Captain Kirk switched off the log, leaned back in the command chair, and gazed at the stellar panorama on the bridge's main viewscreen. The star system of Procyon and Phardos was really nothing special, simply a blue star and white dwarf engaged in a binary embrace. The system contained no planets because of the extreme gravitational pulls of the two suns. If any planets had ever existed, they certainly had to have been torn apart millennia ago by that perennial tug. But this constant tug of war that the stars played was the very reason that the scoutships were sent there. The nagging of Starfleet's Science Advisory board, which insisted that updated gravimetric readings on the stars' stability were needed to insure the safety of passing starships, finally broke the resistance of the Admiralty. Since there was no apparent danger within ten parsecs of the system, Starfleet decided to give the Board and itself a break. The two scoutships were filled with astronomers and physicists and dispatched to the area so the scientists could measure and calculate to their hearts' content. The Admiralty sent the ships off on a standard two-week investigative mission and relaxed.
Starfleet's breather was extremely short-lived, however. Eight days into the mission, all subspace contact with the ships was lost. This caused the Admiralty to worry a bit, but not too much. They assumed the ships were just having communications trouble, so they would just have to wait for a full report when the ships returned to Starbase Twelve.
But their return time came and went and Starfleet's worry increased with each passing hour. So, two days after the return deadline, the Admiralty called upon the Enterprise to investigate the possible disappearance of the ships. Only 'possible,' not probable. No use jumping the gun...
But after over thirteen hours of patterned grid searching and tight-beam sensor scans failed to locate them, the ships' disappearance was no longer a 'possibility' to Captain James T. Kirk, but a certainty. And that certainty became even greater after other explanations played out also. The ships could not have been destroyed or forcibly towed away by tractor beams since no debris or high level concentrations of radiation were being detected, and there was nothing else in the system for the scouts to investigate. No planets, no asteroids, nothing. The antimatter trail from the ships' engines led into the system and vanished. No sensor scan could detect even the slightest hint of residual engine particles leaving the system. And the last log transmission received from the Darius indicated that both craft were in the system and beginning their research. It left a bad taste in the captain's mouth. It was as if some galactic magician had made them disappear.
Kirk fidgeted in the command seat, crossed his legs, and let his eyes wander around the bridge. Lieutenant Commander Sulu and Lieutenant DiFalco sat at their posts of helm and navigation, respectively, their eyes riveted to their instruments for any sign of the missing ships. Lieutenant Chekov was at the weapons console intent on something on his screen. Lieutenant Commander Uhura sat passively at the communications board monitoring readouts from long-range signaling systems. Commander Spock, the Vulcan science officer, was at the library computer station watching his readouts intently. Commander Scott, in one of his rare visits to the bridge engineering station, was making status checks on several instrument components installed at the space station.
The captain sighed and swiveled back to the viewscreen. Even after thirteen uneventful hours of tedious searching the bridge crew still performed their duties with patient alertness. But their efficiency provided no diversion for Kirk. The mystery of the vanished scoutships was beginning to gnaw too heavily at the back of his mind.
Kirk shifted uncomfortably in the center seat. He leaned forward, placed his elbows on his knees, clasped his hands in front of his chin, and spoke to the helm. "Anything, Mister Sulu?"
Sulu raised his head from the scanners and blinked hard to refocus his eyes. He turned his chair to face the captain. His oriental features were tight with worry. "Nothing on any sensor scan, sir. There just isn't anything there that could account for the disappearance of those ships. I only get normal background readings."
This was the same report that Kirk had been getting for the last thirteen hours. There had to be something. All signs said that the two ships should be there. "Thank you, Mister Sulu. Continue scanning,"said Kirk, letting too much of his restlessness show.
He straightened back up in his seat and silently cursed the quiescent stars on the viewer, wishing that one of them would reveal something. There was one final possibility that intruded into his thoughts. Could the ships have been destroyed by the strong gravity that they had come to investigate? Kirk kept pushing that thought away. Their systems and computers would have kept them away from such danger automatically. Still, systems fail...
No. It doesn't seem right. There was still something clutching intently at Kirk that made him restless, made him prepare for something that had not yet materialized. Something, perhaps, completely unexpected. Kirk recognized the mental itch, the tightness in the gut. That same feeling had saved his life and the lives of his crew many times before. Command instinct. He was glad it was still with him but was not happy about the impending events it would bring.
A series of red lights began to blink violently on Sulu's panel accompanied by a piercing, high-pitched beep. The helmsman immediately checked adjacent readouts. "Deflector shields just snapped on, sir," he reported, his slim fingers dancing across the scanner controls trying to pinpoint the reason.
"Captain," said DiFalco firmly, "I have a positive nav-scan on an object. Bearing: 126 Mark 31. Distance: six hundred fifty thousand kilometers."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," replied Kirk, pleased that the young, black-haired woman on her first starship assignment was performing her duties so well. "Mister Spock, full forward scans, please. All sensors."
"Affirmative," acknowledged the first officer. His experienced hands dashed over the science computer correlating readouts almost as fast as the scanners could send them in. "Contact confirmed. Preliminary scan indicates energy turbulence from the object. Now within visual range, sir. Transferring object to viewer."
Energy turbulence could be from the scouts' warp engines, Kirk thought. The twin suns on the main viewscreen vanished. The star pattern changed from a forward position to a view down and slightly to port. What appeared in the center of the screen was not the missing scoutships, as Kirk had hoped, but a 'cloud' formation. It shifted slowly and was nebulous in some areas, spreading the thin wisps in others with a slight lime-green tinge over the entire miasma. Small flashes flared now and then indicating some form of power. Kirk's command instinct gave him a little jolt. He wondered if he had found his magician.
The captain rose slowly from his chair and moved to the bridge railing in front of the viewscreen. He stared at the image, his mind and curiosity fully piqued. "Analysis, Mister Spock."
The Vulcan was intent on his board as more detailed readouts from the sensor control computers came in. "External parameters indicate an energy field approximately two thousand meters long...varying between twelve and fifteen hundred meters wide...internal readings indicate composition as negative energy." Spock managed to convey some surprise and disappointment at the simplicity of the phenomenon.
Even Kirk's mental image of his magician began to waver. "Only negative energy? Nothing else?"
Spock knitted his eyebrows together and pressed some buttons. His voice came slowly with curious hesitance. "No, sir. This field's composition matches that of the energy barrier at the edge of our galaxy."
