by Lorraine Anderson
Kirk sat in Briefing Room One, gazing wistfully at the world pictured in the monitor in the center of the table. He knew he should go back to duty, but he reasoned that even captains needed a little woolgathering now and then. He sat with his hands tucked under his chin. An errant lock of sandy brown hair fell across his forehead.
The door opened, but Kirk didn't notice. "You see, Spock," a voice drawled, "I told you we lost him here."
Kirk sat back and grinned at the pair. "Even captains daydream," he snorted.
"Ah, yes." McCoy glanced at the display. "But you usually daydream at more... earthly pictures."
"Earthly pictures, Doctor?" Spock looked at Kirk with slight bemusement as he sat down. "Ah. Females."
The Captain laughed, his good humor partially restored. "You make me sound like a lech."
"If the shoe fits..." McCoy sat opposite Spock.
"Females are unusually attracted to you, Captain," Spock said, steepling his fingers.
"And he's unusually attracted to females."
Kirk pointed at McCoy. "And I've seen you ogle one or two in your day, Bones."
"Yes, well," McCoy said with a long face. "They don't generally ogle me back." He pointed at the picture. "So what gives? You've been mopin' around ever since we finished that incident with Gary Seven."
Kirk's face grew serious, and he glanced at Terra. "I came this close," he held up two fingers, "from letting the Earth be destroyed... I'm sorry, Spock. I knew you could figure it out..."
Spock inclined his head. "No apologies are needed, Captain. You did not know whether Mr. Seven was trustworthy."
McCoy snorted. "And I'm still not sure."
Spock ignored him. "However, I did observe that I could not have stopped the bomb in time. I did not know the equipment."
McCoy sat back. "But that's not the problem, is it? You knew that, Jim." He stared at Kirk, as if he could view the answer on his face. "So what's the real reason?" He looked thoughtful, then smiled sadly. "You're homesick,
Kirk smiled ruefully. "Bones, you know captains are supposed to be tough as iron..."
"...does it show?"
"Not usually. Not really," McCoy rubbed his forehead. "I wouldn't have guessed, except that a quarter of the crew has showed up in sickbay for sleeping remedies. It's an epidemic. I've had to take one, myself." He looked at the picture of Terra. "So close, yet so far."
Spock had watched the exchange with a vaguely puzzled look on his face. "Gentlemen, if I understand the topic, you wish to go to Terra. Even if we disregard that 1968 Terra is not your Terra..."
"It is and isn't..." McCoy sighed.
"Doctor, did you not say that 'one can never go home again', meaning things change?"
McCoy's mouth quirked. "I did."
"Then to be homesick is illogical. One cannot return to a place that does not exist anymore." He leaned forward.
"You mean your mother was never homesick?" McCoy asked.
"Vulcan is her home. She never expressed such an emotion to me."
"Homesickness is an illogical emotion, Mr. Spock," Kirk said. He leaned forward and punched a button to cut the display. McCoy, lost in his thoughts, pulled back with a start. "Intellectually, I know I can't visit my mother or the family farm, much less roam about anywhere in Terra. I would probably cause a major time paradox without knowing it. Emotionally, however..." He patted the table. "But this is my home now, and I wouldn't change a bit of it."
"And the same goes for me," McCoy said, then he looked amused. "You don't ever miss Vulcan then, Spock," he drawled.
"Only the climate, Doctor. Terrans keep the temperature intolerably low."
"Just right, you mean," McCoy retorted.
Kirk laughed. "Let's get back to work."
Kirk walked back onto the bridge, adjusting his slacks. It certainly was a convenience having a toilet on the same level of the bridge. However, since the toilet could only be entered through the access corridor, the whole bridge knew where you were going.
He caught his line of thought, then grinned to himself. After all these centuries, one would think man would get over being self-conscious about bodily functions. He guessed not. He nodded to Spock, who had come on the bridge in his absence, then picked up some "paperwork"... a thin notebook computer and a stylus. First up on the stylus screen was a proposal for a study Mr. Spock planned to do on solar sunspots in 1968. He sighed. More Starfleet paperwork. He understood barely a quarter of the report, yet Starfleet expected him to verify what his Science Officer was doing. Isuppose it's necessary,he thought ruefully, for some Captains to babysit their Officers, but... does Starfleet needto force me? Does all this paperwork really help? Heaven help me if I ever become a paperpusher.
He glanced at Spock again, who had turned back to his viewer, then tried to remember what Spock was researching...
oh, the location of nuclear warheads. Dull stuff, to Kirk's thinking, but the Federation wanted it done for some unknown reason, and Spock had volunteered. Perhaps he thought it would connect in with some line of research of his own.
Going back to his paperwork with a sigh, he signed the report. The screen flashed "Signature - verified," then a report on deterioration of the dilithium crystals appeared. Kirk sat up. Mr. Scott had informed him of the deterioration at the briefing yesterday. Apparently the shock of time travel gradually weakened the crystals. According to Mr. Scott, they would not be in a crisis situation for two months, unless they happened to get into a fight. Kirk smiled. No chance of that here.
