Authors: Judith Reeves-Stevens,Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #General, #Adventure, #Space Opera, #Performing Arts, #Interplanetary Voyages, #Kirk; James T. (Fictitious character), #Spock (Fictitious character), #Star trek (Television program), #Television
“When did the message come in?” Kirk asked. He knew he’d have to reply right away, which is presumably why McCoy had been wakened in the middle of ship’s night, to see if the captain was in a condition to receive a communication from Command.
Kirk could get to his quarters, into a uniform, and be onscreen inside of five minutes.
“No message,” McCoy said. He closed his hand around the scanner, shutting it off. “When that tri-ox wears off, you are going to have such a headache.” But Kirk ignored the prognosis. “What do you mean, no message?” “She’s here, Jim. On the Enterprise.”
Kirk stared blankly at the doctor. Admiral Kabreigny was seventy-seven years old. She didn’t leave Earth lightly. She certainly didn’t journey all the way to the Babel Conference for a strictly political debate.
McCoy read the questions in Kirk’s eyes. “She arrived about thirty minutes ago. No warning. Communications blackout, she says. Showed up at my door demanding to know why you weren’t in your quarters and when you’d be fit for a meeting.” Whatever was going on, it didn’t sound good to Kirk. Subspace radio was as secure a method of communication as had ever been invented, and it was so fast, its signals propagating at better than warp factor 9.9, that the delay between Earth and the Babel planetoid was only a matter of minutes. What could she have to say that was so critical? And that justified the risk to her health?
“Did she give any indication of what this was about?” Kirk asked.
McCoy frowned. Clearly, he knew something. He glanced over his shoulder at Spock and Sarek. Kirk saw them watching the proceedings with indifferent expressions, but was certain their Vulcan ears had picked up every word that he and McCoy had said. “Excuse me, Ambassador, Spock.” “Of course, Doctor,” Sarek said magnanimously.
Then McCoy pointed at Kirk, followed by a quick gesture at the door to the examination room. “And you, in there.” Kirk gave McCoy a half smile as he started for the door. “I’m not going to be your patient forever, Bones. You keep that attitude up and I’ll have you swabbing decks.” As the door opened before him, Kirk heard Sarek speak in a low voice. “Can he do that?” the ambassador asked.
As the door slipped shut behind him, Kirk heard the beginning of Spock’s answer. “I believe he would like to, but regulations clearIx, state—” Kirk took a deep breath as he faced McCoy in the privacy of the examination room. “All right. What’s going on?” McCoy’s eyes darted around the room, looking everywhere but at the captain. “I think it’s pretty bad, Jim. You see, this passenger liner has… disappeared.”
Kirk tried to understand what that would have to do with Kabreigny’s unprecedented visit. “Sabotage? Piracy? Important passengers? What, Bones?” “None of that,” McCoy said hesitatingly. “It’s where the liner disappeared that has the admiral concerned.” Kirk held up his hand. “Just a minute. You’re telling me that the admiral has come all this way from Earth under a communications blackout and suddenly she’s telling everything to the ship’s surgeon?” The irritation was gone from McCoy. Instead, he just looked nervous. “I think it involves me, too, Jim. And Spock. But he’s in even worse shape than you are right now.” Kirk was starting to feel dizzy, but whether it was the medication or straight frustration, he couldn’t be sure. “All right. Where did the liner disappear?” “The Gamma Canaris region.” Kirk sat back against the examination room’s diagnostic bed.
He was afraid he could see where this was going. There was only one way out, a slim one. “Command doesn’t think the disappearance has anything to do with hostilities on Epsilon Canaris III, does it?” “If that’s what Command thought, I doubt if the admiral would be here right now.” McCoy dropped his voice to a whisper, even though they were alone. “You know what Kabreigny suspects just as well as I do, Jim. I was there. Hell, the three of us were there.” “You didn’t tell her, did you?” Kirk asked, then immediately regretted having done so. “Of course you didn’t. I’m sorry.
I’m… tired.” “That’s nothing compared to the way you’re going to be feeling in about three hours. Do vou feel up to meeting with her? I could tell her your medical condition is worse than I thought.” Kirk shook his head. “I knew we’d have to face this sooner or later. We all did. I just didn’t think it would be so soon.” He straightened up. Certain situations had a way of repeating themselves. No time to consider odds, devise strategies, or change the rules. “Where is she?” “Conference Room Eight. Do you want me to at least go with you?”
