Title: Proof of Existence
Disclaimer: I own neither Star Trek nor Danger: UXB. Wouldn't want to either, to much responsibility. More fun this way, just having them to play around with.
Author's note: I realize that very few people know Danger: UXB. I've tried to make this story accessible to anyone, but there are spoilers for the end of the series. The Star Trek portions of this story take place immediately after the end of the original series, still within the original five year mission. There's been a change of uniforms, I always hated those miniskirts so I've put the women back in trousers.
London, spring of 1944
Captain Brian Ash bent stiffly over his latest unexploded bomb. "Looks straightforward enough" he said over his shoulder to his section sergeant, pushing himself stiffly to his feet. Sergeant James considered giving his captain a hand up, but decided against it. It would be a presumption on his part, unless the captain asked for help, and bad for moral, both the moral of the section, if they thought their commanding officer was still unfit after his near-fatal encounter with a landmine, and even more importantly, bad for the captain's moral, as he struggled to regain his confidence. Ash had fought hard to come back to 97 Company, after breaking through an initial bout of depression. Sergeant James gave himself some of the credit for the captain's escape and he didn't want to risk making things any harder for his still fragile officer. After testing his nerve, Major Ivor Rodgers, the company commander, had somehow managed to pull strings, preventing Ash's reassignment to a desk job in Somerset, though not his promotion from lieutenant. However, if the captain's nerve didn't hold up, the transfer could always be reinstated. James didn't want to lose what had gone from being a successful professional relationship to as close to personal friendship as the two men could come given the restraints of class and rank.
He did have to help Ash get his coveralls on over his uniform, but only a little, mostly needing to hold Ash's cane and give him a shoulder to lean on while he put on the trousers.
Ash stared at the bomb. "Same size as the one that killed Kenneth Machen", he mused out loud.
James didn't like where this was headed, but all he dared say was "Aye, sir."
"I wonder what he had time to know before…"
This was exactly what Sergeant James didn't want Ash to be thinking about. "It's the ones that you live through that you feel, sir. We both know that." he added ruefully, touching his own arm where the butterfly bomb explosion had dislocated it. "Mr. Machen wouldn't have had time to know anything more than maybe a brief flash of light."
"I suppose your right as usual, Sergeant." Ash sighed. "Get me the clockstopper, and then get back to the safety point."
"Aye sir" James said. He turned towards the safety point where the rest of the section waited behind sandbags.
There was a sudden, brief flash of light.
"Sir! Captain Ash! Sir!" It was Sergeant James' familiar Scots brogue, cutting through Ash's disorientation.
"What happened? Did it go off? Are we alive?" Ash shook himself, and struggled to sit up.
"Sir, I don't know. But wherever we are - it's not where we were!"
"What?" Ash finally got his body under control and raised halfway up. "What the hell?"
They were certainly not in London. Ash found he was lying on what seemed to be hard packed grey dusty earth. Around the two men, in all directions, as far as the eye could see was nothing but more of the same, occasionally studded by rocky outcroppings. A small brook ran near them, and the only sound was it's silvery babbling. There were no plants, or in fact any living things at all besides themselves. Overhead the sky was a deep cloudless cerulean blue, and the sun shone brightly, but the air was cool and a light breeze blew.
Ash tried to struggle to his feet, and this time the sergeant forgot protocol and helped pull him up. His cane was lying nearby, and James scooped it up and handed it to him. Wordlessly the two men surveyed their surroundings.
James broke the silence first. "Do you think we're dead, sir?" It was, after all, a reasonable assumption. No one should have been able to survive being next to a bomb that size if it exploded.
Ash slowly shook his head. "I don't think so. This" he indicated his crippled knee, "Hurts to much for the one place. And it doesn't match any description I've ever heard of the other."
The sergeant managed a small laugh. "That's true sir. But then where are we? And how did we get here?"
