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) 1980 by Cheryl Rice. Rated PG13. Originally published in Alpha Continuum #4, 1980
Even after all these years, the knife still retained its aura of malignant beauty. The man looked at it sadly as it lay glittering softly on the desk-top. A "personal memento" she had called it. Elaan the beautiful, the treacherous.
He picked up the dainty weapon. It seemed impossible that something so exquisite should be so deadly. But then the woman had been like that too. Funny, he could remember the love, the pure animal lust he had felt for her, but it was memory only. As if the entire affair had happened to someone else.
He sighed wearily and ran his fingers through already tousled hair. The news should not have upset him so deeply. He hadn't seen or talked to her since the day she had transported from the ship to Troyius ... the two of them bound by ties of duty and obligation. She was no more than a passenger who had once graced his ship with her presence. A name in a file.
He put the knife down carefully and tried to decide what to do next. It was no use attempting to sleep. He had already failed at that task. He could do some reading, but brightening the lights might wake the sleeper in the bed on the other side of the grill behind him. He smiled a little grimly, nothing like his usual infectious grin. Nice someone could get some rest.
What else? He could get dressed and go up to the bridge, but then everyone would wonder what was wrong. Technically, of course, he could go there any time he pleased, but the crew would think there were something amiss if he visited too often in the middle of the night. He glanced at the wall chronometer and sighed ... not even the middle yet. He couldn't have been asleep more than an hour before something had awakened him. It was going to be a long night.
He leaned back in his chair and again tried to convince himself that the news that had arrived the day before had no special meaning for him. Just the flat announcement that the wife of the ruler of Troyius had died in childbirth and would be interred on her adopted planet. She was survived by eleven children and would be mourned, etc.
He shivered a bit and once again thanked whoever was responsible for such things that he had been born male. Eleven children ... and by a man she had despised. Or at least she had before they were married. She might have learned to be fond of him. The marriage had obviously succeeded in at least one way. But a more non-maternal woman he could not imagine. If she had used the tear-trick on her mate, she would have despised him as a victim and if she hadn't he, no doubt, would have despised her as a vicious shrew. But a lovely one. The man remembered almost wistfully the delicate curve of her waist and the entrancing pout of her lips. So all that was gone to dust ... what a waste.
"Snap out of it," he mentally ordered himself. "Getting maudlin's no help. It's unfortunate, but these things happen. Wasn't your fault."
But somehow, he reminded the more logical part of his nature, any woman he was around seemed fated to end up badly. Not that it was his fault of course, but still ... it was as if some Fate with a nasty sense of humor had placed more females than he cared to remember in his path only to be knocked down.
It was more coincidence, of course, but unfortunate for all concerned. For all. He had not emerged totally unscathed either. His heart had been broken...
"Nonsense, Jim. As long as your ship is whole, so is your heart." The voice, cool with its trace of an English accent, came from the shadows to his left. For a moment the man was unsure if it were his own thoughts he had heard, but then the familiar figure detached itself from the clinging dark and strolled into the pool of light that spread about the desk.
"Hello Edith--" he paused while she waved a gloved hand in casual greeting and then settled gracefully into the chair across from him. "But what do you know about my heart? It's been so long..."
"Not very. It's only yesterday to you since you let me die. Not," she continued, as he tried to interrupt, "that I blame you. It was a fairly clear-cut choice, especially to someone with your sense of duty. The world may be well lost for love in poetry, but not whole universes in real life. You've blamed yourself for much too long, you know."
The man nodded cautiously, trying to keep his attention focused on the undamaged half of her face. Being run over by a truck never improved anyone's appearance ... even someone as lovely as she had been. He had a feeling that her sudden presence should be terrifying him but it seemed somehow natural ... as if it had all happened before. "You're being very reasonable about this." He couldn't keep an edge of wry humor out of his voice.
"Well, that's the way I always was ... am. A dreamer, but practical. Since I was meant to die anyway, it all seems not to matter. Besides you really did care for me. I wasn't one of your passing fancies. Not that there was ever a chance to let it pass. You'll grieve for me all the days of your life, see me in your dreams ... in every other woman. I have no complaints."
While the man thought that one over, the woman's gaze swept over the small cabin, finally coming to rest on the jeweled knife. "Oh, you still have that? Poor Elaan. Now that you can't blame yourself for."
The man was shocked by her apparent mind-reading. 'I wasn't ... well, if I hadn't forced her to marry..."
