DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Cheryl Rice and is copyright (c) 1976 by Cheryl Rice. Rated G. Originally published in Berengaria, 1976.



Gold Towards the Golden

Cheryl Rice



"How far is it to Babylon?

Forty score and ten.

Can I make it there by candelite?

There and back again?"



M.L.S.



================================

Captain James T. Kirk, himself again, was seated behind the desk in his quarters. For once he was completely alone and very glad to be. He needed the quiet and privacy to help straighten out in his mind the events of the previous few hours and to decide the proper course of action to take concerning them. Not for the first time Kirk was discovering that Star Fleet regulations do not cover every possible contingency. As he pondered the strange situation, he absently fingered the heavy gold coin that had returned with him. Bright yellow and glinting in the light, it was clearly new. The figures stamped on either side stood out in sharp relief ... on one the seated figure of a male humanoid, on the other was the head of a handsome, youthful man. So clearly new -- one could almost say in "Mint" condition -- yet also of undoubted antiquity. For the Captain had no more doubts. But what to do?

"Why?" he asked the empty room, "do these things always happen to me?" Since the room seemed unlikely to come up with an intelligent answer, he dropped the question. For a short time he continued with his fruitless thoughts, then, realizing that he was going nowhere at a high rate of speed, changed his tactics. A man does not become the commander of a Starship and 430 people if he indulges in disorganized actions ... or thoughts for that matter. The correct procedure, it seemed to Kirk, was to go over the events -- make sure he remembered them correctly and in their proper order and then place the proper value on them, see their place in the scheme of things [if they had one] and then put the whole occurrence down properly in his log.

"That's fine," he thought in frustration a few minutes later, "but where do I start?" Not with the coin or its previous owner, that was too late. Earlier then, when he had been preparing for that not-to-be trip to Athens. Yes, that was as good a place as any. Calm and logical now -- like Spock would do it. Only the Vulcan would never have been in such a fix; his reflexes would have saved him. He would have only returned immediately, never having seen the sunset or that man. The coin winking brightly at him was distracting, so the human laid it down gently on the desk, noting its solid "clunk" with appreciation. In his time money was not made like that anymore ... credit chips had no intrinsic value. Something was comforting about the heft of metal. Resolutely Kirk turned his thoughts to the training for his abortive mission, the one that had had such a strange result...

Something, months before, had told him that it wasn't going to work. First he was informed that Spock couldn't go with him -- too much trouble with the ears. Then he had to undergo all that business with the language tapes. Newest method ... send the learning straight to the sub-conscious where it would be triggered by hearing the new language spoken. It had seemed unlikely to him, but in times like the one he was to visit, the Universal Translator was of no use. You had to speak the current language to fit in. Surprisingly enough it had worked. Experts in Ancient Greek had tested his comprehension and it had proved adequate. There was more trouble in his verbal skills in the Greek, he couldn't rid himself of a strong accent in the time he had, but the historians in charge of the mission assured him it could be explained away, if it became necessary. The most distressing feature of the mission was, to Kirk, that he was forced to allow his hair to grow longer. Gone were the pointed sideburns and, secretly, he missed them. The day the captain stood, clad in proper military attire of the period, before the Guardian of Forever, he was uncomfortably aware of the unfamiliar feeling of hair on the back of his neck and around the ears.

Kirk had grumbled a bit about the situation to anyone who would listen, but in reality he was delighted to have been included in the party going on this particular trip ... It was an honor, even if a lot of bother. Someone in the higher echelons of Star Fleet obviously had suggested him far the job. If they were willing to entrust some of the best historical minds in the Federation to him, he could do nothing less than his best. Technically he was to be nothing more than a high-ranking bodyguard for these scientists who were the important members of the party, at least to themselves, but he was sure that the whole trip would prove enjoyable. He had never been especially interested in history during school, but going back to a certain place and living a bit of another time was usually fun, or at the least educational. And to visit Greece at the height of her glory ... fifth century B.C ... was something to look forward to. No man living had ever seen the Parthenon; 20th century wars had seen to that. Famous buildings, a different way of life that yet was a direct ancestor of his own, beautiful countryside and most of all the people a traveler could meet. As Spock had surmised on their first trip, certain people were focal points. Thus it was often relatively easy to find famous persons -- often in fact hard to avoid it. Then there were the times when a complete unknown who would turn out to be the most influential. Time travel was always a challenging assignment.

But not this trip ... at least it wasn't supposed to be. This time he was only an assistant ... his job to go thru first, to make sure all was as it should be for the main body of the scientific party and then await their coming. After their safe arrival then, Kirk was to protect them from any dangers that would present themselves. To aid in this work he had two assistants who had been recruited from Security section and since there were only six scientists to be guarded, he foresaw no trouble. It didn't, however, turn out quite that way ...

Standing in front of the Guardian, shifting from booted foot to booted foot, he withed they would get on with it. The unfamiliar clothing still bothered him. Dressed as authentically as possible in military garb of several thousands years earlier, he felt silly in his own time. The helmet was a bit too large ... the plumes gaudy. The cloak would insist on billowing in the ceaseless wind and most of all he disliked having his legs exposed the way they were. At least he had convinced the people in charge to let him wear the high boots rather than the more common sandals. That helped a little.

"Captain..." a hearty voice broke into his thoughts. It belonged to Capilon, who was one of the technicians responsible for the correct running of the Guardian. He was a large, bulky man who always seemed to be bustling from one problem to another. "I'm afraid there will be a further slight delay. Marco is having trouble calibrating his tricorder."

Kirk glowered at him wordlessly.

"Yes, well..." The larger man fussed about a bit. "Why don't you take off some of that paraphernalia and make yourself more comfortable? We'll let you know ..."

