaser out and was pointing it at Kirk. "Six. You can leave Commander Straker and me right here."
"No, I can't," Kirk said as the transporter beam began its warning whine.
* * *
Two Moonbase security men jogged into the corridor leading to the main missile storage area. Two explosions nearly knocked them off their feet but they kept moving.
The heat sensors in the storage area had picked up heat signatures of what looked to be several people. That, coupled with the security camera lens shattering, had put Moonbase on security alert.
They rounded the corner to see the bright red radiation light flashing above the door.
"Security team one to Control," Che said into his hand held transceiver. "We have a radiation leak in the main missile storage area. We're going to need radiation suits to go in there."
"Roger, Security team one," Harrington acknowledged. "Any sign of intruders?"
"If there were, they're behind the door and they're dying," Che said.
In the Control Sphere, Harrington turned to Wilcox. "Maintain yellow alert. I don't want anything coming within one hundred miles of this base without us knowing about it."
Harrington turned to look back at Miller. "I also want to know how SID managed to pick up those Ufos when we couldn't."
"Sir, Commander Straker did the last major repair and upgrade on SID," Miller reminded her commanding officer. "Maybe he added some new detection programs he didn't tell us about."
"Maybe isn't good enough, Lieutenant."
* * *
Kirk grabbed the phaser away from Foster as soon the transporter beam freed them aboard the ship. Foster glared at him.
"No, I can't," Kirk repeated. Straker said nothing as he handed his phaser to Kirk. Foster turned to glare at Straker.
"He could have just left us," Foster said. "We're supposed to be on Moonbase anyway."
"Think about it, Paul," Straker said. "Nina and Charlie are still here. Even if we did stay down in that corridor, we can't explain how we got there. We had no spacesuits, no evidence of the module, and we were in a secure area."
"We can tell them the truth," Foster insisted.
"And who will believe it?" Straker asked very quietly. Foster looked away, ashamed at his outburst, angry at Straker for being so coldly reasonable in a situation that was totally unreasonable. Korchek dropped Kevlin's body on the deck, then went to help Chekov and Hanson deal with the struggling, protesting Sterreka. They left the transporter room, heading for the detention area.
"How old was he, Captain?" Straker asked, looking down at Kevlin's body.
"About twenty-five, I think," Kirk answered. "He came aboard only a few days ago."
"I think the worst part of being the one in charge is having to tell the parents how their child died," Straker said. "He had to have known her weapon was set to kill."
"You're probably right," Kirk agreed.
McCoy walked in. He checked Kevlin's body. "Third degree disruptor burns," McCoy said. "Did Sterreka do this?"
"Yes," Kirk replied. "Chekov's taking her to the brig."
"Good," McCoy said. He turned to Straker, running his medical tricorder down the SHADO officer's body. "You must keep your medical staff pretty busy keeping you in one piece," he complained.
"Why do you say that?"
"First you overdose on a precursor to cordrazine," McCoy said, giving Straker a hypospray shot of hyronalyn. "Now you've gone and gotten exposed to radiation. I should just let you go ahead and get radiation sickness. It would serve you right, not listening to your doctor." McCoy wandered away, still grumbling as he gave Kirk and Foster injections to neutralize the radiation poisoning from their exposure to the uncovered warheads. "Lucky for you, medical science has improved some in three hundred years," McCoy said. "You'll all be fine."
"Thank you, Bones," Kirk said. He dismissed McCoy with a nod and waved the two SHADO officers to join him as he headed back to the bridge.
"It'll be another half hour or so before Scotty's ready to send you back to the Moon. Your Moonbase has gone to alert status. Now he has to make something with the module's radar signature." He gave Straker a quizzical look. "How did you know we had an effective radiation treatment?"
Straker shrugged. "You didn't try to stop me when I opened the warhead."
The turbo-lift doors opened onto the bridge. Spielberg and Barry were still there, waiting with the Enterprise bridge crew.
