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From Strange New Worlds
A Little More Action
It was raining hard that Friday in the City by the Bay.
So hard, in fact, I couldn't even hear myself walk.
Their sun had taken a powder behind some pretty ugly clouds. And I was taking a beating — a wet beating.
I flipped up the damp collar on my trusty, tan trenchcoat and pulled down the brim of my hat. It didn't help much, but I didn't care.
This case had taken me across half the quadrant and to dozens of planets. What was a little rain compared with what happened to me on Sigma Omicron VII? I could still feel the lumps on my noggin from that place.
But no matter where I went, each time he had managed to stay one jump ahead of me.
Sure, I could have tried the direct approach, but I didn't want to give myself away. My business with this guy was private. The stakes were too high and if word got out what I was doing a lot of people could get hurt — mainly me.
My briefcase was getting heavier by the minute. But I wasn't getting paid to complain. I had business to attend to — big business.
And the sooner I unloaded the goods, the better. I was getting five hundred a day, plus expenses. But all that money wouldn't mean much if I ended up at the bottom of a river, or on the wrong side of a shuttlebay door.
Then I saw it. The place looked like a cement flying saucer.
The rain kept most of the people away, but not me. I double-checked the heater I was packing and headed for the front door.
A couple of uniformed goons gave me the once-over — twice.
I went up to the desk and there she was — a hot, blond, blue-eyed number in a red uniform. She had legs all the way up to her hemline — and then some. And I could tell there was more than hair spray between those ears.
Before I could open my mouth, an alarm went off. I reached for my piece, but the goons were too fast for me.
One of 'em grabbed my heater. But he just started laughing and handed it back to me.
"Sorry, sir. We thought you had a weapon."
What'd they think it was — a peashooter? I put the piece back into its holster, straightened my coat, and looked back at the beautiful doll. She looked up at me with them big baby blues and said, "May I help you, sir?"
No one had called me sir in a long, long time. I took another second or two just to enjoy the view. "Yeah, honey. I'm lookin' for somebody and was wonderin' if you could do me a favor?"
Her peepers got wider and I noticed a trace of a smile on those ruby smackers of hers.
"I say something funny, sweetheart?"
It would have been cute except for the fact I knew she was laughing at me. They all laugh at me. People can be awfully cruel when they find out who you are.
And just who am I?
I'm a private detective.
An Iotian dick.
Admiral James Kirk looked out at the violent storm over the bay. The view from his new apartment was magnificent. It included not only Starfleet Headquarters, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Park, but part of the western horizon as well.
Kirk had waited two years for this apartment. It once was the home of the Betelgeusean ambassador. But when the diplomat was recalled to his home planet, Kirk used a little influence and moved right in.
In the few weeks he had been there, Kirk had already decorated the rounded and concave walls with his renowned collection of antiques — mostly weapons and various other relics of Earth's warrior past. But among the reminders of humankind's less civilized moments were souvenirs of hope as well.
Certainly his collection of tools from the Kirk farm in Iowa were symbols of Earth's proud agricultural history. And Kirk's library contained not only the works of famous generals and war figures, but of poets and philosophers as well.
Like Kirk, his apartment was a symphony of contradictions.
Despite the inclement weather at the moment, he loved looking out the windows. As he watched the swirls of darkened clouds, his gaze stopped on the bridge and he wondered if anyone had ever been bold enough to fly a shuttle under it in a storm since he did it during his Academy days. No, not in this weather. No one would fly anywhere near the bridge in weather like this.
The admiral turned away from the storm to see Leonard McCoy scowling at the contents of a rather small book. "What's wrong, Bones? A big word?"
McCoy didn't acknowledge the question — or the sarcasm. Kirk suspected it was deliberate and walked over to his friend. He noticed the title of the book — The Big Goodbye.
"It's a detective mystery, Bones. The second in a series. Dixon Hill. Not great, but not bad if you like pulp novels."
McCoy arched an eyebrow. "What in blazes is a 'pulp' novel?"
Kirk smiled. If anyone lived in the present, it was McCoy. The past was gone and with it, many memories McCoy would just as soon leave there. "I really don't think you're here for a crash course in literature, now, are you?"
The doctor gently closed the book and took special care to return it exactly to its former spot. He knew that, while his friend might have been reckless in space, when it came to his home Jim Kirk was downright retentive about everything being in its proper place. The Kirk family farm was the cleanest, most orderly farm McCoy had ever seen.
"Where's that Vulcan?" growled McCoy. "He knows we won't start eating without him. His last night before he leaves for Vulcan and he's deliberately making me wait."