“Did she ask for you?” “No.” Kirk smiled, trying to make it easier for McCoy. “It could be nothing, Bones. Leave it to me.” Kirk headed for the door to the corridor. He stopped when McCoy called after him.
“Don’t get any ideas about taking all the blame on your own.
We all agreed. The three of us are in this together. And if you don’t tell her that, I will.” Kirk wasn’t in the mood to argue with McCoy. He was the captain. He didn’t have to. “Understood, Doctor. Tell the admiral I’ll be with her in ten minutes.” Kirk left.
He was back in his quarters within five minutes, back in uniform in another two. He paused for a moment by his door, looking at his bed. It was very inviting. Despite his complaints to McCoy these past two days, he had to admit to himself that he had appreciated the chance to rest. It wasn’t often that the Enwrprise’s mission was so straightforward as transporting diplomats within a well-protected region of space. It had almost been like a vacation, a chance to get away from it all.
Bur I’m no Zefram Cochrane, Kirk thought, then turned his back on his bed and left his quarters. There was a limit as to how far away he wanted to get from the rest of the universe, and for how long.
Kirk thought of Cochrane the entire way to Conference Room Eight. Zefram Cochrane. Of Alpha Centauri. The giant who had invented warp drive for humanity and led the way to the stars.
History recorded that Cochrane had disappeared in space in 2117, at the age of eighty-seven.
But six months ago, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy had found him, still alive, a young man again, on a planetoid in the Gamma Canaris region, accompanied only by an energy-based life-form, which Cochrane called “the Companion.” It had not been a pleasant meeting at first. War was threatening to break out on Epsilon Canaris III. Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford was that world’s only chance for achieving a negotiated peace. But she had been stricken with Sakuro’s disease. forced to return to the Enterprise for treatment. It had been on that trip that the Galileo shuttlecraft had been pulled from its course by the Companion. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Hedford had been kidnapped to provide company for Cochrane. The four of them had been a gift from the Companion to Cochrane, because the Companion had fallen in love with him.
All that had happened had happened because of that simple, universal emotion. That revelation had not surprised Kirk then, and it did not now. Empires had been forged and destroyed, entire worlds conquered and laid waste for no less a reason. Even Spock had seen no reason to question what had transpired. The fact that to him humans were irrational was explanation enough.
In the end, things had worked out. After a fashion. Moments before Hedford had succumbed to her affliction, the Companion had somehow joined with her, combining to form a single entity that shared both Hedford’s and the Companion’s memories and personalities. Cochrane had finally comprehended the nature of his relation with the Companion. And because the Companion could not survive being away from the planetoid for more than a handful of days, and even though her powers could no longer be used to arrest Cochrane’s aging process, Cochrane had decided to remain with her on the planetoid.
“There’s a whole galaxy out there waiting to honor you,” Kirk had told Cochrane.
But after gazing into the Companion’s new human eyes, Cochrane had said that he had honors enough. When Kirk had asked him if he was sure, Cochrane had sidestepped the question with the skill of a Vulcan.
“There’s plenty of water here,” the father of warp physics had said. “The climate’s good for growing things. I might even try and plant a fig tree. A man’s entitled to that, isn’t he?” Kirk hadn’t been sure what Cochrane’s allusion to a fig tree had meant, but he understood the conviction in the man’s voice and in his eyes. After 237 years of life, Kirk supposed, a man was entitled to just about anything.
Then, just before the Enterprise was to beam her crew home, Cochrane had said something that did surprise Kirk. “Don’t tell them about me.” If it had been anyone else, anywhere else, Kirk would have argued. But after all that he had seen on the ptanetoid, he understood Cochrane’s request without agreeing with it. “Not a xvord. Mr. Cochrane,” Kirk had promised, immediately sensing the objections of McCoy and Spock.
Those objections had been strong and well thought out, not the least being what should be said about Nancy Hedford’s fate, to her family and the Federation.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy had spent several long nights in McCoy’s quarters, debating the possibilities, and the extent of their duty to Starfleet and to history. Between Spock’s unassail-able logic and McCoy’s unalloyed passion, it was Kirk who had come up with a compromise which was acceptable to all and that still respected Cochrane’s wish.