Kirk turned, mounted the raised platform around the bridge and strode to the science console. He sensed the hesitancy in Spock's voice. "Could it have caused the disappearance of those ships?" he asked, hoping to draw out the reason for Spock's reluctance.
If Spock had been capable of frowning with more than his eyebrows, he would have. He pressed some analysis switches on the computer pedestal, obviously puzzled at the readings he was receiving. "I am getting conflicting data, Captain. This field obviously has properties that our scanners have not as yet been able to fully analyze." He looked at the captain, his slanted brows on a slight rise.
Kirk nodded slightly, knowing what Spock was silently asking. He left the science station and moved back to his command chair, contemplating his next decision. Spock's implication was quite clear to him, and Starfleet's orders were also clear. And so was his instinct. With his hands on the back of the command chair he spoke to the helmsman. "Mister Sulu, bring us to within one hundred thousand kilometers of the field. Ahead slow, impulse power only."
"Aye, aye, sir." Sulu activated the engine control circuits and began to ease the throttle forward. A distant roar, like heavily muted thunder, made its way to the bridge. The field began to grow larger on the screen at the Enterprise's approach.
Kirk turned around to Spock. The Vulcan, still busy with the controls, suddenly stopped in mid-move. He leaned forward and scanned a series of formulas and equations that flashed on one of his screens. Kirk moved to the first officer and saw his earlier puzzlement being transformed into fascination.
"What is happening is theoretically impossible, Captain," offered Spock, leaving Kirk with his unspoken inquiry on his lips. "The field is apparently changing composition. Outer areas are condensing into an ionized force shield; inner substance is coalescing into a solid nucleus..." The screen's flow of jargon was diminishing. "Activity now beginning to cease... Sensors indicate the central core is composed of antimatter surrounded by a force shield, then a layer of matter and finally the outer shield. Element sensors show traces of asteroids in the matter layer. Also, extremely large metal objects." Spock straightened and faced the captain, a grave look on his face. "They appear to be the engine nacelle of the Darius and smaller metal articles which have been fused together."
The magician in Kirk's mind suddenly donned a black hood. It had become an executioner. Kirk stared wanly at his first officer. "Are you certain, Spock?" he asked lowly.
"Yes, Captain. The construction number on the engine nacelle matches that of the Darius."
Anguish washed over the captain's face. His command instinct had dealt him another unpleasant hand. Yet that instinct was not quenched by this terrible discovery. It still troubled him. For some reason this field was playing cat and mouse with the ship's scanners. It had revealed a lot to them, but only as the Enterprise moved closer. Was the magician/executioner trying to lure another bystander to its death? To answer that, further analysis, both human and mechanical, would be needed. And both were needed immediately. Kirk raised his voice slightly and said, "Mister Sulu, hold our position here and maintain deflectors. Spock, can you tell how the ships were captured by the field?"
Spock glanced at his readings once again and shook his head. "Negative, Captain. The field's outer barrier is not heavily ionized and is extremely difficult for our sensors to penetrate. All readings are inconclusive. It will take some time before the computers can draw any salient conclusions."
"Well, then, we'll have to put our organic computers to work. We can't be caught without ideas if the field decides to pull a fast one." He began to walk toward the starboard turbolift. "Uhura, call sickbay and have Doctor McCoy report to the briefing room. Spock, Scotty, let's go." Without waiting for Uhura's acknowledgement, the trio entered the lift.
The main briefing room on Level Four had undergone many changes during the refit of the Enterprise. The major visible modifications were designed around the idea that the briefing room was used mostly for command conferences of usually long duration. Therefore, it was redone to be comfortable as well as functional, with as much emphasis placed on the latter as the former. The walls, now a soft, rich cream color, were adorned with holographs of ships, the Enterpriseincluded, and of many deep space phenomena. One particularly large holo gave a breathtaking three-dimensional image of the Beta Niobe nova, the energetic remnant of the violent death of a star and its only planet, the once-inhabited world of Sarpeidon. The center of the room was dominated by the familiar shape of the conference table, now surrounded by more comfortable high backed chairs. The computer tie-in console at the leading edge of the table had grown slightly as its abilities were increased by the design engineers. The center of the table was devoid of its tripartite screen. It was replaced by a large viewscreen on the bulkhead at the foot of the table, which was easily accessible to all eyes and was easier to watch than the small three-sided viewer. The final major change was the viewport which occupied part of the outer bulkhead and which gave a spectacular view of space around the ship.
Less than one minute after leaving the bridge, the three command officers of the Enterpriseentered the briefing room. Captain Kirk took his place at the head of the table. Mister Spock seated himself at the computer console, immediately activating the unit and checking the sensor computers for further information. Scott wandered over to the viewport while waiting for the conference to begin.
The captain sat passively in his chair, his face expressionless, his mind silently churning over the facts of their present situation. One fact alone was bothering him, the fact that brought this conference on and was not letting his instinct rest: the fact that the field hid so much from the sensors until the ship moved closer to it. It was as if the field were enticing them, luring them in. But why? Kirk's command instinct was telling him why, but he did not want to voice that possibility yet. Not without facts to either prove it or discredit it.
Kirk looked up as the double pocket doors parted to admit Doctor McCoy, but his mind was too preoccupied to let him do more than nod in greeting to the doctor. As McCoy returned the perfunctory greeting and sat down, Scott took a chair opposite the doctor and the conference began.
As Scott sat down, Kirk came out of his contemplation. "Mister Spock, has the computer been able to draw any further conclusions from the sensor data?"
"I believe it should have some preliminary findings."
"Good. Let's hear what it has to say."
Spock programmed the annex for direct computer reply. "Computer."
"Recording," answered the flat computer voice.
"Analysis and summation of current sensor data on energy field."
"Working... Field composed of matter and antimatter. Dimensions have been recorded. Spectrographic analysis shows that the field is drawing power from the matter-antimatter reserves from the Darius... No further data as yet."
Spock activated the cognitive response banks tied in with information retrieval. "Explanation for apparent change in the field's composition."
"Field materialized after movement through subspace. Field generates a total coverage shield for protection in subspace. Apparent change in composition resulted from the deactivation of the shield."
"Maybe it was tryin' to leave here when we found it, but it dinna have enough energy to warp. So now it's drawing more energy," said Scott.
Kirk nodded and asked Spock, "Will the field leave here once it has taken the power from the scoutship's engine?"
Spock's expression showed that he was considering the same thing. "I do not know. Perhaps..."