Kirk smiled. "Well, with the storm outside, it might take a while to get to a transporter."
McCoy snatched up a goodly number of hors d'oeuvres. "His father is the ambassador to Vulcan. Sarek helped start the Federation! You think Spock could just buy some bean dip and beam over here without waiting in line."
"Remember, he's a civilian now, Bones. He probably wants to explore doing things other civilians do as a civilian."
The two friends paused for a moment. They didn't know when they would again see Spock after he left Earth. The former captain was being quite private about his future plans and the doctor and the admiral had successfully avoided this topic all night. The pause seemed interminable. Mercifully, the door chime sounded. Kirk walked over to the door. "I believe the bean dip has arrived."
The doors whooshed open to reveal one extremely windblown Vulcan, slightly damp, carrying a small package. Without ceremony, he offered it to Kirk. "Your pastelike mixture of crushed bipodal seeds and other chemicals, Jim."
Kirk gestured for the civilian Spock to enter. "Thank you, Spock." The doors closed as the Vulcan entered the main room. "Spock, you're wet. What happened?"
He was oblivious of the fact that one large lock of his black cowlick was sticking straight up. "Obviously I was exposed to the rather excessive precipitation and wind velocity San Francisco is currently experiencing."
McCoy smiled at the uncharacteristic appearance of his friend. Never in his many years of knowing Spock had McCoy seen the Vulcan so completely unkempt. "You mean you got rained on, Spock."
"I believe that is what I just said, Doctor. I was in the place of purchase when the unsecured doors were blown open by the storm, allowing some wind and rain to make contact with many consumers. Myself among them."
McCoy did all he could to stifle an out-and-out guffaw. "That's a new look for you, Spock. I like it."
Kirk shot a glare at McCoy. He pointed to an inner room of the apartment. "In there, Spock. You can dry off in there."
"Thank you, Admiral. Excuse me."
And without sacrificing an ounce of dignity, Spock disappeared from view. McCoy could contain himself no longer and nearly doubled over in laughter. Kirk tried to maintain his scowl of disapproval but suddenly burst into tears himself.
"Kirk. I'm lookin' for Kirk."
From the look on the doll's face, I might as well have been speaking Orion. All them Feds were the same. They looked at me like I was from another planet — which I was, of course. But — heck, you know what I mean.
"Which Kirk would that be, sir?"
I didn't expect that answer. "Kirk. The Big Guy. Hangs around with a weird guy named Spocko and a doc or somethin'. Can't steer a flivver to save his life."
The corners of those luscious lips turned up into an amazing smile. "Ah, that would be Admiral James Kirk."
"Yeah. That sounds like the guy. Can I see him?"
She worked her panel like a coronet man works his horn. I didn't mind the wait, though — not as long as she was the one I was waitin' on. She finally looked up and flashed her pearlies again.
"I'm sorry, but Admiral Kirk isn't here right now. You might try his private residence. But I'm afraid I can't give out that information without some identification, sir."
Smart. She was smart, too. I reached into my inside pocket, produced my ID, and held it out to her. "It's a lousy picture, but it's me."
Her smile disappeared for a second. "Oh. I see that you're — Could you wait a few seconds, please?"
Was she kidding? I'd wait a week in that rain for her. "No problem."
She pushed a bunch of buttons on her desk and spoke real quiet like. I reached for a cigarette, but what I found in my pocket wouldn't light for days. I looked at the two goons, who were more interested in what was going on than they should be. "So, what are you lookin' at?"
That got 'em. They turned away.
The doll stood up and smiled at me. "I've been instructed by Admiral Morrow himself to give you the information you're requesting. As a matter of fact, the admiral would like to escort you personally to Admiral Kirk's residence."
Hey, now this was more like it. "He would, huh? Tell me, honey, does this Morrow guy drink? I'd like to buy him a beer when this is over. And if you're not busy later, I'd like to buy you one, too."
Hey, it was worth a shot. We don't have dames like her at home.
I left with the address and the admiral — and without a date.
"Mr. Spock, I believe your search for food was a complete success. We could have just replicated some bean dip, you know."
The Vulcan was now back to his usual impeccable appearance. His Vulcan outer robe was as dry as his home planet, and not a single hair was out of place on his head. He crossed over to the built-in bar, where Kirk was pouring a familiar orange concoction. "Thank you, Admiral. I know of your and Dr. McCoy's fondness for nonreplicated food. So I deduced that the 'real thing' would be preferable."
McCoy smiled. "Well, that was downright courteous of you, Spock. Thank you."
