Author: Hypatia Kosh
Series: TOS, AOS XOVER
Characters: K (TOS), S (AOS), K&S (TOS)
Genre: General/Adventure, Friendship
Summary: Like "Mirror, Mirror", except with the AOS and TOS universes.
SO BE IT
Everything has been figured out, except how to live. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
"Oh, Delta Vega. Would you get a load of this shithole?" Gary's arms were spread wide as he described a scant semi-circle, taking in the wastes of that uninhabited world. Nothing but bacteria and stem plants for 150 square kilometers. Jim sighed inwardly. There may have been three of them there--him, Gary, and Kearnes--but the sheer emptiness of the place made him feel like he was the last soul in the Universe.
Of course, if Jim would have known what would happen to Gary on the self-same planet eight years later, he would have really been disturbed.
The lithium cracking station was a white bubble on the horizon. The machines operated unmanned year in and year out, unmoved by the seasons, stillness or storms, sunrises or auroras. Jim kept looking back towards it, the one, simple evidence of civilization out here on the rim. The plant processed the dilithium required for for the warp cores of faster-than-light ships, and the planet was rich with it. Had a tendency to play havoc with the instruments and cause nasty ion storms. Both factors had played a part in the abandonment of a certain amount of equipment on the surface during a hastily shut down cadet training exercise. Which the U.S.S. Farragut had been dispatched to retrieve. Which circumstance Jim was attempting to explain to Gary for probably the third time, since Gary had asked, no doubt rhetorically (but Jim couldn't help himself), what the hell they were doing, a starship crew, picking up after cadets.
Kearnes said nothing. He was the kind of man who didn't talk much while he was working; he also had little to do with Gary--or Jim, for that matter.
Jim took point with the tricorder, locating items. Kearnes noted the items located in a manifest, and Gary's job was to tag each item with a unique transponder for easy transporter removal. The problem was that the items were spread out over several square kilometers and some of them were rather small; furthermore, the range of the tricorder was spotty at best. Jim followed his training and staked out a search pattern, while the others fell in behind him, content to let him do the mental heavy lifting. Jim hadn't earned those Lt. Commander's stripes for nothing: he had a reputation for careful, by-the-book operation; attention to detail; a keen sense of responsibility; and a take-charge attitude: and he was damned if he was going to blow it. Captain Chenoweth and all of Starfleet were relying on him to effect the return of their property in full.
Gary, however, took nothing seriously. Jim had private reservations about him, but still valued his friendship all the same. Gary seemed to have a way with people that Jim tried to emulate, at least the good parts--Gary could be a bit hard with people when he wanted to, while Jim tried his best to treat everyone with respect and fairness. Captain Garrovick had been like that, Jim felt, and he wanted nothing more than to be respected by his crew one day the way Garrovick had been. Still, Gary had an easy way with people that Jim envied. He had probably made it to full lieutenant on the strength of that quality (and, of course, on his competence as a pilot), because it certainly wasn't on the strength of compliance to Starfleet protocol (not that anyone really expected pilots to be anything but hotshots to begin with).
Gary also loved, loved to push Jim's buttons. Jim wouldn't have really minded just doing the job, like Kearnes, without saying much more than the job required, but Gary kept up a non-stop stream of distraction and it was all Jim could do to follow the little blips on the tricorder and keep up with his end of the conversation, if you could call it that. He didn't have the mental space to argue much so it was mostly a stream of Oh really's and Could be's and I believe that when I see it's. In fact, Jim was so distracted (and Kearnes was looking at the ground, not the sky) that he missed the change in the baseline readings that indicated that charges were building in the plasmosphere. Gary was in the middle of an extremely annoying blow-by-blow of the last chick he banged on shore leave. (In his telling it was an Orion "animal woman," but Jim's understanding of the scuttlebutt was that he had spent two days with a rather butch-looking and indubitably human spacer from the merchant marine who was probably old enough to be his mother. Gary believed that if you were going to tell a fiction, you ought to tell a really good one: but Jim was a connoisseur of fiction, and "really good" was not how he would have described Gary's soft porn fantasies. Still, every time he told Gary so Gary would turn it around and accuse him of being a prude.) If Jim really could have ignored it, it would have been perfect; instead, every irritating detail rattled his nerves as he tried valiantly to keep himself on task.
And then the lightning struck.
At barely a kilometer distant, a massive electrical discharge turned the atmosphere purple and white for one blinding moment and sent a thunderous shockwave through the three men in red and gold. At the strike point, some aluminum tent frames were briefly electrified, illuminated, and elevated before they fell, crashed, and crumpled with an achingly pathetic tinkling sound. Smoke rose in a blackened wisp. "Hit the deck!" Kirk found himself screaming as his stomach hit earth. Mitchell followed with a thump a moment later; Kearnes had already dropped.
"ShitshitshitshitSHIT!" Mitchell complained.
Kirk reached back for his communicator but discovered it had tumbled away. Kearnes reached for it and handed it over, apparently content to let their commanding officer do the communicating. Kirk clicked it open. "Kirk to Farragut . . . Kirk to Farragut . . . Come in please . . . Kirk to Farragut . . . Code Purple - Foul Weather . . . Farragut, come in, PLEASE." He held the handset open for long moments, eventually making an incoherent sound of disgust when nothing but static answered.
Then the rain started.
A few plashes here and there that might have been imagined, then a wind gust, then the curtain fell and everything started to soak. And miraculously, Kearnes spoke:
"Suggest we seek shelter, Sir."
"Excellent suggestion, Mister Kearnes. There was a stone arch about two kilometers back . . ."
"Sir, there is an outcropping at 300 meters at 4 o'clock."
Kirk looked up and craned his neck. "Let's make a--"
He was interrupted by a flash and then a nasty crack, but the sound followed a little tardier than before.
"RUN FOR IT!"
"Is that an order?" Gary yelled a few steps into their three hundred meter dash.