Kirk stood before the door to Conference Room Eight. Like all compromises, he had known that the course of action he had taken after returning from Cochrane’s planetoid exposed him to some risk. He just hadn’t thought he would be exposed this quickly, or at such a high level.
He stepped forward. The doors parted before him. Admiral Quarlo Kabreigny sat at the end of the long table, a cup of coffee beside her. She was a thin woman, her dark skin deeply lined after a lifetime of service, her snow-white hair drawn back tightly into a coiled bun, her admiral’s uniform loose on her spare frame.
‘Tin sorry to have kept you waiting, Admiral,” Kirk began diffidently.
But the admiral was in no mood for pleasantries or politeness.
She told Kirk to sit down and pay attention. Then she slid a data wafer into a player at her side. The table’s central viewer came to liffe. It displayed a passenger liner with three warp nacelles, an ungainly design that provided a much smaller increase in speed than the math suggested it would. Twin nacelles was still the most e~cient design for warp travel.
‘The Cio’ of Utopia Planilia, “Kabreigny stated, identifying the liner. “Mars registry. Crew complement of fifteen. Passenger manifest as of stardate 3825.2: eighty-seven.” The viewer flickered to show a Fleet chart of the Gamma Canaris region. A solid line indicated the liner’s course. It ended midscreen.
It had happened before, Kirk thought. It could happen again.
He tried to get straight to the point. “Admiral, I think there’s a possibility the liner was not destroyed.” Kabreigny’s smile was cold. “Oh, you do, do you? Are you going to tell me it was drawn off course, the way your shuttlecraft was six months ago?” “A possibility,” Kirk said, hearing the controlled anger in the admiral’s words.
“Are you further going to report that you encountered a threat to navigation and neglected to include it in your logs, putting civilian shipping in harm’s way?” Kirk realized he would have to move carefully. Kabreigny was not the type of officer of whom it was wise to make an enemy. “As my log recorded, I believe we hit a random energy field that affected the Galileo’s guidance controls. I had absolutely no indication that it was a repeatable phenomenon.” Why should it be? Kirk thought. The Companion had provided company for Cochrane. Now she was content with him and he with her.
Besides, what reason would she have to go after an entire liner?
And she had said she no longer had the power to control spacecraft.
“Let me put it this way, Kirk, in simple language I think even you will understand: I don’t believe you.” Coming from an admiral, that was a serious charge. Kirk placed his hands on the table. He had given his word to Cochrane. He would not betray that. But he had no idea how he could escape the admiral’s accusation.
“May I ask the admiral why?” Kirk said evenly.
“The liner hasn’t vanished completely. One week ago, while I was in transit, we picked up an emergency subspace transmission from the liner’s last known general location. Unfortunately, we couldn’t lock on to its origin point, but there’s nothing else in the region that could be transmitting.” The admiral touched a control on the player. The viewer changed again. This time it showed a frozen, blurry image of a woman, human, her dark hair in disarray, her skin smudged with what looked like dirt or blood.
But still the face was recognizable. The woman was Nancy Hedford.
Recognize her?” Kabreigny asked.
“Yes.” Kirk answered warily, “I do.” Kabreigny adjusted the control. Hedford’s image came to life, broken by static.
-‘… trying to contact Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise.
Please answer. The man is lost. We cannot continue. We need your help again.” The image completely broke up into static and then began again from the first. The admiral cut the sound.
“That was received Starfleet Command, stardate 3812.” The admiral’s eyes bore into Kirk’s. “Care to work out the math?” Kirk shook his head. It was obvious what the admiral was going to say next.
“In other words,” she continued, “that message, to you, was sent almost five months after you informed Command that Commissioner Hedford had died of Sakuro’s disease.” The viewer displayed a certificate of death. Kirk could recognize McCoy’s illegible signature. “We even have this, sworn and attested to by Leonard McCoy as the attending physician.” Kirk leaned back in his chair. It was going to be a long night.
“What do you want to know?” he asked.
Admiral Kabreigny nodded with clinical acceptance. She popped the data wafer from the player and slipped in a second one. Kirk saw her hit the controls for Record.
“1 want you to start at the beginning, Captain, and explain quite carefully why it is you’re receiving messages from a dead woman.” She leaned forward, eyes glinting. “And if you ever want to command a starship again, you’d better make your story a damned good one.”