Spock understood why McCoy was smiling. He was quick to deflate his friend's teasing. "May I remind you, Doctor, that courtesy is not an emotion."
It worked. McCoy frowned and went to pour himself another mint julep. "Oh. Right."
Kirk handed a short flute of room-temperature tranya to Spock.
"Thank you, Admiral."
Kirk picked up a small shot glass of Romulan ale. "Spock, this is dinner. In my new apartment. Call me Jim."
McCoy raised his glass. "To your new place, Jim. May you never see it again because you're going to return to starship duty where you belong."
"Bones, you know I'm never going back."
"Right. And I'm giving up medicine. And to you, Spock. May you find whatever it is you may be looking for that you didn't find in Starfleet. L'Chaim."
Spock nodded appreciatively. McCoy downed a large portion of his julep and relished the sweet aftertaste in his mouth.
Spock sipped his tranya and seemed quite satisfied.
Kirk started to sip his Romulan ale when his door chimed again.
Spock looked at Kirk. "That must be Admiral Morrow, Jim."
Kirk chugged the rest of his ale, let his eyes refocus, and then quickly stashed the bottle behind a panel in the bar. He tried to speak matter-of-factly. "Yes. I'll go let him in."
The admiral walked over to his front door. McCoy walked over to Spock. "I assume that Admiral Morrow does not partake of Romulan ale."
"It is illegal, Doctor. I don't think either of us would wish Admiral Kirk to be arrested — much less in his own home."
McCoy stared into his glass and swished the remainder of the julep in it. "No, Spock. That would definitely put a damper on the party."
Kirk's door whooshed open and there stood Admiral Morrow and someone out of a history book. "Hello, Jim. Sorry I'm late. I brought someone who's been anxious to meet you. I hope you don't mind."
I was so close I could spit on him. But I didn't. I saw two more boys in the room. I recognized Spocko because of his ears. I figured the other guy must be the Doc. I held out my briefcase. This was all finally gonna be over, and not a moment too soon. No time for pleasantries. Hey, business was business.
"Kirk, the Boys sent me. I got something for — "
"The Boys? I'm afraid I don't know any — "
What was he — nuts or something? "The Boys. You know — the Syndicate?"
Spocko jumped in. "Admiral, I believe this gentleman is from Sigma Iotia. Am I correct, sir?"
No doubt as to who was the real brains in the Federation here. "Yeah. Yeah, I am."
"Oh, brother." The Doc thought I didn't see him roll his eyes, but I did. "I knew this would come back to haunt us." He headed back to what looked like the bar.
Kirk played nice at first. "Please, gentlemen, do come in. Welcome to my new home. May I offer you a drink?"
This Admiral Morrow guy (who wasn't a bad john, but a little stuffy) stepped into the fancy digs. I took a few steps, too. "Nothin' for me, thanks. I'm workin'."
Morrow joined the Doc at the bar. Kirk just kinda stood there for a minute. He looked like a confused cow or something. "Um, forgive me for being blunt, but you're a long way from home. Why do you need to see me?"
What — did this Kirk guy go to finishing school or something? I had no idea what he just said to me. I didn't come half a quadrant to be insulted — if that's what it was, I mean. So I figured maybe I should stand up to him and tell him what was on my mind. "What was that, Kirk?"
Spocko walked over to us and leaned into Kirk. "Perhaps, 'boss,' if you speak to the gentleman in his own vernacular."
Kirk nodded and turned to me. He hunched his shoulders and dropped the fancy accent he had been using. "Whaddaya want here?"
That was more like it. That's the Kirk I had heard about for all these years. "Hey, when no one showed up to collect your cut of the Syndicate's profits, we started gettin' worried. We didn't want ya to think we was tryin' to cut you out or anything. After what you did to us last time, we — "
Kirk stepped forward, like he wanted to keep things on the Q.T. "Look, I'd just as soon forget about the display of technology we resorted to."
Kirk started talking normal again. "I mean, 'the way we had to get rough with ya.' "
Mr. Ears spoke up. "Fascinating. I believe the Iotians have somehow evolved from the gangster society of the nineteen-twenties to the fictional detective genre of the late nineteen-thirties and early nineteen-forties."
The Doc chimed in. "Shades of Dixon Hill."
Spocko looked at me and kept yapping. "I would be very interested, sir, to learn how you managed to leave your planet. Have your people developed a method of space travel in such a relatively short period of history?"
It took me a second to figure out the question. "Oh, no. I'm the first one to make it off the turf. I hitched a ride."
The Doc choked on his drink. "You hitched a ride? With whom?"
