Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1979 by Jacqueline Bielowicz. Originally published in Guardian #2. Rated PG.


Jacqueline Bielowicz

The tiny shuttlecraft was a dot in the immensity of space. Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise, over his pique now that he was away from the damn bureaucrats on Raynette III, relaxed in the co-pilot's seat, his fingers lightly tapping out the rhythm of the tune echoing in his head as he absently watched First Officer Spock running mathematical equations through the craft's small computer. It wasn't that he minded attending coronations, but Starfleet had ordered all of his senior officers along too, and then the Enterprise had had to answer a minor emergency with only a junior officer in command; it was enough to make any commander nervous. Not that Sulu wasn't competent, especially with Uhura to back him, but dammit all, they could have left one senior officer aboard.

Behind him, he could hear Chekov telling McCoy and Scotty all about his leave on Earth; they had been able to pick him up on Raynette III for the last stage of his return to duty. The communications console chattered into life. "Enterprise to Shuttlecraft Barlow."

Kirk casually punched a button. "This is Kirk. Go ahead, Enterprise."

"Uhura here, sir. Welcome back. The Enterprise will rendezvous with you in 22.8 minutes."

"Very well, Lieutenant. How is everything?"

Sulu cut in. "Fine, Captain. Mission accomplished with no problem. How was the coronation?"

"Boring, like most diplomatic functions. But there was this bar..."

Suddenly, all hell seemed to break loose. Warning buzzers sounded, red emergency lights flashed on several panels, and both Kirk and Spock jerked to attention, scanning rapidly for the trouble.

"Captain..." Spock barked, and pointed to one conspicuously dark panel. He whirled around and leaped from his chair, but he had moved only two steps when a massive explosion ripped forward from the engine area. Kirk felt rather than saw the rest of the crew thrown forward, instantly bleeding. He felt his lungs burst and fill with fluid in the suddenly airless cabin. As the red haze of his own blood clouded his eyes, he heard Sulu's voice, like a shrill, broken computer: "Sh...c...ft...mi..."

Five frozen bodies floated away from the wreckage, impelled by the force of the explosion. Silence reigned in the dark void.

* * *

"I tell you, Talar, there is going to be trouble when He finds out about this mistake. You just mark my words. Defecation will definitely hit the ventilation. I'm glad that I'm not the one who has to tell Him."

"Don't worry about it, Josiah. Peter has already gone to tell Him. And kindly watch your expressions. You know how they bother the fundamentalists."

Kirk lay in the warmth, drowsily listening to the two bickering voices. He felt safe and secure and... Memory hit him and his eyes flew open. What the hell...?

He was lying in a room with muted gray walls that seemed to be shifting in density. He saw the rest of his crew lying on what appeared to be stone slabs. Two beings were bent over McCoy: one an Andorian military guard and the other a human dressed in a frock coat and stovepipe trousers. Kirk sat up quickly, swinging his feet to the cloud beneath his slab. A cloud? he thought dazedly.

"How are you feeling?" asked the human.

"Confused," snapped Kirk. "Where are we? Who are you? What did you do to my ship? What right..."

"Easy, James, easy. We will answer all your questions, though it is a little embarrassing to admit..."

The Andorian snorted and the human glowered at his friend.

Spock suddenly moved off his slab, fully alert. "Captain, are you...?" He trailed to a stop, but it was uncertain whether it was because Kirk waved him to silence or because he was fascinated with the strange floor covering.

"I'm all right, Spock. See about the rest of our men." Kirk's eyes never left the squirming human in front of him. "I'd like some answers ... now!"

The human fidgeted and looked to his companion. The Andorian grinned and crossed his arms in front of his chest, but remained silent. The human signed, then shrugging, spoke: "My name is Josiah. This is Talar. You are ... well, you are in Heaven." He finished in a rush and then waited resignedly.

Kirk felt a little blank. "You mean, we are on the planet Heaven?"

"Oh, no, no," Josiah cheerfully responded. "You are in Heaven." Kirk continued to look confused. Josiah went on, "You know, Heaven? Angels, halos, afterlife ... all that sort of thing?" His coaching had a very helpful tone.