He was interrupted by a beep from the computer. He pressed the retrieval command button and the computer responded. "Additional information has now been recorded. Sensors show several trirubidium crystals outside the antimatter core. End data."
Kirk looked up, confused. Spock and Scott had both raised their eyebrows at that piece of information. The captain looked to Spock. "Trirubidium crystals? I've heard of rubidium crystals. We use them in our subcutaneous transponders. I've never heard of trirubidium."
Spock crossed his arms and began. "Rubidium and trirubidium crystals both perform essentially the same function--they act as an attractant for applied power. The rubidium crystals in our transponders are used to locate a person with the transporter when he cannot carry a communicator. Trirubidium is an artificially altered form of rubidium used as an attractant for antimatter. The Federation developed these crystals for warp drive ships to replace the dilithium/synchrotron unit since they could draw and focus the antimatter flow more evenly. They were abandoned, however, since the crystals were found to draw the antimatter faster than they could focus it and pass it on to the reaction chamber."
"Then how is this phenomenon able to keep from annihilating itself?" asked McCoy, who had moved to the computer annex to run a program of his own through.
"The field must use the power in its own reactions faster than it can build up," answered Spock. "But more importantly, captain, this would seem to be the first natural phenomenon anyone has discovered that has the ability to attain and surpass lightspeed."
Kirk grinned tightly, remembering his 'obsession' with a phenomenon from the Tycho star system. "Can we be sure that it is a natural phenomenon? We've run into somewhat similar formations that turned out to be intelligent life forms."
That was McCoy's cue to turn from the computer. "We can be sure this time, Jim. The bio-sensors show it isn't intelligent. There's no recognizable brain, nervous system, or any sign of intelligent activity."
Kirk nodded his head in silent thanks and turned to Spock. "How close can we get to the field without endangering ourselves?"
"As yet unknown. That will depend on the amount of power in the field. It appears that it no longer has enough for movement. That is why it is drawing energy from the Darius' reserves. Once it exhausts those reserves it will undoubtedly seek out a new source of power. Therefore, we must act before it is ready to move."
"Time factor," demanded Kirk.
Spock turned momentarily to the computer to run a more accurate analysis. "Approximately one hour and twenty minutes before the Darius' reserves are exhausted."
The time to act was now. Kirk directed his voice to the entire group. "Well, it seems that the destruction of this field is not only necessary for our safety, but for the safety of anyone with antimatter power. Bones, can we be sure it isn't sentient?"
He had to be sure. The Enterprise's mission was to seek out and contact intelligent life, not destroy it. The destruction of an intelligent creature, even out of ignorance, was a crime against the universe.
McCoy gave Kirk a reassuring nod. "According to what our instruments read, yes."
"Very well. Recommendations?"
Scott straightened in his chair, seeing that the conversation had finally moved into his area. "We canna use phasers or torpedoes to destroy it. Any use of our power against the field will only strengthen it and attract it to us. Unless..." Scott hesitated.
"Unless what?" asked Kirk.
Scott was always shy around Mister Spock. Even though his engineering knowledge was greater than Spock's, it was always rather intimidating to be around a man of the science officer's experience and intuition. "Well, sir, trirubidium crystals were abandoned by the Federation due to the fact that they drew energy too fast, as Mister Spock said." As usual, Scotty's burr vanished completely when he got down to business. "If we can give the field what it wants, but not the way it wants it, we could destroy it."
McCoy was no engineer, so he was dying to find out what the hell Scotty was talking about. "C'mon, Scotty, get to the point. You're beginning to sound like Spock," said the doctor with a playful nod toward the first officer, who only raised a proverbial eyebrow.
"If we feed more and more power to the crystals, they'll continue to draw it. And, if the thing's got no intelligence, it will draw the power until the crystals reach overload conditions and explode."
Kirk asked, "Could it work, Spock?"
"It is a logical suggestion, and it would seem to be our only feasible method of action."
But Scott was beginning to think of the necessary output of his engines and the strain it could put on his 'poor bairns.' "Can we feed enough power to make it work?"
Spock replied, "That will depend on the size of the crystals, which will determine their power limits, and on how much energy the field already has. I will require more time at my scanners."
Kirk stood up with a confident look on his face but a pang of worry in his mind. "All right, Scotty, get down to engineering and begin preparations. Spock and I will be on the bridge."
They all left the briefing room with the captain in the lead.
The Enterprise had moved closer to the field, stopping at what Spock had determined to be the minimum safe distance from it--twenty-five thousand kilometers. Kirk had returned to his command chair, unsuccessfully trying to quell the surge of impending failure that permeated his thoughts. He looked toward Spock, who was finishing the calculations for their attempt to destroy the field and moved over to the library computer station to sit on the bridge railing. Kirk still had a gut feeling about the field, its appearance, its actions. It was too...something. The Enterprise was really chalking up its share of unexplainables.
After a few minutes Spock turned to the captain, who asked, "Well, Spock, can we do it?"
The Vulcan sat down and said, "According to my readings, the crystals are sized in a one-to-one power/mass equivalence ratio with the field. We should be able to overload them; however, it will require that we expend at least thirty-two percent of our warp power."
Kirk raised his eyebrows in mild surprise, obviously expecting to hear a much higher figure. "That's a large amount but not too dangerous to us. We can regenerate it in about two hours. How do we do it?"
"The crystals are sensitive to antimatter, so it will be necessary to channel the power directly from the reaction chamber where some fuel residue is still detectable. It must be drawn through a deflector beam so it can penetrate the outer field and the matter layer. The beam will then be deflected and absorbed by the crystals. Mister Scott should be ready with the procedure momentarily."
"How many crystals do we have to overload?"
"Sensors indicate three in a triangular formation, but due to some peculiar electrical interference in this area, I cannot be certain if there are more. Even the presence of smaller crystal fragments could alter the amount of energy needed for overload."
Kirk stood up and moved over to the station. That 'peculiar' interference nudged him a bit. "We can't wait for any further analysis, Spock. We have to act before that thing decides it needs a new power source." He reached past Spock and activated the intercom. "Kirk to Engineering."
A few seconds passed before the engineer answered. "Scott here."
"Is everything set, Mister Scott?"
"Almost, sir. I'm running some adjustments on the team parameters Mister Spock gave me through the deflector control computer. If the calibration on the beam isn't just right, the antimatter could be attracted more to the matter in the field than to the crystals. When the calibration's done, the computer will automatically set the beam and I'll bypass the reaction chamber from the bridge. I'm on my way up now. Scott out."