Kirk had just turned his chair to ask Spock about possibly mining some crystals from Mars when he noticed Uhura start. "What is it, Lieutenant?" Kirk frowned.
Uhura looked up at him. "Transmission from the planet, Captain."
Kirk raised his eyebrows. "Gary Seven?" he said, surprised. Spock looked up at the Captain.
"Yes, Sir," Uhura said. "Shall I open communications?"
"I wonder what...?" Kirk muttered. "Yes, Lieutenant. Open a channel."
A picture of a sharp-eyed, brown-haired man came up on the front viewer. He was wearing a grey suit and a red tie. "Hello, Captain." Mr. Seven said.
Kirk looked at Seven, puzzled. "Mr. Seven, I'm surprised to hear from you. I had thought you were not going to contact us again."
Mr. Seven smiled sardonically. "I wasn't. However, the situation has changed."
Mr. Seven looked down. "I was contacted by my superiors about a developing situation... Your sensor range is a bit limited." Kirk felt momentarily piqued. "I'll feed my information into your computer." He looked at Kirk and raised an eyebrow.
Mr. Spock bent over his viewer. "Mr. Spock?" Kirk said.
"Inconclusive," Spock said. "However, there is a large fleet heading towards Earth. They appear to be Kkk'raltasan."
Kirk looked puzzled. "Who are the Kkk'raltasan?"
Spock turned back to the viewer. "In 2050, debris from a number of spaceships - generation ships - was found by Terrans in the Asteroid Belt. It was the first positive sign that Terrans had of extra-terrestrial life. They were dubbed Kkk'raltasan sometime after the Terrans joined the Federation, and traced the path back to their home star - which had gone nova in 1750 A.D., Terran."
"Were...there bodies recovered?"
Spock looked in the viewer. "No. Just metal debris and some personal effects."
Kirk heard a meow from the screen, and discovered that Mr. Seven had Isis sitting beside him. Kirk narrowed his eyes. That cat was more than she seemed to be, but he didn't wish to confront Seven on the issue. Mr. Seven looked at the cat, nodded, then looked at Kirk. "They must not land on Earth."
"I know." Kirk was getting a headache. "But I will not destroy a race just to keep time on track. There must be an alternative." He said the last part lowly, remembering Edith Keeler. "What do you know of the Kkk'raltasan?"
Mr. Seven looked uncomfortable and looked at his cat, who meowed at him. "Very little, actually. My particular... tutors concentrated mostly on Terra. I will see what I can find." The cat meowed again. "Captain, the Kkk'raltasan fleet is still two days away. I would suggest that you and Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy beam down to my office. I wish to confer with you privately."
"I see..." Kirk said. He looked at Spock, then all hesitancy left him. "We'll be right down. Kirk out." Mr. Seven disappeared from the screen.
He flicked a switch on his chair. "Dr. McCoy, meet Mr. Spock and myself in the transporter room."
"What's this about, Jim?" drawled McCoy.
"I'll brief you when you get there." He wondered if he had enough time to stop by his cabin to pick up a headache pill.
"I still can't understand why Mr. Seven would want me down there, Jim," McCoy said
Kirk shrugged. "He asked specifically for the three of us."
McCoy snorted. "Three commanding officers, you mean. You know, I'm still not sure I trust him."
"He did stop the bomb from impacting," Kirk said.
"After he set it up to malfunction. And I say he's still on his own agenda. That story about being sent from an advanced planet..." McCoy sputtered. "Whatever happened from learning from one's own mistakes?"
Kirk grinned. "I think the idea of his tutors was to minimize the mistakes for maximum effect. Besides, Bones, I think you're playing devil's advocate with me. I've seen you argue against the Non-Interference Directive too many times."
McCoy smiled slowly. "You're right. I just wanted to make sure you didn't plan to give Mr. Seven the Enterprise."
Kirk snorted. "No chance of that."
"What about it, Spock?" McCoy drawled. "Want to get in on this little argument?"
"It is not logical to form opinions on incomplete data," Spock said.
"I'm surprised you want to pass up a good argument."
"If I did not trust Mr. Seven in this one occasion, I would not have stepped aside. However, I, too, do not know his full agenda."
Kirk looked like he was enjoying himself. "I hate to break up this discussion," he said. "But I believe Mr. Seven is waiting?"
"Of course, Captain," Spock said. McCoy glared at them
as the three moved up onto the transporter platform.
"Energize," Kirk said.
Seven's office formed around them. Mr. Seven looked up, unsurprised. "You know," he said. "Our transporter is far superior to yours... a bit less damaging to the psyche. If you wish..."
"Thank you for your offer, but I'm sure our transporter will be fine," Kirk said.
"Still don't trust me, Kirk," Mr. Seven said. "Ah, well, I can't say I blame you." He got up out of his chair and started to pace the room. "I'm sorry I had to drag you down here, but I didn't want to broadcast this to your whole crew."
