TWO WORLDS IN WHICH WE DWELL
The compact form of the ship’s acting medical officer, Dr. Geoffrey M’Benga, stood in the sickbay of the starship Enterprise next to a diagnostic bed. He was scratching his head. James T. Kirk wanted to do the same thing – scratch his head, that was – but he knew it wasn’t regulation. Not that regulations controlled his actions, but at this moment the merest suggestion that he, the Captain of the Enterprise, was experiencing any confusion or doubt would seriously undermine the ship’s already seriously undermined confidence and further effect his crew’s abilities to perform their duties.
Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott lay in one bed, still recovering from the explosion that had taken place in engineering. That was bad enough. Next to him, on the other side of M’Benga, was Hikaru Sulu.
Janice Rand had found Sulu when she went to consult with the off-duty helmsman about a beloved plant that was not doing well. She had talked to Sulu only fifteen minutes before and he was expecting her. But when she got to his cabin, the door had been locked and she received no answer to her hail. Worried, Rand had called security and had them force the door. Again, it appeared to be an accident. Or, as in engineering, at least it had appeared that way at first. They found the helmsman just outside the entry to the sonic shower. He was lying on the floor, partially clothed, and seemed to have fallen and struck his head on the hard edge of a cabinet. Once Dr. M’Benga had had time to thoroughly examine the patient, he declared otherwise. The blow, he said, had all the marks of deliberate blunt force trauma.
Someone was trying to kill his crew.
Kirk raised a hand to his forehead and kneaded it like bread. At least, he thought they were. Sulu and Scotty were still alive. Were the assassins that incompetent?
Then again, there were all of those dead men in engineering.
Abruptly, Kirk realized Dr. M’Benga had come to his side. “Sulu?” he asked, tight-lipped.
The black man looked thoughtful. But then the surgeon always looked thoughtful, even when selecting what soup he would have for lunch. “Thanks to the brain trauma techniques I learned on Vulcan, I can say with confidence that Hikaru will pull through without any permanent damage,” he said at last.
The captain nodded, grateful. He shifted uncomfortably, needing to, but not wanting to move on to another subject that troubled him. “Any word of McCoy?”
The doctor shook his head.
Like Spock and Uhura, his old friend seemed to have vanished into thin air. “What is going on on this ship?” Kirk snapped in frustration.
In Vulcan fashion M’Benga’s left eyebrow lifted. “If that is an actual query, Captain, I – ”
Kirk waved him off. “Thank you, Doctor. Keep me informed. I’ll be in my cabin,” was all he said before moving through the door and past the security guards he had posted there. M’Benga’s tone and inflection reminded him of his other problem – Spock and Uhura. They were missing as well and presumed lost in the past. If something happened to DeSalle, nearly the whole bridge crew was going to be AWOL….
James Kirk’s lean form halted abruptly as the truth struck him like a hand, nearly causing a collision with a medic hurrying toward sickbay. Chagrined, the young man excused himself and then, after showing his pass to the guards, jumped through the whooshing doors. Kirk stared after him, angry and disgusted with himself that it had taken him so long to see the pattern. Assuming the attack in engineering had been aimed at Scotty alone, every crewmember who had been injured or gone missing was part of the regular bridge crew. Scot. Sulu. Uhura. Spock. McCoy, of course, was not officially a part of the bridge crew, but he was always there in a crisis. What if someone wanted to erase some knowledge that was common to them all? Some experience they had shared? What if – like in those old fashioned who-dunnits of the twentieth century – someone was working to eliminate them one by one? Kirk glanced at the guard. He had posted the men outside of the sickbay to assure that another attempt would not be made on Scotty, and now, on Sulu. So far none had been. With the disappearance of Spock, Uhura, and McCoy, and Sulu and Scot’s attacks, that left only one person who was a constant on the bridge unscathed.
And that was him.