During this conversation, Spock had gone back to his scanners. As Kirk switched off the intercom, Spock said, "Captain, I am getting some strange readings on that electrical activity around the crystals. Sensors indicate it is in a regular pattern, but the source is undetermined."
"Can it affect our beam?"
"I do not believe so. The activity is not that strong."
Kirk gave a slight nod and went toward the command chair. The fact that this... 'thing' was concealing so much from the ship's sensors kept him on edge and made his gut really ache. As he reached his chair, Commander Scott entered the bridge and went to the engineering station. Kirk moved to join him. Scott, doing a final check on the bypass procedure, was waiting for a green light from deflector control which he got as the captain approached. "The deflector shows ready, sir," said Scott. "Now I have to activate the beam, bypass the fuel flow from the dilithium reactor crystal, channel it through the outlet valve and into the deflector. Everything shows green, so there shouldn't be any problems."
"Go ahead, Scotty," said Kirk with feigned calmness.
As the engineer threw the final switch which closed the final relay, all eyes on the bridge moved to the viewscreen. All, that is, except for Spock's. He was bent over his instruments taking readings. Because it was necessary to have fuel residue in the flow, the main deflector system on the fore part of the primary hull could not be used. So, the computer had diverted main power to a deflector generator station near the fueling ducts of the matter/antimatter pods. This generator, ordinarily used to bathe the port quarter of the secondary hull in its protective cloak, was now concentrating its power around the outlet flow-valve sensor of the matter-antimatter reactor.
As the beam was projected, the bridge crew saw a pale blue finger arc out toward the field. As it penetrated the field's matter layer, the material began to coalesce around the beam, causing a slight lurch to rock the Enterprise. Kirk looked at Scott, who gave him a nod signifying that everything was okay. Then the center of the deflector began to take on a silver phosphorescence, like a sister effect to the transporter shimmer. As the sheen reached the end of the deflector inside the field, the beam began to bend to the calculated position of the crystals.
Kirk, going back to his command chair, turned to Spock, "How are we doing?"
Spock reported without taking his eyes off his scanners. "The crystals are absorbing the power and are building to overload conditions. I estimate another four minutes."
Kirk turned toward engineering. "Everything's holdin', sir. No signs o' stress or overheatin'," said Scott.
The captain swiveled back to the viewscreen, looking at the beam. The Enterprise had turned into a deadly magician herself and would make the field disappear with one wave of her magic wand, Kirk thought. But the slight ease that this brought to his tension was soon stopped by the first officer.
"Captain, I am picking up an increase of electrical activity around the field's core. Sensors also show some crystal fragments merging into another crystal... There are now definitely four crystals in a pyramidal formation."
Kirk felt his intestines wrench. "How will this new crystal affect the power drain?"
"I am running computations on that now," replied Spock, rapidly pressing buttons.
Next came Scott's worried voice: "Captain, I'm getting some overheating in the synchrotron unit and it's building fast. That extra crystal is drawing power, not just absorbing it. I'm trying to compensate." The engineer's hands dashed over the control board trying to reroute relays to stabilize the unit.
Spock stood up from his scanners and spoke to Kirk without moving toward him. "Power estimates indicate that if the drain remained constant, we would have lost an additional eleven percent of our warp power. But this new crystal is drawing power, not just absorbing it. We must break off our attempt to destroy the field." The look that Spock managed to convey was a look of finality.
Kirk knew that if he looked in a mirror he would see the same image on himself. "There's no chance of overloading them?" he asked dejectedly.
Spock shook his head. "Not while that fourth crystal continues to draw power itself. It would pull all of our power and we would probably find the same fate as the Dariusand Alexander."
With that, Kirk's mind shifted to warp drive. "Scotty, cut the antimatter flow and deactivate the deflector! Sulu, as soon as the beam is off, come to course 213 Mark 74. Impulse power only. We don't want that thing tracking us by our fuel residue."
Sulu came to action with an, "Aye, sir!"
On the viewscreen, the antimatter sheen faded out, and the 'magic wand' disappeared. As Sulu again activated the engines, the field began to move to starboard as the Enterprisemoved away.
"Scotty, get full damage reports from Engineering! Mister Sulu, is the field making any attempt at pursuit?"
Sulu glanced at the astrogator readout. "No, sir. It's still stationary." A red light began to blink on the panel. "A few more minutes and we'll be out of nav-scanner range."
Kirk nodded and thought for only two seconds. "Cut speed. Hold our position here." He crossed back over to Spock. "What's happening at the field?"
Spock replied from his viewer. "The crystals are still in the pyramidal shape but are no longer as active. Since we moved, the field seems to be waiting for another source of power." The Vulcan was speaking as though his mind were ten parsecs away.
Kirk recognized the attitude.
"What is it, Spock?"
Spock straightened up and faced the captain, a contemplative furrow across his brow. "That electrical activity around the crystals. I have an idea as to its function, but I would like a few moments at those scanners myself."
Kirk believed he knew what was on Spock's mind. His command instinct had tried to tell him earlier. He gave a mental sigh of relief and hoped they were right. His gut feeling loosened a bit.
Mister Scott was moving toward the pair.
"Any damage?" asked Kirk.
The return of the Highlander's brogue was enough to reassure Kirk all by itself. "Nothin' severe, sir. Some minor overheatin' in the dilithium unit burned out a few relays. Take about ten minutes to replace. But if we dinna pull away when we did... Och!"
Kirk gave Scott a slight grin and turned back to Spock. "All right, let's go see Doctor McCoy."
As they entered the doctor's office in sickbay, McCoy was seated behind his desk with an almost endless mound of tapes in front of him. When he heard the double-pocket door part, he looked up from the desktop viewer and greeted the pair with a yawn, a stretch, and a rubbing of his slightly bloodshot eyes.
Kirk cocked a quizzical eyebrow at the doctor. "You look like you've been busy."
McCoy gave him that understatement-of-the-year look and moved from behind the desk. "We had to resupply at a station that's on the regular interstellar mail drop. I've got so many reports to read and fill out from the Starfleet Surgeon General's office that I think I'll be up all night."
Before Kirk could reply, Mister Spock brought the group back to business. "Doctor, we may also be 'up all night.' May I have your bio-sensor tape of the field?"
McCoy stared at Spock, sensing something fishy. "Why? What's wrong?"
