Chapter 5

 

Eleven months prior...

 

The woman screamed and clutched her child as the party of armed hoxmen thundered into the small village, loosing mayhem as they went.  She turned and ran as fast as she could across the dusty central square, burdened by the two-year-old boy she carried.  She hadn’t gone twenty steps before one of the hoxmen cut her down then galloped on past without looking back, seeking his next target.

The village men rushed to meet the invaders, armed with whatever weapon they could find, and fought furiously.  It was to no avail.  The armored riders countered with sword, lirpa, war axe and mace and, within minutes, the village men lay in slashed and battered heaps, sprawled in spreading emerald pools of their own blood.

Then the looting began.  The warriors dismounted to systematically search through the huts and small houses of the village, stripping them of anything of value — furs, gold jewelry, an occasional sword or dagger that hadn’t been snatched up in time to do its owner any good.  Barns were raided and soon a small herd of hoxa were being driven off toward D’Khahl.  The dead or wounded were stripped of any weapon or thing of worth.

The looting of the women began, too.  Young, strong and beautiful were seized and carried bodily away.  Too old and too young were slaughtered on the spot.  Many others met still another fate.

On one side street, three warriors dragged a screaming, struggling woman from one of the houses.  She fought them like a thing gone wild, refusing to submit.  Finally, one of the warriors backhanded her across the face, the impact of his mail gauntlet knocking her to the ground.  As she lay stunned by the blow and tried feebly to resist, he knelt and ripped her clothing apart, baring her body to their scrutiny, then he fell upon her while the other two held her down.  When he had finished with her, the others took their turns. 

By the time they were done, she was only whimpering in despair, lying limply in their grasp.  The first warrior reached down with one hand to drag her head back by the hair, then quickly and cleanly slit her throat with his knife.  She clutched at the slash and rolled frantically in the dust, then lay still, her blood spreading out in a dark green pool.  The warriors had already mounted their hoxa and ridden away, laughing.

At last the village had been thoroughly ransacked and the vast majority of its inhabitants lay dead or dying in the central square.  Several of the invaders had sobbing women or girls lying across their laps as they reined their hoxa toward home, others gleefully brandishing other booty of the raid.

On the hilltop overlooking the village site, Stefin and S’Von sat astride their hoxa observing the pandemonium.  There had been no burning, for S’Von had given strict orders against it.  He had something special in mind.  As the D’Khahli warriors cleared out of the village, one of them dragged a bloodied and disheveled man behind him, stumbling through the grass at the end of a rope.  When the rider reached their location, he reined in his hox and jerked on the rope so that the man fell forward onto his face.

As the villager struggled up onto his knees, Stefin addressed him coldly.  “What’s your name?”

The man didn’t answer for a minute and that earned him a kick from the warrior’s boot.  When he picked himself up once more, he blinked the blood out of his one good eye, the other swollen shut now, and answered shakily, “My name is Tefik, lord.”

“And what are you to this village?”

“Lord, I am a tanner of hides.  Nothing more.”

“Well, Tefik, tanner of hides, I have a job for you,” Stefin informed him.  The man peered up at him in a puzzled manner.  Stefin explained, “All I want you to do is go to your Lord Holder, Supak, and tell him what you have seen here today.  Tell him of the power of Stefin hei-D’Khahl and the wizard from the stars that has come to make this House great.  Observe.”  And he nodded to S’Von.

The scientist had been sitting silently astride his black mare, his cloak whipping around him on the windy hilltop.  Now, he urged his hox forward and took out from underneath his cloak a device that no one present could comprehend.  It was, in fact, a phaser rifle, assembled from parts that had come out of S’Von’s backpack, and now, as all watched, he brought it up to his shoulder, took aim and fired. 

To the tune of the rifle’s shriek, a searing red beam swept over the thatch roofs of the village and they burst into flame wherever the beam touched.  S’Von played it all across the village and in short order the huts were consumed in a raging fire.  From their depths those who were wounded and been left to die began to scream in hideous, high-pitched voices as the fire devoured them.

The village man watched in shocked horror and began to sob hysterically at the atrocity before him.  No less frightening was the fire device of the wizard, who now rode calmly back to the group, the stock of his rifle propped against his thigh. He looked coldly down at the quivering man and said, “Tell your Holder that we are coming. We will  burn his sons in front of him before we level his stronghold.  Nothing can stand before us.  You tell him this.”

“Put him on a hox,” Stefin ordered and the man was dragged up by two warriors and plopped on one of the shaggy animals that had been captured in the village.  “Now, ride!” 

Barely had the man managed to get a grip on the reins and scrubby mane of his mount before one of the warriors slapped the hox sharply on the haunches and it squealed and bolted away.  They watched as the man rode out of sight.

