Deborah A. Rorabaugh
Based on Characters and Situations Created by:
Based on Characters and Situations Created by:
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson
Copyright Feb 24, 1977,1997
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.
The scout ship had achieved orbit about the third planet of the Sol system on the Twentieth day of November, standard local calendar. They were now forty-eight days into their sixty day mission.
This was the third such scout sent to observe developments in this planetary system over the past forty-three local years. The nine person crew had come expecting to find a world just recovering from the effects of a violent economic-political conflict. Observations of a previous scout, a mere twenty-one years before, had indicated that hostilities between the planet's two largest political entities had been escalating uncontrollably into a high probability of nuclear exchange and planetary desolation.
To their astonishment, they discovered a world in which those predicted violent conflicts had evolved into a fierce, non-violent economic competition between the planet's major power blocs. The natives were working, more or less peaceably, towards the cooperation necessary for a planetary government. The areas where violence did prevail were roundly condemned by the world's electronic media.
The natives were also in the midst of exploring their planetary system with robotic and manned probes. The information channels were filled with reports of the new discoveries on Venus and Mars and the farther planets.
Humans were living and working on the Moon in temporary bases, exploiting its resources, exploring its possibilities. This was a burst of sociological and technological advances that had staggered the observers at first. These were developments that Home World social scientists had predicted would not take place for at least fifty Earth years or more.
The scout's commander frowned slightly. This was the only reflection he would permit himself of his intense concern and confusion. He looked around the ship's operations center, at the members of his crew. Even without seeing their faces, he could tell they were as disturbed as he was. T'Pell was recalibrating her sensor arrays once again, while Engineer Stuur checked a set of control relays. His crew was ensuring that nothing, absolutely nothing, was left unchecked, that nothing was overlooked that might have the slightest chance of malfunctioning and leaving them vulnerable to detection and therefore, self-destruction. Their observations were too important to risk.
The commander turned back to his reports, noting down everything, including his crew's reactions to their discoveries. In retrospect, he could understand how the xeno-sociologists at the Science Academy could have come to such erroneous conclusions concerning the capabilities of this system's natives. Their own people had become peaceful and cooperative only in the face of utter self-destruction and had logically assumed that other races would take much the same course.
Additionally, it was a logical assumption that the obvious external differences between the various peoples of Earth, as well as the economic disparities between the technologically developed and undeveloped geo-political areas, would make cooperation difficult. However, while these factors did have an impact, it appeared to be much less than predicted.
What totally confounded the observers, however, was the astonishing discovery that a single organization on the planet Earth was waging a purely defensive interstellar war against technologically superior invaders. Even more astonishingly, Earth appeared to be winning.
The potential of interstellar conflict was one of the reasons the observers were so cautious in their observations of other nearby worlds. Their own racial memories included an invasion from the stars. That invasion had been stopped at a fearful cost and had left lasting psychic scars on their people. It had nearly destroyed them.
However, the observers did not understand the secrecy surrounding this particular war. Logically, such an invasion should, as it had in their own history, have involved the entire planet, forcing political unity. That it did not was utterly inconceivable. But, it was also true.
Fewer than five thousand humans in the entire Earth system even knew there was a war going on. Those five thousand treated the situation as though they were party to the Prime Directive protecting a primitive planet.
It occurred to navigator T'Reyl that the group calling itself SHADO might be from a technologically superior civilization, protecting Earth from outside influences. As evidence, she pointed out the ten shielded and sensor opaque satellites they had observed in high orbit above the Earth and to the several faster-than-light transceivers SHADO possessed and was using as sensor devices.
A suggestion was made to contact SHADO, and through it, the civilization they might be connected with.
The commander considered the proposal. He rejected it on the grounds that they had no proof that such a connection actually existed. It was possible, however unlikely, that SHADO was a purely native construct, covered under Directive One. They would treat it as such.
There was no question that the invading Rokanni would not be contacted. The crew was aware that a scout sent to explore the Rokan system had been attacked and destroyed. The message capsule from that scout had been picked up only two days before their own departure from home. Given the Rokanni's war-like tendencies, as well as the discovery of their attempt at invading the Sol system, the commander made the logical assumption that the Rokanni were not interested in the tenets of non-interference in the development of other races. To contact them might well invite them to attack the Home World. That was a risk no one was willing to take.
The observers waited and watched and recorded more observations. There was a Soviet mining base in Clavius Crater that periodically launched iron-nickel ore down to Earth to land in the Siberian wilderness. The scout ship crew documented the humans' not always efficient mining operations on the far side of the Moon and their surprisingly effective solar powered smelting operations in Siberia.
They observed the clock-like regularity of shuttle flights to and from SHADO's lunar base every seventy-two hours. They noted and commented on the breaking of the pattern as one flight from the Moon was prepared for launch a day early.
Later, they would wonder if the early launch had anything to do with the newest arrival to the Sol system that same day.
A great, brilliantly white, space-going vessel came into near Earth space from above the ecliptic. Without making any attempt at communication, the ship established an orbit slightly above the majority of the planet's artificial satellites.
The scout ship crew watched, and meticulously recorded, the arrival of the vessel, photographing it and describing the configuration. There was a large saucer section, attached by a short thick pylon to a predominantly cylindrical lower section. That, in turn, supported two long, flattened cylinders attached to the lower cylinder by thin pylons.
They also photographed, and described, the pattern of black marks across the white hull, and, the part that gave the obervers most cause for wonder, the identification markings. Those were written in the predominant language of the planet below. However, by no stretch of the imagination could the great white ship have been built by the present-day natives of Earth.
This was a deep space vessel. It was based on propulsion theories Home World physicists were only now seriously investigating.
The ship piqued the commander's curiosity. The only theory he could think of that could possibly explain the appearance of the great white ship was one that was utterly illogical.
Captain's Log: Star Date 8949.2. We have just completed our diplomatic mission to the L'Jharok'ha Colonial Alliance and are enroute to Earth and Star Fleet Headquarters, as per our most recent instructions. Our mission to secure mining concessions within the L'Jharok'ha sphere of influence was successful despite President Kh'veil's overwhelming desire to execute Federation Ambassador Sorvan, a wish I fully understand....
Captain James T. Kirk sat back in his command chair as he watched his crew at their stations. Despite the relative quiet of the past three days as the U.S.S. Enterprise headed back home to Earth, Kirk was tired.
Their mission had gone well-enough, considering everything. But, it was only after the L'Jharok'ha Colonial Alliance admitted they couldn't blow the Enterprise out of space that they agreed to sit down at the negotiating table.
A few more 'diplomatic' missions of that sort could drive a star ship captain to retirement and his chief engineer to drink. Or vice versa
The President of the Colonial Alliance had refused to speak with the Federation diplomatic team when they arrived. He insisted that the 'words of diplomats were less than the words of lying dogs', or at least the phrase translated to that effect. President Kh'veil had insisted, as a condition of continued negotiation, that Kirk execute the Federation ambassador, Sorvan.
Naturally, Kirk had refused, and the L'Jharok'ha flagship had opened fire on his ship.
The Enterprise's shields were down at the time, at Ambassador Sorvan's insistence. Kirk had half considered complying with the L'Jharok'ha demands simply for the Vulcan diplomat insisting his ship remain defenseless. Luckily for all of them, the L'Jharok'ha hadn't yet invented phaser weapons.
The flagship's lasers strafed the Enterprise's upper hull, cutting across the lower hull in the areas where they should have caused the most damage. The star ship's bare alloy tritanium-duranium hull took the energy of the lasers' highest power settings, and simply got annoyingly hot.
There had been only one casualty onboard the Federation ship. A transporter technician was badly burned when a piece of equipment exploded.
Finally, in the face of the Enterprise's technological superiority, the L'Jharok'ha agreed to permit Ambassador Sorvan and his party to beam down to their capital city and begin negotiations. It would have been funny if it hadn't been so heart-stopping.
Now, the Enterprise's white, iridescent hull was marred with lines of black carbonization. The U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC 1701-A, was dirty.
Commander Uhura, at her communication station as usual, turned to Kirk. "Captain, we have clearance for standard orbit around Earth. However, Star Fleet has requested we delay authorizing shore leave for essential personnel until further notice."
A muted groan went up around the bridge.
"And, Mister Scott's request for space dock time to clean the hull has been denied."
"Do they give a reason why?" Kirk asked.
"Only that we are to stand-by for further orders and you and Captain Spock are to report to Admiral Cartwright's office as soon as possible," Uhura replied. She keyed a different combination on her communications console and listened to the far away voices a few moments. "I don't find anything on the other communications nets concerning a possible emergency mission. According to them, everything's fine. No crises brewing, no diplomatic problems, nothing."
Kirk was openly puzzled as he turned to Spock. "If there isn't a crisis, why is Star Fleet being so mysterious?"
"I suggest, Captain, we ask Admiral Cartwright," Spock responded from his seat at the science station. "Especially since we do have instructions to be at his office as soon as possible."
Kirk sighed, stood and headed for the turbo-lift. "Spock, why do I have the feeling I'm not going to like whatever Cartwright has planned?"
"A hunch, Captain?" The doors opened and Spock followed Kirk into the lift.
Kirk shook his head. "An analysis based on past performance. When Star Fleet gets mysterious, all hell's about the break loose. It's probably another diplomatic courier mission."
"We have been given a number of diplomatic assignments recently," Spock observed.
"I'm overly not fond of diplomatic courier missions," Kirk replied. "I wonder why they won't let us into dock to clean the hull."
* * *
Within ten minutes of achieving standard orbit around its home world, the captain and first officer of the Star Ship Enterprise arrived at the broad sunny plaza of Star Fleet Command Headquarters Central, in San Francisco, North America. A maintenance robot was polishing the structure's exterior transparent aluminum curtain wall. Several gardeners tended the winter ravaged flower beds beside the foot paths.
Moments later, Kirk and Spock arrived at the Headquarters building's central turbo-lift. The lift deposited them in the hall just outside the twenty-fifth floor office of the head of Star Fleet Operations.
Burgundy jacketed passers-by gave both officers courteous nods of greeting as they hurried past on their own errands, computer-padds in hand. However, there was no sense of heightened tension indicating an emergency was brewing.
The two Enterprise officers entered the outer office. "Captain Kirk and Captain Spock to see Admiral Cartwright," Kirk announced. He smiled pleasantly at the very young ensign seated at the desk in the outer office.
The ensign didn't return Kirk's smile as she leaned low over the desk intercom and toggled the switch, announcing their presence to the occupant of the office beyond. The door to the inner office was closed.
"I wonder why we're always the ones picked to handle the hot potatoes?" Kirk muttered to Spock as the dark haired young woman completed her announcement and switched off the intercom.
"I suggest, Captain, that Star Fleet chooses us because we are very good at handling 'hot potatoes'," Spock replied, equally quietly. There was the barest hint of a smile on the Vulcan's angular face. "That is, of course assuming we are being handed such a vegetable."
"If you'll have a seat, the admiral will be with you in just a moment, gentlemen," the ensign said. She indicated the low-slung sofa and matching chairs arranged a short distance away from her desk.
With a silent sigh of impatience, Kirk sat down on the black and chrome sofa. Spock took a seat in one of the chairs.
"Uhura tells me the Bonhomme Richard is in space dock. I understand she had a run in with a convoy of Orion smugglers," Kirk told Spock, keeping his voice low. "I was hoping I'd have enough time to catch up with Carmarca, see how Sulu's been making out as her XO this past year."
"Do you know Captain Carmarca?" Spock asked.
Kirk nodded. "She was a couple years behind me at the Academy. Pia was chief helmsman on the Potemkin while I was Captain Wynne's first officer. She's a tough lady. I hope she hasn't been too hard on him."
"I'm sure Captain Carmarca has been as impressed with Commander Sulu as we all have been. He is, after all, an excellent officer," Spock reminded Kirk. "It was unfortunate that Star Fleet chose to postpone his ship captaincy due to his involvement in the Genesis situation."
"Scotty tells me the Excelsior has finally finished her space trials and there's a rumor that Captain Stiles is being reassgned. Rumor also has it that Sulu's been mentioned as Stile's replacement," Kirk said.
"A rumor, Captain?"
Kirk grinned. "A rumor, problematical information traveling even faster than sub-space."
The door to Cartwright's office slid open.
"You may go right in, sirs," the ensign informed them. Kirk stood and gave the ensign a nod of acknowledgment as he smoothed the front of his burgundy uniform jacket.
"Now for the bad news," Kirk muttered as he and Spock stepped past the young woman to enter the admiral's inner sanctum.
Cartwright was seated at the large teak conference table at the far end of the corner office. He was not alone. A young Vulcan male wearing the somber tunic of a scholar was also seated at the table with an attractive young human woman.
Her eyes were blue and her long ash blonde hair was done up in neat braids. She was dressed in soft pastels, a flowing silk tunic over pink slacks. Her expression was nearly as somber as her Vulcan companion's.
"I'm sorry I had to make this all sound so mysterious, Jim," Cartwright began, giving Kirk an apologetic smile. "But something 'interesting' has come to our attention, and it appears to concern the Enterprise."
The dark skinned officer motioned for Kirk and Spock to take seats at the table.
"Interesting, Admiral?" Kirk wondered aloud as he settled into one of the indicated chairs. He cast a curious glance at Cartwright's guests.
"This is Historian Sehtal, of the Vulcan Science Academy." Cartwright indicated the Vulcan. "And Historian Sterreka of Danae."
Both historians nodded in greeting.
"I had been hoping to meet you, Historian Sehtal," Spock stated. Sehtal simply raised one straight, dark eyebrow. After long association with Spock, Kirk recognized it as the Vulcan expression of surprise.
"I have read your analysis of the political background of Vulcan's early observation probes to Earth and the thoughts at the time concerning Directive One and the destruction before detection order," Spock explained.
Without moving a muscle, Sehtal managed to look pleased.
Spock continued: "I had hoped we might have the opportunity to discuss the differing versions of Vulcan's first contact with Earth, and how that has affected Vulcans' perception of humans."
"I would be honored to have your thoughts on these matters, Captain Spock," Sehtal replied. "I look forward to arranging time in the near future for such a discussion. Your personal experience in accommodating the Prime Directive in first contact situations should prove most illuminating in respect to my own studies concerning the differences in perception between Vulcans and humans concerning the non-interference directive."
Spock nodded his head ever so slightly, accepting the compliment, although, if asked, neither Vulcan would admit that a compliment had been made. Their statements were made in light of logical rationality, nothing more.
Sehtal turned to face Kirk. "As I am sure you are aware, Captain Kirk, Vulcan space probes studied the civilization of the planet Earth for many years prior to the first contact between our peoples."
"From about the mid-nineteen forties, if I remember my history," Kirk replied, curious as to what a lesson in Vulcan-Earth history had to do with their mysterious upcoming mission, whatever that might be.
"May 22, Nineteen-forty-three, old calendar, to be precise, Captain," Spock amended. "The probes carried a crew of ten and were sent at fourteen year intervals, approximately. They monitored Earth's communications channels and studied the planet's environmental and climactic changes for sixty days each time."
Kirk gave him a puzzled look and Spock continued. "The pre-warp drive technology scouts only carried enough provisions and fuel for that length of study. Most of the crew was put into hyper-sleep during the actual voyage. Even taking into account the effects of time dilation, the trip took ten subjective years."
Kirk smiled. "Yes, I imagine that's a long time, even for Vulcans." Vulcans were an extremely long-lived people, but it always surprised Kirk how matter-of-factly they could contemplate taking ten or more years of their lives to devote to a single objective or field of study
Spock turned back to Sehtal. "It was my understanding, however, that all scout ship records had been released for study by the Federation. All the original participants are now dead, so the privacy issue is moot."
"All records have been released, with one specific exception," Sehtal admitted. The Vulcan historian pulled out one sheet from a pile of hard-copy on the table in front of him, and handed it to Kirk. It was a photograph of the Enterprise as it looked now, white hull marked with carbon streaks. Even the registry numbers were clear : NCC-1701-A. Earth's Moon could be seen in the background.
Kirk handed the picture to Spock.
"What's so worrisome about a picture of my ship taken as we came into orbit?" Kirk asked.
Cartwright's dark brown face took on a worried scowl. "Jim, that picture wasn't taken as the Enterprise came into orbit just now. It wasn't taken by any Federation vessel or monitoring station."
"Then, who took it?"
The Danaen historian answered. She had a low, melodic voice. "That photograph was taken by a Vulcan scout ship in Earth orbit, December twenty-third, Nineteen eighty-three, Nine-fifty-three AM, Zulu time, old calendar."
"You're joking," Kirk protested. "The Enterprise has never gone back to Nineteen-eighty-three." He stopped, abruptly realizing the significance of his own words and the meaning of the wry expression on Cartwright's face. "But, we are now, aren't we?" he completed for himself.
Cartwright handed Kirk a small data card. "Your orders, Jim. Since you were seen there, you have to go there to be seen. Miss Sterreka will be accompanying you as historical observer. The Danaen government has expressed a certain interest in this period of Earth's history."
Kirk turned back to Sehtal, "Why is this information coming to light only now?"
