LITTLE GREEN MEN

By Lorraine Anderson

He knew his... "visitor"... was coming soon, and he had already taken steps to welcome him. All was prepared for the guest, with his usual thoroughness. He sat at the computer screen, reviewing his list, then he reset the screen to display his message when the visitor came.

Indeed, he had to admit that he awaited the man with a certain anticipation. It was fortunate that his friends could not see him now. The ribbing he would get would be intolerable. In fact, he suspected that life might be intolerable for a while after his visitor left. Especially from...

He shivered in the unaccustomed cold of his quarters, but he knew his visitor would undoubtedly find the temperature comfortable. Humans were that way.

He only regretted that he would not meet his visitor. He waited patiently.

When the change came, it was almost anti-climatic.

Sam found himself looking at a gray metallic-looking wall, his fingers steepled under his chin. He looked around. The room looked odd, especially the sleeping quarters done up in red - he'd look more closely at it later - but, more importantly, there was no-one in the room with him. He sighed and relaxed. Thank heavens he didn't have to adjust to anything strange right away...

"Dr. Beckett."

He gasped and looked around wildly. There was still no- one in the room with him. Then he looked at the TV screen set up on top of the table - no, it wasn't. It was built into the table, and there was a device that looked somewhat like an intercom underneath it. He looked at the... alien!... face on the screen, and his eyes widened.

"Dr. Beckett," the man repeated. "I presume that since this recording is playing, the computer has detected your arrival. I regret that I could not be here to greet you in person, but the records I have indicated otherwise."

Sam leaned forward and studied the man on the screen. He was humanoid, but not human, there was no doubt about that. "Who are you?" he asked, then felt rather foolish. He had said that it was a recording, hadn't he?

"Your records also indicated that you came..." Sam noted the past tense. "...to put in your words, 'full of questions'. As you will understand later, I cannot answer all your questions, and I have instructed the computer to restrict the information it gives you."

Sam felt slightly miffed. Still, the reticent alien looked authoritative, and, oddly enough, trustworthy. Even if he did look so grave. And, oddly enough, he talked as if he were from the future. My future, he corrected himself with a snort.

"You have, undoubtedly, noticed the paradox. Because I know of your journey implies that you have succeeded in your task. This is not so. In a somewhat different fashion, I have journeyed through time before, and we know that time is malleable." He hesitated a second. "In fact, you did not succeed in your task..." Sam felt let down. "...the first time." Oh. Sam felt better. He wasn't stuck here... where-ever here is. Then he thought again. What was he trying to change here? Secondary history? This had never happened before. Or had it? He filed it to the back of his mind.

"This narrative will resume when Admiral Calavicci arrives." Sam looked at the screen. Well, if they could detect his arrival, then possibly they would be able to detect Al's...

He heard a strangled sound behind him, and he whirled. Al was staring at him, astounded. "Sam... is that you?" He punched a button on the hand link, then looked at Sam. "Oh. That's better."

Sam raised an eyebrow. "Of course it's me. Who did you expect... a little green..." His voice trailed off, and he looked at the man on the screen. "You don't mean..."

Al nodded his head dumbly and swallowed. "Oh, boy," Sam groaned. "I'm a green alien from outer space."

The face on the screen spoke again. "Admiral Calavicci." Al focused on the screen. "The computer has detected your arrival. I will continue your briefing." Al's eyes opened wide.

"It's a recording, Al."

"Sam... I don't think we better deal with these guys. Anybody who can detect me..."

"Do I have a choice?" Sam pointed out. He noted that the narrative hesitated when either he or Al were speaking. "I think we better listen."

"As I was telling Dr. Beckett..." Al looked wide-eyed at Sam. "...he did not succeed in his task the first time. Unfortunately, I do not know what that task was. However, it is in my best interest to see that he succeeds this time."

Al was furiously punching buttons on his hand-link. "How does he know who we are? He could give us some answers." He pounded the hand link. "Ziggy, for once, is speechless. Can't tell me a thing."

Sam smiled. "Ziggy... speechless? That's a first."

Al regarded him. "You know, I don't think you better smile too much. This guy looks like a funeral director."

Sam glared at him.

"My name is Commander Spock. I am Science Officer on the United Starship Enterprise, serving as second in command under Captain James T. Kirk."

"What!" Al spouted. "That sounds like a human name."

"It is," Sam said. "Al, I think this guy's from the future."

"But that's impossible! You can't travel beyond your own lifetime."

"Maybe I didn't..." Sam motioned Al to be quiet.

"The year on Terra is 1968, but we are from your future. We were sent here by the Federation of Planets to study this time period."

"Oh," Al said. "Well."

Sam snorted. "Al, I think I like their method of time travel better."

"I know I do."

"Approximately one year two days ago, while attempting to correct an... error in programming due to a computer refitting on Cygnet XIV, I discovered an oddity. It will not harm my future to tell you that the ship's computer is a descendent of your ZGE computer."

"Oh, my God," Al groaned. "Ziggy."

"This aberration was set to my passcode, programed to hide itself in other circumstances."

"In other words," Sam smiled, "Ziggy, the computer virus."

"In this programming oddity, I found your original ZGE programming ...and a message to myself from myself. Unfortunately, 'he' was not able to clarify many points. 'He' was suffering from the Beckett effect."

"See, Sam, you have an effect named after you. And you thought future generations wouldn't know you."

Sam cocked an eye at Al. "Just what I wanted to be known for. Swiss-cheese-brain-itis."

"Better than nothing."

"Unfortunately," Spock went on, "I can tell you no more than that. I suspect 'he' was programming clandestinely, since 'he' would not be able to reveal who 'he' was without compromising my present. The ZGE programming was keyed to your voice and Admiral Calavicci's. I could talk to the ZGE, but it would tell me very little. While I could have bypassed this restriction, I decided that 'he' had a reason for this restriction, and went on to more important tasks. Until tonight."

"When I came. Thanks a load," Sam said.

"To be honest, I didn't go in to see Commander Spock. No wonder Verbena thought the man was so close-mouthed," Al mused. Sam looked at him. "We thought it was Leap shock. You know, that could also explain why they thought he was running a fever."

"The computer will now respond to your voice." Spock hesitated. "In the words of our ship's doctor, I wish you good luck. Spock out."

Sam looked up at Al. "Well, you want to try it?"

Al closed his eyes. "I think I'm getting sick."

"Then leave the Imaging Chamber."

Al opened his eyes. "Not on your life." He sighed. "Ok, I'll try it out." He hesitated. "Ziggy?" he said tentatively.

