TWO WORLDS IN WHICH WE DWELL
Even as he materialized James T. Kirk twisted his body away from the Romulan male he clung to, knowing full well that the position he was in left him vulnerable. Fortunately, he seemed to gain his bearings seconds before the other man. As his feet hit the rough ground, Kirk kicked off and spun in a roll that took him into the dense underbrush at the edge of the clearing. Once within the cool leaves he lay very still. Then, as he heard the time traveler let loose with what he could only imagine was a heartfelt alien curse, the captain of the Enterprise began to crawl forward on his belly, seeking a gully or some other natural feature of the land to disappear into. Just as he found a depression and dropped into it and began to pull leaves and bracken over his prostrate form, Kirk heard a familiar whirring sound. The forest around him lit with a crimson light for the space of five heartbeats. Then it fell into silence and darkness.
The sound of a phaser firing had been unmistakable. Was the Romulan taking pot shots, hoping to stun or kill him by chance? Kirk finished burying himself and lay very still. If he had understood only one tenth of what the alien woman had told him, he’d better make damn certain he survived and remained at large. There was a war of some kind going on, one that involved time travel, and if those perpetrating it went unchecked then everything he was familiar with might come to an end.
And he knew it could. He had been witness to just such an event not that long ago.
After what happened, Starfleet had wisely quarantined the Guardian of Forever and the planet that held it, and placed any knowledge of its true purpose off limits. Very few men or women knew the truth about the sentient rock arch whose purpose it was to show and manipulate time. It didn’t take much of a leap to imagine what unscrupulous beings would do with that kind of power. What McCoy had done by accident back in 1930 when he saved Edith Keeler’s life, could be done intentionally. All of history could be altered and made to conform to the whims of a single madman….
Kirk choked. Was that what was happening? Were there two bands of time travelers, warring one against the other; both sending agents back in time to alter events so that their side would ultimately win?
The sound of leaves being crushed underfoot alerted Kirk to the fact that someone was drawing close to his hiding place. Peering out from under the blanket of bracken, he spied a pair of boots. The Romulan he had hitched a ride with had been wearing boots, but they had been standard Federation issue. The pair he was staring at now were handmade, highly polished, and had ornamental silver buckles. Kirk held his breath as the buckles moved forward. By the time they stopped, the toes of the shining boots were less than two feet from the tip of his nose.
Which was itching.
“Do you see him?” a man asked from farther away.
“No. There is nothing,” the one with the buckles answered. “You are certain you saw him come this way?”
“As certain as one can be when coming out of the tube,” the first man whom he now recognized as the Romulan growled. “The human recovered quickly.”
There was a short pause, then Buckles asked, “Does that bother you, S’Tahl? That there is a human faster and better than you?”
S’Tahl. Kirk scowled. That confirmed it. He hoped this man was a rogue. If the Romulans as a race were involved in this time war….
“Does it bother you, Tume,” S’Tahl snapped back, “that I could break your neck in an instant should I so desire?”
Buckles, or Tume scoffed. “Then who would do your dirty work, Romulan?”
S’Tahl made a noise low in his throat, indicating either his approval or disgust. “Did you find D’Ayron’s prize?” The last word he spat as a curse.
“Just now,” Tume admitted a heartbeat later. “It is that way, in the trees.”
“The commander will be pleased. What about the negress?”
“She is held in my camp.”
Kirk tensed in his bed of leaves. Were they speaking of Uhura? Could he be so lucky as to have landed near her location? And maybe Spock’s?
“Good. Rain of Stars will wish to question her as well.” S’Tahl paused. When he spoke again, there was an unholy joy in his words. “Tonight it will both begin and end. The last alteration to the time stream will be made and then we will return to the Enterprise and complete our primary mission.” He snarled. “It would have been done already if not for that interfering female….”
“Unless her agents go back before us and undo what we have done.”
S’Tahl hissed. “Idiot! It will not be allowed. Once things are set in motion, we will return through the time tube and destroy the knowledge that made it possible. She will not win. Victory is ours to reach out and claim!” The Romulan moved ahead of the other man. “Now, take me to D’Ayron’s prize.”