"Some idiots called the Pakleds. They were lost and stopped by for some directions. We made a deal. We gave 'em some maps, and they gave me a ride. Since then I've been tailin' Kirk here for two years. Let me tell you, there's a lot of weird people out there in space."
"Two years?" said Kirk. "Tell the Boys I'm flattered."
Morrow turned to the other guys. "I've never heard of these Pakleds. Have you?"
Kirk shook his head and looked at Spocko.
"Nor have I, Admiral. It would be fascinating to learn how these beings of alleged 'lower intelligence' managed to achieve warp drive."
I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn't give a damn what they were talking about. I was getting antsy and just wanted to make my delivery and vamoose. I opened the briefcase and showed 'em the goods. "Forty percent. Count it."
If Kirk's kisser had dropped any lower, I coulda drove a cab through it. Spocko was cool, though. Cool as a cucumber. The Doc just had a belt of his drink and took a few steps away. The Morrow guy was trying to hide a smile. I don't what he thought was so funny.
And this Kirk guy didn't seem so tough to me, neither — especially after all the tons of stories I heard about him. "I'm carryin' ten years' worth here. Now, you want it or not? It's all there."
Spocko spoke. "We are certain the amount is correct. If nothing else, the Iotians are a very precise people."
Who were these guys? I was beginning to wonder if Spocko was a Sunday school teacher or something. Kirk cleared his throat and grabbed the case. Finally!
"Thank you very much. You didn't have to bring it to me in person, you know."
"I mean 'Hey, it's about time. You coulda just mailed it.' "
A lightbulb lit up. I was onto Kirk. I figured out what little game he and his boys were playing. He was checking up on me for the Feds. I mean, Kirk's boss was standing right there and everything. "No way, Kirk. I wasn't takin' any chances with this much dough. Things disappear, you know?"
Kirk mumbled something that sounded like "I wish I could." But I wasn't sure, and I didn't care. I wanted a second chance at that blonde over at the Federation's clubhouse.
I looked over at the Doc. "And you, Doc — "
He gulped down his drink like Prohibition was coming back. "Me?"
I walked over to him and reached inside my coat. "I got a little somethin' for you, too."
He must have thought I was gonna plug him or something. He took a few steps back. "Easy, Doc. You'll like this. Here."
I offered him the paper. He looked at it like he'd never seen one before. "What is this?"
"It's a marker, Doc. Good for when you come back to my planet. I didn't wanna risk carryin' that much dough on me. You're even richer than the Feds. No offense, Kirk."
"No sweat," Kirk said.
"But what is this for? Why are you giving all this — money — to me?"
He didn't know. I couldn't believe he didn't know. "It's for the McCoy, Doc. You know — the McCoy?"
The Doc stood there like a car outta gas. I wasn't buyin' it. "As if you didn't know. Remember that little thing you 'accidentally' left behind?"
"Oh, boy." I saw the wheels tumbling in the Doc's brain. I could tell Spocko knew what I was talking about. He mumbled to Kirk. "The communicator, Admiral."
The Doc looked a little uneasy. "Look, I didn't mean to leave — "
"Didn't mean? That's a good one, Doc. Look, after you left, there was a little scuffle over it and it kinda got bashed up. We put it back together the best we could, but we could only make it work when someone was close by with another one. It's been the hottest-sellin' toy on the whole planet for ten years!"
"Toy?!" The four guys sounded like a choir or something.
"Yeah. Can't keep 'em in the stores. And look, as a gesture of thanks and good faith from the toy company, I'm bringin' back the one you left. The museum put up a squawk, but the Boys thought you'd want it back. No hard feelings, right?"
"You have it here?" He sounded kind of excited.
The Doc smiled as I gave him the thing. He looked at it, kind of unsure. I had to convince him. "Oh, that there's the genuine article. That's the real McCoy."
Suddenly it got kind of quiet for a second.
Spocko raised an eyebrow.
Kirk shook his head.
Morrow tried hiding another smile. (What was with this guy?)
The Doc rolled his eyes again.
"Hey, I don't get it. What'd I say?"
"Nothing," said the Doc. He handed me back the marker. "Tell the toy company I'm very thankful and honored. And tell them to donate this and my future 'cut' to some charities on your planet that help out anyone who needs shelter or medical help, okay?"
Now, I'm as tough as they go, but this was one moving gesture on the Doc's part. "I will, Doc. You're all right."
I stuffed the marker back into my coat pocket. "Well, I'm gonna blow this joint. Kirk, good to meet ya. Morrow, you're a stand-up guy. Spocko, you're weird. Cool, but weird. And Doc — you keep downin' those drinks like that and you're gonna be one of your own patients. But don't think I don't respect you for it."
