DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Karen A. Bates and is reprinted from Nuages Five, published by Checkmate Press, 1986. Checkmate Press is the property of Karen A. Bates. This story is Rated PG-13.
Guardian: Part Four
Karen A. Bates-Crouch
Uhura felt the tears as they slid down her face, but refused to brush them away. How could he do this to her? It was one thing to stand mute as their captors had struck her on Alpha 6. It was another to treat her this way in private. It was as if the years together as comrades and intimates had been swept away completely. The man before her was one she didn't know. No longer was there such a person as the Federation Spock she had known; in his place stood the Romulan Tahn who spoke of a total stranger as his wife.
His wife. First T'naari, now this. Was this the rejection Christine had felt when finding out about Uhura's attachment to Spock? The pain of her former friend was clear to her. It had taken far greater courage to return through the Guardian to a time when death would claim her than to remain with Spock, knowing he belonged to another.
It wasn't fair. How could this have happened? They had both come to Tillon as slaves, yet Spock was leaving as a Romulan officer and husband. Someone else's husband. The irony of the situation struck her. She had once condemned Christine for the very feelings she herself had. How many other women had known Spock in the various time lines? How many others had given their hearts and souls away, only to be left behind as T'naari tangled the strands of time?
"At least T'naari failed in one thing," Uhura spoke aloud bitterly.
"What?" Spock watched as the pain on her face was replaced by a mask of indifference. Why had it come to this? Why was he always placed in the position of hurting someone?
"She wanted to make a living hell of your life, but all she's succeeded in doing is making the lives of everyone you touch hell."
"You're sorry!" Uhura spun away from him, instantly furious. "You're sorry! You, once again, have managed to emerge unscathed from this whole mess. What of me? You were all I had. Everything else is gone."
"Stop is, Uhura. I cannot change what has happened. The time lines have
merged at this point. I am no longer the Spock you knew. In this line, the
"The Klingons and Romulans will soon be at war with one another and you
speak of the Federation? Be realistic, Spock. Even if you can rescue Jim and
return him to the
Spock could hear the slight tremor in her voice, belying the imposing turned back she presented to him. How could he explain to her how important it was to rescue Kirk? There may indeed be no hope for the restoration of the Federation, but surely she could see the alternative of a Klingon ruled empire should the Romulans lose the war. With a gentle hand, he turned her to face him. "Uhura, listen to me. I'm sorry, but there is nothing that can change what has happened. When I melded with Litani, the lines merged within me. I am no longer the person you knew. I am Tahn, Sub-Commander of the Talon. The link to Litani runs very deep and cannot be broken except in death..."
"A link you could never bring yourself to share with me. Spare me the explanations, Spock. I don't think I really want to hear them. Tell Litani I'll go to Noone 4."
"No," Spock replied harshly. "Do you think I feel nothing for you?"
"Feelings are not the issue here. You've already made your choice, now allow me to make mine!"
"As Christine did?"
"She did what she felt she had to do in order to live with herself."
"And died for it."
"She was already dead," Uhura shouted. "What you offered her was worse than death. All you wanted was a body to keep you alive through the next pon farr while you hunted down T'naari. You didn't care how it would affect her. She trusted you."
"I gave her what she'd always wanted."
"You gave her what you thought she wanted," Uhura protested. "She wanted a relationship that meant as much to you as it did her. You gave her a warm body and no answers or commitment."
"Christine Chapel is not the issue."
"What is?" Uhura looked into Spock's eyes for an answer, a clue to what he was thinking or feeling and saw some of her own pain reflected there. "What is the issue here, Spock?" She stopped a moment in thought. "It's Jim, isn't it?"
"The Captain and McCoy must be removed from Noone 4..."
"At what cost?" She pulled away from his grasp. "You'd sacrifice everything to save Jim, wouldn't you? Me, Litani, Chris, everything."
"You perceive this as some sort of exchange. It is not."
"No? Explain that to Litani when you throw her aside after Jim is safe. Perhaps I should warn her ahead of time so she can be prepared." Uhura walked toward the door. "In the meantime, would you please arrange for some transportation off this rock for me? Or is it part of your plan to leave me here?"
The force of her anger struck harshly. Spock grasped her arm, halting her progress. Pulling her close, he numbly deflected her struggles until she ceased. How could he possibly make her understand how this was affecting him ... to be divided between two women who both loved him ... to have to choose, knowing the other would be hurt?
Litani was a part of him as no one had ever been. Even T'Pring, his wife in another time line, had never had this kind of symbiotic relationship. The link between them ran deep, winding through their very souls. Not even Jim could come between them.
"You must find the Enterprise," he said finally, still holding her close. "Without her there is no hope."
"No. You're the only one who can track her down. I'll go with Litani while you find the ship." Her voice was neutral, devoid of expression. What was the point of fighting any longer? T'naari had already destroyed millions of lives, what was one more?
"Return to the Guardian, find the Enterprise and any who would serve aboard her."
"Disrupt the time lines?"
"What is there to lose?" he countered. "There is no alternative."
"We will somehow obtain their release and join you."
"If you don't?"
"There can be no room for error." Spock released her, knowing he would never hold her again.
"I will fulfill my end of the agreement. I expect you to do the same." Come back alive, Spock. Even if I can't have you anymore, please come back alive.
* * *
Uhura set the controls of the tiny craft on automatic, then leaned back in her seat. Spock had set the navigational coordinates, trusting her to erase them after arrival. She hadn't seen him more than a few minutes after their discussion on Tillon.
Time passed slowly for her as the ship made its way to the planet of the Guardian. On the last journey from the Guardian to Alpha 6 she had been busy absorbing the contents of the computer's history tapes, studying the War in this time line. This trip, there was nothing but memories and thinking to fill her time.
By the time the Guardian's planet loomed on her viewscreen, Uhura was more than ready to leave the confines of the craft and walk the desolate surface of a dead world. This is where it had all begun, this is where it had to end.
But her first impulse was to step through the portal to a point in time before Kirk and McCoy were captured, to stop Spock from being turned over to the authorities of Noone 4. Uhura screamed aloud with frustration as the knowledge that the tampering with time could produce far more disastrous results than had already occurred. Hadn't T'naari shown what could happen? Yes, she could stop the capture, but would something far worse result because of her actions?
What if she still existed in this time line? What if, right now, there were two Uhura's? It was something she hadn't considered. The time lines merged in Spock, but that didn't preclude something else happening to her.
It amazed her that the Guardian recognized her. The knowledge of the Guardian exceeded her comprehension, she realized. All of the time lines were stored in its memory, somehow. How else could it know whether anything had been changed? //Stop it, Uhura, you're going to drive yourself crazy if you keep this up.//
"I wish to locate the Enterprise, time: the present."
"To verify its existence and location for rendezvous with the Talon."
Mist filled the portal, wavering gently as the image solidified. The ship swam into view, then altered as a corridor appeared. Hoping this was the right moment, she stepped through...
...and into the corridor. Why hadn't she and Spock done this the first time instead of making that fateful trip to Alpha 6? The last ten months would have never happened. No Tillon slave mining for Liniite, no Litani... Damn Spock for not realizing sooner the portal could be used as a gateway to the present.
The corridor was dimly lit, barely illuminated sufficiently to guide her footsteps. There was an air of disuse about it she'd never sensed on a starship before. The Guardian must have set her in an unused portion of the ship, she posited.
Within minutes, Uhura had determined her location as that of the series of labs no longer needed, which meant sickbay should not be far.
"Who are you? What are you doing here?" a voice behind her demanded.
She turned slowly to not startle the owner of the voice. "M'Benga?" Uhura asked cautiously, uncertain after ten years.
"Do I know you?" he inquired, coming no closer.
"That's impossible. She died years ago in the Golin massacre," M'Benga returned, unconvinced.
//Have I changed so much?// she asked herself. "I've come through the Guardian."
M'Benga walked over to the intercom switch, asking for the bridge. "M'Benga here, I need a security detachment outside lab 12. Mr. Scott, you better come along."
* * *
Uhura sat at the conference table alone, guards standing at the door. One by one the officers entered the room and she mentally checked them off her list of those alive and those dead. Scott, Sulu, Kyle and M'Benga all walked in together. Three others came a moment later but she didn't recognize them.
Scott spoke first. "Commander, computer has verified your identity. Now, what's going on?"
The Scott of her time line would have never been so formal. What relationship did the Uhura of this line have with this man? "Spock has sent me to arrange a rendezvous between the Enterprise and the Romulan ship Talon. He is attempting to affect rescue of Kirk and McCoy from Noone 4 with the assistance of Commander Litani."
"Are you mad, Uhura?" Kyle jumped in. "Captain Spock is dead."
"He's not dead," Uhura insisted. "He escaped before destroying the Suuni to make it appear that he was dead. Why won't you believe me?"
"Assuming we go along with this charade, why would he be working with the Romulans?" Scott asked. "We've been at war with the Coalition for over ten years."
"Things have changed. War between the Klingons and Romulans is imminent. If the Klingons win, it will mean the end of civilization as we know it."
"That still doesn't explain why they would help rescue the Captain and Doctor."
"Commander Litani wants to join forces with Kirk, to work together against the Klingons. She stands to lose as much as we do should the Klingons win." Uhura felt the frustration well up inside of her. Why was this so difficult? "Spock came to you six years ago, warning you of what was to happen. You believed him then, why won't you believe me now?"
Scott's head jerked at the reference to Spock's visit to the Enterprise so many years before. No one outside the few involved on the ship knew of that visit. "What do you know of this?"
"I was there at the Guardian, waiting for him, while he came here to warn you. He left the plans for the cloaking device in the computer for you and Sulu to build."
"Aye, that he did." Perhaps she was telling the truth after all. They had little left to lose. Without the Captain, the Enterprise had been able to do little more than remain out of the enemy's reach and make an occasional attack on a secluded outpost. This was the first they'd even heard where the Captain was being held. Noone 4 was in the heart of Coalition territory. For the Enterprise to approach it would be sheer suicide.
For the next three hours, Uhura told them what she knew and related Spock's orders and time table. Any skepticism they may have had disappeared when she brought them up to date on the most current War information. Things were worse than suspected.
"Will you be staying here?" Sulu inquired at last.
"I must return to the Guardian. There's much work yet to be done." How could she break this to them without sounding crazy? "I've been instructed to use the Guardian to locate dead crewmembers willing to serve on the Enterprise and send them to you."
Those at the table unfamiliar with the Guardian's abilities made disparaging comments at the announcement.
Scott quelled them with a glance. "You need a list of those known deceased," he surmised.
"It would help," Uhura acknowledged gratefully. A list would make her job easier. Within minutes the printout was in her possession. Name and date of death were given where available. The list was extensive. "I must be going."
"Go in peace," Sulu said quietly as the mist swallowed her up.
* * *
Litani fought back the tears as she watched Spock dress. Their time together after a year's separation had been too short. Within hours they would be in orbit about Noone 4 and she would have to denounce him as a Federation spy ... denounce her husband and friend. Throwing back the covers, she came to her feet, quickly crossing the distance between them. "I cannot change your mind?"
"Negative." Her nearness was overwhelming. Pain and passion intermingled through the link. "There is no alternative."
"What if they execute you, instead of imprison you?" she pressed.
"They will not summarily execute a man with my information before they have a chance to obtain that information," he reassured her.
"That's supposed to make me feel better, Tahn? If they don't kill you, they'll torture you." She yanked her uniform on, hating the very sign of a Commander's rank emblazoned on it for the first time. "We can't be sure of anything. Execution for Kirk and McCoy is set for three days from now. They could already be worse than dead by the time you arrive."
"We must take that chance. Do not underestimate them, Litani."
"Will Uhura have found the Enterprise?"
"She will do her part." Spock set the last weapon in place and turned to face her. "Uhura will not allow personal feelings to interfere with her work."
"I can understand her pain." Litani brushed his face with her fingertips, feeling the link reverberate between them.
"It could not be avoided."
She detected the bitterness behind the words that were not in the voice. "I am sorry, Tahn. I know she was very special to you in another time line."
"That was another time and place." Had Uhura reached the Guardian? Were Jim and Leonard still alive? "We must make preparations before we enter orbit."
* * *
Robot satellites circled the planet, maintaining an automatic defense perimeter which destroyed all unauthorized vessels in the vicinity. So far, clearance had been granted. "Identify," came the request again.
"Romulan vessel Talon. Commander Litani in command."
"State your business."
"Surrender of Federation spy to Coalition authorities for sentencing," Litani returned smoothly, choking inside on the words.
"Stand by for coordinates. Prisoner will be accompanied by commanding officer and escort to perimeter. Statement will be taken at that time." The voice ceased abruptly, then resumed. "All pertinent records must be entered at time of statement. End of transmission."
* * *
Spock stared dispassionately at the five men seated in judgment on him. Within hours of his arrival, he's been through decontamination and was now being sentenced. Litani's statement was brief and to the point, condemning him as a spy. She was still here, in the rear of the room. Permission for her departure had not yet been granted.
Tension filled the room as a Klingon entered with an armed detachment. The Romulan judges demanded an explanation for the intrusion into the courtroom. Jurisdiction was segregated, this transgression was unforgivable.
"We meet again, Spock."
"Kor," Spock acknowledged. warning Litani through the link of imminent danger.
"When I heard of your capture, I could not bear to stay away a moment longer," Kor smiled, then gestured his men to surround the room. "You have come to join your Captain, no doubt."