"I wish to check a hypothesis of mine, and your tape will answer part of my question."
McCoy frowned and turned back to his desk. He removed the bio-sensor tape from the small filing case at the corner of his desk and handed it to Spock, who immediately headed for McCoy's workroom. As the door closed behind Spock, McCoy turned back to Kirk and asked, "What was that all about?"
The captain took a seat beside the desk, glad for a short respite, and McCoy propped himself on its top. Kirk ran his hands across his eyes and replied, "Spock has an idea about the field...and I think I have the same one. We're going to need a new plan and this may help us."
McCoy frowned. "Didn't Scotty's plan work?"
Kirk shook his head and sighed. "No. The field pulled out another crystal and there was no way we could feed enough power to overload them all."
As McCoy was about to question further, Spock returned to the office. His quick return gave Kirk the feeling that his idea was right.
"Captain, my hypothesis was correct. The bio-sensors proved it, and I know where Doctor McCoy made his mistake."
McCoy gave an inquisitive and slightly accusatory, "My mistake?" to Spock.
"Yes. During our earlier conference, when you anticipated the captain's question about formations like this that turned out to be intelligent creatures, you scanned for intelligent life. But you did not scan for simple life."
Surprised, McCoy said, "You mean that...'thing' is alive?"
"Precisely, but not intelligent. Captain, those electrical impulses around the crystals correspond closely to the brain wave pattern of any known animal."
McCoy was still confused. "Are you saying this field is some sort of animal?"
"Not in our sense of the word, but it would seem to react the same way--by instinct. When it saw a new source of power, us, it reacted the same way a hungry animal would. It consumes power for its very existence."
Kirk looked passively at the nearest wall, the knot in his stomach loosening and his mind clearing. An animal, he thought. That would explain much. Its instinctive actions. And the fact that it could surpass the speed of light. Survival of the fittest, and the swiftest, "So, we are dealing with a life form," he said aloud.
"Yes, Captain. But, more importantly, I do not believe this creature is from our universe."
"Why not?" asked McCoy.
"Because of the fact that it consumes energy, primarily antimatter energy. The only great sources of antimatter in the known galaxy are artificially created. Therefore, this creature could not exist here for long without detection. I believe the universe that this animal comes from is a continuum which is inversely parallel to our own; one that may contain and utilize quantities of antimatter and pure energy the same way our universe utilizes matter. Its universe is connected to ours by a subspace corridor. We know that stars cause warping of subspace and perhaps this binary system creates enough spatial stress to bring the two continua into an overlapping position at this point in space. This creature could have natural predators in its own universe and was perhaps fleeing one by retreating into subspace. As it began to lose power, it became unable to maintain its protective shield. It had to re-emerge in its own universe. But, instead, it materialized in ours."
Kirk looked over at Spock and placed an epitaph on his statement. "And, having exhausted its fuel, it replenished it from the nearest source: the Darius and Alexander."
"Yes," Spock replied remorsefully.
Kirk stood and began to pace the room, his thoughts now clear and concise. "We need a plan, gentlemen, and I think the fact that we're dealing with a creature that relies solely on instinct is to our advantage."
McCoy smiled. "Gonna set a trap, Jim?"
Kirk stopped, broke into a grin, placed a hand on the doctor's shoulder, and answered, "Exactly, Bones. Spock, did our failure have any effect on the creature?"
"Yes, Captain, but not to our advantage. The power we expended only strengthened the creature. And, since we moved, it cannot detect any source of power, so it will probably not move until it becomes desperate again."
"Okay," said Kirk. "If your theory is right, Spock, then this creature must be frightened. It no doubt realizes that it's in the wrong universe; but like any lost animal, it's too scared to do anything about it. Can we somehow lure it into subspace and let it get its bearings?"
Spock shook his head. "Remember, it acts like an animal. And a frightened animal can be a dangerous thing. If we use the ship for such an operation, we could place ourselves in the same predicament we just escaped."
Kirk raised his hand excitedly and continued. "I don't mean using the ship. If we could drain a significant amount of antimatter from our reserves, place it in a magnetic bottle, and accelerate it into subspace, would the creature follow?"
"It is possible," replied Spock contemplatively. "However, we would need a large amount for such an operation. An amount which could seriously hamper our chance of escape if this plan also fails."
"We have to take that chance, Spock. Find Scotty and get an estimate as to the amount of antimatter it's going to take and the best way to do this. I'll be on the bridge."
"Understood," replied Spock, who then left to locate the chief engineer.
"Well, Bones," sighed Kirk, feeling as if a weight had been raised from his shoulders. "I'll let you get back to your reports."
"And you call yourself a friend?" asked McCoy tiredly as the captain left, giving the doctor a wink at his exit.
Waiting for Scott and Spock gave Kirk a few minutes to himself on the bridge. He spent those few minutes staring at the holo-image of the creature on the viewscreen. Now that they knew it was a life form, he was glad that their attempt to destroy it had failed. To Kirk, the taking of any life was repugnant. But now that his command instinct was quiet, a new feeling took over. The total alienness of the creature awed and overwhelmed him. One creature over two thousand meters long. As far as size, the closest analogue to this was the giant amoeba that had destroyed the U.S.S. Intrepid and an entire solar system. Yet that was easier to understand because it was a creature that was recognizable, a simple form of life not too different from any other in the galaxy. But this...this was a creature of total energy, unlike anything in the galaxy. Or, as Spock theorized, anything in the universe.
Kirk didn't hear the turbolift's doors part, nor did he hear the approach of the engineer and science officer. It was Scott's soft "Captain?" that brought him back to his own universe.
"Are we set, Scotty?"
"Almost, sir. But we're going to have to change things a bit."
Kirk sat bolt upright and prepared himself for the worst. "Won't this work, either?"
"It is not that," said Spock. "The headings we have obtained indicate that the minimum amount of antimatter we can use and still hope for success is nine point two metric tons. We do not have warp generators powerful enough to accelerate such a mass into subspace. We do have an alternate plan."
"Well?" demanded Kirk. The obvious reluctance of both officers was unnerving him.
Scott continued. "We can use a tractor beam with reverse polarity to push the antimatter container toward the creature. With an established radio link, we can open the slosh valves on the container when it's in the creature's matter layer. That is, if it takes the bait."
"You mean destroy it!" snapped Kirk.
"Aye," replied Scott, the regret evident in his voice. "There's nothing else we can do."