Kirk glanced at the rest of his crew, now gathered around him. They were as confused as he, except, of course, Spock, who was impassively waiting for more data. Kirk shook his head to clear his slow thought process, but Josiah thought Kirk was rejecting the idea.

"Look," he said patiently. "You do remember the accident?"

The Andorian spoke disgustedly, "Josiah, you are making a mess of it, as usual."

"If you can do it so much better, why don't you?" Josiah retorted testily.

"I will. James, you and your friends were traveling in your shuttlecraft when there was an explosion in the warp engines. It tore your craft apart. You all died. All of you are now in Heaven, or more accurately, what some humans used to call 'Limbo'. Do you understand?"

Kirk was convinced that he was dealing with person or persons totally mad. "Yes, I understand. But tell me, why don't I feel dead?"

"That is where it gets a little embarrassing. You see, none of you were scheduled to die at this time. The accident occurred not only on your plane, but also in ours." He paused. "You aren't supposed to be here."

Kirk had to admit that they were one smooth set of liars. They really looked like they believed everything they were handing out. Following right along, he asked, "Why don't you just send us back then?"

The two "angels" exchanged another glance, and Josiah answered, blushing a little. "Because we don't have the authorization ... or the power. If you will just be a little patient, our boss will be right here and he will explain every..."

Kirk had had about as much as he was going to stomach. "I suggest that your 'boss' get here right now. I would remind you that we represent the Federation. They don't much care for the destruction of their property, or the hijacking of their personnel. Even now, my ship is..."

"Preparing your bodies for proper disposal in accordance with your various cultures," a new voice broke in. The group was joined by a very old man, dressed in a long, off-white, wool robe. He was a big man, with gnarled hands and a flowing grey-black beard. Somehow he made Kirk feel like he was six years old again.

"Peter," began Josiah excitedly, "did you see Him? What did He say? What are we going to do with...?"

"Peace, Josiah. Everything is in control. The Man has laid down His instructions. Until this situation can be cleared up, they are to stay with Lucifer."

The Andorian and the human were both surprised. Josiah spoke for both of them. "He is sending them to Hell? Without even their Hearings?"

"It is only temporary. Since we haven't completed the urban renewal project in Valhalla yet, we just don't have any room for them. If they stay here, they would have to sleep in the streets. Gold may be pretty, but it is miserable to sleep on. Lucifer has that whole new section for the group from the Beta Kalpha genocide war, but they're not due to arrive for a while, so these people can be put up there. At least they will have plenty of room, which is more than can be said for us here. I'll never understand why Lucifer seems able to anticipate occupancy better than our guys." He shook his head in regret. "Well, that is neither here nor there. Why don't you boys show them the way. Lucifer knows they are coming."

Josiah was distressed. "But, Peter, is it fair that they should suffer the torments of Hell when they haven't even had their Hearings yet?"

"What suffer? They won't feel a thing. They will just be staying in Hell. Lucifer won't be able to control them. And let me tell you, he is pissed off about that. Still, what the Man says goes, and not even Lucifer can argue about it."

Peter's warm brown eyes turned on Kirk with a definite twinkle in them. "Come on, James. I know that you are just dying, you should pardon the expression, to tell me off. I must admit that I'm really looking forward to the end of your famous 'my-starship-has-the-power-to' speech. I would really like to see them and Korbon the Klingon have a go at it with your two ships. No one to get hurt, of course, but just a nice friendly battle of wits. Yes, that would really be something..."

"Klingons in Heaven?" Kirk asked, somewhat skeptical.

Peter chuckled. "That's almost what Korbon said when he found out that there were humans here. Really, James, you must get rid of the stereotypic ideas you have got of us up here. Now, are there any questions?"

"Yes. Who are you? Where are we? What have you...?"

Peter looked at Josiah and Talar in surprise. "Didn't you explain anything to them?"

The two angels nodded and shrugged.

"Oh, I understand. Some of those." Peter turned back to Kirk. "James, I know that humans believe that death only comes to the other guy, but you are just going to have to accept the fact that you are dead ... now. I'm sorry that I don't have the time to go over this with you, I still have the regular arrivals to deal with, but before your Hearing, I'll let you see the record of your death. That will make it easier for you to accept. Okay? Josiah, Talar, see you tonight at the bingo game." As silently as he had come, Peter was gone.

