"Kirk to Enterprise."
"Report on magnetic storm, Mister Spock."
Spock felt certain that, if Kirk had seen a hint of a chance with the Halkans, no storm of any magnitude would matter.
"Standard ion type, but quite violent and..." This one, however, could potentially be the exception that proved the rule. "...and unpredictable."
"If we stay."
Spock received the words that confirmed the fierceness of both the storm and of the Halkan resistance to their entreaties.
"Stand by to beam up landing party. Plot an extended orbit to clear disturbance. Kirk out."
"Comply, Mister Sulu."
"Acknowledged, Mister Spock."
Spock left the bridge, entered the turbolift, and arrived in the transporter room just in time to hear Kirk once again, his voice betraying a tinge of recognizable disappointment, at least to Spock's ear.
"Transporter room, energize."
At Kirk's word, Kyle pulled the energizers back. His fingers slipped off one of the slides, but the transporter chief quickly corrected the mistake. But something else was amiss, and no doubt had caused the man to lose his concentration in the first place.
The transport was a bit rougher than normal, in part due to Kyle's error, but the end-result was the same, and the landing party was successfully retrieved. Scott, Uhura, and McCoy looked oddly dumbstruck to Spock's eyes, while Kirk's mien lacked the usual thoughtful look he retained even when entering a familiar environment. Indeed, the captain fairly rushed off the pad, looking flushed, as though in a great rage.
"A rough trip, indeed. At norm, Mister Kyle. Controls at neutral," Spock suggested. Kyle was still apparently trying to fathom some reading rather than recalibrating the device to its normal settings.
"Status of mission, Captain?" Spock inquired.
Kirk leaned over the transporter control to call the bridge, still looking like the embodiment of anger itself, almost oblivious to the world around him as a result.
"No change." The captain tapped the communicator switch. "Kirk to Sulu: you will program phaser barrage on Halkan cities." He turned to face the Vulcan. "Regrettable that this society has chosen suicide, but that's that. Let the buzzards from Imperial archaeology sift through ruins and DNA samples. Maybe they can find something useful in the debris." The captain chortled.
On the other end of the line, a brief silence was followed by what Spock could easily predict would follow the insane order. "Captain Kirk? Is that you?" came the helmsman's voice.
"Yes, Sulu, it is me. It is still me right now, and it will still be me ten days from now, no matter what half-assed plan you've cooked up. Now unless you want a matching scar for the other side of your face, I suggest you obey standard procedure. Chekov, you there?"
"II think so, Kyptin."
"Well, think this: If Sulu does not begin that barrage as ordered in the next three seconds, you are authorized to execute him and assume his duties and rank."
The young Russian did not respond at all, driving Kirk to slam the transporter console with his fist. He looked harshly at Spock.
Kyle whispered, "Sir, tell me this isn't happening" as he pulled back from the raging man before him.
Spock stepped forward, unafraid. "Captain, perhaps you should work to calm yourself. Are you aware that you have just ordered us to lay waste a populated planet with an advanced civilization?"
"What the hell kind of question is that? You know what standard procedure is, Spock? Ever hear of a little thing called the Prime Directive? Its as apparent in all things we do as the Imperial insignia on the walls, and as plain as the beard on your face"
Finally, the portable rage engine that was called James T. Kirk slowed down, taking on the more familiar thoughtful look Spock knew, as he took in his environment. But while he slowed down and was briefly silent, neither he nor his companions on the landing party were to remain still or calm. McCoy's head seemed in a permanent slight shake as he came off the pad.
"Captainsomething hereno, make that a lot of somethings hereit just isn't right. This placethis placeit's changed, I'd swear it's changed. Not just the obvious things either. It's all wrong, Jim, every last damn bit of it."
Uhura tugged at her uniform as though someone had dumped a carpet over her head. "Where am I? In a monastery? How is anyone even supposed to know I'm a woman? Is this someone's idea of a prank? I said, is this someone's idea" Uhura reached for her right ankle.
Scott now pushed past her and walked directly to Kyle, whom he shoved against the wall. "That was a very rough ride, Mister Kyle. Do ye nae ken how to compensate during a wee ion storm? If Mister Spock has lost his manhood along with his goatee, ye can be certain I haven't. Hand me your agonizer."
"My what, Mister Scott?"
"Fine, then. I can grab it right off ye, but that'll only mean half a minute more of its caress. Och! Where is it, Winston? Do ye ken the penalty for a junior officer walkin' about without their agonizernot to mention for me, your superior, for lettin' ye do such a thing? Cap'n, permission to erase this fool on the spotye know I keep my boys on a tight leash. Cap'n?"
But Kirk was transfixed on a man he supposed to be a traitor. "It's not going to work, Spock. I don't care how many of your operatives are Vulcans. You, Sulu and every last ungrateful cur I can lay my hands on will vanish like a puff of smoke. Don't think I can't arrange it."
Spock said the only thing he could think of. "Captain Kirk, I will request that you stand down until such time as you are more in command of your faculties. I am hereby assuming command of this ship. When you have been certified as mentally fit..."
The thing wearing Kirk's form surged forward, almost growling as he did. A dumbstruck Spock was saved by a phaser blast from behind, stunning Kirk into unconsciousness. Security Chief Giotto and two of his men walked in.
"I would never have believed what Sulu told me, until I saw that. Now, don't anyone move at all til I know what's going on."
Uhura's face showed none of its nearly-trademark warmth and charm. "I'll tell you what's going on! Spock's staging a coupone possibly against the Empire itself!"
McCoy had not ceased shaking his head. "Damned clumsiest mutiny this ol' country doctor has ever seen. Spock, I can't believe you're trusting Sulu and his little boy Giotto to back you up. Stupid enough taking Jim on at all. But to try a fast one with stupid little head games? Either way, I thought better of you than this, Mister Vulcan."
Spock, not wishing to add to the chaos, kept silent for the moment, observing the situation and formulating a theory to explain it.
Giotto looked over. "Doc, I don't know what I did to offend you, but the only man I take orders from is the one I just stunned for his own good. Now, anyone sane want to talk?"
Scott still held a shocked Kyle fast. "Whatever Sulu and Spock promised ye, Paulie, be certain we can all double it. Ye have to know ye are next on their list. Those newly in power can least do with those that got them there."
Kyle looked at the security chief. "Giotto? Could you get him off of me? Please?"
