CHAPTER III

Captain's log: Commander Spock in temporary command. Approximately ten Earth hours ago, the Enterprise encountered a small, Class M planet currently unrecorded in the Starfleet database. Significant magnetic interference in the atmosphere of the planet prohibited transporter abilities. An away team of Captain Kirk, Chief Engineer Scott, Lieutenant Leslie, and a security team of Lieutenant Bellamy and Ensign Abel was assembled to investigate the planet by way of shuttlecraft.

Approximately twenty Earth minutes into descent an unknown interference disrupted the function of the shuttlecraft and contact with the vessel was lost for approximately four Earth hours. Chief Engineer Scott reestablished contact with the Enterprise at that time, confirming that the shuttlecraft had lost all power due to the atmospheric interference and had crashed onto the planet. The engineer himself seems unharmed. The remainder of the landing party is thus far unaccounted for.

We are attempting to discern the nature of the interference in order to facilitate the departure of a second away team, this one to serve as a search and rescue party.

The captain, according to Scott, disappeared from the shuttlecraft shortly after the initial encounter with the anomaly. There was no obvious cause. We have no knowledge of his whereabouts, and I am forced to consider him missing in action.


An unusual thought crosses Lieutenant Leslie's mind as consciousness returns to him, slowly and unwillingly: the ground is much softer than usual, and much warmer.

And it is breathing.

His body snaps to attention and he scrambles to something resembling a kneel, but the instant he places pressure on his right arm, all thought flees from his brain with a flash of light, and he doubles over again in agony. Something beneath him moans in response, and he soon discovers himself staring at the battered and bleeding form of Lieutenant Bellamy.

"Leslie," the latter attempts to speak, but there is a bloody gap where two of his teeth have gone missing, and the name falters beneath a gurgle. The young man sluggishly clutches at his mouth, and pulls the hand back to reveal the offending fluid. "Damn," he mutters in the same wavering voice. There is a wound at his hairline, deep and menacing, and blood is running into his eyes.

Leslie discovers that their bodies are tangled, the result of two forms thrown haphazardly across a great distance. Gingerly, with his injured arm curled tightly against his chest, he crawls away from Bellamy's supine form and plants himself, legs akimbo, on the ground. The world takes on a sickening, liquid-like quality, and he holds his breath with his eyes squeezed shut until it subsides. The harrowing pain in his arm threatens to send the contents of his stomach on an unfortunate upward journey. It is a bad break; he can feel the bone hanging loose, and the limb feels hot and swollen to the touch.

Bellamy pushes himself up onto on elbow, turns his head, and spits a bloody mess onto the dirt beside him.

"Did we really survive a shuttle crash?" he offers in a blathering resemblance of English.

Both lieutenants examine the twisted mess of what was once the back end of the shuttlecraft, blackened and almost unrecognizable some distance away from them. Detritus of the crash is scattered around them, and a trail of debris carries into the distance, where thick smoke rises dark and thick against the sky. There is a deep gash in the earth from the impact.

"Evidently we did," Leslie offers flatly, "but what about the rest of the away team?"

Bellamy's face twists in a painful expression. "Abel was standing next to the control console when it exploded. I don't think he made it through that. But the captain . . . and Chief Engineer Scott? I have no idea. But I don't like it."

Leslie tries to recall the incident, but there is a terrifying gap in his memory. There is such a brilliant pounding in his head that he is finding it difficult to see straight.

"My head is killin' me," Bellamy offers toward him.

"Something doesn't feel right here, Bellamy."

"Yeah?"

Leslie rolls the shoulder of his good arm. There is a kink in his neck. "What did you see?"

"Lots of sparks flying. The captain was yelling." He swallows hard and makes a disgusted face before turning his head to spit a large quantity of blood again. "It gets a little fuzzy after that. Why? Did you see something I didn't?"

In truth, the last clear recollection in Leslie's mind is stepping into the shuttle while it was still on the Enterprise. His memory from that point forward tapers off into a hazy and incoherent mess, until it drops into blackness altogether.

"No," he mutters to Bellamy, distracted. "Look, do you think you can walk? We need to look for the others." His eyes trace the ominous wreckage and the featureless landscape painted in a disconcerting shade of blue. "I don't much care for this place."

Bellamy rolls over, pushes himself to his knees, and expels a variety of curses and guttural sounds as his body adjusts to the change in altitude.

"Ay, Leslie?"

"Yes?"

"You sure my head is still all there?"

Leslie closes his eyes as a wave of dizzying nausea pulls at his stomach. "You'll make it."

"And we really survived a shuttle crash?"

"Are you going to get up and walk or not, Bellamy?"