Kirk felt as if he were back on the Shore Leave planet; any moment the caretaker would pop up with his obscenely gentle smile. "Was that your boss? I wanted to talk to him."

Josiah answered him distractedly. "Yes, that was Peter. You know him, of course, as Saint Peter. He is Supervisor of all new arrivals. But we had better be going; I've still got lots of work to do." He turned to lead them out.

Kirk's face took on a mulish expression. Talar saw and correctly interpreted it. "Josiah, I think they would like some time to assimilate everything that has happened. Why don't we leave them alone for a few minutes?"

Josiah started to protest, but catching a signal from Talar, nodded his head in agreement. Then they both simply ... disappeared.

Spock immediately moved to the walls to search for an exit. No matter how far he walked, the walls looked to be the same distance away. He looked back over his shoulder; the rest of the party were no farther than five feet from him. He tried walking backward; though he felt that he was moving, the group never moved apart.

"Anyone got any ideas?" Kirk asked. "Spock?"

"I do not have enough data, Captain. We are in an unknown place, the captives of unknown people, and they seem to know a good deal about our history. Talar is dressed as an Andorian military guard of 600 years ago; Josiah is dressed as a nineteenth century American; and Peter is dressed as a first century Semitic. They are either an illusion or part of some elaborate plot for an as yet known reason."

"As best I can tell without instruments," McCoy reported, "they appear to be normal, healthy representatives of their respective races. It is possible that they are psychotic, but frankly, I am more inclined to feel that I have lost my mind and that none of this exists. Hmmm, maybe it was the brandy last night."

Spock looked pained. Kirk glanced from Chekov to Scott and back again. "What about you two?"

"I'll buy McCoy's explanation," Scotty answered. "We are all drunk somewhere and having one gigantic hallucination." Chekov nodded in agreement.

Kirk grinned at the image. "What about Spock? Is he drunk, too?"

McCoy quipped quickly, "No, he's overdosed on some computer fumes."

The laughter seemed to break their tension. Kirk, wiping tears from his eyes, ordered, "Well, while they are moving us, everything keep your eyes open. Especially watch for a way out of here."

Everyone nodded. Suddenly, they were someplace else, and Talar and Josiah were with them. The most noticeable thing was the noise: a sheer cacophony of screams, moans, and groans poured over them, strangely incongruent in the neat office in which they found themselves. A tall, thin man stood in an opened door beyond which flickered a red glow. He was dressed in a light blue coverall, cinched with a leather belt from Altair VI. His face was aquiline with a small black, Van Dyke beard, and he was very annoyed.

"Vortus, must I solve all your problems?" he shouted out the door. "Go see how Hitler did it. His methods were primitive, but he was a master at pain. If you must, release him from his torment long enough to explain to you how to set it up. But don't leave him out too long; he still has a lot of time to serve." He slammed the door in frustration, muting the noise, and turned to face his visitors. "Oh, great," he commented sourly. "My 'guests' are here. Just what I needed, more hassles. Well, you have delivered them. What are you hanging around for? Would you like to join our happy little gang here?" He laughed wickedly as Josiah and Talar shuddered and disappeared.

The man moved behind a cluttered desk and sat down. Carefully, he scrutinized the men standing before him and noticed McCoy staring at his feet. "What did you expect, cloven hooves?" The doctor blushed in spite of himself.

"I'm Lucifer. I'm in charge down here. I realize that you are just here temporarily, but stay out of the way of my workers. Remember," he said nastily, "you could end up here permanently, and you wouldn't want to end up on my shit list, would you?"

Suddenly Kirk remembered several incidents in his past -- and wished that he hadn't remembered. The office door opened to admit a short, petite woman into the room. She was a gorgeous redhead, stacked in all the right places. Chekov started to breathe heavily.

Lucifer frowned. "This is Sonyj. She is one of my succubi and will show you where you can stay. Now get out of here and leave me alone."

"But ... but," stammered Kirk. Sonyj yanked him by the elbow and hustled him out the door; the others followed behind.

"Not now," she hissed. "He's in a bad mood."