Capilon hurried off and the Captain removed the helmet and cloak. He looked around for a place to sit down out of the way and finally selected a likely looking rock. He sank down gratefully on it and prepared for another long wait. What seemed like a group of thundering hundreds, were scurrying around the immediate area preparing for the imminent departure of the scientific mission. As usual the view on the Guardian's planet was anything but cheerful. Endless ruins and a lowering sky do not a pleasing aspect make. Kirk was just resigning himself to endless tedium when Capilon made a sudden reappearance.

"Now Captain ... if you will do us a little, uh, favor..."

Kirk, who by this time was ready for about anything that promised action, nodded encouragingly.

"We have our instruments ready," Capilon continued, "but there seems to be a little trouble with the Guardian."

James T. started to inform him that if that were the case they should all just pack up and go home [in his case to the Enterprise orbiting serenely above their heads] but he was forestalled.

"Oh it's nothing major -- I assure you. We are just having a bit of trouble with the time flow. The Guardian has been ... uh.,busy lately and things aren't running as smoothly as we could wish. If you could check..."

"How? You scientists have all the equipment." For all the good that it did. The science that was responsible for the Guardian was millennia ahead of anything the Federation had ever come up with or was likely to in the foreseeable future. The technicians, such as Capilon were really nothing more than glorified caretakers. Their most important function was the protection of the priceless facility from any beings who would misuse or damage it. Hidden batteries of devices known only to the men who had invented them comprised the rest of the planetary defenses. Much had changed since the Enterprise had discovered the planet. Kirk could only assume all the changes had been for the better.

"Yes, you are correct in that regard, Captain..." The burly man, who had an unfortunate tendency to talk as if he were preparing a footnote, had the grace to look embarrassed. He realized there was going to be a bit of explaining needed. "But you must know that we are relative novices when it comes to understanding the basic principles which underlie the proper running of the portal and therefore when there is a problem, you see ... " After a bit more circumlocution, Capilon finally admitted that the historians and the technicians could not get the exact time they wished to appear in the Guardian's misty center. They were close, but not exact. What was wanted was someone to travel to the closest moment they had arrived at and see when it was. If it were suitable -- in other words relatively close to what was wanted -- the traveler could return with the information and the rest of the party could then follow in relative security. Kirk had been nominated for the role of "trail-blazer", Capilon continued, because it was felt he could take care of himself so well in strange situations; although the Captain felt the truth was more likely to be that they felt he was the most expendable. To a scientist another scientist tends to be more valuable than a Starship captain -- no matter how renowned he may be. Kirk did not especially relish the job, but he had a feeling that it was going to have to be done by someone and he could hardly ask one of the security guard assistants to do a task he would not care to try himself.

"So you see ... all we want you to do is check this little thing for us. Just stay long enough to find out when and where you are and if it is safe."

Kirk stifled an impulse to ask "Why me?" and agreed to the chore. Capilon hurried off with the good news while he gathered up his discarded clothing. Arriving at the Guardian he was informed that they would be ready for him in a few minutes. It seemed a last opportunity to call the Enterprise so he borrowed a communicator and raised the ship. Uhura seemed surprised to hear his voice but quickly connected him with the First Officer, who, as was proper, had the conn.

"Mr. Spock, everything okay up there?" The captain had absolutely no reason to think it shouldn't be, but he was quite unable to ask what he really wanted to know. "Are you still angry with me?" The Vulcan had made it very clear that he found this use of his captain's time to be both illogical and needlessly dangerous and so a definite coolness had developed between the two men during the period of Kirk's training for the mission. The human had regretted the situation, but had felt it would soon blow over. But words had passed between them that never should have been said and the rift had grown ever wider. Kirk, who should have known better, thought his friend jealous. Spock, who secretly feared for his friend's safety, brought up terms like "foolhardy". Their relationship was at its lowest ebb since Kirk had taken command of the Enterprise and neither could seem to do anything to restore it to its previous high level.

There was the crackle of static but no answer from the Vulcan. "Spock, are you reading me?"

"Yes, Sir, but with difficulty. Are you in need of assistance?"

"No, I'm fine ... but I'm leaving in a few minutes." Kirk hurriedly explained his new mission. "So I should be back almost instantly -- then be leaving again. Is that all clear?"

"Perfectly clear, Sir." Spock's voice was stiff with disapproval. "Is there anything else?"

"No, guess not." The human managed to keep the disappointment out of his voice. With all the "sirs," it was evident that the Vulcan was still against this trip of his.

There was a murmur of voices on the communicator then Spock came on again. "Captain? Lt. Uhura and Dr. McCoy asked me to tell you that they wish you luck."

Kirk smiled wryly ... at least someone up there was still on his side. "Thank them for me and tell 'em I'll see everyone before too long. Kirk out." He flipped the communicator shut, returned the device to its owner, and walked over to where Capilon and two others were deep in conversation. It turned out he was the main topic -- they were discussing exactly what equipment he should take with him. It was finally decided that the helmet and most of his weapons should stay behind -- a miniature Time Lock recorder. That way, on his return, it would be easy to discover exactly when and where he had been.

"You do understand, Captain? All you need do with it is expose it to the night sky -- the position of the stars will tell us what we need to know." Kirk nodded dutifully. It seemed they had gone over these details a million endless times. The combination of the stars and the record of the Earth's magnetic field which would show up on another part of the device would -- when fed into a computer -- tell within five years, closer if they were lucky, when and where he had been. "Fine, we are all ready then." Capilon was at his heartiest. "Just stand there in front of the Guardian and be ready when it reaches the correct place. We'll give you the signal."

The captain clomped over to position himself in front of the foggy center of the mechanism while wishing two things. One, that his boots fit better and two, that his best friend was going with him on the journey. He straightened out the unfamiliar clothing, gathered the dark red cloak around him as neatly as he could and prepared to leave for times unknown.

