Of Sacraments and War
War is Mankind's greatest accomplishment. The epithet of the World shall read: Remember me not as charity and brotherhood; I am a maker of war, eternally bedded upon the ash and bone of my enemy. Thus when Man moves beyond the World, to boldly go where no Man has gone before, let War go with him, the constant and only companion.
A tall man, broad-shouldered and strong voiced, speaks to his disciples of their future: "Take to your chambers and be at peace, for we shall sleep like children through the night. When we next awaken, morning will be upon us—the morning of our new glory! Rest, children, and join me in waiting for tomorrow."
They are obedient, each patiently standing in line for his or her turn to lie inside a niche in a cold metal wall; the individual chambers are little larger than caskets, resting places for a body frozen in time by the latest cryogenic technology. So long as the vessel, this starship named the SS Botany Bay, is fueled with power, their bodies, minds, and spirits will remain preserved until the Awakening. Then they shall rise again, beside their leader, and conquer as they were born to.
Khan Noonien Singh is the last man to succumb to cryogenic sleep. He spends his final moments of awareness in solitude, unflinching eyes skimming the ranks of slumbering soldiers. Khan does not see the present; he sees only what is to come—and the power which he must regain. For what is a ruler without subjects? Earth yielded a quarter of its bounty to him; country after country, he brought under his power, as Alexander the Great had once done, as so many powerful men had once done. Then he was rebuked, in the prime of his reign, and forced to take refuge in space.
Khan is not a senseless man. There are possibilities in space that were not for the taking on his homeworld. He dreams of a new life with an entire world which calls him their Khan, theirs and none other. So shall it be, Khan knows.
Only then does he brush his fingertips one last time over the consoles and computers, sets the timer of the SS Botany Bay and lowers himself into the glowing cold cell.
The heart rate slows into intermittent but solid beats; legs become numb, the leaden sensation spreading across the torso like a lover's embrace; the mind begins to drift on gentle waves until it fades into nothingness.
So it is that Khan sleeps, too, like a beast in hibernation until winter passes into a fruitful spring.
"How is our progress?" A man steps into the boardroom of the United Aerospace Corporation headquarters on Earth, closing the door behind him. He wears an expensive suit with a tie and recently polished shoes. His eyes are dark and heavy-lidded.
The other occupant of the room is a lean, gray-haired man with deep lines in his face and a name tag that reads Dr. Carmack. "We found another femur," the doctor begins but swallows his report when the newcomer says nothing and lights a cigarette. "There's, ah, no smoking in the building, Sir."
"Mm," responds the other man carelessly as ash from the end of his cigarette drifts to the carpet. "Exceptions to the rules, Doctor Carmack. Now tell me, is it true?"
The smile Carmack is given chills him. "About the 24th chromosome, the... super-human nature of these Martians."
"It is too early to draw conclusions. We are working diligently—" He is ignored for the most part, merely a pawn in a large-scale operation.
"Once your lab has determined how to alter human DNA to accommodate another chromosome, you will be sent test subjects. Volunteers, of course. The supporters of UAC are very anxious, you understand, for results."
Carmack speaks quickly, knowing that he must say what has been needling at him since the initial report on the 24th chromosome and its potential was transmitted to Headquarters. "This is a delicate discovery; we do not know how the chromosome would alter the molecular structure of our DNA, let alone if it is even possible... And if it could be done, in the wrong hands... Can you imagine—"
"The UAC only wishes to better mankind," he is told gently, if a bit coldly.
He lowers his voice, as if the words themselves are cursed. "Haven't we been down this road before, Sir? They say that during the Eugenics War..."
The other man plucks the cigarette from his mouth to laugh. "Ah yes, the infamous Eugenics War. We are human, Doctor, always striving to enhance ourselves. We may have come close to creating a faster, smarter man but in the end the genetics failed us. Do you know why?"
Because too much power creates tyrants, he doesn't say, and Earth was lucky to survive them. Instead Carmack shakes his head dutifully.
"The men we engineered were not a product of nature. The Martians, if you will, are part of the very fabric of the universe. We are those people, Doctor, as they might have once been before evolution carried them to the next level of existence. Where we failed before we will succeed now because it is our destiny to walk that path."