Kor propped himself on the edge of a table, keeping his disrupter trained on Spock. "You disappoint me, Spock. I've been waiting for you for a year. I knew you would eventually come. Those Romulan fools believed your ploy of suicide with your ship. I knew you would not sacrifice your miserable life so cheaply."
"I object to this outrage, Commander Kor," the Romulan magistrate interrupted. All Romulans in the room had already been quietly disarmed.
"Kill him," Kor ordered negligently. A low hum and the man was gone. "Noone 4 is now under the rule of the Klingon Empire. Commander Litani, you have five minutes to leave orbit."
//Leave now,// Spock ordered her.
//I can't leave you here,// came the agonized reply.
//Return to the Talon and destroy the Klothos. Use every means at your disposal. Now go!//
//I will be back, Tahn.// Litani abruptly left the room, followed by her two guards from the Talon.
"Take the prisoner to the Interrogation Room. Put the rest of these fools in a cell. I'll decide what to do with them later."
* * *
Litani stepped onto the bridge, fuming at the turn of events. How dare Kor interfere with their plan? There had been no warning of a Klingon takeover of Noone 4. It was probably only the presence of her warship that had enabled her to leave the planet alive. "Status report," she snapped.
"Shields at maximum, all stations manned. Klothos shields are up, energy readings indicate presence of cloaking device," the science office replied immediately.
"Navigator, lay in a course to leave this sector." Litani paused a moment. "But make it so the planet somehow manages to get between us and the Klothos."
Litani was betting on Kor remaining on the surface with his new prisoner, leaving the battle cruiser in the hands of an underling. The viewscreen showed the dropping of the planet horizon as they circled and came from behind the previous position of the Klothos. There she was! "Destroy that ship!" Litani smiled grimly as the unsuspecting Klothos rocked under direct hits. The Talon shuddered as the Klingons returned fire, but the edge was theirs and in minutes a direct hit struck the power center of the Klothos and she exploded in a brilliant display of pyrotechnics.
So much for the Klothos, Litani thought. Now to locate Tahn. "Prepare armed landing party for surface attack."
The science officer turned in his chair. "Impossible, Commander. Sensors indicate full planetary shielding. Kor must have ordered it when the Klothos was attacked. There is no way to penetrate it."
"Damn!" The shielding around Noone 4 was impervious to all known weapons. It deflected transporter beams and effectively cut off all communication channels. Kor would know by now through planetary sensors that the Klothos had been destroyed. Until another Klingon ship arrived he was stranded.
* * *
The room was sterile, with but a single chair in its center. Spock immediately recognized it from its counterpart on Organia when last encountering Kor. He'd once survived an interrogation using the mind sifter; it was doubtful he would again. Kor had not used it at full strength before. This time nothing would be spared in Kor's quest for information that would help him defeat the Romulans.
Spock allowed himself one last moment of Litani's presence before shutting her off completely, totally blocking her from his mind. He would not permit any of the mind sifter's effects to penetrate the link. By the time Kor arrived, Spock had thoroughly prepared himself for the mental onslaught. All sensory input had been isolated, all energy was focused on blankness.
* * *
"Spock ... Spock, can you hear me?"
"It's no use, Jim. He's totally shut down," McCoy surmised wearily. "Kor probably used full power this time. He's lucky to be alive."
"It's been two days, Bones."
"He may never pull out of it, Jim. The mind is a strange thing. I can't even be sure whether this is the result of the sifter or self-induced. Hell, I'm not even sure there's a mind left." McCoy pulled another blanket over the still Vulcan's figure, trying to keep further chill from him. For two days they'd kept him warm, speaking to him in an effort to reach the inner recesses of the mind in hopes there was some glimmer of the man left to reach. So far, nothing.
"What's he doing here, Bones? Why in a Romulan uniform?" Kirk asked for the tenth time that day. "I barely recognized him in that beard."
"We may never know."
Kirk whirled at the sound of laughter outside the power grid that sealed their cell. "Come to view your handiwork, Kor?"
"Of course, Captain. I have so few pleasures in life." Kor relished the sight of the two men who'd made a fool of him on Organia. The infamous Captains Kirk and Spock.
"Why didn't you just kill him and get it over with?" Kirk asked angrily.
"After waiting this long for him to come here and rescue you? Really, Captain, you have no concept of vengeance."
"Sadism, you mean."
"One of my finer qualities, actually," Kor admitted wryly.
"So now what?" Kirk came to his feet, standing face to face with his captor with only the grid between them. It would be worth the pain and slow death crossing the grid would bring, just to feel his hands tighten around the Klingon's neck.
"For him ... slow death through madness. For you, today is your lucky day, Captain. Today you will be publicly executed for your crimes against the Klingon Empire."
"I'm touched by all the attention," Kirk replied with a twist to his lips.
"You should be flattered, Captain. I plan to perform the execution myself."
"A busy man like you? Surely you have more important things to do." Perhaps he could reach through the grid and pull Kor into it... There was a low rumble that grew in intensity all around them. Pieces of cell wall chipped away and fell about them, cracks ran the length of the floor.
"What's happening, you fool?" Kor screamed at the man behind the monitoring station.
"An attack, Commander. The Talon."
"Route all power to the shields." Kor strode angrily from the room.
"The Talon?" McCoy muttered to no one in particular. "A Romulan ship maybe?"
"Either way we're no better off, Bones." Kirk remained close to the grid, eyeing the sole guard at the station. This portion of the complex was the most heavily monitored and used only for dangerous criminals. Cells were tiny with three solid walls and the fourth a grid more deadly than those used for detention elsewhere in the complex. The lights dimmed a moment, damping the grid at the same time. Kirk moved away from the grid slightly, appearing not to have noticed the flicker of power outage.
Kirk was ready for the next power flicker and threw himself through the grid, ignoring the searing pain that ran along his body. Hands hardened by a year of labor pulled the Klingon guard from behind the monitor and into the nearest power grid. Caught in the grid's web, the man writhed in agony only seconds before losing consciousness and then his life.
Moving swiftly, Kirk ducked behind the console and shut down the grid to their cell. Scooping up the fallen disrupter, he helped support Spock as they moved down the corridor and through the doors at the end. The lights were dimming to where it was difficult to see, but they pushed ahead, searching for a place of relative safety. At least now they would die trying, rather than as caged animals. Breathing grew more difficult the closer to the surface they went.
"Need ... to rest," McCoy wheezed."Not ... enough air."
"There must be a break in the pressure dome up top." Kirk collapsed next to the physician, still holding Spock close. "I hope ... Kor was ... one of the first to breathe the atmosphere."
"Only ... if it took him ... a long time ... to die," McCoy whispered as darkness claimed them both.
* * *
Uhura watched as the last of the people entered the Guardian to disappear in the mist. Spock had warned her it would be difficult to convince people to rise from the ashes to serve in a War that hadn't ended. For many, death was preferable to living through more hell. The list in her hand had been exhausted with one exception. Uhura had hoped she would locate sufficient medical personnel to avoid this last journey but it had not been so.
One name was left. Christine Chapel. Cause of death: execution for crimes against the Romulan Empire. Uhura looked in vain for further information, but could find nothing. Cause of death: execution. This was not like any time line she'd crossed yet. In one, Christine had died in the initial attack on the Enterprise, in another she'd committed suicide, in yet another, she'd never joined Starfleet. In this line, though, she'd been executed.
Uhura summoned a deep breath, then requested the Guardian for a portal to the date listed on her sheet. The mist cleared away to show a planet Uhura didn't recognize, then along a hallway devoid of character or detail. Still debating the wisdom of making this particular journey, she stepped through
//and wished she hadn't. What the hallway lacked in visual detail, it compensated for in sound. Horrible, unimaginable noises assaulted her ears from every direction. Some of it she could discern as mechanical in origin, the rest... Moving cautiously down the hall, Uhura stopped at each door, listening intently for some clue as to whether this was the right place to find Christine. At one point, she had to duck into a small storage closet to avoid detection by a patrol. When she emerged, a voice caught her attention. It was familiar, yet unfamiliar. Pulling her phaser, 'appropriated' during one of her journeys, Uhura waited until the scream was heard again, then destroyed the locking mechanism. Stepping swiftly into the room, she fired again, and again, disintegrating anyone she didn't recognize. When the last of them had disappeared, Uhura turned her attention to the woman strapped to the table.
"Christine?" she asked as she released the restraining straps.
"Uhura?" came the rasping reply. "How..."
"Never mind. We have to get out of here before an alarm is raised." Uhura reached to help the other woman to her feet, but was weakly motioned away.
"Don't touch me. All sensory input has been heightened to produce the worst possible effects." Christine gingerly swung herself into a sitting position, wincing as her foot brushed the floor. "I don't think I can get far..."
"Guardian..." The mist formed scant inches away, as if it knew one of its travelers could not move any distance. They both heard the clatter of boots down the hallway and knew there was no more time. Grabbing Christine's arm, Uhura propelled them through the gateway//
and back onto the desolate planet of the portal. "How long before the drug wears off?"
"A few hours."
"Think you could manage one more move?"
Christine carefully lowered her body to the ground. "Not before you explain what in the hell's going on, Lieutenant, or should I say, 'Commander'."
There was an icy blast in the tone of voice Christine used that Uhura had never heard before. Perhaps it was imply the aftermath of the torture chamber from which she'd just rescued her. Launching into the same speech she'd been using for each of her journeys, Uhura summed up the situation and then sat back, waiting for the inevitable questions but none came.
"I'm offering you your life, Christine."
"No, thank you." Christine made a tentative movement, but stopped immediately as the drug induced pain raced through her system. "Send me anywhere, but I won't go back to the Enterprise."
"Why?" Uhura was genuinely puzzled by the other's response.
"Why?" Christine chuckled mirthlessly. "Because I want nothing to do with the lot of you. You forget I was one of those deposited planetside by Kirk when the War broke out in earnest. He didn't give damn what happened to any of us, as long as his precious ship was safe."
"Deposited planetside?" Uhura searched her memory, but couldn't reference it. Damn these time lines that criss-crossed like a patchwork quilt.
"I was considered a questionable loyalty risk," came the bitter response.
"I don't follow. None of this happened in the time line I come from."
"Now I suppose you're going to tell me I wasn't even married in your time line."
"Married? You're married?" This was definitely not going according to plan.
"Saanden," came the cool reply.
"I don't recognize the name."
"He was a scientist stationed on Memory Alpha."
"Memory Alpha was destroyed."
"After the Klingons stripped its memory banks clean."
"No, I mean before then..." Uhura remembered the lights of Zetar distinctly and the aftermath of their destruction. "That was another time. Go on."
"We married. I returned to the ship, he stayed on Memory Alpha. When the War broke out, Kirk decided my loyalties were questionable because of my marriage to a Romulan and left me on a planet light years from anywhere."
"Then what happened?" Marriage to a Romulan? This was not the Christine she'd known in the other time line at all.
"I'd rather not talk about it." Christine shifted painfully on the ground where she was sitting, hoping to find a more comfortable position."Why did you come for me?"
"We need medical personnel badly. The Coalition has had an automatic death sentence on medical personnel for so long, they've nearly annihilated everyone with any kind of medical knowledge."
"Still not interested."
"Chris, we need you!" Uhura came to her feet and paced in agitation. Why was she being so stubborn? The other Chris would have leaped for a chance to be aboard the Enterprise. "Without the Enterprise, there's no way to fight back against the Klingons. We need a united front to show the Romulan Empire we can work together to defeat them."
"Join the Romulans?" Chris threw her head back and laughed derisively. "You expect me to work with the Romulans? Do be serious!"
"You were married to one," Uhura objected to the seemingly irrational statement.
"I still am. I even loved him. That is, until he denounced me as an enemy of the Empire when his ship found us on that godforsaken planet. We'd been marooned there for an entire year before the Romulans came." She picked up a nearby rock and threw it in anger. Memories of a man she'd loved and married stone-facedly denouncing her as a Federation spy played out in front of her eyes. Her beloved Saanden had viciously thrown her aside to gain a promotion to Science Officer. The only "favor" Saanden had done for her was to state her occupation as technician instead of medical personnel. It had earned her a cell in a Romulan prison for a year instead of immediate execution. Some favor.
"I'm sorry," Uhura said quietly. No wonder Christine felt the way she did.
"Not half as sorry as I am," came the caustic reply. "I'm grateful for what you did today, but there's no way I could work with the Romulans."
"Please, Chris," Uhura pleaded. "You wouldn't actually be in contact with them. You would be on the ship, in sickbay."
"Assuming they were able to rescue him from Noone 4," Uhura confirmed. "I know it will be difficult for you, but believe me, we all have scars."
Christine saw the expression on Uhura's face and knew the other woman had indeed known pain that ran deeply. War spared no one in its quest for victims. The months in prison and hours on the torture table had left scars that would take years to heal.
What would it be like to walk the corridors of a starship after all this time? To be surrounded by humans again instead of only Romulans? Could she adjust and be accepted after the ostracism Kirk had forced upon her unjustly? Kirk. Her hatred for him was second only to that felt for Saanden. How dare he make that kind of judgment on her based solely on her marriage, which had taken place during peace time? Peace times that were, according to Uhura, now over ten years in the past.
There was always the alternative of the Guardian. If Uhura had journeyed to find her, why couldn't it be used to her a new place and time to live? A place untouched by War. She could escape this nightmare and live in peace.
It was all useless. There was no escape from the nightmare, because it was inside of her. She was carrying the war inside, carefully fueled by the hatred for Saanden and Kirk. The Guardian couldn't change that.
Christine sighed in defeat. "I have no choice. It's either returning to where you found me, or going to the Enterprise. Not exactly terrific choice. Anyway, the Enterprise can't be any worse than a Romulan prison."