"I don't believe it," Bellamy stammers. He braces himself with both hands and manages to force himself to one knee before his legs give out beneath him, and he collapses to the ground with a groan of painful surprise. "You know, Les," he offers, his voice wavering drunkenly, "I don't think my body is gonna listen to my head."


After several months on the Enterprise and several years in the presence of one Jim Kirk, there are not many events that can surprise Leonard McCoy.

When the doors to medical bay slide open to reveal several of his orderlies fighting to restrain a violently flailing crew member amid a circle of chaos on the floor, he takes a step back in a moment of consternation.

The young man thrashing beneath the hold of the three orderlies is young and dark-haired, with eyes of the same hue, currently wild with unnatural rage. His skin is pale and bright with perspiration and his hair is matted to his forehead. He is baring his teeth, spitting sounds that only vaguely resemble words, and his strength is wild, unrestrained. Even with the entire body weight of three orderlies he is threatening to break free from their control.

"Excuse me, sir," he hears Christine Chapel say, placidly, as she breezes past him, a hypospray in her hand.

Chapel continues undaunted, kneels beside the man, and delivers the hypospray through his clothing with perhaps a fraction more force than is necessary. He arches away from the impact as if physically harmed, dragging one of the orderlies across the floor with him, and is about to throw the other two away and scramble to his feet when the sedative knocks his legs out from underneath him, and he falls like a stone.

The orderlies release him with a collective sigh, and step away to collect themselves. All three look exhausted. There is an air not of fear but rather of apprehension that hangs heavy between them.

Chapel is getting to her feet when she senses McCoy's looming presence at her back.

"Nurse Chapel?"

"Yes, sir?"

McCoy considers searching for something more eloquent to say, but resigns to waving a hand in the air, gesturing at the chaos: "What is going on here?"

"He came in complaining of loss of vision and an extreme headache, sir. As I was in the middle of treating him he became suddenly confrontational. As you can see," she adds, not bothering to motion to the young man splayed on the floor, "I was forced to sedate him just as you arrived, doctor."

"And who is he?" McCoy motions to the orderlies, and at his orders they gather the collapsed crewman and carry him to a biobed.

"Ensign Jacob Abel, sir."

McCoy walks with her to the side of the biobed. His eyes are fixated on the ensign. Even in drugged unconsciousness, there is a hollow quality to his face, an expression of immutable fear forever frozen on the young features.

"Chapel, get me some samples for diagnostics," McCoy speaks across the bed to her. "I want to run some tests on this kid. Put him in restraints, too. I don't want a repeat of what just happened here."

"Yes, sir."

He continues to examine his patient as Chapel goes about her work with silent efficiency, and remarks to himself, sardonically, that when something happens to her captain, the Enterprise is always quick to follow him into the chaos.

Something in his gut tells him that, this time, it is not coincidence.


Kirk is watching Anathema's feet as the entity walks. It was initially as a means to deter himself from staring at the suffocating blue landscape, but at the moment his attention is utterly focused on the disturbing lack of footprints that his companion leaves behind.

He whirls his head to look over his shoulder. There is only one set of footprints in the blue dirt.

His eyes return to Anathema, and he resumes his stare, trying to decipher with his eyes what his brain refuses to believe. He can not call it floating, but the entity's feet seem to fall a fraction of an inch above the ground with every step. It moves seamlessly, soundlessly, and leaves no trace of its presence behind. Its boots, Starfleet regulation, remain as black and pristine as if they were newly issued.

Kirk looks down at his own boots to find himself covered nearly to the knee with blue dirt.

Irony wraps its fingers around his consciousness, and he barks a round of laughter.

Anathema stops mid-stride and whirls to face him in an eerily instantaneous fashion, moving like a ghost, defying every law of physics.

You are amused, James?

As Anathema watches him unnervingly, Kirk takes a moment to examine the entity. The uniform is familiar to him, being nearly a duplicate of his own, but there is a quality about it, an imperfection he can not locate, that gives the entity an almost menacing appearance. He can not put his disquiet to words, save to say that watching the entity gives the appearance of staring into a mirror where the reflection is a truncation of reality.

It could be that the shirt is a darker color more toward brown than gold. In comparison to the muted background, the delta shield shines as if made from iridescent metal. There is no insignia present on the inside. It is instead a solid mass, slightly larger than normal, and its edges are sharper, more pronounced. It looks closer to a weapon than a means of identification.

"Anathema?"

Yes, James?

"Why are you dressed in a . . . Starfleet uniform?"

I adopted a guise that I felt would be appropriate to earn your trust.

The vivid blue eyes watch him, seeming to glow in the semi-darkness.