Tume did not move. A moment later, his voice pitched so low Kirk had to strain to hear it, he asked, “Is that wise? You know the Earthers were all to have been killed.”
“Wise or not, we both have our orders,” S’Tahl answered. “My commander has given them, and I obey. You should do the same, Tume, unless you care to disobey them and face your leader’s wrath.”
“I do not.”
“Good.” S’Tahl began to move through the underbrush. “Come then!”
Kirk held his breath, waiting for Tume to follow the Romulan. The man with the buckles did, but only after ten or fifteen heartbeats had passed.
And even then, it was with the words ‘not yet’ on his lips.
A big man, crouched to half his height, watched as the strange crimson light weakened and then faded away entirely like sunlit morning mist. The sound he had heard a few minutes before – like a hundred wood frogs singing – had faded with it. The forest was silent again. Daniel Boone released the breath he had drawn and pursed his lips. Somehow he had a feeling whatever it was, it had to do with the man he was pursuing. Dan had returned to the camp to find Spock gone. He had gone to scout out the area and hoped the wounded man would sleep until his return – the stranger should have with as hard as he had pressed himself. When he had checked the traveler before taking off, it seemed the wounded man had fallen into a deep, dreamless sleep.
“No such luck,” Dan muttered, chiding himself.
The big frontiersman had just started to rise when he heard voices. Squatting again, he gripped his rifle tightly while he waited for whoever it was to pass. There were two men. Both were fairly good size. One fit the description of the man who had forced his way into their cabin and left Spock for dead. Tume, that was the name his wife had given him.
Walking beside Tume was something Daniel Boone had never expected to see – another man of Spock’s tribe or race. The stranger’s hair was black and just as ramrod straight as Spock’s, though he wore it longer. It glistened like gun metal in the dying light. There was no mistaking the unusual pointed ears, though in tone the man’s skin was darker, as if tanned. Unlike Spock, this man was visibly well-muscled. He might have been a bare knuckle fighter from the look of him. Also, unlike Spock, he had a mean look about him and a glint of savagery in his black eyes.
The frontiersman drew a breath and held it as the pair passed by, hoping to hear something of worth. He didn’t catch much, but he did hear several phrases. ‘He’s back there’ and ‘get him later’.
One thing was sure. If they were talking about Spock, they didn’t have him.
Dan hesitated, torn between following the two men to their destination or heading in the opposite direction and looking for the traveler. Considering Spock’s condition, he decided he’d best do that first. He could always follow the other men’s prints later.
Gripping Ticklicker tightly, Dan rose to his feet and began to move quickly through the underbrush. Night had fallen and he only had the light of the stars to show his way, but then he was used to that. He knew this part of the forest by heart – meaning he loved and cherished it near as much as he did his family. He knew its heartbeat. He had walked each and every foot of it, and the pattern of the land had been impressed upon his soul. Jump the tiny creek. Climb the hillock. Watch out for that depression on the other side…. Even as he passed it, Dan’s mind registered the fact that the depression was gone. He spun, fully expecting an attack.
And was not disappointed.
A compact body clad in gold and black exploded up and out of the hollow. The man didn’t take him completely by surprise, but it was enough of a shock to throw the frontiersman off-balance. Dan staggered back a step. His opponent gave no quarter. Before he could even think to make a move, the other man attacked, striking out with a fist to his chin and then barreling into him full force, using a well-muscled shoulder to lead. Dan lost his grip on Ticklicker as he tumbled to the ground. He expected his attacker to make a grab for it, but he did no such thing. Instead, the man in gold leaned forward and pinned him to the ground with a chin lock.
From his position, Dan inspected the man. He didn’t think he’d ever seen him before. He was fairly young and white, and had a tangle of bracken-strewn golden hair dangling over his forehead. The curling locks did nothing to disguise the fire in his hazel eyes. Women would have called him handsome.