"We'll stay here until you can travel." Uhura mentally crossed her fingers that she wouldn't regret this. Christine was a walking time bomb. She could only hope it wouldn't explode too soon.
* * *
Kirk kept his eyes shut as he sorted through the sounds around him, trying to identify his surroundings. There were two voices, one male, one female, talking in low tone. The words were unclear to him at first, but then he realized the language was Romulan rather than Standard. They were discussing someone named Tahn and whether he was going to live or not. Jim decided the conversation contained nothing of importance to him and turned his attention elsewhere.
Opening his eyes a crack, he surreptitiously glanced around the room. The two speakers had their backs to him, but other than that, there was nothing else to see. McCoy was not visible, but since his vantage was limited, Kirk chose not to worry immediately. This was not the first time they had been separated during the long incarceration. Only by declaring himself to be a maintenance worker rather than a physician had McCoy been allowed to live
Kirk closed his eyes again, fully expecting to hear Kor's voice at any moment. When several more minutes passed with no other sound than the same droning of two voices, he decided to take a chance and 'wake up'. No fetters bound him to the bed, which amazed him. Never had the infirmary on Noone been so lax. Sitting up, Kirk was able to look around the room and observed McCoy resting comfortably some fifteen feet away. Spock was sequestered in another portion of the room under what appeared to be total life support.
"You are awake at last, Captain," the female voice greeted.
"Where are we?" Kirk asked. This Commander, by the insignia on her uniform, obviously knew who he was. It would be best to try and obtain as much information as possible as quickly as possible.
"Aboard my ship, the Talon," she replied easily, as if anticipating his question. "You and McCoy are my guests."
"And Spock? How is he?"
A frown crossed her face, then disappeared. "Unknown. My ship physician has placed him on life support systems, but is unable to diagnose the full extent of his injuries."
"May we see him?" Here it was, the start of the truth. She'd set him up by handing him a few kernels of kindness. Now she was going to show the other side of the coin.
"Of course," came the unexpected reply. "I have been anxiously waiting for McCoy to awaken so that he too might examine him. Tahn has told me a great deal about the Doctor's healing abilities."
"Tahn?" Wait a minute. That's the name they were discussing when he first woke up. Kirk backtracked a bit mentally. If Spock was indeed Tahn, a "Romulan," that would explain the uniform he'd worn on Noone. How had it transpired, though, and why had he been on Noone as a prisoner of Kor? The longer he considered the situation, the longer the list of question to ask became.
"It is a very long story, Captain. One I would prefer to wait in telling until McCoy has had a chance to examine Tahn." Litani walked to McCoy and gently shook his shoulder, urging him to wake.
Groggily, rubbing his eyes, McCoy came to a sitting position. "I am Commander Litani. Welcome to the Talon, Doctor."
"I'm sorry, ma'am. You seem to have me confused with someone I was a maintenance worker. Name's McCoy. Travis McCoy."
"Do not be concerned, Doctor. 'Spock' has spoken highly of you many times."
"Lousy green blooded so and so. The only time he can say anything good about me is when he tells the enemy," McCoy grumbled, pulled himself off the bed and into a standing position. "Where is he?"
"Over there." She gestured to the corner of the room and ordered her own physician to allow human to examine the Sub-Commander.
It took him several moments to acclimate himself to the alien machinery and readouts, occasionally asking the man standing beside him to double check his assumptions. The readings were not good. "Looks like you found us just in time by these readouts."
"Can you help?" Litani asked anxiously.
"I don't know," McCoy replied honestly, troubled by the situation. "Kor no doubt used the mind sifter on full power, but whether there's anything of Spock's mind left, I can't tell..."
"What can we do?"
"Before the War, I would have said find a Vulcan Healer who would meld with him and search for a part of him that hadn't been ravaged."
"There are none such among you?" she asked hopefully.
"I know of none."
"There is nothing to be done then." Tahn, her beloved, was gone, destroyed by Kor. Her impulse to order his death by inches had been the correct one after all.
Kirk, who by this time had joined them, touched his friend's still hand. "How long can he survive on life support?"
"For a time, Jim. But, without his mind, the body controls will slip away. He's more dependent on his mind for basic metabolic maintenance than humans. We could keep a human alive forever, but eventually he's going to deteriorate."
"I refuse to give up hope," Litani announced firmly. "There must be a way to reach him."
"You sound like Christine before she gave up and married Saanden," McCoy said wryly. "She'd sit in sickbay holding his hand and talking to him by the hour, just on the chance it would do some good."
McCoy shrugged his shoulders. "Didn't hurt. M'Benga told me once that even in a healing trance, Vulcans were peripherally aware their surroundings. I can't be sure if this is a healing trance or not."
"But it might be," Kirk pursued. "There's a chance."
"Yes," came the slow reply. "There's a chance."
"Then we have to take it." Litani gestured to her physician and McCoy. "I want both of you to take shifts and keep him under constant observation. Notify me of any change, no matter how insignificant."
Kirk cleared his throat to divert her attention. "What can I do?"
"I wish you to join me in my quarters for an exchange of information, then we shall each take turns employing what this Christine person did and hope we can eventually get through to him. Taklen, see to McCoy's needs. Captain, follow me." Litani swept from the room, impatient to finish with this essential business and return to Tahn's side where she wanted to be.
* * *
Kirk paced the confines of the room Litani had assigned him, considering their conversation of a few hours ago. If true, it was an incredible tale. Unfortunately, it was probably also true. Spock's visit to the Enterprise years ago telling them of T'naari's subterfuge had altered the course of the future slightly by giving the Enterprise a chance for survival. Now he was trying to divert the course of the future one more time by joining the Enterprise with the Talon in a combined strike on the Klingons. By taking the initiative, they could throw the Klingons off balance and gain first strike advantage.
What had it been like for Spock to exist among such a warlike people as the Romulans for so many years? What had prompted him to even do so? Jim couldn't imagine the peaceful Vulcan even considering such an alternative lifestyle. Litani's concern for Spock seemed genuine, but unexpected. She knew him to be Spock of the Federation, but respected him as Tahn of the Romulan Empire.
They were now on course to rendezvous with the Enterprise. Uhura had been sent to make the arrangements. Had she found his ship? Would they believe her and arrive at the rendezvous coordinates? What was Uhura like now? Jim hadn't seen her in nearly ten years, since the start of the War when she'd been transferred as First Officer to Spock on the Suuni. He'd heard of her death in the Golin massacre, but this Uhura was from another time line. Perhaps her relationship with the Kirk in her time line had been quite different from the one in this line.
At least Kor had died a fitting death. Litani's form of punishment had befitted the crime. Too bad it happened after the damage to Spock had been done. Damn Kor and his mind sifter. Litani had ordered the machinery destroyed with the rest of the Klingon headquarters and torture chambers. Her use of Liniite to destroy the pressure domes had been brilliant. Once the dome shields had been punctured the Talon was able to strike hard and fast, destroying the surface complex, allowing them to beam armed landing parties to the subterranean complex and defeat the Klingons. Her men had found the three of them just in time before the atmosphere had seeped into the lower levels. Few prisoners had been rescued before the atmosphere had depleted the oxygen supply. It had been risky on her part to try such a bold move. The three of them could have succumbed to the atmosphere before being found.
Kirk chuckled grimly at the disorganized pattern of his thoughts. Thinking was indeed a painful process, as someone once put it. The more one considered something, the more convoluted it became and the more conjecturing one did. Here he was trying to determine the course of an alien mind's logic, rather than concentrating on the matter at hand. Litani's reasonings and actions were her own. It was not in his ken to figure them out. It would have to be sufficient at the moment to know he and McCoy were alive and safe and hope that Spock would soon follow.
Unable to stay another minute in his quarters, Kirk stalked from them, headed for the sickbay area. No one interfered with his progress, although many eyed him with distrust. He was impressed with the hold Litani had on her crew. It didn't appear to stem from fear, so it had to be respect.
The sickbay doors opened as he approached, allowing him to enter. Spotting McCoy, he went over to him. "Any progress, Bones?"
"Not yet. Taklen and I agree it's a matter of time now to see whether the mind will respond or not."
"Can I see him?"
"The Commander's in with him now. She asked not to be disturbed. We're monitoring him in here." McCoy pointed to the console where Taklen was seated.
* * *
Litani fought back tears that had been so long held at bay. //Tahn, where are you? I can't feel you inside me anymore. While I was fighting the Klothos, you shut me out of your mind completely. I know you thought to protect me from Kor, but now I've lost you. There's a part of me gone now. I need you. I want you.// She wiped a tear that had escaped from its bonds. How empty she'd been the last four days without Tahn's presence inside of her.
At least in the year he'd been gone through the Guardian, she'd had hope that he would one day return. From this malady there appeared to be no hope, no possibility of recovery. What would life be like without him? Litani found the prospect an unappealing one.
//Tahn, where are you?// Litani allowed her mind to wander, hoping it would find the familiar path to her husband's mind. It was a blind searching for anything that would lead her to him. Memories of their time together constantly intruded, reminding her of times past. The warmth of his touch, the fire of his mind, the icy brilliance of his intellect. So much to be contained in one man, yet it had been and he shared it all with her.
There was a flash of pain inside her head and Litani mentally recoiled. //Tahn?// she questioned when the pain diminished. There was another flash of pain, but not so severe. //Tahn, are you there?//
//Litani?// came the weak probing.
//Tahn?// Was it possible? Could there be some remnant of him left behind, untouched by the mind sifter?
The touch was tentative, unsure. Litani remained still, afraid to move or respond lest it frighten him away. Left unhindered, the touch grew bolder. //Tahn,// she called softly.
//I am here,// the reply came at last.
Litani felt the hand she held move slightly. She knew the monitors in the other room would be registering the bodily changes, but also knew Taklen would allow no one to disturb them until she permitted it.
It was like the wakening of a sleeping giant. Each movement was gained with effort, each thought that broke through the barrier exacted payment. Kor had scorched Spock's mind with the sifter, heedless of the damage inflicted.
Both of them lost track of time as Litani helped Spock retrace the pathways of his mind. She buffered the pain encountered at each new turn, supported when he tired of the effort. Litani glimpsed parts of his inner self she'd never seen before, felt the painful memories long buried. Some faces were familiar, others were not. When both grew too weary to continue the trek, her head lowered of its own accord to rest on his chest and each slept the dreamless sleep.
* * *
McCoy watched silently while Kirk paced the room as a caged tiger. The monitors were registering a level of brain activity and consciousness but Taklen had refused them entrance to the room until Litani came out. The Captain wan impatient to see Spock and know that all was well.
It was several hours later before Taklen ventured into the other room to check the patient. A smile touched McCoy's lips at the sight of Litani stretched out beside the Vulcan, head resting on Spock's chest. The brazen attack on Noone 4 now had an explanation. He was certain the original task was to rescue the two of them, but it was Spock's capture that prompted the violence and expediency of the rescue. As the three quietly withdrew from the room, McCoy chanced to see a shadowed expression flit across Kirk's face, then disappear. McCoy sighed. If there was something on Jim's mind, he would have to settle it himself.
* * *
Uhura dropped wearily into the bed and closed her eyes, wishing for sleep to claim her. Instead, visions of her journeys through the Guardian played endlessly through her mind. Scenes of violence and blood, of refusal to accept life, denial of the inevitable, each player a character on the board of life. It seemed she had played God that day and offered the choice of life and death, graciously handing to those who agreed to face the War once more, withdrawing it from those who could no longer stomach it. Who was she to grant life and death?
What of Kirk and McCoy? Had they been successful in rescuing the duo from Noone? How she hated the not knowing. It had been unfair of Spock to ask this of her ... to send her through the Guardian and relive the horrors of war. Hadn't she been through enough already? Hadn't her years on the Enterprise and Suuni been enough? She'd chased T'naari through the Guardian -- played cat and mouse with time -- and lost. Time had been spent on Tillon ddigging Liniite as a slave of the Romulan Empire before having her life ripped apart once more by Spock tossing her aside for Litani.
She was tired of it all. Of the War, the pain, the love and hate, all of it. Uhura wanted nothing more at this moment than to walk away from everyone and everything. She no longer had a place to call 'home' since the Suuni's destruction in this timeline. Even the Enterprise felt uncomfortable and forbidding. Anyone who had been close to her before T'naari's rampage through time no longer had the same ties or relationships to her as before. With Spock's parting, all ties had been severed. She could understand now what had driven Christine to choose death on the Enterprise as an acceptable alternative to life in a time and place adrift of all she knew. Uhura could also understand why so many had refused her offer of life in the future. Known death ofttimes more acceptable than the unknown promises of life. Cursing silently the destruction of her little craft on the Guardian's planet, Uhura wished it were here so she could return to the portal and choose a time and place to live. It would be free of all she knew, an alien world where nothing would remind her of what had been and was no more.
Realizing sleep was still a stranger. Uhura rose from the bed and left her quarters. As she walked the night corridors, she wasn't surprised to see faces of those brought through the Guardian wandering as she was. Some exchanged words with her, others merely nodded in passing and continued their silent passage. Not finding the one face in particular she wanted to see, Uhura turned her steps down a different corridor and stopped at a sealed door.
Christine stood just inside the door as it opened to her request. "Care for some company?" Uhura asked quietly.
The other woman shrugged, then motioned Uhura to enter. "Some tea?"
"Thank you." This Enterprise was subtly different than her own of the past. This one had food synthesizers in each officer's cabin. "I couldn't stop thinking..."