Ash shook his head again. "It's like something out of Amazing Stories. Or - have you ever read Edger Rice Burroughs?"
"Didn't he write Tarzan, sir? No, I haven't."
"Well, yes. But he also wrote the "John Carter on Mars" books. Wild adventures on another world. In one of them he gets to Mars simply by standing in a field and wishing, and he's transported somehow. Chap I knew in school read them."
The sergeant gave what almost sounded like a chuckle. "So do you think we're on Mars, sir?"
Ash shook his head. "I don't know. But I do know one thing."
"What's that, sir?"
"We can't stay here." Ash gestured around. "There's nothing. No food, no shelter. We'd be dead in days."
The sergeant nodded. "Aye. Then where do you want to go, sir?"
Ash thought a moment. "Follow the stream downriver. We may come to something. And at least we'll have water. And there, where it curves" Ash indicated with a wave. "It looks like there's a rise. Maybe we can climb and see if there's any signs of life anywhere."
"We'd better take some inventory of what we have, sir. Just so we know."
"Good thought, Sergeant. Let's see…"
There wasn't much. The sergeant had been holding Ash's trench-coat and gloves, and still had them. Ash had his cane, and the canvas bag with the defusing apparatus, the crabtree discharger, a reel of string, and the rest of it. They both had their identity papers, and orders. Aside from that…
Ash pulled off the jacket of his coverall and began going through his uniform pockets. A handkerchief. Some coins. His cigarette case, half filled. He stood for a moment staring at the small picture of Susan Mount, his fiancée, that he always carried on duty, then wordlessly shoved it away again.
"In my trousers pockets I've got matches" he said, unwilling to go to the effort of removing the coverall trousers.
The sergeant's search turned up much the same. No cigarettes, because he didn't smoke, but a pack of matches. A comb, and a movie ticket stub, which James regarded with an almost imperceptible smile. Ash wondered if the ticket was a memento of a date with the WAF supply sergeant that he suspected James was quietly seeing.
"And last, sir." James finally said, reaching into the outer pocket of his uniform jacket, "This." With a look of quiet triumph he pulled out a chocolate bar. "It's not much, sir, but it's the only food we've got."
"Well done, Sergeant." Ash said. He gave one last look around. "I suppose we'd better get moving. It's cold, and I have the coveralls. You'd best wear my coat."
James looked troubled. "I don't like to presume, sir."
"Nonsense, Sergeant. It's easier to wear than carry, and I certainly don't want to wear it over the coveralls. And it will fit you better than my coveralls would." It always seemed odd to Ash that despite the sergeants commanding presence he was actually several inches shorter than Ash himself.
"Aye sir. " the sergeant acquiesced and pulled on the trench coat. "Away, then." Ash shouldered the canvass bag, and they started out, following the brook.
Even though the hard packed dirt was good for walking, Ash's crippled leg made the going very slow. He could feel James keeping an eye on him and matching his pace. Several times the sergeant requested a break, expressing a desire for rest that Ash was sure he didn't need, simply to allow his captain to save face. But even with frequent rests, Ash's leg soon felt like it was on fire. He bitterly regretted that he didn't have the bottle of pills the doctors gave him for the pain. They were back at his billet. It was to dangerous to attempt a defusing with anything less than a clear head, and he left them in his bedroom so he would never be tempted to take one when he was on duty.
They saw nothing but what they had already seen, the pale hard packed dirt, rocks and gravel. Even in the stream there was no sign of anything alive, not even plants or algae. When they drank the water it was as pure and tasteless as though it had been distilled.
The sun slowly sank towards the horizon. By the time they reached the point where the land rose, it was twilight. Seen up close, the rise was much higher than it had seemed, and steeper, an actual hill of broken and tumbled rocks.
"We'd better camp here for the night" Ash said. "I don't think we should try this in the dark, it's to dangerous." He lowered himself stiffly to the ground, leaning with his back against a rock. The sergeant carefully sat next to him.
