DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Katy Wilson and is copyright (c) 1977 by Katy Wilson. Originally printed in Tal-Shaya #5, 1977.
The Sirens Sing for Ulysses
The bridge was tense, still. There was no rustling, no breathing -- even the strident, bob-o-link voices of the instruments seemed hushed, and in the abnormal stillness, Kirk imagined he could even hear the Talkan's wing feathers quiver as the alien stood behind him, having come out of its self-imposed exile to see what they had found in the Dark.
Kirk shook his head mentally, a little irritably. Ridiculous! The Dark was a chunk of space, largely unexplored, but nothing more or less than that. There was nothing to warrant the wild stories that old spacers told about it, unless one blamed it on well-aged wine (so what about the Tunna? his other self reminded him -- what happened to the liner Sara? so that "they never came out no more, no more/from the Dark...").
In visual range," Chekov said, louder than necessary. "Magnification on ... now."
On the screen, a pinpoint of light shivered, leaped at them, transformed in mid-lunge to a spaceship. Or what had once been a ship; the hulk that lay before them consisted of mere tatters of hull metal hung on bony, gaping framework, through which the stars shone pitilessly.
"It's certainly not the Darwin," Spock pronounced cooly, and at that time the bridge relaxed -- there was still hope. "Usual procedure, Captain?"
"Right," Kirk said absently. They would orbit it once slowly, when they came in range, to run a full sensor program on it for the salvage team and then head back on their original course.
From his corner, Scott tsk-tsked and shook his head.
"It must have run into one hell of a meteor shower, from the look of it! It's positively shredded -- and her crew was too, most probably."
Or something ran into it, Kirk thought. He had an impulse to turn and ask the Talkan, rather sarcastically it must be admitted, as to whether he could see the work of an anamphis in this -- did they kill it, or did they only stalk it, leaving the actual fatal blow to the merelith? And how many wyverns would a ship this size actually feed, so they would know in advance how many satisfied wyverns were at this moment sleeping off their meal?
Kirk restrained himself -- it was neither the time or place, and at any rate, the alien would merely stare at him politely, out of its mummy-like face, and even worse, answer his questions seriously. And Kirk didn't want to know the answers -- not yet.
"Coming into orbit," Chekov said.
* * *
"Well, that's one point in its favor," said McCoy, dropping into a seat opposite Kirk's in the nearly deserted rec room. "In case you're interested, I just saw Scotty, and he said that ship's been identified as the F-freighter Hop To It, which tried to make a smuggling run through the Dark at top speed with a faulty reactor. So -- Mythor Farrin can find a two month old wreck, but can he find the hopefully still extant Darwin?"
"I have the feeling," Kirk said slowly, "that what you really mean is that you think I'm slightly crazy for letting Mythor Farrin tell us where to look -- by intuition, you call it -- when everybody else is hunting her with electronic bloodhounds. Correct?"
"Wellll -- yes. But you've got to admit that it does look--"
"Spock thinks exactly the same thing, so you've got company."
"There's no need to be so damned flippant--"
"Bones," Kirk said earnestly, and McCoy checked himself.
"Sorry, Jim. But there's so many why's and not enough because's in this case."
The intercom interrupted Kirk's answer. "Captain?"
"The Mythor Farrin would like to see you in his quarters, if it's convenient for you."
"It's convenient." Kirk flipped off the com, picked up his coffee cup preparatory to leaving.
"What he really said, of course," said McCoy drily, "was 'Captain Kirk is to see me now.' Good luck, Jim."
* * *
It always took Kirk a minute to adjust to the Talkan's quarters. For one thing, it simply didn't look like an Enterprise cabin anymore; the alien had draped fabric over everything in the room, turning ordinary desks and chairs into mysterious mounds and humps. To add to this, all the lights were dimmed practically to blackness, and in the middle of this landscape the shadowy alien himself sat, neatly cross-legged on top of a faintly sparkling plain that once was a desk, his wings outspread to their full nine-foot reach and quivering slightly.
"Mythor Farrin," Kirk said, to the new moon slits of eyes that watched him from across the room.
"Captain." The Standard Speech was husky, but impeccable. "I am quite aware, first of all that the ship found today was not the Darwin, but it did show me what I needed to know."