"The data was kept in a secured file in the history archives at the Vulcan Science Academy. It's opening was predicated on a specific entry being made into the computer archives: The existence of a space going vessel with hull markings, in English, of NCC 1701 dash A, U.S.S. Enterprise. That event occurred four point three years ago."
"Why weren't we told then?"
"To inform you prior to the fact would have served no purpose," Sehtal replied, all Vulcan reasonableness. "The second requirement was for this vessel to have these markings on the hull. That did not occur until your diplomatic mission to L'Jharok'ha, twenty-five days ago."
"You've been waiting four years for the Enterprise to show up needing a good wash?" Kirk asked in disbelief.
"Four point three years, Captain." Spock corrected.
"Are you in on this, too?" Kirk groused at his first officer.
Spock simply raised one Vulcan eyebrow.
Kirk sat back in his chair with a sigh. He couldn't quite decide whether to laugh or to let himself get thoroughly annoyed. He opted for annoyance.
Time travel was a tricky business at best. Besides, Kirk found himself resenting being told he had to do something because he'd already done it. Where was free will when someone could tell you what you must do because you'd already done it in their past?
Cartwright misunderstood Kirk's sigh and subsequent silence. "Jim, you and your crew are the ones who took a falling apart Klingon scout through time and back. I'm sure a properly functioning star ship won't have any trouble at all. Besides, as the Vulcan Science Academy has also just reminded us, you left about a dozen communications monitors in Nineteen-sixty-eight, and now might be a good time to go back and retrieve them, since they're certainly not it orbit now and we have no record of them ever being retrieved."
With a sigh of resignation, Kirk placed the data card with his orders into the proper slot in the computer-padd in front of him. Silently, he keyed in his security code and read the instructions as they came up on the small screen.
"Scotty is going to have a fit," Kirk muttered as his orders scrolled off the top of the screen. Cartwright and Sterreka looked momentarily confused. The two Vulcans were as imperturbable as only Vulcans can be.
"My chief engineering officer just got the trans-warp drive tuned to his satisfaction and now he'll have to take it off line for the warp-break-away procedure," Kirk explained for the benefit of Cartwright and the two historians.
"I'm sure Captain Scott will survive the experience, Jim," Cartwright assured him.
Kirk gave him a crooked grin. "Yes, but will I, after he finds out?"
Cartwright scowled at Kirk's flip remark. Spock managed to look thoughtfully amused.
"Admiral, may I make one request for an additional crew member for this little jaunt?" Kirk asked after a moment.
"Who and why?" Cartwright asked. His brows beetled into a warning frown.
"I noticed the Bonhomme Richard was in space dock for some minor repairs. Considering the delicacy of this mission, I'd really like to have Commander Sulu as helmsman. He is the only Star Fleet helmsman with this type of experience," Kirk answered. He gave Cartwright his most innocently disarming smile.
"I see," Cartwright said. "I'll see if Captain Carmarca can manage without her first officer for a few days."
* * *
Pia Carmarca sat with her first officer in the cafeteria on the upper level of deck fifteen of Star Fleet's orbital space dock. The large ports looked out onto their ship, hanging in freefall in the enormous cavern of the docking-repair facility. Umbilical lines connected the Bonhomme Richard to the docks, bringing power and air to the ship. Work-pods and space-suited workmen were already scurrying over the white ship as other work-pods and men brought in replacement hull plates.
"Well, Kirk is asking for you specifically, Hikaru," the captain said peering at her executive officer over her double espresso. Cartwright's request had found them at lunch, reviewing the several crew reassignments that had come through. "I can spare you for a week or so, if you really want to go on this mission," she added.
"Shouldn't I be over-seeing the repairs, Captain?" Hikaru Sulu asked.
Carmarca smiled. "You should," she agreed. "But, I think Chief Engineer Tranh can handle it. After all, she was trained by Montgomery Scott himself."
The captain paused, her dark eyebrows drawing together with concern. "I am a little puzzled that Kirk has asked for you, though. What sort of mission has he got that he needs the best helmsman in the fleet, and my first officer? I've never heard of a star system named December 1983."
Sulu shook his head thoughtfully. "I don't think it's a matter of where, Captain, but of when."
On a small, highly classified, military base on Earth's Moon, thirty-three year-old Paul Foster, senior-level operative for SHADO, Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defense Organization, silently bemoaned his fate.
Foster hated paper-work. He hadn't liked paperwork when he was in the RAF learning to fly. He hadn't liked it when he was a civilian test pilot, wringing out some of the hottest private planes now in production. He didn't like it now.
Only problem was, his job seemed more and more to revolve around paper-work. Even Moonbase's monthly inspection had evolved into simply more reports to be filled out, more paper-work to finish and file, in quadruplicate. Not that anyone outside of SHADO would ever read them. Foster sometimes wondered if anyone in SHADO ever read them besides Ed Straker, the organization's commander-in-chief.
Foster leaned back in his chair in the Moonbase leisure sphere. He stretched his arms above his head, working the kinks out of his back. He'd been sitting in the low chair far too long, hunched over the table in front of him, looking over paper-work.
Captain Joan Harrington, Moonbase's commanding officer, sat across the table from him. "Do we pass inspection, Colonel?" she asked brightly. There was confidence in her blue eyes, in the slight smile on the oval face beneath the regulation anti-static mauve wig.
He grinned. He knew she knew the answer to her question. Moonbase's performance was top-notch, as always, despite the arduous hours, the days and weeks of waiting and watching for the enemy. It was a boring duty, the boredom only occasionally broken by the excitement of sighting and attacking the U.F.O.s that made a habit of attacking a virtually defenseless Earth.
That was Harrington's job, coordinating Earth's first line of defense, defending the planet against invaders who came out of space at near the speed of light to kidnap innocents, to use them in unspeakable ways and to destroy what they could not take. Harrington had served on Moonbase nearly six years and had served as base commander for nearly a year. Her record was flawless.
"Looks like a clean bill of health to me," Foster confirmed, straightening up in his chair. He was glad to be done with the monthly inspection. He collected the reports from the table and initialed the top sheet, noting the date: December 22, 1983. He shoved the papers into a glossy gray folder.
"Now all we have to do is convince Commander Straker," Harrington quipped.
"Convince me of what?" Ed Straker asked, coming over to take a seat. He had a cup of coffee in his hand, light and sweet, the way he always fixed his coffee while visiting Moonbase.
"That the Christmas decorations are regulation," Foster replied with a grin. He indicated the glittering ornaments and lights strung from the ceilings and walls of the lounge. "I've given them a clean bill of health," Foster added. He handed his commanding officer the file. "You'll want to double-check it, of course." He both knew that was how Straker normally worked.
Straker surprised him. "I'm sure everything's checked out fine," he said, handing the file back to Foster without even opening it.
Straker's voice was quiet, but there was an odd breathiness that Foster didn't recall having been there before and there was a tiredness in Straker's posture, in his finely boned face.
Foster couldn't remember ever seeing his commander so fatigued before. Straker wasn't an old man, he was only twelve years older than Foster, but there was a look of age about him, a fragility that hadn't been there even a month ago. Foster was surprised to notice for the first time that Straker's hair had gone from pale blond to pure white.
"Sir, all you feeling all right?" Harrington asked. She had also noted the grayness in Straker's complexion.
Straker took a sip of coffee and grimaced.
"Sir?" Foster said when Straker didn't answer Harrington's question. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Straker finally replied. He set his coffee on the low table and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "I'm just tired, and I have a headache, that's all." He glanced up as an off-duty fighter pilot entered the room and headed for one of the food servers set into the wall of the sphere.
"It's funny, I know the temperature in here is set to seventy-two degrees and fifty percent humidity," Straker said. "But, I'm freezing!"
"Shall I check the temperature setting, sir?" Harrington asked, getting up from her seat.
"Please, Captain," Straker said. He'd started to shiver, folding his arms across his chest.
Harrington went to the environmental control pad on the wall next to the door of the sphere and checked the settings. She looked back at Foster, shaking her head.
"Thanks, Joan," Foster acknowledged. "I'll talk to you later."
Harrington nodded, her expression worried. Then she left, heading for her duty station in the Control sphere.
There was an ivory wool afghan thrown across one of the chairs. It had been knitted by one of the Moonbase astronauts to fill his time. Foster picked it up and handed it to Straker. The older man's hands were like ice.
"Maybe this will help, sir," Foster said. Straker simply nodded, wrapping the throw around himself.
Foster recalled a discussion with Alec Freeman, Straker's chief of staff, only a week before. They'd been in Straker's office, in SHADO's underground headquarters complex, north of London.
Straker had left early again that day. Tired, he'd said. He'd been saying that a lot, lately.
Doctor Frazer, one of SHADO's staff physicians, had requested a private meeting with Freeman and Foster. Frazer's long face had been drawn with worry as he informed them of their superior officer's deteriorating heart problem.
"I can't tell you how long he can survive in this condition," Frazer told them. "There have been people who've hung on for years in heart failure. But, frankly, by next month, I doubt he'll be able to work. He may well be dead."
"Does the commander know this?" Freeman had asked. He and Foster were already handling most of Straker's duties. That Straker didn't seem to notice their attempts to lighten his work load was simply one more sign of how sick he was.
"I've given him my opinion and recommended he see a cardiac specialist," the SHADO physician said. "I've told him there is a possibility that valve replacement surgery could solve the problem, but I'm not qualified to do open heart surgery."
"What did Straker say to that?" Foster had wanted to know.
Frazer's thin mouth pulled into a wry grin. "He told me he would take my recommendation under advisement," the physician reported.
"To be honest with you, I don't understand how his condition could have deteriorated so quickly," Frazer admitted to them. "We knew his heart may have been damaged when he over-dosed on the X-50 drug last year, when Turner was killed. We've been monitoring it quite closely for the past fifteen months."
"The aortic murmur showed up only two months ago, and he's gone into full blown congestive heart failure since then. I'd say he'd picked up an infection of some sort, but nothing's shown up in his blood studies and his EKG is absolutely normal. The only other thing's that's shown up is some joint inflammation suggestive of an auto-immune disease."
The English physician shook his head. "I don't understand it and there's not much I can do except keep an eye on his medication levels and hope he doesn't come down with pneumonia."
"Thank you, Jake," Freeman said, dismissing the physician. Frazer nodded and left the office to return to his office in the medical center at the far end of the SHADO complex.
"When were you planning to let the Commission know about it?" Foster asked, watching the older man's worried expression. Freeman and Straker had been close friends for years, even before they'd started working together for SHADO. And, even though Frazer's report had simply confirmed what they'd already suspected, the news was still a shock.
"Henderson suspects," Freeman said. General James Henderson was chairman of the United Nations commission that officially oversaw SHADO's operations. They controlled the money.
"He keeps asking me how Ed's doing. I keep telling him everything's okay," Freeman explained. He sighed, leaning against the broad slate topped desk that dominated the office. "You know, the official request to relieve the commander from duty for medical reasons has to come from three senior officers and at least two staff physicians," he reminded Foster.
"I know," Foster replied. They'd been through all this before.
There was anguish in Freeman's leathery face. "Paul, it'll kill him. He's put fourteen years of his life into building and running SHADO, running this war with the aliens."
"So, what do we do?" Foster had asked.
"I'm going to talk to Kate, again. See if she can talk him into going in for the surgery," Freeman told him. "If he does, he'll be out for six weeks or so, but we can handle that."
"And if he doesn't?"
Freeman shook his head. His blue eyes had gone dull with pain. "We'll be burying him in a month."
* * *
Straker had started to cough, a deep, wracking, agonizing cough. He held a tissue to his mouth as the coughing finally subsided. The white tissue was tinged with bright blood as he took it from his lips. He was gasping for breath, his complexion gray beneath his light tan.
The pilot at the food server behind Straker watched, worry written across his young face.
"Joe, go get the medic," Foster ordered. Straker shook his head, gasping, unable to speak. The pilot stood still for a moment, apparently undecided as to which senior officer he should obey.
Foster mouthed 'GO', at him, jerking his head at the door for emphasis. The pilot ran out of the room to get the Moonbase medical officer.
The attack passed before the medic arrived. Straker took the bloody tissue, wadded it up and stuck it in his pocket, as if by hiding the evidence, he could deny its existence.
"There's a little moisture in your lungs, and your blood pressure is low," Medical officer Tze reported after quickly examining Straker. "I'm not in a position to prescribe anything for you. You might want to speak with Doctor Frazer when you get back to headquarters."
"Thank you, I'll do that," Straker said as he pulled his suit jacket back on. His expression was stonily calm as he regarded Foster, still sitting opposite him.
Foster recognized Straker's expression. The commander was furious and working to control it. Foster wondered who Straker was more angry at, himself for being ill, or Foster, for noticing and taking action.
"We're finished with the inspection up here," Foster said, choosing to ignore Straker's anger. "There's no reason we can't leave for Earth tomorrow morning."
"In fact, I would recommend it, sir," Tze informed them as he finished putting away his equipment. "Moonbase isn't a real good place to get sick."
"Leaving early will mess up the leave schedule and leave Joan two people short," Straker reminded Foster curtly, ignoring the medic.
Foster shrugged. "Joan's been short staffed before, and I doubt if anybody up here will mind if Nina and Charlie get an extra day on Earth. We can always assign them one day's duty at headquarters," Foster told his superior. "Besides, it'll give Nina and Alec an extra day to figure out how they're going to smuggle that case of New Year's champagne up here. You know, the stuff you're not supposed to know about."
To Foster's relief, Straker actually grinned. "Paul, considering the Christmas rum came up marked as radar tracking spares, I don't think Alec will have any trouble getting the champagne up here."
Captain's Log: Star Date 8950.1 The Enterprise has been ordered to travel back through time to late Twentieth century Earth. This is so we can be seen by a Vulcan Probe ship reported to be in orbit at this time, and also so we can pick up sensor monitors that were placed in Earth orbit during a previous visit to 1969.
With a silent sigh, Kirk finished his log entry. He pressed the button on the control panel on the arm of his command chair, turning off the recorder.
His ship shuddered around him, creaking with stresses that no star ship was designed to take. Kirk hated the sound, hated the idea of his ship being turned into a time machine, no matter how temporarily. More immediately, Kirk hated the feeling of impending doom that traveling through time gave him.
History was too fragile to be left to star ships and mere mortal star ship captains, no matter how experienced. The fact that he and his senior command crew had the most experience of anyone the known galaxy didn't help any. If anything, it made it worse.
Kirk knew how very fragile the currents of time were, how the actions of one individual, their life or their death, could rend history-as-it-was into shapes that were utterly incomprehensible. He also knew how impossible it was to tell at the time which actions future history demanded for the maintenance of its continuity.
"Warp-breakaway maneuver completed, Captain," Spock announced.
Determining to simply do as best as he could under the circumstances, Kirk acknowledged the announcement and looked around the bridge at his crew. Ensign Petra Mallory, petite and brown haired, newly graduated from Star Fleet Academy, was seated at navigation. Commander Hikaru Sulu, on loan from the Bonhomme Richard, was manning the helm. The sight of his former helmsman back at his station made Kirk feel a little better about their mission, but not much.
Commander Uhura sat at her communications station, as usual. She was tapping into the Twentieth Century carrier wave transmissions that escaped the Earth's atmosphere.
They were picking up a Spanish language station from Equador at the moment. The cheery sounds of Christmas music came over the speakers
Spock was at his science station, meticulously monitoring the various sensor arrays. Everything, down to the tiniest scrap of information, was being recorded for study by future historians.
Commander Sulu looked back to Kirk. "Earth orbit in thirty minutes, Captain. It's December Twenty-third, nineteen-eighty-three."
"Thank you, Mister Sulu."
Uhura pressed a series of buttons on her console, then she turned in her chair to address Kirk. "Beginning recording of local planetary broadcasts now, sir." She smiled, white teeth bright against her dark, fine featured face. "It's one very noisy planet, Captain."
Kirk grinned back at her. "I don't recall that anyone has ever accused humans of being a quiet species," he quipped. He keyed a switch on the communications panel on the arm of his command chair, "Cargo Transporter two."
Lieutenant Kevlin, newly transferred to the Enterprise from the U.S.S. Sagan, answered promptly. "Transporter room, Kevlin speaking."
"Mister Kevlin, you and Mister Scott may begin transporting the monitors aboard as soon as we're in range."
In cargo transporter room two, Eduard Kevlin stood at the control console. Two assistant engineers in white engineering cover-alls stood near the wide cargo transporter platform. A box of anti-grav lifters rested on the floor between them. The lifters would make moving the satellites down to the engineering section for analysis that much easier. Each satellite weighed about three hundred kilos.
"Aye, sir. Beginning locator procedures now," Kevlin responded as the transporter room doors opened and Chief Engineer Scott entered.
Scott nodded a greeting to his assistants. Then, he stepped over to the console, taking his position next to Kevlin at the transporter controls. The heavy-set Scotsman played the control board as if it were a musical instrument, guiding Kevlin through the difficult procedure of locating the radar invisible, sensor opaque, monitor satellites.
* * *
A Lunar Transport Module stood in launch position on the launch pad above Moobase's leisure sphere.
