THE SHADOW THAT PASSETH AWAY
Chester Pennsylvania September 1777
Lafayette was dead.
He said it now, and still couldn’t believe it. But there was no denying it. There was no denying the elegant corpse riddled with bullets, the blood soaking the battlefield, or the cold hand he had held before the Frenchman’s long, lean body had been hastily buried in an unmarked grave to preserve it from further desecration. Just as there was no denying the incredible sense of loss or the impending knell of doom that sounded throughout young Captain Larkin’s body as he looked at the burial site. He reached up and ran a hand through his honey-colored hair. The wind was strong; its voice plaintive, mournful, as if it too acknowledged the passing of something great that – if it had been granted time to reach maturity – could have been magnificent.
The captain stirred. He lifted an arm and struck the tears that unmanned him away with the back of his sleeve. The horror of the last day was paramount. The Continental Army had been routed; its losses counted not in the hundreds, but in the thousands. With the redcoat’s success, and the taking of the cannons, the British had begun their final push. Soon, they would own the capital. General Washington’s men were demoralized. Even more than the well-oiled, precision-drilled machine of the British empire they had faced, the death of the French marquis, whose body lay before him cradled in American soil, had broken them. Dozens had simply thrown their weapons down and fled, never to return. The blond man’s eyes flicked to the river running close beside him. It was a placid blue now. The day before it had run crimson as the coats of the men who sought to break them and the spirit of liberty.
There was little left of that this day; this day after the battle at the Brandywine.
It was foolish of him to be here, but he had felt compelled to come. He had been in the midst of the fray when it happened. The young major general had been shot, but Lafayette had made it off the field. Sergeant Evans had been with him. Then, at the edge of the water, a British major had spotted the Frenchman and, in seconds, it had all been over.
The ramifications of that death – on an international level – made the blond man shudder. They had hoped that Lafayette’s entry into the war would mean, in time, that of the French king and his people as well. The young aristocrat’s family was important enough that his word could have been the deciding factor. Lafayette’s death might prove to be as well. It could compel the French to remain neutral, or – Heaven forfend! – drive them to join with their ancient enemy against the fledgling union of confederated states. What was worse, the consequences of the young Frenchman’s death on a personal level might prove even greater. When George Washington had been told, the great man had fallen into despair, suffering what some termed a fit of apoplexy. The cumulative effects of the defeat they had suffered and the loss of his adopted son might well prove more than the older man could bear.
It was almost more than he could bear.
And then, there was his own personal purgatory. So great had been the losses – so devastating the grief and potential for even more disaster, that he had pushed his own feelings aside. The thought of it now was almost enough to kill him. Even though he knew his men did not hold him at fault, he held himself responsible. How could he not have seen where the path was leading? How could he not have known?
How could he have been so
The blond man stiffened, but did not reply.
“Captain Larkin? Sir?”
The tall man hesitated, and then pivoted sharply on his heel to look at his aide, Phillip Stoner, who was standing behind him. A humble grave had been dug for the French aristocrat just within the tree line near a bend in the river flanking the field. It was dangerous to be here. His men had begged him not to come, but he had refused to listen. Turning reddened eyes on his lean young aide, Captain Larkin demanded, “What is it, Phillip? I told you I wished to be alone. No one was to follow. It is highly risky.”
“Sir. We’ve received a message from headquarters. Your presence is demanded. New plans must be made.” His aide hesitated. “And there is the matter of the prisoners….” Philip’s voice trailed off to nothing at his captain’s look.
“Tell them…” the blond man hesitated, “tell them I will come in time. I must go to town to speak to my father first. I must….”
“Sir. The summons was from General Lee. His Excellency is reported not to be doing well.” Stoner paused. When Philip spoke again, his voice trembled. “There is talk of surrender.”
If you chopped off a chicken’s head it would continue to run around for some time, until someone – or something – told it that it was dead. Could the same thing be said for the Continental Army and the hope of independence without Lafayette and, perhaps, George Washington? If they continued on, would it only prove a waste of even more irreplaceable lives?
Captain Larkin nodded. “Take word back. I will come.”
“The general asked if you wanted a private interview with the prisoners before the trial. What word shall I take back?”
What word indeed?