Kirk nodded. "I understand."
"I did take the opportunity to look up the file on the Kkk'raltasa. We did have agents on their planet during their critical period - which was four centuries ago from this present year - but once they were past that point, our agents were repatriated." He paused. "We did not anticipate the nova, nor did we know of these generation ships. We were occupied with... other matters at the time."
Kirk noticed the omission. "Other matters?" he said.
Seven colored slightly. "We are not perfect, and our resources are not inexhaustible." He looked out the window. "In normal times, the Kkk'raltasa are rather like humans, despite their reptilian ancestry."
McCoy looked at him. "But these people have been cooped up in these ships for seven or eight generations, I presume..."
"Yes. Their life-cycle is rather like the Terrans...
ours." McCoy raised an eyebrow at the pause.
"Basically, you're saying that you don't know how they will react," Kirk said.
"Exactly." Seven turned from the window.
"As I said before," Kirk said. "I will not exterminate a race..."
Mr. Seven grimaced. "I would rather you didn't, either, but you may have to. Humans are not ready for extra- terrestrials. They would not fit in too well. Unfortunately, Terrans haven't learned to get along with each other, yet." He turned to Kirk. "Their ships are about worn out. I suspect that the debris they found was the result of their ships breaking apart. It's either here or nothing." He looked out the window again. "They are a promising race, and only fifty thousand are left. I hope you can find an alternative."
"We will find an alternative," Kirk said, his face like stone.
"You will have to attempt diplomatic negotiations," Seven said. "Perhaps you can convince them to wait until
another solution is found." He looked at Spock. "If I could use your tricorder, I will download what I have. Computer on." A computer panel came out of a wall.
"Mr. Spock can handle it, Mr. Seven," Kirk said. Seven nodded.
Spock took a position before the computer. After a moment, he closed the tricorder. "Transfer complete, Captain."
"You will be coming with us, won't you, Mr. Seven?" Kirk said.
Seven looked wistful. "I wish I could, but I have too many projects going on. I know it looks like I'm unwilling to help you, but..." His voice trailed off.
"Then we shall take your leave, Mr. Seven," Kirk said, flipping open his communicator.
Mr. Seven nodded. "I will be monitoring you."
"I understand... Mr. Kyle, three to beam up."
Kirk looked around. Sickbay was remarkably empty... even of doctors and nurses. "Bones...?" he ventured.
"Over here," came the weary voice from the hidden office. Kirk rounded the corner, and looked at the pale face looking up at him from the computer terminal. "Have you slept at all?" he said severely.
McCoy snorted. "Look at the pot calling the kettle black. You could double as a raccoon."
Kirk sat down wearily and rubbed his eyes. "I can't sleep."
"I keep going over what Seven said, and I keep hoping that the Kkk'raltasan aren't going to be as desperate as I think. Then I keep thinking how I'd feel if I could never go home." He yawned. "And that's illogical. After all these years, those ships would be 'home' to them."
"And I can't help but wonder why Seven's people aren't giving us more help." McCoy raised his hands. "I know, I know. He said they weren't perfect, etcetera, and so forth. But they seem to be perfect enough to interfere in a dozen or more different cultures."
"I don't suppose they see it that way." Kirk said. "I'm sure they don't. And Hitler thought he was doing
the world a favor when he built Auschwitz." McCoy grinned suddenly. "Here I am, defending the Non-interference Directive again. I must be more tired than I think."
"Always a different situation when oneself is involved."
Kirk smiled ruefully. "Besides, Seven's interference is a part of our history. You saw the reports. We wouldn't dare order him off."
"Yeah, well, As Spock would say, 'humans are illogical'." He flipped a switch and the display went out. "Speaking of the devil, how is he doing?"
Kirk snorted. "You know Spock. He could stay awake for weeks."
"Well, I can't. I'm not going to learn anything more tonight." McCoy closed his eyes, then opened them. "By the
way, did you notice that the Kkk'raltasan were empathic? Line-of-sight empathic, I mean, unless it involves one of their own family." He shook his head. "In other words, they have to see you to read your emotions."
Kirk looked surprised. "No, I didn't notice. To be honest, I've barely looked at the biological information. I have a ship to run, you know."
"Really? No kidding. I hadn't noticed," McCoy said, wide-eyed.
"No sarcasm, please. I'm too tired for it." Kirk sighed. "So, not only do we have to be on our best behavior, we can't even think wrong thoughts." He shook his head. "Feel wrong emotions, I mean."
"That's about it."
Kirk looked at the opposite wall. "Spock tells me that in spite of their primitive, fragile vessels, they have one hell of a defense system. And a number of fighter ships..."
"Fighter ships?" McCoy interrupted.
Kirk sighed. "The Kkk'raltasan didn't know what they would find in space. But they have no shields. And our shields... and the dilithium crystals... are still damaged from coming back here."
