THE SHADOW THAT PASSETH AWAY
Sergeant Daniel Boggs’ head jerked so hard he felt his teeth snap together. “Good God!” he exclaimed. “What was that?”
“Explosions, sir,” one of his men answered, his voice shaking. “From the area of the town hall.”
“Is the city under attack?” another asked.
“No. The British occupy her,” Boggs answered. “And General Washington is soon to be engaged in battle. He wouldn’t….” The sergeant thought again. “Local insurgents, perhaps?”
“Could be, sir. Should we check?”
Boggs hesitated. He looked at Morris’ Tavern. Spock had been gone too long. One of his men, either those stationed here with him, or the ones guarding the back, should have seen something by now.
Something must have gone wrong.
“Briggs, you take two others and check it out,” he ordered. “Moore, you come with me. We’re going inside.”
People were pouring out of the tavern, curious to see what was happening. It wasn’t difficult to mix in with them and then slip inside practically unnoticed. Boggs made a quick survey of the common room. The tall ebon-haired man from the Committee was nowhere in sight.
“Damn and blast!” he cursed.
“Spread out. Check the back rooms. Spock has to be here somewhere.”
Several minutes passed before one of the men returned. Briggs’ skin was pale and a sheen of sweat covered it, as though he had been sick. “Sir, I think you should see this,” the soldier said, indicating one of the darkened rooms to the rear of the inn.
Boggs swallowed over the fear that took him as he followed the soldier’s retreating form. Though it wasn’t what he feared, the sight that greeted him was unnerving. Maeve McGinnis’ body lay just beyond the threshold. She had been shot, once, through the heart. Boggs knelt by her side. He reached out and closed her green eyes for the last time. The evil done in her short life had been paid for.
Boggs rose and turned toward Briggs. The young soldier was pointing at the floor. At that moment he understood what had happened. A thick rug had been cast aside, revealing an opening in the boards. Beneath the floor a small winding stair lead down into a tunnel that went God only knew where. He had seen the sort of thing before. The tunnels had been constructed for those who ran illegal operations and traded in stolen goods and merchandise.
Maeve must have given Spock away. If the intelligence officer was still alive, he would be found wherever this tunnel emptied out.
Locking his pistol behind the belt of his breeches, Daniel Boggs turned around, entered the hole, and swiftly descended the stairs.
Calculations based solely on logic seldom seemed to pan out where humans were involved.
Spock groaned in pain as he was shifted from the shoulders of one man to another. The bullet in his flesh had moved and he was bleeding again. So far he did not think it had torn an artery, but the rough treatment he was receiving did nothing to reassure him. The possibility was good it would not remain so for long. His head was pounding from the renewed blow it had received and he would have retched if he had had anything in his stomach. There was little he could do but remain as still as possible as he was transported – wherever it was Happer Clayworth was taking him.
The area they occupied was near pitch black. His Vulcan eyesight allowed him to make out shadows and shapes, but they were without distinction. It smelled of earth and mold. Water splashed under the feet of the man who carried him. When someone spoke, which was not often, their words echoed and rang from the confining walls. It took a moment, but Spock deduced at last that they were in a tunnel, employed no doubt for clandestine operations of an unsavory nature. It had been a foolish mistake not to anticipate such a contingency.
He was slipping.
As it appeared to be the most expedient course, Spock continued to feign unconsciousness. Once or twice along their route, existence actually flickered in and out, so it was not far from the truth. At last, they began to climb. A door opened above them and dirt rained down. There was a flash of golden-red light and then a thick mist began to fill the tunnel. Once above ground, the man who held him released his grip and Spock fell like a dead weight to strike the ground. He held his breath, waiting for the bullet to shift further and claim him. When it failed to move, he released the breath and lay there, gathering strength and listening.
“Tie him up. Put him in the wagon. We’re going to the Ford to watch.” It was Happer Clayworth. “Howe’s forces will be on the move. They will cross the Brandywine at the ford I told them about – the one Washington knows nothing of . In a few hours both armies will meet on the battlefield, and it will all be over.”
“What about Lafayette?” one of the men asked.
“He should be dead by now. I told Major Tarleton what to do. Take young Larkins’ family and then threaten him. The boy will betray the Frenchman. Having one of their own accused of the crime will further demoralize the American troops. Tarleton will take the credit in the end, of course. But then, that’s the sort of bastard he is!” Clayworth laughed long and loud.
“And if Lafayette is not dead?” the man asked as soon as the derisive noise died down.