The Guardian, which had earlier been informed of the time they wished to visit, was running scenes that seemed to be in the right period and he was thus ready when a voice behind him called "Now!"

Kirk immediately took off, running lightly, and was just ready to leap into the heart of the portal when another voice ordered "No wait!"

If it had been Spock, or another familiar voice, he would have -- his reflexes would have saved him. But as it was he hesitated for a moment, wavering off balance at the edge of the time-mist, then fell over the rim -- tumbling over and over into eternity.

To land, sprawled on hands and knees, with a sharp thud -- when, exactly he did not know. The cloak had become tangled during the rough trip and he had banged his head sharply on an outcropping of rock as he arrived. The scenery swirled sickeningly as he tried to get his bearings. For a moment he thought he was still on the Time Planet -- nothing much in view but rocks -- but the light was different, coming from a yellow sun, and the sky was a brilliant, aching blue.

Kirk shook his head to clear it, relieved to find it didn't rattle, straightened out his clothing, checked to see that all his equipment had survived the rough trip and sat down on a rocky ledge to make some plans.

He could go back right away, he reasoned, since all he had to do was call the Guardian and there he'd be. That option did not hold much appeal. The captain was not in the mood for Capilon and company. So ... then ... the other logical course of action was to look around a bit -- he seemed to be on a cliff overlooking a deserted plain that ran on as far as he could see -- then sit until dark and use the recorder. After that he could return home with at least some of his mission accomplished. It all seemed logical enough. The trouble was, as disoriented as he felt -- and the ache in his head held definite promise of worsening. The captain was not even sure if it was morning or evening. From where he was situated, the bulk of the hill above him hid the sun.

"What I'll do," he announced to himself, "is walk around until I get to the other side." Pleased with this decision, surely worthy of Solomon, he then looked for a way off his ledge. The only thing that presented itself was an almost invisible, narrow path that was worn between the rock face and emptiness. This was successfully navigated, but not without a certain amount of protest from the human's head and his stomach.

Kirk stopped to catch his breath and then walked out around a large boulder and onto a much larger ledge. This one was almost a natural balcony and like the one he had been on earlier, again overlooking the same plain. The only difference in this case being that the landscape was not so desolate. Small shrubs and a certain amount of dusty grass dotted its rocky floor. In the distance, other hills ran -- far as his not too steady eye could see. The sun was either just rising or about to set in the direction of the far hills.

Unfortunately for Kirk's plans, there was a slight hitch. The area was not empty of lifeforms. As he rounded the corner, he practically knocked over a man who was standing on the ledge already, seemingly engrossed in whatever maneuver the sun was attempting. The captain skidded to a halt and tried to think of the Greek term for "excuse me". To absolutely no avail.

The man, who had momentarily seemed as surprised as his visitor, frowned and snapped something in a curt tone of voice. The words didn't man anything to Kirk but the meaning was all too clear. Whatever he had said it had not been "Glad to see you."

He stood helpless for a moment then, suddenly, the words made sense. "Am I to have no peace at all?" Well, he could take a hint as well as anyone -- even one couched in Ancient Greek. Kirk breathed silent thanks to his teachers and tried to frame an apology for intruding. Most of his vocabulary dealt with such weighty matters as "How far to the next village?" and "How much do you want for that chicken?" So it took a little time.

In the meanwhile the two men looked each other over carefully. The man at home in his proper time period saw Jams T. Kirk -- dressed as a Greek mercenary soldier -- a bit the worse for wear. Kirk saw a young man, a boy almost it seemed to him, dressed much as he was -- in army gear, though of better quality. His corselet shone in the sun as did his heavy hair, of dull gold it seemed, falling slightly curling almost to his shoulders like the mane of a lion. He was on the short side; slender but with nothing of the weakling about him. His muscular arms were deeply sun-browned as was his face which was saved from being too handsome by the silvered line of an old scar across one cheek.

Just as Kirk finally figured out the proper phrase, the man spoke again. "Never mind -- the sun is not my private property ... yet. You have come to enjoy the sunset also?" The Captain nodded gratefully. At least he now knew the time of day. "Good. I like a man who can appreciate other things than war. What is your name?"

Kirk tired frantically to remember the name the historians had given him to use on the trip but it seemed to have remained back in the future. Finally, a name from the depths of his sub-conscious popped up and he stammered out. "Amyntas ... Sir." The last word was an afterthought. The other man had an aura of authority around him.

"Amyntas... really?" Kirk was showered with an almost overwhelmingly charming smile. "That was my grandfather's name. Where are you from? Your clothing and accent are a bit strange. Are you a newcomer to us?"

The captain elected to answer the last question first. "Yes, I have just arrived." That at least was the truth.

His companion didn't wait to hear answers for the rest of his inquiries. Instead he began to talk quickly about the new troops, trouble in the East, and had Amyntas heard any news about the delegation?

Kirk shook his head honestly "no" and the younger man went on talking. He made no effort to introduce himself, obviously assuming that he had been recognized on sight. He did seem familiar somehow but, try as he would, Kirk couldn't place his features. He was talking now of art or architecture ... the captain s vocabulary in such fields was very limited, so much of it made no sense, but he tried to look intelligent and make noises of agreement whenever they seemed indicated.

He did allow his mind to wander a bit, gazing at the scenery. It was not especially unusual, but in a barren way, beautiful. While the sun slid on down beyond the hills in the far distance, shadows began to dance and sway. The air itself was warm and sweet. The slight breeze brought with it the scent of growing things and the earth itself. This was a planet that had never known the horrors of nuclear and biological war, or even the internal combustion engine. She was a beauty, and, he reminded himself with a slight burst of pride, she was his. Or at least she would be. It was always a little tricky to start trying to figure out verb tenses when visiting the past and thinking about the future, which was his present.

