Chapter Seven: Kirk

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"They're gone, Jim!"

In the sudden silence, Dr. McCoy's voice blares over the intercom more loudly than usual. The only other noises on the bridge of the Enterprise are the ambient hums and beeps of control panels returning to normal after the shaking that knocked one crewmember out of her chair.

When is Starfleet going to wise up and install seat belts?

Jim Kirk brushes away the thought and focuses on the import of Bones' words. The aliens have left—which means that they either chose to join the others in the Nexus or convinced the others to leave it and return to their home world. Either way, this universe is no longer being torn apart.

Slamming his fist on the arm of his chair, Kirk says, "Mr. Scott, report."

"Captain, ye need to see this," Scotty says. "That energy burst fused the bypassed relays. I have to take the warp drive offline. The dilithium matrix has been out of specs ever since those beasties left the ship. I can't get the mains back up until we figure out how to shift the signature to the proper alignment, relays or not. It will take some time to reset everything. Don't ask to go anywhere for a wee bit. "

The engineer's brogue is thicker than usual, a sure sign he's stressed. Kirk nods and says, "Understood," as the turbolift door whooshes open. Spock and Uhura exit, and something about they way they do catches Kirk's attention. They are neither touching nor looking at each other, yet the captain instantly feels like an interloper, as if his gaze in their direction is an unwanted intrusion.

Frowning, he tries to sort out what has changed between them—or perhaps what has always been there unseen—as he walks toward the lift.

"Spock," the captain says, and without a word Spock swivels and follows him back to the turbolift while Sulu signals to his relief helmsman and steps up to the captain's chair.

As soon as the lift doors shut, Kirk palms the control and says, "You okay?"

It's the kind of question that can ruffle Spock's feathers, earning whoever asks it a mini-lecture on the imprecision of language or the vagaries of emotion. Kirk lifts his hand to forestall an answer.

The lift jerks hard, knocking him backward.

"What the—"

"Captain!" Sulu's voice on the intercom, barely audible over the buzz of static. "The energy ribbon has slowed its forward motion and we're being pulled toward it by the gravimetric backwash."

"Get us out of here," the captain says, but Sulu's voice comes back immediately.

"I've tried full reverse but the impulse engines aren't enough to break us free. We need warp drive."

The lift judders as it starts again, and in a moment the doors open to engineering. Seeing Scotty hovering over the control kiosk, Kirk hurries to him, Spock right behind.

"Aye, you see the problem," Scotty says, pointing to one of the indicators. "Until we get the crystals realigned, we cannae go anywhere—at least not anywhere very fast. And even the impulse engines are threatening to redline if we strain them. You need to get away from that energy drain right away so I can start repairs."

Spock steps closer to the kiosk.

"Helm reports an inability to move the ship from the pull of the Nexus," he says. Kirk sees Scotty's face blanch and then flush.

"Captain, if we don't break away—" he says, but Spock interrupts him.

"Captain, theoretically, we could fire a photon torpedo into the Nexus and disrupt the gravimetric field enough to break away."

"You could," Scotty says quickly, "if the torpedoes were online. When the relays went down, they took the weapons with them."

Kirk shivers involuntarily at an image of the Enterprise defenseless, almost motionless, flicked by tendrils of energy from the Nexus.

"When the Enterprise encountered the Nexus earlier," Spock says, "Mr. Sulu used the deflector shields to isolate the ship from the worst of the ionizing radiation of the Nexus. Perhaps we could—"

"Aye!" Scotty says, almost happily. "That might work!"

"What might—" Kirk begins, playing catch up.

But Spock has already stepped around him, his fingers flying across the control monitor. Scotty bobs and weaves behind him, eyeing the changing indicators.

"We could concentrate the wavelength here—" Scotty says, touching the screen. Spock gives a curt nod, his eyes still focused on the data stream scrolling past.

With the kind of intuitive leap that often serves him well in command, Kirk suddenly understands what Scotty and Spock are doing.

"You're going to simulate a photon blast using the deflector shield," he says, but neither Scotty nor Spock looks up. Kirk scans the power fluctuations and taps the corner of the screen, opening a tab that shows a real time projection.