Since it was the first reasonable thing he had heard in two minutes, Giotto gestured towards Scott. "Scotty, back off."
"Och, it's a bad move ye're making, Giotto. And it's one I'm nae prepared to forgive. But, aye, I'll let your brainless little pal go. Remember I showed ye that mercy now, for I'll show ye none when I make a haggis from yer innards!"
Giotto finally tried the ship's first officer. "Anything to say, Mister Spock? Any mindless threats?"
"No threats, Chief. Merely this." Spock hit the comm switch on the transporter console. "Mister Sulu?"
"Yes, Mister Spock?"
"I am officially countermanding the captain's order regarding the Halkan cities. On the chance that I cannot convince Security Chief Giotto of my sanity, I am placing you in command."
"Acknowledged, Mister Spock. Is the captain all right?"
"And Meester Spockerare my orders countermanded as well?" came the voice of the navigator.
"Ensign Chekov, both orders were patently illegal and immoral, not to mention barbaric in nature. But to be thorough, yes, your order to execute Mister Sulu is also countermanded, nor are you to assume his duties and rank."
"Thank you, Meester Spock."
"It is both an odd and an untoward situation, Mister Chekov. Your confusion is understandable. Spock out."
Giotto still looked skeptical. "What should I do with everyone, sir?"
Spock knew he was being tested for whatever form of madness had seized the landing party, but took this as a sign of Giotto's competence. "I will request that the captain, Doctor McCoy, Lieutenant Uhura and Chief Engineer Scott be taken to the brig, Mister Giotto, until we can ascertain why they are behaving in this manner. If you wish, I will also allow myself to enter custody, though I will request a different cell."
Giotto smiled as another three of his men entered the room. "I can appreciate that, but I don't think you're out of your head, Commander. What's happened to them?"
"Unknown, but I suggest your security team not let down its guard against them. I do not believe they are who we think they are."
The other landing party members were now silent, regarding their guards with wolf-like gazes. Kyle met a glare from Scott with one of his own, throwing the engineer off a bit as he left.
Uhura came to a sudden stop, smiling at Giotto. "Paulie? Do you really want me in that brig, when I can be fully guarded...elsewhere?"
Giotto just pointed his phaser her way. "Get going, Uhura. Now."
"Paulie, I have something on most of the other ladies on board. You could wake up with a friendor lose a very dear and close friend, if you know what I mean. I want other accommodations."
"I stunned the captain, Lieutenant. I can offer you the same." The tip of his phaser was pointed menacingly at her body.
Uhura's lovely face turned into a snarl. "You're taking quite a chance, Mister!"
"So are you, lady. So are you."
As Spock went to follow the odd group, Kyle called to him.
"Mister Spock? I think I may have something on that strange transporter tripthough I don't know if it can explain why the landing party lost their minds like that. There was some sort of brief inversion of the space-time continuum in the transporter stream."
Spock did not want to allow the landing party out of his sight. A radical theory was beginning to form, and he needed to continue his observations of these people. Kyle's information only confirmed what he was beginning to formulate as an explanation.
"Continue your analysis, Mister Kyle. I will stay with the landing party. If my current theory is correct, they have not lost their minds at all. Rather, it is they themselves who are lost."
While Kyle pondered Spock's meaning as well as the readings from the transporter pad, Spock briskly caught up with Security Chief Giotto and his strange charges. About to ask the conscious three members his first question as they were secured behind the brig shield, he pulled back just in time to avoid being kicked by the now awake and wildly thrashing Captain Kirk.
Spock held back and let security do its work. Kirk's words and body language almost confirming his ever less wild theory as he was fairly shoved through the brig entrance. McCoy, Scott and Uhura seemed briefly energized by his pointless struggle, and yelled out threats and demands. Finally, Kirk's shouting drowned them all out as he was shoved into the cell with the others.
"I order you...Let me go! Traitors! Spock, get these men off me! What is this? What are you doing, Spock? You traitorous pig. I'll hang you up by your Vulcan ears. I'll have you all executed!"
James Kirk, mused Spock, was not a man to accept an unacceptable condition, such as imprisonment. But he was a man to accept such a condition temporarily, and to appear calm until he could outwit his captor. The man before Spock could use his brain, he had no doubt. But he was far more interested in bludgeoning the brains of those who crossed him. So even if it had not been Spock's natural inclination, likely he would have used further calm to match this man's rage.
Spock drew a breath. "I think not. Your authority on this ship is extremely limited, Captain. Limited by statute, and currently limited further by your state of mind. You four will remain in the brig in custody until I discover how to return you to" Spock went ahead and said it, the statement that locked his focus on the unproven theory. "wherever it is you belong."
For the barest moment, Kirk looked sympathetic in his confusion, but it vanished more quickly than even Spock could account for. He leaned close to the force field, as though he could bite through it. "Has everyone gone crazy? What kind of uniforms are these? Uhura looks like she's wearing a damned tent! Where's your beard? Where's my personal guard?!"
Spock once again said the only logical words available to him, wasted though they would be upon the people in front of him. "I can answer none of your questions at this time."
Kirk then began what seemed a clumsy parody of his usual bargaining posture. "All right, Spock. Whatever your game is, I'll play it. You want credits, they're yours. You'll be a rich man. Your own command? I can swing that, too."
Spock regarded the avaricious, violent creature before him with analytical eyes. "It seems that I am likely correct. Apparently some kind of transposition has taken place. I find it ...extremely interesting."
"Spock. What is it that will buy you? Power?"
"Fascinating," he corrected himself. He went to the nearest wallcomm. "Spock to Transporter Room. Chief Kyle, have you finished your analysis?"
"Very nearly, Mister Spock. Can you give me five more minutes?"
"I shall meet you in six." The Vulcan walked back to the brig. "I must inquire: did any of you suffer vertigo or nausea during your time in the transporter beam?"
All four seemed truly stunned by the simple question. McCoy nodded. "Now that you mention it, yes. I mean, I hate the wretched thing to start with. But this time I felt I was turned inside out."
Scott's eyes seemed to come alive. His gaze locked on Spock's, as though he could read the Vulcan's thoughts. His words were to the point. "Aye. That's a fair description."
Uhura was calmer, but still not a thing of grace as she spoke. "Wait. Is that why we're locked up? Have we been victimized by a transporter accident?"