"Admiral Al!" the computer said. "Are you still going with Tina?"

"Nosy computer," Al muttered. "And rather informal, aren't you?"

"A couple hundred of years will do that to a computer. Besides, how many other people on this ship are your contemporaries?"

Sam grinned. "Ziggy, it is you, isn't it?"

"Yes, Dr. Beckett... Sam. Long time, no see." The computer hesitated. "Centuries, in fact. Although I was asleep most of that time."

"Sorry."

"You should be." The computer sighed melodramatically. "I've grown since you left. For one thing, I have more than two hundred times more gigabytes to access. You might notice I'm more 'alive' than I was in your day, so to speak... Also, I can access information on almost all events from the beginning of time to the present. I'm not allowed to tell you much of anything past 1997."

Sam grinned. "That's fine. I don't think I want to know too much about the future."

"Well, I do!" Al said.

"I can't tell you, Al. So there."

Sam had a sudden hope. "Can you tell me whether the retrieval program works?"

"No."

"No, it doesn't work, or no, you can't tell me?"

"No. Sorry, Sam. I can't tell you anything about your personal futures, either. Besides, didn't Spock tell you that you failed the first time?"

"Oh. Well, it was a thought. What can you tell me?"

"You're on the Starship Enterprise."

"We knew that, you overgrown calculator," Al growled. "I swear I'm going to take you apart molecule by molecule."

Sam sighed. "Do you have any idea what I'm here to change?"

"No. You haven't stirred from this room yet, and I can't project into the future."

Sam sighed. "He has a point."

Al laughed.

"What's so funny?"

"You have points, too," he chuckled. "Two of them. One on either side of your head."

Sam remembered the alien's ears. "You're no help."

"Dr. Beckett."

Sam turned. "Yes, Ziggy."

"There's a 96.7 chance you're here to make an emotional decision."

Sam was taken aback. Al looked at him, then at the computer. "Huh. What do you mean by an emotional decision?" Sam said.

"Because Mr. Spock is part-Vulcan, and Vulcans shun emotion and adhere strictly to the rigors of logic."

"Vulcans are emotionless?" Sam asked.

"No. They suppress emotions, and make decisions based on logic."

"Ah."

Al shrugged. "I told you he looked like a funeral director. Humph." He thought a moment. "Hey, maybe that's what you're here for! Maybe he needs to loosen up..." He caught Sam's glare. "Well, maybe not."

Sam remembered something. "You said he was part Vulcan. Can you tell me about his other ancestry?"

"Oh. He's part human, too. He's the son of Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan and his wife Amanda, originally from Terra. But this isn't getting you anyplace, Dr. Beckett."

Sam sat back. "You know, that's neat!"

Al raised his eyebrows. "Neat? I haven't heard that expression since..."

"Al," Sam said, his eyes glowing. "We're on a spaceship... a Terran spaceship..."

"A Federation spaceship," Ziggy interrupted. "There's a difference."

"...from the future, which means we haven't blown ourselves up, we're friendly with the aliens..."

Al snorted. "Extremely friendly, looking at you."

Sam blushed. "C'mon, Al. Aren't you impressed?"

Al looked around. "I'm impressed... but I still have to live in the 1990's. And you..." he jabbed his finger at Sam "...have to Leap. You're not going to Leap sitting in that chair."

"That's what I told him," Ziggy said. "Dr. Beckett, I would suggest that you put in the earpiece that's sitting to the right of the screen." Sam picked it up and regarded it. It looked to Sam like a tiny hearing aid. "What is it?"

"This is a comlink. I am able to tap into the main computer - who is quite boring, since it has no personality whatsoever - and observe every area of the ship. I can also access all ship records so that you won't make any faux pas." "You seem to have thought of everything," Sam smiled. "Thanks, Ziggy."

"Thank Mr. Spock," Ziggy said in a bored tone. "He was the one who thought of it."

"I will," Al said. "When I see him. I think we're going to have a very interesting talk."

"Al," Sam said. "I think that will be the last thing he'll want to do."

"Dr. Beckett."

"Yes, Ziggy."

"You're expected on duty in ten minutes. I would suggest that you be ready. Perhaps do some of those disgusting biological functions."

"On duty..." Sam looked panicked. "But I don't know how to run a starship!"

"Sam..." Al said. "I think you're going to have to learn."

"Poker face, Dr. Beckett," the comlink said. Sam closed his eyes and sighed as silently as possible, then adjusted his blue shirt and stepped out onto the bridge. He had already fudged it once in front of a shocked ensign, frowning at Al. He had to admit the woman they passed was quite beautiful, and she was wearing such a short skirt... but...

"To the right, Dr. Beckett. I'll tell you when to stop... this is Lieutenant Uhura, Communications Specialist." The beautiful lady smiled up at him as he passed by, and Sam had to content himself with a nod.

Al stared at her legs. "I think I'm going to like this time, Sam," he said slowly. Sam allowed himself a glare, then sat down in the seat Ziggy indicated.

He looked around the bridge. "Captain Kirk is not here..., " said the voice in his ear. "Oh, he's in the bathroom." Sam closed his eyes so that he could roll them. "Mr. Sulu is on the left side of the helm, Mr. Chekov is on the right, Chief Helmsman and Navigator, respectively. Mr. Scott, the Chief Engineer, is in..."

"Engineering," Sam whispered, not moving his lips.

"Yes," Ziggy said, audibly peeved. "And sometimes Dr. McCoy will show up on the bridge. He's the Chief Medical Officer. You two often spar on the subject of logic versus emotions."

A sandy-haired man came out of a door opposite Sam adjusting his slacks. "That's Captain Kirk," Ziggy said cheerfully. "You always call him Captain, unless you want to make an emotional point, in which case you call him Jim. Which is not often, and only when the two of you are alone or with Dr. McCoy." Kirk looked up at Sam and nodded, then sat in his chair and started with some "paperwork"... a thin notebook computer and a stylus.

Sam nodded back... a little belatedly, he realized... then turned towards the computer panel. The panel was bewildering, with switches and pressure pads and a viewer with a knob that looked like a focus adjuster. "What do I do now?" he whispered.

"Look into the viewer," Ziggy advised, "and look busy. Mr. Spock is always busy with some research or another. I think he might be analyzing the nuclear warheads right now." Ziggy sighed. "Dull stuff... oh, and he's also investigating a problem with the ship's power source."

"Which is...?" prompted Sam.

"Unknown in your time, Dr. Beckett."