Four minutes. They have to get everything in place in four minutes or the Enterprise will be sucked into the Nexus and trapped there.

"I'll control the energy capture," Scotty says. "And Mr. Spock will direct the deflector burst from here. But captain, someone has to manually set the dish array—"

"I'm on it," Kirk says. He's fairly certainly Scotty is going to suggest Chekov or another crewmember for the task, but there's no time. Besides, he's relieved to have an excuse to move. "I'm heading there now."

From the corner of his eye he sees Scotty's mouth opening like a fish and Spock turning toward him, most likely to challenge his decision. Before anyone can say a word, Kirk sprints across engineering and turns down the corridor leading to the section with the deflector dish controls.

Often compared to a blue unblinking eye on the front of the Enterprise, the deflector array makes space travel possible. In normal space it sets up a resonating harmonic shield and scoots it in front of the ship like a bubble, pushing away space debris that could tear a hole through the titanium hull like a bullet through butter. During warp travel, the deflector array is slaved into the engines, generating a cocoon around the ship so it can slip through the warp corridor without damage.

The controls are tucked behind a lockbox with a large "Danger" sign plastered across the cover. Tapping in his security code and palming his identity, Kirk swings the cover open on its hinges. In the corner of his eye he notes a redshirted engineer coming up behind him to help.

Pulling his communicator out and flipping it open, he says, "Ready here."

"Captain," Spock says, and Kirk thinks he hears a note of disapproval in his voice. Well, it isn't the first time Spock has given him the raised eyebrow of skepticism. Hopefully it won't be the last, either.

"I can handle it, Spock," he says, as much to reassure himself as to convince his first officer.

"Wait until I patch the coordinates to you," Scotty chimes in. "If the pushback from the energy burst is like I think it will be, the adjustment won't hold. You'll have to keep an eye on the axis bar—"

"Thank you, Mr. Scott, but I think I know what to do."

Already rocking as the Nexus gravimetric field pulls them forward, the Enterprise begins to shake in earnest. Kirk feels the deck beneath his feet vibrate and he reaches out to steady himself with one hand on the bulkhead next to the array control.

"Sending the coordinates now," Spock intones over the comm, and Kirk leans forward and grips a metallic bar and starts to twist it to the right, all the while keeping one eye on the digital scale across the top of the screen. A series of numbers tick past. When the set coordinates appear, he stops turning the bar and reaches up to engage the lock.

The ship shakes harder and Kirk struggles to keep his balance. Feeling his hand starting to slip on the metal bar, he redoubles his grip and pushes. Nothing. The bar toggles down despite Kirk's efforts to hold it steady. The numbers on the digital scale start moving, the coordinates now off.

"Captain!" Scotty's voice, telling him what he already knows. If he can't align the array, Spock won't be able to send an energy burst through to the heart of the Nexus—hopefully pushing the Enterprise back and out of harm's way. Grunting with the effort, Kirk grabs the bar with both hands and pulls. It doesn't budge.

"Help me!" he calls.

Over his shoulder a pair of hands emerges—the redshirted engineer finally stepping in. Kirk moves his hands to one end of the bar and the engineer grasps the other. By now the ship is shaking so hard that staying upright is becoming a serious issue. Twice Kirk loses his footing and falls to one knee. Twice he grabs the bar again, putting all his strength behind it. Finally it starts to move—slowly at first and then more smoothly, the numbers across the top of the monitor slowing and then stopping at the correct coordinates.

An unfamiliar mechanical whine grows louder until it crescendos in one uncomfortable sustained note.

The energy burst, Kirk knows, coursing through the array. He keeps his hands on the metal bar, willing it not to move.

The ship lurches once more and then is unnaturally still, not even the faint vibration of the impulse engines noticeable. The only sound Kirk hears is his own ragged breathing and the hoarse cough of the engineer at his side.

"I think we did it," the captain says, uncurling his fingers from the array controls and flexing them experimentally. "I think we've broken away."

He turns to give the engineer an appreciative nod.

It's not an engineer.