Kirk lowered his head. To destroy a totally new form of life, even something to be classified as only an animal, seemed so wrong. But there were no alternatives. "How long before we're ready?"
"We're draining the antimatter now. When that's done, we're ready. It shouldn't take more than two hours," said Scott.
"Mister Sulu," asked Kirk, "any changes by the...creature?"
The helmsman checked his readouts. "No, sir. No changes."
"All right gentlemen. As long as the creature cooperates, go ahead."
"Yes, sir," replied the two as they resumed their stations, leaving Kirk to retreat back into another universe.
With two hours left before the antimatter pod was to be ready, Kirk decided to leave the bridge. He retreated to the safe confines of his cabin, hoping the problem the ship now faced would go away. To suddenly seem free of having to kill, and then to have that thankful realization crushed was something he hoped would be only an unpleasant memory. It had happened to him and the Enterprise crew too many times before. Though he knew that it was sometimes necessary to take life in order to preserve other lives, he still hated it when that necessity presented itself. Mankind was supposed to have evolved above the need to kill. But the killing still existed. It just took on a less visibly repugnant form. It was no longer outright murder, but self-preservation. To Jim Kirk, there was no difference.
He was lying on his bunk, staring at the dull, off-white color of the universe that was the ceiling when the intraship communicator sounded. Wearily, he raised himself from the bed and activated the unit on the nearby desk. "Kirk here," he said heavily.
"Scott here, sir. The antimatter pod is ready. We're holding it near the ship while the computer checks the radii link. After that, we'll move on your orders." Scott's voice was as heavy as his captain's.
"Will the pod be controlled from the bridge or engineering?"
"Neither, sir. I'm in the forward tractor room now, and I'll control the operation manually from here. With this great a quantity of antimatter, I don't want to risk a power loss or a computer failure."
"Fine, Scotty. I'll join you there in a few minutes. Kirk out."
He punched the log recorder button with his thumb. "Captain's Log, Stardate 7400.7. The destruction of scoutships Darius and Alexander was incurred by a creature, an animal, from another universe. This creature thrives on matter-antimatter energy and saw the scoutships as a source of food. The action it took against the ships was one of pure instinct.
"Since it is impossible for us to lure the creature into its own universe without endangering the ship, our only alternative is to destroy it in order to protect ourselves and the Federation."
Kirk hesitated and sat down heavily on the bed, and heaved a sigh of remorse before continuing his log entry. "This ship, this crew, has had to do too much killing. As for myself, it has reached a point of disgust in my mind. The Federation was built on principles of peace, and man himself would not have risen up from Earth if he had not stopped killing. I wonder if we're losing our upward struggle and are slipping backwards."
He reached over to the desk and gently switched off the log recorder. Forcing his body off the bed, he walked toward his cabin door. As he passed his sideboard, he caught his reflection in the small octagonal mirror above it. He hurried out the door, unwilling to face the accusing look in his own eyes.
The forward tractor room was a small control chamber on Level 23 at the fore part of the secondary hull housing the main boards and relay components for the four main tractor beam assemblies. When the single-pocket door there parted to admit the captain, the burly form of the ship's chief engineer was trying to carefully squeeze through an access panel. Kirk looked down, marveling at how Scott could fit into such an elfin hole and still manage to work carefully inside. He voiced his immediate thoughts about Scott's actions. "Problems, Scotty?"
The engineer stood up and faced the captain. "No, sir. I was just checkin' the power links to the energy chamber and makin' sure that the safeties are in order."
Kirk nodded and glanced around the small room. The only visible controls were a few computers and the tractor beam control console with adjoining viewscreen, but Kirk knew the simplicity of the tractor room belied the maze of intricate power set-ups that the bulkheads masked. He moved to the beam console and activated the intercom. "Kirk to bridge."
"Bridge. Spock here," came the immediate reply.
"We're going to control the pod from the forward tractor room, Mister Spock. Have Mister Chekov prepare the phaser banks in case something goes wrong with our control. Report on any actions the creature may take. Kirk out."
"Yes, sir. Bridge out."
Kirk spoke to Scott. "Ready."
The Highlander looked at Kirk with the same expression that Kirk had left in his cabin. He nodded gently, a nod that conveyed more understanding and feeling than could be put into words. A knowing smile crossed Scott's lips for a second, then it was gone, replaced by the businesslike expression that the engineer gave when engrossed with the job at hand. His stubby fingers began to dance expertly over the controls. Immediately the viewscreen came to life showing the creature and the blue-white, roughly cylindrical, trititanium pod that enclosed the antimatter.
The ensuing silence was interrupted by Scott's voice. "Tractor beam ready, sir. Radio link active and steady. All readouts and controls show ready. "
The captain switched on the intercom again. "Kirk to Bridge."
"Stand by, Spock. We're ready to begin. I'll leave the 'com open so you can monitor us."
"Affirmative. Sensors show no reaction by the creature to any of our actions so far. However, when the pod nears it, and the creature senses the antimatter, it will no doubt attack the pod voraciously. There will certainly be stress on the tractor beam."
Scott addressed the intercom. "We're prepared here, Mister Spock. Just keep us posted." He looked at Kirk.
"Activate the tractor and move the pod out slowly. Spock, place the ship on yellow alert and have all decks stand by for shock waves when...when the pod detonates." Kirk's voice sagged at those last few words.
The alarm klaxons began to sound throughout the starship. Uhura's voice warned the crew about the impending shock waves.
Kirk's eyes wandered onto the viewscreen which now showed tactical readouts as well as the pod and the tractor. Reversing the polarity on the tractor beam to make it push rather than pull also made it visible. A milky, pink, opalescent appendage was now shoving the pod away from the Enterprise.
Kirk stared blank-faced at the viewscreen. The pang of regret had hit him again. As he watched the pod inch toward the animal, he remembered the creature he had destroyed on Tycho IV in almost this same manner, an intelligent creature destroyed by an antimatter blast which ripped away half that planet's atmosphere. And the Horta of Janus VI which was almost killed by the pergium miners there when it began to destroy equipment and kill people for no apparent reason. He and Spock had almost killed it with their phasers. Luckily they had found out why it had run amok. The miners had been collecting and smashing silicon nodules, what they thought were just geological oddities. But they were the Horta's eggs. In a fit of ignorant rage, mankind almost destroyed an entire race. And, as it turned out, an intelligent civilization. Fortunately, their ability to overcome their instincts had won out in the end. Kirk blinked and wondered if they were about to make a fatal and unnecessary mistake now.