"Oh, terrific. We're facing jumpy people who can read our emotions and have itchy trigger fingers. I don't suppose we can call in the cavalry?"
Kirk yawned and grinned. "Well, we could throw a bottle out into space and hope that Starfleet picks it up in three or four centuries."
McCoy laughed. "I think we both better get to sleep. We're getting silly." He looked thoughtful. "Did you say the ships were fragile?"
"According to the data Mr. Seven fed us, the metal in the ships is starting to deteriorate. I have a feeling they didn't expect to be in space over a hundred years, at best."
"And they were in a hurry," McCoy sighed. He stood up. "Well, we won't get the Kkk'raltasan problem done tonight. Let's go get some sleep."
Kirk chuckled, then sighed. "I'll do my best."
McCoy yawned, then watched as Kirk exited wearily. He doubted that either would get much rest tonight.
Kirk hated waiting. He knew it was best that the Enterprise withhold contact until the Kkk'raltasan fleet reach Jupiter. He knew that his crew needed the time to study the reports. He knew that. Still, he wanted to meet the Kkk'raltasan now and negotiate now and get the problems solved now!
But he couldn't do that. So, as soon as his shift was over, he went mountain climbing.
He clung to the climbing wall in the gym, hanging by the tips of his fingers and toes. The concentration was purifying. To make it interesting, he declined the usual climbing harness, but told the nervous gym supervisor to place thick padding on the ground under the wall. Kirk though the woman was going to insist on the harness, but she
saw he was determined and changed her mind. She was new. Apparently, she didn't want to see her captain fall.
He slid his right hand upwards and to the side and felt the next grip. Even though he knew it would hold his weight, he tested it anyway. It was good practice, especially if he ever got the chance to try real climbing.
Still, the problems and concerns poked holes in his concentration. What were they going to do with the Kkk'raltasa? Could he consciously deny these desperate people planetfall? Could he possibly persuade the Federation to send back cargo ships to transport the Kkk'raltasan forward to his time? Across the galaxy would be rather risky with the tugs, especially with the Orions around. And besides, it was possible the tug ships didn't have the maneuverability to make the time shift, especially with two or three transport containers. And, if he couldn't persuade the Federation to act, what would become of the Kkk'raltasa?
He pushed the concerns to the back of his mind.
After getting a secure grip, he slid a foot up the wall. He felt around for the grip... couldn't find it... there it was. He started to shift his weight upwards...
Kirk was concentrating on his next grip. He knew it was there, someplace. He glanced upwards. He was almost to the top...
He reached upwards. Yes, he was to the top, and he felt momentarily disappointed. The wall was just too short to be challenging. Still, it was a fairly good workout, considering how little time he had. He looked down at the padding and nodded to himself. Then he let himself fall backwards.
Falling into the padding was like falling into a cloud. He heard an abbreviated gasp from the gym supervisor and thought, well, she'll learn. He looked up at the ceiling. Mr. Spock came into his line of sight. "Captain?"
Kirk realized belatedly that Spock had spoken twice before, and it hadn't registered. "Sorry, Spock, I didn't hear you," he said, rolling off the padding to his feet. "I was concentrating."
"Ah." Spock glanced at the wall, then apparently dismissed it. "I did not wish to interrupt your recreation period."
Hearing the implied but, Kirk glanced sharply at him, then grabbed a towel and started wiping his face off. "What's the problem?"
"You asked me to find a record of any reptilian race in Federation, Romulan, or Klingon territory that could be the Kkk'raltasa, even among developing cultures. I was to report to you when I reached a conclusion," Spock said patiently.
"Oh. Yes. That's right." Kirk rubbed his eyes. "I was tired last night."
Spock inclined his head. "I deduced that you were." Kirk could swear that he looked amused.
"There are no races that match the Kkk'raltasa in external or internal appearance. The Kkk'raltasa have a cowl around their necks. No other species match this, even accounting for evolution."
Disappointed, Kirk hung the towel around his neck. "I was hoping... Have you thought of any ideas today?"
"No, and I have no solutions."
Kirk nodded at the gym supervisor and walked out into the hallway. Spock followed behind him. "I thought," Kirk said, "about going forward to our own time and trying to persuade the Federation to bring back some starships, but..."
"The sling-shot effect is not specific yet, Captain. If they were already here, we would have noticed them. And if we bring a major fleet, it is very possible that the Terrans of this time will notice them, although the fleet would be shielded. Both options may include a paradox and a major change in our timeline."
"Yes. I know." He strode down the hall. "I know this will be in the briefing, but is it possible for the Kkk'raltasa to last a year or two around by Jupiter?"
"Unlikely, Captain. Their hydroponic plants are failing due to breakdowns in the water reclamation systems. According to Mr. Seven, they are starting to live on half- rations."
Kirk smiled suddenly. "But we could provide repairs. We can provide enough water for them to survive until the Federation can come back. We can provide temporary repairs for the weakest ships."