"That could have been due to ignorance," Kirk said as he settled into his command chair.
"Maybe on the first one," Straker conceded. "Not on the second one."
"Would you have gone ahead if I had objected?"
"You're quite a gambler, Commander," Kirk commented. "Do you play poker?"
Straker smiled. "Occasionally."
"I bet you don't lose very often."
"Not very often," Straker agreed. His smile faded. "What about Lucille Duvall?"
"I have not finished reconstructing the files Sterreka destroyed," Spock said.
"But you were sure she must belong back on Earth," Straker reminded him. "You could set her down somewhere in the vicinity where the Ufo took off. SHADO will find her, take her home."
"Captain Green is still searching the area," Barry said. "We've been listening in on communications."
"Very well, but what about the boy?" Kirk asked. "What do you want done with him?"
"You could send him back, but he'll be a vegetable," Straker said. "We don't have the science to undo what the aliens did to him."
"Frankly, I don't know if we do either," Kirk admitted.
"But you probably have a better chance than we do," Foster added to the discussion. "We don't even know his name."
"Elias Frommer," Barry said. "He was a tourist from California. His parents were found dead. Aliens."
"Poor kid," Straker murmured.
Kirk hit one of the buttons on his chair console. "Scotty, as soon as McCoy gives the go ahead, beam Miss Duvall down somewhere near, but out of sight of, one of the SHADO vehicles."
"Captain, she was brought aboard stark naked," Scott reminded him.
"Send her back, Scotty, stark naked," Kirk ordered.
* * *
Naomi Green notified SHADO Headquarters. "We have Lucille Duvall, she's all right." Green looked over at the young woman who was sitting in the weapons control officer's seat, wrapped in a blanket. She cradled a cup of coffee in her hands.
Green's team had found her naked, hiding in the brush. Maybe 'all right' was an exaggeration. She was cold, dirty and rambling hysterically about being taken to a place surrounded by people dressed in red. But that was to be expected. She had escaped, somehow, from the aliens and survived to tell about it.
Considering the date, maybe there really was a Santa Claus, Green thought to herself before refilling Miss Duvall's coffee cup.
* * *
A sigh of relief went around SHADO's control center at Green's announcement.
"I'll call Duvall and let him know she's been found," Henderson volunteered.
"Thank you, General," Freeman said as Henderson headed to the commander's office to place the call. "Tell him that Green's bringing her here to headquarters for evaluation. It might be better if he was here when she was brought in."
"I'll let him know," Henderson promised. He stopped in the doorway. "Maybe Foster will be lucky and bring the module in, too."
"It's been twenty-six hours," the Australian reminded him.
"It's Christmas Eve, Alec," Henderson said, addressing Freeman by his given name for the first time ever. "The season of miracles."
"I never believed in Santa Claus," Freeman said.
* * *
"How's the reconstruction going, by the way?" Kirk asked.
"Adequate, Captain," Spock said. "Miss Sterreka was using a Klingon virus that, as it happens, I am familiar with. This last file indicates Miss Duvall did need to be returned to Earth, although the records indicate she was missing for several weeks before she was found, originally."
"What about Miss Sterreka?"
"She is under heavy guard in Sickbay. Doctor McCoy is working on neutralizing the poison she took," Spock said. "She is not Danaen. According to her gene scan, she is a Rokanni. Mister Chekov believes she may be from the Shamari colony. There is an extremely fundamentalist Rokan religious sect active in that community. Some of the neighboring colonies are concerned due to the nature of the Rokan Shui rhetoric. It is quite reminiscent of both the Nazi and Eugenic beliefs of racial purity and superiority."
The Vulcan turned to Straker. "We also have reports that the Rokan Shui are particularly opposed to the Danaen and have been lobbying for their exclusion from the Federation. They have been implicated in terrorist attacks against Danaen holdings within the Federation."
