TWO WORLDS IN WHICH WE DWELL
Jim Kirk was not a man to panic, but he was coming close – very, very close.
Preventing intergalactic wars, facing down Klingons, bantering with boy gods and going nose to nose with Romulans… Those were nothing more than a walk in the hydroponic garden. What really scared him – about the only thing that could terrify him – was the prospect of fiddling with time. He had seen what could happen with his own eyes.
Lowering those eyes, the starship captain stared at the chalk white, bloodstained body of his companion. Kirk’s hands were crimson as a security guard’s uniform shirt. In fact, he was into it up to his elbows. He calmed himself by reading the mental note posted at the door of his panic sector that told him a man could bleed inordinately and still come out alive. He’d seen that too in nearly 15 years of military service, but he sensed this was different. Daniel Boone didn’t have much time.
If Boone died, what would it do to time? To his time?
This was what the willowy woman who appeared in Spock’s quarters had been talking about. This was what she had come here to prevent. Shifting his hands, Kirk applied more pressure to the frontiersman’s wound in a vain attempt to staunch the bleeding. Boone had taken a ball midway up the left hand side, near the center of his chest but not at the center. The fact that he was still breathing – even if those breaths were ragged and uneven and increasingly painful to listen to – meant his heart had not been struck. But it looked close. Too close.
If only Bones were here, he thought. At least the frontiersman might stand a –
A trickle of pebbles alerted him to the fact that someone was coming. Then, there was a voice.
“Jim! Good God! What happened?”
Kirk blinked. He was hallucinating. Right? “B…Bones?”
“Well, who do you think it is? Doc Holliday?” McCoy slid down to his side and settled by the wounded man. He applied his experienced eye to the situation and nodded. “Keep applying that pressure, but move aside enough for me to get close. Let’s see if there is anything I can do.”
Swiftly and efficiently, the surgeon moved in; his trained fingers probing the area of the wound. As they did, he made observations, noting Boone’s color and respiration. And then – God bless him – Bones reached into the black leather bag he carried and pulled out a 23rd century medical scanner. The whir of its modern motor was a balm to the tension gripping Jim Kirk’s muscles.
“I see you came prepared,” he muttered, wondering if McCoy sensed a hint of disapproval in his tone. He didn’t want it to be there, but his brain was screaming PRIME DIRECTIVE!
McCoy didn’t miss it. His ice-blue eyes flicked to his captain’s face. “Jim, I can explain….”
Kirk waved it off. “Later. Can you save him?”
The instrument was still whirring. “Help me get a pressure patch on the wound, and then give me a minute and I’ll let you know.”
“Bones!” he insisted, as if insisting could change something. “If this man dies…”
“I can only do so much without the ship, Jim,” the surgeon apologized.
Kirk heard it in Bone’s voice, the agony of every creature that had ever dared to call itself a healer since the first one had crawled out of the primordial soup and sought to ease the pain of another. After the bandage was in place Kirk stood. A second later, his hand came down on his friend’s shoulder. “I know, Bones. Do what you can.” Then he added with a wry smile. “Just try to remember that the entire human race is counting on you.”
Leonard McCoy shot him one of those looks that belied the fact that the surgeon was opposed to taking a life.
Kirk held his hands up in surrender and then turned away to do the only thing the captain of a galaxy size starship could do at this moment – which was wait. As he did, he realized that Bones had not come alone. A blond man in a fringed coat was parked on the edge of the ledge, peering down over it, rifle in hand. Every so often his eyes would flick to where McCoy was working. Kirk knew the look. He had seen it often enough in McCoy’s eyes, in Spock’s – and in his own. It was the look of a man who did not know if today would be the day he would be called upon to bury a brother.
Kirk limped forward, favoring the leg the ball had struck, more tired than he realized and dropped to the ground beside the other man. Without a word, the blond handed a rifle to him. The starship captain noted that it was not Daniel Boone’s rifle. That tangible connection to his dying brother the frontiersman held in his own hands. Kirk accepted the weapon and turned his attention to defense.
“Situation,” he barked. And then thought better of it.