"Nonsense," Edith's voice was clipped. "Her duty was clear and so was yours. Peace for two planets was more important certainly than the feelings of two people. She was a scheming spoiled bitch, too. You'd have seen her for the brat she was if you hadn't been drugged by her tears."
"But it's sad ... for her to die so young."
"She died having her third litter. She simply wasn't built for childbearing. If you believe in such things, Fate never meant her for a long life."
"I was thinking about Fate right before you -- er -- came in."
"I know." She smiled absently as she slowly pulled off her gloves, finger by finger. "I know everything."
"Really?" He did smile then at her naive claim of omniscience. "Even Spock's never known everything."
"Well, Spock isn't dead. I am. I have so much more free time."
"Oh." He could practically feel the alarm bells going off in the back of his head somewhere. But he couldn't seem to concentrate. He shivered again, although he noticed belatedly that he was wearing his usual uniform and the velour shirt was usually enough to keep him warm. It didn't seem likely that he would have gone to bed in uniform, especially when he wasn't alone, but somehow he couldn't remember putting it on. He set the problem aside to be pondered later; right now he was cold. "Excuse me for a moment." He made as to rise, intending to go adjust the cabin's temperature control set in the panel by the doorway to the corridor.
"Never mind, my husband." Yet another feminine figure emerged from shadow. "I will move the lever ... so ... now you will be comfortable." She moved into the light smiling shyly at the man and more freely at the other woman.
"Hello. I didn't know if you would visit tonight or not," Edith remarked casually. "But I thought you might, since he's thinking about children."
The newcomer sat down gingerly on the edge of the desk. "Yes, he'd have forgotten me long ago if not for the child. With you it is love. With me, guilt."
The man, feeling as if he were rapidly losing control of the conversation, finally got a word in. "I would not have forgotten you, Miramanee. And it isn't fair for you to say that. We were man and wife ... the only time in my entire life that I've been married. And I have nothing to be guilty about ... your own people stoned you -- us! I tried to protect--"
"That is true," the Indian woman admitted softly. "But it always seemed a bit peculiar to me that his doctor friend could do nothing for me or the child." She was addressing Edith, who listened with evident interest. "Not long before, his Vulcan friend's brain had been replaced surgically, but they did not even try to do anything for me. Let me bleed to death ... and the child."
"Could nothing have been done for the baby ... even if you...?" Edith's voice was deeply sympathetic.
"Again, they didn't try. But I think not. Their science is not advanced enough yet to bring a child to term with machinery and none of the women on this ship would be the kind to make a good host-mother. And I doubt if my husband would have approved."
"Would you, Jim?" Edith asked the question suddenly, interrupting the thoughts chasing themselves through the man's mind.
"Would I what?" he snapped as his thoughts lost their way again. She repeated the question.
"No ... I don't think..." He stumbled to a halt, never having given the idea any thought before. He was suddenly embarrassed, and Miramanee tried to put him at ease.
"Do not distress yourself, Kirok. It was all probably for the best. We were happy for several moon changes but it could not have lasted. You were not yourself then ... you did not even know your own name. I lost you when you regained your memory ... even if I had not died, I would never have fit into your life. You would have been kind ... that is your way ... but you would have left me. This," she threw back the raven hair tumbled around her neck and gestured around the room, "is your wife, your ship. You made your choice and you must live with it. If others have been hurt by your primary devotion, that is to be regretted. But you must not feel guilty."
"It won't work, dear," Edith advised her seriously, "it's part of his basic personality. He is the type who feels guilt over things he shouldn't. He goes ahead and does what he has to, but then it eats him up inside." She reached out and patted the Indian's bare knee. "I've tried to help. I even did when I was alive and didn't know who he was, but none of it did much good. Actually I think it's part of what makes him such an effective leader. This crew will follow even the most unpleasant orders willingly because they can tell that he doesn't like it any more than they do."
"Yes, I see. It's sort of like what Elizabeth Dehner said... 'Compassion and command are a fool's mixture' though they can be very effective in the right hands."
"She didn't say that," the man interjected, "it was Gary."
"Yes, you're right." Miramanee gave her agreement and then turned her attention back to the other woman. "I wonder why he is never bothered by the men he's killed or destroyed one way or another."
"There's a streak of chivalry in him. He figures men can take care of themselves, but women are 'weak'. Goes back to his childhood and his mother." Edith broke off and looked out of the corner of her good eye at the man who was playing with the knife again. "But I'll tell you all about that some other time."