It paused dramatically and Kirk waited patiently. He had to be patient, being the only one on board that the alien would speak to, for some reason.
"Judging by the derelict's condition, there were wyvern about it not long ago, and so now it is certain that the Edda still live in the Dark -- and still hunt. You are clenching one hand, Captain -- do you object to something said?"
"I do not object," Kirk replied carefully. "Your legends are yours and it is not my place to object to them. But what have they to do with--"
"Our legends, he calls them," the alien snorted, in laughter, and folded one wing, then the other, carefully to its rounded, bony back. "But they are very relevant to this case, Captain, whether or not you believe us fools for heeding them. If the Edda did not exist, then there would not be a need for so much hurry to find your ship; I do not like to hurry while Seeing -- it is arduous and taxes me. But I did see your Darwin today."
"It's definitely the Darwin? Where is she?"
"Of course it is the Darwin," it retorted. "It is a dim reflection, but I am sure of that. But there is something wrong with her -- her engines perhaps and that is why I advise hurry. Injured things always attract the hungry."
"But what proof do you have that she is threatened by -- anything?"
The slitted eyes blinked. "If you believed in our legends, it would be obvious. There were no wyvern about that wreck -- and it was still good eating, and the Enterprise would not scare them away. So it can only mean that they have scented fresher game."
Fresher game -- Kirk thought, startled. It was an odd, disquieting way to refer an antique ship with outmoded engines that never should have been sent from her dry dock.
"You don't believe me now, but you will," said the alien impatiently. "Continue this course and leave me."
It huddled into its wings as Kirk left and as the Enterprise dove deeper into the Dark, blind.
* * *
Three days later, a little dot that was the repair module crept patiently across the great valley of the sensor disk. Slowly it crept toward the great monolith that reared up from the center, and when it reached it, readjusted its tracks fussily and rolled upwards. Another good fifteen minutes passed before it reached the thin, jagged end that it had come to replace.
"Strangest thing," mused a tech in the room behind the disk. "All of a sudden there was a blip! and the last three feet snapped off, just like that."
"The shields never should have been turned off in the first place," replied a second absently, for he was monitoring the repair mod. "Not even for a minute, with these freak meteors around. They could have tested the new tracking unit without turning them off, and somebody's going to get it."
"I'm innocent," protested the first. "We never did find the snapped off part," he added thoughtfully. "It disappeared just like it'd been swallowed up."
* * *
It was food, but the wyvern did not like the gritty taste. It could find better elsewhere, it knew -- whole flocks had passed it, whirring excitedly about new meat, as it had waited patiently for the green glow on this one to subside, but having waited so long hadn't been worth it, and the wyvern finally spread its sails and neatly caught the prevailing ionic wind, curving away from the Enterprise.
Down in its cabin, the Talkan's wing twitched, as it mentally followed the lone wyvern.
* * *
"Starfleet is on the line, sir," the intercom said.
"Did they find it?" Kirk said sleepily, rolling over and glancing at the chronometer. Not even halfway through his sleep period.
"No, sir -- the Darwin is still missing, but the Pegasus reports that they have picked up what might be one of her lifeboats."
"Might be? Don't they know?"
"From the description, it could be anything," Spock sounded faintly annoyed at such slap-dash operations, as this obviously was. "To quote -- 'irregular in shape, curved piece of metal hull, approximately 4.5 meters by 6.1 meters. Could be result of explosion -- considerable pockmarking on one side.'"
"Hmmmm. And Starfleet, of course, wants to know if we'll see the Pegasus and raise them."
"Just tell them I'11 call them back," Kirk said, rolling out of bed. "I'm going to find out exactly where we are with Mythor Farrin."
* * *
This time the alien was perched on the bed, scratching one side absently with a wingtip.
"Same course," it said curtly. "No different. The Darwin is very, very close but you must hurry."
* * *
"Tell him to get out and push," McCoy said pragmatically. "Did Starfleet buy it?"
"You wouldn't put yourself in this position unless you weren't positive about the Talkan," he said. "But why have you exactly?"