The blond man glanced at him, but didn’t seem offended. He was about Kirk’s age – somewhere in his thirties – and bronzed as the buckskins he wore. Premature wrinkles, part worry, mostly sun, furrowed the brow above his pale blue eyes. “Seen one or two of them heathen savages dartin’ in and out of the trees. But it don’t look like they’re interested in us no more. They seem to be lookin’ for somethin’ – or someone else.”
Kirk turned his gaze to the wooded area before them, and then looked up at the ridge. The morning sun was breaking over it. It cast a fiery light that reminded him, uncomfortably, of his missing Vulcan friend. All too soon he might be sharing the frontiersman’s pain. In this primitive culture, with its many prejudices, how would an alien survive? That was, if Spock had survived whatever had happened to the Columbus.
The man beside him shifted and held out a dirt-caked hand. “Name’s Yadkin,” he said by way of introduction.
Forced out of his melancholy thoughts, Kirk responded by taking it and shaking it firmly. “Captain James T. Kirk, United…States military.”
“Thought so.” Yadkin looked him up and down, seeming to approve what he saw. He winced when his eyes came to the blood that saturated Kirk’s gold uniform shirt and coated his arms. “Dan’l?”
“He’s in good hands. Dr. McCoy is one of the best.” Kirk turned to see how Bones was doing. The surgeon stood and then glanced his way. His friend’s face was a mask, saying nothing.
McCoy raised a hand and beckoned him over. “Jim, I’d like to talk to you.”
Kirk touched Yadkin’s shoulder briefly. “Keep watch. I’ll let you know as soon as I know.”
The blond man didn’t reply. He swallowed over emotion and nodded, and then turned back to his silent vigil, doing the only thing he could at the moment for his friend.
Kirk limped back. He was going to have to work on that. Any sign of weakness was not a sign he cared to give an enemy now. Eyeing the doctor’s black leather bag, he wondered if there was anything in there for him.
Bones looked him over and gave his professional opinion. “You’re a wreck.”
“Thanks.” Kirk’s smile was grim. “You try a half-mile sprint on a game leg with a hundred angry natives on your tail and see how sweet you come out smelling.”
“You should let me do something about that leg.”
It was tempting. “Later,” he said. Kirk’s hazel eyes flicked to the quiescent form of the big man lying at the back of the ridge. “Boone?”
“He’ll live. Or at least he will if infection doesn’t set in. The ball missed the organ and most of the major arteries. The pressure pack is containing the bleeding, and I brought along stores of both human and Vulcan – well, hybrid Vulcan blood.”
Kirk’s former anger flickered at the edge of his tightly drawn lips. “You certainly came well prepared.”
The surgeon pursed his lips and assumed his usual chagrinned stance; arms behind back, long lean form rocking back and forth from heel to toe. “Jim, I can explain….” He paused and then the obligatory self-deprecating smile appeared. “Well, hell. No I can’t.”
“Bones! What were you thinking?” The captain in him overcame the friend. “You left the ship without its chief surgeon, during a red alert, without consulting its captain or obtaining leave to do so. We were in the middle of an emergency situation with intruders aboard and one of our shuttlecraft and its crew missing in action.” The color of his hazel eyes darkened with his anger. “You want to tell me why, mister?”
“She? Who’s she?”
“Willow. Well, that’s what I call her.” Bones’ chagrin ripened into embarrassment. “You know how it is, Jim. It’s hard for a southern gentleman to turn down a lady.”
“Willow?” Kirk hesitated. The starship captain didn’t know how he did it – Spock had tried to analyze his leaps of illogical logic for years, but with little success. He had a suspicion it was one of the few times the Vulcan comprehended the human affliction of a headache. “The time traveler?”
McCoy looked as if he had taken a photon torpedo head on. “You know about her?”
“I met her. In Spock’s quarters.” Kirk watched as the psychologist in his doctor friend noted that. In Spock’s quarters. No Spock there. He dismissed it with a shrug. “So you are saying she recruited you?”
It was McCoy’s turn. He shrugged, rolling his narrow shoulders. “You could say that.”