"Time for dinner then, sir" he said cheerfully, and pulling out the chocolate bar, broke it in half. "No point in trying to save any for tomorrow, there's little enough as it is."
"Thank you Sergeant". Silently they ate. It did little to assuage the appetite their hike had worked up, but neither commented on their hunger. The sky grew darker.
Ash pulled out his cigarettes. He had gone as sparingly with them as possible, even breaking them in half to make his supply last longer. "If I run out of these, Sergeant, I apologize in advance. People seem to get rather cranky when they don't have them."
"Aye sir" the sergeant acknowledged. He stretched out at full length with his hands behind his head. Suddenly he stiffened, and drew in his breath with a hiss.
"Sir! The stars! Look!"
Ash looked up. "Good Lord!"
It wasn't the sky they were familiar with. It was a blaze of glory, not the familiar constellations, but a band of light like the Milky Way dozens of times over.
They stared wordlessly for a few moments.. Then Ash pulled himself together. "Well, at least now we know. There's no place on Earth where the stars look like that."
The sergeant drew in his breath. "Not even the southern stars, sir?" he asked without much hope.
"I've seen the southern stars, Sergeant. They don't look like this. I don't think they'd look like this on Mars, either. Wherever we are, we're a very long way from home."
James puffed out his breath and made a visible effort to pull himself together. "Well, we knew that already, sir. I guess this doesn't make that much of a difference."
"Your right. I kept trying to convince myself that somehow we were only in Australia, or the African desert, or somewhere like that, but I didn't really believe it. It's to sterile. Even the Sahara should have more life than this." He ran his hands through his hair. "Well, we still need to find food and shelter. And someone who can tell us how we got here."
"And how we can get back. Sir, I could just hop it up the hill a ways and look around in the dark for lights."
"No, I don't think it's safe to separate. We don't have the faintest idea what could be out there. Just because we haven't seen anything doesn't mean there's nothing here. There might be things that only come out at night."
"Things that go bump in the night… aye." The sergeant smiled crookedly. "You're right sir, but still… lights in the distance might be our best bet for spotting anything there is to see out there."
"We'll climb up tomorrow, together, Sergeant." Ash's tone picked up some bitterness. "Let's not pretend it's not going to take me a very long time to make it up. By the time we reach the top, if we don't see anything by daylight, we can camp up there and look around again after dark."
"Now in the mean time, got some sleep."
"You should too, then, sir."
"No, I'll keep watch. I'll wake you in three hours and we'll switch off."
"Aye, sir, your right about watches. But then I'll take the first one."
"No Sergeant. You'll sleep first. I need you rested tomorrow."
"Sir, if any of the lads in the section were as fagged out as you are, you'd say I was remiss in my duty if I didn't tell them to rest."
Ash sighed in exasperation. "You're like a mother hen with a single chick, Sergeant. But I'm taking the first watch. Go to sleep, Sergeant, and that's an order."
"Aye sir" the sergeant said in a chastened voice. There was a pause, and then even more quietly, almost inaudibly "Mayhap I'm not the only mother hen here."
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that Sergeant. Go to sleep."
Ash sat stiffly watching the strange stars overhead. There was no sound except the constant soft wind, the brook running around the foot of the hill, and the sergeants soft breathing. Ash knew he was exhausted and should have slept first, but he also knew his leg hurt enough that he probably wouldn't be able to. At least this way he insured that one of them would have had some rest the following day.
Time crawled. What, he wondered, was going on back home? If a bomb as big as the one he had been defusing exploded, there wasn't enough left of anyone nearby to bury. If the bomb had exploded, then he and James would simply be listed as killed in action despite the lack of bodies. Ash knew Major Rodgers would blame himself for letting Ash come back to the company. Bad enough, Ivor would think, that Ash had gotten himself killed, but to take as experienced a sergeant as James with him made a double blow. Ivor would be devastated. Ash cursed whoever or whatever power had snatched them away to this strange place and left that legacy behind. There had to be some way to set things right, to get back to home, to Susan, to the men, and to tell Ivor that it wasn't his fault, that he hadn't even touched the bomb before whatever happened, happened.