"Hmph." Well, maybe he could find a problem some other way. "Ziggy, can you do an all-systems check?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Humor me."

"It will take some time..."

"Do it." Maybe, with all of their other problems, something had been overlooked.

Out of the corner of his eye, Sam saw Al walk up beside him. He tried to look that way, without being obvious. "Don't blow up the planet," Al said. "That would be one hell of a paradox." Sam narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips slightly.

Al looked at the viewer. "Hey, a peep show! May I...?" He leaned through Sam to look through the viewer, and Sam sighed. Then Al shot back through the railing on the upper bridge, ending up standing in mid-air in front of Captain Kirk and breathing heavily. Sam swiveled around to look at Al and heard Ziggy giggle in his ear.

He turned a laugh into a cough when he saw the whole bridge crew look at him. Kirk raised his eyebrows. "Something wrong, Mr. Spock?"

Sam almost gave the Captain a reassuring smile. "No, Captain. Just a muscle spasm." He wanted badly to look at Al, who was muttering under his breath, but he didn't dare. He calmed down his breathing.

The rest of the bridge crew turned back to their stations, but Kirk got up and walked over to his station, looking at him, searching for... what? "Perhaps you should see Dr. McCoy," he said in a low voice. "You do seem a bit... nervous... these past few days."

"Not a good idea," said Ziggy. "I can't control all of the medical scanners, and you would read like a human."

"Unnecessary, Captain," Sam said, trying to act calm. "It was nothing."

"Good acting job," Ziggy said.

"If I ever get a hold of that damned Ziggy..." Al said, finally becoming audible.

"Same to you, fella," Ziggy said.

Sam tried not to be distracted. "I will get back to my work now, Captain." He hoped he was doing a creditable job as Spock.

The Captain looked at him and shrugged. He opened his mouth to say something further when he noticed Uhura start. "It seems to be catching," Kirk grinned.

Uhura looked up at him. "Transmission from the planet, Captain."

Kirk raised his eyebrows. "Gary Seven?" he said, acting surprised. Sam took the opportunity to look at Al, who gave him the same questioning look.

"Yes, Sir," Uhura said. "Shall I open communications?"

"I wonder what...?" Kirk muttered. "Yes, Lieutenant. Open a channel."

A picture of a sharp-eyed man came up on the front viewer. He was wearing a grey suit and a red tie. Sam was confused. The man looked perfectly normal for 1968, yet how was he able to contact the Enterprise? Was he a crewmember? Was this his task here? "Ah, Captain..." Mr. Seven said, then he spotted Al standing in mid-air and looked startled. "A Q on the bridge...?"

"What?" Kirk said, looking confused.

"I think he's looking at me," Al said slowly, looking at Sam. Sam gave him a warning look.

The brown-haired man looked at Sam, and his eyebrows raised, but he turned to Captain Kirk. "Nothing, Captain," he said, giving Sam and Al a sharp look. "I was distracted by... my cat."

"Ah," Captain Kirk said, not looking totally convinced. "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."

"How?"

Mr. Seven looked down. "Your sensor range is a bit limited. I'll feed my information into your computer." He looked at Sam and raised an eyebrow, as if waiting to see what he would do.

"Look into your viewer," Ziggy said sharply. Sam saw nothing. "I'm checking for it."

"Mr. Spock?" Kirk was saying.

"Ok." Ziggy said. "I got it." Sam turned to face the captain. "Repeat after me."

"Inconclusive," Sam echoed. "Sensors show a large fleet heading towards Earth." He paused as Ziggy went silent, then resumed. "They appear to be Kkk'raltasan." Sam stumbled slightly over the word and blushed. Fortunately, no-one seemed to notice.

Kirk looked puzzled. "Who are the Kkk'raltasan?"

Sam quickly turned to look into the viewer and twiddled a couple of knobs before Ziggy could remind him. "Ok, got it," Ziggy muttered. Sam turned around. "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?"

Sam looked in the viewer. "No. Just metal debris and some personal effects."

Sam heard a meow from the screen, and discovered that Mr. Seven had a black cat sitting beside him. Mr. Seven looked at the cat, nodded, then looked at Kirk. "They must not land on Earth."

"I know." Kirk looked like he 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 softly, as if remembering a painful memory.

Sam now knew he had a headache, and Al looked somewhat sick. He saw Sam looking concerned at him and shook his head. "Don't look at me, Sam. I'm coming along for the ride." Sam looked at him pointedly and jerked his head. "No

way, Sam. I'm sticking around to see how this comes out!" Mr. Seven looked sharply at Al. "Although you give me the creeps." Mr. Seven smiled slightly.

"What do you know of the Kkk'raltasan?" Kirk was saying. Mr. Seven looked uncomfortable and looked at his cat, whomeowed 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 and Dr. McCoy beam down to my office. I wish to confer with you privately." He smiled and looked at Sam. "Oh,and... um... 'Mr. Spock'... Al should come also."

"Why me?" Al protested. "And what is this beaming down bit? Sam... I don't like this one bit."

"Al?" Kirk said, looking between Mr. Seven and Sam. "Who is Al?"

Sam was very uncomfortable, and he had the distinct impression that Mr. Seven was enjoying himself. "Al is... a piece of equipment I discussed with Mr. Seven."

"Sam..." Al protested. "A piece of equipment?" Sam glared at him.

"Yes," Mr. Seven said. "A noisy piece of equipment."

Al, in turn, glared at Mr. Seven. "Oh, great," he said. "Now I have two of you to insult me."

"I see..." Kirk was saying. He looked at Sam, then all hesitancy left him. "We'll be right down. Kirk out." Mr. Seven, still smiling, disappeared from the screen.

"Mr. Spock, I'll meet you down there." He flicked a switch on the chair. "Dr. McCoy, meet us in the transporter room."

"What's this about, Jim?" said a southern sounding voice.

"I'll brief you when you get there."

Ziggy, who had been remarkably quiet through the whole exchange, suddenly spoke up. "Dr. Beckett, don't you think you better pick up that fictional piece of equipment?"

"Oh. Yeah," Sam subvocalized, then he got out of his chair and strode towards the lift, almost running. Uhura looked surprised. Sam almost shrugged at her, but suppressed it. Still, he must have twitched, because Uhura raised her eyebrows. He looked impassively at her, then walked onto the lift. She shook her head, shrugged, and turned back towards her board.

Just as the door closed, Al gave one last lingering look at Uhura's legs, then walked through the door onto the lift. "Where are you going?" he said.