Dan called him determined.
“Who are you?” the blond man demanded. “Where are you from?”
The frontiersman shook his head as best he could and stretched his neck. Then he coughed and shook it again.
A dozen different possibilities danced across the shining surface of the other man’s eyes. Dan watched him dismiss them one by one. At the last, his attacker’s gaze moved down his long frame, taking in the frontiersman’s fringed leather jacket, coonskin cap and boots. The chin lock lessened, but he was not released.
“Answer me,” the stranger said, somewhat mollified.
Dan swallowed. Then he grinned. “Can you…repeat the question? When the life’s bein’…squeezed out of a man, it makes it…mighty hard to think.”
His attacker frowned. “I asked you who you are.”
“I’m the man you’re chokin’ to death,” he answered, his voice a hoarse whisper.
The arm was pulled back a bit more. “I don’t want to harm you.”
“You got a funny way of showin’ it, stranger.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know who I can trust. You could be one of them.”
The blond man’s eyes strayed to the forested area before them. He paused, as if seeking for words. “Travelers. Men who don’t belong here.”
Dan was surprised to see the flicker of a smile quirk the man’s lips. “Yes, like me.” His attacker studied him a moment and then came to a quick decision. Rocking back, the blond man released the hold. Dan reached up and massaged his neck, and then quicker than a snake greased with butter brought his knees up and gripped the other man with them. Tightening his hold, Dan rolled the stranger over until he landed on top. As he did, he reached out and caught the other man by the throat.
“Now, stranger, who are you and what are you doin’ here?”
This time the blond did smile – as if recognizing an equal. “Fair enough. James T. Kirk. And you?”
Dan pursed his lips and shook his head. “First things first, Mr. Kirk. What are you doin’ here?”
Growing suddenly serious, the man answered, “Well, if you must know the truth, I’ve come to stop a war.”
Dan felt his eyebrows knit into a ‘v’. Could Kirk be an agent of the army or government? He certainly comported himself like a military man. “And what war might that be?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” Kirk replied honestly. “But when I figure it out, you’ll be the first to know. Now, why don’t you let me up and I’ll be about my business.”
“Not until I understand what that ‘business’ is.”
“My business is no business of yours,” the other man snapped, a hint of impatience in his tone. “Do you waylay every passerby that happens through this part of the woods?”
“Every one I find skulkin’ in a hollow and covered with leaves,” Dan replied in kind.
“Yes. Well…. I assure you that is not my normal habitation. I was attempting to avoid two men who were traipsing about – ”
“Tume?” Dan asked. “And that other odd-lookin’ fellow?”
Kirk tensed in his grip. “Yes. Did you see where they went?”
The blond stared at him. “Where?”
Dan held the man a moment longer and then returned Kirk’s earlier favor. He loosened his grip and rose to his feet. The frontiersman prided himself on being a good judge of character. And he had decided that this was a good man. “They headed into the woods over there,” he said with a nod in the general direction.
Kirk did not move. The wheels were whirring in his head again. His eyes shifted from side to side and lines creased his forehead as he thought furiously. For several heartbeats it seemed to Dan that he was witnessing the war the man had mentioned. Then, James T. Kirk was all action again. He leapt to his feet. Once on them, he paused. Dan watched him assess the difference in their heights – near half a foot – and dismiss it. Quickly, Kirk’s ability and need to take command reasserted itself.
“A friend of mine is missing – two, no, three actually. I think those two men might hold the key to finding them.”
“You got sign pointin’ that way?” the frontiersman asked.
“Sign?” Kirk scowled. “Oh, you mean proof? No. But I don’t need any.” Kirk jammed a fist into his gut. “This tells me it’s so.”
“An intuition.” The blond man flashed a brilliant smile. “I have a feeling you know something of that?”
He did. It was what made his famous plans work; a spontaneous surety that what he did – whatever it might be – was right and that it would work. “I might,” Dan answered with much the same grin. “So, you’re goin’ after them?”