Kirk put the problem away to be examined at another time and turned his attention back to his new acquaintance, who was now telling a long and involved tale about burning something down. He was laughing rather ruefully and finished up with, "though I would not admit it generally -- it wasn't the wisest thing I ever did. Did you ever do something that was not very clever bur somehow just seemed to be the right thing at the time?"

"Oh, yes." Kirk had answered with more fervor than he had intended. His head was thumping again and once he got back, Capilon was going to have some explaining to do. What he would give to be on the bridge of the Enterprise. His partner on the ledge was looking at him with renewed interest and he realized, he himself was going to have to frame an explanation for his remark. Well, if all else falls try the truth ... or at least a version of it.

"Recently, Sir, I volunteered for a mission that did not turn out as had been planned. A friend warned me against trying it, in fact."

"Was it dangerous?" the younger man interrupted.

"Sort of -- it was not the danger that my friend objected to. It was his opinion that the job could have been done as well by others."

"And is this friend very close?"

"Yes." Kirk smiled ... imagining the look on Spock's face when told about this conversation. Then his expression clouded as he remembered the rift in their relationship.

"He is angered by this action of yours? That you went against his wishes?"

Kirk, who had never been able to explain the Vulcan to himself, tried now to do so far this stranger. "No, he is not exactly angry. He's worried for me, but will not allow himself to express it. So he seems angry."

"Doesn't he understand a leader must do certain things if he is to lead?"

The captain was gratified to find someone who shared a prime tenet of his personal philosophy, but decided this conversation was becoming too deep too quickly. "Yes, he understands but ... his values are different at times. Sometimes we do not seem to understand each other very well."

"I can sympathize." The other began nervously fingering a coin he had been holding hidden in his left hand. "I do know what you mean. I myself am often misunderstood. But, still you love each other."

Kirk suddenly realized that "love", in this situation, in this time, held a different meaning than the one most common in his own, but before he could frame an answer, the sun obligingly positioned itself for one of the most spectacular sunset displays he had ever seen. Both he and his slighter companion watched as the light, broken up by a few well-placed clouds, formed an ever changing tapestry of color. It grew and intensified until it seemed the western sky would melt and flow away. Celestial fire. Then suddenly, it was gone and they stood silent in the warm afterglow.

Or not so warm. The breeze that had been so comfortable a short time before now held a definite chill. Kirk shivered and unobtrusively drew the folds of his cloak tighter around him. His companion was lacking that particular piece of clothing and suddenly seemed to notice its absence.

"How are you at mountain climbing?" he casually asked the surprised starship captain. Before Kirk could answer the other man went on. "Actually, it's more like mountain descending." James T. ... who had absolutely no idea what he was going on about, looked at him in blank dismay. One minute love -- the next mountains. He began to wonder if his new acquaintance were completely rational.

Seeing Kirk's confusion, the man deigned to explain. "My cloak, I dropped it a while ago ... see ... it's half way down the hillside, on those rocks there." He bent over the low ledge in front of the two and Kirk automatically followed. What was he supposed to be seeing? Then in the dimning light he caught sight of a dark splotch on the lighter rocks at least 40 feet down that he assumed was the missing bit of attire.

They straightened up again. "Do you think you could go down there and retrieve it for me? It is my favorite." He seemed somewhere between wistful and embarrassed. "Normally I wouldn't bother, but Hephaestion had it made for me and..." He broke off in alarm at the look on the face that he thought was called by his ancestor's name. "Are you ill?"

Kirk, who was suffering from the after effects of all that bending over and straightening back up, was momentarily unable to answer. His head was hurting ferociously ... sharp, stabbing pains from the bruise on his left temple ... The world was showing an unfortunate tendency to resume its swirling and to top it all off, he thought he was going to be sick ... very sick ... all over everything. He gulped desperately and managed to get out, "My head ... I fell ..."

His companion instantly took charge of the situation, later Kirk realized that he had probably been taking charge for almost all of his short life. "Don't worry ... sit down over here." He carefully led the captain to a steady rock safely away from the edge. [Later Kirk was to also realize that he had never before sat on so many different rocks in one day in his whole life.]

"Where are you hurt? Let me see." Kirk motioned in the general direction and immediately felt gentle fingers brushing back the long hair over the wound and then pressing on it with care. He held still under the examination -- trying his best to think of other times, other places.

"It does not seem serious," his new acquaintance finally assured him. "The skin is only slightly broken. When you feel better you will accompany me into camp and my physician will treat you." This was said in a perfectly friendly manner, but one that made no allowance for discussion. Kirk, by this time wishing for home and McCoy's medical kit, tried to look appreciative and failed. "Do not alarm yourself. I will have word sent to your Comnander. He will consider it an honor to have you treated by my personal staff."

The captain could think of absolutely no coherent reply to that statement so he merely closed his eyes and tried to think of anything but the lamentable state of his stomach. After several minutes of companionable silence,he opened his eyes to discover that his would-be rescuer had walked over to the ledge again to stand staring off into the distance. This time there was no sunset to entrance him so it seemed a safe [Kirk skirted the word "logical" ] assumption that the man was lost in his own thoughts. He was playing nervously again with the coin. That movement was the only indication of the turmoil that was obviously underway in his mind.

Kirk did not know quite what to make of his only contact here ... whenever "here" was. The man was seemingly well-educated, a soldier of some sort, handsome and charming, with a friendly if autocratic manner. But what was all this about his camp and his physician? As far as could be seen, they were alone out here in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps he was suffering from delusions ... perhaps they both were!

The time traveler waited a few minutes longer, then, as both his head and stomach were feeling much better, got to his feet shakily and made his way over to stand behind the silent figure at the ledge. If he could just convince the nan that he didn't need a doctor's care and could slip away ... Kirk glanced at the sky -- the earliest stars were beginning to emerge as the last of the sun's light faded. Again he was struck by the purity of the air. He was a child of Earth -- in his own time men labored, as they had for centuries, to repair the hurts that war and neglect had brought to the planet. Everyone was proud of their accomplishments. Until this sunset, he had always taken for granted that all the damage had been repaired ... now he knew some things can never be. Some things are so fragile that once broken they can never be as once they were. It was a sobering thought.