"But, the Rokan Shui are a terrorist splinter group, correct?" Straker asked. "They don't represent the Rokanni as a whole?"
"For the most part, the Rokanni are law abiding, peace loving people, as are most members of the Federation," Spock explained.
"I see," Straker said. The troubled look came back into his eyes.
"Scott to Captain Kirk," Engineer Scott's brogue came over the intercom speaker.
"We'll be ready to return the Commander and his party in thirty minutes," Scott said. "We've already launched the radar decoy."
"Understood, Kirk out," Kirk said, hitting the intercom. He started out of his seat. "Almost time for you to go home."
"Captain, one problem does remain," Sulu reminded Kirk.
"And that is?"
"These people have seen the face of the future," the helmsman pointed out.
"True, Mister Sulu," Kirk sighed. He was aware of the problem, but disliked having it pointed out so bluntly. "Spock, have you any suggestions as to how we deal with this part of our problem?"
"SHADO has an amnesia drug," Barry reported helpfully.
Straker shook his head. "Our drug won't work. It only blocks the previous twelve hours. Any other drugs could be detected in our bloodstreams during standard medical checks. We can't afford that complication."
Spock's look became thoughtful as he gazed at Foster. "Vulcans have developed certain mental disciplines over time. It should be possible to block your recall of this time period, without resorting to drugs. However, the technique requires a lowering of mental barriers that can be quite distressing to the parties involved."
"I can't order my people to cooperate," Straker said.
"Commander, if forgetting this happened is the price we have to pay for getting home, I'm certainly willing to pay it," Foster said. Spielberg and Barry nodded in agreement. "I figure our people will figure it out pretty quick if we've been 'alienated'."
"You're probably right," Straker agreed.
"I think that covers everything, doesn't it?" Kirk said. "You should be back where you belong in about twenty minutes."
"Yes," Straker replied. "I still have a question, though."
"Yes?" Kirk asked.
"The Kobyashi Maru. What is it?"
"Star Fleet's infamous no-win scenario," Kirk said.
Straker waited. After a moment Kirk continued. "Spock told me you tried to get information on it. It's a simulation. You're the commander of a ship patrolling the border between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. A Star Fleet vessel crossing the border is considered an act of war, and the Klingons would like nothing better than to provoke a war. You pick up a distress call from the freighter Kobyashi Maru, two days out of Altair 6, carrying two hundred passengers. She says she struck a gravitic mine and is in serious trouble. What do you do?"
"We can confirm the Kobyashi Maru in fact left Altair 6 two days before and was traveling a known shipping lane?" Straker asked.
"Can we confirm she is still in a known shipping lane?" Straker asked.
"Have other ships been reported lost in the area?"
"No," Kirk answered. He gave Straker a puzzled look. Straker was asking different questions than the ones usually asked by trainees during the simulation.
"Very well, first, send a message to headquarters, giving our location and a recording of the distress call from the freighter, informing them of our intention to assist."
"Star Fleet won't get the message for nearly a week," Kirk said. "Crossing the border is an act of war."
"So? Someone has mined a known shipping lane. An unarmed civilian vessel has been damaged, possibly lost."
"It's probably a trap," Foster put in.
"Of course it's a trap," Straker agreed. "That doesn't alter the fact that there are civilians at risk in what must be interpreted as a war zone."
"But war hasn't been declared," Kirk reminded him.
"Mining a known shipping lane isn't an act of war?" Straker asked. "If it is a trap, then the other side has already fired the first shot. If it isn't, they should have no problem with allowing a rescue. Either way, headquarters will have the information to handle the diplomatic problems that are going to result."
"Crossing the border means you'll lose the ship," Kirk said.
"Naturally, Captain," Straker said. "That's why you can't win. It's a trap, but you can't prove the other side is preparing to go to war unless you spring the trap. And, unless everything I read last night is a lie, to fail to try to rescue the other ship, the civilians, is to go against everything Star Fleet stands for, defending a free people."