"Anything in particular?" Christine stiffly walked to a chair and lowered herself into it carefully. The residual effects of the imprisonment and torture still told on her.
Uhura sat down, cup in hand. "I guess I was thinking of life and death in general. Needed to talk to someone who understood it well."
"I'll take that as a compliment," the other acceded. "What was I like in your line?"
"Brilliant physician and researcher hopelessly in love with a man who didn't want you."
Christine whistled. "Quite a one line synopsis of a life."
"Who was I hopelessly in love with?"
"Spock," Uhura replied, covering the slight tremor in her own voice by drinking some tea.
"Some things don't change, do they?" Christine chuckled. "I was the same way here. Only this time I found someone to take his place."
"Saanden," Uhura surmised.
"Actually, it was Leonard at first, but then I met Saanden. Saanden reminded me a lot of Spock in appearance, he was also quite intelligent. It was a whirlwind romance, then we were married. I think we spent a whole nine weeks together before I had to return to the Enterprise. I was madly in love with him and knew that one day we'd be together and live happily ever after."
"Sounds like a fairy tale."
"It was. Actually, it was incredibly stupid. A mistake I've been paying for ever since. I loved him. Obviously, I believed him when he said he loved me. Unfortunately, he really didn't."
"Do you still love him?"
"Not anymore. It still hurts to know he betrayed me, his own wife, but no, there's no love left inside of me for him or anyone else. What of you? In my time line you were fiercely independent and tied only to your family on Earth."
"Pretty much the same, until Earth was taken by the Coalition. After the War started, I was transferred to the Suuni to serve as First Officer under Spock. That's when all this time line trouble started. His wife, T'naari, blamed him for a series of unfortunate events and used the Guardian to wreak havoc on his life in revenge."
"What happened to me in your line?"
Uhura paused a moment to consider her answer. It would be unkind to tell of Spock using the Guardian to bring her to the present just to keep him alive during the pon farr while he searched for T'naari. Some things were best left dead and buried in the past. "You perished in the initial attack on the Enterprise."
"I was returning from a shore leave when the Enterprise was attacked. It's probably the only reason I'm still alive. Casualties were high in that attack. I met the ship when she limped into base for repair. It was a year later that Kirk decided to leave some of us exiled on the uncharted planet where the Romulans eventually found us."
"Why did he do it, what prompted it?" Uhura was still puzzled by Kirk's actions. It was unlike him to take such drastic measures without good cause.
"There'd been several incidents of sabotage and possible spying. Things were at an impasse. He decided to remove possible sources of trouble. He considered me one of them because of Saanden. He probably never knew the real traitors were executed by the Romulans. Anyone who would betray their own kind could be expected to betray others."
"At least Saanden didn't declare you as medical personnel and have you executed," Uhura observed."It was fortunate no one else did either."
"I wouldn't call a year in prison and a torture chamber as lucky. There were many times I wished he'd just told them who I was. There comes a point when life isn't nearly as inviting as you might think. Death can look pretty good when the alternative is worse than death." Christine set her empty cup aside. "Hate is the only thing that kept me alive. It has also destroyed me. I've been sitting here all evening, just thinking. Hate sustained me when nothing else could, but now that it's behind me, I'm suddenly very empty inside. In a way, I hope they rescue Kirk, because then I can start hating him all over again and feel something inside of me."
"I'm still too bitter to feel empty." Uhura stood up and walked away. "I looked in a mirror this afternoon for the first time in nearly a year. I barely recognized myself. I can see many of the same imprints on your face tonight as I saw in my own earlier. It's no wonder nobody could recognize me when I came to tell them of the rendezvous. I used to think I wanted to survive the War. Now I'm not sure I really want to. There's nothing waiting for me out there. Nothing to look forward to. The Earth I knew is gone, my family is gone, everything is gone."
"Look at it this way, Uhura. The odds of surviving a war with the Klingons are pretty nil. Chances are, you and I won't have to worry about 'after the War'."
"Best news I've heard all night. I'll drink to that." Uhura tilted her tea cup in toast, smiling as Christine did the same. "To the present."
* * *
"Welcome back from the dead," Kirk greeted Spock as he entered the Vulcan's sickbay abode.
"It appears the rescue attempt was successful, Captain, Doctor." Spock motioned Taklen to leave the room.
Kirk noticed the gesture and Taklen's immediate response, but said nothing. This was the first they'd been allowed to converse with Spock since his return to consciousness the day before. "Commander Litani broke through the shielding with Liniite. A brilliant move."
"The Commander is resourceful," Spock agreed. He could see the curiosity in both their faces, but was unsure how to explain the situation. These men had been fighting the Coalition of Romulans and Klingons for the last ten years, while he had been an officer on a Romulan warship for six years in one of the time lines.
"Is it true we are on a rendezvous course with the Enterprise?" Kirk questioned. How far could he trust this Romulan woman? Granted, she had rescued them from Noone and given them every hospitality on the Talon, but she was still the enemy.
"Affirmative. Uhura will have contacted Mr. Scott by now and given him the coordinates. I assume he will be somewhat reluctant to comply with the request and will no doubt choose a meeting place more to his liking."
"Agreed." Kirk could delay no longer. "What happened, Spock? Why are we here on a Romulan vessel? What are you doing here?"
"With the destruction of the Suuni, I had the alternative of surrender and subsequent death, or the assumption of a new identity and life. Six years ago, I ceased being Spock and became Tahn. I now serve as Sub-Commander to Commander Litani."
"I never thought I'd see you become a traitor to the Federation," Kirk accused.
"My actions have never been those of a traitor. In the time line where I took this course of action, there was no Federation remaining. The Enterprise had been destroyed, all vestiges of the Federation had been obliterated. I simply chose life over death. T'naari's later actions forced me to travel the time lines. This is where they merge. This is the only time line in which you exist, in which the Enterprise was not destroyed."
"And Commander Litani?"
"Is aware of all of this."
"Why is she doing this?" came the inevitable question.
"She has seen the futility of the War. What began as a War of conquest to secure worlds for their growing populations has turned into a War of destruction and death. The Klingons' love of killing has taken precedence. The subjugation of the Federation was insufficient. Now they have turned on the Romulans with the plan of destroying them as a people also. They must be stopped."
"What of the survivors of the Federation?"
"Litani and I hope to show, with your help, that the peoples of the Federation and Romulan Empire can peacefully co-exist." Spock felt Litani's agreement with his statement through the restored link. Even though she was not physically present, Spock had included her through the link. Now it was up to Jim.
"What are the odds of succeeding?" Kirk trusted his instincts and Spock, but now he wanted more than just a gut feeling to go on in a decision of this magnitude. If there was even the slightest chance of recovering the Federation, he wanted to grab it.
"At this junction, slim. However, once an initiative is shown, it will not take long for others to follow our example. The Romulan Empire is as weary of war as you are. The Klingons thrive on it."
"So, by continuing the War, we are doing precisely what the Klingons want," McCoy observed, speaking for the first time. "There is no end to the hostilities, only a renewal. How many more millions must die before this thing is through?"
"Unfortunately, if we do not fight back, the Klingons will indeed succeed in subjugating not only the last remnants of the Federation, but the Romulan Empire as well," Kirk answered. "There is no alternative."
"Why is it war has no alternative?" McCoy argued. "Why is it we always end up fighting and dying?"
"Because it takes two sides who are willing to stop long enough to talk, and the Klingons have no reason to stop," Litani replied as she entered the room.
"Do the Romulans?" Kirk countered."They were willing to form a Coalition with the Klingons to destroy the Federation. Why should they join the enemy against an ally?"
"You continue questioning my motives, Captain." Litani moved to stand beside Spock. "I have offered you the freedom of my ship, I have demonstrated my intentions by destroying the Klothos and Kor. What more do you need as proof?"
"You expect immediate trust from a man who has spent the last ten years trying to survive the destruction of everything he's ever known. A man who has spent the last year laboring on one of your prison planets prior to a scheduled execution."
"We rendezvous in four hours. At that time you may either join me or go your own way." Litani felt she could offer no other options. These were honorable men who had been fighting a never-ending war. T'naari's tampering with the time lines had all but destroyed them as the Coalition couldn't, yet they survived. If Tahn had not killed T'naari that night aboard the Talon, there might have been nothing left to save. A race which offered Kor as a fine example of what was acceptable had no such honor to be admired.
"Spock?" Kirk turned to his friend, once well known, now almost a stranger. He had not doubted Spock when the Vulcan had appeared on the Enterprise through the Guardian. He would trust him now.
"It will be as she says," Spock confirmed. "You will be left on the uninhabited planet for retrieval by the Enterprise. If we have not heard from you within one hour of the rendezvous, the Talon will leave the sector."
Litani could feel the strain on Spock. It was too soon after the mind sifter for this conversation. There was still much to be healed. //Enough for now, Tahn. You must rest.//
//Of course.// "Gentlemen, my aide in the next room will escort you to your quarters. I am certain you have much to discuss. You will be contacted when it is time for you to leave."
* * *
The time for beaming down to the rendezvous planet was nearly upon them, but Kirk wanted to stop by sickbay one last time. Spock's room was darkened, but the Vulcan was awake.
"I wanted to talk to you alone, Spock."
"We are alone."
"Will you come with me, back to the Enterprise?" Kirk palmed the light control, bringing the lights on dimly. An extra cover had been thrown over Spock to offset the chill he still felt.
"My place is here, on the Talon."
"I need you."
"I cannot leave."
"Your loyalty to Commander Litani is that important to you?"
"Loyalty has nothing to do with it, Jim. You are asking me to choose between friend and wife."
Answers fell into place for Kirk. Spock was why Litani had risked all to break through the Noone shields. Litani was the one who had been able to reach into Spock's mind and pull him back from the sifter. How could he be so blind? Seeing Litani asleep on Spock's bed had led him to believe they were close, but he hadn't expected this.
"The offer of an alliance is real, isn't it?" Kirk said slowly.
"It is for real, Jim."
"I will be in contact."
* * *
"You can't be serious, Captain!" Scott exclaimed. "Joinin' up with the Romulans..."
"It could be an elaborate trick," Sulu postulated.
"Possible," Kirk agreed. "But I don't believe so. Spock has no reason to lie to us."
"Are you willing to gamble all our lives on it, though?" Everson, the communications officer, uttered.
"Staying alive is a daily gamble, Lieutenant. This vessel was commissioned to explore new worlds, to push back the boundaries of the unknown. Has the War taken that spirit away from us that we are unwilling to take chances anymore?"
"But can you trust him! He's been serving as a Romulan officer for many years. Could his loyalties have swayed?" Everson pressed.
"Spock is a Vulcan. He could no more betray his loyalties than he could turn purple," Kirk retorted. "Have we lost the ability to trust, too?"
"Okay, so maybe the Talon won't destroy us, but what of all the other Romulan cruisers out there still waiting for us?" came the inevitable question.
"Commander Litani feels there are several who will accept us as allies against the Klingons. There are always going to be those unwilling to do so. The plan is to attack outposts and ships in isolated areas first, to show that an alliance is possible."
Uhura had been sitting quietly at the end of the table, listening to the discussion and arguments all around her. Many of those present had never seen or known Spock. Of course they would be reticent in placing their trust in him. Perhaps she would feel the same way had she not known him so well.
The plan was a good one. If Litani was as brilliant as Kirk said she was, there was a chance. Two excellent Commanders and loyal crews could accomplish a great deal.
Uhura glanced at the woman sitting beside her. Christine was immobile, staring ahead into space, seeming unaware of the conversation buzzing in the conference room. Not for the first time, Uhura doubted the wisdom of bringing Christine to the Enterprise. This was her first exposure to Kirk since that fateful day when he'd decreed her exile to the planet. The meeting had been hastily called after the Enterprise had beamed the two men aboard from the neutral exchange planet. Actually, Uhura realized with a start, this was her first meeting with the Captain in ten years. He'd barely changed in the last decade. //Too bad I can't say the same for myself,// she mused. Time had always been gentle to James Kirk, it seemed to her. When all else was ravaged by her passing, Jim Kirk remained untouched.
Her wandering thoughts were quickly banished by Kirk's voice requesting further comments. She was surprised to hear her own voice replying to the request. "I can understand your reluctance to join this venture, it is an unprecedented move. Many of you, however, have spent the bulk of the War on board this vessel, seeing no more of the actual consequence of the destruction than what you saw on the viewscreen or the few planets you used as supply depots." She saw the startled look in several eyes as they wondered how she knew so much. //Let them wonder!// "I, and many of those I sent here, have seen and experienced the living hell out there. How many years of War can we withstand before the Federation is nothing more than a bad memory in the minds of our conquerors? I hate this War, I hate what it's done to me, but I also know Spock." Uhura caught a flicker of movement from Kirk. //Does he know?// "I realize it's difficult to understand that, although he is a Romulan officer, he is still loyal to the Federation and can be trusted.
"Where we are, right now, is the merging of all time lines. There is no return to time before the War to stop it before it began. The only alternative now is to stop it. Litani has begun the process by destroying the Klothos and Noone 4. We can continue it. If we don't, then we will have said there is no hope for survival."
* * *
"The Enterprise has contacted us," Litani reported to Spock. "I have given orders for supplies to be left on the neutral planet so they can effect repairs and restock provisions. Kirk has asked for three days."
"He will need time to acclimate those personnel Uhura retrieved through the Guardian. To give him that time we should concentrate on hitting planetary outposts and space stations."
"Agreed." She bent over to kiss him gently. "And you, my husband, need time to heal."
"Now that I am in our quarters instead of Sickbay, the process will be accelerated."