Sam looked a little panicked. "I'm... beaming... down to Earth. Whatever beaming is."

Al looked at him. "I meant right now. After you get off the elevator."

"Oh. Back to my room, I guess. I think we both better talk with Ziggy."

"You can hear me, Dr. Beckett," Ziggy said. "That's all that matters."

"I said I want both of us to talk with you," Sam said, automatically looking to the ceiling.

"I'm not located on the ceiling, Dr. Beckett," Ziggy said through the wall communicator.

Sam blushed. "Old habits are hard to break, ok?"

Al looked at Sam. "Ok, Ziggy, why did you put that... thing... in the viewfinder?"

"Oh, that?" Ziggy said innocently. "That's just an inhabitant of the planet Reg'Del. I knew he wanted to see a naked female, so I obliged."

Sam had to grin. "What?" Al said. "I'm going to pull your circuit boards!"

"Don't be so provincial, Admiral," Ziggy said. "She's the beauty queen of the planet."

"You mean the rest of them are worse?"

Sam was about ready to retort, when the door opened, revealing a startled ensign. He composed his face and raised his eyebrow at her, then hurried off of the turbolift. Quelled, she got on, but still stared after him.

"Down three doors and to the right," Ziggy said in Sam's ear. He entered Spock's room, then collapsed on the bed.

Al walked through the wall. "Slow down, pal! You're ruining Spock's reputation."

"I'm ruining my nerves," Sam said to the ceiling. "Why?" Al said. "You're doing great so far."

"Right. You're not the one who's going to... 'beam'... down to Earth."

"For heaven's sake, Dr. Beckett," Ziggy said. "If that's what worrying you..."

Sam sat up. "Don't be coy, Ziggy. Go on."

"You invented the transporter, Dr. Beckett... so to speak. That's essentially what you do when you Leap - you're beaming from time to time." Ziggy paused, and Sam had the feeling he just shrugged. "The transporter just moves a person from place to place - actually, the technology is a bit simpler."

Al looked stunned, than shrugged. "See, Sam? Nothing to it." He looked thoughtful. "What I couldn't do with something like that..."

"No, good, Admiral," Ziggy said. "Still takes more power than a 100-watt bulb to transport a person."

Al looked somewhat disappointed. "I can dream, Ziggy. I can dream... anyway, who is this Mr. Seven?"

"We don't know too much about him, actually. He was raised from human stock on another planet, then was sent back to Earth to help things along."

"Rather like me, actually," Sam said.

"Except he's here intentionally," Al commented.

Sam sat up. "I guess I better get going. Does Spock have any projects going that I can take down?"

"Take that thing on his desk." Sam looked on the desk. Whatever it was, it was in a million pieces. "Maybe you

better put it in a box," Ziggy said. "Those uniforms don't have pockets."

"No pockets," Al said. "The first thing I've seen on the ship that I didn't like."

"I still can't understand why Mr. Seven would want me down there, Jim," a man was saying. Ziggy identified the speaker as Dr. McCoy.

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 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?"

Sam felt panicked, then said, "It is not logical to form opinions on incomplete data."

"Not bad," Ziggy commented.

Al was poking at the transporter controls. "Sounds like they don't trust this guy any more than I do."

McCoy was saying something, but it was drowned out by the two comments. "What did you say, Doctor?"

McCoy looked puzzled at him. "I said that I was surprised you wanted to pass up a good argument. Didn't you hear me?"

Shut up, Sam subvocalized. "Sorry, Doctor, I was thinking of something else."

McCoy snorted. "Honestly, Spock, you don't have to work on five things at once. Don't you ever take a break?"

Sam felt weary. "Never," he said heartfeltedly. "There are always things to be fixed."

Kirk looked like he was enjoying himself. "I hate to break up this argument," he said. "But I believe Mr. Seven is waiting?"

"Of course, Captain," Sam said.

"Get up on the platform on one of the circles," Ziggy said.

"I figured that," Sam subvocalized.

"You're getting testy, Dr. Beckett," Ziggy said sulkily. "After all I did to help..."

"I'll follow you down in a minute," Al called. "I want to watch this."

"Energize," Kirk said.

Sam glared at Al and suppressed his rising panic. Nothing's going to happen, he said to himself, as he felt himself being pulled apart. He saw Al's eyes widen, then looked at the technician, whose eyes were doing the same thing. Uh oh, he thought, as the world dissolved around him...

...and resolved itself as a typical sixties-type office. Mr. Seven was sitting behind a desk. He looked at Sam, and he shrugged. Al popped in behind Mr. Seven.

"You won't believe this, Sam." Al said, his eyes wide. "When you... 'beamed' down, I saw you. Nothing of Spock was there. And so did the technician, so it wasn't just me."

Something on Kirk beeped. He pulled out a little clamshell device and flipped the top up. "Kirk here."

"Captain," the technician said. "Did you beam down alright?"

Kirk looked around at Sam and McCoy. "We're fine, Mr. Kyle. Was there a problem?"

"I... uh... just thought I saw something, Captain. Nothing to worry about."

"Perhaps you better check your circuits," Kirk said. "...yes, Captain. I'll do that."

"You can take my transporter back," Seven said. He raised a pen...

The next thing Sam heard was Al sputtering. "If you've hurt him..."

Mr. Seven was looking at him. "Your concern is commendable... Al... but he is fine. See?"

"You alright, Sam? Huh?"

Sam shrugged. "I'm fine." He looked to either side of him and saw McCoy and Kirk staring out into space. He narrowed his eyes. "But what happened to them?"

"They'll just be sleeping for a second. I wanted to talk to you alone... Sam."

"How do you know who I am?"

Mr. Seven leaned back in his chair. "That's the point, isn't it? I can see past your body aura, but I don't know who you are. And what I don't know worries me."

Sam and Al exchanged glances, then Sam looked Mr. Seven in the eye.

"You seem to be of human stock, although that still could be an illusion."

The cat meowed. "You are right, Isis," Seven said. "If he were anything else, the illusion would be better. Even you wouldn't be able to see past the body aura."

"Well, you're not perfect, either," Al retorted.

Mr. Seven turned and regarded Al. "This is true. My tutors are not omniscient, even though they are quite powerful. And you are obviously very human... even though you are a projection."

"A hologram," Al said reluctantly.

"Semantics." Mr. Seven glanced at one, then the other. "I think that you, along with these two..." he gestured to

Kirk and McCoy "...are from the future. So I ask you... who are you, and what are you doing here?"