"I've never heard it put quite that way before," Kirk said. "I'm almost glad we have to put you back. I don't think I could stand having you as my commanding officer." He looked at Spock, who had his eyebrows raised at Kirk's comment. "Cartwright would do it, you know. Just to make my life miserable."
Spock managed to look amused.
Kirk checked the time on the ship's chronometer. "We'd better get going."
Straker took Barry's arm. "I hope you remembered your ruby slippers, my dear."
"I wouldn't leave home without them," she quipped back.
Kirk stopped in the doorway to the turbo-lift as the reference finally clicked into place. "Kansas."
Straker grinned. "This isn't Kansas, or Iowa, either."
"It does qualify as over the rainbow, though," Kirk said as the turbo-lift doors closed behind them. "Transporter Room one," he instructed.
"About ten thousand miles over the rainbow, at least," Straker agreed.
Kirk did a quick conversion in his head. "Eleven thousand."
The lift doors slid open on the corridor across from Transporter room one and Kirk and Spock left the lift accompanied by the four SHADO operatives.
* * *
"Captain Harrington, I've picked up a trace approaching the Moon," Wilcox said. "It's very slow."
"Meteorite?" Harrington asked.
"Could be," Wilcox admitted. "Whatever it is, it'll hit in about ten minutes."
"About twenty miles west of us."
"Normally, I wouldn't worry about it," Harrington admitted. "But with all the weird stuff that's been happening around here today, I'm not taking chances. Send a Moon-mobile out there to check it out."
"Yes, sir," Wilcox acknowledged, passing the order onto the Moon-mobile crew.
Scott stood at the controls in the transporter room, Kirk and Spock standing with him.
Straker, Foster, Barry, and Spielberg stood nearby. They wore their space-suits, gloves on, as they are checked each other's air-hoses and environmental packs. Their helmets were on the floor beside them.
A buzzer sounded on the transporter station, and Scott touched the intercom button. "Transporter room, Scott here."
"Chun here. The first detonation's gone off."
"Very good, Mister Chun," Kirk replied. He turned to the SHADO people. "It's time to go."
"How did you win against the simulation?" Straker asked.
Kirk grinned. "Some friends and I reprogrammed the simulator to make it a little more 'realistic'. We were able to go in and rescue the freighter without springing the trap."
"You cheated," Foster said.
"Sometimes you have to rewrite the rules," Kirk said. A faintly worried frown came into Straker's face.
"Something wrong, Commander?" Kirk asked.
"I'm just wondering how I'm going to explain being well after having supposedly been lost in space and dying for twenty-six hours," Straker explained.
Kirk smiled thoughtfully. "I've always thought the Universe was too big a place to discount the possibility of miracles. I've watched stars die, I've seen universes being born. I've met beings who've claimed to be gods and other beings who might well have been but claimed they weren't. Don't discount your miracles, Commander."
"God works in mysterious ways, is that it?" Straker mused.
"I've been assured repeatedly that God protects fools and ships named Enterprise," Kirk replied with a grin. "Maybe God also has a fondness for SHADO commanders, too."
"I hope so, Captain. I need all the help I can get."
Spock stepped over to the SHADO people, leading them to their proper positions on the transporter platform. Stepping over to Spielberg. Spock placed his right hand over Spielberg's face, quickly locating the proper psionic points. Spock didn't see, but knew from the meld, Spielberg's surprise at the mental contact.
After a moment, Spock disengaged from Spielberg, who stood, eyes closed, on the transporter platform. The Vulcan went over to Nina Barry. As Spock initiated the mind meld, one part of his mind observed that Foster had taken Spielberg's helmet and was securing it over the young man's head, carefully checking the attachments.
As soon as he was finished blocking Barry's recent memories, Spock stepped over to Foster. Behind him, Straker secured Barry's helmet, taking extra care to check the seals.