Eventually the three hours were up. He woke the sergeant, and stretched himself out without much expectation of rest. It was with some surprise then that he found himself being woken three hours later, after a solid and seemingly dreamless sleep. It was still dark, with no sign of dawn, so he sent James back for another three hours while he watched, and after that, finding that dawn was still some time away, managed to get in another hour himself.
But eventually the night ended. The morning showed nothing new. The day was warmer than the previous one, it would almost have been hot if not for the persistent wind. The two men cleaned themselves as best they could, using water from the brook, and James' comb.
Then they surveyed the climb ahead of them. It was intimidating. There was no clear path and their way would have to be picked through outcroppings of crumbled stone and up steep slopes that offered no hand or footholds.
"Sir" James said stiffly. "Permission to speak freely?"
"Go ahead, Sergeant." Ash agreed, worried. Sergeant James was rarely, if ever, so formal.
"Sir, I agree with you that we need to climb this, to see around. And I agree that we need to stay together. But sir." James stared off into the distance as he spoke, as though he were trying to avoid looking his captain in the eye. "You barely made it here yesterday, and that was a walk in the park compared to what this is going to be. You're going to have to let me help you, sir. Maybe even" and now it seemed he was forcing the words unwillingly "Maybe even let me carry you part of the way. Sir." He continued staring off into the distance.
It hit Ash like a punch in his gut. "I… yes, Sergeant James, you're quite right." He swallowed. "Permission granted for anything you need to do. Including carrying me. If…" he looked dubiously at the shorter man. "If you can."
"Oh aye, sir, if I need to. For a short ways at least." For a moment both men thought of the only time the sergeant had carried Ash, when he pulled him from the water after the mine explosion, and helped load him in the ambulance. He had been decorated for his effort to save Ash.
Ash pulled his thoughts back to the present. "I've just thought of another problem too, Sergeant. It's warmer today than before. We've got no way to carry water with us. Once we've started up this and left the brook behind, we're going to be getting thirsty."
James frowned. "Aye. Hadn't thought of that." He looked thoughtful. "Maybe we could soak something and bring it along wet. Sucking on cloth is a nasty thought, but better than going thirsty by a long ways."
"Good thinking." Ash said in relief. They ended up soaking the jacket of Ash's coveralls and wrapping it in his trench coat to keep it from drying out. They managed to rig a sling from twine, and the sergeant carried it on his back.
The climb was nightmarish to Ash. They took frequent rests, but even so he felt on the verge of collapse. It seemed as though for most of the climb he was leaning on James' shoulder. Several times the sergeant caught him as he stumbled and fell, and there were times that James had to lift him over obstructions he couldn't scramble up.
It was about halfway through the afternoon when they finally reached the summit. The sergeant had Ash's arm over his shoulders, and his own arm around Ash's waist, and he gently lead him to a spot where he could get him seated on a boulder, then sank to the ground next to him. By that time they were both gasping wordlessly, drenched in sweat. The sergeant untied the bundle of the jacket, and handed it to Ash, who sucked as much water out as he could. It wasn't satisfying, but at least it moistened his parched mouth. He handed it back to James, who followed suit.
After a few moments rest, they looked around. The downward slope ahead of them was much gentler than the one they had just climbed, and Ash felt a stab of anger at himself that he hadn't thought to circle the base of the hill to see if there was an easier approach. He tried to rise from his seat on the boulder, but his leg collapsed under him and he fell back down.
"Easy sir." James said. "You rest here a bit and I'll look around, like." He stood and scanned the horizon. Ash tried again to rise. This time he succeeded, and managed to stand next to James.