Spock looked slightly puzzled. "We do not have the materials..." He raised his eyebrows. "You are talking about liberating materials from Terra."
Kirk strode along, a wide grin on his face. "Terrans in 1968 were just starting to recycle their materials. We can go through the world's junkyards to find all the materials we need. And we can reclaim sea water... something they were not doing in 1968. And we won't be stealing... after all, we are Terrans, also."
"But we will first have to convince the Kkk'raltasan fleet of our good intentions."
Kirk's face fell. "Yes. Yes, we will. And I have a terrible feeling they won't be too receptive."
"Don't you ever take a break, Spock?" McCoy said as he walked into Spock's quarters.
Spock sat back from his computer screen. "Doctor. I take breaks when I need them."
"Yes, and I remember a month you didn't sleep at all. You were out for the next week."
"It was needed," Spock said patiently. "What would happen if I rested, therefore not seeing something we need in order to save the Kkk'raltasa? It would break my concentration." He paused. "As you are doing right now, Doctor."
"Just how can you concentrate if you're tired?" McCoy drawled. He quickly raised his hand. "I know, I know."
"Does this visit have some purpose, Doctor?" Spock pushed away from the screen.
McCoy sobered immediately. "Yes. It does. I've been reviewing the report, too, and I've come to a conclusion that you are not going to like."
"Indeed," Spock said. "What is it?"
"I don't believe you should be on the bridge when we contact the Kkk'raltasa." He sighed. "They're empaths, you know."
"Yes, Doctor. You said that in the briefing," Spock said patiently.
"This wasn't in the briefing." McCoy paced up and down the room. "They consider any lack of emotion... any repression of emotions... a grave insult, especially in negotiations like this."
"Ah. Then your conclusion is logical."
McCoy stopped and stared at him. "You are calling me logical?"
"I am calling your conclusion logical. Your thought processes are, for the most part, illogical." Spock thought for a moment. "I believe Mr. Scott will need my help in investigating Terran resources that will be useful to us. I will join him in Engineering at that time."
"Searching junkyards, you mean," McCoy grinned.
Spock inclined his head.
"Well, I'm going to stay in Sickbay and watch from there."
Spock looked at him with a quizzical look.
"That's all Jim needs is one more nervous person up there on the bridge. I mean, they won't be concentrating on me, but..."
"I understand. If they see you, they will know exactly what you are feeling. And you are an emotional being, Doctor."
McCoy smiled. "Why, thank you, Spock!"
Spock raised his eyebrows. "I was merely voicing an observation. I was not complimenting you..."
"But you were, Spock, you were." McCoy turned. "Well, I'm glad we got this straight. I was afraid you might be pigheaded about this. See you later." McCoy walked out the door, inordinately pleased with himself.
Spock looked at the door, eyebrows raised. "Most illogical." He turned back to his computer screen.
The Kkk'raltasan fleet filled the screen. Kirk smiled a little at himself. To call the caravan a fleet was somewhat of a misnomer, he had to admit. It looked more like a flying junkyard. Every ship had at least five metal patches. He had to admire their tenacity, even though he knew the Kkk'raltasan had no choice if they were to stay alive.
He glanced around the bridge. He wished Spock could be at his station, but he agreed with McCoy's reasons. "Any signs that they've seen us, Mr. Chekov?"
Chekov, at the Science Station, shook his head. "No,
sir... just a second. They are scanning us now. They are using a very primitive scanner. I doubt that they can scan beyond our shields."
"Shields down," Kirk said. "Let them give us a look." He was tense. Although he anticipated the opportunity to meet another race, situations like this didn't exactly precede easy negotiations. "Have they finished yet, Mr. Chekov?"
"Just now, Keptain."
Kirk sat silent a moment. Let them discuss what they've seen. Not for the first time, he wished he could be honest with the Kkk'raltasa and tell them just why the Enterprise couldn't let them land. But they all agreed that it was too risky to their own timeline... what if Starfleet discovered the Kkk'raltasa before the Enterprise had ever travelled back to 1968? What changes would there be? He couldn't tell a whole race to be quiet about an event like this.
If only they had been discovered three hundred years later.
"Uhura, open hailing frequencies." It was time.
Kirk felt a momentary shock as the image appeared on the screen. He had seen the pictures of the Kkk'raltasan in the briefing. He had known that they were reptilian. Still, even despite the cowl, the Kkk'raltasan commander looked almost exactly like the Gorn commander he had fought last year, and he couldn't help reacting.
The Kkk'raltasan commander looked sharply at him. "I am Commander Lallorsan of the Kkk'raltasan. I am trusting that your first reaction is not your only reaction."
Kirk sighed. "I'm sorry." He paused. "I am Captain Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. On behalf of the Federation of Planets, which we represent, we bring you greetings."
"On behalf of the Kkk'raltasan people, I greet you." Lallorsan stared at Kirk intently, then shook his head. "You do not greet me back?"