Happer Clayworth sobered quickly enough. “That is also why we go to watch. If the Frenchman escapes and we see him on the battlefield, I will shoot him myself.”
Now Spock understood. He had observed the information in the Guardian’s files. Most he had watched at hyper-speed, slowing down only the few following George Washington’s death. The one from Philadelphia had mentioned the strain put on the older man by a recent personal loss as its main cause. Nothing was specifically cited, though there had been the mention of the death of a ‘certain person’ of another country who had recently grown as dear to the old man as a son.
The Marquis de Lafayette.
The murder of the Marquis was the crime the historian had come to the past to commit, thereby engendering the death or incapacitation of George Washington. Without Washington, the forging of the new nation would never occur – let alone the winning of the war. Killing Washington outright might have created a martyr and engendered some sort of a retributive victory. When the older man died of grief, it would simple tear the heart out of the American cause. Flawlessly logical. Imminently practical.
And totally amoral.
Spock felt rough hands take hold of him and lift him up. Two men carried him between them and then slid him into the back of a wagon. He lay there, exhausted, and close to losing consciousness. The wagon ride to the ford could take no more than a half hour at most. Still, even thirty minutes rest might prove helpful. He could not go into a healing trance. There was no one here to waken him. Still, he could bend all of his remaining mental energy on stopping the bullet where it was and perhaps encouraging the tissue surrounding it to hold it in place long enough for him to do what had to be done.
Long enough for him to stop Happer Clayworth from killing the Marquis de Lafayette and winning the war for England.
When Bones had said the hypospray would restore Robert Larkin to some kind of health, the surgeon had not reckoned with the young man himself. Not only was Robert on his feet, he was pacing like a caged animal. His blue eyes sparked like the brass buttons on his dress uniform coat. He had insisted they return to his home for him to get it. Robert was dressed now and, despite Bones protests, was preparing to leave. Kirk had been uncertain about coming to the Larkin home at first, but when he thought about it, the odds were low that, with a battle approaching and the destruction of the town hall, any soldiers could be spared to keep watch on it.
Still, it was time to go.
Robert halted in his pacing and turned his blazing eyes on the starship captain. “I will never believe my brother a traitor, sir. Never!”
“I hope you’re right.” Kirk’s tone was conciliatory. “I can only tell you what I heard.”
“Jeremy cares not one whit who wins this damnable war!” the soldier quickly countered.
“No,” McCoy chimed in softly, “but he does care about you, and your father.”
They were alone in the house. Henry had followed after Isak to help care for Samuel Larkin. They were to await them at the Coates’ farm. Only now it was clear Robert Larkin had no intention of going into hiding.
He meant to rejoin his regiment.
Robert’s jaw was set. His blue eyes flashed. He drew a deep steadying breath and then spoke with more calm. “Gentlemen. Captain Kirk, I do not doubt what you tell me you have seen. It is your experience. But I tell you, my brother would not do this. When I spoke to him, I told him the general’s safety was his sacred charge. Jeremy vowed to me that he would protect him. I do not believe that he would betray that vow.” Robert held their skeptical gazes for a moment, and then crossed to the table and picked up his tricorn hat. “You do not have to go with me. This is not your fight, it is mine.”
Kirk stood staring at him; the Continental soldier, the man who had made Kirk’s country what it was by his willingness to give his all, even to his life. The embodiment of freedom, of liberty, of integrity. The opposite of Happer Clayworth who with his selfish desires threatened to destroy it all.
“It is my fight, Robert,” Kirk answered quietly. “It is all our fights. If a man does not stand for liberty, for freedom, then he stands for nothing. Nothing at all!”
He read in Robert’s face that the soldier approved. Captain Larkin held out his hand. “Join us then. Now, tonight, for this glorious fight.”
“I see nothing glorious in a battlefield covered with blood, guts, and dying men,” Bones grumbled at his side. “I didn’t save your from infection to send you out to be filled with holes.”
“I do not wish to die, Dr. McCoy, but I will for my country.” Robert said as he set his hat in place.
Bones understood, even if he didn’t want to admit it. They both did.
The surgeon looked at him as if seeking to know what to do. Kirk wasn’t sure, but he did know that the Battle of Brandywine had to go off as intended. Lafayette had to be there to turn that rushing tide. He had to survive the battle to go on and fight another day; to become the influence that brought France into the war and won it for the colonials. And he – James T. Kirk – had to be there, on that battlefield, to make certain that happened.