The man at his side is older, dressed not in a red engineering shirt but in an unusual red jacket trimmed in white, his black trousers piped in matching cording. A gold Starfleet pin near his shoulder catches Kirk's eye—as do the captain's epaulets across his shoulders.

Kirk gives a violent shudder.

Someone's walking on my grave, his grandmother used to say, referring to some mysterious internal calculus that would occasionally make her pause in whatever she was doing. He'd never understood her until now.

"You're—" he says, and the older man squints his eyes at him and then breaks into a grin.

"James T. Kirk," he says. "But I think you already know that."

X X X

"Give up!"

Jim Kirk's face was pressed into the rich dark loam of Iowa, his nose and mouth full of dirt. On his back he felt the heavy knee of his older brother Sam keeping him pinned to the ground.

"No!" Jim spluttered. "Get off me!"

"Give up," Sam said again, this time more softly. "Give up and I'll get up."

Instead, Jim jerked his head around and shook it, like a dog bothered by fleas.

"No!" he said. "NO!"

At once the pressure on his back eased as Sam stood up.

"You're gonna get yourself killed that way," Sam said. "You need to know when you're beaten."

Too tired to answer, Jim bent his elbows and shakily lifted himself up. Sam stood to the side, his arms crossed, watching his younger brother. When Jim's knee gave way and he tottered forward, Sam's hand snaked out to grab him.

"Don't," Jim said, but Sam ignored him, righting him on his feet.

"Second mistake," Sam said. "Not accepting help when you need it."

Jim started to answer when a voice broke over the yard.

"Boys!" their mother called. "I need some help in the kitchen."

Instantly the rivals were allies again, the ordinary wrestling match in the yard already filed away as what brothers do.

"Mom," Sam called, "Jim and I have to return Mr. Johnson's truck. We'll be back soon!"

That wasn't exactly a lie—their neighbor lent them his truck to haul a load of hay earlier in the afternoon—but he'd never been fussy about how long the boys needed to use it or when they had to return it. Neither Sam nor Jim, however, enjoyed helping Winona in the kitchen. A gifted scientist in a biology lab, she was a nervous cook, bossy and scolding when her sous chefs were less than helpful.

The truck was parked near the equipment shed and both Sam and Jim sprinted to it, not waiting on their mother's permission. Sam climbed in the driver's side and Jim settled himself in the passenger seat.

The truck was a technological anomaly, a ground car rather than a hovercraft, run by a combustible engine and moved forward on wheels. The Kirks did own a serviceable service flitter for work around the farm but the truck was so much more fun to operate—and far less predictable. It was, for instance, prone to breaking down, sometimes stranding the boys with no other way home than to walk.

Which is exactly what it did on the way out to Mr. Johnson's farm. As Sam headed up a slight incline in the road, the truck sputtered as the engine began to stall.

"Uh oh," Sam said, lifting his foot off the gas and letting the truck come to rest in a shallow ditch.

Already the sun was almost below the horizon. With a sigh, Jim unlatched the door and climbed out, scanning the distance for another ground car. Nothing. Nor would there likely be anything, not out here on the flat prairie, five miles from anyone.

"I'll call mom," he said, pulling his comm from his pocket, but Sam stopped him.

"It's not that far. Let's walk back."

Ordinarily Jim might have protested. But an image of his mother—annoyed at having to pause in her dinner preparations to come fetch them—made him hesitate. He resigned himself to walking for an hour in the dark.

After locking the truck, Sam started down the road back the way they had come, Jim trailing behind. The rarely used road was uneven, the pavement buckled in places, and more than once Jim tripped and caught himself.

"Be careful back there," Sam called over his shoulder. Jim chafed at the brotherly condescension in his tone, but he noticed that Sam veered off the road and walked along the edge instead.

"Pay attention to yourself," he called back.

The sun was gone in no time, the sky changing from violet to black sooner than Jim would have imagined. He pulled out his comm and flicked on the flashlight, aiming it a few yards ahead, the circle of light catching Sam's retreating back. Sam apparently needed no such help, walking forward into the dark.

And then to Jim's astonishment Sam disappeared from view.