Within the cockpit of the Lunar Module, Paul Foster and his space suited copilot, Charlie Spielberg, finished their pre-launch checks. They marked each item off on the preprinted check-lists on their knee boards. Seated behind them, their two passengers patiently watched the procedures. They'd been through it all many times before.
A video monitor on the control panel blinked on and Joan Harrington came on the screen. "SHADO Lunar module fifty-four, clearance for take-off at ten, twenty-three, thirty. Trans-lunar trajectory green," she announced.
"Roger, Moonbase," Foster replied, putting away his check-list.
The count-down clock on the panel blinked down to zero.
At the touch of a button on the control panel, the module engines began to fire. Smoke and flame erupted from the bottom nozzles of the main engines, kicking up flurries of moon dust.
Inside Moonbase's Control Sphere, Harrington sat at the main control console in the center of the room. Seated at other consoles were this shift's command crew, Myra Wingate and Carol Miller. All three women wore Moonbase's regulation silver-gray uniforms and anti-static mauve wigs. It gave them a deceptively uniform appearance, which belied their differing and complementary talents and personalities.
The Moonbase command crew checked their radar screens and computer monitors, going over their own pre-launch check-lists. Miller nodded a go-ahead to her commander.
Harrington spoke into the microphone at her station: "Lift off, fifty-four."
At the touch of a lever inside the module, the module rocket engines increased their output and the secondary engines ignited. With deceptive slowness, the module lifted away from its launch pad.
Inside, Spielberg watched the various numbers that came up on the computer screen in front of him. "Everything A-okay, sir," he announced.
"Good," Foster commented. He turned to look back at his passengers, Straker and Moonbase operative Nina Barry. "Lift-off completed. E.O.I. in two hours, fourteen minutes. Rendezvous with the carrier, four minutes after that, Commander."
Barry checked the time on her watch. "That'll get us back just in time for lunch."
"After the food up here, we could probably stand a good meal," Straker commented with a wry grin.
The others chuckled. They'd all been eating Moonbase food too long not to appreciate how boring it was.
Straker also chuckled, but the laugh quickly became another of his wracking coughs that left him pale and gasping for air.
"Sir, are you all right?" Barry asked, alarm in her husky voice. There was a faintly blue tinge to Straker's lips, and there was blood at the corner of his mouth.
"I've been having a little trouble catching my breath, that's all," he told her. He wiped the blood away with the back of his hand.
"Commander, there's a supplemental oxygen tank behind you," Foster said. He kept his voice calm, matter-of-fact, but, he couldn't dispel the worry that was clutching at him.
"Sir? Why the oxygen?" Spielberg kept his voice low. He glanced back to where Straker was still trying to recover his breath. Barry had pulled out the oxygen tank and was trying to convince Straker to take the face mask.
"The commander is very ill. That's why we left Moonbase a day early," Foster informed him, equally quietly.
"Sir, how did he get to Moonbase in that condition in the first place?"
Foster simply shook his head. He wasn't sure he wanted to explain how he and Alec Freeman had agreed to let Straker make this trip to the Moon, with the understanding that it would probably be his last.
Foster wondered briefly if Straker would survive this last trip back to Earth and SHADO headquarters. It might be a blessing if he didn't. Then, Straker wouldn't have to face the fact that Freeman, his closest friend, was being forced to ask General Henderson and the Commission to relieve him of duty, even if it was for the good of the organization and himself.
Foster recalled his own father's reaction at being forced to retire from his work as an aerospace engineer following a massive heart attack. He'd kept saying it was all right. He wanted to retire early, to take his well-deserved leisure.
But, within four months, Allan Foster was dead at the age of forty-five. Not of a sick heart, but of a broken one, or so Paul's mother had insisted. Straker was the same age Paul Foster's father had been at his death.
* * *
Kirk sat back in his command chair, watching the large view screen at the front of the bridge. On the screen, an early lunar transport ship could be seen, heading for orbital insertion and re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. For a fanciful moment, Kirk thought the ship rather resembled a mad artist's concept of a trilobite.
The ship was bright yellow. The underside heat shield was dark brown, shading to black where the heat of previous re-entries had left their mark. Structurally, it was divided into three lengthwise sections. A control-passenger-freight cabin was mounted above the main engines. It was flanked on either side by smaller cylindrical fuel pods and auxiliary engines.
The ship had been launched from one of the lunar bases. A quick sensor sweep had shown that the above ground portion of the base resembled a set of five soccer-balls connected by short passageways to a central hexagonal building. The sixth side of the central hexagon was connected to a passageway that ended in an airlock to the surface, facing a landing pad. It was neat and compact, and utterly human-made.
Even Scott had expressed his appreciation of the ingenuity that had gone into building the base. Each exterior graphite composite panel was individually sprung to absorb micro-meteorite impacts. Without lunar manufacturing plants, each of the modular pieces had been fabricated on Earth, shipped up by shuttle and assembled on the Moon.
Kirk couldn't even begin to guess how long it must have taken the builders to excavate the underground portions of the complex. On the lower level, there were living and storage areas and a large hangar that sensors indicated held six one-man fighter craft ready for launch. The builders would have been limited to hand tools, light-weight excavators, and explosives. All the work had to have been done in space-suits. It would be a tough job even today for the Star Fleet Corps of Engineers.
Kirk wondered a moment at how Federation archeologists could have missed finding the remains of the base. Then he realized that the underground portions still existed in the Twenty-third Century. They were incorporated into Lunagrad, the second largest city on Earth's Moon. The hangar was part of the green-house complex.
Spock was continuing his sensor scans of local space, noting, for future analysis, the debris in near Earth orbit, the positions of the various communications and observation satellites. He made special note of the fast moving micro-debris in low orbit. Apparently, those were from early attempts at destroying large chunks of debris, before it became fully evident that a few large, fast-moving pieces were less dangerous than many small, fast-moving, pieces.
After a time, Spock glanced up at the scene on the main view screen, then turned to look over at Kirk. "Captain, I have located the Vulcan Scout ship in orbit around Earth."
"Have they seen us?" Kirk asked.
"I would assume so," Spock replied, turning back to check the computer readings at his station. "They are presently in synchronous orbit with some orbital debris."
"Do they know we've seen them?"
"I think not, since they have not self-destructed. They do have standing orders of destruction before detection, in accordance with the Prime Directive." Spock paused before continuing, "I have deliberately made our scans of them appear as though we are simply surveying the orbital debris. I suggest we ignore them, Captain. Permit them to assume that our sensor scan mistook their ship as a piece of space debris."
"Pity we couldn't convince them we were a piece of space debris," Kirk commented wryly. "It might have saved us the whole trip."
Sulu frowned at a contact indication on his helm monitor. "Captain, I'm picking up four craft approaching Earth at point eight of light speed."
Kirk straightened in his chair, suddenly attentive. "Are you sure, Sulu? Earth doesn't have ships that fast in this era, and there shouldn't be anyone else in this system moving that fast either."
Spock looked back to the sensor monitors. "Confirmed, Captain. Craft speed dropping to point seven-five of light speed. Computer analysis indicates they were launched from Titan."
Sulu quickly checked the read-out on the helm sensors. "The craft are bearing one-seven-three mark two. Straight for Earth, sir. Speed dropping rapidly."
"Maximum magnification," Kirk ordered.
The scene on the large view screen changed. In place of the Lunar Module, the four mysterious space craft appeared. Kirk did not recognize the design. The ships were shaped rather like upside-down tea-cups with blob-like projections around the bottom rim. They appeared to rotate about a central axis as they moved through space.
"Unknown, Captain, but sensors indicate humanoid life-forms in an aqueous oxygenated fluoro-carbon atmosphere. I read heavy weaponry and first generation warp-drive engines," Spock reported. "They appear to have tunable navigational deflectors and shields. Odd, I would not have expected that of such an apparently primitive design. Fascinating," the Vulcan added.
* * *
The command crew at SHADO's Moonbase had also spotted the four craft, identifying them immediately as the enemy.
* * *
In Earth orbit, in perpetual opposition to the Moon, a sophisticated communications and radar satellite known as Space Intruder Detector announced to those possessing the proper codes and algorithms: "Four unidentified flying objects bearing four-two-eight, one-two-six, green."
* * *
Captain Harrington rapped out the necessary orders to the on duty fighter-pilots of her command. "Red alert, red alert, Interceptors, immediate launch."
In another Moonbase sphere, three astronaut-fighter pilots lounged, chatting, playing cards as they waited for orders. At the sound of the red alert alarm and Harrington's voice over the speakers, they straightened up, preparing for action.
"Interceptors, immediate launch!"
With those instructions, the three men abandoned their game, jumping up to grab their helmets out of their respective cubbyholes. They dove, feet first, into the launch chutes set into the side of the room. The chutes would deposit each of them into their respective space-fighter craft, various interlocks guaranteeing them air and warmth until the ships' canopies sealed shut against the lunar vacuum.
On the lunar surface, camouflaged doors set into the ground slid aside revealing a man-made cavern. Inside the cavern were six launch pads set on hydraulic lifters, each carrying one heavily armed space-fighter.
As chutes withdrew from the fighters, three of the six launch pads rose to the lunar surface. The Moonbase interceptors launched as soon as they were in position, speeding away from the surface to locate and destroy the four incoming enemy space craft.
* * *
"Three modified L-seven-seven orbital interceptor craft have just taken off from the Moon. They are armed and are on an intercept course with the four unidentified craft," Spock announced from his station.
"Tactical," Kirk ordered.
Sulu fingered the commands into his console.
On the main view screen there appeared a tactical grid of near-Earth space. The Earth itself was a white circle set in one corner. The lunar module was represented by a blue dot nearing the planet's atmosphere. The four alien craft were green dots approaching from beyond the orbit of Mars. Three red dots converged on them from the Moon.
At her station, Uhura worked to tap into the communications of the three different types of space craft.
Kirk and his bridge crew watched as, on the tactical screen, the three lunar based interceptors approached and fired missiles at the four alien intruders. The aliens fired back, barely missing their targets. The interceptors proved to be surprisingly maneuverable.
The interceptors fired a second salvo and two of the green dots vanished from the screen. The remaining two green dots veered off, heading in a wide arc toward Earth and the small blue dot of the lunar module.
Finally, Uhura succeeded in her attempt to isolate and decode the interceptor transmissions. A man's voice was heard over the speaker at her station: "Interceptor leader to Moonbase. Confirm, two U.F.O.s destroyed."
A woman's voice replied calmly, "Roger interceptor leader. Return to base."
On the tactical display, the three red dots turned and headed back for the Moon.
* * *
Inside the Moonbase control sphere, Harrington turned to Wingate. "What about the other two?"
Wingate checked the radar monitor and computer screen at her station, instantly interpreting their information. "They've veered off, bearing one-three-seven, four-eight-four, towards the lunar module. Interception in four minutes."
Harrington's mouth pulled into a grimace as she turned to her console microphone and keyed it on. "Moonbase to Lunar Module fifty-four. We have two U.F.O.s headed your way. Confirm E.O.I. and re-entry angle."
Foster's voice came over her speaker. "Lunar Module to Moonbase. E.O.I. in seven minutes, thirty seconds at angle two-seven-decimal-five. Three second burn."
"Roger, fifty-four. Increase angle to three-zero, four second burn."
* * *
The reaction inside the Lunar Module was one of surprise and worry.
"Roger, Moonbase," Foster acknowledged. He switched off his microphone.
"They've got to be kidding," Spielberg protested.
Straker shook his head. "I doubt it. Those Ufos could be on us in four minutes and the new angle takes us less than three." His expression was one of grim resignation.
Foster smiled mirthlessly. "And where have I heard that before?" he wondered aloud to Straker.
"I think it's a little late to try for that back leave, Colonel," Straker commented.
Foster sighed as he began the necessary maneuvers. "Maybe next time?"
* * *
"The remaining unidentified craft are on an intercept course with the Lunar Transport Module. Interception in three minutes," Sulu announced.
The tactical display on the view screen confirmed the helmsman's observations. The remaining two green dots were definitely converging on the blue dot at the edge of Earth's atmosphere.
"Captain, the lunar module's reentry angle is too steep. They'll burn up if they don't pull out," Mallory reported.
"Sir, I've managed to break the code on the lunar module's transmissions." Uhura announced, listening to the information coming over her ear-piece. "They say they're in trouble, over-heating, smoke in the cabin."
* * *
The cabin was filling with dense smoke, the air turning acrid as control circuits overheated and burned out. The main computer was gone. The auxiliary couplings to the engines and control surfaces had also failed.
Foster found himself fighting the unresponsive controls as he tried to pull the ship out of the over steep dive they'd been forced into. He could hear Straker and Barry behind him, choking, gasping for breath as the smoke thickened.
Spielberg had a fire extinguisher out and was trying to put out the fire that had ignited behind the lower control panel.
"Module fifty-four to Moonbase, Mayday..." Foster gasped into his helmet microphone.
The module radio crackled with ionization static. Harrrington's voice was barely understandable. "Module fifty-four, come in fifty-four." Her voice rose in controlled panic. "Come in Colonel Foster, Commander Straker!"
The radio message was overcome by static.
* * *
Inside the Moonbase control sphere, Joan Harrington glanced at her crew. Her face had gone white.
"I have cessation of radio contact," Wingate announced quietly.
Harrington nodded acknowledgment. There could be no contact with the module until it finished re-entry, until the ionized gasses and heat created by the compression of the air in front of lunar craft due to its high speed passage through the upper atmosphere, dissipated with its drop in speed. This was also the most dangerous point in any reentry. A single error could destroy the ship instantly.
* * *
The module was buffeted by the upper atmosphere. The hot ionized gasses screamed past it. Unseen by the passengers and crew, the air was glowing and the module's nose had begun to turn red from the heat of the compressed gas in front of it.
The two alien ships followed close by, like predators waiting for their meal to tire.
Foster felt the controls respond ever so slightly, the nose starting to come up. He pulled harder and felt a stronger response from his crippled ship.
* * *
Spock looked up from his monitor. "Captain, their life support systems are failing. Internal temperature, fifty-five degrees and rising."
Kirk punched a button on his command console. "Kirk to transporter room one."
"Transporter room one, Kevlin here."
"We're tracking a lunar transport module. Lock on and beam the crew aboard," Kirk ordered.
"You heard me, do it!" Kirk nearly yelled.
"Yes, sir," the transporter officer responded from his station. Kirk thought he heard a touch of surprised fear in Kevlin's reply.
Turning to Uhura, Kirk ordered: "Get a medical team down there."
"Emergency medical team to transporter room one. Emergency medical team to transporter room one," Uhura instructed as her voice was repeated in Sick-bay, seven decks below.
* * *
In transporter room one, Kevlin stood at the transporter controls, setting the coordinates of the Lunar Module. Kirk's orders had surprised him, as had the captain's fierce reaction to his innocent request for confirmation.
He activated the controls, frowning as the coordinates flickered. He increased the power to the capture field and the readings stabilized. The console data read-out indicated he had a successful lock-on despite the ionization layer surrounding the craft.
After a moment that only seemed like an eternity, four individuals materialized on the transporter platform. Unconscious, they collapsed the instant the transporter beam released them.
The transporter room doors swooshed open and the medical team ran into the room. Led by Chief Medical Officer McCoy, the team ran to administer first aid to the new arrivals.
* * *
"Captain, the lunar module is beginning to break up," Spock announced.
On the view screen, Lunar Module 54 exploded in an actinic flash. Despite the automatic dimming of the screen, the explosion was still bright enough to make the bridge crew wince away.
"Transporter room, have you got them?" Kirk asked.
* * *
Kevlin turned to the intercom on the transporter control station as the medical team quickly removed the space helmets from the four people he'd just beamed aboard. "Yes, sir. We have them," he responded.
After a moment, Kevlin walked over to where McCoy was checking the newcomers. The woman had black hair and skin nearly the same color as Uhura's. Of the men, the youngest was about Kevlin's own age of twenty-five, with curly brown hair and a tanned face, now blackened with smoke. The pilot was a light-skinned, black haired man of about thirty-five.
But, it was the fourth, and eldest, of the party that caught Kevlin's attention. He had fair hair and was about forty or so, though it was hard to tell. He had one of those fine, almost Vulcan, bone-structures that never really revealed its age.
Even deeply unconscious, the man seemed very familiar, somehow. Kevlin frowned, trying to remember why those finely sculpted features seemed so familiar. Without knowing how, he knew the man's eyes would be the blue-gray of a winter storm.
"Sir, will they be okay?" Kevlin asked, finally recalling where he had seen that face, and not quite believing it.
"Oh, sure. You got them out in time. They've just breathed a little smoke," McCoy replied. He looked up from his patients to glance at Kelvin. "Kevlin, you look like you've just seen a ghost."
"I think I have, sir."
* * *
On Moonbase, Carol Miller double checked the radar display at her station. "The U.F.O.s have changed course again, Captain." Miller paused to re-check the computer read-out on the U.F.O.s' trajectory. "Back the way they came."
Harrington nodded, then turned to Wingate. "What about the Module?"
Wingate shook her head. "No contact, sir."