"You ... figger ... it out!" Jim shouted, pushing his legs like pistons to keep up with two taller men.
Kearnes hit the rock formation first, digging at the silty clay to make a wider ledge to hide underneath. Gary Mitchell slid home beside him, naturally doing a less systematic job, lobbing rocks whether it made sense or not because, despite the lightning, rain, and wicked-looking plasma clouds above them, Gary was more concerned about not looking like some loser digging with his hands than getting the job done. Kirk drew up last and made a command decision to scout around the side a bit--after all it might be drier on the other side--and stumbled just as he rounded out of sight. Wet boots.
He caught himself with a hand on the edge of a sharp red rock, not noticing the slight lacerations, pushing himself to move faster. There was a large ledge here, dry on the underside. "GUYS! Come over--"
He never finished the sentence.
Acting is a question of absorbing other people's personalities and adding some of your own experience. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
Jim came to dazed but dry under a sunny and almost-blue sky. Two shapes blocked the light. With some strain to his eyes they resolved into humanoid forms. "Unnhhh," he said, closing his eyes and massaging his temples, although oddly enough he couldn't really feel the migraine coming on that he knew had to be coming on, because the colors were all wrong.
Because it looked like Mitchell and Kearnes were wearing blue.
Think, Kirk, think, Jim admonished himself. Gary wears a gold uniform. Not blue. Definitely not blue.
Gingerly, he opened his eyes again.
He had to blink back the brightness again, realizing that he was completely dry. "How long . . ." he started to say 'have I been out' but was struck by the blueness and the oddly familiar face to his right. "B-Bones? Bones McCoy? Since when--?"
"Since I was born?" McCoy quipped irreverently.
Kirk grabbed for the doctor's sleeve, trying to pull himself up. "How long have I been out?" he asked.
"Mere moments," stated the other figure in blue.
Kirk looked at him sharply and froze. Not only was the face completely unfamiliar, but a Vulcan? What the--? A moment ago he had been soaking wet on Delta Vega, on an away mission with Garrett Mitchell and Gregory Kearnes. His brain was very specific about that. Wait, where was his tricorder? He felt himself and found it missing. Communicator? There. Also--phaser?
Kirk looked back and forth between the two officers quickly. McCoy's face was beginning to register some concern. Jim considered him a friend, and although it had been almost two years since he'd last seen him in person, he felt like he could read him pretty well. The other officer, whom he could instantly surmise outranked him, was a complete unknown. Jim addressed the doctor. "I think I must have hit my head a bit there, Bones. It's a bit fuzzy before I wake up," he said cautiously. "Like a tingling on my spine and every hair on my neck stood up, and then . . . nothing."
"You were caught in a multiphasic anomoly caused by the harmonic interference between our phaser beams after they passed through what I believe to be pure dilithium crystal," stated the Vulcan. "However, despite the energies released you appear to be relatively unharmed."
Jim looked at him carefully as he spoke. Vulcans were notoriously hard to read, though this one seemed positively emotive, at least compared to the Vulcans he'd met in his three months on Space Station Two before he returned to the Academy. At this point the Vulcan practically startled Jim by cocking his head and raising an eyebrow, an affectation Jim associated with a high degree of familiarity (and which had never once been directed at him), before adding "It does make one reconsider one's basic belief in philosophical materialism."
"You are one lucky bastard, Jim," McCoy added.
"Help me up," Jim said, and McCoy complied. Jim shook himself out a bit. His nerves were all mixed up. Even his uniform felt funny against his skin. He took in two qi gong breaths, then held his arms in front of his face. Blood flow to the brain have been restored. So why did his uniform jersey look all wrong?
He looked at the others. It was off, subtly off.
He started to panic. Head injuries ... amnesia ... the loss of short-term memory ... or years of memory. He could be pulled off active duty. Career down the toilet. He would never make captain. Couldn't let them know. Sometimes memory restored itself. Perhaps quickly. How many months--years--had he lost? The last thing he remembered was a day in 2258. Lighting storm. Maybe ion storm. Delta Vega. Similar gravity . . .
He scanned the horizon. Coming around 270 degrees, he finally caught sight of the white bubble on the horizon. "Delta Vega," he murmured.
"Delta Vega," McCoy replied, in a tone of commiseration. "Beam me back to the Enterprise already," he said.
That would be Federation Starship NCC-1701, 'U.S.S. Enterprise,' Kirk's memory supplied.
A lost battle is a battle one thinks one has lost. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
Kirk let McCoy lead him back to the beam-up point. Someone had helpfully left pattern boosters in a triangle on a flat-ish patch of dirt. "So, um," he essayed, "pardon me for having to ask, but: Did we win?"
"Win?" the Vulcan asked.
"Now you see what I have to deal with," McCoy muttered.
"You said something about phasers--?" Kirk persisted.
Something in the other's face closed, and he seemed to draw himself up, almost--smugly. "Ah. If by 'win', do you mean did the captain manage to knock himself on his posterior in front of two witnesses, then, yes, Captain, we won."
A sarcastic Vulcan? CAPTAIN?
The transporter took him.
He was a little disoriented as he rematerialized on the pad. Something was off about the transporter, too. The transporter room looked nice, though. Enterprise. Top of the line.
"Welcome ba', Cap'n," the transporter chief addressed him. Captain, then. In for a penny, in for the whole damn dollar. His memory would come back. Surely. He turned towards the Vulcan. "Commander," thank goodness for rank insignia, "I would like you to prepare a mission report and send it to me as soon as possible."
"But sir, ordinarily--"
"That's an order," Kirk said calmly, in a tone that brooked no argument.
"Yes, sir, of course." For a Vulcan, he seemed peeved. No matter. Kirk turned to McCoy. He opened his mouth but couldn't figure out if Captain Kirk would go with the more formal "Doctor" or the familiar "Bones."
"You're coming with me to sickbay," McCoy said before Kirk could finish his mental struggle and squeak a word out.
"Just what I was going to mention," Kirk said smoothly.