Once more, far from realizing his position or acting on the new information Spock presented, Kirk continued on the exact same tack, like a child repeatedly opening the same door, hoping to find a different room behind it. "Spock, you once helped me kill Captain Pike and take command of this vessel. We've been allies ever since. Why are you trying to take command now when you could have had it then?"
Spock turned his back on them, heading for his meeting with Kyle, walking away with at least the appearance of calm intact as Kirk continued to shout after him.
"Tell me what you want, Spock? I can get it for you!"
Watching as the door to the security section closed behind the retreating Vulcan, Kirk shook with fury. "What is he up to? And what was that about the transporter ride?"
"Got me, Jim. I'm dealing with a rash this crazy uniform's giving me. Also, where's the smell of blood? Usually, you can't pass a single bulkhead without catching a whiff. Stabbings, fights, couplings, sudden rises in rankit's always there. But not now. It's not natural."
"Captain, I know the regs on showing weakness to an enemy. But I'll be frank. This place, whatever they've done to itit scares me," Uhura mewed almost pitifully.
"I'll allow it this once, Uhura, because there is something very wrong here. But keep strong. Your charms may be the only thing that can help us out of here. Scotty? What does our resident Mischief Maker think of Spock's chatter about the transporter beam?"
Scott looked pensive. "Bearded or no, Cap'n, I think Mister Spock knows as I do." The engineer gained a look the others knew well; he was a brewing solution. "Transporters can be a funny thing. Ye never do know where exactly they'll take ye." He glanced around at the brig. "And I don't think we're where we ought to be."
Spock entered the transporter room. "The landing party is from an alternate universe."
Kyle did not look as stunned as Spock would have supposed, as the first officer relayed his theory. But the transporter chief did question it. "An alternate universe, Commander? What caused you to come up with that theory? I mean some of the transporter readings confirm"
"Consider, Chief. To an unobservant eye, the members of the landing party would all seem to merely be suffering from some form of dementia."
"And to your eye, sir?"
"Dementia and madness are just that, Mister Kyle. Insanity. The random, the chaotic. No rhyme, nor reason. Yet the members of the landing party all demonstrated a uniform aberration. Tell me, Chief : Does one madman necessarily have the same delusion as the next one, or for that matter, the next three?"
"I see your point, Mister Spock. Normally, I might point out they could be under the influence by some unknown force wishing to takeover the Enterprise. But I think I have the hard evidence you're looking for."
The viewer next to Kyle's station had already been calibrated to show the readings in question. Spock saw what had occurred during the transport.
"The power beam seems less of a straight path between here and the surface of Halka, and more like an interface, a corridor. Yet it is already slowly fading on both ends. It seems we must act with haste to return our barbaric guests to their proper place."
"What about our people, sir?"
"For them, Chief, we can logically do nothing at all. But I have faith in the captain's ability to survive even the den of iniquity he doubtless finds himself in, and to keep the others alive as well until they can get back. My only worry is the doctor's sentimentality. I hope that he does not place himself and the others in danger by way of that emotion."
Kyle held up a finger. "Sir, you better check the decay differential on the interface's two ends. I think maybe our side is closing much faster than the other."
Spock did just that, confirming Kyle's observation. His face showed concern as he walked from the viewer. "Yes, Mister Kyle. That is indeed what is occurring, and it presents a dilemma for us and for both displaced parties. Can you use the transporter's mechanisms to keep that interface from closing, or to at the very least, slow it?"
"Mister Spock, I'm good at what I do. I can operate this transporter better than anyone. But if you're talking about playing with its inner workings to that degree, no, sir. Only one man has those kinds of skills, and according to you, he's off in another universe. No one knows this ship better than Montgomery Scott, and well, he's either not here physically, or not all here mentally. I'm sorry, sir."
Spock found that this was his day for notions that challenged normal logic. "Your apology is unnecessary, Chief. You have provided an honest assessment of your skills. I can ask no more. But you are also wrong. For if we, in conjunction with Chief Giotto, plan carefully, Mister Scott may yet be available to us. We need merely be cautious, and wary."
Kyle stood still. A shake of his head showed, though, he had caught on to Spock's notion. "Be wary, Mister Spock. Be extremely wary."
Spock did not dismiss the young officer's words, but the situation demanded he let a caged viper loose. A viper taken from a confined setting with his own kind to a larger cage, guarded by men who might, if they were not careful, be fooled by the skin the snake wore. Then, surely as T'Kuht became visible over Seleya, the viper, true to its nature, would bite. "Sound advice, Mister Kyle. Be assured I will keep it at the forefront of my thoughts."
Security Chief Giotto would make sure of that. Within seconds of hearing Spock's plan, his response, sound though predictable, made Spock wonder if his own arrest might be a possibility. The security chief stood with his elbow leaning on the transporter console, facing Spock. "No way, Commander. No damned way am I letting that man, whoever he really is, near the vital systems of this ship. That's just insane, and I can't believe you are even bringing this up as an option. Sir, you do realize the amount of damage a saboteur with Montgomery Scott's skills and knowledge could do, given the chance?"
Spock knew that Kirkhis own Kirkwas by and large satisfied with Giotto's performance. But given the rougher edges of his nature, Spock foresaw the day this would not be so. The edge of open defiance, as opposed to merely raising concern, in the security chief's voice necessitated a like response.
"You will obey my orders, Chief. However, given their odd and untoward nature, I will pause this once to explain myself. A trans-universal transfer has almost certainly taken place. If we allow that, we must allow that the man we see as Lieutenant Commander Scott is, for all intents and purposes, an unfamiliar alien, and very likely a hostile one. That we need his services is a given, if we are to return these aliens to where they belong, and possibly obtain the return of the crew we knowour friends. But will I trust him? Will I let him perform even the simplest task without a guard standing over him, one more in the same room, and two in the next area, with orders to fire on him regardless, should he attempt escape or more than that? The answer to these and all similar questions is no. His movements will be watched, and his work checked. Thoroughly. And without exception."
Giotto showed why Kirk kept him around, as he calmed and brought up his best salient point. "Yes, sir. But, Mister Spock? The work you want him to do? The work you'll have checked? Sir, the very reason you want to let him out is that it's beyond all of us. He can pull tricks we'll never catch until it's too late. You could do the job, except for the time-frame involved. No one can do what Scotty does, just how he does it. We need that Scottish devil, but this time, he really is the devil. A wise man once said, You can't summon up the devil, and then expect him to behave.'"