* * *
Over the Atlantic Ocean, an orange Lunar Module transport plane cruised its pick-up area. The sea below was calm. Sunlight glinted off the slight swells. A small pod of whales surfaced, blowing steam into the air.
Inside the aircraft, the pilot and his three person crew re-checked the computer gear that would guide the Lunar Transport Module into a safe aerial docking with its carrier-lander when it arrived.
The engineering officer's forehead creased in a frown as the radar read-out on her console on the right wall of the cockpit remained clear. Outside the back window of the twin tailed plane, there was a sudden flash of light in the air above them. It was about where she would have expected to see the yellow shape of the lunar module breaking through the high clouds.
"Captain, I have no contacts within two hundred klicks, spherical scan," the officer stated. "We are plus three minutes from rendezvous. Sir, I thought I saw a flash at our six-o'clock high.""Understood," the pilot responded. After a moment of consideration, he picked-up the radio microphone that would connect him to headquarters.
"Module Transporter One to SHADO Control," the pilot announced crisply. "Lunar Module Fifty-four has failed to make rendezvous. Engineer Rillings reports seeing a flash in the sky."
* * *
Within the concrete cavern that was SHADO Headquarters, Colonel Alec Freeman stood in his usual place, just behind and to one side of the chief communications and duty officer. He listened silently as the pilot's announcement came over the communications speaker.
He glanced around at the technicians and operatives seated at the other consoles set against one of the gray concrete walls of the large chamber. They looked almost as worried and stunned as he felt.
Ford, the senior duty officer, acknowledged the pilot's report. "Roger Transporter One. Control out."
"Have our tracking stations put on full alert," Freeman said quietly.
Ford nodded and flipped the necessary combination of switches on his control board. "SHADO Control to all tracking stations. Go to full radar alert. Repeat, full radar and tracking alert. Lunar Module Fifty-four has failed to make rendezvous."
Freeman's broad shoulders hunched with worry over the fate of the Lunar Module, his friends, and his commanding officer. With a mournful shake of his head, Freeman walked out of the control room.
Despite his deep concern, his mind was already ticking off what needed to be handled in the event that Lunar Module Fifty-four, and her passengers and crew, failed to be located.
A new astronaut would have to be assigned to replace Spielberg. A radar technician would have to be brought in from one of the out-lying tracking stations so that a headquarters expert could be assigned to Moonbase to replace Nina Barry, one of SHADO's finest radar techs.
Foster and Straker were simply irreplaceable.
Freeman found himself fervently hoping that Foster would be able, once again, to pull off a miracle. He hoped Foster could get the module safely back to the Moon and Moonbase. He'd done it once before. Maybe God would smile, and Foster would pull it off again.
Freeman wasn't a praying man. He wasn't even sure he believed in God. But, he has praying now.
Captain's log, supplemental. After witnessing what appeared to be a battle in space over Earth, we have beamed aboard the four occupants of a Lunar transport ship that burned up while entering the Earth's atmosphere.
Four of the seven beds in the Enterprise's intensive care ward were occupied. For all but one of the occupants, the medical monitors indicated the normal readings for healthy humans.
For that one patient, the readings indicated he was either not human, or an extremely sick one. The blood pressure was too low, as were the blood oxygen levels. The heart rate and body temperature were too high.
Paul Foster sat up in his bed and looked around in confused astonishment. To his left was an empty bed. To his right was Spielberg, also sitting up and looking around. On the next bed lay an ashen faced Straker. Straker's eyes were closed and he seemed to be barely breathing. The head of his bed was raised to about a 45 degree angle.
Beyond him, Barry sat, tailor fashion, on the fifth bed. Her dark eyebrows drew together in puzzlement. "What happened?" she wondered aloud.
"I don't know. We must have blacked out," Foster replied. He moved to sit on the edge of his bed, facing Spielberg and the others. He frowned uneasily as he tried to remember what had happened.
The last moments in the Module were a blank. Except for a vague impression of a corridor and being placed on some sort of gurney, he had no idea how they'd gotten where ever they were, or how they came to be dressed as they were.
All four of them were clothed in pale blue pajama-like outfits. There was no sign of their space suits or the street clothes they'd all been wearing under the suits.
Straker opened his eyes and pushed himself into a sitting position. He was suddenly over-come with another coughing fit.
Barry began to climb out of her bed, but Straker shook his head briefly and gestured her away. "I'll be all right," he murmured.
"You're sure?" Barry demanded. Straker nodded, managing a weak smile. His expression became faintly puzzled as he began to look around.
Foster followed Straker's gaze, inspecting their surroundings once again.
The walls of the room were a muted greenish white with brighter accents. The walls met at odd angles and there were doors set into three of the walls. A semi-circular desk sat against one wall.
The beds were narrow, set on pedistals rather than legs. Above each of the beds was a panel with coded moving indicators. The details were different, but Foster recognized the room as somebody's idea of a hospital ward.
"Well, whatever happened, Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," Straker commented, voice weak.
"No, it's certainly not Kansas," Foster agreed with a wry grin. If Straker was able to joke, it meant he was doing better than Foster had initially assumed.
The door next to the desk slid open.
A tall, older man entered the room. His hair was iron-gray and he was dressed in a white uniform-like shirt and pants. On his shirt were pale olive shoulder and wrist patches with several small gold pips on the left wrist patch. A caduceus was embroidered in black over the left breast.
The man was accompanied by a small oriental woman wearing a similar uniform. She was carrying a silver and black box-like device in her hand. The woman walked over to where Barry was sitting in her bed and, with the device, began to check Barry over.
The man grinned at them. There was a good-natured twinkle in his blue eyes as he regarded the group. "Well, I see you're finally awake."
The four SHADO operatives nodded, warily watching the pair. The man's face creased into deeper wrinkles as he grinned even more broadly. His teeth were very even and white. "My name's McCoy, I'm the doctor around here." His accent said he was North American, from one of the southern states.
"This is Nurse Morita." McCoy indicated the young woman with the scanner.
"What happened?" Foster demanded.
Morita looked up from her examination of Barry, an amused expression playing about her mouth. "From what I understand, your ship had some serious trouble on re-entry."
Apparently satisfied with what she saw, Morita walked over to the next bed and began the process again with Straker. As she worked, McCoy took a similar instrument from a near-by wall shelf and went to examine Spielberg.
"We were burning up. There was a fire in the cabin," Spielberg said. His voice trailed off as he watched McCoy run the scanner down his body. He seemed unsure as to whether he should be worried or not.
"Let's just say, you were very lucky," McCoy responded, with another grin.
Finished with the young man, McCoy moved to examine Foster.
"But, where are we?" Barry asked.
McCoy answer was obvious: "In sickbay."
"I told you we weren't in Kansas anymore," Straker commented to no one in particular. There was a bemused tone in his voice, but his expression was apprehensive as he watched Morita.
Morita frowned at the readings her scanner was giving her. She checked the unit and repeated the body scan more closely.
"What are you doing?" he demanded.
"Checking your vital functions," Morita replied. She turned to McCoy: "Doctor?"
McCoy stepped over to Straker's bed and Morita showed him the readings on her scanner. "I've never seen readings like these, sir," Morita said. "I've double checked the settings and they are correct for Earth humans."
McCoy nodded and, using his own scanner, repeated the examination. He scowled at the readings the instrument gave him. "Get me the Tri-ox."
Morita hurried over to one of the wall cabinets and pulled out a hypo-spray-injector. She took a small vial and placed it into the injector, handing the instrument to McCoy. McCoy checked it, then gave Straker an injection at the base of his neck, over the carotid artery.
"What is that?" Straker demanded. He pushed himself into a sitting position.
McCoy smiled reassuringly. "Something to help you breath a little easier. You were in pretty bad shape when you were brought on board. There was a lot of smoke in the cabin of your ship. So, now you just lie there and be happy you're still alive." As he spoke, he pushed Straker back down onto the bed.
McCoy scanned Straker once more, again scowling at the readings. "What the hell did you ever do to your left shoulder? There's metal in there."
Obviously surprised at McCoy's question, and at the easing of his breathing problems, Straker answered, "I got shot. My shoulder was shattered. They had to pin the bones together."
The SHADO officer managed a lop-sided grin at McCoy's expression of disbelief. "It only bothers me when the weather changes," he added. "How did you know about the pins?"
"Who was shooting at you?" McCoy asked, ignoring Straker's question.
"People who didn't like Phantom pilots," Straker replied.
"Phantom? That's an old airplane, isn't it?" MacCoy asked. "A warplane?"
Straker stared at the physician a moment. "Yes, I'd say the McDonnell-Douglas Phantom II was a warplane, even though it's not exactly old. It is still in use, you know."
McCoy simply looked mystified.
"You've never heard of jet fighters?" Foster asked.
"I'm a doctor, not an air historian," McCoy grumbled. He shook his head as he headed for the door he'd entered through. "I can't believe Twentieth Century medicine," he was muttering to himself. "They're using screws and nails to put people back together."
Foster moved to sit on Spielberg's bed, elbows on knees as he leaned closer to peer at his commanding officer. "Alec told me once about what happened," he said.
"Alec has a big mouth," Straker commented.
"Sir, how did it happened? Spielberg asked.
"It was a long time ago," Straker replied.
"Vietnam?" Spielberg asked.
Straker gazed at the young man, his expression an odd combination of appraisal and apprehension. "I was there in sixty-six," Straker said after a long moment. "I was a flight leader with the Eighth Tactical Fighter Wing. Flew out of Ubon."
"What happened, sir?" Spielberg asked.
Straker gazed into the distance. "On my seventy-ninth flight, I zigged when I should have zagged, got caught by ground fire," he said simply. "We went down. I spent a year in a prison camp, was shot escaping."
* * *
Kirk stopped at the sickbay door and nodded a greeting to the white armored security man assigned to keep an eye on their vistors. The door slid open.
"Who did we rescue?" Kirk asked as soon as McCoy came over to him. The door slid shut behind him.
McCoy indicated each of the new arrivvals in turn as he spoke: "Well, according to their identification, we have Nina Barry, Edward Straker, Charles Spielberg and Paul Foster."
"How are they?"
"In pretty good shape, considering what they've been through. Except for Straker," McCoy told him.
The physician sighed. "He's one sick man. I'd like to keep him here for observation for awhile. Figure out what's actually wrong with him." McCoy paused thoughtfully. "Considering what they've been through, maybe they should all stay here for observation a while."
Kirk grinned. "I'm sure we can arrange that, Bones. And I'll keep the guard here, too. Just in case."
McCoy nodded, glancing back at his patients.
Kirk tugged at the hem of his uniform jacket and adjusted his belt as he left the protection of the doorway and stepped closer.
"Welcome aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, gentlemen, Miss Barry. I'm Captain James Kirk." He paused and smiled, giving the four people from the Twentieth Century a chance to look him over.
Barry spoke first. "The Enterprise ? We crashed into the ocean, then?"
Kirk shifted his shoulders, suddenly a little uncomfortable. "Not quite, Miss Barry," he said. "Your ship was destroyed while entering the Earth's atmosphere. Your pilot apparently took too steep a re-entry angle."
"That is not any naval uniform I'm familiar with," Straker pointed out. "And how do you know our names?"
Kirk gave a little shrug. "We took the liberty of checking your identification when you were brought on board."
"I see." Straker's tone indicated he didn't quite believe Kirk's explanation. Kirk didn't blame him. It was unbelievable.
"I don't understand. If we didn't crash into the ocean, then, where are we?" Spielberg asked.
Kirk took a deep breath. "This may be hard for you to understand," he said. "This is the Star Ship Enterprise."
"Star Ship ?" Foster repeated in disbelief.
Kirk nodded, permitting himself a faint smile as he watched their incredulous reactions. This was actually going better than he'd thought it would. They may not believe him, but they hadn't automatically assumed he was crazy.
"But, from where?" Spielberg asked. Astonishment was written across his face.
"We're headquartered on Earth, Mister Spielberg," Kirk replied.
"And you hail from Kansas, I suppose," Straker said.
"No, I'm from Iowa, actually," Kirk replied with a touch of confusion. There was a context he was missing, a reference floating just beyond his grasp. It was annoying.
Straker simply gave Kirk a faintly bemused smile. He gave no hint as to whether or not he believed anything Kirk was saying.
Foster's disbelief was very evident. "If this is really a star ship, then you can't be from Earth!"
Kirk sighed, reminding himself to be patient. "We're from the future, Mister Foster, conducting historical research on this time period. We happened to come on your ship in trouble and we picked you up."
"In that case, Captain, I suppose we should say 'thank you'", Straker said. His tone was pleasantly polite, betraying nothing.
"That's quite all right, Mister Straker."
Behind Kirk, the door to the corridor slid open once again and Kirk's tall, dark-haired Vulcan first officer entered. With him was a young blond woman in a flowing pink caftan with silver trim.
The four SHADO people simply stared at the pair for a long moment.
Kirk hid his amusement at their quite normal reaction to the sight of his first officer. Spock was probably the first non-terrestrial they'd ever seen. Even new crew-members were sometimes startled by Spock, despite the fact that Vulcan and Earth had been allies since their first official meeting, over two hundred twenty-five years ago. Or was that seventy-seven years from now?
Kirk was surprised, however, at how quickly Straker hid his own surprise, returning his attention to the Enterprise's captain. The other three took their direction from him. Suddenly, Kirk realized there was no doubt what so ever that Straker was the leader of this group, no matter what his health condition.
Kirk even recognized the tactic being used on him. Straker was letting his subordinates ask the questions, express their doubts, while he sat back and observed. Using pleasantries and dry humor to disarm his opponent, he was betraying none of his own doubts and revealing as little as possible about himself and his associates.
It was a performance worthy of old Admiral Nogura, rest his soul. Kirk wondered if Straker realized how much he was betraying by simply using that tactic.
"We'll try to answer any questions you have. However, we do have some questions of our own," Kirk continued as if nothing had happened.
"Indeed, Captain," Spock commented, unperturbed as always, as he came to stand beside his commanding officer.
"Oh, my first officer, Mister Spock, and Federation historian, Iana Sterreka," Kirk introduced.
"I suppose you want us to believe he's from Earth, in the future, too?" Foster remarked.
Kirk smiled. "Mister Spock is a Vulcan. Vulcan is a member of the United Federation of Planets, along with Earth and over a hundred other planets. We're here, at the moment, by authority of the Federation."
"Doing historical research, you said," Foster reiterated. There was still a stubborn belligerence in his voice.
Sterreka replied, ignoring Foster's tone. "Yes, Mister Foster. Federation records on this time period are appallingly incomplete. The latter part of the Twentieth Century is filled with crises and decisions whose ramifications are still being debated and studied."
She paused and smiled. "So, I hope you will consent to answer my questions, as natives of this period."
Their reaction was non-committal. Kirk gave them what he hoped was a reassuring smile as he headed for the corridor door with Spock. McCoy and Morita headed over to McCoy's laboratory and office, leaving Sterreka alone to ask her questions.
* * *
"What do you think, Spock?" Kirk asked his first officer as soon as they entered the nearest turbo-lift and gave instructions for it to take them to the bridge.
"Interesting," Spock commented. "However, I am concerned at having had them beamed aboard, Captain. It was contrary to our instructions to make no contact with any native of this time period."
"I couldn't simply watch them die," Kirk replied. He peered more closely at Spock, catching the concern hiding in the Vulcan's face. "You're worried we might have another 'Captain Christopher' on our hands?"
"That is one possibility, Captain."
The doors to the turbo-lift opened onto the bridge. Spock moved to take the science station from Ensign Mallory. Kirk followed him, continuing their conversation as Mallory returned to her place at navigation.
"We saw their ship burn up," Kirk reminded him. "There was no possible way they could have survived without our intervention. We can't have interfered with their future contributions to history, because they have no future. For all intents and purposes, they're dead. Besides, the pilot issued a Mayday. Under normal circumstances, I think we would be forgiven for obeying maritime law and responding to the emergency."
"Captain, these are not normal circumstances," Spock commented.
"Spock, you have an annoying habit of stating the obvious," Kirk complained with a smile. He paused as he considered his initial impressions of the group. "They seem intelligent and adaptable. We'll simply bring them back with us. We already know that late-Twentieth Century people seem to adapt well to our time. Look at Doctor Taylor, and Khan."
Cetacean biologist Gillian Taylor had adapted astonishingly well to the Twenty-third Century. Kirk and Spock had both attended her wedding only a year before. She was now quite happily married to a Miran diver who loved whales as much as she did.
How well Khan Noonien Singh had adapted went almost without saying. During Kirk's first five year mission as master of the Enterprise, they had come upon an ancient sleeper-ship from Earth and had revived one of the occupants, the leader, Khan Noonien Singh. After nearly three hundred years in cryo-sleep and with less than twenty-four hours of study, the eugenically designed near-superman had adapted so well, he had nearly succeeded in taking over the Enterprise.
Additionally, less than five years ago, the same Khan Singh managed to capture and destroy the Star Fleet scout-ship Reliant , wreaking havoc on a Federation special project whose ramifications were still not yet completely understood. Luckily for the Federation, Khan had died with the Reliant.