"Were there all that many he has to feel guilty about? He's still young..."
"He had an early start. There's that Ruth. She was an older woman and seduced him. It wasn't his fault she fell in love. Then there's, oh, for example, Areel Shaw."
"Is she dead?"
"No, as a matter of fact she quit Star Fleet and has a private practice and is becoming quite wealthy. But she never married and he believes she still pines for him. He did lead her on a bit. And there's Elaan, even though she asked for everything she got. And Deela... He liked her admiration. ... and Miri, and that woman of Mudd's who he encouraged to marry the miner who butchered her in her sleep, and the blond yeoman he used to have." Edith carefully, carefully ticked off each name on her fingers as she mentioned them.
"Funny he doesn't worry about the head nurse and the communications expert. He's around them most of all."
"Well, he's fond of Christine, but he thinks of her as Spock's problem -- and that she sort of asks for her hurt feelings, chasing a man who isn't interested. And as for Uhura ... she's about the only person on the ship with as strong a personality as his. He's always gone for the vulnerable kind of woman, so she isn't his type at all."
"Now wait a minute!" The man finally came to life. "I wish you would stop this psychoanalyzing and talking about me as if I weren't here." He suddenly remembered why things were wrong. "This is my personal cabin and you did not ask permission to come barging in here and I want you to leave." He stood up and motioned towards the door.
"We never ask, Jim." Edith was obviously not impressed by his command voice and manner. "We come because you want us. All of us."
"All?" He noticed that other shadow-figures were walking toward him from the left. Soon he would be surrounded. "Edith..." There was a trace of pleading in his voice. "It's late and this isn't doing anybody any good. Have some pity."
"I would, but you won't." She stood up and faced him across the desk, then began to walk through it. "But we forgive you -- or would if there was anything to forgive. You've always done what you had to do."
"Yes I have!" He was suddenly both furious and frightened. "I have my ship. I have her and myself. I'm all right. I don't need you, any of you." He turned to the other phantoms. "Go away, leave me alone!"
They obligingly began to fade and he looked back at Edith who was now standing directly in front of him. Instinctively he stepped back.
"I'll leave, Jim, since you want it. And we'll see what you have left."
She faded slowly, with a certain grace. Just as he was beginning to relax, his feelings changed to terror. The floor beneath his feet began to dissolve, as did the walls, and the ceiling over his head seemed to turn to clear glass.
The stars blazed fiercely around him as he started to fall. Faster and faster. He tried to call out but there was no air. Faster and faster. His heart beat. His body fell and swirled sickeningly. Faster.
... he had heard a person could die from sheer fright but he had never believed it until now. He thought his lungs, his heart would burst.
Then, just when things could get no worse, they did. The stars began to go out. Not like electric globes, but like candles snuffed out by a raging wind.
And still he fell ... lost and alone. With no company but his thoughts and his fears. Time past, time passing, time wasted. Facing a starless future.
* * *
Jim Kirk awoke, safe and secure in his own bed, with a start. For a moment he lay in the dark listening to the thud of his heart and trying to remember what had awakened him.
"Must have been a beaut," he mused, trying to relax. The dream, if that was what it had been, had faded. All he could remember was people who shouldn't have been there and something about the stars going out. Crazy stuff.
The Captain shook his head... must have been something he'd eaten. Everything was all right now. His heartbeat was gradually easing. Time to go back to sleep. Ship-morning would be coming soon and it wouldn't do for him to be tired because a bad dream had kept him up like a child afraid of the dark. He was not afraid of the dark ... but he wasn't sleepy either.
However, he was uncomfortably warm -- maybe that was part of the problem. Kirk disentangled himself from the bedding and walked over to the temperature control panel near the door. For same reason it was set too high. He readjusted the controls to a more comfortable level and, wide awake now, padded barefoot over to his desk.
The dim light he always left on showed him the usual landscape of the office portion of his quarters. He sat down in the chair behind the desk and absently drummed his fingers on the top. He checked the time ... middle of the night-watch ... far too early to get up. No books to read -- nothing to do. He leaned back in the chair and stretched lazily. Still too warm. Even though he was dressed only in pajama bottoms the room was uncomfortably warm ... almost smothering.
A fragment of the dream returned ... stars going out. As rebuttal he turned on the intercom screen to show the view from the main screen on the bridge. The usual, reassuring starfield spread out before him. Things were obviously going along normally as the Enterprise cruised on its way to ... where were they going?