"McCoy mentioned how much you hated sickbays. Some things never change, do they?" Litani chuckled. "You are irascible as ever."
"No, just an aversion to beads and rattles."
"I'm not even going to ask what that means."
* * *
Kirk perused the latest efficiency report, pleased by the results. The new crewmembers were adjusting surprisingly well. Uhura had recruited capably. He could hear the murmuring of voices behind him as Uhura discussed certain innovations of the communications console with Everson. Everson had been reluctant at first to relinquish her position as communications officer, but after working beside Uhura a short time had revised her opinion of the situation and thrown herself into the effort wholeheartedly.
Their three days were up and they were now en route to a rendezvous with the Talon for a combined attack on a Klingon space station in one of the far quadrants. Kirk had a suspicion the location was chosen with the Enterprise in mind, to give them more time for adjustments and fine tuning of both the ship and crew.
They would also soon know whether this was indeed a trap.
* * *
Christine closed the last of the drawers and signed the bottom of the inventory log. She stretched, feeling the knots in her shoulders from the non-stop labor to restore the sickbay using the Romulan supplies. None of it seemed real to her. There was a surrealistic flavor to the whole situation. One minute she was in a Romulan torture chamber, the next here on the Enterprise collaborating with the enemy. Fate certainly had a warped sense of humor, Christine decided.
She hadn't contended with Kirk since the conference three days ago. How could he justify exiling her for being married, only a short time, to a Romulan scientist, and trust Spock who'd been serving as Sub-Commander on a Romulan warship? It was pure capriciousness in her opinion.
At least Leonard McCoy seemed pleased by her return. He'd greeted her warmly and accepted her without reservation. He didn't speak of the sentence of exile, rather he reminisced of times they'd had together before her ill-fated marriage to Saanden.
She'd come aboard the Enterprise, originally, to search the stars for Roger Korby, only to fall under the spell of the First Officer, Spock. His coldness and Kirk's demeaning attitude toward her had eventually turned her interest into disinterest. The public slap in the face by Spock when he'd informed the entire bridge crew of the identity of the woman on the screen as his wife had been the last straw for her. How dare he treat someone like that? Kirk had merely been amused by her involuntary reaction to the announcement.
It was Leonard who'd come to her later, after the marriage ceremony to explain what had happened and apologize for both Spock and Kirk's behavior. He'd noticed the pain and humiliation she'd suffered on the bridge at the announcement and understood her unwillingness to face the crew.
That had been the beginning of a friendship between them, tentative at first, then a closeness that grew to something more. Not wishing any more ridicule or humiliation from Kirk, Christine had insisted on the utmost in secrecy and privacy. Their public facade was professional, even cool, and both casually flirted to cover the truth. But in private, their time was precious and important to both of them.
Medical conferences away from the ship became opportunities to escape the censorship of the Enterprise and spend time together. Shore leaves, when McCoy could break away from Kirk, were spent together in idyllic places.
Then one day it fell apart. A letter from his ex-wife informing him of their daughter's death struck a blow that tore them apart. The guilt laid upon him for Joanna's death was more than Leonard could withstand. The more Christine tried to help, the further he pushed her away.
When the pain grew to be too much, Christine requested a leave of absence to pursue research on Memory Alpha. She planned a leave of six months, time enough to allow Leonard to work through his grief and guilt, and time enough for her to begin healing the wounds of rejection.
The time on Memory Alpha the first three months had been good for her. New surroundings and faces had done much to start the healing process. Immersed in her work, the memories were forced into the background, gradually replaced by new ones.
Then HE had come to Memory Alpha on an exchange agreement between the Federation and Romulan Empire. The first time Christine saw him, her heart nearly stopped. Here was a man who looked enough like Spock to be his brother. Only this version was neither cold nor aloof. He was warm and friendly, lavishing the attention she'd always craved from Spock.
The remaining three months of her leave passed in a whirl for her. Saanden became the focus of her life, the time with him the most important of the day. The nights were long and passionate. When he asked her to marry him, Christine disregarded the advice and warning of her colleagues and said yes.
When the Enterprise returned to pick her up, the request for an extension or assignment to Memory Alpha was refused. The newlyweds were torn apart, not to be reunited until that fateful day when Saanden would denounce her to the enemy.
Now, here she was, back on the Enterprise with Kirk, the man who had made her life more difficult than necessary. Perhaps her relationship with Saanden wouldn't have turned out the way it did if Kirk had not refused her request to remain on Memory Alpha. He'd torn her away from her husband, yet condemned her for that very same marriage. What had she ever done to Kirk that he should treat her so? Had her love for Spock been that threatening and offensive to him?
Still, Christine was grateful Uhura had given her this chance for life, even if only a brief chance since they were still at war. As long as Kirk stayed away from her, she could be content here in the sickbay. She had a great deal of work to do and a chance to make new friends among those returned through the Guardian as she was. And there was Leonard.
* * *
The next few days passed in a fog for her as they journeyed to the rendezvous point for attack. Christine saw Uhura in passing, but had little opportunity to speak to her. Tension filled the air as the time approached. There were still hushed murmurs of this being a trap, yet others spoke of a chance to begin anew the Federation.
The first anyone in sickbay knew of the attack on the space station was being thrown to the floor when the Enterprise received a direct hit.
* * *
"Damage report," Kirk ordered as the crew climbed back into their chairs. Smoke from burning circuits filled the air before ventilation filtered it out.
"Transmission from the Talon," Uhura interrupted. Coughing slightly from the smoke, she used the moment to steel herself at the sound of Spock's voice. Why hadn't she simply used the Guardian to escape all of this, and Spock?
"Put it on the speaker."
"Enterprise, this is Tahn. Sensors indicate space station equipped with Liniite power source. Deflector shields are ineffective. Talon has commenced firing of photon torpedoes. I suggest the Enterprise do the same. Tahn out."
* * *
"This explains why so much Liniite was being mined for the Coalition, lousy Klingon subterfuge," Litani hypothesized as the Talon shook beneath her feet. "Maintain firing. I want that station destroyed."
"Enterprise acknowledges signal and is now firing," Spock reported.
"Was she badly damaged?"
The ship shook again as another Liniite change struck them. "We can't take much of this." Litani moved to the navigation console. "Bring us about. They have a blind spot somewhere. Find it."
* * *
"Where's the Talon going?" Tesch muttered as he manned the science station.
"Looking for a break in the defenses," Kirk answered immediately. "We'll keep them busy while the Talon moves in for the kill."
"Deflector shields four and five down," Tesch inserted. "Sickbay reports casualties in the lower decks."
A blinding brilliance lit the screen as the space station exploded suddenly. "Secure from red alert." Kirk listened to the sounds of his ship as it pulled itself together from the unexpected violence. There had been no warning of a new weapon. Nothing to prepare them for the onslaught. "Contact the Talon. I want a rundown on this new weapon."
* * *
Spock ignored the looks he received as he walked the Enterprise corridors to the conference room. His Romulan uniform stood in stark contract to those with him. Litani had disapproved of his decision to personally beam over to the Enterprise, but had finally conceded it would be a way to secure the shaky alliance between the two ships.
There were few officers in the room, mainly those he already knew. Kirk wasted no time in getting to the point of the meting. "What was that weapon and why was there no warning given to us?"
"According to my sensors during the attack, it is modeled after conventional phasers, but utilizes Liniite as its power source. As for warning the Enterprise, the Talon had no knowledge of its existence. Liniite mining has been concentrated over the last three years. The Romulans were employing it to mine for dilithium crystals, apparently the Klingons were researching its use in other areas."
"How widespread is its use?" Kirk asked.
"Unknown. This could have been an experimental station, or the Klingons may have already instigated its use in all their facilities." Spock dropped a single tape on the table. "My research is incomplete at this point, however, I believe I have found a way to modify the phasers on both ships to use Liniite, thus evening 'the odds'." His capturing of the information from the main memory banks in the other time line had come in useful. Those specs had pertained to a small hand-held weapon, but the principle was similar to that of the ship's phasers.
Kirk handed the tape to Scott, who immediately dropped it into the viewscreen. "Aye, I can do it, but we have no Liniite."
"The Tillon Mine is in the next quadrant," Uhura spoke up. "It is only fitting that the Romulans furnish us with Liniite."
"Good point," Kirk agreed. Score one for Uhura.
Spock nodded in agreement. "Commander Litani should have no difficulty convincing them of our need for their next shipment. In the meantime, Commander Scott can make the appropriate modifications." His sensitive hearing picked up Uhura's low whisper asking him to check on the slaves in the mine. He caught her eye and made a barely perceptible nod with his head. Spock had known the moment she'd made the suggestion what was on her mind.
Further arrangements were made for the Enterprise to accompany the Talon into the next quadrant, then wait for her return from Tillon with the Liniite.
Kirk and McCoy were the last to leave the room. McCoy held back another second to allow the doors to shut in front of them. "Why do I feel as though we've made a pact with the devil?"
"Because we have."
* * *
Spock turned his station over to the next shift and left the bridge for another day. The bustle of the corridors went unnoticed as he made his way to their quarters. His trip to the Enterprise the day before still weighed heavily in his mind. He'd been a stranger in her corridors as never before. Many of the younger crew, not remembering him or even knowing him had stared at the Romulan officer walking in their midst with the assurance of knowing his environment. Even those who had known him seemed unsure of how to react to his presence.
His time on the Enterprise had also rekindled memories long buried. Memories of journeys to strange worlds, people that had touched his life. Leila. Zarabeth--his lover now long dead--and most profoundly, Flint. For the first time, Spock could perceive the kind of life Flint had led and what had motivated him to create Rayna. Time had been his enemy, too. Endless years of war and death, the loved ones that entered his life only to be taken away. The futility of his efforts to clutch at the one thing that would give his life meaning.
Seeing Uhura and Christine at the table had sparked thoughts and memories Spock had no desire to consider. They were a reminder of T'naari's treachery. Their lives had been forfeit in a mad woman's game. Christine continually died in each successive time line, Uhura lived in a daily hell of war and personal tragedy. Both had loved and lost him in their own lines.
What would his life have been without T'naari? If he had turned to Uhura in his time of pon farr instead of allowing himself to be swayed by the Vulcan physician? In that one moment, the course of history had been set. All events since then could be traced back to that one point in time when he had allowed logic to override his instincts. Logic had dictated the retrieval of Christine from the past to protect himself from the return of the pon farr during his search for T'naari. Logic, that precious tenet of a world now gone. Its sterility, so long a part of him was growing more distant with each passing day. He couldn't abandon its teaching and way of life entirely, but it was now tempered with insight long denied. His life as a Romulan forced him to behave in an un-Vulcan-like manner upon occasion, but it was growing easier with each passing year.
Litani rose from her chair to greet him as he entered the room. She could tell he was troubled by the look in his eyes. Nothing was coming through the link which meant he was deliberately blocking his thoughts and feelings from her.
"What troubles you, husband?" she asked, sitting back down.
"I have been considering yesterday's meeting on the Enterprise," he replied neutrally, unfastening his uniform preparatory to donning his familiar black garb.
She set her work aside and leaned back, watching him. "Anything in particular?"
"I no more belong on the Enterprise than I do here on the Talon," he answered. "I left the Enterprise and made a place for myself on the Suuni. Since the destruction of my ship there had been no 'belonging' as you would call it. It is not logical, but unfortunately, true."
"This is not your home?" Litani questioned, concerned by his words. It was unlike him to even consider such things. What had happened on the other ship to trigger this?
"I am not Romulan. I cannot be Romulan."
"You are accepted as such. They do not know you to be anything else."
"It is irrelevant to consider such things," Spock decided. "I cannot change what is."
"Do you regret what is, Tahn?" she asked softly. Could it be he regretted their relationship? He had been so distant and unapproachable lately, perhaps this was the answer.
"I regret the chain of events which has placed me in this position."
"I do not regret you, Litani."
"Are you certain? Was she there?"
"Is there another woman I should be asking about?" she flared.
"No. There is no other woman. And, yes, she was there. As were others she must have succeeded in retrieving through the Guardian. Are you concerned for some reason, wife?"
"Are you implying I'm jealous, Tahn?"
"Me?" Litani mimicked. "Men! First you tell me you're unhappy here on the Talon, then your former lover comes up and I'm not supposed to be concerned? Egotistical, son-of-a..."
"I fail to see why you are so angry. I merely answered your inquiry."
"I'm not angry," she shouted. Lowering her voice, Litani pointed out he could have remained on the Enterprise rather than returning to the Talon if he felt uncomfortable here.
Spock blinked in surprise at the suggestion. "Leave? Why?"
"Having a discussion with you sometimes is like wading through a morass. I'm never sure if you've answered a question or asked one."
"What do you wish me to say?"
"You're doing it again, damn it! Would you please just answer a question?"
"Are you planning to leave me?" came the hesitant inquiry. Her anger gone, Litani remained uncertain of her husband's intents. Perhaps he did regret his actions of another time line that bound him in this line.
"I have no desire to," Spock replied evenly. As he answered, Spock realized it was the truth. There was nothing for him on the Enterprise. He didn't belong on the Talon because he wasn't Romulan, but this is where Litani was and that was more important than anything else in his life.
"Are you sure, Tahn?"
He leaned over to kiss her, reaching for her through the link. "Do you still doubt it?"
Feeling his thoughts, Litani knew he was now content. The questioning was behind him. It had been necessary, but now it was over. "I believe you, Tahn."