Carmack cannot argue because he is in no position to do so. There is no arguing with such a strong conviction.
"I need time," he says.
The man smiles sardonically. "Isn't that all we have?"
"And I need help."
"Your lab is fully staffed, Doctor." The man is watching him, perhaps already knows what Carmack wants.
"There is a woman..."
The man lowers his brows. "Hm, I recall the name. Married couple, weren't they? Brilliant scientists. Deceased, unfortunately."
"The daughter is interested in UAC. I was a... friend of her parents. I was here when she and her brother were children and the accident—" He shuts up quickly, afraid he is revealing too much of the past. "Her name is Samantha Grimm. Her schooling credentials are excellent but she is new to the field."
Nodding, the man grinds his cigarette into a decorative bowl. "I understand, Doctor Carmack. She may intern under you and then, if she shows promise, you will introduce her to the real purpose of Olduvai, subject to the Board's approval."
"Thank you, Sir." Dr. Carmack watches the other man tug at long coat sleeves and accepts his dismissal with relief.
Today, at least, he has won a small victory. Soon the young Samantha Grimm will return to Olduvai, and the debt Carmack owes to her mother and father will be paid in full. If he is lucky, she will prove useful in the advancement of the project, too.
"John? John, is that you?"
Samantha Grimm pauses with a glass in one hand and a soapy rag in the other. An old family clock ticks steadily in a hallway beyond the softly lit kitchen; other than that, the house is silent. She sighs and returns to the chore, idly remembering a time when her mother would hum as she washed, handing a young Sammy dishes to dry with a towel. Her small hands would hold the ceramic plate in a tight grip and the girl would chant in her head, don't drop it, don't drop it...
Her mother and father are gone, have been for years. She and her brother John are the only family left for each other, and now John might as well be gone too.
It has been three years since the Olduvai facility was destroyed. Samantha has only seen John a handful of times since then.
She had woken up in the hospital in the aftermath of a very real nightmare and men in black suits had said, "You are the only survivor, Ms. Grimm. You have our condolences." She laid there in a daze, eyes closed and dreamed again and again of injecting her brother with the C-24 serum. On the night before her release, she had that same dream, hand pressed to her brother's barely moving chest, praying don't die, John when administering the shot. But this time the dream didn't end there because he opened his eyes, pupils blown wide, and said her name.
She woke up to the feel of someone pressing her back into the bed.
"Sam, it's alright. It's just me."
Her voice sounded far away. "John?"
"Yeah. I'm here, Sammy."
"Oh, John. I knew it, I knew you—" She was crying and a hand brushed back her hair. Her brother's voice was in her ear, his cheek against hers. She couldn't see his face.
"Sam, listen to me. I can't stay. They say I'm dead, so I'm dead, okay?"
She whispered, "I don't understand," and clung to the reality of his body against hers.
"I'm not who I was," John said. She thought he might be crying, too, into her hair.
"Please don't go."
"I'll visit," he promised. "Now close your eyes, Sammy. Can you count, like we used to?"
She closed her eyes, saying, "When we'd hide in the ruins... hide-and-seek."
"That's right. Now count."
She nodded and began. Fifty...forty-nine...forty-eight...forty-seven...
When she reached the count of twenty, Samantha opened her eyes just like always. It was ridiculous, but she wanted to say here I come! Instead, Sam sat up and looked around. Her hospital room was empty, no sign that John had been little more than a ghost of her memory except the dampness of her hair.
She finishes in the kitchen and stretches out on a couch, a small laptop balanced on her stomach. Most of the research from the Olduvai project had been appropriated by UAC; Sam still has copies of her notes, but she cannot bring herself to look at them without thinking of what she had done to her brother.
Samantha falls asleep around midnight, a cup of cold tea on a coffee-table and a handmade afghan over her legs. She wakes up in her bed later and shades her eyes against the glare of a digital clock. It reads 4:32.
Beyond the clock, in the darkest part of the room, is a presence.
She doesn't bother to sit up, merely relaxes back into her pillows. "I knew you were coming here."