Kirk moved through the halls trying not to gawk at the beautiful lines and high-tech details of Enterprise, but it was hard, especially after all those years on the Farragut. He'd be lying if he didn't admit that assignment to the Enterprise was a much sweeter plum than Farragut. Had to start somewhere. Trouble was, maybe he already had and forgot.
McCoy got him in a sickbay bed somewhere and was giving him the once-over. He looked around, but none of the medical personnel seemed to be staring. No suspicion yet. He focused on McCoy. "How's it look, Doc?"
"Not seeing any nerve damage per se. Confirms what I saw on the surface. No burns. I think it looked worse than it was, but you'd have to ask Spock about that physics stuff."
"Good job stepping on his toes after beaming up there, Jim-boy. If you're lucky, he'll only stop talking to you for two or three days this time."
Oh. Duh. Spock was the name of the Vulcan assigned to the Enterprise. Everyone in the science section on Farragut knew about him; his name was bandied about with a sort of awe. Apparently he was getting published a lot. Kirk had read a few xenobiology papers with Spock's name on them, but Spock's physics research was what really had the geek squadron in a tizzy. Unfortunately, the subject matter had been completely beyond Kirk's ken, although the practical applications of some of Spock's theories did not escape him.
Kirk was sort of sorry he'd offended Spock. Spock was on his long list of people he'd like to meet some day. Word was he had a really high FIDE rating, but didn't compete. Kirk was sort of sorry, but not enough to compromise his, er, situation.
"Aren't you going to do a brain scan?" Kirk demanded.
"I'm getting to that," McCoy said. "And since when does James T. Kirk volunteer for more tests?"
"Look, I, uh, was having some problems when I woke up. Vision," okay, that was a lie, "I guess dizziness. I think I might have been concussed." Okay, that was safe. And if McCoy finds anything, the gig's up.
"Well, okay. There are no visible signs of trauma. My instruments aren't telling me you have any symptoms of concussion, but if you say that you do . . ." McCoy frowned. "I never trusted these blasted devices, anyway. Let me get the neural imager and see how you're doing."
After about twenty minutes of looking at images and doing word associations with the bulky imager placed around his head like a concrete helmet, Kirk remembered why it wasn't his custom to volunteer for more tests.
"Are we done yet?"
"Just one more--"
"No, tell me NOW."
McCoy threw up his hands. "As far as I can tell, Jim, there's nothing wrong with you."
"Oh. Well, that's a relief." Kirk began to make moves to escape. McCoy opened the imager and retracted it. Jim was up and out of the biobed before you could say 'Harry Houdini.'
"Jim," McCoy stopped him.
"Yes, Bones?" he asked nicely.
"Why this sudden interest in your health? You usually treat these tests as a nuisance."
Kirk briefly considered spilling his guts to McCoy, but how would he explain himself? I got hit by ... something ... and now I'm captain of the Enterprise? It really didn't sound plausible, even to him. It couldn't be amnesia without any sign of trauma, and if he told everyone the truth they'd send him away for good. Lie, lie, lie. "Like you said, Bones . . . it looked bad. I thought it would be best to reassure everyone that I was really all right." He smiled. "Anyway, you were right. It couldn't have been a concussion because my head feels fine. Never hurt, actually. I think I just got winded and it took a while for my circulation to come back."
"Your blood pressure was a little low when we got to you." McCoy smiled. "How do you get into these scrapes anyway? At least I didn't have to pull three Klingons off you and treat you for a broken nose and clavicle."
"Good times," Kirk said.
"You really are crazy," McCoy said, and wandered away.
The perfect opportunity. Jim tip-toed through sickbay until he could pull out a terminal away from prying eyes. He hit the key for silent operation, then requested the location of his quarters from the computer. Deck 5. Awesome.
All that I know about my life, it seems, I have learned in books. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
Less than five minutes later he was standing in front of the captain's quarters. His fingers sought the touch pad blindly while the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. What if he was using a security protocol for entry? What if simply touching the pad set off a security alarm?
The door chirped, and opened. Phew. He made a bee-line for his desk, a desk that was strangely devoid of any personal articles. Did he not actually use this room? Oh well, too late to worry about that now. His heart was pumping hard as he engaged the computer. He had to bring himself up to speed ASAP, just in case something he did brought suspicion on him.
First, the obvious question. "Computer, what is the star date?"
"The star date is twenty-two fifty-eight point three oh three."
Great. Just freaking great. "Computer, how long have I been captain of the Enterprise?"
"James T. Kirk has been captain of the Enterprise for one hundred and sixteen days."
"Insuffient data to process query."
Kirk sighed. "Show me Commander Spock's personnel file."
A file scrolled up instantly, with some parts blocked in red. Weird, part of his file was classified above the captain's level. Just what sort of research was Spock involved in? All the relevant info was there: his time in grade, his position as first officer and head of science section, his distinguished career at the Academy ... seriously?
"Computer, show me my personnel file."
His own file scrolled up, with fewer red blocks ... okay, that's really strange to be below classification to read your own file. Just what sort of activities was HE involved in? He expanded the section on prior postings. Entered the academy in 2255? Huh? "Elevated directly the captaincy? What sort of universe IS this?" He flicked open the biographical information. "I have a RECORD?" George Samuel Kirk, Starfleet: deceased. Born in space? No way. "Where is Tarsus IV on here?" The info was patchy, but there was plenty of information about his convictions after age eighteen. (Juvenile record: sealed.) "Where is . . . what the hell happened to my entire LIFE?"
I'm not crazy, Kirk told himself. I am really, emphatically not crazy. Just for security, he pulled up his own medical file and scanned the neuro-psychological data. Definitely not crazy.