Quietly, the man in front of Kirk spoke. "And what are you thinking of, at this moment?"

Without conscious thought the captain answered with the truth. "How beautiful it is -- it all is."

His companion turned and gave him a searching look. "I too was thinking that thought. Who told you to say it?"

Kirk was far beyond being surprised at anything that could happen this day. "No one, Sir. Looking at all that ... what else could anyone think?"

His answer was accepted gracefully. "You would be surprised, Amyntas. But never mind. That is not your problem ... it is mine, it is all mine." The man made a sweeping gesture with his left hand that encompassed all that was to be seen, Kirk had an uneasy feeling he was including the heavens as well. Before he could say anything at all, and by now he was certain he was dealing with a madman, his companion clutched at his side and swayed; obviously in sudden, great pain.

Their relative positions now neatly reversed from a short time earlier, Kirk sought to discover if he could be of help. "Sir, what ... ?"

"Do not concern yourself. It is only the Mallian injury again. I have been warned not to use that arm until the lung completely heals. I forgot ... even I forget at times." The man attempted a laugh, which emerged as more of a wheeze.

"Sir down, here." Kirk was completely at a loss. From the sound, he thought, the wound was far from healed.

"No, it is better if I stand." That sounded promising, but he looked as if he were going to keel over as they stood there. The sufferer was chalky under his tan and shivering in the wind. "Just a minute or two , it will pass."

Kirk did the only thing he could think of practical value. He hurriedly removed his cloak and swathed the smaller man in it. If he were going into shock, he needed to be kept as warm as possible. He took the cloak gratefully but then asked a moment later. "Do you not need this? You are the injured one."

The captain had almost forgotten his physical problems in the rush to help. "I am fine now, Sir. The opportunity for action and the resulting adrenalin rush had left him feeling almost normal again. "Is there anywhere I can go for help? If you are ill ..."

"No. Do not bother anyone. They should not see me like this." Kirk had no idea who "they" were. "I shall be fine." The suffering man glanced up at the now star-bright sky. "The gods take care of their own."

There was nothing to say to that so the two stood in their isolation for a short, quiet eternity. Kirk could not help feeling a bit superior. Such a gap separated them, more than just the long years, it was the whole difference in their way of seeing things. His "gods" ... Kirk had been present at the death of one of them and knew them for what they really were. He felt almost paternal toward the younger man as they stood there on the hillside together. The differences between them ... they were of more importance than their similarities.

Then, quietly, that very different man -- leaning so trusting against the captain -- began to talk of his hopes. Hopes for a world united ... a place where the differences between people could be appreciated and not feared and despised. Where knowledge would be sought for its own sake, not for merely material gain. Kirk had the feeling he was really talking to himself.

Finally, again, the monolog returned to the subject of Hephaestion. "I confess, I am worried. His delegation has been gone two weeks beyond its planned date for return."

"He will return." The name had raised a fugitive memory in Kirk's mind; he wasn't sure who the man was, but the name ... it was somehow familiar.

"You sound sure. I am grateful for that." Another pause, then the quiet, musical voice continued. "You are from far away, Amyntas."

"Yes, Sir, very far."

"Have you ever heard of Sappho?"

"Yes, Sir, a little." That was the truth. Only the smallest fragments survived in Kirk's own time of the works bf the perhaps greatest Greek lyric poet. Amazing to think she was of this very time he was now inhabiting.

"She is of long ago, of course ..."

Kirk began to realize that "long ago" has many meanings.

"But she sang of love," the other man continued, "she had been in love. You have to be to understand ... and you?"

"Yes," Kirk answered from the heart, "I know of love."

"Good." His companion straightened up and began to recite carefully, "Some say a cavalry corps, some infantry, some again will maintain that the swift oars of our fleet are the finest sight on dark earth. But I say that whatever one loves, is. I have never heard it said better."

"Nor I, Sir, nor I." Kirk had the grace to be embarrassed ... differences and similarities, who was he to decide their relative importance? He was suddenly homesick -- for his ship, for the sight of familiar places and people. "The dark oars of our fleet" ... had things really changed at all?

The smaller man, apparently recovered, drew the borrowed cloak closer around his slender form and prepared to leave. "Come, Amyntas -- we shall retire to my tent and the doctooor will examine you. Though you do seem much improved."

This was true. Except for a mild headache, Kirk felt fine, but before he could say anything, his arm was taken and he was hurried off the ledge by a route he had not noticed before since it was in the opposite direction from the way he had arrived earlier. The rocky path snaked rapidly downward and the two were half way around the cliff before the captain caught sight of the giant encampment spread out on the plain before them. Countless campfires glowed. The shapes of tents, men and horses were vague in the nearly complete dark. He must have shown his surprise on his face for his companion chuckled. "Yes, it is something to see from up here. Is this your first time?"

Kirk could only nod.

Another few steps,then they could see, coming up the path toward them, a group of men ... some with torches. They all seemed in a hurry and when they finally noticed the two, came directly toward them. The captain felt his companion stiffen and move slightly away so that they each stood alone. The torch-bearers arrived slightly ahead of the main body ... heavily and elaborately armed men who spared Kirk only a glance, then went down on their knees before his new acquaintance.

"Lord, we have news:"

The man thus addressed, seemed almost unable to speak. His eyes, in the light, Kirk could see they were gray, glittered. "Yes, news of what?"

"The delegation ... the outriders have but just arrived. It will enter the camp within the hour. It was a great success."

"But what of ..."

The speaker smoothly inrerrupred. "All are fine, Lord, and return with many gifts for you."