The young woman nods even though he won't be able to see her do so. Then she thinks, with a start, that perhaps he might, courtesy of his 24th chromosome. That pulls Sam back from the edge of sleep like a shock of cold water.
She swallows, looking at the ceiling, and asks, "How are you?"
"It's been five months, John. You—" She bites her lip. You haven't visited me in over five months.
"I know," he says. "They're still watching you."
Her hand curls into the bed sheet. "I won't talk about... that place. They know I won't."
"Olduvai," the name sounds flat coming from him and she flinches in response, "won't exist in another year."
Except for those of us who remember it, she thinks. And when we are gone…
But John won't. There will always be John, to remember.
Her throat aches like she has been sobbing. She wants to apologize but John will leave if she does.
"This house doesn't change, does it?"
Samantha is grateful for the change of subject. "No, I guess not."
The house is not that large, but it has belonged to the Grimm family for generations. Mostly, it stood empty while her parents took their children on the Mars excavation; then, after the accident, John and Samantha came back to Earth to live here with an unmarried aunt. The house, by rights, passed down to John when he reached adulthood but he said he had no use for it and had put it into a trust to pass to Samantha. She hadn't wanted it back then, either, too busy dreaming of returning to Mars and picking up where her mother and father left off.
Now the Grimm estate is all she has left.
John is saying, "You can't hide here forever, Sammy."
You're one to talk about hiding. That would be cruel, so she doesn't say it. "I'm happy." Sam doesn't believe her own lie. Her twin is silent for so long that she wonders if he snuck out into the night already. "John?"
A sigh. "Please, Samantha, won't you try?"
"I—" Her throat is still tight but she pushes past it and words come rushing out. "Oh damn you, John, what's left? It's just me—it was you and me but now it's only me." And she's so stupid because tears are pricking at her eyes and she remembers how awkward John always feels when his sister cries.
The bed sinks down and she gives a little gasp. Sam turns her head, seeing the outline of her brother, his dark eyes and the sad lines at the corners of his mouth. The hand he uses to brush away her tears has lost its hesitancy and he's right, he isn't the same anymore.
"I love you, Sam," he tells her. "You aren't alone. For each breath you take, until the day you die, I will take one, too. But I can't—" that strong voice falters only once, "—stay with you. So I want you to promise me that you will forgive yourself and move on."
"You don't forgive me," she says brokenly.
John's eyes are bright. "I do, Sammy. You saved me in the only way that you could; and more than that, you gave me the chance to save you." He says, an echo of their father's teasing voice, "Where would the world be without Samantha Grimm?"
She completes the tradition, "And where would the world be without her sidekick, little Johnny?"
His laugh is not as loud as it used to be but it is genuine. "I will never understand why you had to pick on me."
"You're my younger brother," she says lightly, tears finally abating.
"Two minutes, Sam—two minutes doesn't make you the hero."
No, she thinks, it doesn't. You're the hero, John.
Perhaps he sees that in her eyes. His hand has withdrawn from her face and she recognizes the shift of his body. "You have to go?" Somehow knowing that hurts less than it used to.
"Yes," he answers simply.
"Then goodbye, John."
When he rises, she has a moment of panic. "You'll come back?"
He pauses in the doorway, just a dark blur of shadows. "Yes, Sam. If you keep your promise."
"I promise," Samantha Grimm says.
She does, though at first it is hard to find much pleasure in returning to the world again. But one day, as she shops for her groceries, Samantha will pick up an orange juice carton and suddenly realize that the painful knot in her chest isn't there anymore. That is the day, too, that her newfound joy is so distracting, she accidentally runs into a man equally lost in contemplation on the dairy aisle. He is a little older than herself, slightly nondescript in looks but smiles at her in a soft way that prompts her to smile back. Sam apologizes for her carelessness, he waves it off and they exchange a brief but enjoyable chat. By the time the pair reaches the check-out line, he asks her out for coffee and she accepts. Two years later they are married, living in the Grimm house and expecting their first baby.