He sat back. There was a theory, a very old theory, in fact, that every roll of the quantum dice had two outcomes, and those outcomes defined two universes. According to this theory, there would be an unimaginably large number of universes--bubble universes--washing like foam in a cosmic sea. Starting from a certain point in time, one could imagine a cluster of universes where any individual, some John Smith, experienced thousands of different outcomes in his life, for the simple reason of a neuron firing slightly differently or a stray electron appearing in a slightly different place. Every decision, every drop of rain, every occurrence of seemingly random chance was the result of outcomes of quantum probability functions, and in some universe, the odds had come out differently.
This, it would seem, was him. Yet the theory, the old theory, had held that travel between these 'parallel' universes was impossible. The energies involved were fantastic beyond imagination.
Yet what else could explain his very detailed, exact memories of a completely different life and origin? He was on the ground, soaking wet, surrounded by Mitchell and Kearnes--no--that didn't happen, he only thought it so. He was rounding the outcropping, stumbled, cut his hand, saw the ledge, called for the others, was struck . . . yes, struck, not by lightning, but there was an electrical charge, every nerve tingling, then numb, then . . . nothing. Then Spock and McCoy. High and dry. Enterprise.
He looked at his hand. No sign of any cut or blood.
He could have been captured by hostile forces, mind-wiped, and implanted with false memories. Several problems: Spock claimed he was a witness. He didn't say he saw a transporter effect. McCoy found no signs whatsoever of brain trauma. And the memories were too real. He knew in his heart they were right. There was nothing vague at all about what he remembered.
Physical laws. Physical laws might be slightly different from universe to universe. (Not radically different, or he would be dead.)
"Computer, please display a list of physical constants."
He had been an instructor in history, not physics, at the Academy, but he had still kept fresh on this stuff. He could remember at least six decimal places of G, Avogadro's number, and lamda. If there were a difference it was miniscule. Damnit!
If only he'd come over with his tricorder. Probably left that on the ground when the lightning struck. Good job, JT. Way to keep track of your equipment.
Kirk shut the terminal down. He had to think. He stood up and walked to the living quarters, stared in a mirror. Except for the silly uniform, he looked the same. He had his thoughts and memories from his original reality, so his brain must have come across intact. He looked again. Yeah, something was subtly different. Part of him changed, part of him didn't? Was he a brain in someone else's body?
Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
Thirty minutes later he was no closer to feeling reassured. The uniform was scattered on the floor. He had found a hi-intensity porta-light and a hand mirror and had looked himself over pretty thoroughly. He didn't really expect to find scars, and didn't, although something about his ribs felt funny. His birth mark on the back of his right calf was still there. His haircut was definitely a little bit different. Maybe this multiple worlds theory was all wet. Maybe it was implanted memories. Or maybe he really was crazy. Once again he was sweating like mad thinking about it. Being a Starfleet officer was all he'd ever wanted for as long as he could remember. He was NOT going to the funny farm!
Okay. Okay. So he was having an existential crisis. He put his clothes back on and pulled up a little Sartre in his terminal. "Better to have beasts that let themselves be killed than men who run away."
"Computer, what is the location of Commander Spock?"
"Commander Spock is in Science Lab Three."
"Show me a map."
Ah! yes, I know: those who see me rarely trust my word: I must look too intelligent to keep it. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
He was rehearsing a speech on the way over, but it kept sounding funny to him. Maybe he should pose it as a theoretical. Yeah, that was the ticket.
The double doors to the science lab swished open and he zeroed in on the sole occupant. "Mister Spock?" He cleared his throat. "Mister--"
Commander Spock had drawn himself up to his full height and was looking down the bridge of his nose at Kirk. Something about his expression was, yes, impertinent, even for a Vulcan. Kirk felt his stance go rigid. "A word with you, Commander, if you please."
"Naturally. However, if this is to be an extended discussion, your . . . mission report will have to wait."
Kirk stood ramrod straight, his eyes hard. "Are you always this close to subordination, Commander, or are you just having a bad day?"
Spock looked taken aback. "Are you quite all right, Captain? I do not believe there is anything abnormal about my attitude."
"I see," Kirk said.
"If I may speak freely?" Kirk nodded. "Your behavior has been odd since we returned from the planet. I presumed you were in a state of shock . . ."
"McCoy gave me a clean bill of health. And there was no head trauma," Kirk emphasized.
"Then was it something I said? If I have inadvertently done something to offend you I do apologize."
"No, no, no," Kirk waved him off. "I came down here because I need to discuss something with you. You are second in command. That means you will take command if I am . . . incapable."
"Yes, but why should that be the case?"
Kirk frowned. "I'm not sure. You're the physicist, you tell me."
"I am not an expert in human biology. If the anomaly damaged you in some way, that would be Doctor McCoy's department, not mine."
"Is there some way," he asked, and stopped, not sure how to explain what he was getting at. "The Copenhagen interpretation--"
"You mean the theory of multiple universes?"
"That is only a theory."
"Okay, then theoretically--is there a way to pass between these multiple universes?"
Spock raised an eyebrow. "Why would you need to know this, sir?"
"Just answer the question."
"I don't see why not . . ."
"I don't know of any method."
"You just said it was possible!"
"I didn't say it was impossible."
"Oh my god."
"Well, I fail to see what a deity has to do with it, unless you are referring to the T'apuy, the pseudo-historical founder of mathematical physics who was worshipped as a deity in some Vulcan traditions."
Kirk rubbed his left temple. He couldn't say he'd never run into the occasional Vulcan smartass, but this one was just beyond the pale.
"Okay. I know you're going to think I'm crazy, but before you call for the medical team, please hear me out.
"I'm not from this universe."
"It's the only explanation that makes sense to me. I have these memories--memories of a different place, a different time. My brain is telling me that I'm James T. Kirk of the Federation Starship NCC-1647 'U.S.S. Farragut'. Rank: lieutenant commander; serial number: SC937-0176CEC. My commanding officer is Captain Chenoweth. I graduated from the Academy in 2253. My first assignment was U.S.S. Republic. I returned to Earth and served as an Academy instructor until my next assignment, to the Farragut. I have never met you before until today."