Kirk shook his head, puzzled, then remembered that Kkk'raltasan also use an empathic greeting. "Forgive us. We cannot greet you in the manner in which you are accustomed."
The Kkk'raltasan commander looked puzzled. "I... do not understand. But it is not important. I also do not understand how you speak our language."
"We were... provided with a language translator."
The Commander glanced at Kirk sharply. "I see." He paused. "I think. If you have been spying on us for that long, why did you not help us in our distress?"
Kirk felt a sense of shock. He spread his hands, appealing. "We have not been spying on you. The translator was provided by an outside party. We only learned of your existence two days ago."
Lallorsan lifted his chin. "You are lying, aren't you. One of your subordinates has known of us for a long time."
Kirk looked around. Chekov was flushing slightly. This was getting worse and worse. "Let us stop playing word games. You are in distress. We want to help you."
Lallorsan snorted. "We wish asylum on your planet. We can go no farther. Are you willing to give us planetfall?"
Damn. "We will help you in whatever fashion we can... but we cannot give you asylum on Terra." This will clinch it, Kirk thought to himself.
The Commander motioned to someone off the screen. "Forgive us, then, Captain. We are not normally a violent people." The screen blinked off.
"Shields up!" Sulu jabbed a button on his board, almost before Kirk could get the order out.
"Keptain! Small fighter coming around to starboard!"
And the starboard shields were already weakened. Kirk quickly reviewed his options. "Tractor beams. Sulu, try to keep the Kkk'raltasan ship away from us without hurting it."
"Tractor beam engaged... tractor beam holding." Sulu glanced at Chekov, who was busy at the Science station.
"The ship is starting to break up, Keptain!"
Kirk made an exasperated noise. "Tractor beams off." He didn't want to fire on the ship. Perhaps the shields would be enough. "Uhura, open frequencies."
"Frequencies open, sir. No visual."
"Commander, we do not wish to shoot, but our shields are weak. We will defend ourself if we must."
The ship seemed to stop, then continued to come towards the Enterprise.
"Kkk'raltasan ship firing," Chekov said. The ship shook. "Shields are holding. Weakened to thirty-seven percent."
The Kkk'raltasan ship continued its coarse. "They're going to ram us..." Kirk said. "All engines reverse!" He knew that the weakened shields wouldn't tolerate a hit of this sort, but he feared that his order was too late. He leaned forward on his chair, trying to make the ship move with his force of will.
"All reverse, Captain!"
A jolt shook the ship. Kirk, caught off-balance, fell sideways. That was the last he remembered.
Another jolt shook the Enterprise as McCoy emerged running onto the bridge. One of the Kkk'raltasan ships was coming about for a shot. Mr. Sulu, in the command seat, was watching a Kkk'raltasan ship splinter into a shining star against the backdrop of Jupiter. Kirk was on the floor, apparently unconscious. "Oh, dear merciful Lord," McCoy said, then he rushed to Kirk's side.
The lift doors opened again. Spock stepped out. "Status," Spock said calmly, after he had seen McCoy taking care of Kirk.
Mr. Sulu turned and stood up. Uhura started fielding damage reports. "The Captain was trying to talk with the Kkk'raltasan. He had just told them that Terra was off- limits, when they cut communications and started shooting."
He pointed to the screen. "We were rammed by that ship."
"They were down...we just put them up." Chekov said.
"Starboard shields three, four, and five are at ten percent capacity."
"Mr. Spock," Uhura interrupted. "Mr. Scott reports damage to the starboard engine." She listened for a second. "Ten people reported dead, five are missing."
Spock absorbed the information passively. "Drop the shields. Uhura, hail the Kkk'raltasan ship."
The two looked at him, then did as he said. "The Kkk'raltasan commander is coming onto the screen," Uhura said. The reptilian being looked suspiciously at Spock.
"We do not wish to shoot." Spock said calmly. "Please notice that our shields are down."
"You are not Kirk?" the Commander said.
"I am not Kirk. I am Spock, the second-in-command of the Enterprise. You are the Kkk'raltasan commander?"
"Yes, I am Commander Lallorsan..." The commander looked thoughtful. "You are concerned. Kirk was apprehensive and angry. Nonetheless, I do not trust you. You are repressing your emotions. Kirk was withholding information. We will not be denied planetfall. If we must, we will try to take your planet by force and risk dying ship by ship. We must bring honor to our slain kin."
Kirk groaned, then got up, aided by McCoy. Spock moved over toward the science station, and Kirk addressed the screen. "I was angry at myself at my initial reaction, Commander Lallorsan. I had... an old adversary who looked something like you. And, as for withholding information," he said, holding a hand up to his throbbing head, "I have good reasons for not sharing certain information with you." He looked at the display on the control station in front of him. "Dear God. Is there anything we can do to help?"
"You have done enough." Lallorsan turned slightly and motioned to someone not on the Enterprise screen.