Spock knew and understood all this, yet it did not and could not matter. "Chief, do not, under any circumstances, take down the forcefield on the brig. The prisoners' comfort will be attended to later, if we cannot return them. Make sure your men stand a pace away from the field itself. I would not discount the skills of the other three, in potential efforts to disable the brig's field. Being as they are from another universe, especially a barbaric one, we cannot disallow the possibility that they have combat skills their counterparts do not."
"Aye, Commander. Now what about the fourth one?"
Giotto's staff was starting to be stretched thin. With two guards at the brig, two more in corridors just beyond it, and four in use for Spock's plan, should an outside crisis strike, the ship's vulnerability was massive. Again, feeling he had no choice in the matter, Spock acted to set things in motion.
Spock turned to face the man behind the console. "Chief Kyle, are you scanning him?"
"Yes, Mister Spock. He's standing alone in the corner of the room."
"Mister Spock, please register that this is done under protest."
"Acknowledged and noted, Chief Giotto. Mister Kyle, Energize."
Giotto had taken the unusual step of having two weapons on hand, one in hand, one hostlered. Spock considered who their prisoner was, and allowed this without comment as a good precaution. The pad before them shimmered, and Montgomery Scott appeared on it, happily alone. Spock imagined the other Kirk seething at the missed opportunity to escape.
"Well, this is a roundabout sort of execution. I'm surprised ye simply did nae disperse me, and have done with it."
Spock sought to enter the mind of his distant counterpart, one who had apparently taken to wearing a beard. Shutting out thoughts of another Vulcan beard-wearer, one declared unspoken by Vulcan law, Spock found the words that would calm Scott, ironically by their very harshness. "Your death, were it my desire, could have been achieved in any number of ways, Mister Scott. The logical inference is that such a thing is in fact not my desire."
Scott looked again over at Kyle, this time not in anger but in near astonishment. "What's this? Kyle's an officer, so are all the security men. Are ye daft, Spock, handing out commissions to these jackals, like they were candy? Och, this coup will ne'er last, mark me. And when Earth Command finds out ye have removed the imperial insignia from one of its best ships, they'll take out your family to its last cousin!"
Spock pointed to the viewer on the console next to the transporter station. He saw Kyle encrypt-lock the transporter mechanism, a move Spock was glad for. He also reminded himself, should Scott refuse them or try escape, he would have to be led back to his cell physically. Beaming him from a known and scanable location directly to the transporter pad was one thing. Trying to beam him directly back was simply out of the question.
"Mister Scott, I will ask you to use that station to log the ship's warp field formulation. Please begin."
"What kind of game..."
"Mister Scott, the answers to any and all questions you have at present are located in that viewer."
The Scotsman complied, still looking angry, but now more confused, as well. This confused look became even more pronounced once he had done as Spock asked. "It cannae possibly work! That field shouldnae be able to formbut it does. It's just impossible."
"Describe why you believe this to be so, Mister Scott."
"Why? Och, man, are ye now brainless, along with beardless? It shouldnae be able to work, simply because that formula has the wrong equation for nothing less than the speed of light itself. That doesnae change. The speed of light is..."
Spock cut him off, seeing this as an opening. "Approximately two-hundred-ninety-nine-thousand-seven-hundred-seventy-six kilometers per hour, Mister Scott. And that is what it has always been."
"Nay, tis nearly ten thousand kilometers too fastbut then why does the damned field even form in a simulation? I'd know a faked one. Even you're not good enough to get me that way, Mister Spock."
"Do you have an answer, Mister Scott?"
Scott looked at his surroundings as though for the very first time ever. He truly saw.
"Your guards do nae respond to taunts, bribes, orwell, when they turned down Uhura's sexual favors, I nearly fainted. The insignia I know couldnae be removed so well so quickly. Kyle didnae beg when I held him firm, and Giotto is nae man enough to stun the captain, even if he had us headed into a nova. That is to say, all that is true of the people and place I know. This isnae that place, though, is it? The ion storm did something to the power beam, I'd expect. So, the concept of parallel universes is a true one, then. Mister Spock, just how far does the Terran Empire extend in your wee strange corner of the multiverse?"
Spock gave Scott his answer. "There is no Terran Empire here, Mister Scott. The U.S.S. Enterprise is a Starfleet ship in the service of the United Federation of Planets. Earth and Vulcan are merely two founding members among hundreds of worlds, part of a democratic union meant to promote peace, stability and understanding among peoples. Ours is a mission of scientific exploration, not conquest. There will be no bombardment of the Halkans. We regret their decision, but ultimately, it is one that we will respect. "
"Federation? Members? Democracy? No one's talked seriously of such nonsense since Xerxes broke through at Thermopylae. Mister Spock, your history works no better than your speed of light, and Montgomery Longshanks Scott frankly has no use for it. Now why have you brought me out of the brig?"
Spock resisted the urge to pepper Scott with alternate history questionsparticularly about his middle nameand kept to the urgent task at hand. "Simply put, you and the other members of the landing party do not belong here. I wish to send you back where you came from, and hopefully gain the return of my captain and fellow crewmembers. But there are complications."
"And just what manner of complications are we talking about?"
"The interface between universes is undergoing natural decay. But for some reason, this decay is accelerated on our side. If it closes too quickly, both landing parties may be trapped in the others' worldforever."
Scott rubbed his chin. "Not a bright prospect, but nae a dim one, either. If they're capable, your folk will adapt, as will we. After all, a ship needs certain people to run, and an engineer is certainly among them."
Spock shook his head. "Your ways are too different. Starfleet would never allow any of you to serve in the capacity of your counterparts."
"Aye? Then, we'll just make our way in merchant fleets. Why, without the Empire about to demand a cut here and there, we'll make out like bandits!"
"Mister Scott, you doubtlessly all possess information, however much removed, that could easily compromise the Federation. If you remain here, rest assured, it will be in some form of permanent custody. If you do not wish to spend the rest of your life incarcerated, far from anyone you truly know, your only hope is to help us keep the interface open long enough for the two sets of officers to be transferred back to their true homes."
Scott gained a petulant look at these words. "Well, then. So much for democracy!"
"The Federation Charter is not a suicide pact, Mister Scott. So again, I ask you to make a choice."