Both eyebrows shot up. "You'll pardon me if I question your sincerity."
"There has to be some way to prove it to you! I looked at the physical laws and constants. As far as I can tell, they're the same in both universes." Kirk had started pacing, but now he stopped. "The only other theory I have is that I've been captured by unknown, hostile forces and mind-wiped. My memories are false and implanted."
"You believe you have been mind-wiped?" The Vulcan was practically smirking.
"No. No, I don't. It just seemed, Occam's Razor, to make more sense than traveling through the multiverse. It must have been a very clever job."
Spock became introspective for a moment. "Supposing you are telling the truth," he began, "may I ask you a personal question?"
"Where were you born?"
"On Earth. Iowa. You've probably never heard of the place."
"I have, indeed, heard of Iowa. It is an agricultural settlement," Spock said with a flash of irritation. He took a deep breath and continued. "Your father. Is he alive?"
It was Kirk's turn to take a deep breath. "He was listed MIA when I was twelve years old. It changed my life in a lot of ways, not all of them good. I think he's still alive, though. They never found a body. They never really found out what happened to him. And if he's out there, I'm going to find him."
"But your father is dead, Jim. He died the day you were born."
"I know that's what the computer says, but that's not what I remember. I knew my father. I wouldn't remember it if it weren't true."
Spock looked upwards, as if listening for something that was not there. "Interesting. You told me that Spock told you that your father lived to see you make captain. I wonder if . . ."
Kirk was lost, but he could see Spock had something. "Yes?" he prompted.
"The what now?"
"Do not feign ignorance. I know what you did. Or what he did. I did. With you." He shook his head. "Some sort of lingering after-effect. You are remembering what Spock remembers about your life in his universe."
"You could save us both a lot of trouble if you would let me know now if you're simply feigning stupidity or really don't remember."
Kirk's jaw dropped. "ExCUSE me? When have I not been completely serious when it concerned the ship?"
"Fine. That's your Kirk. Your reality. This is me. Commander Kirk. And I am being absolutely on the level with you, Mister. I don't know where protocol went so horribly wrong in this universe, but you had better start acting like a Starfleet officer and not like a . . . a Juku-en dropout."
Spock looked wounded at that, though it was the Starfleet comment that got him and not the reference to a third-rate technical institute in Inner Shikahr.
"I simply do not see how your theory could possibly be true, sir. However, I have a theory that may explain what you have experienced. Some months ago, you experienced a mind meld with a Vulcan from the future. His arrival in our time changed the course of history, thus creating an 'alternate' time-line. That Vulcan was myself. The result is that we now coexist. Two Spocks.
"The other Spock remembered a history that will now never happen. In that history, your father was not killed by a Romulan renegade on the day you were born, among other details. When he first met you, he did not realize the extent to which the arrival of that Romulan had altered events. He thought you were much like the Kirk he remembered. He must have inadvertently impressed his perception of your identity upon your mind."
"A 'mind meld'?"
"It is the telepathic joining of two minds. It is, perhaps, a terrible invasion of privacy. The sharing of memories, sensory impressions, and emotions are not uncommon. It is also possible to pass certain . . . thoughts on a subconscious level during the meld, thoughts which may awaken later. I am perplexed as to why this effect took so long to manifest in your case."
"I don't remember any of this. The last thing I remember was getting caught in a thunderstorm on Delta Vega with my friend Gary Mitchell and a Maintenance guy named Greg Kearnes. We were tagging and retrieving equipment. Then the storm started. I was completely, soaking wet. Something hit me, but it wasn't lightning. Then I woke up. I wasn't wet. I'd cut my hand, but it wasn't bleeding." Kirk thought of something. "You weren't there. I mean, you were when I woke up, but not before. If those were your memories, from the old timeline, why would you remember something you weren't even there for? All of my memories . . . *are* from my point of view."
"But Spock and that Kirk did also share minds. Those could be Kirk's memories."
"Oh, come on! You're telling me that out of eighty-five billion neurons I somehow have room to store not only my real memories, which are somehow completely inaccessible at present, but also an entire false history which was passed to me telepathically and third-hand. I don't believe it. Human memory isn't some sort of downloadable memory stick. If it were, the Klingons wouldn't be scrambling so hard to discern our military secrets, I can guarantee you that."
"However, what you have conveyed to me only consists of a few details and a single memory relating to your whereabouts before the anomaly enveloped you. Hardly conclusive. Perhaps you could tell me what else you remember."
"We could be here all day, and you still wouldn't believe me. You're so enamored of this mind-meld idea--why don't you look for yourself?"
Spock's mouth opened infinitesimally and he blinked. "It requires a radical lowering of personal barriers."
"And according to you, I've already been through it once and it didn't kill me. What are you afraid of--that your *theory* might be *wrong*?"
"I have no personal attachments to my theories. I am a scientist," Spock stated.
"Well, good. Why don't you see for yourself, then?"
"Of course. It would be the most logical course of action. However, if this is a ruse to induce me to engage in unwarranted personal familiarities, be aware that I will be filing a complaint with the Starfleet Personnel Office at my first convenience."
Kirk looked at him as if he'd donned a clown wig and started singing 'Adelaide'. "If I were sexually harrassing you, Mr. Spock, you would know."
"Very well," Spock said, and reached.
Being is. Being is in-itself. Being is what it is. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
"Extraordinary. Simply extraordinary. And McCoy said your brain scans were clean?"
Spock began pacing. "I must learn more about this anomaly. I have begun running simulations on the computer, using the conditions on Delta Vega, however, I believe I require more data. We should return with more precise instruments to determine the exact conditions which created the anomaly. The probabilities--that you and our Kirk would be at the same place at the same time--are simply extraordinary."
"Well, you're in command now."
"No, I think it would be best not to upset the crew. At any rate, they would be even less likely to believe you than I would. You are a qualified Starfleet officer. More qualified, if we are to be honest, than the current CO."