"Sam!"

Jim hurried forward and skidded to a stop at the edge of a washed out gully, aiming his flashlight down. Eight feet below the surface of the road, Sam lay on his back, one leg pinned beneath him.

Without thinking, Jim scrambled over the side and slid to the bottom.

"Can you get up?" he asked, but Sam grunted in pain.

For several minutes Jim crouched beside his brother, waiting as Sam's breathing slowed and steadied as he sat up and tentatively moved his leg from under him.

"Okay, let's try it now," Sam said, leaning on Jim's shoulder and levering himself to his feet. Immediately he sat back down, grimacing in pain.

"I'm calling mom," Jim said, but Sam's hand darted out and grabbed his comm.

"No!" he said. "Give me a minute."

"We already tried that," Jim said. "We need help!"

"Give me a minute!" Sam said again. He stood up and wobbled—and Jim slipped quickly under his left shoulder and put his arm around him.

"Okay, we got this," Sam said. Jim wasn't sure.

The climb out of the washout took twenty minutes. The walk the rest of the way home took another two hours, Sam leaning heavily on Jim the entire way. By the time they opened the front door of their house they were both so tired and sore that Winona took one look at them and stifled whatever tirade she had been ready to unleash.

"You could have called," she said as they sat heavily on the floor and untied their dusty shoes, her comment more like an afterthought than a real scolding.

"I didn't need to," Sam said, reaching out and ruffling his brother's hair, startling him. "I had Jim."

X X X

"This is the Enterprise?"

The older Kirk cranes his neck back and looks around the room where the deflector array is housed.

"Yes," Jim says. "My ship. How did you get here?"

"Not sure," the older man says, taking a step back, still giving appreciative glances at everything around him. "I was on the ship—a christening, I think. Yes, a christening. Not my Enterprise. A publicity tour—a jog to Jupiter and back—a news junket, really. And something happened. We ran into an energy flux—"

"Like an energy ribbon," the younger captain supplies, and Kirk nods.

"I came here," Kirk continues, "to work on the deflector shield. We were going to use it to escape the gravimetric tug—"

"By focusing the array and sending an energy burst through it, like a photon torpedo," Jim says, and the older Kirk nods slowly.

"Exactly," he says. "So why am I here now, watching my younger self do the same thing?"

"The Nexus," Jim says. "We rescued an alien crew who were trapped in the Nexus. They said it was a kind of a portal where they could live in multiple dimensions at once, fulfilling all their desires."

"Sounds like fun," the older man says, flashing another grin. Just as quickly, however, his smile fades and he says, "Actually, I don't believe that for a moment. Getting everything you want would be boring."

Looking around, he says, "Not this, though. The Enterprise is never boring."

Then squaring his shoulders, he turns back to Jim and says, "So, why am I here? Because I've been in the Nexus before? Or because I'm still there and you are a hallucination?"

"Or you were there and have traveled back to now, when the ship is faced with a threat."

"How convenient for you," the older man says. "Getting a hand from yourself just when you needed it. There's another possibility, of course. I'm dead, or you are, and we are meeting in some unimagined afterlife."

"I'm not dead," Jim says with conviction. The older man tilts his head slightly and seems to be consulting an internal voice.

"I'm not as sure as you are," he says at last. "I've always thought I'd die alone. But you're here. So maybe I'm not dead."

A grin, sly and toothy, slides back across his features.

"Unless you don't count," he says.

"Spock may know—"

"Spock is here?"

The older Kirk seems both startled and eager. Jim points down the corridor toward engineering. "He's there, with Scotty, manning the other part of the deflector program."

"Scotty, too? Then by all means, lead on."

As Jim turns he feels a wave of dizziness and his palm is suddenly on the deck, the raised design pressing into his hand, his knees slammed hard into the metal.

"Sir!"

A young engineer grips his forearm and lifts as he gets to his feet.

"Are you alright, Captain?"

"I'm...just a dizzy spell. I'm fine. Thank you, lieutenant."

He stands for a moment before looking around. No one other than the young engineer is in the corridor.