Kirk tugged on the hem of his odd gold shirt as he nodded. “Yes. I must. These are my people. I am responsible for them.”
“I thought they were your friends….”
The grin returned. “That too. Now, I must be going, Mister…. I didn’t get your name.”
Dan held out his hand. “Boone. Daniel Boone.”
“Pleased to meet you, Daniel. I….” Kirk’s voice faded out as a sort of shock registered on his face. “Daniel Boone?”
“Yep. Somethin’ wrong with it?”
“No, sir. It’s just that I….” Kirk swallowed. “I’ve always admired you…. “ He paused, seeming to think better of what he had been about to say. “I mean, I admire you from what I’ve read about – heard about you from…others….”
Dan’s lopsided grin was wry. “You ain’t been talkin’ to my wife then,” he laughed.
Kirk frowned. “Rebecca. Rebecca Bryan, right?”
The frontiersman was instantly alert. “Maybe you better tell me just who you have been talkin’ to.”
The blond sighed. “Mr. Boone, I would if I could. But I can’t. And I can’t waste any more time standing here talking – much as I would like to. I need to look for my friends.”
Dan stared at him hard for a moment longer. Then he went to pick up Ticklicker. Cradling her in his arms, he addressed the other man. “I gotta do the same. The one I’m lookin’ for is hurtin’, so I’d best be on my way.”
Kirk nodded. He took a step away and then turned back. “Wounded?”
“Then what is he doing out here?”
The frontiersman snorted. “Man’s slippery as a skinned cat and stubborn as a harnessed mule. I ain’t known him more than a day and I’ve already been tempted to hogtie him twice.” He grinned. “I pity whoever’s known him longer.”
“Sounds like someone I know,” Kirk murmured. Then, abruptly, the blond man’s expression changed. Suddenly it was keen with curiosity. “This man. What does he look like?”
“Why? You think you know him?”
Kirk laughed. “I’m betting I do. Tall. Spare of body and movement. Hair black as coal. With an unusual propensity for getting into trouble….”
“Sounds like Mingo,” Dan laughed.
“Friend of mine. Half-Cherokee, half-English. Mingo can get into trouble faster than any man I know.”
“Not faster than the one I know, I wager. His name is – ”
Kirk nodded, exhausted and energized all at once. “Yes, Mr. Spock. I’ve found him then!” The blond’s handsome face sobered with concern. “But you said he was badly wounded?”
D’Ayron looked into the trade mirror he had hung on one of the posts in the lodge where he carried on business under the assumed name of Rain of Stars. He studied his own face. There was no doubt it was a handsome one with its high cheekbones, upswept eyebrows, and keen amber eyes surrounded by a sea of unruly umber hair. His skin was naturally a light bronze, darkened now by continual exposure to the Kentucky sun. The process had nearly erased the sallow green undertone bequeathed to him by his famous – or infamous – ancestor. In the hundreds of years that had passed since the incident, the mark of that weaker race had risen to the surface at least once each generation to plague his father’s house. In the end it had proven a blessing in disguise as it had driven him, as his fathers before him, to greater heights.
Tell a Romulan he is weak and he will fight to prove that he is stronger than all.
Still, D’Ayron had to admit as he gazed into the swirling pools of his golden eyes, that he was different. He saw things others did not – or would not see. He could rise above his passions, ignore them, even control them when he wanted to. It was this that had brought him to command at such a young age; this, as well, that had allied him with the Initiators and led him to this place at first to do their bidding and now, to do his own. He would use the men they had provided to transform Earth’s history and radically alter its roots so the more warlike attributes of the species became its controlling factor. In this way Starfleet would not arise as a peacekeeping force, but as the third arm of an axis of power – human, Romulan, Klingon – that would eventually rule the galaxy. The roots of the Federation of Planets, though intergalactic, lay in Terran history. In this time, the fledgling country stood poised on the brink of change. In the short span of eight years, its fate would be decided. The British would be driven out and the Native American population – for all intents and purposes – subdued. Tecumseh would rise during the next decade, but already the seeds of his destruction were be sown. Or at least they had been sown before.