"Okay, then. Come with me to the bridge. I presume you have a landing party in mind?"
"Nobody wants to look Existence in the face . . . running away from Existence is another way to exist." -- Jean-Paul Sartre
It was surprisingly easy to pretend to be captain when someone else was out there doing all the work. Kirk flipped through some mission briefings. He still didn't understand why the routine stopover at Delta Vega had necessitated a bunch of senior officers firing phasers at raw dilithium crystals (which, as everyone knew, was a fairly hazardous proposition under the best of conditions), but it seemed better not to ask questions. The crew left him alone and pretty much acted busy, and Spock responded to his probably too-frequent requests for status updates without the slightest hint of irritation. It was all just a little surreal. On the one hand, it was all he'd ever wanted; on the other hand, he knew very well he hadn't earned it.
Some voice in the back of his mind told him he ought to be down there. It wasn't right for him to be sitting in safety. Despite Spock's neutral voice when he gave his reports, he knew they were tangling with some pretty arcane forces down there. He also knew that Delta Vega could be a bit . . . unpredictable. "Helm, any change in the atmosphere?"
"No, Captain. Still monitoring on all frequencies."
He turned towards the science station. "No signs of abnormal activity in the planet's gravitational and magnetic fields," said the officer Spock had left there.
It's not as if he'd never had the conn before, Jim told himself. On the Farragut he'd spent nearly six months as the commanding officer on the graveyard shift. He'd known all of his bridge crew well, knew when he could joke around and even when he could switch the viewscreen from the standard synthetic warp field image to computer games. You got bored on long hauls and that sickly blue night lighting could really play havoc with your mind. He also knew--and this was the important part--when something happened, just what he could handle himself and what to wake the captain for.
He'd read every book on strategy, studied every Starfleet battle in detail, besides studying the campaigns of Col. Green, Khan Noonien Singh, Hitler, Hannibal, and Napoleon. He knew everything there was to know about heavy cruisers, both the Federation and Klingon variety; and he knew a thing or two about Vulcan and Orion vessels as well. He could speak a smattering of the most common languages in the Alpha Quadrant; he knew how to greet both Betazoids and Rigellians without causing offense. He could recite Starfleet regulations and the Federation constitution by article, section, and paragraph. He was a master of seven different martial arts disciplines. He had absorbed books on diplomacy, xeno-archeology, social science, criminology, cryptology, warp engineering, and galactic philosophy. He had scored near the top of his class, and had subsequently aced every assessment Starfleet administered, greasing his easy ascension through the ranks. He had gone from an obsessive student of miltary strategy to an obsessive student of warp physics to an obsessive student of human nature. He was a model officer. He was a model citizen.
In what universe could he possibly be ready for this?
God is absence. God is the solitude of man. --Jean-Paul Sartre
Spock entered the bridge, looking pleased with himself. Kirk motioned for Spock to join him. "I take it the mission was a success?"
"Cannot be certain at present; however, the data look promising."
Kirk let Spock return to the labs. His team was going to prepare some more simulations in an attempt to recreate the conditions of the anomaly.
It was all taking time, however, and he knew the Enterprise should have been on her way. The crew didn't question him too much when he stalled and gave some excuse about Spock possibly needing to do some more tests on Delta Vega in a few hours.
He was growing increasingly worried about the time factor. The Farragut would remain in the area to remove the equipment. Ionic storms might delay them indefinitely; or, they might have suddenly ended. Kirk had expected to finish in a day; Mitchell and Kearnes could probably do the same on their own if they stayed on task.
The shift ended, and Kirk found himself in his strikingly bare quarters. He wanted to go home. He had to face the fact, however, that there might be no going home. Then what? Demotion? How far? Would he be a security risk? How was he going to psychologically cope? *The same way I always do,* he told himself sternly. *You're a survivor, JT*.
After staring at the ceiling for hours and repeatedly telling himself he could handle anything, he got the call he had been waiting for. Spock had a plan, and it didn't require both ships to be in the same place at the same time.
Just to be within transporter range. He ordered everyone to the bridge at once.
For an occurrence to become an adventure, it is necessary and sufficient for one to recount it. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
Spock had explained it like this: using a large dilithium crystal which they had absconded from the cracking station, they would fire the Enterprise's phasers in the crystal within the volatile plasmosphere of the planet. Using the precise frequencies Spock had calculated, it would mimic the conditions with the hand phasers, but on a much grander scale, opening a portal to the same universe. Even if the portal were an angstrom in diameter, they would still be able to communicate and send a narrow-beam transporter signal through the portal. However, Spock believed that the portal would be much, much larger. If the Farragut were not in range, Spock had offered him the use of a shuttle to return to his universe. He would give Jim a data chip with all the information they needed to send the other Kirk back.
They did not yet tell the crew this, however. Kirk made a shipwide announcement that they would be performing an experiment in intercosmic communication. The crystal was beamed into place, then illuminated by a barrage of phaser fire before it could drift out of position. The viewscreen went white, then darkened, white, then darkened, twice having automatically reduced brightness levels. When it stabilized, they were treated to the incredible sight of the magnificent red crystal withstanding full phaser blasts, channeling and refracting the energy into the charged plasmas, which darkened and then sparked as the energies rose.
Spock ordered the phasers cut off. The crystal went dark. But there, beyond it, was a glowing point. It quickly grew into a mass which seemed to spin and waver.
There was a hush on the bridge as the irregular mouth of the anomaly widened, large enough to admit the passage of even a starship. The inside was clear like a mirror, the starfield showing no discontinuity other than the glowing purple edge of the cosmic portal.
"Tidal forces are increasing," Spock reported. The Enterprise creaked.
"Reverse thrusters, 2000 kilometers," Kirk ordered. "Open hailing frequencies."
"Aye, Captain," Kirk heard from behind him. He turned and saw a strikingly beautiful woman manning the console. "Receiving a response to our hails," she reported. "It's the USS Farragut. Shall I open a channel?"