Foster had watched as Spock touched Spielberg, and then Barry, with his long fingers. He watched their expressions of surprise, then calm blankness. He wasn't sure what it meant. He wasn't sure he wanted to go through with it. Then, he felt warm fingers against his temple and cheek, the Vulcan's hot breath against his other cheek.
He tensed, not knowing what to expect. The mind-touch came as gentle as a caress, silently asking permission to proceed before tracing out memory paths, blocking this one and that one, painlessly reinforcing another.
"Forget, This all is but a dream, easily forgotten..." Foster heard Spock's voice, both in his mind and in his ears, as though in a dream. "You are Paul Foster, pilot of a lunar module that crash landed on the Moon following an aborted re-entry attempt. You have been in space for twenty-six hours."
Quietly, painlessly, Spock broke his mental connection with Foster. He then took Foster's helmet and placed it over the SHADO officer's head. Spock noted Straker's concerned look as he came over to check the helmet seals and fittings. Satisfied, Straker moved back to his place on the transporter platform and Spock stepped over to him.
As with the other three SHADO operatives, Spock located the psychic contact points at the forehead and temple and cheek. As with the first three, the mental contact was gentle, subtle, and totally controlled by Spock's Vulcan mind training.
He was startled, therefore, by the strength of the mind he was touching, the logical mental pathways, precariously balancing the emotional ones, quintessentially human, yet utterly unique.
He permitted himself a brief note of dismay at discovering the bonding between Straker and the beautiful auburn haired woman reflected in the commander's thoughts, his wife. Spock could sense her bright presence in the corners of Straker's mind and wondered how he could possibly have missed it earlier. Quietly, the Vulcan withdrew from the meld, realizing even that small touch may have been sensed on Earth, through the bonding.
"Commander, I cannot block your memories," Spock explained softly. "For me to try would risk serious damage to your mind. We must, therefore, trust your discretion in this matter."
Straker gave Spock a puzzled look, then smiled. "Mister Spock, I happen to be very good at keeping secrets," he said. "Besides, since they will have no memory of all this, I will have no witnesses, and no corroborating evidence. Who would believe me?"
"A very logical analysis, Commander."
Spock helped Straker on with his helmet, leaving a faceplate open for the time being. He then left the platform to go stand next to Kirk. Spock turned and gave Straker the Vulcan salute. "Live long and Prosper, Commander Straker of SHADO."
"And you, Mister Spock," Straker replied. The SHADO commander looked at Kirk. "Good bye, Captain. God speed and have a safe journey home."
"And you, Commander," Kirk replied as Straker lowered his helmet faceplate and tightened its fittings.
"Energize," Kirk ordered.
Scott pulled down the transporter controls and the four SHADO people shimmered and disappeared.
* * *
"Thank you, Colonel Freeman," Emil Duvall said. SHADO medical had given his daughter a quick check and agreed to allow her to go home with her father.
"For what?" Freeman asked.
"For giving me back my daughter," Duvall said.
Freeman shook his head. "Doctor Jackson agreed to let her go home with you. I didn't have anything to do with it."
"I meant for ordering your people to keep looking for her, for not giving up," Duvall explained. "She would have died."
Freeman had nothing to say to that.
Kate Komack walked into the control room. Freeman allowed himself a moment of surprise at seeing her inside SHADO Headquarters. She didn't often come down to the underground complex. Her job has up top, running the film studio.
"I thought you'd be getting ready for Christmas eve," he said.
"They're coming home," she said. Her eyes were bright.
"How can you be so sure?" Freeman asked.
"Because I know," Komack said.
* * *
On the lunar surface, the four SHADO operatives shimmered back into existence. They stumbled at the sudden change in gravity, from full normal to one-sixth, as some distance away, there was a large explosion.
"What happened?" Barry wondered aloud, turning on her suit radio.