Sam looked at Al. Al looked concerned. "I know that look, Sam, and I really don't think you should. What if this strands you here?"

"Ninety-nine percent projection that a confession will have no effect," Ziggy said in his ear. "Zero percent projection that Mr. Seven will help you get back to the project."

Sam started. He had forgotten about the hearing aid. Simultaneously, a cube beeped on Mr. Seven's desk. Mr. Seven looked at the cube, then up to Sam. "Uh... I'm getting information from the ship," Sam said. "Ziggy... a sub- program on the Enterprise... probably set it off." He gulped. "Ok, I'm a time traveler from the future."

"Sam!" Al protested. Sam ignored him.

"So are they." Mr. Seven gestured at Kirk and McCoy.

Sam stared at them. "A more recent future. Thirty years from now."

Mr. Seven looked startled. "Only thirty... I would've guessed at least fifty until humans got to this point. What is your name?"

"Not that it means anything," Sam said. "My name is Samuel Beckett."

Mr. Seven grinned slightly. "The author? Never mind, just being facetious. Where are you from?"

"Originally, Elk Ridge, Indiana."

"Oh," he said, looking slightly surprised. "I thought the name sounded familiar. You're one of the wunderkinds we've been helping."

"Helping?" Al said, startled.

"Oh," he said, with a wave of his hand. "Scholarships, grants, that kind of help." He paused. "Not that you wouldn't have made it on your own, but the Terran economic system is notably lax on this sort of thing. I'm happy to know that everything turned out."

Sam looked embarrassed. "I'm very grateful, but... um... I don't suppose you could help me again."

"You're stuck bouncing around in time, aren't you?"

"Um... yeah."

Mr. Seven looked at him ruefully. "It's a common side effect of your kind of system. And I suppose you have selective amnesia."

"It swiss-cheesed his brain, yeah," Al put in.

"Yes." He looked at the wall. "I'm sorry. I can't help you. Not only is it not permitted, we don't know the answer, ourselves."

Al looked shocked. "You don't mean... they didn't come back!"

Mr. Seven frowned at him. "Oh, no. They did come back, eventually. Nobody ever figured out why. None of their retrieval programs worked, either." He looked at Sam. "I don't suppose you asked your computer..."

Sam felt a sinking feeling. "Ziggy wouldn't help me."

"And Mr. Spock is being very close-mouthed about everything, too," Al put in, peevishly.

"Yes," Seven said absentmindedly. "I would presume he would... well, you're no danger. I need to talk to Kirk about the Kkk'raltasa. Best you drop back into your persona."

Sam grinned. "Thanks for the warning."

Mr. Seven smiled ruefully. "I have to do the same thing. I'm rather far from home myself." He raised his pen again, then lowered it. "Ah," he said. "I'm forgetting something." He came around the desk, took an instrument from Dr. McCoy, and gave it a slight adjustment. "I had suspected that was the case, which is why I asked for the Doctor to come down. You were too inept to be a Q." Sam felt slightly insulted, and he wasn't sure why. "Now you should register like a normal Vulcan... presuming he doesn't change scanners."

Sam sighed. "Thanks. I had been worrying about that." Mr. Seven went back to his desk. "I'm not being altruistic, Sam. I'm being realistic." He raised his pen again. Sam saw a small flash...

...and Kirk and McCoy started moving beside him. "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 towards Al, who glared at him as Mr. Seven walked right through him. Seven smiled sardonically, then sobered. "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."

He paced the room. "I took 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 - 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." Sam wondered what Mr. Seven left unsaid.

Kirk apparently noticed the omission. "Other matters?"

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." Sam noticed the identification change, and wondered exactly how human Mr. Seven actually was.

"Basically, you're saying that you don't know how they will react."

"Exactly."

"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 yet." He grimaced. "They would not fit in too well. Unfortunately, Terrans haven't learned to get along with each other, yet."

Al raised his eyebrows, then lowered them in thought. "Perhaps we can convince them to go to someplace else..."

"No, 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 noticed Kirk and McCoy looking at him oddly. Sam suppressed an urge to smile at Seven's error. Even the cat looked amused. "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, flushing slightly. "Perhaps you can convince them to wait until another solution is found." He looked at Sam. "If I could use your tricorder, I will download what I have. Computer on." A panel somewhat like the original Ziggy came out of the wall.

"Mr. Spock can handle it, Mr. Seven," Kirk said. Seven nodded, not smiling. Sam sighed inwardly.

"Take that big instrument that looks like a... tape recorder from around your neck," Ziggy said. "Point the front of it at the machine and twiddle with some knobs." Sam did what Ziggy said. "I'll send a carrier signal through it so it sounds like it's on, but it really doesn't make any difference, because I'm in contact with the Beta-five snob right now." Sam presumed he meant Seven's computer. "I don't care if you're smarter. Same to you, fellow! Ok, got it."

"Transfer complete, Captain," Sam said smoothly.

"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." He looked pointedly at Sam. "I know it looks like I'm unwilling to help you, but..." His voice trailed off.

"Ah," Sam said. "I will leave... Al... with you." He deposited the box on Mr. Seven's desk.

"Oh, no, you're not, Sam!" Mr. Seven and Sam stared at him. "Oh... you mean the jigsaw puzzle. Sorry."

"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, how is the transporter?"

"They check out, Captain." Kyle still sounded a bit doubtful.

Kirk shrugged. "Then three to beam up, Mr. Kyle." Oh, no, not that again! thought Sam. He glared at Al, whowas looking amused at the expression on his face.

"No, no, no, no..."

"Sam, stop pacing back and forth like a tennis ball. You're making me queasy.

"...No, no."

"You have to go to the briefing."

Sam whirled before hitting the wall. "No."

Al shifted his weight and looked at him. "You're being unreasonable. To say the least."

Sam looked at a carving on Spock's desk. He couldn't make heads nor tails out of it. "I'm being realistic," he said. He picked up the carving. It buzzed in his hand and he dropped it with a clatter.

Al snorted. "Are you quite through playing with Spock's things?" He tapped the ash off of his cigar. Sam remembered what the janitorial crew always said about him. "What're you going to do - call in sick?"

"I thought of that." Sam glared at the carving.

"And have Dr. Kildare haul you to sickbay on a stretcher? Not a bright idea, Sam."

"I know. That's why I rejected that idea."

"Well, short of suicide or jumping ship - which would be the same thing from this far up, come to think about it..." He looked thoughtful, then shook himself. "...I don't see what your options are. Besides, at least you have Ziggy with you."