His "Lord" smiled like a delighted child and hurried to join the group. "Fine, we must prepare a feast to welcome them, a great one."

He was twenty feet away from Kirk who had remained motionless on the path, still staring at the men and the camp. This man ... he couldn't be ... when was he? They called him "Lord". The thoughts chased themselves round and round. "Amyntas, come join us."

The traveler wanted no part of this feast ... too many questions would have to be answered. "Thank you, no ... Lord. I am fine and needed elsewhere."

The younger man waved and hurried on, then remembered the cloak he still wore. "I cannot take this without payment ... here." He threw the coin he had been handling at Kirk who caught it by sheer reflex.

"Lord, I can't. It is too much." The lovely thing glimmered up at him and for the first tim, by the light of the rising moon, got a clear look at the faces on it.

"Nonsense," the voice was friendly but carried such authority, "you did me a service." He walked a few paces back up the hill. "I can use men like you. Are you coming with us to Babylon?"

Kirk nodded doubtfully.

"Well, if you do, come see me. That coin will get you through the guards. Until we meet at Babylon ..." He waved again, this time with his right arm and turned to go.

The captain finally found his voice. "Yes, Lord ... until then and thank you."

Something in his voice caught the other man's attention: "You are a strange one." This time a more formal farewell. "May you live happy."

Kirk held back the good-bye that automatically sprang to mind. He suddenly knew who this man was ... had to be. He would not appreciate "peace" as it was meant in the Vulcan phrase and he was not fated for long living.

So the traveler merely nodded and the Great King and his party left, walking as rapidly as the terrain would allow.

Kirk watched until the group merged into the camp,then turned and walked up the path a ways. He looked back -- the plain below was vivid with lights and the sky above was roofed with incredible, if slightly misplaced stars. The captain dutifully worked the recorder, then looked around once more.

It was his planet; fairer than he had ever seen her. These people were his kind, his ancestors in a way, down there. Then why did he feel so alone and lost?

Kirk was suddenly tired of this home that yet was not his. This place of a legendary man and a wildly beautiful landscape that smelled of some night-blooming plant and moonlight. He turned to face uphill. "I am ready, Guardian, bring me home." And taking several steps, walked into eternity.

* * *

The journey home was a smooth one ... a few seconds of darkness then the sight of the area surrounding the Time Portal. Kirk had assumed that, as was usual, he had been returned only moments after he had departed, but this, he realized as he landed gracefully, obviously had not happened this time around. What seemed like half the crew of the Enterprise was in the general vicinity of the Guardian and from the looks on various faces as they caught sight of him, something had gone wrong.

There was a moment of silence then with a joyous, if muffled roar,most of them began to cluster around him. Later the captain was to discover that there were only 32 crewmembers in the immediate area at the precise moment of his return but it had seemed like more. Everyone was talking at once; in the general commotion all he caught were references to "worried", "gone so long", and "computer malfunction".

Kirk smiled and said "hello" alot and was just getting ready to order some quiet when he finally caught sight of Capilon and McCoy hurrying, coming right for him. The doctor caught sight of his friend, in turn, standing there safe if a bit disheveled and waved in greeting. "Jim", he called, trying to be heard over the uproar, "so you finally came back."

Kirk waved in return and worked his way out of the knot of well-wishers. "Finally? How long have I been gone?"

"Four days," McCoy answered. "And none of us knew where you were or could find you. The Guardian wouldn't tell us." He finally arrived at Kirk's side and there was the usual amount·of back-slapping that occurs between two men who care deeply for each other and don't know how else to show it. "We've been worried. They", Kirk correctly assumed he meant the scientific group, "sent out some search parries but never found a trace of you." Before the captain could regale his friend with the story of his unorthodox trip, McCoy hurried on. "Spock finally got the idea to use ship's computers on the tricorder record of what was going on in the center of the portal when you jumped. But proximity to this planet did something to 'em and nothing much came of it. He's on the Enterprise now, working on repairs." The captain had been wondering where the Vulcan was keeping himself. "I just came down a little while ago myself ... couldn't do anything on the ship. Then all of a sudden that thing said 'The Traveler Returns'," McCoy mimicked the deep tones of the Guardian as well as he could, "and there you were," he finished.

Capilon, who had been waylayed by a clipboard-wielding associate, finally arrived on the scene. Kirk, expecting at least an apology for the trouble he had gone to was greeted with "And where is your cloak?"

Before the stunned traveler could reply, the technician rushed on, speaking as though to a forgetful child. "I told you over add over again-- you are responsible for the equipment that goes with you. I have a budget to meet!"

Kirk, infuriated, interrupted with deceptive meekness. "I understand all that perfectly. But may I ask you a question?" He gave the older man no time to answer but went on, shaking the long hair back from around his face. "What did that idiot want who called out just as I was jumping? I could have broken my neck!" This in a tone that was not meek at all.

While Capilon blustered for a few moments, McCoy was running his medical tricorder over the captain. Except for a few bruises and two badly scraped knees, he found nothing amiss until he scanned his head. The bruise that he had noticed there was more serious than he had first thought.

It looked like the two men with the doctor were preparing for practically mortal comber. Capilon was yelling about "Scientific Integrity" and Kirk kept inserting scathing comments on "Civilians".

"Quiet!" Both combatants broke off and looked at McCoy in surprise. "YOU are beaming up to the ship imnediately, Captian. All this can wait."

"Why? What for ... I feel fine." He did too, and he felt like venting all his feelings of ill-usage on the historian who he had just realized, he had never cared for anyway.

"Well you may feel fine right now but that bruise could be trouble. I'm gonna check you over for a possible concussion." The doctor flipped open his communicator and at its cheerful chirp instructed Sulu, who had the conn, "Two to beam up. Medical Emergency."

"But Bones ..."