"I don't... " Foster began, then paused, collecting his confused thoughts. "The lunar module must have exploded," he reasoned finally, recognizing his surroundings. He couldn't quite understand why the Moon's surface seemed so strange, as if he should have been somewhere else entirely.
"Yeah, that must be it," Spielberg agreed, equally unwilling to admit he didn't quite recall how he got where he was.
Foster turned to find Straker standing nearby, watching the ridge the module must have hit when it came down. "Commander, are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine," Straker's voice came over Foster's suit radio.
A Moon-mobile crossed the ridge, heading directly toward them. The group waved to the craft, which dipped its landing out-riggers in acknowledgment. They would be home shortly.
Captain's log, Local date December 24, 1983. We have returned our four guests to their time and place. Miss Sterreka is in custody. Our mission here is complete and we will be returning home this evening. We can only hope that our interference has not damaged history as we know it, that Commander Straker will find it in his heart to do what we know he did do. On the Enterprise's bridge, Kirk sat in his command chair, Spock standing on one side of him, McCoy on the other. Scott sat at the engineering station, feeding in the corrected equations for their trip home to the Twenty-Third Century
Uhura turned from her station to look back at Kirk. "Captain, I have a communication from the Moonbase to SHADO control. They report they've located the Commander and the others and they're in good health. The module was totally destroyed by an explosion a few minutes after impact."
"Scotty, it looks like we did it," Kirk announced.
Kirk smiled. "I think the Federation historians will be reasonably pleased with the data we've managed to collect, don't you, Spock?"
"I think they will be very interested, Captain, especially since, once again, our interference with history appears to be part of history," Spock replied. "We seem to be drawn with the washes and currents of time."
"So it would seem, Spock," Kirk agreed. "I wonder though, if the Federation is ready for the facts about Earth's true first contact with a non-terrestrial race. That Earth won an interstellar war, before we even had interplanetary travel."
"A war which no one ever heard about, except for a select few. A war between Earth and one of the seeds planted by the Preservers, led by a descendant of yet another people transplanted from Earth. A war that officially never was."
* * *
Inside SHADO's Moonbase, in Central Park, a party was being held. The off duty Moonbase astronauts raised non-alcoholic toasts to Foster and Spielberg, Nina Barry and even Straker, saluting their return from the void of space. Straker simply nodded acknowledgment as he sat before at the small communications screen set into the wall of the room.
On the screen was Elizabeth Kathryn Komack-Straker, her face wreathed with delight at the sight of her husband. "Alec's happier that anybody that you're safe. Uncle Jim told him he was going to get your job if you and Paul didn't show up," she told him.
Straker grinned. "Poor Alec."
"He's sending another module up for you tomorrow," she told him. "With any luck, you'll be home in time for Christmas dinner."
"Good, that'll work out just fine," Straker replied, his expression thoughtful, his gaze locked on some distant scene.
Komack noted the change in expression. "Ed, what's going on? What happened?"
Straker smiled, eyes suddenly focusing back on her. "I'll tell you all about it when I get home, okay?"
"Okay" she returned the smile. "Love you, husband."
Straker touched the screen, gently outlining the face on it. "Love you, wife."
The screen went blank. Straker stood and stretched, looking around the compact area, at the planters with live flowers and green plants. Spielberg and Barry were holding court on one of the sofas, describing in minute detail their long trip back to the Moon in the crippled module.
Straker shook his head in mild amusement and went over to one of the view ports set into the outer wall of the sphere to look out at the stars. Joan Harrington came over to him, a cup of coffee in her hand.
"Welcome back, Commander," she said. Straker gazed at her quietly, then smiled, accepting the coffee. Then he went back to looking out the view port.
"Commander," she said. "While you were lost, there were two attacks. During the second one, SID's Utronic frequencies changed, so we could track them. Do you have any idea how that might have happened?"
"What does SID's program log say?"
"Whatever changed the frequency erased the program log."
"Are you asking if I did it, from the module?"