Spock's expression remained concerned. "You are most likely correct, Captain," he admitted. "It is extremely probable that they were meant to die on this date."
"But, you will search our records for anything we have on them, just in case?" Kirk asked. He knew the question was unnecessary. Spock was extremely thorough in his research, especially since he'd been caught in an oversight once, many years ago, during the Enterprise's first, accidental trip through time to Twentieth Century Earth.
They'd picked up a United States Air Force pilot, Captain John Christopher, after inadvertently destroying his jet. They had intended to bring him with them, to the future, until it was discovered he was the father of the, as yet unborn, Shaun Geoffrey Christopher who was to lead the first successful manned probe to the moons of Saturn. The initial oversight was still a point of irritation with the Vulcan after all these years.
Kirk sighed and stepped down to the command deck. He settled into his chair, then swiveled around to look at Uhura, seated at her station. "Commander Uhura, How's it going?"
"Mister Scott reports that all but two of the monitors have been picked up and those last two are presumed to have been destroyed. The computers are correlating the remaining information now, sir," Uhura reported. She paused as additional data came through. Puzzlement creased her dark forehead.
"Captain, I'm still picking up some very peculiar transmissions between the Moon and something called 'shadow'. They're very concerned about their lunar module. A world-wide radar alert's been called."
"Interesting," Spock commented.
Mallory looked up from her navigation sensors. "Sir, sensors also indicate subspace transmitter-receivers in use in several different locations. On that base we scanned on the Moon, on a satellite in the L-three libration point and in four places on the planet. They seem to be using the subspace transmission modalities as a kind of radar," she reported. There was confusion in her young voice. "But, I thought Earth didn't have any faster-than-light technology in this era."
"Earth isn't supposed to have a lot of the things we've found already, Mister Mallory," Kirk pointed out. He turned to his first officer: "Spock, those monitors Scotty can't find, they had subspace transceivers on them, didn't they?"
"Yes, and if they were knocked out of orbit and found on Earth, that could explain how SHADO has come to have subspace radio and radar," Spock confirmed. "It is a fascinating development. Theoretically, the transceiver technology should have been too far advanced for them to have gained any insight from it."
"Obviously that theory leaves something to be desired, Mister Spock," Kirk commented.
Moonbase had stepped down to a yellow alert. Harrington, Miller and Wingate checked and double checked their instruments.
"Any sign of those two U.F.O.s?" Harrington asked Wingate for the fifth time in the past half-hour.
"No, Lieutenant," Wingate reported. "And no sign of the Lunar Module, either."
* * *
Within SHADO Headquarters, Freeman once again stood in his traditional spot, behind the duty officer. Lieutenant Ayesha Johnson stepped up with a clipboard and silently held it out to him. Freeman glanced at the papers clipped to it. It was a parts allocation for one of the outlying tracking stations. He initialed the bottom of the form and handed it back to her.
The olive-skinned woman stood beside him a moment as he watched the changing figures on the computer screen in front of Ford.
"Nothing yet," Ford replied to their unspoken question. "The trackers are on full alert. The module must have over-compensated and bounced off the atmosphere."
"Colonel Foster's a very good pilot and he's managed it before. They're probably heading back for the Moon right now," Johnson said. Her expression was hopeful.
Freeman's was glum. "Yeah, maybe."
"Their radio could be out, so they can't make contact," Ford speculated.
Freeman was unconvinced. "Maybe."
Johnson's face fell. "Shall I notify General Henderson, sir?"
"Yes, we may as well. He'll find out soon enough, anyway," Freeman told her. "Has Colonel Komack checked in yet?"
"No, sir," Johnson reported. Freeman nodded a dismissal and the young woman returned to her station to notify General Henderson of recent events.
"Sir?" Lieutenant Anderson called, stepping down from the upper level and coming over to Freeman. He held a glossy file folder and handed it to the SHADO colonel. "Major Natiroff asked me to give this to you."
Freeman took the file and flipped through the report clipped inside.
"We've received a report from Interpol concerning some missing persons and some mutilated bodies found near Toulouse," Anderson explained. "The local authorities say they think it's some sort of perverse cult."
"But Natiroff thinks the pattern looks more like the aliens?" Freeman asked. Anderson nodded.
"Have we picked up any other indications that an alien ship managed to get though our defenses?" Freeman asked.
"No sir, but they have managed it before," the young man reminded him.
Freeman considered the possibilities. SHADO used two frequencies in their radar because the aliens had shown themselves to be able to block single frequency radar scans. If the aliens had found a way to block the double scans, SHADO was going to have a serious problem on its hands.
"Assuming the aliens are responsible for these incidents in France, the dates on the missing persons reports would set the landing date at about a week ago," Anderson commented.
"If it is the aliens, they're underwater and we're not likely to locate them until they move," Freeman said, thinking aloud. One of SHADO's earliest discoveries concerning the aliens and their craft was that they reacted badly to elements in the Earth's atmosphere and could survive only forty-eight hours of exposure to natural air.
"I've already checked and we have no reports on contacts for the past ten days," Anderson reported. "Plus we did pick up those Ufos this morning."
"That doesn't mean much," Freeman said. "The aliens have made sacrifice plays before." He handed the report back to Anderson and turned to Ford. "Get onto la Piscine and ask them to keep a weather eye out on any other unusual incidents in that area."
"How do you want me to explain it, sir?" Ford asked as he began to make the required communications interface to DST, France's Bureau for Defense and Surveillance of the Territory, domestic counter-intelligence.
"Tell them we have reason to believe a lunatic fringe terrorist group has taken up residence in their territory. We think they may have acquired something like a Harrier," Freeman told him.
Ford grinned. "Anything but aliens, right sir?"
"You know the drill," Freeman confirmed. "There ain't no such things as flying saucers."
* * *
Sterreka smiled insincerely at the four SHADO people in the Enterprise's sick-bay. "Thank you very much for your cooperation. You've been most helpful," she said before turning on her heel to head for McCoy's office.
McCoy was seated at his desk, reading through some reports on his computer screen when Sterreka stalked in.
"Well?" he wondered, looking up from his reading.
She slumped into the chair opposite the desk and sighed. "They're not very cooperative, are they?"
McCoy shrugged. "I'm not too surprised, considering the circumstances. We're asking them to believe something pretty unbelievable." His expression brightened. "At least, they haven't threatened anyone, especially their kindly old ship's doctor. And they haven't tried to escape, yet."
"Do you expect that they will try?"
"Miss Sterreka, you're human. . . "
Sterreka stiffened in her chair. "I am Mellantyn," she announced coldly.
McCoy waved his hand, dismissing her objection. "Close enough. How would you feel if you were minding your own business, heading home, and you woke up someplace fantastic, confusing, with people who insist they mean you no harm, but who you know have absolutely no intention of sending you home again?"
"I am descended of an entire population that happened to. As soon as we had the technology to do so, we sent an exploration ship back to the Home World, to find out exactly what did happen," she stated. There was an angry brittleness in her voice. "It was never heard from again. We adapted to our circumstances."
McCoy nodded agreement. "So will they, once they realize they have no choice. They just don't believe it, yet. And I don't blame them one bit. They're not stupid, you know."
"I accept that," Sterreka said. "However, I do find it hard to accept Captain Kirk's cavalier disregard for his orders and the Prime Directive. Surely, rescuing these people constitutes a clear violation of those principles?"
The woman's voice and expression were bitter. The tendons in her hands stood out in harsh relief as she clutched her computer-padd.
McCoy shrugged and said mildly, "Well, that's something you'll have to discuss with the captain. Now, if you don't mind, I have patients to attend to." With that, he smiled and stood up.
Sterreka glared at him a moment, then stalked out of the physician's office.
"I wonder what's eating her?" he wondered aloud to himself.
* * *
As soon as Sterreka left the ward, Foster climbed out of bed to stretch. Lying in bed when he was perfectly healthy was not his idea of fun. He strolled around the room, looking it over. He tried the cabinet doors, peering into the ones that were unlocked.
From his bed, Straker watched the younger man. After a time, Foster came over and sat on the edge of Spielberg's bed, facing Straker once again.
"I get the feeling she's not very happy with us," Foster commented, nodding in the direction where Sterreka had disappeared.
"I'm not overly concerned about how she feels," Straker informed him. "Or any of the others, for that matter."
"Sir, do you think they could be telling us the truth?" Spielberg asked.
Straker shrugged in a faintly Gallic gesture, turning his palms up. "About being from the future? They could be, but then again, who knows? We have no way to find out."
"But, what do they want?" Barry wondered.
"That depends on whether or not they're telling the truth, doesn't it?"
"But, our people will be looking for us, won't they?" Spielberg asked. He looked worriedly from Straker to Foster.
Foster nodded. "Oh, yes. They'll search for forty-eight hours from rendezvous failure. Then, if we're not located, we'll be given up as dead. That's standard procedure for all space personnel."
"But, where do our people look for us in the meantime? We don't know where we are, or how we got here. We could be anywhere," Barry pointed out.
"The module was over-heating, We'd lost the hydraulics, there was smoke in the cabin and a fire behind Spielberg's control panel. There were two of them right behind us," Foster reminded them. "I doubt we made it through re-entry in that condition, and I don't really think we're dead. This certainly isn't my idea of heaven."
"You don't think this could be some sort of alien trick, do you, sir?" Spielberg asked.
Straker grimaced. "I don't know what to think, Mister Spielberg. We're at one gravity here, which means we're either on Earth, somewhere, or our 'hosts' have artificial gravity, or enough power to keep us at a constant one gee acceleration."
"Of those options, I think I prefer the one that says we're on Earth, somehow," Foster commented. "Even if it means it's an alien trick."
"I don't know, Paul," Straker admitted. "We don't have enough hard facts to determine the truth. But, I do know I have no intention of just sitting here while our 'hosts' decide what to do with us." With that, Straker threw off his bed-covers and moved to sit on the side of his bed. He paused to catch his breath, his skin ashen once again.
"Commander, I don't think that's such a good idea," Barry warned. There was worry in her dark eyes as she swung her feet to the floor.
"I'm getting tired of people hovering about, telling me what I should and shouldn't do," Straker grated. He glared in her direction. "I'm fine, so leave me alone."
Barry didn't comment.
Ignoring the disbelieving looks he was getting from both Barry and Foster, Straker pushed off the bed, onto his feet. He gasped at a sudden, crushing pain in his chest and his knees buckled. Instantly, Foster and Barry were both at his side, supporting him as he slid to the floor and unconsciousness.
"Doctor! " Spielberg shouted.
McCoy and Morita came running from the room beyond. McCoy brushed Barry aside as he knelt next to Straker. Foster was sitting on the floor cradling Straker's head. Straker's chest was heaving, his skin pale and clammy. Quickly, McCoy scanned the unconscious man with his medical tricorder, then gave him an injection.
"What happened?" McCoy demanded, looking up at Foster.
"He decided to go for a walk. Then he just collapsed." Foster answered. He couldn't keep the worry out of his voice.
Between them, Straker began to stir. A groan escaped through his clenched teeth.
"Morita," McCoy yelled. "Get me some Thorkinase, Dithalizone, and Pavadorin, and then get ready to start oxygen therapy and a demand infusion of Dithalizone."
Morita ran to get the drugs from the laboratory.
"What's wrong with him?" Foster demanded.
"Your boss has a very serious heart valve malfunction and his coronary arteries have gone into spasm. He's not in good shape," McCoy told him. "Frankly, the last time I saw something like this was in a Vulcan."
"Can you help him?"
"I'll let you know in a minute," McCoy snapped. Morita ran up and handed McCoy two hypo-spray injectors. Quickly, the doctor injected the drugs. He then sat back on his haunches and waited, eyeing the scanner he kept aimed at his patient's chest.
After a long moment, Straker's jaw relaxed and he opened his eyes.
"Feeling better?" McCoy asked, placing his hand on Straker's shoulder. Straker nodded shakily.
McCoy's expression became stern. "Mister Straker, you were not given permission to leave that bed."
"I wasn't aware I needed your permission," Straker responded in a unsteady voice. He began struggling to rise and Foster helped him as he managed to get to his feet.
"Will Doctor McCoy and Historian Sterreka please report to the briefing room?" Uhura's voice called out over the sick-bay intercom.
McCoy glowered at Foster. "Get him into bed." Then McCoy went to the wall intercom, "I'll be right there, Uhura."
Foster and Barry forced Straker back into the sick-bay bed. After a moment, the physician stepped over to the foot of Straker's bed and glared at him. Straker's expression had gone sullen and he glared back.
"Mister Straker, my patients are not allowed to leave their beds without my permission," McCoy informed him angrily. "And, if you leave that bed again, before I say you can, I will have you restrained and sedated. Is that understood?"
Surprise and worry flickered across Straker's face. "Perfectly, Doctor," Straker murmured. He laid his head back as if suddenly too tired to argue.
He gave no resistance as Morita set up an infusion pump for the Dithalizone. She worked quickly and efficiently. Straker simply laid back and closed his eyes, opening them only when she hooked up an old-fashioned nasal cannula to provide him with extra oxygen.
McCoy motioned Morita to join him by the door when she was finished. "Keep an eye on his C and L levels. I also want a complete gene scan on him, nuclear and mitochondrial. Do all four of them, in fact. I have a hunch his scan is going to be very interesting."
"Yes, Doctor," Morita acknowledged as McCoy turned and left the ward.
McCoy found Kirk and Spock already seated at the large conference table in the main briefing room. Also seated and waiting were Scott, Sulu, Uhura, Security Chief Pavel Chekov, Ensign Mallory, and the historian, Sterreka. McCoy took his seat next to Spock, murmuring an apology for being late, as usual.
Kirk noted the harried look on his chief surgeon's face. "Something wrong, Bones?"
"One of our guests has a serious heart valve malfunction."
McCoy nodded. "I need to do more tests, but it looks bad. What bothers me is that late-Twentieth Century medicine should have been able to correct the most obvious problem. I can't understand why he hasn't had it taken care of."
"Maybe he doesn't like doctors," Kirk speculated. McCoy made a face at him. "Well, Bones, if you don't think you can handle it, we can just stick him in stasis until we get back to our own time."
"If you're going to sit there and insult me, I'm leaving," McCoy groused, half getting up from his seat.
Kirk waved him back down with a grin and turned to look at the others seated at the table. "All right, what do we have, so far?"
At Kirk's nod in his direction, Spock began. "First, we have located, and been seen by, the Vulcan Scout ship we were told was here at this time. We are maintaining our surveillance of the scout by visual only. We have completed the pick-up of all but two of the orbital communications monitors. Those two we have been unable to locate and we assume they have fallen out of orbit. As far as our orders are concerned, we have completed our mission in 1983."
"However, we have also discovered some unexplained anomalies, four of whom I had beamed aboard," Kirk reminded him.
Spock nodded agreement. "We have, in fact, been witness to what can only be interpreted as a skirmish in an interplanetary war that, historically never occurred and concerning which, no Vulcan records have been released."
"Also, something called SHADO has subspace devices, which aren't supposed to be invented for nearly a hundred more years," Mallory reported. "We have to assume their possession of the devices is related to the two missing monitors."
"Any chance they could pick us up with it?" McCoy wondered.
Scott grinned. "I've rigged our deflector screens to make us invisible to their radar and subspace radar frequencies. Besides, there's not much they could do to us, even if they saw us."
"Which we don't want them to do," Kirk reminded them. "This is an extremely paranoid planetary culture. There's no telling what their reaction might be to the discovery of a star ship in orbit. At least one group appears to be at war in space, and they do have the capacity to damage us if we're not careful."
He turned back to Spock. "Is it possible we've inadvertently gone back to some alternate universe? That this isn't our historical Earth we've gone back to?"
Spock considered the question a long moment before answering: "The theories behind the warp-break-away time-travel technique do indicate some slight possibility of that occurring, but, it is highly unlikely. By our own records, SHADO did exist."
"And what, exactly, is 'SHADO'?" McCoy asked. He looked from Spock to Sterreka.
The historian answered: "The few records we have indicate SHADO, Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defense Organization, was, or is, a para-military group associated with the United Nations. It was chartered in Nineteen-seventy-one. Speculation has it that they were involved in some sort of anti-terrorist activity. Terrorism was a major concern of most governments during this era.
"SHADO had a very large budgetary allotment, but no indications as to what it was spent on," she went on. "However, I think our observations here have managed to clear up a number of other historical mysteries conserning this time period."
"Such as?" Kirk prompted.
Sterreka looked around the table, gauging her audience. Then, she placed a data card into the reader slot.
A picture of an archeological dig appeared on the wall view screen - a large concrete structure at the bottom of a very deep hole. The depth of the hole was marked in red on the sides of the excavation, twenty-seven meters to the top of the underground building. Various shots of empty concrete rooms and corridors appeared on the screen. One picture showed a large, two level room with a high vaulted ceiling.
"That's the Harlington archeological dig, outside old London, isn't it?" Chekov asked.
Sterreka seemed openly surprised at his knowledge. "Yes. Tests indicate it was constructed in about Nineteen-seventy or so, and abandoned in about Two-thousand-ten. A study group from the Star Fleet Corps of Engineers has reported that the complex could have withstood almost anything of the time period including a direct nuclear strike. However, the time of construction and abandonment don't coincide with any known international crisis that would have justified the expense of building such a complex."