"Never mind." He turned to Capilon. "You can question him when I've delcared him medically fit, not before."

The familiar song of the transporter began and drowned out any reply the burly technician might have attempted.

Luckily for all concerned, Kirk's bump on the head turned out to be just that. McCoy assured him the nausea he had felt had been caused by the tough trip; he explained something about the ro1e of the inner ear in such matters, but Kirk wasn't really listening. Reaction had set in and all he wanted to do was sleep.

After receiving assurance that his ship was in good hands and that the computer was being fixed, he convinced the doctor to allow him to go to his own quarters for a nap. Sick Bay always depressed him. So, after having his minor injuries taken care of, his hair cut to its more usual configuration and changing into a uniform, he made his way to the Captain's Quarters. There to fall into a deep sleep, sprawled across the bed, fully clothed.

After three hours Kirk finally awoke ... somewhat refreshed but not very neat. He had showered and put on fresh clothes and now here he sat ... looking at the coin he had brought back tucked inside his belt. Soon the scientists were going to demand a report on his activities. And some museum would claim the lovely thing, would keep it behind a force-field to be looked at by bored school children. An almost mutinous defiance sprang up in him from some hidden depth. It was his, it had been given freely to James Kirk, not to a member of Star Fleet, not to a Starship Captain. He sighed -- already the episode becoming dream-like. He wasn't as sure as he had been at the scene itself. Was the man -- the man on the coin, he was sure -- was he that man?

Realizing suddenly that he knew very little about him, his Greek studies had been of an earlier period, Kirk thought to ask for aid. Not sure of the computer, he pressed the correct button and was comforted to hear the usual metallic female voice. He asked it for all the relevant data on the person in question.

"Work-king," it assured him and in a few moments was ready with the information he desired.

"Begin ... wait." Kirk wasn't sure how much data it would have on the subject. "How long would it take, at normal speed to read out everything you have?"

"Twenty seven hours, thirty-two minutes."

He wasn't that interested. "Prepare a sumnary, then. To last fifteen minutes."

"Work-king." Kirk could almost feel the computer's disappointment. The machinery seemed to become more human every day. Again it told him of its readiness and began ... telling of the subject's birth date. 336 BC Earth-style dating. Parents -- Philip and Olympias. Place -- Macedon. First conquests after father's murder, the Egyptian campaign, then the conquering of the huge Persian Empire which made him the ruler of a great portion of the planet's surface. His inmense armies; his thrust into India and the return to the Mediterranean area and his death in 323 BC.

The captain sighed in disappointment -- sterile facts -- they did nothing to remind him of the vibrant personality ne hid met. "Computer, find some material about him," giving tne name he still found difficult to connect with the slight figure on the hillside, "some material that tells how others saw him."

After a momentary pause the voice resumd its unemotional read-out. The tone bothered Kirk so he changed his mind and told the computer to display the material on the screen. After another delay the words appeared on the proper surface and he began to scan them. "Like Achilles,he traded glory for length of days." ... "To iron men he is iron, but gold towards the golden." The reader stopped. He could take that last to heart. He had spent his visit talking of emotion and visionary ideals to a man who in other situations had caused the death of thousands and had personally killed, murdered even, personal friends that he had later seen as enemies. The man who had become a mgalomaniac by the time of his death ... had been frantic over the delayed return of a friend. He had meant his thoughts of respecting the differences of people -- at long as they were governed by him. Kirk suppressed a shudder ... the thought of what this man, that personality, could do now in his present reality was chilling. If he affected humans now, like he had then ... the Federation would be a minor principality of his in no time.

Another quote caught the captain's eye. "There can be only one sun in the heavens and only one master of Earth." His hillside companion had said that himself. Also ... "It is a lovely thing to live with courage and die leaving an everlasting fame." Well, that he had accomplished at least.

The returned traveler was suddenly depressed. He had liked this famous figure... a lot. He had been kind to a stranger, one whom he would have considered of lower rank. The captain, snug in his starship, couldn't help wondering if his acquaintances had ever thought of him, wondered why he never made another appearance.

But he had been dead for thousands of years ... had been dust centuries before Kirk had ever been thought of. Still -- the sting of grief intruded into his thoughts. "They never tell you about all this when they go on about how much fun time travel is," he informed the disinterested cabin. He found the sound of his own voice strangely comforting. "But," he was struck by a cheerful thought, "he may have conquered the world but he's dead and I'm alive." Then another line on the screen demanded attention -- in an article on the importance of myth. "Like Arthur and Adonais after him ... all of them, they are not dead ... they do but sleep."

Kirk suddenly had an eerie vision of Time ... not as the river to which it had often been compared, but as an almost infinite, mist-shrouded lake. The people living all along the shore, all of them secure in their own times, were equally alive. All at the same time; past, present and future all running together. But they could not easily be seen through the mist. Only the traveler, going from age to age, tearing the mist was insecure. Out of his own proper place and time, he was not truly alive. But everyone who had ever lived or ever would ... they were alive all at the same time. This was true immortality.

"Computer, put on the screen a picture of the person in question."

A longpause then, "No portraits extant. However,some statuary has survived that is said to resemble him closely."

A picture of an ancient statue popped onto the viewer. Kirk related, now at last he was sure. The marble was battered but the tilt of the head, the eyes and something about the expression had come through. It was essentially the same face he had watched the sunset with. Still, there were a few facts he needed to know. "How did he die?"

Again the pause. The computer was definitely not working normally. Then the flat voice gave him the information. "The subject died of pneumonia brought on by a fever of unknown origin."

Kirk wanted to ask if his friend [for he considered him so] had suffered a chest wound shortly before his death, and then, he already knew. So instead, on impulse, "Did he ever burn down, or cause to have burned down, a building or city?"

The pause ... "Several such incidents are recorded. The most famous example being the destruction of Persepolis."