Even though he had told DeSalle that he was headed for his quarters, Jim Kirk prowled the halls of his ship instead of going to his cabin. His footsteps led him, inevitably, to the part of the deck where his senior officers were quartered. Pausing outside Spock’s door, he hesitated. The consummate Vulcan, he knew, never locked his door. Seeking something – enlightenment, hope, direction – the captain of the Enterprise ordered the door of his first officer’s quarters to open and stepped inside.
And was immediately slapped in the face by the artificial gravity and hot arid atmosphere that mimicked Spock’s home world. Since his first officer had no reason to expect anyone to be in his rooms while he was away, he had not bothered to alter it and make the area more tolerable to a human. As sweat beaded instantly on his forehead and his heart rate increased, Kirk was reminded of how uncomfortable Spock must be most of the time. Having chosen to live among humans, the Vulcan was forced daily to endure temperatures that, to him, must have amounted to being thrown outside in the dead of winter without a coat.
Kirk failed to suppress a smile as he thought of his stoic first officer wearing a down jacket, mittens, and ear muffs.
Lord, he missed the Vulcan!
Turning the chair at Spock’s computer station around, Kirk threw his body into it and stared at the blank screen. The lights had not come on when he entered and he didn’t tell them too. Instead, he sat in the semi-dark thinking. After a few minutes his thoughts and his eyes began to roam. His gaze went from the deadly weapons mounted on the wall to the odd fiery statue that pulsed with an ancient fire behind the screen. As Spock had never enlightened him, he could only assume it some sort of Vulcan god. Sitting here made him feel a little better, but the room was empty. As it was, he was without his friend. Drawing a deep breath, Kirk performed a logical task – he asked himself what he had hoped to find here. Inspiration? Perhaps. Or a connection, however tenuous to the processes of that amazing mind? What would Spock do, he wondered? How would that sharp analytical mind of his go about finding an answer?
Kirk reached forward and gripped the edge of the table. First, review the facts.
Spock and Uhura, along with Lt. Deevers, had been traveling as scheduled to a conference on Earth when their shuttle encountered an anomaly in space and they disappeared. Speculation ran to the fact that they might have been transported into the past, though there was no proof of that as yet. All he knew was that they were gone.
Dr. McCoy had left the briefing room and gone to his quarters and simply vanished.
Scotty and Sulu, as well as the others in engineering, had been murderously attacked, though both men had survived – at least so far. This suggested that their attacker was not very sophisticated, or skilled. Or that they did not intend to kill, but only warn. Or create confusion. Or that someone else had intervened and prevented the murders from taking place.
And it seemed the murderous intent was aimed exclusively at the best and brightest of the bridge crew.
Jim released his grip. He raised his hands to his face and rubbed his temples hard. Lord, he was tired! Leaning back in the chair, Kirk stared through the screen at the fire that pulsed in the back of the Vulcan’s quarters. It had the beat of a heart. One. Two. One. Two. He blinked and straightened up, but did not move. One. Two. One. Two. One….
Before Jim Kirk knew it, he had given in to human weakness and fallen fast asleep.
Farther along Deck 5, which housed the senior officers’ quarters, a furtive figure garbed in black stalked the corridor. Tall, well-muscled, humanoid but not human, with black hair and pointed ears, it passed like a shadow, slowing only as it reached the captain’s quarters. Halting just beside the door, it held out a hand. Its lean body remained still, but the hand began to tremble and then to shake so fast it became invisible. Moving outside of time, five supple fingers slipped through the seemingly solid metal wall.
Manipulating the environmental controls was child’s play. The ship’s computer – another child – had given up the information that the captain of the Enterprise was currently off duty, and Kirk’s last recorded message indicated he would be in his quarters. The room’s controls were set for the comfort and continuation of an oxygen-breather. It took nothing to convince the computer that the inhabitant within breathed methane instead.
A slow sneer twisted the thin lips of the time traveler. James T. Kirk, instigator of galactic terror and death, would soon be dead himself.