Save for the fact that Anathema is completely androgynous, Jim Kirk could swear that he was looking at himself.

He tears his eyes away, staring into the distance over the entity's shoulder.

"It's going to take more than a uniform to get me to trust you," he adds, breathlessly.

I could attempt. . .

Before Anathema finishes speaking its form suddenly becomes a silver mass of something somewhere between a liquid and a solid, bright and iridescent. Kirk finds himself holding his breath as the entity twists and constricts. As its form coalesces into something sentient again it is no longer an androgynous being in a Starfleet uniform, but rather a diminutive woman with curled blonde hair and round, brown eyes. She reaches a hand, a smile on her face that would be pleasant on a living human being, but one that manages be hollow and cold in Anathema's slightly imperfect reproduction.

Kirk makes a strangled sound as he realizes he is staring at the image of his mother. He body threatens to convulse, and he turns his head away. "Stop it, Anathema!"

I must apologize. Perhaps I could . . .

Hearing the vibrations of a discordant sound, not really a voice, issuing from a copy of his mother's throat makes every nerve in Kirk's body seethe in a guttural response. He shakes his arms out with a warning growl, for it is the only thing he can think to do save the use of physical force.

There is a sound like the gradual intake of air as Anathema dislodges the guise and emerges as the familiar yet featureless entity. Anathema backs away from the noise, watching Kirk's wild gesticulations with something akin to shame written across its face.

I am sorry, James. That was unkind and foolish of me. I will not attempt such a transformation again.

"No, no. How did you know she--" Kirk stops himself, shaking the thoughts of his mother from his head. "Don't answer that. The Starfleet uniform is fine." Kirk continues, but his delivery is weak: "I still don't trust you."

It is not necessary for me to have your trust, James. I need only your cooperation.

The discordant tone of the entity's voice makes the statement of fact into a cold and menacing taunt.

Kirk folds his arms. "You're about to have neither."

He regrets the statement almost instantaneously, as the invisible force that Anathema commands with no outward movement grabs him around his neck and throws him forward. He flings out his arms out to keep from falling.

"Except for that," he snaps.

James.

The entity is looking back at him through the corners of its eerie blue eyes, and the expression causes the protest in Kirk's throat to falter away into a weak retort.

"I really wish you would stop that."

Are you ready?

Kirk stares for a beat and laughs, bitterly. "Now's a hell of a time to ask me."

Anathema continues to glare, unblinking, and Kirk has a distinct feeling that the entity's head is turned sideways a few inches farther than what is normal.

"I don't have a choice, anyway."

That is correct.

Kirk steps around Anathema's outstretched arm. "Show me, Anathema."

The entity lowers its outstretched arm and raises the other to point vaguely into the distance. As if on command, a blurred and indistinct form appears several steps from them, veiled as if through a fog.

Kirk recognizes the form instantly, and something catches in his throat. He hesitates for a moment, testing the strength of Anathema's invisible hold. Convinced that his neck he free of the imaginary chain he turns his back on the entity and runs toward the figure, his feet pounding with audible echoes against the hard blue earth. Something stops him when is barely three strides away, and he doubles over with a cough, grabbing at the invisible interference.

The thought does not cross his mind to turn and glare at Anathema, for every iota of his consciousness is focused on a different point. When the stars fade from his vision, he snaps his eyes back to the previous object of his attention.

"Uhura?"

The lieutenant is standing with her arms curled against herself, appearing minute against the prodigious backdrop of endless blue earth. She is utterly pale and still, and looks uncharacteristically fragile in both stance and expression. She is staring at him, but her eyes have no pupil, or perhaps he can not discern them in the half-darkness.

"Uhura?" He reaches out his arms toward her, but something freezes them midway with a force he is afraid will break his very bones.

No, James.

He can vaguely detect her lips moving, and she pitches forward unexpectedly. She collides against his outstretched arms, feeling almost weightless, and in a horrific instant her entire body turns to dust. It is a complete transformation without sound, and what was once a solid form begins to run through his fingers like water. A wind he can not feel rushes past, scattering the minute particles in a helix through the air as he stares, open-mouthed and wide eyed, as a scream freezes in his throat.

"It's not real," he mutters to himself. "Dammit, this isn't real."

But everything here is real, James.

His head snaps upward, and he flinches out of reflex to find the entity standing very close to him. How it crossed the distance between them so quickly and so silently will always remain a mystery to him.

Kirk straightens and watches as the last fragments of his former communications officer swirl away in the cobalt distance. He balls his fists, feeling the debris of her existence that are like grains of sand between his fingertips.

"Anathema?"

Yes?

"Shut up."

To be continued.