She paused to watch their reaction. "The coordinates of this complex match those Commander Uhura has calculated for SHADO's main communications center."
"That is SHADO headquarters?" Chekov clarified.
"So it would appear, Mister Chekov," Spock agreed. "Our scans indicate this complex is directly beneath an 'entertainment recording complex', Harlington-Straker Film Studios. Our guests' identification papers indicate they are associated with that company."
"What a marvelous cover for a covert operation," Sulu mused. "You could go almost anywhere, do almost anything, and nobody would pay any attention because it was for an entertainment tape."
"I tend to agree with you," Spock said. "It would also appear that we may have discovered who was mining the second moon of Saturn before it was explored by Earth."
"The mysterious aliens from those unidentified space craft?" Kirk asked.
Spock nodded. "We have made a tentative identification of those craft." The Vulcan science officer pressed a series of keys on the console in front of him. The Harlington site photos were replaced by a picture showing a half-built U.F.O. It was partially buried in the debris of a shattered building. The background showed a desolate, barren landscape and a bloated sun dimly shining through a reddish haze.
He pressed another series of buttons and the first picture shrank to half size while another photograph came onto the other half of the screen. The new slide showed the four U.F.O.s that had been attacked by the Lunar Interceptors only a short time before. The visible portions of the buried alien craft closely matched those of the flying ships.
"The craft would appear to be from the second planet of the Shelmat system. However, we had no concrete evidence prior to this, that they had, in fact, developed any sort of interstellar travel," Spock stated. "They did have interplanetary travel and had extensively mined their system, which was unusually poor in the heavier elements."
"But, the population of that planet died out centuries ago," Chekov pointed out. "Supposedly, war and over-exploitation wiped out their ecology and fatally contaminated their atmosphere. Even now, the planet is unsuitable for colonization without terraforming."
Sulu looked thoughtful. "Actually, the archeologists studying the planet are pretty sure it wasn't that simple. With their supposed level of industrialization and interplanetary travel, there was no reason we know of that they couldn't have colonized one of the other planets in the system, or in a system near-by. Plus, they didn't simply 'die out'. There is some evidence of a massive evacuation, but no clues yet as to where they might have evacuated to."
"Who has reported evidence of a massive evacuation on Shelmat 2?" Sterreka asked. Her tone had gone cold as she glared at Sulu.
"The Federation Science Council's archeological section," Sulu replied. "Professor Hatch and his team have been excavating on Shelmat 2 for several months now."
Sterreka snorted. "Maurice Hatch's expertise is limited to pre-space flight cultures. He is hardly qualified to have an opinion concerning the technological capabilities of the Shelmat civilization," Sterreka announced.
"Then, what did happen to the Shelmat people?" Sulu asked, expression carefully bland.
"They were obviously murdered by SHADO," Sterreka stated. Her expression indicated she wasn't willing to listen to any argument on that score. "Earth does have something of a history concerning genocide, even as early as the Twentieth Century."
"I won't argue that Earth's history has had some incidents which aren't exactly flattering to the human species," Kirk admitted. "That doesn't necessarily mean that's the case here and now." He turned back to his first officer. "Spock, is it possible that a war with Earth was the last straw for them? That, even without interstellar capability, SHADO actually managed to damage a world light years away? Damaged them enough to force them into extinction, or evacuation, without leaving any traces of it either on Earth or there?"
Spock's answer was typically cautious. "From present evidence, I would not say that it was impossible. However, we do not even know why SHADO is involved in such a conflict, or why they have found it necessary to keep this information secret."
"Why do you need to know why, Mister Spock?" Sterreka demanded. "Isn't it enough to know that they are involved and what the results of that involvement must be? As to their secrecy, the answer must be obvious, even to you. SHADO is top secret to prevent the rest of the planet from knowing they are committing genocide."
Spock raised one eyebrow at Sterreka's outburst. "Since, at this time, there is no evidence, as yet, that SHADO has committed, or will commit, genocide against the Shelmat, I fail to see the logic in that reasoning. If anything, the reverse is far more likely. The Shelmat pose an extremely serious threat to Earth at this time."
"I can think of at least one reason for such secrecy from SHADO's point of view, Mister Spock," Uhura put in. "To prevent panic. An interstellar war is pretty frightening, even in our own time. For it to occur to a pre-space flight culture against a technologically superior race, that would be utterly terrifying."
"But, on the other hand, a first contact with an alien species, even a hostile one, frequently becomes the impetus for a unified planetary government," Sulu reminded them. "The people of this time period are making attempts at a single planetary government and I'd say there's less than a hundred years difference, technologically, between the two cultures. With a single world government, there's no reason why Earth would not be able to beat off an invasion from Shelmat 2, assuming that's what actually happening here."
"Obviously SHADO does not agree," Chekov stated with a rueful smile.
"A blatantly military attitude," Sterreka snorted.
"SHADO appears to be a military organization at war," Chekov reminded her, still smiling. "A military attitude is to be expected of them."
"Well, we won't get any more information or assistance from our 'guests'," Sterreka stated.
"And why do you say that, Miss Sterreka?" Spock asked.
Sterreka shook her head. "When I interviewed them, they seemed cooperative enough, at first. They were quite free with information concerning politics, the trouble spots in their world. They appear to be quite knowledgeable concerning the dynamics of their culture and its history," Sterreka reported. She brushed a strand of blonde hair from her forehead.
"I even asked them about some of the people we know will become prominent in the near future, like Khan Noonien Singh, Joachim Maria Lopez, Adolph Hauptmann. Mister Straker recognized the names. He told me he'd actually met those three particular men," she said. "He said they were students at Oxford University. He described them as 'right wing racist extremists'."
"In fact, he called Khan Singh a 'Neo-Nazi sociopath with delusions of grandeur'," Sterreka added with a faint smile. "I gather he wasn't impressed by the three of them."
Kirk gave her a rueful grin. "Having known Khan, I tend to agree with Mister Straker's assessment of the man. But, what's the problem, aside from the possibility that they might be genocidal maniacs?"
Sterreka's mouth pulled into a disappointed pout at Kirk's sarcastic tone. "When I tried to get them to talk about that military base you detected on the Moon, a full ten years before Earth's first permanent Lunar base is to be opened, and why they were even on a Lunar transport ship, they clammed up, totally. The only statement they would make concerning the ships that nearly killed them was 'There's no such things as flying saucers'."
"I am not entirely sure that I blame them. If they are engaged in a war, they are not likely to cooperate with potential enemies," Chekov told her. "They do not know, for a fact, that we are not allied with their enemies."
"You're absolutely right, Mister Chekov," Kirk agreed. "And, since I suspect they're going to be with us for some time, we'd better make ourselves some friends, genocidal maniacs or not." Kirk looked around the table. "Have we got anything on them?"
"Aside from the identification they were carrying, we have surprisingly little," Spock reported. "Miss Barry and Mister Foster served in the British Royal Air Force. Mister Spielberg and Mister Straker are both from the United States of America and served in that nation's military service."
As he spoke, individual photographs of Straker, Barry, Foster and Spielberg came on the view-screen. The photographs showed younger faces than the ones in sick-bay, but they were still quite identifiable. Barry and Foster were wearing Royal Air Force uniforms with insignia indicating they were both lieutenants.
Spielberg wore the uniform of a lieutenant in the United States Navy, with pilot's wings above the left breast pocket. Straker's picture showed him about thirty years old. He was wearing the uniform of a United States Air Force colonel, with pilot's wings and several rows of decorations. The decorations included a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart.
"Paul Foster was a highly regarded test pilot, until he retired from that industry following an accident that killed his co-pilot," Spock continued.
"Straker has a Masters degree in astrophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and attained the rank of Colonel in the United States Air Force. He apparently had a brilliant military career until he retired or resigned following some sort of vehicular accident that killed British Cabinet Minister Melvin Talbot, in Nineteen-seventy. He then became associated with Harlington-Straker Film Studios.
"After that, the only thing we have is a newspaper article concerning a change in management at the film studios approximately fifteen months ago, following Mister Straker's having been hospitalized for a serious, but unspecified, ailment."
"Nothing on his death?" Kirk asked.
"Nothing else on any of them, Captain. No marriages, no children, as far as we can determine, and no death certificates. It is as though they simply disappeared," Spock replied. The faintest hint of a frown creased his angular face. "In point of fact, except for newspaper references to a military career, I have been unable to locate anything else on Edward Straker. I have been unable to locate his birth or military records, and I am at a loss to explain why, since North American records are fairly complete."
"Is it possible he's associated with Gary Seven, a plant from an advanced civilization?" Kirk wondered.
"It is possible, but I don't think it's likely, Jim," McCoy stated. "Straker's reactions are entirely consistent with those I would expect of an intelligent, well educated, late-Twentieth Century North American man. There are some physical anomalies with him, but nothing to mark him as being from any advanced civilization." McCoy shook his head at what he'd already discovered. "Hell, he's got a shoulder with metal pins in it. He said he was a pilot, got shot for flying in one of their jet airplanes."
"Bombing innocents, no doubt," Sterreka muttered.
Kirk glanced at her quizzically.
"Most of the wars in Earth's late Twentieth century concerned nationalist movements against the colonialism of both the Euro-American and the Soviet blocs. Entire indigenous populations were bombed and burned out of existence by the technologically superior military complexes of the industrial powers," she explained.
"That's a rather large over-simplification, Miss Sterreka," Kirk objected, his tone mild. "Most of the major conflicts of this century were in response to overt violence against legal governments, to invasions against neighboring independent nations. They were then assisted by their own allies to repulse the attacks on them. I admit even that's an over-simplification.
"It was a very rapidly changing, complex time in Earth's history," Kirk continued. "However, our concern here is not so much an analysis of the war-like tendencies of this period, but of how our own actions may possibly effect this era's historical continuity."
"Considering how we found them, we shouldn't have too much to worry about. I mean, they should have died," Uhura reminded them.
"Perhaps, Mister Uhura," Spock replied. "However, I am reluctant to make any assumptions concerning them, considering the meagerness of our information."
"Then, we need to get more information," Kirk said, deliberately stating the obvious.
"Of course, Captain," Spock agreed.
"Doctor McCoy, I assume you've been working on psychological profiles of our guests?" Kirk said, turning to McCoy.
"Yes, I've been working on it," McCoy stated briefly, glancing in Sterreka's direction.
"And?" Kirk prompted.
"I'll give it to you when I'm finished, Captain," McCoy said. Kirk gave him a surprised look, but McCoy didn't elaborate.
"Doctor, you said Straker was a pilot?" Sulu asked.
McCoy nodded. "Something called a Phantom-two."
Spock keyed the information into a data request from the library computer archives. After a moment, a series of names appeared on the screen in front of him.
"I have asked for a list of Twentieth century United States Air Force pilots, surnamed 'Straker'," Spock explained. Sulu peered over the Vulcan's shoulder at the computer screen.
"There's an Barrett Anthony Straker, died 1987. But there's no 'Edward Straker' listed," Sulu observed. "The closest match for age is a 'Johannen Straker'. Born Nineteen-thirty-eight, died in Twenty-thirteen. He served in Thailand in 1966, flew Phantom jets. He became a general and was head of the joint manned Mar's mission project when it launched in 1996."
"That's hardly helpful," Sterreka complained. "It is obviously not the same man. Edward Straker had to have died in late Nineteen-eighty-three. He could hardly head the Mars mission thirteen years from now."
"Perhaps SHADO removed his records from the air force data base?" Chekov suggested.
Spock shook his head. "That is possible, but unlikely, Mister Chekov. A more logical explanation would be that our records are more incomplete than we realized, or that he is, in fact, not native to this era at all, in the manner of Mister Seven."
"Who is Mister Seven?" Mallory asked, looking around at her senior officers.
Kirk answered. "Gary Seven was a human agent trained by an, as yet unknown, highly advanced alien civilization. We ran across him some years ago. His field of operation was this period in Earth's history."
"And he is not in violation of the Prime Directive?" Sterreka asked. Amazement colored her voice.
"His assignment was to ensure that Earth's history, in certain specific aspects, followed its necessary course in accordance to history as we know it," Kirk explained. "Besides, his controllers are not members of the Federation and therefore are not signatories to the Prime Directive agreement."
"How can you be certain this Mister Seven is acting in Earth's best interests, if he is controlled by non-humans?" the historian demanded.
"That was the basic issue we had to resolve twenty-two years ago, Miss Sterreka," Kirk replied. "We determined at that time that his training and mission were not a threat to Earth's future history, since, when we looked for it, we found evidence of his life, and death, in our own records. He is part of Earth's recorded history. He belongs here because he was here."
"Perhaps we should contact this Mister Seven and see what he says about our 'guests'?" Sterreka suggested.
"I do not believe it would be to our advantage to contact Mister Seven. Controlled by non-natives or not, he is native to this time period," Spock responded stiffly. "It would be better for us to work with the data at hand to solve this particular mystery, assuming it is a mystery and not simply an oversight on our part."
"Do you seriously believe our lack of data on Straker is due to a simple oversight?" Sterreka asked.
"I believe we do not, as yet, have enough data to make that determination," Spock replied. His voice and expression were tightly controlled, indicating to Kirk that the Vulcan was vexed.
"Do what you can, Spock," Kirk instructed mildly. He turned to his borrowed helmsman, "Mister Sulu, was there any possible way at all for the pilot of that Module to have saved the ship?"
Sulu shook his head. "I can't see how, Captain."
"Very well, I suspect it is a fair assumption then, that our 'guests' are legally dead, whether or not we can find records of their deaths," Kirk announced. "It's possible that, for security reasons, SHADO never permitted their deaths to become known."
"It is possible, Captain," Spock agreed.
Kirk stood, indicating the meeting was over. He watched as Spock and Sterreka began to collect their data cards while Scott hurried away to go back to his own duties.
"Mister Chekov," Kirk called as his security officer prepared to leave. Chekov stopped and turned back to his commanding officer. "I think it might be a good idea if we arranged that our guests not have access to the ship's technical specifications and engineering data."
"I can put a security lock on the engineering and security files, sir, with access by verified voice only," Chekov said. "Engineering won't like it, but I imagine they can work around it."
"Excellent, Mister Chekov," Kirk agreed. He smiled. "It's not that I don't trust our guests, but I'd rather not take any chances. We have been through this before, as you'll recall."
Chekov grinned. He remembered Khan Noonien Singh. Pavel Chekov had been the first officer of the Reliant when Khan hijacked that ship to wreak his revenge against Kirk, over four years ago. Chekov still had scars from that encounter.
"I'll get right on it, sir," Chekov promised as he hurried away. Sterreka followed him out.
Kirk looked over at his Vulcan first officer. "I think a formal dinner might be in order. Welcome them to our time. What do you think, Spock?"
Spock considered the proposal a moment. "I believe that would be in order. I will make the arrangements."
Sulu and McCoy who were still waiting. Sulu looked worried. "A problem, Mister Sulu?" Kirk asked.
"I'm not sure, Captain," Sulu admitted. "I'm wondering at Miss Sterreka's reaction to Professor Hatch's discoveries on Shelmat 2. It didn't seem to be very professional, if you know what I mean."
"She did make it very plain she didn't have a high opinion of his work," Kirk agreed.
"I know archeology was never one of my interests," Sulu stated. He chose to ignore Kirk's feigned surprise at his statement. Even on Carmarca's ship, Sulu's ever changing hobbies were legendary.
Sulu continued: "But, the Bonhomme Richard has been running supplies out to Hatch and his team for the past two months. The professor spent two days talking my ears off the last time we stopped by. He also had us do a full range sensor study of the planet. Our readings are pretty convincing evidence that the inhabitants didn't simply die."
"Oh?" Kirk prompted.
"They disappeared, taking most of what they had with them, their art, their literature, their valuables. There are no bodies, no rubble, no evidence of any planet wide disaster, outside of the ecological damage. They simply disappeared," Sulu explained. "Professor Hatch described the buildings as looking like somebody simply moved out."
"He's asked Captain Carmarca and me to support his petition to the Federation Science Council for permission to access the Guardian of Forever to find out what really happened to them," Sulu added.
"Why does he need Carmarca's support?" Kirk asked. "I thought the Science Council was granting nearly every historical research proposal that came through?"
"That's what I thought, too," Sulu admitted. "But Hatch's petition for access was denied less than a week ago."
"Why?" Kirk wondered. "Did they give a reason?"
Sulu shook his head. "Only that it wasn't a priority project and Hatch's physical evidence appeared to be more that sufficient to prove his point."
"That the Shelmat took off for parts unknown?" Kirk asked. Sulu nodded. "I wonder why Sterreka is so insistent that they all died?" Kirk mused.
"I'm wondering the same thing, Captain," McCoy admitted. "Also, she was pressing our guests pretty hard with her questions, but I don't think she was interested in their answers."
"Interesting," Kirk commented. "When do you think you'll have the psychological surveys finished on them?"
McCoy grinned and handed Kirk a data card. "They're finished. I just didn't want her to know about it." Kirk waited for McCoy to continue. "They're not genetically designed supermen, for one. However, they are extremely intelligent and adaptable."