Kirk sighed. "We didn't want to destroy your ship. We don't want to destroy your fleet. We just cannot allow you to land on Earth." He closed his eyes. "We know you are in desperate straits... and we do want to help you."
"Captain!" Sulu interrupted. "Commander Lallorsan's ship coming around!"
"Please..." Kirk pleaded.
"No." The starfield was back on the screen. The ship was coming towards them, firing in intermittent bursts.
"Shields up," Kirk said, clutching the arm of his chair. "Phasers, lock on target... one-eighth strength. Try to damage, not destroy."
"Captain," Spock said. "I can't guarantee..."
"I know." Kirk's voice was low and anguished. "Fire phasers."
Twin beams of light shot out from the Enterprise. A Kkk'raltasan ship slowed, then stopped. "Uhura, try to..." Kirk started, then the ship exploded.
"No." McCoy said, shocked.
Spock straightened from his console. "The ship blew apart due to severe metal fatigue. Captain, we must not fire on them again. Shrapnel from the destroyed ships may hit the
rest of the fleet and start a chain reaction. Their defense systems cannot stand the stress of the shrapnel."
"The Kkk'raltasan command is refusing the page, Captain."
"Another ship coming around, Captain," Sulu reported. He gasped. "A piece of shrapnel has hit it, Captain. It's... gone."
"Damn!" Kirk looked thoughtful. "Uhura, contact Gary Seven. Also, inform all transporter technicians to start beaming Kkk'raltasan onto the ship using all transporters... including the cargo transporter." He flipped the communications switch. "All security personnel to all transporters. Divide transporters according to team. Take the Kkk'raltasan to... the hangar deck, for now. Also, issue phasers to hangar deck personnel." He noticed Mr. Seven on the screen. "Did you hear?"
Seven looked saddened. "I heard. I've been monitoring your communications. I'll beam as many as possible aboard your ship."
Kirk looked at Seven. "Thank you."
Seven grimaced. "I only wish..." He was silent for a long moment.
"Sulu, forward slowly. Let's not alarm them. We want to make sure our transporters are within range."
Spock pivoted. "There is a possibility that the shrapnel will penetrate our starboard shields."
Spock turned towards his viewer. "Captain, the shrapnel has started hitting the other ships. First ships showing signs of stress... one ship has exploded."
McCoy started running off the bridge. "There will be injuries."
"How many have been transported?" Kirk said lowly. Spock looked at his display. "Three hundred forty-one asof this moment, Captain. I do not have an accurate count asto Seven's..."
"Only about thirty, Captain." Seven said. "My transporter is faster, but it was only built for one at a time."
"The other ships are trying to move away, Captain," Sulu said slowly. Seven looked down at one of his displays. "They're... running into each other. Some are hitting asteroids."
"They're panicking." Kirk sat down heavily into his chair. "Split screen."
Kirk wanted to close his eyes when the screen came up, but he couldn't. He wouldn't. In honor to the Kkk'raltasan commander, who, after all, had thought he was doing right, he told himself that he must keep his eyes open. He looked around. Although the bridge crew was working frantically, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov had tears running down their cheeks. Spock looked unusually grim. On other half of the split screen, Seven was working like a robot, but he was chewing his lip.
The screen was glittering with metal fragments.
Occasionally, Kirk could see other things go by the Enterprise. He thought he saw a doll, then he realized that it must be a Kkk'raltasan body. He tightened the grip on his chair.
After a long while, Spock turned to Kirk. "All ships have been destroyed." Uhura gasped, then bent back to her board. Kirk looked at the clock. Only three minutes had passed.
Kirk's voice came out firmer than he thought it would. "How many were transported?"
"Approximately one thousand."
Kirk slumped back. "Out of fifty thousand. Dear God." Seven didn't look much better than Kirk felt. "I'm sorry. I wish I could have done more."
Kirk sat up. "We tried," he said. There was no time to collapse now. There was too much to do. "We all tried, very hard. But we are only human, after all."
Seven smiled sadly. "So we are. Captain, please contact me before you leave. I presume it will be soon."
Kirk snorted without amusement. "We have no choice. We'll take them with us, but we have no supplies. And this didn't do our dilithium crystals any good." He got up wearily. "Come, Mr. Spock. We'll have to find the ranking official. We have some talking to do."
Kirk and Spock walked onto the observation gallery above the hangar deck. It was almost hauntingly silent. Only a few murmurs drifted up from the main floor. Kirk looked down. The floor was covered with Kkk'raltasan, and he could see his crewmembers interspersed in the crowd. Kirk tightened his lips. Spock glanced at his Captain, then put a hand on his shoulder. Kirk gave him a grateful look, then started down the ladder.
Immediately, security personnel surrounded him. "No," Kirk said lowly. "I'm in no danger. Go back to the edges of the wall. You, Evans... get me a something to stand on."
The ensign ran off the floor. Immediately, he was back. Kirk grabbed the cargo crate and walked into the middle of the deck, Spock following closely behind.