Sam keeps her promise, and her brother John keeps his. She feels him there for her, sometimes, despite that he lingers only in the periphery of her vision or in the back of the crowd at her grandson's graduation. When she is ready to pass on from the world, Samantha dreams that she sees John standing over her grave. He kneels on dirt softened by rain, and his hand, exactly as she remembers, touches her headstone. She catches the whisper of "Love you, Sammy" before the wind can snatch the words away, and Sam feels at peace.
Leonard Horatio McCoy is reputed to be afraid of flying. John, of course, used to be afraid of flying when he was a child—or so he thought, until he took his first flight and found it titillating as only a child can. Now he fears too little in general because of what he has become. Yet John is oddly pleased to add that small detail to Leonard's persona.
Doctor McCoy, newly divorced (which is actually true, much to John's chagrin, because he was lonely and Jocelyn was like water for a dying man) and practically penniless, ends up recruited by Starfleet mere hours before the shuttle is ready to depart. He holes up in the bathroom, surprised to find that he still has the capacity to be nervous, until an aggravated woman in uniform forces him out. The wonderful thing about Leonard McCoy is that the man comes from Georgia and has the Southern temper to match his origins. It's almost cathartic that he bitches like he can, because there is this part of John that stores everything up, sometimes full to bursting, and McCoy's proclivity to rants seems to release that pressure.
Perhaps John's subconscious is still working diligently to keep him sane. After all, John Grimm becomes Leonard McCoy as an almost desperate last resort, when he had finished his latest career as a faceless mercenary and realized he simply could not take up another dark life or that darkness would drown him completely.
Now John is Leonard, who wants nothing more than to practice medicine and save lives. His medical skills from last century were re-honed in a medical school of this century, leaving too many people in awe of how this small town Southern boy knows so much when he has only been in the medical field for less than a decade. Everyone assumes he is brilliant but John credits his 24th chromosome. While it does not enhance his intelligence, it does safeguard his brain from the effects of aging—and that includes memory loss. John remembers everything he is taught with crystal-clear clarity, and because he is a smart man (would have been a scientist once upon a time) he is good, sometimes innovative, at using the knowledge he has.
"Sit down or else I'll make you sit down," the woman tells McCoy. He has met women like her before and has no doubt she will try to slam him face first onto the floor of the shuttle.
He complains loudly, slurring a bit since he smells like a drunk already, and straps himself in the only available seat on the shuttlecraft. The man on his right has a face that has seen too many fists recently, perhaps a broken beer bottle too, but fixes bright blue eyes on Leonard that show whatever happened to the kid hasn't phased him one bit.
Great. More of the young and exuberant, thinking they have so much life ahead of them.
On this path, he predicts, only a third of them will be lucky enough to survive past the age of twenty-five.
So Leonard says "I may throw up on you" and John expects that he is doing a wonderful job of alienating himself.
The kid is nice enough, but Leonard hates flying and John laments the fact that he has to start over, even if he isn't completely starting over (but damn Joce and her "this isn't working, Leonard, it was fun but now… now I want more and, oh Len, I don't think you can love anyone..."). He is thinking of all the wrong things when the swollen-faced idiot claims shuttles are safe, and McCoy takes over easily, says, "Don't pander to me, kid..." warning him and anyone who might be listening in a subtle way that where they are headed is likely to be as fun as drinking acid.
He talks because Leonard is nervous but he also talks because someone is actually listening for a change. McCoy mentions his divorce but John admits a truth when he says bitterly that he has nothing left but his bones.
Uncapping a flask, the man takes a long swallow and misses the ability to get stinking drunk. The nice burn of the alcohol makes him feel nostalgic these days so John carries the flask like a memento in his pocket.
Some cadets look at him with pity; some are amused, others probably betting with their companions that Leonard McCoy will fold and quit Starfleet before a week is up. But the fool beside him has none of those things on his face, only a return look of yeah, life sucks. Doctor Leonard McCoy offers his flask and officially meets Jim Kirk.
Halfway through the ride, he remembers why the name Kirk sounds familiar but Jim says nothing about it and John, at least, is not a hypocrite. Everybody has a part of themselves that they want to keep hidden. Jim isn't the survivor of a historical disaster and the son of a heroic father he never knew. And Leonard... well, Leonard McCoy isn't many things; and John isn't that much more.