Kirk patted me on the shoulder. "Are you sure you won't stay for a drink — or a few hands of fizzbin?"
I headed for the door. "Oh, no. I heard about you and fizzbin." Even though I finished third in the Kirk Fizzbin Classic a few years ago, I wasn't dumb enough to take on the grand master. "I'm keepin' my dough in my pocket, where it belongs."
We stopped at the door and I turned to him — eye to eye. "Oh, and Kirk — "
"Yes? Er, 'yeah'?"
I put out my hand. "See ya next year."
Kirk shook my hand and nodded. "Check."
This guy was a little out of touch. No one had said "check" in a long, long time. "Kirk, take my advice. Get with the times. You'll live longer. Nice place." I looked over at Spocko, Morrow, and the Doc. "Gentlemen."
As the door kinda whooshed closed behind me, I thought I heard some more laughing. But I didn't care. I did my job. And word would get around, and soon I'd have more cases than I could handle.
I walked down the front steps. The rain had stopped, but the smell of the wet street was fresh — one of the best smells on any world. Kinda musty and sweet, but like the street was new. Like the first time anyone had ever walked on it. I flipped down my collar, shoved my hands in my pockets, and walked away.
Somehow I knew it wouldn't be the last time I'd see Kirk and his boys. But I had other cases to solve, other fights to fight, other —
"Hello, again — sir."
It was her. The leggy blonde from Club Fed. She was out of uniform and in a long, tight coat which accented her accents. And her big blue eyes were looking straight into mine.
I didn't say a word. I just offered an arm and she took it.
The other jobs could wait for a little while.
Right now, I was on my own clock.
Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures
|A Private Anecdote (Grand Prize)||3|
|The Last Tribble||15|
|The Lights in the Sky (Third Prize)||31|
|Star Trek: The next Generation|
|What Went Through Data's Mind 0.68 Seconds Before the Satellite Hit||87|
|The Naked Truth||96|
|See Spot Run||140|
|Together Again, for the First Time||160|
|Of Cabbages and Kings (Second Prize)||193|
|Star Trek Deep Space Nine|
|Where I Fell Before My Enemy||242|
|Star Trek Voyager|
|Good Night, Voyager||269|
|Ambassador at Large||301|
|Because We Can|
|The Man Who Sold the Sky||393|
|The Girl Who Controlled Gene Kelly's Feet||397|
|My First Story||439|
|A Few Words||441|
|About the Contributors||453|
Chapter One: A Private Anecdote
Landon Cary Dalton
I sit in my chair, staring at the view from the window of my hospital room. It is a nice view, but I have already grown tired of it. I have memorized every detail of every building on Starbase 11, or at least the portions within my limited sight. In some of the nearer buildings I am able to see the faces of some of the occupants. My favorite is a lovely young redhead who lives in the nearest building. Sometimes she stands on her balcony to enjoy her view. She has a look of innocent sweetness on her young face, as if she has never encountered any of the hardships and difficulties of life. I envy her.
The moon has risen. This moon appears to be much larger than the Earth's moon. It is encircled by a bright ring, not as impressive as the rings of Saturn, but still a lovely sight. I do not know the name of this moon or of any of its features, but I have their images memorized as well. I have named the various features after people and things that I have known. That range of sharply pointed mountains I named for Spock, a dear friend of mine. The horse-shaped sea I call Tango after a horse I once owned on Earth. The prominent crater in the Northern Hemisphere I call Boyce.
The lovely ring I have named Vina, for someone I think about often.
Commodore Mendez is very good to me. He has visited me at least once a week since my arrival here. He must have a very busy schedule commanding the starbase, but still he finds time for me. I wish I had some way to express my appreciation, but my injuries prevent me from expressing anything more complex than "yes" or "no."
Last week Mendez "accidently" allowed me to see the active duty roster. It was displayed on the viewer long enough for me to see my own name still listed on active duty.
"Fleet Captain Christopher Pike."
It was a noble effort on the part of the commodore to maintain my morale. This is, of course, an impossible task. My life has come to an end. The delta radiation has left my body a wasted husk, unable to move. The chair keeps my blood pumping in a vague imitation of life, but my heart knows the hopelessness of it all. My life has become nothing but an agonizing wait for death.
I watch as a shuttlecraft lifts off and flies in my direction. I entertain a shameful fantasy that it will malfunction and crash through this window to end my suffering. I am angry at myself for such thoughts. I ought to be able to find some way of dealing with this.