Kirk's mind halted for a moment. Of course he knew their current destination. He always knew ... somehow it had just slipped his mind.
He rubbed his forehead trying to remember, then noticed the knife on the shelf behind him. The Captain picked up the dainty weapon. He had had trouble believing the news they had received the day before. So Elaan was dead. So sad. But she had only been a passenger -- no reason for him to feel guilty.
"Put the knife down slowly, Captain. I know how to use this."
Kirk's head turned so quickly it was a miracle it didn't snap off. Too astounded to be afraid, he suddenly found himself looking down the barrel of an old-style phaser being held by a wild-eyed blonde. "Now, what the-- What are you doing here? Give me that."
"Not so fast." The girl's aim shifted from his head to his chest and he settled back in his chair. "You thought you'd gotten rid of me ... us, didn't you? But not yet, not yet." Her voice was soft, almost crooning.
Kirk's thoughts raced frantically. He had no idea what was going on, but the last time he had seen this figure she had been intent on murder ... his. It seemed her ambition had not changed much in the interim.
"Why would I want to be rid of you? We were such good friends." His voice fairly dripped sweet reasonableness. If he could only distract her for a moment and make a grab for the weapon.
"Such friends!" Her tone was pure contempt. "You used me to try and trap my father Caesar." She tossed the long hair out of her eyes. "But you failed and so did the others. I will always protect him." Her blue-green eyes became vague and her voice shivery. "You'll pay, Captain." She made the title a deadly insult. "You'll pay. All your power won't save you. But in remembrance of how much you enjoyed my acting, or said you did, I will dedicate a poem to you before I use the phaser."
The girl struck a tragic pose, but still kept an eye on the man before her. "This would seem to fit your circumstances very nicely somehow...
"He lay him lightly, lightly down
between the dark and morrow.
He took him lightly, lightly up
but he was dead with sorrow."
"You'd have done better to stick with Shakespeare, Lenore." A figure came from the shadows as the girl whirled in surprise. In one swift motion, the newcomer snatched away the phaser and pushed its previous owner into a nearby chair. "Hello, Jim. You should be more careful."
Kirk was somehow not surprised that his savior was -- or appeared to be, he amended hastily -- Edith Keeler. She had always wanted to help. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
"That isn't very polite, Jim. You could at least say thank you."
While he automatically murmured his appreciation, the woman-figure laid the gun on the desk and walked over to check on the girl. "That's better. Jim, you'll need more chairs; there may be quite a crowd."
Kirk stared at her in amazement, for once in his life momentarily speechless. Who was this person? It was all crazy. If he hadn't been convinced that he was fully awake, he would have surreptitiously pinched himself to be sure. But this was real. The cabin was as familiar to him as his own face ... the books and plants on the shelf behind him, the solid feel of the chair, the quiet hiss of the air intake. This was his home, his ship. But who was this person, this thing with him? Oh, it looked like Edith ... even sounded like her. But he had left the real one dead on a street hundreds of years in the past.
"Look, I don't know who you are or what you think you're doing in my cabin, but I want answers and I want them now."
"Always in charge, aren't you, Jim?" Edith gazed at him fondly ... with the eye that had emerged from the accident in working order. "And each time you react to me differently. Sometimes I wish you could remember."
"Enough of this double-talk." Kirk stood up, furious. "Who are you two?"
"You tell me." The woman's voice was as hard as his. "We are what we appear to be. Don't you know her?" She motioned with a gloved hand towards the girl.
Kirk walked over to get a closer look. It was, or seemed to be, Lenore Karidian, all right. Dressed exactly as she had been the last time he had seen her. A pretty figure of disheveled femininity, all ribbons and flowers, dainty braids and flowing skirts. He tipped her face up gently; the eyes were glazed, the pupils pinpoints, and she was muttering what sounded like poetry. Something told him she was irredeemably mad.
The dark woman behind him offered, "She was destroyed when she was twelve and found that the father she worshipped had once been a mass murderer. The only way she could live with the knowledge was to blame everyone else. It was not your fault."
The Captain stroked the gleaming hair. "But she thought I just led her on to get to her father."
For the first time in years he considered the matter carefully. "Yes, in part. But I did care."
"Good. You have to be more honest with yourself--"
"Wait a minute!" His thoughts returned to the present. "This is some sort of trick. If you don't tell me what's going on I'm going to call Security."