Now, on to mop up those other loose ends….
The clarion sound of a red alert brought Kirk abruptly to his feet. For a moment he was disoriented. Then he remembered he was in Spock’s quarters. The heat and intensity of the artificially induced Vulcan atmosphere must have lulled him to sleep. Jamming his hand against the console, he punched the appropriate button and shouted into the receiver.
“Kirk to bridge! Who issued a red alert?”
There was a pause and then DeSalle – just about the only bridge officer left of any standing – asked, “Captain? Is that you?”
Kirk could hear real relief in the navigator’s voice. “Yes, it’s me. What is going on?”
“Sir, we thought….” DeSalle paused. When he continued it was with the underlying tone of a grin. “Thank God, sir! We thought you were dead.”
Dead? Kirk frowned. “Explain.”
“Your quarters, sir. You said you had gone to them.”
“They’ve been flooded with methane gas, sir. It was only detected when it seeped into the corridor outside and an alarm was raised. We had assumed….”
So it had happened at last. An attempt on him. Kirk wiped sweat from his brow and flapped his shirt. It was a dark gold now from perspiration. “I’m in Mr. Spock’s quarters.” He paused, realizing how odd that sounded since the Vulcan was gone. “I came here for…inspiration,” he added with chagrin.
Completely military DeSalle responded, “Yes, sir. And may I say, thank goodness, sir. Orders?”
He frowned. “Have you checked with sickbay?” Did this mean there had been another attempt on Scotty or Sulu?
“Everything is okay, sir. For now at least.”
Kirk thought furiously. “All right. Reduce the alert to yellow. I’m on my way.”
“Yes, sir.” He heard DeSalle’s unspoken reply that he was more than ready to relinquish command. “Looking forward to seeing you. Sir.”
The captain toggled the switch that cut off communications. He ran a hand over his brow again and then glanced at the shrine near the back of Spock’s quarters. The Vulcan, though denying the talent, was consummate at inferring patterns – in other words, making intuitive leaps – from what appeared to be disconnected events; patterns, that often led to solving seemingly insoluble situations. Kirk hated insoluble situations. Spock found them a challenge.
With one last glance – and sigh – he prepared to exit the room.
“You miss him,” a soft voice remarked.
Kirk was instantly alert. He pivoted, searching the dark corners of the room, but came up with nothing. “Show yourself!” he commanded. “Why speak to me if you won’t let me see you?”
“You have divined, have you not, what is happening aboard your ship?”
“Someone is trying to kill my bridge crew,” he responded instantly.
“I know that!” Kirk whirled in a circle. “Why?”
“ ‘Time flies, death urges, knells call, Heaven invites, Hell threatens’,” the voice responded.
Spock could have placed the quote. Would have placed it and enjoyed the challenge. To Kirk, the evasive answer was infuriating. “Speak plainly!” he demanded.
“I have. I do. I shall.”
“What does that mean?” Kirk shifted in front of the computer station, still looking.
“You have rushed in where angels fear to tread, James T. Kirk. Do you know the tale of Pandora?”
He frowned. It was a Greek myth, in which a woman opened a box and loosed upon the world all of the horrors it could know – despair, grief, hopelessness. “Yes,” he said warily. “Are you comparing me to Pandora?”
“Why?” he snapped.
“You have cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”
He knew that one. Julius Caesar. “What war?”
Out of the shadows of Spock’s quarters, from behind the screen that shielded the pulsing, burning shrine, a figure emerged. He thought it was female, though it was so slender and androgynous he could not be sure. Still, the sense of it was feminine. “Who are you?” Kirk asked. “What are you talking about?”
A willowy form, white haired and with near white skin, came to stand before him. The light of Spock’s Vulcan altar painted her a hellish orange.
“War, James Kirk. One that must end.”