They found themselves in a giant room, stretching into infinity. There were walls and walls of flame, soaring to an unseen ceiling. Molten rock poured along the ground like rivers, and the boulders cast around were white-hot in appearance. The air was murky; vapors drifted up from massive crevasses. People were chained in various positions, screaming and writhing in pain. McCoy, looking appalled, tried to help one poor wretch who was chained to a molten rock, burning the flesh from the damned soul. But when McCoy accidentally touched the rock, it didn't even feel warm.

"Can't you get him off there?" McCoy snarled.

Sonyj looked startled, then boredom covered her face. "That is his punishment. There is nothing I can do for him, even if I wanted to. Which I don't. Come on."

Kirk tried to question her as they hurried through the ghastly place. "Why do you torture these people like this?"

As she led them into an open, dark room, a door closed behind them, shutting out the sights and sounds of the cavern. She fumbled for the lights and when she finally got them on, she stared Kirk straight in the face. "You don't even know where you are, do you? This is Hell. Do you understand? H-E-L-L. This is the punishment that some people -- Ha! -- most people get when they die. The only reason you can't hear the full intensity of the sounds, or smell the poisons, or feel the fires is because you haven't officially been assigned here -- yet. And don't get cocky. I'll bet you end up here eventually. Most of you space fly-boys do." She leered appreciatively at Chekov; he leered back. "Well, I've got things to do. I'll be down in Torture Room Six if you need me," she remarked pointedly to the navigator.

When she was gone, Kirk and the others stared at each other. "Okay, they want us to think that we're in Hell. We will think we are in Hell. Meanwhile, get out there and get all the data you can. Act like we've accepted our fate and they won't expect us to give them trouble. But I want a way out of here. Is that clear?"

* * *

Sonyj returned to Lucifer's office. The devil looked up as she entered and grunted a greeting.

"I got them settled, boss. You know, I don't think they realize that they're dead. Are you sure it was a good idea to let them stay here?"

"No, I don't think it was a good idea, but what can I do? The Man says they are to stay here. You want to argue it with Him?" Lucifer snarled.

She tinkled a small laugh. "I wouldn't mind having a go at the old softie." There was a muted rumble of thunder and the ground shook slightly. Her face paled. "But of course I know He has everything under control," she added rapidly, in a louder voice. She left the office quickly.

"I hope so," Lucifer muttered under his breath.

* * *

Lucifer worked on his papers. He hated all the triplicate forms that he had to fill out, but there wasn't much he could do about it. Even Hell had its bureaucracy. He was startled when his intercom shrilled loudly. "What?!"

"Boss, you had better get down here," pleaded the voice of his chief engineer, Baspar.

"What the matter? Has furnace #7 gone out again?" For the first time, Lucifer noticed how chilly the air around him seemed. He checked his office thermometer; the temperature had dropped to an uncomfortable 68 degrees F. "Baspar, what the heck are you doing down there?"

"It ain't me, Boss," Baspar whined. "He's got the furnaces shut down."

Lucifer swore in an interesting little language that hadn't been heard in four millennia and tore out of his office. He noticed in passing that several of his "clients" seemed to be positively enjoying the chill while Lucifer himself was getting frostbite. Dashing into the room, the first thing he missed was the cheery roar of the furnaces. They were stone cold. Baspar stopped pacing the floor and looked up, patently glad to see Lucifer.

Spock was standing with his hands clasped around his back.

"What is going on here?" yelled Lucifer.

A begrimed figure rose from behind the furnaces, wiping his greasy hands on a dirty rag. Lucifer recognized the human called Scott. "These furnaces of yourn are in tirrible shape, sir. I should have them running more efficiently for you in aboot three days."

Lucifer choked on his rage, but remarkably kept his voice level. "Who told you to fool around with my furnaces? Do you realize what you have done? You have put us behind our quota!"

Scott seemed unfazed by the news. "Dinna worry. When I get them fixed, you will no' only make up your lost time, but you should get ahead of your schedule."

Lucifer turned to Spock desperately. "Will you please explain to him what he has done?"

Spock looked him calmly in the eye and announced, "Lucifer and Hell are figments of the imagination and do not exist. Therefore, no matter what Mr. Scott does here, it has no relevancy. You do not exist."

Lucifer pulled back his fist. "Let's see if a punch in the nose exists for you."