* * *
Months passed as the two ships learned to work together in harmony to destroy the Klingons' installations and vessels. It was not long before formal war was declared between the Romulan and Klingon Empires and fighting began in earnest. Before, the Klingons had been fighting for worlds, now they were fighting for their lives.
The reputation of two ships that worked as a team grew as their strikes became bolder. No longer staying in the fringe regions, the Talon and the Enterprise now engaged the enemy in Klingon space. Planet after planet was wrested from Klingon control and returned, when possible, to the native population.
The Talon remained a buffer to the Enterprise, keeping her supplied and under protection when approached by other Romulan craft. Spock's design for the Liniite powered phasers had proven effective and had turned the course of a battle more than once. Unfortunately, the Klingons were reciprocating by equipping more of their vessels with Liniite.
There were those among the Romulan ranks who wanted nothing to do with the Federation vessel, but were unwilling to cross the combined power of two vessels to prove their point. Litani continued in her commitment to the war against the Klingons, both militarily and through petition to the ruling powers of the Romulan Empire. Many on the Council had seen the folly of the Coalition's approach. Too many technological and medical advances had been destroyed in their haste to control Federation space. Entire races of intelligent beings were now extinct, or with only a few survivors. The cost of conquest had been too high.
* * *
Kirk leaned back against the pillow reading through the latest reports. In the six months since teaming with the Talon, the number of strikes against the enemy had increased, but the cost to his ship and crew had been high. Ship's complement had been reduced by a quarter. Litani had offered manpower to replace them, but Kirk was unwilling to chance a mixed crew so soon. Damn this war that refused to end.
Had it been a mistake to join the Talon? It was too soon to tell. The tide of the War had turned from a combined effort against the Federation to one against the Klingons. Unfortunately, it would never replace those people and planets that had already been destroyed.
Part of the truth lay in that he was tired of the killing, the destruction, the enmity that never ceased. It was as if everyone had stopped living. They had become automatons that woke each day to fight, with no plan except more fighting, and death. McCoy had been right in his appraisal of the situation when he said they'd made a pact with the devil. But the Talon was not the devil, the War was. It was a creature with a voracious appetite for death, never satiated, never giving up.
How much longer could they hold out against such an implacable enemy? The signs of strain were showing in both his ship and crew. When the Enterprise had been an exploration vessel, there had always been shore leaves and change of duty to anticipate; now there were no breaks, no escaping the confines of the vessel, no removing of oneself from the situation.
Kirk set his paperwork aside and let his thoughts wander. Most of the crew had adjusted well to the situation. Some hadn't. One of the enigmas that bothered him, though, was Uhura. She performed her duties with efficiency, giving time and energy to instructing those in her small department. There was something missing, though. That spark that had been so prominent before was gone. Where once there was a vibrant woman now stood an empty shell.
What had happened to change her? She'd become a walking casualty of the War. Kirk couldn't think of a single time he'd seen her socializing with the other members of the crew. Her singing was absent, even on the bridge where she used to hum as she worked. Now all was done in silence. He'd seen her sitting with Chapel a few times for meals, but that was all. There'd been time to heal any wounds, perhaps it was time he began asking questions.
This was not the Uhura he had known. This one came from a different time line. His Uhura had been a bright and vivacious woman that attracted all who saw and knew her. This woman had the ability, but made a point of not using it. She shunned the company of others, preferring to keep to herself, or at most, with Christine. Where had the woman he'd loved long ago gone? How could this Uhura be so different from the woman of his life?
Could there be any part of her that he could reach? Or had she become like Spock, a familiar stranger?
* * *
Christine noticed Kirk walking toward their table and rose to leave.
"Where are you going?" Uhura inquired, puzzled by the sudden departure.
"Kirk's coming. I'm going."
"Chris..." Her words dissolved in the air as Christine shook her head and left. The animosity Christine felt toward James Kirk had not diminished in the slightest in the last six months.
"Mind if I join you?" Jim asked, wondering about Christine's hurried leaving.
"What was her hurry?" He set the tray down after moving Christine's aside. Was it possible he'd finally found a private moment with Uhura after all these months?
Uhura debated with herself before answering. The truth, or an elusive answer? "She's still bitter about the sentence of exile," she said finally.
Kirk made a mental note to talk with Christine and reach an understanding of some sort. Not every decision made in the last ten years had been the right one. "And what about you?"
"Me?" Uhura covered her surprise with a sip of coffee. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm concerned about you."
"No need to be, Captain. Everything is fine." Another bit of food disappeared. She was inwardly pleased by the self-control she felt. Her years with Spock had taught her much.
"I never see you outside the bridge or here," he remarked casually. Her wall of defense seemed impenetrable. It reminded him suddenly of trying to converse with Spock.
"I am content."
"Are you really, Uhura?" Kirk set his fork down and leaned toward her. "I was once very close to the Uhura of my time line. I lost that relationship when she was transferred to the Suuni to serve under Spock. Perhaps I am trying to read something that isn't there. I've been watching you these last months trying to decipher you."
"What have you discovered?" The Uhura of this line was similar to her own time line.
"Very little. This Uhura cannot be read. Her behavior is far different from the one I knew."
"Not so different, Jim. Just worn out emotionally. I have seen too much and experienced too much in the last two years. There's nothing left inside anymore," she admitted reluctantly. He was so much like her own Kirk of long ago. Long ago before the War and Spock.
She laughed. "Time is one thing I've had too much of lately. It has destroyed everything that was dear to me. Everyone I've ever loved has been killed and taken away or given to someone else. Believe me, time is no friend of mine."
"Always, Jim." She pushed her chair back and picked up the tray. "Time to get back to work." Being with Jim brought back so many memories of what had been between them. The pain of his death in the original time line could still be remembered. But with his death had come a way of life different from what had come before. She'd left Jim behind and begun over again.
Kirk watched as she walked away. Someone had certainly hurt her badly, but who? He would ask Spock the next time they had a chance to talk in private.
* * *
The chance to bring the subject up to Spock came sooner than expected. A week after talking to Uhura, Spock beamed aboard the Enterprise while supplies were being transferred from the Talon. After business was conducted, Jim requested Spock to join him in his quarters to discuss matters in private.
Jim still found it disconcerting to see his former First Officer in the uniform of a Romulan Sub-Commander and sporting a beard. It harkened memories of a time in another universe where another Spock had worn a beard. A Spock who survived in a vicious universe, yet retained his integrity and dignity--as did this one.
It was difficult to approach the topic, but after all else had been discussed, Jim could find no excuse to delay the point of the meeting. "Tell me of Uhura."
"What do you wish to know?" Spock countered, knowing immediately what Kirk wanted to know. This Kirk was no different from the one in the original time line. Both loved the same woman, both had the same tenacity.
"Tell me of her life after leaving the Enterprise in your time line."
"Perhaps you should ask Uhura for that information."
"She refuses to discuss it."
"I will respect her privacy," Spock intoned.
"Why the secrecy?" Kirk demanded."What happened to her that she is nothing more than a shell of the woman she once was? Was it Tillon?"
"She has been through much. In the original time line she lost the Enterprise, and you. Since that time she has been through various time lines, in addition to her experiences as a slave on Tillon."
"This isn't like you, Spock. Someone has hurt her, why won't you tell me? I want to help her, try to restore some of what she's lost." Jim studied the man sitting across from him, puzzled by Spock's reticence to help a woman who'd crossed time with him. Had the War taken away that compassion Spock once had?
"Why?" Why couldn't Jim let it alone? Was his responsibility for her unhappiness to become a public matter?
"Because she's important to the ship, to me," Kirk admitted.
"When the Talon came to Tillon on a routine inspection, the time lines merged. My bonding to Commander Litani in another line was reinstated. I had no choice but to resume the relationship with her we once had." Spock paused in his recitative. Other than hurting Uhura, he had no regrets for the renewal of the bond with Litani, but he was uncertain that Kirk would fully understand it. Those who had never been bonded could never completely comprehend what was involved.
"Go on," Jim prompted when the silence continued.
"The bond broke a nearly ten year relationship with Uhura."
"You..." Jim began. It was no wonder she felt the way she did. What had she said about time taking everything away from her and giving it to someone else. She'd been talking about Spock. Ten years of commitment to a man destroyed in an instant.
"I suspected you and Litani were lovers, but bonding hadn't occurred to me." His temper under control, Jim considered the times he had been involved in a meld with Spock. It was such a personal thing to touch minds with another. What was it like to be in continual contact with another person's mind? To be always exposed and vulnerable. Spock's marriage to T'Pring had taught him the bond was permanent until the death of one of the members. Uhura had been defenseless against Litani.
"I cannot change what is."
"Would you want to?"
"No," came the immediate response. Spock stood up and walked to the door. "Now that you have the knowledge you were seeking, what will you do?"
"Try to undo the damage you have done."
* * *
Christine walked alone through the sole surviving arboretum on the ship. The other ones had either been destroyed or died of neglect due to the shortage of manpower. This one had been tended by a small group that had refused to abandon the piece of humanity left to them as they traveled through space. It was a small place, but peaceful.
By her figuring, she'd been on the Enterprise for nearly nine months. In that time, the battle had raged fiercely, leaving destruction in its wake. Ship's complement had been drastically reduced in the last month, forcing Kirk to accept personnel from Litani to supplement his crew. Christine shook her head sadly at the turn of events. The dream of restoring even a piece of the Federation was dying before their eyes. The Earth was still held by Klingons, but even if they did reclaim it, it, the surface had long been swept clean of human inhabitants.
At least her own life was progressing better than the war. The friendship with Leonard was deepening, pointing to a return to what had once been between them. It was time to put Saanden behind her. He was, no doubt, long dead by now. Life, now in the present, was more important than the past.
Uhura, too, appeared to have pulled out of her personal lethargy by renewing the relationship with Jim. Yet, there was something about her friend that remained detached from the ship and the War. Uhura rarely discussed her life with Spock, preferring to keep that portion of her life to herself. Christine respected that decision, understanding it well. Some things were best left unsaid and unknown.
Tonight was a time alone, a time to restore her soul from the War. The Romulan personnel were breaming over, in fact, were probably already aboard. Christine hadn't been able to face them tonight. A year in their prison was still with her in memory and physical scars. Tomorrow would be soon enough to face the two assigned to sickbay.
She turned at the half-familiar voice that beckoned her. Time had not erased the picture in her mind. Saanden.
"I was told I might find you here," he began. "You're as beautiful as ever."
Recovering from her shock of seeing a man she believed dead, Christine placed more distance between them. "Say what you have to say before I have you removed from this ship," she ordered. How dare he reappear into her life? The passage of ten years had done nothing to alter his handsome face. It was as if no time at all had passed.
Yet, she had been on the exile planet a year, then in a Romulan prison for a year before Uhura had brought her forward in time to the present. For Saanden, ten years had passed. For her, less than three.
"You are still angry with me," he observed evenly.
"I shouldn't be?" she countered sarcastically."You betrayed me to the enemy, your people, for the price of a promotion. Did you enjoy your new position, 'husband'?"
"We were at War. I couldn't sacrifice my tenuous position. I did what I could to protect you. I lied to keep you from being killed. What else could I do?" he reasoned.
"You could have protected me. I was your wife!" Christine threw back at him.
"I'm sorry, Christine. I didn't know things would turn out the way they did." Saanden moved toward her, but stopped when she stepped back away from him.
"It is over and done with, just like us. Go back to the Talon."
"I cannot. The Commander has assigned me to the Enterprise science officer," Saanden explained. "To do otherwise would be to disobey a direct order."
"I will see that you are 'un' assigned." Christine grew weary of the conversation and walked to the door. The arboretum was no longer a haven. "Go away, Saanden."
He blocked her way. "I still love you, Christine." Saanden touched her face, marveling at its youth. She had changed very little in ten years. How curious...
She pushed his hand away. "And I hate you." The doors closed behind her as she slipped away.
* * *
Her hand shook as she placed the last of the instruments in the drawer. Christine hadn't been able to bear the solitude of her quarters and had sought sickbay instead. At least she could keep her hands busy and hope it would slow her thoughts. Saanden was still alive and now here on the Enterprise. First Kirk, now Saanden. This chance at life was quickly returning to a nightmare.
"Damn him!" The force of her anger was too much for the fragile glassware in her hand and it shattered, slicing her hand in places. "Ouch!" Nothing else was nearby, so she wrapped it in her uniform skirt to halt the blood flow.
McCoy appeared at her elbow, scanner in hand. "Heard some clattering in here and decided to check on it. Let me see your hand. What are you doing in here this late?" He whistled at the severity of the cuts. "When you do something, you do it big. Come over to the sterilight and we'll get it cleaned out."
"I couldn't sleep, so I came here to get some work done," came the glib excuse. "Careful, that smarts."
"Sorry. I'll get it healed in a minute." McCoy took in the reddened eyes and shaky hands. "Sit down."
The sealing of the wounds took time. "Feels stiff," she remarked while flexing her fingers.
"It'll take a few days for everything to heal properly. Try not to overuse it." He set the equipment aside and sat down across from her. "What's wrong, Chris?"
"You always were a terrible liar," he smiled. "Come on, what's wrong?"
"The Romulan personnel beamed aboard."
"Several hours ago." He hadn't been present at the beaming over process, preferring to make his acquaintance known in due time.
"Saanden in here."
"You've already seen him?" His own memories of the man that had married Christine came back to him. He'd never actually seen or met the man. No one on the Enterprise had.
"Someone told him where I was."
"What did he want?"
"What did you tell him?"
"I told him I would have him sent back to the Talon."
"Might not be easy," McCoy postulated. "Jim and Spock hand picked the personnel from among those who volunteered and had 'friendly' intentions toward humans. It'll be tough to replace him."