"And Straker's the leader?" Kirk asked. McCoy nodded.
"And he's about as stubborn as a certain Vulcan we both know. He may be sick and about three hundred years out of date, technologically, but, frankly, it wouldn't take all that much to put him into an Admiral's job at Star Fleet Headquarters."
"What about Foster and the other two?" Kirk asked
McCoy grinned. "Foster'd make one hell of a ship's captain. In fact, he reminds me a bit of a very young star ship captain I once knew."
McCoy stabbed a finger at Kirk's chest. "You."
It was mid-afternoon when a posh, chauffeured limousine passed through the main entrance gates of Harlington-Straker Studios, ten miles north of London. The gray Rolls Royce stopped in front of a medium-sized glass and brick office building just inside the main gates. The liveried chauffeur climbed out of the car and opened the door for his one passenger in the rear seat.
Retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General James L. Henderson exited the automobile and entered the office building. He walked with a barely perceptible limp, the legacy of a shattered hip from a U.F.O. attack fourteen years before. He'd been riding in the ill-fated Rolls Royce with his aide, Colonel Edward Straker, and Defense Minister Talbot when the aliens drove the car off the road into a ravine. There was a thin white scar under his left jaw, yet another permanent reminder of that attack.
The heavy set, gray haired man crossed the wide marble floored lobby with its over-sized lobby posters of recent film productions. There was no one else in the lobby. It was the middle of the Christmas hiatus. Except for the business offices and security, the studios were shut down until the first week of January.
Henderson entered the outer office of the studio's chief executive officer, Ed Straker.
Straker's secretary was seated at her desk, as usual.
"Good afternoon, General," Miss Ealand greeted. "You can go right in." She indicated the double doors opposite the entrance.
A small green light showed through a small grill above the doors, indicating the office beyond was free. The electronically controlled doors slid open as the woman pressed a toggle on a control panel on her desk.
"Thank you, Miss Ealand." Henderson said, entering the inner office. The doors slid shut behind him.
He went to the desk and raised the lid to the silver cigarette box set on the widely curving black desk top. "Henderson," he spoke aloud. He knew SHADO's security drill.
"Voice Print identification positive, Henderson, James L., zero-zero-two," the dry, weirdly disembodied voice of the security system computer stated. Thus accepted, Henderson reached inside the box and flipped a switch.
He leaned against the desk as the entire room began to move downward in the manner of a high-speed elevator. Through the window opening, level markers could be seen on the concrete wall of the elevator shaft, marking the room's descent to SHADO Headquarters, eighty feet below the film studios.
* * *
Henderson found Freeman pacing the dark rubber-tiled floor of SHADO Control.
"Good afternoon, Colonel," Henderson said mildly.
The Australian SHADO colonel stopped pacing and nodded a greeting. "General."
Henderson looked around the room. He noted the glum expressions of the operatives seated at their stations. There were indications on the monitors of a radar alert, but nothing else important seemed to be happening at the moment. There were no aliens speeding in from space, preparing to wreak havoc on an otherwise unsuspecting Earth.
"What's this about you losing one of your Lunar Modules?" he asked after a moment.
Freeman's reply was subdued. "It didn't make its scheduled rendezvous with the pick-up plane. They were being chased by two Ufos that got through Moonbase defenses. The radio blacked out during orbital insertion, the Ufos veered off. But, the module hasn't been picked up again. No contact at all."
"And you think maybe the aliens grabbed it?"
"We don't know," Freeman admitted. "They could have crashed into the ocean, bounced off the atmosphere back into space, burned up. We just don't know. We're carrying out the standard search procedures, but no luck, so far. You know that if we don't locate them within forty-eight hours... "
"They'll be declared missing and presumed dead. That is standard procedure for all space personnel, isn't it?" Henderson said.
"Yes, it is."
"So, what's the problem?"
Freeman looked surprised. He glanced over at Lieutenant Johnson. The young woman flushed and looked away, a guilty and embarrassed expression on her face.
"Colonel Foster was piloting the module," Freeman reported to Henderson. His voice was quiet.
"Commander Straker was on board. He was very ill."
Henderson's eyes widened at the news. After a moment, he began to walk towards the SHADO commander's office, across the hall from the control center. He beckoned Freeman to accompany him. The SHADO officer fell in to keep pace with the older man.
"Have you spoken with Colonel Komack?" Henderson asked.
"Yes. She called in from Stansted. She was picking up her brother at the airport," Freeman told him. "It's funny, but she didn't seem very worried when I told her the module hadn't made it through."
"They've been married about six months, haven't they?" Henderson asked, knowing the answer.
Freeman nodded. "About that. She's done a good job running the studio for us. They're firmly in the black and she's taken a couple of the weirder projects from down here and pulled them into the studio for space and financing."
The doors to the commander's office opened automatically, permitting the two men to enter.
"I assume you mean Major Kelly's microphotography research?" Henderson said. "I never did get a report on the results of that billion dollar probe Straker and Kelly sent out four years ago, to the aliens' base planet."
"We didn't get much back," Freeman admitted. "We were pretty sure they were using Titan as a base. The pictures confirmed that, but not much else. Even after we went back and reconstructed the distance and magnification instructions so we could get a proper interpretation, there just wasn't much there."
Henderson went to the slate topped desk and sat down in the brown leather chair behind it. He watched as Freeman stepped over to the small bar set into one corner of the office and poured himself a tall whiskey.
"Colonel Freeman, if the module isn't located within that forty-eight hour time limit, I'm going to have to call an emergency meeting of the Astrophysical Commission to appoint a new commander," Henderson informed him seriously. He ignored the drink in Freeman's hand.
"And, as senior SHADO officer, you'll most likely be given the job."
"I don't want the job," Freeman told him.
"Your protest is duly noted, Colonel. However, since Colonel Foster was on board the module with Straker, and it'll take at least a month to clear a replacement, I don't think you have much choice."
"What about Colonel Lake?" Freeman asked, knowing what the answer would be.
"She's not qualified, and you know it," Henderson confirmed.
"The Commission won't sit still for it, especially since she married Straker and she's my only niece. It smacks of nepotism." The general paused, then continued in a kinder tone. "I don't want it like this any more than you do, Colonel. But, I think you're stuck with it."
"Thanks, General," Freeman responded bitterly, taking a long swallow of his drink. He sat down on the leather bench set against the wall opposite the desk. His expression was glum as he cradled the glass in his hands.
"Seriously, Freeman," Henderson said. "This puts a nasty crimp in my plans, too. I'm planning to retire from the Commission soon and I was hoping Ed would agree to come on board to take my place. The Commission has some big projects coming up that would be right up his alley."
"I hadn't realized that," Freeman admitted. "Ed certainly hasn't mentioned the possibility of getting promoted out of here."
"Since when does Straker let anybody in on anything that isn't nailed down tight?" Henderson asked with a knowing grin. Then, his expression became serious once more. "Freeman, what are the chances of Foster bringing that module in?"
"Seriously?" Freeman said. "Not real good. The engineer on the transport plane thought she saw a flash of light about where the module should have broken though the clouds. It may have been the sun reflecting off something."
"But it could have been the module's fuel cells exploding?" Henderson asked. Freeman nodded.
"You know what's weird?" Freeman asked after a moment, taking another swallow. "You've been trying to talk Ed into taking a promotion out of here, right?"
"Well, Monday, the day after Christmas, Paul and I were going to try to convince Ed to go in for the heart surgery Frazer's recommended. We have the officers necessary to petition the Commission to replace him as C-in-C of SHADO. We were going to use that as our lever."
"I hadn't realized his condition was that serious," the general admitted. "He certainly hasn't said anything to anyone about it."
Freeman grinned. "Since when has Ed ever admitted to being sick or hurt? He won't ask for help for himself, even though he'll lay it all on the line for somebody else." He took another swallow. "He's come close to killing himself with overwork putting SHADO together, making sure it works. He's the stubbornnest S.O.B. I know, but I can't think of anybody else who could have done a better job of it."
"Maybe Foster can manage to get him back, so we can all yell at him for being such a damned stubborn fool," Henderson said.
Freeman nodded. "Maybe he can. I hope so. It's the waiting and not knowing that bothers me the most. I just wish I knew for sure where they were."
Morita sat at the nurse's station, keying information into the medical computer as McCoy walked into sick-bay. She looked up from her work as he came over to her desk.
"Have they been behaving?" McCoy asked. From the other side of the room, the four SHADO people were watching them.
Morita smiled. "As well as can be expected, Doctor. I fed them." She pointed out the four meal trays on the bed tables. There was evidence of bowls of chicken soup, one of McCoy's favorite nutritional remedies. One meal tray appeared untouched, the soup cold, the buttered bread uneaten.
"Mister Straker wouldn't touch his meal, so I added glucose with supplements to his intravenous infusion," Morita explained as she handed McCoy a data card. "Here are the results of the tests you ordered."
McCoy took the card and placed it in the reader slot at the nurse's station. He peered at the graphs and schematics that appeared on the screen.
"I'll be damned," McCoy muttered to himself in astonishment as the pieces of information he'd been puzzling over suddenly came together in his mind. "He's a full blooded Mellantyn, and Barry's got the same mitochondrial markers."
"Sir? That's impossible."
McCoy shook his head and pointed out a pattern on the screen. "Maybe so, but that's the mitochondrial signature of the Doreen Clan of the Mellantyn. And, it certainly explains the funny immune system readings I was getting from him. The Mellantyn have an extremely sensitive immune system that's easy to throw out of whack. They're highly susceptible to auto-immune diseases."
McCoy straightened up and walked over to his four patients. Spielberg was sitting, tailor fashion, on his bed. Foster was seated on the end of Spielberg's bed, facing Barry and Straker.
Barry sat on her own bed, speaking quietly to Foster. Straker seemed to be ignoring them. They fell silent as McCoy approached.
"How're you feeling?" McCoy asked, stopping to stand next to Straker's bed.
Straker shrugged. "I've been better." His voice was soft.
"Nurse Morita says you didn't eat lunch." McCoy nodded to the untouched food tray.
"I wasn't hungry," Straker replied.
"Do you think you're strong enough to get up?" McCoy asked.
That caught Straker's interest and his expression brightened. "Does that mean I have your permission to get out of bed?"
McCoy smiled. "I want to do a more thorough work-up on you in the examination room. You had some very odd test results, you know."
Straker managed a grin. "I don't doubt it. People keep telling me I'm odd."
McCoy gave an amused snort at Straker's statement and unhooked the infusion pump from the arm band. The physician watched as Straker pulled off the oxygen cannula and climbed out of the bed.
Despite the drugs in his system, Straker still seemed very weak. He leaned back against the bed for a moment as if to rest. McCoy took Straker's arm to help, and suddenly realized how frail the SHADO officer really was.
"How long has it been like this?" McCoy wondered aloud.
"About two months, maybe," Straker replied. "It got bad a couple weeks ago."
Foster came around the bed to help, but Straker brushed away his hand. "I can still walk, thank you," Straker informed him. McCoy noted Foster's hurt expression as Straker permitted McCoy to help him cross the ward to the door beside the nurse's station.
The examination room was dominated by the large, semi-transluscent examination table The shape clearly indicated it was for use with humanoids of approximately human size and shape. A medical view screen filled one wall of the examining room. There were several smaller flat screen monitors in a row beneath the main viewer.
Lowering one end of the table, McCoy and Morita helped Straker onto the diagnostic table. Then, they raised the foot of it so that it was horizontal again. Foster came and stood in the doorway, watching.
McCoy positioned Straker's hands at his sides, palms down on the table. Straker began to shiver.
"Cold?" McCoy asked. Straker nodded. McCoy turned to Foster, "There are blankets in that cabinet over there." He indicated a closed cabinet near the doorway.
Wordlessly, Foster stepped over to the cabinet and pulled out a light-weight blanket. He unfolded the soft material and placed it over Straker's shivering body.
"It'll be all right," the younger man said. Straker made no reply and Foster went back to stand by the door to watch.
On the view-screen, a body scan appeared in near-transparent detail. The heart appeared enlarged and the lungs were mottled with different computer generated colors. The dead metal pins in the left shoulder appeared hard and out of place against the live bones and muscles.
"Well, I must say, your doctors did do a pretty good job on your shoulder, considering," McCoy commented. "You have what, ninety percent mobility in that arm?"
"About that, yes," Straker agreed. He'd almost stopped shivering. "Luckily, I'm right handed and the nerve damage wasn't extensive."
"Remind me, when we get back to Star Base One, to arrange for regeneration treatments for that shoulder," McCoy said, peering closely at the auxiliary displays. "It'll take about a week, but it'll fix you up as good as new."
"Why can't you do that with my heart?" Straker asked.
"I may, if you need it," McCoy stated, turning to smile at the SHADO officer. "The problem isn't really your heart, you know. It's this damaged valve." He turned back to the monitors and beckoned the nurse to come closer.
"Morita, look at that calcium ring around the aortic valve. That's the textbook signature of Mellantyn degenerative aortic stenosis." McCoy pointed out the area in question on the computer generated display screen. There was a clearly defined ring surrounding the tri-part valve leading from the heart into the aorta. Patches the same color as the ring mottled the valve itself.
"Get that historian down here, will you? I have a couple questions for her."
"Yes, Doctor," the nurse acknowledged, going to the wall intercom. "Will Historian Sterreka please report to Sick-bay?"
"So, what's wrong with him?" Foster asked.
McCoy was surprised to see Foster still standing there. "From all appearances," McCoy turned back to Straker, "you have Mellantyn degenerative aortic stenosis, coupled with second stage Mellantyn hyper-immune syndrome."
"I know what aortic stenosis is," Straker informed him. "It's a thickening of the aortic valve from the heart. It can lead to an enlargement of the heart and to heart failure."
McCoy raised both eyebrows in surprise. He hadn't expected a textbook definition.
Straker gave him a crooked smile. "I do know how serious it is and I have seen a specialist."
"What else did your specialist tell you?"
Straker's expression became bleak. "I'm scheduled to go in for surgery right after Christmas. Only problem is, I know I won't live through the operation. At best, I'll end up a vegetable. I'm allergic to nearly all the drugs they use in that kind of surgery."
Foster was appalled. "Ed, why didn't you tell us?"
"Why didn't you tell me that you and Alec had agreed I shouldn't return to work when we got back from Moonbase?" Straker responded angrily. "You were going to talk to Henderson about arranging for my early retirement."
"That's different," Foster protested. "It's been pretty obvious you're too sick to keep on working. You haven't spent a full day at work in the last four weeks. But, why didn't you tell us how bad it really was?"
"Because there's nothing any of you can do about it," Straker explained with a reasonableness that would have done a Vulcan proud. "Besides, I don't want you all fussing over me. It's bad enough to be sick without being treated like a child. I don't want to die, but if I'm going to, I'd rather do it in peace, not being treated like an invalid or an idiot." Straker's tone became bitter.
"You still should have told us," Foster insisted.
"I neither need nor want your pity, Paul," Straker replied. "Nor do I need your coercion to come to terms with the few options open to me."
"Aren't you lucky medical science has improved some in the past three hundred years?" McCoy asked. His tone was deliberately light and he gave Straker a grin. He watched Straker force himself to relax.
"Do you have any idea what might have caused it?" Straker asked.
"Well, hyper-immune syndrome is an auto-immune disorder, triggered by an idiosyncratic reaction to a strong neuro-stimulator, coupled with exposure to high amounts of an allergen like bee venom or penicillin," McCoy explained as simply as he could.
"But, I've never been exposed to anything like that," the SHADO officer told him, openly puzzled.
"Yes, you have," Foster contradicted him. "Sixteen months ago. It was an overdose of X-50 that put you in the hospital. You were in a coma for five days with a high fever, remember?"
Straker didn't comment, but a worried look came into his eyes.
"You went into anaphylactic shock twice, from exposure to antibiotics," Foster continued quietly. "Your blood tests indicated possible heart damage."
"Didn't your doctor tell you?" McCoy asked Straker.
Straker shook his head. "I have no real memory of the events that put me in the hospital. My doctors said it was better that way. I'm told I had a real bad time of it, convulsions, cardiac arrests, renal failure, the whole nine yards. I was told my heart may have been damaged, but there was no way to tell how bad it was."
"There was probably no way to tell, then," McCoy admitted. "The condition is progressive, it gets worse over time."
"So, what now?" Foster asked.
"There are some medications. First, we have to treat the hyper-immune syndrome." He turned back to Straker. "Your immune system is attacking your body. In this version of the Mellantyn syndrome, it goes after the heart, the pancreas and the joints."
McCoy looked up the view screen and pointed out the general area of the pancreas. "You've already got minor damage there. Without treatment, assuming the heart problem didn't kill you first, you'd end up diabetic and severely arthritic."
The corridor doors slid open and Sterreka entered Sickbay. She stopped at the door of the examination room. "You wanted to see me, Doctor?"
McCoy nodded to the historian in greeting, then he turned to his nurse, "Morita, get me five cc's of Floroxidine and three cc's Amyloxicor-fifty."