Bones, on the other hand, didn’t.
“Doctor…” he began.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Bones cut him off, reading his mind. “I’m not sitting here worrying while you’re out playing soldier. There will be men wounded there. Maybe I can help.”
Kirk nodded. If they knew who to help and who to let die.
“All right then. We should – ”
A sudden sound outside the door startled them. Robert pivoted and then ducked behind the door, signaling one of them to answer it. Kirk did, and opened it to find three tired looking frontiersmen looking at him. The oldest of them removed his hat and then stared at Kirk, puzzled. “Is Robert Larkin here?” he asked.
The starship captain frowned. “Who’s asking?”
“Sir, just tell us. Someone said he had escaped the British and was headed – ”
“Philip?” Robert swung around so the man could see him. “Andrew and Michael! Phillip, dear God man, it is good to see you!”
The soldier’s face lit with that deep, devoted love that only a man in the ranks can have for his captain. “Captain Larkin, sir! Thank God we have found you!”
“What news?” Robert demanded.
“Word comes that Howe is on the march. We expect to meet them at Chadd’s Ford mid-afternoon. General Washington has men stationed at the fords to the north and south. We should have a good chance of winning.”
Kirk had to bite his tongue. He knew. He knew they were doomed. Someone had already alerted Howe to the fact that there was a ford General Washington knew nothing of. Due to the heavy fog obscuring the land, Howe would quickly gain the advantage. About two p.m. the British would move on the American’s right flank. With Hazen’s brigade outflanked, the other generals would try to reposition their troops, but it wouldn’t work. At four p.m., the British would attack with Stephen and Stirling’s divisions taking the hardest hit. Washington and Greene would arrive, but it would be too late. The Americans would be forced into a shameful retreat, leaving many of their cannon behind due to the loss of most of their artillery horses. In all, the Americans would lose between 1100 and 1300 soldiers.
And there wasn’t a thing he could do to stop it.
“Jim.” It was McCoy. The doctor’s hand was trembling where it lay on his arm. The surgeon didn’t know the battle as well as he did, but he could probably read its outcome in his face.
Kirk shook his head. History had to play out as it had for them to go home.
Robert nodded solemnly. He turned to them. “I go to join my men. Gentlemen, do you come with me?”
As McCoy reached for his medical bag, Kirk nodded. “Let’s go.”
Daniel Boggs emerged from the smuggler’s tunnel, weapon in hand. He paused as his head crested above the land and glanced about. Seeing no one, he signaled the men behind him and then finished his ascent. The fog was still thick and clinging to the ground, though here and there, it had begun to lift. He knelt and examined the earth and found marks that indicated someone had lain there. He reached out and touched the cool grass and felt hot blood. Lifting his hand, Boggs raised it to the light to make certain and frowned at what he saw. He knew the sun’s light as it moved through the fog cast odd shadows and altered the colors around them, but he could swear the thick liquid his hand was coated with was green.
Dismissing the notion as foolish, the sergeant rose to his feet.
“Someone laid here. They were wounded. Then they were lifted and placed in a wagon.” He could see the ruts of the wheels leading away, toward the place where the battle with the British would soon commence.
“Master Spock, you think?” his man asked.
“Still alive, or they would have left him here. They’re headed for the ford. It seems everything is aimed at Chadd’s Ford this day.” Boggs paused. He, along with several other patrols had been sent out to seek the missing Robert Larkin and the Marquis de Lafayette. So far, they had had no luck. Hopefully Sergeant Evans or one of the other men would find the young major general and see he made his way safely back to General Washington’s side before all hell broke loose.
“Providence seems to have assigned us quite a task,” the sandy haired man sighed. “To Chadd’s Ford, and God help us all.”
Spock lay very still. The wagon had ceased its motion. When it stopped, it had roused him and he had opened his eyes. The pain was manageable now. The blood flow from the wound had been slowed to a trickle. The bullet had been ordered to stay put. Spock had his doubts that the inanimate object would really heed his Vulcan mind’s voice, but he had commanded the muscle and tissue around it to hold the ball where it was for as long as was possible and it, he knew, would obey.
Shifting slightly to ease a place in his back where it contacted something hard in the bed of the wagon, he turned his mind and tuned his exceptional hearing to listen to the sounds around him. He could hear Happer Clayworth talking animatedly with another man; one with a strong English accent. No, there were several men. All English. Most likely British soldiers that the historian was meeting with. No doubt Clayworth was relating more information to them in direct violation of the Prime Directive.