“My apologies, Phillip, for bearing the same blood in my veins as the assassin of all our hopes. That is what you may take back.” The captain’s eyes flicked to the turned earth with its light coating of leaves and bracken under which the marquis had only just begun his eternal sleep. It was one of his blood who had done this – one of his family who had betrayed them and brought about Lafayette’s death. His blood. His kin.
Captain Larkin sighed. “I will see him, and his friends. I must ask him – I must know how this happened. How he came to turn against all that is good and true. Why he chose to betray his country.” The ragged emotion in his voice surprised even him. Could love turn to hate so quickly and so completely? “My God….”
Phillip held his gaze for a moment, and then stepped forward to place a hand on his sleeve. “Robert, you cannot blame yourself.”
Captain Robert Larkin blinked cobalt blue eyes even as the rising wind tossed a spiraling lock of golden blond hair into them. He struck the curls back with more violence than was necessary, as if – with that action – he could strike away all that had occurred within the last twenty-four hours. Washington defeated. Lafayette killed. The British triumphant.
His brother Jeremy, revealed to be a murderer and traitor.
Robert’s lips parted. “Jeremy….how could you?”
It was the dawn of September the 12th, 1777, and nothing would ever be the same.
The place was rocky, barren as a womb that would never know a child. The wind howled with madness, keening for a loss it could not understand, tossing dirt in their faces with disrespect as if challenging their presence. But he understood. Captain James Tiberius Kirk understood only too well. He had been here before, with these same men at his side. Both were ashen pale as he, which was saying quite a bit for Spock. Even the green tinge had fled the Vulcan’s skin. Though it was not the past of his first officer’s world they looked at, what had happened had effected Vulcan as well. It had effected everything and every one. Lightning never strikes twice, they said.
Whoever they were, they were wrong.
Spock’s dark head was bent as if in prayer, his intense near-black stare glued to the tricorder screen as images flashed past faster than the eye could follow. The blue-white light of the strange donut-shaped Guardian of Forever acted like a strobe, alternately lighting and masking the lean aesthetic face, casting Spock in the role Bones often claimed was made for him – that of a demon or devil. But it wasn’t the Vulcan who was the demon in this tale.
It was Lt. Commander Happer Clayworth, the Enterprise’s new historian.
Kirk chewed his lip a moment, trying to be patient. He might as well have tried to take a vacation. “Anything, Spock?”
The Vulcan’s head shook imperceptibly. His eyes never left the screen.
“He’s chatty today, isn’t he?” A wry voice remarked sarcastically from the area of his right elbow. “Must be the bright and cheery atmosphere.”
Kirk’s dark hazel eyes flicked to his surgeon and friend’s face. The joke was lame. Leonard McCoy was off of his game today. No wonder. This was too close for all of them.
“You okay, Bones?” When he didn’t reply, Kirk tried again. “Bones?”
The surgeon shrugged. “Guess I’m not feeling chatty either.”
“Captain. I believe I have found the pivotal moment.”
A veritable flood of words. Kirk nodded. “Let’s have it, Spock.”
“As you will recall, in the latter years of your world’s 18th century, the triumph of the United States in the conflict known as the American Revolution served as the foundation stone for all that followed, including the ultimate fate of the Federations of Planets. A collection of what was often referred to as ‘rag tag’ soldiers defeated the might of, what was then, the greatest empire on the Earth – the United Kingdom.”
“I know, Spock,” Jim said softly. And he knew Spock knew he did. It was a personal interest of his and one of the greatest stories ever told; men without clothes on their backs, with rags tied about their bleeding feet, starving, ill, dying of the cold, somehow rallying to defeat the well-armed and magnificently trained British army.
“The odds of victory were, at best, precarious,” the Vulcan continued. “There were even those who went so far as to insert supernatural means. While that inclusion is doubtful, it is true that one small event could have tipped the scales and altered the outcome.”
“And Clayworth has done something to cause that to happen?”
The Vulcan stepped out of the Guardian’s light and came to his side. “Permit me to show you, Captain.”
“I thought the images went too fast…”
Spock looked slightly miffed. “After our…last encounter with the Guardian I configured the tricorder to be able to both record and decelerate the transmissions automatically. The delay occasioned the last time in obtaining accurate information induced ramifications that were,” the Vulcan’s ebon eyes locked on his, “most unfortunate.”
It still hurt. Losing Edith.
Kirk nodded his head. “Well done, Mr. Spock. Let me see what you have.”