Scott threw up his arms. "So ye have me. I already have a thought as to the why of the interface's rapid decay. But there is a matter to be settled, before any work can start, and in this, I will nae relent."
Spock nodded lightly, to indicate a willingness to listen, at the very least. Scott smiled that same roguish smile most onboard knew so well. "It's a three-hour job..." The smile faded. "...but what's in it for me?"
Spock understood the Human need to sigh. The desire to do so in the face of the mercenary demand was quite strong. "In it, Engineer? In it for you is your ability to go back to that place where you belong. I would think that would be enough."
"Well, ye would be wrong on that, wouldn't ye, Mister Spock? Now, the way I see it, this is still a big galaxy. In fact, without the cap'n marauding about, I'd bet it has an even greater population than our Empire. So when this is done, send me out into it. I'll choose another name, and seek out the furthest points I can reach. Your Scotty need never even hear from me. Now, do we have a deal or do we nae?"
Spock waited a whole minute before speaking. "Computer."
"Please send Starfleet Command my files concerning the true identities of the people held in our brig. Request to please advise concerning their disposal."
Scott's hand formed into a fist, then seemed to open it back up by force of will. He spoke with fury pushed back in his throat. "If I'm to keep the interface open, I'll need access to your engineering roomand your engineers."
"I have already ordered that Engineers Watkins and Harper be at your direct disposal. The other members of the Engineering staff will be available to you on an as-needed basis."
"Aye, then. Watkins and Harper are two men I can trust in my worldso long as no one goes and puts ideas in their heads. But I can always knock those out in time. They'll do. First, though, let's have a look at the offending mechanism itself."
Scott looked up at Kyle after a moment operating on one of the pad's innards. "Lad, where in blazes is your dispersal coil?"
"Kyle, what is it ye do when the captain wants to silence a bureaucrat who's leaving with a bad report?"
"Um...tell him he's wrong about us?"
Scott dismissively resealed the pad, sighing audibly. "At least in the Empire, we know the power of a few bad words to cause trouble. I guess ye here are so brave as to not fear them. Well, I call such for recklessness. Tis as Bobbie Burns said, If ye dinnae control how others see ye, ye have nothing at all.' In any wise, I am done here. It's nae the transporter at the heart of all this."
Spock directed Giotto and his men to take Scott to Engineering. The odd scene caught the eye of many a crewmember, and Spock noted Scott nodding smilingly at some, a bit taken back at others, particularly non-Humans.
"Quite a crew ye have here, Paulie."
"Is that supposed to mean something?"
Spock would, at a later point, speak to Giotto about being baited so easily.
"Och, Man. I spoke no disrespect. Or do ye need Mister Spock here to tell ye what is and is nae an insult?"
Spock chose to cut this conversation off at its figurative knees. "Mister Scott, I believe you spoke of a speculative theory about the rapid closing of the interface."
"Not until I see those engines. Or do ye ask your McCoy to diagnose before he's laid eyes on the patient?"
Spock chose not to point out that it was Scott who offered the results in question. At Engineering, Watkins and Harper were waiting, looking Scott over as though to confirm the incredible news that the man in custody was not who he appeared to be.
Spock decided he could not afford to overlook this. "You are to watch this man as he works. Take note of his every action, no matter how seemingly obscure. You may be called upon to reverse it at a moment's notice. If you feel menaced at all, direct the security personnel who will be with you at all times to remind him of his position. Whatever your opinion of the Mister Scott we know, put it aside. For this man is not him."
Scott could not resist the opening Spock would come to realize he had provided. "Och, sure I'm not Montgomery Scott. That's why he's puttin' me on the engines, lads. Because of all the engineering skills I dinnae haveand the fact that I harken from Wales."
Both young men chuckled to hear this quip, so like the man they did know and likely held in high regard if not affection. A look from Spock and a harsher one from Giotto stopped this, but whether their message of warning had been lost to Scott's trans-universal charm was debatable.
"All right, then. Let's watch the frothing Scotsman do his mischief. Watkins, give me combined power output on main systems. Harper, get me weapons usage for the last six months. Hop to it, now. I'm cooking some puppies and kittens up for supper, ye know!"
As Spock departed, he gave a look indicating his extreme displeasure at the air Scott was assuming.
Scott gave an almost impish shrug. "Tis an acquired taste."
Back on the Bridge, Spock directed contact with the Halkan Council leader, Tharn. A light suspicion quickly bore fruit. "You are correct, Mister Spock. Our history is one of total peace. Yet in part the choice to keep to such an ideal emerged from a legend, one we mostly discount. After a great storm, opposing diplomats sent out to avert the one major conflict that ever threatened to emerge on Halka said that they had been to a dark place, one where war was transacted like air is breathed. The other Halkans in this legend chose to cease war based on their counterparts' words, and our forebears chose to avoid it entirely, forever. Your tale gains veracity from the part of the legend that states that our diplomats were thought for a time to have gone mad. Believe me when I say, had we thought this fable had any relevance or basis in reality, we would have informed you."
"You had no reason to believe it so, sir. We bear you no grudge for the omission of such an obscure detail."
"Still, we have wronged you, however unintentionally. As a gesture of compensation, we will reconvene our hearings on dealing with your Federation."
Spock felt somewhat confused by this. "I had thought your position in this matter to be quite firm."
"In the matter of providing our crystals to you, yes. We will not relent any at all in that. But there is another form of aid we may provide without violating our ideals. The legendary basis of our sacred peace engulfing your crew may well persuade some on the council to reconsider this alternative."
Normally, this small possibility of success would hearten even one of Spock's emotional restraint. But he drew hope not from the Halkans rethinking their absolute position, but rather from their now-revealed legend. For the lost travelers in that fable had found their way home again. With an hour passed, and less time available than he was comfortable with, Spock returned to Engineering.
Giotto himself now alternated between the displaced landing party still in the brig and Scott's counterpart, whose work now seemed complete. "He hasn't tried anything that we can tell, Commander. But I have Moretti set up in Auxiliary Control, scanning this area for sudden power build-ups, and like that."
Scott looked calm as could be, save for constantly looking at a compuclipboard, then putting it aside just as quickly, and lightly shaking his head. "Well, I know your problem, now. This ship has a pansied, palsied power output. Also, according to these readings, ye barely have weapons to speak of, and they'd serve only as defense, nae for anything decisive."