Morita left to get the drugs from the adjacent laboratory. McCoy turned back to Sterreka. "That exploration ship you told me about earlier, it was manned, wasn't it?"
"Of course. There were twelve families aboard. One family from each of the clans. About fifty people altogether," Sterreka answered. She seemed puzzled by the physician's line of questioning.
"About what Earth year would it have arrived?"
"Sometime between eighteen-ninety and ninety-five," Sterreka answered. "Why?"
McCoy grinned at her. "I think I know what happened to your missing ship."
Morita returned with the drugs. McCoy checked them and then gave Straker an injection at the base of his neck. "You may feel a hot flush as this takes effect."
Looking back to Sterreka, McCoy said, "Your ship made it to Earth and probably crashed. But, there were survivors, and they went native."
"What makes you say that?"
"Because he," McCoy pointed to Straker. "Is a full-blooded Mellantyn, with all the immune system and mitochondrial markers."
"That is impossible," the young woman protested. "There were no survivors of that ship. There can't have been, otherwise they would have contacted us."
Straker pushed himself up on his elbows. There was an annoyed look on his face. "May I ask a question? What, pray tell, is a 'Mellantyn'?"
"The Mellantyn are the inhabitants of Beta Persei Two, also known as Danae," Sterreka explained with forced patience, to McCoy's amusement. "We are descended of Earth stock, taken from Earth about a thousand years ago."
"Who the hell was stealing people from Earth a thousand years ago?" Foster demanded.
"What they are called depends on the culture, some call them the Wise Ones. Generally, they are known as the 'Preservers'. The Mellantyn call them the 'Planters'," Sterreka answered. "There are dozens of planets in this part of the galaxy whose inhabitants derive from various pre-technological societies of Earth."
"But, why?" Foster asked.
"That, Mister Foster, is one of the great mysteries of all time," McCoy said. He turned back to his patient. Straker was still propped up on his elbows on the diagnostic table. "How're you feeling?"
"Okay, I guess. I'm still a little cold," Straker told him. McCoy lowered the foot of the table and helped him to a near-by chair, wrapping the blanket around his shoulders. Straker pulled the blanket closer and looked up at Sterreka. "You're Mellantyn, right?"
"Yes," Sterreka admitted. She folded her arms across her chest, a defiant look on her face. "I was born in the city of Ille Thiol, to the Clan Sterreka. My father was Clan Conollen."
"I see," Straker commented. He sat back in the chair, expression thoughtful. "They were taken from Northern Europe about a thousand years ago. A minimum of ten thousand, preferably at least twenty thousand, people to maintain the technological base."
"That's right," the historian admitted. There was surprise in her voice. "The actual number was eighteen thousand, five hundred, equally divided male and female. They were taken in Thirteen-forty-seven, from areas threatened with the Plague."
"Thirteen forty-seven is only six hundred thirty-six years ago," Foster pointed out.
"Oh, but you're forgetting, Paul, they're supposed to be from three hundred years in the future," Straker commented. "If nothing else, they're very consistent on that one." Despite his cheerfully disbelieving tone, Straker's face had gone pale once again. He shivered under the blanket.
"Your blood pressure's still a little low," Morita explained, as she quickly scanned him. She helped Straker to his feet and started to lead him back to his bed in the ward. In the doorway he stopped and looked back at Sterreka.
"You're wrong about the possibility of survivors, you know," Straker commented. "If the ship did crash, the communications equipment could have been destroyed, preventing them from calling their home base."
Sterreka gave him an annoyingly superior look. "The ship's technicians had the skill to rebuild the equipment, from elemental components, if necessary."
"And if the only survivors were the children?" Straker asked. Sterreka glared at him as Morita helped him back to his bed.
Foster began to follow them, but McCoy took his arm. "I want to ask you some questions," McCoy told him. He led the SHADO officer through the examination room to his office.
McCoy beckoned Foster to take a chair. The physician leaned back against his desk, rubbing his hand over his chin. "If I'm to help him, I need to know what happened to him sixteen months ago."
"What makes you think I know what happened?" Foster asked. The belligerence had come back into his voice.
"I assume you know because you were telling Straker about what happened," McCoy told him. "And, he says he doesn't really know."
Foster sat back in the chair. After a moment, the young man sighed. "I guess I should start at the beginning."
"That usually works best," McCoy agreed.
"One evening, a year ago August, Ed left work to pick up one of our employees, a Miss Lake, from the airport. The next morning, we found him on the company grounds. He was out of his head, delirious, or maybe drugged. Our security people also found one of our technicians shot to death and Ed's fingerprints were on the gun that killed him. Miss Lake was found unconscious on the roof of the one of the office buildings," Foster related.
"When we got Ed to the medics, he'd gone catatonic," Foster continued. "One of the staff psychiatrists said it was probably a reaction to whatever had happened to him that night. Whatever made him kill the technician."
"What had happened?" McCoy asked.
Foster frowned. "We're not really sure, except it was pretty traumatic for him."
"What happened then?" McCoy prompted.
"We had the psychiatrist question him, to find out what had happened. Under a truth drug, Ed admitted taking the drug X-50. Apparently, the situation warranted it. X-50 is a very strong, very dangerous, stimulant," Foster explained. "He also admitted killing the technician. Then, he went into cardiac arrest, from the drugs in his system, we assume."
"He was in a deep coma for several days, with a very high fever," Foster went on. "That was when we discovered someone was trying to kill him. Twice he was injected with antibiotics he was allergic to. By some miracle, he managed to pull though without any detectable brain damage."
"Who was trying to kill him, Mister Foster?" McCoy asked.
Foster frowned and shook his head.
"Was it the aliens SHADO's at war with?"
Foster's eyes widened in alarm. "What do you know about them and SHADO?"
"I know there were two ships chasing your Lunar Module just before we rescued you. I also know SHADO appears to be at war with them," McCoy stated.
"I'm afraid I don't have anything more to say, Doctor," Foster announced, leaving his chair. McCoy let him go.
* * *
Barry and Spielberg were still sitting on their beds as Foster walked in. He sat down on Spielberg's bed.
"What did Doctor McCoy want with you, Paul?" Straker asked quietly. There was a haggard look about him, as if even the trip to the examination room had taken more strength out of him than he had to spare.
Foster inhaled deeply, breathing in and out though his nose. "He wanted to know what happened to you that landed you in the hospital."
"And what did you tell him?" Straker asked.
"I told him some of what happened, the parts I witnessed, that you already know about," Foster admitted. "If they want more than that, I guess they're out of luck." He paused. "They know about SHADO, and about the aliens."
A faintly bemused smile appeared on Straker's face. "Well, that's hardly surprising, is it, Paul? If this is an alien trick, of course they'd know. For that matter, if they are from the future, or somewhere else, all they have to do is look around and listen to what's going on in near Earth space."
"Of course," Foster agreed. "The fact they know about SHADO proves nothing."
Straker nodded, staring off into the far distance. Then, he focused on Foster and grinned. "You know Paul, you once told me you thought I was something other than human. According to Doctor McCoy, you may be right."
Foster snorted. "As I recall, I was thinking more in terms of computers and convincingly human robots at the time. As far as I know, I've never actually accused you of being an alien from outer space."
"No, you haven't," Straker agreed. "But, remember that genetic report that Colonel Sprenger got hold of a while back?"
"What report, sir?" Spielberg asked.
"Some researchers came up with genetic evidence that we had some personnel whose DNA, they felt, wasn't totally human," Foster explained. "It caused us a few problems. It would have been funny if it hadn't been so weird, and if our military liaison at the time hadn't taken it so seriously." Foster paused as he recalled exactly how much trouble that report, and that liaison, had caused them.
"I thought we'd decided that report was seriously flawed in its conclusions," Barry commented dryly. She and Straker had both been mentioned in that particular paper and had suffered in consequence.
"Maybe we were premature in our conclusions," Straker said very softly.
"You're not taking it seriously, are you?" Barry asked.
Straker shrugged. "We know our aliens have made it to Earth from another star system. It's not unreasonable to assume some other group could have made it here even earlier. The fact that there's little evidence we can point to proves nothing."
"You are taking it seriously," Foster stated.
Straker shook his head. "Not really. Eighteen-ninety-five puts it at about my grandparents' time. Even if it were true, there's nothing I can do about it. I was born in Boston and I have a valid United States passport. I do wonder at Miss Sterreka's negative reaction to the possibility, though. I would have expected that finding survivors, even descendants of survivors, would be a positive discovery."
"Even if it's you?" Foster wondered aloud.
The doors to the corridor opened. The SHADO people looked over to see Kirk and Spock come in. The pair walked over to the doorway of the examination room where McCoy stood with Sterreka. Spock held a highly polished wooden box in his hands.
"Are they behaving, Bones?" Kirk asked.
"They're about as cooperative as the rest of my usual clientele," McCoy reported.
"Are you saying some of your patients aren't cooperative?" Kirk replied, giving his friend a pout of feigned hurt.
"I'm saying most of my patients don't know the meaning of the word," the physician retorted. "With your permission, Captain, I'd like to release them from sick-bay."
"You're sure, Bones?"
"I think it would be a friendly gesture to begin introducing them to our time. You're the one who said they were going to be with us for a while," McCoy reminded his captain.
With a nod of agreement, Kirk straightened his jacket and stepped towards the SHADO people.
"Doctor McCoy tells me you're fit to leave sick-bay," Kirk informed them. "So, I think it's about time you got better acquainted with us. If you'll come with me, we'll arrange for your quarters and get you something more appropriate to wear."
The SHADO people looked at one another in surprise. They hadn't been expecting Kirk's invitation.
"However, Mister Straker is staying here," McCoy announced.
Straker didn't seem surprised by McCoy's statement. Foster gave Straker a quick look of concern, suddenly reluctant to leave his superior.
"Go on, Paul. Don't worry about me," Straker said.
Foster was unconvinced. "You're sure?"
"I'm very sure," Straker informed the younger man with surprising firmness. Foster nodded but he was not happy about leaving Straker alone. After a moment, he sighed and headed for the door, beckoning Spielberg to accompany him.
Barry leaned over and gave Straker a quick kiss on the cheek. "Take care, Ed. Okay?" she murmured. "We'll check on visiting hours."
Straker simply nodded, giving her a faint smile as she went to join Foster, Spielberg and Kirk by the door to the ward.
The little group paused in the doorway as they heard Spock say: "Mister Straker, do you play chess?"
* * *
An armored security guard took a position behind them as Kirk led the group to the nearest turbo-lift. Kirk appreciated their astonished looks at the corridor around them. Compared with their lunar module, even SHADO's Moonbase, the Enterprise was huge.
Eduard Kevlin was walking down the corridor towards them. His brown eyes widened in surprise at seeing the three 'visitors' with his captain. "Good afternoon, Captain," he greeted.
"Afternoon," Kirk said, stopping in the corridor. Kevlin halted in front of him. "Mister Kevlin, isn't it?"
The young man nodded. "Yes, sir. I came aboard yesterday from the Sagan."
"Good ship. How is Captain Prentice?"
"Good," Kirk said. "I wanted to let you know you did a fine job on that beam-out."
"Thank you, sir," Kevlin replied. His face flushed at the unexpected compliment. "The ionization around the ship made it a bit tricky, but there was really only one moment when there might have been a problem. That was when the ship exploded. I nearly lost the lock."
"But, you didn't," Kirk reminded him. "And it's the results that count." Kirk turned to his guests. "Mister Kevlin was the officer responsible for actually bringing you on board."
"Captain," Kevlin said tentatively. "I wanted to apologize for questioning your order, sir."
Kirk gave the young man a wry smile. "I quite understand, Mister Kevlin. I hadn't been expecting to bring anyone on board from this time period either, until I decided to." Kirk paused. "Just don't let it happen again."
"Yes, sir! I mean, no, sir," Kevlin said in surprised confusion. Kirk grinned and nodded a dismissal.
"How did you bring us aboard, Captain?" Foster asked, watching after Kevlin as the young man disappeared down the corridor.
"I would prefer to leave explanations like that to when you're better acquainted with us, if you don't mind," Kirk said.
Several uniformed crewmen passed the group, giving Kirk courteous nods and brief greetings as they went about their business.
"How large a crew do you have, Captain?" Foster asked after a short time.
"Men and women?" Barry asked.
Kirk nodded, surprised at the question. He kept forgetting the vast differences between his culture and theirs, despite the similarity in language. "The crew is mostly human, but we do have a number of non-humans and even some non-humanoids." As he spoke, one of the non-humanoid crew members, a rock-like Horta, scraped past them, bent on some unidentified errand.
"That's Ensign Corous," Kirk identified. "She's in astrophysics."
Foster and Barry said nothing, simply staring down the corridor after the Horta.
At the turbo-lift, the doors opened and Kirk ushered his guests in. He stepped over to the grilled wall control panel beside the doors. "V.I.P. suites, deck four," he instructed the control grill.
The lift began its journey. The three visitors were momentarily startled when the car began to move sideways, then up again.
"V.I.P. suites?" Barry repeated.
Kirk gave her his best, disarming, smile. "You're our guests."
The car stopped and the doors opened onto another corridor. A squat, yellow skinned, lavender haired humanoid with horn-like antennae sprouting from his head stood waiting for them.
Kirk gestured the SHADO people and the guard to leave the car. "If you'll excuse me," he told them, "I'll leave you in the quite capable hands of the quartermaster. We're having a formal dinner for you in the Officer's Mess at eighteen hundred hours. I'll send someone for you."
The turbo-lift doors closed, leaving the three from the Twentieth Century alone with the alien quartermaster and the apparently human guard in his white armor.
"Miss Sterreka has been assigned suite A," the quartermaster told them, ignoring their wary glances in his direction. "So I've assigned suites C and D for your use." He led the way down the corridor, to their rooms. "You'll find suitable clothing in your quarters. If you desire something else, you need only ask and we can synthesize it for you."
"What about our space suits and the clothes we were wearing when we were brought on board?" Foster asked, finally finding his voice.
"Chief Engineer Scott has your space suits. Your clothes have been cleaned and are hanging in your quarters," the quartermaster informed the SHADO officer.
"Thank you," Foster murmured. "Sir, if it isn't impolite, what, where are you from?"
The quartermaster smiled, in as human a fashion as his lipless mouth would allow. "I come from Denalonda, a planet in the Beta Quadrant. And, while it is not exactly impolite to ask such things, it is not generally done. One's origins should be less important than one's skills, don't you think, sir?"
Foster was forced to agree.
With a flourish, the quartermaster opened the door to Suite D and ushered them inside. They entered a small bedroom area with two single beds. To the left was a larger sitting room with a dining booth, desk, built-in table and at the far end, what appeared to be a control console of some type with a large screen above it.
The quartermaster briefly explained the food processor near the entry door and showed them how to access the computer system through the desk terminal. He also explained the controls to the bathroom plumbing.
"Do you often get guests who don't understand the plumbing?" Spielberg wondered aloud.
The quartermaster barked out a laugh. "As a matter of fact, we do," he explained. "The Enterprise is frequently called upon to transport diplomatic delegations. There are a few worlds in the Federation that have star travel but have not yet mastered the intricacies of indoor plumbing."
Foster smiled at the quartermaster's statement and went back to the computer terminal in the other room. At Foster's first request, a female voice replied: "That information is accessible to Engineering personnel only until further notice."
"Sir?" Foster called. The quartermaster came to the arched doorway to the sitting room.
"I was trying to ask the computer about how we were brought aboard. This machine is telling me that information is accessible only to engineering personnel until further notice," Foster said.
"I assume the Captain has ordered a security lock-out on certain information concerning the ship," the quartermaster replied reasonably.
"But why?" Foster demanded.
"I fear you will have to ask the Captain for the answer to that question, sir," the Denalondan told him. "However, even if you are not permitted access to certain security sensitive materials, I believe you will find more than enough information to occupy you. We have a quite complete film and book library available, if you wish entertainment." He showed Foster the key sequence that would bring up the ship's film catalog.
A list of titles appeared on the computer screen. Foster noted the list included films that, as far as he was aware, were not yet finished. One of the films, a George Lucas space spectacular, had just ended filming on sound stages four, five and six at Harlington-Straker Studios. It wouldn't be finished until next year. Foster checked the copyright date on the computer list -- 1984.
"You have a film here from 1984," Foster told the quartermaster.
The Denalondan bobbed his head in a nod. "Our film list is quite extensive, except for the most recent productions. My predecessor was something of a film buff. Her favorite film period was mid to late Twentieth Century, so our collection from that period is excellent."
"But that film by Lucas, it isn't even finished yet," Foster protested.
The quartermaster gave him one of his lipless smiles. "Mister Foster, that film is over three hundred years old."
Nina Barry walked into the work-sitting room as the quartermaster left the suite to return to his other duties. She had changed out of the sick-bay pajamas into a one piece dark gray jumpsuit that accentuated her slim figure. "They are, if nothing else, very consistent on that point," she commented.
Foster gave her a crooked grin. "They are consistent, and considerate," he agreed. "I just wish they were as considerate about sending us home."
To Be Continued
To Part 2, Harvest of the Planters
The Works of Deborah Rorabaugh
The Library Entrance