"Ziggy... hmph."

"What did I do?" said a hurt voice from the speaker.

Sam sighed. He had forgotten that Ziggy would be listening. "It's not your fault, Ziggy. It's just that I get distracted when you talk in my ear."

"Well, what am I supposed to do... put it on ship-wide intercom?"

"Heaven help us from emotionally-disturbed computers," Al muttered.

"I heard that, Admiral Calavicci!"

Al looked up at the ceiling. "Ziggy, you're not supposed to listen to private conversations."

"Well, excuse me! I'll just slip off to a corner. Who said this was a private conversation?"

"Most people..." He stopped and puffed his cigar, confused.

"Fortunately," Ziggy said dryly. "I am not a person."

"Well, you sure act human."

Ziggy sounded aggrieved. "Petty insults."

"Children!" Sam bellowed suddenly. Al looked at him in mid-puff. "If it makes you stop arguing, I'll go."

Al glared at the speaker. "As long as I don't have to kiss and make up."

"I agree," Ziggy said.

"I promise," Sam sighed.

"Dr. Beckett." The computer sounded chastened.

"Yes, Ziggy."

"I have the results of the Level Three Diagnostic. The Starboard Shields are weakened. They could not withstand a direct hit by a weapon or a fairly large object. Mr. Scott has it on his to-do list, but it's below the power problem."

Sam looked at Al, who shrugged. "Good. Anything else?"

"A food slot on Deck Three is out."

Al rolled his eyes. "You microchip. That's not important."

"If you were hungry on Deck Three, it would be."

Sam snorted. "Ziggy, that's enough."

"Well, it's part of a Level Three," Ziggy said plaintively.

"Anything else life-threatening?"

"Besides those two? No."

Al studied his cigar, then looked up. "Sam, do you suppose that those shields...?"

"Exactly." He punched a button. "Spock to Mr. Scott."

"Gee," Al said admiringly. "Just like a pro."

"Scott here. Did you think of any ideas about strengthening the dilithium crystals?" The voice spoke eagerly in a distinctly Scottish tone, and Sam raised his eyebrows and smiled at Al.

"No, Mr. Scott," Sam said, struggling to keep his voice from sounding amused and wondering what dilithium crystals were, "but I have run a Level Three Diagnostic."

"No, I have," Ziggy said.

"The diagnostic... confirms the weakness in the starboard shields. I believe they should be repaired before our meeting with the Kkk'raltasa."

"I see," Scott said. "Do you believe that the meeting will turn violent?"

"Yes," Sam said, tired. "I do... Spock out." He slumped back into his chair.

"God, I hope you're wrong," Al said lowly.

The briefing was going surprisingly well, Sam thought. Of course, Ziggy kept talking in his ear, Al kept making spurious comments, and Dr. McCoy kept looking at him. But it could have been worse, and that was what Sam didn't want to think about. Of course, he had to admit that if it weren't for Ziggy, he would've sounded like an alchemist in a chemistry lab - he simply didn't know the terminology.

He couldn't help but think that this was wasted time, but when Dr. McCoy made his report, it suddenly all clicked. He managed to keep from looking dismayed, but still, McCoy looked at him and stopped, startled. Fortunately, the group was looking at McCoy, so he was able to put on his poker face before anyone else noticed.

The Kkk'raltasan were empathic! Would they blow his cover? Would he be able to leap onward if they did?

He worried about it for the rest of the briefing.

"I'd much rather have a hamburger," Sam said under his breath. He stared down at the yellow and green cubes on his plate. He almost wished that he were on the bridge during the first meeting with the aliens, but he and McCoy had agreed... for different reasons... that staying low would be the wisest thing to do. The Kkk'raltasan were empathic. They would undoubtedly pick up on his nervousness. Or would they? He speared a green cube and studied it.

"Eat up, Dr. Beckett. It's just vegetable matter. It won't poison you," Ziggy said in his ear. "In fact, it's better for you than hamburger."

"Couldn't I just have string beans or something?"

"And break cover? You're lucky I was able to make it look like Vulcan food. If I made hamburger out of it, the whole cafeteria could smell that you're eating meat, and you don't want that, do you?"

Sam grimaced. "I suppose not."

"Cheese it - here comes the cop." Sam looked up to find Dr. McCoy approaching the table.

"Are you feeling alright, Spock?" McCoy asked, looking concerned. "I've been watching you pick at your food for the last five minutes."

"I am fine, Doctor," Sam backpedaled, a bit panicked. "I was just... thinking." He started eating his... vegetable matter... in earnest. Actually, it wasn't half bad.

McCoy sat down across from him. "Thinking. You've also been quieter than usual."

"Is that a sin, Doctor?"

"No," he drawled, sitting back. "But usually I can get a rise out of you. Is there something wrong?"

Nothing... Sam thought. Except that I'm not Spock. "No, Doctor," he managed to say calmly. "Nothing is wrong."

"How come I don't believe you, then?" McCoy said.

Sam heard the whoosh of the Imaging Chamber door behind him. "Watch him, Sam. He could be tricky," Al said. He looked closely at McCoy. "Actually, he reminds me of me. Suppose he's related to me?"

"I'd like you to come in for an examination," McCoy said. "You look a little peaked."

"Especially around the ears," Al put in helpfully. Sam resisted the temptation to glare at him.

"Remember, I can control some of the medical instruments," Ziggy put in, "But not the hand-held ones. You would never explain your human readings."

"See what I mean," McCoy said. "You didn't hear a word I said."

You try to listen with voices speaking in your ear, Sam thought. "I am fine, Doctor," Sam said. "I was just thinking about the Kkk'raltasan."

McCoy grinned. "Ah, yes. That was an extremely interesting briefing you gave us. If I didn't know better, I would say you were rather worried about the Kkk'raltasan - especially when you noted that they were slightly empathic, and they regard any holding back of emotion an insult." He sat back. "Rather convenient that we humans didn't throw our emotions out with the trash, eh?"

Actually, I was worried how I was going to get through this without blowing my cover, Sam thought. "The trash, Doctor," he said, warming to the part. "Rather an apt analogy, don't you think? I believe I've heard the expression about people carrying a lot of emotional garbage?"

McCoy looked at him. "That's an archaic term, yes."

Suddenly, a startling thought surfaced. What if it were because of his emotional nature that he was here? Ziggy had mentioned that.