Baspar grabbed Lucifer's arm. "Boss, remember. You can't touch them. He wouldn't like it if you hurt them before they had had their Hearings."

Lucifer clenched both hands and raised them upward. "This will never work!" He stomped out of the furnace room and headed back to his office, shouting over his shoulder. "Baspar, help that idiot get those furnaces going again. I want full heat in one hour!"

* * *

As Lucifer walked along the path, he found that Spock was with him. The Vulcan said nothing, surveying his surroundings with great interest. Lucifer didn't like Vulcans very much and was grateful that he hadn't received many in the last 5,000 years. He gritted his teeth, looking forward to slamming his office door in Spock's face.

The sound of singing stunned Lucifer, and he stopped momentarily. A group of workers were sitting around a flaming pit. He walked over to the group and was annoyed when no one stood up as he approached.

"And what do we have here?" he asked, his voice deceptively pleasant. Some of the older demons looked nervous, but the younger ones just smiled at him. "We are off duty, sir. Spock showed us how to make a ... a rec room, where we can have some fun while we relax for a while."

Spock motioned Lucifer to the side while the group started another verse of a bawdy bar song that made even Lucifer blush. "I saw some of your efficiency ratings. Even for humans, they were very low. When I found out that they had no recreation, I made a few suggestions. And if you have the time, I have some others on how to improve your crew in other areas."

At that moment, a Junoesque blonde succubus ran by, screaming with laughter, chased by a half-naked Chekov.

"Gertrude!" bellowed an enraged Lucifer as the couple disappeared into the gloom. Lucifer and Spock took off after them, dodging obstacles in their path. When Lucifer tripped, Spock obligingly helped him up.

"I just don't believe this!" panted the livid Lucifer. "That was my girl!"

"Indeed?" commented Spock calmly. "I would not be too concerned. Mr. Chekov is too young to form any lasting relationships right now."

Lucifer snorted in disbelief and stamped back to his office, Spock trailing behind, only to find it in a total state of chaos. His secretary, with a faint air of bewilderment, was frantically searching through the files, all of which seemed to be scattered on the floor, chairs, and any other free surface. The file cabinets themselves were empty. Kirk was sitting at Lucifer's desk, using the pen the devil's own mother had gotten him for his birthday, and marking up his precious charts.

"What are you doing?" Lucifer's voice was curiously flat.

Kirk glanced up and grinned. "I thought I would help you out a little. I hate to be idle." He motioned Lucifer over to the desk and continued. "Look at this table of organization. You will notice that most of your senior staff seem to hold their positions due to time in service rather than their qualifications. If you would move this man..."

McCoy ambled into the office. "Jim, you should see the conditions around here. There are people here getting no medical treatment at all. The working conditions of the laborers..." McCoy noticed Lucifer and charged right up. "You know, Mr. Lucifer, for a so-called civilized man, you keep a pretty barbaric place here."

Spock interrupted, wanting to ease the doctor's anguish. "Doctor, this is an illusion. It does not exist except inside our minds. No one is really being hurt. It is illogical."

"What do mean no one gets hurt?" Lucifer sputtered. "I'll have you know I run a very tight Hell here! And I don't need any of your reorganization and ... what is that?" His voice rose to a shriek. He ran out of the office, the Federation men following behind him.

Bulldozers were moving large chunks of the rapidly cooling earth while other groups of workers directed happy sinners in different directions. Kirk grinned sheepishly. "I hope you don't mind, but we are re-arranging Hell a little bit. You see, you don't have everything quickly accessible to you. You should be able to reach any section within minutes. Never know when trouble will show up."

In a numbed state, Lucifer walked back to his office. Kirk kept talking in one ear about "section chiefs" and "getting rid of the hodge-podge" while in his other ear Spock was explaining about the similarities of different "Hell" myths throughout the universe. He walked into the office and gently, even softly, shut the door, locking out the three intruders. They could hear him on a communication line.

"I want to talk to Peter, and I want to talk to him now," Lucifer ordered.

Kirk whispered to McCoy, "Go find Scott and Chekov. I think there is going to be a change of scene." He chuckled in anticipation.