His thoughts were interrupted by Spock's voice over the intercom. "Captain, sensors are picking up an increase in electrical activity in the creature's brain. It senses the pod."
"Scotty, hold the pod where it is!" snapped Kirk.
The engineer immediately cut the forward momentum. "Position steady at five thousand meters from the creature's outer shield," replied Scott without lifting his eyes from the controls.
"Anything, Spock?" asked Kirk to the intercom.
"Electrical activity is returning to normal levels, but something else is happening. I am transferring sensor readouts to your viewscreen, Captain."
Kirk raised his head to the console viewer. The tactical plots there disappeared and were replaced by a sole view of the creature. A section of its outer shield was beginning to rip apart, the green being replaced by a "hole" of speckled black and gold.
"Looks like it's ready for dinner, Captain," said Scott.
Kirk appraised the comment for a second and said into the intercom, "How about it, Spock?"
"It is possible, replied the Vulcan. "However, with such a creature, it is extremely difficult to make that determination."
"Well, let's assume it is a mouth. Move the pod very slowly toward it."
"Aye, sir." Scott's fingers manipulated the controls again and the pod hovered into view on the left side of the screen.
No one really knew what to expect when the creature took the pod, but the resulting effect that took place was astounding. As it neared the animal's maw, two tendrils of energy reached out, wrapped themselves around it and voraciously hurled it into the mouth. It occurred so rapidly that Scott had no time to compensate for the after-effects. when the pod was wrenched inside the creature, a whiplash resulted on the tractor beam. As the energy ripple hit the Enterprise, the ship was jolted with such force that nearly everyone on board was battered across decks and walls. In the tractor room, Kirk and Scott were flung mercilessly against the far wall, away from the console. The beam controls chose that moment to short out and a huge shower of sparks and acrid fumes filled the room.
As the jolt subsided, Kirk and Scott jumped back to the console, the latter closing down circuits to protect other systems.
"Scotty, cut the beam and detonate the pod!" shouted Kirk
Scott did not answer him but went straight to work. He hit a sequence of buttons. And then again. And a third time. "Captain," he shouted worriedly, "the pod won't detonate, and I can't cut the tractor beam. That thing has ionized its outer shield, and the radio link can't penetrate it!"
At that moment Spock's voice came over the 'com. "Our speed is increasing, Captain. The creature is pulling us away and is towing us with our tractor beam. We must cut that beam, or we will be dragged into the creature's universe."
"Try to cut the beam again!" demanded Kirk hurriedly.
Scott ran the sequence again. "It's no good, sir. The circuit shorted and blew the safeties. The secondary systems won't cut in. I'll have to rip out the main tractor couplings to deactivate the beam."
"Do what you have to!" ordered Kirk. "I'm coming to the bridge."
Both ran out of the tractor room as the creature began to accelerate. The jolts hit the ship again. Kirk fought his way along the wildly bouncing corridor to the turbolift. As another violent shock threw him against the side of the turbolift car, it began to move upward to the nerve center of the Enterprise.
On the bridge, as the last shock subsided, damage control reports began coming in from engineering. The tractor beam couplings, where the powerful beam tied directly into the intermix-chamber, were dangerously overheating. The beam had to be shut off or the ship would surely explode once the heat affected the chamber itself. It was already so intense that Scott was forced to don an environmental suit in order to work there, and crew members had to be evacuated from the secondary hull.
Kirk catapulted onto the bridge when the lift doors opened. "Status, Mister Spock!" he demanded as he took over the command chair.
Spock returned to his science station and checked readouts. "The creature is towing us, Captain. Our speed is now warp five point seven and climbing. Sensors show nothing since the creature has activated its subspace shield, presumably as a prelude to entering its own universe."
"How much time do we have before the creature makes the subspace jump?"
"Taking our added mass into account, the animal will probably make the jump at Warp Ten. At its present rate of acceleration, I estimate that we have approximately eight point three six minutes left." Spock moved closer to the captain, and his voice became low and grave. "Jim, we cannot allow this animal to drag us into its universe. If my hypothesis is correct, then its universe will have free particles of antimatter as ours does of matter. If we materialize there, we will be destroyed along with everything else in that universe and ours.
A look of astonishment came over Kirk's face. "Explain," he commanded incredulously.
"This ship has enough mass to cause a matter-antimatter chain reaction. If that explosion spread to any great size, it would rupture the interconnecting subspace corridor and emerge in our universe."
"Then that leaves us one alternative," said Kirk. "If we can't disengage from the creature, then we'll have to destroy the ship ourselves."
"Correct, Captain," said Spock impassively.
As Spock walked back to his station, Kirk glanced at the viewscreen, then lowered his eyes to the floor. He had threatened to blow up the ship many times in his career. Each time it had been a feint trying to break the hold that some malevolent adversary held on the Enterprise. But this was the first time that it seemed he would actually have to carry out that final action. In his mind, he heard the words of Lazarus saying, "Is it such a large price to pay for the safety of two universes?" Kirk was afraid to give himself an answer.
"Captain," interrupted the Vulcan from the science console. "Our speed has increased to warp seven point seven and is still climbing. We have approximately six point one minutes remaining."
"Can't we apply braking power, Spock?" Kirk asked plaintively, feeling totally worn out by the ironic twist of events that had suddenly taken place.
"We could, but I doubt if it would help us. First of all, the power of the creature is much greater than ours, so any actual braking effects would be negligible. And secondly, any such added strain on the intermix chamber would cause the tractor beam couplings to rupture."
"Which would destroy my...the ship," finished Kirk. "We may have to do that anyway."
"There may be one slight possibility. Once the creature drags us into the subspace corridor and emerges in its own universe, it will deactivate its shield, allowing us to cut our tractor beam and pull away before we emerge there also."
"How much time will we have to carry this out?"
"Only a few seconds. But, with the computers carrying out all essential functions of the maneuver, it could be done."
"Danger to the ship?"
"Unknown. I could not say what kind of effect the sudden energy change would have on the tractor beam or the intermix chamber."
Everything was happening too fast. Kirk brought his hands over his eyes, trying to shut out some things so his mind could assimilate some of it. "When the creature materializes in its universe, and we're still in the corridor, suppose we apply full braking power?"
"Such a strain will cause the intermix chamber to implode," repeated Spock.
Kirk shifted quickly in his chair and continued, "How long would it take for that to happen?"