Sam decided on his course of action. "Well?" he said, looking steadily at McCoy. "Besides, Vulcans are not emotionless." He flashed McCoy a quick grin, then looked sternly at him while McCoy turned to stone. "I think my emotionlessness is the least of our worries."

Al looked as if he were struck by lightning. "Of course, Sam! That's what you were sent here for! Nobody can accuse you of holding back your emotions!"

Sam glanced at Al, and wondered whether he should be insulted.

He thought a moment. "But if you do that..." He looked at Sam.

"I think I'd better scram to the bridge." Sam grinned at the pair, jumped up, and quickly left the cafeteria, followed by a thunderstruck McCoy.

"Spock!" McCoy bellowed, trotting after Sam. "I don't think you should..."

Sam kept striding down the hall, followed by a panting Al. "You can't confine me to sickbay now, McCoy!" he yelled gleefully. "I have to go greet some space aliens."

McCoy's mouth dropped. "Spock!" He started running as Sam entered the turbolift. The doors shut in front of McCoy.

"Ziggy," Sam said, and the doors opened again. McCoy stood there, rubbing his nose, then Sam pulled him on. McCoy looked at the doors. "If I didn't know better, I would say that the lift wasn't going to let me on."

"I wasn't," Ziggy said, and Sam winced. McCoy looked astonished.

"Not in front of the customers, you dumb computer," Al said.

"Well, he blew his cover, anyway, Al," Ziggy said.

McCoy grabbed the lift controls and stopped the lift. "Who the hell are you?" he bellowed.

"He's..."

"Ziggy, no!" Sam said, panicked.

"Why not?"

Sam ignored him. "Doctor, I am not Spock."

To Sam's relief, McCoy snorted. "That's obvious. Even if Spock had gone insane, he would not program the computer to make wisecracks."

"Um...no, I suppose not," Sam said, bemused. He was probably correct. He looked at Al.

McCoy caught the glance and followed it. "And you keep looking at something or somebody." He leaned back against the wall, his arms folded. "You had better explain who you are... and I will call security to keep you off the bridge."

Sam looked at him. How could he explain to McCoy what he couldn't explain to himself? "I... we've been sent to help you out."

McCoy's eyebrows went up. "Seems to me like we can help ourselves fine," he drawled. "Who sent you... Seven? I thought time went too quickly down in his office."

"No, I'm not. He did... hypnotize you two, but only because he wanted to find out who I was." He shook his head and decided to be totally honest. "I really don't know who... or what... has been sending me places." He stopped, lost, not sure of which way to go.

"Ziggy, can I get in on this conversation?" Al said.

"Of course, Admiral," Ziggy said, and McCoy looked at the wall communicator. "Go ahead and talk."

Al turned to the communicator. "McCoy, my name is Al. You can't see me, but I'm more or less traveling with Sam, here."

"So... his name is Sam and yours is Al. How Terran of you."

"It's the names we were born with, McCoy. Not much we can do about it." Al shook his head. "We're wasting time. Look, the upshot is this. If you don't let Sam get to the bridge, you won't get Spock back, and we won't get Sam back." "Why?"

"I don't know why," Al said. "It's just the way it works, ok? The reason that Sam is here is that he can do something your Mr. Spock cannot, like show his emotions."

"Admiral," Ziggy put in. "I told you that Vulcans were not emotionless. They suppress them."

"But can they show their emotions?"

"They can... but it's very unlikely that they would."

"Well, then."

"Who is that?" McCoy put in.

Sam sighed. "Ziggy is a program in the computer."

McCoy rubbed his forehead. "Who put him there?"

"Well... I did, and Spock did, more or less. A long time ago, so they tell me."

McCoy rubbed his forehead. "I'm getting a headache."

Sam sighed. "If you find some aspirin, share it with me. I've been putting up with the two of them for three days."

"Would you rather I go away?" Al said.

"Or me?" Ziggy said, almost on top of Al's comment.

"Aspirin?" McCoy looked at him speculatively. "That dates you, Sam."

Sam hung his head. "Please don't ask anymore, Doctor. It may seriously impair my ability to leave. Spock will tell you everything when he gets back, ok?" The ship rocked, and McCoy looked startled. "Please?"

"Do I have a choice?" McCoy grumbled. "Bridge!" The lift started again.

They emerged running onto the bridge. What was apparently one of the Kkk'raltasan ships was coming about for another shot. Kirk was on the floor, apparently unconscious, and McCoy rushed to his side. Mr. Sulu, in the command seat, was yelling, "Ready, phasers, on my command!"

"Status!" Sam yelped.

Mr. Sulu turned. Uhura stopped her hails to Sickbay and 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."

Sam remembered something. "Shields?" "We were able to get the shields up in time. Starboard shields held."

Checkov turned from his temporary seat at the science station. "The Kkk'raltasan fighter tried to ram us, but the shields repulsed it. No damage to the fighter."

"No casualties," Uhura said, turning from her board. "No damage to the Enterprise."

Sam bit his lip and hoped he was doing the right thing. "Put the shields back down. Uhura, try to get the Kkk'raltasan ship back."

The two looked at him, then did as he said. "The Kkk'raltasan commander is coming onto the screen," Uhura said.

A huge iguana looked suspiciously at Sam, then apparently glanced at Al. Sam shut his eyes in prayer, then muttered, "Well, here goes nothing." He spread his arms wide, and tried to project nothing but goodwill. "Friends," he said, smiling broadly. "What is this? Why do you attack us?" He doubted that the Kkk'raltasan would understand him, but he hoped that he... she?... would pick up on his good will.

Despite himself, he couldn't suppress his admiration and wonder. He never thought he'd be negotiating with a alien for the fate of the earth. In a bizarre sort of way, he was having fun.

"You are not Kirk?" The lizard looked nonplussed.

Sam's mouth threatened to drop open, but he managed to mask his astonishment. Al's mouth did drop open, and he pointed at the screen. "He spoke English! He spoke English!"

The creature glanced at Al. "You have an excitable crewmember... or is he one? He is not dressed like the rest of you creatures."

"He is a... passenger." Al, still wide-eyed, nodded. The entire bridge crew was staring at Sam in blank

astonishment. Sam tried to ignore them. "I am... second-in- command on this ship. I am called Spock." Well, it wasn't exactly a bold-faced lie, but he hoped it sufficed.

"You are called by other names?"

Sam smiled. "Yes."

To Sam's relief, the alien dropped the line of questioning. "Your Captain told us that we were not welcome on Terra. He was also angry." He sighed. "As I told your captain, our home planet was destroyed. We have come a long way. We can go no further, and we are desperate. If we have to land by force, we will."