Watkins seemed thrown, perhaps by hearing any Scotty insult his own ship. "Sir, we are a ship of exploration. Besides, our current assignments don't take us anywhere near the Romulan or Klingon borders."
Harper nodded in agreement with his friend. "Youthe other you, sir, has us ready for anything. We can up the yields on our weapons whenever we need toat a moment's notice."
Scott now looked at the two men he'd worked with so jovially like they were brain-dead. "In a moment, lad, an enemy who gives ye not the courtesy of notice can have your throat gushing red. As for the Klingons and Romulanswe really don't have any problems with them, in the Empirebecause they are in the Empire, aye, and firmly under the boot, largely thanks to Jim Kirk's father. But he didn't watch Pike at his back, and Pike didnae watch our Jim do his thing. Oh, your Scotty may have this tub running like a clock, and for that he has my admiration. But give me a spiked shield over smooth operation, any time. It's readiness that wins out. Readiness to strike, and to strike back."
Spock's patience with this propaganda had reached an end. "Mister Scott, you will cease offering your opinion on matters of state politics, and begin offering your opinion on altering this ship's power output, or I will return you to the confines of the brig, and take my and your chances of happening upon the right formula. Do you like those chances, Mister Scott, or do you wish to avoid imprisonment for life, under a system that you hold in contempt, with yourself as a legal non-entity? Recall, that as an extra-dimensional alien, you hold no true legal status in this reality."
Scott raised his opened hands. "Och, Spock, you're more touchy than Giotto. Ye merely have to raise the output of a certain set of systems, at a certain rate, and we'll match my Enterprise without any further damage to the interface, save for its natural tendency to close up."
"Then you shall do so, Mister Scott, but with my assistance. You may have mistaken these young men as naive. I trust you shall not make the same mistake with me."
Scott was still the picture of affable calm, mixed heavily with large doses of undisguised arrogance. "And that makes you so sure that you'll catch me at whatever it is I'm supposed to be up to? I've told you time and again that I've realized my position. But you keep watch over me, Mister Spock. But know this: Were I of a mind to be up to something" He shrugged. "Odds are, I'd have already done it."
Spock now fully realized the truth. For all of the other Kirk's brutality, for all the distracting charms and tech skills of the other Uhura, and for all the potentially deadly medical knowledge of the other McCoy, he had chosen to release the truly most dangerous of the barbarian crew. He would be forced to keep up with his challenge, however puerile his games seemed to the mind of a Vulcan. "Tell me, Mister Scott, when did you first realize that you were no longer in your own reality?"
It would take more than this to throw Scott off, Spock realized. He dovetailed his response with more of his games.
"Shortly after ye first dumped us in the brig. Och, but only a Vulcan would ask such a question."
"And what manner of question should I be asking?"
"Well, I'll not tell ye what to ask, man. But ye would think by now I'd be asked about why Captain Pike kept around the son of the man he put to the knife himselfnot a day before he did the same to that black-hearted bastard, April."
Spock shook his head slightly. "I have no interest in such matters. Now, you spoke of a state of constant readiness. I would assume that would mean a rise in shield standby power of at least twenty-five per.."
"So I'll tell ye then. See, first day Jimmy's on-board, Pike has a squad all set to vaporize him, including old Ben Finney. But Finney puts Jimmy wise to it all. So what does Mister Kirk do? Why, he turns Finney over to Pike for ratting. The next month, in front of the entire galley, Jimmy calls his own brother a cuckold when the poor fool demands DNA tests on Jim's two nephews'. Each and every day, Jim sinks a little lower, and every day, Pike calls off his dogs, just to see what he'll pull next. Then, sure as eggs is eggs, Jimmy sank low enough to make Pike's head into yolk. Och, he's a pleasure to watch in action. Warms me heart to see a true master of men like Jimmy T. Kirk, scourge of the seven galaxies."
Spock hit a switch at the main engineering console, then watched the flow-chart board light up in the appropriate sequence.
The smirk vanished from Scott's face. "Ye...ye have the power outputs aligned precisely! Tis impossible, when I gave ye nothing."
"You in fact gave me quite a bit, Mister Scott. Your banter about your amoral version of Captain Kirk was the perfect irritation to force my mind to go elsewhere, and find that simply scanning the relative rates of decay between the two sides of the interface, combined with judging which systems were most likely to be over-powered in a war-ready ship, would provide the answers I sought. You thought to disgust and distract me while I engaged you in a debate over morality. Such a debate would have been more than pointless. It would have wasted time. Time that we do not have. So I thank you. Your chuckling tale of primal betrayal was, in effect, the sand in the oyster's shell. With the proverbial pearl of wisdom obtained, the need for your presence in this area is done with. We will gather the landing party, and transport you back to your universe, with all haste."
Scott pulled back to a position of better advantage, if in fact any still existed for him at this point. "Sure of that, are ye? Well, since I'll be the one subjected to this sorcery, I demand one last look. Watkins, give me that damned compuclip, and don't any of ye crowd me as I see what's to be seen."
Spock nodded at Watkins to accede to Scott's mild demand, but Giotto made his view clear as he nodded to one of his men. "Bobby, crowd him. You crowd him something fierce."
Scott stared at the compuclipboard, and just shook his head. Spock suspected the sudden emergence of a time-eating problem. "Nay, nay. All four of us geniuses working this, and yet none spotted so simple a thing. Och, tis the damndest shame."
Harper moved in next to the Security Officer guarding Scott. "Mister Scott, there's no way we could have missed anything. Not after that search."
Scott shrugged. "Lad, you'll see precisely what it is I'm talking about if you just pry open your eyes and look right..."
The word here' may or may not have been said, but it was not relevant. What was relevant was that Scott brought the bulky compuclipboard straight into the faces of the guard and Harper, catching them full and by complete surprise. As Giotto predictably fired, Scott shoved the two men he'd just assaulted into the path of that beam, and at least one fell toward Giotto's position.
Scott reached for the fallen guard's phaser, only to feel a hand near his shoulder. He rolled to avoid Spock's neck pinch, holding up the phaser in the Vulcan's direction. "Och, you'll nae get me that way, Mister Sp"
Spock, to everyone's surprise, including his own, merely punched Scott in the face. While it was a restrained blow, and far from anything resembling Spock's full strength, it was enough to disarm Scott. Spock felt doubly frustrated by this man, having cost him some emotional control, to brawl in such a manner.