Then it comes to me again. I remember that same silly little thought that has occurred to me many times in the past thirteen years. It is a foolish, pointless thought, but it amuses me. I am physically unable to laugh, but inwardly my gloom lifts for a moment and my spirit rises with the thought.
"What if all of this isn't real?"
I dearly wish I could share this thought with José Mendez. He is a very sober man when on duty, but I recall him having a wicked sense of humor in private. He would appreciate the thought.
It is not that the thought reveals any great wisdom or that it possesses any deep meaning, but it is a thought that deserves to be shared. It has come to me at several crucial moments.
Yes, I'd love to tell this to Commodore Mendez, but I suppose it will have to remain a private anecdote. Even if I could express it to him, portions of it pertain to matters Starfleet has declared "Top Secret."
"What if all of this isn't real?"
If anyone has a cause to doubt the reality of his life, it is me. I was the one who visited the now-forbidden planet called Talos IV. It was there that I encountered the Talosians, a race of beings with incredibly developed mental powers. The Talosians were masters of illusion. I was shown a series of alternate versions of what my life could be. I experienced life on Earth, Rigel VII, Orion, all the while never leaving the cage in which I had been placed.
Since that day I have carried the thought with me. How do I know that I'm not still in the cage? How do I know that I'm not still on Talos IV, and that all my life since then hasn't been an illusion?
I guess I can never know with absolute certainty. Not that I've ever seriously doubted the reality of my surroundings. Still, the thought comes to me time and again. Strangely enough, the silly little thought has sometimes been of service to me.
The thought came to me that day on Corinthia VII. The Enterprise had been dispatched to survey this Class-M planet for possible future colonization. Information on the planet was sketchy, but there was no evidence of any sophisticated life-forms.
I led a landing party of six, including Spock, Dr. Boyce, Lt. Tyler, and two ensigns, Williams and Trawley. We beamed down to a dry riverbed near the planet's equator. Every planet I have visited has possessed its own unique beauty. This was a planet of purples and grays under a turquoise sky. A few scruffy red bushes dotted the landscape. Steep bluffs bordered the riverbed. Each of us drew out his tricorder and began our initial survey.
"Remarkably little microbial life," I commented.
Dr. Boyce kneeled down and scooped up a handful of soil. He let it cascade through his fingers in front of his tricorder.
"In the air, very little life," he said. "But the soil is teeming with it."
"Unusual," I said.
"Not really," said Boyce. "The same is true of Earth, though not to the same extent. There is life in the soil."
"Very well," I said. "You and Mr. Spock begin your survey. Mr. Tyler, take Ensign Trawley and establish our base camp. Ensign Williams and I will scout the perimeter."
I saw the look in Williams's eyes. It was his first time on a landing party. He was thrilled to be chosen to join the captain on a hike. I wanted his first away mission to be a memorable one. You only get one first time.
"Any suggestions, Ensign?"
He stuttered a bit at first. He was eager to impress me.
"I suggest we look for a way to get to the high ground overlooking the riverbed. That would give us the best vantage point to scan the surrounding area. We can probably find an easier place to climb if we go up the riverbed."
"Sound reasoning," I said. "Lead the way."
Williams began to march upriver. He tried to conceal the grin on his face, but I saw it just the same. I had grown more tolerant of eager young ensigns in recent years. I also enjoyed living vicariously through them as they experienced the thrills of space exploration for the first time.
Williams was about ten yards ahead of me when he stopped suddenly. He turned and looked at me.
"What do you see?" I asked.
"I'm not sure," he replied. "It looks like a sinkhole, or maybe the mouth of a cave."
Williams turned back to face the hole. I had only closed about half the distance to him when I saw him suddenly grab for the laser at his belt. I felt an immediate sinking feeling and grabbed for my own laser.
"Williams, get back!" I shouted. I was too late.
The creature was enormous. It rose quickly from the hole and reared up, its head towering a good twenty feet above Ensign Williams. Twin mandibles, ten feet long, hung from the enormous head. The mandibles snapped closed with a sound like thunder. The beast was covered with a thick carapace that looked as if it were made of the same stone as the surrounding cliffs. It was supported by dozens of clattering legs.
Williams hesitated only for a second before he began firing at the blocky head of the monstrosity. I could see that the carapace was being burned by the laser, but as the beast jostled about, Williams was unable to keep the beam focused on any spot long enough to burn through. I doubt if the creature could even feel the beam.
I added my laser to the battle, but I faced the same problem as Williams. Pieces of the creature's shell were burning and flaking off, but the damage wasn't deep enough.