“To do what?”
“To do this, Captain Kirk,” a light voice remarked.
Kirk spun, stunned to find the alien they discussed was standing no more than three feet behind him. She must have just appeared, because McCoy looked just as shell shocked as he did. He glanced at Yadkin to gauge the frontiersman’s reaction, but realized somehow that Willow’s appearance was outside of the blond man’s reality. Perhaps she was blocking it, or had somehow frozen Yadkin in time.
He certainly didn’t like the can of Regillian slime worms that opened up.
“I demand to know what is going on!” he all but shouted.
“Jim, I think I understand,” Bones said. “Willow told me I was necessary for the time stream’s survival. That I was tied to it, and had to be here. Think, Jim!” His hand came down on Kirk’s shoulder. McCoy was shaking. “Boone would be dead now if I hadn’t arrived!”
Time stream. Time travel. It made Kirk’s head hurt as much as his intuitive leaps did Spock’s. Give him a phaser and an enemy to charge and he was there. But put him in the shadows, where things slipped and slid and seemed not to be, and he wanted his mommy.
Well, not really, but one of Bone’s lethal alcoholic concoctions would have been very welcome just about now.
“I appreciate that, Bones. But I don’t appreciate my ship or my crew being used by outside agents who refuse to identify themselves or their agenda.”
Willow was as nonplussed as a sapling tree with wide gray eyes. “You are a child. Too immature to understand.”
“Mind your blood pressure, Jim,” McCoy muttered as Kirk felt the color rise in his cheeks.
Snapping back at the other man in his best military tone, the starship captain phrased his demand as a request. “Don’t you have a patient you should be attending to, doctor?”
Bones was startled. The he snapped – a salute – in return. “Aye, aye, sir.” And with that the surgeon turned back to his work.
Demand continued to be the dress of the day. “What did you do to him?” Kirk asked Willow as he pointed at the blond frontiersman.
“He is held for the moment in the moment he occupied when I arrived.”
“You can do that?”
“There is little I cannot do,” she said without ego.
“Then why do you need us?”
Willow’s thin lips parted in a sigh. “There is only so much I am permitted to do.”
Did this race have its own sort of skewed Prime Directive? “You mean, you can’t interfere – much?”
“Mortal agents are used. Our part is to…direct.”
“Mortal?” Visions of the self-proclaimed god Apollo towering over him like a twenty story building not all that long ago filled Kirk’s mind’s eye. “Are you…immortal then?”
“We exist outside of time. It is not the same, but as far as your childish understanding, the description is adequate.”
Kirk’s head was spinning. He wanted to raise his hands and make sure it wouldn’t fly away, but he resisted the urge. They had met such beings before – the Squire of Gothos, Trelayne, being one – beings who saw them with all their marvelous, scientific accomplishments as infants barely toilet trained.
They were not easy to deal with.
Kirk drew a deep breath. He missed Spock more than ever. Willow would have presented an interesting puzzle to his first officer, but her goading would have fallen flat on his pointed ears. What would Spock do in this situation? He would gather all of the information he had and then use it to draw a conclusion – even if that conclusion grew from nothing more than sheer human cussedness and speculation.
Not that the Vulcan would ever admit it.
Willow had helped them. She had preserved Daniel Boone’s life – and their future – by bringing 23rd century medicine to an 18th century world. And in doing so, she had apparently also helped them to stop a war. The Shawnee were scattered. Their purpose changed. There would be no red revolution to over take the white civilization. Not even a pink one. The Federation was safe. For the moment. Kirk’s hazel eyes flicked to the alien woman. She stood there, uncaring as a bank of computers that held everything he needed to know, but refused to answer – unless he asked the right question.
Or was the Federation safe? What was to stop whoever had made this attempt at altering the past from going back again? And again? And….
This time he did press his fingers to his skull. Hard.
“What is your ultimate aim?” Kirk asked her at last, hoping it was close to right.
“To end this war,” she said simply.
For a moment Willow said nothing. The, unexpectedly, she smiled. The effect on her pallid face was that of the sun breaking out of the banks of a storm. “Yes.”