"Approximately one minute--"
"Okay. In that minute we'll know whether or not the creature is going to let us go. If it doesn't, we'll need the braking power to keep us away from its universe...until we blow up. In that case, braking power fulfills both terms. If the creature does let us go, then we'll need braking thrust to let us drop back into normal space. And since the creature would no longer have a lock on our tractor beam, the sudden energy change would be transferred directly to braking power and there would be no strain on the intermix chamber. So, we'd be okay. Wouldn't we?" finished Kirk with a raising of his eyebrows.
Spock thought for a second, raised his own brow, and replied, "Quite correct, Captain. Flawlessly logical."
"Thank you, Mister Spock," said Kirk with a broad smile. He turned to communications. "Uhura, tell Mister Scott to get up here on the double."
It took the captain a few moments to calm Scott down once he did get to the bridge. The highlander bounded from the turbolift, only half in his environmental suit and wielding a heavy-duty phaser-cutter, and proclaimed in a strained and hurried voice that unless the captain wanted his ship to blow up he should let Scott finish his work. Kirk simply looked at the phaser cutter and thanked the stars that he was able to cool Scott down.
Briefly the plan was outlined to the engineer. At its end he said, "The procedure is simple, but I doubt whether the ship will just drop back into normal space. Once we're able to cut the beam, I'll have to divert all excess power in the intermix chamber to braking power in order to protect the unit. It won't hurt the ship, but it'll give us a nasty jar."
Kirk nodded. "Understood." As they all assumed their stations, he asked, "How much time have we got, Spock?"
"The creature will achieve warp ten in two minutes from...now!"
The engineer replied from his station. "Energy transfer to braking power is set. Ready to apply initial braking thrust. I hope that beastie makes the jump at warp ten. The heat from the tractor couplings is building fast. We're almost at the critical level now."
Everyone on the bridge was staring at the main viewscreen and preparing mentally for the coming jolt. Kirk switched on the intraship communicator. Instantly his voice began to echo throughout the decks of the starship. "This is the captain speaking. All hands prepare for braking power shock waves in approximately one minute. Fire and damage control parties stand by. Kirk out."
"Captain, our speed is now warp nine point six. Sensors show a great deal of space displacement readings ahead," reported Spock.
The bridge crew saw the effects that the science officer reported on the viewscreen. Just ahead of the shifting green miasma that was the animal and the pink tow line that was the tractor beam, the area of space they were converging on was beginning to flow like heavy black tar.
Spock interrupted their thoughts. "Speed has increased to Warp nine point nine. We have ten seconds to go...nine...eight..."
The tar now showed lightning bolts of pure silver as the black sheath parted to reveal the subspace corridor.
The Enterprise was suddenly engulfed by a universe of almost pure silver. From their rear scanners they still had the view of their own star-speckled universe, but the view ahead was more awesome. The creature's continuum, as Spock theorized, looked indeed to be composed of energy. The Enterprise was plunging toward a disc of silver and gold energy patterns.
"The creature will leave the corridor in exactly four seconds...mark," said Spock loudly.
"Stand by, Scotty," said Kirk as he and everyone else grabbed at consoles and chairs for support from the coming shock.
"Now!" shouted Kirk.
Scott immediately applied braking power. Everyone on the bridge was thrown forward in their seats as the momentum of the ship abruptly ceased. Then a low rumbling noise intruded onto the bridge. As it began to grow in intensity, Scott reported, "The creature hasn't disengaged the beam, Captain. Strain on the intermix chamber is building fast and the heat levels have risen to intensity four!"
Kirk looked at the viewscreen. The animal was not visible, so there was no real target for him to vent his anger against. They were doing all they could to let the animal live. Why couldn't it somehow comprehend! Kirk scowled at the still-visible tractor beam. It looked like a bridge leading to infinity. If the creature did not release the beam soon, the Enterprise would see infinity sooner than anyone wanted.
"The strain on the chamber is too great," said Scott quickly. "It'll blow in about thirty seconds."
Kirk fiercely set his jaw and glared at the viewscreen. In futile disgust, he slammed his fist against the arm of the chair and, as if in response to this, the tractor beam suddenly disappeared and the Enterprise was jarred out of the corridor, back into its own universe.
The breakout concussion, resulting from the transfer of the tractor's energy to braking thrust, sent people all over the ship flying to the floor, The final injury count from Doctor McCoy was four broken legs and about twenty cases of badly bruised bodies.
On the bridge, everything was back to normal and Kirk was observing the calm beauty of his own universe with thanks when Spock came over.
"Captain," he intoned quietly.
"Yes, Mister Spock. What is it?" asked Kirk, reluctantly snapping out of his reverie.
"I have the final damage report from engineering. No major damage was done to the intermix chamber. A number of control circuits burned out, however, and Mister Scott informs me that the entire tractor beam assembly will have to be overhauled. That will require a minimum of two days at a starbase."
Kirk did not really hear this report. He was still preoccupied with the events that had taken place.
"Something on your mind, sir?"
"Hmm... What?" asked Kirk tonelessly.
"The creature, Captain?"
"Yes, Mister Spock. The creature." Kirk sighed in a manner which was tinged with...awe? "Something completely opposite to life here. Directly opposite." Kirk shook his head with slight disbelief.
"And a direct necessity," said Spock.
"We have seen many parallel universes. Some paralleled ours quite closely and some diverged from ours to a great extent, but none ever diverged from ours completely. I suspect that every continuum the Federation ever encounters will diverge from ours by a greater and greater degree with this one being the direct antithesis of ours."
"I still don't understand, Spock."
"Picture it this way, Captain. A set of scales with the universes that singly resemble our own on one pan and those that are completely different on the other. A balance must be maintained in order to preserve matter and energy integrity, and to keep contacting dimensions from annihilating each other. Since we have seen so many universes like our own, it is logical to assume one like this being totally different in order to keep the balance. I'm sure you remember this theory from your days at Starfleet Academy."
Kirk sat there with his eyebrows knitted together in deep concentration. "I don't seem to recall it," he admitted, rather embarrassed.
"Borsson's Theory. Sometimes called the 'Balance of Nature' Prospect," hinted Spock, hoping to jar the captain's memory.
Kirk unravelled his eyebrows and shook his head.
"Fascinating," said Spock as he returned to his post.
Kirk smiled and turned back to face the screen. "Mister Sulu, lay in a course for Starbase Twelve. Ahead Warp factor three."
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