"I don't care!" she exclaimed. "First Kirk throws me off the ship because of Saanden. Now he hangs him around my neck like an albatross. It isn't fair."
"I'll talk to Jim and see if something can be arranged," he offered.
"Legally, we're still married," Christine mused aloud.
"When it rains, it pours." McCoy shook his head in disgust and frustration. By all rights, Saanden should have been dead, a casualty of war. Instead, he was here with them. Why had Kirk allowed him to be assigned, knowing who he was?
"In the meantime, I plan to steer clear of him entirely. He messed up my life thoroughly once, I'm not going to let him do it again." Christine stood up, noticing the blood stains on her uniform. "I better get a clean uniform while I'm at it."
"I'll walk with you to your quarters," Leonard offered. "Then I'll try to catch up with Jim and find out what's going on."
"Guess all this sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn't it? Me, afraid of my own husband," Christine shrugged her shoulders.
"You forget. I spent a year in a Romulan prison, too. Besides, after his actions and this much time, Saanden hardly constitutes a husband."
"There must be a legal recourse to divorcing him. We were married under Federation law. Unfortunately, there is no more Federation, except the Enterprise." Christine sat back down, pondering the situation. "Perhaps the marriage is void because there is no Federation. No, Saanden will find some Romulan Code to contradict that. Can you believe this, it's two in the morning, and I'm trying to figure out if I'm married or not?"
"How about facing it after a good night's sleep? Things are usually clearer in the morning," Leonard suggested. "I'll try to contact Spock. He'll know the Romulan Codes. If anyone can rationalize a situation, he can."
"Thanks." Together, they left sickbay, not noticing the figure standing in the shadows.
* * *
After leaving Christine at her quarters, McCoy went in search of Kirk, finding him after a time on one of the observation decks. "Jim, do you have a minute?"
"I noticed Saanden was assigned to the Enterprise to assist the science officer." McCoy figured a general approach would be best until he'd felt the Captain out.
"Spock suggested him as a temporary replacement for Williams," Kirk confirmed. "I also thought Christine would appreciate a chance to get reacquainted with her husband."
"Ah, yes," McCoy gently cleared his throat. "I guess she never told you and it's not in the official records..."
"Saanden betrayed her to the Romulans when his ship found those you exiled," McCoy explained. He realized belatedly there was no way Kirk could have known. Christ had confided only to Uhura and him.
"I was never able to talk to her," Kirk admitted. "I keep trying, but she won't stay in the same room long enough for me to catch up with her and I didn't want to make it an official conversation. Obviously, the transfer of Saanden was a big mistake. I'll contact Spock in the morning and attempt to return him without damaging our relationship with the Talon."
"Did you hear something?" McCoy turned around quickly but saw nothing.
"No. Anything else, Bones?" The Romulan personnel had barely arrived and already there were problems. Not a good portent of the future.
McCoy could hear the exhaustion in the Captain's voice. "Any objection to Christine officially filing for divorce through ship channels?"
"None." Kirk contemplated the stars in silence. "It's hard to believe we once roamed the stars freely."
"We will again."
"Will we, Bones?"
* * *
Christine set her tape aside at the sound of her buzzer. "Who is it?"
"I want to talk to you."
"Two minutes." She pressed the unlock button and allowed him to enter. "Say what you want and leave, Saanden."
"I've just come from the observation deck. Your Captain is planning to return me to the Talon tomorrow."
"Best news I've had all day," she replied, folding her arms. "Besides, didn't anyone ever tell you it's impolite to spy on people?"
"I would prefer to stay here, with you," he pleaded.
"I'm filing for divorce in the morning, Saanden. I would have done it before, but I thought you were dead." Christine noticed a strange expression cross his handsome face, but refused to be moved.
"Why are you doing this, Chris? I've told you I'm sorry." He moved closer, repeating his actions of a few hours earlier. "I still love you. Why won't you believe me?"
"Time's up, Saanden. Please leave." The door buzzed again. "Who is it?"
"Am I interrupting something?" he asked casually, stepping into the room.
"Saanden was just leaving," Christine replied firmly.
"You are stopping by and leaving, Doctor?" Saanden inquired, holding his ground.
"Not really." Something was going on here, but what? Christine looked ill at ease and Saanden was clearly agitated about something.
"Saanden was leaving," Christine repeated, noticing the tension in the air was increasing.
"I will see you in the morning," Saanden said finally.
"I doubt it," McCoy commented dryly. "The Captain is requesting a change of personnel in the morning. He allowed you on board thinking Christine would be happy to see you. He was unaware of your part in turning her over to the Romulans for imprisonment and torture."
"I have already apologized for my actions," Saanden replied stiffly."I fail to see why it is becoming such a matter of importance. Besides, it does not concern anyone other than Christine and me."
"I believe the lady asked you to leave," Leonard reminded him. "If you wish, I suggest you take the matter up with Captain Kirk and Commander Litani. Good night, sir."
Without another word, Saanden left. Christine let out the breath she'd been unconsciously holding. "Thanks for showing up, Leonard."
"I came by to let you know I'd spoken to Jim and that he would be contacting Spock in the morning to arrange Saanden's departure. I thought there would be some problem, but Jim felt we didn't need this kind of personal difficulty in addition to the other tensions."
"I appreciate it."
"You're welcome," he replied, smiling. "It's late. I better be going."
"Would you stay a while? In case Saanden decides to come back?" she requested hesitantly. Christine wasn't normally this jittery, but there was something about her husband that bothered her. It was more than his words; it was his intensity that disturbed her. Why was he so intent on winning her back? She sincerely doubted it was a case of conscience. Saanden didn't have one. There had to be some other motive, but what?
"Of course," he answered, sitting down in the chair when she sat on the edge of the bed.
Christine gathered her robe around her as she considered the evening. "You must think I'm pretty silly to be reacting like this..."
"A man comes back into your life after ten years by his standards and you think this is over-reacting? Good grief, Chris! He turned you over to be tortured and executed. If Uhura hadn't brought you back through the Guardian, you'd be long dead by now."
"Maybe that would have been better. Uhura was right. This isn't really 'life', it's a kind of void where you have another chance at death. Sort of like Russian roulette. She told me once that I chose death over life in the original time line. I must have been brave in her line. I wish I could be that brave now."
"Why? This may not be the greatest place to be, but you're alive, you have friends..."
"This isn't life! It's a nightmare you can't wake up from." She leaped to her feet in agitation. "We fight and we die. That's all there is. I can't even get upset anymore when it's people I know that come through sickbay and into the morgue."
Leonard stood to join her. "We're all at that point, but we can't let it stop with us. I hate this war, but it's all that stands between us and extinction."
"What's the point? Even if we defeat the Klingons, what then? Do you really believe the Romulans will allow us to live in peace? This whole effort is futile. There is no tomorrow. We'll keep on fighting ... and dying ... and in the end there's nothing waiting for us."
He shook her by the shoulders. "Stop it. I refuse to believe all this had been in vain. We're not machines. We're human beings with feelings, hopes, aspirations, all those things which set us apart."
"You belong here. I don't. By rights, I should have died eight years ago."
"So? Does that mean you have no right to life and a chance at happiness?" he lectured sternly.
"Is this your pep talk of the day, Doctor?" she returned.
"Hardly. Furthermore, since I don't make housecalls, this can hardly be considered professional advice," he added.
"I see. What is it then?" Christine felt a smile tug at her mouth. Tomorrow, Saanden would be gone from her life for good.
Leonard stopped to consider the question. "Consider it a reflection of what we once had."
"Those were good times," she agreed."Think Kirk ever figured it out?"
"Doubtful. He was too busy with that peace negotiation and then we had that extended shore leave for ship repairs. I think Spock knew, but he wouldn't have said anything to Jim."
"I was stupid to marry Saanden," she commented bitterly.
"There wasn't much choice. I couldn't handle Joanna's death and you found someone else when I pushed you away," Leonard remembered.
"I thought I was in love. He meant everything to me. When he betrayed me, I couldn't believe it. How could he do it to me? I was his wife, someone who loved him. Obviously, the feeling had never been mutual."
"You can't live in the past."
"What else is there? Today is a nightmare and there is no tomorrow. What's left?"
"Are you saying what I think you are?" she asked, wondering if Leonard had been serious in his memory of those earlier days.
"Yes. I had hoped the situation would evolve naturally as it did last time, but tonight..."
"What of Saanden?"
"What about him?"
"Just asked." Christine punched the locking mechanism for the door and dimmed the lights.
* * *
"Hello?" Christine called out as she checked the various rooms of sickbay. She was on time, but where was McCoy? He'd left her quarters an hour ago to get ready for the shift, but where was he? She checked the last two labs, then went back to his office. There was no sign of him anywhere. Maybe he was just late. It wouldn't be the first time something had come up to detain him.
An hour later, Christine grew concerned. It took M'Benga ten minutes to arrive to cover for her in sickbay, during which she tried Leonard's quarters three times. Worried, she hurried to McCoy's quarters. The door opened at her touch and she went in cautiously, calling out his name. No response.
The room was a disaster area. Books and furniture were scattered as though someone had thrown them deliberately. Then she saw him. "Oh, my god!" she cried out, rushing to where he lay. Frantically, Christine searched for a pulse, but could find none. "Leonard..." With numb fingers, she pressed the intercom button and called for Kirk and a security team. When security arrived, she could tell them nothing, only stand aside and watch. Kirk barely noticed her as he knelt beside his friend with clenched fists and tear-filled eyes.
Unable to stay a moment longer, Christine moved blindly down the corridor traveling on instinct until she came to Uhura's quarters. They, too, opened at her touch, but she didn't register it in her grief. As in McCoy's quarters, there were signs of a struggle, but this time there was no body. "Uhura?" she whispered.
Christine sat on the disheveled bed, mind blank. None of this could be happening. It couldn't be real. Leonard had been with her not two hours ago, now he was dead. //Leonard?// The pain was unbearable. Where was Uhura? Who would harm either one of them?
Minutes passed, then she began functioning again. Who could she turn to? Her mind, so long conditioned to hating Kirk could not accept the possibility of approaching him at this time. Besides, his grief was intense, too, at this time. His relationship with Uhura, renewed only recently, would just intensify the problem when he discovered her missing. What of Spock? There must be some way she could reach him on the Talon...
Contacting Everson, Christine requested communication with Sub-Commander Tahn on the Talon.
* * *
Everson shook her head at the odd request. What could Sub-Commander Tahn possibly have to do with a nurse on the Enterprise? The request was somewhat irregular, but within the boundaries of truce. Too bad Uhura wasn't here. She was the expert on everything. Her shift had begun twenty minutes ago, strange she was late...
* * *
Spock accepted the call in the privacy of his quarters on scramble when he discovered the origin of the call. "This is Spock."
"You may not remember me. I'm Christine Chapel..."
Remember her? How could he ever forget her? He didn't know the Christine of this time line except through merged memories, but his recollections of the one from his own time line were burned indelibly into his memory. "I know you. Why have you contacted me?"
"McCoy is dead, murdered. Uhura is missing. I think Saanden did it," came the rushed words. She had no proof, the words had just slipped from her.
"On my way. Meet me in Uhura's quarters. Have you told anyone else?"
"The Captain knows about McCoy. I haven't told anyone about Uhura. Should I?"
"Negative. I will meet you in Uhura's quarters."
"I'm there now."
Christine absently rearranged the top of Uhura's desk as she waited for Spock to arrive. The edge of a paper protruded slightly from the leaves of an ancient book Uhura had been reading. Unfolding it, Christine recognized Uhura's writing.
"I am weary of it all. He holds me, but I feel the caress of another. He speaks words of love to me, but I hear the voice of another."
Tears filled Christine's eyes, blurring the words as she read further. The pain had not stopped for Uhura. Gently refolding it, Christine tucked it into an inner pocket of her uniform. Private words such as these were not meant for public eyes. She jumped at the sound of the buzzer. "Who is it?"
Thankful she had already hidden the paper, Christine unlocked the door and watched him enter. "I didn't know who else to contact," she began.
He scanned the room, taking in the disarray. //Litani.//
//I am here.//
//Saanden is one of them.//
"We have recently uncovered a small group among the crew of the Talon who advocate the destruction of the humans. Their actions and members are extremely covert," Spock explained. "It appears Saanden may be one of them."
"Why Uhura? Why Leonard?" she cried out. "If Saanden wanted to harm someone, why not me?"
"He contacted you?"
"Last night. He spoke of loving me and wanting me back," she answered, fighting the tears of loss for her two friends.
"It is possible he was seeking to renew your previous relationship to learn of the Guardian's location."
"How would he know of the Guardian?" No one knew about the Guardian outside a few of the Enterprise crew, and Spock. How could he have learned of its existence? No wonder he'd commented on her appearance. How stupid she'd been not to see through his act.
"Apparently one of the crew is sympathetic to their cause and leaked the existence of the Guardian to them. This person must also have known Uhura used it."
"So he's taken her to learn more." Christine understood only too well the implication of her words. Saanden would be ruthless in his quest for knowledge.
"He will learn nothing from her. She does not possess the knowledge he seeks."
"What are we going to do? He'll kill her!"
"I will use the Enterprise sensors to locate all Romulans on board. Litani is contacting Captain Kirk even as we speak."
"I still haven't contacted him about Uhura," Christine reminded him.
"Understood." Seeing no other alternative which would ensure her safety, Spock ordered Christine to follow him to the bridge.