"Williams! Retreat!" I shouted at the top of my lungs. He couldn't hear me over the creature's bellowing. He started to back up, but the creature was far too fast. It dove at the ensign and the massive mandibles snapped shut.
Williams was cut in two at the waist.
The beast dropped back into the pit. I raced to the edge, but the creature had vanished into the depths of the ground. Williams's legs lay nearby in a twisted heap. His torso had apparently been dragged into the pit by the murderous thing.
I settled to my knees in horror. Once again I had seen an innocent crew member lose his life for no good reason. Once again I experienced the hopelessness, the nagging feeling that I should have been able to do something to prevent this.
I drew forth my communicator to inform the others. Before I could begin to transmit, I heard a loud noise from the direction of my companions. It was the roar of a beast like the one that had just killed Williams. Then I heard the wailing screech of laser fire.
I stood and began to run down the dried riverbed toward my friends. I was determined not to lose any more people on this accursed planet.
The sounds of laser fire continued. That was encouraging. It meant my crewmates were still alive. But it also meant that they were still in mortal danger.
I came to a bend in the riverbed, and an awesome spectacle greeted my eyes. One of the loathsome beasts had emerged from its underground lair and was laying siege to my companions. Spock and the others had climbed the riverbank until they had their backs against the sheer face of a cliff. The cliff was far too steep to climb, and any descent was cut off by the monstrosity below. All four crewmen blasted away at it continuously, but it stood its ground.
I contemplated trying to draw it away, but this didn't seem a very promising strategy. It was too fast for me to outrun, and once it got me it would return to its attack on my companions.
As I examined the beast, I came to realize that its underside was not nearly as well armored as its top. If the underbelly was soft, then a laser might be able to do some damage there. Spock and the others couldn't possibly hit the beast's underside from their position high above.
It was up to me. I would have to rush underneath the creature, dodging its dozens of clattering legs. Our only hope was that the laser could rip its belly open.
For a moment I looked for alternatives, but could find none. Still I hesitated, unable to launch myself at the horror that threatened my friends.
Then the thought occurred to me. I don't know why I should think of it at that moment, but I did.
"What if all of this isn't real?"
The thought was all that I needed. It broke the tension in my mind. The thought that this might all be some Talosian illusion was funny to me. I actually laughed out loud at the absurdity of the thought.
Then I ran. I ran harder than I had ever run before. With my own laughter still ringing in my ears I ran between the monstrous legs. I sprinted up the creature's length, firing blindly overhead. I felt the splatter of warm liquids on my back. I kept firing until I emerged from beneath the beast's shadow.
I turned to face the creature. If I had failed, there was no point in running further. I stared at the bulky head of the creature. Its mandibles were still. Suddenly the creature's legs began to wobble. Then the beast collapsed. It fell into a massive heap of dying flesh.
My companions rushed down the hill to my side.
"Chris!" shouted Boyce. "Chris, are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Doctor. This blood all belongs to that thing."
Trawley slapped me on the back.
"You saved all our lives!" he was shouting. "Can you believe that?"
Technically Trawley was being overly familiar with his commanding officer, but I overlooked it for the moment. The situation warranted a little laxity in discipline.
"Let's get out of here," I said, reaching for my communicator.
"Chris, I can't believe what you just did," said Boyce. "I'd never have been able to summon up the strength to take that beast on by myself. What possessed you to do that?"
I just smiled at him. I didn't know how to tell him what was going on in my mind at that moment. I never did tell Boyce that I had saved his life because of a momentary indulgence of a foolish little thought. I wish I had told him now, because I will never again be capable of sharing that story.
Trawley was also present the next time that the thought occurred to me. He had risen in the ranks quite a bit by that time. He was a full commander. His first command was an old class-J cargo ship that was being used for cadet training.
He had matured quite a bit in the decade since our adventure on Corinthia VII, but he still had a worshipful look in his eyes when I came aboard for an inspection. His cadets were no younger than he had been when he joined the crew of the Enterprise, but still Trawley called them his "kids." I still saw Trawley as one of my children.
Trawley had only been aboard the ship himself for a week. He and the cadets were going to have quite a job getting this vessel into working order. Trawley was a good, thorough organizer. Given time he would be able to restore this ship to mint condition.
None of us knew it then, but time was not on our side.
Trawley gathered the crew together on the cargo deck and introduced me to them. They looked to me like children playing a dress-up game.
Trawley insisted on telling the cadets about our experience on Corinthia VII. I could tell that he had told this story many times before. He had perfected his delivery of it over time. My own memory varied a bit on some of the details, but I didn't quibble.