"Well," Kirk thought, "that's that. Now all I have to do is worry about what I'm going to put in my report. Capilon ... " His thoughts trailed off as he considered what he would really like to say to that individual. He stewed for a few minutes then, noticing the computer was still waiting for new questions, decided to turn it off. "Computer ... now wait." One last question. "The subject. Where did he die?"

No pause this time. "In the city known at that time as Babylon."

The captain ordered the machine shut down and lost himself again in thought. "Until we meet at Babylon." The tricks an uncaring universe could play ... "until we meet."

His reverie was broken unexpectedly by the buzz of the intercom. He punched the button and was rewarded by the face of his favorite Vulcan swimming into view. There was an awkward pause; the two men had not met since before Kirk's trip.

"Captain, I am gratified to see you in such evident good health. After hearing about the Medical Emergency beam-up ..."

"Oh, that." Now that he thought about it, McCoy had been stretching things a little. "It wasn't really anything serious; Bones was just being careful."

"That is like the good doctor. However, I am sure the entire crew was pleased by your return." Kirk nodded gratefully ... that was Spock for you. Everyone else just said, "Welcome back."

"I hesitated to call you, Sir," the First Officer. continued. "But some information came in that I might be of interest. However, if you wish a delay ..."

"No. Tell me." Kirk had hoped that the "sirs" wouldn't be so evident by now.

"Yes, Sir, Capilon contacted the ship and wished to speak with you. Dr. McCoy informed him that you would not be available until tomorrow. Was that satisfactory?"

"Yes, fine. What else?"

"I talked to the gentleman myself for a short while and he told me something you might find of interest. The time recorder you used worked properly and they have ascertained that you were on Earth -- in the area known as Asia Minor, sometime between, using the old style dating they prefer, 326 and 321 BC."

"No, it was before 321," Kirk muttered, he thought to himself, but Vulcan ears are sensitive.

"Sir, you have other information?"

"Never mind. How are the computers?"

The two men talked stiffly for a few minutes of matters concerning the ship. Everything war working properly and soon the subject was exhausted, but still no break in the Vulcan's attitude ... they might never have been friends at all.

Finally, "If that is all, Captain?"

"Yes, I guess ... no wait." Kirk stalled for an instant, trying to find a topic to get them talking. "Would you happen to know ... did you hear about how someone called out to me not to jump when I had already started?"

Spock nodded gravely.

"Have you heard why? I asked Capilon, but he wouldn't say. That was the dumbest thing I ever ..."

Miraculously, it seemed that Spock was trying very hard not to smile. "Yes, I did hear something to that effect. It seems that the man in question suddenly came to the conclusion that you should have been wearing your helmet."

Kirk sat in stunned rage for a moment then the irresistible humor of the situation struck him and he roared with laughter. The tricks fate plays ... he glanced at the coin again ... the tricks fate plays.

The Vulcan was apparently enjoying Kirk's reaction. He waited until the laughter subsided then continued. "However, I doubt if the scientists will ever admit as much to you. They were not especially helpful at all in any attempts to discover your whereabouts. They seemed to wish to just wait and let the Guardian return you whenever it would. Not until I started sending down some of our people as helpers did anything begin to be accomplished."

"I had wondered what all those people of ours were doing down there. But isn't it against regulations?"

Spock's calm never deserted him for a moment. "Technically yes, Sir. However, it seemed logical to me that the presence of our people might have a salutary effect on the search for you. I merely asked for volunteers. I am sure I will be able to explain it satisfactorily to Star Fleet if need be."

"But Spock ... you must have known it wouldn't do any good No one knows anything about how the Guardian really works and the more they keep messing with it the more trouble they have. It was a nice gesture and all that, but it couldn't have had any real results. You must have known that."

"Of course, but it seemed necessary to do something even if not precisely logical." Kirk could think of no answer to that. After a pause the Vulcan went on, obviously trying to be casual and failing. "I will be off duty in 17 minutes, Sir, and if you would like to check on the ship's condition yourself I would be available to accompany you ... or if you would prefer a game of chess ..."

Kirk was about to reply that he was still tired and wanted nothing more than to sleep when again the coin glittered up at him. He would never be able to see it without remembering the hillside and what he had learned. "Some things that are damaged can never be completely repaired." It was unlike Spock to suggest something that would bring them together. It was not in him to show the emotion he felt at his friend's safe return. If this overture was rebuffed ... So, "That would be fine, Spock."

"Good." The Vulcan's voice was as calm as ever, but there was joy lurking in it somewhere. "Then shall I meet you in Recreation Room Four?"

"Yes ... no." The coin again. He had to tell someone. "I want to go over some facets of my recent, journey before tomorrow. Need ran. advice." Kirk smiled; he always needed advice. "Why don't you come to my cabin when you're done there and we'll talk?"

"All right, Jim ... in 16 minutes. Spock out." The picture left and Kirk was alone again in his cabin.

He stood up, stretched luxuriously, and paced back and forth a few times loosening stiff muscles. The bruise was smaller, the dizziness gone, his hair was normal ... he was a Starship captain again. Unless he told the story soon, to someone who would understand, it would become nothing more than a vanishing dream.

He sat on the edge of the desk and once more picked up the new/old piece of precious metal. He flipped it into the air and watched it tumble in the light. Catching it neatly , he once more looked at the face. Kirk looked at it while he waited for the other half of himself to arrive. Spock would enjoy the story and he would convince his captain that the coin had to be turned over to the proper authorities. But now, for the next few minutes, it and the memories were all his alone.

He sighed and stared at the face, knowing that the other one in his mind would fade with time ... the artificial barrier between one age and another. "Until we meet at Babylon," Kirk remembered sadly. Then, for the last time that night he addressed the disinterested cabin and the universe at large. "Who knows?" A rhetorical question. "Sometime we may be meeting at Babylon after all."

THE END

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