Kirk nodded and looked back at the screen. Those curves he knew so well finally hewed into view. "Tell them not to approach too closely," he added, anxiously.
He sat, face forward, gripping the armrests firmly. An image of the Farragut bridge resolved into view. Captain Chenoweth, the old home team--and--
Himself. He felt the spike of hormones, the fight or flight response, shoved it down as hard as he could. *Someone was taking his place.* But he was also in someone else's place.
"Captain Chenoweth," Kirk addressed the somewhat startled countenance of his captain, "I am Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. I'm speaking to you through a portal that the Enterprise has opened between our two universes.
"We have done this because someone is where they do not belong. That someone . . . is myself. I am Lieutenant Commander Kirk of the Farragut." He looked at the man who wore his uniform.
If the bridge crew of the Farragut had been looking towards Commander Kirk when the communication started, they openly stared now. Chenoweth spoke. "Kirk? Can you explain this?"
"Yeah," he finally drawled. He motioned towards the viewscreen. "He's in my chair."
"And you're in MY chair," Kirk said from the Enterprise. "So why don't we both report to the nearest transport pod and solve this problem?"
Kirk felt the heat of the Enterprise's crew's eyes on him. "Is this true?" the communications officer demanded. Kirk started to answer, but it turned out she was speaking to Spock. "Yes, it is true," Spock verified. "I did not believe it at first, but my data now shows it to be an utter certainty. Early this morning, our Captain Kirk was caught in a high-energy spatial phenomenon. He appeared unharmed, but it is now clear that he was caught in the same place and time as his counterpart. Their bodies merged in space-time and separated--each one in the wrong universe."
"Wait a minute," the comms officer said a little too forcefully, "Let me get this straight: that's NOT the captain and you DIDN'T tell us?"
"It seemed unwise to engender undue speculation among the crew," Spock explained blandly.
"EXCUSE me for pointing this out, SIR, but that seems like a breach of protocol to ME."
"I made a command decision to violate regulations in this instance," Spock said sharply. "No further explanation is required or will be made, Lieutenant."
Kirk practically sighed at this exchanged and looked back at his safe, familiar Farragut. Was decorum this lax everywhere in this universe?
"Hey, Kirk," said the other Kirk, "I just realized that we're going to end up beaming over in the wrong uniforms. Of course, we could solve this problem by beaming naked."
The last straw. Kirk stood up. "I don't think so. Consider it a souvenir."
The other Kirk shrugged. "Why would I want a lieutenant commander's uniform? And these boots don't fit right. Commander," he added mockingly.
"Is he always like this?" Kirk asked Spock.
"Yes," said every voice on the bridge.
"Jim, I would urge haste. It is difficult to predict how long this phenomenon will last."
"Got it. You," he pointed to his counterpart, "better get over here, because I'm leaving. You can cut the broadcast, Lieutenant." He went to the turbolift doors and addressed the crew. "I'm sorry about the circumstances, but it was an honor working with you all."
"Cap--I mean, Commander, if you would allow me?"
Kirk let him in the turbolift. He waited for Spock to say something. "I would like to request to operate the transporter personally."
"Granted. Though you don't have to ask me for permission."
Spock's face held the wisp of a smile. "You did seem to be in command."
Kirk grinned. "Maybe I was meant for it."
As far as men go, it is not what they are that interests me, but what they can become. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
Commander Kirk, first officer assigned to the Starship NCC-1647 'U.S.S. Farragut', checked his profile in the glass after descending from the Starfleet landing pad at Starbase 11. Not bad, he told himself. Two solid gold stripes graced each sleeve. He'd taken the opportunity for a little shoreleave, even though the recirculated air of the Starbase was a far cry from fresh air and open skies. He'd do a little shopping, say hello to Tank and Jodi in the station office, and, maybe, just maybe, bump into a few Enterprise officers who were rumored to be at the 'Base as well. Enterprise was in dock for a routine supply stop. Kirk hoped he would catch Captain Pike's eye, or perhaps "just happen" to strike up a conversation with his discerning First Officer, whose opinion had made or broken several aspiring officer's careers.
It had been a year, now, since his unusual adventure across universes, and he still couldn't stop thinking about the Enterprise. It was, after all, where they sent the best of the best. Pike had been captain for over five years there, quite distinguished. Maybe in one or two years he would be promoted to the Admiralty, perhaps his first officer would also advance, and Kirk would become first officer of the Enterprise. Maybe--captain?
That was ridiculous, of course. Except--it had already happened in the other universe. Granted, he like his universe better. But he just couldn't get the idea out of his mind. It was a sweet, sweet ship.
Kirk found the crew lounge on the second level. Nothing but Starfleet togs here. He ordered a coffee at the little bar. Starbase 11 was on a major supply line and always had real coffee, not the synthesized stuff. He sipped at it gratefully as he filtered around the lounge, a large, domed room supplied with soft, low benches and an array of viewing screens. Rather luxurious compared to typical Starfleet accommodations, he mused. Makes a good recruiting picture. He saw a viewscreen displaying a real-time feed of the gas giant below them. Drawn to it, he watching the roiling patterns of gray-blue and green and slowly enjoyed his drink. After some time, he became aware that someone else was near him--call it combat instinct. He snuck a sideways glance, giving nothing away.
A Starfleet officer in Science blue was standing a short distance away, his hands behind his back, clearly engrossed by the same view of the planet.
Kirk relaxed inwardly and smiled. He took a few steps, determined to make conversation (anyone who had an enthusiasm for this stuff was worth getting to meet), when he noticed the pointed ears, the pale skin and glossy black hair. Could it be? Why yes, it was him.
Spock turned to look at him, a question reading across his eyes. Kirk almost jumped. Was he wrong? Could he be mistaking him for another Vulcan? But it looked just like Spock, and there was the Enterprise logo on his uniform.
"Excuse me," Kirk continued, "but you are Spock, are you not?"