"Did you see…anyone else?" he says, but she shakes her head.

"No, sir."

And he knows it's true, that no one else is here. Perhaps never was. Or perhaps will be in the future. Closing his eyes briefly, he takes a breath and tries to get a sense of the older man's presence.

"Sir?"

Opening his eyes, he is strangely bereft. "I'm fine. Thank you," he says before heading down the corridor.

Only later, after Scotty and his crew have gotten the warp core operational and the ship is safely on the way to Starbase 11, does Jim pause long enough to consider what happened. On his way from the bridge to his quarters he makes an unplanned detour to sickbay, half hoping that Bones won't be there, not sure if he really wants to confide what he saw.

But Bones is there—his medscanner in his hand, Spock sitting primly on a biobed.

"Captain," Spock says, standing up.

"Oh, Jim," the doctor says, waving him over, "I'm glad you're here. Have you had any headaches lately? Any weird reactions? Something about this Nexus thing did a number on some of the crew—"

"What about you?" Jim says, ignoring Bones' question by directing his attention to Spock.

"Some discomfort, which the doctor has been unable to remedy."

"Now wait a minute, you haven't even tried—"

"Not casting aspersions on the good doctor's abilities, are you, Spock?"

"Merely stating facts, Captain."

McCoy lets out an audible huff.

"If you two aren't going to listen to sage advice, you can leave my sickbay right now."

"But I need you, Bones. We all do."

Jim intends it as a playful riposte but his words sound more serious than he intends. Not, however, less sincere.

For a moment McCoy stands between the two men, glancing from one to the other.

"You know," he says, exasperated, "you two beat all. You—" he says, pointing his medscanner in Spock's direction, "pretend you don't need help from anyone. And you," he says, waving his hand at the captain, "think your help is indispensable—"

"So it all works out in the end," Jim says, trying to jolly McCoy into a better mood. "Something I learned a long time ago—the importance of depending on each other. The importance of family."

He watches as McCoy's frown resolves into something less intense, something more sardonic and less annoyed.

"You never answered my question," McCoy says. "You got a headache or not?"

"Nothing a glass of bourbon wouldn't take care of," Jim says. "How's that? I not only diagnosed myself, I prescribed the cure."

"You're a starship captain, Jim, not a doctor. Leave the practice of medicine to me."

"So you don't have any bourbon stashed away in a drawer somewhere?"

Jim knows he does—knows, in fact, that McCoy will welcome sharing it with him. He even knows that Spock might agree to a glass as well, if not for the alcohol, then for the flavor, something he has from time to time expressed an appreciation for.

With a sigh, McCoy throws up his hands as if in surrender.

"Bar's open, gentlemen," he says as he leads the way to his office. "Don't make me drink alone." Jim darts a glance at Spock and meets his eye, one eyebrow raised in a question.

"Come on, Spock," Jim says. "It's been a long day."

As soon as he says it he anticipates Spock's response—a prissy reminder about the number of hours in a standard day, or a pretended misunderstanding of the metaphor.

But Spock surprises him.

"Agreed," he says. "And as the good doctor says, we shouldn't leave him to drink without adequate companionship."

"No one should be alone," Jim murmurs, and Spock tilts his head and nods, agreeing with him twice during the same conversation; a record, surely.

The image of the older Kirk is already starting to feel more like an echo than like a real encounter. Someday he'll ask Spock or McCoy about it—or maybe later tonight, after they've had a drink or two.

But he's already sure what they will say, that it doesn't matter what he thought he saw. What matters is that he was where he needed to be when the ship needed him, when his crew needed him, everyone strengthened by the others, like the sum of the parts, like family.

The End

A/N: Thanks to everyone for sticking with this story! Let me know if you enjoyed it...or even if you didn't. I'm always trying to improve my writing and your feedback is helpful.

As for why the older Kirk showed up on the ship, in Star Trek: Generations, the Enterprise encountered the Nexus and Kirk disappeared and was presumed dead while trying to tinker with the deflector shield. Later when Captain Picard needed Kirk's help, he was able to travel in time to stop a madman. If not then, why not here? Hope it made sense!