Kirk looked thoughtfully at his chicken salad. "My uncle shipped with a Talkan spacer once, on a construction job," Kirk started thoughtfully, automatically grabbing his plate as the Enterprise danced to side-step a heavy meteor shower -- it had been going on for some time. "One of the welding crew slipped off the frame somehow and his powerpack backfired, sending him straight into deep space. They couldn't use the instruments -- too much metal floating around -- but the Talkan just took a shuttle, after complaining about clumsy workers, and brought him back. He was more than 10 miles out too by the time they found him."
The Enterprise dipped again sharply.
"Which is the same way ours proposes to find the Darwin. But how do they do it exactly?"
Kirk shrugged. "They call it Seeing -- or 'aligning themselves with the framework of space and sighting along the central axis.' I don't know exactly; I know they can do it."
"But why? This one certainly doesn't give a hang about the ship itself, although we do -- and Talkans aren't known for their philanthropy."
"I don't know," Kirk said.
* * *
"There it is!" At the sight of the wavering blip that had suddenly appeared on the screen, Sulu exuberantly slammed a fist down on his console in triumph, and there was a general, uninhibited cacophony of cheers and whoops about the bridge. One came from Uhura, even as her slender fingers kept to business, adjusting the knobs and frequencies, cajoling the capricious signal into steadiness. Her efforts were rewarded; it was coming in strongly and crystal clear, but as she slipped her com-mike into one ear and listened, the smile slipped from her face.
"Captain -- the Darwin reports that she's under attack."
"Warp eight," Kirk snapped. "What kind of attack?"
"Their signal is spotty, sir -- but there's something about a bad meteor storm, and a local disturbance that's shaking the ship violently. They can't tell what it is -- maybe a black star." She paused. "Oh -- the shields just went. Having trouble with their engines, too."
"Interesting," Spock said. "When the Mythor Farrin could locate the ship but not the disturbance. And there should be no black stars in this vicinity, not until Tychae--"
"I know," said Kirk. "I know." He pressed the call button to the alien's cabin. No answer, as usual. "Take the conn, Mr. Spock. Call me when we're in audio-visual range -- I'11 be talking with the Mythor Farrin."
* * *
A wave of cold air surprised Kirk, as he entered the alien's cabin and he shivered puzzled, for the Talkan had made quite a fuss about having the thermostat turned up to a sweltering degree. But the Mythor Farrin seemed totally unaware of the chill air. He had lost his phlegmatic, rather bored air and his measured wingbeats were precise but full of impatient energy. Although he seemed to be breathing with difficulty, the mouth gaping open a bit, and his bony chest almost vibrating, he seemed alert and what is more in a peculiarly high good humor. It flashed through Kirk's mind that he had been waiting for something, now that waiting was almost over.
"So," it rasped, genially. "I've found your ship, Captain. If it can be called a proper ship, that is."
Kirk ignored the sarcasm.
"That disturbance that the Darwin is trapped in -- what is it?"
The slitted eyes opened ever so slightly. "How should I know, Captain? Hasn't your mythology come up with an explanation? A black hole, perhaps -- an ion storm--"
"There are none in this area," Kirk cut in. "But before we can help her, I've got to know what we're fighting against -- and I think you know."
"An insinuation that you've come to regard our quaint legends as something other than space tales, I take it? Well -- I shall have to think on this." And Mythor Farrin closed one cold eye.
The creature was being deliberately maddening. Kirk had never seen him as obstinate as this, and his frustration growing worse, was tempted to leave the old ragged wing-feathers to his thoughts when the com rang.
"Kirk here," he responded, brusquely ripping metallic cloth aside from the com's speaker.
"Captain -- Spock. Has the Mythor Farrin any idea of the nature of this disturbance? We have A-V, but space seems entirely normal around it, even though the instruments are picking up a long, narrow area around the ship that keeps moving -- perhaps an ion field of sorts--"
"Put the audio on."
"Don't know if you're getting any of th-- don't know how mu-- of this frame can take! Like being shaken around in a bottle-- keep the-- prise out of it--"
The brief message was piteous -- and eerie, for in the background, faintly a great hollow thunder punctuated the broken sentences, as if something was being swung periodically and methodically against the hull.
"Stay just out of tractor distance," Kirk said briefly. "We don't want to get pulled in, but stay close enough so we can grab her if necessary. Can you get a beam over there?"
"No, sir. We've got wildly fluctuating readings -- has the Mythor Farrin any ideas?"