"Please forgive my reaction," Spock said. "I am Spock," he said carefully, "but I'm afraid you have exaggerated my rank somewhat, sir."
Kirk looked down. Ah, lieutenant. He smiled. "I'm sorry--it's just--I've heard so much about you, and, well, maybe you ought to be commander by now."
"The compliment is appreciated, sir," he said, "but I am not on command track. I am content to remain Science Officer."
Neither of them said anything for a moment, but then Spock's curiosity got the best of him. "How did you know my name, Commander--?"
"It's Kirk. James T. Kirk. And you don't have to keep calling me sir. We're both off-duty. Call me Jim."
"Then, Jim," Spock said with exaggerated care, "if you do not mind my asking--"
Kirk grinned. "I think you should know you're semi-famous around the Farragut. Why, hardly a week goes by that I don't hear about your new theories on warp-fields or extending the transporter range or all the other things you've been working on."
"Then I believe my reputation has also been somewhat exaggerated. Yes, I have taken part in that research since I joined the Enterprise, but most of my papers were published under the direction of Science Officer Berko, who, as you may know, was recently given a promotion to direct the Federation Science Translation Project at Memory Alpha. He was the principal investigator. And, since his departure, I have been wholly indebted to our Mr. Scott for his excellent contributions towards our research on manipulating warp fields."
"Our chief engineer. He is, you might say, quite devoted to his work. In fact, he refused to leave his post to take leave."
Kirk chuckled. "And you?"
"I thought it would be beneficial for me enjoy a slight diversion."
"I hope it has been time well spent?"
"Indeed," Spock affirmed. "Will your crew be staying long?"
"Until tomorrow morning--at least, those were our last orders. You and I both know that orders can change."
"Naturally," Spock said.
Kirk didn't want to say goodbye, but he really thought he ought to be moving on, meeting more people. And he really did have to pick up a few things before he left. (Like coffee beans.) He was so comfortable, though, so he just smiled and looked back at the planet. He was just finishing his coffee when he heard Spock's voice beside him.
Kirk looked at him. Spock turned towards him slowly, as if a little surprised he had said it out loud. "That the patterns caused by turbulence should be so beautiful. Don't you think?"
"Yes," Kirk nodded. "I've often felt that the areas of highest entropy are really the most interesting. Trees, a blue sky, you and me--anything the Universe has mixed and mingled and formed and reformed has a tendency to be much more . . . compelling than the pure austerity of a dead world or a pure crystal."
"Then, purity is not a concept which you hold in a very high regard."
"Let us remain gloriously impure," Kirk remarked.
"Interesting," Spock said. "I find I am inclined to agree. Did you know," he said hesitantly, "that I am not, entirely, Vulcan? I have some Human blood in me."
"Really? I didn't know that."
"Not many do. I find revealing my ancestry seems to evoke a certain regrettable display of bigotry in most people."
"That's too bad. I'm sorry to hear that, Spock. You seem all right by me."
"I am gratified," Spock said. "Perhaps we should be so fortunate as to be assigned together, one day."
Now that was high praise. Kirk smiled and said, "Yes, I hope so," but he was troubled by Spock's shy hesitancy. Were there Starfleet officers that were really that bigoted? Oh, he knew that some were, but he hoped that the majority were more . . . flexible than that. "Do you mind a piece of advice? Please don't let other people tell you what to think about yourself. I've had a lot of people wish hateful things on me because I worked harder and went further than they did." Kirk thought about that other Spock, the sarcastic one who didn't seem afraid to say anything to anyone. "I know you have the self-confidence to stick up for yourself, you just have to find it. Be proud of who you are. And don't be afraid of offending people. If they're offended by WHO you are, they deserve to be offended."
"Your militancy on this topic is refreshing, Commander, however--"
"But? The best way to fight a bully is to stand up and show them you have a backbone. I don't mean you should start fistfights or declare war, but just come back at them with every bit of wit and verve at your disposal. Throw 'em off balance. That's what I do. Get their head spinning so fast they can't remember what their next move was supposed to be."
"This is a very appealing suggestion, however, it is not clear to me exactly how I would implement it."
"Mister Spock," said a feminine voice, "I see you've made a friend."
The two men turned. Kirk recognized the XO of the Enterprise immediately. "Jim Kirk, U.S.S. Farragut, ma'am," he said.
"Sir will do," she said simply. "He isn't boring you, I hope?"
"Certainly not," Spock said. "On the contrary, I find him to be an adequate conversationalist."
Just adequate? Kirk fumed.
"Well, now, that is a surprise," she said. "If my Science Officer thinks someone is adequate at anything, they've certainly passed the 98th percentile."
"I believe I detect something in the nature of a backhanded compliment directed my way," Spock said.
"You certainly have." She lowered her lashes. "It's not something I hold against you, of course. Mister Spock is one of our most valued officers," she told Kirk, "so if you were entertaining thoughts of stealing him away to the Farragut, you realize that you will be met in force and with all the firepower at our disposal. Understood?"
"No, sir. I mean, yes, sir, I do understand, and no, I was not attempting to recruit anyone."
She took pity on him and smiled. "Tell your captain we have some catching up to do. I'll be at the Port'o'Call tonight with Chris."
As she walked away, Kirk had to restrain himself big time. He was not going to say "Wow" or jump up and down or scheme to join Chenoweth tonight. (If he was invited, he was invited.)
Kirk finally got himself under control and hazarded a look at Spock. The Vulcan had been watching him carefully. "She is most impressive, is she not?"
"Thank you, Spock."
"For what should you be thanking me?"
"For liking me. Apparently your opinion is highly valued. Maybe we will be working together soon. I said I wasn't recruiting, and I certainly wouldn't ask you to step down from Enterprise to come to Farragut--I'm sure Enterprise is the research scientists dream--but if I do get promoted, in a few years, and I ask, you would consider it, right?"
"For you," said the Vulcan, "yes. You have a unique quality. I believe we could work well together."
Kirk smiled. He loved his universe.