Stefin turned to S’Von to find the newcomer’s face hard and inscrutable. In truth, Stefin was horrified by the carnage he had observed, but he could not argue with the women, hoxa and treasures that he now had in his possession.  More importantly, this land was now his, added to the holding’s not very substantial acreage.

“And now?” he questioned S’Von.

The other man glanced at him.  “That village fool will begin to spread the word of your mightiness.  We will make more raids like this one and soon your reputation will precede you. When you finally face Supak, he will be so frightened of you, he will be glad to ally with you in exchange for your sparing his lands and people.  We will follow this course of action until we are ready.  And then...”  His caramel-colored eyes hardened with seething hatred.  “And then we march on Seleya and dispose of Ni’ikhirchi arrogance once and for all.”

* * *

Spock was awakened by the simple act of having a boot planted in the middle of his back and being shoved onto his face.  Startled and angry, he rolled over and glared up at the big, broad-shouldered man standing over him, hands on hips.  There were two others present, mounted on hoxa.

Spock started to get up but the big man stopped him by drawing his sword and placing the point in the middle of Spock’s chest.  “Who are you?” the man demanded.  “And why are you using our water without permission?”

“My name is Spock,” the science officer replied, pragmatic enough not to argue with a person holding him at sword-point.  “And I didn’t know this was your water.”

“You should have asked now, shouldn’t you?”

Sai, that is not logical.  How could I ask—

“Shut up,” the man suggested unpleasantly, prodding the sword point a bit, then he backed off and motioned with the weapon.  Spock got to his feet and stood facing the other Vulcan.  “Now, what’s your business here?”

Sai, I am a traveler from a distant land and I am on my way to Seleya.  I am seeking the House of Ni’ikhirch.”

The other man raised an eyebrow.  “Indeed?  Why?”

Spock suddenly felt the need to be wary and exhibit a bit of strength himself.  “I believe that is my business, sai.  You have not stated who you are, after all.”  Pointedly, he let his hand rest on the hilt of his sword and kept his gaze steady on the warrior’s eyes.  “I wish you no trouble, only to go on my way.”

The big warrior looked around at his companions.  “Only to go on his way, huh?  I think this one needs an escort, don’t you, Stahl?”

One of the men on hoxback, who had been watching the exchange with interest, gave a lop-sided, rather nasty grin.  “Well, we can’t have strangers galloping freely about the Lord’s lands now, can we, Temek?  He might be a spy, after all.  Although if this is the best that D’Khahli bastard can do, then we have nothing to worry about.”

Temek gave a harsh laugh and turned back to Spock.  “Saddle your hox and be quick about it.  The sun is already well above Llangon.”

Spock didn’t move for a few seconds, then tightened his grip on the sword hilt. 

The warrior called Stahl sighed in an elaborately bored manner and looked away, as if Spock’s implied threat were too insignificant to notice.  “Don’t waste our time with a pathetic show of bravura.  Just get your beast saddled and let’s get going.”

Glancing at the other two warriors, Spock gave up and followed orders.  It would have been highly illogical to resist when out-numbered three to one.  As he went to where his hox waited, he found Brax with his ears laid back and nostrils flared.  A feeling of cold hatred swept over him and, for a moment, he hesitated, thinking it was directed at him.  Then Spock realized that the hox was staring icily at the other men.  He patted the animal on the neck in reassurance and tossed the saddle blanket up over the broad back.

* * *

Jim Kirk dug the heels of his hands into his tired eyes and rubbed them.  Then, stretching to get the kinks out of his back and shoulders, he resumed his scrutiny of the computer screen in front of him.  He’d been at this for hours now, along with the two Vulcan historians working with him.  They didn’t seem fatigued at all, but then he wasn’t surprised by their quiet stamina.  He’d seen it often enough in Spock.

After his conversation with Admiral Komack, Kirk had placed a priority one call to the Vulcan High Council and, after going through various diplomatic levels, had ultimately ended up with what could best be described as the Undersecretary of Extraplanetary Affairs, a dour-looking middle-aged woman who stared silently back at him while he explained the situation.  As Kirk got deeper into his explanation, her expression became more and more disapproving and impatient.  It was not an expression he’d ever expected to see on a Vulcan, but he almost expected her to begin drumming her fingers on her desk at any point.

Finally, she seemed to realize how much irritation she was showing, for she blinked as if to reset her features into that of diplomatic neutrality.  “What you describe is indeed most grave, Captain Kirk,” she announced. “I confess that I do not recognize the name of the person you seem to have lost here — Spock, is it? — but if your other man, this Dr. S’Von, is D’Khahli, then of course we must respond.  The Emperor would be most distressed to find a member of his family missing.”