He caused a ripple among the nearest Kkk'raltasan, who first stared at him, then reached out to touch him gently. Spock staggered slightly. "They know you what you are feeling, Captain. They are... trying to comfort you," he said, with the barest break in his voice. The break spoke volumes to Kirk. "I'm picking up their empathic sendings."
The ripple grew. Soon, the whole population was staring at him. As he stepped out onto the crate, Kirk couldn't help but blink back tears. He could almost feel their emotions. They could feel that he was sorry. The combined sendings of the population must be enough, he thought, to crack through even his low psi brain. Most of his crew showed some reaction to the sending. Spock, however, had apparently closed himself down and was standing stone-faced beside Kirk.
Kirk, in a rational part of his brain, noted that to be in a room full of empaths was probably not the best
place to be. What if the mood turned angry? He put the thought out of his head.
"I am Captain Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and this is Commander Spock. I... need to talk to the ranking official here," he yelled, his voice getting stronger as his determination grew.
He heard a voice from the back of the room. "I am Virulew, Middle Member of the Leading Council. Does anyone here outrank me?"
Kirk turned. A large Kkk'raltasan was standing up, facing the assembly. The room stayed silent. Virulew bowed his head, then picked his way through his people up to the makeshift podium. "I was twenty-fifth in rank," he said, staring at Kirk. Kirk felt disconcerted, and the Kkk'raltasan looked away. "I am sorry. I was trying to greet you in the manner of our people. I knew you are crippled in this respect, but I forgot."
Kirk smiled sadly. "We aren't as different as you think. My crew has told you what has happened, haven't they?"
Virulew sighed. "They didn't have to. We knew. We felt them."
"I am sorry," Kirk said lowly, then paused a moment. "I would like to take you to a briefing room and open negotiations."
"Negotiations?" The voice was sharp, then Virulew hung his head. "I'm sorry. I was watching you and Captain Lallorsan... negotiate. Lallorsan was not a patient person, but he had reason not to be."
Kirk winced. "I understand. I'm sorry I couldn't let you land on Earth, but we have very good reasons. We wanted to negotiate..."
The Kkk'raltasan looked at him intently. "I know you wanted to. Do not feel guilty or sad. It's probably our fault. And you did risk your ship by coming amongst ours."
Kirk sighed. "Look, it was both our faults, and we would now like to help you. Agreed?"
Virulew almost looked like he was smiling. "Agreed."
"I believe Briefing Room One is set up," Spock said, in a low voice. They exited through the crowd, sad eyes following them.
Kirk, Spock and McCoy were in Briefing Room Two, looking at Mr. Seven on the display. Kirk met Seven's eyes. "Thank you for the supplies."
Seven sighed and looked at Isis. "I won't say it was our pleasure. It was our obligation. It was, in a way, our fault. If we had continued to monitor them, perhaps we would have noticed the signs of the nova sooner..."
"Perhaps not," Spock said. "I have talked to one of their historians. The Kkk'raltasan were studying their sun at the time. What happened was what you might call a 'freak accident.' They barely had enough time to evacuate the thirty thousand."
"Thirty thousand?" Kirk asked, puzzled.
McCoy snorted. "Their supply of chemical contraceptives ran out almost a century ago, and accidents happened."
"Well, we failed them. We tried, but we failed," Kirk muttered.
"Yes," Seven said. "We did. But don't be so hard on yourself, Captain. They are as hard-headed as humans. I only wish..." He shook his head. "Wishing helps nothing. Have a safe journey, Captain, and farewell."
"Thank you. We wish you and Miss Lincoln... and Isis, the same. So long." The screen went dark.
McCoy sighed. "But at least you can say that you saved the Earth, once again."
Kirk turned away angrily. "At what cost? Perhaps I should have let them land. The earth may have been able to absorb another fifty thousand beings."
"You don't know that," McCoy said.
Spock steepled his fingers and looked at Kirk. "I did the liberty of doing projections on the computer of the impact of the Kkk'raltasan on 1968 Terrans." He paused. "History would have been irretrievably changed. There were two projections, based on the psychology of humans of this time. The Kkk'raltasan would either have been slaughtered, along with human sympathizers, or they would have taken over as benevolent captors."
"So you just can't predict what would have happened," McCoy said lowly. "It was better to stay with the history we knew. We have no second chance."
Kirk pounded a fist on the table. "But we could have sent another ship back..." He shook his head, and his shoulders slumped. "No, I'm grasping at straws. This was a trial run. I believe that Starfleet will have to ban further trips of this sort. They are just too risky."
"I am planning on recommending such," Spock said.
Kirk stood up. "We are in agreement, gentlemen. Shall we go home?" He winced.
"What's the matter?" McCoy said.
"Remember the discussion we were having a couple of days ago?"
Spock nodded his head.
"I'm reminded of a proverb. 'I was sorry that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.'"
"I understand," Spock said. McCoy looked at him.
Kirk smiled sadly. "Let's go home."