There was nothing to see. Just as seen from ground level, the dusty hard plain spread out to the horizon unbroken by anything other than the brook, with no signs of life.
The two men exchanged bleak glances. The sergeant swallowed hard. "Well sir, we'll do like you said, camp here tonight, and see if we can see lights off in the distance after dark."
Ash nodded wordlessly. He stared into the distance, trying to blank out his mind, trying not to think, not to let despair wash over him, not to think of the slow death by starvation and exposure that awaited them both unless somehow food and shelter could be found. It was his responsibility to take care of the men in his command. Now that command was reduced to one, but no less a responsibility for that.
"You should try and sleep, sir." the sergeant broke in. "I'll keep watch."
Ash sighed. Without replying he stretched himself out, and pillowed his head on his arms. But unlike the night before, sleep did not come easily. Even keeping his eyes closed was difficult, and he found that without realizing it he was continuing to stare off into the distance, off into a distance of pale blank plain, where nothing moved, off into the distance where heat shimmered off the dusty ground, off into the distance where… there was a flash of color?
Hardly daring to believe, he wiped his eyes. It was still there, a dot of blue and a dot of yellowish green. Moving dots!
"Sergeant! Look!" He pushed himself up to a sitting position. "Over there! Something's moving!"
The sergeant caught his breath. "Aye sir, I see it! Looks like… Sir! It looks like it's people, sir!" He jumped to his feet, and reached down and pulled Ash up next to him.
It was two people, and they seemed to be heading in the direction of the hill on which Ash and James were standing. They were to far away to make out details, but the colors that had caught Ash's eye were their shirts, one as blue as the still-cloudless sky overhead, one a yellowish that defied easy description.
"We'd better attract their attention, Sergeant. Perhaps you'd care to do the honors?" Ash knew that the sergeant had an awesomely loud yelling voice when he cared to use it.
James looked troubled. "They may be the ones responsible for us being here, sir."
"Even if they are, there's nothing we can do about it. Unless one of them is half crippled too," Ash said bitterly, "they can move much faster than us, so we can't sneak up on them. The only way we're going to be sure of making their acquaintance is to attract their attention. And since they're the only living things we've seen in two days, I don't think we have much choice about having to meet them."
"No, sir. Well then, I'll just have a go at a 'hello' then, shall I?" He drew in a deep breath and called out "HELLLLLLOOOOOOOOOO!" It was loud enough that the air around rang.
"Well done, Sergeant. That should get their attention."
They watched the two figures. It seemed as though they had been heard. The one in the blue shirt stopped short, and seemed to speak to the yellow shirted one. They looked up, scanning around. Ash pulled off his hat, and waved it in the air. The figure in blue pointed, and said something to the figure in yellow.
"I suppose we'd best be going to meet them, then." Ash said. "I'll manage by myself from here, Sergeant. This slope looks much easier."
Carefully they picked their way down, the sergeant keeping a discrete distance behind Ash. Slowly they made their way to where the mysterious figures were working their way towards them.
It wasn't long before they had closed the distance between them. The figure in the yellow shirt was in the lead, with the one in blue hanging behind. The yellow shirted one was revealed as a young but commanding man with brown hair.
When they were close enough for communication, Ash took the initiative. He pulled himself up to military straightness, even though he had to lean heavily on his cane. "Captain Brian Ash, Royal Engineers. And this is Sergeant James."
The man in the yellow shirt smiled. "I'm pleased to meet you, Captain. I'm Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise and this is my first officer, Mr. Spock." The man in the blue shirt stepped forward… and Ash suddenly felt the world spin under his feet. The man was tall and thin, with dark hair in an odd cut. But what Ash saw were the signs of difference. The strange greenish skin color. The alien slant to the eyebrows, and the angular planes of the face. But it was when he saw the tapering points to the ear tips that Ash's debilitated state caught up with him. His sight grew dark, the world fell away, and he knew nothing more.