Dr. Geoffrey M’Benga stood, electronic clipboard in hand, frowning over the life support readings of both chief engineer Scot and Lt. Sulu. Both men were out of danger, but still far from well. The helmsman had awakened once, disoriented, and tried to get up from his bed. M’Benga had sedated him and ordered restraints.
He was not about to have anyone else go missing.
The Enterprise’s current chief medical officer glanced at the door of his sickbay. Just outside, he knew, two of the Enterprise’s security officers waited and watched. He had had complaints all day from nurses, orderlies and medics. They had practically had to stand on their heads to enter, showing passes and going through retinal and other scans in order to have their identity verified beyond a doubt before they could. Now, at last, it was false night on the great ship and the constant traffic in and out of sickbay had blessedly slowed to a crawl. He was alone with the exception of his two patients – and the corpses that awaited autopsy in the stasis room.
M’Benga had not had time to get to them and, as senior officer on ship, he insisted on doing so himself. There were too many odd things happening on the Enterprise to chance leaving such an important duty to an assistant. The black doctor glanced at the sealed room and sighed. He really should get to it. The men who had died deserved it and the respect that would come from a proper burial in space.
Running a hand over his eyes, Geoffrey M’Benga sought to banish the fatigue from them. Without McCoy, he had been forced to pull extra duty and was exhausted. Exhausted men, he knew, made mistakes – mistakes that could cost even more lives.
Crossing to the desk, M’Benga placed the electronic clipboard on it and then lowered himself into the chair the crusty Georgian doctor usually occupied. Closing his eyes and steepling his elegant fingers, he sought his center as he had been taught on Vulcan. That ancient race had much to offer. When chaos threatened, there was the peace and the escape of logic. Though he had not mastered the techniques – no human truly could – he had learned in his own way to connect with an inner place where turmoil was banished and rest could be found, while still managing to remain alert and responsive to the world around him.
It was while in this mode that he realized he was no longer alone.
Without moving, Dr. M’Benga opened his eyes. Out of the corner of one he saw a tall lean figure moving toward the area where the two injured officers lay. The man was dressed all in black. In fact, it looked like he wore standard-issued trousers and the black singlet often adopted by members of the crew. His hair was black and worn in the Vulcan style, if a little long.
Was it…. Could it be Spock?
Dr. M’Benga remained completely still – except for one finger that he used to toggle the intercom button. He hoped he had done it right and that he had opened a wide channel that would echo through at least a few of the ship’s deserted corridors. With his eyes partially closed, the doctor followed the Vulcanoid as he halted by the beds and turned his gaze to the scanners that beeped and blinked above Scot and Sulu’s heads. There was a rumor making the rounds of the ship that Spock had gone missing along with Nyota Uhura. As he had not been at any of the briefings, he did not know if it was true. He had been too busy and too concerned about Scot and Sulu. The few words he had exchanged with the captain seemed to lend credence to the fact. If it was the case, then this could not be Spock.
And if it wasn’t Spock, then what was some unknown Vulcanoid doing on the ship, and what were the intruder’s intentions toward his patients?
Dr. M’Benga rose to his feet and opened his mouth to speak.
“This does not concern you, doctor,” the man said employing the even, measured tones most often associated with the ship’s first officer.
“Who are you?” M’Benga asked even as he eyed the winking light, making certain the intercom was open and functioning. Hopefully someone, some where was listening. “What do you want?”
The intruder turned on his heel to face him. Though he bore a resemblance to Spock, he was obviously not the Enterprise’s first officer. This man was shorter and slightly more muscular. His hair was black, but his skin was decidedly bronze in tone. The upswept black eyebrows were the same, but the eyes they framed were not the eyes of a thousand years of peace. They were those of a millennia of war.
The man was Romulan.
The intruder’s lips unexpectedly curled in a sneer. Another thing that was definitely not Vulcan. “What do I want?” the Romulan answered matter-of-factly, “Why, I want them dead. I have come here to finish what was interrupted.”