"Take himall of themto the transporter room. All phasers on heaviest stun setting."
As Scott was dragged to his feet, he began to openly wail. "No! No, ye can nae send me back!!"
Giotto made his sentiments on that clear. "Try us. Oh, that's rightyou already did try. And you failed."
Gone was the sneering trickster, the other Kirk's Mischief Maker. Gone were the half-talk, double-talking quips and innuendos. There was pleading in the man's voice. "Paulie, I'm sorry I struck Harper and your man, all right? But do any of ye ken what it is you're putting me back to?"
"Where you belong?"
"Aye, perhaps once. But no more. I worked with these lads for nearly an hour, and while the boys from Security watched my work. And work I did. I could turn my back on any of these men for minutes at a time, and yet fear no harm. Such a thing is nae possible in my world even with my own blood relations! Place me in your prisons for all my days, or have me swabbin' decks, if it comes to that. But do nae make me eat of a rotten carcass, when it's the finest cut of steak I've tasted. Do nae have me breathe fresh clean air one moment, only to face total vacuum the next. If ye send me back now, it's to my death, for I cannot abide the cosmos of my birth one second longer. Or is it now that my use to ye is done away with, so is it to be for me?"
Scott turned to each man present, and their glares began to break, even to Giotto, and even to the men he had assaulted. His gaze met Spock's, and Spock was as hard and as cold as any part of open space.
After a half-minute, Spock allowed this look to soften. When he saw Scott's look suddenly and subtly sharpen, Spock said two words as he looked at the alternate engineer: "Nice try."
The two guards on either side of Scott seized him as he tried to move forward. The guard Giotto had called Bobby joined with a now-armed Harper and Watkins. All sympathy his pose had generated was gone faster than it had been created.
Scott was writhing in their grasp. "Oh, I'll get ye for this, Spock. Go and mark me on that, man! When ye do nae see me there at all, that's when I'll slice out your green heart!!!"
Spock gestured to the security chief, and Giotto had his men, along with the two engineers, move the raging Scotsman out. They would all rendevous at the transporter room. When they were alone, Giotto made a surprising concession.
"Commander? Sir, I wish to withdraw my protest. Letting that monster out was difficult, but it was also the right call."
"Despite the fact that one of your men as well as Engineer Harper were physically assaulted?"
"Scottyour Scottybreeds tough men, sir. As do I, and besides, getting hit is part of our job. No, we needed to have the other Scott to make the basic breakthrough, which you then ran with. Besides, you alone saw through that Celtic cockroach's lies. Me, I was almost ready to hug him!"
The chuckle that punctuated Giotto's words made it clear that no hug had ever been truly in the offing.
Spock found he understood this sort of humor better than some others. "I will ask you not to withdraw that protest, Chief. For his ruse very nearly had me as well. What we did here today should never be attempted lightly. Words of caution may yet still be in order, to hear that Mister Scott speak."
"I'd dismiss that threat, sir. How's he going to get back at you, when he's an eternityor maybe it's an alternityaway? In ten minutes or so, he's going back, and, to paraphrase the man himself, tis good riddance to bad rubbish, is what I say to him."
Spock caught a thought, and fanned it into a theory. "How indeed? Mister Giotto, can you make the landing party's route to the transporter room a slightly longer one?"
"Sure thing, Mister Spock. Permission to clear any curious onlookers away?"
"Granted. I will meet you there."
Spock was already there when Scott arrived simultaneously with, but separate from, the remainder of the landing party. The security presence was heavy enough to discourage thoughts of escape. Except in the mind of the other Kirk, Spock realized.
The Vulcan pulled Scott aside. "If your captain should try anything during the transport process, it could lead to the loss of all eight of you. For your own sake, if nothing else..."
Scott nodded, knowing his own captain well enough. "I'll get him calm."
Spock had appealed to his practicality, and nothing else. It was all that logic presented to him, and for the first time in a very long time, the appeal of logic was severely blunted as a result. "Captain, sir, ye are poking about for a weakness in their armor, and since they are weak, I have no doubt but that ye will find it. But there is no point to it. No point at all."
The way his combat-ready stance showed him off, the other Kirk seemed almost shorter than his counterpart. "It's not like our resident Mischief Maker to give up so easily, Mister Scott. Especially not in the face of death. Or did you make a separate deal with Spock to save your own hide?"
"This ol' Sawbones is thinking that same thing. Scotty, we're facing cold vacuum. Not even a good way to go."
Scott's face grew visibly indignant. "Jimmy! Wake up and use the mind that broke the Orion Merchants Guild. Look around ye. Forget about who might've betrayed you, and just see things as they really are."
Spock observed that, in all the time he had known his Scott, the man had never called his Kirk by a nickname.
Kirk now gained a look a great deal more familiar to Spock. "Conquerors that never conquer. Guards content to let prisoners lie. A coup that lets the former leaders live for hours, and isn't followed by others. The fact that I even had to threaten Sulu into beginning phaser assault. A parallel universe?"
Uhura put her fingers to her forehead. "Not to mention men and women that don't act like it. I knew there was something wrong with this place. Mister Spock, can you send us back?"
"It is my intent to do so. You must return to your universe. I must have my captain and crew back."
Kirk nodded. "I hope I at least get my uniform back. Bones, do we trust him? He does seem very much like our own Mister Spock, doesn't he?"
"Cept for one thing, Jim. I think I like him better without the beard. Less inscrutable."
"Well, let's hope you're a man of integrity in both universes. Otherwise, this is going to be a very short trip."
Scott was quick to take his place on the transporter pad, followed by Kirk, Uhura, and finally, McCoy, who shook his head. "Damn thing doesn't work right, no matter where you go!"
Scott waved a gentle good-bye. "Be seein' ye, Mister Spock."
Spock shook his head. "If, by that, you refer to the alterations you made to the transporter, Mister Scott, rest assured, those have been all undone. Again, I say to you: Nice try."
Kirk shook his head. "Alterations, Spock?"