"Call them." Edith was completely indifferent.
Kirk reached over and punched the intercom. It was dead. Totally. "All right, you've rigged that somehow. I'm going for help."
"If you must." The woman seemed intent on straightening the folds of her cape. "But you'll be sorry."
"I'll be..." He stormed across the room, waiting to see if she would make any more to stop him. She did not.
Sparing a quick thought that it wasn't good for Command image to be parading the corridors in his pajamas, he stepped up to the door. It opened promptly and he stepped ... into absolute nothingness.
No comforting familiar corridor. No people. Not even an alien scene. Nothing.
For a terrifying moment that lasted a millisecond or a millenium he was confronted by what could not be. He could almost feel his sanity losing its moorings and oozing away.
There was nothing out there ... no light, but no dark. No quiet, no sound. But out of the corner of his eye there lurked colors that sang and sounds that cavorted like imaginary animals. For the first time he understood how the sight of a Medusan could cause madness. The brain can only accept so much.
Then somehow the doors swished shut and he was safely back home in his own quarters. For a moment he leaned against the blessed solidity of the wall and tried to forget. But when he closed his eyes all he could see was what lay outside.
Kirk finally opened them wearily to see Edith standing before him radiating sympathy. "Now you see. I told you, but you never listen."
He nodded dumbly, far beyond fear. A part of him was not surprised to see that he was now in uniform. "What do you want of me?" By a supreme effort of will, he kept all trace of a wail from his voice.
"For you to really listen. To really believe that you are not responsible for everything bad that happens to the women around you."
He walked stiffly away from the door, noting without surprise that there was a figure asleep in the bed ... another James T. Kirk.
However, Lenore was gone. He looked a question at Edith, who appeared to understand with no difficulty. "For the moment at least, you are at peace with yourself over her."
Kirk then noticed the phaser still on the desk. "I suppose this is some kind of trick too." He turned the controls to stun and aimed at the Edith-figure.
She was fumbling with something in her purse. "See, if you must."
He fired ... to no effect ... then frowned and set it on a higher level. The man aimed casually at a chair, which promptly glowed and vanished.
Kirk put the weapon down and faced his visitor calmly. "I'm really in for it, aren't I?" Whatever she was ... alien illusion, figment of a diseased imagination, some sort of test, or the real Edith, she was here and she was in charge.
Edith, whatever the truth, smiled sadly ... the undamaged half of her face angelic. "Yes, I am afraid that until you can learn to accept things as they are."
"I can accept anything." Then he added to himself, "except the loss of the Enterprise."
She smiled again and handed him a small mirror from her purse. "One thing at a time, Jim. Right now you might like to tidy up a little ... there's blood."
Kirk took the proffered mirror and looked at his familiar face. Beads of sweat hung on his forehead like seed pearls and his upper lip was cut on the inside and the blood was staining his teeth. He had to think for a moment how he had injured himself. Then he realized that he had pressed his face so hard against the door on his return from the horrors outside that he had actually broken the skin, quickly he wiped away the blood and sweat, pulled his uniform straight and gave the mirror back to the woman. "Better now?"
She reached out a hand to smooth back a lock of hair and he managed not to flinch. Whatever this apparition was ... she meant him no harm. And this close, he could almost relax for a moment and believe it was the true Edith brought back to him, somehow. The light blue hat was the same, the voice, the expression ... only now the lovely wide eyes were like dark wounds on her ravaged face and he had done that ... even though he would have given his soul not to have been forced into the action.
She moved away. "Are you ready for more visitors?" At his nod of agreement she motioned and again figures began to slip in from the dark. Miramanee ... a vision in skins, Losira ... sad-faced beauty. His mother ... she had never wanted him or Sam to go into space and she blamed him for his brother's death.
Kirk sighed and looked at the chronometer. It was exactly one second later than the last time he had checked ... a lifetime ago, it seemed.
And still they came. But this time around he didn't let himself be forced into a corner. This time the ghosts would be defeated. Or, he knew, that Kirk on the bed would wake up in his turn to find a cool room with a chair missing.
The cabin was full now, but they seemed to be waiting.
Kirk turned to the rear and saw the outlines of a latecomer. He remembered how she had killed herself and his stomach turned as he anticipated what horror he was about to see.
Looking into the sad/mad eyes of Janice Lester, he realized what an awfully long night this was going to be.