“You did this? You harmed these men?” M’Benga asked, barely restraining the fury in his voice. Take your time. Draw him out, he thought. Surely security was on its way. “Why? What have they done? Explain it to me.”
“They are criminals,” the Romulan replied, as if those few words explained everything.
“Criminals?” The doctor was astounded and it showed in his voice. “You are the criminal!”
The Romulan moved with catlike speed. Quicker than thought he was at the doctor’s side and had taken him by the throat. The man was strong – stronger, in fact, than Spock. He could sense a crushing power in the bronze fingers that had already tasted the triumph of bringing death. “What do you know, human?” the intruder hissed as those fingers dug into M’Benga’s flesh, choking him. “You know nothing! If you had any idea – if you even dared to dream of what these men have done – you would throttle them yourself while they slept!”
M’Benga was close to blacking out. Involuntarily, his eyes flicked to the blinking light on the desk behind him. Why had no one come? Then, realizing his mistake, his gaze returned to the Romulan who was killing him.
But not quickly enough.
The Romulan’s grip tightened. “What have you done?” he snarled.
James Kirk was on the move. He leapt out of the turbolift and ran for all he was worth down the Deck 6 corridor toward sickbay. His mind was still reeling from what the willowy woman had told him before she vanished. If true, then the loss of the Columbus with Spock and Uhura aboard, Dr. McCoy’s disappearance, and the attempts on his crews’ lives were all connected. Even more than that, they were all part of a galactic war waged by an unknown alien race, that threatened the very existence of the Federation – at least as they knew it.
He had awakened as if from a dream to find himself once again alone in Spock’s quarters. As he stood there, wondering if what he had seen and heard was real, Dr. M’Benga’s voice had filtered into his consciousness. Stepping into the corridor, he had heard only the final words spoken by the doctor and the intruder. They had been more than enough. As he began to run, Kirk had flipped open his communicator and tried to make contact with the security guards he’d left posted outside the sickbay’s doors. As expected, there had been no response.
The captain skidded to a halt and, clinging to the shadows of the ship’s false night, peered around the corner. The guards were there, lying on their backs on the deck. He approached the pair stealthily and pressed three fingers to the first man’s neck. It was broken and McCree was dead. Jennings moaned. So he was alive at least, though obviously badly hurt. Stepping over them, Kirk moved toward the door. Gripping his phaser tightly, he prepared himself for the moment when it would whoosh open.
Opening his communicator again, Kirk barked an order sharply, “Security! This is the captain. Override the controls to the main sickbay door! Get me in there!”
There was a moment of silence and then an unknown, but slightly tremulous voice replied. “Aye, aye, sir. Manual override…now!”
Kirk drew a deep breath as the aqua doors slid aside and jumped through, only to find the normal sterile atmosphere of the sickbay replaced by a whirlwind of light and noise. On the floor, which had grown dark as the night sky and seemed to belong to another universe, lay Dr. M’Benga. He couldn’t tell if the doctor was alive or dead. Above the black man’s prone form a figure stood, comfortably occupying the heart of the unnatural storm. For just a second Kirk thought it was Spock, somehow miraculously returned. Then he knew better. In an instant, he recognized what the presence of the Vulcanoid meant.
He was one of the ones trying to kill them.
The Vulcanoid’s face framed his disappointment. “How? How did you escape?” the intruder spat even as the effect, which Kirk now realized must be one of the time tubes the willowy alien had told him about, began to swallow him.
Kirk glanced at his phaser, but tossed it away. He doubted it would be of any use. The Vulcanoid was disappearing into time. At that moment, James T. Kirk, captain of the starship Enterprise, made one of those impulsive, instinctive, and seemingly reckless decisions that he was so famous – and infamous for. Drawing a deep breath, he sprang forward and locked the intruder in a bear hug.
Kirk could only hope this rash decision worked out as well as all the others.