Torn by indecision, Christine chose the path of least resistence and followed the Vulcan. She could read the pain of Leonard's death in Kirk's eyes as they walked off the elevator onto the bridge.
"Litani told me you were here." His premonition of trouble had been right.
Spock nodded, then walked to the science station. "The Talon is standing by to beam aboard all Romulan personnel on your order."
Everson switched on the intership system at Kirk's command. "This is Captain Kirk. All Romulan personnel are ordered to the transporter room for immediate return to the Talon."
The blue sensor light cast eerie shadows on the planed face as Spock meticulously tracked down each of the Romulan readings on his scanners. The majority of the readings were converging on the transporter room, but five were clustered together with a human reading on the lower deck near engineering. "Saanden and four others located, Captain."
"Let's go," Kirk replied tersely. Saanden was his. McCoy's death would be avenged.
Christine felt Spock's hand close around her wrist, forcing her to accompany them into the elevator. What did he want her along for?
"What's happening, Spock?" Kirk asked the minute the doors had shut. "Why McCoy?"
"Saanden is apparently a member of an elite group which has been gaining impetus the last few months. It claims the human race is unnecessary. By murdering an officer, they hoped to demoralize the crew. More importantly, however, they have somehow gained knowledge of the Guardian. More than that I do not know."
"It had to be someone from the Enterprise," Kirk surmised grimly. Someone on his ship had sold out. "There's no other way they could have found out."
"Why didn't you tell me about this sooner? Why did you allow Saanden to beam aboard?"
"There was no knowledge of his association with the group until now." Spock turned to Jim. "I regret the Doctor's death."
"Saanden's a dead man," was Kirk's only reply.
Spock broke the news. "He has Uhura."
Kirk grasped the implication immediately. "He thinks she knows the location of the Guardian. I've ordered the security team to converge on the area and cordon it off. They will take no further action until I arrive."
"Sensor readings indicated she is still alive."
"For how long?"
* * *
They heard voices before they saw anyone. Christine couldn't understand any of it, but Kirk and Spock could. Wishing she were somewhere else, Christine tried to close her ears and mind to the sounds from the other room. It brought back memories of the time she'd spent in the torture chamber. Uhura didn't know the location, even Christine knew that. Spock had set the coordinates and she'd erased them, never bothering to see what they were. Uhura had always considered the information too dangerous to possess. She had been right, Christine realized.
"Phasers set to stun," Kirk whispered soundlessly. Spock nodded acknowledgment, then led the way. Leaving Christine behind, the two men wound their way through the massive machinery to place the group in a crossfire.
Spock saw her first, suspended by the wrists between support columns. How had it come to this? She had been through enough before this had happened. When Jim had questioned him as to who had caused her such pain that she was no more than a shell, Spock had admitted the fault as his own. The merging of the time lines had taken him away from Uhura and into the arms of Litani. Yet, the fault was his in the end, not anyone else's. If he had killed T'naari on Vulcan, none of this would have happened. Guilt was not logical, but often the reality.
At a signal from Kirk, both men fired, stunning the five men. Within minutes, the security team converged and placed restraining cuffs on each of them. Christine hurried from her hiding place to help as Kirk and Spock lowered Uhura to the floor. "We must get her to sickbay immediately," Christine ordered. Spock gathered the still form into his arms.
Monitors above the bed leapt in response as he laid Uhura on the table, then settled into low readings which barely registered life. Christine and M'Benga worked feverishly to repair the damage inflicted by Saanden's group, feeling helpless even as they labored.
"She's slipping," M'Benga uttered.
"Come on, Uhura..." Christine begged. "Don't give up now." The monitors shifted downward inexorably, urging Christine onward. M'Benga's voice finally filtered through her frantic thoughts and movements, telling her it was over, that Uhura was dead. With a violence that erupted from within, Christine seized the tray of instruments and threw them across the room. "Damn it, Uhura! Why did you have to die?" The words echoed in the silent room.
* * *
Alone in her quarters, Christine pulled the folded sheet of paper from her pocket and smoothed out the creases. Uhura had left no personal effects, nothing that showed she'd even been on the Enterprise. Nothing but a book borrowed from Jim and a piece of paper.
Fifteen members of the elitist group were now in security confinement, five of them to be executed for murder, the rest for mutiny. It wasn't much, Christine decided, in exchange for Leonard and Uhura.
One night was all she'd had with Leonard before Saanden had killed him. One night to begin dreaming that things could get better. Now there was nothing. Christine carefully refolded the sheet and returned it to her pocket. Kirk still believed Uhura had died loving him instead of Spock. There was no reason he should believe otherwise. The secret was buried with her in the vacuum of space.
Litani had sat beside Kirk to jointly judge the trial. Christine smiled in memory of Saanden's expression when sentence had been pronounced. His small group had felt justified in their actions, believing Romulans the superior race. Such little men were the cause of War. The trial had lasted three days, then the verdict given. Tomorrow all fifteen would be publicly executed. It was too bad their deaths could not bring back Leonard and Uhura.
* * *
The klaxon blared, pulling Kirk from a restless sleep. Punching the intercom, he demanded an update.
"Four Klingon cruisers," Sulu's voice filtered back. "Coming in fast."
"On my way." Kirk pulled his uniform on as he ran, barely finishing with the boots as the elevator doors swished him onto the bridge.
"Talon reports battle stations ready," Everson reported, hand cupped to ear.
"Where'd they come from?" Kirk questioned as he sat down. Four cruisers didn't pop up from nowhere.
"Sensors picked them up only moments ago. Talon suggests possibility of new cloaking device which evades our sensors," Sulu chimed in.
"Great!" Kirk replied under his breath. "All hands stand by. Deflectors on maximum. Sulu, evasive maneuvers on my command..." Kirk watched as the four converged on the pair. "Now, Mr. Sulu. Fire at will, Bradley."
The deck shuddered as the Enterprise was hit. "Talon reports damage, one shield buckled," Everson yelled over the din.
"Shields two and three are gone, Captain."
"Damage reported on lower decks, power shortages on eleven and twelve."
"Talon has sustained a direct hit."
"Got one!" Bradley shouted as the Klingon erupted.
"Security reports power shortage has released prisoners from confinement," Everson added.
"Locate and detain. Sulu, bring her about ... now, Bradley." Kirk watched in silence as the second Klingon vanished in a blaze.
"Remaining two cruisers retreating, Captain." Sulu relaxed slightly in relief as the two disappeared from sight, then sensors.
"We're hurt bad, Captain," Scott answered. "Warp drive is off line, engineering sustained a direct hit, at least four dead."
"How long, Scotty?" Kirk could hear the sounds of confusion and labored breathing over the com.
"A couple of hours at least. We have to drain the radiation to get to the lines..."
"Get on it, they could be back at any moment. Sickbay."
"Thirty three casualties so far. One doctor, two nurses still haven't checked in."
"Keep me posted. Everson, contact the Talon."
"Trying, sir, but she's not answering."
"They must hurt worse then us," Tesch supplied. "Sensors indicate internal fires and structural damage."
//Spock, where are you?// Kirk pounded the chair arm in frustration. The Klingons were indeed desperate to send four cruisers to attack them. Too bad they'd only destroyed two of them.
"I have the Talon."
"Put her on. Talon, this is Kirk. What is your status?"
Spock's voice cut through the static. "We have sustained structural damage to warp engines. Estimate one third of crew dead." There was a moment of silence. "Commander Litani is dead."
* * *
Spock surveyed the destroyed bridge, his gaze coming to rest on the small figure laid carefully out of the way. Litani, his wife, was dead. The severing of the bond had been as violent as the death. Even now, the pain of her passing still pressed on him. Her presence had been ripped from his mind, leaving wounds that hurt to his soul.
There had been no warning of an attack, nothing to allow them to prepare. The Talon was badly damaged, perhaps irreparably, a large portion of his crew was dead and sensors indicated the Enterprise was in little bitter condition. If the Klingons returned, they were defenseless.
Wiping the blood from a cut above his eye with his sleeve, Spock pressed the intercom again. "We will contact you in one hour with update. Tahn out."
* * *
Kirk sat back in stunned silence at Spock's announcement. Litani was dead. Spock's wife was dead. Without Litani, would Spock be able to hold the Romulan crew together as an ally of the Enterprise? The elevator doors opened, but he ignored them. The situation was becoming more grim with each passing moment.
Christine appeared at his elbow, scanning him. "You appear to be uninjured, Captain." She moved on to the other crewmembers. Completing her circuit of the bridge, treating those in need and reassuring those not harmed, Christine headed for the elevator to return to sickbay. They opened as she approached, but instead of walking into an empty elevator, she walked straight into Saanden.
Kirk sprang from his chair, but stopped at the raised phaser."What do you want, Saanden?"
"My companions and I," he nodded to the two with him, "wish to return to the Talon."
"To what end? You have no more chance there than you do here."
"Our numbers are greater than you think, Human," Saanden spat. "We will take the Talon and destroy you and your ship."
"Then what?" Kirk stalled. Security had to be tracking these men down and would be here shortly.
"We join the rest of the fleet in defeating the Klingons and taking our rightful place as sole ruler."
"Your own Commander sentenced you to death for mutiny and murder."
"She will be eliminated and another put in her place," Saanden elaborated.
"What of Tahn? I doubt he allows you to harm Litani." Where were the security men?
"He will join her. Now, Captain, enough discussion. It is time we were going." Saanden gestured with his phaser for Kirk to precede him into the elevator. "I realize you are anticipating the arrival of the security team. However, I wouldn't count on it. My men have been very busy even as we speak." Turning to his men, he spoke to them in his own tongue. "Come, my pet. You will join the Captain."
Christine began shaking her head until she heard the whine of a phaser and saw Saanden's men eliminating the bridge crew. Kirk lunged at Saanden and was stunned for his efforts. Soon the bridge was empty but for the five of them. Everson, Bradley, Tesch, Sulu ...all gone...
One of the men carried Kirk, the other held his phaser in readiness, eliminating all they met on the way to the transporter room. Saanden kept Christine near him. The balance of his men were already in the transporter room preparing to beam over to the Talon. By now, Kirk had recovered consciousness and was on his feet.
"Now, Captain, you will contact the Talon and request emergency beam over." Saanden pointed the phaser at Christine in warning. "No tricks."
With deliberate motions, Kirk stepped to the transporter console and hailed the Talon.
"Talon, this is Kirk. Request emergency beaming to discuss attack with Commander Litani, Repeat, request emergency beaming to discuss attack personally with Commander Litani."
"Talon, Tahn here. Commence beaming in three minutes."
"Well done, Captain. You will be coming with us. Just a temporary reprieve, I assure you. Christine, I'm afraid the time has come for us to part."
"You would murder your own wife, Saanden? How well you've adjusted to the role of killer. Leonard and Uhura weren't enough to satiate you?" Christine taunted him. "Oh, well, you always were a major disappointment, especially in our personal life. Why should now be any different?"
"You think by ridiculing me you will earn a quick death? Always the little fool," Saanden snarled. "Take her with us. I'll deal with her later. Prepare for beaming." Handing Christine to another, Saanden took his place on the platform, ordering Kirk to stand behind him. At Saanden's signal, the man at the console shifted the controls and beamed them across to the Talon.
* * *
Saanden leaped from the platform, pleased there was no one else in the transporter room of the Talon. Things were moving along better than he'd hoped. "Check the corridor," he ordered.
"The door is sealed," the man reported.
"Then destroy it! What's that?" Saanden smelled something odd and looked up to see a gaseous substance emanating from the ventilation shafts. "It's a trap. Beam us back!"
Kirk felt the acrid air fill his lungs as he pitched headlong into Saanden, throwing the Romulan to the floor beneath him, then knew no more.
* * *
"Welcome back, Captain."
Kirk rubbed his eyes to clear away the fuzziness that matched the feeling inside his head. Spock gradually came into focus. "Spock, what happened? Where am I?"
"You and Miss Chapel are in my quarters."
"Has been taken care of. He and those who beamed aboard the Talon were beamed back to the Enterprise one quarter out of phase."
"I'm going to throw up," Christine's voice was heard. "That's ghastly, beaming someone out of phase..."
"The Enterprise", Kirk pressed, sitting up unsteadily.
"Is a ghost ship. Saanden's men killed all aboard before transferring to the Talon."
Spock stepped away, allowing Kirk a private moment to absorb the shocking news of his crew's fate. They'd survived over ten years of War, sabotage, espionage, the recent Klingon attack only to be destroyed by a handful of Romulans.
"The Talon?" Kirk asked finally.
"Engines are irreparable, ship's complement is down to fifty four."
"I have a ship, you have a crew?" Would the pain ever stop.
"An equitable agreement, Captain." Spock stepped to the bureau and selected a small holograph of Litani. It would be the only personal item he would take with him. It was not, in Vulcan terms, a logical choice, but it was the one he had made. "We will begin transference of personnel and supplies immediately."
"Why do we bother?" Christine observed. "The nightmare is starting all over again."
"Because man wasn't meant to give up," Kirk answered. "If we'd given up in the early days of space travel every time there was a tragedy, man would have never reached the stars."
"Or been destroyed trying to keep them," she returned.
"There's no choice," Kirk insisted. His crew was gone. Would the nightmare, as Christine put it, ever end?
"This is the last time line," Spock said at last. "There are no more alternatives. It may or may not be possible to use the Guardian."
"This time, Spock, I don't think there's any going back." Kirk stood up and helped Christine to her feet. "This time, we're on our own."
Christine pulled the folded sheet from her pocket one last time, tearing it to tiny pieces and scattering them on the floor. No, this time there was no going back ... for any of them.