Spock's tone was rather concerned, for him, and Kirk glanced over at the culprit. He was sitting there, blinking his eyes impassively, the gentle breeze pumped from the wings making the whole roomscape of cloth billow and change shape.
"I'll find out," said Kirk slowly. "Hold position." He cut the corn, and folded his arms, regarding the alien with a great deal of self-control.
"A merelich," said the Talkan softly, his voice surprised but with sort of pleased, burlesque surprise, and glanced slyly at Kirk. "Imagine -- how very lucky -- the only one that hunts warm meat." His whole body was beginning to glow, Kirk noticed absently, the breast plates turning a warm amber, and even the smallest pebble of skin a warm orange.
"Mythor Farrin," he said at last. "You've found our ship for us, and we are grateful. But somehow I think you know what is out there -- and how to stop it. In fact, I think perhaps it was your motive for coming. What sort of blackmail do you want for stopping it'"
"Blackmail?" The alien rustled in genuine surprise. "Blackmail? It is an honor!" And suddenly, swiftly, it reached out one forelimb and touched Kirk's forehead with one hot, dry talon.
"See--" it said softly.
--and Kirk was suddenly adrift in space. The Dark held him in its hands of polished jet, then dropped him without warning, and he felt himself falling into that truly infinite abyss below. Automatically, convulsively, he twisted, and grabbed -- and his hands caught a cold web of black threads which stopped his fall. He clung there, the threads elastic but bearing his weight, and he could see them just barely, outlines of black on black. In squinting at them, he turned his head over his shoulder, and saw the Darwin.
For there was no mistaking the Darwin. Talkan eyes and mind saw her the same as human organs, although it was apparently through the former that Kirk was seeing her. But the thing that twisted around the Darwin, coil after coil of glowing red and salmon, jeweled sinuous body -- that Kirk had no equivalent for. All he could compare it to was an ancient Chinese dragon, with that crooked, tapered body -- but no dragon had rows upon rows of tentacles covering its body, some tipped with claws, others with strangely human, almost obscene hands, all waving blindly, some ending in clubs, or hammerlike pseudopods. And its head -- translucent oval surfaces that were easily the size of the Enterprise's upper hull covered it, and these opened like diaphragms and closed, revealing glints of rod-like objects that erupted from the dark pits covered with glittering projections. Teeth -- for the creature rasped them along the hull of the hapless Darwin, tapped on it curiously with its fists and clubs.
It seemed more curious than hungry, Kirk though suddenly, although long scratches along the Darwin's side revealed that it was more than capable of tearing it apart. But one puncture could be made too easily in the hull, and he had no doubt whatsoever that whatever sense served it as smell would alert it to the crew inside. If only he could get back to the Enterprise -- where was she?
She was behind him, floating in a riot of spring green luminescense that clung to her hull. One tentacle from the creature extended, feeling, towards her -- and was quickly snatched back, Kirk getting the definite impression that the shields -- possibly that was what the aura was, for the Darwin was not so covered -- was bitter, poison to it.
With no warning at all he found himself back in the cabin, with the alien watching him intently, the forelimb drawing back.
"That is what I have come for, Captain." But Kirk didn't hear. He was slapping the com on, with a sudden idea.
"Captain! Where were--"
"Never mind, Spock. Drop all of our shields -- just drop them. Be ready to turn them on again and to cover the Darwin too, but keep them down!!"
And with that he turned back to the alien, very concious of an unphilanthropic urge to strangle him, but he instead stepped back a pace, throwing up his hands before his dazzled eyes, for the alien was not glowing anymore but was carved out of living fire, that somehow, miraculously, curled and twisted and snapped to form each feather, each bony plate.
"Mythor Farrin!" Kirk lurched forward, blindly, arms before his face, but the heat of the flames drove him back.
"Stay back," said the alien's voice clearly over the flames.
"But why -- how do we--"
"You will understand." And with that the last of the draperies caught and the whole room was a roaring inferno, the center of a sun, a phoenix pyre. As Kirk reached the door, feeling his way, the intercom pleaded faintly behind him, saying that they were being pulled into the area, and what about the shields, but even as he heard them, the heat beating on his back, something wide and soft touched his bare neck and he was out in space again.