As McCoy took off in a run, Lucifer's voice became desperate. "Peter, you tell the Man that if He doesn't get these people out of here, I quit. And this time, I'm not kidding. I know I said that when you sent Ghengis Khan and his boys down here, but now I'm totally serious. At least Ghengis believed in me and respected my work. But this crowd! If it isn't the Vulcan telling me I don't exist, it's that nut, Scott, turning off my furnaces. And -- what do you want? No, not you, Peter. There is someone on the intercom. Hold on a second."

There was silence for a moment, then the sound of Lucifer crying from whatever news he was receiving on the intercom. "How can Sonyj be pregnant? She's a succubus! All right, so the kid isn't a member of Hell and the rules don't work for him. Does that mean that Sonyj can't take precautions?" There was more silence, then, "Okay, okay. What else?" Silence. "What do you mean that you can't find Attila and his horde? Aren't they in section 2,874?"

Kirk grinned and whispered to Spock, "That is one of the groups I had moved."

Lucifer was speaking again. "He did, did he? Well, get things back to normal as quick as you can. I'm working here to get rid of the trouble. No more calls to me until I tell you. Peter. Peter, are you there? That is it. You tell the Man that He gets rid of them, or I and all my crew leave. How will He like that, huh? He won't get anyone to work cheaper than us."

There was more silence. Lucifer was obviously listening to the other party. "It is set up? Bless you, Peter. I'll send them right up to you."

As the door flew open, Lucifer yelled in Kirk's ear, "Kirk! Oh, there you are. Get the rest of your guys. You're leaving here."

"Oh, really," said Kirk sweetly. "Gee, we sure will miss you all."

McCoy, Chekov and Scott came pounding down the path and the five of them entered the office. As they faded out, Kirk could see the devil heartedly waving goodbye; then they were back in their original area, with Peter.

"That was really a nasty thing to do to Lucifer, James. After all, he did offer you hospitality -- of a sort. Anyway, the Man has decided that since we still don't have room for you and it isn't really fair to cheat you of the life you have left just because one of our co-ordinators made a mistake, we will be sending you back. It will take a few moments since we have to set things up. Have patience."

Again Peter was gone and they were left in the strange grey room.

"How are we going to explain this to Starfleet?" Kirk mused.

"That is simple, Captain. We tell them that the beings from an unexplored planet rescued us when our ship exploded, but for some unknown reason told us that we were in a mythical afterlife. It will be up to Starfleet to decide if we should look for this planet or leave the natives alone."

"Yes, I suppose. Chekov, what happened to your face?" Kirk asked.

Chekov blushed and hid his left cheek. "There was this brunette, Captain. I guess she didn't like Russians."

McCoy chuckled. "From what I saw, she really hauled off and let him have it."

There was a sharp disorientation of being and all five men fell to the cloud.

* * *

Kirk could smell his ship and opened his eyes to look around. There was nothing to see, only blank darkness. He ran his hands around the perimeters of his ... his ... well, it felt like a bag, and damned confining at that. He felt himself being raised as a voice in the distance intoned, "We commit the body of our brother, James Kirk, to the cleansing power of the sun. Jettison, Lieutenant."

That's Sulu's voice! Kirk felt himself moving feet first and understanding flashed. Ohmigod!

"BELAY THAT ORDER!" yelled Kirk, fighting to get out of the burial bag. "Let me out of he... oof!" He landed with a thunk on the floor.

Bedlam broke out as he could hear the rest of the shuttlecraft's crew yelling, too. Even Spock was demanding release in a slightly louder voice than normal. As the Enterprise men released them from the burial bags, the noise level dropped to bearable. Kirk kicked the bag from around his feet with distaste and looked at the stunned Sulu, staring at him in disbelief.

"Well done, Sulu. How did you get us released from that planet?" Kirk wished he could hear "Peter's" snide remarks about "starship power" now.

"Planet, Captain? What planet?" Sulu was confused and not a little wary.

Kirk caught a queer feeling in his stomach. "Didn't you rescue us from a planet which the inhabitants claimed was Heaven or Hell?"

Sulu shook his head slowly. "No, sir. When the shuttlecraft blew, we just pulled in your ... bodies." He looked over each of the five men. "You were dead, Captain ... weren't you?"

And, faintly, they heard the sound of demonical laughter accompanied by a wisp of sulphur.