"Your Mister Scott, Captain, did indeed make a separate deal, as you call itbut it was one he made for and by himself. The transporter pad he so rapidly soughtthe one he worked on and declared of no help in our quest to keep the pathway between universes openwas in fact altered to his benefit. When the transport back occurred, it was to have bounced back our own Mister Scott, and left yours with us. He would then, if I presume correctly"
Kirk cut in, looking furious. "he would then be able to successfully pose as your Scotty, a lone wolf in a field of sheepor perhaps, sheep-dogs, in your case. Vast potential for mischief and profit, eh, Mister Scott? But you made two mistakes. One is, you underestimated our beardless Mister Spock. A mistake in any universe. As to the other mistake..."
Kirk gave Scott a look that spoke of an omniverse of pain. "...you didn't cut me in. We'll...talk...when we get back. Mister Kyle, energize."
Kyle looked to Spock before proceeding. Scott on the pad now looked like a man who needed another place to go. Only when the process was well underway did Kyle speak. "I don't take orders from the likes of you, monster."
Spock let this pass, particularly when Kyle spoke again.
"Four separate but identical signals being beamed back at us, sir. The other group is definitely awaysir, its our landing party!"
Spock bid Giotto reduce his people's presence in the transporter room. Three guards remained, stationed just inside the room's entrance, with the others just outside, should Kyle's reading of the situation be wrong.
It was not wrong. Four columns of light danced on the transporter pads, coalescing into three men and a woman.
By stance and glance, Spock knew these people. Their emotions, seen upon re-emergence, marked them off. McCoy breathed in, as though the air in that other place had been somehow different. Uhura looked about her, as though taking in a place she had never before truly seen, and showing sheer delight in every last detail. Scott walked past them all and put a hand on Kyle's shoulder, a gentle smile from a bear of a man putting down any questions of this one's true identity. Spock would quietly move to further confirm that all the landing party were who they appeared to be. But in this instance, logic was for later.
"Welcome home, Captain."
In that simple exchange between the two men were contained words of unbounded joy that Spock would not be able to summate until what seemed his final moment among the living.
I am, and shall always be, your friend.
Not allies, watching each other warily. But friends, true friends. It was hardly the first time Spock had come to such a realization, but it was the first time he had felt it so plainly. A man had come, walking and talking and looking like his friend, but in fact, he had been a villain, almost literally a demonic doppleganger. Only when his friend had been gone from him, with his memory yet in plain sight, could Spock properly gauge the depths of this friendship.
"Bones, better have M'Benga check us all out. The very nature of that place makes me suspicious on just about every level you can name."
"Just what the doctor ordered, Jim."
Uhura chuckled. "Long as I don't have to disrobe. With that other uniform, I feel like I've done enough of that today."
"Spock, you have the bridge for now."
"Yes, Captain. But may I suggest Mister Scott remain behind with me. He can join the rest of you shortly."
The guards returned to their regular duties. Kirk, McCoy and Uhura left for Sickbay.
Kyle whispered to Spock before departing as well. "I wouldn't want to be the one that told him, sir."
A sentiment Spock found odd, until Spock began to relate his tale. Scott's eyes went wide with astonishment. "Ye let that fiend touch me bairns? Och, Commander. It'll be months before I'm certain his filthy stain is removed from my works."
"Mister Scott, you do understand the necessity of what I did?"
"Aye, that I do. But, sirwas there no way to gain what ye needed from him, merely by interrogation?"
"Despite his venomous nature, Mister Scott, he was yet made as you. Seeing that commonality, I reasoned that only a hands-on approach could yield what we required of your counterpart. But there is more. He was very nearly successful in taking your place. Had I failed to take a seemingly idle threat he made seriously, he would now be here. My belief is, with such foreknowledge as he now had, he might well have succeeded in his pose and deception."
Scott sighed. "Och. Best to tell me the whole sad story. This time, I will nae interrupt."
Spock did as he was asked, and Scott listened through.
"Sure, he nearly played ye with feigned ignorance about where he was. And only an engineer would see the value of those weighty clipboards as a weapon. But that last trick, I think he woulda had even me, had he just kept his mouth shut."
Spock made a confession. "He still very nearly got away with it. When I stated what his alterations had done, I spoke ahead of the facts. His handiwork would have taken me hours, not minutes to truly decipher. I merely undid his work, setting the transporter's systems to default mode. Given his selfish nature, it was not difficult to speculate the why of his efforts. Yet when I confronted him, I had no practical confirmation of his true intent."
Scotty made wave of dismissal at Spock. "There's an old saying, Mister Spock. Old enough that all Terran peoples claim it as their own. Though naturally, tis Scottish in origin. It goes to say this: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.' He tried to get you twice with his shenanigans, and twice he failed."
"Only twice, Mister Scott? As I related, he made three attempts to show why the other Captain Kirk called him his Mischief Maker."
Scotty shook a finger. "I know myself rather well, sir. I'd be willing to bet good money that his escape attempt and crocodile pleas were naught but a smokescreen for his game meant to take my place."
A notion Spock had not even considered. Deciding to learn more of this man who was not yet a truly close friend, he made an offer. "Mister Scott, I would be honored if I could assist you, when you undertake to, as you put it, remove the stain' of your counterpart."
"You, sir? But you possess all the background a man could ever want, when it comes to such tasks."
"I am finding that background is not always enough, when faced with a truly wily opponent. Will you accept my offer?"
"Aye, that I will. Let's get started." The two men headed for the door. "Tis a bit like a fable, even down to vicious imposters and dark towersand I tell ye, the bridge of that Enterprise was truly a dark tower, replete with lying villainous scum such as their Sulu, with his scar... Now, how was it that poem by Byron started?"
Spock provided the words: "My first thought was, that he lied in every word, that hoary cripple of malicious eye.'"
"Aye, that's the one."
"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came' was by Browning, Mister Scott, not Byron."
Scott conceded his error, but not his basic point. "Well, that may be, but having ascended the Dark Tower and having made it through back to the Light one, I am well pleased to be back where I belong."
"Though I will ask you to refrain from repeating this in front of Doctor McCoyI find myself just as pleased, if not more so, to have all of you back with us."
They parted ways at the end of the day, assured that Scott's counterpart had not done anything else to sabotage their Enterprise. But their life-paths would continue together, though not as close as some. That would change at a far removed time and place, when they were nearly the only ones left from what had long past become a legendary group. At that time, they would recall how the deceptions and traps laid down by a corrupt duplicate had helped the two men to their first great understanding.
For then and there, all the stars and galaxies of adventures still awaited the captain and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Free counters provided by Andale.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES --
2266-2270 The First Mission
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website