But his vision was not complete this time. Through the frets of stars, he could see the dim bonfire and the wall com. It was like reaching through cotton and his arm tingled, but he pushed the com. He could hear no words coming out of his mouth in this space, but the Enterprise being held by one tentacle, suddenly flashed green and the arm was withdrawn.
The merelith was growing impatient. Its pseudopods glistened, thrashed, and it began to worry the Darwin in earnest. Just as its teeth set in the skin, the Darwin's hull winked green and Kirk breathed a silent but fervent thanks to Spock, somewhere in that shimmer of green. The merelith sprang back, jaws opening wide in a silent, vicious snarl. Its body whipped about and then shrunk in on itself. It seemed uneasy, suddenly waiting for something as the Darwin and the Enterprise began to drift away...
...and very faintly, for the Talkan sight was fading, Kirk caught a glimpse of something golden and tiny speeding down to the monster, more like a mayfly than anything else at this distance. Down, down, straight towards that awe-ful head, that body that writhed like Scylla and Charybdis put together, joyfully, teasingly, savagely, the Mythor Farrin began the battle.
As suddenly as it came, the vision deserted him, and he was alone in the charred, still smoking room with the sprinklers methodically dousing him with water.
* * *
"It's more like a sunburn than an actual burn," said McCoy. Kirk winced a little as the cool cream touched his neck, which was very sore indeed. "I must say," McCoy continued, dryly, "that is typical of him -- going off that way with the most trouble to everybody. One cabin shot, one captain almost barbecued. A pretty high price for the Darwin."
It sounded sacriligious but Kirk knew he didn't mean it -- he had been gone, with medical aides, over to the Darwin to see about her crew, before Kirk had made it to the bridge.
"I just hope," commented Kirk, "that -- mmmph -- he doesn't do the same thing when he goes to the honoraries Starfleet is sure to schedule him for."
"He won't be back," said Spock quietly, who was leaning unobtrusively in one corner.
"He won't be -- why? What makes you think that, Spock?"
"It's all written in the Eddas Endres, a collection of Talkan legends. I was reminded of one by the Mythor Farrin, because he insisted on the very un-Talkan custom of traveling alone."
"So tell us,"McCoy said impatiently. "You're done, Jim."
"According to it, there are many creatures that live in the Dark, but only one -- the merelith -- is immortal. It is also the most dangerous, the most cunning. For a long time it did no harm to the first Talkan ships to cross the Dark, but then it grew bold and followed them and began to attack them practically at the Talkan's doorstep. So one was chosen to go out and fight it -- and he was victorious. The merelith was driven back in the Dark, but every three hundred years, it forgets and must be taught anew."
"I suppose the hero is practically idolized, naturally."
"He is killed. All are that are chosen."
"It sounds like plain sacrifice to me," said McCoy, "if it were true. They are legends, after all."
"True," said Spock, "But there is great honor in it. Actually, from a sociological point of view they're quite fascinating. Especially the choosing of a warrior; he alone is given the sight to track the monster down. Otherwise, it is supposed to be able to twist space and hide. And then he must be of certain standing but any caste actually could fulfill the requirements."
The words drifted through and over Kirk, remembering the gleaming length of muscle, stinking like Lucifer. "I wonder how long he'll last," Kirk mused to himself. "It was waiting for him, I'm sure--"
"What was?" McCoy said.
"Oh--" Kirk shrugged. "I had some hallucinations from the heat, very odd, very vivid. Something vaguely dragon-like, with tentacles, and the Mythor Farrin went after it. I must have read those stories when I was young."
Now Spock was looking at him oddly. "You actually saw it, Captain?"
"An hallucination, yes. Or else it was induced by the Mythor Farrin for some reason of his own."
"They must to pass it on," Spock said softly, reciting.
"I think he made a mistake," Kirk answered drily, dropping off the table. "I won't be around in another three hundred years and happen to be a human."
"Well, I don't think I can ever look at another greis robe without thinking of one particular Talkan giving me the evil eye," McCoy said. "Now, git, both of you. I've got work to attend to. Wait a second, Jim, if your collar rubs that burn, I may have to put some plastiaid on it." Kirk sat down obediently. "That's strange," McCoy said frowning. "It's practically healed already.