That was what he was here to change.
Romulan Commander D’Ayron turned from the mirror and gazed out of the door of his lodge, looking at the lush landscape that did not vary in some aspects from his homeworld. If successful here as well as on his next assignment in Vulcan’s ancient past, when he returned to the future those he sprang from would no longer be considered weak and unworthy. They would have chosen instead to embrace their savage natures and to live as warriors. No longer would the mix of alien blood that ran in his veins mark him as someone to be pitied or censured.
It would mark him as the best of three worlds.
A sudden movement outside the tent alerted the man known to the Shawnee as Rain of Stars to the fact that Tume had returned. He waited to see if his somewhat recalcitrant soldier had fulfilled his mission. As an incentive, before the black man left, he had been careful to make him aware of Unemake’s punishment and resulting condition. The shaman had failed him and had paid the price. Oh, he was not dead. The native was too useful to kill outright. Instead, D’Ayron had used his inherited abilities to plant a suggestion in the native’s mind that his skin was on fire, and then left him to writhe in pain until he blacked out. After that, he had entered the shaman’s dreams, promising sweet relief, but delivered still more pain. Unemake had fallen into a coma-like sleep after that. When needed, D’Ayron would waken him. What was left of the man’s mind would be his to mold and use as he chose.
His second in command, Subcommander S’Tahl entered the lodge. He halted, raised his left arm, and made the customary salute. “Commander,” he said, his voice pitched low. D’Ayron knew he was using caution lest any of the native Shawnee without the tent hear the unusual term.
“Subcommander. What news?”
“We have the Vulcan, sir.”
D’Ayron fought for control. His jaw tightened and the fingers of one hand clenched into a fist. “Where?”
The subcommander turned back toward the door. “Tume, come.”
The tall black man stepped into the lodge. Over his shoulder he bore the lean form of a man clothed in colonial garb. The back of the man’s blue shirt was burnt as if from phaser fire. Tume met D’Ayron’s eyes; his own fathomless pools of black without expression. In a toneless voice, he announced, “Your prize. Sir.” Then, without preamble, he shifted and let the Vulcan drop to the floor with a sickening thud.
D’Ayron did not take the bait. Neither did he correct the tall black man. Tume was useful for the moment and so he was to be tolerated. When his use was over, so would be his life. The Romulan commander moved forward. He knelt beside the fallen man and turned his captive’s head slightly. Emotions washed over him at the site of it that he did nothing to control. He knew the face. He had seen it since childhood on the memory disks that filled the great libraries of the Empire. He knew it as well from the holo-vids he had viewed at the Romulan Military Academy during his instruction. In the holos this man had been a scientist, a warrior, and a diplomat. In them he seldom walked alone, and most always beside a certain human male. Together Captain James Tiberius Kirk and Mr. Spock had been a formidable enemy to his people. Once, the pair had perpetrated a hoax and stolen a recently improved cloaking device, the loss of which had set the military machine of the Romulan Empire back nearly two decades. The Enterprise Incident, as it had been named, was mandatory reading for any warrior rising through the ranks of the Praetor’s army. The files were very thorough, D’Ayron acknowledged, but they were not complete. There was one chapter in the incident not recorded. One that had passed after its end, behind closed doors.
One exchange that was permanent.
D’Ayron dismissed Tume and ordered the black man to use their transporter system to return to his camp and, in an hour, to bring Spock’s companion to him. The quicker the man whose loyalty he had come to question was out of sight, the better. The Romulan commander drew a deep breath and released it slowly as the black man nodded and took his leave.
He turned back to Spock. Kneeling again, the Romulan Commander lay a hand on the Vulcan’s chest, reassuring himself of the reality of his existence. Then D’Ayron took that hand and reached out with it, brushing Spock’s temple with his fingertips. He hesitated only a second, as if knowing he should seek permission before trespassing, and then ruthlessly pressed three fingers against the feverish skin of his ancient great-sire and began to probe.