McCoy was at his elbow. Kirk turned and almost knocked him down. “Bones, not now!”
“We need to get this man to wherever it is he lives. Lying out on the ground is not going to help his recovery.”
“I thought he was okay….”
“He’s stabilized. There’s lots more I need to do.” McCoy patted the bag he held. “I have blood for a transfusion in here, but since it is not an emergency, I prefer a more sterile environment.” The doctor’s eyes roamed the forest around them. “If there is anything in this culture that even remotely compares to sterile,” he groused.
Kirk remained immobile, command responsibilities running through his head like a barely-controlled herd of lematyas. Spock, Uhura and Deevers were still missing and had to be presumed in need. His ship was up there somewhere – some when – and his people were under attack. An alien race had invaded their space, bringing with it a war to end all wars; one in which each side altered time to its own liking. This race also recruited mortal or human agents who were even now at work on his homeworld; aliens who could, with one action, alter everything that was to come. He knew that the farther back in time the change was made, the less likely it was to have an effect. Still, one of those natives he shot could have been the father of Tecumseh or – who knew – the great-great-great grandfather of Geronimo. Every action was a tiny pebble tossed into a huge pond.
And it was sink or swim.
Kirk drew a breath and fought to keep fear from making it stick in his throat. “Boone is safe. His settlement is safe. Bones has done what you sent him here to do. Why not send us back?”
“It is not over,” she said.
He swallowed over the lump. “No?”
“McCoy’s part is done. Yours is yet to come.”
“I thought you didn’t want Jim down here. You told me not to tell him!” McCoy protested.
Kirk sent his friend a shuddering warning that payment would be demanded when they got back to the ship. If they got back to the ship.
“Find your friend,” she said.
Kirk exchanged glances with McCoy. “My friend? Who?” If his scowl had been any deeper, a battleship could have navigated it. Then he had it. “Spock? Then he’s alive?”
Willow’s willowy shape wrinkled. Kirk blinked, and in the split second it took she was nearly gone. He reached out to catch her, but grasped only thin air.
“Quite a lady,” McCoy mused beside him, wearing his heels out again.
Like a phaser on delay, Kirk remained quiet for a moment and then exploded. “This is no time for you to be mooning over what you imagine to be a woman. Bones, if you weren’t – ”
“If you two are done jawin’,” Yadkin’s hoarse voice cut between them, “we ain’t alone no more.”
Both men jumped. With Willow’s disappearance, real time had been restored. It took Kirk a moment for the frontiersman’s words to register, but only a second. Before McCoy could draw a breath to curse, he was on the move.
What he found when he knelt at the blond man’s side was kismet.
Kirk beamed and opened his arms wide. “Uhura!”
The news she brought was not entirely encouraging. Deevers was dead. Damn it. One of his men had died and he had not been there. It happened, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. Spock was alive. Well, the last time Uhura saw the Vulcan he had been alive, but Spock had been bad straights – wounded, weak from blood loss, and fevered – and for some reason known only to his keen logical mind, had refused to go into the healing trance that could save his life. It had been more than a day since the lieutenant had seen the ship’s first officer, and in the lush primitive wilderness they now occupied there was no one who could do anything to help the son of Vulcan whom he called ‘friend’ except his other friend, who was kneeling about twenty feet away from him making sure history’s Daniel Boone did not die. He and Uhura had been debating what to do but, in the end, he knew it was his call.
And of course, there were mitigating factors. There always were.
This man, Tume, whom Uhura had spoken of troubled him. He had to be one of the mortal agents Willow had mentioned. The lieutenant had seen the black man with a tricorder-style device in his hands. Tume knew about Vulcans and, for some reason, had it in for Spock. Uhura had seen him come and go at a pace that she thought impossible for the current century, suggesting that the time agents had some sort of transportation device. That might come in handy if they could find it. Traipsing around in a place where every new tree looked like the last tree as well as the tree that came after it, was not his idea of a stroll on the beach. He had McCoy’s compass, but had no idea of what direction to head. Uhura had drawn him a map showing the place where Spock had landed, as well as the site where the wrecked shuttle had beached. Both had little meaning without a greater context. Where was Boonesborough? Where was the Shawnee village?