"The thought had occurred to me," Harrington admitted.
Straker took a sip of his coffee. After a moment: "We weren't the only ones out there who could have done it."
"But, why would the aliens alter SID's frequencies so we could track and destroy them?"
"Captain, not all the aliens are against us, you know. We've run across two who seemed willing to make peaceful contact," Straker said. "Maybe that's what happened this time?"
"Do you really think so, sir?" Harrington asked.
"Stranger things have happened," Straker reminded her. "Unless you want to believe Santa Claus did it."
"I'm beginning to wonder," Harrington said with a smile. She went back to the party, shaking her head. Straker turned to the view-port once more.
After a moment, Foster stepped over to him. The younger man leaned against the wall, watching Straker watch the stars.
"Paul, I'm going to need your help," Straker said finally, not moving from his place at the port. His voice was quiet, barely loud enough to be heard above the chatter of the party. "I need you to trust me."
"What happened out there, Ed?" Foster asked, puzzled. "You were dying."
"Yes, I was dying," Straker admitted quietly. "The lunar module bounced off the atmosphere, we were missing for twenty-six hours. You brought the module in, we landed hard, it exploded only a few minutes after we got out of it."
Foster nodded. "I know. We've all reported the same thing," he reminded Straker. "But, you were dying."
Straker turned his head to look over at Foster. The faintest hint of a smile played across the blond man's thin face. "Let's just say that even in this day and age, miracles still happen. And where better to seek the face of God than among the heavens?"
"Assuming I believed that..." Foster started, not sure what to make of Straker's statement. "Well, it is Christmas Eve after all. What better time for miracles?" Foster conceded. Straker shrugged and turned back to the view port.
"You're planning something," Foster said with sudden certainty. "What is it?"
"If I tell you, you'll think I'm crazy," Straker replied, with a soft sigh. "Paul, I don't really want to go down in history as a genocide. Earth's history is bloody enough as it is. Eighteen months ago, SHADO broke the back of the aliens' military capacity. They can't really hurt us much anymore, just irritate the hell out of us. In a couple years, maybe a generation, they won't even be able to do that."
"You're going to ask their surrender," Foster realized.
Straker simply nodded.
"You're right. I think you're crazy," Foster informed his commanding officer solemnly. Then he grinned. "But, I'm all for trying."
* * *
Historian Sterreka had been escorted to the bridge under guard. She stood with Spock and McCoy, beside Kirk's command chair on the command deck.
On the view-screen was a view of the interior of SHADO's Moonbase, of the leisure sphere. The party was over, the personnel back at their stations.
On the screen, Straker and Foster stood as a tall man with green tinted skin and a red spacesuit decorated with chains of silver circular links entered the room.
"This will not stop the war," Sterreka told Kirk. "The Shui will not accept Su'un's capitulation."
"That may be true, Miss Whatever your name really is," Kirk said. "However, I think Commander Straker is aware of that possibility."
On the view screen: "Welcome to Moonbase, Commander Su'un," General Johannen Edward Straker, United States Air Force, Commander in Chief of SHADO operations, greeted Earth's enemy.
The commander of the Vulcan scout ship noted the various battles, the permitted landing of one Shelmat ship on the Moon and its escorted departure a short time later. The scout ship crew puzzled over this sudden change in behavior at SHADO's war base on the Moon.
The following morning, a lunar shuttle arrived, and shortly thereafter departed from the Moon, making it safely home to Great Britain.
The great white ship with its strange markings left the system, back the way it had come, out of the ecliptic.
"I do not understand," T'Reyl said.
"Neither do I," the commander admitted. "However, it is time to prepare for our return home. We can let future historians concern themselves with this enigma."
"How far in the future, commander?"
"Based on our observations of the planet below, no more than three hundred years."
"Do you think we will be their allies?" she asked.
"Do we dare to not be?"
The Works of Deborah Rorabaugh
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