Emperor? echoed Kirk mentally, trying to contain his surprise and foreboding, but he said nothing.

“We will dispatch a team to your aid at once,” the Vulcan woman informed him.  “You can expect our ship to arrive within the next day or so.”  And the screen went abruptly blank.

Kirk’s headache increased.  Everything was wrong here.  Vulcan ruled by an Emperor?  How could that be?  They were one of the most universally democratic races in the Federation, with over 90% of the planetary population participating in voting and decision-making.  The High Council oversaw the top level of government, but most of the Council seats changed owners on a regular basis as citizens carried out their duty to serve the Vulcan people as a whole.

The emotional control, logic and precision that came as naturally as breathing for Vulcans was missing here as well.  And the fact that no one seemed to have any knowledge of Spock or his family caused the Captain’s gut to twist into a veritable knot.  Although Spock would never do anything as gauche and dishonorable as mentioning the vast wealth of his clan, the fact of the matter was that his family held power and prestige that reached far beyond the confines of Vulcan and out into the heart of the Federation itself.  Sarek, his father, held a permanent seat on the Federation Council as Vulcan’s ambassador and was one of its most forceful and outspoken members.

Now Kirk wondered if that had changed, as well.  He made a note to check on the whereabouts — or even the existence — of Sarek of Vulcan, Ambassador Plenipotentiary.

While they were waiting for the Vulcan scientists to arrive, Kirk had gone back out with Dr. Amy Dean, head of the archaeology team assigned to study the Guardian of Forever.  The Federation scientist and starship officer had returned to the portal, where the enigmatic being had obligingly replayed the section of history into which Spock and S’Von had vanished.  This was recorded into a specially designed tricorder.  Taking the recording back to the science research station, they had fed it into the library computer’s databanks and slowed it down for analysis.

Kirk had briefly considered returning to the Enterprise, then quickly vetoed that idea.  Gateway seemed to exist in a protective “bubble”, immune from whatever time changes might be generated.  If they had returned to the ship, time could change around them and they’d never realize it.  This way they were insulated from that threat and would be in a better position to analyze any potential changes that Spock or S’Von might have caused in the past.

Later that day, the Vulcan science ship Kahs’Khiori had streaked out of warp like its namesake, a shooting star, and swung into orbit behind the big Federation starship. Shortly thereafter, the two historians, T’Lon and her assistant, Sekht, plus two computer analysts, beamed down to the research station.  Kirk and Dr. Dean were in the transporter room to meet them.

Kirk was momentarily shocked to see that the Vulcans were wearing what he assumed — hoped — were ceremonial daggers.  A deeply peaceful people, those outside of military or law enforcement service simply did not go around armed.  In fact, outside of Spock, he didn’t think he’d ever seen a Vulcan casually wear a weapon at any time.  He damped down his surprise and turned his attention to the greetings.

“Welcome, Dr. T’Lon,” the lead archaeologist greeted them.  “It’s good to see you again.”  She nodded courteously to the other team members.  “This is Captain James Kirk of the starship Enterprise.  He witnessed the accident and will be assisting us in the search for Commander Spock and Dr. S’Von.”

“Peace and long life, my friend, and to you, Captain,” the Vulcan responded, lifting her hand in salute.  “We come to serve.”

“Vulcan honors us with your service,” Kirk answered, returning the salute a bit stiffly.

T’Lon acknowledged him then addressed Dean.  “Where may we set up?”

“We have the recordings from the Guardian ready for you in the main briefing room.  I didn’t realize there would be four of you coming.”

T’Lon glanced briefly at her companions.  “Historians Salek and Tokohl are here to compare your databanks with ours.  We hope in this way to discover any changes that may have occurred in the timeline.”

Ahh,” Dr. Dean replied.  “In that case, if you’ll come with me, I’ll have our technicians meet us and work with these gentlemen on that project.” 

The scientist and starship captain led the Vulcan team from the transporter room and to the main conference center.  More of Dean’s people were waiting and took charge of the Vulcan technicians.  T’Lon and Sekht set promptly to work reviewing and replaying the Guardian’s timeview and whittling down the areas they wanted to search.  To actually watch history being played out before their eyes drew frequent, reverent comments of “Fascinating!” and what sounded suspiciously like arguments between the two in Vulcan.

Feeling personally responsible for his first officer’s recovery, Kirk joined them in the search, hoping against hope that some miracle would occur and they would track down the two missing men quickly.  But the hours dragged on and they were no closer, it seemed, than when they first started.