The Vulcan’s long fingers played with the control, moving back through the series of monotone images. When they stopped, he pointed toward the screen. “Observe.”
The pictures were tiny. Kirk squinted, but couldn’t make them out. He was too young to need glasses. Wasn’t he?
The starship captain was eternally grateful when Leonard McCoy peered over his shoulder and barked, “You’d have to be a damn magnifying glass to read that! What does it say?”
Spock looked at them with that air of resigned patience he perpetually wore when dealing with humans. “It is a copy of a colonial newspaper out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, dated September 14th, 1777. It announces the death of George Washington.”
“So?” Kirk asked. Then he paused. “No wait. Seventeen seventy-seven?”
The Vulcan nodded. “Twenty-two years before the actual date.”
“But the war had just begun.”
Spock nodded. “According to the timeline created after Lt. Cmdr. Clayworth’s insertion into it, the conflict’s end came less than one year later when the colonies made peace with England and remained a part of Great Britain.”
“Good God!” Bones was truly rattled. Not all that long before the surgeon’s actions, while under the influence of the drug cordrazine, had caused a similar shift in the history of the United States, delaying its entry into World War II and causing Germany to win. They had straightened that one out – through sheer grit and determination to do what was right in spite of what was desired. It was inconceivable that they were here again. But here they were. And this time, Starfleet was to blame. On the issue of the Guardian, he and Spock had differed. The Vulcan had insisted that limited use was a necessary risk, and that anything else would be unfair to science. Kirk had argued against using the time portal even for research. The consequences if something went wrong were incalculable. If they survived this and if they managed to restore the current timeline yet again, he was going to recommend that the planet and the Guardian be quarantined.
“Apparently, Captain, Lt. Cmdr. Clayworth has fulfilled his manic dreams,” Spock remarked almost casually. “The English won the war. The United States never came into being.”
And therefore, nothing they had known was the same. Oh, the Enterprise had still been there when they checked in a few minutes ago, but it was no longer his ship. There was a different commander – one with an English accent. Great Britain, it seemed, never lost its hold, eventually swallowing some 90 percent of the known world. Those who did not belong to the empire were under constant assault and treated as hostile nations. Slavery had never been abolished, and the ranks of those who served were made up of the indigenous people of the various regions. In time, over the centuries, England had become a complete tyrant.
They expected a security detail from the ship any minute, come to arrest them.
“Can you ask the Guardian to put us down at the right place and time, Spock? Do you have enough information?” Kirk’s eyes flicked to the sky, which was brooding. “We may have visitors any minute.”
“‘May’ is a nice word,” Bones drawled.
“But hardly accurate, Doctor,” Spock replied. “I suggest we have one point three five nine minutes to make our decision.”
“One point three five nine? Why not, one point three five eight?” the surgeon groused.
“It is now one point three three five, Doctor.” Spock’s lips compressed with impatience. “If I take time to explain, we will have point three three five.”
“Never mind, Spock,” Kirk barked. “Can you do it?”
The Vulcan shrugged; a gesture that was almost as frightening as what they faced. “With reasonable certainty. I can place us within a week of the event – perhaps a few days. The location seems to be rural Pennsylvania, not far from the capital city, a place called Chester.” Spock looked up. “The modifications to the tricorder, while not all that I might have hoped, have rendered it slightly more accurate in its depiction of – ”
Kirk caught his friend’s arm. “No time! Spock….” The familiar hum of an incoming transport added a fearful strain to the Guardian’s baleful tune. “Do it!”
The Vulcan nodded and began to walk toward the time portal.
Kirk did the same. When McCoy didn’t, he turned back toward his friend. “Bones?”
The surgeon looked positively ill. “Jim, I don’t know if I can,” he said, licking his lips.
The captain’s eyes took in the forming red-shirted shapes. They had only seconds. “Bones, I need you. History needs you!” He stopped and then added with one of his most winning smiles, “Besides, who is going to patch up Spock if you don’t come?”
McCoy’s lips twitched. “An 18th century Vulcan, now that is something I wouldn’t want to miss.”
“Captain. Fifteen seconds,” Spock’s voice tolled. “Fourteen….”
They had about the same margin of time before the transport was complete.
Kirk held his friend’s gaze. The surgeon swallowed hard and then nodded.
Ten seconds later the three of them jumped through the pulsing opening in the Guardian of Forever and plunged into time.