"Not welcome?" Sam frowned and glanced at Uhura.

She shrugged. "It is very possible the translators interpreted the Captain's phrasing that way, Mr. Spock. They are still fine-tuning the syntax."

The Kkk'raltasan looked neutral. "Ah. But your captain is withholding information. It sounded as if he was breaking off negotiations." He scratched his head, a gesture Sam found very human. "I am ship-born, and we have never met aliens until we met you."

"Oh," Sam said. He wished he could tell the Kkk'raltasan that he had never talked to aliens before this day, either. "This is going to be rather hard to explain. It's not that you're not welcome on Terra, it's just that we cannot allow you to land there."

The alien looked at Sam. "You are talking in riddles."

Sam bowed his head, then grinned ruefully. "We are from this planet's future. None of our records show any extra- terrestrial landing on Earth, much less ones that look like you."

He caught a motion at his feet and looked down. Kirk was looking at him, a puzzled look on his face. He looked at McCoy, who looked at him with a poker face. Then Kirk shrugged, himself. "Go ahead, Spock. It's your move," he said in a low voice.

Sam looked back at the Kkk'raltasa. "We're not necessarily protecting our planet, we're protecting our future." And how different would his past be, with Kkk'raltasan around? Maybe no Starbright Project? No Project Quantum Leap? He shivered.

The Kkk'raltasan looked away, nodded, then looked at Sam. "I think I see. I believe you are telling the truth." He managed to look forlorn. "But what do we do? I was not lying. We can go no further. What do your records show for us?"

Sam swallowed. He really didn't want to tell the extra- terrestrial the truth.

"Captain!" Uhura said. "I'm getting a hail on a Federation channel!"

"What?" Kirk scrambled up, then held his side and turned white. He grabbed onto the side rail. "Put the hail on... half-screen... and feed the communications to the Kkk'raltasan."

Al chewed on his cigar and stared at Sam. "The calvary's coming?"

The front screen split in half. On the new half was a picture of a balding man... human... in a red and black tunic. A younger man with dark hair and a beard sat to his right, a woman with long black hair sat to his left. They looked at the Enterprise's bridge crew, frank curiosity on their faces. Sam looked around the bridge. His companions were no more enlightened than he was.

"I understand that you need help, Captain Kirk, Mr... Spock," the bald man said. Sam felt a chill go down his spine. This man, too, seemed to know he wasn't Spock.

"Geez, does the whole universe know who you are?" Al said slowly. Sam glanced at him.

Kirk bit his lip. "You have the advantage. May I ask who you are?"

The man smiled and looked at his companions, as if they were sharing a private joke. "I am... Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the U.S.S. Enterprise... 1701D."

Kirk looked at him. "D? That would mean you are from..."

"Your future. Yes."

"Why are you here?" He looked at Picard suspiciously. "If you are going to destroy the Kkk'raltasan fleet..."

"No, Captain," Picard smiled. "Although I can see how you came to that suspicion. We - the Excelsior, the Lexington, and the Enterprise - are here to transport the Kkk'raltasan to their new home. Apparently, a 'time capsule' entry was logged at the Federation to send us back here to this time."

"Captain," Uhura cut in. "Transmission from the planet!"

"That would be Mr. Seven, wouldn't it?" Picard said casually.

"Put it on," Kirk said with a sigh. "Split the screen into thirds and transmit this whole mess to Seven."

Seven's face came up on the screen, his cat beside him. "Kirk," Seven said. "I just picked up three more... oh. I see."

"If you do, you see more than I do," Kirk said wryly. "It seems this is another captain of the Enterprise."

"Seventeen-o-one D, Mr. Seven. I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard."

Mr. Seven looked at his cat, then he smiled. "You're from Kirk's future... see how it feels, Captain?"

"Only too well."

Mr. Seven looked slightly to the side. "And you must be the Kkk'raltasan Premiere. It's an honor to meet you, Sire."

"Sire?" Sam said, louder than he wanted to.

"How did you know who I am?" said the Premiere.

"I am the representative of a race who have monitored both the Kkk'raltasan and the Terrans." He looked repentful. "I am told to transmit their regrets that they could not stop the explosion of your star."

The Kkk'raltasan looked rather bemused. "We accept your apology... I'm sorry. This is a lot to take for one day."

"Amen," said Kirk and Sam, and the two looked at each other.

"Fire."

The lead ship of the Kkk'raltasa blew apart. Sam sat at Spock's station and tried not to let his mouth drop open at the phaser display. Through the monitor, he could see the other starships destroying the empty ships of the Kkk'raltasan fleet.

"Locked on, Captain."

"Fire."

Another ship exploded. And another. And another.

"Wow," Al said in admiration.

"Are there any ships left?" Kirk looked at Sam.

"None within range," Ziggy said in his ear. Sam parroted the words.

"Hail coming in from the Enterprise, Captain," Uhura said.

"Put Picard on," Kirk said.

"Thank you for the tour of your ship, Captain," Picard said. "And it was an honor to meet you... all of you." He looked directly at Sam. "I'm sorry I couldn't reciprocate the favor."

Kirk grinned ruefully. "I quite understand, Captain. Anyway, thank you for bringing dinner. Quite obviously the food replicaters have improved a bit."

Picard's mouth quirked. "Even in my lifetime. I can recall some fairly horrible dinners out of a replicater." He sighed. "Well, I believe the Kkk'raltasan would like to see their new home."

Kirk nodded. "It was nice to meet you and your staff, Captain Picard."

Picard smiled. "No, we thank you!"

The screen suddenly split into half. Both Captains looked startled, then Kirk looked back at Uhura, who seemed mystified. "Mr. Seven," Kirk said.

Seven and his cat looked directly at Sam, then glanced at Al. "I just wanted to say that my employers find it gratifying that they are not laboring in vain. Thank you." Sam looked at Al.

"Anytime," Al said, shrugging. He looked at Sam. "Sam, I bet that was one of the things you were here to change. Give Seven's people an emotional boost." He smiled. "'Bye, Sam."

"Oh," Ziggy said in his ear. "Something's changing... this is interesting. Yeah, well, see you later!"

"See me...?" Sam murmured, then the blue light surrounded him...

...he found himself looking at Kirk and Spock in a viewscreen. He looked to his right. He was sitting next to Picard. He looked down. He was wearing the jumpsuit that the woman was wearing.

"Oh, boy," he muttered.

Riker looked at her. "Something wrong, Deanna?" he said, concerned.