Spock’s attention centered in on the men’s words when he heard the name ‘Lafayette’.
“…ain’t dead, I tell you. The major’s got ‘im a half mile off in the woods.”
“The frog? Why hasn’t he killed him then?”
“He was going to. Then Tarleton thinks, why not parade him on the field? Show the little French bastard to Washington and his men, and then kill him in front of them.”
There was a pause. “That Tarleton, he’s a right bastard himself.” Whoever it was laughed heartily. “God and King George bless him!”
A half mile off. Which way, Spock wondered? He closed his eyes and concentrated. He doubted it would work, but with weak minds, sometimes he could influence them from a distance. Could he make the man tell him? The Vulcan slowed his breathing and reached out, seeking, searching. When he thought he had contacted one of the soldiers’ minds, he planted the need to know. Which way, he asked? Which direction? Where is Major Tarleton? Your companion needs to know. Where is he?
Where is he?
“Near the river,” the soldier said, sounding surprised himself. “North, near the ford. There’s an old footbridge across one of the river’s tributaries. That’s where he has ‘im.”
“What?” the other man asked. “What are you talking about?”
There was a pause. “Didn’t you ask me where Tarleton was?”
Both men fell into silence, confused.
Spock shifted. From what he could tell, he was alone and unwatched. Happer was busy elsewhere and these two men, who were supposed to be watching him, were not paying close attention. Clamping down mentally on the pain it engendered, he eased his body down and out of the wagon. When he dropped to the ground a gasp escaped him, but it seemed no one heard. After waiting thirty of his rapid heartbeats, Spock moved under the wagon and from there, into the trees.
Minutes later he arrived at the place the soldier had described. There were four men there. Two guards stationed close to him, a British officer whom he assumed was Tarleton, and one very young, very battered brown haired civilian bound hand and foot and leaning wearily against the footbridge.
Spock closed his eyes and tried it again, calling out to the two guards. He planted in their minds the suggestion that there was someone in the woods, hiding behind a crop of rock that was approximately one point five five meters from his hiding place. Crouching down in the tall grasses that lined the river bank, he waited. After a few minutes he heard them coming. One moved behind the rocks to check while the other waited, musket in hand. Spock rose up behind that one and caught him at the base of the neck with a Vulcan nerve pinch that dropped the man instantly. As he pulled the unconscious man into the grasses, the other began to call his companion’s name. Spock waited, tensed to spring. The bullet threatened, but he ignored it, commanding it again not to move. As the soldier rounded the rocks, Spock sprang and caught him on the chin with an uppercut.
James Kirk’s methods were crude, but efficient.
Leaving the two unconscious men behind, Spock moved toward Major Tarleton and his captive. The major was staring into the woods, wondering – no doubt – where his men were and what they had seen. His weapon was in his hand. That was Spock’s one fear – that if Major Tarleton thought his prisoner threatened, he would simply shoot the young man. The Vulcan looked and saw it in the Englishman’s eyes. He was close, very close to making that decision.
Spock weighed his options and decided his only ally was surprise. It would take the major approximately three point five seconds to turn once he had made up his mind, and another two point five seconds to pulls the trigger and release the ball. That gave him approximately five seconds in which to take the man down.
The British major snarled and Spock saw his muscles tense. As Tarleton pivoted on his heel, everything seemed to go into slow motion. With Vulcan speed he burst from the underbrush and rushed toward the armed man. With Vulcan strength, he struck him and drove him to the ground. As Tarleton fell, his pistol fired. Spock looked up to see the ball flying through the air toward the young Frenchman who was only waking to his danger. The Vulcan breathed a sigh of relief as the projectile struck the wood beside the marquis’s shoulder, splintering the rail of the footbridge and raining wooden shards on the young man. At the same second, Tarleton snarled like an enraged animal and brought all of his strength to bear and rolled Spock over so he ended on top of him. Staring hatred at him, the British major lifted his pistol high over the Vulcan’s head, intending to bring it down in a death blow that would crush his skull.
It never happened. Tarleton’s eyes were suddenly perplexed and then, with a groan, he toppled over onto the ground.
Spock looked up to see Sergeant Boggs staring down at him. The frontiersman held a pistol, butt forward, in his hand. Logically, the sergeant had assumed that another shot, fired so close to the coming battlefield would draw unwanted attention.
The Vulcan nodded his approval.
And then passed out.