There was one detail, however, that I was surprised by. I couldn't imagine how he could know this particular detail.
"...and do you know what the captain did just before he attacked the creature? You'll never guess this in a million years. He laughed! I swear, I could hear it all the way up the cliff wall. He laughed!"
The cadets laughed as well. I considered telling Trawley the whole story that day, but I didn't get around to it. I was a little embarrassed by all the attention, so I decided not to bring the subject up again. Now I'll never get the chance.
Later that night I was alone in my cabin, reading the cadet reviews. They looked like a good bunch of kids. It looked like Starfleet was going to be in good hands for another generation.
Suddenly a shudder rolled through the ship. A lump formed in my throat. The shudder wasn't really all that bad, but sometimes you sense when a disaster is bearing down on you.
I stepped out of my cabin. The corridor was filled with terrified cadets. Alarm klaxons began to sound. One frightened young girl emerged from her cabin wearing nothing but a towel. Her eyes were already filling with tears.
I grabbed her by the shoulders. I kept my voice calm, expressing a cool confidence that I did not feel.
"Everything is going to be all right. Go get dressed and report to your station."
She straightened up and returned to her cabin. I looked at the confused crowd of cadets that had gathered in a circle around me.
"What's the matter with you people?" I shouted. "Get to your posts!"
Shame is a good motivator. The embarrassed crew members ran for their stations, eager to show me they knew their jobs.
I raced down to the engine room. The hatch was sealed. I looked through the porthole into the room beyond. I could see billowing clouds of gas.
A baffle plate had ruptured!
I could see the motionless bodies of half a dozen cadets. They might already be dead. I knew I couldn't leave them in there, but I also knew what delta rays can do to a man. For a moment I froze, unwilling to face the horrors on the other side of the hatch.
Then the thought came to me again.
"What if all of this isn't real?"
I didn't laugh this time. I knew as I looked that this was very real. If I didn't act fast, none of those cadets had a chance.
I felt a blast of heat as I opened that hatch, only I knew it wasn't really heat. It was the delta radiation knifing through my body. I stumbled in and grabbed the nearest cadet. She was wearing the thick protective coveralls of an engineer. That was good. That would help to minimize the effects of the radiation. I, on the other hand, had no such protection.
Six times I entered the engine room. Six cadets I pulled from that chamber of horrors. Two of them would die later at Starbase 11. But four of them would survive.
As for me, I'm not sure if I would count myself as a survivor or not. I cannot move and I cannot speak. All I can do is sit, looking and listening to the world around me.
I sit here and I stare at the ringed moon and at the lovely young redhead. I look at a world that I can no longer participate in.
And I think. I think so much that my head hurts. I am fearful of the days to come. I am afraid that my mind will begin to wither and die. It frightens me to think that my sanity may begin to leave me.
In the midst of the horror that my life has become, the idea returns to me again. Once again I imagine that I am back in my cage on Talos IV. I dream that all of this is just an illusion, soon to be replaced with better dreams. Perhaps the Talosians will send me back to Mojave next, or back to Orion.
"What if all of this isn't real?"
Inwardly I laugh. But I know that this is real. This isn't Talos IV. This isn't an illusion. But for the first time in thirteen years I wish that it were. Perhaps it is a sign of my weakening spirit, but I wish I could trade this reality for a dream.
I wish I were back in my cage.
Copyright © 1998 by Paramount Pictures
Welcome to Strange New Worlds V. It feels wonderful to write those words. When we first started doing these contest anthologies, there was no way to know that the idea would work. Lots of things seem like they are destined for success and then turn out not to be.
The thing that has made the Strange New Worlds anthologies work, I think, is that they are a labor of love from all sides, from the thousands of fans who write and send in the stories (whether their stories are to be found in this volume or not), to the publisher and editors, who are all writers as well, and who understand the drive to get your story down the way you want to write it, to tell the Star Trek story that won't get out of your head.
Perhaps the most impressive thing, and a lesson to us all, is the number of stories about the cast of the brand-new show Enterprise that were submitted. With only days between the airing of the first episode and the closing deadline for this anthology, fans ignored all the voices telling them that there wasn't enough time, sat down and wrote their story, then -- and this is often the hardest part -- put their story in an envelope and mailed it in.
Because if you want to know the secret of how to be a professional writer, there it is: write the story, put it in an envelope, and send it to someone who can buy it and publish it. That's what the people in this anthology did, and you can do it too.
John J. Ordover
Posted April 11, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted April 10, 2011
No text was provided for this review.