Two days had now passed and they had been meticulously inspecting every face in every scene of the recording for Spock and/or S’Von.  They had narrowed the search pattern down to the fifty years or so immediately prior to the point where the Guardian ended its playback, reasoning that the stream of history stopped upon Spock and S’Von passage through the portal.  From this point, the computer was able to narrow the search down somewhat by comparing the features of the two missing men against all those that appeared on the recording and eliminating obvious mismatches.  But they were going through years of history from all over the planet.  They had absolutely no idea when or where the two could be.  It was like trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Kirk had known Spock for years and felt that he was as familiar with his first officer’s face as with his own.  He was certain that he could pick Spock out of any crowd of Vulcans one cared to gather.  Now he wasn’t so sure.  After the tenth or so time of thinking he’d found him, only to be proved wrong, the faces in the crowds were beginning to blur together.  He’d never realized how much Vulcans resembled each other.

Well, not to other Vulcans, he was sure.  That was one of the reasons the Vulcan historians were conducting the search.  To them, it had been obvious that the faces Kirk had pinpointed did not belong to Spock or S’Von.  Their faces were as readily identifiable to other Vulcans as Kirk’s was to other humans.  And, with a start, the captain realized something else — that to most Vulcans, all humans looked alike, too.  Considerably humbled, Kirk vowed to be more diligent in his searching.

He took a sip from his coffee cup and grimaced.  Stone cold.  It was past time for a break, he decided, as well as a meal.  He stood up, his back protesting its long hours bent to the viewing screen, and asked, “Excuse me, doctors, but I must check in with my ship.  Then would you care to join me for a meal?”

“Thank you, Captain Kirk, but we do not require nourishment at this time,” T’Lon responded with just a hint of annoyance. “There is too much material to analyze yet and it would be illogical to waste time in recreational dining.”

For a split second, Kirk had to stop himself from reacting with the same how did I know you were going to say that? expression he would have automatically given his second in command. But these Vulcans would likely be offended by it, so he merely afforded them an acknowledging nod.  “Of course, Dr. T’Lon,” he answered.  “You’re completely right.  If you’ll pardon me for a moment, I’ll just check in and then I hope you won’t mind if I order a sandwich for myself.”  He smiled. “Illogical or not, I’m hungry!”

“Please do, Captain,” T’Lon replied.  “Dr. Sekht and I will eat at the appropriate time.”

“Indeed, Captain,” Sekht added.  “But we prefer to continue our analysis for the moment.”

Kirk nodded again and carried his cold coffee over to the refreshments counter and poured it down the sink.  Punching the intercom button, he called the bridge.  Lt. Palmer answered, which surprised him for a minute.  It must be second shift already if Uhura were off-duty.  “Anything to report, lieutenant?”

“No, sir.  Everything is quiet.  Completely routine.”

“Well, that’s something to be thankful for, at least,” Kirk sighed.  “Would you call my yeoman and have her bring me down a turkey sandwich — no, better make it a non-meat something or other.  Don’t want to offend our guests.  Um, make it Calasian cheese and sprouts.  And have her bring me a fresh carafe of coffee and something for our visitors.  Hot hiralin tea, I think, and something for them to snack on.  What’s that stuff that Vulcans like so much...?  Oh, just have her check the menu selections in the library computer. Looks like we’ll be here for an indefinite time.”

Kirk had been having food sent down from the Enterprise out of courtesy to the scientific team at the research station.  They weren’t prepared to have a large group descend on them and “eat them out of house and home”, as it were. 

“Aye, sir.  Yeoman Banks should be there shortly with your order.”

“Thanks.  Kirk out.”  Switching to another intercom channel, the captain called Dr. Dean and spoke to her regarding the progress of the databank search.  She had been working closely with the other two Vulcan historians who were comparing the research station’s timeline of historical events with that from the Vulcan Science Academy.

“So far, so good, Captain,” she reported.  “It’s taking a very long time to trace down events.  They’ve found minor fluctuations, but so far, nothing that shows a long-term effect on history.”

“Keep your fingers crossed, Amy.  There’s a bare possibility that Spock and S’Von are part of established history and were meant to be where they are.”

“Knock wood, say a prayer, and rub any lucky charms you might have, Jim!  But my hopes aren’t very high in that respect.”

“Mine, neither.  Well, keep me posted.  Kirk out.”       

The captain turned back to the briefing table and resumed his seat before one of the tabletop viewing screens.   He studied the frozen image on the screen, then gave another sigh of fatigue. “Grid 14, enhance and magnify,” he ordered, peering closely at a blurred face far in the background of a hand-to-hand battle taking place somewhere, sometime in Vulcan history.