Where the hell was Spock?
Kirk rose quickly to his feet. Uhura started to rise with him, but he ordered her to remain seated. The starship captain blinked unexpected and unwelcome stars away from his eyes as he did, and then smiled sheepishly as his stomach growled. It had been a while since he had felt this lightheaded. Stress plus lack of food, Bones would have told him, made Jim Kirk an unhealthy boy.
Ignoring it, he looked into the trees as if challenging them to remain inscrutable. “So where is this native you said you were traveling with? Mango, was it?”
Uhura coughed. “Mingo. Sir. Cara-Mingo. He said he wanted to scout out the area and then he would join me – us.” The Bantu woman’s lovely face wore a frown as she turned it to the sky. “I didn’t expect it to take this long.”
It had been about two hours, during which time Bones had worked to stabilize Daniel Boone’s condition enough that the frontiersman could be moved. The woman who had come with Uhura – Umbele, if he remembered right – had offered to help. It seemed she had some experience with healing. Above their heads the morning sun was working its way to noon. The day was a little chill, fifty degrees Fahrenheit or so, and there was a light breeze ruffling his blond hair like a lover.
Wherever he was, Spock must be freezing.
“Well, we can’t wait too much longer.” Kirk’s hazel eyes narrowed. “You’re sure you can trust him.”
“Oh, yes, sir,” she sighed. “There’s no doubt.”
James T. Kirk had been in the motion of turning. Uhura’s tone reached out like a hand and stopped him in mid-stride. Hadn’t he and Bones been discussing the communications officer’s immunity to Spock’s charms when this all began?
This painted native must be something.
“Well, that’s good.” He glanced at her again. “I suppose. Bones, you almost ready?” he called across the camp.
“Fifteen minutes, Jim. Sixteen if you have it.”
Kirk scowled. “Make it twelve.” He continued to stare at Uhura. She had that dreamy look that smacked thirteen year olds in the face when they thought they had found the man of their dreams. “I’d say ‘at ease’, Lieutenant,” he said softly, “but I see you already are.”
She started, and then snapped to attention. “Sir!”
He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “I’m going to find something to eat. Give yourself a few minutes and then prepare to break camp.”
Kirk caught the flintlock rifle Yadkin had handed him up from where he had propped it against a boulder, and then went to where the blond man was keeping watch. “Anything?” he asked.
“Dead man’s watch,” Yadkin replied with a shake of his head.
He touched his shoulder briefly. “Good.”
“Where you going?”
“I’m hungry,” Kirk grinned, and then added as it widened into a smile, “thought I’d wrestle us up some grub.”
“You mean ‘rustle’?”
Kirk’s honey-colored brows did an impromptu dance. “What you said….”
As he walked through the trees streaked with dawning light, searching for something safe and consumable, James T. Kirk of the United Starship Enterprise allowed himself a moment of enjoyment. Impossible as the area was from a tactical standpoint, the landscape about him was filled with majesty. Ancient trees rose like the masts of the tall ships of old, thrusting up like spears to stab a lapis lazuli sky. The ground beneath his feet was a rich soup of moss, leaves and bracken several feet deep. The air had a smell – hard to place – of freedom, he thought. No, more of a promise. Not that he was prejudiced, of course. This was his world. This was the native land the Kirks had sprung from. This was – getting him nowhere. Kirk anchored his energy to the task at hand. He had places to go, people to save and – as if that wasn’t enough – a planet’s future hanging in the balance.
If he didn’t get back soon, McCoy would be reading him the riot act.
With a scowl on his face worthy of a Vulcan invited to a frat social, Kirk returned to his foraging. He hadn’t gone far when he spotted something promising – a hint of color amidst all the green and brown. Kneeling, he pushed aside a few branches and reached for it.
“If you eat that,” a cultured voice pronounced as a cold circle that felt remarkably like the blunt end of a rifle barrel was applied to his neck, “you will be dead even sooner than if you decide to move.”